You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
WordCrafts Press (February 19, 2013)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
The Martyr’s Moon rises. The blood of a storyteller is spilled. Hope vanishes.
List Price: $17.99
Paperback: 462 pages
Publisher: WordCrafts Press (February 19, 2013)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The War of Winds
The Cauldron hurled its fury at Claire in the form of a storm. Icy winds swept a flotilla of gray clouds eastward, and when the squall reached Claire, it attacked. Dark clouds meshed with white and churned like a raging river above the orange sands. Wisps of gray floated below the tempest as if to spy for any sign of counterattack, while dark daggers of mist cut into their enemy’s fluffy-white flanks. Billows of black swarmed upward and imprisoned ivory clouds or bowled over strands unable to flee.
The sky darkened and finger-like clouds dropped from the Cauldron’s gale. Spinning like tops, the gray blurs dropped to the desert where they wriggled like newborn serpents to be free of their eggs. They danced and jumped and kicked up clouds of orange dust as a taunt to the King of Claire.
Thunder exploded over the noisy winds, and lighting sliced open the blackness.
The silvery flash illuminated Romlin atop a jutting precipice. He braced himself against the warring winds and noted that there were two aromas that battled for him as well: sulfur and swill disoriented him, while a flowering meadow countered to revitalize his senses.
Romlin pulled out his map. The winds tore at it like panthers. He clutched it with both hands and found what he was looking for.
“You tricked me,” he shouted to the battling winds. “I should have known better than to believe with my heart.”
With the map in hand, he struggled to where Elabea sat in his shield. He shoved it in her face.
“I watched the map disappear as we neared the border,” he lamented. “I hoped it was a trick of the Cauldron…but it’s not. This is all my fault.”
Elabea scanned the horizon as the winds whip-cracked her hair about her face, but she had also given up hope that Claire existed. She was even beginning to doubt the stories her rusk had told her. Overcome with emotions and loss, her head dropped. She sank back down in the shield, clutched the dead rusk, and rocked back and forth.
A familiar sound averted Romlin’s attention and he focused on the drone’s dark, sinister pitch. Like the raging winds, it was stronger and louder than anything he had experienced before. He felt as if a coat of iron had been draped over his shoulders. He strained under the weight but felt himself weakening.
Anxious for help, he searched the black clouds for any sign of Manno Vox - nothing. He battled against both the drone and the winds. He drew his sword. He knew that unless the book was open the sword would not glow, but he was desperate. He stared at the silvery blade, wishing and hoping with all his being that it would radiate light. But like his heart it remained cold, dark and lifeless.
Nevertheless, he raised it defiantly into the squall.
“So this is our reward?” he barked as he shook his weapon. “You lead us to this place and abandon us to the winds? We deny home and family only to end up alone…on a cliff? You promised so much. If you have the courage, then show yourself. Come face me in battle.”
“How ironic,” a whisper answered, surprisingly audible despite the storm’s raucous squall. “I recall a summer long ago when you were given another promise that never came to pass. Who spoke such deception?”
Memories of his childhood flashed and exploded in Romlin’s mind.
“Ah, yes, now I remember: your father.”
With that the whisper slithered back into the winds.
Romlin’s boyhood emotions swirled as tumultuous as the windstorm, and like the serpentine thunderheads kicking up clouds of sand, his anger stirred up his troubled thoughts. He glared at the orange desert and released his storm of rage toward the King of Claire.
“You are like my father: A liar!”
Cold winds lapped up his words like a ravenous dog.
“I was starting to believe in you,” he shouted. “I was beginning to listen, really listen to the stories Elabea told. But now…”
The words trailed off and died. Romlin walked to where the book sat and kicked it. Around and around it spun, stopping just short of the cliff’s edge. The cover rose and fell as if disembodied specters battled to turn the pages. Despite his anger, the flapping cover caught his attention. He set aside his fury long enough to study the book with the eyes of a seasoned hunter, and discovered a secret.
The winds are fighting over the book. But why?
The whisper returned.
“Are you not deserving of so much more? Kick the book off the cliff. End the pain.”
“If you are truly as powerful as your stories claim, then show yourself and fight me. I don’t care what happens to me anymore.”
“Such courage. Such resolve. You will be rewarded greatly.”
“Lies! You promised so much more.”
“I promised no such thing. You assumed and presumed.”
“Dare to show yourself.”
“To one such as you? You are indeed an image of irony, for you sound as if you are growing mad...just like that certain someone from your past.”
Romlin pictured his father in cottage Number 7 babbling about this and that, day after day, season after season. Next, he envisioned Mithe taunting him about the truth to his father’s madness brought about by the defeat at Min Brock.
His shame clouded over and his anger billowed like the storm that raged around him on the cliff. Like a thunderclap, his emotions exploded and he swung his blade through the air.
“Yes, I see it is true: You are your father’s son. Hopeless. Defeated. Dreamer. Fool.”
The drone’s weight intensified and the stench of rotting swill filled his nostrils. Anguish met him with every memory of his journey, at every turn of his heart. He recalled his bout with the gor that nearly cost both him and Elabea their lives. He remembered the doubt he felt trying to live up to the new name Manno Vox had given him. He thought of the disappearing map and how he hid the knowledge from Elabea.
Failure was a pit and shame swallowed him whole. As he crept toward the book, he focused on one thought alone: It is time to end the pain.
The whisper encouraged him, its tone like a lark in spring.
“I have not come to torment, but to offer hope. You have been deceived by a whisper that imitates my greatness. Would you care to learn more?”
“Then seize the book and step to the edge.”
He picked it up and dangled his toes over the cliff.
“Good! I see you hunger for the truth and for freedom. Everyone desires such gifts but few are willing to pay the price to hunt for such treasure. You are a seeker, and so I honor your quest, offering you more than the deceiver ever could. I promise life. The deceiver, as you have discovered, only offers lies. Thus his title: the Only.”
Romlin studied the ground far below. Enormous boulders lay scattered at the cliff’s base. The thought of falling did not frighten him. It seemed as if the rocks were cheering him on, urging him to jump. He envisioned them as a serene river or a pile of down blankets, offering pleasure…peace…rest.
The drone intensified its weight on Romlin and his shame became unbearable. The whisper continued in soothing tones.
“Do you hear the rocks calling to you? Yes, I believe you do. Their voices confirm that I promise you life, freedom, hope, and joy. Jump.”
Romlin looked at Elabea. She hugged herself, rocking back and forth, oblivious to his inner turmoil. Full of self-loathing, he concluded that she no longer needed him, that she would be better off if he were gone. After all, it was his decision to conceal the map from her. He was a part of the monstrous illusion in the war of whispers. His actions were the catalyst for the rusk’s death and Elabea’s anguish.
With the winds whistling about him, Romlin clutched the book to his chest and prepared to launch himself to the rocks below.
Warm winds exploded against him with such force that he was knocked away from the precipice.
“See?” the whisper pointed out. The deceiver desires for you to stay and suffer more. You are his puppet. You are merely a game piece he moves here and there in life. Be free. Fight the winds and jump. Claim your independence. Kill the shame and end the pain. Become the man your father never could be.”
Romlin battled back to the ledge as the winds of Ebon and Claire contended for his life. Exhausted, his grip on the book loosed and it dropped from his hand. The cover flew open and its pages flapped like the wings of a bird in desperate flight. Once again, his hunting instincts took over, and he examined the anomaly with patience and logic.
The whisper returned, urgent now.
“Ignore the deceiver’s book. Jump. End the pain. Live!”
Romlin’s despair waned as he observed the flapping book, and in a brilliant flash of clarity, he realized that the winds, whispers and scents all battled for him, just as they warred for the book.
But who is my ally and who is my enemy?
He cast a glance back at Elabea, but this time he saw her in a different light. She was his friend, perhaps even more. He was responsible for her. Despite his feelings of failure, to leave her now would be worse, infinitely worse. Quick vignettes of treasured times together flashed in his mind: climbing the oak; her wondrous laugh; watching her sleep; her eyes that made him feel weak.
Romlin backed away from the ledge and clinched his fists.
“I don’t know who or what you are,” he shouted to the whisper. “Nor do I know what’s real and true anymore. I may have failed. I may have been foolish to believe. But I will not abandon Elabea. Nothing matters anymore except getting her home. At least I can succeed in that.”
“So be it,” the whisper jeered. Its tone was no longer comforting and gentle, but menacing and dark, “I have other means at my disposal.”
Fresh noises entered the fray. Romlin instinctively spun around to face whatever neared.
The pursuing Ebonites emerged from the woods.