Across the Wastes
Another week crept by, leagues dragging on in a painful parade. They took to traveling mostly at night, for it was easier on their bodies. The Wastelands were murderous in the middle of the day. Merciless and silent, they were far deadlier than any Berserker. Yet another dawn came upon them, and the temperature dropped lower than usual. It seemed forever before the cold ebbed away into warmth.
The wagon creaked to a halt so they could eat a hasty breakfast and doff their heavy cloaks. They had another three to four hours before it became too much to go on, and it had become part of the journey. They stopped to eat and rode on as much as the suns would allow.
The lands were changing the deeper they rode. It soon became pockmarked with a host of craters and broken rocks. The sand was firmer, easier to walk on. Night was fully dissolved now, all traces of it lost among the gleaming red skies. Off in the distance, a heavy shadow could be seen, and an ill feeling crept into them. There was nothing this far out. No villages and no outposts. Even the horses felt the change.
“What do you make of it?” Emerald asked. She was as unfamiliar with this part of the desert as the rest of them, save the Viper. They were well past the Frontier’s border.
The Viper grimly replied, “I’d say it’s a well. An old way station, perhaps. We should reach it by the time we stop.”
“Make for a nice place to rest. Plenty of water to bathe with,” Snake offered. He’d been regretting his decision since the day they got off Gaalk’s barge. Being an infantryman, he was no stranger to getting down and dirty for prolonged periods of time, but the desert was murdering him. He was dehydrated, tired and filthy from excessive exposure, and the prospect of having a nice cool bath sounded more enjoyable than a cold ale with a complementary woman at its handle.
“I have not seen one so large or elaborate,” Kane said. “We must be cautious.”
“He’s got a point,” the Viper added. “I don’t seem to recall seeing this here the last time I was through these lands.”
Undaunted by their primitive fears, the Mad Hosking spurred his horse forward.
“Can you see anything?” Kane asked Gage, ignoring the crazed youth’s brashness. Gage’s eyes were closed, his sense reaching out to the sight. Uncertainty blocked him at every turn. Whatever was there had no desire to be discovered.
“Nothing,” he said. “I see no good, no evil. It’s as if I was being warned.”
“Might be bandits,” Emerald said.
The Viper shook his head. “No. Bandits never stay too long in one place. They have no reason to come out this far. No human caravan has come this route since the days of the old empire. It has to be an old well.”
“I’m not sure,” Gage said.
Kane grimace. He could already feel the heat pounding down. “Whatever it is, we need to get moving. Time is running out for us.”
“I’ve never seen so many people so willing to die,” the Viper muttered, kicking his horse into the column following the Mad Hosking.
Another two hours found them riding into the foundations of large shadows. Rocky terrain formed gullies and steep ravines around the center of the area. A well was indeed there, one as old as the first Northland invasion. The bricks were time weathered and worn beyond serviceability; no doubt the water below, if any, was corrupted by the sand and grime growing unchecked.
Sculpted sand mounds sprouted across the desert way station. They were burned into near glass, heightening Kane’s worries. Closer examination showed the mounds to be statues of men and women twisting in agony. Who in their right mind would erect such a place so far from civilization? Dozens of statues were scattered in and amongst the dunes and rocks. The pains forever etched looked genuine, as if the artist had perfect understanding of the human condition.
Gage’s senses were reeling. There was an unholy air to this place, superb and unnatural. He could feel the terror flowing from them, stretching out to warn him lest he share the same fate. He was convinced this was an evil place.
“Can you smell that?” he asked the others.
Nathan stopped what he was doing and sniffed the air, paying attention to the heavy odor for the first time. “It smells familiar. What is it?”
“Sulfur,” the Viper grimaced. “There’s but one creature out here with that stench.”
Emerald looked nervously around. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Do we stay or go?” Snake Eyes asked. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end.
“We stay,” Kane answered, leaving no room for discussion. “The horses are tired and need rest. Dusk is only a few hours away. We should be safe until then.”
The Viper laughed and remounted. “Go and set up your camp. I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t like the idea of being caught unawares.”
Spurring his horse forward, the assassin was around the bend before Kane could protest.
Going unnoticed by the rest, the Mad Hosking slipped off too. He had other ideas than wasting time with a cozy camp. The maze called to him, beckoning him to explore its horrors. Pain so pure pulsed from the glassy dunes, mirrored in the statues eyes.
Their horror pushed at him, threatening to whelm his soul with their torments. His senses warned of ambush, but his body stood frozen. Screams only he could hear wailed on the winds. It was in that instant he fully understand the meaning of the dale. They had all been alive once, just as he was. He wondered what power could turn flesh to glass and felt the first inklings of fear slink through his veins. It was only a matter of time before the horror struck at them.
The screaming got louder.
Hosking dropped to his knees, covering his ears in a futile attempt at silence. “No!” he shouted.
They carried on, desperately trying to warn him. Trying to help him before it was too late.
Listen to them. They show you the true path you walk.
Hosking screamed in kind. Lost in rage and swirling agony, Yonash felt his world crushing down, choking the life away. Life was against him, despite his best interests. A pain so deep he knew there was no recovering ate at his heart. Blood was seeping from the corners of his eyes. He felt a force clutching his soul, crushing tighter. Lost in the rage, the Mad Hosking snatched up his rifle and drove the butt crashing into the nearest statue. The dead man burst apart, shattering in contact. Pieces of glass showered down on him, and then the madness stopped.
What have you done?
The voices in his head were confused. They could feel the changes taking place in their host, could feel their sudden uselessness. He was escaping!
“You no longer have hold over my soul,” Hosking told the voices. “Burn in the Seven Hells and bother me no more.”
The plague was dying, decaying before his eyes. The voices cursed him; damned him until a threatening wind silenced them forever. The Gods had been offended and would soon seek to make him their example. He was fine with this, having resigned his faith long ago. The oddest part came from being so alone. His mind was empty. He knew he was never going to be the same again, for Yonash Hosking owed the Gods, and they meant to use him.
Watching them from the front of the wagon, Gage suddenly found the attraction between Nathan and Emerald fascinating and lonesome. Memories of his own love came to him, and it was all he could do not to cry. His emotions had been in check for so long he wasn’t sure if he had any tears in him. His own sadness had been buried until now, and he found himself longing for his homeworld. Emerald noticed his distant look and walked over to him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Gage smiled, weak and unconvincing. “Nothing, my dear. Go back to your friend and try to get some rest. I have a feeling it’s going to be an eventful day.”
She didn’t like the sound of his premonitions, but that was another matter. Hooking her arm around his to keep him from getting away, Emerald persisted.
“You really shouldn’t bottle yourself up like this. I know. It’s only going to make it hurt more when the time comes. Tell me what’s wrong.”
He smiled again, thinking how she was going to make Nathan a very happy man. “If you insist. I saw you standing there with him and couldn’t help but think how good you two are together. Almost as if the Gods made you for each other.”
She tried hiding her blush.
“I was once in love,” he said.
It was Emerald’s turn to smile. “Tell me about her.”
“I hardly know where to begin. It’s been so long you know.”
“Start with her name.”
He paused for a moment, reflecting on the woman who had once claimed his heart.
“Elourina Saulein. A very lovely and noble woman.”
“Pretty name,” Emerald said. “She must have been grand.”
“At least to me, she was. We used to spend entire afternoons just talking. I think I miss that the most. Conversation with a telepath is quite irksome from time to time. Not the same as two normal people. She had the most beautiful laugh. Just like a songbird. I’ll never forget that. We were supposed to be married upon my return. I doubt now that I shall ever she her again.”
His voice trailed off, choked up by quiet sobs. Emerald’s arm snaked around his waist in a tender hug and silently held him.
Cast the line and you’re never sure what you might catch. Of course I would have liked a more positive review, but this one isn’t too bad at all. The part I feel most authors struggle with understanding is that reviews aren’t for us at all. They are for readers to help formulate a decision. With that, I’ll leave it up to you. I will say that if you are reading this and there are any of my books you have read please do leave an honest review- like them or hate them. Thanks in advance!
This novel introduces readers to the world of the war priests of Andrak, a select group of men and women who fight off the darkness of the Omegri every year.
Usually, they only have to fight monsters during the 100 days of the Burning Season, but troubles in the once-peaceful duchy of Fent lead to Brother Quinlan and his apprentice being dispatched to investigate a once-dead knight who is taking children and disappearing. Ghosts have been sighted, and it seems the veil between realms is thinning to where war may soon consume the land.
The world building for this story is rich and original, creating a vibrant backdrop through customs and mannerisms, cultures and races. There are war priests from various heritages, and while the main characters seem to share the same general culture, there are also supporting characters from other backgrounds, like the lowly foot soldiers who provide humor and a sense of normalcy, providing balance to the more knowledgeable and worried voices in the novel.
The range of characters provides a variety of perspectives on the world, from the children who are being taken to the parents who are left behind, the war priests’ apprentices and various agents working with the Omegri. However, it can feel like these perspectives dilute the overall experience by giving too many voices and not enough time with each to truly know them.
Some of this could be further affected by the narrative use of telling rather than showing, to where characters’ reactions are explained rather than seen in action. The men, women, and children themselves each come across as real and relatable, though, and perhaps the series will elaborate on some of them and their character arcs in the future.
The story itself is believably dogged with dead ends, corruption, collusion, and trouble, with the antagonists knowing far more than the heroes. Even though the war priests have magic at their disposal, they are far from all-powerful, leaving them vulnerable many times to where victory is uncertain throughout the book, and the human antagonists are depicted as flawed rather than purely evil, adding to the realistic tone of this work.
The plot structure can feel choppy, overall, as the focus changes just when something important or significant is about to unfold, taking the narration to another part of the story and world. Upon return to the first plot thread, the moment has usually passed, which progresses the story forward nicely but can also create the feeling of missing revelations and interactions. This back-and-forth seems to also lead to duplicate passages of information, which can further slow down the pacing.
At times, the narration can be elaborate to the point of being unclear, but it does create a compelling mood of despair, uncertainty, and confusion. The description is effective and detailed, but the lack of immediacy where the characters are concerned influences it, to where readers may feel like they’re being told about a place more than actually experiencing it.
The characters are varied and interesting, and the supernatural beings are nicely unique, creating a new realm for readers to explore. Intriguing and evocative, the world of the story will pull readers in, providing a great start to a new fantasy series while delivering an adventurous story full of danger, supernatural worries, perils, hopes, and fears.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Happy Monday y’all!
Huddled in a tiny group, the ruins trembled and shook around them. Try as it might, the storm couldn’t bring down the walls, for Gage’s magic was too powerful. He found it funny, sitting off to the side just beyond the range of flickering firelight, how he wasn’t able to sense the storm’s approach. The oddness soon developed more sensitive feelings, and he questioned if he still had what it was going to take to see the quest through.
The task of trying to keep the horses calm and subdued went to Snake Eyes and Nathan. They were tied off in the rear corner, which was the sturdiest part of the ruins — not to say that either of them were experts with horses. Wave after wave of sand crashed into the wizard’s shield, sizzling away and replaced by more. Something large would strike from time to time, but everything the shield touched dissolved as if it had never been.
Emerald sat next to Nathan. Neither seemed inclined to give in to the frustrations and edge biting at the rest of the group. The Viper paced from one corner of the building to the next. He wished he’d never joined them. Not even a king’s ransom was worth their sickening company. Kane and Gage sat off in the far corner quietly discussing their next move. Xill lay asleep next to the small cooking fire as the stew was heating.
“I hate this damned desert!” Snake Eyes finally announced. The tension was too much for him. He absently scratched at a patch of dry skin on his back. “Forget about the miserable heat or how the air is so dry my skin is flaking away. If I get bit by one more of those little black flies, I’m going to shoot someone! Now this?” he pointed towards the storm. “I may not be the brightest guy around, but I know enough to see the Gods are telling us not to do this.”
The Viper snorted his distaste.
“He’s just saying what everyone is feeling,” Nathan told the assassin. “Why don’t you try being a positive for a change?”
“I’m just here for the money, Law man. You’d do well to tend to your own affairs and let me worry about me,” the Viper snarled.
From high above in the remains of the tower came a rumbling laugh.
Snake Eyes looked up and shook his head. “Out of all of us, how is it Hosking is the only one not affected? We’re wasting time here. The Berserkers could already be pushing their armies south.”
“You can always attempt to brave the storm,” Xill said without opening his eyes.
“I thought you were asleep,” Snake Eyes said blandly.
Fed up with the brittle emotions and tenderness these people had, the Viper gathered himself and left. He’d had enough of their drivel to last the rest of the trip, and they had hardly just begun. The darkness felt good on his eyes, letting him see more naturally. A flight of semi-rotted stairs stood alone against the far wall, and there he headed. What he needed more than anything was time alone. Time away from the warmth and caring of the group.
The Viper was a loner by trade, had been for so long that he couldn’t remember the name he’d been given at birth. He started to despise newer feelings ebbing into him. As if he could be part of them. The notion normally would have been absurd, but for some reason they seemed calming. Alone at last, in the tower, he could let his guards down. The storm raged on all sides around him without danger. Gage’s spell was stronger than Helscape’s nature. Here, he found a peacefulness obtainable nowhere else. Perfect tranquility. Could this be the eye of the Gods, he wondered?
Kane came up behind him, intent on speaking with the man. With the world howling out of control around them, the Slayer knew nothing he had to say was going to change the Viper’s mind. He turned to go back down the steps before the assassin noticed him.
“It’s a sad thing, Slayer,” the Viper said suddenly. “I’ve been roaming these deserts for fifty and three years now, and not once have I stopped to see the world around me. The pure destructive force is so empowering.”
“I thought you were incapable of emotions,” was all Kane said.
“Times change. Remember when I told you how old I was the first time I saw a man killed? Did you ever wonder why, or how? Sure, I said I stumbled upon it in the forest. If that were the truth I’d be content.” He shifted his weight and continued, “I was sold to a band of assassins and mercenaries when I was three. My father compensated for this by saying it was an honorable profession; he failed to mention how fat his pockets grew after I was gone. All I’ve ever known is killing, Aradias. I excel at it, always learning new ways. Do you know what my reward was for evolving the way they wanted?”
Kane shook his head.
“My final test before becoming a full-fledged assassin was relatively simple. All I had to do was return home and kill my father. After all, how good a man could he be if he was willing to get rid of his firstborn for money? Could you have done it? Could you have killed your own blood with a snap? I didn’t hesitate, didn’t blink. All it took was one pull of the trigger, and it was over.”
“I don’t understand.”
The Viper laughed. “It was all part of the game. If I didn’t kill him, they were going to finish me off right then and there. A simple world.”
There was nothing for Kane to say. Every man had his own demons tormenting him, and he was no one to try and soothe the pain. Time was the only healer.
“You’d think the sand would be gone by now,” mused the assassin. “I had a vision, Kane. I was alone in the Hive, surrounded by hundreds and out of ammunition. Wave after wave kept coming, and I was powerless to stop them. It was my death reed. I have seen my own death.”
“Tis ill news, indeed.” Eyes closed in silent prayer, Kane knew the man was in a pain without comparison. It was written that when a man sees himself die, his own doom is not long away.
“The master of understatement! Perhaps now you can see the reasons for my boundaries. Tell no one of this, Kane, I ask you. The last thing I need is sympathy.”
“You will have your peace,” Kane assured him.
“As will we all. You’re going to die as well. You just haven’t figured it out yet.”
Kane stood steady in the storm. “I wonder.”
“If the children will live long enough to see tomorrow’s demise? The future is bleak, worse now than I can recall.”
“Only time will tell, Slayer.”
“If we stay here any longer, I’m going to go crazy,” Snake Eyes complained.
“I have never seen a storm so big,” Gage agreed.
The only good thing about being trapped was the time it gave them to heal old wounds and prepare for new ones. Time was spent discussing plans and cleaning weapons. Life dragged agonizingly on until the storm finally began to break. The suns battled free, baking fresh made dunes. Sand still fluttered about, without the previous intensity. It would soon be safe to ride out.
“We leave at dusk,” Kane told them once the spell was removed.
Grateful the storm was nothing more than a dark memory, he collected his belongings and left the ruins.
“Where are you going?” the Viper asked.
“There is a matter I must attend before we leave. I shall return when it is time,” he answered.
Once again alone, Aradias marched off through the ruins. The suns’ freshness beating down played havoc on his eyes, and it was long before they managed to adjust. Fortune smiled on him, for the storm failed to bury the ruins and the cemetery beyond. The same cemetery he and Skrapp had dug those many years ago. Most of the names were lost, forgotten without anyone to carry them on. He never knew the majority of them, though they all befriended his family. Everyone knew young Aradias Kane. Finally, his fingers came to rest atop his family’s crumbling headstones, and his eyes closed in agony. A heaviness stole his heart, and he dropped to his knees.
“Father, Mother,” he whispered, “I have come back honor to my promises. Soon, we will be taking the war to the Berserkers, and I know not the outcome. One of those responsible for this plague is with us to make things right again. I pray he will be the advantage, else it is suicide at best. Give me strength for just a short while. I won’t have need of it after long.”
His eyes widened in amazement. The remains of their headstones seemed to glow the color of hope. He’d seen many miraculous things during his travels, but none so endearing to his heart as this. Could it be the Gods still cared? Or was it the suns playing off reflections? He didn’t care either way. It was enough to know that his family was with him when he needed them the most. He was going into battle well received.
“I pray you save my place among you,” he was finally able to say, wiping a tear from his eye. “A new age is dawning across the Wastelands, whether they wish it or not. The winds of change blow to fast for the common man to see, but let it be known that we are the catalyst of change. Guide my hands in battle, father. This, I pray.”
Sunlight embraced him the way a mother would her babe, and he knew he’d been heard. He closed his silver eyes and cried.
The journey to the Angril River went without event, boring them greatly in the process. Emerald found that the latent fears of the boat man were gone. He was just another being trying to make a living. No more did he hold her father in his hands. The atmosphere around them brightened the longer they rode. Hangovers slowly dissolved, and, with the dangers still days, even weeks away, there was nothing to dampen their spirits. At least not until Gaalk’s ramp dropped, and they found they weren’t going to be alone.
Three men as different as night and day stood arrayed across the hull. There was a hint of wickedness in one, while another carried a smile. They’d been waiting here for a few days now. The leader stepped forward, hands out to show he wasn’t planning any trickery.
Gaalk stepped between them. “There will be no trouble aboard my vessel.”
His deep voice rolled across the aged wood.
“I’m not here to cause trouble, pal,” the leader said. “I just have a few questions to ask the assassin here.”
The look of confusion was mirrored by the rest of the group. “How do you know me?” the Viper stepped forward and asked.
“Mercenaries,” Kane uttered. “This may be dangerous.”
“I highly doubt that,” Gage replied. It had been long since the last time he’d been forced to use his magic in battle, but there was little doubt in their minds of its potency.
Xill leaned close to Snake Eyes and asked, “Isn’t that Kelg?”
“Squaffa!” Snake Eyes said. “How did he get here?”
Halfway across the deck, in a position with cover readily available, Ardn Kelg took in their opponents. He was as surprised to find Snake and Xill staring back at him as they were. Feeling a sense of obligation, Kelg titled his head ever so slightly.
“I figured a man like you was the solitary kind,” Fint said. “But we’d been hearing reports of you traveling with a large group of misfits.”
“Too bad there’s no more room for you three,” the Viper snarled. His nerves were on edge, and his instincts screamed trap. “What’s this all about?”
“Not so close to shore. Let’s get out into the river a little where there are no hidden ears.” The mercenary smiled.
With no other choice than to carry on, the Viper bade Gaalk raise the ramp and put to the river.
Alone on the upper deck, Fint and the Viper had plenty of time to discuss present matters. Neither was trusting of the other, but Fint’s words held the taint of truth, twisted in his own way as they were.
“Word is you were the one who sold the Imperium the location of the Berserker Hive. Or should I say you sold them to Smythe Menzel,” Fint said.
“What if I did?”
“It’s all related. I don’t intend on telling who hired us or even why, but I will say that my team was working directly for this worm. His orders came from higher in the ranks, but that’s another story, and I’ll deal with that personally. What you need to know is that Menzel tried killing us about a month ago. Why? My guess is they didn’t need us to do their dirty work anymore. Oh, yes,” he added when he saw surprise in the Viper’s eyes. “We followed you and the Slayer for most of a year.”
“Spies,” the assassin growled.
“I prefer to look at it as exceptional reconnaissance.” Fint smiled. “We gathered information on the Berserkers and the people hunting them. The last couple of months were spent finding places for the Imperium to hide a base of shuttlecraft. Apparently, they planned on taking these things prisoner. Then General Pierce comes to town and gets wiped out. A sad story, but not entirely his fault. He was sold out. I know it, and so do they. No one’s been able to put their finger on who, though.”
“What’s this have to do with me?”
Fint shot him a stern look. “Be patient; we haven’t got that far. Menzel went off into the desert one day, ordered there by his bosses to meet with the Berserkers. What they didn’t know was that old Smythe had ideas of his own. He went to make a deal that was in his favor. He offered them the division’s movement schedules and routes, and they offered riches beyond belief. Smythe Menzel sold out his boys and let them all die.”
The Viper wasn’t ready to believe just yet. “Told you all this, did he?”
“He didn’t have to. My man Faul over there is quite good at persuading people to talk. He’s rather crude at times, but his talents are well worth having to deal with that.”
The Viper glared, unimpressed and steadily growing agitated.
“You still don’t get it?” Fint asked, returning the stare. All the smiling was finished. He’d tried to make his peace with the assassin and was fully committed to gutting him and tossing him overboard.
“People tend to talk too much, which you already know, and your name keeps popping up. Every time I turn around, I seem to find out something new on you. Why is that? The first time I saw you was when you were on your little quest with the Slayer out into the desert. Remember that? Me and Faul watched you battle it out with the Berserkers and go your separate ways. It took me a little time, but I was able to figure out what you were looking for. Every man has a price.”
“I also know that men like you know this part of the world better than you know yourselves. There’s nothing I can offer you that will be more than the treasure you stand to gain should your quest become successful, but I need to know where Menzel’s going and how to get there. He set me up, and I intend on having his head as a trophy for it. Tell me what I want to know, and we’ll never cross paths again.”
It was the Viper’s turn to smile. This was going to prove easier than he’d thought.
Dust and sand kicked up by Fint’s engines spit viciously at them. They flinched and jumped under the barrage but never took their eyes away from the departing ship. Gaalk was already busy loading another group of passengers and had little or no interest in the ones he’d left standing on the riverbank. The Viper was half-expecting Fint to wheel about and gun them down. It was what he would have done.
“Did anybody at least bother asking for a ride?” Snake Eyes asked. Incredulous stares came back at him.
“Oh, come on! They have a ship. They fly while we put up with weeks of murderous sunlight and harsh conditions. They get a ship!” he protested.
“And you have a fine horse, my dear boy,” Gage laughed. “We all ride, when you take time to think about it.”
“Think about the horses, for that matter,” Kane added. “Would you abandon them to the desert?”
“We could have left them for sale here with Gaalk. Take the supplies, and we’re at the Hive in, what, a day, maybe two? Seems like a better plan to me.”
“I’m not convinced he was going our way,” Gage said.
“Trust me, kid, you don’t want to go where they’re headed,” the Viper said in a low matter-of-fact voice. “He’s not the kind of guy you do business with and walk away.”
And you are? Snake Eyes wondered.
“Traitor scum,” Hosking snapped. “Should have killed them. No good. No good at all.”
“Come on,” Kane finally said. “We’re wasting time.”
Dawn of the fourth day saw them come to the edge of a set of ruins long forgotten by the living. Most of the structures were scarcely knee high, having been either buried by the cruel sands or burned from a holocaust long ago. A line of broken tombstones marked the far edge of town. This was the village of Rivide, once home to Aradias Kane and his friends and family. Nothing therein lived, not argot nor wild zoranth. Rivide was as dead as it would ever be.
Earlier that night, Emerald pulled most of them together and explained the place they were about to enter. Kane knew where he was going and needed as much time alone as possible to finally put his demons to rest. The others held back a way with the wagon to let the Slayer return to the ruins of the place he once called home.
He stopped short of the border, a perplexed look troubling his brow. “Wizard, there is a spell on this place. I would have you lift it.”
Without so much as a nod, Gage sent his senses out towards the spell. Its strength was overpowering. Great, indeed, for such a ghastly memory.
“It is a strong spell. Rival to one of the Grand Wizard’s on my home world. I may not be able to lift it, but I shall try.”
Old powers rushed back to him. The world shifted uneasily around his ankles. The desert became aware of this new power and saw it as a threat. Reacting to the land, his body battled. From the dull gray of a mystic past did his body change into an aquatic blue of oceans yet unmade. The ground tried to flee. Gage’s lips moved in unspoken cadence, the ancient words of incantation being uttered for the first time in a century. A normal color returned as he folded his arms across his chest to wait.
A great disturbance was raised in the ruin’s center. It started with a brief flicker of light, steadily feeding on the emotions put into it. And then, a broken building three stories high came into view. Shadows and fires played together until the ruined structure stood under the sunlight for the first time in ages. Aradias stared at it with minor satisfaction. This was once a house where men could pray to what Gods they chose.
It was once a marvelous alabaster and covered in ornate sculptures and carvings of dragons and winged saviors. Stained glass once filled its windows, but were reduced to reflections of broken teeth. Survivors from the initial onslaught crammed inside to avoid being discovered. They moaned and prayed for salvation, but it was the Berserkers who came to deliver it. One hundred men, women and children died in the main hall. The ensuing fires were only partially successfully in gutting the remains. A young Braxton Skrapp and the boy he’d found saw to the remains, but the smell of death lingered still.
Emerald ushered them forward now that Kane was walking within the confines of his ancient home. The horses pranced about, nervously enjoying the attention given after so long a ride. A hasty campsite was established. They planned on staying long enough for a hot meal, and then it was back to the roads. Busy with their daily routines, they failed to notice the Wastes changing. The winds died away, letting the suns burn hotter. A sudden calm swept through the ruins.
Stopping what he was doing, Snake Eyes looked down at a scrub brush floating past his feet. Alarms went off, but he couldn’t figure out why. Then it struck him. The weed was tumbling in the opposite direction of the winds. Confused, he looked around to find the rest of them rolling backwards as well.
“What in the Hells?” he asked aloud, pointing towards the far horizon.
One by one, they stopped what they doing to look in that direction. The horizon was blurred in a golden brown wave so high it blocked the suns. The center seethed black and growled foul curses into the air. It was heading right for them.
“Sandstorm,” the Viper smoothly said. “A big one at that. We need shelter, or that thing will rip us apart.”
“This is an ill omen for a quest so young,” Gage said.
“Can you work a spell big enough to protect all of us?” the Viper asked. “We don’t have much time. Tie everything down inside the wagon and move it behind these ruins! Everyone else move inside and start blocking the windows and doors.”
The urgency in his voice was enough to spur them into action. Winds picked up with gale force, throwing debris and sand at them. A chilling howl echoed across the empty lands. The desert was angry.
Kane grabbed the Viper by the arm and said, “Get them inside. I’ll go around and check on the wagon.”
“Can you do it?” the assassin asked Gage.
The old man smiled. “Another minute, perhaps two. Magic can’t be rushed if you want it to work right.”
“We don’t have a few minutes.”
“See to your friends,” Gage went on. “I’ve been through far worse than this.”
This was one of those books I was hesitant to buy because the previous book was God awful (in my opinion). I found the series intriguing from the outset but where book one had a great premise and engaging characters and conversations- and no little bit of action- book two felt flat and, frankly, boring to me. Still, I am one of those guys who likes to see things through, even if it means visual torture. So I grabbed this book on impulse and hesitantly dug in.
I’m glad I did. It doesn’t fall prey to the trappings of the previous volume and advances the story with the right mix of action, adventure, and a slight horror element. The author goes deeper into this world on many levels and brings the main family of characters racing toward their fates. There is just enough uniqueness here to keep it interesting and entertaining. The writing style is smooth and easy to follow and I found my interest renewed after a lackluster 2nd book. Not a bad series at all, but nowhere near my favorites either. There is enough going on to make me want to read more.
3.5 out of 5 stars.
Highly polished dress boots carried him down the shining white halls of the Imperium Naval Headquarters on Cafizin. Pictures and murals of deeds great and past lined the walls between doorways, offering him a glimpse of the Navy’s pride. There was a storied history kept here, one which continued to grow as the Imperium expanded. Here were images from the first battle of Tenuid, where the Imperium managed to salvage victory at the final moment. Opposite was a large painting of the Vengeance leaving dry dock, the pride of the destroyer fleets. Metallic silver and armed with seventy heavy ion cannons, she could well prove to be the hammer the Imperium needed to break the Xempsarillian fleets. The further he walked the more those images on the walls turned into past admirals and brilliant combat strategists in their finest dress uniforms.
Lesser ranking officers and enlisted stepped aside for him; some from fear, others respect. He was all but a legend to many. Untouchable and never seen. Yet it was his genius that kept them winning battles. Like him or not, all could agree that there was no one closer to a god than the Grand Marshal.
Grand Marshal Vitor strode through the halls with an impassive look. The Navy’s pride was the last thing on his mind. He was the highest ranking military official in the Imperium and the very mention of his name sparked assassination attempts. Vitor took it as a form of flattery. There wasn’t a known enemy in the galaxy who hadn’t been bested by his plans. Wanting him dead was a great honor. Regardless, Vitor wasn’t overly concerned about death. Too many had just paid the price for a blunder that should have been avoidable and he was here to find out why.
He’d been on his way to meet with General Paedian Gulluette, chief of insurgent divisions, when a secret communication came in from Cafizin. His staff had been briefed on situations like this and they normally would have sat on the intel while trying to determine if it was a threat to the Grand Marshal. Vitor’s insistence forced them to turn it over and he was on the next transport out.
Walking down the halls left him with many thoughts, almost too many to sort out. Joneth Pierce’s name kept circling in his head. He’d met the man on a few occasions but couldn’t put a face to the name or deeds. Pierce’s reputation was pristine, rivaling that of his own twenty years ago. His loss weighed heavily on Vitor’s mind, for he still had trouble figuring out why the 76th had been sent to Telgeise III in the first place.
The desert world was of no tactical importance to current or future military plans and was light years away from the nearest front. Sleep didn’t ease the problem. He’d lost one of his best assault divisions for nothing. One he’d been planning to use to counter the next Xemp offensive. Now Imperium intelligence was scrambling to keep news of the defeat, the slaughter, under wraps until another unit was built up for the campaign. The more Vitor thought of it the more he was convinced Gulluette had a major role to play in this mess.
Paedian was an underachiever yet most capable of making clandestine deals without the proper authorities catching wind. He was after something on Telgeise, Vitor just wasn’t sure what. No actions could be taken against the man until there was proof linking him to the disaster. If Vitor got his way Gulluette would be tried and executed for treason.
Vitor summed up the young captain facing him and returned the salute. Judging by the way he wore his uniform, the man had never seen battle. Vitor had a knack of smelling combat experience in a man.
“Ah sir, we weren’t informed of your visit,” the captain covered.
“Save it,” Vitor said. “This is an unofficial inspection that is not to appear in any records. I was never here.”
“Yes, Grand Marshal.”
Vitor nodded. “Good. Now take me to Admiral Ibroo.”
The staff exchanged curious looks while watching Vitor storm away down the hall. His presence wasn’t considered healthy among the military community. Wherever he went, trouble followed. Whispers of a new war began circulating.
Ibroo’s door hissed open without his consent and Vitor strode in. The Admiral went to attention, doing a convincible job of hiding his shock. Inside his body was in turmoil. There could be no doubt why the Grand Marshal was here.
“Don’t fault your man, Biyo. I forced him to do my bidding,” Vitor smiled.
“Of course, Grand Marshal,” Ibroo nodded. He turned to his aide with a sour look. “You are dismissed, Captain.”
The door hissed shut, leaving the pair staring at each other. One wanted to know why he was summoned light years out his way while the other struggled with what to say. A deep breath later, Ibroo started.
“I must apologize for causing your detour, but I learned you were meeting with General Gulluette this week.”
“I still intend to. Cut to the chase, Biyo. We’ve known each other too long to play games. What’s so important you had to see me in private like this?”
Still reluctant for his own sake, Ibroo said, “A great deal has been done to the Imperium and I’m afraid I had a hand in it.”
Vitor’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. He’d been expecting to find Gulluette’s fingerprints rooted at the bottom of the Telgeise debacle, not one of the top admirals in the fleet. Ibroo’s involvement led him to question just how many high level commanders were conspiring against him.
“Go on, Admiral, and make sure not to leave anything out.” Vitor’s voice was cold as winter’s heart. He leaned closer to catch every word Ibroo said.
A dozen armed guards wearing the crest of the Grand Marshal marched down the pristine white halls with impunity. Their uniforms and body armor were navy blue, sharply offset by highly polished black boots and gloves. Each wore his helmet with the visor down to deflect any potential pieces of shrapnel. They were answerable only to the Grand Marshal and here on personal business.
Techs and orderlies in the standard military grey uniform hurried to get out of their way. Rumors would come later, as they always did. For now, the mere presence of Vitor’s personal guard was enough to inspire total silence.
No one noticed the smallish officer striding at the head of the squad. He was dressed in a rich black uniform, as spotless and perfect as any in the command building. His face was grave, emotionless. This was a duty. He along had the voice to speak for the Grand Marshal.
A grizzled, old sergeant slowly rose from his desk to block their path. “Can I help you, sir?”
“We have been sent by Grand Marshal Vitor to see General Seolig,” he answered in a humorless voice. His left hand was already on his sidearm.
Eyes flicking back and forth, the sergeant swallowed hard. “May I ask what this is about?”
“You may not. Open the door, sergeant. Now.”
His last words came out slow, menacing. A threat had been issued. The sergeant, for his part, didn’t hesitate to obey. Guards shoved him into a nearby corner with the ion rifles and held him in place. The rest streamed into the general’s office.
Durm Seolig looked up from his stack of daily reports, somewhat astonished to see a full squad of armed guards bursting into his office. He hadn’t been expecting them so soon. Vitor was moving faster than anticipated. Seolig set the reports down and waited while the guards formed a semi circle around his desk, training their rifles on his chest.
“What’s the meaning of this?” he asked politely.
“You know why we are here, General,” the Captain said. “You are being arrested on charges of conspiracy against the greater Imperium and a willingness to commit harm to Imperium soldiers. Stand slowly and keep your hands where I can see them. Make this as harmless as possible. For your sake.”
Seolig was an old, proud man. He’d joined the service right before the pup of an officer with the audacity to order him about was born. He’d given all for the Imperium. And this was to be his final reward.
“I think not, Captain,” he said. Inside, his nerves threatening to tear gaps in his flesh. “What I did was for the good of the Imperium and all those who live under out blanket of protection. I have no regrets about the past, only that we did not succeed. Do you want to explain to your children why they can’t live with the same liberties we enjoyed in our youth, Captain?”
“I don’t have children, General.”
“I thought not. Vitor never liked hiring family men. Easier for me, I suppose.”
The General dropped his hand down to draw his blaster. Echoes from ten ion rifles rattled down the long halls of Seolig’s headquarters. The Captain cursed silently as he walked over to the body and checked for a pulse. His hand grasped Seolig’s wrist, though he knew the man was beyond dead. His guards rarely failed to hit their mark. Warm blood was splattered against the bookcases and curtains, painting obscure patterns on the walls and windows. A look of bland disgust on his face, the Captain tossed Seolig’s wrist down in disgust and paused to wipe the blood from his own.
“Police up the body. Grand Marshal Vitor will want to see it personally.”
“What about the blood?” a guard asked.
The Captain took a final look around the office. “Leave it. I think it’s going to be a long while before the next man who uses it decides to betray the Imperium.”
Grand Marshal Vitor looked up from his morning coffee and his own reports. The latest in a never ending series from across the galaxy. That’s all his life was these days. The fighting was done by troops half his age on worlds he seldom heard of. There were times when all Vitor wanted was to grab a rifle and ruck up for a combat patrol. Wants seldom agreed with needs however.
A slender female in dress uniform eased into the office, reminding him of his accelerated age, and halted precisely two paces from his desk. Her sleeve swished as she saluted.
“Are such formalities necessary, Major Sholth?” he asked, returning her salute. “One a day would do nicely. All of this saluting wears my arm out.”
Sholth dropped her arm and returned his smile. “Protocol is always necessary, sir.”
“You never fail me, do you?”
“I try not to,” she replied.
Sholth was young enough to be his daughter. Perhaps that’s why he decided to keep her on staff. The father in him took a liking to her the moment they met. He liked to believe they’d become friends, of sorts, over the course of their service together.
“I trust this is important. You seem to bring me more of these damned papers than I can remember. I would hate to be pulled away for no reason,” he said.
“Captain Uyut’s report just came in, sir.”
Her face turned stony, rigid. Enough for Vitor to guess, but he still needed to hear it aloud.
“As we feared, sir. The General did not allow them to take him alive. His body is being transported back to Forlus as we speak.”
The mention of the Imperium morgue world send chills through the air. Vitor had had the unfortunate duty of visiting on too many occasions. Each time he vowed it to be his last.
“I don’t think I would either, Sholth.”
Vitor tried to smile. “Seolig died in the service of what he believed in the most. We should all be so fortunate. I’m not sure I could stand living in a cell for the rest of my days. I want Durm Seolig buried with full military honors. Keep the ceremony private. Relatives only. The man deserves a decent funeral after an honorable death.”
“I’ll see that everything is arranged, sir,” Sholth said.
“That’s all for now, Major,” he added. “Oh, make sure the guards are well rested. We have one more mission to undertake before this deplorable task is finished.”
Vitor leaned back as fast as the chair would let him the moment the door hissed closed behind her. Durm Seolig had been a good man. Power and corruption led him down dark paths and he wound up paying the ultimate price for that ignorance. But he wasn’t the one responsible. Durm was proud and arrogant, but the further thing from being a traitor. Paedian Gulluette was to blame.
His maniacal quest to overthrow the ruling power in the Imperium by secretly abducting an army of genetically created monsters for personal reasons led too many good people astray. Thousands had paid the price in blood. He, and he alone, was responsible for all that was happening. An entire division lost. Seolig. Biyo Ibroo. Several other lower ranking generals and admirals. Vitor vowed Gulluette’s fate would be worse than any of his fellow conspirators.
Just to ensure there were no foul ups, Vitor was personally going to lead the mission. Justice would be served.
World War II is a fading memory in the collective conscious. For some. Others continue to live it to their last breath. War does that to people. Few days go by where I don’t think on my time in Iraq, Afghanistan, or on the Korean DMZ. The men who fought on Guadalcanal had no idea what they were getting into. The Army and Marines who slogged through the mud against a determined and vicious Japanese Army had never faced the enemy before. While there is a small amount of ground fighting involved in The Battle for Hell’s Island, the focus is on the Navy’s carrier bomber and fighter squadrons.
I had no idea just how difficult it was for these men. The movies make pilots out to be glory hounds who don’t really find much adversity in their campaigns. Boy are they wrong. How any of these guys survived is beyond me. From training accidents, running out of fuel constantly while out at sea, no reliable navigation, and being blasted by Japanese Zeros, its a wonder that they came home.
Many did not. Their planes rust on the bottom of the ocean. Their ships (in some cases) are beside them. The battle for Guadalcanal lasted just under a year and at great cost. It is the decisive battle in the Pacific Theater that finally turned the tide against Imperial Japan. Midway was a great victory, but the Canal was when America started beating back Japan and heading for Tokyo.
This is a great story about amazing individuals who rose to levels they never imagined they would need before Dec 1941. My problem with the book is the way it was written. Sentences don’t go together. There are too many instances where the author discusses one pilot and then throws in a completely random sentence about something else. Add an excessive amount of acronyms and abbreviations and it made me want to pull my hair out. Fortunately I don’t have any so that wasn’t a problem. The Battle for Hells Island needed to be told and I am glad I read it, but it was like pulling teeth trying to slog through the antiquated writing style.
3 out of 5 stars.