This hero of legend will encounter a challenge he has never faced before . . . present-day New York City.
Sacred Band Series Book 6
by Janet & Chris Morris
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Is this the Lemuria of antiquity, or of times to come? Once you’ve ridden the storm clouds of heaven from the edge of time, anything is possible. Demonic hordes threaten to destroy the very fabric of time itself. The fate of all humanity rests on the shoulders of Tempus the Black, Favorite of the Storm God. But even this hero of legend will encounter a challenge he has never faced before . . . present-day New York City.
CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY
Not one of the hundred pillows in Chiara’s bedroom remained on her bed when the god finally had had enough of the woman who ruled here as Lemuria’s Evening Star. She lay belly down on marble tiles in a slick of oil and wine and surrounded by candles he was quenching, one by one, with his fingers.
His short sword gleamed from the midst of the mess, hair from her body and her head on its blade. He hadn’t done a protracted ritual for the god in a very long time, and Lemuria’s rites rang as ancient and primal as Enlil’s name.
Their tryst had included moments when fear glazed her round, brown eyes, and moments when he felt certain the god overestimated what Tempus’ human flesh could give and hers could accept.
Still, he’d never killed a woman unintentionally, and although she might hurt when passion fled, now she merely lazed, intoxicated, malleable, sated and unresisting in the middle of the floor.
Once he’d snuffed the last candle, she reached for a pillow and propped her chin upon it so she could watch him more easily.
The big bed might have been easier on her, but she and the god had done things by the book. Still on her belly with the pillow under her jaw, she said, “You’ll really go with Rath and Mano into their horrid world tomorrow?”
“You tell me.” He was hunting for his leathers among her pillows.
“Stay here. With me. We could recast the lot. You could be free of your god forever, here. Stay, and you’ll learn of pleasures you never dreamed . . .”
“I’m a fighter, a soldier, a simple mercenary who had the bad luck to fall in with an insatiable god. It’s been so long, I wouldn’t know how to do anything else.”
“You could be the first not to succumb to Lemuria’s legerdemain. Don’t cast a lot, and you’re safe here until you do. We have strife close at hand, should you crave excitement: all the strife of many lands. From here you can help all of humanity — ”
“You must have mistaken me for a politician or a would-be king. I’m not the one to chart any soul’s course. Not after what I did with mine.”
“What do you want, then?”
And Faun’s words came back to him: “Survival, that’s the thing.”
“I’m offering that. Tempus, you’re the gift of heaven to me. I haven’t felt like this for — ”
“Don’t tell me how long. I have a profound aversion to aged crones in perfect bodies.”
She threw an errant pillow at him. Under it he spied his jerkin. He went to reclaim it.
She grabbed his leg as he came close. “Take me seriously.”
“I took you as seriously as I’m able. For more than that, you’ll need a deity incarnate.”
“So you’re refusing me?”
“Dogs’ bellies, woman, what do you think we’ve been doing here? You’ve had your ritual performed, punctiliously. Any other woman I’ve known would be unconscious, or weeping in a corner, or begging me to leave. What is it you think you haven’t had yet?”
“I’m offering Lemuria, all its power, if you’ll not go wandering into places you don’t belong.”
“Are you so sure I don’t?”
“You haven’t the slightest idea what awaits you in the world of Rath’s society. You’ll be destroyed there.”
“I’ve heard that before. One of those adventurers said a certain person I’ve been searching for might be there — a person from my own birthplace. If that’s so, I need to go.”
“Ash says that you’ll wreak unparalleled havoc if you let those two trick you into serving their purposes.”
Ash. “Ash says whatever will secure his desired result. Which in this case is probably nothing I’d agree with if I knew the specifics.” He pulled his jerkin over his head, cinched on his weapons belt, and stooped to get the short sword from the oily tiles.
“Again, Lord Tempus, renounce the proxy. Use your lot to spend time in Lemuria, learning what you will. You can find a lost soul from here without risk to you or anyone else.”
He took his sword in hand, stabbed a white lace pillow with it, then used the pillow to wipe the hair and oil from the sword.
“Chiara, you do not fully comprehend. I have finally shaken loose from all but the god’s hold on me. I’ve lived too long to do nothing, day after day. Therefore I find a sortie into the unknown a welcome diversion. This place is too quiet for my taste.”
Now she sat up and encircled her knees with her arms. “Me, you mean. I am what you don’t like.”
“I do not like doing the god’s bidding, if that’s what you mean. But you’re mistaken in taking it personally. I am merely not in the mood for the company of women.”
And that was true, he knew. Faun had been an opportunity to assert himself, a digression from the god’s plan, and no more. He needed mortal women like he needed a rash or an infestation of fleas. He had finally freed his heart from men and women both; the taint of the curse that had struck him loveless, lifelong, was a habit too strong to break.
Going where he cared nothing about anyone would suit him well enough. And the urge to move on was nearly overwhelming, now that the god’s ritual was done.
The Evening Star rose to her feet. Covered with oil, she was as magnificent as any temple statue. He said, because her face said too much and, in all this talk, he’d said too little: “If you like, teach me how to return here when I choose, not because Enlil decrees it. When I’m done exploring, I’ll come this way . . . ” From here, he could go anywhere. Sandia, even.
“What you ask is not so simple,” said the Evening Star, biting her lip. Yet her expression brightened. “Still, we shall try.”
And so Chiara began tutoring him in the ways of Lemuria, a process lasting until nearly sunup. While about it, she taught him one thing he hadn’t expected: the Evening Star had more to give than the god had taken, and tricks of seduction no rampaging Storm God had ever learned.
She also had a chamber in which she could call up hot and cold rain and steam and dry heat with a touch.
Although he learned more than he wanted of Lemuria while he listened, the thing he would most recall was sitting in that dry, hot place with Chiara while she told him what it was like to care for worlds she’d never see.
When she embraced him on her threshold, the sun was rising, and he failed to realize why she said, “Be careful, bold Tempus. Everything I told you, remember. And watch out for those you’ve met here.”
When he put his hand on the doorknob, he winced as his skinned palm touched the metal, although the wound hadn’t hurt him before now.
But he turned the knob and stepped resolutely through the doorway that opened to his tug before he really looked at what awaited on the other side.
The door blew out of his hand on a strong gust and slammed shut behind him, but he hardly noticed.
In all his travels, in his wildest encounters with sorcerers and demons from deeper hells, he’d never imagined such a sight as the place before his eyes.
Confronted with such strangeness, he wished he’d thought to bring his horse. But he hadn’t thought. The Trôs and all his gear were back in Lemuria, behind a door he couldn’t open when he spun around and tried.
And Aškelon was swirling there, part of the gust that had ripped the door from his grasp, or at least the cause of it. The dream lord glimmered, semitransparent, floating in midair. The towers of the city behind him showed through his flesh.
Ash said, “Your meddling becomes dangerous, Riddler. Fail here and die here, for all our sakes. For you can die here, if you try hard enough. In this godless place, not even Enlil can save you. But don’t come to me to protect you from this evil — not if you don’t leave well enough alone.”
Then Ash dissolved into his personal whirlwind, leaving Tempus to wonder if what the entelechy of dream had said was true.
He squinted in air that stung his eyes, trying to make sense of the jumble like rotting cliffs before him. And he called aloud, tentatively, to the god inside his head. “Enlil?”
Thence came no answer.
He tried again. Only silence.
Enlil often failed to answer him these days. Such silence from the Ravener signified nothing: not that Aškelon was correct or that Enlil had not come here with him.
And if Enlil had abandoned him? If what the dream lord said was true? So what? To die a natural death in a strange land was something the very threat of which had been denied him for centuries.
If Ash was worried enough to spend so much energy on such a theatrical manifestation, then there was something here worth sniffing out, more than met Tempus’ tearing eyes.
He crouched down where he stood. This place stank. It was loud and its ground was slagged, as if the whole area had been razed in a great battle. He looked up at the sky. Brown smoke tinged the horizon as if a volcano belched nearby.
A volcano might account for the roaring in his ears.
But only one thing would account for Aškelon’s behavior: Cime lurked here, somewhere. That was clearly what Ash meant by telling Tempus to leave well enough alone.
But where would she be?
And where were the two he’d met, Rath and Mano, who’d said they’d see him in the morning?
Was this morning, here?
Again he looked at the sky. He couldn’t tell. The overcast scudded too heavy.
Somewhere, something screamed.
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Best selling author Janet Morris began writing in 1976 and has since published more than 30 novels, many co-authored with her husband Chris Morris or others. Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Morris has written, contributed to, or edited several book-length works of non-fiction, as well as papers and articles on nonlethal weapons, developmental military technology and other defense and national security topics.
Christopher Crosby Morris (born 1946) is an American author of fiction and non-fiction, as well as a lyricist, musical composer, and singer-songwriter. He is married to author Janet Morris. He is a defense policy and strategy analyst and a principal in M2 Technologies, Inc. He writes primarily as Chris Morris, but occasionally uses pseudonyms.