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The Dead Gate
Book 2: The Gates of Carn Cycle
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-139-0
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 396 Pages
Published: November 2013

From inside the flap

The world of Carn is aflame with war. Six Outlanders, once ordinary college students, have been thrust into an exotic world of intrigue, betrayal and brutality. Now flung to the four corners of this strange world, they must rely on their wit and skill at arms to solve the riddle of this land and find a way home.

And an ageless evil has reawakened, those thought to be enemies have become allies and a fallen brother a betrayer.

The Dead Gate (Excerpt)


.Prologue.

"And your findings?" asked the Preceptor from the pulpit. He was a severe man in robes of creme and gold thread.

The acolyte looked to his master and waited deferentially for him to respond. It would not be proper to speak out of turn to the Preceptor. There were protocols here that even someone with his background could not transgress.

The priest cleared his throat and nervous sweat welled on his balding pate. The Assembly of Inquiry was quiet, several hundred waiting to hear what evidence the two had found.

"It appears that we were mistaken, young Adon and I," the priest said tentatively. Adon shot him a startled glance but kept his mouth shut.

"The acolytes in question, all three, appear to have been decapitated as a result of the cave in. It was an accident."

"Untrue!" Adon blurted out, his green eyes darting to the Preceptor. A murmur began to spread through the assembly.

"What is this?" the Preceptor asked in a gravel-filled voice. He lowered his gaze to Adon.

"It is not your place, Adon," his master warned, but it was half-hearted.

"That is not what we found. A falling pillar does not decapitate three acolytes. It does not line up their bodies, face down and naked, or place their heads, sans eyes, upon the back of a different body. Disasters do not treat corpses this way!"

The Preceptor frowned grimly as the Assembly erupted in dismay, several acolytes filtered in from the alcove to listen in and the Preceptor of the Temple of Tarn had to strike the podium with his mace to get order.

"Elaborate," he said sonorously.

"These three were from Ord. They came after it fell, fleeing what happened there. We never thought they were suspect but when we questioned their fellows, little was known about them. They kept to themselves.

"How does that affect anything?" came one shout from the assembly. "After all they went through in Ord."

"In and of itself it does not," Adon retorted. "In Ord, Myella and Duran corrupted the Temple, and brought forth the minions of Oran, leaving a dead city, much like Narn-toc. Here we found the beginning of similar necromancing. The remnants of what they were doing were left in the catacombs.

"There is blood not theirs, and a strange black fluid. It lies near dark runes burned in the wall. And there is a sense of deep darkness there, I cannot fathom. It is foul and corrupt."

"My young Acolyte has a vivid imagination," the priest stammered. He himself had not felt the darkness his acolyte talked of, and it galled him as much as it frightened him that he was not as adept in the Arts as his pupil. "Workers who found the bodies may have placed them such. And the runes could easily predate this Temple."

A murmur of assent rumbled through the Assembly.

"Are you all blind?" asked Adon in frustration. "Before you is evidence of Oran's involvement. They were trying to open a Gate, or did. I pray to Tarn they did not succeed.

"We all have seen the signs of Power in the Dead City, faintly perceived through the aether. The Cult of Oran did gain acceptance in the courts of the Conclaveum, and I suspect among these three from Ord, as well."

A silence fell over the hall, deathly still. The only sound was that of rain pattering on the crystal dome above them. Adon plowed on.

"We turn a blind eye because we believe we are infallible but we can no longer deny the truth. The runes were of a form used by Iss. The three were meant as sacrifice and the placement of the heads to thwart Salvation."

"Supposition!" his mentor countered, frowning. It was interjected, clearly, to break his junior's stride. Adon looked at him in wonder, not comprehending why the man would want so desperately to hide what was clearly the truth.

"Are you all fools?!" Adon shouted and leveled a pointed finger at the assembly. The group as a whole suddenly erupted in angry argument and protest. Gesticulating and red-faced, the crowd was obviously incensed at his words. Adon shook his head in bafflement, finally turning toward the dais as the low voice of the Preceptor commanded his attention.

"Silence," he said softly. Then louder: "SILENCE!"

The cacophony of the assembly died down to hurried whispers, echoing through the vaulted space.

"I have heard enough," the Preceptor stood and smoothed his robe. He clasped his hands behind his back and looked toward the crystal dome of the temple. Rain now drummed upon the interlaced panes and covered the restless voices with its soft susurration. A peal of thunder broke his momentary pause and he surveyed the assembly, a grim smile upon his face.

"You see the danger don't you?" He started, and Adon felt a momentary relief that was soon dispelled. "I agree that Oran is involved here... insofar as he can create flights of fancy in a young mind."

Adon was about to retort but the Preceptor held up a silencing hand. "No, Adon. You have gone too far. Your mentor should have reined you in long ago. You forget your place: it is no longer of the Clave, but of the Temple. You know very little of these things, and this knowledge only comes with time. Perhaps in ten or so years you will see the folly of your ways --"

"Folly! How can you speak of folly, when you yourself see not the peril? The Temple itself is in jeopardy and you, in your blindness, do not see these signs." Adon looked imploringly into the crowd of the assembled, but they all stared blankly, some in shock, some waiting for further confrontation like spectators at theatre.

The Preceptor shook his head sadly. He looked to the priests and acolytes and then skyward to the dome as lightening flashed above. "I pray to Tarn that wisdom will fall upon you. I --"

A sudden clap of thunder exploded so loudly above them that it drowned out the rest of his words. As the booming echoes faded, there was a resounding pop and a sharp crack. All eyes turned upward to the crystalline dome. The air was thick with ozone and suddenly a dark fissure appeared in the dome, spreading quickly as rain pelted down on it, and then through it. Instinctively, Adon backed away from the center of the room, toward the entrance in the rear of the chamber. A few acolytes did the same, but the majority of the assemblage stared upward, as if frozen in mindless anticipation. It was though they were in a state of rapture; even Adon's eyes seemed riveted above. The Preceptor's quizzical gaze locked on the dome.

Adon shook his head to clear it. It was if some spell had tried to take hold of him, clouding his mind. He quickly motioned the acolytes out through the doors. He looked over his shoulder into the forum just as a tinkling cacophony of sound shattered the air behind him.

Sword-sized shards of broken crystal rained down upon the upward-gazing assembly. Adon could only stare in shock as the shrapnel speared down, impaling the majority of those standing motionless below. The room filled with a fine red mist of arterial blood, returning the hapless survivors to their senses. They cried out in despair, but soon their voices were overwhelmed by a hellish screeching that rose in pitch until Adon doubled over in agony. He felt a tugging on his arm as one of the acolytes sought to pull him further out of the forum, and it took all the strength he could muster to struggle the few feet over the threshold and not vomit. He began to close the doors behind him when he saw the creature descend on leathery wing in a coalescence of malignancy; it drifted down to where the Preceptor stood frozen amid the slowly-settling bloody mist.

Adon, watched in horror as the creature of Oran descended into the Sanctuary in front of the preceptor. Hellish Frost of Oran emanated outward, the mist of blood freezing and falling like garnet snow, then was buried by a white rime that enveloped everything. As he closed the door and ran to escape with the other acolytes, the slaughter began in earnest.

They ran, their breath misting in the newly entered cold. Adon led them down the winding stair and into a side chamber; he knew of only one possible way to escape. At the end of the hallway there was a small door that led to the back of the winery; behind the large casks of wine.

The creature's bestial scream howled through the catacombs of the Sequestery. Darkness engulfed them, as they felt their way past storage casks. That noise of scraping and oblivion, the sound of the water crackling into ice followed them. Adon shuddered; he knew there was an even chance that he led the four novices to their deaths as much as away.

He scraped his head on the low ceiling, sweat chilled by the cool dryness of the chamber. There was a grate here, rusted and loose from the chamber wall. He grabbed the novices one by one and shoved them toward it. Steel scraped on stone as they wrenched the grate from its rotting bolts, and there was a dull ring of metal as it fell to the floor. The sound of slithering and scales and gnashing of bones grew louder in the distance, but at last, the fourth novice was through, and Adon soon followed.

Adon knew the peril they were in, not just for their lives, but for their immortal souls. Now he prayed silently to Tarn as he pulled himself through the duct and along the mold-encrusted stones. He heard the shallow breathing ahead of him and knew that his charges were very close to panic. Still, in low tones, he urged them on. Somewhere behind, the sound of pursuit by what could only be a Deathwing had ceased. He shook his head and felt the sweat fall again from his skin. He pushed hard to keep the dark thoughts at bay, especially images of the winged death in the Temple and the Preceptor eviscerated, or worse, in the Sanctuary.

He had warned them, he had warned them. He reflected, sadly, that even in the end the Preceptor had been unbelieving, even as the Deathwing had sundered the man's flesh. Not so holy as to stop a Daemon came the bitter thought, and your much-vaunted "years" gave you no wisdom to foresee this. Adon's luck, or was it Tarn's gift, had been with him long enough to allow him escape from the massacre. And here they were, crawling through the tunnels beneath the winery.

Ahead, the novices had stopped and he saw a faint glow of red. What was this? He now could make out the faces of the four. Marella, she was the first. Then Jiyn, gods but he looked scared in the crimson light. Tabit and Frey stood silently shivering, they were the youngest, just boys really.

Adon squeezed ahead of them and looked out through the grate, feeling Marella's fear as he pressed against her. She touched his hand a moment, seeking comfort, and he turned his green eyes to her, somehow trying to convey a bit of strength. She smiled weakly and he was glad for that. Even through the dirt and sweat, she was a beautiful woman, and her attempt at bravery gave him a moment's courage. He looked through the grate and up at the Temple. They were at the tunnel's end, just outside the courtyard of the Sequestery.

He shoved hard at the grate and it came loose, even more easily than the other one had. Carefully he lowered it to the earth, and as he was about to squeeze through to the ground he heard Tabit and Frey scream. He looked down sharply, urging the aether to enhance his vision. He saw a snakelike tentacle wrap around the boys; then just as quickly they were pulled from his Vision.

"Daemon!" he hissed. Jiyn's scream fell short, strangled in mid-cry. Adon flung himself out of the tunnel, pulling Marella through as something, it, grabbed her ankles. He pulled her arms, anchoring his feet against the wall. Marella gasped in pain, her face turning red with the effort. Somewhere in the distance, Adon heard the rustling wings.

His muscles strained and he gasped; the air was breathtakingly cold and heavy with the fetid stench of Oran. He saw the skin on Marella's calves turn white. He looked into her eyes and saw a look of profound loss...and then she let go.

"No!" he shouted as she was pulled from his sight, and a low rumble of laughter more evil than he could imagine threatened to edge out all sanity. For a moment, he too was frozen, then he ran, blindly for a time, somehow managing to free himself at last from the Sequestery grounds and from what had become of Tarn Hold.

He ran, and a dark mocking cry followed him.