It’s been a while in the making but the Shadowbearer finally has a print release. Here’s the cover and a Goodreads giveaway to go along with it.
The Giveaway: http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/33816-the-shadowbearer
Here is the prologue to Book 2, Ashes and Blood.
They arrived at the gathering within the featureless chamber as they always did. A portal slit the air from left to right, turned sideways, and opened into the shape of an eye. Wreathed in oily smoke, many-faceted eyes reflecting the torchlight, tentacles blacker than midnight, the creatures stepped through one after the other. Armor of chitin and ebon steel glistened, and their wriggling minions appeared as if from nothing.
There were nine of them in all, each at least twenty feet in height. Nine netherlings.
Despite the fact that dreams had no physical effect on reality, she still shied away from them. But being in a dream had no bearing on the miasma emanating from the netherlings. Death, decay, the perfume of fresh blooms, wet earth after new rain, the northern chill, the burning heat of the lava-filled chasms in the Broken Lands. The odors and sensations were all too real, each one overriding the other for scant moments.
Faces shrouded in light and shadow, their forms insubstantial, people by the thousands took a step back. Rulers, nobles, merchants, teachers, philosophers, historians, soldiers, even the poor were represented within the crowd. She could not discern their expressions, but the gasps and whimpers told their own story. Each person wore their sect’s colors.
White, Shadow, and Gray.
She almost spit on the blackness below her where there should have been a floor. Those in gray were supposedly spies among the Gray Council, but the thought and worse yet the sight of the color brought on a loathing she found difficult to contain. She calmed herself with the knowledge that nothing the Gray could do would stop the ascension.
“The first is almost to the boy.” The netherling’s voice was as blank as her surroundings.
“The era draws nigh.”
“The gods die, the world remade, new gods ascend.”
As often as she’d attended these gatherings, she still found the singularity of their voices disconcerting.
“You have all done well to guide the world as needed for this to come to fruition.”
A murmur rippled through the crowd. The netherlings’ heads turned toward the disturbance. Space cleared around a male, his clothing one of shadow. He stepped forward.
“You bring news, young one?”
She sucked in a breath. Only another netherling would dare approach as this man did. She frowned. They hid themselves even among the common people?
“Yes, masters. I have discovered a place between the worlds where Prima lives. It is beyond what we may have anticipated.”
“Nothing is outside our calculations, young one.”
For the first time, she noticed a definite scoffing tone to the answer.
“Those who oppose already know of its existence,” the man said, “One of their own has been within its borders.”
“Yes. We are aware. However, the one we chose unleashed Prima into the world. The guardians will be drawn to it as they are to him. Kill the first before he secures the boy. When the others reveal themselves to the boy’s calling or to Prima, do the same. He must not learn to use his gift.”
“Yes, masters.” The man bowed from the waist.
“The same goes for all of you. The young one has served his purpose. Kill him and his mentors.”
Licking her lips with anticipation, she awoke from her dream to the glowing walls within the Iluminus.
Several hours later, after Mensa and the Zar Selentis left to return to the capital, Stefan sat at the table in his pavilion. Two candles in glass holders occupied the table’s center, their perfumed scent overriding the odor of sweaty men. Illuminated by flickering light, the map before him displayed his forces. He removed the pins representing the Alzari Matii. By now, they were well on their way back to Benez under Mensa’s command. Men were going to die because of the King’s order. A great many. In the days to come, the first to perish would mainly be Astocans. Some might say their deaths weren’t much of a loss. Eventually, his own men would number among the dead. A sense of helplessness crowded over him, and he sighed. Yet, he harbored no regrets for his announcement. Somehow, some way, he needed to stay true to his word.
“So what now?” Kasimir asked.
“We do as we have always done … save as many of the enemy as we can,” Stefan said.
Garrick grumbled a protest under his breath.
“I know how you feel about them, Garrick.” Stefan recalled the sight of Garrick’s mangled body and face after his torture by the Astocans. “But this was the one thing King Nerian, myself, and the High Council agreed upon: We would be different from other conquerors and choose to save most of those we defeated, give their people choices. This way, the common folk won’t think of us as tyrants—a lesson history taught us.”
“Use force as necessary for victory and compassion when the battle is won,” Kasimir said. A quote from Henden’s The Disciplines of Soldiering.
“I understand.” Garrick let out a resigned breath. “I still don’t like it.”
“What I don’t get,” Kasimir shifted in his seat and peered at the map, “is why the King ordered us to kill them all and now has withdrawn our Alzari menders.”
Stefan nodded. “Yes, I wondered the same myself. I can’t remember Nerian changing plans without conferring with me in person. So why now? I swear … I feel as if something is amiss back home. I don’t trust Mensa. Any man who is so quick to do anything without questioning motives often has his own plans.”
“You think he had a hand in this?” Garrick scowled.
“Not likely,” Stefan said. “The man barely knows the ass end of a horse. Someone else may be using him, or he’s smarter than any of us suspects. Anyway, unless I speak to Nerian himself, I’m not changing how we do things. We’ll mend as many Astocans as we can.”
“How are you going to accomplish that without our Alzari?” Kasimir leaned back in his chair, armor creaking as he did so.
Knight Commander Stefan Dorn surveyed the battlefield below him from his vantage point astride his horse. The oncoming Astocan army stretched in a long line that disappeared into the shadows of the mountains behind them. The Knight Commander grimaced. “Fools. They’re dead.” With a shake of his head, he let out a resigned sigh. “Prideful and stupid to the end.” It pained him to see such a waste of good men even from his enemies. Their general should have listened to reason. Together they could have averted the upcoming bloodshed.
“The way the Astocans would tell it, it’s bravery of the highest degree.” Knight General Garrick shrugged, broad shoulders made even wider by the pauldrons of his plate armor. He twirled his mustache around his thick forefinger. “They give their lives for the pride to claim they bent knee to no one. They would say their gods and people deserve nothing less.”
Atop his brown gelding, Knight General Kasimir snorted. “Too bad their gods aren’t fighting this battle.”
“Indeed.” Stefan nodded. As a believer in the gods, he understood how a man might wish to have the deities on their sides in a battle like this, especially if that man was an Astocan. He pursed his lips as he scratched at the annoying black stubble under his chin.
Overhead, the sun blazed, and the mountains of the Sang Reaches cast long shadows from which the Astocan army boiled in numbers to dwarf Stefan’s forces. The smell of horse, sweaty men, and metal choked the air as his cavalry spread to his left and right. Up ahead his infantry advanced.
“I still don’t understand your concern for them.” Garrick shook his head.
“You wouldn’t. Not after what they did—”
Stefan cut Kasimir off with a glare. “They’re men with families and livelihoods like us.”
“Never like us,” Garrick snapped. “Lose this battlle today and they would enslave us all, rape our women, and pillage our cities.” Nostrils flaring as they often did when he was angry, Garrick pulled so hard on his mustache Stefan wondered if his friend felt any pain at all. “So you’re right, Kas, I wouldn’t understand, not after how they made me suffer. But I know what it means to you, Stefan.” He nodded to the Knight Commander. “You have way more honor than I ever will.”
“Thank you.” Stefan dipped his head to Garrick. “You don’t give yourself enough credit, old friend. You’re as honorable a man as I have met, regardless of how you try to hide it.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the thin form of Knight General Mensa as the man made to say something. The Knight Commander spurred his horse forward a few steps. The King’s errand boy could wait a bit longer.
From across the battlefield, drumbeats, blaring horns, and the stomp of marching feet echoed. The jangle of weapons and the trundle of carts from Stefan’s army played accompaniment. In tight formations, armor dull and dusty, his infantry lines awaited their commands.
A buzz, like flies alighting on a bloody corpse, filled the sweltering air. Shot from the blackness beneath the drab grey and green mountains, arrows darkened the sky.
“Incoming!” boomed the voices of the silver-armored Knight Captains. Their warning rose unnaturally over the trumpets and drums echoing from the enemy’s ranks.
The men of Stefan’s Setian infantry legions brought forearms up to shield the eye ports of their helmets.
The buzz grew in intensity. Arrows began to land, pinging harmlessly off imbued steel plate.
“Be ready!” the Knight Captains yelled as the barrage ended.
Several horns blared down the cavalry lines to Stefan’s sides.
Stefan brushed a stray lock from his face then raised the looking glass to his eye. Despite their location at the base of the mountains some six hundred feet away, the encroaching Astocan soldiers sprang into his vision as if he stood among them. Their archers were preparing another volley.
“Infantry. Formations,” Stefan called out.
The trumpets sounded his order.
Two ranks of shield-bearing swordsmen marched forward. Spread from left to right, they made up the vanguard. A similar formation of pikemen wielding twenty-foot spears followed them ahead of an additional double rank of swordsmen. Behind the column of foot soldiers were Stefan’s ranged legion consisting of bowmen, operators, and Cardian slaves. In unison, over twenty thousand sabatons stomped. The impact with the parched earth resounded—a mocking challenge to the Astocan archers’ efforts.
“Return fire,” Stefan said.
The trot of a horse’s hooves accompanied Knight General Mensa’s appearance next to Stefan. Mensa made to speak, but Stefan spared the small man a look, eyebrows raised. Mensa’s mouth snapped shut, his bulbous nose flaring. With a gloved hand, Mensa dabbed at his sweaty forehead.
Horns announced Stefan’s command. At the rear of the infantry, the small complement of bowmen stepped forward. They drew fletchings to ears. Bows twanged and arrows loosed.
Stefan’s gaze followed the flight of the Setian arrows. As expected, they fell woefully short. No man could fire as far as the Astocans and the monster bows they wielded. A derisive cheer rose from the Astocan legions. Stefan smirked.
“Slow forward,” Stefan said to Kasimir and Garrick arrayed on either side of him.
With nods, they called out the order. The trumpeters blew. In response, the Setian heavy foot surged ahead, a step at a time. Their boots drowned out all else.
Across the plain, in numbers like swarming brown ants, the leather clad Astocans dispatched their infantry. Their cavalry spread to their flanks, lances upright, tassels blowing in the wind. Mounted archers moved among them. Stefan gave a wry smile. Renowned for their horseback archery, the large men deftly handled their mounts while firing their oversized bows with deadly precision. The sight was a thing of beauty or terror.
Read more here.