ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 40

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!




by Rob Steiner


Chapter 40

When Taran, Edoss, and his men rounded a bend in the road, Taran saw several scarlet-sashed priests milling about near a fallen tree off to the right side, one of them with her hand raised and a shield surrounding them.  Ten Tuathan Heshmen leaned on their spears, all watching the forest in different directions.  The dark pine trees were closing in on either side of the road so that it was no more than ten paces from the muddy track.  The priests started murmuring when they saw Pomar in the arms of one of the Shadarlak, and the Heshmen assumed a more alert posture with their spears held at their sides.

“Pomar Wielded too much,” Taran called out as he approached them.  “She needs help.”

Several priests rushed forward, along with some of the Heshmen, who had returned their drawn spears into the quivers on their backs.  One of the men took Pomar from the Shadarlak and carried her to a spot on the side of the road beneath a low hanging branch, which made the ground beneath it relatively mud-free.  Taran noticed that Melahara and the priests who stayed behind, including the Heshmen, all stared at him.  Taran decided to get his apologies over with.

Three priests tended to Pomar, while Melahara and five other priests—one of which maintained their shield with a dreamy look—faced Taran.  The red-bearded Heshmen watched him, all keeping a tight grip on their spears.  Once Taran was within the radius of their shield, he released Ahura.  The fatigue was non-existent now, but the despair that came with losing Ahura’s peace was as terrible as it had always been.

Taran glanced at the priests tending to Pomar.  “Will she be all right?”

“Maybe,” Melahara said.  “Although she might never Wield again if she recovers.”

Taran sighed.  He could not imagine never being able to touch Ahura—

There was a chuckling from the dark voice in his mind.  So much for that ‘I’ll never Wield again after I’m home’ promise, it said.  You will never let it go.

Ignoring the voice, Taran said, “It was my fault.  I should have watched her more—”

“Where did you go?” Melahara asked.

Taran decided it was best to tell her as much of the truth as possible.  He would leave out the part about calling on Angra.  It was something he did not even want to admit to himself.

“I saw my daughter,” he said.  “Or what I thought was my daughter.  It turned out to be a harrower trick.”

“Obviously,” Melahara said.  “And what were you doing out there for an hour all by yourself in woods crawling with Tainted and harrowers?”

Taran said, “I looked for my daughter.  But the harrower responsible for the trick attacked me, and so I killed him.”

“And who was this harrower?  Was there only one?”

“I did not know him,” Taran snapped.  “And yes, there was only one.”

Melahara looked at Edoss and asked, “How did you find him, Edoss?  Was he fighting this harrower?”

Edoss stepped between Taran and Melahara.  “Say what you mean rather than continue with this interrogation.”

“Very well, Speaker,” Melahara said.  “Taran Abraeu abandoned us.  He left several hundred innocent people to die just as the harrowers attacked in earnest.  That is quite a coincidence, yes?”

Edoss laughed.  “Are you suggesting that Abraeu is a harrower?  From what I know of your powers—and it is very little, I grant you—no one can Wield Ahura and Angra.”

Melahara gazed at Taran with an icy stare.  “That is true.  For the most part.”

“I am not a harrower,” Taran said.

He said this mostly to Melahara, but partly to silence the quiet laughter in his mind.  The laughter only increased.

One of the priests tending to Pomar said, “Mother Seat, she is awake.”

Melahara glanced back to where Pomar lay.  Then she looked back at Taran, and said to the priest, “Ask her how many trails of Angra she saw when she found Taran Abraeu.”

They got you now, the dark voice whispered in Taran’s mind.  Kill them all now before they kill you.  Angra will show you how.

Stop, Taran screamed in his mind.

The priest asked Pomar Melahara’s question, then leaned near Pomar’s mouth.  When Pomar had whispered her answer, the priest stood and said, “Two.  Pomar said she saw two Angra trails.”

Melahara said to Taran, “I thought you said you only faced one harrower?”

Kill them now, the voice screamed, its urgency so painful that Taran almost did call for Angra.  Instead he fell to his knees and grabbed his shirt with both hands to keep a hand from reaching for the black ring in the sky.

“No!” he screamed back to the dark voice.

When he looked up, he saw the priests all had their hands raised and were Wielding Ahura.  The guns from all five of the Shadarlak flew into the outstretched hands of the priests.  The remaining Heshmen had sprung forward and had their spears at the necks of Edoss and every Shadarlak before any could draw their sabers.  Taran felt a tingling sensation all around him, as if he were encased in static electricity.

“We are not your enemy, Melahara!” Edoss yelled.

“Maybe you are not, Speaker,” Melahara said.  “But Taran Abraeu is.  He has Wielded Angra.  I could smell the Taint on him as soon as he was within five paces.  He cannot be allowed back among my people.”

“So you’re just going to leave him out here?”

Melahara’s face grew hard.  “He cannot be freed either.”

I told you, the dark voice mocked.  To silence the voice, Taran shot his hand up to Ahura, seeking to disarm the Heshmen just as the priests had disarmed the Shadarlak…but nothing happened.  Ahura did not respond.

Seeing Taran’s confusion, Melahara said, “That tingling you feel is similar to what the Barrier was, albeit on a vastly smaller scale.  While it surrounds you, you cannot Wield Ahura.  Or Angra.”

Edoss growled, “If you do this, Melahara, if you kill a Compact man in cold blood, your people will never be welcome in my country.  You need us.  Don’t throw it away.”

Melahara pointed to Taran.  “This man is a danger to both our peoples.  He can Wield Ahura and Angra with a strength that has not been seen since before the Barrier.  We cannot trust him, therefore he is too dangerous to be allowed to live.”

There was a rustling in the forest on either side of the road, and then twenty Shadarlak, ten on the left and ten on the right, emerged from the woods with their revolvers aimed at the Tuathans.

Captain Laesh yelled, “If I see one hand go up, we’re firing.  You men, drop the spears.”  When none of the Heshmen moved, Laesh screamed, “Now!”

Laesh strode forward and aimed his revolver at Melahara’s head.  “Tell them to drop their spears, madam.”

“You can kill me if you want, Captain,” Melahara replied in a serene voice, her hands tucked into cloak.  “But my men will take your Speaker with me before you can shoot them all.”

Taran knew Laesh had not touched the Crucible bowl, so the Shadarlak captain had no idea what Melahara just said.  When Laesh cocked the revolver, Edoss cried, “Wait, Captain!”

Laesh never took his eyes off of Melahara.  “What are your orders, sir?”

“Melahara,” Edoss said, this time in more conciliatory tones.  “We are surrounded by harrowers and Tainted who could attack us all at any moment.  Must we do this now?  Can’t we resolve this once your people are out of harm’s way?”

Melahara’s lips tightened as she considered Edoss’s plea for compromise.

See how they barter for your life as if you weren’t even here, the dark voice said.  Trust none of them.  They don’t deserve your help.

“Stop,” Taran whispered, shaking his head.  The voice was growing stronger by the moment, and Taran was starting to doubt his sanity.  He focused all of his concentration on Melahara, as she stood silently, considering Edoss’s words.

After an eternity, Melahara said, “Here is the compromise.  Taran Abraeu will be taken into our custody while we march to the sea.  Once my people are safe, he will be judged.  I will not make any promises on the outcome of that trial, but it will be fair.  This is my only offer, Speaker.”

Edoss glared at Melahara a moment, and then nodded once.

The Heshmen took hold of Taran’s arms and marched him toward the center of the Tuathan column.  Though he was now a prisoner of the Tuathans, he was relieved that their personal Barrier surrounded him.

The temptation to use Angra to kill them all had become too hard to resist.

Buying book reviews: Valid marketing tool or false advertising?

Todd RutherfordThe New York Times has a story on the rise and fall of GettingBookReviews.com, a service owned by Todd Rutherford where, for a fee, authors could commission several dozen 5-star reviews and get them posted on Amazon and other online markets.

“I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things,” Mr. Rutherford said. “These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”

In essence, they were blurbs, the little puffs on the backs of books in the old days, when all books were physical objects and sold in stores. No one took blurbs very seriously, but books looked naked without them.

One of Mr. Rutherford’s clients, who confidently commissioned hundreds of reviews and didn’t even require them to be favorable, subsequently became a best seller. This is proof, Mr. Rutherford said, that his notion was correct. Attention, despite being contrived, draws more attention.

The system is enough to make you a little skeptical, which is where Mr. Rutherford finds himself. He is now suspicious of all online reviews — of books or anything else. “When there are 20 positive and one negative, I’m going to go with the negative,” he said. “I’m jaded.”

GettingBookReviews.com went out of business in 2011 due largely to Google suspending its advertising account, and Amazon removing most of its reviews from their site.

So, authors, would you pay for book reviews? If so, would you pay extra for 5-star raves knowing their honesty was dubious at best?

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 39

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!




by Rob Steiner


Chapter 39

Taran thought Edoss and his five Shadarlak were another illusion when they emerged from the forest into the clearing.  Little Pomar Aliin led them, the blue-white bubble of a shield encasing them all, a tendril of Ahura caressing her uplifted hand.

Taran instantly Wielded his own shield.  The joy of Ahura came freely to him now, without the lengthy incantations or loving visualizations.  He did not know if he had to concentrate less to receive Ahura, or if he was just getting better at it.  Regardless, the shield sprang into existence, and he stood to face the potential threat.

“Are you real?” Taran asked, knowing the words sounded foolish as soon as they came from his mouth.  But he did not care.  Ahura took away his anxieties and left only peace.

“Taran,” Edoss said, approaching him cautiously.  Pomar walked alongside to keep the Speaker within the radius of the shield.  “What happened?  Are you hurt?”

Taran was silent a moment, for he was still unsure if the improbable sight of Edoss was real.  But then he felt the Aspects of Ahura emanating from Pomar’s shield, and he knew that at least they were real.  The harrowers might deceive his eyes, but they could not deceive his heart.

Taran slumped back against the downed tree, and then released Ahura.  The Aspects fled him, and he was left with his previous misery, guilt, and shock.  He felt a little light-headed after releasing Ahura, but it passed within a few seconds.

“Pomar saw two Angra trails this way,” Edoss said, scanning the clearing.  “We thought you were under attack.”

Taran had been thinking about what he was going to say to the others when he returned to the Tuathans.  Would they believe that he saw his daughter?  And what would they do if they found out he had Wielded Angra?  Would they believe that Kumar Ladak was a harrower?  Taran decided that the best answer was to lie.  They would never take him back into the fold if they knew what he had done.  What he was.

“I saw a girl,” Taran said.  “On the road.  She ran into the woods…but I couldn’t find her.”

Edoss glanced down at the remains of Kumar Ladak and grimaced.  “What happened here?”

Without looking down, Taran said, “It was a harrower.  He attacked me, but ran into my shield just as I raised it.”

“Really?” Pomar said, looking down at the remains.  Her voice had a dreamy quality to it that Taran knew was due to her holding Ahura.  “They just explode into vapor, yes?  All Tainted do this when—”

“Apparently the harrowers don’t,” Taran snapped.  Pomar closed her mouth and her cheeks turned almost as scarlet as the sash around her waist.  Taran regretted snapping at the young priest, but he said no more.

“Well,” Edoss said, watching Taran.  “We’d better get back to the others.”

Edoss turned to Pomar and asked, “Can you hold the shield until we get back?”

Pomar’s eyes still had that faraway look.  “Much yes.”

She then turned and led them out of the clearing and into the forest.  Edoss mouthed the words, “Watch her,” to Taran, and Taran nodded.  Taran would be prepared to take over the shield if Pomar should falter.  He wondered if she really could Wield long enough to get them back, or if it was just the confidence that Wielding gave her.  He knew the feeling of thinking anything was possible when he held on to Ahura.

Taran now also understood the wild and chaotic sense of release that Angra gave him, that the whole world was his and all he had to do was think what he wanted, and the world would do his bidding.  He tried not to think about Angra.  He would never use it again.

But that’s what you said about Ahura.

He was startled by the change in tone of his inner voice.  He had heard it all his life, but the knife-like edge to it made him uneasy, like being growled at by a beloved dog.

Angra and Ahura, Taran declared to himself.  After I get home, they will be nothing more to me than strange rings in the sky.

Taran could almost hear the sharp voice chuckling, but it did not say more.

He had been so lost in thought that he was surprised when they finally reached the road.  Pomar stumbled over a fallen branch, but quickly righted herself.  She turned to Taran and said in a distracted voice, “I fine.  I hold shield a bit longer.”

But Taran saw that her eyes were becoming bloodshot and that her shoulders were hunched.

“You’ve done enough, Pomar,” Taran said.  “Let me take over.”

She shook her head weakly, her jaw set.  “No, I hold longer.  Please, just little longer…”

Her eyes rolled up into her head, and Taran caught her before she fell to the ground.  She convulsed in his arms, and he held her tight to keep her from thrashing about on the muddy road.

“What’s wrong?” Edoss asked.

“She’s Wielded too long,” Taran said.

Pomar suddenly stopped convulsing.  Her eyes shot open, she let out a deep sigh, and then was still.  Taran put his cheek to her mouth.  He checked her pulse on her neck.  It was faint.

“She’s alive,” Taran said.  He shook his head and growled, “It’s my fault.  I didn’t pay attention to her.  I should have—”

“That’s enough, Abraeu,” Edoss said.  He did not shout, but his words were like a slap across the face, making Taran pay attention.  “We need to get her back to the others, and you have to shield us.  Doctor, are you with us?”

Taran realized that they were on the muddy road, with lightning craters on either side of them, and without a shield to protect them.  The Shadarlak looked about nervously, watching for signs of movement in the woods.  The sky still roiled with black clouds, but the rain had stopped and the humid air was still.  Up the road, Taran saw a large, multi-colored tendril of Ahura touching the ground on the other side of a hill, maybe a twenty minute march away.

He nodded to Edoss, and then stood up, picked up Pomar and handed her to one of the Shadarlak.  He then raised his hand to Ahura and asked for the shield.  As the shield sprang into existence around them, he noticed again that he had not said the incantation to focus his thoughts.  All he had done was ask Ahura for the shield, and Ahura had given it to him.

Angra will do the same, that sharp voice said in his mind.  And more.

Taran ignored it, and started up the road.

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 38

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!




by Rob Steiner


Chapter 38

The storm was fading when Fatimah stumbled the second time, almost losing her grip on Ahura.

“Enough, Fatimah,” Melahara said beside her.  “Rina, take over the Wield from Fatimah.”

Fatimah was about to object, but Melahara said, “You will give up the Wield, priest.”

The tone of Melahara’s voice reminded her of the unflinching obedience required of her when she was an Acolyte, and it was that more than anything that made her give up the Wield to Rina.  The small, dark-haired Rina took over the Wield with a fearful expression, as if she were suddenly carrying the weight of the world.

But Fatimah saw nothing more.  She collapsed to the ground as soon as the wonderful peace and joy left her body.  She did not pass out, a fact that meant she was growing stronger, but she could hardly move her head much less stand.  Several Tuathan Heshmen carried her back to the small covered wagon on which Eblin was riding and laid her on blankets that had been prepared for the priests recovering from their Wields.

Eblin poked her soaked head into the wagon from the driver’s seat and smiled proudly at Fatimah.  “You did well, priest.  Remarkable strength you have…for someone who was supposed to have only Wielded six times.”

When the Barrier fell, Melahara had decreed that priests could only Wield in the presence of their Masters.  Fatimah had only Wielded six times in front of Eblin, but, contrary to Melahara’s decree, had practiced many times on her own.

Fatimah barely had the strength to form the words, “Have they found Taran?”

Eblin’s smile faded.  “Dylan Edoss has gone to look for him.  Pomar Aliin went along to shield him and his men.”

“How…how long?”

“It has been an hour.”

Fatimah was not only shocked that Taran had been missing an hour, but that she had been Wielding for that long.  She now understood why it would be so easy for the undisciplined to continue Wielding until they died from exhaustion.  While holding Ahura, time seemed to stop and speed up simultaneously.  The peace she felt while embracing Ahura was…addictive.  Even now she wanted to Wield, to find that joy again.  Even now, when she knew that to do so would mean certain death.

“Fatimah,” Eblin said, “do you remember exactly what he said before he ran off into the woods?”

Fatimah thought back to what Taran had said a mere hour ago, which felt like last week.  He had been walking along, setting a quick pace, when he stopped and asked Fatimah about a girl in the road.  But Fatimah had not seen a girl.  She told Eblin this, and Eblin frowned.

“The harrowers know so much more about their lost powers than we do,” Eblin said.  “We have yet to create convincing illusions.”

“The girl was an illusion?” Fatimah asked.  And then before Eblin could confirm her suspicions, Fatimah said, “He thinks he saw his daughter.”

Eblin nodded.  “Nothing else would have made him run off like that.”

Fatimah suddenly felt energy flowing through her again, and she sat up.  She marveled that she had the strength to walk, though she knew that Wielding would be out of the question for at least the next half hour.

“How did the harrowers know about Taran’s daughter?”

Eblin’s normally affable face was dark when she looked at Fatimah.  “From what I’ve read in the ancient texts describing Angra powers, they can only generate convincing illusions if they have seen their subjects.  The harrower who created that illusion has seen Taran’s daughter, and is likely someone Taran knows—”

“There is a harrower in the Compact delegation?” Fatimah said.

Eblin raised her eyebrow at Fatimah’s interruption.

“Do we know who?” Fatimah asked.

“It could be any of them.  Certainly not one that is within the shield, for he could not have generated the illusion.”

“Then the harrower is out in the woods somewhere with Taran.”

She gathered her waterlogged cloak around her and jumped down from the wagon and onto the muddy ground.  The rain had lessened since she entered the wagon, and there were no more lightning strikes, but the clouds were still black and ominous.  And the Tainted no longer attacked the shield.  The quiet, dark woods were almost more eerie than the Tainted shrieks.

“Where are you going?” Eblin asked from the front seat of the wagon.

“To find Taran,” Fatimah said.  She stepped in a puddle of mud that was deeper than she thought.  It soaked her leggings, but she continued on through the Tuathans behind the wagon.  With all they had been through, they could only give her passing glances—most gazed fearfully at the clouds or the dark forest on either side of the road.

“Fatimah,” Melahara called out from behind, but Fatimah ignored the Worldly Seat.  Unfortunately, a large Tuathan, a farmer from the looks of him, stopped her and said, “I think the Worldly Seat is calling for you, priest.”

Unable to ignore Melahara any longer, she turned.  “Taran Abraeu saved the lives of six Heshmen two nights ago.  Something he did not have to do.  We cannot leave him behind.  He would have gone after any one of us.”

Melahara glared at Fatimah.  “Really?  He chose to leave over five hundred innocent people unprotected to go chasing an illusion.  I know he thought whatever he saw was real, but nevertheless, we now know that we can never trust him again.”

“But if he saw his daughter—”

“Yes, his daughter.  And as long as she lives, she will always have a hold on him that his responsibilities as the Zervakan can never break.  The Fomorians now know this, and they will use it to turn him against us.  We cannot risk that.  He is too powerful, and our numbers are too few.”

Melahara sighed.  “If he returns, Taran Abraeu must be killed.”

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 37

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!




by Rob Steiner


Chapter 37

“Your daughter is very beautiful, Zervakan,” Kumar Ladak said, glancing back at Mara.  “A little young for my tastes, but still…”

Taran stared at Kumar Ladak.  A harrower?  Him?  How had he exited the shield without disintegrating?  But as Taran thought back, he could not remember seeing Ladak since before the harrower attack began on the Heiron.  Perhaps he had slipped away in the ensuing chaos.  Taran had been so preoccupied with the attack, and then Wielding, that he had not even thought of Ladak since then.

However he had slipped away, he was here now, and he was threatening Mara.

Taran snarled, “I’ll rip your heart out if you touch her.”

Ladak laughed.  “Now that is the reaction I wanted.  Your anger feels good, doesn’t it?”  Ladak turned and started toward Mara.

“Good” was not what Taran felt at the moment.  At the moment, there was nothing he wanted to do but kill Kumar Ladak.

“Ladak!” Taran screamed.  “I swear, if you touch her—”

“You’ll what?” Ladak said, standing before Mara and looking up at her.  She struggled in her bindings, her glances shifting fearfully between Ladak and Taran.

“You’ll what?  Wield a peaceful little rain shower at me, like you did in the library?  If you haven’t noticed, we’re quite wet as it is.”

He reached up and began to stroke Mara’s ankle.

“Daddy,” Mara moaned.  She tried jerking her ankle away from Ladak’s touch, but the harrower grabbed the ankle with his other hand to hold it steady.  Mara kicked him in the face with her other foot, and Ladak snarled at her.  He grabbed the other foot, and then yanked her down from the vines that had bound her.  She fell to the ground behind the stump on which she had been sitting when Taran found her.  He could not see her, but he heard her scream, “Daddy, help!”

With a terrible laugh, Ladak jumped on top of her, and Taran could no longer see either of them.  But he still heard Mara’s screams.

The rage and frustration exploding from Taran was more than he had ever felt in his life.  In desperation, he raised his right hand to the rings, screamed with all his hatred for the power to kill Ladak, to save Mara…and then he felt a power surge through him that made his boiling anger as weak as the breath of a butterfly.  It was a cold heat and a dark flame that filled his soul.  And he reveled in it.

Taran looked at the vine that had wrapped itself around his feet, and it seemed to wither at his gaze, bowing to its master.  The vine eased him to the ground, and then released him.

Taran scrambled to his feet.  He looked to the branches above where Ladak and Mara were struggling.  The branches twisted and shrieked—shrieks only Taran could hear—but he did not care, as long as they did what they were told.  The branches gave in, and turned into tentacles with brown scales and barbs that flailed about for a moment, adjusting to the pain of their new forms, and then shot down toward where Ladak had disappeared behind the stump.  The tentacles pulled him up into the air.  He screamed as the barbs embedded themselves into his legs and torso.  The tentacles hung Ladak upside down, just as Ladak had done to Taran.

“Now what should I do with you?” Taran growled up at the struggling Ladak.

“Please, Taran,” Ladak said, blood pouring down over his face from the wounds on his legs and torso.  “Please don’t kill me.  Your daughter is safe, she’s not really here.  Look, look!”

Taran snarled, and then peered around the corner of the stump where he had last seen her.

She was not there.

“What did you do with her?” Taran roared.

Ladak flinched and began to whimper.  “Nothing, I swear to you, Taran, it wasn’t really her, it was just an illusion to get you here, oh, please, it hurts, please release me.”

Ladak’s cowardly cries sickened Taran.  “Why did you create an illusion of my daughter?  Why did you bring me here?”

“Please, I can’t talk, he’ll kill me, please…”

“Answer me or I will kill you!”

Taran told the vine wrapped around Ladak’s leg to tighten.  The deeper the barbs went, the louder Ladak’s shrieking grew.

“I don’t know his name, please, I swear to you, please…”

“Why did you to bring me here?  Tell me!”

The rage coursing through Taran’s soul made him want to end this interrogation quickly so he could make Ladak suffer pain that would make talking impossible.

“I don’t know!” Ladak screamed.  “I only do what he tells me!”

Impatience finally conquered Taran’s curiosity—or rather the rage burning in his veins.  He told the vines to rip Ladak apart.

And they did.

Different parts of Ladak’s body fell in different places throughout the clearing.  And Taran felt a satisfaction that he had never felt before—the satisfaction of watching a hated enemy get what he deserved.  And the satisfaction of being the instrument of that justice.

But as he watched the body fall to the ground, Taran realized that he had just killed a man.  The rage flowing through him ebbed as more and more horror at what he had just done began to leak through.

And then the rage turned off as if it was a wiretype, and all Taran felt was disgust.  He looked down at the bloody remains of Kumar Ladak, a man he had just tortured and then torn to pieces.

Taran sat down, ignoring the rain, staring at what he did.

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 36

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!




by Rob Steiner


Chapter 36

“Hold your fire!” Dylan shouted to the thirty Shadarlak around him.

In uncharacteristic panic, the Shadarlak had begun firing at the Tainted creatures that were slamming themselves into the Tuathan shield a few paces away.  But the creatures only destroyed themselves in a grisly explosion of yellow blood and tissue whenever they simply touched the shield.  No use wasting valuable ammunition when the shield was doing all the work.

The musket-fire tapered off as each sergeant restrained his men.  Dylan went to Captain Laesh, Myndehr’s second in command.

“Captain, no firing unless those things get through the shield,” Dylan shouted above the rain, thunder, and shrieks of the Tainted.

The wide-eyed captain nodded.  “Yes, sir.  Sorry, sir.”  Laesh nodded toward the shield.  “I’m not used to fighting…those…behind one of…these…”

“I know, Captain.  This is new to all of us.  We have to trust the Tuathans.  If this shield falls, we’ll need our ammunition.”

“Yes, sir,” Laesh said.  He turned and started passing the order on to his subordinates.

Dylan made his way through the agitated Tuathans toward the front of the column, his four Shadarlak bodyguards surrounding him.  He saw Fatimah with her arm raised and continuing to walk at a brisk pace, her face twisted in concentration and effort.  Taran Abraeu was nowhere in sight.

Dylan saw Melahara talking to Eblin, who rode in the front seat of a single horse-drawn wagon with a canopy over the rear, but nothing above the driver and Eblin.  Her white hair was plastered to her head, and her gray woolen cloak was soaked.

“Where is Abraeu?” Dylan asked.

Both Melahara and Eblin frowned, and Melahara said, “He ran off into the woods.”

“The woods?  Why?  When?”

Eblin said, “Seems he saw something that interested him more than maintaining the shield.”

“What did he see?”

Melahara said, “Pomar said he told Fatimah that he saw a girl in the road.  Then he ran off.  But Fatimah never saw a girl.”

“We have to find him,” Dylan shouted over a fresh lightning strike, and the howls of Tainted exploding themselves against the shield.  “We can’t just leave him behind.”

It was more than his duty as Speaker of the Compact talking.  It was his loyalty to Tobias Abreau that would refuse to let Dylan abandon his former commander’s son to certain death in these woods.  Tobias Abraeu had seen Dylan and the rest of his men through the “hopeless” Battle of Growan Pass during the First Mazumdahri War.  Dylan would be damned if he left the man’s only son behind without trying to find him.

Melahara said, “No one is going into those woods to find Abraeu.  If you have not noticed, Speaker, we are under attack.  It would be suicide for whoever went.”

“I thought Taran was this ‘Zervakan,’ your savior,” Dylan growled.  “How can you leave him behind?”

“He left us,” Melahara shot back.  “Maybe he is not what we thought he was.”

“Whatever he is,” Dylan said, “he is one of my men.  And I don’t know about Tuatha, but the Compact does not abandon its citizens.  I’m going after him.”

From the wagon, Eblin said, “You will die without a shield, Speaker.  The harrowers and the Tainted will be too much for your guns, even if all of your Shadarlak accompany you.”

“Maybe,” Dylan said.  Then he looked at Melahara.  “But do you really want let Taran Abraeu be captured alive by all those harrowers and Tainted?”

Much to Dylan’s satisfaction, the implications of Taran’s capture by the Fomorians was not lost on Melahara.  Her frown deepened, and she glanced at Eblin.  Eblin’s mouth curled in a smile, and she gave Melahara a look that seemed to concede Dylan’s point.

Melahara turned around to the priests walking with Fatimah and shouted, “Pomar!”

The short, thin red-haired young woman turned and jogged over to Melahara, bowed her head, and said something in Tuathan.

“I want you to Wield a shield for Speaker Edoss and his men, and then accompany them into the woods to find Taran Abraeu.  I choose you because, like Fatimah, you were the only one to see where he went into the woods.”

Pomar’s eyes widened a moment, glanced once at Dylan, then said in heavily accented Recindian, “As you say, Mother Seat.”

Dylan said to Melahara, “Thank you.”

He turned to gather the men he would lead into the woods after Abraeu.  He selected five men—Captain Laesh would allow no fewer—and gathered them toward the rear of the long column of Tuathan civilians.  The sodden and terrified people gave him curious glances when they saw him, Pomar, and the Shadarlak jogging back toward Fedalan, but they continued forward without saying anything.  Most were too preoccupied with flinching as each screaming Tainted monster smashed itself against the shield, or with the lightning strikes exploding into the grounds outside the shield, or the sheets of rain soaking them through.

Judging by Melahara’s explanation alone, Dylan knew what Abraeu thought he saw.  Only a vision of his daughter could have made Taran abandon his promise to the Tuatha.  And that meant someone or something was targeting Taran.  Dylan had never left behind one of his men when he was a sergeant in the First Mazumdahri War, inspired by the examples set by Taran’s own father.  He would find Taran.

They stopped at the end of the column.  Twenty paces ahead was the edge of the shield, which slowly moved toward them at the same speed as Fatimah’s walk at the front of the column.

“There,” Pomar said, pointing to a break in the woods.  “He enter there.”

There were no Tainted within the woods that Dylan could see.  The attacks seemed to concentrate on the middle of the column, from the left and right.

Dylan looked at Pomar, who was only a couple of inches taller than him.  “Thank you for doing this.”

“Thank you, Edoss.  I love to Wield.  Especially against Tainted.  They kill my brother in first attack.”

She said this in a matter of fact manner, which seemed to make it even sadder to Dylan’s ears.  He nodded.

“Stay close me, please.  Ten paces, yes.”

When Dylan and the Shadarlak did so, she raised her hand and said the incantation for the shield.  Dylan watched as the bubble of blue-white energy appeared where her open hand was raised, and expanded to engulf them all with a comfortable margin of five paces all around them.

As the edge of the main shield advanced toward them, Dylan said to his men, “I don’t have to remind you to stay within the shield perimeter.”

Dylan heard their “Yes, sir’s,” and saw them all gripping their revolvers and sabers tightly.  To Pomar, Dylan said, “We’re ready when you are.”

She nodded, and then walked forward.  They stepped out of the safety of the main shield and into the woods where Taran had disappeared.

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 35

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!




by Rob Steiner


Chapter 35

“Mara!” Taran shouted, but his daughter only fled deeper into the forest.  He caught glimpses of her white-clad body through the low hanging pine branches, but she always seemed to be ten paces ahead of him.

“Mara!” he shouted again, trying to make his voice heard above the peals of thunder and the torrents of rain that had started minutes ago.  He was soaked to the skin, and the sharp needles of the pine branches stuck to his clothes, his hair, and his hands.

“Dad!” Mara screamed, from somewhere to his left, sounding farther away than he thought she was.

“Mara, where are you?” Taran shouted back.

“Daddy!”  This time her voice seemed to be ahead of him.  Taran wanted to weep with frustration.  His little girl was out in this forest with harrowers and Tainted monsters, and he could not help her.

“Please, Mara,” Taran shouted, “run to my voice!”

He did not hear her voice again, so he charged through the pine branches toward the place where he last heard her.  Taran came out of the woods in front of a creek that was swollen and flowing rapidly due to the heavy rain.  It was maybe three paces across, and looked to be a pace deep.  Mud and water flooded into the creek from both banks, creating a deep gully with the creek at the bottom.

Taran looked up at the other side in time to see Mara’s white shift disappear woods.

“Mara, come back!”

She must not have heard him, for she did not return.  Between the thunder, rain, and the swollen creek, Taran could barely hear his own voice.

He scanned the lip of the gully for a quick, easy way down, but saw none.  Both banks seemed to have suffered a mud slide that exposed tree roots, clay, and stones.  Taran sat down on the bank, and then tried to ease his body down the three pace drop to the surging creek.  He immediately slipped and slid all the way into the water.  It was deeper than he thought, and his head went under, sending dirty water down his throat and nose.  He came to the surface coughing, and was able to stand in the chest-high water.  He fought the current and managed to climb the other side of the gully to where he had watched Mara enter the woods.  He paused a moment to catch his breath and cough up the last of the muddy water from his lungs.


Taran was aware of lightning striking the ground less than a half mile behind him, and he knew the Tuathans on the road were being attacked.  He did not care about them now, not with his daughter out here, alone and frightened.  Fatimah would take care of them.  Taran had to find his daughter.

He stumbled through the pine branches again, shouting Mara’s name.  He grew terribly weary, and his breathing came in ragged gasps, but he kept his legs moving and he kept shouting Mara’s name.  He would die out here before he gave up looking for her.

Taran stopped moving when he heard the sounds of crying coming from his left.  He shouted Mara’s name, but all he heard was the crying.  He charged toward the left and emerged from the forest into a small clearing no more than ten paces in diameter.  Mara sat on the stump of a downed tree, her head in her hands and her shoulders heaving with each sob.  Taran ran over to her and put his arms around her.

“I’m hear now, Mara,” he said, holding her tight.  “Nothing’s going to hurt you.”

She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and cried softly on his shoulder.  “I thought you wouldn’t come for me.”

“Of course I came for you,” Taran said, gently pulling her away from him so he could look at her.

Her long black hair hung in strings around her face, and her eyes were red from weeping.  Aside from the dirt all over her body and the oozing blood from minor scratches, she appeared to be fine.

She was fine….

“Mara,” he said, “you can walk.  How are you here?”

Something wrapped itself around Taran’s ankles, yanked him off his feet, and pulled him back toward the forest.  He looked at his feet in disbelief.  Writhing vines jerked him into the air so that he hung upside down five paces above the ground.  He heard Mara scream, saw similar vines wrap themselves around both of her arms and pull her into the air.  She hung there screaming, her arms spread wide by the vines.

Taran was horrified to see a black tendril of Angra touching the ground just beyond the tree line behind Mara.  It came closer, and then a man clad in a dark coat wearing a black tri-corner hat emerged from the forest, his hand raised and holding on to the nauseating tendril.  He paused near Mara a moment, and then walked toward Taran.  As he grew closer, a cold horror gripped Taran’s body.

Kumar Ladak stopped in front of Taran, and then tilted his head.  He smiled, and Taran thought he saw more teeth in Ladak’s mouth than a normal human should have.

“Hello, Zervakan,” Ladak said.  “Your daughter is even prettier than the picture you showed me.”

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 34

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!




by Rob Steiner


Chapter 34

“What if I told you that I knew who your father was?” Savix asked Karak as they strolled around the balcony that encircled the top of the palace tower.

“I would believe you,” Karak said, though he could not see how Savix would know a man that not even Karak knew anything about.  But Karak decided that it would be unwise to doubt Savix’s knowledge.  A part of him wondered if that was his fear of the necklace talking, or if he had truly come to believe that.  He decided that it did not matter.  Not anymore.

“Karak, my friend,” Savix said, “you are the product of generations of selective breeding, as was your mother and your father, and their parents, and their parents, and so on, for almost a thousand years.  All of it just to create…you.  Now it was my intention to have you come quite a bit sooner—maybe a hundred years after I started—but you cannot imagine how difficult it is to get two Mundanes to breed when they do not want to.  Perhaps I was a bit naive.  We had to resort to rape most of the time, women and men.”

Karak clenched his teeth and stamped down the hatred that threatened to rise in him.  The necklace gave him enough pain to make him stumble, but not enough to knock him down.  Avoid the pain.  Do anything you have to, but avoid…that…pain.

“Your father was one of my disciples,” Savix said, “albeit one who was not of pure Fomorian blood.  He was part of a Jaden’yar invasion of Hlaan lands, and your mother’s village was the first one in their way.  Your father, however, knew exactly who your mother was, though she did not know him.  He found her, raped her, and then ran off to join the other pillagers in their revelry.  And later that night, while in a drunken stupor celebrating the completion of his one purpose in life, your mother gutted him with a dagger while he lay passed out next to one of his other conquests.”

Karak had always suspected he was conceived that way, for his mother’s eyes had always darkened whenever he asked her about his father.

“Your father was supposed to have taken your mother as his wife, not as a spoil of war.  Your mother, however, was of pure Fomorian blood and was meant to raise you with Fomorian values.  Your father was supposed to have assisted her in this.  He accomplished his life’s purpose by impregnating your mother, but he failed miserably at what I thought would be self-evident—raising you to serve me.”  Savix chuckled.  “Now you see why it took me a thousand years of breeding to create you.  My disciples tend to be a bit…enthusiastic.  I suppose it’s simply the nature of the god we all serve.”

They had made one complete circle around the balcony and now overlooked the city and the bay again.

“And you know the rest of the story,” Savix said.  “Your mother died in another raid when you were eight—after she was tortured and raped before your young eyes—and after years of living off what you could scavenge, you were taken in by Silek.  Who knows, if your father had done his duties, your mother and siblings might still be alive to help you in the battles to come.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Karak asked.

Savix arched an eyebrow at him.  “Do you not want to know where you come from?”

“I know where I come from, and I know my father was scum.  What does it have to do with my ‘destiny’?”

Savix smiled.  “Everything.  Crane?”

There was shuffling in front of them as Crane came around the bend in the balcony from a door on the other side.  He kept his head down, his gaze on the stone at his feet.  When he was a couple of paces from Savix, he knelt on one knee and said, “Yes, my lord.”

“Show Mr. Frost your scar.”

Without hesitating, Crane stood and unbuttoned his white coat, then slipped it off his shoulders and let it fall to the floor.  He unbuttoned his white shirt, all the while staring at Karak with an appraising expression, studying him as Karak would have studied one of his new whores.  When Crane removed his shirt, Karak saw a man with an emaciated chest, as if Crane had been starving to death for months.  The flesh was grayish white, with thin blue veins running all across its surface.  Karak could swear he saw Crane’s organs undulating beneath that translucent skin.  A bronze necklace hugged his neck, similar to Karak’s.

A long, jagged white scar ran from Crane’s navel up to the center of his sternum.  Several more scars were spread around his chest, most concentrated around his heart.

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to heal wounds of this sort?” Savix asked Karak, waving a hand at Crane’s chest.  “Even when it is possible, the man is never the same.  As you can see.”

Karak looked from the scars to Crane’s face and suddenly realized why he had thought Crane looked so familiar the first day he saw him—in another lifetime—in his office.

Crane smiled, the mouth wide and unnatural.  “He knows, my lord.”

“That’s impossible…” Karak whispered.

“Crane would have died thirty-two years ago,” Savix said, “if it had not been for one of my other disciples, who was also part of the Jarden’yar army.  He brought Crane’s body to a secret Fomorian priest who had kept one of the harrowing stones from the glory days of Fomorian rule and used it to keep Crane, er, fresh until he could be awakened when Angra returned.  The priest could have done the awakening himself had it not been for the cursed Barrier blocking Angra.  Might have saved some of Crane’s good looks.  But alas.”

Karak shook his head.  His father was dead.  His mother had told him so.

Answering his silent doubts, Savix said, “Your mother thought she killed him.  And normally, those wounds would have killed any man.  But she did not count on the fact that Crane was also important to my plans.”

Karak stared at Crane, who stared right back at Karak.  The man’s grin was making Karak want to rip the jaw off his head.

“And now we come to your destiny,” Savix said.  “You must kill your father, or he will kill you.”

“What?” Karak asked.  He continued staring at Crane, whose grin had turned into a determined sneer.

“It is the only way I will know for sure that you are to be my champion.  Now, there is one thing you must know before I release Crane on you.  Only the power of Angra can kill him.”

“What are you talking about?  How?”  Karak already felt himself unconsciously backing away from Crane.  He knew how fast those hands could move.

Savix sighed.  “And now you know why I was most put out when Crane did not raise you…  You hold your hand up to the black ring and ask for what you want.  Like this.”

Savix raised his right hand, and Karak saw a forked tendril of black light shoot down from Angra faster than a lightning bolt.  Savix nodded in Crane’s direction, and Karak felt a blast of wind pass him and slam into Crane.  Crane’s emaciated body flew across the balcony and slid into the stone railing ten paces behind him.  Crane rolled over and jumped to his feet.  He walked back to where he stood before, the same determined sneer on his face, but he now breathed hard and favored his right side a bit.

“I have just given you a head start,” Savix said.  “Now begin.”

Both of Crane’s hands shot toward Karak, one toward his throat and one at his feet.  Karak dove beneath the hand going for his throat, but he could not escape the one going for his leg.  It latched on to his foot and began dragging Karak back toward Crane.  Karak pulled the knife out of his belt that he had meant to use on Silek, and plunged the blade into Crane’s hand.

Crane howled, and his hand released Karak’s foot.  Karak jumped to his feet and ran past a laughing Savix and around the bend in the balcony.  He tried opening the double glass doors, but they were locked.  He lowered his shoulder and plunged through the glass into Savix’s study.  Karak kept running toward the spiral staircase, shaking the glass shards out of his hair and jacket.  He did not bother to see if Crane was following.

At the foot of the stairs, the two soldiers who guarded the entrance tried to block Karak’s path.  One of the men brought his musket up, but Karak ran into him at full speed, knocking him backward.  Karak fell on top of the man, but scrambled to his feet before the other one could apprehend him.  He heard the guard fire.  The musket ball shattered a lamp less than a pace from Karak’s shoulder.

He rounded a corner, only to find five more guards running toward him, muskets with bayonets pointed at him.  They dropped to their knees to fire.  Karak ducked back into the hall he had just come from an instant before the musket balls tore chunks from the walls.  He sprinted down the hall, past startled servants, some of whom fell wounded when the guards behind him fired their muskets again.  Karak ran in a broken pattern to keep the guards from drawing a clear shot at him.  He charged between servants who came out into the hall to see what the commotion was about, using them as cover.

At the end of the hall was an arched doorway with the doors swung open.  Karak charged through the doors and onto a crushed stone path that curved into a garden filled with willow trees, their branches hanging all the way to the ground.

Once he rounded the bend in the path, Karak dove into the willow-covered bushes to his right.  He forced himself to calm his breathing as the guards sprinted past his position.

He listened a few moments.  The guards’ shouted to each other as they searched the garden.  He backed out of the bushes, away from the stone path.  He made his way deeper into the forest of willow trees, running as stealthily as he could.

Karak was wondering why his necklace had not stopped him fleeing from Savix, when he emerged from the willow trees at the edge of a cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to the crashing waves below.  Karak skidded to a stop just before the drop-off, and even made himself fall backwards to keep from tumbling off the edge.  He scrambled to his feet and turned around.

He stopped when he saw Crane part the willow branches.  Crane was still shirtless, and the sun made his thin muscles and sharp bones more pronounced beneath his translucent skin.

“Hello, son.”

“Don’t call me that,” Karak said.

“It is who you are.  You are my greatest achievement, my life’s purpose.”  Crane smiled that unnatural smile.

The rage that had been building in Karak, that rage that he had wanted to unleash on Savix for orchestrating his whole sorry life, exploded from Karak.  He leapt for Crane’s throat with a raw scream, but Crane’s left hand shot out and took hold of Karak’s throat.  Karak felt Crane’s grip tighten, and he was suddenly unable to take in any air, or even exhale.  He felt his tongue lolling on the side of his mouth and his eyes growing wide.

“Now I will kill you,” Crane said, studying Karak’s face.  “For it seems that you are unworthy to serve our master.  You are weak.  Just like your mother, just like your bastard brothers.  Perhaps I will rape you before you die, just to give you a taste of what I did to them.”

Karak did not remember consciously raising his right hand, but when he realized he had done so, he called on Angra to strike down Crane with as much power as it could.  Karak felt a rushing torrent of rage and hatred flow through him, enough to make his body feel like it would explode if he did not release it.  He looked into Crane’s eyes.  Karak saw them widen when Crane recognized what was about to happen.  Fear dominated them, but also…pride.

Crane’s body bulged, heaved, and then exploded into a spray of red, gray, and black.  Karak flew backward and landed on his back, the little air left in his lungs bursting from his throat.  His ears ringing, Karak took in several deep, rasping breaths, staring up at the rings in the blue sky.  When he had his breathing under control, he sat up slowly and looked at where Crane had been standing.  There was a small blackened crater, its perimeter littered with broken dirt, charred chunks of flesh, and bits of burning white cloth.

Karak looked up to see Savix emerge from the willow trees, a wide smile on his face and his hands clapping.

“Well done, my boy, well done.  I knew the only way you would call on Angra was to destroy the cause of so much pain in your life.  Now you will have the power and prestige that was once your father’s.”

Karak stared at the bits of flesh that were left of his father.  The man had been every bit the demon out of Hlaan mythology.  A rapist, a murderer, a monster of the highest order.

And Karak was now on the same path.  He had used the same power that Crane had drawn on to kill Primus and his Swornmen, the closest thing to brothers Karak had ever known.  The same power Crane had used to turn Silek against Karak, the man Karak considered to be his true father.  Now Karak was enslaved by the same man, or demon, who had twisted Crane.  Enslaved with the same necklace.  Karak suffered a blast of pain for his impertinence, so he quickly abandoned those thoughts of Savix.

“You will serve me well,” Savix said, walking toward Karak.  “I will give you the power and riches that you have always wanted, but never dreamed possible.  You are my champion.  My Zervakan.”

Karak would not become another Crane, and he decided what to do just as he began moving toward the cliff.  He heard Savix cry out, and then he felt a pain that made the pain he had suffered in Savix’s study feel like a breeze on his neck.  But Karak’s momentum had carried him too far for him to stop, and he plunged off the lip of the cliff and into empty space.  He did not realize any of this, for the pain that scorched him had already driven him insane.

But the moment he hit the rocks below, he knew peace.

Book Review: Oathbreaker, Book 2: The Magus’s Tale by Colin McComb

Originally posted at The New Podler Review of Books.

The Magus’s Tale, book two in Colin McComb’s Oathbreaker series, primarily follows young Alton, a boy plucked from certain death by Magus Underhill to become the elderly magus’s apprentice.  Alton spends his childhood and adolescence excelling at powerful magic despite abusive treatment from his master.

Once Alton becomes a magus in his own right, he learns that great power comes with a price—loneliness.  To earn acceptance from his nervous neighbors in the village of Lower Pippen, he uses his magic to cure their ills and protect them from the bitter weather and wild animals that assault their farms.

But what seems like a minor encounter with petty brigands blows up into an unimaginably horrible event that releases a terror upon the world that “threatens life itself.”

The Magus’s Tale is Alton’s story, but we do learn what the main characters from book one, The Knight’s Tale, have been up to.  Sir Pelagir, General Glasyin, and Princess Caitrona are living a relatively quiet life in the small village of Kingsecret—an ironic place to settle, considering Caitrona’s lineage.  While Pelagir is forced to use his Knight’s Elite skills to keep the authorities off their tails, ten-year-old Caitrona displays glimpses of the leadership and tenacity she’ll need when she gets older and fulfills her royal destiny.

McComb’s writing is just as gorgeous in this book as it was in The Knight’s Tale.  McComb spices his prose with imagery and metaphor without drawing attention away from the story or doing so in a way that’s inappropriate for the viewpoint characters.  As with book one, The Magus’s Tale is told for the most part in first-person point of view through character letters or confessions.  It’s a rare structure that can be confusing at first—characters arrive that don’t seem to have anything to do with the story up till that point—but you can trust McComb.  He brings these multiple threads together in an explosive finale that I certainly never saw coming.

The book ended on a downer and a cliff-hanger, but this is book two of a series, and McComb apparently does not intend for each book to be stand-alone.  I do ignore my stand-alone preferences for a “cliff-hanger” series that is well done, and Oathbreaker is such a series.  You fellow “stand-aloners” out there should do the same.

Both books in the Oathbreaker series have the character development of Rothfuss, the grittiness of Erikson, and the efficient prose and world-building of Cook.  The Magus’s Tale has made me an official fan of Colin McComb.

ZERVAKAN – Free Fantasy Novel – Chapter 33

I’m posting a chapter from my latest fantasy novel for free every Monday and Friday (click Zervakan above for a synopsis and to start from the beginning). It’s in a “pre-published state,” meaning you might find the occasional spelling/grammar mistake. If you do, please leave a comment below or email me at robsteiner01 [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you’re uncomfortable getting something for nothing, you can hit the PayPal Donate button in the Tip Jar section to the right. If you donate more than $3, I’ll send you a non-DRM ebook once the book is published (summer 2012). If you donate more than $20, I’ll send you a printed copy.

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it!




by Rob Steiner


Chapter 33

Besides the shuffling of Tuathan feet and their occasional murmurs, Fedalan was unnervingly quiet to Taran’s sensitive ears.  He wished he could hear something: scurrying animals, open doors creaking in the wind, something.  The occasional peal of thunder ahead was all that broke the silence.

Taran kept his hand raised to Ahura, feeling content that the ring’s power still flowed through him.  His arm didn’t feel numb at all, as he would’ve expected after keeping it raised so long.  He had only walked maybe five hundred paces—almost half way to the gates of the town—before Fatimah began questioning him on his strength.

“Remember,” she said, “tell me as soon as you feel any weariness.”

“I will.”

“Blurred vision, pains in your chest—”


“—the desire to sleep, visions—”

“Fatimah,” Taran said, “you are making it hard for me to concentrate.”

“Ah.  Forgive me.”   She remained quiet for another fifty paces before she started questioning him again.  Taran almost wished for an Angra attack just to distract her.

But they reached the town’s gates and no attack came.  The storm, which Taran thought would be on them the moment they stepped onto the road out of town, seemed to stay ahead of them, but did not dissipate.  It was becoming harder for him to hope it was natural.

The town gates were breached in the Tainted attack several nights ago, though “breached” did not describe their current condition.  It looked as if the thirty-foot tall wood gates had suffered a barrage from a company of Mazumdahri cannons.  There was nothing left of the ornately carved gates but splinters and jagged shards of wood.  The stone walls to either side of the two gates had also crumbled under the terrible onslaught, creating a mound of debris that Taran and the Tuatha would have to climb.  He could not determine what had destroyed the gates, for there were no scorch marks indicating lightning strikes.  The wood looked to have been twisted and torn.  He just hoped he didn’t have to face whatever had done that.

Climbing the pile of debris was a challenge in normal conditions, for the pile of loose wood and stones constantly shifted under Taran’s feet.  But climbing the pile while holding onto the Aspects was a nightmare.  He could only steady himself with one hand, while he held his right hand above his head holding onto the multi-colored tendril of Ahura.  Several times he almost fell, only to have Fatimah or another priest steady him before he impaled himself on a jagged beam of wood.  Through the entire climb, the part of Taran’s mind that was not focused on maintaining the shield wondered how Myndehr and the other Tuathan priests had made it over this pile without their horses breaking a leg.

Once over the pile, Taran continued walking up the road without looking behind to see if all the Tuathans were following.  There were others who would see after the civilians; he had to focus on maintaining the shield.  One task at a time.

Fatimah again questioned Taran on his strength, but Taran ignored her.  He still felt more alive than he ever had in his life, more aware of his surroundings.  He could do anything.  He was not going to grow fatigued any time soon.  When Taran did not respond, Fatimah stopped asking.  For now.

He walked by small log homes surrounded by plots of overgrown land.  Stray dogs peered at him from under porches, and some even walked through the shield with wagging tails, sniffing and barking playfully at the Tuathans behind Taran.  With all the Tainted that had attacked the Heiron, Taran was surprised to see any living animals within the vicinity of Fedalan.

The sky ahead of Taran kept its black, angry color, and blue-green lightning flashed between clouds.  The storm still seemed to pace them, staying maybe a half a mile ahead, as if leading them.  Taran’s gaze strayed to the road ahead, hard packed and dry—

Fifty paces ahead, a girl stood in the middle of the road, facing him.  Her hair was black and hung over her face in wet strands, and she wore a tattered white shift.

“Fatimah,” Taran said, “is she one of yours?”

“Who?” Fatimah asked from Taran’s right.

“The girl ahead of us.  Is she one of your people?”

Fatimah was silent, and Taran risked a sideways glance at her.  She stared up the road, her eyes squinting, but not focusing on the girl less than thirty paces in front of them.  The girl had not moved since Taran first spied her, and he could not understand how Fatimah—

And then twenty paces away, just outside the shield’s reach, Taran recognized her.  He stumbled a bit, and then stopped.

It was Mara.

She looked at Taran with pleading eyes.  Blood ran from a wound on her forehead above her hairline, and bloody scratches and dark bruises covered her arms and legs.

“Taran what’s wrong?” Fatimah asked from someplace far away.  “Taran, the shield is faltering!”

“Mara,” he whispered.  But how…?

“Taran!” Fatimah screamed.  “The shield!”

Mara seemed to be crying, for tears left tracks down her dirty face.  Then she turned and ran into the forest.

Taran heard Fatimah begin the shield incantation just as he lowered his hand and released the tendril of Ahura.  The world of the Mundane crashed into him—his reflexes and senses felt muddled and slow, like he was under water.  His movements were like in a dream, his hearing was muffled, and his sight had become blurry and unfocused.

He ignored it.  He charged through the faltering shield and toward the place where Mara had disappeared into the forest.



The weight of the shield was crushing Fatimah, but she held it up.  The Aspects of Air and Spirit threatened to tear her soul apart, all while she reveled in Ahura’s joyful ecstasy.  Fatimah heard the priests around her begin the shield incantation.

“Do not Wield!” she cried through gritted teeth.  “I cannot hold this for very long and you will be needed.”

The last thing she wanted was her back-up priests unconscious when she inevitably faltered.

Through Aspect-enhanced eyes, Fatimah saw Taran inexplicably disappear into the forest.  How could he have abandoned us? she thought, struggling not to let her dismay break her concentration.  What had he seen to make him run off like that?

She continued walking forward, as fast as she could make her feet go.  She was aware of the panicked cries coming from behind her.  They, too, wondered why the Zervakan had run off into the forest.  What could she tell them?

Fatimah heard Melahara’s voice behind her throwing questions at the priests.

“What happened to Abreau?  Why is Fatimah holding the shield?”

She did not want to break her concentration simply to tell Melahara that she did not know where Taran went.  But one of the priests explained, “He said something about a girl, and then he ran off into the woods over there.”

“What girl?” the Holy Seat asked.

At that moment, the storm that had threatened since they left the Heiron leaped on them like a wolf on a wounded lamb.  Rain deluged the Tuathans and lightning strikes just outside the shield showered them all in dirt, mud, and shards of trees.  The thunder was deafening, yet through it Fatimah heard the screams of her people.  Thankfully, none of the lightning strikes fell within the shield’s perimeter.  Priests on either side of the road struggled to keep people from taking cover in the tree line thirty paces from the road, but several dozen slipped through and ran for the trees.

No! Fatimah had time to think before lightning rained down on top of each running group, leaving behind only blackened craters and showers of dirt and limbs.  That horrible sight kept others from trying the same thing.

“Two Angra trails to the right,” Pomar Aliin shouted from behind Fatimah.

“Do you see the harrowers?” Fatimah asked, keeping her eyes on the road ahead.  I must hold on…

“No, they are in the trees.  There’s another one to the left…near where the Zervakan entered the forest.  That’s three trails.”

Fatimah cast an involuntary glance toward the left, but returned her gaze to the road when she felt a slight weakening in her hold on the shield.

“Do you see the Zervakan?” Melahara asked Pomar, just as a bolt of lightning exploded right on top of the shield.  Fatimah felt the shield bend dangerously inward.  But it did not break.

Fatimah wished she could have held up just as well—she fell to her knees, but managed to keep her hand up and her hold on to Ahura.  The priests around her rushed to pick her up, and she gladly accepted their help.

“Do you need me to take over?” Pomar asked, but Fatimah shook her head.  She had felt like the weight of the shield would crush her when she first took over, but she was getting used to it, and she even thought it felt a little lighter now.

What she worried about was more lightning strikes.  She did not know how long she could hold up the shield if the harrowers decided to concentrate their strikes on it.

Gunfire from the Shadarlak behind her almost made her lose her hold on Ahura again.  “What is happening?” she yelled.

Pomar started walking backward and craned her neck to get a better view over the Tuathans behind her.

“It’s coming from the Compact Speaker’s location.”  Then she gasped and said, “Blessed Ahura…”

“What?” Fatimah asked.  “What’s happening?”

“Tainted,” Pomar said.  “They’re all around us.”