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Author Topic: A Sanctum of Swords & The Embers of the Past  (Read 25790 times)

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Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #260 on: January 19, 2022, 05:41:06 AM »
Hi Myen'Tal I think abyssal is the wrong word to use in chapter 1.

The word abyssal refers to the deepest parts of the ocean, so the title 'An Abyssal Descent' is literally a descent to the bottom of the sea. Abyssal can also mean unfathomable/incomprehensible, but I doubt that you are meaning to say an 'Incomprehensible Descent'

Would I be right in thinking you are trying to say A Descent Into The Abyss, or maybe An Abysmal Descent?

Good luck with the second stage.
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Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #261 on: January 19, 2022, 10:40:20 AM »
Hi Alienscar,

Funny you mentioned that chapter name in particular - I had originally thought to name it 'A Descent into the Abyss' as you had mentioned. I thought the name might have been too long, but it does reflect the chapter's narrative much better. I think I'll change it back to that.

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #262 on: January 21, 2022, 02:05:58 PM »
Chapter 5: A Blade Severed from the Master’s Hand, Excerpt

   The outskirts of eastern U’ral village burned around Mahir. Steppe warriors of the U’skar Qi tested their steel against one another in desperate combat. Horses armored in iron scale barding churned the rain-soaked earth into a crimson quagmire. Mounted raiders loosed an endless hail of arrows against the garrison defenders, dwindling their numbers further. ground.

Gadara ordered her unit to arm themselves. Each took up a handheld crossbow in their hands. They knelt down into the mud together, gazes forward, and their weapons raised.

Mahir commanded, “We offer another tyrant’s head on Zahira’s altar tonight, cut them down!:

She smiled, then said, “Akarians, open fire!”

In practiced cohesion, the Ashen Blades readied their weapons, unleashing a silent hail from their crossbows.

A warrior king and his honor guard rode into the village’s ruined outskirts. Mahir watched their lances cutting through the defenders, reality around the warlord bursting with colorful vibrance. Dikran appeared a brute of a man, built of sinew and raw muscle. A lamellar armor crafted from iron scales and woven into a suit protected him from thighs to throat. Royal purple silk cushioned the armor from underneath, visible around the limbs and other vulnerable gaps in the lamellar.

A plumed helmet topped with wild, white-dyed horsehair weighed down on his shoulders. Black leather boots came up to the warrior king’s knees, already sullied with the blood of slain foes.

Indiscriminate death came to those slain by the sword or consumed by fire. Gadara and her Akarian Talons announced themselves–sending a silent hail of venom-coated bolts from handheld crossbows. His sister had trained her unit well–their cohesion honed to practiced precision. Their marksmanship remained true–neither wind nor rain able to hinder their ability to strike their payloads deep into mortal flesh.

Black Rot–a necrotic venom created in Suann Sanctuary. A weapon capable of killing the blood in a human’s veins and their muscle sinew. A rapid decay spreads through the victim until only a decrepit hole remains in the withered husk. A mere kiss from any tool, weapon, or sacrificial flesh coated in a couple drops remained the proven bane of any living creature–Demi-god and mere mortal alike.

Mahir heard their enemies choking on venom as the skirmish came apart before him. The wind carried their screams into the storm. Amid the chaos, several honor guards in Warlord Dikran’s retinue sagged in their saddles. One after another, each man toppled from their horses into the crimson mire.

Gadara cried out into the storm. She spoke, “I should have known better than to think we’d leave these primal steppes alive.”

Mahir had realized far before she had. Gaze locked ahead of him, he said, “you should have heeded my warnings. We’ve crossed a point of no return some moons ago.”

His sister ignored him to bark another command. She spoke, “Reload!”

The Ashen Blades plucked steel-tipped bolts from full quivers slung over their shoulders. Quick on the draw, her unit unleashed another hail into the oncoming retinue.

Mahir counted a dozen honor guard dead to the Black Rot–their number withered to twenty warriors. He braced against the remaining cavalry stampeding through the dead and wounded towards their position.

Gadara noticed him gazing in her direction. Mahir confessed a secret he had intended to say some weeks ago. He said, “For what it’s worth–our reunion here on the steppes is not lost on me. It’s been several years since you’ve last seen your wayward, altered brother. A predictable season of solitude with the last of my kin. Rare is the Sanctum Queen’s Severed Hand who could ask for an end so cherished.”

Gadara smiled before the expression reverted to stone. She leveled her crossbow toward the oncoming lancers. She spoke, “To die so near to winter’s end… it will not be as beautiful as I hoped. Should Zahira call us home, I’d rather perish by a sword than underneath an indiscriminate stampede. You have another trick up your sleeve to even the odds?”

Mahir said, “Are you prepared to vomit again?”

Gadara grimaced. She spoke, “I will choose the greater evil to live a moment longer. Get us near enough to grant our enemies the kiss of Suhari Steel.”

The sodden soil quaked underneath him, beaten like a war drum by the horde. Mahir swept an arm out–conjuring shadows on a whim. Animated by sentience, an abyss yawned open into the physical world. Its gaping maw closed in around them, tearing the Akarian Talons and himself out of the mortal sphere.

Safeguarded in the Sanctuary once more–Mahir still perceived the U’skar Qi through gradients of moonlit shadow. All the eastern outskirts appeared to him as a battle of specters–both clashing armies melding into an insubstantial mist when looking at them through the Sanctuary’s esoteric lens. As one, Warlord Dikran’s honor guard charged the abandoned spot the Ashen Blades had stood in the physical world. Mahir braced, the U’skarite nobles charging through his disembodied soul, giving him brief warmth in a dimension of chilling cold.

He waited–spectral cavalry galloping through him and the Ashen Blades. He heard their bewildered voices from beyond time and space–the U’skarite warriors searching for enemies no longer within reach. He dispelled the sanctuary with a thought, watching the shadows dissipate into the mortal sphere.

There would be no more respite until either the Ashen Blades triumphed in their contract–or Mahir coming to the end of his life.

He blinked–assailed by a frozen drizzle and lashing wind from out of nowhere. He heard keen sounds crying out behind him–honed steel slicing through winter air. Gadara shouted a command–ushering her Akarian Talons into combat before he could give the order. The Ashen Blades charged–their midnight robes melding in and out of the night.

Focused, Mahir stepped back into the spectral sanctuary. He found himself caught in an explosion of dark magic upon entering again, obliterating memories until they appeared in an un-chronological, faded blur. It crashed inside the boundaries of mind like tidal waves, ebbing his conscience until Mahir ceased existing.

The Akarian Talons sliced deep into the Black Tiger’s honor guard–venom-laced swords sowing death. Limbs came free of their owners. Stallions and geldings toppled their faces into the mire with sliced open throats. Warlord Dikran’s bellow commanded his honor guard into the fray.

Swift as wind, Gadara closed upon her quarry, intent on landing the killing blow.

Mahir expected his sister’s reckless charge for the kill. seated himself on the back of a massive ebon steed–a brutal beast more imposing than many warriors. The warlord noticed Gadara’s approach through the obscuring night storm. Sweeping his curved blade in a downward arc, Dikran made to dissect Gadara in twain upon meeting her head-long assault.

The sanctuary spat Mahir and what little remained of his mind, back out into the mortal sphere. Stepping between the Black Tiger of the U’skar Qi and Gadara, something stitched the essence of himself back together-memories, personality, and emotions. All the sentience carried in his living soul. An echo of steel blunted upon steel sang loudly upon his interception of the Steppe Lord’s fatal attack. A savage blow of such strength should have cut him down without effort. His physical strength had withered since the days of his youth.

Zahira, Goddess of Sorrow, spared her child once again. A hand once severed from its mistress surged with the power of once being whole. An inner strength rushed through his veins like an incredible adrenaline rush–coursing through every fiber of him.

Surprised, Dikran retracted his wicked sword–launching back into an immediate assault. The Black Tiger punched down toward Mahir with bone-breaking force. He weaved aside from the blow–his Mistress’ blessing emptying from his veins like a loss of remembered power.

Heart singing inside his chest, Mahir kept out of the warlord’s reach with graceful effort. Dikran guided his horse toward his quarry–lashing out by blade and fist. Avoidance became his strategy. He coiled around every sweeping blow and hack from Dikran’s jagged blade like a serpent. His movements came with graceful haste–every side-step, crouch, and convincing feint keeping him beyond his marked contract’s onslaught.

Gadara circled Dikran from behind–occasionally delving into the fray to land a mortal blow. Dikran warded them both away from his person by an endless storm of sweeping strikes.

Mahir raised his voice in audible challenge at the Lord of the U’skar Qi. He said, “A king seated so high on his horse proves a mastery over wind, maybe, but becomes blind when his head towers in the clouds. Will you continue to rage at nearby shadows? Or is the Black Tiger of the U’skar Qi courageous enough to dismount? Would he test his skill against an assassin of the Ashen Blades?”

Dikran wheeled his brutal mount about to face him. Surprised–Mahir slipped beyond the Steppe Lord’s reach–his every movement tracked by a predator oblivious to the fact it had become prey. Amusement glinted in the warlord’s burning gaze–confident in the face of his would-be slayer.

Dikran’s voice growled like the Lantern Beasts of the Steppes. He spoke, “Bold words for such a frail warrior–withered from some atrophic disease or some other ailment. Don’t let my words offend, when I say you appear more a cub than a challenger. You yelp with a courage born from ignorance. Not from a confidence born from strength. Stand aside, Ashen Blade, or maybe throw yourself on your sword. Both would have the same effect as you striking at me with your weakling blade.”

He held the Steppe Lord’s apathetic stare–un-phased. He said, “A shame–I didn’t want such a noble horse’s blood on my hands. So be it then.”

Gadara pounced out of the storm–each leap climbing her up the Black Tiger’s gargantuan mount onto the warlord’s back. His sister possessed no god-like powers, but her combat ability came nearer to Mahir’s than even she knew. To outsiders beyond the Southern Wastes–an Ashen Blade’s physical ability teetered on the inhuman. The Children of Su’khan considered such strength of body a basic achievement, gained in adolescence to outlive imminent death.

Armored boots stamped the quagmire–approaching from behind him. Mahir twisted–drawing a taut line across a steppe raider’s throat. He clove through the vocal cords–poisoned blood seeping from the wound in his throat. Again–the night folded in on him–stealing him back into the Sanctuary. Barbarous blades sliced into his disembodied soul, harmless.

The Severed Hand reappeared behind both warriors trying to strike him down. He swept his gladius out before him in a chained attack of two cuts. Guided by an unnatural hand–the shortened sword severed the heads of both warriors with gruesome strength. Mahir noticed a shudder in the wind–wailing as his foes tumbled into the quagmire at his feet.

A dread, born in the minds of those who feared death–haunted the Severed Hand’s enemies. He counted six other warriors surrounding him upon claiming the heads of their comrades. In fractured cohesion, each warrior vanished back into the melee – pretending they had not seen him.

Rolling into the mud, Mahir snatched a discarded dagger from its sheathe, sticking out from underneath a fallen U’ral defender. He let the weapon fly from his hand when coming back to his feet–aimed at the warrior king embattled against his kin. A ‘clink’ sound pierced the wailing wind. A telltale sign of steel embedded underneath iron scales–drawing blood from vulnerable flesh. Amused, he listened to the Black Tiger roaring into the storm.

Gadara straddled the Steppe Lord from behind, arms deadlocked around his thick throat. Dikran attempted in vain to strike himself free, forcing the blade out of her hand with a savage reverse of the elbow. The warlord didn’t realize the envenomed dagger clutched like an iron vice in her other hand.

Dagger raised, his sister stabbed down toward the Black Tiger’s chest without hesitation. The shortened blade thrust home–jammed beneath the iron scales until the steel snapped clean off the hilt. Gadara cursed. Then Mahir knew the protective fabric underneath Dikran’s armor blunted the blow.

An arrow soared out of the night–striking Gadara square in the left shoulder. Her immovable grip on the Steppe Lord faltered–then Dikran broke free upon spurring his horse into a wild gallop. Mahir burst into motion upon seeing her topple off the Black Tigers back into the mud.

He sidestepped out of Dikran’s warpath–picking up a spear discarded in a fallen warrior, then hurling the weapon at the midnight demon of a mount. A grotesque sound of flesh tearing underneath sharpened steel filled the ears. Dikran’s proud warhorse stormed past him by a hair’s breadth, spraying him with quagmire churned up in its passing.

The steppe horse didn’t ride on much farther before collapsing amid the village’s ruin, dragging Dikran down into the mud with it.

Mahir inhaled, glancing back toward where he saw Gadara fall. He spotted his sister pushing herself out of the mud onto her knees. A shaking hand clutched the feathered shaft embedded in her shoulder. She did not cry out in pain nor attempt to remove it.

Mahir called out to her. He said, “Will you live!?”

Gadara noticed him shouting, craning her head toward the sound of his voice. She nodded, despite the pain of her wound clouding her stare. She spoke, “I can still fight, but another moment and we’ll all be dead anyway.”

Mahir said, “Fight until the end! Another may deliver us out from our fate!”

Gadara snorted out of disbelief, but picked up a spear discarded in a steppe horse’s carcass. She twisted, rolling onto her back, ramming the spearhead through another U’skarite’s face-plate. The warrior staggered, stumbling past her before falling onto the battlefield.

Mahir turned away from Gadara, sweeping the area where the Black Tiger fell with cautious eyes. Among the dead, a shadow stirred out of the gruesome sight. He burst into a loping run toward the marked soul, closing quick enough to attempt a thrust straight through the Steppe Lord’s back.

Dikran burst from out of the dead piled around him without warning. He turned, intercepting the Severed Hand’s strike before Mahir could land the mortal wound. Their blades clashed once, twice, and then a third time before momentum pulled both opponents in the opposite direction. Mahir tilted on the ball of his foot, spinning round to meet the Black Tiger again.

Dikran widened his stance, saber sweeping down from overhead to turn aside the assassin’s blade. The Black Tiger followed through with a crushing fist, gnarled knuckles striking Mahir square in the teeth. His head pitching backward, an overwhelming force rattled him down to the spine’s core. Mahir tried to stabilize, boots sliding through the mud until he lost all balance.

The Black Tiger lunged for the Severed Hand’s throat, throwing Mahir back-first into the mud. Eager to claim the kill, the Steppe Lord fell upon him. Gladius clutched tight across his chest, the Ashen Blade thrust out. Cleansed amid constant rain, the envenomed blade appeared toothless. It bit deep into Dikran’s flesh beneath the ribs, warding the Steppe Lord back by sheer pain alone–not deadly venom.

Furious, the Black Tiger struck out with all the strength given to him, meant to cave the assassin’s skull into brittle bone.

Exhausted, Mahir called upon the Sanctuary with the last of his ebbing focus. A haven of moonlit darkness stole him out of the physical world, but brought Mahir into an unfamiliar place. All the Sanctuary appeared familiar, a second home amid a quiet dark, but the moon’s light appeared dim from where he stood. Shadows festered around him, writhing like they desired to consume him whole at a moment’s notice.

Yet Dikran’s spiritual essence never appeared out of arm’s reach–even as Mahir re-positioned himself behind the Black Tiger of the U’skar Qi. He dispelled the quiet realm in a fallout of shadow. He heard the northern storm howling, pelting rain turning his skin numb from its touch.

A tranquil silence marked the end of the raid on U’ral village. All the garrison defenders lay somewhere in these eastern fields, surrounded by an endless sea of dead raiders dragged into the grave with them. Of the Black Tiger’s scouting parties, the last remaining warriors still on horseback fled heedlessly back into the eastern Steppes.

Mahir considered where he stood amid hundreds slain alongside their steeds, their corpses packed into the burned-out remains of U’ral’s eastern outskirts. The defenders had taken their due, earning respite for those survivors fleeing into the western realms. Their foes would return with the coming sunrise and find nothing but death.

He turned back toward the Black Tiger before him, the warlord still on his knees in the mud. Mahir did not need to see the spot Dikran leaned over, knowing the Steppe Lord had punched an entire crater where he had been but a moment ago.

He said, “It appears the Black Tiger’s reign ends tonight.”

Dikran sagged deeper down toward the earth until Mahir thought the warlord would topple without another breath. Yet the U’skarite King pushed himself back up, erecting his posture, though still upon his knees. He spoke, “So, the serpent disguises himself behind the guise of a cub, sickened by atrophy. Yet you draw a vile strength from the poison that courses in your veins. A clever ruse, Ashen Blade–most deceitful. A golden sun blazes inside my soul. It denies me the right to ask for mercy, but the sweet kiss of an honorable death given quickly. Our gods would have it no other way.”

Mahir nodded in agreement, though he knew the Steppe Lord wouldn’t notice the gesture. He said, “A warrior king should not die on his knees, should he have the strength to stand.”

Dikran chortled. He spoke, “No, Sukhanite, he should not.”

Dikran leaped without warning, falling upon Mahir like a Black Tiger pouncing upon oblivious prey. He came at the Severed Hand with a last sweep of the wicked blade he wielded. Mahir countered in the blink of an eye, turning Dikran’s savage blow aside in a brief rain of sparks. The Black Tiger of the U’skar Qi found only the slender edge of a Suhari Blade, rammed straight through the Steppe Lord’s bellowing mouth.

Mahir, Severed Hand of the Sanctum Queen, pushed into the thrust, punching the sword through Dikran’s spine and out the other end of his skull. Gadara appeared beside him, thrusting her own blade deep through the warlord’s right eye. A pair of remaining Akarian Talons appeared behind Dikran. Karayan cleaved the upper half of the Steppe Lord’s skull clean off the corpse. Severed, the skull toppled into the patient hands of the last Ashen Blade, standing in wait for their trophy...

*Excerpt End*
« Last Edit: January 28, 2022, 11:35:58 PM by Myen'Tal »

Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #263 on: January 24, 2022, 08:03:18 AM »
Those corrupted souls marked for death by Goddess Zahira’s hand are never easy quarries. Mahir understood that lesson long ago. Avaricious kings. Demented Priests of darker faiths. Oppressive tyrants. Notorious and blackened souls to the last man and woman recorded in the annals of time. Any soul committed to Zahira’s contract becomes an Ashen Blade’s sworn commitment to the Goddess of Death.

Each successful reaping steeped the Southern Wastes’ four corners further in the disdainful eyes of outsiders. Mahir understood the grim reality behind the sacrifice of his brethren in Su’khan–earning Khios another era of fragile peace and for themselves in the eternal slumber of death.

The Sanctum Queen had given such secrets to him, Mahir recalled. She had sworn him into the Ashen Blades by her own grim oath when he emerged from his Trial of Blades as victor. Several years since his triumph–the moment’s recollection had endured an entire span of years that had laid waste to older memories.

“As you have lived,

“As you have starved in the shadows,

“As you have killed in the abyss,

“You have sacrificed soul and limb,

“And offered each triumph for Sorrow’s blessing,

“Mahir shall remain your name, and you will serve as my omniscient dagger.

“An unseen weapon in the night, severed from your master’s hand.

“All I request from the wounded hand is the remembrance of once being whole.

“Long after the blade cleaves away a precious piece from me, always will I remember its absence.

“I trust you will remember your vow, Severed, and remind yourself that not even in death could you tear yourself free from the purpose of your mission.”


Personally I feel that the start of this chapter is too slow and chatty to mix well with what follows. That is, the transition from quiet remembrance to Mahir being right in the middle of a raging battle doesn’t sit well. You could easily lose the paragraphs about the Sanctum Queen.

Quote
His sister had trained her unit well–their cohesion honed to practiced precision.

The word precision is well enough defined. It doesn’t really need the embellishment of ‘practiced’

Quote
The Ashen Blades discarded their emptied weapons into the sodden mud. In practiced cohesion–each equipped a second handheld crossbow hidden on the small of their backs. Quick on the draw, Gadara’s assassins unleashed another hail into the Black Tiger of the U’skar Qi’s retinue.

Each to their own, but I can’t help thinking that crossbow users might just carry more bolts with them rather than carry another crossbow. I also think the whole ‘hidden on…’ is a bit of unnecessary melodrama. The ‘small of the back’ generally describes the lower part of the back that is smaller and narrower than the rest, and is usually considered to be below the hips. This seems uncomfortably low to carry something.

Quote
As a stampede, their mounts’ hooves trampled the dead and fading into the crimson quagmire toward them.

I don't really understand this sentence. It seems to be a mix of ideas, but none of them is prevalent. Are you trying to say the Steppe horde stampeded towards Mahir? If you are it has become lost in the dead and fading bit of the sentence.

Something simpler might be better.

Mahir braced himself beside his comrades as the twenty remaining honour guard stampeded their way through the dead and wounded towards their position.

Quote
Gadara’s breath caught in her lungs–noticing him gazing in her direction.

You have just described Mahir counting the dead of the honour guard, and now you have said he was gazing at Gadara. This inconsistency confuses the action.

Quote
She pointed her blade toward the oncoming lancers.

Isn’t she carrying a crossbow?

Quote
Around them–his Sanctuary perceived the mortal sphere as a two-dimensional plane trapped inside a three-dimensional realm between life and death.

This doesn’t make sense to me as it is just too difficult to understand.

Quote
An impulsive thought dispelled his sanctuary–collapsing in a fallout of shadowy mist.

Why describe Mahir’s thought as impulsive? Did he not mean to dispel the sanctuary?

Quote
Mahir refocused–stepping into the darkness opening out of the night, back into his sanctuary.

This is confusing as you have just previously described the sanctuary as collapsed.

Quote
Swift as wind, Gadara closed upon her oblivious quarry, before her marked victim would even notice.

This sentence is too late as you have already described Gadara shouting out commands.

Quote
Mahir expected his sister’s reckless charge for the kill. Emerging out of his sanctuary into the battle’s heart–he laid eyes upon his enemy.

Mahir emerged from his sanctuary a few paragraph’s above. Having him do so again is confusing.

Quote
Mahir, Severed Hand of the Sanctum Queen, stepped back into the mortal sphere–between the Black Tiger of the U’skar Qi and his sister.

Mahir has already been described as emerging from his sanctuary, so having him do so again confuses the action.

Quote
Heart singing inside his chest–Mahir answered the Steppe Lord’s tirade with precision-honed response time.

A tirade is a long angry speech. Did you mean to write barrage?

You don’t answer someone with a response time, and precision-honed doesn’t mean anything.

Something like this might be better (like this, but not this as I think it is still missing something)

Heart singing, Mahir parried the barrage of blows from the Black Tiger instinctively.

 

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Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #264 on: January 24, 2022, 10:24:32 AM »
Hi Alienscar,

Thank you for the feedback, I appreciate the points you've made here.

So on your first point about the beginning starting too slow, I'm going to cut out the third paragraph about the Sanctum Queen.
I'm thinking I might cut the second one as well, what do you think?

About the crossbows, I agree after thinking on your suggestion, that discarding the weapons would be a waste. However, handheld crossbows I don't think would be so heavy, could be mistaken, but I guess in either case I'm going to remove that bit too. So moot point on my end.

Shouldn't be too difficult to make the rest of the changes, and should be straight forward to address.

I did make too many mentions of Mahir stepping out of the portal, will definitely clarify that. I did want Mahir to step back into the Sanctuary after 'dropping off' the Ashen Blades, and coming out nearer to Dikran.

I'll take another look at the first description of the sanctuary that you said was confusing. I think I can make it much easier to comprehend.

Thanks,

Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #265 on: January 25, 2022, 06:39:06 AM »
So on your first point about the beginning starting too slow, I'm going to cut out the third paragraph about the Sanctum Queen.
I'm thinking I might cut the second one as well, what do you think?

Hi Myen'tal,

I think the chapter could/should start with the line 'The outskirts of eastern U’ral village burned around Mahir.'

I think this start would match what should be a fast paced chapter.

Quote
About the crossbows, I agree after thinking on your suggestion, that discarding the weapons would be a waste. However, handheld crossbows I don't think would be so heavy, could be mistaken, but I guess in either case I'm going to remove that bit too. So moot point on my end.

It is not the weight of the crossbow I have an issue with, but the fact you were describing it as hidden in the small of the back. The small of the back would place the crossbow on the owners buttocks, and this just doesn't seem a comfortable way of carrying something. Also a crossbow is 2.5-3 foot long so difficult to hide in such a small area as the small of the back.

As an aside modern crossbows manufactured from aluminium, and/or carbon fibre weigh between 7-12lb.

A medieval crossbow made of wood and iron was estimated to weigh 15-18lb.

Quote
I did make too many mentions of Mahir stepping out of the portal, will definitely clarify that. I did want Mahir to step back into the Sanctuary after 'dropping off' the Ashen Blades, and coming out nearer to Dikran.

I suppose the issue is one words. Because you initially described Mahir conjuring up the sanctuary it is difficult to understand how he can step in and out of the sanctuary when you have described it as collapsed.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2022, 06:44:37 PM by Alienscar »
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Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #266 on: January 25, 2022, 08:24:23 PM »
Thanks, Alienscar!

Will get around to revisions on the next session I can get to write.

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #267 on: January 27, 2022, 08:35:05 PM »
A brief glimpse of what awaits those willing to enter A Sanctum of Swords.

Temporary blurb on the back cover, that's still a work in progress.



Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #268 on: January 28, 2022, 05:46:32 AM »
Whoa that is cool. Is that an actual book, or a digital mock up?

I know it's only a temporary blurb, but there are two 'their' in the last sentence of the second paragraph.

If I were a potential buyer reading this synopsis I would probably stop reading at the third sentence, or fourth sentence.

I think the synopsis should start with the 'Upon his triumph in the Trial of Blades' bit as this is much more gripping and informative from the point of view of a casual reader.

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Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #269 on: January 28, 2022, 10:29:58 AM »
Whoa that is cool. Is that an actual book, or a digital mock up?

I know it's only a temporary blurb, but there are two 'their' in the last sentence of the second paragraph.

If I were a potential buyer reading this synopsis I would probably stop reading at the third sentence, or fourth sentence.

I think the synopsis should start with the 'Upon his triumph in the Trial of Blades' bit as this is much more gripping and informative from the point of view of a casual reader.

Thanks, Alienscar!

It is a digital mockup - one of the Amazon 3D Mockups you would be able to see if the book was on amazon. Like when you're previewing the book.

Thank you for you opinion about the temp blurb, I know it definitely will need professional work, so taking in honest feedback will help on that front!

EDIT: Chapter, 3

« Last Edit: January 28, 2022, 11:36:41 PM by Myen'Tal »

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #270 on: February 1, 2022, 11:56:03 PM »
Just a brief snippet of "An Illusion of Tranquility" tonight.

Also, if you have not noticed, I've made revisions to reflect suggestions on changes and a few others in addition to the feedback on the excerpt for A Blade Severed from the Master's Hand.

~***~

A golden light parted through the abyss, shining on Mahir’s disembodied soul. A lure of brilliance, guiding him into another world. An unconscious perception registered a change in atmosphere. Bright hues like daylight dimmed into a clouded gloom.
   
A drizzling rain pelted Mahir, turning the midnight fabric of… He couldn’t remember? Something important, enough to identify a gaping hole in the memory. He couldn’t remember what had brought him into the long sleep, nor what guided him through the Sanctuary.
   
He remembered only a name, given unto him on the day of his birth. Yet the memories remained, distant and altered. He thought the sensation similar to peering into a looking glass fixed on an unfocused object. Yet a name stuck with the object, steadfast at the fore of his mind’s eye.
   
He ached throughout every fiber of his being. An emptiness not weighted with burden, but neither absolution’s grace. Yet, Mahir awoke, trapped inside something similar to the physical body he kept before death. He opened his eyes, pelted by the constant drizzling from ashen skies.
   
Dazed, the Severed Hand gazed up into the heavens. Endless clouds broke against an open ceiling between ancient walls of engraved stone. He lied upon the earthen panels decayed over timeless eternity to a blighted jade.
   
A familiar voice called out to him. A whisper in the rain. An echo lacking physical presence, heard only inside his mind.

“As you have lived,

“As you have starved in the shadows,

“As you have killed in the abyss,

“And sacrificed soul and limb,

“And offered each triumph for Sorrow’s blessing,

“An unseen weapon in the night, severed from your master’s hand.

“Remember the Sanctum Queen’s oath. Remember who you were before death. You’ve not forgotten…”

   
A shadow flickered across his vision – disappearing from existence the next moment. 
   
An image of a hearth burning inside a cabin came to mind. He awoke – having slept on this broken labyrinth for too long. Mahir tested the fingers on each hand, gouging up chalky jade dirt between his scarred knuckles. Craning his head from left to right – an unending corridor stretched in both directions into a clouded veil.
   
Unadorned granite walls, cracked and crumbling through the passing eternities, he wagered, dwarfed him for leagues upon leagues. They vanished amid the clouds instead of ending, a faded semblance of ancient mosaics weathered beyond recognition. An endless veil of hanging vines, gargauntuan enough to rival the size of lesser trees, crept down and into the stone at random junctures.
   
Mahir clambered back to his feet, using muscles he hadn’t used since death had claimed him. Yet his movements came without the weight of something physically broken. Each gesture came to him with a fallen feather’s grace. He practiced a stance remembered upon waking, the memory still vague when he took up the form.
   
He flowed into the martial dance, muscles guided by memory instead of practiced precision. A quickened grace came with each step. He channeled every imagined strike with irresistible force, breaking a crater into the jade granite wall about three times the width of his fist.
   
Yet, something seemed different about the excercise even as he recreated the art.
   
A viciousness lurked behind every feint and counter. He guided each blow with an unconscious ease, compounding damage where he imagined his invisible opponent most vulnerable. Behind the fluid dance, a shadow in the mind manipulated everything he did. It subsumed thought and reaction, like a puppet master would commandeer unwitting toys.
   
The familiar voice calling out to him when he had woken, spoke from every direction. He said, “You move like an inanimate blade. Karyan must have used you for many years. Your movements lack free will. Do not fret. More time will pass before the muscles forget.”
   
He whirled around to confront the spectre behind him, but found only the corridor before him – stretching into the unknown.

**Excerpt End**

« Last Edit: February 2, 2022, 05:46:20 AM by Myen'Tal »

Offline Alienscar

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #271 on: February 4, 2022, 08:42:21 AM »
Quote
A golden light parted through the abyss, shining on Mahir’s disembodied soul.

A golden light parted through the abyss means that the light has split. I think you meant to write a golden light parted the dark of the abyss.

Quote
Bright hues like daylight dimmed into a clouded gloom.

Bright hues (plural) would indicate more than one colour, but daylight is only one colour.

Quote
A drizzling rain pelted Mahir, turning the midnight fabric of… He couldn’t remember?

The first sentence mentions Mahir’s soul, but you then change to rain pelting him physically. This makes the mention of his soul seem superfluous.

Quote
He couldn’t remember what had brought him into the long sleep, nor what guided him through the Sanctuary.


Nor is a conjunction that is used before the second or further of two or more alternatives (the first being introduced by a negative such as ‘neither’ or ‘not’) to indicate that they are each untrue or each do not happen. ‘Or’ would be the correct word here.

The setup is a bit confusing here as all I know at the moment is that Mahir is lying on the floor of an abyss. This makes the ‘guided’ bit confusing as he isn’t being guided anywhere.

Quote
An emptiness not weighted with burden, but neither absolution’s grace.

An emptiness not weighted with burden, but neither absolutions grace just doesn’t mean anything to me I am sorry to say Myen’Tal. Try as I might I just can’t understand what it is you are trying to say.

Quote
Yet, Mahir awoke, trapped inside something similar to the physical body he kept before death.

The second paragraph describes Mahir trying to remember something. As you can’t remember in your sleep a reader will think Mahir is awake, but not moving. Describing him here as just waking up is confusing.

Quote
He opened his eyes, pelted by the constant drizzling from ashen skies.

The ‘pelted by the constant drizzling’ part of the sentence doesn’t follow on smoothly enough to make sense I would say.
He opened his eyes, and raised a hand to shelter them from the drizzle would make a bit more sense of the situation I think.

Quote
Dazed, the Severed Hand gazed up into the heavens.

So now that he is gazing into the heavens the mention of pelting rain in the previous sentence makes less sense.

Quote
He lied upon the earthen panels decayed over timeless eternity to a blighted jade.

The word ‘lied’ only refers to making an untrue statement. ‘Lay’ would be the correct word here.

I am not sure what you are describing when you say 'earthen panels'

Quote
An image of a hearth burning inside a cabin came to mind.

As we have spoken about before a hearth does not burn. A hearth contains a fire it does not burn itself.

Quote
He awoke – having slept on this broken labyrinth for too long.

‘He awoke’ is confusing as he woke in the fourth paragraph.

Sleeping on a labyrinth? I don’t understand this concept as a labyrinth is a maze. Maybe ‘slept in this broken labyrinth’ would make more sense. As you haven’t informed the reader that Mahir is in a labyrinth until now though this sudden information is a bit confusing.

Quote
Endless clouds broke against an open ceiling between ancient walls of engraved stone.


Quote
Unadorned granite walls, cracked and crumbling through the passing eternities, he wagered, dwarfed him for leagues upon leagues.

Unadorned, or engraved as above?

Quote
They vanished amid the clouds instead of ending, a faded semblance of ancient mosaics weathered beyond recognition.

The walls are that high they reach the clouds!

Faded mosaics on the wall, or unadorned as above.
 
Quote
Yet his movements came without the weight of something physically broken.

I think the word ‘weight’ is the wrong word here. Also if something were broken how can it move? The imagery you are trying to create becomes confused because of this juxtaposition.

Quote
Each gesture came to him with a fallen feather’s grace.

A fallen feather is the wrong tense I would say as something that has fallen is no longer moving. That is, Mahir can’t move gracefully like something that is no longer moving.

Quote
He practiced a stance remembered upon waking, the memory still vague when he took up the form.

This might just be me, but I find the sudden urge to practice a kata a bit jarring seeing as he is just recovering from dying.

Quote
He flowed into the martial dance, muscles guided by memory instead of practiced precision.

For me memory and practise is the same thing.

Quote
He channeled every imagined strike with irresistible force, breaking a crater into the jade granite wall about three times the width of his fist.

A strike shouldn’t be described as imaginary when it produces a hole in a granite wall.

The word jade on its own does not mean green, so the term jade granite is confusing. It would be better to write ‘…the jade green granite wall.’

Quote
Yet, something seemed different about the excercise even as he recreated the art.

There is only one ‘c’ in exercise.

« Last Edit: February 4, 2022, 08:47:11 AM by Alienscar »
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Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #272 on: February 4, 2022, 11:52:01 AM »
Hi Alienscar - thank you for the feedback!

That's why I posted this scene as I had a feeling it's going to need some work lol.

But I will say though:

Quote
This might just be me, but I find the sudden urge to practice a kata a bit jarring seeing as he is just recovering from dying.

This maybe the reason that reading this scene is so confusing from a narrative stand point. Mahir isn't recovering from dying - he is dead - and trapped in a dimension between life and death. Long story short its a purgatory that is important to the actual narrative.

This is why he cannot recall memories at first, and why he is also not burdened with the pain from injuries suffered in life. It's also the reason he wakes up in this place, but he knows wherever he's ended up is not an absolution either, definitely not an afterlife promised or described to mortals.

I will work on your advice and make sure this comes across clearer.

Thanks!

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #273 on: February 7, 2022, 04:55:18 AM »
Oh right! Dead is dead though, and I think I would still find it odd that the first thing Mahir does after 'waking up' is to practice a kata. I would say he is still recovering from dying whether he is 'waking' in a purgatory, or not.

I am not sure about purgatory as a place, but I think the mention of drizzle, clouds, earthen panels & granite walls makes it sound too real.

Quote from: Starrakatt
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Honestly Alienscar, we get it... you dont like painting!

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #274 on: February 7, 2022, 08:25:11 PM »
Oh right! Dead is dead though, and I think I would still find it odd that the first thing Mahir does after 'waking up' is to practice a kata. I would say he is still recovering from dying whether he is 'waking' in a purgatory, or not.

I am not sure about purgatory as a place, but I think the mention of drizzle, clouds, earthen panels & granite walls makes it sound too real.


That is fair - I agree that maybe the kata wasn't the most narrative driven idea in hindsight, haha!

I will probably redesign this entire beginning when I revisit this chapter to complete it. So now I have some goals!

Post Merge: February  7, 2022, 10:16:31 PM
In the future, please use the modify button. Double posting is against the forum rules, and for that reason, the system merged your posts.

The Last of His Blood - Scene Excerpt
Tushik, the City of Grand Canals
The Royal Palace on the Golden Mountain’s Summit, in a Guest Chamber in the Heaven’s Gate Wing

A faint light in the guest chamber smoldered from inside the hearth. The dying fires cast shadows across the quiet room, clawing across the tanned pelts of ferocious beasts and up walls built from sandstone. Alabaster pillars jutted from the chamber’s four corners, hearth, and around the doorway leading back into the hallowed halls beyond the room into the greater Heaven’s Gate Guest Wing.

An impulse sparked inside Siham Sar Amun’s mind. A brief thought, nothing more. It came to her like a command, her fingers eager to grab a sharp object, like a warrior’s sword. The temptation lured her into more unfamiliar thoughts - brief glimpses of Siham falling upon the blade so vividly it almost felt like an actual memory. Just like that, her dreaming faded, ushering her back into the mundane world of the secluded room she sat in.

Like an apparition bound to the source of their torment, she languished here, seated down by the hearth on a palanquin draped in silk blankets. A dim atmosphere lingered about the room, its weight oppressing.

Her newly betrothed of foreign royalty, hailing from the neighboring steppe-lands of the U’skar Qi, had attempted to ease her fears many times. A firstborn prince by the name of Sarkis, a descendant of the notorious Dikran, the Black Tiger.

Siham glanced toward the other end of the room, where the U’skarite prince leaned forward in an ornate chair, unable to find peace in the chamber’s comforts. A quick look into the prince’s bright hazel eyes, seeing them burning in the fire’s light. She knew he desired to leave Gorum, the Golden Valley, at once. Chiseled into a face of blemished granite, she noted a deep scar streaking diagonally across his features like a lightning bolt.

Matte black hair, unkempt, flourished around him like a wave crashing down on a round pillar of stone. Scars similar to the one carved into his face ran up the length of both arms, their pattern random and asymmetrical.

Appearing lost in thought, Sarkis perceived the notion someone watched him. He lifted his head, meeting Siham’s cautious eyes. He didn’t waver from her hesitant searching, channeling something akin to fire inside her chest by staring alone.

Sarkis’ smile kept a ferocious quality to it, though not quite the violent kind. She guessed him a wild soul, untamed and primal, just like the lands that forged him. Behind the prince’s roguish smile, she noticed an empathy bordering on caring - strong enough to guilt her even when maintaining her silence.

Sarkis said, “Are you going to say anything, Siham? You summoned your betrothed behind shut doors, and here I am by your call. I’d rather not watch the hours fade into the evening dusk, but yet we’re standing still while time continues on around us.”

Siham considered lying, then lashing out with a barbed tirade. After a moment’s thought, she settled on sharing a simple truth about her.

Her answer resounded inside the quiet chamber, sounding loud enough that anyone nearby would hear. She spoke, “I would refuse your hand.” She continued, “you’re an honorable man, warrior prince. A noble-minded and kind soul, but I would refuse your hand.”

Stunned, the U’skarite prince tilted his head into an almost vertical angle. His leaning posture in the ornate chair extended him an appearance of a sculptor’s subject striking a pose.

Sarkis didn’t reply immediately, considerate about weighing his response. Again, he noticed Siham’s eyes upon him. He made a warm smile, banishing the fear and anxiety he must’ve seen there.

The prince corrected his posture, sweeping his arms out in an opening gesture. The kind one made when desiring understanding.

“My burning heart,” the prince said. “We’re behind closed doors, alone in the haven carved out for us. Your parents aren’t here to judge you nor your kindred, the Children of the Sun - here to misjudge you. You can be honest with your betrothed if there is something you’re seeking or wanting. You only need to tell me what I can do to be worthy of your hand. Your offered hand, not bought with treasure or courageous deeds, like your immediate kin appeared to be too interested in.”

Somehow, Siham hid a brief laughter beneath her scoff. She spoke, “Isn’t that the only currencies available to a warrior prince?”

Sarkis barked with laughter, but didn’t disagree. Instead, he countered. He said, “Maybe if you consider something like devotion given over time? Or a commitment to fulfill whatever wishes that could resolve your hesitation? I won’t deny my warrior heritage, but I’ve found that the trust of kin and oath-bound brothers don’t need a command. My father often reminds me that the truth is often the opposite.”

Siham didn’t answer him for a lengthened amount of time. She spoke, “And if the truth behind my secret was… that there could be nothing you could do? What would be your answer then, Sarkis?”

Amused, the prince shrugged, thoughtful. He said, “You’re telling me your heart beats for another then? I suppose I should have guessed from the way your parents attempted to sell your hand to me. For what it’s worth, I will pay a fortune in a way you’d never quite comprehend.”

Her heart skipped a beat, and she paused, uncertain of the prince’s meaning.

Sarkis interrupted before she could ask. He said, “Yet it doesn’t matter anymore, does it? I wouldn’t trouble yourself for deeds left unspoken, but I even promised your kin that I’d aim to impress you more than anyone.”

Siham gasped, breath locked inside her lungs. She said nothing.

Prince Sarkis of the U’skar Qi climbed out of the ornate chair. The fact he appeared more bear than man became more clear when his shadow fell over her. He seemed like a giant in that moment to her, an undefeatable warrior. Maybe indefatigable too, she wondered in the deepest reaches of her mind.

He said, “A prince doesn’t need to grind all the world to a halt for just a betrothed. Not even for the greatest beauty said to be in all the Golden Valley. A thousand women wait to compete for the Black Tiger prince, but I hope before I must choose another - that Lady Siham Sar Amun might change her mind.”

Sarkis cradled their wedding wing between a pair of fingers, the sapphire gem encrusted on top, allowing him to slip the treasure free. Without hesitation, he cast the gem into the hearth’s smoldering flames. The act appeared to calm him, though Siham knew the reason lied with the uncertainty of his proposal having reached a conclusion.

The prince looked to her a last time and confessed. Upon approaching the chamber door, but before opening it to step out into the hall, he said, “I hope you won’t come to despise me for making my offer. Another prince or monarch would have conquered kingdoms and razed cities to grant them a realm worthy enough for you to reign beside them. Mark these words, Lady Siham, and sleep well into the coming dawn.”

Sarkis pried the door open, stepping out into the greater Heaven’s Gate Wing. Stunned, Siham waited without looking back at the warrior prince again. She watched the burning hearth until she heard the chamber door close itself shut behind Sarkis, the prince of the U’skar Qi.
« Last Edit: February 7, 2022, 10:16:31 PM by Myen'Tal »

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords
« Reply #275 on: February 10, 2022, 12:06:23 PM »
A quick update & progress summary:

First off: I've shared an update here a couple days ago that was merged into the previous post, instead of being made a new and separate one. I figured that would happen, but wanted to take the opportunity to point out that there is a new update in the last post made.

With that being said, onto the other news:

Update: I'm working to get a website fast-tracked to establishment - the process is set to begin soon in the new few months here. Will have updates once things are underway. Cover Art is now completed with other related materials. As you all know the map of Khios is also completed.

After website establishment - I have one more illustration scheduled, by the same illustrator who worked on my cover art. This will be a landscape illustration of a location depicted in some of these shared scenes more than once - and I'm certain you guys will be pleasantly surprised!

I may have already actually said what the art will be depicting lol, but in case I haven't - stayed tuned, my friends.

Progress Update:

I've been slaving away on A Sanctum of Sword's First Act - I last reported on the self-editing passes I was working on throughout all the first act's established chapters, in reverse. I am happy and proud to announce that I've completed each pass on all of my established chapters.

Hopefully you can see the difference in some of the more recent scenes I've shared. There is still work to be done on some of them I've not completed yet - like Illusion of Tranquility's opening. But there is always work to be done - for the moment I am more than content with how each completed chapter now stands.

I've simplified character dialogues and have worked really hard to make each character more unique, and giving their storylines, perspectives, and dialogues a much greater contrast between one another.

I've streamlined the entire text - removing wordiness, confusion, and overwrought portions, in combination with the removal of all irrelevant text and descriptions where necessary.

I've also taken the time to enhance some of the narrative elements where I thought them weakest when performing these editing passes. Character descriptions have been buffed / enhanced, scene setting & grounding more fleshed out, character introductions re-written, all dialogue recreated, streamlined, and made more unique.

In a few instances, I basically had to recreate / rewrite four different scenes to smooth out the narrative transitions and bring much more comprehensive and easier to follow narrative to make connections from DOT A to DOT B in the overall story arc.

This now means that Act I is almost finished - I am now in the position to start working on Chapter One again, and the new chapter two that I've determined will need to follow afterward.

Hope you guys are excited by the news, and always, thanks for everyone who comes by this thread - whoever ye' all may be  :).

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords - Art & First Chapter Excerpt Update
« Reply #276 on: February 14, 2022, 08:51:09 AM »
Some updates of the artwork I've had commissioned via artstation - working with Puffet69 & Ferdinand Ladera, both are great artists and wonderful people  :) !

Ferdinand left his watermark on the map and my name along with the novel's name too. Puffet didn't add those, but those are clearly his works as you can see in the artstation page. If anyone has any questions about the legitimacy of Puffet's artwork for me - you can feel free to reach out to him and confirm!

https://ferdinandladera.artstation.com/



https://puffet69.artstation.com/





1
At the Gates of Her Palace - Scene I

Souls marked for death by divine hands rarely assumed the guise of simple prey. Enigma understood that lesson long ago, in a decade since faded to time. Avaricious kings and demented priests. Tyrannical Demi-gods and notorious seekers of forbidden lore. All blackened souls to the last man and woman recorded throughout time’s annals.

Enigma reaped their souls, building a mythical legend out of a personal menagerie of severed skulls–all given in offering upon Goddess Zahira’s altar.

Goddess Zahira, Gatekeeper of the Mortal Sands and the Final Judge, committed each of their names to a contract given in due time. Her whispers attracted the spirits of the dead roaming the light-less depths underneath the continent of Khios. Handing down contracts written by her own hand, these enduring souls passed her every decree to her mortal disciples.

The Ashen Blades of Sukhan Kingdom, Enigma’s order of penitent assassins, devoted to their goddess’ grim creed–their mission to pay penance in the lives of those more wicked than themselves.

He heard his master, the Banished Blade, calling through the Southern Wastes’ haunting wails. Like that of a mourning widow, Enigma thought, as the nightly gust sifted through the pallid dune sea.

His master spoke, “I’ve counted seven cycles of the moon in the desert sky since our departure from Suann Sanctuary. You’ve done well to avoid the blistering sun of the Southern Wastes, but don’t you ever tire?”

Enigma intentionally failed to register the Banished Blade’s politely guised suggestion. Garbed in the midnight black silk uniform of the Ashen Blades, both of them appeared near invisible beneath the cover of night. He paused, sparing a moment to take in their surroundings from any horizon to the other.

Beneath a black sky teeming with countless thousands of twinkling starlight scattered about its vastness, the dunes of the Southern Wastes appeared like a secluded valley in the near distance, forgotten by mother nature. Farther toward the unending horizons, the same wasteland arose out of the earth like much smaller mountains.

An endless sea of sand, pallid and tranquil, like a forgotten beach a man could stumble across along more northern shores. Searching, Enigma failed to find even traces of stone scattered amid the dunes–nor signs of any life in immediate reach.

Enigma answered his master with a silent shrug. He said, “Should I sleep on the dunes then, Banished One? I’ve little reason to stop our journey for the night… you said that Azzar Sanctuary wouldn’t be too far a couple nights before this one.”

A pleasant laughter followed Enigma the moment he made to journey onward. His master spoke, “So you’ll just run into the Den of Vipers, sword raised, and hope you’ll match each one of the Sanctuary Guardians without effort?”

He continued, “You were always talented, Enigma, a masterful pupil and wielder of the Art of Death. Yet I fear even you’d fall beneath the swords of your peers before you descended too far into that sun-less realm.”

Enigma turned back toward the rail-thin figure standing gracefully upon an overlooking dune’s height. Clothed in nothing but black silk, Enigma almost thought him a reaper, waiting for him to notice and submit himself to Zahira’s last call. Matted hair, an oily black and barely tamed like it had grown unchecked for months, shrouded the specter of a man’s eyes.

He recalled his master’s piercing stare of luster-less amber, something he hadn’t seen in person since their final years of training together.

Enigma sighed, trying in vain to find an answer that would both satisfy his master and let him continue on toward the Sanctuary in peace. Eventually, he said, “Let us find an oasis nearby–should there be any in the near distance. I suppose all of our brethren in the Ashen Blades could wait until the wane hours of the morning.”

The Banished Blade didn’t make the slightest move in response, save for a subtle nod of approval. He pointed with a gaunt chin toward the northwest. He spoke, “Follow the sound of your memories, my apprentice. You remember the path–there doesn’t exist an Ashen Blade that has truly forgotten.”

Enigma scoffed aloud, waving off the old apparition with a flick of the wrist. He turned toward the path picked out by his mentor, resuming the arduous trek to escape the secluded valley of dunes. He said, “Some decades have passed us both since you taught me the way. We’ve never returned to the Sanctum through this route in all the years since.”

A woman’s voice interrupted him, blown by the wind across the sands from scant feet away. She asked, “But a son of Sukhan should always remember the way home, no matter the length of the journey or time’s passing.”

Enigma registered the stranger’s familiar tone, recalling her name from a list committed to memory long ago. He recognized her enigmatic accent–one of incredible rarity throughout all the continent. Turning around on a heel, Enigma came face to face with a woman seated on the same dune he meant to surmount.

Unusually sunny eyes, nearer to granite’s hue than any other color, watched him, their shape almost feline. Oily black veins spread through much of the white ringing the irises. She looked up, sitting near enough that Enigma could lean in and tap her on the shoulder.

A woman of middling years, Enigma noticed, though her youth had endured time passing a good amount better than even he had. A handful of old scars ran down the length of her face and bare limbs in serpentine patterns, their color a fleshy shade of cerise. Upon a greater canvas of light taupe skin, each outlived wound stood out like dark wine spilled into brightly colored silk.

Falls of combed hair, lustrous like cocoa if one could pour its essence into a precious stone, cascaded past her shoulders, ending upon her chest. Like the Southern Wastes’ pallid sands, a wardrobe tailored from thick sand beige silk wove itself around her chest like a partial warrior’s robe. Her silk covered only her left chest, revealing a satin tunic of the deepest velvet underneath, emblazoned with a minute scrawl of an ancient language forgotten in the entire world of Thearus.

Both articles of silk clothing vanished underneath an emerald satin sash tied around her midriff. A midnight black saora, heavy loose trousers fashioned from silk, dressed her from the waistline down to the sandals fastened around her ankles.

Enigma’s head tilted at an angle, taking in her beauty but for a moment. He said, “Amunet. Fate must conspire against me again for you to wait on me. Patient of you, daughter of the forgotten empire, but you come at an urgent time.”

Amunet’s stare didn’t waver, her granite eyes catching enough of the moon’s light to make them gleam eerily. She spoke, “Your crossing out of the dunes struck me more as tire-less rather than urgent, but we understand enough about one another, Enigma, that you could save yourself from many perils just by sparring me a moment.”

She said, “I’ve advised a select few of the Ashen Blades’ most storied legends during my time. I admit for the first time that you’re the only warrior I’ve ever noticed speaking with your own thoughts. It’s a strange sight, hearing your reaction to every lengthened period of silence. Like a chronological argument between two souls, but with all the words of the second individual written with an invisible ink on a page, otherwise written plain.”

Enigma didn’t turn back to where he knew the Banished Blade stood upon the dune behind them. He heard his master call out to him, able to hear the prophetess’ curious remark as if she had spoken to him. The Banished Blade said, “It isn’t the time for indulging in forgotten desires, my apprentice. We should press on toward the sanctuary, lest we may never reach the Den of Vipers at all.”

Enigma ignored the warning, but didn’t appear to make his desire to idle any further, either. He spoke, “I’ve time for a lesson given with haste, but nothing more.”

Amunet didn’t withhold her answer, her given truth a blunt disillusionment. She said, “Your master won’t tell you that entering the Den of Vipers will be the end of your life. Fear the Sanctum Guardians if you wish, but you know as well as I do–none of them will halt your approach to the Sanctum Queen’s throne.”

Enigma blinked, head still locked at a subtle tilt. He spoke, “Maybe he only believes that your opinion isn’t the truth?”

Amunet looked away from him, taking in the dusting of sand dancing along the wind’s current. Clucking her tongue once, she said, “You maybe a master in your own art of death, Enigma, but remember that Karyan made you in every aspect of your legend. Upon approaching her throne in the Den, your transgression will force a conflict–one you cannot simply take back, not for any future generations that may follow in the Ashen Blades.”

Enigma didn’t respond before Amunet could ask. She spoke, “Does your master not realize that his death is permanent due to what you are trying to do now? Maybe you could say the Banished Blade is less than dead, cursed to linger between life and death, until oblivion comes crawling to swallow him into nothingness.”

Enigma asked, “So you can see my master standing on the dune behind me?”

She said, “No, I cannot, but I see a burning candlelight in the area you describe where there should be nothing. What is the old man telling you?”

The Banished Blade’s voice spiked in volume, almost until it roared inside Enigma’s skull. “She speaks about me being less than dead, but wanders the world of the living like a specter, outliving every meaning of her existence!”

Enigma said, “My master believes that the three of us are perhaps the same so far as our immortal fates go…” He continued, “But that aside, you cannot simply ask me to step aside without understanding the truth the Sanctum Queen keeps locked away in her head. I believe her immortality is a lie, something not granted by Goddess Zahira as she would to an actual daughter.”

Amunet shrugged, then spoke, “Are you certain you’re prepared to face the horror behind that truth? You think your own queen an anathema to your order’s creed to the Art of Death and Zahira’s mandate… you believe the Goddess of Death will hand you a contract for the Sanctum Queen’s skull?”

Enigma mirrored the way she heaved her shoulders, considering the implications behind the question. He said, “I believe Zahira has desired Karyan’s head for many countless moons… if human histories have any weight to their truth, then she has lived in that sun-less realm beneath the surface since time immemorial. If you cannot reveal the answer, Amunet, then I will face that inevitably in coming to terms with the truth behind what grants our queen of shades such forbidden strength. Are you going to stand between Karyan and me?”

She scoffed aloud, almost choking on her mocking laugh. She said, “I won’t stand between you and your true master, Enigma. Karyan will just snap her fingers, then watch you dance to her every impulse like a puppet propped up on her strings. The moment she tires, she’ll sever those strings, and you’ll collapse into your grave, useless without life… Are you willing to turn away after hearing the inevitable?”

Enigma didn’t respond too quickly, realizing that not even the Banished Blade dared blind him to the reality behind Amunet’s prophecy. After a period of silence, he shook his head in refusal. He said, “I cannot step aside. Not to avoid an inescapable curse that will rear its hideous head at me at some point or another…” He trailed off, then asked. “Are you coming with me?”

Amunet spoke, “For what it’s worth, I actually thought about saying yes when I realized you would ask. Instead, for an eldest friend and a forgotten lover of mine, I will aid your descent into the Den with but an offered gift. When you reach the passage leading into Akara Sanctuary–take the offering abandoned upon the altar in the Mausoleum of Shades. You will come to understand its use when you are meant to.”

Enigma turned back toward the Banished Blade, meeting the old mentor’s gaze, hidden underneath a dark shroud. His master didn’t answer in any meaningful way, not even after a moment of thought. He turned back toward the Raven Soul, blinking upon realizing he stared at nothing but the dunes of the Southern Wastes.

The Banished Blade spoke again, then, quick to ask after his apprentice’s opinion. He said, “Maybe your words came nearer to the truth than she realized. Do you think Amunet maybe dead in how I am cursed to be?”

Enigma made a light scoff, turning back toward the hidden route before him. He resumed the arduous journey toward Azzar Sanctuary. Knowing the Banished Blade followed him always, he spoke, “Amunet? No–she certainly lives, Banished One. She just has a few more ways of tapping into the plane of the mortal sphere than you do. I suppose it doesn’t matter, but I’ve an inkling she maybe watching us despite saying she wouldn’t.”

His master said, “Azzar shouldn’t be much farther. Focus less on missed opportunities and more on the art of death you mastered. You will need all the storied skills whispered about by those inspired by the legend that is Enigma.”
~***~
« Last Edit: February 14, 2022, 09:29:08 AM by Myen'Tal »

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords - 1 - Gates of Her Palace - Part 1/2
« Reply #277 on: February 22, 2022, 10:55:00 PM »
Act I is about two more scenes toward completion - coming up to 34,000 words. Just need a little more done and then finished. There will probably need to be some reorganization afterward - as I'm hitting past the 25% of the manuscript mark that I'm aiming for at this point.

Still, a huge cause of celebration!

To celebrate, I thought it would be a good time to share A Sanctum of Swords' first chapter in its entirety - pre-editor, but post a number of self-edits. I hope you guys enjoy!

1
Gates of Her Palace

Souls marked for death by the divine rarely assumed the guise of simple prey. Enigma understood that lesson long ago, in a decade since faded to time. Avaricious kings and demented priests. Tyrannical Demi-gods and notorious seekers of forbidden lore. All blackened souls to the last man and woman recorded throughout time’s annals.
   
Enigma reaped their souls, building a mythical legend out of a personal menagerie of severed skulls–all given in offering upon Goddess Zahira’s altar.
   
Goddess Zahira, Gatekeeper of the Mortal Sands and the Final Judge, committed each of their names to a contract given in due time. Her whispers attracted the spirits of the dead roaming the light-less depths underneath the continent of Khios. Handing down contracts written by her own hand, these enduring souls passed her every decree to her mortal disciples.
   
The Ashen Blades of Sukhan Kingdom, Enigma’s order of penitent assassins, devoted to their goddess’ grim creed–their mission to pay penance in the lives of those more wicked than themselves.
   
He heard his master, the Banished Blade, calling through the Southern Wastes’ haunting wails. Like that of a mourning widow, Enigma thought, as the nightly gust sifted through the pallid dune sea.
   
His master spoke, “I’ve counted seven cycles of the moon in the desert sky since our departure from Suann Sanctuary. You’ve done well to avoid the blistering sun of the Southern Wastes, but don’t you ever tire?”
   
Enigma intentionally failed to register the Banished Blade’s politely guised suggestion. Garbed in the midnight black silk uniform of the Ashen Blades, both of them appeared near invisible beneath the cover of night. He paused, sparing a moment to take in their surroundings from any horizon to the other.
   
Beneath a black sky teeming with countless thousands of twinkling starlight scattered about its vastness, the dunes of the Southern Wastes appeared like a secluded valley in the near distance, forgotten by mother nature. Farther toward the unending horizons, the same wasteland arose out of the earth like much smaller mountains.
   
An endless sea of sand, pallid and tranquil, like a forgotten beach a man could stumble across along more northern shores. Searching, Enigma failed to find even traces of stone scattered amid the dunes–nor signs of any life in immediate reach.
   
Enigma answered his master with a silent shrug. He said, “Should I sleep on the dunes then, Banished One? I’ve little reason to stop our journey for the night… you said that Azzar Sanctuary wouldn’t be too far a couple nights before this one.”
   
A pleasant laughter followed Enigma the moment he made to journey onward. His master spoke, “So you’ll just run into the Den of Vipers, sword raised, and hope you’ll match each one of the Sanctuary Guardians without effort?”
   
He continued, “You were always talented, Enigma, a masterful pupil and wielder of the Art of Death. Yet I fear even you’d fall beneath the swords of your peers before you descended too far into that sun-less realm.”
   
Enigma turned back toward the rail-thin figure standing gracefully upon an overlooking dune’s height. Clothed in nothing but black silk, Enigma almost thought him a reaper, waiting for him to notice and submit himself to Zahira’s last call. Matted hair, an oily black and barely tamed like it had grown unchecked for months, shrouded the specter of a man’s eyes.
   
He recalled his master’s piercing stare of luster-less amber, something he hadn’t seen in person since their final years of training together.
   
Enigma sighed, trying in vain to find an answer that would both satisfy his master and let him continue on toward the Sanctuary in peace. Eventually, he said, “Let us find an oasis nearby–should there be any in the near distance. I suppose all of our brethren in the Ashen Blades could wait until the wane hours of the morning.”
   
The Banished Blade didn’t make the slightest move in response, save for a subtle nod of approval. He pointed with a gaunt chin toward the northwest. He spoke, “Follow the sound of your memories, my apprentice. You remember the path–there doesn’t exist an Ashen Blade that has truly forgotten.”
   
Enigma scoffed aloud, waving off the old apparition with a flick of the wrist. He turned toward the path picked out by his mentor, resuming the arduous trek to escape the secluded valley of dunes. He said, “Some decades have passed us both since you taught me the way. We’ve never returned to the Sanctum through this route in all the years since.”
   
A woman’s voice interrupted him, blown by the wind across the sands from scant feet away. She asked, “But a son of Sukhan should always remember the way home, no matter the length of the journey or time’s passing.”
   
Enigma registered the stranger’s familiar tone, recalling her name from a list committed to memory long ago. He recognized her enigmatic accent–one of incredible rarity throughout all the continent. Turning around on a heel, Enigma came face to face with a woman seated on the same dune he meant to surmount.
   
Unusually sunny eyes, nearer to granite’s hue than any other color, watched him, their shape almost feline. Oily black veins spread through much of the white ringing the irises. She looked up, sitting near enough that Enigma could lean in and tap her on the shoulder.
   
A woman of middling years, Enigma noticed, though her youth had endured time passing a good amount better than even he had. A handful of old scars ran down the length of her face and bare limbs in serpentine patterns, their color a fleshy shade of cerise. Upon a greater canvas of light taupe skin, each outlived wound stood out like dark wine spilled into brightly colored silk.
   
Falls of combed hair, lustrous like cocoa if one could pour its essence into a precious stone, cascaded past her shoulders, ending upon her chest. Like the Southern Wastes’ pallid sands, a wardrobe tailored from thick sand beige silk wove itself around her chest like a partial warrior’s robe.    Her silk covered only her left chest, revealing a satin tunic of the deepest velvet underneath, emblazoned with a minute scrawl of an ancient language forgotten in the entire world of Thearus.
   
Both articles of silk clothing vanished underneath an emerald satin sash tied around her midriff. A midnight black saora, heavy loose trousers fashioned from silk, dressed her from the waistline down to the sandals fastened around her ankles.
   
Enigma’s head tilted at an angle, taking in her beauty but for a moment. He said, “Amunet. Fate must conspire against me again for you to wait on me. Patient of you, daughter of the forgotten empire, but you come at an urgent time.”
   
Amunet’s stare didn’t waver, her granite eyes catching enough of the moon’s light to make them gleam eerily. She spoke, “Your crossing out of the dunes struck me more as tire-less rather than urgent, but we understand enough about one another, Enigma, that you could save yourself from many perils just by sparing me a moment.”

She said, “I’ve advised a select few of the Ashen Blades’ most storied legends during my time. I admit for the first time that you’re the only warrior I’ve ever noticed speaking with your own thoughts. It’s a strange sight, hearing your reaction to every lengthened period of silence. Like a chronological argument between two souls, but with all the words of the second individual written with an invisible ink on a page, otherwise unwritten.”

Enigma didn’t turn back to where he knew the Banished Blade stood upon the dune behind them. He heard his master call out to him, able to hear the prophetess’ curious remark as if she had spoken to him. The Banished Blade said, “It isn’t the time for indulging in forgotten desires, my apprentice. We should press on toward the sanctuary, lest we may never reach the Den of Vipers at all.”

Enigma ignored the warning, but made apparent his undesire to idle any further, either. He spoke, “I’ve time for a lesson given with haste, but nothing more.”

Amunet didn’t withhold her answer, her given truth a blunt disillusionment. She said, “Your master won’t tell you that entering the Den of Vipers will be the end of your life. Fear the Sanctum Guardians if you wish, but you know as well as I do–none of them will halt your approach to the Sanctum Queen’s throne.”
   
Enigma blinked, head still locked at a subtle tilt. He spoke, “Maybe he only believes that your opinion isn’t the truth?”
   
Amunet looked away from him, taking in the dusting of sand dancing along the wind’s current. Clucking her tongue once, she said, “You maybe a master in your own art of death, Enigma, but remember that Karyan made you in every aspect of your legend. Upon approaching her throne in the Den, your transgression will force a conflict–one you cannot simply take back, not for any future generations that may follow in the Ashen Blades.”
   
Enigma didn’t respond before Amunet could ask. She spoke, “Does your master not realize that his death is permanent due to what you are trying to do now? Maybe you could say the Banished Blade is less than dead, cursed to linger between life and death, until oblivion comes crawling to swallow him into nothingness.”
   
Enigma asked, “So you can see my master standing on the dune behind me?”

She said, “No, I cannot, but I see a burning candlelight in the area you describe where there should be nothing. What is the old man telling you?”

The Banished Blade’s voice spiked in volume, almost until it roared inside Enigma’s skull. “She speaks about me being less than dead, but wanders the world of the living like a specter, outliving every meaning of her existence!”

Enigma said, “My master believes that the three of us are perhaps the same so far as our immortal fates go…” He continued, “But that aside, you cannot simply ask me to step aside without understanding the truth the Sanctum Queen keeps locked away in her head. I believe her immortality is a lie, something not granted by Goddess Zahira as she would to an actual daughter.”

Amunet shrugged, then spoke, “Are you certain you’re prepared to face the horror behind that truth? You think your own queen an anathema to your order’s creed to the Art of Death and Zahira’s mandate… you believe the Goddess of Death will hand you a contract for the Sanctum Queen’s skull?”

Enigma mirrored the way she heaved her shoulders, considering the implications behind the question. He said, “I believe Zahira has desired Karyan’s head for many countless moons… if human histories have any weight to their truth, then she has lived in that sun-less realm beneath the surface since time immemorial. If you cannot reveal the answer, Amunet, then I will face that inevitable coming to terms with the truth behind what grants our queen of shades such forbidden strength. Are you going to stand between Karyan and me?”

She scoffed aloud, almost choking on her mocking laugh. She said, “I won’t stand between you and your true master, Enigma. Karyan will just snap her fingers, then watch you dance to her every impulse like a puppet propped up on her strings. The moment she tires, she’ll sever those strings, and you’ll collapse into your grave, useless without life… Are you willing to turn away after hearing the inevitable?”

Enigma didn’t respond too quickly, realizing that not even the Banished Blade dared blind him to the reality behind Amunet’s prophecy. After a period of silence, he shook his head in refusal. He said, “I cannot step aside. Not to avoid an inescapable curse that will rear its hideous head at me at some point or another…” He trailed off, then asked. “Are you coming with me?”

Amunet spoke, “For what it’s worth, I actually thought about saying yes when I realized you would ask. Instead, for an eldest friend and a forgotten lover of mine, I will aid your descent into the Den with but an offered gift. When you reach the passage leading into Akara Sanctuary–take the offering abandoned upon the altar in the Mausoleum of Shades. You will come to understand its use when you most need to.”

Enigma turned back toward the Banished Blade, meeting the old mentor’s gaze, hidden underneath a dark shroud. His master didn’t answer in any meaningful way, not even after a moment of thought. He turned back toward the Raven Soul, blinking upon realizing he stared at nothing but the dunes of the Southern Wastes.

The Banished Blade spoke again, quick to ask after his apprentice’s opinion. He said, “Maybe your words came nearer to the truth than she realized. Do you think Amunet maybe dead in the same way I am cursed to be?”

Enigma made a light scoff, turning back toward the hidden route before him. He resumed the arduous journey toward Azzar Sanctuary. Knowing the Banished Blade followed him always, he spoke, “Amunet? No–she certainly lives, Banished One. She just has a few more ways of tapping into the plane of the mortal sphere than you do. I suppose it doesn’t matter, but I’ve an inkling she maybe watching us despite saying she wouldn’t.”
   
His master said, “Azzar shouldn’t be much farther. Focus less on missed opportunities and more on the art of death you mastered. You will need all the storied skills whispered about by those inspired by the legend that is Enigma.”

~***~

Akara Sanctuary, of all the havens hidden throughout the Southern Wastes, looked nothing out of the ordinary upon Enigma approaching the disguised gateway. He had spent another two hours trekking across the dunes, stumbling across an oasis where the wasteland became flat like an arid plain.

   He found the natural fountain a welcome moment of respite, a crystalline pool of turquoise water, surrounded by an overgrown field of emerald grass and thick crimson reeds. Choosing to heed the Banished Blade’s advice, he came to rest by the placid oasis for another hour.

   Seated amid a sea of grass and red reeds, Enigma listened to the chitterling sound of birdsong upon the night wind. A chilling breeze pushed through the thriving oasis, bending the foliage until the land droned constantly in his ears.

   Surrounded by life, Enigma took little comfort from the illusion of peace it offered for the weary. He could think of nothing else whenever glancing through the open gates of Akara Sanctuary. A decrepit wound hollowed into Thearus’ surface, running deep into the heart of the broken world.

He had almost failed to discern the metallic gateway jutting out both the chasm mouth’s flanks, visible by only a small fraction beneath the moonlight. He stared into that deep descent, spotting a solitary light burning from much farther inside the passage itself.

It appeared comfortable to Enigma, like returning home after an uncertain altercation meant to steal away a moment before it’s coming. 

Enigma glanced back toward the Banished Blade, watching him preoccupy himself with meditation amid the red reeds and fluttering groups of bright-feathered birds. He said, “You were right to suggest we rest while we could. An hour has come and gone, but a brief reflection appears to have restored the mind and body.”

His master spoke, “Even before reaching the Den of Vipers, Akara Sanctuary has its own share of perils. Are you prepared to face them in one continuous trial? You won’t be given the fortune of respite or haven once the Ashen Blades understand your purpose.”

Enigma gracefully stood out of the knee-length grass, coming back to his feet. A sheathed blade–a gladius by the name of Dominion’s End, he kept clutched between gentle fingers. With reverence, he fastened the scabbard and the weapon at rest within it, back onto the raven black sash tied around the Ashen Blade’s midriff.

Nodding once, he said, “We’ve wasted enough time playing around the inevitable. I’d just like to see our destiny played out and the deed finished. I will take lead, just aid me in any way you think useful.”

Approaching the sanctuary’s gates, the cavern entrance awaited them both, unbarred and without guardians. From inside the cavern’s mouth, Enigma heard gentle subterranean streams flowing deeper below. Combined, the rushing waters almost sounded like music to combat the silence of emptiness.

Groves of blooming cerulean petals attached to leafy emerald stalks dangled from the cavern walls. Enigma passed through the sanctuary gate into the morbid darkness before him. Yet something about Akara’s morbid atmosphere appeared unfamiliar. An eerie turquoise glowing from the Lantern Stalks’ every blooming petal. Pulsating, all the groves produced a gentle natural illumination throughout the descent.

A quake from deep underneath the cavern gave Enigma pause. A subtle disturbance at first thought, growing until the entire passage shook with violence. Out of the dark, a tremulous breath deafened him, inhuman in the way it shuddered with undisguised aggression. Enigma fell into a combat stance, the approaching creature’s every anxiety-inducing breath rattling the bones underneath his skin.

A pulse, usually undetected, became noticeable beneath each wrist. A quickening in heart beat thrummed in the chest, but Enigma ignored the warning. He kept an un-moving stance, one hand clutched around Dominion’s End by its leather wrapped hilt. Head bowed, he calculated an estimated distance between the approaching foe and himself.

His master spoke. “And so the gauntlet begins. Show me you remember your training and what has become of Enigma’s myth during my absence.”

Enigma answered the Banished Blade with a silent nod, leveling his gaze into the dark. For the approaching doomed challenger, he said, “honor my blade with your skill.”

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords - 1 - Gates of Her Palace - Part (2/2)
« Reply #278 on: February 24, 2022, 10:44:02 PM »
At the Gates of Her Palace - Part 2/2

An eruption of molten fire burst out of the dark, landing just shy of where he stood. Its brilliance seared the eyes, rendering him temporarily blinded. Its molten heat seared the flesh underneath his midnight robes, near blistering even without touching him.

Enigma backpedaled beyond the gushing torrent of fire with a pair of leaping steps made in reverse. Undeterred, the billowing flames hunted for him, leaving the same soil he had tread upon a sundered earth, blackened and cracked by volcanic heat.

Sensing a moment’s weakness, a dark figure emerged out of the same inferno raging out of its bellowing mouth, unhooked to mirror that of a serpent. A feminine shape, slender beyond human standards, raised a pair of curved scimitar blades above its magma spewing skull in predestined triumph. A creature rippling with muscular definition underneath golden bronze skin, natural patterns of dark and lighter shades appearing like an ancient war paint once worn by those long lost to time.

Raven black hair of a lustrous shade, well-kempt enough to appear at odds with its inhuman anatomy, cloaked her features behind a constant veil. Her every movement, graceful like the dancer, but doing little to disguise the foe’s unrestrained bloodlust. Thickened silk robes draped its torso, dangling between slender legs in the form of a tabard. Her clothes, dyed in Akara Sanctuary’s vermillion and snow white shades, flowed around like the silk uniforms of the Ashen Blades.

He recognized the familiar creature by name. An Azzaran, known by the warriors who defended Azzar Sanctuary as Guardian Souls.

Enigma craned his head to look higher up, meeting the Azzaran’s gaze. Her eyes appeared like large spheres, ablaze from within by bruised fires. He noticed the same oily black veins he had seen in Amunet’s just before arriving at the Azzar gate. The only difference appeared to be an inversion of colors between Amunet and that of the Guardian Soul.

He pushed hesitation aside, bursting into a darting run through the widening gaps created in the dying flames. Quicker than he could ever remember, he sprinted around the creature, followed by the Azzaran’s pursuing eyes. It tracked him like mechanical clockwork, turning to keep face with him, but appeared hesitant to strike out.

Taking a chance, Enigma pivoted on the ball of his right foot, straight into the towering beast. A gleaming streak answered the aggressive act, its keening wails through the smoking air almost deafening. Dominion’s End came free of the scabbard, striking the cursed Azzaran blade aside in an unnatural rain of sparks.

An ordinary human could never have turned such a blow aside, a fate difficult to escape upon being threatened by its peril. Enigma turned aside an inhuman limb, its compact shape burgeoning with densely layered muscle–without effort. An eerie chill wrapped the length of his other arm–a smoky blue cloud of shadow blanketing it from fingers to elbow.

Uncaring, the Guardian Soul thrust her other blade without warning. A diabolical chortling rattled between the creature’s shuddering breaths upon running Enigma straight through the midriff. The Azzaran channeled overwhelming strength into the blow to sever the Ashen Blade in twain. The blade cleaved through Enigma, the shade essence knitting the ruined flesh back together just as quickly.

An explosion of the same smoking cloud essence streamed out of the storming gauntlet that whirled around his arm. A gentle smoke filled the subterranean passage, obscuring the Azzaran’s vision even as Enigma slipped clean off the blood-specked edge of its sword. A pain, intense and haunting, ached throughout him upon tearing free from the cursed weapon.

Every tendril of bluish-gray smoke coalesced out of the bracelet clasped around his arm. It writhed like an actual apparition, taking on Enigma’s physical appearance in every aspect. Like a specter breaking free of its prison–the shadow-mirror, an ancient form of forbidden magic, tore itself out of Enigma’s own shadow. A play of mirrors kept secret among other dimensions beyond the mortal sphere–all too real save their unnatural appearance.

Instinctively, the Guardian Soul swiveled its head round toward the mirror-twin. Again, the Azzaran unhooked its jaws, vomiting up a magmatic geyser at the apparition. Enigma didn’t watch the mirror image’s destruction, raising an arm to shield him from the blazing heat.

He pushed off the back of his right foot, Dominion’s End parrying another downward thrust from the Azzaran’s second blade. Sliding to the left, Enigma dodged another sweeping strike to cleave him open from shoulder blade to waist. Pushing forward again, he stole the Guardian Soul’s momentum with a successful thrust through the creature’s near naked thigh.

Its howling filled the subterranean passage from the open gate to the unfathomable depths awaiting Enigma below. A terror-inducing cry, like that of a siren bred from an ancient demon of old. It took all concentration to blot out the sound and push the advantage a little more in the Ashen Blade’s favor. Pushing again a last time, he drove Dominion’s End through the burnished flesh–letting the blade drink deeply of it scolding fiery blood.

Staggering back, the Azzaran lashed out with a reckless kick straight to Enigma’s chest. An impact, like a hammer flung into his sternum at moderate speed, would have crumpled him immediately, but the creature bowled him over without effort. He blinked, registering the sensation of being hurled farther down the passage to Azzar Sanctuary.

Another impact, the sound like a muffled thump even inside the narrow cavern, jarred his world to an utter halt. An aching pain swelled inside his chest, but he preferred pain over death. He struggled to turn himself over onto all his outstretched limbs, staggering back onto his feet after several moments.

He realized the Azzaran hadn’t pursued him, despite having her moment to end their struggle. Enigma turned around on a heel, back toward the inferno roaring in the Azzaran’s furious wake. There the creature stood amid the flames with blades outstretched overhead in triumph. Or so it appeared, just before the Guardian Soul brought both blades down upon something dancing through the flames around its cleaving blows.

His mirror-twin, created from the shade essence of another dimension, fought the Azzaran amid the flames unhindered. Just like the Banished Blade had taught Enigma, the mirror image weaved between the Guardian Soul’s sweeping attacks. It lunged forward to thrust a clean strike home at just the right opportunity–leaving several seeping wounds across the Azzaran’s thighs and midriff.

Bloodied and beaten back under the mirror-twin’s assault, the Azzaran at last staggered back from her opponent–seeking a moment’s respite from their duel. At once, Enigma pieced together the chained events about to create the immediate future. He pushed off the back of his foot again, breaking into a loping sprint back toward the embattled entities.

Triumphant, the mirror-twin juked past the Azzaran’s reckless attempt to cut its head clear off the shoulders. It kicked off its back foot like Enigma so often did, diving into the creature’s guard the moment it staggered again, coming down to kneel before the apparition.

Enigma channeled all the endurance he could summon at a moment’s notice, pushing himself to pace alongside the wind streaming into the tunnel itself. Gaze fixed upon the Azzaran, the creature dropped its second blade the moment his mirror image drove its smoking weapon of shadow straight into the foe’s chest.

Enigma witnessed the Azzaran ensnare the mirror image by the rear of its neck.; Upon squeezing, the creature pulped the shade-twin between its fingers in an explosion of phantasmal gore. Yet he spied the shadow blade, driven deep into one of the Azzaran’s lungs. It continued to crush the shadow puppet caught in its grip until nothing but evaporating coils of smoking vapor remained.

Enigma channeled the thoughts in his mind to still, calling upon the sanctuary–another dimension where the gate between the mortal world and the underworld domain of Zahira–the Gates of Her Palace. A gaping wound burst into reality, swallowing Enigma whole into an inter-dimensional rift between two celestial worlds.

He continued to perceive the mortal sphere–the passage leading into Azzar Sanctuary–before him. Yet looking into the mortal world where he had languished a moment ago, appeared to him like peering through a clouded lens–obscured by an eerie darkness, the moon’s subtle glow granting it just enough light to see with some hindrance.

Inside the sanctuary, Enigma’s every step came with a feather-light grace. He raced across space and time–still running through the same passage he fought the Azzaran in, but without the impediments of gravity. He leaped up toward the cavern ceiling upon coming into the creature’s reach, the passage still burning with hellfire.

Enigma dispelled the forbidden conjuration with a thought command–tearing him out of the realm of moonlit darkness and shadow. He emerged back into the burning cavern, coming down from the gravity defying leap he made when still in the sanctuary. The Azzaran made to climb back onto its feet, the strange residue of Enigma’s mirror twin splattered across each of its limbs. He landed feet-first on the back of the creature’s shoulders.

Upon impact, he flipped Dominion’s End to point its blade tip down toward the mythical creature destined to fall beneath its steel. Without warning, Enigma dug the sandals on his feet deep into the Azzaran’s back,, driving it facedown into the blackened grime covering the cavern floor.

He lunged, attempting to thrust Dominion’s End clean through the spinal cord. Spewing liquid fire from its mouth again, the Azzaran lurched back onto its knees, almost flinging Enigma clean off her back and into a cavern wall. Yet the Ashen Blade had already reacted, leaping back off the foe’s shoulders just before it could take him by surprise.

Enigma took Dominion’s End into one hand, wrapping his other around the Guardian Soul’s broad neck, rippling with swollen muscle. He straddled himself against the Azzaran’s near naked skin even as the creature fought back onto its feet, already locked in the motion of delivering a savage elbow to free herself of the assassin in her midst.

It mattered little in the end. The moment gained in the Guardian Soul’s confusion proved the key to triumphing over their arduous struggle. Enigma swung upward with the Dominion’s End–driving the gladius clean through the Azzaran’s flame-spewing throat up to the hilt. Laced with the perilous venom known to Ashen Blades as Lavender Night–Dominion’s End drank deep of the creature’s blood, the venom spreading through the veins like wildfire.

The Azzaran staggered again, falling down onto its knees. Her inner strength continued to wane, its eyes–burning with hateful endurance only a moment ago, now dimmed with weariness. By the time it collapsed onto its hands seconds later, Enigma uncurled his arm around the creature’s neck, falling back to the cavern floor beside it.

Curious, the Azzaran gradually craned its head over to its silent killer. She gazed down at him with exhausted eyes, longing for oblivion’s bliss, before fluttering them shut once and forever.

Enigma came out of his combat stance, executing a deep bow before the Azzaran’s corpse when her strength finally failed. She came to rest on the embers of her dying inferno, at peace in a bed of ashes gathered upon black earth.

A tranquil quiet settled back into the underground passage, blown by a wind coming through the sanctuary gate. Enigma didn’t move for a brief period, processing the perilous altercation that should have probably ended his life there and then.

The Banished Blade spoke, “A promising beginning to our trial by blade and fire. You’ve learned much after my death–that much is apparent. Well done.”

Enigma didn’t make any mention of the praise, unable to feel even a kindling of pride. He said, “I am an inanimate weapon — nothing more. Just a blade desiring to be severed clean from its master’s hand. Let us continue onward then. If this is the first surprise that Karyan had waiting for us, it maybe better to take advantage of discretion and avoid what obstacles we can.”

The Banished Blade didn’t disagree, but offered Enigma an affirming nod. Neither of them waited to command the other, but turned back toward the path ahead of them. As Enigma raced farther into the dark, he wondered how high his legend truly stood above all others in the Ashen Blades.

Did that mean anything to a queen of shadows like Karyan? He recalled Amunet’s warning of caution. That perhaps he made no moves of his own accord at all, but only those set in place by the Sanctum Queen herself. Should Zahira truly be guiding her devoted disciple, Enigma wagered there could be a way to sever the master’s puppet strings without her knowing.

Enigma thought about the last of his kin – Lucine of Suann and her pair of prodigal children. Mahir and Gadara, adolescent siblings kept hidden in Suann’s quiet darkness – their souls such a brilliance it almost gave that secluded township a light of its own. He recalled Amunet’s memory – a lover back in the earlier years of his career, disappearing out of his life during the mission that had changed the entire course of his life – claiming the skull of Parounag, the Spear of Dusk & High King of Ashara Kingdom before its collapse into civil strife.

He looked to the Banished Blade – the phantom’s image about as hale and accurate since the days leading up to his death. Enigma considered the old mentor’s fate – wondering if the apparition that dwelled in his mind could possibly be real or merely a trick of longing – or something far more sinister.

Enigma supposed it mattered little in the end. For all those who dwelled in the protection of the dark shadow he cast, nothing could sway him off the path to confrontation with Karyan. By Zahira’s decree – Enigma would sever the ties that bound the Ashen Blades to their queen of Shadows. Or he would fail and find peace in the long sleep of death, before waking again before the Gates of Her Palace. His purpose to seek penance slaying those far more wicked than himself, brought him to the final mission of his life.

Like a serpent, he would ensnare the greatest tyrant’s hand – crushing Karyan’s limb until she relinquished all control. Enigma remained the Goddess’ most feared weapon, wielding him like divine intervention to bring deliverance to the Children of the Southern Wastes…

Offline Myen'Tal

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Re: A Sanctum of Swords - 9 - Distant from the Lantern's Light - Scene II
« Reply #279 on: March 8, 2022, 09:13:32 AM »
A Most Cherished Dream…
   
A mechanical ticking filled the observatory of the Amber Gold Sanctum, letting Shoushan count away every passing second idling away the afternoon. A chamber for the Celestial Oracles to practice their science, reading the veil of futures for omens. A billowing wind swept through the open marble arches, nothing beyond them but the snow-capped peaks of the Golden Mountain and the crystal skies blanketing all of Gorum, the Golden Valley.
   
That same wind came blowing across a floor of golden-amber stone, worked by masterful stonemasons from centuries past into a pattern of tiles laid out in a sprawling mosaic. Specific calligraphic letters marked each gold panel inside the round chamber, placed beside adjacent panels to spell the names of forgotten gods.
   
Her father, God King Erasyl of the Children of the Sun, called out from behind her. His authoritative voice, unusually gentle, parted the billowing wind without effort. Shoushan heard him plain above the dwimmer of birdsong coming out of the Hanging Gardens, just beyond the sanctum gates.
   
Glancing up from the clockwork mechanism sitting on her desk, Shoushan looked at Erasyl the moment he rounded the corner, coming out of a minor stair to reach her in the observatory’s lower tier. An inescapable weight made the gesture more purposeful than she wanted, but knew her father would notice like he always did.
   
He said, “Do you know who created that wonder sitting on your desk, my daughter?”
   
Young Shoushan blinked at him, puzzled by the strange question. Turning back to the ticking device, it appeared to be some manner of true artwork. A combination of standard cogs and pointing arrows magically placed together, telling someone a small semblance of time in passing.
   
She spoke, “Maybe Tabia? I always imagined her mind may work in similar ways. Remember what you used to tell me when my lecturer would often scold me for being… too dense?”
   
Her godly father nodded, chuckling at the memory. He said, “A gifted mind often reads to the narrow-minded like something incorrect. Some will never devote enough time to understanding all the higher lessons a good life can teach us. Others will come to refuse that knowledge altogether. You aren’t dull-witted because another cannot precisely understand that you may know more than them.”
   
The God King continued. He spoke, “A council created that device on your desk. A council of thirteen Architect-Kings known as the Pillars of Heaven, whom hail from the distant lands of Akopia.
   
Shoushan said, “I’ve never heard of them. You’ve shared no tales or lessons about that place. Am I supposed to know everything now?”
   
Her father shook his head in disagreement, shrugging. He spoke, “Maybe not during the days of your youth, that you ought to exhaust joy out of. A time will come when your people will look to you, expecting the omniscient mind of a benevolent deity. That day won’t arrive until I have departed the mortal sphere, and my firstborn daughter will succeed me in everything that I build and create out of the ashes of our shrouded pasts.”
   
He changed the subject. “Would you change anything about the Children of the Sun when you climb into the Throne of the Sun Caller Kings for the first time? Maybe abolishing the enslavement of others? Would you still honor the tenets of our faith? Or maybe it might be you, who would cast aside our ancient traditions, that have structured our civilization for many thousands of years?”
   
Chuckling without mirth, Shoushan mirrored her father’s previous shrug. She said, “Would any decision I make even matter? You always call me your firstborn when you come to see me, but none of my kindred will acknowledge a bastard seated on the Sun Caller’s throne.”
   
Curious, Erasyl cocked his head at an odd angle, considering the implications behind the remark. Upon realization, his posture straightened, though she noticed the God King’s benign benevolence faltering from irritation.
   
Sighing, he turned toward the open archways facing toward all the City of Grand Canals. He asked, “Did Tabia choose to share that truth with you already?”
   
Flustered, Shoushan fluttered her eyes closed, trying in vain to forget that confrontation. A moment of silence passed between father and daughter before she took another breath. Her father stood before her still, patiently folding his arms, intent on waiting for her to speak with her voice and not through quiet gestures.
   
Forcing a reply out of her mouth, Shoushan spoke, “You know what she said. You know Tabia more than anyone could ever hope to. I was only thinking about if you were ever planning on telling me.”
   
Wordlessly, Erasyl stepped around her flank, turning her with a gentle pat on the shoulder to face him. He loomed over her like one of the ancient monuments, depicting warrior kings of old. The God King stooped down, planting a hand on both knees until they both came eye-to-eye with one another.
   
He said, “The truth, my daughter? I had planned to tell you upon a distant day, when you and I could sit around a hearth across from one another and speak as equals. You’d know about everything I ever learned about life and only more besides. Such was my intention, because by then such a revelation would be meaningless. Inheritance of blood ties and lineage aren’t all that make Children of the Sun.
   
“You’re far too young to learn about the Faith of Inheritance, but remember, a divine strength courses through your veins. Our eldest mythical tales often recite of the gods, granting their immortal children powers relevant to their truest natures. Our dreams, desires, and even our doubts. Have you ever dreamed about anything you truly desired to change about the world? Do you understand why I had asked you about anything you would change among the Children of the Sun? Tell me a truth I don’t know about you. Just one truth.”
   
Shoushan scoffed, turning her head back toward the horizon beyond the archways. She spoke, “I’ve reached my sixteenth summer and you think there’s something about me you don’t know?”
   
Her father smiled that knowing smile he always made for her. Shrugging, he said, “that truth is only inevitable, my daughter. You’ll soon learn that not even after a mortal lifetime, will you come near to understanding the hidden concepts and truths that govern all mortal kind–from a societal perspective down to the lonely individual. Go ahead, tell me about one thing you would change about our people.”
   
Hesitant, Shoushan risked a glance into her father’s bright hazel eyes, finding turning away again all but impossible. At last, a great relief carried her burden of sorrow away, far from her weakened shoulders.
   
She spoke, “Should the time ever come that I inherited all the empire you built for the Children of the Sun… your throne would lie empty. I cannot change the only truth about our existence that I care about… you and I aren’t alike, father. Purists like Tabia maybe speak the truth about me… you rule beneath the divine light of a golden sun, untouched by darkness.
   
“Maybe I don’t know the mother that birthed me, but I can only find a solace similar to knowing amid the quiet places of the Golden Valley–far beyond where sunlight may blind or reveal the dark shadow cast over my birth. And I fear that upon a distant day, that will come to make us mortal enemies.”
   
Her father stood before her still, the golden sun striking his back at such an angle that he cast a dark shadow over her. He nodded, listening to every word given sound by her voice. Whatever Shoushan predicted about the God King’s reaction to her confession, Erasyl banished with an act of understanding.
   
He said, “And when I am gone from Thearus and the Throne of the Sun Caller Kings remains abandoned and empty… maybe concepts such as deities and devotion may perish. Should that ever come to pass, humankind will birth new ideals and other ideologies besides. I’ve always understood that you are going to walk your own path to find peace for yourself.    

“Remember, my daughter, that you could never be an enemy of mine for seeking all that I cannot give you myself. Should our paths bring us into conflict with one another, know that I stand in your path as another obstacle to conquer, an arduous trial the likes of which you won’t experience for the rest of your life. If you cannot find victory, the Golden Valley shall be here upon your return–even should you arrive with your head bowed in defeat. It would only be another education for us both that you still have much to learn.”
   
In lightness, Shoushan scoffed, not quite knowing how to display her thankfulness in a way her father would understand. Instead, Shoushan asked, “but in the event I should triumph over your Children of the Sun? And everyone in the Golden Valley bends their knee to the Heiress of the Carth Dominion?”
   
A chortling filled the quiet observatory, deafening enough in volume that the birds dancing about the open arches took flight for safer heights.
   
Erasyl smiled that knowing smile he so often made. He said, “I will not be there to see your victory in blood and flesh, but know that a father’s insurmountable pride will be here, waiting for you throughout all this Golden Valley. You shall understand that I speak the truth, when you find all the City of Grand Canals as I had left it during my reign. Just as I had left it, if not much improved.”
   
He executed an elegant bow before her, stepping away to take his leave upon straightening. Shoushan watched him take the same minor stairwell leading back toward the entrance of the Amber Gold Sanctum. She heard the echoes of his voice gradually fade upon him, falling out of sight. “It will be up to the Sun Caller Queen that succeeds me in what to do with all that her predecessor created from there. Inheritance of blood isn’t all that makes a Child of the Sun, just the essence of the soul and the wisdoms of the mind…”

 


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