Night was falling. The last traces of brilliant sunlight painted the distant skyline with a soft blend of gentle blues and deep, vibrant purples. The moons had already risen, hanging low in the sky like ripe luma fruits, casting down their own ghostly light. The air was thick with the verdant scents of late spring.
Seated cross-legged atop a small hill that rose in the center of a grassy clearing, Lerana reached out with her senses, sinking deep into the trance-like state known as e’tana, becoming one with the world around her. She could feel every heartbeat of every creature that roamed the dense forests to the north and west of the village, from the tiny chakkata that scampered through the thorny juraa networks to the majestic feline fenail’a and the placid, six-legged dairang’ata. She opened herself further, soaring over the flatlands and rolling hills to the east. In the fading light, she could see dark shapes lurking in the waist-high bo’al grasses, cunning predators lying in wait for their prey.
In the distance came a sharp canine howl, then another, then a third. The bortath’ana hunt tonight, thought Lerana. A good omen.
Lerana let her spirit fly for a moment more, then drew back to herself, closing her spirit-eyes and opening her corporeal ones. Fourteen of her fellow to’laka sat in a semicircle around her. Their faces and bodies were crisscrossed with elaborate tattooed symbols telling the history and mythos of her people. Wind gusted and spun around them, throwing up loose dirt and needle-like leaves, but it did not so much as rustle their hair or dairang-hide cloaks. Nor were they touched by the light droplets of rain that misted all around them and glistened atop the leafy canopy of the towering stefia trees that ringed the clearing. The elements were repelled by the magical shield that shimmered just over their heads, visible only as a slight warping of the air.
At the head of the semicircle sat the Jo’ma, the leader of the Traika to’laka. The old woman’s face was shrunken and creased like the bark of a dying tuari tree, and only a few wisps of white hair clung to her wrinkled scalp. Yet vibrant, youthful power still burned in her opal eyes. She spoke, her voice a sibilant hiss that pierced through the keening of the wind to echo like thunder in their ears. “It has begun.”
The Jo’ma punctuated her words with a turn of her head. Lerana and the others followed her gaze to the massive peak that loomed above them all, filling the entire horizon with its awesome splendor. It stretched up, up, as far as the eye could see, its uppermost heights hidden by the thick swirls of black clouds that blanketed the sky.
Kil’la’ril. The Mountain of Thunder.
Lerana could feel the power that pulsed from within the mountain, washing over her and her fellow to’laka. Lerana had only been a young child at the time of the first Awakening, so many winters ago, but even so she could recall it as vividly as yesterday. She remembered the sudden rush of power, the feeling of life suffusing her every muscle. She remembered the connection she had suddenly felt with all living things, a kinship with nature that was almost indescribable to those without the gift. She remembered the first time she had used her newfound abilities to touch the mind of a chakka, making the small rodent scurry up her arm and perch atop her shoulder.
Above all, she remembered clambering out of bed and rushing up the tiny hill outside the village to stare transfixed at Kil’la’ril. She could practically see the currents of power that radiated from the towering peak. That invisible force flowed out across the whole land, all the way to the Great Sea A’chen’has and beyond, but it was here among the Traika who had made their home in the mountain’s shadow that it was the most concentrated, the most pure.
But nothing in Lerana’s life had prepared her for what she felt now emanating from the mountain. She could feel herself practically being pulled towards the Mountain of Thunder, as if she had been caught in a raging undertow and was being swept inexorably out to sea. What had once been a steady, calming river was now like a great ethereal flood. The swell of power was so strong that it was almost like she was drowning, but even so she was not afraid. The magic of Kil’la’ril was a part of her, and she a part of it. To share with it had been the greatest joy she had ever known. To be overpowered by it, to lose herself entirely within its awesome majesty, would be the greatest honor she could ever hope to achieve.
The Jo’ma raised her arm and barked out a single word of command. A dark winged shape coalesced from the shadows and came to light at her wrist, its four sharp-taloned feet curling gently around the woman’s frail arm. Nearly a meter and a half long, its feathers as black as deepest night, the terek regarded the circle of to’laka with huge orange eyes that glittered with cruel hunger. Its jagged beak clicked and snapped as if imagining crushing their necks within its powerful jaws.
Lerana could not help but shiver as the beast’s gaze fell upon her. Wild terekai were merciless and fearsome monsters who feared no enemy. They had even been known to attack bull fenail’a, using their serrated claws to tear through the soft tissue of the massive feline carnivores’ eyes. This terek was enthralled, trapped within the stone grip of the old woman’s sorcery, but if it broke free from its mistress’s control it could slaughter them all in an instant. Lerana’s own shamanistic powers would not be able to save her.
The Jo’ma stroked her pet’s huge feathered head for a few moments, and the vicious predator cooed and warbled happily beneath her touch like a young child playing with its mother. Then she gave another command, and the terek took wing with a piercing cry. The huge bird soared above them, a looming silhouette against the twin moons. It circled the clearing once, twice, and then was gone.
The Jo’ma knelt and picked up the rough-hewn wooden bowl at her feet. Lerana could smell the pungent scent of crushed feerak berries mixed with bo’al sap. The old woman raised the bowl to her face and inhaled deeply. A shudder of ecstasy shook her wizened frame, and when she lowered the bowl her eyes swirled with gray smoke. Her mouth hung slightly open, as if in a daze, and an expression of euphoria crept across her face. The crone handed the bowl to the dark-bearded young man sitting beside her; he, too, breathed the sickly-sweet fumes and then passed the bowl on.
By the time it was her turn to partake, Lerana was practically shaking with anticipation. It was all she could do to hold the bowl steady as the powerful aroma rushed over her, filling her nostrils and throat. Even as she lowered the bowl from her face, she could already feel the hallucinogenic trance coming over her. The double light of the fading blue sun and the pale moons fuzzed and blurred together into a single pinkish hue. Colors swirled in her head, and a vision suddenly formed in her mind.
She saw a man, slender and unassuming, with delicate-boned hands and a slight hunch to his shoulders. He was standing within a chamber that seemed to be made of black ice. Faint light played across his face, shining down from a fist of glowing rock that hung suspended from the cavernous ceiling. The man’s eyes glimmered like tiny stars, and as Lerana met his piercing gaze she suddenly felt as if she had been transported to the ice-capped peak of Kil’la’ril itself. The violet orbs seemed to draw all warmth from the air, absorbing it as greedily and insatiably as a bortath devoured its prey.
But those terrible eyes were not what held Lerana transfixed. Nor was it the jagged scar that ran down his face, a brilliant line of white bisecting his left cheek and temple. Instead, it was the lava-red gemstone that appeared to be embedded in his right palm. Power swirled within its crimson depths, chaotic and deadly.
The man raised his arms high. Lightning sparked at his fingertips, crackling through the vast chamber. The air hissed and spat, and tiny balls of fire ignited all around him. Even though she was not physically present, Lerana could still feel the man’s power crashing over her, and for a moment panic seized her. Her magical abilities were great, but she was nothing before this man, of less significance than a newborn chakka struggling blindly into the world. She felt herself falling…falling…
Faintly, as if from a great distance, Lerana heard the Jo’ma speak again. The old woman’s voice pulled Lerana clear from the raging torrent of the scar-faced man’s power. “Long we have waited, my children. At last, the time of prophecy is upon us. At last, our deliverer has come. At last, the Traika shall reign supreme.”
The crone’s voice faded away, but the words lingered and echoed in Lerana’s mind. Exultation flowed through her, and all of her fears and worries melted away. She could feel consciousness slipping from her as the soporific power of the bo’al sap took full hold. She had time for one last, jubilant thought before the darkness closed over her.
* * * *
A cold breeze swept through the empty streets of the lone settlement on the mining outpost world of Pattagax. Even though the huge crimson sun had set mere minutes earlier, the warmth of the day—if indeed ‘warmth’ was a term that could ever be applied to the harsh Pattagaxian climate—was already a distant memory.
Deep in an abandoned alleyway tucked within a district of the city that had long since been reclaimed by the thonia and the creeping loktha vines, Berokas—formally Berokas er Lestaad, before he had lost his honor and been cast from his clan and his people—shivered and tried to huddle further beneath the threadbare blanket and thin rags that were his only possessions. The Florca was emaciated, his once-thick skin flaking and covered with sickly yellow splotches. A violent fit of coughing overcame him, and when he raised a trembling four-fingered hand to his mouth it came down flecked with green sputum. Gallian fever again. Damn it. Come early this year, too. Damn it again.
But Berokas did not allow himself to be overcome by despair. He may have fallen on hard times, but he was not dead yet. Not by a long shot. His body might be weak, but he was still alert, and his mind was still as sharp as ever. He had survived much in his life, against odds that not even the most reckless gambler would touch with a ten-meter pulseblade. It would take more than a flesh-eating disease to bring him down.
As Berokas held that determined thought in his mind, an odd sound suddenly split the air. It was a sort of crackling—like the sound of a par-gun blast sizzling through flesh. The sound was coming from Berokas’s left, from what had once been a busy thoroughfare but was now a ruined stretch of gaping fissures and yawning potholes, its surface strewn with rubble and twisted wreckage. With an effort, the saurian alien lifted his head and turned towards the noise…and what he saw was enough to make him sit bolt upright, his eyes widening, his own troubles vanishing completely from his mind for the first time in years.
A jagged hole had erupted into existence in the middle of the road. The edges were insubstantial, warping and twisting like a bad holoprojection. But this was no projection, no illusion. Berokas could feel something like electricity playing along his skin. A fetid stench of rotting moss reached the Florca’s nostrils. He heard sounds as well: a faint hissing and a growl that was like no beast he had ever heard before.
Through the opening, Berokas could see only an infinite blackness. But as the Florca watched, the hole suddenly seemed to fuzz, its onyx surface rippling like a pond under a faint breeze. A chill even deeper than the one that already tore at his bones passed over the Florca, and his breath was suddenly crystal before his face.
A trickle of living shadow began to flow through the hole. It started slowly, faint tendrils of darkness running out in tiny rivulets, but soon those thickened to twisting cords the width of Berokas’s waist. Within moments, the shadows had coalesced into a single figure that was vaguely humanoid-shaped but lacked any definite form. Wisps of smoky darkness drifted around the creature like some kind of tattered cloak.
Twin points of yellow light burned deep within where its head would be, terrible glowing eyes that carved through the gloom with all the intensity of tiny stars.
They were staring straight at Berokas.
Terror swept over the Florca. But he could not move. His limbs seemed to be frozen in place, though whether they were held there by some arcane power of this creature of darkness or by the sheer force of his own fear he could not say. He opened his mouth to scream…
The shadow creature was still for a moment longer, its cold gaze regarding the lifeless remains of its victim. Then it took one shadowy step forward. Behind it, the swirling portal flickered once and faded away. The creature raised its head, like a predator tracking scent. Slowly, it turned towards the south.
In the direction of the district known as the Grays.
The trails of shadow surrounding the creature began to swirl into a frenzy. The yellow eyes flashed. A wave of dark power rolled out from the creature in all directions; turning solid stone into rubble and dust.
Leaving destruction in its wake, the creature slipped soundlessly through the night.
Chains of Mist--Book 2 of the Chalas Peruvas
Read on for a sneak preview of Chains of Mist, book 2 of the Chalas Peruvas
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When Admiral Drogni Ortega learned that an old nemesis had escaped death and had risen to power within the separatist Coalition, he did not hesitate. An elite strike team journeyed into enemy territory, to the very seat of the Coalition’s power, determined to finally put an end to the greatest traitor in the history of their world.
Now, the battleground shifts. Stranded on a hostile planet a thousand parsecs beyond the borders of the Federation of Worlds, the survivors of Hilthak must brave a treacherous landscape ruled by fearsome beasts and deadly magics to reach the awesome splendor of Nembane Mountain. There, within tunnels hewn eons ago by the primordial power of G’Char, they must stop Rokan Sellas from completing an ancient ritual—one that would transform a helpless captive into a disciple of evil and release a force of unspeakable devastation upon an unsuspecting galaxy.