Reckoning (The Empyrean Chronicle)

BOOK: Reckoning (The Empyrean Chronicle)
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Reckoning
The Empyrean Chronicle

Book I

By Patrick Siana

Copyright © 2013 Patrick M. Siana

Published by author, 2013

All rights reserved under the International and
Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in
any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information
storage and retrieval systems, without the express permission in writing from
the author, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or
locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover design by Bias Design

Cover image by Christopher Scio

Map design by Bias Design

Map digital image by Modern Renaissance

Innumerable are the people that have contributed in some fashion to the
completion this book, but there are two people without whom this project never
would have leapt the gap from my imagination to the page – Kathleen O’Donnell
and Krista Siana.

Many others have
contributed to the creative process of this book, including Mathew Maul, Tim Bannock,
Nicky Molbury, Brian Ouellette and Barbara and Bob Siana.

Special thanks are
in order for Christopher Scio who created the cover with Krista’s design

Map

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Map

Prologue: Troubled Dreams

Chapter 1: An Unwelcome Proposal

Chapter 2: Duel

Chapter 3: The Woman in the Red Dress

Chapter 4: Waylaid

Chapter 5: Bishops, Queens, and Pawns

Chapter 6: Strange Awakenings

Chapter 7: Return to Mayfair Manor

Chapter 8: Palaver

Chapter 9: Bryn's Story

Chapter 10: Audiences

Chapter 11: Marshal Rising

Chapter 12: Night Terrors

Chapter 13: Battle Lines Drawn

Chapter 14: Leavetakings

Chapter 15: Night Caller

Chapter 16: Lucerne Palace

Chapter 17: Snake in the Grass

Chapter 18: The House That Shall Not
Be Named

Chapter 19: Signs and Portents

Chapter 20: Behind Closed Doors

Chapter 21: The Hartwood

Chapter 22: A Strange Encounter

Chapter 23: Calm Before the Storm

Chapter 24: Secret of the Dark
Covenant

Chapter 25: Shadow's Fall

Chapter 26: Unmasked

Chapter 27: The Man Without a Face

Chapter 28: Autumn's Prayer

Chapter 29: Escape

Chapter 30: Cursed

Chapter 31: Fevers

Chapter 32: Visitations

Chapter 33: Ghosts

Chapter 34: Fever's Break

Chapter 35: Spirit Duel

Chapter 36: Return to Peidra

Chapter 37: Unlikely Bedfellows

Chapter 38: Wytchwood

Chapter 39: Reckoning

Chapter 40: Bound

Epilogue: First Marshal

 

Prologue

Troubled Dreams

The King surveyed the iron-hulled barge and the
score of bedraggled men and women who stood barefoot upon its deck, defiant to
a man, bound in shackles wrought from true-steel, and with golden collars fast
about their throats. Wind whipped the King’s crimson cape about him, its satin
face gleaming with firelight cast from the half-dozen torches held aloft by the
six high lords of Galacia. The fluttering light turned back the twilight gloom
of dusk—the hour for binding black hearts in black fate.

“You are hereby exiled,” said the King. “You, who fell to
the dark hunger. You, whose hand is stained scarlet with your brothers’ blood. You,
final remnants of a once great House fallen into shadow for your addiction to
the black pestilence of the fell arts. With the Deep Arcanum I do bind thee and
bid that never again shall you set foot on the lands of your birth
!”

The King raised a hand and spoke the ancient words of
binding as he drew arcane sigils in the air with fingertips haloed with silver
fire. A shining, faceted sphere drawn in lines of golden light formed in the air
before him, its many planes lambent with fiery runes—one for which to bind each
of the twenty necromancers
.

With a gesture the spellform streaked toward the
assemblage, expanding to envelop them all, then burst in a paroxysm of golden
sparks, which rained upon the deck like molten ore. Lighting arced across the
captives’ golden collars, and at once they fell to their knees—all, save one
.

As the barge drifted into waters crimsoned by the dusking
sun, the dark Lord of the banished House threw back the hood of his cloak and fixed
black, baleful eyes upon his king. “Mark my words, Mathias King,” he cried, “we
will find a way to endure, through all the ages of this world if we must, and
then we shall sup our vengeance to our fill. We will break your geas and return
for Agia, for Galacia. We will come for your descendants and wipe every last
get of House Denar from creation. It will be as if you never existed at all. Mark
my words, Mathias King, we will have our vengeance!


The old wizard woke with a start. He shivered despite
the mid-summer heat as he swung his legs out of bed. The details of his dream had
already begun to dissolve as he grew aware of the familiar surroundings of his
chambers, but a pregnant dread stirred deep in his chest and the voice of the
Golden King reached across the centuries and echoed in the troubled recesses of
his mind.

There would be no more sleep for him this night.

He padded wearily to his desk and took out his writing
quill. Even now one of his agents rode hard to the south to chase the ghost of
a lead, though the Vanguard knew not what evil she, and Galacia, may yet be up
against. Still, it was high time he notify his brethren, those who had taken
the secret, sacred oath of remembrance, for he sensed the scions of the forgotten,
cursed seventh house had begun to stir and test their bonds.

No, thought the old wizard, as he set a shaking quill to
parchment, there would be no more sleep for him this night.

Chapter 1

An Unwelcome Proposal

Elias Duana sprung back from the four-foot arc of steel
that scythed at him from the shadows of the dimly lit barn. Sword turned leaden,
his arm muscles screamed in protest as he mustered a high-guard. His opponent
flashed him a lupine grin, then lunged.

Elias ran.

His retreat led him through a maze of white oak barrels,
past the delivery wagon, and up the barrel ramp which led to the second floor
and the narrow walkway that ran the inside perimeter of the rickhouse. The
swordsman, who had barred Elias’s escape by blocking the foot of the staircase,
took the shorter route and bounded up the stairs, leading with his rapier.

Elias caught his breath and his adversary’s blade at once,
then flicked out a reflexive counter. His opponent, whose sword seemed alive in
his hand and slippery as a serpent, brushed aside Elias’s hasty riposte even as
he pressed his relentless offense.

Elias’s heels hung precariously over the edge of the walkway
as he circled his foe in an attempt to gain advantage. Instead, he found
himself driven down the staircase on numbed legs and pinned against the
rickhouse wall. Thus cornered, Elias’s focus narrowed to a single task—parrying
his opponent’s whirring blade, which crept ever closer to landing a decisive,
final blow.

He sank into an awkward lunge against the wall to turn aside
a low thrust. The strike, however, proved a feint and forced Elias into a
clumsy sidestep. The swordsman, with a flick of his wrist, fluidly changed
course and delivered a deft backhand cut at his head. His heart stuttered as
the point of the sword swept a hair’s-breadth from his brow. With clenched
teeth and the strength born of desperation, Elias countered with a slanting
overhand stroke, making use of all the power his solid, thick frame could muster.

Elias felt a poke a hand’s-span above his belt, and his fencing
foil cut naught but air.

His opponent had dropped into an evasive lunge so deep that
it required him to place his free hand flat on the ground to maintain balance, ducking
Elias’s oncoming blade even as he extended his own sword in the match ending
thrust.

“You did well,” Padraic said as he straightened from his
acrobatic lunge.

Elias grunted and lowered into a crouch, resting his back
against the barn wall. “The hell I did.” He looked up at his father. “What was
that move? I’ve never seen you use it before.”

Padraic produced a case from his back pocket and withdrew a
couple of cigarettes. He lit them with a click of his flint and steel lighter
and then took a knee, offering one to his son. “It’s called the passata-sotto
gambit. I learned it from one of the old gentry, before you were born.”

“A fellow Marshal?”

Padraic shook his head and exhaled a blue plume of smoke,
which was illuminated by slants of light that sliced through the cracks in the
barn’s roof and walls. “I picked up that little trick from an exchange with a
duelist in Peidra.” He pointed to a fine scar on his cheek, which ran halfway
between his eye and ear. “She gave me this.”

“She?”

“Mmmhmn. Your mother.”

Elias coughed around his cigarette. “Mom? A duelist?” Elias
conjured an image of his mother—a feat that had become increasing difficult
over the years—noting her slight build and delicate boning. “You can’t be
serious.”

“Deadly. Your mother was many things, and, yes, she had
skill with a blade. She taught me the value of speed and grace over strength—a
lesson that has just been passed on to her son.”

The junior distiller offered his father a wry smile and the
two fell silent, each alone with their thoughts.

Elias took a final drag on his cigarette and ground it out
beneath the heel of his boot. His father rarely spoke of the past. Most of his
time spent in service to the crown and his life before returning to Knoll Creek
remained shrouded in mystery.

Elias exhaled slowly, savoring the sweet taste of the
tobacco and said, “Phinneas would not be pleased to learn you’re still
smoking.”

“Bah. Phinneas would do well to remember that he is my
friend first and my physician second.” Padraic rose and cocked his head to one
side, as if listening to something he alone could hear. “In any case, it’s usually
out of our hands when we are destined to be called home,” he said, and then,
brightening, added, “besides, I’m still hale enough to best you, son!”

Elias brandished his fencing foil. “Again?”

“Again,” Padraic said and, without further preamble,
attacked.

Elias turned his father’s opening, but only just. His arm
tingled up to the elbow, numb with the shock of impact. By the One God’s beard,
but his father was pushing him hard today. Elias parried and riposted, but
Padraic slid around the thrust, closing the distance between them.

A blur of motion attracted Elias’s eye from outside the barn
door. “Dad, someone’s riding up through the prairie,” he said, lowering his foil.

Padraic retorted with a snap from his elbow, which sent
Elias stumbling backward to avoid a blow that would have bloodied his brow, practice
sword or not. “You must...not...let yourself...become...distracted,” Padraic said
between cuts and thrusts as he continued to press the attack, punctuating his
final word with a rising slash that stymied Elias and struck him inches below
his breastbone.

“Dad!” cried Elias, who was unaccustomed to his father
fencing with such ferocity.

Padraic lowered his weapon with a sigh. “Elias, if you ever
find yourself forced to defend yourself, you must focus entirely on the task at
hand, and ignore all impertinent distraction.”

“If we suppose this to have been a real fight,” Elias said a
little hotly,” that rider could have been a threat that I needed to be aware
of.”

“While I have taught you to be ever aware of your
surroundings, the quicker you deal with the blade at your throat, the better
able you will be to deal with the one at your back. Awareness of a new element
will not help you in the least if you have a foot of steel in your guts.”

Elias exhaled a steadying breath and conceded the point with
a nod. “Point taken.” His father had once been renowned as one of the crown’s
finest swords—a fact the entire populace of Knoll Creek seemed all too aware of—and
he spoke from experience.

The two men made their way out of the rickhouse. “I may not
always be there to protect you,” Padraic said.

“Dad?” Elias wondered at his father’s sudden turn for the
somber, but his inquiry fell on deaf ears as the rider arrived, reining his
horse in sharply and bringing his canter to a skidding stop. Elias looked up at
the rider, an involuntary grimace darkening his features as he recognized him, not
that he couldn’t have named him from a league away. Only one man would ride the
prairie dressed in such an elaborate costume—Roderick Macallister.

Macallister tossed his crimson riding cloak over a shoulder
and dismounted. “Greetings, Padraic,” he said, then nodded to Elias. “Young
man.”

“Elias,” the distiller supplied, forcing a polite smile,
rather certain that the rancher had not forgotten his name.

“Mmmhm, yes.” Macallister adjusted his brocade vest, which
did little to conceal his prodigious girth, and brushed away the prairie dust
that clung to the gold filigree. “You’ve grown to be quite a strapping lad. Your
mother, God rest her soul, would be quite proud, I’m sure.”

“I’m sure,” Elias said and exchanged glances with his
father, who kept his expression neutral.

Macallister gave Elias’s foil a pointed look. “I see you and
your father have been practicing your swordplay. Were you planning on trying
your luck in the fencing contest at the fair tonight? My boy, Cormik, is
entering—I think he’s about your age—and if I may say so, his form looks rather
exceptional. Still, your father, being a retired Marshal, is no doubt an
excellent teacher.”

“I hadn’t planned on competing tonight.”

Macallister raised an eyebrow. “Ah, I understand. Fencing
with the entire town as an audience is a daunting prospect, no?”

“It’s not that...” said Elias, who felt his cheeks warm
despite himself, as he struggled to find the words to put the topic to rest
without looking a coward. “It’s just that...I have no interest in competing is
all.”

“No shame in that, son,” Macallister said but the smug tilt
to his smile belied his words. “Truth be told, I’m glad you’re standing this
one out. I think you’re the only one that could give Cormik a challenge.”

“We fence as a diversion, and to stay fit, seeing as we have
little use for practical application,” said Padraic. He looked Macallister dead
in the eye. “A corn farmer and distiller have no need of true steel.”

Macallister cleared his throat. “Right you are, and a good
thing, too. Peace times are good times. Although, as I say, sometimes they can
make men soft. A man who has nothing to fight for forgets how to fight.”

“And that, as you say, is a good thing,” returned Padraic.

“So,” Macallister said, shifting on his feet, “Padraic, how
does the day see you? You are well, I trust?”

“I am well, Roderick, thank-you.” Padraic affected a warm
smile. “What brings you out our way?”

“A little exercise. I was cooped up at Arcalum in Peidra for
the better part of a week for the Summit Arcana—you know, the convention for
wizards and those interested in discourse on the arcane, the varying schools of
thought, theories, et cetera.”

“Yes,” Padraic said, “I know.”

“Well, in any case, my ride brought me your way so I figured
I’d stop by and see my old friend.” Macallister paused and surveyed the grounds,
although Elias suspected the rancher was giving himself time to organize his
thoughts. “Distillery ‘s looking good. Still in tip-top shape. How many
generations has it been in your family?”

“Four,” Padraic replied in an even tone, though Macallister
knew full well how long the Duanas had owned the land on which they stood.

“Four.” Macallister whistled and wagged his head from side
to side. “Quite a legacy and a mighty fine glass of whiskey you make here,
Padraic. Yes, indeed. It’s a shame, however, that you don’t have more hands on
your payroll so as to produce greater quantities. I daresay, if you could mass
produce this stuff, you’d become as famous for your whiskey as your tenure with
the Marshals, and quite well-off to boot. Well, if you did, I think the queen
herself would be drinking it in Peidra!”

“Right you may be, Roderick, but distilling knoll-whiskey in
small batches ensures a higher quality and a refined flavor.”

Macallister offered a conciliatory nod as his only
acknowledgement of Padraic’s deft dismissal, and then pressed on. “Furthermore,
with Elias’s engagement to the Bromstead girl—not bad, by the way, boy, hooking
the Mayor’s only daughter—he’ll no doubt be looking for a piece of land all his
own, and then how will you manage? Your daughter—Danica is it?—will be no help
what with studying to be a scribe and all, and what do women know about
distilling anyway?”

“Whatever the future brings, Mr. Macallister, I plan to stay
on to help my father run the family business,” said Elias, “and, my sister is
at the University training to be a doctor, not a secretary.”

“Huh,” Macallister said and stroked his copious mustache,
seemingly oblivious to the bite in Elias’s tone. “A White Habit, eh? I forgot
they were letting women become physicians these days.”

Elias inhaled sharply, preparing another retort, but Padraic
laid a restraining hand on his shoulder. “I thank you for your concern,
Roderick, but I think we’ll manage just fine.”

“All the same, my original offer still stands, if this place
ever becomes too much for you, that is. I will of course keep the Duana name on
the bottle, and in addition to the handsome figure I have named, I am willing
to grant you royalties to the tune of ten percent of all profits, so that you
would be seen after in your dotage.”

“Generous indeed, but I have my pension from the crown, and
the surrounding counties show no sign of tiring of my great-great grandfather’s
gold-medal recipe, so I think we shall manage,” Padraic said.

“Very well, Padraic. If you change your mind, you know where
to find me.” Macallister kept his tone civil, but his face betrayed him: his
eyes narrowed, hooded by his brow, and his lips pressed flat in the prelude of a
grimace. He adjusted his sable, moleskin riding gloves and nodded to Padraic. “Farewell,
old friend,” he said, then mounted his heavily muscled stallion, whose glossy,
black coat was the match of his gloves and the trim of his cape.

“Good luck in the fencing circle tonight, son,” Macallister
called over his shoulder as he rode away.

“I’m not entering the contest!” Elias called after him, but
Macallister was already out of ear shot, plumes of dust rising in his wake. Elias
swung his foil after the rancher. “Father, why are you so polite to Macallister?
You don’t like the greedy son-of-a-crow any more than I do.”

“Granted, but there is nothing to be gained from responding
to rudeness in kind, or from antagonizing a man like Roderick Macallister. Despite
all of his failings, and like it or not, he is a powerful man. He’s accustomed
to getting what he wants.”

“But he won’t get our distillery. We won’t sell. Not ever. Why
can’t he see that?”

Padraic managed the effect of a shrug with the roll of an
eyebrow. “He doesn’t want to see it, and so he doesn’t. He covets the riches
mass producing whiskey here will bring, and the notoriety. We have the best
water and so the best whiskey, and that rankles Macallister. He’s the
wealthiest man in thirty leagues, but for all that, the spirit that’s named
after this region is perfected here on Duana land, and he doesn’t have his hand
in it.”

Elias knew his father had the truth of it. The subterranean limestone
basin on the Duana land supplied them with water free from mineral impurities. As
a result, the whiskey distilled from it had a crisp, clean and singular flavor.
The distillery Macallister owned in town at the grist mill couldn’t compete,
and that the rancher could not abide.

BOOK: Reckoning (The Empyrean Chronicle)
4.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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