Fate's Long Shadow - Sample

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Observe a priestess’s face and you’ll see the woman. Study it and you’ll meet the goddess.
A Mornae saying

Chapter 1


By the light of blue fire, my mother looked like a ghost. Her long, white hair glistened with goddess-light, her gray skin took on an otherworldly glow, and her eyes sparkled like two gems in a silver setting.

Eye of the Goddess.

The people of our village gave her that title. They claimed she knew the future and the deepest truths of their minds and hearts. Her word could soothe and mend them, bringing peace to their bodies.

Her children, by blood or word, and all her people, gathered around her as she sat upon the village's sacred rise. Like the Temple’s spire at the center of Vaidolin, with its great globe full of light and power, she held the god-word for us. We sat at her feet to devour her words as wisdom from the goddess.

She’d insisted we gather. There were rumors of war in our ancient homeland. Unexpected visitors were at our border seeking her aid. 

“Tell us a story, Rahli,” one of the Faidanu boys said, calling her by the affectionate name the Faidanu used for their mothers. Other great persons might have taken offense, but my mother only smiled, her face serene. She was a Mornae matron and needed no reminder of her status.

Her long fingers adorned with kithaun rings beckoned, and I drew close. I alone was her natural daughter, her heiress, and I was prouder of that than anything else in my life. I knelt to her left, at her knees. Her left hand, warm with power, slid up my back to the nape of my neck. The pulsing Dark crept through me at her command.

I was only thirty, an acolyte of the goddess, but my mother had started my education early. My priestess trial would come soon.

My mother’s feelings flowed into me, rushing like a spring torrent, preparing the way for what she would speak. She pressed her thumb to the base of my skull and her fingers to my jaw. Heat braced my head.

I opened my mouth, possessed of her spirit, and spoke the words she wished to share. The story was four hundred years old now—a tale from twenty-five hundred years after Saylassa’s destruction. It was the closest thing to legend that we knew.

Every time she told it, I learned more about how she had risen to her power.

All turned dark. My vision stretched to a tunnel until I knew myself within her skin. I was seeing through her eyes. 

A child of eight.

Chapter 2

White smoke writhed into the Yatani’s sacred niche. I inched back from the opening, my feet crushing tiny effigies shaped in beeswax, forms of their ancestors and gods. Offerings of berries and flowers squelched between my toes, their fragrance entwining with acrid fumes. Birch bark tapers singed with iron brands twisted and twirled above me, each taper bearing the name of an ancestor. The Yatani claimed the cliff side niches were sacred, and my mother had not contradicted them. Veins of blackrock—kith, my mother called it—streaked its walls.

All that existed for me shone through the niche's entrance. My mother stood at the entrance, a dark shadow against the growing firelight of the burning village. Beyond her an even greater shadow loomed—a giant twice her height, a crazed, monstrous shape cutting through the smoke. The stars of the Bear and the Owl flickered above his head. Starting with the Bear, I recited the names of the stars I could see. Dalxtera no’Baronaste, then Xal, then Rel. I recited their names like a prayer to focus the mind, as my mother had taught me. The litany lulled me into a sleep-like trance.

The giant’s roar brought me back. I receded into the narrow fissure, pushing past cobwebs and the decaying straw screen the Yatani used to block off the deeper portion of the crevice where they believed the dead dwelt. I wanted to meld with the cave wall and, if I could, disappear forever with their dead. But the rock wouldn’t take me. Instead, it pressed against my thudding ribs, reminding me it wasn’t all a bad dream. The tapers crashed above me from the power of his breath, a frigid wind rattling my bones. He stomped the ground and my legs quaked.

But my mother stood as solid as the mountain above us.

The air cleared for a moment. The glow of a burning longhouse revealed the bulk of him and his grimacing, furious face. With his left hand, he held up a mass of writhing ropes. In his right, he shook a heavy maul. The ropes curled like vines about his thick forearm and massive hand. The vines gripped and squeezed so hard his fingers turned pale. They reminded me of the viper pit kept by the village shaman.

He roared and grunted and barked at her, but I didn’t know his words then. I wanted to understand him and the anger seething in his breast, but they sounded like the crashing of waves in a raging sea storm. 

She raised her left hand and uttered what I guessed was a curse in his own tongue. From her lips, the words sounded smooth and sharp, like her dagger.

Enraged, he threw the coils of rope at her feet. His bushy hair shook in the orange haze as his terror-laced breath blasted us. Tears streamed down my face; my body shuddered. But my mother stood ready to fight, her fists at her sides. He pointed at the coils and roared his words. The power in them enthralled me, but I did not understand their purpose. And then I realized he wanted to take her captive. That he intended to bind her with the ropes. He was offering her a way out of an inevitable battle and death. The Dark Goddess's priestess, born of an ageless and powerful people, would not yield. Her pride would not allow her to be anyone’s thrall.

She unsheathed her kithaun dagger in a long arc, cutting a shadowed gash through the dense air. A swathe of blackest night and starlight trailed in its wake.

The giant’s eyes widened as a quavering chuckle escaped his lips. She meant to do battle with him. He looked up and muttered. Lightning rippled like veins across the cloudless sky. He laughed, surprised his god had answered, and raised his mallet. Lines of white light descended toward him, enveloping the iron head of his weapon with crackling power. The air hissed and sizzled like fat on a fire, and his thick arm quaked as divine power surged through him. Without warning—he moved faster than I expected—he swung at her. His hammer whiffed as my mother glided away. The battle had begun.

They exchanged blows—a ritual dance, such as shamans do.

Earth cracked.

Sky thundered.

Rays of black and white sliced through the screen of dust and smoke. Their gods battled for my benefit, like the re-enactment of a legendary song.

My mother awed me: lithe and tall, silver-white hair waving like a banner, her dark limbs strong. Even though he filled me with terror, I couldn’t help but admire him. My nose crinkled at the biting smell of his sweat mixed with the white heat of his magic. The power of their gods, laced in their movements, mesmerized me.

But they were just flesh and blood.

Curious, I peered around her to get a better look as she maneuvered in front of the niche’s entrance. Behind her attacker, more shapes crashed through the haze, their outlines unmistakable. Three more giants thundered toward us. They roared when they saw my mother, huffing and snorting like cornered bulls. I sensed the swell of emotion in that great mass of flesh. For I had a gift—trivial, she called it—of knowing the sensations in the bodies of living things. And from those sensations, I knew feelings, and sometimes thoughts.

One of the new giants threw a handful of their rope shackles at the battling giant. The giants exchanged roars and barks. I couldn’t tell whether it was laughter or anger. The ground and rock trembled with their heavy steps and bellows, and I with them. Another giant tossed my mother’s attacker a rope, but he batted it away. He snarled at his comrades, but made no move toward her.

I crept along the wall toward the entrance to hear them better. A strange sensation was brewing in me. Fear. But it was not my own, it was theirs. They feared my mother. 

The giants hemmed the combatants in, forming a half-circle around them against the cliff side. It seemed to me like an eternity of waiting for the inevitable. My mother remained undaunted. She whipped about the giant, striking with her dagger, a flurry of shadow and starlight in her wake.

I inched closer to the opening, trampling through the Yatani’s offerings. I ached to see her.

My mother sliced across the back of the giant’s thighs, and he squealed and bleated like a wounded boar. Fear ebbed and flowed in me from my toes to the crown of my head. Then his rage washed back over me. A rising tide... thunderous waves of pulsing blood, stretching skin, flexing muscles, and straining joints. I grasped at the stone and felt nothing of my own. He swung at her, roared, and then stumbled back, the gash across his muscled thighs seeping crimson. He crashed down to one knee, mallet thudding into the earth, kicking up a wave of dirt and gravel toward my niche. I turned away into the blackness of the fissure as debris pelted my back. A stone smashed into my fingers where I gripped the wall, but I choked down the cry trapped in my throat. My face trembled against the strain of heavy sob.

A stillness fell over me in that thin sliver of safety. I dreaded what I would see when the dust cleared. My mother slid back to the front of the crevice and hope bubbled in me, pushing aside the roiling torrent of the giant’s sensations. The rock of my cave seemed to groan, drawn to her, the kith gleaming in streaking pulses. Her power was building.

The giant’s outline rose above her. He raised his glowing mallet to the sky once more, his arm trembling. He called on his gods again. Veins and sinew protruded from his throat and neck as he tried to draw power down to himself. It only sputtered and crackled above him. The ground shuddered as he stomped and hollered, moaning and whining. His gods had forsaken him. It sounded like the end of his world.

His earnest desperation washed into me, lapping at the shores of my mind. My mother had told me to tamp down my talent and use it only once I became an experienced priestess. Power comes like a flood in the beginning, she'd say, a swollen river destroying all in its path. Mastery lay in summoning a drop of water, not a river. Rivers were easy to summon, she’d said. Surviving them wasn’t. Only a veteran practitioner could use the goddess-power—zaeress, she called itrather than let it control her. 

I hadn’t learned that lesson yet. My little power ran rampant through the giant.

I’d unleashed a flood.

Each moan and cry, grunt and bark, swelled in me, and I followed them to their source—creeping up the length of him, through his heaving chest and thick neck—until I was at the pulsing base of his skull. His feelings, as simple as they were, became clear to me. I crafted words for them with each of his rough breaths. His thoughts sparked in mine, then slipped away.

The giants had not expected to find someone like my mother in this village. She was a creature of legend to them, an ancient enemy. She was a priestess of Vai, a moon and goddess like no other. Vai rolled over the world from south to north. She'd move across the lands of Vailassa every ten days to her throne, the seat of her power, Vaidolin. That black crater, a marvel, was home to the Mornae, my people. They had cast her out for reasons she never shared. I feared her exile would soon end in death, all because of me. What was an eight-year-old child compared to a woman who’d lived thousands of years?

Hers were the cycles. I had barely learned to breathe.

The giants snorted and let out shrill cries as shadowy tendrils gathered at her dark gray hands. From those quivering threads of Dark, she wove a protective shell. Her form blurred within those otherworldly shadows, but her dagger glinted like a swathe of stars with each slash. Just steel to the Yatani, but in her hands, it would cut through anything that opposed her.

The giants howled as the shadows enveloped my mother, and two of them stepped back. One fled, such was their dread of the Mornae. But the giant she battled had committed. A slick film of his own blood covered his limbs, and his eyes peered out through a curtain of dark, sweaty hair. If he turned his back on her to flee, she would kill him. 

So he struck out at her.

Blow followed blow. A strange sound warbled in my ear as his hammer pounded against her protective shell. She skittered away from him, and they traded places, the giant’s backside and legs concealing her from me. I inched toward the opening and huddled down in the niche's shadowed entrance.

The giant kicked one of the rope shackles at her, furious that his strikes had so far failed. I peered into the layered shadows protecting her. She grimaced, like she knew I was looking. The rock of my cave creaked, and the shell strengthened. She raised the kithaun blade above her head, keeping it nestled in the crooks of her hands. Her eyes blazed and her lips parted. Panting. Sighing. Then, her face contorted, her slender brows furrowed into a spearhead of hatred. Cruel pleasure marred her otherwise serene face. I’d never seen her like this, and I feared her as the giants did.

A thick shadow rose from the earth, devouring every sound and shred of light. A deep silence settled on the world. My breath lagged; my heartbeats stretched. Time crawled forward, held in check by my mother’s command. The shadow rushed upward, gathering into a blue-black thundercloud.

Her eyes closed to slits. Her coarse wool dress clung to her as she stretched upward. The torn hem waved like a veteran's banner. Her hands closed on the blade. She rocked back and forth as if bearing the weight of the universe. 

The shell rose a foot off the ground, and she with it. Her toes pointed down to the gushing font of Dark born of the earth.

Desperate to stop her, the giant slammed his mallet on the shell, but she remained unmoved within it. He yelled to the others, but they only watched, anchored by fear.

The night sky turned pale blue, brighter and brighter, like a summer’s day. A roar like rushing flame through a dry forest followed.

My mouth gaped open, breath caught dry and silent in my throat as a pillar of brilliant blue fire crashed down upon the giant. It crushed him to the ground, dust billowing up around him as the greedy flames enveloped him. The pillar shook and quavered above, reaching to the heavens from where she’d brought it forth from a rent in the world’s fabric. My mother looked up, her lips trembling with effort. At her command, the torrent hissed and tapered to a point, cut off from the source. It collapsed on him like a crumbling pile of stone. 

He tried to stamp out the fire, rolling about, but the blue flames only raged further, multiplying and strengthening. He struggled to his feet, flailing about, reaching for my mother, screaming, but nothing—not even a giant’s rage—could stop the unquenchable flames of the Dark Goddess.

The giant collapsed and rolled past the niche, blue flames licking at his body, devouring it until it crumbled into hills of dust, swirling in the little wind gusts he’d made upon falling. It was a terrifying marvel, the power of a priestess. 

Zaeress rippled through me. I licked my lips as if it were a sweetness in the air, a luring call.

Blue flames cavorted over what remained of the giant’s corpse and danced toward my mother, looking for another victim. They crept up the shell and gathered an inch from her hands, blocked by the shadow shell from consuming her. I’d expected the flames to disappear, their purpose fulfilled, but my mother had more use for that blue fire.

The other two giants staggered backward. The one who had fled watched from a distance. They looked up again, muttering their prayers and regretting ever being born. That regret sat sweet as honey on my tongue. They faced something beyond their strength or that of their gods. Their worst nightmare, all the stories they’d heard, had come to visit them that night.

She stood in that shell, bright with pale light, a perfect silhouette, beautiful beyond words. The goddess incarnate. I smiled, thrilled to be Mornae, to be like her someday. 

The flames built up around her. Like the arms of a blue star, they leapt out in three arcs toward the remaining giants. The giants tried to run, but the blaze followed, and one by one, devoured them all. Their pain, bright and furious, rippled through me. I felt myself glued to them—trapped. Only when the fire consumed them whole could I wrench myself away.

The blue fire would consume the world if it could… and me with it. 

My mother lowered her hands and called the remaining flames, crackling and raging in all directions, to herself. Little by little, they diminished, dying on the protective shell as they sought her. The flames disappeared just as they’d arrived: from nothing to nothing, from the Dark back to its goddess. They were not her friend, just a tool, and they’d turn on her if she proved weak. 

The goddess is fickle, she’d often say.

The ashes blew toward me, and I covered my nose. My chest heaved, wanting to cough, but I had to be silent. She turned then, her knife gripped in a blood-drenched fist. I saw in her eyes something I’d never seen before. The giant’s feelings in me drifted away to nothing, and my mother’s emotions replaced them, just as terrible, just as furious. A heavy stone in my gut.

I must remain in the niche.

It was not over.

Chapter 3

A knot built in my throat. The ground rumbled beneath us as more giants ran toward us. I’d already exulted, thinking the battle won, but my mother’s body trembled, exhausted. She was a powerful vessel, but she was still just one woman relying only on herself to empower, attack, and defend. Matron of one. A lonely exile. A bitter exile.

Sadness for her overwhelmed me. She would have scoffed at seeing my tears for her. She wanted something different... something stronger than me. I wanted to be terrifying and powerful, like her. My little fists clenched. I told myself I must survive the night for my mother’s sake, and for the sake of my lorisse, my Mornae house.

“House above all,” I whispered.

The giants’ corpses smoldered as another giant came at my mother. Taller and wider than the last, he had fists like boulders. White war paint on his arms and legs shifted and writhed over his massive, bulging muscles. Globes of pulsing blue light, stars in an orange haze, dangled from his waist and across his broad chest. They clinked with each swing of his hammer. 

My mother tried to block the mouth of the crevice. She brandished the dagger in her right hand, that sacred blade of her ancestors stained red, and with her left, she drew out the Dark to feed her defensive shell. If she feared, I did not see it. She seemed to be all power and resolve to me. Emboldened by her, I inched closer to the mouth of the niche, the flapping cloth of her ripped tunic beckoning. I could have reached out then, joining her, standing with her.

The giant bellowed, every inch of his massive body primed to kill. His footsteps shook the earth, and the vibrations snaked up through me. I shrank back from the entrance once more, my heart numbed with fear. He swelled in size, arms outstretched, claiming all the space around my mother. Saliva flew from his mouth with each snort and growl. Musty, pungent air buffeted my face.

He did not impress my mother. At his next clumsy swing, she sliced through his fleshy calf, and he howled. I froze at the sound, the terror greater than anything I’d ever known. Blood sprang from his cuts, but my mother’s strikes only encouraged him. With each blow, his rage increased, and her shadow shell quivered, weakening.

She stabbed his thigh, burying the black blade for a half-second. It came out with a sucking noise, blood gushing, and the giant’s pain flooded me. She then slipped under his outstretched arm and stabbed at his rump. I covered my mouth with my hands, tears pouring down my face. My head was growing light, and my stiff hands shook against my lips.

I’d made a dreadful mistake.

I’d let my guard down—the fortress of my mind crumbling—and allowed the giant’s rage and pain to take root in me. No longer did I gather his sensations like ripples on a lake’s surface. No, they were in me. They dragged me down into the depths and became a part of me. 

My mother had called it my little gift with disdain on her lips. She’d taught me to focus on the feelings that mattered most, to learn from them. But that day, I’d neglected her teaching, allowing the giant to rule me.

Form powerful and exquisite in her movements, my mother whipped about him like the wind. He swung wild and furious, trying to catch a piece of her in his mallet’s sweeping path.

My tears dried. His rage throbbed through me, crushing all reason. I caught the white gleam of his eyes in that field of matted black hair and purple-faced fury. His feelings were my own, and his thoughts blundered into mine, rampaging. He was desperate because my mother was an invaluable prize, but he had no skill except to destroy.

And so he did.

Helpless, I watched his hammer swing at her over and over. It struck the mouth of the niche and shards of stone flew at me, striking my face. I yelped and covered my mouth. Blood and tears smeared across my quivering face, but it was too late. The giant roared and turned his snarling face, teeth bared, to my hiding place.

He lumbered toward me, blotting out the light. My throat ached—all of me did, trembling and tight with fear. He was too large to fit into the crevice, but so close, the size of him overwhelmed me. His left hand, each finger the length of my forearm, reached into the crack. Nails squealed as they raked the cavern wall. His other arm fended off my mother’s next attack.

He barked at me, laughing and greedy-eyed, spittle shooting at me from thick purple lips. He tore at the stone with his hand, and it flaked under the pressure. His grunts and breaths filled the space. His fingertips pulled at my tunic, tearing the threads like he was separating them on a loom. I shuddered to think of those fingers on me. 

My mother struck at him. The blade plunged into his forearm and raked across it, cutting through thick cords of muscle and sinew, scraping across bone. A blood-curdling screech filled the crevice. His chest puffed out and his eyes bulged at me. He’d thought himself made of iron, but she’d cut him open like a rabbit. He stifled the urge to scream again.

Pain rippled through me—his and mine and my mother’s all melded together inside me.

He grimaced and turned back to fight my mother, switching the hammer to his good hand. His other twitched uselessly at his side. The fear of his impending doom did not last. A giant’s rage swelled in my slight frame. Blood raged through taut muscles. Sinews tightened and flexed. Heavy bones jarred as he stepped toward her. The held breath of his enormous chest heaved in my own.

His mood had changed. He no longer wanted to capture her.

Bright shocks of light crackled above him. His god’s power seemed to intensify with his unbounded rage.

I pushed against his horrid feelings, a stench burrowing in me. Desperate for my mother, I struggled to find her presence—not carefully, as she said was proper for Mornae, but with all the rage of that giant within me. I needed to know her before the end. 

Past the frenzy, I found her. She was as delicate and strong as her blade, flashing like a thousand stars.

The fortress of her mind fell for me. I knew the strength that was a priestess of the Dark Goddess in battle. Fierce and terrified, but at her core she was steady, like the depths of the sea beneath a storming sky. Hers was a lineage of millennia-old sorcery, yet she was only one against so many god-favored giants. Her defensive shell quavered, the power around her diminishing. There was no escaping it now. No chance for peace.

Her thoughts poured through me, trying to reclaim the place the giant’s rage had occupied. I understood then that she was only there to protect me. Had it been just her, she would have run, escaping through the deep shadows. Her defensive shell would fade, her strength would give out. Her every movement flowed through me, and I noticed her fading power. It trickled out of her, rejoining the earth and stars. I savored those last seconds with the woman who would have taught me marvels. She'd have guided me through the cycles.

I’d never seen her use these powers before. Her place amongst the Yatani, lesser men unfavored by any god, was to mend and heal with herbs and be their soothsayer. They believed she could see and speak to the gods. The villagers respected her, if not loved her, but they had always feared her. Now I knew why. My admiration for her expanded like the black sky above, and I understood, in a small way, her secret pride in being the matron of a Mornae house.

The giant rained down that huge, heavy mallet, an unrelenting downpour smashing away at her store of power with each strike. He’d consume himself in a rage just to kill her. Dust and flame and crackling light obscured my view, and I covered my face. 

The final blow struck: her bones cracked and crunched. Her mind screamed—for herself, and for me. I felt the blow longer than she did. It shuddered through me. A final breath escaped from her chest, but silently, like the goddess. She died while her body drifted through the night air and fell into a heap. 

Her final thought echoed in me: she should have killed me. At least then her daughter would not suffer the humiliation to come. Not that I’d be a thrall—though that possibility, too, anguished her. Not that I would face the constant danger of these raging giants. No, it was more subtle. 

The greatest risk to the Mornae was their practice of power. The goddess had called them across the world to the crater to kill them, or to raise them up to the stars. There was no middle ground. She’d always called my gift little, but at her death, my inexperience with it had filled her with dread. I’d have no one to guide me, and my little power would consume me. 

She’d despaired. My mother had despaired of me ever fulfilling my destiny to be a matron in her place.

The victor raised his good arm to cheer, stomping about and trying to rouse his mates, but the other giants only stared at my mother’s body in silence, shaking their heads. A new fear was rising within them. They looked about, glancing up at the sky, expecting retribution. They argued amongst themselves. One of them spoke a word that would plague me: draka. Curse. To kill a priestess of the Dark Goddess brought only catastrophe, a curse lasting through the generations. As his anger waned, my mother’s killer shook his head in denial of what he’d done. 

A massive crash sounded, and screams rose from the village. Other giants must have torn down the wooden palisade. The villagers’ fear drove the giants outside my niche into a frenzy. My mother’s killer gripped his injured arm, his mind clouded by pain, and he urged his fellows onward to the village. He grabbed up the bindings, then turned to me with a loud snort. His mouth twisted in a snarl. He wouldn’t forget me.

Smoke, dust, and firelight filled the stone fissure, and the shadows of the giants lumbered away. I did not weep. I became still.

My mother was dead. My matron.

I, Jassae, was the last of my house.