This is an updated excerpt to the one already listed below. Since the first posting, it has become about twice as long (a lot more happens in it), better written and more interesting. It is the final draft of the prologue chapter of the book. I’ll keep up the original version for interests sake.
Semira watched her father emerge from the gaping black mouth of the limestone passage and wondered what he’d think if he knew his beloved daughter meant to kill him. Liana, Semira’s younger sister, followed him, her face haggard and dirty.
Upon seeing Semira standing there in the dark, he passed his torch to Liana, then took something out of a metal case and held it up. It looked like a playing card in his hand—thin and metallic, with no discernible use. As her father stopped in front of her, Semira asked, “You’ve been gone a month… was it worth it?”
He put the item back into its protective case. “Our Vision Dreams never told us what it does, though I’m confident once we learn what it is our journey will not have been for naught.”
Semira wrapped her fingers around the glistening, wet stalagmite beside her and squeezed. Why did he have to mention the Dreams? He knew she hated talking about them. She was a Scion like him, yet the dreams had never come to her.
They have found it. The item must be destroyed, the voice in her head raged.
The voice had first come to her after a terrible fever three years past. The best healers in Sunholm—Semira’s home village in the dangerous subterranean regions of the Nether—had not been able to cure it and had believed she would die. Somehow, she’d lived. And as she’d been recovering, the voice had begun to whisper. At first she’d mistaken it for her own thoughts, but it hadn’t been long before she’d realized it was something separate from her, a mysterious presence lurking in the dark recesses of her mind.
“What’s with the frown?” her father asked.
Semira let go of the stalagmite and wiped her hand on her pants. She’d not meant to let him see her bitterness. “I’m glad you’ve returned, Father.”
He gave her a long look, then stepped forward and embraced her. “I know you’re upset at me for not taking you. It’s dangerous heading so deep into the Nether, and I didn’t want to endanger both my girls.”
That wasn’t why she was angry and they both knew it. Semira didn’t have Vision Dreams, which meant she was an outsider in her own home. That was why he hadn’t taken her.
Something caressed her soul. You are special, young one. You do not need the dreams. You will save us all.
Her father pulled away and kissed her on the forehead. “I must leave you now and meet with the Librarians so they can study the artifact. We’ll talk later.” He patted her on the head and took back his torch, then moved off toward Sunholm.
Liana hugged her next and didn’t let go until Semira hugged back. “Are you alright?” Liana asked as she pulled away.
Semira ground her teeth together and nodded.
Look at Liana feigning sisterly love, Semira thought. As if she’d not come along and ruined Semira’s life. Semira had once been Father’s favorite… until Liana’d had her first Vision Dream. Oh, Father loved Semira still, but he was also disappointed in her, and his disappointment had eventually led her to hate him. Even worse, she couldn’t help but hate herself; she was different from the other Scions, and they never let her forget it.
“I had another vision last night,” Liana said. “It was of a woman with white hair and gray eyes. She stood on a jagged precipice above a lake of fire wearing glorious, shining white armor, and had a metallic bird perched on her shoulder. Broken human bodies lay all around her and hideous machine beasts were tearing them apart. It was horrible.” Liana stepped back a few paces. “The strangest thing of all was… she looked like you.”
Semira frowned. “But I have red hair and blue eyes. How could I look like her?”
“Her face, the way she moved… it was so like you.”
“What do you think it means?”
Liana shook her head. Like most Vision Dreams, its meaning was ambiguous.
An armored hand slapped Semira on the shoulder, causing her to cower against the cave’s wall. Had someone learned of her plan?
“Wrynric, you scared her,” Liana said.
The old, bearded warrior laughed and pulled Semira to him, embracing her. She went rigid for a moment, before the familiar, safe feeling of his embrace soothed her. “I missed you,” she murmured into his chest, so soft only he could hear.
Wrynric was like a second father to her, and had been the one she’d once turned to for comfort—until the voice in her head had taken on that role. These days, they rarely spoke; he was always either away on patrols or scouring the Nether with her father for strange artifacts. Like many who lived in Sunholm, Wrynric wasn’t a Scion, but lived with them as part of the Covenant of the Lost Sun. Of all those she planned to kill, he’d be the hardest.
They must all die, or they will destroy us all.
“I brought you something special,” Wrynric said, rummaging through a pocket. “I found it in the Dead City where we found the artifact.”
The young Librarian, Erinie, came and stood next to him, nodding in greeting. Semira forced herself to be civil and nodded back. Neither of them liked the other, but Semira figured the least they could do was pretend they didn’t want to strangle one another.
Wrynric put an egg-shaped object with faded markings on it in Semira’s hand. “Screw it open.”
Semira rotated the top half of the object until it popped off, revealing an identically shaped object inside. It was a little smaller than the one around it, but had the same markings.
“The next one opens too, and the next. They get smaller and smaller,” Liana said.
Semira turned it over. “What is it?”
Erinie grinned. “I think it’s a child’s toy.”
Semira had to stop herself from throwing it into Erinie’s face. Closing the item, she put it in her pocket. It would be something to remember the old warrior by when he was dead.
“Come on, we need to get to the Library,” Wrynric said.
Semira backed against the cave’s wall so they could get by. “I have something I must do first. I’ll see you all at sixteenth hour.”
They said goodbye and headed toward Sunholm. Liana lingered to hug Semira again, then raced after them. Semira watched until they disappeared through the torch-lit metal gates. When she was certain they were not coming back, she spun on her heel and stormed away.
She walked through two limestone chambers filled with sharp stalagmites and passed half a dozen side tunnels before finding the one she sought. The tunnel was devoid of torchlight and slick with moisture, but she was more sure footed than the first time she’d come there, following the directions of the voice in her head. Since then, she’d walked the tunnel dozens of times; today, she didn’t miss a single step.
When Semira reached her destination, she waited. Minutes later, the scuff of a boot alerted her that the man in the darkness had arrived.
His voice spoke softly in her ear, “Have they found it?”
“Where are they taking it?”
“To the Library.”
A harsh intake of breath came from somewhere behind her, but Semira stood motionless and unafraid.
Tell them you will help them. They must retrieve the item and kill the Scions. When they succeed, you will have saved us all.
“I’ll help you.”
“How will you help us, Scion?”
“Don’t call me that,” Semira snapped. “I’m no Scion.”
A brief pause. Then, “How will you help us?”
“In two days’ time, I’ll kill the guards at the gate. When they’re dead, you can begin your attack.”
“I need time…” She swallowed a lump in her throat. “To prepare.”
“You would betray your own?”
Semira saw red. “My own? They’re not my own. I’m not like any of them. I’m nothing to them.”
“They love you, and you love them. You have lived with them your whole life.”
They do not love you. They pity you and make fun of you behind your back. Your own mother disowned you.
What the voice said was true. All of it.
“I may have loved them once, but no longer.” Semira’s voice almost broke. “I’ll kill the guards, and you’ll attack. Retrieve the item, whatever it is, but leave my family to me.”
The man was silent for so long she thought he’d left her there alone, but then he spoke. “If you do this, there will be no going back. Do you understand?”
“I do. When they’re dead, I want to join you.”
Semira heard laughter. Female laughter. She spun round. “Who’s here with you?”
A torch burst to life, and Semira had to cover her eyes until they adjusted to the light. Around her stood two dozen black-clad figures, all wearing strange masks over their faces. They all looked female except for the man in front of her, who stood six feet tall and had two short swords sheathed at his waist. The man’s eyes were dark, fathomless pits as they stared out at her through the eye-slits of his mask.
Semira licked her dry lips. “Who are you?”
“You may know us from the old tales. We are those who hunted the machine worshipers and extinguished their Sacred Lights. They think us dead, but we only slumbered.”
Semira studied him, then the women. “I know what you are. You’re the Knives of the Divine Dwaycar.”
“Good girl. You may have a place among us, if we succeed.”
You will succeed. You will stop the prophecy from coming to pass. You will save us all.
The bloody dagger trembled in her hand. It had been so easy to sneak up on the two guards at the gate and slit their throats. They’d trusted her as one of their own, and now their blood dripped from her fingers. It shouldn’t have been so easy. They were the first people she’d ever killed, and she’d known them her whole life. It should’ve been the hardest thing she’d ever done… yet it hadn’t been.
She stared at the growing pools of blood. What had she done?
The Knives of Dwaycar emerged from the darkness at the edge of town, swords and javelins in hand. Semira waved to them from the guardhouse beside the open gate.
The male Knife hurried over, then scanned the courtyard at the center of town. “Good work; the Scions still sleep. Now stand back and let us do what must be done.”
She grabbed his arm, forcing him to face her. “Remember to leave my family to me. They’re in the Library, helping the Librarians study the artifact.”
He nodded once and she let him go. His hand made a sweeping gesture and as one, the female Knives charged through the gate. They began kicking in the doors of the nearest houses, ready to butcher those inside and set fire to their homes.
As smoke and screams filled the air, Semira began to pace in and out of the gate. She longed to join in the bloodletting. These people, her Scion kin, had tormented her all her life. They’d teased her, spat on her and called her names.
Semira stormed back into the guardhouse and kicked one of the dead guards in the side, turning him over so his vacant eyes stared up at her. “You deserve this, all of you,” she shrieked, falling to her knees as great sobs racked her body. “You deserve this, you deserve this. You do.”
Do not weep for them, my love. This is necessary. When the Scions are dead and the device is destroyed, we will leave here and be as one forever.
I’d like that.
Semira dropped the dagger and studied her trembling hand. Already the blood on it had dried. Soon the slaughter would be over, and she would be able to wash her hands and forget what she’d done.
Never forget. This is the day you saved us all.
Semira screwed up her face. “I want to forget—their names, their faces… their screams.”
The presence inside Semira’s mind stroked her soul, and a feeling of peace settled over her. You are a hero, the voice soothed. There are tens of thousands of people out there who will never know that you saved them by stopping the prophecy from coming to pass. But you and I will remember, as will your brethren who fight with us this day.
She got back to her feet. I am a hero. I have saved us all. My kin got what they deserved.
Remember that. Always.
A black-clad woman emerged from the burning village, her eyes reflecting the flames. With a gloved hand, she pointed toward the Library. “The survivors have fled there. Come, Sister, and finish what you started.”
Semira took the sword the woman offered and followed her toward the Library. The smell of burning flesh hung heavy in the air. It was time. Time to end the lives of all those she had once held dear. Father, Liana, her hateful mother and… her heart ached… beloved old Wrynric.
If fate granted it, Semira would get to kill that vile, self-important husk of a woman, Erinie too. How good it would feel to spit in the Librarian’s face and drive a sword into her guts.
Semira walked among the dead and dying, the flames and blackened metal, almost oblivious to it all. Built into the side of the chamber wall, the Library loomed ahead, orange flames reflecting off its glass windows.
The heat evaporated the last of Semira’s tears. She arrived at the Library door and paused to take a deep breath.
When her lungs had filled with smoky air, she kicked the door and it flew open. A guard charged her, his spear-point aimed at her stomach. Hardly noticing him, she side-stepped his attack and cut open his belly as he went by.
Countless hours of weapons training with Wrynric had served her well.
Semira walked among the shelves of books and computers, nearing the large, golden globe forged into the shape of the Lost Sun. As she went past, she turned up her lip. The first verse of the Sacred Oath of the Covenant of the Lost Sun was written over it…
We who are chosen to carry the lineage of the Scions through the ages of the future untold must keep the bloodline pure, protect those who are of the blood and preserve the knowledge handed down to us from our ancestors.
Semira had now broken that oath.
Just like her father before her. Oath breaking must run in the family.
Several of the female Knives fanned out around her, killing anyone unfortunate enough to have not fled to the upper floor. Few guards were around, which meant the attack had taken them by surprise.
Liana gazed down at her from the railing on the second floor, and Semira dug her nails into the hilt of her sword. This was it. The torment would soon be over.
Their father came to stand beside Liana, his face as pale as the husks who lived their lives forever in darkness. “Semira. My dear, sweet daughter. I prayed to the Lost Sun that this day would never come.”
Semira stopped and pointed at him with the tip of her sword. “I’m here for the artifact. Give it to me.”
He shook his head. “It’s not yours to take. Please don’t do this.”
“I need to. I’ve had visions of my own… of a sort. The artifact is dangerous and it must be destroyed, for the good of us all.”
Her father’s eyes filled with tears as he watched the Knives cut down the last of his people on the lower floor. When their screams died away, he sobbed, “I’m sorry that I’ve failed you and that you came to hate us so.”
What did he know of Semira’s hate? He had always been too busy carrying out the work of the Covenant or lost in a Vision Dream with the other Scions to pay attention to her.
The male Knife walked up beside her. “We have come to stop the Prophecy of Ibilirith from coming to pass. That item you hold will destroy us all. Hand it over or die.”
Liana cried into their father’s side and he draped an arm around her, holding her close. “We don’t even know what it is, Dark Brother. My people and yours have been at peace for many years. You could have approached us and stated your concerns, yet you’ve come here and murdered us in our sleep.”
Semira kicked a desk chair over. “Enough talk, Father. Give us the artifact.”
Liana pushed away from their father. “You’re too late, Sister. Some have managed to escape through the secret tunnels. They have it, not us.”
“You lie,” said the man beside Semira.
Father laughed. “No lie, spawn of Dwaycar. The item is gone and you’ll never find it.”
No, the voice inside wailed. It cannot be. Kill them. Kill them. Kill them.
A red haze descended over Semira, and she ran up the stairs. A guard threw a dagger at her as she reached the top but she ducked under it and charged her father. He turned to watch her bear down on him and made no move to defend himself.
“Noooo…” Liana screamed, but their father held her back.
Semira drove her sword into his stomach, feeling it graze his spine and emerge out the other side. He grabbed her by the shoulder; squeezing so hard Semira’s bones creaked.
“I knew this day would come,” he said, in a strangely calm voice. “I saw it in a dream years ago. If I’d known it was today… Your sister—please don’t hurt her—”
He coughed blood. “I hoped my vision was wrong and that you didn’t hate us so. You’re my daughter… How could—”
He fell to his knees, dragging Semira down to hers, his other hand still holding Liana back. “Do not walk long in the dark, Daughter. Return to the light of the Lost Sun, or you’ll become a slave to darkness forever.”
With those words, he let go, then slid sideways to the ground and breathed no more. Semira stared down at him. “I feel… I feel…”
“You killed him. You killed him!” Liana cried, kneeling beside their father and cradling his head in her arms. She looked up. “Why, Sister? Why?”
Hurry and finish this. You must find those who have taken the device.
A guard fell to the floor beside Semira with a javelin lodged in his neck. Out of the corner of her eye, Semira saw the Knives of Dwaycar forming a half-circle around her. They watched and waited.
Waited for her to finish what she’d started.
Semira wrenched her sword from her father’s stomach, feeling his blood splash onto her hand. “I’m sorry, little sister,” she said, then rammed the sword into Liana’s side.
Liana screamed in agony and scratched frantically at Semira’s face, tearing ragged gashes across it. Semira’s screams joined Liana’s and by the time Semira’s voice failed her, Liana was gone.
Someone shook her and continued to shake her until she looked up. It was the male Knife. “We need to leave. The item is not here. A sister has found the entrance to a secret tunnel at the back of the Library.”
Semira looked around as blood dripped from her face. It was hard to focus through the pain. The pain in her soul. Where were Mother, Erinie and Wrynric? Why hadn’t they been with Father?
The Knife shook her again. “Come on. We must move.”
Get up, my love. The device must be found. I will help you find it.
Semira growled, deep in her throat. Tearing the bloody sword from Liana’s body, she hurled it over the railing to the lower floor. This was what it took to be a hero. One who saved lives. Who had the courage to do what must be done.
She took a deep breath, then looked up at the Knife. “I think I know who has taken the artifact. Father wouldn’t trust it to anyone but his most loyal friend. A man named Wrynric.”
He helped Semira to her feet. “Then lead the way, Sister. We must find him and stop the prophecy from coming to pass.”
Remember, what you do is for the good of us all.
Semira glanced at the bodies of her father and Liana. No. What I do, I do for myself.
She walked away and left Sunholm to burn.
Thanks for reading!