Along with the following sample pages from the book, you can also read a bit of Chosen backstory here: The Pod Crash
Chosen is a fantasy adventure – location; Hell, Purgatory, the Demon’s Lair, and Hell is everything it’s cracked up to be.
Sixteen-year-old Dynan Telaerin finds himself on a corpse-strewn hillside, uncertain if he’s dead or alive, charged with saving the soul of his ancestor, the most powerful telepath to ever exist. Dynan has telepathic powers of his own, only he doesn’t know how to use them. With monsters and minions trying to eat his soul, the demon’s lair isn’t the place for learning anything – except how to run and how to hide.
The running starts, and doesn’t stop to the end of this action packed adventure of a young man coming to terms with his life while he’s barely a spirit, through horrors he thought existed only in dreams.
Chosen is the first book of the series, The Guardians of the Word.
Gradyn Vall paced in the outer room of the royal bedchambers, a room not trimmed in yellow gold like much of the rest of the Palace, but set in softer tones of cream and light blue. The other men in the room glanced at him. A few eyebrows arched upward. Of course they didn’t say anything to him directly. He was the High Bishop of Cobalt. His obvious nervousness wasn’t the usual persona; the calm, unruffled-by-anything exterior that he displayed in public. His stomach was in knots.
The prophecy recounted in his head and he asked for the third time since his tenure as High Bishop began, if this birth would be the one.
“It’s the fourth time you asked, and I already told you it would,” said the spirit Gradyn always carried.
“You told me that thirty-two years ago, too, but you were wrong.”
“She’s having twins.”
“And they were twins then,” Gradyn said, being careful to think rather than speak out loud. There was a time or two over the last seventy-five years since he inherited the ghost where he’d forgotten. Being host to someone deceased for nearly a full Age had its own special difficulties.
Gradyn forced himself to stop moving, halting near a window he could look out. He watched the snow beat against the glass pane, where it stuck briefly before melting into a drop of water. A dam of ice accumulated at the base of the window, defeating the heating elements embedded in the glass. Lightning brightened the night, striking the King’s Tower, followed by the sharp crack of thunder. The howling wind was almost as loud.
It was expected, Gradyn supposed, for the coming of the scions of Alurn Telaerin.
“Does he know?”
Gradyn frowned briefly. “Ambrose? That he was a twin once? No. It was a loss too early in the gestation. He was lucky to survive though. Well, you knew that.”
“I suppose these births will be as difficult. The Gods rattle and shake the universe in a clash of wills against the dark forces of the world. You’d think they’d balance themselves out, between good and evil, but no, there’s all this noise, snow and howling wind.”
“You’re the one who picked this place for your home,” Gradyn said as if their location would have any dulling effect on how the universe reacted. Somewhere else there might not be a horrific blizzard, but there would be some other physical manifestation to announce the arrival of so great a shift of power.
“I’m going to go find out what the delay is. Come with me.”
“No,” Gradyn said, but braced himself for his mind to be split between his body and the ethereal existence Alurn Telaerin inhabited.
“Don’t argue for once, just come along.”
Gradyn sat, and pretended to pray so no one would interrupt. Alurn took him, a feeling like dropping off a cliff, and as swiftly as that, entered the mind of an attendant in the next room, witness to the birth of the future saviors of the world.
Shalael Telaerin clutched the sides of the birthing chair, a raised, tilted affair that seemed both comfortable and a contraption of torture.
“Well those things haven’t changed very much,” Alurn noted.
Her fingers dug into the padded arms while five and then six and then seven attendants, medics, physicians, her husband moved around her in an orchestrated dance. One swooping in to dab her forehead, one to hold her hand, one to encourage her to breathe evenly, one to sit at the business end of the affair to examine the progression of the birth and so on.
Something was very obviously wrong. The first baby wasn’t coming. Every time a contraction struck, the heartbeats of both the unborn stuttered and paused. Alarms sounded. The doctors hovered, trying to determine what might be the problem and how to correct it in time.
A decision had to be made, one that went against convention and a tradition that went back hundreds of years. In all that time, or so the records stated, the future King of Cobalt was born naturally. It was just one more thing for the Princess to feel guilty over. She’d already been told she shouldn’t have more children. In order to save her and her children, the surgery to extract them was necessary.
With the concurrence of her husband, and his father, the King, the dynamic of the room changed. The chair was flattened. Medics rushed with concentrated purpose. More monitoring equipment was steered to the side of the mother. Her gaze never left her husband’s. He leaned down, holding her hand.
“It’ll be all right.”
She would have agreed, but another contraction took her voice.
She didn’t scream or cry out, somehow containing the pain that tore through her body to a small whimper. Ambrose blocked from her awareness most of the mechanics coming in to take over this once normal process. Instrument trays with laser cutters and injectors for medication and the blue sterilization lamps clicking on weren’t visible to her as he leaned over her.
The attending physician intruded gently, dermal injector in hand as the contraction passed. She was weakened by it more than normal, and the alarms sounded different.
“Save my children,” she said. “You save them, Eldelar.”
“They’re going to be fine, Shalael, and you will too. We’re going to sedate you now, so the pain is less. You might feel the first incision but it shouldn’t be too much. Tell me if it is. I’m sorry we can’t give you more.”
“I want to be awake.”
“I know you do,” he said, and pressed the injector into her neck. “You’ll only feel a little drowsy.”
The doctor kept talking, and at the same time, made the first cut along the lower curve of the round, extended belly, and then another to open the womb.
The one who should have been second born came first, pulled neatly out into skilled hands and wrapped into warmth hardly a moment later. First born. Gradyn could see the aura of power encircling the child as snugly as the blanket. Like his parents, he had fair skin and his hair, what little there was of it, was blond. They named him Dynan Alurn.
Alurn the First smiled at that, humming over it.
The child now relegated to second born still refused to come.
And here it was, the prophecy hung on a precipice. Gradyn waited, wondering if the child didn’t come, if it didn’t survive, how many more years would it be for another chance. Too many for his life to last. Another generation lost.
Three physicians worked over the Princess to no effect. Eldelar glanced briefly to Ambrose, shaking his head imperceptibly, his arm inside the incision up to his elbow. The vitals of the unborn child plummeted and then stopped.
The doctor put his other hand between the legs of the future Queen. His shoulder hunched forward and he leaned, pressing his weight upward. Shalael gasped and cried out. Outside, the wind ceased its incessant howling. The silence of a tomb descended.
Everyone in the room noticed it, but they didn’t understand it.
“Ah!” Eldelar shouted. “I have him.”
The baby emerged, eyes open, Telaerin blue, and unlike his brother, declaring his presence in the world with a sharp squall. Amid the laughter and tears of his parents, there seemed an edge of defiance to the cry. The room’s occupants breathed as one.
They named the second born Dain Ardin.
And the prophecy was fulfilled, children of one mind, born in the seventh cycle and named for the father of them all.
“Poor kids,” Alurn Ardin Telaerin said. “They’re in for it now.”
Outside, the wind howled.
A swirl of snow blew in on a gust of wind. Dynan Telaerin brushed the intruding flakes away, even as he had to push blond hair out of his eyes so he could see. He wanted to uncover more of this bit of a silver bowl, or maybe it was a platter of some kind, before he had to leave the work site.
It wasn’t so much that he enjoyed being frozen to the bone, but being here, on a flat spot of rock in the mountains, was preferable to being at home. When he looked down the hillside and beyond the surrounding forest, he could see the black rock of the King’s Tower rising starkly against the blanket of white. Another gust of wind blew the snow again, and again, he brushed the powder off the spit of silver. This was what he did for fun, a thought that made him roll his eyes over his idea of entertainment.
All around him stood the tumbled and broken walls of an ancient room. He bent over the metal piece, lodged in a section of frozen dirt that was otherwise cleared of snow down to a patch of set stones. Laser heaters did most of that hard work, but a few shovels were employed once they’d gotten close to the surface of the find. That was hours ago and a necessary daily regimen with the blowing snow. No matter how carefully the tarps were set, they rarely survived one night of wind.
The rock cutting into his knees consisted of several shades and hues that might be a pattern of some sort. The rest of it remained obscured so he couldn’t tell. What he could see of it reminded him of the Sacred Seal, the giant symbol of faith that covered the back wall of the Temple Sanctuary.
A wave of nervousness shot through him. Tomorrow, he thought, he would be on his knees again, but then shook his head. “Don’t,” he said to himself in a half mutter, determined to avoid facing that day until the last possible moment.
The cold permeating every layer of clothing was almost enough of a distraction, but the gazes and glances of the other people who were with him on this high slope of the Tarameik Mountains didn’t help. He kept scraping, brushing, examining, starting the next section – and tried to ignore the sense of being in a fishbowl.
That was the Prince factor.
They didn’t think of him as just any sixteen-year-old kid up here on the mountainside, digging in the ground. He was his father’s son. His father was King of the most powerful planetary System in Brittallia; a Kingdom of three planets and four billion people who sometimes liked to know what he was doing. All of them. Frequently at the same time.
There were days he wished he could dig a hole a lot deeper than the small one he was in, and not come out again.
There were days, a lot of them, where he couldn’t wipe his nose or scratch his balls without someone seeing. There were days being a Prince completely sucked. Tomorrow would definitely be one of them.
The noise of crunching through snow intruded and then a pair of polished black boots came into view. He didn’t have to look up to know their owner was his guard.
Colin Fryn was a big man. He did a pretty good imitation of giving a crap about the things Dynan did, but his real job took precedence. Colin was always looking around, observing, aware of who was doing what, ready. He’d sworn an oath to die before letting anything happen to him, so the guard was serious about making sure nothing did.
“His Majesty is on his way,” Colin said, squatting down to look at the metal plate.
The man bristled with weaponry – a laser rifle, a sword, a knife, and a few items that couldn’t be seen. Colin was an expert with all of them. Best of his unit. At twenty, he was the youngest with that high distinction. Sometimes Dynan wondered how he felt about being a glorified sitter.
“Time to go.”
Dynan nodded, but didn’t stop what he was doing. While the King’s visit thrilled the other members of the team – to them, that recognition was a big thing – to him, it was just annoying.
“So, are you going to try and make it up to him, or are you going back into lockdown?” the guard asked, scanning the area.
Dynan only smirked at him, channeling his twin brother, Dain for a moment and made Colin laugh. Dain called the guard, along with a couple of the others in the same unit, the Hounds. So named because it was almost impossible to get away from them. Almost.
“Not that I mind you being confined to your rooms,” Colin said. “It’s way easier on me. Just tell him you’re sorry.”
“I already did.” More than once, he thought, and it wasn’t working. Sometimes, nothing did.
“Then tell him again. As many times as it takes until he gets over it. Preferably before your brother decides to go off and do something equally stupid as stealing and then crashing a transport pod.”
He was careful not to look at the guard this time, concentrating on the work at hand. Colin might read in his face that plans were already brewing.
“I know you’ve heard it before,” Colin said. “Just saying, is all. It can’t hurt.”
Colin straightened and Dynan kept working.
He tugged his fur glove from his hand to get a better grip, and managed to dislodge a large chunk of frozen soil from the metal. A line of embossed diamonds appeared, similar to his family crest, and made him wonder if this was an early location of his ancestral home, perhaps built by the First King of Cobalt. Someone built the place, though why they thought this mountainside a good spot to locate was beyond him. He blew on his fingers. It was cold, down to the bone, stinging exposed skin cold.
The unexpected smell of charred wood wafted through the air. He frowned over it while he picked away more dirt, glancing around to see if there was smoke somewhere or a fire to go with it. He ended up running his finger into an unnoticed sharp edge that sliced into his skin.
He jumped a little as an immediate flow of blood splattered on the rock. Another drop followed and another, hitting the stone in expanding bright red circles.
A deep rumble lifted toward him while he sucked the blood off his finger. The tiny bits of dirt he’d loosened bounced off the rock from the vibration. The idea occurred that a ground shift was happening, and he looked up to check on the others in the group.
The rumble grew louder, and everyone around him stood cautiously in their section of the ruins, peering nervously around and waiting to see what was going to happen. The slope of the land they were on went up to a wall of rock. Colin looked to the cliff.
The sound like a roar of a lion came from the ground. Dynan expected to see a hole open up right under him it was so loud and close.
Something odd happened then, that had no explanation at all. The red droplets of his blood vanished into the stone. He stared at the spot, a question mark forming in his mind. He must have imagined it, but another drop fell from his still bleeding finger and seeped into the rock as if it were a sponge.
“Wow. Okay, that is not normal,” he said, rubbing the stone that should have been red. “It’s not possible either. Colin, did you—”
A large boulder tumbled off the face of the cliff. Dynan looked to his guard to see if he noticed the disappearing blood, but Colin was watching the boulder – just before he reached down, yanked him to his feet by a fistful of his coat, and pulled him around away from the cliff. The boulder hit the ground and exploded.
The arms of the guard went around him, vise-like and inescapable. Colin braced himself, bending over him to protect him. Shards of rock whizzed by. Dynan wasn’t hit by any of them, but he felt the guard jump.
“Colin?” Dynan asked. The rumbling kept on and didn’t seem like it was going to end. “We have to move!”
The guard shook his head. “We can’t. The ground is unstable.”
To prove it, the ground shuddered underfoot as if it heard him, heaving in some places, and by the sound of it, more boulders were on the way. Colin looked over his shoulder. Evidently, he changed his mind about moving. He pushed Dynan a few steps and then a few more before once again becoming a human shield. Another boulder slammed into the ground.
This time, the bits that zoomed by were hand-sized.
Finally, after a long time to be glued to his guard’s chest, the shaking eased and then stopped completely. Colin loosened the hold he had slowly, and Dynan straightened, turning to make sure the guard wasn’t hurt.
“I’m fine,” Colin said, smiling at the concern, but he winced. “Maybe a few bruises, is all. You weren’t hit, were you?”
Dynan shook his head. “Not a scratch, well except for my finger.” The sliced bit was smeared by blood. If he pressed on it, more came out, but slower than before. “Did you see it? The rock soaked up the drops.”
“See what? No.” Colin turned to look back at the cleared patch of ground Dynan had been working on. “Sure you didn’t imagine that one?”
Before he could answer no, the two leads on the dig came rushing across the slope, trying to run through deep snow to little effect, except to look funny. There were paths cut through that they weren’t taking. One of them had a strange, almost maniacal grin on his face as he rushed forward.
“What’s wrong with him?” Colin said under his breath.
“Your Highness, Lieutenant, are you all right?”
Dynan left Colin to answer and went back to his work site to collect his tools and the glove he left on the ground. After all that shaking and danger, he knew he’d have to leave even before his father arrived. They were probably calling off his visit right now. He tried to remember when there’d ever been a shifting in this area and couldn’t.
He thought to ask, but stumbled over uneven ground, or his own feet, and fell. Not backward, but straight down. He threw his arms out, a reflex that didn’t do anything to stop the sudden descent, except to throw him backward. He expected the ground to catch him, but he realized in a flash as the sensation of falling continued, that there was no ground. There was a hole.
It occurred to him as he went down that he ought to be more careful what he wished for.
The air whistled past him, freezing his breath. He kept expecting to hit the bottom at any moment. It was black as pitch with nothing around him. No walls to try and grab hold of. Nothing to slow him down. More moments ticked by. He knew if he didn’t stop falling soon, landing would kill him.
“Dynan?” Dain’s presence reached him and fear made Dynan grab hold of the only thing available to him, bringing Dain with him. “What the hell!”
Dynan meant to go to him. He was capable of it. Mentally leaving his body to join his brother was almost second nature. They were telepaths so it was easy. They even traded places on occasion, but Dynan didn’t want that. He just wanted to get out of himself before he ended up broken to bits at the foot of a dark pit. He wasn’t completely sure how to do it without the other thing happening and maybe killing Dain instead.
“Dynan, just take my hand,” Dain said. “I’ll get us both out. Take my hand.”
But Dynan hesitated and then he struck.
A high-pitched whine filtered through the constant repetition of his name, both in his head and from above. The ability to breathe returned in gasping increments and with air filling his lungs, the realization came that he was alive. It didn’t feel so good, but the alternative was worse. Right then, Dynan was happy to feel anything.
He blinked his eyes open, and after they cleared, he saw Colin leaning into the hole, looking down at him.
“I’m all right,” he said to the guard, only the words didn’t come out very loud. “I think I’m all right.”
Dain was there too, only in Dynan’s head, looking out through his eyes at the distant opening. The hole had opened close to a supporting wall, so it didn’t seem like more of it would give way. “What happened?”
He couldn’t answer. He tentatively wriggled a few fingers. He raised his arm and nothing screamed at him. It didn’t feel like anything was broken. He couldn’t see near at hand at all though, but then remembered he had a lamp box on his belt.
“Pop is landing,” Dain told him, and the sound of the transport coming in filtered down through the hole. “And he’s freaking out.”
“Just tell them to drop down a rope,” he said. He lifted his other arm, and then both at the same time. The light box was still clipped to his belt and undamaged. It was an amazing relief when it came on, giving him a little square of light against the inky darkness.
He couldn’t yell an answer back, so he flashed the light at the opening that now had his father looking down. For a moment, his younger sister peered down too, blonde hair cascading down around her face. She was about to turn eleven in a few months.
“Oh that’s a long way,” she said, looking worried, and then someone pulled her back from the opening.
“Tell them I’m all right.”
“I already did,” Dain said. “Pop has to read it though. I’ll message Colin instead. Can you stand?”
“Maybe,” Dynan said, and thought he should probably try. He moved his legs around first and rolled to his side. He found out what hurt then.
“Your back? You land on it? How far down are you anyway?”
“Twenty, thirty kem. I don’t know.” Dynan groaned as he moved, guessing that every muscle in his back was pulled or bruised.
“On the bright side, maybe you’ll get out of the ceremony tomorrow,” Dain said.
“Nothing shy of death, he said the other day, so I doubt it.” Dynan had already hinted as directly as he dared that he didn’t want to go through with it. His father didn’t pay attention to that, being far too concerned with what a cancellation would look like and what an inconvenience it would be to the invitees if the ceremony didn’t happen.
“I’d say this counts.”
Dynan made it up to hands and knees. His back still hurt, but it was less than before. His head hurt, too. There was a growing knot at the base of his skull. He touched the lump as part of the inspection and found out he shouldn’t.
There were large stones from the collapse littering the ground he could have landed and died on. A sense of euphoria swept over him. He hadn’t broken anything or damaged any internals. Of course, he wasn’t completely sure about that yet. He tasted blood in his mouth.
Dynan turned the lamp on his surroundings. It was a cavern he landed in, made by man, not nature and the light barely cut the darkness. He sat back on his legs, testing what hurt and how much. He spit the blood out – it felt like he bit his tongue.
Right where he spit, the ground bulged upward as if it was boiling water. For a moment, he thought it was some sort of flowing liquid. Another rumble erupted all around him. Dust and dirt rained down with clumps of snow from the hole above. After back-peddling away, something between curiosity and revulsion drew him back.
“Now you’re just being stupid,” Dain said.
Dynan looked over his left shoulder where Dain stood, blond, blue-eyed and smirking as usual. With the ability to communicate telepathically, there came this visual projection. No one else could see him, of course, but there was a physical sense that Dain was right there, one hand on his shoulder.
The rumbling eased, changing to a more distant, safer crack of rock against rock, but the ground kept puking dirt. A rope whistled down near at hand, a few coils thudding to the ground. When it started twirling around, Dynan knew Colin was on the way, but looking up wasn’t yet an option.
There was something on the ground anyway, more compelling than the guard’s descent. A black claw, regurgitated from within, lay on top of the dirt. It rolled along with the brown river as if pushed by an invisible force until it was in front of him where he knelt.
“Okay, that’s just weird,” Dain said. “Seriously, don’t pick that up.”
The smell of charred wood filled Dynan’s nostrils – the same smell from just before he cut his finger. Something else about the talon reeked, more a feeling than an odor. It came as a sensation, too hard to define, that sent a shiver of warning through him.
This was a mystery he couldn’t resist. He picked up the talon.
The black claw was almost as long as his hand, and curved to a sharp point. A ridge ran on either side. It didn’t belong here, whatever it came off of. There wasn’t a history of large animals of the kind that would own something of this size. Not on any of Cobalt’s three planets. Not anywhere in the six Realms that made up Brittallia even. The black gleamed dully in the weak light.
A flash of thought entered his mind neither his nor Dain’s, whispering that this was why he was here. Finding it was why he’d come on the expedition to the mountain ruins. It was why he’d cut his finger. Why the ground had opened and dropped him here. It was in the world now and having it would change everything.
“What?” Dain demanded in a voice full of uncertainty, even bordering on fear. “Did you hear that? Who’s here?”
“No one,” Dynan said, turning the talon over in his hand.
Colin landed then, and reached for him, but Dain moved in, taking over.
“You need to get him out of here,” Dain said, speaking through Dynan and confusing the guard. “Right now. Don’t wait for them to decide how it’s to be done.”
Colin pondered for a moment, looking at Dynan closer. “Dain?”
“Right now, Colin,” Dain said. “Get him out of here.”
“You know it’s really creepy when you do this? Right? And you’re not supposed to. No, don’t go on. I know. I’ll get him out, but I have to tell them up top—”
“I already did,” Dain said, but then Dynan managed to reassert himself and push Dain out. “Colin, I’m all right. Dain is a little spooked is all.”
“I gathered,” Colin said, but he held up a hand while he read from the comboard. “He’s not alone in that. Can you stand?”
“Come on then. Are you hurt? Dain says no on the comboard, but I thought I’d ask you.”
“Just get him out of here, will you?”
“I wasn’t talking to you, Dain. I’d like to hear it from your brother, if you don’t mind.”
“I’m all right,” Dynan said when Dain eased off.
Colin nodded and helped him up, looking at the talon Dynan still held with curiosity, but then he was hooking him onto the rope using an extra belt and clip.
“Hold onto the rope and hold onto me,” the guard said, winding a few coils around his arm after he’d clipped onto a different spot.
“How are they going to pull us both up?” Dynan asked, tucking the talon into a pocket before taking a section of the line and gripping the guard by the shoulders. It hurt to move that much.
“There are enough people up there to manage. Melgan Lon and your father are there. They aren’t going to drop us.” Colin smiled to reassure, put his arm around Dynan as if it were a clamp, and then called up, “Ready here. Pull.”
Carryn Adaeryn looked out from the tower window of the Sanctuary Temple at the glistening night. To her right, the lights of Rianamar fanned outward and to her left the vast blanket of the Wythe Sea extinguished them. There were clouds coming in to obliterate the moon.
Her gaze lifted from the darkness of the water. The Telaerin Palace stood in a blaze of light on a jut of land carved out a few million years ago from the Wyvern River’s run through the middle of what was now the Capitol City of Cobalt. The churn of waves against the shore came in a rhythmic cadence and the more distant boom of the sea striking the cliffs a large drum. Carryn took a deep breath and pulled in salt saturated air. The bitter cold felt good to her.
Carryn leaned against the stone windowsill, letting her thoughts wander. When she needed to calm her mind, this room, with its spectacular view was the place she came. After hearing about the harrowing ordeal Dynan had survived in the mountains, in a shifting of all things, she definitely needed calming.
She should have seen the danger. She was a Seer. Since the time she was ten and Dynan was five, it was her job to look after him. When there was trouble, she saw it before it happened, and could avert the danger. An anonymous note to the Palace with a warning, and both boys found whatever scheme they dreamed up – very usually an escape attempt – undone. Usually, anyway.
There wasn’t anything they did in all those years that she wasn’t aware of if there was even the remotest possibility they’d be hurt. The pod crash on the mountain; she’d seen and a message went to the Palace, telling them about the stolen pod. There was an attempt on their lives last year that even the King didn’t know about, thwarted by the secret order she belonged to. No, Ambrose Telaerin wouldn’t let his sons out of his sight if he knew the extent of peril they faced, much less allow them to go up onto a mountainside, even if it was a mountain just behind the Palace, for a day of archeological digging.
She should have seen. She didn’t understand why she hadn’t. Carryn pulled in another lungful of the frigid air.
She waited through the day after the shifting that only affected that one mountain range Dynan was on, for the announcement that the King would postpone the oath taking ceremony his son was set to take part in – tomorrow. She found herself questioning the wisdom of His Majesty’s decision when the bulletin stated the ceremony would go on as planned.
She supposed it couldn’t be avoided unless Dynan was very seriously injured. He wasn’t – a relief – and cancelling wasn’t practical when three thousand of Cobalt’s most prominent leaders were set to be in attendance.
She wondered if Dynan would make it through it, considering his aversion to being in public.
Sudden pressure behind her eyes jolted her out of her thoughts and warned her of a coming vision. She tried to prepare herself like she did every time these bits of the future ripped into her, and reached blindly for the stone sill to steady the room.
The King of Cobalt knelt before his throne, shackled to the floor. Blood dripped from his wrists where metal dug into skin and then down his fingers. He watched, powerless, while his young daughter was raped.
They weren’t men responsible for her torture. They weren’t human, but creatures of the dark, some reptilian, some bestial, on all fours, salivating as they waited in line for their turn at her.
Carryn recoiled from it. Pain blossomed as a result and she fell. The vision shifted.
The city below her appeared on an overcast day. The pristine white buildings it was famous for stood in twisted ruins. Plumes of black smoke billowed up to choke her. Coiling darkness wound around the tower, like a living thing, tightening its grip until the stones began to crumble. The walls crashed to the floor and then through it.
Carryn fell with the tower, the wave of rubble carrying her to the Temple altar.
A thousand pieces of colored glass shards from the great seal spread through the apse like a carpet. On the altar, one of the King’s twin sons lay tied by undulating coils piercing his skin. A man stood over him, a thin blade in hand. For a moment, Carryn thought he was the High Bishop, but then she recognized her brother, Maralt.
To her horror, he cut into the wrist of the Prince, took his hand and raised it. Maralt held a cup to catch the flow, but it wasn’t blood that streamed from the wound. A white, radiant liquid ran from wrist to elbow and into the cup to fill it. She realized what it was – the essence of a telepath’s soul.
Black, rough-hewn pillars surrounded her as the vision shifted again. Crushing terror dimmed Carryn’s eyesight. She heard herself whimpering. A contained area of darkness stood framed by an archway of stone like the entrance to a cave. She knew the Void lay on the other side.
Another altar stood at the heart of the encircling pillars. The other twin writhed upon its surface. Another man stood over him. His back was to her, but again, he seemed like her brother. He held a thin knife in one hand, and in the other a brilliant white light streamed through clenched fingers.
More coiling strands rose from the stone floor by the altar, plunging into the struggling prince. The will to fight slowly ebbed until he was motionless. At first Carryn didn’t understand why his blood ran red, but then the answer came. He’d been brought here alive.
Here was the cause of the destruction of the world. The soul of the Chosen had been taken, his soul held in the hand of a monster. The blood of the Chosen flowed on the demon’s altar at the gateway to his realm. It was the prophecy come true. It was the prophecy she’d been born to stop. She and her brother both.
The veil boiled outward toward her. Consuming darkness reached a hand to her. The ground shook as the drops of blood ran down the face of the altar. The face of evil was coming. The anti-God. A thing of such power, it would split the ground it walked. It was the demon, Belial.
Carryn turned from the horror that preceded it, trying to escape. Her arms were pinned to her side and she struggled against the smothering wave of darkness that held her.
“I’ve got you.”
She found her voice and heard herself screaming, the sound echoing around the small space of the tower.
“Carryn, it’s all right. I’ve got you. It’s all right.”
She opened her eyes to find her brother beside her, picking her up into his arms from where she’d crumpled under the window. She shook and her heart pounded against her chest. She couldn’t catch her breath.
“It’s all right,” Maralt said again, giving her another squeeze before loosening the grip he had on her. Slowly her vision cleared, returning her to the tower.
“I was at the gate,” she said, leaning against him. She clutched his brown monk’s robes in her fist. “It’s happened.”
“Nothing has happened,” Maralt said, and propped her up against the wall. “Look around you. We’re here. We’re safe. No creepy crawlies running around.”
Carry shook her head at his tone. “They were raping her,” she said. “And Dynan and Dain—”
“Carryn, it hasn’t happened. Shalis is fine. Her brothers are fine—”
“It’s going to,” she said. “It’s going to happen.”
“I’m not going to let it,” he said, making her release the grip she had on him before enclosing her hand in his. “I know what you saw. It upset you, but you’ve seen it before.”
“Not like this.”
“Exactly like this, but you don’t remember. I’ve taken it from you, Carryn,” Maralt said, tilting his head as he looked at her, raising his eyebrows the way he did when he knew he was right. “The memory of it.”
Carryn gasped and knew the truth. Sometimes the future she was shown was too terrible to endure and not go insane. Her brother’s telepathic talents were different from her own. Countless times before, he removed her memory.
“Did you see the demon?” he asked, watching her.
“No,” she said, remembering now how many times he’d asked the same thing. She pushed herself up against the stone, wincing. Sometimes she felt an old woman when she was barely twenty-one. “I saw enough. I saw you.”
“Same as always, having a nice drink,” he said and smiled. “Well that’s something. You didn’t see the evil nasty. I won’t take the memory this time unless you want, but you know, he’s likely to insist.”
Maralt meant the High Bishop, Gradyn Vall, who was probably on his way up the tower stairs. He might yell at her for that. It was a long way to climb for a man of his extreme age.
“I already told him you were all right,” Maralt said, answering her thoughts. “He’ll want to see the vision for himself, but I can show him.”
“I don’t know how you stand it,” she said, knowing already she didn’t want to keep the vision.
“It’s what big brothers are for.”
“You’re barely three minutes older,” she said. “I don’t think that counts.”
“Of course it does,” he said and smiled.
She shuddered as she saw Shalis Telaerin again, splayed across her father’s overturned throne, her eyes distant. She wasn’t screaming or struggling to get away anymore. She knew she couldn’t.
“Carryn,” Maralt said gently. His fingertips brushed against her temple with the touch of his mind inside her own. She turned to the relief he would bring her, sinking into the light comfort of oblivion that came like a blanket.
She was set onto soft ground and a field of flowers opened around her, the earthy smell of them rising to fill her lungs. The darkness faded.
“Rest here a while,” Maralt said.
Carryn turned to look for him, but he wasn’t there. The sky above her was a deep, endless blue. She smiled at it and the drowsy, almost drugged feeling that came over her. She let it take her.
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