Happy Lock Down Readers! It’s been a long time coming, but Fates of Ruin is now available for pre-order over at amazon. This is the revised and relaunched version of The Empyrean Key and a version of the book I was wanting to write for so long. Finally, I had the opportunity to give it another go and I’m so happy with the result.
If you are a die hard fan of the original The Empyrean Key, never fear, I still have it kicking about in ebook and paper back and would be more than happy to get it to you. If you are one of those amazing people who supported The Empyrean Key and would like to see what all the fuss is about in Fates of Ruin, I’d love to supply you with a free ebook copy. Just get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can pre-order Fates of Ruin at…
As well as a bunch of other amazon countries. The paperback will be available on release. Keen to check out the new and improved introduction to the Ardentia series? I’ve posted the first chapter below. Enjoy!
CHAPTER ONE – Friziel Sunrender
“So lost, my dear friend,” Friziel whispered. “So dark and cold where you are. Do not fear. I am at your side.” He lay his withered hand upon Moyle’s heaving chest and pressed his nose to the sleeping king’s forehead. “Always at your side.”
The room was black, the air thick and stale. Myole’s broad face hadn’t seen the sun in months and had grown wintry and sallow. Friziel tried best he could to recall the glow of his king’s cheeks, the golden wealth of his auburn beard and lustre of his hair. It was fading all too quickly from his mind, as most things were these days.
Friziel had crept into the room when all others had retired for the evening. He had sat beside the giant bed and whispered stories of their past adventures, hoping that a single tale might ignite a spark, but for weeks nothing.
Myole was growing weaker. The mysterious illness had reaped his vitality and left him a shell of a once great king. Soon his divine eversoul would pass, and his queen would take command of Myole’s vast dominion.
This was something Friziel could not allow. “I will make this right…”
He took up his gnarled staff and hobbled across the room, his body hunched and thin. He could hear the guards chatter outside as he passed the huge wooden doors. Friziel did not even glance at the bronze handle, instead making his way to the very corner of the bed chambers and putting all his weight behind a slab in the stone wall that was slightly lighter in colour than the rest.
The wall creaked and slowly gave way, revealing a dark passage. Friziel had no need for light, he had walked Castle Kalavar’s hidden tunnels a thousand times. For a short while the only sound was that of his own shuffling steps, but soon they were drowned out by music and laughter. Friziel approached another hidden door and leaned into the rock and when it gave way, he found himself in a darkened alcove near the grand dining hall.
The music and merriment were louder now, and it had Friziel incensed. How could there possibly be any sort of celebrations with Myole so gravely ill? He marched to the door, thumping his staff with each step to be sure he caught the guard’s attention.
They exchanged displeased glances.
“You are not invited to this event, old Eye,” one guard called. “Return to your room before you upset, her grace.”
“You should know by now boy, that I live only to upset, your grace,” Friziel snapped.
The guard rolled his eyes, half-heartedly crossing his chest with his polearm. “I ask you again, old Eye. Please leave, there’s nothing to see here.”
“Oh, I agree,” Friziel said. He tugged back the hood of his deep orange robe revealing his braid of hair, thick as mooring rope, that nearly reached the floor. But it was his eyes that held the guard’s unease, murky white pools that had been blind since he was a young man, even so, all was his to behold. “I would happily scratch out what little sight I have if it meant I did not have to observe the irreverence unfolding behind those doors, boy!”
Friziel grinned. He called the guard boy because that is how he remembered him best. He once played in the courtyard with wooden sword and tattered trousers. Now he stood strong in the golden armour of the ruling family Dubraycon whom he served, his chest emblazoned with the white summer-lion, the sigil of their house. He was proud and loyal, traits that had earned him Friziel’s patience over the years. Not tonight though.
“I will not be denied, little Arman,” Friziel taunted, “I have collected many secrets that would make a fool of you, things that might be frowned upon if you one day wish to ascend to the Kingsguard.”
Arman scoffed. “I am an open book, old Eye. I have no secrets.”
“Ohhh …,” Friziel chuckled. “These secrets are not yours. They belong to your beloved whom I bumped into at the market.” He waved his hand, his fingers dancing upon the air. “I did not have to dig deep. It was all right there, just below the surface. You must love her dearly, Arman, I mean … your children have his eyes.”
“Enough!” Arman yelled.
The second guard could see his captain faltering. “If you let him in there you won’t be made a Kingsguard neither, she’ll likely put your head on a pike.”
Arman ignored his pleas and glanced vacantly to the courtyard. “I think I heard something. Come.”
The guard frowned, obeying Arman’s instructions even though all present knew there was nothing happening outside. Friziel moved forward, stumbling with his staff. Arman was quick to assist him before he fell, their hands touching briefly. In that moment, Friziel’s lucid-eye granted him a fate through a flash of blinding light.
Arman helped him steady. “Are you alright, Seer?”
Friziel’s shoulders slumped and he sighed. “Yes, boy. I am fine … and I am sorry.”
“For what, old Eye?”
Friziel offered no explanation but a smile, an expression he still hadn’t mastered after all his years. It was crooked and limp and conveyed more regret than happiness. He left Arman to wonder on his words while he took hold of the massive gilded handles of the dining hall and threw open the grand doors. His entrance drew the attention of the decadent assembly and for a moment there was utter silence. Lords and ladies; knights and wellborns, all eyes were upon him. Most were curious, some indifferent, but there was one set of green eyes that burned with ire.
The ivory-skinned, Queen Selizardra sat at the feasting table, her hair a tower of scarlet ringlets, her long fingers and blood-red nails grasping a jewelled goblet. She glared at Friziel as she sipped but did not seem surprised that he had arrived uninvited.
Friziel browsed the guests, noting that none of the Brother Lords were in attendance. Good, it would have been a further insult to Myole’s health had they been here drinking instead of at his bedside. The guests were mainly light-blessed knights and nobles from the great cities or those whose wealth granted them the privilege of dining with royalty. One among them stood out, a woman whose beauty alone was enough to rival the stars, but it was her flawless blue skin and violet hair, her brow, cheekbones and jaw all lined with silver that set her apart from the rest. Her body was draped in fine silks, sleek and slender, and she moved with a feline grace. She had several wellborns fawning over her, no doubt in awe of attending a party with an exotic Klathazuit, but none had her attention. In fact, the Lady Lerathane looked bored beyond belief, that was until she spied Friziel. Her dark lips turned upwards, revealing her fanged canine teeth. She beckoned for him to join her.
Selizardra watched, rising to her feet and slamming her goblet on the table. “Seer Friziel. To what do we owe this pleasure?” Her voice was thick with the accent of her homeland, the frozen tundra of Meth’morn across the sea. She was stifling her aversion to Friziel’s intrusion. He could see that in her clenched fist and stiff pose. But she knew better than to unleash a tirade upon him. Regardless of her own feelings, Seer Friziel was highly respected amongst the Brother Lords, including Lady Lerathane’s husband, the Lord Ossbrien of Ivahmar. With Lerathane present, any mistreatment would surely reach Ossbrien’s ears.
“My Queen regent, I simply wish to share in the celebrations.” He tapped his chin. “What is it we are celebrating again?”
Selizardra spoke through a painted smile. “Why Seer, winter has come to an end. Do you not recall? We raise a harvest wine to Fressia and pray she grants us a prosperous spring. Lady Lerathane herself has visited to join us in our worship.”
“Worship the Celestials … you, Lady Lerathane?” Friziel chortled.
Lerathane shared his sentiment, giggling behind her hand. “You know me better than that, Seer. I was simply passing through as I travelled to my homeland and was told wine was on offer.”
Selizardra bit down on her lip. “Whatever the reason. We are honoured to have you join us and please, Seer, help yourself to a drink or some spiced pork before you leave. The hour is late and a man your age needs his rest.”
Friziel bowed. “Your concern is noted, Queen regent.”
Selizardra slumped into her chair and took up her goblet, her eyes not leaving Friziel even with her advisors twittering at her ears.
Lerathane shooed away her admirers when Friziel approached. “I wondered when you would rear your head. A stay in Kalavar is not complete without your scowl.” She offered her hand to Friziel, he cocked a questioning brow. She grinned. “I have nothing to hide.”
Friziel touched her skin, laying a kiss on her knuckles. Again, there was a flash of golden light behind Friziel’s lucid-eye and the vision confirmed Lerathane’s candour. Whether wicked or true, there was nothing shown to him that Friziel did not already know. The one thing that did startle him was how frozen her skin felt. It was common amongst all Klathazuits, but just how cold their bodies are was always a bracing surprise. He noted droplets of water at her fingertips.
“Are you growing too warm, my Lady?”
Lerathane shuffled uncomfortably in a chair that was glazed with a layer of ice and studded with jagged icicles. She gripped the velvet arms and through her will forged ripples of crackling cold to keep her cool. “It is hard being away from home too long. This climate is not to my liking.”
Friziel leaned close. “Then I shall not keep you too long.” He reached into his orange robe and presented Lerathane with a single blush niasyle blossom.
She took the flower from his palm and immediately the petals came over with frostbite. She nodded and with that their exchange was complete.
Friziel bowed and lugged himself across the room to the doors, not sparing a glance for his Queen even though he could feel her piercing stare following him until he was free of her sight.
Friziel had not retired to his room, instead travelling the maze of passages until he emerged from a shadowed alcove in the northern courtyard that overlooked the pithart. The round stone structure was bathed in the spring moon’s golden hue, illuminating the names etched above each of the five arched doorways: Herathese, Fressia, Methelos, Agia and Capheron, the Celestial guardians of Ardentia. But even these great deities were below another. Arden the Creator; Queen of the Celestials; Bringer of Light, her effigy was that of a winged queen, her long arms stretched toward the heavens, her face masked by a chainmail veil. She stood atop the pithart, lording over them all.
Friziel moved quietly from his hiding place towards the closest doorway. A petal fell upon his shoulder, followed by another, then another and at his feet lay a thousand more, blanketing every inch of stone within the courtyard. He looked up to find himself beneath the towering niasyle tree with its spiral branches abundant with blossoms. The tree bloomed all year round and no matter how many flowers it spilt upon the ground; it was never barren. It only grew here in Kalavar, its roots reaching deep below the pithart, into the crypt of the dead kings.
When he reached the doors, his keen ears caught the tiniest hint of someone behind him. He grasped his staff and turned only to find Lady Lerathane giggling at him.
“Did I startle you, Eye?”
Friziel grumbled. “Of course not. I heard you coming a mile away, crackling frozen petals beneath those hooves of yours.” He gestured to her feet which were far too wide and long to fit a lady’s shoe. Klathazuits had two large pronged toes attached to a paddle shaped foot to help them tread the deep snow of their homeland.
Lerathane lifted her nose to the air and shimmied her dress down an inch to cover her feet. She returned the now frozen blossom Friziel had given her, a fallen flower from this very niasyle tree.
Friziel bowed gratefully and scattered the petals to the ground with the others. “Thank you, Lady. Come, we do not have much time.”
Lerathane followed Friziel into the pithart. In the centre of the room was a large marble slab with a silver offering bowl sitting at its head. This ceremonial altar had seen the passing of the divine eversoul through many kings, the last being Myole’s father, Myken the Restorer. Friziel turned his eyes from the thing, not able to look upon such a foreboding omen. Lerathane was the opposite, curious as usual, dragging her hand across the smooth surface and leaving behind a sprinkling of ice. He urged her past the altar, to a stairwell that led to the crypt below. Though Friziel did not need a torch to see his way, Lerathane struggled to see her hand before her face. She gripped Friziel’s shoulder and he grimaced at her cold touch.
“If you do not wish me to freeze you to death, I suggest some light?”
“I do not want to draw attention to our presence here,” Friziel replied. “Can you not be less cold for just a moment?”
“You sound like my husband.”
Friziel could sense her grin in the dark. “Take my staff instead,” he said.
The stairs started narrow before widening grandly at the very end. A fire bowl blazed at the heart of the crypt with flames that reached for the ceiling and it was encircled by over a dozen stone tombs. Each was unique, a hand-crafted wealth of gold and jewels, its gilded effigy a tribute to the great king that lay within. The most splendid of them all was at the forefront, closest to the flame. It was not splendid because of its decadence, in fact there was not a single treasure to be seen. Instead it was solid stone, its edges worn and rounded from the ages with large cracks marring its sides, but still this tomb was strong as Ardentia’s foundations. It was the first of the tombs, built for the first man of the Dubraycon line, Mytian the Forefather, first king of Ardentia, son of the God-King Mytis.
Very few would see such a hallowed relic in their time, it was something that Friziel himself had not seen since he was a child, when he was first taken from his Narcean family and presented to Myole’s father as Eye. Friziel had not cared about a dusty old box then and to be honest, did not care much for it now either. Despite the worship the Forefather legend demanded and the fealty of his subjects which was inherited by his sons, Friziel would happily dance his old bones upon the grave of every Dubraycon, save for one; Myole. For his friend, Friziel would endure this place one last time.
“You’re sure about this, Eye? It is a great sacrilege you ask me to perform.”
“I would not ask if such an offense wasn’t necessary. I have seen the shadow, Lerathane, the great void that will devour our land. It sits hungrily at the foot of Myole’s bed, waiting on his last breath.”
“And you think our queen has something to do with it?”
The very thought of Selizardra turned Friziel sour. “I would wager my life on it, which is not something I am eager to risk. I am far too busy to die.”
“I believe you, Eye, but once this is done, our bargain is settled. You cannot ask me for help again.”
Friziel bowed. “Of course.”
“And your tongue will keep silent? At least until I am dead anyway.”
“You have my word.”
Lerathane sighed, unconvinced. “That will have to be enough I suppose.’
She moved forward, her body seeming to glide across the stone. She passed the jewelled tombs which were worth more than her kingdom, neither was she interested in the priceless remnants of Mytian, instead she approached the fire that burned eternal, gifted to this pithart by the sisters of flame.
Friziel could see her hesitance. If the legends were true, the flame meant death to any man who dared touch it. But Lerathane was no man and Friziel was sure the legends hadn’t prepared themselves for someone of her kind. She was not timid for long and abruptly she thrust her hand into the fire. The flames turned blue, sliding between her fingers. Lerathane exhaled. She was brave to a fault but was grateful there was no pain.
“Is it there?” Friziel asked, “did you find it?”
Lerathane was rummaging through the burning fire, her face set with determination. Soon a smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. “I have it.”
She pulled her hand free, grasping something in her fist.
Before her curious eyes could take in what she had retrieved, Friziel had peeled back her fingers and taken the object for himself. Lerathane pouted with disappointment.
It didn’t look as he had expected. It was lumpy and solid black and stained his hands with ash. Friziel pressed his thumbs hard into its surface and it cracked, falling away and revealing the treasure he had been hoping for; a smooth, crystal shard threaded with bright red veins. It was etched with words not of the Ardentian tongue, a language even Friziel with all his reading couldn’t understand. He was sure though that is was exactly the item he desired, the artefact that would save Myole’s kingdom. He held it to his chest and shut his eyes tight.
“You are praying?” Lerathane asked, checking her hand for signs of injury but finding none. “Now I believe you.”
Friziel opened his eyes. “We will need the aide of any Celestial willing to help and I have crossed enough of them to not be fussy.”
“Careful what you wish for, Eye. You never know who may want to bargain with you, although you are quite the bargainer yourself.”
Friziel tore a scrap of fabric from his robe and wrapped the shard, then pressed it back into Lerathane’s hand. “You’ll take it now, to Groden Cove and put it in the hands of the Narcean you find there. Tell her to find me in the Shala’jin.”
Lerathane snarled. “Groden Cove? That was not what we agreed.”
Friziel ignored her protest and closed her fingers around it. “Now we are done.”
She tucked the shard away in her cloak. “I don’t think we’ll ever be done, Eye.”
Suddenly there was a flicker of torch light from the stairwell and the rustle of armour echoed through the crypt.
“Who goes there? Old Eye? Is that you?” Arman approached them, shaking his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe it’s you again! I have the worst luck in all Salamone. Who’s that with you?” Arman immediately dropped to a knee when he recognized Lerathane. “Apologies my lady, I didn’t see your face in the shadows. What are you both doing here?”
Friziel and Lerathane exchanged looks. They were not supposed to be here, if anyone found out, if Selizardra found out, she would do all she could to stop them. Friziel’s work was far too important to trust an ambitious young guard to keep quiet, even if he did have leverage over him.
For Myole, he could not fail.
With one swift movement, Friziel unsheathed the ruby-studded blade at his waist and slipped it across Arman’s throat. He gurgled and gasped, his eyes stunned with fear and pleading for help. He reached out a trembling hand and grasped the hem of Lerathane’s gown. She grumbled and kicked him away, being sure not to let his spilling blood touch her dress. Before long he fell to the ground.
Friziel’s shoulders slumped. “I told you I was sorry, boy.”
“What a mess.” Lerathane snapped. “What do we do with him?”
Friziel approached a tomb and used his dagger to pry several gems from the effigy, tucking them one by one into his cloak. “Let them think poor Arman stumbled upon a thief taking something far less valuable than what was actually taken. Now, to Groden Cove with you!”
Lerathane shook her head. “Do the Dubraycon’s even know the savage they have in their midst?”
“They should do,” the old blind man, Friziel replied, returning his blade to its sheath. “I am a creature of their making.”