Friday, February 8, 2013

Preview: "The Eye of the Falcon", Book II of the Elemental Lands Series

Here is a preview of  "The Eye of the Falcon", Book Two of the Elemental Lands Series. This is set in the same universe as "Elemental Dragons, Cycles One and Two." The action takes place in Shinwa for "Dragons" (based loosely on Ancient China). In this book, events unfold in the neighboring land to the west, Kemet (based loosely on Ancient Egypt).

Book III is tentatively named "Shadow Walkers"  and takes place in the third Elemental Land, Rajan.

Chapter One
(copyright 2013 by A. Dameron)

أنا لم تفعل أي خطأ ضد رجل زملائي.
أنا لم أفكر أية أفكار القاسية ضده.
أنا لم رفعت يدي ضد الأبرياء.
تسمعني، الآلهة والإلهاتوأنا أتكلم الحقيقة.

I have not done any wrong against my fellow man.
I have not thought any cruel thoughts against him.
I have not raised my hand against the innocent.
Hear me, O Gods and Goddesses. I speak the truth.

---Prayer of the Deceased Soul
Kemeti Ritual of Freeing the Immortal Houra

The Kemeti priests believed the Soul was composed of three parts, the kai, the bai and the houra. The kai was the physical body, the fragile container that returned to the dusty earth. The bai was the conscious spirit, who was aware of its individual thoughts. The houra consisted of the immortal soul, which survived from life to life. Most souls passed through the Trials of the Dead to eternal harmony with the Gods.

But if the Gods judged them unworthy, their houra hung suspended between this world and the next. Their bai wandered the earth, fully aware that their kai no longer existed, and fully aware that there was nowhere for them to go. They floated free without any anchor to the Living.

These ghosts walked through Kemeti Valley of the Shadow. They wandered down the familiar halls, searching for eternal peace. Unfortunately for them, that peace was as elusive in death as it was in life. Their relatives made daily offerings in the name of their houra, and if they were very lucky, perhaps the Gods took mercy on their souls, and allowed them to cross into eternal harmony.

Wind blew through the corridors of the Great Falcon's Shrine. It made the oil lamps jump and dance as the Shadows of the Dead continued their endless roaming. They never bothered to acknowledge the other's presence; after all, they were in the same Hell, the same never-ending chaos. When an unfamiliar Human intruded on their walk, it attracted their attention.

This particular man darted between the shadows, hid behind the columns, and disappeared into the alcoves. His feet made no sound upon the well-worn floor, made smooth by eons of pilgrims.

The Shadows took note of this intruder. Why was he avoiding the nightly guards? What was his mission?
Was he here to finally free them from their endless wandering?

One Shadow in particular watched with undead eyes. It narrowed those eyes as the intruder crept
closer and close to the Great Falcon's Altar. It took less than a heartbeat for the Shadow to realize that man's goal.

After all, that was one of its talents in Life, one that had remained with it in Death.

Slowly, silently, it followed the intruder, and put all its essence into a single warning.
Senfu Khenamun, the Son of the Falcon of Kemet, felt the warning before he heard it.

He held the stick of incense in his hand, the smoke drifting from its tip towards the high ceiling.
With a calm movement, he replaced the stick in its holder. The elaborate shrine in front of him was covered in thin sheets of gold, decorated with emerald and ruby. It housed marble urns within its recesses in the wall. The most recent addition sat prominently in the center.

Thank you for your vigilance, Father. I will deal with this myself. The Falcon's Son was an avatar of the Pantheon of Gods, a mortal among immortals. Of course, that bestowed certain talents on him which proved useful, such as when the threat of Death approached.

Senfu slowly raised his head, but his eyes never strayed from the wisp of smoke. The wind entered the chamber and drew the trail upward. The smoke gathered itself, changing and reforming before his eyes. He extended his hand in a beckoning gesture. It settled gently upon his palm as it gained shape and form.
Black eyes set into a triangular head, black feathers spread down a ridged spine, black wings open and unfolded against his skin. The claws hardened into steel, the edges just as sharp.

Senfu raised his head. With one smooth movement, he twisted his wrist and flung his hand out behind him. The ghostly bird streaked from his hand as it sought its prey. There was a heartbeat of silence; he watched as the tip of the incense stick flared brightly then become dark.

A strangled gasp broke the silence. Senfu turned slightly to see a dark-clothed man standing mere steps behind him. The assassin leaned heavily against the stone wall, his hands wrapped around a sharp object protruding from his stomach. The blade of the falcon-headed knife glowed in the light of the torches.
The Shadows of the Dead let out a collective sigh of relief. They nodded to themselves and resumed their eternal walking.

Senfu rose up from his kneeling position in front of the shrine. He walked to the man's side, as
the wind ruffled his long, unbound black hair   He looked up at the assassin and saw himself through the man's dying eyes: a wraith dressed in fine cotton linen, his face with its thin mouth and hooked nose, the dark brown eyes becoming black in the darkness.

“Who sent you?”

The assassin merely gazed at Senfu, his face a mask of pain. The falcon knife moved of its own
accord, as it twisted and pulled at torn muscles and organs. An agonized gasp exploded from his lips, but he otherwise remained silent. His fortitude impressed Senfu, but duty forced the Falcon's Son to do what he must do.

Senfu placed his right hand on the center of the assassin's forehead. His mind instantly shied
away from Senfu's mind-touch, like a wounded animal fleeing from the hunter. Senfu examined every part of his mental defenses. They were crude, as if hastily thrown up without any care.

There, a tiny crack in that shield...Senfu pressed harder upon it and willed it to grow. The assassin's mouth dropped open, but this time, no sound came out.

Senfu heard running footsteps approaching the chamber. So, the guards and temple priestesses had finally realized that their Lord had been in danger. Very well, he thought, let them watch and learn yet again.

He repeated once more, “Who sent you to kill me?” At the continuing silence, he nodded and said, “I will find out, with or without your cooperation.”

The chief temple guard swallowed hard and murmured, “My Lord--”

“I require complete silence.” Senfu closed his eyes. He could not allow sentiment to cloud his mind, not now. This man tried to murder him, so the assassin's life was forfeit. The Falcon's Son understood this; the Priest mourned the imminent loss of life.

The information he sought lay behind a pair of locked bronze doors. The assassin had hidden it deep within his consciousness. A normal Kemeti priest would find access to it nearly impossible.

Senfu, of course, was no ordinary priest. He examined the doors, noting its elegant construction compared with the rest of the assassin's mind. So this was placed by another, one fully capable of the mind arts; another Priest or even a Healer, perhaps.

Such disregard for basic courtesy repulsed him. If his enemy had no such scruples, then he certainly wouldn't spare any mercy.

Senfu nodded to himself then proceeded to melt down the mental doors, from the inside. The assassin's rough scream finally burst from his throat. It echoed within the shrine; the guards and temple priests flinched at the sound of it. Senfu firmly closed his own ears.

The bronze doors dissolved into molten slag that burned and blackened all it touched. The assassin— his name is Rekathen, he realized—would become a drooling, mindless idiot after this was over. Senfu reached within and brought forth the steady stream of images. They rushed past him, over and around him. His trained Priest's skills separated the gold from the dross. He selected the pertinent details and discarded the rest. A man's life experiences lay open to him and he went through it all.

And the presence of the Falcon Shadow remained by his side throughout the whole ordeal. You are becoming a true guardian of the Kemeti people. I am proud of you.

The rushing river of memories slowed to a stream and then to a trickle. Senfu opened his eyes and saw the awed and terrified expressions of the onlookers. Calmly, he removed his hands from Rekathen's forehead. His body slumped into a boneless heap at Senfu's feet.

He took a deep cleansing breath and faced the captain of the guard. “I must recall my adviser. There is no time to waste.”

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