Today on The Tattooed Book Geek I am pleased to be bringing you all an extract from The Emerald Blade (The Landkist Saga #2) by Steven Kelliher.
One Sage is dead. Five remain.
For Kole, Linn and the newly-minted heroes of the Valley, their victory is short-lived in light of new revelations.
The King of Ember is alive. But the man who once led his people against the forces of darkness is changed. His path now takes him to the north and a land called Center, where he intends to bring his power to bear against another would-be God.
While Kole and Linn gather a small company to follow the King, another group heads for the northern deserts, intent on discovering what power the Emberfolk left buried in the sands.
The Dark Months have faded, but the light cannot last. The time for hiding is over.
It’s time for the World to meet the Landkist.
Tu’Ren saw them off, and he did it with fewer words than Iyana had anticipated.
He spoke with Linn, Kole and Jenk, but most of what he had needed to say had no doubt been said to Karin Reyna in the gatehouse. She could tell it from the way the men moved about each other, not sharing so much as a glance. She wondered if the First Keeper had made one last try at halting the twin quests after all.
In truth, she couldn’t say she blamed him.
She shook the thought away, determined to grow into the mask she was now wearing until it fit. The gates swung open on oiled hinges, and the forested paths of the southern Valley loomed ahead, twisting out of sight into the brush and bramble that Iyana had never been brave enough to penetrate alone.
Karin took the lead, and Kole moved up to join him. Linn and Jenk fell into step behind them with an ease that made Iyana feel separate.
Even their packs ratt led with a purpose her many pouches combined to lack. There was a bit of green poking from the sack looped around her shoulder—the robe Ninyeva had given her. Useless as it was on the open road, she could not help but feel centered when she wore it.
She thought she might need that feeling in the months ahead, and a pang struck her at the thought of splitting off from Linn and Kole, one that had become achingly familiar. Still, she would stay the course, whatever it was. She hadn’t been lying about her impression. It had struck her harder than the timbers of Ninyeva’s broken tower the night the White Crest had brought it down with her inside it.
“Giving them quite the head start, little Yani.”
She spun to see Tu’Ren wearing a look of resignation that he tried to cover with a smile. It was nearly enough to shatter what little resolve she had. She looked back over her shoulder to see the group waiting just inside the tree line, saw Linn’s piercing eyes staring back, though the others kept theirs averted. They didn’t want to call attention to her dalliance, which only served to heighten her sense of embarrassment.
“Goodbye, Tu’Ren Kadeh,” she said in a voice she hoped projected more strength than she felt.
“Goodbye for now, Iyana Ve’Ran,” he said. He inflated his chest and raised his chin just a bit higher, his white beard having grown longer than she’d ever seen it. “There’s enough good in you to fill the Deep Lands twice over, girl. Bring it out there and see what catches with that sort of fire.”
Iyana stood a bit straighter at that, the effect—she hoped—making her look slightly less out of place in traveling clothes.
She waved to Taei up on the battlements.
“Tell Fihn to continue following my instructions.”
“She’s fine,” Taei started, but Iyana silenced him with a look that drew a laugh from Tu’Ren. It sounded genuine.
Their eyes met one last time before she turned away, and she tried to freeze an image of the First Keeper, who had been like an uncle to her. It wasn’t a bad image, all things considered. It was nothing like the version of him she’d seen consumed by fire and hate in the distant reaches of his memory. This was the Tu’Ren Kadeh she would take with her, his broad outline solid and stark against the backdrop of the lake and village below. Even the spurs out on the water seemed a part of his domain—all of it his to protect.
She turned and strode into the forests that had only ever held the threat of death for her before. Now, they promised new roads and new beginnings whose endings she could only guess at. She hoped there was still a bit of Ninyeva lingering in the Valley core, and she hoped she would take it with her.
More than that, she hoped her heart would hold her on course, and that she would not come back to Tu’Ren’s gatehouse shuffling and ashamed.
Linn laid a hand on her shoulder when she joined them on the path, and Iyana smiled up at her.
“Welcome,” Jenk said, dipping into a mock bow. “May the sky never blacken above you, and may the River F’Rust never trap you in its covetous depths.”
Linn punched him on the shoulder, but Iyana laughed anyway, and the Ember shouldered his pack and moved off, Everwood blade bouncing lightly at his side.
The sun had sunk low enough that it provided little in the way of light beyond a burnt-orange haze that traced the roots along the path and shone on the backs of leaves. It was warm in the forest—almost uncomfortably so around Kole and Jenk—but Iyana was more than willing to trade some comfort for the peace of mind such company afforded.
“He’s going to miss you,” Linn said.
Iyana blushed, knowing her sister had caught her looking back, where the timbers of the wall could just be seen peeking through the foliage.
“I don’t know what he wishes more,” Iyana said. “That he come or that we stay.”
“The Valley needs men like Tu’Ren,” Linn said.
“And Garos Balsheer,” Kole put in. “Based on what I’ve seen, men like that’ll still be standing no matter what may come in the future.”
“No matter what we bring back, you mean,” Jenk said. He meant it in good humor, Iyana knew, but she caught enough from the others to know they took more from it.
“I’m not planning on bringing anything back,” Kole said.
“Yourself, I hope,” Karin replied. He had taken the lead, and the others had fallen into step behind him without any sign. He was, after all, First Runner. And while the Dark Months had receded for the time being, there was no telling how many of the Corrupted had escaped the combined wrath of the sun and the Emberfolk and were now making their homes in the thickets and burrows.
Dusk settled, and the moon crawled out. The forest changed in the twilight, the patient echo of the streams they passed promising life in the wake of a crushing darkness. As the relative silence of their company stretched, so too did Iyana’s senses.
Ever since her travels in the winding ways of the Between, she had felt more of everything. She had always been able to navigate the emotions of others like a hound following a scent, but lately, she felt she had tapped into the true gifts of the Faey: the sight into the half-world between their own and its shadow.
The Between was not a place without danger. She had nearly learned that the hard way when Baas Taldis’ grandfather had trapped her in a mental prison of his own design. She had managed to orient herself more in recent tries, heeding Ninyeva’s advice to give form to the formless, to mould the shapeless. She had found Linn in the Deep Lands and had led her out, and she had done it by finding a tether in the form of a firefly.
As the last rays of the sun died beneath the twisting branches, she let her mind drift and was amazed to see such tethers all around. They were faint at first, like the shadows of light. Some flitted about, trailing the wings of insects, while others thrummed with the last daily songs of the birds. These were soft strings that belonged to the meek and small.
But there were thicker threads about. They snaked out of tangles and wrapped the trunks they passed. Iyana knew without seeing that these belonged to things that hunted the others, their own rhythm more like the beating of hearts than the flit and flicker of grasshopper wings.
This was the wild of the Valley as it should be. It was a slow exhalation after an intake that had lasted far longer than ever before.
Up ahead, Karin Reyna was trailing a lavender that was so deep as to flirt with black. There was no small amount of regret there, but it was flecked with a sense of calm—a poise the hunting things on the wilder paths recognized as kin. These were his roads, and Iyana knew he had traveled them in the presence of one he loved deeper than knowing.
Iyana could see the two Embers for who they were. She saw Kole’s black hair just as she saw the dirty blond of Jenk’s. She saw the gliding gait of the man she considered a brother contrasted with the easy bounce of one her sister had once called pompous and now called brave.
But their fires, though born of the same source, could not have burned more differently. While Jenk’s was a yellow lick, clear, clean and bold, Kole’s was a furnace he worked to bury. It was deep red with flecks of blue, but it was covered with something else that unsettled her. She knew the heart of the one who carried it, and for the first time, she pitied him for his power while others felt envy.
And then there was her sister.
Linn Ve’Ran was the bravest of the bold, she knew. Unbreakable. And though much about her had changed since her trek through the Deep Lands, her war with the River F’Rust and her clash with the White Crest and an Ember King out of place and time, she was still the same. It was her Iyana looked to. It was her the others would look to as their light.
Her tether was as bright as the storm that had birthed it and as violent as the winds that carried it.
The energy shifted, and Iyana shook her head, clearing the haze of unreality. It was nearly as dark as it was going to get, the stars shining through the nettles and the moon lighting the clearings that grew more frequent as the streams they crossed widened.
“I should be going with you,” Karin whispered up ahead, his voice harsh.
Judging by Kole’s expression and the way Jenk pretended not to stare, the two had been at it for some time. Linn’s brows were drawn, but whether in concern or concentration, it was difficult to tell.
“Talmir will need you in the deserts,” Kole said. “They’ll all need you.”
“How are you going to orient yourself in the jungles to the north?” Karin pressed.
And now Iyana felt the need coming off of him. It was the need of a father bereft of too much. He knew it was fruitless to argue. Perhaps it was more about knowing he had tried that drove him to it.
“You don’t know those roads any better than I do,” Kole said. He kept his eyes ahead, and his tone carried none of the defiance Iyana would have expected.
“Would that we had Nathen Swell with us,” Jenk cut in. That drew an uncommon look from Karin: a look much like anger. And while it was gone nearly as soon as it appeared, Jenk took the hint well enough.
“He’s not one for killing,” Linn said, picking up the thread in an obvious attempt to steer the argument, or put it out altogether. “Better a man like that be out on the water than in the woods right now. Sometimes I think his arrows weigh more heavily on him than his enemies.”
“Tell that to them,” Jenk said with a shake.
It was still a difficult image for Iyana to process, though she had heard the story more than once. She tried to picture Nathen Swell, who was younger even than she, killing. It just didn’t fit. Even excepting the way those easy eyes and smooth features clashed with a sinuous back that had been hauling nets and rigging since childhood, she couldn’t imagine him putting an end to anything with a remembered past and. a promised future.
If there was anyone in the Valley Iyana was more thankful for than Ninyeva, it was surely Nathen. After all, it had been he who had liberated Linn from the northern peaks, just as it had been he who had purged the last of the Dark Hearts—all of it after cheating death at the hands of the White Crest himself.
“Either way,” Linn was saying, “there aren’t likely to be any Dark Kind ranging in the north this time of year. He had no trouble with those. It was the Corrupted that stung him, or what was beneath them.”
“Enough talk of killing, for now,” Karin said. “Plenty of that to go around for the lot of us, I’m sure.” He glanced at Kole sidelong.
Karin’s ire was still plain to see, but he let it drop. He knew Kole was set, and that a worried father had as much chance of stopping him as a Sage or Ember King beside.
It was just as well for Iyana. She was content to let the killing mood die so the life around could flourish in its unseen way. It was a funny thing, but she couldn’t remember the last time she had been in the woods at night. Even during the Bright Days, the Valley wasn’t entirely safe, the dangers of the World Apart giving way to those that had always been about—that had always been rightly feared.
As the hours passed, no one raised complaints or asked for rest, and Iyana would be damned if she was going to be the first. She saw Linn stealing looks at her as she pretended to scan the trails to either side, and, for one night at least, she let it go unchallenged.
The path began to slope steadily upward the farther north they climbed, the vines and creepers growing thicker here. Iyana looked west, imagining she could see the great Blackwoods Linn and Kole had told her about as a girl. They said the roots there grew as thick as the tails of sea drakes, and the worms burrowing beneath close enough.
Kole had tangled with a Sentinel beneath those very arches. If it hadn’t been for the loyalty of a hound, there was no telling if all the fire in the World would have been enough to save him.
She turned back and tried to turn her thoughts as well, aiming them north, toward Hearth. It was a place she had been only once before, and that at a time when she was too young to make anything but half-formed memories. Her impressions were scattered and fleeting. She pictured the city as a jumble of the garish and gaudy, with the buildings too tall and leaning.
“What is Captain Caru like?” she asked, not caring how young she sounded for it.
Jenk shrugged beside her and nearly went over in a tangle while crossing a particularly dense patch of brush.
“Ask the Reynas,” Linn said, nodding ahead.
Kole looked to Karin, who remained focused on the narrow path.
“He’s the man Hearth looked to when the darkness came for it,” Kole said. “For all its fire and steel. The white walls may have held the tide for a time, but it was Talmir Caru who halted the breaking.”
“He had help,” Jenk said easily. “From a pair of Embers, no less.”
“And a great many besides,” Karin added. “But it was Talmir the people trusted—we trusted—to take us through.”
Iyana had nearly forgotten that Karin had been present during a siege that had quickly risen to challenge any of the stories from the desert days.
She swallowed, imagining the hurt that had been done to the people there … those who had lived.
“There will be other Faeykin there,” Linn said, smiling down at her. “I had no idea there were so many until I saw them working the Red Bowl.”
Iyana tried to smile, but the prospect of meeting other Landkist as gifted as she was made her uncomfortable at best. She doubted her abilities compared to theirs. Ninyeva had been something of an outcast among her own kind. Iyana doubted that her apprentice would be accepted with open arms.
Linn seemed able to read her thoughts.
“Some trained under the Faey, like Mother Ninyeva,” she said. “Or so I’ve heard.”
Iyana was not sure if that made her feel better or worse, so she showed Linn the former and pushed down the latter.
“I doubt any of them have what she’s got,” Karin said, drawing curious looks. He looked over his shoulder and met Iyana’s eyes. There was no jest in his, only that poise that Kole displayed a more restless form of.
“You undid the work of a Sentinel.”
“You gave us our champion back,” Jenk said, elbowing Kole in the side. The other Ember merely grumbled.
Iyana felt herself blush in the moonlight.
“Thank you, Karin,” she said. “But Mother Ninyeva—”
“Did enough,” he said. “She spent far more of her time witling her visions into something close to sense in that crooked tower you’ve taken to calling home. I loved the Faey Mother as much as the rest. No doubt she’d have come back for Kole if he’d slipped beyond your reach. But he didn’t.” He paused, and his pace slowed a bit. “There isn’t a fire in the World that can keep one of those dark Captains from their prize, once they’ve got their hooks in. Just ask the ghost of Larren Holspahr.”
They were silent at that, and the mood stretched. After a while, Iyana noticed Kole walking in step beside her. He must have dropped back while she was concentrating on the twists and turns the path was taking under her uncertain feet. She looked up at him, and he smiled down.
Linn and Jenk had moved ahead, giving the two of them space they hadn’t asked for. She couldn’t see Karin and guessed that he had forged on into the deeper dark, scouting or else working through his own thoughts, which seemed as jumbled as the forest they were navigating.
“You know I can never thank you enough,” Kole said. He said it softly, but Iyana still found herself glancing at the others to see if they were listening.
“Stop it,” she said. “I don’t know what I did. I don’t know that I did anything, truth be told.”
Kole was silent for a space, and Iyana feared she’d upset him.
“You weren’t with us,” he said. “You weren’t with Linn and me in the north of the Valley.” He looked down at her. “But we couldn’t have done it without you, and neither could the Emberfolk. You’re strong, Iyana. Far stronger than you know.” He swallowed, the apple in his throat shifting. “My father will protect you out on the sands, and I’m sure Captain Caru will do his best. But we’re each of us alone at times.
When that happens, you’ll need to have faith in yourself—none other.”
“You speak as if you know the place,” she said lightly, and Kole shrugged.
He looked ahead, and she saw his eyes drift up, taking in the blue-black curtain and all its winking lights. She wondered what sort of fire they gave off. Wondered what they thought of the Embers below.
It was said that the desert had blessed the Emberfolk, had given them its mighty gifts, but some said it was the stars above—the sun and all its brothers. Perhaps that was what separated them from the other Landkist—from the Rockbled and even the Faeykin like her.
The World was a place made to last. It was a place whose power was meant to endure, to give life or protect it, and on and on. The stars were something apart. They burned brightly and then not at all. Some even said those that shone down on them now were just the ghosts of what had been.
Iyana wanted to caution Kole. She wanted to warn him to watch how brightly he burned. They would need his light before the War of Sages ran its course, just as she hoped they’d be able to count on it in the nights to follow. The Embers were not nearly as numerous as the stars, or as seeming-eternal. Soon, his light and all those like him could be lost to them, and the thought relit the little fire that drove her on.
They were the Emberfolk. No matter where they lived, and no matter what other gifts the land bestowed, the fire was their legacy, for better or worse. Given what had transpired in recent months, it was a legacy she was loath to abandon.
“We’ve been dragged back into the World, Kole,” she said, and he regarded her, eyes steady. “Whether we like it or not. We may not be traveling the same road, but we’re both heading to the same place.” She looked away. “A future for our people.”
He said nothing, but oddly enough, Iyana felt that her words had settled something in him. She sighed.
She had no idea what dreams it held, or what horrors. Would that. she could take the fire of Kole Reyna with her as she braved its ways.
Would that she could take the new light that was Linn Ve’Ran, whom she called sister.
Kole was right. Iyana was strong, and she knew it. She also feared it.
An image flashed through her mind of the young hunter from Tu’Ren’s memory, turned inside out. It was enough to raise bile, but it was a truth Iyana could no longer hide from. There was plenty of good in the gifts of the Valley and the Faey dubbed its kin, but the Landkist here had more in them than the power to mend.
Those she was walking with were called heroes because of the breaking they did—the burning. It was a burden on them, and they carried it heavily.
She thought of Ninyeva’s stand against the White Crest. She had seen it all, the storm bending and the drake’s head with it as the Faey Mother brought her secret power to bear. She had a piece of that in her, she knew. She feared.
As they walked well into the pre-dawn light, which turned the sky a hazy purple and caused the stars to fade, Iyana let her mind wander the paths of possibility, touching the Between but not entering it fully. It was a freeing feeling before the crushing weight of paths made increasingly more certain, more real.
For now, Iyana tried on hope for size on the way to Hearth.
The Emerald Blade (The Landkist Saga #2) by Steven Kelliher is out now!! And for a limited time is available from today (June 1st) for only £0.99p
About Steven Kelliher:
Steven is a fighter turned writer who resides in the Boston area. A former sports and entertainment writer, his work has been featured on ESPN.com, LA Weekly and other known outlets. He wishes all disputes were still settled with a friendly game of hand-to-hand combat, is a fan of awesome things, and tries to write books he’d want to read.
He hopes you like them.
- You can find him online at https://stevenkelliher.com/
- On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/steven.kelliher
- On Twitter at https://twitter.com/Steven_Kelliher
Also by Steven Kelliher:
Valley of Embers (The Landkist Saga #1).
For hundreds of years, the flame-wielding Embers have been the last line of defense against the nightmare creatures from the World Apart, but the attacks are getting worse. Kole Reyna guards Last Lake from the terrors of the night, but he fears for his people’s future.
When Kole is wounded by a demon unlike any they have seen before, the Emberfolk believe it is a sign of an ancient enemy returned, a powerful Sage known as the Eastern Dark.
Kole has never trusted in prophecy, but with his people hanging on the precipice, he reluctantly agrees to lead the Valley’s greatest warriors in a last desperate bid for survival. Together, they will risk everything in search of a former ally long-thought dead, and whether Kole trusts him or not, he may be the only one capable of saving them.
Steven previously appeared back on my blog in January and you can find an extract from Valley of Embers !!HERE!!
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