Heretic Sun [Moon, Sun, Star Series Book 2]
Click on image to enlarge.
by Elaine Corvidae
Description: The Exciting Sequel To Tyrant Moon! Deep in the heart of a ruined city lurks the power to destroy the world ... When Thraxis returns to Athraskani lands with his barbarian wife Arrow, he learns too late that the Black Council will not let their greatest tool go so easily. Soon Thraxis and Arrow are ensnared in a dangerous venture ... to discover the ruined city of Xaqqara and with it the lost power of the ancient wizards. Surrounded by enemies, sorcerers, and gods, they must find their way through a maze of deceit and treachery to learn the truth behind the destruction of Xaqqara ... and behind the prophecy of an unborn child who will damn or save them all...
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: December 2005
45 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [338 KB]
Reading time: 223-313 min.
"An action packed romantic fantasy that will be enjoyed by romance and fantasy genre fans."--Harriet Klausner, The Best Reviews
"5 Stars! A wonderful story filled with evil and uncertainties and rebellion against a terrible wrong, but underlying it all is love, the love between friends, between husband and wife and between brother and sister"--Chere Gruver, Timeless Tales
"A great read. Compelling and enchanting, holding on to the reader until the very last word."--Lesley Mazey, The Eternal Night
"Filled with magic, adventure, danger, passion, betrayal and so much more!"--Margaret Marr, author of Moon of Little Winter
Chapter One: Thiacene
Thraxis was in trouble. Again.
He pasted a smile on his lips and struggled not to show his disappointment to the others seated at the long table. A dry desert wind blew in through the open window, and he took a deep breath, acutely conscious of the silence gathering in the stone dining hall. It had been a long day, and weariness that was as much spiritual as physical was beginning to take its toll.
The day had started out well enough. He had ridden--forgetting through familiarity that actually sitting on a horse's back was the act of a barbarian--into the Sanctum Minoris of Gypta, seeking out parents he had not seen in twenty years. Although his memories of them were vague, he'd had little trouble picking out Cyaraxes and Jumica from the other Athraskani who toiled in the Sanctum's fields, which lay in the narrow strip of fertile land wedged in between the life-giving brown river and the hot desolation of the red desert. After he had identified himself to them, they had been overjoyed to see him.
The problem with joy was that it tended to fade before such things as doubt and suspicion. And among the Athraskani, doubt and suspicion were habits by necessity.
"So, Thraxis," said Anarete from her seat at the head of the table, "what brings you to Gypta?"
Thraxis suppressed a sigh. Anarete was a plump, silver-haired woman with a permanent expression of suspicion. She was also the Prima of the Sanctum Minoris, and as such had nominal authority over him even though she only wore red robes. It was her right to ask why a black-robed Athraskani, who normally would never be let outside the precincts of the Sanctum Majoris, had suddenly appeared on her doorstep.
Unfortunately, there was nothing about his situation that could be described as 'normal.'
"I came to see Cyaraxes and Jumica," he said, truthfully enough. His mother, who sat across from him, gave him a faint smile. But her eyes, so pale a shade of silver that they bordered on white, were troubled.
Anarete took a sip of wine from the single glass a day that the Rule allowed her. Her shrewd, silver eyes touched Thraxis' shaved head--radically different from Athraskani norm, where complicated braids indicated a wizard's rank--then moved on to his traveling companions.
To his left sat Viabold. If Anarete recognized Viabold's name, it was as that of an Athraskani who had left the Sanctum years before due to his inability to adhere to the tenets of the Rule. Although Viabold had actually made an effort--undoubtedly for Thraxis' sake rather than his own--to look presentable by washing out his travel-worn blue robes and fixing his long hair in the traditional braids, his behavior was not so easily altered. With a mental sigh, Thraxis noted that his friend was even now finishing off his third glass of wine and looking about for more.
To Thraxis' right sat his wife, the Arrow that Flies the Farthest, former Champion of the Red Feather Clan of the Skald. And who, Thraxis had no doubt, would be the main topic of gossip this evening among the inhabitants of the Sanctum. Bad enough that one of the most powerful of their race would wed a human without magic, but to compound the offense by marrying a barbarian--it was unthinkable.
Thraxis felt a fond smile touch his lips as he studied Arrow's profile. He could still remember his shock when he had first met her. She was so different from the Athraskani, who prided themselves on being civilized and cosmopolitan. Leather trousers and vest hugged her form, accompanied by a wide variety of weapons. Her long, copper-colored hair hung loose and wind-tangled about her strong features, except where a few random braids made an effort at taming the mass. The blue line of her Champion's tattoo bisected her face horizontally, centered about her dark eyes, and more tattoos showed on her shoulders and stomach.
His first reaction upon seeing her had been one of horror--he was to travel with such a crude barbarian? And when he had realized that she was his amria, the woman he was destined to love ... well, horror had not even come close to describing what he had felt.
To their credit, both his parents had smiled politely when he introduced her, even though Jumica looked like a woman trying to be happy about swallowing a live fish when she did it.
Anarete set her glass down deliberately, catching Thraxis' attention. "I see," she said dryly, leaving no doubt that she didn't believe him at all.
Perhaps a bit more of the truth, then. "The Black Council sent me with Arrow to bring Balthazar to justice," he explained. "I believe Vilhardouin sent word to all the Sanctum when he rebelled?"
Anarete nodded slowly, the silver braids of her hair catching the late afternoon light as it streamed in through the high windows. "She did. I understand that he stole a doyan'si." Her tone clearly asked how he had gotten access to such an abomination. When Thraxis only gave her a mysterious look, she shrugged and went on. "Vilhardouin feared that he might carry his vengeance to the outlying Sanctum."
"He came to my people," Arrow explained. Her command of the Empire's language had improved greatly, but her accent would always be atrocious. "Many died," she added awkwardly, glancing down at her pottery plate.
"Viabold was kind enough to offer me his help," Thraxis went on, neglecting to mention why a black-level mage would need the aid of a blue robe. He waved his hand airily. "And once we had dealt with Balthazar, he offered to come here with Arrow and me."
"It all sounds so very simple," Anarete said acerbically. Thraxis winced, knowing that his story raised more questions than it answered.
Jumica leaned across the table with an eager smile. "Tell us more about your travels, Thraxis. Did you see anything interesting? How did it compare with the Wandering Monk's accounts?"
For a moment, her eagerness put his guard up, and he wondered if she was seeking to make him look foolish. Then he realized that it was nothing of the sort. She wants to be proud of me. Jumica wanted to be able to tell people about the great things her son had done. It was a strange revelation, for he could recall little but disdain and disappointment from the Athraskani who had raised him in her place.
If only he had done anything worth telling. Instead, it seemed that he had spent most of the journey miserable, hurting, and afraid. Not really the stuff of heroic epics.
He glanced at Arrow, but she only looked back at him, arching a single brow as if to say: "These are your people--you tell them." With a shrug, he launched into the tale, trying to think of anything that might interest his listeners while at the same time making the whole thing sound more like a pleasure jaunt than the trial of endurance that it had been. No one, he felt certain, wanted to hear about him coughing blood and being nearly beaten to death by Skald warriors. Certainly, he wasn't about to mention the fact that he had poisoned himself through his own ignorance and pride.
The entire time he spoke, though, he was acutely conscious of Anarete's eyes on him: weighing, judging ... and questioning. * * * *
Arrow yawned and stretched, glad that the long day was finally over. After their communal supper, the Athraskani had all retreated to conduct the evening meditation that their society required. Left to her own devices for a while, she had spent the time checking on her two steeds, Nightwing and Stalker. Both horses were corralled just outside the Sancta, near the odd creatures that the Gyptoans used as beasts of burden. The cloven-footed, hump-backed animals had eyed her in a way she thought of as distinctly unfriendly, and she had no desire to get any closer to them.
Afterward, Thraxis had returned, accompanied by his parents. Jumica and Cyaraxes had asked if they would like to go to their quarters and talk, but to Arrow's surprise, Thraxis had declined the invitation. Perhaps, she thought, her husband was feeling as overwhelmed as she.
A young man in green robes had shown them to the chamber set aside for their use. The Sancta consisted of a large number of buildings, all made from stone or mud brick. Their room was in one of the stone buildings, and Arrow found herself idly running her hand over the large, cool blocks, wondering how they had been fitted together so precisely. Magic, no doubt.
The chamber was small and contained only a bed, a table, and a chair. The bed was tucked back into a small alcove and flanked by two statues clutching fans made from palm fronds. The outer wall of the room was almost completely open to a balcony outside, and so gave the impression of spaciousness. The air within smelled of cool stone and incense.
Arrow pushed aside a hanging of gauzy white cloth and stepped out onto the balcony. The night air touched her face, and she breathed deeply, exploring the unfamiliar scents of desert and spices. Resting her hands lightly on the balustrade, she stared out over the lower buildings beneath. Glowing balls of magical light moved here and there, marking the passage of Athraskani.
Thraxis came up behind her, sliding his arms around her waist. She leaned back against him, glad to feel the solidity of flesh rather than the sharpness of bone. There had been a time, when Balthazar's death curse still devoured him by inches, when bone and skin had seemed all that was left of him.
"How are you?" he asked softly, his deep voice like the touch of soft fur. "I know that this must all seem very strange to you." He sighed, and then chuckled ruefully. "It seems odd to me, to be perfectly honest."
"After so many months living out of a tent, doing whatever I wanted ... it's hard to go back, in a way."
"But we aren't staying long," Arrow reminded him.
"No, of course we aren't." He hesitated. "But they do have a library here ... it's said to be very impressive. I would like to take a little while to look at it. And to spend more time with Cyaraxes and Jumica."
Unease touched Arrow's heart, but she shoved it aside. "But then we'll leave and go back to the Skald, right?"
"Wherever you want to go, love," he reassured. His arms tightened about her waist, and she felt the silken brush of his lips across the tattoo on her shoulder. She shivered in delight, closing her eyes as he nudged aside her hair to explore the sensitive spot on the back of her neck. When she opened her eyes again, it was to see the face of a young girl hovering just beyond the edge of the balcony.
Arrow let out a yell of surprise. A lifetime of training took over, and she pulled away from her husband, drew her sword, and put the tip to the throat of the intruder in the space that it would take a normal human to draw breath.
"You're fast," the girl said appreciatively, as if she wasn't even slightly concerned about being threatened with immediate death. She hung suspended in the air, her hands resting on the balustrade, her red robes flowing idly about her in the night breeze. Like most of the Athraskani, her braided and coiled hair was black as a raven's wing. Her face was angular, striking rather than pretty, and dominated by a very long nose and a pair of eyes as yellow as clear wine.
Thraxis' black brows beetled together in a glare. "By all that's true, who are you? What are you doing looking into other people's windows?"
The girl only grinned, utterly unrepentant. "I was curious. I wanted to know what they were all trying to hide from me."
Arrow slowly let her sword drop, and then sheathed it again. This girl did not strike her as a threat. "Hide from you?"
"Oh, yes. When they told me I had to stay with the novices today, it was clear that they didn't want me to see something. I spied the light in here and thought that there might be visitors to the Sanctum." The girl's pale eyes narrowed critically as she studied Arrow. "Are you some kind of bodyguard?"
"You should be answering questions, not asking them," Thraxis snapped.
The girl rolled her eyes. "I'm Thiacene. Honestly, can't you come up with better questions? 'Who are you, why are you looking in the window'--really, not much of a challenge."
"Given that Anarete didn't want you fraternizing with outsiders, I'd think you'd be more polite to people who could report you to her."
Thiacene didn't seem terribly concerned. "I thought investigating would be worth getting caught--but then, I thought I'd find something more interesting than two strangers with no more sense than to make love on a balcony where the whole world can see them." Ignoring Thraxis' sputters of indignation, she levered herself up so that she perched like an imp on the balustrade. "So who are you?"
"None of your business," said Thraxis.
Arrow tried to hide a smile and failed. Ignoring her husband's annoyance, she said, "I think that should be obvious, Thiacene. This is your brother, Thraxis."
The two Athraskani looked at one another, as if they routinely met long-nosed strangers with the same unusual eye color. "Jumica and Cyaraxes are your parents?" Thraxis asked, as if he doubted it could be true.
Thiacene nodded. "Yes. I knew that I had a brother who was ten years older than me--Mother would get images of him every so often from a friend at the Sanctum Majoris." She looked at Thraxis skeptically. "You don't look anything like him."
"People change," Thraxis muttered.
"I suppose. What happened to your hair?"
"I shaved it off."
"Oh." She frowned thoughtfully at him some more. "I don't know why they didn't just let me come to supper with the rest of the initiates and meet you there. Have you done something scandalous?"
"I'm his wife," Arrow offered.
Thiacene's eyes lit up and she laughed. "Ah ha! Perhaps that's it. They don't want me getting strange ideas from my older brother." She looked as though she would say more, but at that moment the faint sound of voices came from another part of the Sanctum, carrying clearly in the night air. Thiacene made a face. "Father's looking for me--I'd better go." She dropped easily over the side of the balcony. "See you tomorrow!"
Arrow peered over the side, but Thiacene was lost to the shadows. Straightening, she turned to see Thraxis leaning against the wide entrance to their room, his face thoughtful and slightly sad.
"Did you know that you had a sister?" she asked softly.
He glanced up, and she saw grief in his eyes. "No. No, I had no idea."
"So am I." He held out his arms, folding her close when she came to him. "But at least I know why they tried to hide her from me."
Arrow shifted her head against his shoulder so that she could see his profile. "Why?"
"I know that you understand the different levels of power among the Athraskani," he said slowly, "but I don't believe I explained to you how we know what a child will become when it is born, before it grows into its full magic. There is a spell that can be cast which reveals the baby's potential--the level of power that it will someday attain, once it reaches adulthood."
"That's how the Black Council knew that you would be of the black level someday," Arrow guessed.
"Yes. And they used that knowledge as the basis of their decision to take me away from my parents to raise themselves." His mouth tightened in old anger. "But after we gain our full power as adults, other Athraskani can often sense how strong an individual is. Lower-level Athraskani can only tell if someone is stronger than they--Viabold, for example, couldn't easily distinguish whether I was a red or a black level mage unless I did something to make it clear. But I would be able to guess Viabold's general abilities even if he wasn't wearing his robes. Do you understand?"
"I think so. But what does this have to do with Thiacene?"
"After ... what happened to me ... it must have been a terrible risk for Cyaraxes and Jumica to conceive another child. They must have prayed that their baby would be a red level wizard like themselves. A future red robe would most likely be left with them. How horrified they must have been when the testing showed that Thiacene was yet another black."
Arrow pulled back in surprise. "But she was wearing red robes!"
Thraxis looked at her gravely. "I know. They've lied to her--not only to her, but to everyone else in the Sancta. Most of the Athraskani here are lower level mages, after all--they would never know. Anarete must be in on it as well--she would have been present at the testing, and she would know that Thiacene is stronger than a red robe should be."
Arrow swallowed heavily. "They lied to keep Thiacene with them."
"What will happen when the truth comes out?"
Thraxis shook his head. "I don't know. The Black Council will be furious, that's for certain. But I do know that they won't find out because of us."
"No." Arrow leaned against him again, wrapping her arms around his waist. "No, they won't." * * * *
Anarete settled to her knees, silently railing against the age that made her joints creak. She could feel the hardness of the stone floor through the reed mat that she knelt upon, and she cursed that as well for good measure.
Damn Vilhardouin, she thought as she arranged her scrying ball in front of her. The old bitch must not trust her, sending a spy like that fool Thraxis down here.
Like many of the other inhabitants of the Sanctum that she ruled over, Anarete had been born in the Sanctum Majoris, the heart of Athraskani civilization. As a red robe, she had never been a rival for Vilhardouin's power, and so had done her best to strike as many alliances as possible with the ambitious woman. In time, when the Primus of Gypta's Sanctum died, Vilhardouin had been in a position to offer it to one of her old supporters. Anarete had taken the post gladly. It meant that she could more or less run her own Sanctum her own way, without constant toadying to the Black Council. And it meant that she could get away from Vilhardouin, for, despite their alliance, they had never liked one another at all.
And now, after all these years, she's decided that I need a keeper. Anarete scowled, clinging to her anger so that she couldn't feel the trepidation that boiled underneath it. If Thraxis sees Thiacene ... There was no telling what Vilhardouin would do if she learned that Anarete had kept one of her precious black robes from her. That Anarete would lose her position as Prima and be forced to return to the Sanctum Majoris in disgrace was the least punishment she could expect.
Fifteen years ago, it had seemed worth the risk. A chance to help two of her own and secure their loyalty to her. And a chance as well to spit in Vilhardouin's eye. Now, though, with discovery so close ... she couldn't imagine what she had been thinking.
Taking a deep breath, Anarete composed her thoughts as best she could and chanted the spell that would summon Vilhardouin to her own scrying ball far away. After several minutes, Anarete felt the answering touch of magic and opened her eyes.
Vilhardouin scowled at her from the ball's crystalline depths. Age had marred her beauty, but had only enhanced her regal bearing and air of command. Her silver eyes were hard and cold as flint, and Anarete almost felt sorry for Thraxis. The poor child had probably never had any choice other than become Vilhardouin's lackey.
"This had best be important," Vilhardouin said icily.
Keeping her face composed, Anarete bowed slowly, nearly touching her forehead to her knees. "Greetings, Vilhardouin of the Black Council," she said, letting the ritual calm conceal her anger and fear.
Vilhardouin responded with a chill little nod. "You may speak, Prima of the Sanctum Minoris."
Anarete resumed her kneeling position. "It is not for me to question the Black Council," she said, "but I request clarification."
"On what matter?"
"This ... observer ... you sent--did you wish him to report on our work here? If so, I will show him the ruins on the morrow."
Vilhardouin frowned. "I sent no observer."
Quibbling over semantics--that was what the Athraskani did best, Anarete thought in annoyance. "Forgive me. This visitor, then."
"I said that the Black Council sent no one."
Now it was Anarete's turn to frown in confusion. "Thraxis. He came here to visit Cyaraxes and Jumica. I assumed you had sent him to more purpose than that."
"Thraxis is dead."
To her surprise, Anarete saw that Vilhardouin had actually paled. It gave her some pleasure in the face of her fear. "I assure you he is not. He sat at my table this evening, and unless ghosts can eat and drink, he was very much alive."
Vilhardouin's face went even whiter, and her mouth tightened. "Damn him."
"He is not here by your leave, then?"
"Aren't you listening? He was supposed to be dead! That cursed Viabold must have lied in his letter. Is he there as well?"
"He is. Along with that woman--Thraxis' wife."
"His wife," Anarete said triumphantly. "The barbarian. Spear, or some such."
"No." Some of the shock eased from Vilhardouin's features. "Another lie. I wasted years trying to maneuver Thraxis into Melilandra's bed--the Black Council ordered it, and still he defied us with his excuses and evasions. If she was not good enough for him, he would not demean himself by rutting with some filthy barbarian."
"Oh?" Anarete whispered a chant and passed her hand across the surface of the scrying ball. The image within--and within Vilhardouin's as well--altered to show the bedchamber she had given her guests. The room was still well lit, and she had no trouble making out the intertwined shapes on the bed. She watched their writhing with interest, until Vilhardouin's image abruptly reasserted itself.
"Thraxis will report to me at dawn tomorrow morning," the leader of the Black Council said in a voice that would allow no argument. Then she broke the spell binding the two scrying balls, leaving the small room in darkness. * * * *
Thraxis knew that there was something wrong when he came up the stairs to the small set of rooms he shared with his parents. It had been a long day--one of the other boys had knocked him down while they were playing, and he had skinned both knees. Old Ligares, who supervised the novices' recreation, had snapped at him to quit crying and heal himself. Thraxis had managed to ease the wounds on his knees, but the pain from the comments of the older boys didn't go away so easily.
Mama would make him a cup of tea when he got home--that would help. But the stairwell felt oddly cold and quiet as he made his way up it, his brown robes clutched awkwardly in one small fist to keep them from tripping him up. Filled with trepidation, he climbed the last stairs slowly and pushed open the door.
Inside, everything was dark and still. Things were missing--the wall hanging his father had woven, the small statuette of a woman that his mother had cherished. Suddenly afraid in this familiar place that no longer felt like home, Thraxis called "Mama?" in a small, quavering voice. Surely she would appear and tell him what was wrong.
But his call went unanswered. Panic took hold. "Mama! Da! Mama!" he screamed. He dashed through the rooms, looking for them, but there was no trace of their presence. Even their extra robes were gone.
The sound of a footstep in the outer room brought him running back out. But the thin woman in the black robes wasn't his mother. She caught his arm roughly when he ran up to her.
"Mama--Da--I can't find them," he gasped between sobs.
Vilhardouin looked down on him with eyes that held no pity. "Your parents are gone."
Terror. "Gone? Where? I want to go with them!"
She gave him a little shake. "They've left the Sanctum. You'll never see them again."
To a five-year-old boy, those words were the end of the world.
"Stop crying!" Vilhardouin snapped in annoyance. "I knew we should have taken you before this. I said stop crying this instant!"
It was an impossible request. With a hiss of aggravation, she turned and left him huddled in the middle of the empty room. "You may come down to supper when you stop crying, and not a moment before. Don't you realize that this is for your own good? Your parents were nothing but red robes--they could never take care of you like we can."
Thraxis couldn't manage anything more than a confused sob. Still angry, Vilhardouin shut the door hard behind her, leaving him alone in the darkness.