by Todd Newton (website - blog)
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Trade Paperback - $13.95
Nine Pillars, Eight Avatars
For Starka, an outcast accused of incest, life is about as simple as one could hope. A prophecy of the ascension of the Avatar of Darkness changed that. Starka, protected by the mysterious warrior DaVille, tries desperately to prevent the disturbing prophecy from becoming a reality.
The world is thrown into chaos as the Carrion Army comes to power, destroying the rival nations of Brong and Rochelle. Wan Du and Mayrah are drawn into the conflict when their homes are destroyed and Cairos, a wizard from the betrayed city of Illiadora, likewise seeks revenge for his fallen comrades.
As the leader of the Carrion army seeks to cover the world in death and darkness to become a living embodiment of magic, these uncertain allies battle against an inevitable conclusion.
The Ninth Avatar is coming.
Chapter 1 - Starka
The fit came suddenly upon Starka as she knelt for morning devotions. At first it manifested as an uncontrollable shaking of her hands. When the pain began, the girl’s eyes shot open. Her throat constricted, all air choked out in gasps. Every muscle tensed as she fought for breath and clawed at the bedcovers in a desperate effort to contain it. Concentration eluded her, and the vision pressed its way into Starka’s mind.
Waves of pain and spasms racked her body like no prophecy before. An Eight Horned Beast, a massive bulk of flesh and bone knotted together, rose above the land. With its presence came darkness enough to blanket the world.
Naked on a barren field, Starka could only watch as the Beast approached. Its many eyes eyed her hungrily. Frozen in place, unable to flee or scream, the girl felt each chomp of its jaws like sword thrusts through the gut. Starka’s skin burned where the Beast licked her then went ice cold as it drew away. It left her half-consumed but Starka did not bleed from her wounds.
Images came quickly as she passed through the Beast’s clouded wake. Soldiers fought on a red battlefield. Many died, some surrendered. A man brandished glowing weapons in defiance. Cities burned at the hands of smaller beasts with similar horns. She saw the Beast’s rise to power begin and end in the span of a moment, but survived. Then all went black.
With the trance ended, Starka’s body dropped to the floor. The fall jarred her bones and forced the last of her breath out. She panted, unable to muster the will to move for a time.
Starka blinked to clear the images from her vision but they persisted as if she had stared into the sun. Feeling returned to her limbs and the girl rolled over and pushed herself up. With her muscles—so alive mere moments before—now heavy as lead, she had to lean against the bed frame to stand. A breeze drifted through the window and chilled her cold sweat even further. She forced her arms up to close the shutters but continued to shiver.
She stumbled across the room and collapsed in front of her shelf as the desperate search began. The sum of her possessions were tossed aside to find what she needed: a pen, an ink bottle and a parchment. She swept the remnants of breakfast from the table and scrawled the details of her revelation while the images remained fresh.
With trembling hands, Starka fought for enough control to write about the Beast. After she tore and discarded the first two attempts as illegible, Starka took a deep breath to settle her nerves. The words came easily, but the pen shook again every time she tried to phrase the Beast’s touch. To distract herself, Starka tried to create a mental list of items she would need before she left to present the prophecy. She wondered if they would even let her in the Great Cathedral.
She paused in mid-sentence at the thought that they may not even take her, the former prodigy to Seeress Elestia, seriously. Ostracized by the Order after the disappearance of her twin brother, Fandur, Starka remembered their curses well. She mourned his loss even deeper in spite of their accusations. Entire days still passed when she did nothing but cry behind the safety of her door, lost without her only great love in the world.
Incest remained akin to murder in the eyes of the Divine, and even the suspicion could damage to a person’s standing in the Order. Starka would have rather given up her vows, her faith, even her life before her brother. She told them so in her grief and the priests added blasphemy to the charges.
They couldn’t fathom her attachment and assumed the worst. Destroyed inside, Starka still struggled with studies and her routine chores.
She revealed the secrets of their relationship soon after Fandur vanished, though she couldn’t bring herself to tell them everything. Honesty might have been valued in cases of innocence, but the priests had cursed her very name after the confession of a single kiss.
Her attention on her hands continued to wane as Starka’s gaze returned to the shelf. Keepsakes sat overturned or upset by her frantic hunt for pen and parchment. The few pieces of jewelry her brother left behind caught her eye. Starka choked back a sob of guilt and one hand came up instinctively to feel for the matching necklace.
The only trace of her brother found was his faith symbol, a square cross made of steel that acolytes carried at all times. Its weight shall remind you of your burden, the Order decreed. Nothing more had been found after an entire year.
Oh Alsher, has it been a year already?
Starka gritted her teeth and tried to turn her attention back to the parchment. To pass the gate guards, she would need a veil. At one time they would have fallen on their faces across puddles for her, regardless of any detriment to their person or armor. Starka’s name formerly topped the list of 100 priestesses with enough potential to succeed Elestia. Only one or two would achieve the status of Seeress in their lifetime.
Since Fandur’s disappearance she cared little for the rhetoric of Myst-Garvon’s Priesthood. Orphaned while still in the crib, the Order had wrapped its great arms around Starka and Fandur. They trained in the separate arts of divination and worship from the time each could speak. With the ousting, the Cathedrals took away her only reason to live. Her keepsakes, untouched on the shelf, and a meager inheritance to cover her food and the one-room hovel were all she had left.
Starka survived the days through prayer for the mercy of the Divine Female, Alsher. She refused to give up on her beliefs; faith would see her through anything. Perhaps this explained the prophecy, she thought, as her visions had been empty for months. Her devotions also went to Garvon, the Divine Male, for the safety of her brother. Lately, however, she prayed more for the strength to survive without him.
Breathing and eating remained the only easy parts.
She wiped a tear away with her free hand and, again, forced back the admission of his death. Fandur might still be found, stranded somewhere in the world—anything was possible in the places she had never seen. The small allowance she lived on could not provide enough means to search for him. Not to mention, she lamented, I have nowhere to start.
Months before, she made one earnest attempt. Praypor, the vagrant city only twenty miles away, awakened her to what the real world looked like. She gave up without even leaving the Mystian continent.
After Starka finished writing, she fanned the parchment back and forth to dry the ink. Satisfied, she rolled it up and placed the page inside an protective wooden tube. It would look like an innocuous message to any curious eyes.
The young girl peeled off her moist sleeping gown and stepped out of the garment. She left it on the floor and drew a towel across her skin, then donned clean underclothes. A rough brown robe hung from the bedpost, the last of her clean laundry, and Starka hoped the it would be enough to protect against the chill morning.
She ruled out her priestess robe, an article which the Cathedral never thought to reclaim, as it would bring too much attention. The pristine garment still hung idle beside the mirror and Starka struggled to remember why. Regardless of her outfit, the priests were just as likely to dismiss her prophecy as useless.
With the veil fastened across her nose and mouth, she lifted the hood of the robe to hide her hair. Starka turned to give her home a last glance and took a few deep breath to steel her resolve.
“Why does it feel like this is the last time I will see this place?” she whispered. Starka checked her disguise one last time in the mirror before she opened the door and stepped outside.
~*~You may purchase The Ninth Avatar trade paperback. Also, here is the first episode of the audiobook, which is available for free.
Discovery Showcase Information
There are currently six excerpts in the queue. Here are the upcoming works, in the order in which they may appear:
- The Zambinos of Blue Hill: The Proving
- Tamar Black - Djinnx'd
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