Sometimes it takes evil to destroy evil.
Aria cannot touch the living or the dead and her kin are silent ghosts. Hidden in a cairn deep in the haunted forest, Aria becomes obsessed with the only boy who can feel her touch. Before she knows it, she's thrust into the first war against the Valtanyana.
The Daed have no choice but to awaken the Valtanyana and hunt down Aria and her kin, but the closer the Daed become to victory, the more expendable they become.
Kaliel is no more, stuffed into a pocket watch by the only person she thought would never harm her, she learns what true torture is. Krishani is no more, broken into pieces he can't sew back together he follows the swarm aimlessly seeking salvation.
Villains is a collection of five novellas told by the villains. Deception, torture, manipulation and ruthlessness collide in this installment of The Ferryman & The Flame Series.
Rhiannon Paille is ambitious and tireless in promoting her Ferryman and the Flame series, which she released herself; but I was so impressed with what I saw her do, I offered to take over the series at WordFire Press. Her first novel in the series, Surrender, is the single most-downloaded title we have ever released. VILLAINS is a separate volume, telling stories from the darker side. – Kevin J. Anderson
Tor never told them who he was or what he was running from.
The sea was green the night Tor reached the village. A green sea meant the coming of summer in Tempia. It meant the harvest of silver quenny fruit, thousands of villagers flocking to the fields to get a taste. One quenny meant one more year of life.
Not everyone made it.
Tor woke with a start. He sat up on the cot resting against the floor of the spacious tent. His hands idly found the figure of a woman lying next to him, Desaunius. Her white hair was a long sheet around her face, elongated ears poking through the strands. Tor watched her breath come in even successions, a content smile playing on her lips. She had no idea how much she meant to him, what she sheltered him from. He swung his thick muscular legs over the edge of the bed and stood. Gray breeches fell to his knees, but he was barefoot and shirtless. The villagers often commented on his grayish silver skin, the way it shimmered in the sunlight, but Tor did his best to conceal it under furs and tunics. The less they knew about who, or what he was, the better.
He couldn't tell them why he was there.
He strapped on bronze sandals, wrapping strips of leather around his ankle and shin before tying a knot. He took a last glance at Desaunius, sleeping soundly. He bent over the bed and kissed her hair, moving the quilt tighter around her shoulders. She stirred. He froze. She let out a sigh and he straightened his back and crossed the tent, pushing the flaps open and stepping outside. The village was quiet, nothing but the creak of crickets and the warm chill of the breeze coming off the ocean.
The sky was a midnight green, littered with bright yellow orbs for stars. In the distance he saw the outlines of the star cloud, a beast threatening to overtake the sky. The edges of it were gold, while its innards were shades of emerald and grass. It stretched from one end of the horizon to the other, masking itself only by the thin white clouds hanging over the land itself. Tor watched with anticipation, waiting for it to move, strike. He knew things about it the villagers would never know. It wasn't a cloud so much as a vessel for traveling across the stars. The Valtanyana were in that cloud, searching for him.
He turned and walked up the path towards the lake. Bushes with thick watery leaves lined the edges as he passed stepping stone walks towards the other tents. A snuffed out wooden torch stood at the edge of each walk, marking whether or not the family was open for visitors. At this late hour, none of them were lit. The path broken into a steep incline as it reached the edge of the last tent. Here the walkways dropped away leaving nothing but a basin of short grass and a brilliant silver lake in the center. It wasn't a perfect circle, more like a flower with ill defined petals unfurling towards the shores. The glassy surface reflected the star cloud and made Tor nervous. He stood on the edge of the field before tumbling across the grass at breakneck speed, his gait becoming a limp as he passed the lake, slowing as he trudged up the other side. A wall of rock blocked his way to the opposite shore. He skirted around the narrow edge of the grass, being careful not to slip. Nobody ever swam in the lake. There was something mystical and forbidden about it.
Tor rooted around the rocks looking for the piece that gave way. When he first arrived in Tempia he had a chest with him. The thing was massive, and most of the villagers assumed it was filled with his belongings. That was only half true. The chest was full of something belonging to him, but it wasn't something the villagers wanted to unleash. The stone came loose in his hands and he carefully set it aside, reaching into the hollow shell of rock and pulling out the chest. Perched on the ledge, he ran his hand over the puzzle box lock and snapped the pieces into place. The lock clicked open with a snap and he lifted the lid. Inside was nothing but dust. It looked like grains of sand only they sparkled like his skin and were gray as ever. He gulped, taking a leather bag from his belt and running his fingers through the dust. He scooped up handfuls and fed them into the mouth of the pouch. When it was full he pulled the strings taut, sealing in the dangerous substance. He never told the villagers what was in the chest. He couldn't explain to them what the dust was and what it would mean to them if they knew. Tempia hadn't seen war. The villagers were placid people who worked together. Their comraderie was among their best traits. Tor often wondered what to call them. He met elvens before; they were noble, aloof and tall. The people on Tempia were short and stodgy, with similar features, but less refined. They carried the same eye and hair color patterns, whites, reds, blacks, hazels and greens. They had the same pointed ears, but they weren't the same.
Tor closed the chest with a dull thud and twisted it around so it would fit into the chamber. He replaced the stone and assessed the sheet of rock in front of him, scowling. He was tall, but not tall enough to climb over the edge. He sighed and reached into the pouch, taking a grain of dust between his fingers and rolling it into his palm. He closed his eyes and let it sink into his pores, shifting through his energy and reaching his core. He thought about climbing over the edge and without so much as an incantation the stone below him grew until he saw the land on the other side of the lake. It stretched on for what seemed like forever, poisonous plants sticking up between rocks and moss. Tor took a step but his feet no longer touched the ground. He hovered above the rocks as he walked with purpose, wending around leaves and ignoring wicked winds.
Fragments of night wasted away by the time he reached the cliffs. A tumultuous green sea stretched to the north, leading to an island that frightened the villagers. It could wipe out life on Tempia forever. The island was made of nothing but rocks, rocks that continued deep into the sea, a chasm of magma flowing through the underbelly of them.
He stood there for a long time watching the waves lap against the rocks. He thought about the years he spent on Tempia, from the moment he washed ashore and found himself an anonymous member of a welcoming land. They gave him the name Tor, though in other places he had other names. Most of them ones he wanted to forget. His first moments on Tempia were a blurry mess of images: people surrounding him, delirium, shock, spluttering up water, coughing, attempting to breathe, and calm washing over him. Something knocked him unconscious and when he woke he was in a tent staring at a brown canvas. A maiden with white hair in a bun mixed something in a clay bowl. It smelled strong, like the thing that had knocked him out.
"I'm glad you finally came, the wait was far too long," Desaunius had said, a knowing smile on her lips.
Tor smiled ruefully. "You were hard to find."
She knelt by the bed and the smell tickled his senses, the urge to recoil bubbling into him. Her green eyes bore into his gold lightning ones. "It had to be that way, otherwise…"
"It wouldn't be worth the search," Tor said.
She smiled, and the skin around her eyes settled into a series of wrinkles. "Or the wait."
Tor shook his head and tried to focus on the present. Desaunius was the one woman in all the lands he belonged with. She began waiting for him long before she ever met him. She turned down other suitors until she was barren, an old maid, but she never gave up. The quenny kept her strong; giving her years that wore on without end, the wait excruciating. Skeld, her father, thought her a fool for her blind faith and told her many times to stop waiting. He was flabbergasted when Tor showed up.
Tor sighed and pushed his sandaled feet over the ledge of the cliff. He reached into his pouch and took another tiny grain with the tips of his fingers. He rubbed them together and let it soak into his skin. The sensation of the dust zinged through his body, causing pleasure and pain. He stretched his arms out and tilted his head back, allowing himself to freefall off the cliff.
Down, down, down, Tor sped, the wind whipping him like a meteor but he didn't falter. He hit the water head on, shooting through the ocean like a spear. The whoosh of current rang in his ears as he neared the volcano, closely monitoring his trajectory. He couldn't get it wrong, too many people would die.
Desaunius would die.
He changed course and sunk further into the ocean until he was crawling through the water-filled tunnels underneath the volcano. He was in a cavern when his head breeched the surface. Shimmering green crystals glinted off the walls providing an eerie glow. He pulled himself out and shook himself off, his pores drying the moment he stepped foot on the rocks. There was a dull buzz he reveled in, life inside the mountain crackling through him. He glanced around the open expanse. It was a circular chamber, thin layers of rock creating shallow stairs leading away from the black water. He took the stairs two at a time and ducked through a tunnel wending his way through the massive mountain.
The tunnels were treacherous, leading to dead ends and sometimes impossible cliffs. More than once he used the dust to help him get to the next opening. Night drew on and Tor grunted in frustration, knowing if he wasn't back by morning, Desaunius and the others would be worried. He wouldn't get another chance to do this before the star cloud grew so big he could no longer avoid it. Desaunius pretended to know things about Tor he never divulged to her. Her visions told her bits and pieces of the story, but when she added logic to it, it always came out slightly off. Tor hated lying to the people about their potential fate.
Levitating through a steep tunnel, Tor landed on a platform. The tunnel widened into a huge cavern in the center of the volcano. He carefully treaded across the stone, making sure it wouldn't crack like ice and fall into the magma. The blue tinted stone didn't meld well with the orange black streams of magma running along the walls. It was mesmerizing the way some of it crawled up the walls like vines, where as some of it fell into the pool below him. Tor fixed his gaze on a shell of rock jutting out from the other side of the cavern wall. A thin waterfall of magma trickled into the basin. Tor stretched his arms behind him, working out imaginary kinks in his body. He planted his feet on the ground and tilted his head from side to side, shaking out the stiffness in his neck. He wasn't nervous anymore, only determined. He glanced at the sky through the peak of the volcano. Midnight green as ever, yellow stars contrasting against it. He licked his lips and cracked his knuckles. He slipped a hand into the bag, removing more than a grain of dust. He watched it gather in his palm. The pebbled sized pinch of dust shimmered and formed into a shiny black rock before it sunk into Tor's gray skinned hand. Tor shivered with the intensity, his bulky muscular frame quaking with the sheer force of the dust. He clenched his silver teeth while focusing on control and raised his hands to the magma. His thoughts were crisp as he explained his intentions to the volcano. It was a language only the land spoke, and magic older than time itself. Tor felt like he was holding the heaviest boulder on his shoulders as moments passed, the weight of the dust and his request crushing him.
Something emerged from the basin of lava.
It was small at first, only a tip, but it grew into a sword made of the finest metal. The hilt was wrapped with bronze snakes, scales creating a pattern across the handle. Within the snake's eye was a red ruby. It pulsed, growing brighter and dimmer as thought it were breathing. Tor called for it silently and it levitated to him. He wrapped his fingers around the handle and swung it in the air.
"Cara Najeel," Tor said, naming the sword. A flash of red flooded the blade, lighting it up with the aura of a Flame. Tor smiled, his gold-lightning eyes crackling with power. The aura faded from the sword and the light inside the ruby dimmed to nothing. Tor set the sword on the ground beside him and repeated the task again. The basin of magma bubbled, and the tip of a brilliantly adorned golden shield emerged. It was round, but big enough to hide a man behind it. In the center was a clear citrine crystal. Tor reached for it and slid his hand through the handle on the backside.
"Tineca Maliorn!" he exclaimed, naming the shield.
The shield did what the sword did, enflaming with a yellow aura before growing dormant. Tor continued and the Ortel Nuile emerged, a crown of silvery metal, a large azurite crystal embedded in the center of it. It shone with a blue aura.
For Tor it wasn't enough. What the star cloud was bringing was something he didn't have the strength to face alone. The Valtanyana were determined to gain absolute power—they needed Tor to do that. Without preparing the villagers for war, this was the next best option. He set the crown down. A lantern emerged, an orange glow flowing around it before it went dark. Inside the inner chamber was a bright orange carnelian crystal. Tor inspected the lantern knowing though its shape was mundane, its power was immense. He shuddered when he touched the handle, a calm but strong force rippling through him.
"Kuliana Kulnindom," he whispered, placing it with the others.
He solidified his stance and cleared his throat. A low rumble settled across the rocks and he watched the channels of magma vibrate in response. He worked his limbs, the force of his work digging into his infallible form. He focused on the magma and watched it bubble. A large seashell emerged, the same type that washed along shore. They used them as horns, alerting villagers of emergencies and calling out the dawn. Tor grunted and shook his head. The shell glowed green as it drifted towards him, growing dim when he grasped it.
"Callen Hyloma," he said, turning it over in his hands. Something shifted under foot and Tor fought to gain his balance. A crack in the stone appeared. Nervousness filled him as he focused again on the basin. A wand emerged. These weren't like the wands shamans made out of tree branches. This one was twisted wood, a rose quartz crystal perched on the end. It glowed like the rest of them but Tor scoffed at it and batted it away the moment it moved towards him. The fragile thing hit the wall of the cavern and fell on top of the other weapons.
"Camim Ramm," he called the wand as the pink glow died.
A low rumble abased the cavern, shaking Tor to his core. He took another handful of dust and watched it form into a pebble and settle in his palm. He narrowed his eyes and focused hard on the basin. A large scythe emerged, an obsidian crystal perched on the crux of the blade and the staff.
"Murr Karraske." He marveled at the black aura it produced before placing it away from the other supposed weapons he rendered useless. He paused, moved the sword and shield to where the scythe was, and turned back to the basin. He was nowhere near out of dust yet, if he did it right, he would have an entire battalion of weapons to assist him when they arrived.
The magma rumbled, the cavern walls shook, and the crack in the slab increased. Tor wiped his brow and focused harder on his task. A pristine white staff emerged, an iolite crystal nestled in the squiggly arms of a calcified sea anemone. It emitted a deep indigo before snapping out, a whoosh accompanying the soundless gesture.
"Mylinn Wyndal." Tor set the staff beside the scythe, sword and shield. His eyes darted around the cavern walls, a flurry of garfolk breaking off and swarming in uneven patterns around the cavern. Tor recognized them, beastly bird-like creatures with leathery bat wings that lived in warm places. They were no more than a head big. Tor found them more of a nuisance than anything else. He quickly gathered up the items he created, the intention to leave in one piece stronger than his need to create something else. He tucked what he could into his rucksack and strapped the rest either on his back or in his hands. Swarms of garfolk screeched, wings blocking his view. The only safe way out was the opening at the top of the mountain. He didn't want to entertain the idea of leaving without something truly useful. To him, these were enhanced weapons, something the Valtanyana would already have, or could make if they were clever enough. Tor had watched them decimate entire villages with a single look. He wasn't prepared to go against them with nothing but a handful of tools.
The cavern walls shook and Tor made up his mind. He had to leave before the volcano erupted. He gripped the staff in one hand, the scythe in the other. The sword was tucked securely behind his back, pressed between the rucksack and his body. The shield was tied to the outside of the rucksack and everything else was inside of it. He took a step towards the ledge, intending to jump. A screech rang out as the crack in the slab grew wider and deeper. Tor leapt, sailing through the air, the power of the dust lifting him to the sky. As he neared the opening in the mountain, the dust against his leg slipped. It untangled from his belt and plummeted into the basin of lava below. He paused, frantically looking for a way to go after it. His eyes widened as the pouch sunk into the magma and spread, black swirls of dust replacing the orange with darkness. Tor gulped. The dust was meant for him to ingest. As far as he knew, his body was the only constitution the dust would accept. To mix it with anything else could cause a catastrophe. He squeezed his eyes shut waiting for the volcano to supernova.
Instead it got quiet.
The flapping and the screeching ceased. Tor half fell, half floated to the cracked stone slab. It seemed stable, despite the damage. The garfolk retreated to the tunnels, silence covering him.
Tor froze. He watched the succession of waves rocking back and forth.
A violet light glowed in the center of the black lava. It was subtle at first, but grew until it was blindingly bright and more white than violet. Out of the light, a flower bloomed. It sprouted from the lava, the bud rising out of blackness. It was accompanied by a shocking green stem with light green leaves in a lanceolating pattern. They conglomerated around the bud as it matured and opened, violet petals surrounding the nascent nectar in the center.
Tor's mouth dropped open. There was no crystal to accompany this one, only a tiny bud of pure violet-colored energy that seemed as liquid as it was light itself. It rose out of the flower and gestated, limbs forming like a contortionist. Tor took a step back hesitantly as it gravitated to him, liquid-like bare feet stepping onto the slab, legs, torso, arms and hands flexing. Long violet-white hair fell to her ankles, her face a perfect mask of innocence and beauty. She had a button nose, soft lips, and the most striking amethyst eyes. Everything about her seemed real. She went to take Tor's hand, but like the ghosts in the haunted forest, she was non-corporeal. Her hand moved through him and a buzz of shivers rushed up his spine. She shot him a quirky smile, but said nothing as she looked at him expectantly, as if asking him, "What now?"
"Aria," was all he could say.