Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Eternal Autumn

The Eternal Autumn

Available on Kindle, Kobo, and Nook

I really like travel stories, especially through classic fantasy settings like in The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring trilogy or a science fiction/paranormal setting like in the Dark Tower series. Essentially, in the first book of this series (Divine Touched) everyone hung out in Griffon's Rock for the most part, exploring the city and dealing with everything more or less within sight of the city walls. In The Eternal Autumn everyone has hit the road!

The cover, as seen above, features the lovely, blue-eyed assassin Calista, but she's not alone in the traveling adventures. Harper, Athol, Wizardly Willard, Brandinne, and Sofea from the first book all return. New characters are added along the way, including the daughter born of two women, gifted by three goddesses. In writing this book, I wanted Vaelandria itself to become a character as the reader travels the Last Road with Sofea and explores the Valley of the Hallowed Harvest with Harper and Calista. As with the first book, I tried to balance adventure, action, humor, and romance in the largest project I've written to date.

Enjoy the prologue as a sample below, and meet up with old friends as you return to Vaelandria in the troubled times of the Eternal Autumn!

Synopsis

Time has frozen. The leaves of autumn refuse to fall, frost clings to the ground, and the last harvest took place more than a year ago. Vaelandria is gripped by the Eternal Autumn, and some say it is the end of days. Starvation and madness spread across the countryside even as corpses climb from their graves, goblins raze villages, witches fly through the darkest nights, and ghosts rise to haunt the living.

As many have come to believe the child of three Goddesses is the source of the Eternal Autumn, Calista and Harper struggle to protect their fated daughter from unseen enemies. They flee to the Valley of the Hallowed Harvest where the Eternal Autumn is celebrated as a holy sign only to find the citizens of the valley are every bit as dangerous as those they thought to escape.

In the war torn north, the Dagger Falls Company is hired to discover the source of the Eternal Autumn and hopefully end it. Led by Sofea, the former North Wind Valkyrie, the company takes to the road in hopes of gleaning answers from the Thief Queen of Griffon’s Rock, the mystical Ogre of the orchards, and a long-dead dragon. Unlikely aid for their impossible task comes from an escaped Cyclops bear, a flirtatious Brownie bandit, and a sarcastic Witch of the Nightshade Coven.

Amid the insanity sown by the Eternal Autumn, assassins skulk through the night, mask-wearing cultists roam the forests, and divine powers tear at the very fabric of reality. While the world decays under the sinister beauty of the Eternal Autumn, Calista and Harper slowly unravel the mystery to find frozen time is a harbinger of something far worse.




Prologue

The Eternal Autumn began in Vaelandria on the day the child of three Goddesses was born. And the world will burn before her, as the prophecy went.
The doula, midwives, and priestesses all agreed that Calista would not give birth until the first month of winter. Calista was growing increasingly unhappy with the lot of them. There were women who enjoyed pregnancy, who felt right, natural, beautiful, transcendent, comfortable, and Calista came to hate these women too. Calista’s personal doula, a dignified matron of sixty years from Harper’s home fishing village, stated that Calista might have more than a month left as first children were often late. Calista nearly slapped the woman at the mention of ‘first children.’ The daughter she was carrying was to be her only child—any future children their Goddesses planned to accost them with would have to be carried by Harper.
Pregnancy was a blight for Calista. She was sick for months at the outset. Allegedly, the stomach upset was to focus mainly on the dawn hours, taper off in the day, and evaporate entirely after the first few months. Calista’s pregnancy involved stomach disquiet throughout, anchored to no particular time of day. Her ankles were swollen. Her back ached. Her feet were a constant source of discomfort. She couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time. The baby, her beloved, bedeviling daughter of divine origin, kicked her almost constantly. She had to pee every ten breaths it would seem. Her moods swung like a pendulum batted by a cat to the point where she didn’t know what she would be feeling from one moment to the next, but she knew she would feel it with an intensity completely inappropriate to the situation even if the emotion matched, which it seldom did. All the women surrounding her who had collected their knowledge of childbirth over decades of experience said it was one of the toughest pregnancies they’d seen.
Calista walked the cold, narrow hallways of the keep they were staying at on the furthest eastern edge of the duchy of Ovid. She was wrapped in a giant set of wool and satin robes colored royal blue and black. Her feet were left bare to absorb a soothing chill from the stones she walked upon. More than the pain, discomfort, and dawn stomach illnesses, which had only recently subsided, she was most irritated that her body no longer did as she commanded. Once upon a time, she was fast of hand, swift of foot, strong, agile, and able to do back flips while fighting. Now she struggled to simply walk down the hall without holding her back with one hand and her protruding belly with the other.
Harper meant well throughout and fawned over Calista with a devotion that was increasingly irritating. Since most things irritated Calista as of late, she’d banished Harper from the keep for the day along with all the entourage who came from the four corners of Vaelandria to attend upon the unborn fated child. Calista loved Harper, but she wished truly that her Goddess had chosen the Sword Maiden to carry the child rather than her. Calista expected Harper’s natural sweetness and caring to blossom, and it had, but she hadn’t expected the amorousness that accompanied it. Harper was tender, loving, and took remarkable care of Calista during her pregnancy, but seeing her beloved wife heavy with child also sparked a nearly insatiable lust in the Sword Maiden. Calista enjoyed the romantic wishes of her wife at first, especially since she felt like a waddling, griping, mess most of the time and greatly desired anyone telling her she wasn’t actually the waddling, griping, mess she thought she was. After a time, Calista’s own sexual needs grew, as was common during phases of pregnancy, she was told, until she and Harper did little more than make love. With around three weeks until her due date, Calista was still amorously inclined and Harper seemed even more so, but Calista simply couldn’t stand anything anymore. Warm baths were interrupted by the need to pee. Sexual contact was often spoiled by the distraction of her child kicking and rolling about in off-putting ways. Even the foot massages Harper gave weren’t tolerable anymore as Calista couldn’t find a comfortable position to sit in long enough to truly savor them. She dreamed of a time when the child would be out of her, and she could turn her body back into what it was before.
Her constant inner monologue of desiring the end of her accursed pregnancy was interrupted by the faint scent of something old and familiar. She was still an assassin trained in the lowlands and any assassin from the south could identify the faint aroma of the systemic poison known as Belly Rot. It was a sickeningly sweet fragrance like a rotting corpse, but with a peculiar undertone of cinnamon. The stone keep they inhabited on loan from a lesser noble smelled of wet stones, rain, and moldering cloth most of the time. The intrusion of Belly Rot was subtle, yet well within Calista’s powers of perception.
Calista froze and listened. As if to follow her mother’s lead, the baby within her belly ceased her kicking to listen as well. Strangled breathing trying to pass through a mangled nasal passage sounded from around the corner ahead. Calista took a soft step back and then another. She pressed her back to the wall, glanced down the corridor in the direction she’d just come, finding it dimly lit by the gray light filtering in through the arrow slit windows, but otherwise empty. She was unarmed and no longer able to run or fight as she once did. She regretted banishing Harper and everyone attending on her from the keep. Calista was several stealthy steps back down the hall before the ambusher apparently realized she wasn’t completing the circuit to the window that she’d been walking most of the morning. The assassin stepped around the corner, apparently a little surprised to find Calista staring at him even while she was sneaking in the other direction.
The assassin was tall, powerfully built, and wrapped in the muffling black wool clothing common to many orders of hired killers. His face was obscured by a black shroud. A large knife, coated in soot and poison, rested casually in his left hand.
Calista turned and ran for the end of the hall. She couldn’t hear the assassin give chase above the sound of her own robes swishing and her bare feet slapping against the stones, but she didn’t doubt for a second that he was behind her and closing fast. She cursed how slow she was and how awkward her gait had become. Before turning the corner, she snatched the lone torch from the sconce at the darkened end of the hallway. She tucked into a slide on her side, gripped the edge of the wall to pull herself around the turn, and pointed her feet at knee level. Her suspicions were immediately confirmed when her foot struck the leg of another assassin waiting around the corner. The man’s knee buckled backward under her attack, and he crumpled sideways into the wall. She sprung to her feet as sprightly as an almost nine-month pregnant woman could manage, and swung the torch at the man’s face. The burning wood and pitch made perfect contact with his black shroud at what turned out to be eye level. The man shrieked, gripped his face, and began wailing about being blinded.
She scooped up the knife the assassin dropped and began running again. The second man was an insurance policy, smaller and likely less skilled than the one still chasing her. Were she still herself, she would have used the knife she’d collected to gut the much larger assassin on her heels; pregnant and clumsy as she was, she chose fleeing.
Calista ducked into a room rather than continuing on to the next corner. No sooner was she across the threshold than a sharp, stabbing pain shot through her from groin to sternum. The harbinger pain wasn’t precisely like a knife wound, but she could see the similarities. Her labor was upon her and at the worst possible time.
“Curse you, you little shit, not now,” Calista hissed at her unborn daughter.
She collected herself after the pain subsided and ran for the window. The outer windows were arrow slits meant to defend the keep while the inner windows were more provincial glass and large enough to let in an ample amount of light as they looked in on a well fortified courtyard. She pushed open the window and hauled herself up to the sill even as the large assassin warily stepped into the room.
There was a narrow ledge running around the outside wall, no more than a couple hand-widths of stonework made slick from autumn rain. Before she was heavy with a Goddess inflicted child, Calista would have looked upon the ledge as being miles wide and more than enough to run across. In her current state, the slippery stone ledge that wasn’t long enough to accommodate her entire foot from heel to toe when placed from wall to edge, looked entirely too narrow to even stand upon. She willed herself out the window onto the ledge and pressed her back against the wall.
She was a solid dozen steps down the ledge when the next labor pain shot through her. When it became a matter of keeping her knife or keeping her grip on the wall, she relinquished the assassin’s weapon to hold on to the inner face of the keep. The blade clattered into the courtyard, but she blessedly didn’t follow it.
“You do realize if I die, you’re likely to die with me,” Calista growled at her unborn daughter.
A quick glance back revealed the assassin had already crawled onto the ledge and was following her at a pace quicker than she thought such a large man could manage. The assassin had to be divine touched. He wouldn’t have been sent otherwise, and he certainly wouldn’t have been as cavalier about killing her if he didn’t have a deity’s blessing in the world. Even if he were just a standard assassin, she would have struggled against him since her own stores of power were completely depleted as she hadn’t killed anyone since becoming pregnant.
She continued on along the ledge and around the corner. Getting her pregnant body around the outside curve of the building was enormously difficult and she didn’t want to admit, even to herself, how close she came to falling. Her balance was all off. Her center of gravity was way out in front of where it should be, and her spine wasn’t nearly as spry.
There was one window left before she rounded to the outside of the tower where there would only be arrow slits. The large man pursuing her struggled around the corner that nearly knocked her from the tower’s ledge, though not nearly as badly as she had. Her head start was spent, and she was quickly running out of options.
Before she could duck into the window, a brief waft of burned flesh, hair, and clothing carried on the wind to her. She plunged a hand into the window and pulled hard at what she found. The backup assassin she thought she’d blinded came stumbling toward the window and fell out with her aid. She ducked into the window, stumbling about in the weaving room while trying to right the wobbly ship that was her body. She barked her leg against a spinning wheel and cursed loudly. The other assassin died on the stones of the courtyard below. She felt a sudden rush of his life energy flowing to her.
The large assassin filled the window, knife not yet at the ready. She gathered the scant scraps of power she’d just received and put them behind a single strike. A labor pain shot through her mid punch, but she only let the agony fuel her attack further. The assassin braced to take the hit, clearly not expecting the added force of a Goddess’s might behind it. Her knuckles made solid contact with the bridge of his nose. The bone shattered, his neck snapped backward, and the assassin was flung from the window as if fired from a catapult.
She flexed her sore hand and began her slow, painful waddle out of the room. She’d have to search their bodies in the courtyard to find out who they were—that was the only major flaw in her plan of survival: making her way down the narrow stairwell while in the midst of labor. By the time she reached the bottom floor of the keep’s tower, she was breathing hard, gritting her teeth through every fresh grind of pain through her body, and ready to kill a few more people to vent her frustration. Her daughter was a month early and charging hard to be born far faster than expected.
Rain fell in earnest by the time she stepped into the gray courtyard. She made it several steps toward the crumpled body of the first assassin she’d pulled out of the window. Hoof beats interrupted her focus. Riders were coming toward the keep’s open gates, although they didn’t sound entirely like horses. She had the life force of the second assassin she’d killed at the ready, but from the increasing intensity of the thundering riders she assumed the force was far too formidable for her to fight. Instead, she began looking for a place to hide in the largely empty courtyard.
A labor pain ceased any further thoughts of hiding. She ended up facing the approaching riders doubled over, cursing the Goddess and her unborn child. A familiar voice bellowed across the keep as he rode through the open gates on a mighty draft horse. Calista looked up to find Athol and Caleb leading a group of a dozen Sylvan riders upon dire elk.
“What in the name of the pantheon are you doing out in the rain?” Athol demanded, reining in his horse next to the body of one of the assassins she’d killed.
The Sylvan riders spread out into the keep, never dismounting their dire elk. They were of middling height, muscular, and all had hair the color of autumn leaves in golds, reds, oranges, and browns. Their otherworldly green eyes glowed faintly in the gloom of the overcast day. Calista knew the Sylvans’ hair changed with the season, becoming black or white in the winter, pale green in the spring, dark green in the summer, and then every shade of autumn leaf in the fall. The deeper woods Sylvans’ skin also changed throughout the year to match the forest around them. The riders in the keep looked to be of a tribe from the darkest boreal forests in the northeast.
Athol rushed over to help her stand fully. She accepted his hand and powerful arm around her waist. They walked toward the household entrance on the side of the castle, passing by the assassin body in the courtyard.
“You killed a Dark Stalker while in the midst of labor pains?” Athol asked. “It would seem the rumors of pregnancy difficulties are overblown if you managed such a feat.”
Calista gripped his massive hand tightly as the next wave of contractions overtook her. She bent his thick thumb back, knocking him to his knees at her side. “Let me share the pain I’m enduring, and you tell me how bad it is,” Calista snarled.
“I’ll take your word for it if you allow me to keep my thumb,” Athol complained.
“This is the mother of the prophesized daughter?” one of the Sylvan riders asked of Caleb.
“One of them,” the Ranger replied. “The other mother is the one with the Sylvan blood.”
“Speaking of, where is Harper?” Athol asked after Calista relinquished her death-grip on his thumb.
“I sent her away to gain a moment’s peace,” Calista said.
“We will remain in the courtyard until she returns,” the Sylvan rider said.
“I’ll remain outside as well,” Caleb said.
“Perhaps I should too then,” Athol agreed.
“You’ll all come inside or there will be several more dead bodies in the courtyard to worry my wife upon her return.” Calista was pregnant, irritated, a little frightened about a second squad of assassins coming when she was even further into her labor, and she wasn’t remotely in the mood to tolerate male fear of the birthing process.
“Have you thought of a name for her yet?” Athol asked.
“Pain-in-the-ass,” Calista replied.
“That was my nickname as a child,” Athol said.
“Bianca then.”
 

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