Dawn of a Lost Sun Excerpt

DON”T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ BOOK 1!

Excerpt from Dawn of a Lost Sun, book 2 of the epic Caverns of Stelemia saga.

 

Blinding light pierced Kara’s eyes and a cold wind tussled her hair. Grunting, she covered her face with her hands. What… what happened? Where am I?

Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the light and she uncovered them. A frozen city lay before her, stretching far into the distance in every direction. Like stalagmites rising from a cave floor, a cluster of tall skyscrapers towered over the buildings around them. Behind the giant structures, loomed a colossal statue of a woman dressed in white armor with a bird on her shoulder, her gaze on Kara.

Imogen.

Kara scanned her surroundings. She stood at the top of a hill on an alter shrouded by a grove of dead trees. Flakes of snow fell from the gray sky, the sun peeking out through the cloudy haze.

Was this another visiondream or was she dead? She sifted through her memories. The last thing she remembered was… an army of metal men and battling Imogen for control of her body. Falling to her knees on the stone altar, Kara bowed her head. After all I have lost, all I have suffered. Imogen defeated me and now I’m banished to this frozen world. How could it have come to this? She raised her head and gazed out over the city, the crushing weight of desperation clawing at her heart. The Prophecy will be fulfilled and the human race will die—and it will be my fault. I should have found a way to stop Imogen. I should have known what was inside me. I should—

No. She could not blame herself for everything. There was plenty of that to go around. After all, this had all been forced upon her by Arden and Wrynric. Had the old man never given her the passkey, none of this would’ve happened.

A chill wind blew along the side of the hill, ruffling her hair but not chilling her to the bone. She brushed back her bangs and peered down at herself. Like in the other visiondreams, she wore her courtesan gown and yet the cold barely seemed to touch her. Almost like she was insulated from it by some inner fire burning within.

Kara caught her breath. The passkey was gone. It no longer hung from her neck.

She’d been shackled to the wretched thing for what seemed like forever. But she could feel no elation at being rid of it, for Imogen could be doing anything with her body back in Stelemia.

Aemon…

Her heart fluttered as she remembered her loyal friend. He’d stood by her to the very end. And all his loyalty did was help Imogen reach the Metal Man.

Was he still alive? The last Kara had seen of him was on the monitor back in Annbar. He’d been speeding down a tunnel with Minard and Erinie. Run, all of you, and keep running and don’t stop until you are far beyond Imogen and her mad plan.

Kara straightened and felt the crushing desperation ease. If Aemon were still alive, she couldn’t give up, for he hadn’t given up on her and had lost so much because of it. I have to find a way out of this world and back to my body. Imogen must be stopped. But how?

After a minute of contemplation, Kara decided the first step would be to find the ghost woman who’d spoken to her in her other visiondreams of the surface. But where to begin? The ghost woman had always come to Kara in the past. Does she even know I’m here?

The sun slowly descended toward the horizon. In several hours time, darkness would fall, and Kara would need to find shelter for the night. Standing, she hopped off the altar expecting a wave of pain from her injuries. It never came. She drew open the top of her bodice to check her javelin and bite wounds. They were still there, still healing, and yet there was neither pain nor sign of infection. She felt a little stronger too, her mind clearer than it had been for what seemed like half a lifetime.

So there was hope. If her body could heal, perhaps her mind could too and she would remember all the memories she’d lost.

Taking a deep breath through her nose, Kara let it out slowly. The air felt fresh and crisp, without the stench of smoke that permeated the air of the caverns. She carefully picked her way down the snow covered hill. Dead tree trunks shadowed her, and frozen briars scratched at her legs as she made her way to the edge of the city. Large buildings with frozen glass windows towered before Kara, their shadows creeping toward her, as the sun slowly set behind them. She stopped at the edge of a road and took in the details of the alien ruin.

To her surprise, she could name almost everything, though she’d never seen these things with her own eyes nor heard their names spoken. Cars and busses sat frozen on the road, and a line of bikes stood chained against a metal railing. A sign with a dark-skinned woman on it advertised a mechanical cleaning assistant who stood beside her. It had a striking resemblance to the metal men Kara had seen in Annbar, but without the human body parts.

Was the cleaning aide one of Imogen’s Steel Children?

Dozens of other once mundane objects and advertisements were spread around her. To Kara, they were all new, but to someone who had lived in the ancient world, they were as normal as stalagmites and glowing bacteria was to a Stelemian.

Kara had been able to name things back in Annbar too. Perhaps the knowledge of these things came from Imogen and had carried over to Kara somehow. Did that mean Imogen would know everything Kara did?

Something fell to the street from one of the buildings, shattering on top of the roof of a car. Kara hid behind an electrical charging station and listened for danger. I should’ve been more careful. What was I thinking standing out in the open like that? Scanning the skies, she was relieved to see no sign of the Great Shadow that hunted the visiondream.

Peeking around the corner, she scanned the buildings across the street. A gust of wind stirred the air, causing a nearby metal sign to wobble, its rusted metal grate unnaturally loud in the utter silence. Nothing moved in the buildings. Nothing moved on the street. Perhaps the sound had only been ice falling from an upper-story window.

The sun had gone behind some buildings in the distance, and the air had noticeably grown colder. Even Kara’s innate power seemed to struggle to keep her warm. If what the ghost woman had said was true, the Great Shadow came out at nightfall. Kara was running out of time. She had to find shelter before darkness fell.

Knowing she couldn’t stay where she was, Kara raced around the edge of the charge station and dashed across the street. Once she reached the opposite sidewalk, she took shelter against the wall of a two-story multi-unit complex. Where was she heading? She hadn’t thought of that until now.

Any choice seemed as good as another. Maybe if she could reach a high vantage point, she would have a better idea what was out there. The highest point Kara had seen was the skyscrapers standing before the statue of Imogen. One of them should give her a good view of the layout of the city.

Heading down the street, she cautiously moved from cover to cover, passing cars, trucks, shopping trolleys and empty curbside storefronts. The cities of the old world had little resemblance to the ones in her underground home. There, darkness, wet stone and towering stalagmites were the norm; here, normalcy was concrete, roads, storefronts, advertising, and technologies the Order of Ibilirith could only dream of.

Kara arrived at a crossroads overshadowed by security cameras set into bronze-colored, metallic, human-like faces. They gave her the impression she was being watched. Perhaps that’s why the ancients had shaped the cameras that way. It would give the people of the city the impression they were forever being spied on by the town watch. The Inquisitors would love cameras like these. No one would ever speak ill of the Divines with them around. Who knew who could be watching?

She shook her head. And the Divines aren’t even real. Ibilirith is a fraud. All of it was lies.

A car door opened with grinding hinges. Kara ducked behind a motorcycle and held her breath. Seconds before she’d gotten to cover, she’d seen a figure heading down the street toward her. Who was it? Did they know she was there? Could it be the ghost woman?

Her hair suddenly stood on end and an eerie stillness settled over the street. She watched the figure through a broken windshield. It wasn’t the ghost woman, but a man, dressed in strange clothing which hadn’t existed since the fall of Annbar. A suit and tie. He glanced at a data-pad strapped to his arm, then increased his pace.

Kara considered calling out to him as he neared. He didn’t seem to pose a threat. Maybe he knew where the ghost woman could be found.

Coming out of cover, she waved to him. “Please stop. I need help.”

He walked past Kara, as if she wasn’t there. A light breeze brushed against her as he went by.

“Hey, stop. Can you hear me?”

The man hurried on, seemingly oblivious to her existence. Then he stopped and turned. Kara’s pulse quickened. He wasn’t looking at her, but at something behind her. She spun around, scanning for danger. Nothing. Not a thing. He still looked her way. What could he see that she couldn’t?

The man started backing away. Then his mouth widened, as if to scream. Something unseen struck him, sending him flying backward. When he hit the ground, he disappeared.

Kara squinted. What was that about? Had she seen another ghost like the ones she’d seen in a previous visiondream? Was there a message in what she’d just witnessed? If so, she couldn’t discern it.

After waiting a moment to make sure nothing else happened, Kara continued down the street. Deeper into the city, the curbside shops and unit complexes were replaced with office buildings, a multi story shopping precinct and a park with dead trees, picnic tables and frost-coated play equipment.

A strange feeling overcame her, like someone had thrown water into her face. She stopped and scanned the park. Before her eyes, the world unfroze and she saw it in greens, browns, yellows and reds. Flowers bloomed, a pond teamed with orange fish and a mother duck swam along the surface, four ducklings spread out in a line behind her. Children played on the equipment, their mouths split into wide grins.

The colors were beautiful, the sky pristine blue, the world vibrant and alive, like it hadn’t been for millennia.

Watching the park, Kara’s emotions went all over the place. One moment she experienced intense nostalgia, the next, sadness and loss. What was happening? She’d never seen anything like this before. It was even more alien than the frozen city.

An old woman appeared several feet in front of her. Kara backed away. The woman sat on a park bench watching a boy and a girl rolling around on the grass. The children looked so alike, they had to be twins. The boy had dark hair, the woman long golden braids.

Another woman rode past on an electric bike as a metal man trimmed a hedge. The machine looked up and waved to her. The woman ignored him and sped on until she disappeared into thin air.

Kara tried to get a closer look at the metal man but the scene dissolved and was replaced with frozen decay. She was back in the present, the cold closing in around her like a fist.

The old world had been beautiful. How could Imogen create the very things that had destroyed it? What purpose did her Steel Children serve? Why had people allowed her to make them? Perhaps the metal man Kara had just seen was one of those Steel Children. Maybe they’d been created to help people, to serve them.

But if they had, what had gone wrong? How did the world end up the way it had?

The sun had dimmed as she stood watching the past. The shadows of the surrounding buildings darkened the street, their empty windows and broken walls a testament to the destruction Imogen had brought down upon her people. According to the ghost woman, this place was a mirror representation of the real world. If it could be so desolate here, so devoid of hope—what would the real surface be like? Did the Steel Children build anything beyond holy groves to their mother? Did they play together? Did they have children? Did they know how to love?

Or was the frozen bleakness all they knew?

As if in answer, a cold, numbing fear began to grow inside Kara. She had to move. Something was coming.

Leaving the park, Kara scanned for danger as she entered a great intersection with half-a-dozen exits, the road full of the wrecks of ice encrusted cars and trucks. The fear surged until it became all encompassing. She raced headlong through the vehicle graveyard, pursued by something she couldn’t see nor hear.

Then her terror was given voice. With an ear-splitting shriek, the Great Shadow emerged from behind one of the skyscrapers, about a mile distant, and landed on the head of Imogen’s colossal likeness. Kara bolted down one of the exits, a four-lane thoroughfare, as the creature swept its gaze over the city.

Did it know she was there?

Ahead, was a tunnel, descending underground. Kara raced toward it. The Great Shadow let out another monstrous high-pitched roar and then took flight. It swept along the tops of the buildings, heading her direction. Intense fear spurred Kara on. She dived down the stairs leading into the darkness of the tunnel, not thinking of the injuries she might sustain. When she crashed down onto a landing, her bones ached, her breath coming fast.

Leaping back to her feet, she ran on, her eyes adjusting quickly to the low light. A roar followed her, then the boom of giant feet landing on the street. Claws raked at the top of the stairway, black tendrils spilled down the stairs, but she was well out of their reach. Descending several more flights of stairs, she found she’d entered a subway station. No light penetrated this deep underground, the only sound the beast raging above.

Kara’s dark-vision allowed her to see the underground world in shades of gray and black. The air was icy, the gloom oppressive, her breath misting before her.

Arriving at the rail platform, she stopped to take stock of her situation. She was tired and hungry, but had no food and didn’t feel comfortable resting in such a strange, dark place with a living shadow fighting to dig its way down to her. But then, by the time she got back to the surface, the sun would have set. Perhaps the station was the best place to spend the night so she could continue her journey the next day.

Images of trains running between stations and passenger seats, electronic train tickets and metal wheels filled Kara’s mind. This time she knew what they were. Memories. But not hers. Imogen’s.

Perhaps Imogen had walked this very train platform, catching a ride, long ago. Was it possible the vision of the park from earlier, also belonged to Imogen? But that memory was a more vivid one that stuck in Imogen’s mind and made Kara feel as if she was truly there.

Had the playing twins been Imogen and Dressen?

The swoosh of wings pulled Kara from her thoughts. The Great Shadow let out an angry roar.

Deciding it best to follow the rail line to the next station, Kara jumped off the platform and onto the tracks. Silence fell as the Great Shadow moved on, and with it the terror that was driving to flee. Did the beast leave to find another entrance to the subway or had it given up altogether and gone in search of easier prey?

Only time would tell.

Kara headed the direction that led deeper into the city and after a mile reached the next station. Climbing onto the platform, she shivered. It seemed her power to keep warm was being pushed to its limit.

This station seemed as silent and dead as the last one, but an unearthly eeriness hung over it. Far greater than what she’d felt earlier with the ghost man. Kara held her breath and tried to make no sound as she crept along. It felt wrong to tread here, as if she were trespassing on something she wasn’t meant to.

Dread smothered her heart. She didn’t like this place. Not one bit.

Kara made her way back to the rail line and dropped down and crouch-ran along the inside of the platform so nothing could see her from above. She’d need to keep going and hope the feeling she’d gotten here didn’t follow her.

It took twenty minutes to reach the next station, this one larger than the previous two. Climbing onto the platform, she was relieved to not feel the lingering dread she’d experienced at the last one. Twin sets of broken escalators ran up the center of the station. They seemed to lead up to the next level. Not seeing anywhere comfortable to spend the night where she was, Kara climbed them and found herself on another platform. The rail lines on this level headed in different directions to the ones below.

A door leading into a stationmaster’s office lay broken on the floor. Perhaps she could find a comfortable seat in there to sleep in. She made her way across the tiled floor then froze. A faint noise had broken the silence. Training her ears, she tried to work out where it came from.

It sounded like a woman crying from inside the office. Could it be the ghost woman?

After a moment’s deliberation, Kara decided to risk seeing who was in there.

Sneaking to the edge of the doorway, she peered around the edge. A woman dressed in black leather armor sat against the back wall, her head buried between her knees, shivering uncontrollably. Clasped in her hand was a strange-looking egg-shaped object.

The stranger didn’t look up as Kara stepped into the room. “Hello. Are you here or are you another ghost?”

The woman snapped her head up, dropping the object and sending it rolling across the floor. Kara froze in place, her heart skipping a beat. The woman looked like Kara had—back before the poison had changed her—but this woman had scars all over her face. “Who… Who are you?” Could it be Semira? How…

Screeching something incoherent, the woman leapt to her feet and dove for Kara. The impact knocked Kara off her feet and flat on her back, the woman landing on top of her. “Die, half-blood,” the woman wailed, then clasped her fingers around Kara’s neck and squeezed.

 

 

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