A final excerpt that I wanted to share here, before I get the ball rolling on The Reaper of the Mortal Sands.
I am not sure how the updates will work out from here. I will have a light summary on how I plan to tackle revisions for Manuscript Evaluation #2.
I have an appointment some months from now and we will see how that goes.
However, the good news is that as the new release window rolls in - we should be on the final path to publication!
I will be working on the sequel to A Sanctum of Swords and the second addition to The Embers of the Past series: The Reaper of the Mortal Sands in the meantime!
Karayan transitioned herself out from the abyss into reality. Where silence had once reigned in the unfathomable dark, the haunting resonance of open war now deafened her. A sound magnified eight-fold from inside of the hallowed Throne of the Sun Caller Kings. A clamor created from sundered armor and shattered flesh. Defiant cries and wails born from agony. The throne hall quaked beneath her feet–the golden radiance emanating from the Sun Caller’s throne erratically shifting between flaring and dimming.
Taking in the frigid mountain air, she caught the familiar coppery scent of blood spilled in substantial quantities. She smelled prespire mingled with the metallic taste from the friction of steel tested on steel. Emotions also wafted from hundreds of mortal souls scattered about the throne hall–so thick in the mountain air that it deceived her senses.
She remained stationary as the fanning fires of war heightened around her. Blood flowed over the corridor’s burnished sandstone floor–she tracked yellow-gold eyes across the throne hall’s breadth and back again.
Her dormant remembrance returned over a moment’s span. She recalled the Children of the Sun’s seat of power and a thousand other memories with that revelation. A massive set of doors carved from granite loomed overhead at the main walkway’s end¬. About another world away, Karayan mused, considerate of the conflict between that sealed doorway and herself.
Karayan asked, “An eternity of ruling the greatest empire on this continent, yet you squander everything your ancestors dreamed about creating. I’ve always wondered during these last seven hundred years about what you seem to fear that your predecessors did not? Men and women who lived far longer than you did, their wisdom like a forest when compared to the oasis that remains yours.”
He spoke, “a mortal soul cannot reign as a God King over this Dominion, should they fear the creatures that lurk well beyond the lantern’s light. And like the Sun Callers that came before me, neither am I afraid of the shadows lurking behind night’s shroud.”
“And you must think you’ve somehow deceived me? You believe that you’ve somehow conquered death? You struck the black pact to have your firstborn daughter and yet, the price remains unpaid.”
Erasyl said, “I am no immortal deity, Karayan. My deceased ancestral bloodline should already attest to that. My forebearers embraced mortality, despite the divinity that coursed through their blood. Their sacrifice proves the pact was struck in error, one born from mortal fears.”
“A High Queen possessed of an ancient wisdom such as yourself should take heed of my warning. The Children of Sukhan will break upon the Carth Dominion’s formidable bulwark.”
“You will break the mortal sphere because of your pride and Khios will suffer beneath my dominance. Yet this time, I won’t be foolish enough to relinquish even one mortal soul, not even until the end of the natural sun itself. Should that be the last words shared between us, then let us end our old feud and the proxy war waged between our empires throughout Khios’ darkest nooks and forbidden places.”
Wailing Widow appearing in her hand, the Sanctum Queen slipped into a rigid stance, like a warrior coming to stand at attention. She kept the rapier upright and near to her chest, braced to counter any potential reaction. Karayan had assumed her favored stance so many times over her three thousand year long existence¬–she had long forgotten the burdensome weight of hesitation and dread.
She stood before her nemesis as a visible blade beneath the dusk. The mastermind behind the Art of Death and the Ashen Blades Syndicate’s embodiment made perfect. The Sanctum Queen stood before the Sun Caller’s Throne not as an unseen blade, but the Reaper’s aspect herself. Confidence emanated from her practiced poise like an aura of intimidation.
The names of one hundred marked contracts, notorious renegades to the last man and woman, surfaced to the fore of her mind’s eye. ¬Karayan had slain each of them in turn–one for every passing season for two-and-a-half decades.
Just another grain in the ancient hourglass to represent the sands of an immortal life.
Karayan beckoned Lord Sar Amun down the ziggurat stairwell for a last Trial of Blades. She observed Erasyl climb out of the alabaster and sandstone throne to stride through the celestial flames wreathed around the base. Seven hundred years had changed nothing about him.
Yet Erasyl appeared sapped from whence she had last laid eyes on him.
The endless passing of seasons had reduced the unyielding frame he had kept in the days of his youth, but still retaining a strength of body superior to any mortal being. One thousand years dedicated to achieving a heightened sense of enlightenment that made even his civilization pale in comparison to their God King and divine avatar¬, she mused, that the God King did not appear to mind sacrificing his own origin of myth. Golden radiance still blazed from within his chest–exuding from him like a lantern’s halo of light.
“A Sun Caller King and the last of his line,” Karayan noted, “defending the throne of his ancestors without a weapon to strike down the shadows assailing him? At least pickup a shining blade from one of the dead nearby.”
“I’d think that Goddess Zahira’s daughter and the Reaper’s aspect would have slain a marked soul with no regard for upholding their honor.”
“You’re honor bound enough that I’ll make an exception.” The Sanctum Queen held Erasyl’s divine-touched gaze with eyes of yellow-gold. “I wouldn’t forgive myself for making a fool out of you at the siege of the Golden Valley’s end. However, I can see that you’ve no intention to mark my words. Then honor my blade with your skill…”
Karayan lunged without physically moving a step forward–aiming Wailing Widow for a thrust straight through the God King’s beating heart within his chest. Lord Sar Amun slid back from the thrust to push the rapier aside with a backhand. The God King stepped into the Sanctum Queen’s guard even as she shifted toward avoidance to outmaneuver each crushing blow from his fists.
She ducked beneath an upward hook to weave away from another strike coming from the opposing direction. Karayan dodged him like his own passing shadow beneath the waning sun’s journey from dawn to dusk. Wailing Widow answered him with several weeping cuts carved across the unblemished russet skin on his broad arms.
“I suppose the last seven hundred years have dulled your reaction time.” Karayan mused as she made to dance around her blade-partner. “You strike with the same dull-witted clumsiness that the Qin’sar wield their over-laden and shining blades.”
Erasyl turned on a heel in pursuit of the Sanctum Queen. Stabbing her rapier out toward a vulnerable throat, the God King caught her assault with a backhand across her sword arm on the wrist. Karayan channeled the momentum behind the attack into a half-spin, stealing herself beyond the God King’s immediate reach.
Despite each hastened movement, each move the God King made to counter came with a familiar predictability. Never missing a step of avoidance, Karayan played her Trial of Blades beside Lord Sar Amun. Each successive attack from the God King’s unarmed lim]bs came a subtle degree swifter than the last. Again and over again, each successful parry, block, and counter that Erasyl made in his defense brought Karayan an inch nearer to mis-stepping.
Lord Sar Amun’s offensive bordered on relentless until his endless assault became a windstorm. She spied brief manifestations passing before her eyes. Trails of ignited flames dancing upon each current of wind created in the wake of Erasyl’s offensive. The coiling strands of smoke and fire intersected past one another–sometimes melding into one volcanic cloud that shortened her breaths.
Celestial flames. The Solar God’s wrath channeled into a physical form to be unleashed on the Children of the Sun’s myriad enemies.
Karayan closed her eyes when the God King made to unleash his magic. A mental impulse ushered her beyond the physical world into the Crescent Haven’s phantom abyss. The Throne of the Sun Caller Kings’ lantern radiance vanished from sight until she perceived only a roiling mist amid an ethereal, moonlit void. Even her unnatural sight could barely detect the blazing flames passing straight through her astral projection.
A harmless fire-bolt that would have otherwise annihilated her, now darting straight through her metaphysical form to shatter a molten crater into the ziggurat stairwell between the throne and herself.
His immortal soul burns stronger, she mused, Qalzirai’s essence is growing resurgent within him.
Another impulse shattered her imprisonment in a rain of shadowy shards and golden light spilling through the Crescent Haven’s scattered remnants. Karayan pounced out from the ragged wound in ambush. Wailing Widow lashed out to mark another cut across the God King’s chest, parting the limestone white robe shielding him there. She caught blood’s copper-scent on the unnatural wind that exuded from his wounds–luring her like a shark drawn to wounded prey.
Lord Sar Amun stepped to one side out from the Sanctum Queen’s path with a subtle turn to smack her sword arm away at the wrist another time. She lunged toward Erasyl’s farthest flank before executing a quick feint to take her in the other direction. To her undying amusement, Lord Sar Amun committed to the deception long enough for Karayan to dart in for another thrust.
Erasyl employed a deceitful ruse of his own, she knew in the very moment a sudden impact pushed her legs out from underneath her. Karayan should’ve struck the throne hall’s burnished sandstone floor on her face. She rebounded with a quick tuck and roll instead to save her from such a disgrace, but was unable to stop the sweeping fist connecting square with her gut.
An incredible force stole her breath away, pitching her clean from her feet to cast her into the bloody chaos raging between the Sun Caller’s Throne and the main gates. Several successive impacts rocked her in rapid succession. Karayan registered the sound of bones breaking within unfortunate bystanders upon them being tossed onto discarded weapons or the wielded blades of their enemies.
The snake may recoil from the prey when threatened, to lurk from the shadows and strike another time.
Dazed beyond the ability to concentrate on a whim, Karayan struggled within her mind to ground herself. She managed that mental impulse to call on the Crescent Haven. An invisible rippling through reality answered her, before Karayan fell into the moonlit abyss backward. A sensation like being pushed back beyond a cliff’s ledge into the sea waves washed over her astral projection.
Resisting the fathomless ocean’s call to slumber, Karayan made an effortless flip without the burden of gravity. Another impulse from her mind and Lord Sar Amun’s likeness at the foot of his ancestral throne ushered her back into reality through a hidden exit. A whirlpool leading farther into the darkness beyond even the Crescent Haven’s moonlit mists.
Karayan leapt out from the unstable vortex back into the mortal sphere. She landed gingerly before the Throne of the Sun Caller Kings. Alert, Karayan searched for Erasyl amid the chaos even as her mind combated her disoriented perception.
An elder male’s somber voice–somehow deathly quiet and yet audible even when speaking from a distance, called Sukhan’s High Queen by her name.
“Karayan Akara… Some moons might’ve passed since the last time we’ve spoken.” Korian’s familiar tone and languid accent drifted up from behind her. “Some decades have come and gone at least, but an inanimate blade has retained an immaculate reflection in my mind’s mirror. You haven’t changed nor aged by even a day. That is the truth...”