Necromancer Falling, the sequel to the 2014 #1 fantasy bestseller Necromancer Awakening, is almost upon us! Just as I did with Necromancer Awakening, I’ve decided to post chapter 1 of Necromancer Falling here on the blog to whet your appetite.
If you like what you see (I sure hope you do!), you don’t have much longer to wait. Necromancer Falling, in its entirety, will be in your hands by the end of this month!
[Update: 5/30/2016 – Necromancer Falling is now available on Amazon!]
***SPOILER ALERT*** If you haven’t read Necromancer Awakening yet, you’ll regret reading this chapter if you hate spoilers.
1In the days before the Foundation; in the days before days…
2The Power emerged from the darkness and gave life to the multiverse. 3But life was not in its proper place, and chaos reigned. 4Chaos created a seed of wickedness and planted it next to the Tree of Life. 5The seed took root and grew alongside life, becoming one with The Power’s gift.
– The Mukhtaar Chronicles, attributed to the prophet Habakku
Origines Multiversi, Emergentiae 1:1-5
Chaos is mentioned several times in the Origines as a being separate from The Power, and seemingly equal in divinity. Ancient theologians put forth the notion of two creator gods. I am more inclined to view Chaos as one half of a dual nature within The Power itself. Lord Fahad is in full agreement with me on this matter.
– Coteon of the Steppes, “Coteonic Commentaries on the Origines Multiversi” (circa 520 RL)
The reference here is to Fahad Lord Mukhtaar Morcos, a contemporary and close confidant of Coteon who appears in more detail later in the Chronicles.
– Mujahid Mukhtaar, Private Commentaries, 45 CE
Nicolas Murray tumbled through the void. It had been nice to be back in Texas, even if only for a few minutes, but he couldn’t stay. Erindor was going to need him now more than it had when his birth father, Kagan, had been archmage.
And that was saying something. Kagan had been one evil bastard. He’d started a war among the Three Kingdoms to keep eyes focused away from his use of life magic—a magic whose true purpose was to aid in childbirth. Kagan had found a way to channel the magic through the Orb of Arin to construct his perverse Great Barrier; an impenetrable dome over the continent that kept a formidable enemy at bay, but slowly drained life from the Three Kingdoms over the course of four decades.
Nicolas had destroyed the Orb of Arin, which brought the gods of Erindor back to their rightful place. But when the orb shattered, it brought down Kagan’s Great Barrier as well.
Kagan built that dome for a reason, and I went and tore the thing down. What’s waiting outside it?
Though Kagan had been misguided, an army of Barathosians had been about to invade when the barrier went up. And Nicolas had no way of knowing if they were still out there.
Whatever was out there, worrying wasn’t going to change anything.
Nicolas focused on another presence tumbling through the void with him. He needed to take his mind off problems he didn’t have solutions for.
Her presence was comforting, and though they had no form, he could feel her and Toby as if they were touching him.
He had so much to tell her. So much to show.
And there’d be a lot of work to do when they arrived. The Pinnacle sanctuary was in ruins, largely because he’d blown out an entire wall when he destroyed the orb. He’d need some rest before getting started. And people were going to have questions.
He had questions of his own, though.
What was he supposed to do now that he was the religious leader of Erindor? He was basically the pope of another world.
Speaking of which, how the hell did this new religion jive with his old one? If he told the nuns about this, they’d strangle him with a rosary! How could he go around acting like the pope and take himself seriously?
Aw hell. They’re gonna make me wear some kind of funny hat, aren’t they?
Kaitlyn had said he looked like Jesus when he arrived back in Texas. Hopefully they had razors in Erindor.
He didn’t want to look like Jesus.
No offense, Lord. You’re not a bad lookin’ guy, it’s just…the beard don’t work for me.
He felt himself slowing, but there were no visual landmarks in the void. Only blackness.
The blackness soon changed to a dull gray, then white, then disappeared entirely, leaving them standing on a marble floor, surrounded by columns, in the middle of the most sacred room of the Pinnacle; the sanctuary.
They were in Erindor.
A presence tingled in the back of his mind, like someone gently touching his scalp, as the necromantic link he shared with Kagan reasserted itself. When the gods had returned, the God Arin took Kagan’s life and bound him to Nicolas as an undead penitent in punishment for his atrocities.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Kaitlyn said.
Nicolas rubbed her back. “That’s normal. Take it slow.”
Toby dropped his gatorpickle toy—named so because it looked like a cross between an alligator and pickle—let out a whining yawn, and wagged his tail as he stretched on the marble floor.
Kaitlyn grabbed her stomach and doubled over.
“It’ll pass, once you eat.”
He looked around, wondering why they were alone.
Something wasn’t right.
The sanctuary floor had been swept clean. All shards of the broken Orb of Arin—destroyed less than an hour ago in the battle for the Pinnacle—were gone. An uncomfortable-looking stone chair, wide enough for two people to sit side by side, sat in front of a panoramic window on the opposite wall. A wall that shouldn’t be there.
But that wasn’t the most unexpected thing he saw.
Floating several feet off the ground was a complete, unbroken, orb of power. The orb’s multi-hued light cascaded over its surface like liquid, divided in places by swirls of energy that drifted away from the orb in misty vortices.
Nicolas flinched as a peal of thunder broke somewhere above. He looked through the window at the voluminous gray clouds gathering on the horizon
“What the hell is going on?” Nicolas said.
“Holy one!” Tithian said as he entered the sanctuary.
Tithian looked different. The mother of all battles had just taken place, and Tithian decided to change clothes? What about the wounded? What about the dead cichlos and Three Kingdoms soldiers? What about the families of the Council magi who lived here at the Pinnacle?
“Where were you?” Tithian said. “You never sent a message. We’ve been frantic! The Council is in a shambles. They need their archmage.”
“Their what?” Kaitlyn said.
“Long story,” Nicolas said. “Magic was learned, bad guys were beat down, I became the pope—”
An expression of disbelief crossed Tithian’s face as he looked at Kaitlyn.
Toby picked up his toy, ran over to Tithian, and jumped up on the man’s thighs. Tithian’s expression changed to one of sympathy, and he bent to scratch behind Toby’s ears.
“What happened to your dog?” Tithian asked.
“How the hell did this happen so fast?” Nicolas asked. “I’m gone ten minutes and you rebuild the place?”
“Ten minutes? Holy one, I haven’t seen you in six months.”
“Two things,” Nicolas said. “First, I told you less than an hour ago to knock it off with the Holy One business. And secondly, what the hell?”
“Listen to me, Holy…Archmage,” Tithian said. “If we don’t present you to the Council soon, there will be problems. I cannot hold them together any longer. They’re demanding to see you.”
“But we destroyed the Council,” Nicolas said. “You were there.”
“I told you! It’s been—”
“Tithian, slow the hell down and tell me what you’re talking about. What’s going on?”
Tithian rubbed his forehead. “In your absence, the Barathosian Armada appeared off the coast of Dar Rodon.”
“Remind me. Dar what?”
“Dar Rodon. Capital of the Religarian Empire. Far to the east. Nearly a hundred and fifty leagues.”
“So it’s true?” Nicolas asked. “Kagan was right?”
Nicolas thought he’d saved the world by bringing Kagan’s barrier down. Had he eliminated one threat only to expose the Three Kingdoms to an even deadlier one?
“The Barathosians were waiting all that time?” Nicolas asked.
The necromantic link that tied Nicolas to Kagan became stronger when he mentioned Kagan’s name. Kagan was close.
“You did what needed to be done,” Tithian said, tapping Nicolas on the chest. “What none of us were capable of doing. And no, they weren’t waiting. They materialized off the coast. No sailing, no slow build up of forces. Just an…appearance. The entire armada, as far as we can tell.”
“Six months,” Nicolas said. “How is that possible?”
“I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise,” Tithian said.
“Why not?” Nicolas said.
“For a start, you were born forty years ago but aged no more than twenty. I’d say time misbehaves around you far more than it misbehaves around others.”
Kaitlyn put her hand on Nicolas’s arm. She looked like she was about to throw up. “If he was born forty years ago, but only aged twenty, then why did time speed up when he came back here? When he left me, he was back within a few seconds. But when he left you, he was gone six months. It doesn’t make sense.”
“No,” Tithian said. “It doesn’t.”
“What are we going to do if they invade?” Nicolas said. “Kagan raised that damned barrier because he didn’t think the Three Kingdoms would survive an attack.”
“There have already been minor skirmishes in southern Religar,” Tithian said. “I think they’ve been testing the Empire’s defenses.”
Kagan entered the sanctuary, gripping the wooden handle of a straw broom. He swept the floor as he moved from side to side, criss-crossing around the room. He wore the same black zucchetto-style skull cap that Nicolas remembered. A red scapular—trimmed with black—wrapped around his shoulders and covered his white robes. Though he was undead and pasty, his corpse hadn’t decayed. He smelled only of incense and the dust his broom was pushing around. It must have something to do with how soon after his death he’d been raised. He swept the broom across Kaitlyn’s path, hitting her shoes in the process.
“Excuse you,” Kaitlyn said with a surprised expression.
“Don’t mind him,” Nicolas said. “He’s a little…”
“Evil?” Tithian said.
“I was going to go with assholish, but that will work.”
Kaitlyn turned and gazed at the orb.
“How did that thing get here?” Nicolas asked. “Did Arin return?”
Tithian bowed his head briefly when Nicolas named the god. “We waited for weeks before starting reconstruction on the sanctuary. We wanted your input. But when the weather started to turn, we could wait no longer. Shortly after the wall was complete, the orb simply appeared. A similar orb appeared at Pilgrim’s Landing, and we’ve had reports from Aquonome that an orb materialized in the cichlos temple as well.”
“Three orbs?” Nicolas asked. “Arin promised two.”
Tithian had to jump backward as Kagan hit his boots with the broom.
Kaitlyn yelled as she drew close to the orb. She put her hands on her head and doubled over.
Nicolas and Tithian rushed to her side and helped her into the nearby stone chair.
“This is my fault,” Nicolas said. “I should have told you to sit down as soon as we got here. The hunger is normal.”
“The hunger I can deal with,” Kaitlyn said. Her voice was strained. “It’s the knives in my temples I’m worried about.”
“Tithian,” Nicolas said, “do I have a room here? Chambers or something like that?”
“Can you help me with her?”
“I’ll be okay,” Kaitlyn said as she stood. “It’s Tithian, right? I’m Kait.”
She extended her hand to Tithian and doubled over once more. Tithian tried to help her back to the seat, but she stopped him.
“I shouldn’t have stood so fast,” Kaitlyn said.
Nicolas placed his arm around her waist to steady her balance.
“Can you have some food brought to…wherever we’re going?” Nicolas asked.
“I’ll take care of it,” Tithian said. “You should change into something cleaner. Those Arinian robes look like they’ve been through a battle.”
“They have been.”
Tithian chuckled. “That’s right. Ten minutes, you say. You’ll find clothes in your chambers, including formal robes appropriate for the ritual tomorrow morning.”
“What ritual? No, no, no. I don’t need any ritual. I need rest. Kait needs rest. I met my birth father an hour ago and he tried to kill me. Give me a break over here!”
“Have you not heard anything I’ve said? The Council has demanded an installation ceremony. Now that you’re back, I can prove you actually exist. They need leadership. We all do. Half of them think I usurped Kagan’s throne, and the other half think Lord Mujahid did. We need to quell the rumors.”
Nicolas groaned but nodded. “We’re going to need something less…blue jeans and Converse for Kaitlyn to wear.”
“I’ll have a selection brought to your chambers for Lady Kaitlyn.”
Kagan hit Tithian with the broom’s handle as he swept past him.
“And can you please tell him to stop?” Tithian asked.
“He’s been sweeping around the clock since you sent him for a broom six months ago!”
Nicolas shook his head and sent the order through the necromantic link. But part of him couldn’t help thinking it served Kagan right.
“I don’t know what to do if the Barathosians decide to attack for real,” Nicolas said. “I hope you have some ideas.”
“Perhaps,” Tithian said. But he turned away without continuing.
“Perhaps what?” Nicolas asked.
Tithian faced Nicolas, but he seemed uncertain.
“Perhaps what?” Nicolas repeated.
“In your absence, we discovered what I believe may be the protoforges,” Tithian said.
Nicolas waited several moments for an explanation that wasn’t coming. “From now on, just assume I’m going to ask what whenever you talk.”
“When you brought the Great Barrier down, there was one final upheaval of the land. A terrible one. It struck Tildem the worst. But that’s not important. What’s important is what we found…buried deep within the mountains of Tildem.”
“I still don’t know what a protoforge is.”
Tithian furrowed his brow as if Nicolas had said he didn’t know what a door was.
“Apologies,” Tithian said. “I sometimes forget you…”
“Don’t know jack about Erindor?”
Tithian frowned. “Jack who?”
“The protoforge things, Tithian.”
“The protoforges are spoken of in the Origines Multiversi, a set of books written by the ancient prophet Habakku. Those books tell us how Erindor was created. What life was like millennia ago. What the gods expect of people. And so much more. They even tell us of the first Mukhtaar Lords.”
“We have a similar book back on Earth. A few, if I’m being honest. But you’re saying you found them in Tildem?”
“We can’t be certain, but…”
“But you’re certain?”
“Well what are they?” Nicolas asked.
Tithian leaned forward. “Simply put, they were the molds in which the first Orbs of Power were formed.”
“Why is this important? Don’t get me wrong. I’m an archaeologist. I understand the importance of relics. But what’s the connection to the Barathosians?”
“Oh my god, Nick,” Kaitlyn said. “Tithian just told you they found the thing that makes those things.” She pointed at the orb. “By the transitive property, those protoforges sound really powerful and important.”
“Okay! You don’t need to be all—”
“Knives in my temples, remember?”
Tithian made a placating gesture with his hand. “I’m going to have the fragments tested. If these are protoforge fragments, they may serve our purposes in Dar Rodon. If the Origines is correct, they can be unpredictable. And if we can’t predict what they’ll do, then neither can the Barathosians…”
“Now tell me the part you left out.”
“Dammit, Tithian,” Nicolas said. “I’m not trying to interrogate you, but I don’t understand why you’re holding back. We’ve got a problem that needs solving, and I can’t do this by myself.”
“That’s right,” Tithian said. He glanced at Kagan, who stood silently next to the Orb of Power. “In your absence, I’d forgotten just how unlike your father you are.”
“Birth father,” Nicolas said.
Tithian nodded. “I meant no offense, Archmage.”
“Dammit all!” Nicolas had had enough. He needed an adviser, not a subordinate. “You’re not offending me. And if your idea about these protoforge fragments doesn’t pan out, we’ll try something else. I’m not going to get pissed off because you tried something that didn’t work. Just tell me what you need to tell me. I’m not Kagan.”
Tithian grinned. “You most certainly are not. Right, then. When I received word from my contacts in Tildem, they had no idea what they’d uncovered. But I suspected. So I attempted to use a translocation orb to teleport to Hiboran—that’s a city in the far west of Tildem, close to the mountain range where the fragments were uncovered.”
“It didn’t work. Not…exactly. Instead of materializing outside of Hiboran, I felt a…deflection. I ended up some fifty leagues to the northwest of Hiboran, outside a city called Tur. Gave an onion farmer a pretty good fright when I materialized in his house. Every subsequent attempt to travel there met with the same result.”
“How will these fragments help us?”
“They seem to disrupt magic. We don’t know what the Barathosians have at their disposal, but it certainly can’t hurt our efforts.”
Nicolas helped Kaitlyn back up.
“She needs food pronto,” Nicolas said.
“You both need rest. We’ll regroup tomorrow before the ceremony.”
Nicolas nodded and followed Tithian out of the sanctuary.
Aelron grunted as the trailer rolled over a deep rut on the forest road.
Forty years ago he’d joined the Shandarian Rangers as an equal. Now he was in a cage on the back of a trailer being kicked out and taken back to his home. All because he couldn’t moor—telepathically bond—with an adda-ki. Only rangers could tame and ride the massive feline mounts. So, if he couldn’t moor, he wasn’t worth keeping around, in their opinion.
That wasn’t entirely fair. He had killed a fellow ranger as well. That might have played into their decision to evict him.
Letcher had it coming. But they don’t see it that way.
He banged his head on the side of the cage as the wagon lurched over another deep rut.
“I’m not complaining,” Aelron said, “but can we try to miss a few of those?”
“Someone forgot to gag him,” a ranger said. The others erupted in laughter.
Aelron didn’t catch which one had said it, but it was a reminder to keep his mouth shut. His escort hadn’t bound his wrists or ankles—he was in a steel cage, so why bother?—and he wanted to keep it that way.
As he glanced around his rolling jail cell, it became clear the dense forest of towering pines was a prison unto itself. With the seasons turning, if he didn’t die of exposure between here and Caspardis, which was two-hundred miles to the south, then a shriller or roaming crag spider would do what the frigid weather couldn’t. And it would be no use trusting this unmaintained roadway they traveled. For four decades, the road dead-ended in an impenetrable yellow dome. No one knew whether anyone under it was still alive.
Aelron didn’t know what the rangers had in mind for him, but he was certain riding into the area once covered by that dome was a bad idea. He’d lost friends to that dome when it was still up, and he didn’t have many friends left to spare.
More accurately, he had no friends left. Forty years their brother, but now they treated him like a pariah.
If only I had more time!
It was no use lying to himself. Time would solve nothing. He was twenty years past the age most Shandarian Rangers had moored with an adda-ki, forming a bond that ended only when rider or mount died. But his ageless face was another difference they wouldn’t let him forget.
And he couldn’t give them a reason for it, because he didn’t know why he’d stopped aging.
Killing Letcher was simply the final entry on a long list of items they didn’t like about him. It mattered little to them he’d only done so in self-defense.
Freya, Captain Jacobson’s adda-ki, roared for no reason Aelron could decipher. But then there was little about the giant feline mounts, with their bright-red fur, that he understood. Not only would they not moor with him, but the riderless ones became aggressive whenever he approached. They stampeded the last time, killing two rangers and injuring five others.
Another infraction they held him responsible for.
Captain Jacobson glanced over his shoulder at Aelron and glared through eyes made feline by the mooring process. Jacobson sat straight-backed atop Freya. He wore a brown leather jerkin pulled over a woolen shirt that had seen far too many fights. His beard had grown ragged from weeks without a shave.
Two paces, Aelron thought. One jump over the rail and two paces to Jacobson. I can free that dagger he hides in his boot and…what am I saying? I’m not a murderer, despite what they think!
Aelron glanced around, searching for an alternative.
Seven paces to the forest and I can disappear into the trees. They’ll never find me in that dense foliage.
But that wouldn’t work either, and he didn’t need to flip the cursed silver coin he kept in his pocket to know it. Jacobson wasn’t alone. Ten of the best Shandarian Rangers in the order followed him. Aelron’s skills were impressive, but he wasn’t immortal.
“Keep your eye on him, Brother Orvin,” Jacobson said, nodding toward Aelron. “You too, Brother Simmons.”
Aelron ran his fingers over the ranger medallion that hung from his neck.
Seven paces. That’s all he had to survive and they’d never see him again.
There were plenty of game trails he could use, but he was right back to the same problem. Killing a ranger in single combat was tricky enough. Escaping from a group of them on high alert would be nigh on impossible.
He let go of the medallion and it fell to his chest. He was surprised they’d let him keep it. It identified him as a ranger, and that was one association he couldn’t lay claim to anymore.
“I still can’t get used to it,” Orvin said. He shook his head and smiled. “I’ve never seen it not there. It’s always been there, right over that hill!”
Though he appeared the same age as Aelron, Orvin was a boy. And unlike Aelron, Orvin had never known a world without a yellow dome.
Aelron looked up at Orvin without lifting his head. “Things change, kid. Domes come down. Friendships end.”
Orvin lost his smile.
“That’s enough,” Jacobson said without taking his gaze from the road. “Open your mouth again and I’ll have you bound and gagged. By Arin’s helm.”
The look on Jacobson’s face made Aelron’s spine tingle. Whatever he’d seen over that hill had made his face lose all color.
The wagon shuddered as the driver came to a stop, and Aelron took his first look at what Jacobson had seen.
The dense forest of northern Shandarian Union came to a precipitous end in a perfect line spanning untold miles to the east and west. The line wasn’t only perfect in form. It was perfect in the path of destruction that lay in its wake. It formed a ridge in both directions, as if the land beyond had sunk a dozen or more feet and become devoid of life. Forest and grass gave way to dirt, dwarf trees, and sagebrush. Where the ground around the wagon was rich with dark topsoil, the dirt beyond the ridge was cracked and dry.
It was as if the gods themselves had drawn a line in the ground and destroyed everything on the other side of it.
What has that dome been hiding all this time?
“Brother Orvin,” Jacobson said. “Unhitch the wagon and let the unmoored ride with you.”
“But the ridge, Captain? Looks like a fifteen foot drop.”
“You’ve a lot to learn about that new mount of yours, Brother Orvin,” one of the other rangers said. Aelron couldn’t see who.
Jacobson chuckled and patted his adda-ki on the head, running his hand through the black splotch on her otherwise bright red mane of hair.
“You can leap twice that far, isn’t that right, Freya?” Jacobson said, ruffling Freya’s mane.
“Captain,” Aelron said.
“I said that’s enough,” Jacobson said.
“Please,” Aelron said. “Hear me out. We don’t know what we’re riding into. That dome was up for forty years and we haven’t heard from anyone trapped inside since it came down. That place looks like the gods destroyed it for a reason.”
“Frightened?” Jacobson asked. “You should be. No, we don’t know what we’re going to find. But that doesn’t change what you did. And it doesn’t change our duty.”
“I was defending myself.”
“You killed Letcher because of a coin toss, you festering murderer!”
“As I told the tribunal, he was planning to—”
“I’ll not hear any more of it! Your case was tried. I’m not your judge.”
“No. You’re my executioner.”
Jacobson turned away.
“Easy to hide behind the decisions of others,” Aelron said. “Isn’t it?”
“You’ll not die by my hand, boy.”
“We’re of the same age.”
“Nor will you die by the hand of any man here. Be grateful we had an arrangement with your father.”
“My father may not even be alive.”
“That’s your problem. Now, unless you want to be bound and dragged behind Freya, no more talking.”
“Captain, we found something,” Simmons said, carrying something in his fist. “In the ravine. It was just standing there.”
Simmons tossed a white object in the air, which Captain Jacobson caught with ease.
Strange. Aelron could have sworn Simmons tossed it out of reach, but the object made an unnatural arc downward and landed in Jacobson’s hand as if drawn to it. His eyes must have been playing tricks, because no one reacted to the odd movement.
Captain Jacobson flipped the object over in his hand. It was a tiny, white statue of some sort, depicting a smiling man with arms clasped behind his back.
Something about it made Aelron uneasy.
Captain Jacobson grinned a wicked grin. As he moved his adda toward Aelron, one slow step at a time, he shook his head and put the little statue in a saddle bag. When he looked back up from the bag, the grin was gone.
“What are you lot doing?” Jacobson said. “Let’s get this over with!”
Aelron thought it best not to speak as they guided him across the ravine and into a land he no longer remembered.
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