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The Practice of Power 2

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Infamous explorer, Kores Galtrin, is at a crossroads in life.

Once revered for his adventurous spirit and relentless pursuit of knowledge, he is now viewed with suspicion by the academia that once celebrated him. 

The headmaster of his school gives him an ultimatum: retire honorably and settle into obscurity, or risk everything.

An enigmatic invitation from a mysterious lord provides an escape from the fate he fears. Hidden within the lord’s letter, he finds a map leading to the uncharted east, a continent forbidden to the masters of the school.

Against his better judgment and coerced by the promise of unraveling the mysteries of an ancient Alcar portal, Kores embarks on a journey that promises to challenge his intellect, courage, and the very fabric of his existence.

Is he willing to face death to fulfill his ambition?

  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ August 31, 2022
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 4238 KB
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 548 pages

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Read a sample

Kores had yet to see the ritual victim.

A northern breeze chilled his skin as he squinted at the setting sun. Bronze hairs stood on end, cracking the pattern of gray lines coiling about his arms. The scarlet silk scarf about his neck lifted away, as did the scarves of the other men in the crowd, flapping in the inconstant wind. As one, the crowd lifted its arms, exposing armpits and sides to the cooler air. Ash-laced sweat and ritual oils seeped into their pristine white loincloths, turning the fringes gray. A drop of lilac-scented oil trickled from Kores's right temple and down his cheek, through the symbols traced on his skin. He wiped the oil away with the back of his hand, smudging them.

He resisted crinkling his nose as the scent of sweating bodies, lilac, and ash wafted deep into his nostrils. He’d suffer any odor to be at their ritual.

The witnesses—a group of twenty to thirty men, women, and children of the Wedoni tribe—sat huddled together, facing north from the south side of a grassy, windswept hill. To the west, fields of long grass tumbled down to the city walls and the terraced facade of Toruk, a great walled city surrounding the bay. Toruk’s white stone face descended toward a sparkling bay. The sun was setting between the bay’s rocky arms, which held back treacherous and fierce waters. Hundred-foot-tall stone spires stood watch between the arms. Waves whittled away at them, and one day they’d crumble, but for now, tiny white sails safely dotted the bay.

Celebration pavilions and tents dotted the pastures between the city gate and the sacred mound. The cooking pits were already red with hot coals. A creeping forest of vines and tall, thin trees surrounded the sacred mound to the south. Cool shadows darkened the ground beneath the canopy.

A large copper cauldron sat at the mound’s pinnacle. That was where the victim would appear, where they’d perform their ritual sacrifice.

The sun had baked Kores all day, and he’d little to show for it but sweat. He jotted another entry in his battered leather-bound journal. Since starting the vigil ten hours ago, every entry was like the one before it:

Late afternoon. No sign of the victim. No candidates or electors. No sign of power.

He glanced at the previous entries—a mantra of his only reason for being there. The Ulsic Schools wanted him in the west for knowledge of sea-going vessels and trade for grain and foodstuffs—anything to stave off famine on his home continent of Nenelassa. The Wedoni knew no hunger, even the poorest of them. Their wealth was beyond the Schools’ dreams.

But Kores was there for a reason of his own. He underlined the word power in each entry.

“Sayin selada. Sayin otreda,” a man among the witnesses chanted.

The witnesses repeated the chant in hushed tones. As one, they looked to the west and held their bronzed hands up to the diving sun as its rays cut across the sea, the white marble city of Toruk, the surrounding hills, the plains, and struck the Solumma Range. The sun’s rays were so dense that a tiny boy stood up and tried to grasp one. The Wedoni had waited all day for this moment, when the sun’s light—Sayin’s light—shot out over the world like spears, a last volley through Solumma’s mighty peaks and into the land of death, a vast expanse that had once been Sayin’s own empire.

“If not for Saylassa,” Kores whispered out of habit. He made note of the chant, translating as best he could. Sayin departs. Sayin returns.

He sketched an outline of the peaks, trying to capture the way the sun struck them at this time of year. Solumma was what the Wedoni called the mountain range. Tall and brooding, the range stood like a breaker against the gray death that reigned on the other side. The word meant a high bank, but these were lofty, impassable mountains.

Kores knew the range by another name: the Western Waste Range. That was its official name within the Ulsic Schools. Its proper name. His own people named everything north of Nenelassa by its relationship to the Waste. No matter the passage of time, the gray waste, the sucking vastness of it, never let them—or the Wedoni—move on. He rubbed at flecks of ash on his arm. No, it was here with them even after two and a half millennia.

“Solumma,” he whispered. The children near him whispered it back. He flashed a grin at them, and they giggled. They were not yet immune to his charms.

He rubbed the pencil between his fingers, considering what to name the sketch. The work he did was for the Schools, and his oath to it had carried him to this far-off land. That oath had paid for his steward, his team, the journal, and even the little pencil between his fingers. By oath, every word he wrote was theirs. He knew what he ought to write but a natural rebelliousness roused itself. It took so little. He chuckled to himself and wrote “Solumma” beneath the sketch. He basked in the dying sun’s light and grinned.

So be it.

He was unconventional. Infamous, even. Not like anyone would ever read the journal. He’d already violated the headmaster’s command by removing his jacket, the one with his master’s insignia, but the Wedoni had required that he dress as a witness if he wanted to attend their ritual.

Over the years headmasters had warned him not to get too close to the peoples he studied. Kores could never heed his superiors in this matter. Gadrey, the current headmaster, had pleaded with him to obey, just this once. Kores didn’t enjoy pressing the man, making him look a fool to his council, but he couldn’t be otherwise.

“Can’t help myself,” he said under his breath.

A girl, one of his host’s grandchildren, fascinated by his sketch of the range, reached over to trace it with her finger. She popped up from her seat to trace the real range with her two hands. She giggled as one of the older women waved her down. The other children snickered at her and huddled closer to watch Kores draw. He suppressed a laugh and nodded at the women.

As the sun touched the horizon, a group of ten elders appeared, marching over the sacred mound’s west side. White-haired and shriveled like dried dates, they played taut leather hand drums, deep-throated flutes, and white ox horns. They filled the air with raucous, rambling music. The witnesses clapped to the awkward rhythm. Men stood and danced, gleaming like crescent moons in the brilliant light, as the elders sat on the grass near the cauldron.

Kores stole precious moments to write the details in his journal. The Wedoni seemed transformed. Gone were the shrewd merchants, the richly dressed masters of marble palaces, fishing fleets, and a populous city-state. A strange people had replaced them as they performed this cosmic play. He drove the pencil through oil, ash, and the sweat of his hand, recording every thought. The clapping quickened, and he looked up. He wanted to clap as well, but pencil and journal held him captive.

A balding elder with stubborn white hairs plastered across his crown stood up from among the Wedoni elders. Shrunken with age, his wiry body tensed and tightened as he blew on a curled, black ram’s horn. The blast filled the air with more sound than a horn that size should have been able to make. The man blew the horn four more times. A shiver ran through the crowd; witnesses shook out their hands as if releasing hidden energy. Young children whimpered, fearful of the shuddering sensation washing over them.

Power. It had to be.

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