It’s been a challenging novel to write, though. I now have four threads weaving back and forth, following Sael, Koreh, Donegh, and a new character, Gonim. Making sure they all arrive at the end together and everything from the previous two novels wraps up properly has proven to be difficult. I’ve had to extend my deadline with Harmony Ink a couple times. But I think the end result will be worth it! I’m very excited by all the plot twists and character development and I don’t think readers will be disappointed.
So, for everyone waiting anxiously for Book Three, here’s a little taste of it—an excerpt from the beginning of the novel, in which we meet the new viewpoint character, Gonim. Keep in mind that this isn’t a final polished draft, but I think it’s reasonably presentable. It’s a bit PG, but I promise that there isn’t any more explicit sex than in the previous two novels.
Gonim knew he was dying and he welcomed it. The young acolyte was burned severely over most of his body, after getting caught in one of the firestorms two days ago, and he was in agony. A carriage had overturned in an intersection and he had rushed to aid the driver and passengers. But he’d been too late. A fireball caught them out in the open and only Gonim had survived—barely.
Father Turs was the only ordained caedan left in the infirmary now, his staff reduced to a few acolytes like Gonim and a couple female nurses. All the other priests in Worlen had evacuated—those who hadn’t been killed when the temple was incinerated. The old caedan had done his best for Gonim, covering his burned skin in a healing ointment that relieved some of the pain, and then bandaging him. But the burns were too severe. A nurse had given him a potion to help him sleep, but they had little healing potion to spare for someone so far gone. Now Gonim’s head swam in a haze, the pain still with him, but somehow seeming far away. Father Turs had prayed over him, but eventually he’d been forced to leave Gonim to suffer in private, while the father attended to others who could be helped.
Gonim was at peace with his life. He had been devoted to the gods and his duties as an acolyte. His only regret was that he would die before being ordained. But no man knew what the Perfect Order held for him. It was enough to revel in its beauty and accept one’s place in the pattern.
A light appeared to the young man as he contemplated this, drifting into his small room through the window, though it was nearly midnight. Gonim’s eyes had difficulty focusing, but it seemed to him that a beautiful woman with raven-black hair was walking toward him from somewhere much farther away than the nearby plaster wall. Her gown was made of rich silks, so sheer that they appeared to reveal much of her body, though cut in such a way as to not reveal as much as it seemed. Precious gemstones adorned the hem and neckline. The woman drew close and leaned down to look at him with a gentle smile, while her hand reached out to stroke his hair. At her touch, all pain left his body. Had she come to take him into death? Gonim wondered.
“I am Imen,” the woman said softly, “the queen of the gods. And you, my young acolyte, have pleased me with your self-sacrifice and devotion to us.”
The youth had no doubt that she was speaking the truth. Never had he seen a human woman of such surpassing beauty! Never had he been so overwhelmed by a man or woman’s mere presence! She could be nothing other than a god.
“I wish to grant you a boon, my faithful warrior,” Imen purred, as she traced a finger along his cheek and down the side of his neck. The flesh there was blistered and her touch should have been agonizing, yet Gonim felt nothing but pleasure at it. “First, you must tell me… Are you willing to die for me?”
Gonim could imagine nothing nobler than to sacrifice himself for his goddess. In a paroxysm of religious fervor, he attempted to speak, but he had breathed in some of the flame and his throat was too scorched to choke out even one word. Imen seemed to sense this and she bent her face near his. Then she blew gently into his mouth. Where her sweet breath touched, his flesh was healed, and as he exhaled, Gonim found himself able to say, “Yes, Your Majesty!”
She smiled, her face seeming illuminated from within, as she straightened. “Then you shall. But not today. There is much to be done.”
Imen stepped away from Gonim’s bedside and a stooped old woman Gonim hadn’t even known was in the room with them came forward. The crone held a small rolled-up strip of leather, which she laid down on the edge of his bed and unrolled. Fastened to the inside of the strip by small loops were the tools of a seamstress—shears, needles, rolls of thread, and measuring tape.
While Imen stood silently nearby, the old woman set about her business, humming an unfamiliar tune. She chose a large needle and threaded it with a thread that shimmered and flickered as if on fire, and then she held it aloft in one hand, while her other slid Gonim’s blanket down to expose his naked chest. She picked up the shears and with a motion so quick Gonim barely had time to flinch, she stabbed him in the chest with one of the blades and snipped his sternum open.
Gonim felt the cut, yet it was oddly painless. Though he had difficulty raising his head, he was able to tilt his face so that he could watch as the old seamstress snipped open his chest cavity. Blood welled up in the wound, but did not gush out or spray as he would have expected it to. The woman set the sheers down on the mattress and slid her hand into the wound, where Gonim could feel her fingers groping…until a sharp, intense pain made him cry out. He wondered if Father Turs would hear him screaming and come to investigate. What would happen then? Would Imen kill him for intruding? Gonim bit down on his screams, fearing that possibility, but it was impossible for him not to grunt and whimper in agony.
Then the pain grew more and more severe, until Gonim’s vision began to grow dark and he thought he was going to pass out. The seamstress withdrew his beating heart from his chest and held it up as if inspecting it.
“Your Majesty,” she said in a dry, rasping voice.
Imen plucked a large ruby off the neckline of her dress and stepped forward to drop the jewel into Gonim’s open chest cavity. Instantly, the pain ceased. Gonim settled back onto the mattress and sighed in relief as a warmth emanated from the ruby and flooded throughout his body. He almost didn’t notice, when the seamstress snipped the arteries of his heart and cast the organ aside.
The old woman stitched his chest back together with the needle and fiery thread, but Gonim no longer bothered to watch. The warmth flooding through his body spread throughout his limbs, easing all pain, energizing his exhausted muscles, and pooling pleasantly in his groin.
When the seamstress had finished her work and left Gonim’s bedside, taking her tools with her, Imen extended her hand to the youth. “Come.”
Hesitantly, Gonim raised his head off the pillow. He felt no pain and, looking down at his chest and stomach, he could see no trace of the severe burns that were killing him just a short time ago. Indeed, there was also no trace of what had just transpired—no blood, no cut on the skin of his chest, not even a scar. Gonim sat up and put his bare feet on the stone floor. Not only were there no traces of his injuries, but he felt stronger and healthier than he’d ever felt before.
He stood and faced the goddess, who regarded him with a triumphant smile.
“You are very beautiful,” Imen said, looking him over as she circled around him.
Gonim had been wearing nothing at all under the blankets, his kilt having been burned beyond saving, and he had stiffened a bit when the warmth flooded his groin. This embarrassed him, but the goddess did not seem concerned about it.
“The magics of Harleh Valley cannot prevent me from entering, if I choose,” Imen continued in a voice as smooth as warm honey, “but there are times when a subtle approach is best.”
She stopped in front of Gonim and placed her hand lightly upon his breast. It felt hot against the young man’s skin and caused him to become even more aroused. “This body is now my vessel and I will safeguard it. Go to Harleh! Be my eyes and ears, where others are now useless.”
Gonim was beyond being confused by what was happening to him. He didn’t know whether to be elated or terrified by the goddess’s charge. “Y-Your Majesty,” he stammered, “what shall I do in Harleh?”
Her laugh was the first unpleasant sound to come from her mouth since appearing to Gonim. “That, my warrior, will depend upon what you find there.”