The other day I posted a screenshot proving that there are Cithria Book 5 words happening as we speak. The book is coming, even if I can’t say exactly when (although I hope by early 2017). But anyone who knows me knows I’m always in the middle of about 5 different things at a time. That’s where Divinity comes in.
Divinity was originally a story idea from Patrick. He pitched it to Alistair and I a couple years back and I decided to run with it and see what I could make of it. Every so often, I’ll do what I call a Chapter 1 exercise. I’ll write Chapter 1 of a story, and if it’s good enough to warrant a Chapter 2, then I’ll try and flesh the whole thing out and turn it into a short or even a novel. Sanctuary started out in this exact same way. So I’m doing the same with Divinity.
Take a look at the first chapter below and let me know what you think. Is it worthy of a Chapter 2? Or maybe even more?
Chapter 1 – A New God
“Who is it, Seer?”
The sentry’s question barely penetrated the tempest of Janara’s thoughts. She stared out across the dusty field before the High Altar, seeing nothing save for a vast, unending plain of dry, cracked ground surrounding a single figure on horseback. A small plume of dust rose into the sky as the rider approached them quickly, no doubt galloping across the lifeless desert.
“I don’t know,” she whispered. The sentry looked at her in surprise from under his gold-trimmed helm. Sparkling gold and silver armor covered him from head to toe, and a white cape with thick gold trim hung down his wide back. A long sword hung from his belt, sheathed in the finest leather, and he held a majestic spear in his hand, its base resting on the ground before him. His mouth moved to question her, then stopped. Janara answered his unasked question. “I have not foreseen this.”
The sentry blinked. He hadn’t expected that answer.
“What of the High Prophet?” he asked.
Janara shrugged, feeling her worry gather into the pit of her stomach. The other Orders only sent emissaries once a year, and all eleven had made their trips in the first weeks after the new year. Kings, Queens, and Emperors each had their visits negotiated, but none were allowed here more than once every three years, and all had used up their allotted visit for some time.
Learning what the future held was not a trip one postponed.
“He has said nothing to me.”
The sentry fixed his gaze on the approaching figure, a frown of concern on his normally stoic face. Whoever this visitor to the High Altar was, he wouldn’t be here for some time.
“I will meditate on this,” Janara said. “If I’m not back in time, keep him, or her, outside the Altar.”
The sentry nodded. “I obey, Seer.”
Janara tirelessly bounded up the Five Hundred Steps of Wisdom, the wide staircase that led from the base of the Altar to the Middle Entrance, a wide opening on the near side of the great pyramid that served as the home of their Order. She glided down the hall, her floor-length white and gold robes wafting behind her as she entered the White Room, one of several meditation rooms used by the Seers of the Order of Cenembor. She found it empty, so she hiked up her robe slightly, and knelt on one of the square mats lining the outer edge of the room. She faced the plain white pedestal in the center, upon which rested a smooth, glassy statue of a large eye, roughly the size of her head.
She pushed back her long, tightly-curled, red hair, slipping it into a golden hair clasp to keep it out of her face. She pressed her hands together in front of her chest, then took a deep breath to steady herself. She closed her eyes, found her center, and let herself be one with the High Realm.
“Allfather Cenembor, Allseing Eye of the Universe, Granter of Wisdom and Foresight.”
The words tumbled out of her in monotone chant, a little faster than she intended. The High Prophet told her once that she sometimes said it too fast, a sign of impatience, which did not serve their Order well. But this was no normal situation. She composed herself and focused on the words. The Allfather would see her, he would smile at the power and clarity of her words, and he would bless her with his gift.
”I ask a boon of you, Allfather. I humbly beg for a vision of the future. Show me who entreats your High Altar this day. Show me their intent, and I will praise your glory.”
Nothing happened. She repeated the prayer, focusing all of her will into the chant. Again nothing happened. A novice could spend all day trying to gain the Allfather’s notice. She, however, had never had to do this more than three times. She tried again, fervent in her desire, and her worship. She must have that boon!
The magic came. It flowed through her body, from her toes all the way up her back and into her head. That’s where it held its greatest power. In the mind. She opened her eyes, seeing nothing save the foresight the Allfather had now given her. Anyone watching would see a shimmering aura emanating from her entire body. She’d never seen her own aura, though. She only saw the visions.
In this one, she was high above the plain outside the High Altar, desolate as always. The vision brought her forward, to the structure itself, the massive half-pyramid with the top lopped off. The four outer corners of the pyramid continued upward from the base like raised swords, their points nearly meeting far above the top platform. A massive stone eye rested on the four points, carved to face both east, toward the Blackpeak Mountains where followers of the earth gods roamed, and west, across the Ohan Desert and into the Everlands, where the storm gods held sway. She’d seen this vision before, many times. The High Altar was built in remote, desolate lands, making the power contained within hard to abuse by the other Orders. This was where she’d spent most of her adult life. It was her home, and she knew it intimately. But something about it was different this time.
It was empty.
No Seers walked the top platform. No sentries patrolled the base. The village just south, populated almost entirely by servants, workers, stable hands, and craftsman who supported the High Altar, was lifeless. The entire structure stood empty in the vast expanse of the dry, dusty plain. Completely silent.
She blinked, and the vision vanished. She looked around, finding herself still alone in the White Room. A sinking feeling in her gut spurred her back to the gate.
She returned to the path leading to the stairs. The sentry still waited at the bottom, his eyes fixed on the visitor who was now almost upon them – a young man, riding a brown horse. She debated going back to see the High Prophet, but still she waited. There was no need to warn of something he must surely already know about. She forced herself to stay calm and she walked slowly down the stairs to the wide stone porch at the base. The sentry looked at her, seeking some sort of reassurance. She gave none. She only stared straight ahead at the rapidly approaching visitor.
Within moments a man no older than herself reached the base of the porch, rearing back on his horse until it stopped only a few paces ahead. The horse trotted back and forth on the grass, breathing heavily, while the man rubbed its neck, calming it. Stable hands arrived from the stable at the southwest corner of the High Altar, but the man waved them off. They stood by mutely, watching Janara for any sign of what to do next.
The man hopped off the horse, keeping the reins tightly in hand. He wore simple riding clothes, dark brown woolen pants, a lighter brown linen shirt, leather boots and belt. His wavy, dark hair was shoulder-length and unbound, hanging over the front of a gaunt face lined with beads of sweat. He had no weapons or armor, no accoutrements of the other gods or kingdoms, no visible sign that he intended harm.
“Welcome to the High Altar of Cenembor. I am Janara, Seer of the Order of Cenembor. What is the purpose of your visit?”
The man regarded her with a barely concealed smile.
“You don’t know?”
Janara fought to keep her composure. She said nothing in response.
“I have come to speak to the High Prophet of Cenembor,” he said. “Obviously.”
Janara blinked, and tried to retain the polite smile on her face. One did not demand to speak to the High Prophet. The High Prophet foresaw all visitors, and made preparations for their arrival far in advance. This man had not been expected.
“You are not expected.”
He opened the saddle pouch and pulled out a small cloth. He used it to dab the sweat from his forehead.
“Tell the High Prophet I am here. He will want to see me, for I bring news.”
Janara visibly frowned.
He raised an eyebrow. “He’s the High Prophet. He will know my name.”
Janara suppressed her annoyance. Both at this man and at her failure to foresee anything about him. Was this her failure or was it the Allfather’s? Surely he had a reason for not showing her of his coming.
He bowed his head, and then finally waved the stable hands over. They gladly took the horse away to be fed and watered. Janara hurried back up the steps to the Middle Entrance. She followed the hallway back until she reached the next set of stairs that led to the platform at the very top of High Altar.
Janara found him sitting cross-legged on the pedestal that overlooked the rear of the structure, facing the Blackpeak Mountains. He routinely meditated there, searching for visions of the future that foretold of great prosperity or dire troubles. The entire world paid begrudging tribute to him, the one man who could tell them anything they wanted to know.
“High Prophet,” Janara began, finding the words difficult to form, “a visitor has come. He asked to speak with you.”
For several torturous moments, the High Prophet did nothing. Then, he slowly turned his head to look back at her.
“That cannot be,” came a raspy reply.
Janara lowered her eyes.
“It is true, High Prophet. He waits now at the gate. He said you would know his name.”
She felt his eyes boring into her for a long moment. Finally, he turned back toward the mountains.
“Give me a moment.”
The High Prophet closed his eyes and began his own meditation. After a brief moment, a golden aura surrounded his body, much stronger than Janara’s. She stared in silent awe as the power of Cenembor wrapped itself around the High Prophet, granting him the gift of sight, not just of the future, but all possible futures.
The aura faded and he turned back to her. His eyes were troubled.
“Bring him to me.”
Janara bowed her head and hurried back to the front. She reached the gate where the sentry still waited with the visitor.
She led him back up the steps, through the Middle Entrance, then up the central stairs leading to the platform. She walked across the smooth, stone floor toward the rear platform, where the High Prophet still sat, now facing them as they approached. Janara moved to the side and beckoned the visitor to move ahead, while she knelt on a mat nearby.
The guest stood before the High Prophet, who watched this young stranger carefully. The man bowed, then sat cross-legged on the thick rug in front of the platform, mirroring the High Prophet. They watched each other, both waiting for the other to speak first. Eventually, the High Prophet could no longer contain his curiosity.
“I have not foreseen you.”
The man nodded slowly.
“Why?” the High Prophet asked.
The man licked his lips, glancing around at the palatial platform.
“I’ve come to deliver a message.” His eyes came to rest on a smaller eye statue sitting to the right of the High Prophet. “There’s a certain irony involved in what we do. You are the High Prophet of Cenembor, the man who has proven his worth to the Allfather, his devotion, his reverence, to such an extreme that the Allfather has granted you the greatest gift he has to give. His sight. From here on your perch, you can see all things, all futures, all pasts, all possibilities. But you couldn’t see me.”
The High Prophet sat completely still, giving no indication as to the truth of this man’s words.
“Why?” the man asked. “Why couldn’t you see me?”
The High Prophet’s expression hardened, and Janara’s unease turned into worry. She’d never seen him this way. He looked… nervous.
“Perhaps,” the High Prophet began, “there are things beyond the Allfather’s sight?”
The man smiled broadly.
“You are most certainly worthy of his boons, because you are wise. Wise enough to know that even with the sight of a god, you can’t see everything.”
The man closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Janara tensed, unsure what to expect, but the man simply opened his eyes and resumed speaking.
“My message is this: For far too long, you have all labored under mistaken beliefs. This world has rebuilt itself around the Twelve. Twelve gods who fight, and bicker, and taunt, and gloat. Twelve gods who crave acknowledgement, who are desperate for worship and adoration. Twelve gods who grant their boons to those whose beliefs are the most fervent, so that they may carry on the fight for veneration.”
He glanced at Janara, who shivered under his gaze.
“I’ve come to tell you that there is a thirteenth. One who sits outside the circle of the Twelve, banished for his generosity to them.” He stood, smiling as he turned back to the High Prophet. “He has returned. I am his Champion. And I am here to reclaim his gifts.”
The tone of his voice changed and Janara sensed the malice in them. She got to her feet, ready to either run or fight, but unsure which of those would do any good. Her gift was sight. She had no martial abilities.
The man held out his hand. He slowly squeezed it into a fist, and Janara watched as the High Prophet jerked forward onto his hands and knees. His aura appeared, but instead of shimmering around the edges of his body, it flickered, and then pulled away, floating through the air straight into the man’s fist. The High Prophet’s eyes widened and his mouth opened in silent protest. Once the magic left him completely, he fell onto his side, breathing in spurts.
“Sentries!” Janara shouted. The man turned to her and she felt her insides shudder. The magic that flowed through her body now ripped itself free, escaping through the very pores of her skin. She cried out from the searing pain, watching in horror as the power she’d devoted her life to wafted through the air and into this terrible man’s clutches. She fell limply to the ground, her skin suddenly cold and brittle.
Gold and silver-plated sentries charged forward, the metal footsteps pounding on the stone as they rushed forward. The man opened his hand slightly and a blade appeared there, made entirely of light. It gleamed as it cut left and right, slicing through the metal weapons of the sentries as if they were parchment. He drove the blade through the chest of each one, and they fell to the ground, their eyes devoid of any life. Within moments, all of them were dead.
“This is not a punishment,” he said, facing the High Prophet, who lay on his stomach, wheezing. “This is a cleansing. The Age of the Twelve has come and gone. They must be wiped from the world, in order to start anew.”
He drove the blade into the High Prophet’s back. The old man’s eyelids fluttered, then closed. The body fell to the ground, unmoving.
“Help!” Janara managed to scream as the man approached her. “Help me!”
He stalked toward Janara, who crawled backward across the floor. He raised his blade of light up into the air.
“You will know peace. That is my boon to you.”
The blade came down.
Like a vision from the Allfather, she watched as her soul twisted and writhed, the light within bleeding out, leaving a shriveled husk behind. She fell away from it, pulled upward, high into the sky, and then beyond.