When the Thrillseekers reunited, they did not know the treasure they sought was the first marker of the Faery Footpath, a journey which would lead them to a godstone… one half of magic’s last earthly legacy. With Len-Ahl the Stonechaser leading the way, they seek the second marker within the iconic tomb of an ancient king. For with the Elemental Stone, they can put an end to the ambitions of Queen Qabala, as well as the evil power she serves.
However, Qabala has not been idle. Even as her forces prepare for war with the east, the holder of the world’s other remaining godstone trails after Nerris and his companions. Her allies are not only human, but from beyond the world as well. A ferocious dragon is spotted in the Tormalian skies, and a deadly beast known as the Malkind awakens from its ancient imprisonment.
The Thrillseekers must also contend with internal struggles as new faces join their journey, and unscrupulous agents seek to destabilize the alliance of the eastern kingdoms. Nerris and Len-Ahl find they must hold true to their quest, and to each other, as the fight for the fate of the world draws near.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Final Fantasy, David Eddings and Indiana Jones were the main inspirations.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Too long ago to remember.
Raindrops fell upon the dead like the tears of the gods. To the right, soldiers dragged bodies from the field to meet their end in a towering pyre. To the left, the men in black robes dealt with the living, sacrificing the enemy wounded to their god in an orgy of crimson.
Valez Vaed, Dume-General of Yagolhan, marched back through the killing field toward his encampment. Blood spattered his armor, and his helm had been bent under the complaint of an enemy ax. Valez paid his opponent back in kind, but his would-be killer was in a much more fatal condition. An iron half-helm was no match for Hilonian steel. The bastard managed to get Valez’s horse, however, ensuring he had to walk back from the battle like some common footman.
A trail of men followed him, some of them sabres under his own command who had also lost their mounts. A field doctor of some kind harangued him about any injuries as he walked, but Valez paid him as much heed as he would a mosquito. One swat from his gauntlet and the man decided Valez was fine after all, and moved on to tend others.
Muddy and bloody as they were, a raucous cheer went up as they entered the camp and others caught sight of them. Valez held up a hand to acknowledge the men, but never broke stride, heading straight for the command tent. Though he would never show it in front of them, he had need of a good soak. Every muscle in his body ached. Even his teeth hurt, from when the inside of his bent helm had bashed against them. He was feeling the weight of his elaborate plate armor, and he did not know whether he just stepped in a mud puddle or a pile of horse shit. He smiled underneath his visor; the singers never romanticized this part of the battle.
Two sabres saluted as he approached the command tent and stepped aside. It was spacious inside, and well lit. All within rose as he entered, but Valez’s eye was fixed on the old man at the center of the war table.
His fellow commander wore the same plate armor as Valez. Each suit was customized for its wearer, as befitted one with the rank of Dume-General. He had to be over sixty, and Valez had no idea how the man’s frame could still wear such heavy armor, but the graybeard had forgotten more about tactics and war than Valez would ever learn. He was glad to see him.
“Your Constancy,” he greeted Valez.
Valez removed his helm, though with some difficulty, and dropped it to the ground. “You sound surprised to see me, Dume Yorne.”
“I heard an account that you lost your horse during the battle. I assumed—”
“Lucky blow from some wayward farmhand.” Valez pointed to the patch covering his left eye. “He came at me from my blind side. He paid for it dearly, however. I’m sure his spirit curses his body for ever trading his pitchfork for an ax.”
“I would expect no less after what I’ve heard of your abilities,” Dume Yorne said. “No doubt many a farmhand trembled at the sight of your terrible battle prowess.”
Yorne had a way of making a man wonder if he was being mocked or not. Valez simply smiled and inclined his head. “Take your leave,” he told the other officers in the room. “I would converse privately with his Constancy.”
The officers saluted and filed out of the tent. When the last man left, Valez collapsed into a nearby chair. He let out a great breath and removed his gauntlets.
“That dead eye of yours is going to be the death of you,” Yorne said. “You should command from the rear, not the van.”
“There was no time,” Valez said. “I thought it best to hit Prince Lahnel’s forces before they were upon us. I turned the element of surprise against him.”
“You did that all right,” Yorne said, “though at great cost to our own men, I noticed.”
“Would you have had me wait for him to surround us so he could slaughter us like cattle?”
“I am not saying you were wrong. Your methods were just a bit reckless. You could have retreated to a better position and waited for my forces to catch up.”
Valez shook his head. “Our scouts had not returned to report anything out of the ordinary. It is by Yala’s grace that one man made it back alive in time to warn us. The prince is a crafty opponent.”
“That he is,” Yorne said. “Nothing like his father. King Lahnen would have kept his men close to home, looking for a surer advantage. Always waiting, that man. He was a much better politician than battle commander.”
“Well, you would know,” Valez said, “given your history with his family.”
“True enough,” Yorne said. “Lahnel would have had us too, but I don’t think he expected us to defeat his distraction so quickly.”
“That battle was yours, your Constancy,” Valez said. “I could not have dreamed pulling off an attack like that from the bottom of a hillside. Was there any word on the condition of the new Lord Bosmick when you left?”
Yorne shrugged. “Dead of his wounds. I give the boy credit. He was ready to strike as soon as he heard of his father’s death in that fool prison riot back home. Yet he was also rash, and it cost him. The Bosmick dynasty is no more.”
“Prince Lahnel’s friends wash away under a mighty torrent.”
“Wet though our prey may be, he is cornered and therefore still dangerous,” Yorne said. “And he is a slippery quarry, it seems.”
“You mean we didn’t get him? We must have annihilated three quarters of his troops.”
“Yes,” Yorne said, “that fact was not lost on me. He must have had an escape contingency in case the battle turned against him. Or maybe he was never here in the first place. Who can say? More lives than a cat, Prince Lahnel. He is more like his uncle in that respect, rather than his father.”
“You speak of the Short King?” Valez asked.
Yorne’s eyes grew flinty. “Your Constancy, that name is an insult, and beneath us. King Kolmat’s reign may not have been long, but he was the very best of us. Yahd the Conqueror may be the most famous Yagol of the Enslavement War, but his cousin worked equally as hard during that conflict. He would have taken the fiery blade Yahd forged for war and tempered it with a peace which lasted an age, had he lived.”
“Had the other cousin not murdered him, you mean,” Valez said. That rumor had been viciously stamped out during the reign of King Lahnen. King Kolmat had been an adolescent when he assumed the throne after Yahd’s death. Lahnen was an unobtrusive man in his youth, and did well in governing all of Yagolhan while his cousin Yahd was away at war. However, though Kolmat was younger, he was the son of an elder uncle. Valez heard there was a certain amount of talk after the boy’s death, but Lahnen’s terror troops known as the United Guard saw those who participated in such talk silenced forever. His father had been one of them.
“We’re not here to chew old soup,” Yorne said. “All those men are dead and buried, and it is the living Y’Ghans who concern me. Namely Dume Rhonor.”
“Your Constancy, if you’re saying Dume Rhonor escaped as well—”
“He did not. We have him.”
Valez saw the conflict on the old man’s face. He knew his history as well as anyone. Rhonor was of an age with Yorne. When Yahd sent the call that he was going to assemble the first Aeternal Council in over three thousand years, many of the major Yagol families did not have a suitable member to send. Thus the most promising scions they could spare were sent off to the University at Lhan Del to be educated and trained for the express purpose of serving Yahd Aeternus. They gave up all claim to their family name for the rank of Dume-General.
“You know what our Eternal’s orders are,” Valez said.
“I know. Probably better than you do.”
“Do you want me to pass judgment?”
Yorne took a deep breath. “No. I owe him an explanation first.”
An officer entered the tent and saluted. Valez got to his feet. “Speak, soldier.”
“Your Constancies, our Eternal has arrived. Queen Qabala Aeterna is without.”
Valez looked at Yorne. “Did you know about this?”
“The missive reached me when I was still at Hesmuth,” he said. “I did not have the chance to inform you yet.” He nodded at the officer. “Where is she?”
“She is with the prisoner, your Constancy.”
That the man did not need to identify “the prisoner” meant only one thing. Yorne swore and picked up his helm from the table, placing it on his head. “We will go at once,” came his muffled voice.
Valez glanced at his own dented helm, as well has his bloody armor. This was not the way to receive the Aeterna, but there was no time for a change of clothes. He followed Yorne through the rain toward the west end of camp, where a prison stockade had been erected. Men saluted as they passed, but Valez did not acknowledge them. Yorne moved with such hasty purpose it was all Valez could do to keep up.
Dume Rhonor was kept alone, chained to a post by his ankle. Stripped of his armor, he wore nothing but a dirty tunic to shield him against the elements. He was well-muscled despite his age, with a bald head and a beard equal to Dume Yorne’s, though his was white rather than gray.
Qabala Aeterna stood before the prisoner. Valez had been a bit skeptical when he heard of the battle prowess of Lady Qabala. He had pegged her as some sort of figurehead, and only ever saw her in official state robes and crown. Today she wore plain riding pants and a leather vest, with a purple cloak wrapped around her shoulders and a saber sheathed at her side. Her brown hair had been trimmed since last he saw her.
The queen’s jade eyes fell on them. “Well met, your Constancies. I hear there is cause for much celebration. Two battles won within the span of three days, and the prince’s right hand as our guest.” She indicated the large man behind her. “Falares wanted to pass judgment himself, but I thought it best to wait for your presence. He is your prize, after all.” She turned to Rhonor. “This should be a bit of fun, my dear Dume-General. Now you see the beginnings of the new Aeternal Council, to replace the one that failed your dear Yahd Aeternus.”
“You mean that ape encased in steel back there?” Rhonor said, referring to Falares. “Oh yes, I’ve heard of the Lady’s Ape. If you think any Council you create could ever replace my brethren—”
Falares started forward, hand on his hilt, but Qabala held an arm out. “Let me introduce you to two more of my Dume-Generals, then. Perhaps you will find them of a better standard. First, may I present Valez Vaed, whose father was acquainted with our dear King Lahnen, I believe.”
“Valez Vaed,” Rhonor said. “I’ve heard of you. The prince employs a graduate of Gauntlet who curses your name for a traitor. Others I have talked to place you as a mercenary and treasure hunter. Though you are a poor imitation of the Thrillseekers, I hear. Tell me, why the sudden rash of patriotism?”
Valez smiled. “Surely you know what your king did to my father. I was given a chance to exact some revenge on his son, and that is what I intend to do.”
“Ah, revenge,” Rhonor said. “Such a simple motivator. Come now. Surely a talented individual such as yourself does not get involved in a war for a country he left behind years ago for such base reasons.” When Valez didn’t answer, he turned to Yorne. “No need to hide your face, Yorne. I recognized your walk.”
Yorne sighed and removed his helm. “Your Constancy.”
“This is quite the historic moment,” Qabala said. “The last living Dume-Generals of Yahd the Conqueror meet once again. Tell me, Dume Rhonor, how does it feel to be the captive of the man you once considered a brother?”
“I was not talking to you, Qabala,” Rhonor said. “I was about to have a conversation with an old friend.”
Yorne chuckled. “You haven’t changed, Rhonor. You never did know when it was time to stifle your breath. That is what comes when you are uncle to the Aeternus, I suppose.”
Rhonor smiled. “Believe it or not, I was glad it was you who caught me and not one of these other lapdogs.” He shook his head. “I don’t even pretend to understand it, Yorne. Thirty years ago, you disappear at the conclusion of the Enslavement War. We all thought you dead, but eight months ago you show up again at the side of this slip of a girl. What happened?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Yorne said.
“Prophecies and faeries and dark powers and the like?”
Yorne gave him a sad smile. “You always were the skeptic.”
“Tell me this much, at least. Did my liege make it out of the battle?”
“Prince Lahnel turns tail and runs back to Lesta even as we speak,” Qabala interrupted.
Rhonor smiled. “Then your victory is still not certain, Qabala. That young man will defeat you yet, I would wager.”
“And you said you don’t believe in faery tales,” Qabala said. “Your precious prince is cut off from Hesmuth. Only the most southeastern regions of this great land remain his. He has no Aeternal Council. Nor does he have this.”
She did nothing but look the Dume-General in the eyes. As he watched, Valez saw her jade irises darken and turn to a deep, glowing purple. He had not been with the Qabalan Horde when they took Palehorse, and only half believed the tales that his queen dipped her head in Aristian Flames and absorbed the godstone known as the Doom Rock. However, he felt something when he looked in her eyes. A lost feeling, as if he was being swallowed into something greater and more powerful than he could even comprehend. That confirmed it for him. Qabala truly was the Aeterna.
Rhonor felt it as well, for he gritted his teeth and spat at the ground. “Godstones,” he said. “Gifts of illusion. I never heard of an Aeternus who they did not ruin.”
The color of Qabala’s eyes faded back to normal and she turned to Yorne. “You know what I will bid you to do, your Constancy. Must you make me say it?”
Yorne shook his head. “I will pass judgment, my Eternal. I see it must be by my hand.”
What was this? Valez looked at Qabala’s face, and then to Yorne. There was understanding passing between them. A much deeper game was afoot here. Dume Rhonor was due judgment from another Dume-General, that was true, but to make the aging graybeard behead one of his oldest friends was pure cruelty when two others were present. Unless she needed Yorne to prove something.
They had been in the field when a missive arrived from the Aeternica with news of the Thrillseekers’ escape. Their subordinates could scarcely believe it, but Valez knew Nerris Palada and his friends. His wonder was less about the fact that it happened and more curiosity on how they managed it. Yorne had not seemed surprised either. The Thrillseekers would have needed help to pull off such a feat. Yorne and Nerris had been friends, but Yorne had broken his three decade silence to be at the queen’s side. Surely Qabala did not suspect his loyalty.
Yorne swallowed hard. “It will be done. Dume Rhonor, I ask you to kneel. I would rather not sully your dignity by having my companions force you down in your last moments.”
Rhonor sighed and dropped to his knees. “Little enough dignity, meeting my end here in the mud. Might I ask one last question, old friend?”
Yorne swallowed again and bent down to Rhonor’s ear. His friend’s eyes widened at whatever the Dume-General said, and he cast one fleeting look at Qabala before nodding in understanding. He bent his head and stretched out his neck. “Pray be quick.”
Yorne drew his blade, and Valez knew it would be. Yorne always kept his edge keen. Valez could attest to that.
The graybeard raised his sword. “I, Dume-General of the Order of Peacekeepers, constant watchman of the welfare of Yagolhan, bringer of justice and administrator of law within the realm, try you for treasons committed in the name of the late King Lahnen Y’Ghan, and find you guilty. I hereby sentence you to death.”
The blade whistled through the air, separating flesh from flesh. Dume Rhonor’s head tumbled out a ways as blood spurted from his neck. His body convulsed before falling to the ground and laying still, a red pool pouring forth.
“What did you say to him?” Qabala asked.
“I said his liege, King Lahnen, murdered Yahd’s true successor,” Yorne said, tears in his eyes. “King Kolmat would have been the greatest ruler the Yagols ever had, even without a godstone. I knew I could never serve a man who would take the life of his own kin, and the day that happened was the day I vowed to bring down the Y’Ghan family.”
His answer came quick, as if Yorne had rehearsed it in his mind. Valez was sure that was not the whole truth, but it seemed to satisfy Qabala. She nodded and gazed at the body of Rhonor. “You may make arrangements for a proper burial. Dume Rhonor fought well and has kept his honor.”
“Thank you, my Eternal.”
“Dume Valez, might I have a word in private?” Qabala asked him.
“Of course, my Eternal.”
They left Yorne and Falares behind to deal with their prisoner’s corpse and walked back through camp, toward the command tent. Qabala kept the hood of her cloak down, but if the rain bothered her, she did not let it show.
“I understand we have you to thank for this grievous blow to Prince Lahnel,” she said.
“Command was mine, my Eternal. We suffered heavy losses ourselves. Mostly cultists.”
“They are of no matter,” she said. “Kill one and three more spring up to take his place, it seems. I see now your recommendation was with merit. You make a fine Dume-General.”
“I was surprised when I was contacted, to say the least,” Valez said. “Might I ask who made that recommendation?”
“He prefers to remain anonymous, and I will respect his wishes.” She glanced back at the stockade. “I grew up hearing stories of the Aeternal Council of Yahd Aeternus.”
“As did I.” He could not keep the bitterness from his voice.
Qabala picked up on it. “Do you harbor ill will toward the old Council?”
“I suppose not,” Valez said. “I was meant to be my family’s successor to Dume Volaz. But Yahd died, and the godstone went with him. It is ironic I grew up feeling as though there was no place for me in my family, my purpose shattered before I could even walk. Yet here I stand now, a part of the new Aeternal Council.”
“From what I hear, you were a brilliant strategist at Gauntlet,” she said. “Now that I see deeds match words, I know I’ve made the right choice.”
“My forces from Palehorse will soon join you,” Qabala said. “Your orders are to march on Lesta and take the city. Leave no stone unturned until you have Prince Lahnel’s head on a spike.”
Valez stopped in his tracks, forcing Qabala to do the same. “Prince Lahnel is a canny foe—”
“He is weakened, shattered by this battle,” Qabala said. “I leave methods entirely up to you. Command of the army is yours.”
“But surely Dume Yorne—”
“Yorne will be coming with me, as well as Falares,” she said. “Dume Quin will remain in Palehorse to protect the city until I come back. I would return to a whole country, for I shall have the power of both the Doom Rock and the Elemental Stone on my side. We must be whole when we march east.”
So it was true what Yorne said; Qabala planned to go after Nerris and the others, and claim the Elemental Stone for herself. How Valez longed to go with her. Nerris, Dist, and Jhareth had been walking, talking problems from the moment they met as adolescents at Gauntlet. Thanks to Nerris, his best friends died in Miagama. He did not like the prospect of Nerris becoming a Dume-General any more than he had, and had actually been glad when news arrived of the Thrillseekers’ escape. They were opposed now; that was the way it had always been and the way it always should be, for he had accounts to settle with the Thrillseekers.
Instead, he bowed before his queen. “I thank you for your faith in me, my Eternal. I swear, I shall find some way to penetrate the Talsar Mountains and crush Lahnel Y’Ghan once and for all.”
“A new day is here,” Qabala said. “Too long has our country suffered, and I will go out to finish the task which Yahd the Conqueror began. It was fitting that fate rejected you from his Aeternal Council. You will be a part of something much, much greater. Rise, your Constancy.”
Valez stood and looked into his queen’s eyes once again. Behind the verdant circles of her irises he sensed something else. For a brief moment, an image came to mind: a pale man with brittle hair, wearing a tattered robe, a lifeless expression writ across his countenance.
He nodded to himself. That lost feeling was no longer there. He knew what he had to do, and saw the rewards at the end. He gazed into those deep jade eyes and knew it to be true.
Nicholas Andrews grew up in Dayton, Ohio. After graduating from Bellbrook High School in 2000, he went on to attend both Ohio University and Wright State University. He worked as a freelance video editor for various independent pro wrestling companies for three years, before returning to his first love of writing. He has been writing stories since he was ten years old. He is also the nephew of Ted Andrews (1952-2009), award winning new age author.
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