A sample from my debut fantasy novel Protector (Anniversary of the Veil, Book 1). Hope you enjoy it
Prologue – Donning the Veil
Rhenal’s footprints in the freshly fallen snow revealed the triangles upon circles held together by bands of gold. This was the symbol of life energy, flowing freely, covering the courtyard of the L’Intin Palace and the inside walls of its three triangular towers. If the Deception failed, this would be the last time Rhenal entered the palace, his home for the past 50 years.
On the steps leading into the L’Intin Palace he looked back at the silvery grey of this day’s last light. Twilight was falling fast. Once the moon rose, the world would be two.
All the sun orbs in the entrance hall of the palace were filled with light. Rhenal blinked as his eyes adjusted.
Will such light ever fill this hall again?
Nothing was decided. Nothing certain. All now depended on the Decision Maker’s choice.
Rhenal hurried across the entrance hall and down the hanging staircase to the Room of Life where the Joining would take place. Where Joinings had taken place for centuries, perhaps never would again.
Despite his nervousness, the blissful joy of childish expectation filled Rhenal’s chest. The anticipation of basking in the free flow of life energy just before it was pulled into the single purpose for which it was released was stronger than all doubt and fear.
This would not be the last time Rhenal witnessed the release. It could be the last time he’d witness it in the Room of Life in the L’Intin Palace at the center of the world. If only the Deception succeeded. Then they would not have to leave it all in the hands of the Righteous.
Tymin and his followers would not be swayed. Years passed while they decided on the location of the Veil, bribed and negotiated, as the Venerated tried to hold on to the Palace and all the ancient knowledge it contained. The Righteous outnumbered them three to one and they wanted to hinder the Venerated as much as possible and everywhere they could.
Deception was the Venerated’s last chance to retain all the knowledge of the world collected over millennia.
Fitting, as all now depended on the quality of betrayal.
The Righteous didn’t need all the knowledge of the world just to steer the masses born too weak in the Life Force to wield it. Rhenal and the Venerated could add so much to that knowledge; the store of this knowledge was housed in the library of the Palace, taking up most of the right three towers. This knowledge was crucial to building a better world. The Venerated would build a world where Life Force was present everywhere and every one possessed enough to learn at least the simplest skills.
The Decision Maker understood this, agreed it must be so. She’d assured Rhenal of it just now.
But those weak in the Life Force were many and they wanted the Venerated to fail. People with the Life Force would still be born on the Righteous side of the Veil, Rhenal was certain. Such was the natural balance of things. Wherever there were few with the life energy in them, more will be born. How the Righteous planned to prevent it was none of Rhenal’s concern. In his world, the natural balance would stand.
The Room of Life was lit just as copiously as the entrance hall. The Answer, Beacon and Catalyst already stood on the triangular podium in the center of the room. The Catalyst at its apex, the Answer and Beacon facing each other at the bottom.
The First Pair stood on the circular podium overlooking the pedestal.
Shimmering white light enveloped the two as they stood there holding hands, their faces seemingly hidden behind the radiant light. The identical white silk robes they wore reflected this light, giving the illusion that they were shimmering in and out of reality, creating a glow around them.
Rhenal looked up at them as he entered.
Could they foresee the true intention of the Venerated and the Righteous and halt the Joining? It was in their power to do so, just as only they could initiate a Joining. Rhenal hoped the excitement at the fulfillment of their greatest desire, the return of the natural balance of things and no more forced Joinings, would make them too blind to what was happening until it was too late. That was the beauty of their plan to separate the world in two. It was really just a compromise in disguise. Tymin and his Righteous wanted no more Joinings and on Rhenal’s side the natural balance would flourish, so each half would be as the First Pair wanted.
The small group of Venerated who stayed to witness the Donning of the Veil sat along the first row of polished wooden benches lining the Room of Life. Brea, the Decision Maker, was to use her Life Force to jump onto the center of the pedestal just as the energy was released. She’d promised the Righteous and the Venerated she would guide the energy to lower the sky and split the world into two. To Rhenal, Brea promised she would do so just beyond the L’Intin Palace, near the cliffs above the Taiel Sea.
Will she keep her word?
He was about to find out.
Rhenal sat with the Venerated and nodded to Tymin that all was ready. In his sweaty right palm he clutched the small, intricately carved wooden stick that would serve as one of a pair of keys to open the Veil at need.
The First Pair raised their hands and the golden circular enclosure around the triangular pedestal slithered into place.
Their voices rang out together, filling the hall as water fills a well. “We are gathered to witness another Joining in service to the higher good! The stretching of spring and summer has made the winters too harsh. Today we correct this. The people need milder winters for too many starve, and too many die as the snows cover the ground.”
“Catalyst, you know your duty. Release now the energy of the Beacon and its Answer. Let it flow from them to you. Then guide it into the world and make the weather kinder. Such is our will, and such is the will of the Hand of Fate. The pair will be accepted into our midst once it is done, finally returning home.”
The Catalyst, a boy barely sixteen years old, looked at the First Pair, bewildered and on the edge of tears. It was never easy for them to take the energy of another, yet none ever refused. The honor to serve the higher good was great, the sacrifice worthy.
The air in the room crackled as the Life Force flowed from the Answer and Beacon. An identical anguished look marred their features, turning to utter terror as they tried to run to each other but could not move. Their pain filled Rhenal as though his own.
Tears spilled from his eyes as he performed the Calling of the Mists to block out the pain. In his nervous anticipation, he’d forgotten to do so before the Joining began.
The last of the energy burst out of the Answer and Beacon. They fell to the ground, arms still outstretched towards each other. Their bodies were dead, but their life energy, their essence, was now forever joined in the Roof of the World. There they would enjoy the strong love they shared. This Answer and this Beacon would never be parted again.
Their Life Force filled the room, intertwining below the ceiling as the Catalyst called it to him. In a moment he would send it out to make the barrier to the Roof of the World solid, impassable.
The First Pair would assist him, then disappear beyond the barrier forever.
Where is Brea?
If the Decision Maker did not appear now, all would fail.
The air was torn from a jump. A tall, brown-haired girl suddenly appeared, standing in the center of the triangular pedestal.
“Take the energy Decision Maker and Don the Veil!” Rhenal yelled into the silent room.
The expression on the Catalyst’s face changed from serenity to shock as control of the energy’s flow was wrenched away from him. The light in the room changed from the brilliant yellow of the sun to the black of darkest night. Even the shimmering glow around the First Pair dimmed and waned.
Twinkling multi-colored dots began appearing in the black. First one, then two, then ten, a hundred, a thousand, millions. They covered the black, became translucent. The energy was spent, the Joining completed.
The Deception failed. The Decision Maker had lied to Rhenal.
If the Veil was Donned, it was not by the Taiel Sea, not around the Palace.
The Venerated had to leave.
Brea looked at the Answer and Beacon. She was shaking, tears rolling down her face. Rhenal waved for her to follow, they could use her in the new world beyond the Veil. Her strength in the Life Force was unmatched. Yet few Catalysts ever recovered from the pain of taking the Life Force of another. The Decision Maker was no more than a strong Catalyst, albeit one who could bend the flow of energy to his or her will even without the First Pair’s guidance.
Rhenal ran from the Room of Life to escape the First Pair’s retribution for having been lied to and tricked out of their greatest desire.
A booming voice emanated from the very walls of the hall, of the entire palace. “You made a grievous error tonight! To sever what was meant to be whole is dangerous! There will be no balance in the world now!”
Rhenal stopped. The First Pair lay prostrate on the pedestal.
Who spoke, if not them?
“Glorious Fate,” the Pair said in unison. “They have deceived us. Deceived you. The Pinnacle was used for the wrong end!”
In the center of the triangular pedestal the Decision Maker clutched her throat and fell to her knees.
“You were to direct the flow towards blocking the Lesser’s ability to touch the Life Force,” the voice of Fate boomed. “You have failed!” Life left Brea’s eyes as she toppled to the ground.
Rhenal raced from the room, hoping the Mists would protect him long enough to leave the Palace. The Hand of Fate had never revealed itself, since giving up so much of its hold over governing the world long ago.
Its voice was as stone breaking, crumbling, turning to dust. “You have forced this Joining and must now bear the consequences. In 1,000 years another Pinnacle will come. A Beacon will be born without an Answer. Only then can your wrong be righted. These years will be your punishment, they will be long and hard and wrought with anguish. None of it undeserved.”
Rhenal looked back, expecting to see the Room of Life collapsing behind him. It stood whole.
Venerated and Righteous alike ran after him, their Aeters emerging from their physical bodies as soon as they exited the Room of Life. He didn’t look back again as he dashed up the winding staircase and across the light-filled entrance hall, then into the darkness beyond. Snow was falling in flurries, filling the courtyard with dancing shadows.
He heard hard breathing behind him and turned. The punch blurred his vision, made him fall.
Tymin kicked him in the stomach. “You thought to trick me as well!” The leader of the Righteous yelled. “We had agreed on the location of the Veil. The L’Intin Palace belongs to the Righteous.”
Rhenal caught Tymin’s leg as the man tried to kick him again. He twisted it, making Tymin fall as well. Physical combat was so ineffective. “I had to try, old friend. You knew we would try. Having to leave all knowledge in your hands is hard.”
Tymin sat up. “I suggest you go now, while you still can. I am of a mind to make you stay permanently.”
Rhenal stood and brushed the snow from his coat. “It seems Fate herself planned to deceive us all.”
“And failed! The Hand of Fate cannot govern us directly, it has to deceive and plot just as we must. The next 1,000 years will prove the Hand of Fate is not needed at all anymore.”
“Why did you not just let it take all Life Force away, then? Would that not be the most Righteous way, Tymin?”
Color rose in Tymin’s cheeks. “Those born with no Life Force must be steered.”
Therein lay all the hypocrisy of the Righteous. Rhenal laughed. “To steer is to rule, Tymin!”
Those weak in the Life Force would still be looked down on under this rule of the Righteous, just as they were in the world that now stood separated.
Tymin rose as well. “Those without the Life Force can never govern themselves. They must be looked after!”
Rhenal hoped to create a world where all were equal. Only the Venerated did not believe use of the Life Force needed to be curtailed to achieve it.
Rhenal watched as the rest of the Venerated emerged into the courtyard from the palace. “Let’s see who has better luck then, you or I? We have 1,000 years to make our dreams come true!” To the approaching Venerated he yelled, “To the Forest. The palace is lost to us!”
Rhenal made the jump.
The smart would follow without delay, the rest deserved to feel Tymin’s wrath at the attempted Deception.
Rhenal would not wait long before opening the Veil to enter the new world he must now build.
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