For all my amazing fans…
Here is a snippet of Storm of Tears, the third novel in my epic fantasy series!
Bishriarch Rwiistrau chirped in relief as she was roused from sleep by a commotion outside her room. She ruffled her brown feathers as she stretched up from her nest. The new leader of the Church of Riasruo, elected after the tragic death of Swuiuprii IV in the wake of the Cyclone attack upon Ianwoa, shook her head, struggling to banish the nightmare.
It was a familiar one, plaguing her for the last month. It always began the same: the Cyclone rising over the edge of Ulanii, threatening the great city and the heart of Riasruo’s church in the skies. Its winds roared, hungry for the deaths of every hen and drake. The Stormriders glinted in the midst of the angry clouds, galloping on their steeds, thirsting for blood.
“You cannot disturb her,” screeched the normally level-headed Praiocwii, the young acolyte who served Rwiistrau. “She is sleeping. It can wait until morning.”
The door crashed open.
Rwiistrau squawked in surprise, her wings fluttering. She wore only a loose nightgown over her feathered body. Her scaly feet clutched at the shredded wool of her nest as she rose to her full height. Captain Shzuugz sze Tezl filled her doorway.
The hulking, female Ethinski cared little for modesty. She, like the other Tezlian guards, wore only a simple loincloth of white over her crimson scales. The lizardwoman squeezed through the door before striding across the room in three long steps. Even the shortest Ethinski Gezitziz towered over a Luastrian.
And Shzuugz was hardly short.
Her black tongue flicked out as she knelt before the Bishriarch. This merely brought the Gezitziz down to Rwiistrau’s eye level. Her tongue darted out again, the end forked while the dead, reptilian eyes stared into Rwiistrau’s.
“What is it, Captain?” asked Rwiistrau. “What news is so urgent to disturb my sleep?”
“The Book was opened. Archbishopress Uarioa sang a Song. After an hour, my guards peered inside. They found only her vestments.”
Rwiistrau’s gizzard clenched and writhed about her stones. What Song did she sing? What has Uarioa done?
The Book of Iiwroa was precious. The truths it contained needed to be protected and guarded. None outside the Synod of the Faithful, the body of archbishopresses who advised Rwiistrau, could know its contents.
“Did your guards touch the book?” Rwiistrau tensed, feeling her office’s weight.
If someone uninitiated had read the secrets, they had to die. The entire foundation of life in the skies would be shattered if the truth came out. It was a monstrous crime the Dawn Empresses and their successors, the Church of Riasruo, committed.
“None. They only stuck their heads into the room and saw she’d vanished.” Shzuugz’s tongue flicked. “I ordered the pair to be confined to their quarters. They have not spoken of what transpired to anyone but me.”
“Good,” Rwiistrau clucked. Annoyance at Uarioa tightened her gizzard. “Convene the Synod.”
“Your Radiance,” nodded Shzuugz before she rose.
“Praiocwii. My robe.”
The acolyte assisted Rwiistrau into the pure, white robes of the Bishriarch. The soft silk rasped on Rwiistrau’s dull-brown feathers. Her distal feathers, nimble like a human’s digits, adjusted how the robe rested on her shoulders. Praiocwii fetched the crown carved from yellow cedar, a poor imitation of the Crown of the Dawn lost so long ago.
Dressed, Rwiistrau swept through the slumbering halls of the Grand Temple of Riasruo. It was an open structure; ruddy columns carved like flames supported the ceiling. Mosaics of red, orange, and yellow covered the floors and walls. To Rwiistrau, she strode through stylized fire, the surface of Riasruo’s sun.
The chill of the autumn night robbed her of the illusion.
A pair of Tezlian guards, standing silent, opened the doors to the Synod. Inside, a table stood at the center made of yellow sandstone surrounded by fifteen perches. Rwiistrau’s talons clicked on the red sandstone floor.
Sitting on the table was the Book. Open.
She rushed forward. What did Uarioa do? Her eyes read the page. “The Song of Embodiment . . . ?” Rwiistrau’s gizzard sank. “What madness possessed you to do this, Uarioa?”
“Why have you roused me from sleep, Bishriarch?” demanded Archbishopress Saiuvii, the head of the Canton of Vion. “Has the Empire invaded the Autonomy? It was a mistake to send Puoupyi and lend legitimacy to the emperor’s insanity.”
Rwiistrau did not bother rebuking the insolent Saiuvii. She stared at her rival, the one voice who had dissented her elevation, and said, “Uarioa performed the Song of Embodiment.”
“Lanii’s golden feathers! Has her disease driven her to madness?”
Rwiistrau’s head cocked. “Disease?”
“She suffered from the mottling. It had progressed far. She had, perhaps, a month before it attacked her wings.”
Rwiistrau clucked her beak in a moment of sympathy. Nothing was worse to the bird-like Luastria than losing their feathers. The mottling had no cure. Once the disease reached the wings and attacked the distal feathers, a Luastria would lose the ability to do most day-to-day activities.
“So she sought to escape her mortality by incarnating as the Golden Daughter?” Incredulity echoed in Rwiistrau’s voice. “It is madness. She thinks herself worthy to be a living goddess? The book warns against following in Iiwroa’s wake. We do not need a ‘goddess’ to lead us.”
Saiuvii chirped in amusement. “You mean, you don’t want to bend your stiff neck before Uarioa when she hatches from the golden egg.”
“Exactly,” clucked Rwiistrau. “Two thousand years of empresses, bishriarchs, and archbishopresses have handled Iiwroa’s book. None were insane enough to do this.”
“Well, it is too late to stop it.” Saiuvii mounted her perch. “What shall we do about it?”
“Embrace it.” Rwiistrau’s gizzard almost ejected its stone. “The Church must spread the glorious news. Riasruo has seen her children’s plight.” She spoke the lies with practiced ease. “She knows the Cyclones grow ever more frequent, so She has sent Her golden daughter. Lanii shall return in two cycles of the blue moon.”
“Sixty-four days,” agreed Saiuvii, the time it would take for the Song to create Uarioa’s new body. “Yet more lies we must tell.”
“Will you argue against me?”
Saiuvii ruffled all her feathers. “It would split the Church not to support Riasruo’s daughter.”
The others filed in, squawking in annoyance. None continued when they learned of Uarioa’s madness. The vote was taken. All eleven archbishopresses present stood with Rwiistrau. The Church’s prophecy would sail on every ship that left Ianwoa, to be carried to every skyland. All the faithful would rejoice.
Another tarnished lie, gilded in pure gold, would stand as a beacon of hope.
Uarioa’s spirit floated through the Void.
The archbishopress screeched in rage. Or, at least, she thought she screeched. She no longer had a body. Her soul tumbled through the darkness, drifting farther and farther from her flesh hijacked by the Goddess.
“You tricked me!” Uarioa raged, her voice a piercing tweet. The Luastrian soul twisted in the Void. “You stole my body! I trusted you!”
The Goddess had stolen Uarioa’s chance for rebirth. The Book of Iiwroa, the tome that had guided first the Dawn Empresses and later the Church of Riasruo, had deceived Uarioa. She’d thought herself enlightened after reading its “truths.”
Was it all lies? Or had Iiwroa only written the truth as she knew? She was tricked, too. Why did she ever trust Her? Why did I?
Uarioa wept. The Void spun about her. Featureless black. Her new eternity: drifting through the space between life and death.
To save the skies, Ary must die!
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