As I promised, at 50 combined Amazon reviews of the Elder Empire books, I would write an original scene set after City of Light.
But it took me a while to decide what scene I wanted to write.
I have a lot of ideas for what happens after CoL, so I had plenty of options, but eventually I decided on something that I thought a number of you wanted: a tie-in to Valin and his founding of Valinhall.
So here's a brief scene--it's still a little rough, as all these blog scenes are, but I think you'll enjoy it.
And thanks for fifty reviews!
(Hit the jump to read the scene)
When Simon opened the graveyard door, the room was dark.
Normally, the ceiling crawled with a canopy of bright green lightning, which shone like flickering emerald sunlight. Today, the room’s man-made sky was quiet. Dim. The top half of the room shrouded in shadows rather than bathed in light.
But, strangely, he could still see.
The graveyard should have been as dark as a cave in the heart of the earth, absolutely black except for the light spilling in from the open door. It wasn’t. He could see the blocky outlines of low gravestones crouching in rows nearby, half-crumbled pillars standing sentry at the room’s borders.
There were other rooms in Valinhall that stayed bright with no apparent source, but this wasn’t one of them. Something was wrong.
What stopped the lightning? he asked his doll.
Caela whispered a response, but he couldn’t make it out. She was too far away, back in his room, sitting on her shelf, instead of tucked under his arm. He’d stopped carrying her around in the House, which now struck him as a mistake. Simon had started to assume that he was safe in this Territory. That he could relax.
Relaxing in Valinhall was a good way to die.
Simon caught the closing door on the palm of his hand, propping it open. Practically every new room in this House contained some lethal surprise, and he wasn’t about to walk into one blind. Especially not this one.
Then he heard a sound. A sharp ring of metal on stone, cutting through the silence in a rhythm, like someone tapping out a heartbeat. Ting…ting…ting.
Simon froze, waiting. He’d come here to talk. Maybe he could still get his wish.
But he wasn’t taking another step into the graveyard.
Seconds later, his eyes adjusted enough that he could make out another silhouette: a man, tall and lanky, sitting on the back of a headstone. He held a sword in his right hand, deliberately twisting it so that the blade caught the light and flashed like a mirror. With a flick of his wrist, he tapped the sword against the neighboring stone, ringing like a steel bell.
“Should I come back later?” Simon asked. He had to accept a certain level of unnerving behavior from the man who had taken a sword through the chest and come back to life in an otherworldly graveyard, but this was strange even for Valin. He was obviously building up to some sort of demonstration.
As a rule, Simon did not enjoy demonstrations.
“Do you know what a Territory is?” Valin asked. Simon couldn’t see his face, but the man’s tone was tight. Controlled.
And he didn’t stop tapping.
“I think I’ll just come back later,” Simon responded. He knew the first line of a prepared speech when he heard one, and as far as he was concerned, Valin could deliver it to an empty room.
“A Territory is the severed limb of a dead world,” Valin went on. Simon debated closing the door. “A healthy world dies, fades, floats away. It dissolves into pieces, most of which also wane away. But some small pieces—a tower, a forest, a house—hold tight. They drift across an infinite void until they tack themselves to a healthy world, a world such as ours, like ticks on the back of a dog.”
“Why is it so dark in here?” Simon asked. He was never comfortable around Valin, but the man was acting even more menacing than normal. Maybe if he’d left a light burning.
Valin tapped his sword against the stone. Ting.
“Territories are discovered when they latch onto our world. Under certain circumstances, a natural Gate opens. Eventually, someone walks through that Gate, binding their Territory to us. Scholars expect that every Territory was founded in such a way.”
The guardian of the graveyard drove his blade into the soil at his feet, leaning forward into the light spilling from the rain garden. The images of dark chains marked his head, his neck, his bare chest.
“Every Territory except one,” Valin said.
With the tapping gone, the silence was resounding.
Simon thought of a few responses: playing along with Valin’s story in the hopes of drawing it along faster, saying something irrelevant to cut the tension, even simply leaving. But he couldn’t decide, so in the end, he said nothing.
Valin clasped his hands together tightly, as though he wished he were gripping a sword. “I found my way through. I floated in the void. I seized pieces of a dying world, stitched them together, and brought them back to the world with nothing more than long years and the sheer force of my will.”
He tilted his head, looking around the room and into the shadows. “Valinhall is more than the source of my power. It’s my home. My safe haven. The raft that saved my life. The one shield that protected me from Damasca.”
A premonition struck Simon, and he took a step back.
“I understand you promised Valinhall to someone.” Valin didn’t meet Simon’s eyes, and his clenched hands trembled. “To use the power of this Territory to protect and serve someone. Who was it, Simon? Who owns my Territory?”
Simon took another step back, until he stood with both feet in the grass of the rain garden, rather than the soil of the graveyard. His heart pounded, ready for action, and he kept his mind prepared to call steel at a second’s notice.
“No one owns it,” Simon said.
Valin smacked a hand into a headstone. “Who was it?” he snarled.
Simon answered only reluctantly. “The Queen of Damasca.”
Valin leaned back, face in shadows again. “If you knew anything about Damasca, anything at all, you’d have cut her throat instead of guarding her. Valinhall’s power comes from its neutrality, you stupid child. Now you’ve given it over to the Queen? To Ragnarus? Just another weapon on the walls of the Crimson Vault?”
“We’re the only ones who can stop the Incarnations,” Simon said. He kept his voice firm. He found it hard to stand up to Valin about anything, but about this one issue, he held no doubts. “We’re protecting innocent people, not one country.”
“Incarnations?” Valin asked, incredulous. “Incarnations are natural disasters. They appear, they run their course, they go away. Selling Valinhall to Damasca just to stop the Incarnations is cutting your head off to avoid a headache. You’re a stupid, ignorant, wailing infant, and I don’t understand why the Eldest lets you breathe.”
That was enough. Valin obviously wasn’t interested in a conversation.
“I came here to ask for your help,” Simon said. “I need to understand how Incarnation works, if I’m going to stop them. And Indirial isn’t…cooperating.” He had only stopped trying to kill Simon when Indirial’s daughter intervened. “If you won’t help me, I’ll go to someone else.”
He started to ease the door shut, but stopped when a thought struck him.
“And I haven’t sold Valinhall. I promised to help Damasca protect people, nothing more. They don’t own us.”
He let the door shut and turned around, back to the rain garden.
Where the light winked out.
Simon ducked instantly, scooping up Mithra by the hilt. He’d kept the blade sitting on the floor next to him because it was too long to carry around, but he needed a weapon handy. You always did, in Valinhall.
As he hefted the sword, he called steel. Cold strength flooded his veins, and the seven-foot steel felt as light as a sheaf of wheat.
He strained his ears, listening for the threat he knew must be coming. For the first few seconds, he heard nothing. Then he caught something far more menacing than the tap of steel on stone: a man’s deep, half-crazed laughter.
From the room next door, Valin was laughing.
Hinges creaked, and something heavy brushed past Simon’s shoulder. He stepped back, bringing his sword up.
The door to the graveyard had swung open.
In the graveyard, green lightning flashed to life on the ceiling, bathing the headstones in emerald. Valin stood an inch from the doorway, outlined in green, looming over Simon.
Fueled by steel, Simon jumped back almost ten feet. When he landed, he leveled Mithra’s tip at Valin’s chest, pressing the razor-edged metal against the man’s skin.
Valin didn’t seem to care. “We still need to talk, Simon. You should understand where I’ve come from. What I’ve done. How I did it. What Damasca has done to me.”
He pushed Mithra aside. “Settle in, son of Kalman. It’s time for a story.”
All of it.
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