by Autumn M. Birt
It is finally here! Rule of Fire now available!
AND to celebrate the release of Rule of Fire, book 2 in my epic fantasy series the Rise of the Fifth Order, I’m having a sale!
Born of Water, book 1, will be FREE on Smashwords from June 21 to 23, use coupon code UZ46U! Or if you want to put money towards my next cup of tea, it will be reduced to 99 cents or its equivalent (regularlly $2.99) on Amazon. Stop by the US, UK, or CD sites!
Additionally, Rule of Fire will be only 99 cents as well at both Smashwords and Amazon for its release weekend June 21st to the 23rd (regularly $3.99)! You can find Rule of Fire on Amazon at: US, UK, CD. Take a peak while it is new and on sale!
Rule of Fire
Six friends stand alone against the combined Orders of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth, protecting a girl whose forbidden abilities have condemn her to death. Now they are joined by a man who was once the Curse, the Church’s most powerful weapon and Ria’s greatest threat. Left with no name and no memory, the decision to aid this stranger will cost friendships and more as the group of friends journey north to seek a tribe of people lost to time amid an ancient war. The path home is riddled with dangers as the Church of Four Orders still seeks Ria and the former Water Priestess Nirine. For one High Priest, the desire for vengeance is personal.
Ria must unravel the mysteries of her power to find acceptance in a world where her abilities are considered a taint. Is the strange gift of magic an aberration that should be destroyed or something far more, related to the skills held by the Elementals who rule Myrrah?
The sequel to Born of Water, Rule of Fire is book 2 in the epic fantasy trilogy, the Rise of the Fifth Order. Return to the world of Myrrah ruled by the Church of Four Orders.
I’m so happy Rule of Fire is finally out that I just have to share a chapter. Enjoy an excerpt below but don’t forget about the sale!
THE SHIELD OF ISTEK
“You are so kind,” Minna said to Sinika, her voice faltering in the way of the greatly aged.
Sinika gritted his teeth, locking the desire to incinerate the old woman behind his aching jaw. “You need help, Grandmother. It is the least I can do to thank you while you consider my request.”
Minna twittered a laugh, flapping her hands like a sick bird as she tottered away deeper into the ruins. Sinika sat down and cursed her, the collapsing rock wall he was trying to rebuild, his bruised hand, and crushed finger. Mostly he cursed the Moon’s Light even more than Nirine. It was because of her, and this place, that for the first time in his life, he wished for the lowly powers of an Earth Elemental. Even with Minna watching him like a manic raptor, he would have risked using such a gift if it would buy him Minna’s good graces. If it would win him the talisman that she hid somewhere in the warrens of Ahketta, he’d wish for the tainted skill of magic.
How Minna had found the sprawling mass of collapsing buildings, he could not fathom. Their age spoke to him of the time before the Forgotten Wars. The number of rooms and layout of hallways, kitchens, and large studies reminded Sinika of the oldest parts of Solaire.
The massive main building was a collapsed pile of rubble, columns rising like broken teeth. The wings and outbuildings were hollow shells, scrubby trees growing through windows or on the remains of roofs. When the silver beetle had led him over a small ridge, and Sinika looked down to the destroyed mess, he knew he’d found what the Moon’s Light had sent him to find. He had not expected Minna though.
No hidden name or masks for the old woman. No fine gowns or incense either. Minna sat on the worn stone rim of the only well, waiting for him with the beetle in her hand. Her eyes so opaque, Sinika doubted she could see him or Dahal as they rode into the flat bottom of the wide ravine holding the ruins. Tumbled dry boulders and small olive trees struggled for life in the little canyon. Minna clung to life with the same stubborn hardiness. But there was no denying she had power.
She had seen Sinika and Dahal though her eyes could not see any light. It still troubled him that she had followed Dahal’s path. But the healer had ridden in first.
“The Moon’s Light has sent you. What is it you seek?” she asked in a strong, somber voice. Only when Sinika answered her did Minna finally acknowledge him.
“We seek your help, Grandmother.”
Minna frowned. Sinika told her the same story he’d told the Moon’s Light. By the end, Minna had introduced herself, offered him hospitality, and invited him into the tiny hovel she called home. When he pressed about a talisman to protect him, she brushed the question aside.
“Later, later, dear boy. There will be time later. Let me think on what it is that would help you.”
If he hadn’t watched her cause oranges to flesh out and ripen for their supper, he would have left the next day. But the old woman had skills. They let her survive in a ruin that threatened to collapse around her head.
“Why do you stay here, Grandmother, with gifts like yours? You could help the Moon’s Light or be wealthy, living on a great plantation by ensuring a good crop,” he asked her over a breakfast of fresh figs.
She gazed at him, a half smile on her wrinkled lips. It was a look that made him wonder if the senile skittishness was an act. “Do you know what this place is?” she replied.
She wouldn’t tell him, so he had spent a few bored hours searching what he could of the ruin. In a grass filled garden, he found a broken statue that was lovingly polished. The Goddess stood with broken, open arms, giving blessings to paving stones of the four elements placed in a circle around her. Then Sinika had known where he stood. He had gone and asked Minna how he could help her as she thought on his offer.
Sinika stared at the wall where it leaned in. It was the granary wall of the two room, stone outbuilding that Minna had turned into her home. She slept and ate by a firepit dug in the larger room and kept food stores in the slowly collapsing second. Sinika was ready to pull it down with his bare hands. It made sense. The building would inevitably fall to such a condition whether he restored it or not.
Five days had passed and Sinika had no indication of what Minna had found in the old school, old enough to be from the dawn of the Orders. But there was something, he was sure of it. Something kept the old woman there, protecting the ruins. If he could return to Solaire, he could have discovered what legends existed about Ahketta. But he was not at the Temple and he would not leave the ruin until he held whatever it was she was protecting.
Sinika did not hear anyone in the outer room or beyond in the dusty expanse before the tumbled hulk of the ruins. He stood, dusting off his worn pants and walked outside to the bright sun. Neither Dahal nor Minna were in sight. The well, garden, and pathways held only hazy air. He narrowed his eyes.
It was a risk to track her down, but he was getting tired of waiting. He doubted Minna would give him what he wanted until he rebuilt the entire place. Though the blame was his for that. He’d offered his help. Sinika left the shadows of the little building behind, striding toward the only standing doorway to the warren of the ruin.
“You are in a hurry,” Minna said from behind him, no longer any frivolity in her voice. Sinika sensed power touching his skin, prickling his hair.
“I am thirsty, Grandmother. Would you like me to fill the bucket for both of us?”
Sinika altered his course as if he was headed to the well. He glanced back to where Minna stood next to her little broken house with as much innocence as he could, as if he did not feel the threat tinging the air.
“That would be very kind of you.”
“You look tired, Grandmother. Were you resting? I did not mean to wake you.”
Her eyes narrowed, a flash racing across them before she gave him a gap-toothed grin. “Such a nice day to sleep. How is my wall?”
Sinika worked on the blasted crumbling mass for the rest of the afternoon. By the end of it, as he stood pouring buckets of tepid water over himself to clean off the dust and sweat, he was cursing Dahal for not being there to help.
Dahal returned just as the sun touched the western horizon carrying two rabbits. Sinika looked forward to the roasted game, but his hands chaffed with raw cuts he could not ask Dahal to heal. Sinika had claimed they were both unskilled. He suspected that Minna guessed otherwise, but he would not risk using Dahal’s gifts of healing or his of fire. The less she knew about him, the more pleased he was.
The smell of roasting meat drifted to where he stood at the well. Using his shirt as a towel, Sinika walked back to Minna’s hovel, anticipating at least a filling dinner. Minna’s voice carried over the sound of fat sizzling and the snap of the fire. The deep timbre of a man’s reply stopped Sinika halfway across the yard.
He made the last of the distance in a dash, nearly running into the far side of the doorway as he slid in the dirt. Inside the barely roofed chamber, Dahal sat dividing up a rabbit onto three rough plates of slate. Minna stood, turning the second carcass on its spit, cackling away.
“Do you think this one’s done too?”
“Oh yes, quite good,” she answered herself, voice low and rumbling.
“Good, good, let’s eat! Such beauties, such bounty. Oh, I am so lucky in my guests!”
Minna turned, handing the other spitted roast to Dahal, who took it solemnly. It was then Minna noticed Sinika’s presence.
“Oh good, you are here. Food, food! I’ve found your servant quite talkative after all. And always agreeable! What good company, I should ask if he can stay.” Minna smiled blindly at Dahal, who shrugged at Sinika.
Sinika took a plate from Dahal and sat. He rethought his assessment that Minna was rational, watching her carefully over dinner, as she chatted on without a care that no one other than herself answered.
Finished, Minna pulled out the woven mat that comprised her bed, leaning back on her pile of tattered blankets while sucking the grease from her finger. Her mad ravings had diminished into the silence of night. Scrub owls called, their voices echoing in the canyon. Sinika watched the fire for a moment, feeling its warmth with more than his skin. He was tired of the charade.
“Tell me, Grandmother, what was Ahketta?”
He saw the firelight reflect in her white eyes as she glanced toward him. There was nothing mad in the look.
“It was a place of learning long ago. Long, long ago,” she said, the sleepiness of a full meal in her voice.
“Powers? Elemental skills?” Sinika asked, still playing his part of innocent noble seeking help.
“That and more. It was a time before those with gifts were called Elementals, before those with other gifts were killed.”
“But that was long ago. So why do you stay? It is a hard life here for someone so…”
“Old?” she said with a cackling laugh. “Yes,” she said sadly after a pause. “Yes, I grew old here.”
The same shrewd look snapped towards him. Sinika felt a tingle cross his skin. “What do you know of the old tales of heroes from the Forgotten Wars?”
Sinika shrugged. “I heard a few while growing up, of course. What boy does not hear the stories of great warriors and the powers of those skilled.”
“Or the weapons they made?”
“Is that what you have, what is here? Some relic of the Forgotten War?” Sinika’s pulse was throbbing all the way to his wrist.
“Perhaps,” Minna replied, hugging herself as she nestled against her blankets.
Sinika leaned back into the shadows and watched Minna a moment. “Will it help me like the Moon’s Light said? What is it?”
The fire flashed with his annoyance, Sinika calming himself quickly. He thought back through all he had heard and read in the archives of Solaire.
“There was the Horn of Bhytta, which could call the wind and the Bow of Dramman, which always found its mark.”
“What good would those do you?” Minna said with a laugh.
“There was the Sword of Ranak, which was said to cut off an Elemental’s gift like it could an arm.”
“Ah,” Minna said, her eyes turning to him again. “That would be something you’d like.”
“Is that what you have?”
“Huh, no. That I never found.”
Sinika ran through the legends again. There had been so many weapons, everything from daggers to poisoned goblets. But not all had achieved fame.
“There was the Silver Shield of Istek, which reflected back whatever power was thrown at it.”
He saw the shadow of Minna’s frown and smiled. “That was destroyed during the War of the Orders, wasn’t it? Shattered to a hundred pieces,” she said with a huff.
“You have a piece then.”
Minna froze her wiggling, nostrils flaring. “Not that I would ever give it to you, Fire Priest.”
Sinika moved to jump to his feet, but something grabbed his wrist. As he turned, his ankles were bound as well. He called the dying fire to life.
In its light, he saw what trapped him. Minna had grown vines as they talked. They covered the wall behind him, reaching out to bind him. Sinika laughed, his chest aching at the force. A vine slid over his mouth.
Minna stood over him, glaring down at her prisoner. “I’m so glad you are amused,” she hissed at him. “Believe me for an old fool. I knew you when I saw you. I just did not know what to do with you.”
Sinika looked up from where the vines tangled around his arms and legs. He called forth fire. The vines behind him erupted in a bout of flames. Minna leapt backwards as Sinika rolled to his feet. Fire reached to her.
“Where is it? Tell me or I’ll burn you alive.”
“You won’t find it. I’ve hidden it deep within Ahketta. I’ve grown trees over it and let them die to become soil so deep it will never be found. You can search all your life and never touch it,” Minna yelled.
Fire crackled all around him, eating the dry timber lintel of the door, consuming even the mortar between the stones in its fury. The room radiated a baking heat.
“That is what I thought too all those times I followed you into the ruins. But you knew I was there. You led me into dead ends, didn’t you? It is here, isn’t it?”
Minna spat at him, her body shimmering from sweat. The wall to his right imploded. Stone fragments showered him, but Sinika held his ground as the ancient tree swung its branches to beat him. The fire in the room changed focus. Sinika pushed it into the battered opening, the tree igniting in orange flames that hissed and popped.
In the distraction, Minna made a run for the door. Flames finished eating the lintel just before she meant to jump through. Stones poured down, knocking her back as they sizzled against her skin.
“It isn’t for you!” Minna yelled at him. The floor under her heaved and cracked with red lines, heat escaping from the ground in a burp of steam. Minna fell against the far wall, her eyes wide and panicked.
“You will die in this room,” Sinika hissed at her.
He felt the fire in the earth far below him, greater than the inferno that ripped through the small building. It was a part of his anger and need. Nothing would keep him from the Shield of Istek.
Minna’s inaction broke as she threw herself toward her smoldering bedroll. Pushing aside the blankets, she pried at the hot bricks with her blackened and soot stained fingers. The stone came out as Sinika walked toward her, triumphant that he’d been correct. The fragment of the Shield had been in the hovel all along.
Minna turned toward him as he called the fire to claim her at last. He was knocked off his feet. Flames rushed over his head, hitting the last of the ceiling. With a shattering crack, the timber and stone roof fell in. Burning pieces of wood and hot stone pelted Sinika as he curled into a ball, rolling as close as he could to the wall. When he looked up, Minna stood under the protection of the far wall where the flames had not reached. Her hand was outstretched as she stood to her fragile, full height, something silver shimmering in the grasp of her fingers. In the shadows behind her, Sinika found Dahal, who had sat and watched the events play out from the relative safety of a disused hearth.
“You will never have this! I will kill you for what you’ve done.”
With more caution this time, Sinika sent a ribbon of fire reaching out for her. It snapped back, turning to race toward him. He snuffed it out. Watching her, Sinika licked the blood from his lips.
He still controlled his power, but not when he sent it at her. The earth before her split wider, a tongue of molten heat escaping. The lava was hard to control being part earth, but there was enough heat in it to make it his. A pool leaked out, spreading across the floor to puddle at her feet. The hem of her ragged dress began to smoke.
Minna scrambled against the stone wall, trying to gain distance from the flow. She held the silver talisman outwards, its light reflecting the fiery red, liquid earth. The pool kept growing.
“Give it to me and I’ll let you live yet.”
“May water demons eat your soul for eternity!”
Sinika drove the pool closer, smiling as she screamed when it toucher her toe. A figure appeared by her side, tall and strong. Dahal picked her up, placing her on the old hearthstone next to him. Sinika paused as Minna smiled up beatifically at Dahal. Until he reached and placed his hand over hers where she held the Shield.
Dahal shook his head once and then pried the fragment from her fingers. She screamed, beating Dahal’s chest with her burnt hands as he tossed it to Sinika. He caught it, surprised by its weight and how cool it felt in the flaming room. What had looked like a piece of mirror was a thick curve of metal, etched with a pattern of flowing swirls broken by the fractured edges. As his fingers curled over it, the fire around Sinika went out, plunging all of them into darkness.