WORLD FIRST PREVIEW OF DIVINITY'S TWILIGHT BOOK 2 (content subject to change)
YOU'VE BEEN WARNED LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILERS I MEAN IT REALLY, I DO
NOT TURNING BACK? WELL THEN . . .
. . . SPOILERS, HERE WE GO!
Hetrachia 12, 697 ABH
Somewhere Along the Phar Coast, Imperial Province of Darmatia
Shaking and stench consumed Sylette Artorios' world, and there was nothing she could do about either. The first she could forgive. Matteo's airship was a generation past its prime. Passing gusts whistled through tiny, impossible to locate holes in the fuselage. The engine on the deck below howled like a dying beast, all the while trying to rock the craft apart from the inside out. Every screw on her co-pilot's seat squeaked, the headrest was a swath of grimy bandages, and her seat cushion was missing, leaving her bottom resting on a plate of rusted metal. Sylette gritted her teeth as each jolt of the craft was delivered directly to her already aching body. She was bruised, battered, and determined to hunt down and slaughter the mechanic who'd left the ship in this state. But the exiled Sarconian princess could deal with pain. Pain had been her constant companion for ten years, ever since her inexplicable banishment and her mother's execution. Instead, what made Sylette's gaze go red was dealing with that discomfort on top of the pungent odor of seven filthy cadets packed into a space little larger than a closet. She tried to focus on something—anything—else. Flocks of aether-swallows outside the viewport, sweeping by off the vessel's port side. The vast tapestry of life hundreds of meters below, sea meeting land in the jumble of reefs and cliffs that lined Darmatia's Phar Coast. And . . . Sylette sighed, then nearly gagged as she sucked in a particularly potent whiff of the two men sharing the cockpit with her. Some combination of sweat, dried seawater, and a third element she had no desire to place. I'm at my limit, Sylette thought, astral summoning dust coalescing around her. I can take the shaking. None of us have bathed in over a day. But I draw the Voided line at imbeciles bickering right next to me. "No, over there!" Renar Iolus yelled. Oblivious, he thrust his bare chest in between the two pilot chairs—one armpit dangerously close to Sylette's face—and jabbed a finger out the viewport. "Take us closer to the cliffs." Dear Veneer. Sylette spun away and held her breath. She barely heard Matteo's reply. "They're just rocks, Renar. Sharp limestone rocks, the kind we've been looking at since last night. Please, please, give me something more to work with." If not for the unwashed brute hulking over her, Sylette would have complimented the Professor's display of nerve. Two weeks ago, the bespectacled Terran had been a sniveling coward, so unsure of himself that he'd allowed Vallen to lead him around like a pet crysahund. Now he might be useful to her, if only just. Renar threw up his arms, releasing more of his musk to infect the air. "What part of the poem wasn't clear? We're looking for a lighthouse, Matteo, a lighthouse." His hands traced an imaginary tower in the space above the dashboard. "And since it could be tucked under the cliffs, you're going to have to get closer." "It isn't hidden under the cliffs."
"Why? People hide secret stuff underground all the time. Like buried treasure or evil relics." Enough, Sylette decided. Born from her anger, clouds of silver slivers twisted around her head, clinking softly as they joined together. One dagger formed. Two. At the noise, Matteo glanced toward her. His cheeks blanched, and his grip on the airship's control stick tightened. "You wouldn't fire those in a pressurized cabin, would you?" No, but neither of them needed to know that. "Renar?" Sylette prompted. Palms out, the burly Terran took a step back, allowing her a sweet breath of slightly cleaner air. "Yes?" "If I'm not mistaken, Unter recorded an exact copy of Archelaus Heisden's poem. Why don't you go grab it from him, and ask Lilith how his wounds look while you're at it. Alright?" The daggers twitched, honed edges glinting beneath the afternoon sunlight filtering through the transport's canopy. "Oh, guess you're right. I'll . . . I'll go fetch it." Turning sideways, Renar shuffled through the narrow cockpit door into the adjoining cargo hold. When he was gone, Sylette focused her gaze on Matteo, whose glasses did little to hide the thick bags forming under his eyes. Her brow furrowed. "And you're not going to crash this time, right?" She let the blades spin about their cross-guards. "You're not going to fall asleep? You're feeling awake and full of energy?" Matteo gulped and nodded. "Good."
Satisfied, Sylette dispelled her summoned weapons and leaned back, eliciting a tortured squeal from her seat. It wasn't just Matteo—they were all tired and on edge, herself included. Lilith was dashing between the aft maintenance hatch, Unter, and Velle, stopping to check on their injuries whenever she wasn't fixing a broken steam pipe or sprung gasket. Reek aside, Renar was doing a decent job at navigating. Which left Vallen Metellus, their eternal weakest link. He did save them in Etrus. Sylette would give the Triaron that much credit. Yet he'd done so by expending all his men'ar on a single spell, after which he'd limped along, sullen and brooding. Thinking about him made Sylette's head throb. To have so much power, yet be so useless! How was she going to turn Vallen into a valuable tool when he couldn't see anything but red mist? The vibrations of the airship warred with the mallet beating against Sylette's skull. She started to let her eyes close, started to rest her head on the wad of bandages atop her seat. It certainly wasn't the worst pillow she'd used—a dirt filled ditch had that honor. Sylette could . . . sleep for five minutes, and then . . . She bolted awake, shaking violently to stave off exhaustion. Long silver haired flapped back and forth, smacking Renar across the face when he ducked into the cramped cabin. "Wha—ptoo, ptoo!" He spat several strands from his mouth, then glared at Sylette. "Watch where you're swinging that thing!" Sylette snatched her hair back and held the end over her shoulder, inspecting a freshly soaked clump. No . . . He'd sullied it; sullied the beautiful hair her mother had loved. For a second, Sylette considered slicing the clump off, then impaling Renar with the same dagger. "That 'thing,' as you put it, is my hair. Hair which I would kindly ask you to not stick in unsavory places." Reaching beneath the dashboard, Sylette pulled out a wad of dirty cloth, which she used to wipe her locks dry. Then she tossed the rag at Renar's face—it was his shirt, after all. He reacted quickly, raising his left hand to catch it. A hand that clutched a wrinkled scrap of paper. Renar's eyes went wide. In that instant of indecision, he didn't drop the parchment. Nor did he block the flying garment. The sweat-stained, blood-crusted, drool-contaminated shirt struck him right on the nose and wrapped halfway about his head. Sylette couldn't help but giggle. Oh, how I needed that, she thought. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," Renar said, voice muffled beneath the fabric. "I'll get you back at some point. Just you wait." Careful not to damage the paper, he unfurled the shirt and pulled it on over his tanned shoulders and chest. "Anyway, this," he held up the scrap, "Is the entirety of the poem the Resistance broadcast. If we're going to find out where the meet-up point is, we have to figure out where Heisden wrote it." The Resistance. Was it actually someone from the Darmatian army, trying desperately to assemble a rebellion against the Sarconian Empire's occupation? Or was it a cleverly laid trap, designed to lure in and eliminate surviving Kingdom stragglers like them? Sylette didn't know, but she'd always choose whichever option brought her a hairsbreadth closer to slaying the Emperor—the murderer who she'd once called father. Clamping down her rage, Sylette nodded. "Read it."
"On distant shore, where mist a-abounds,
The god of wind and sea is found.
His jag-jagged crest, worn and...pocked, Is lined in shadow where none may dock.
Beneath the yet eternal flame,
The wooden trappings of mortals came, And only where his light did shine,
could they avoid the def's confine. Stoic, stout, firm he stands, Protecting all beneath his hands."
Renar read the first half of the poem aloud. He clearly wasn't a court scop—one of those garishly dressed minstrels who'd frequented the palace halls, desperate for Emperor Sychon to grant them a recital. Sylette had summoned them on occasion, letting them soothe her ears while she ate fruit tarts in the gardens with her pet, Tyxt. Even her limited experience was enough to expose the holes in his performance. The iambic was off, his pitch soared and dropped at random, and he was struggling with some of the words. But Sylette could see potential, not that his meaningless hobbies interested her. "Wooden trappings are ships," she reasoned, "And the light—a lighthouse—protects them from reefs. What's next?" Since there were only two seats in the small cockpit, Renar moved from the doorway and leaned against the instrument panel behind Matteo's chair. Even then, he was forced to hunch over, his shoulders and neck craned downwards to avoid smacking the low, curved ceiling. Squinting, he continued to read by the light of the blinking ceiling diodes. "The serpents flee, their maws pull back, The sea hems and . . . haws and must ret-retract. Haze can but hide; the—there's a smudge here—truth still remains, Both fear of man and—actually, might be Unter's blood—hope to claim.
If one can but survive the perilo-lous quest, In the—I can't read this wrinkle here—they may find rest. The rest is a little blurry, but I think—"
Sylette cut him off with a wave of her hand. "That's enough. If I remember correctly, the rest is just some fanciful description and a little bit of the author's verbose flair. The only notable parts in there are about the tidal patterns and the mist common to the area."
Unable to see out the viewport, Renar squatted down on his haunches and shoved his bulk into the gap between their seats. Too close! Sylette pushed against the opposite armrest, all but plastering herself to the shuddering bulkhead wall.
"So we're looking for a lighthouse in a place with lots of mist and constantly changing tides," Renar said. "That should makes things easier." Do I have to do all the thinking around here? Sylette thought, sigh building in her lungs. It died on her lips. Exhaling led to inhaling, and she had no desire to take a hefty whiff of Renar's fermenting odor. When Sylette spoke, it was to the bobbing needle of the altimeter on the panel in front of her—away from Renar. "What exactly do they teach you Darmatians in school? Tides are always coming in and out; that's kind of their thing. Besides, we'd have to sit and observe them in several locations to notice any difference, or collect data from library repositories we can't access. "Then there's the matter of fog. Tell me, Renar, what do you see outside?" Sylette pointed at the skyscape rushing past the airship. "The sun, blue sky as far as you can see, the ocean and Phar coast, a paved highway a little further inland, and some sandy bluffs spotted with small groups of trees. Why do you ask?" Such a straightforward answer, and so him—quick, simple, direct. The coast he'd described was sheer limestone, fragmented in places where water rushed in to form tiny inlets and grottos. Their tops had been blasted by foam-laced wind, forming craggy dunes to which patches of shrubs and ivy—Renar's 'trees'—clung with rugged determination. It wasn't until at least a league inland that green grass was even visible, and a league further than that until the ground was level enough to site a road. And that road, the Pharus highway, was hardly a major thoroughfare. With Etrus at one end and remote Weisvale on the other, it saw scarce traffic, predominantly horses and wagons instead of magtech vehicles and airships. But Renar could have stopped after describing the heavens, for that was all Sylette needed to make her point. "Yes! Clear sky, not a cloud in sight. In the month of Hetrachia, just before the start of winter, near to both the sea and mountains of northern Darmatia. It's cold and there's no moisture in the air, Renar! There's no way mist is going to naturally appear at this time of year!" "Which means?" Before Sylette could slug, stab, or otherwise assault the ignorant buffoon, Matteo came to her rescue. "She's saying all we have to guide our search is 'a lighthouse near Weisvale,' which we already knew."
The former princess closed her eyes and silently thanked whatever Veneer or deity was listening that there was someone else with common sense on the ship. "And," Sylette continued. "That's not much to go on. Renar, do you know anything about the poem's author or history or—" "Actually," Matteo interjected. "It tells us more than you think." It was the second time in a day that the timid sensory mage had cut her off or questioned her ideas and beliefs. The first time, just before the exile attempted to charge a compound filled with Sarconian soldiers, his suggestion had likely saved their lives. Even so, the fact that anyone would dispute her plans rankled Sylette like nothing else. Both then and now it raised her heart rate and made her blood boil—especially because of how inept the man-child was in every other situation.
But, Sylette let the irritation out through her nose. But I'll restrain myself, simply because Matteo will probably say something useful.
"Care to elaborate?" she asked. "Well, combining what my father told me about the transport business, along with what we learned in our culture and society classes . . ." Matteo began in typical, roundabout Professor fashion. Stay calm, Sylette told herself. Let him finish. ". . . After that, when the town of Weisvale was founded in the third century to provide a settlement for those early logging pioneers, they needed to figure out a way to ship the rich lumber down south. Since there were no rivers, they had two choices—use roads or use the Phar sea. The first was impractical; in fact, the Pharus highway wasn't even built at that time. So the frontiersmen decided to dump their logs into the sea and guide them down the coast to Etrus." Sylette kicked the underside of control panel, startling Matteo and cutting his oppressive dissertation short. So much for her staying calm. "Are you trying to damage something important?" he squeaked. "We'll pass the lighthouse before you're done. Just give us the lecture notes version." Matteo looked crestfallen. "Those were my lecture notes. From Principles of Darmatian Industry? It was a required course our second year at the Academy." Neither Sylette nor Renar showed any signs of recognition. He might as well have been speaking Eliassi. "You have your lecture notes memorized?" Renar's mouth hung open. "You guys . . . don't?" A snap of Sylette's fingers and an icy glare got Matteo back on topic. "Short explanation, got it. The Weisvale harbors were frozen most of the year—the town does sit up against the Great Divide mountains. This meant the settlers couldn't move their product by sea . . . unless they constructed a road down the coast to a bay that didn't freeze. At that halfway point, ships from the south took charge of the timber and guided it the rest of the way to Etrus. And to keep those vessels from running aground on the cliffs or reefs, they would have built—" "—a lighthouse," Sylette finished. "See? You can be brief if you try." Inside, she kept a firm damper on her hope. This might not be a fool's errand, but she wouldn't rejoice until they came face to face with the Resistance. "You think Heisden's lighthouse and this one are the same?" Renar asked. Matteo nodded. "I don't see why not. Heisden wrote that poem a century after it was constructed, so it was definitely around at the time." "And how long till we get there?" As he spoke, Renar stood and tried to stretch. His arms immediately smacked the bulkheads to either side. "Ow, ow, ow, that stings . . ." "It shouldn't be all that much . . . wait, what's that down there?" Easing off the throttle, Matteo slowed the airship and began an arcing descent toward the ground. The wispy cloud tendrils that had been whipping by slowed along with it, and the howl of the craft's tortured engine lessened to a wounded mewl. Sylette sighed as her seat—and the whole ship—stopped vibrating to pieces. She leaned toward the viewport, and Matteo obliged her curiosity by pointing at the object that had grabbed his attention. "Start at the middle of the window," he suggested. "Then look down and left." The scene below was a perfect match for Heisden's poem and the Professor's description. Ragged limestone cliffs topped by waving brown grasses wore their way to a broken black base that abutted the roaring sea. The lower levels were shorn bare of vegetation, gleaming dark teeth that cut the seething white waves crashing against them. However, Sylette's gaze was drawn to a solitary island that jutted out at least a hundred meters from the ridge itself. It was no more than fifty meters in diameter, a circle rounded by the water lapping against its edges, with its upper reaches barely flat enough to support any manner of construct. Yet there stood a magnificent lighthouse, two rounded turrets clinging desperately to the side nearest the sea. The larger sported a burgundy cap half the size of the stone base beneath it. Within that glass chamber, currently dimmed, was mounted the largest illyrium crystal Sylette had ever seen. Renar's eyes twinkled with the joy of a child unwrapping a Festivus gift. "I think we found what we're looking for," he breathed, moving next to her for a better view. Their shoulders brushed. Sylette bit her lip, counted to ten, and resisted the urge to shove him away. Loathe though she was to admit it, he had earned this moment. "Maybe," she replied. "We'll have to get closer and look around. Matteo, can you set the ship down by that bridge?" The stone causeway extended from the open bluffs above the lighthouse down to the water's edge, then over to the structure itself. Made of a more grayish brick than the white marble of the towers themselves, it appeared to have been constructed at a later date, perhaps after the ravenous sea sliced the knob of land from its main body. A drop of sweat trickled along Matteo's hairline. He licked his lips, and his fingers clenched and unclenched atop the airship's yoke. Nerves, Sylette reasoned. But of course he'd be nervous. His last flight had ended in a crash and a burning wreck. Yet the winds were light, the landing zone was flat, and there were no enemies to pressure him. If Matteo couldn't land now, he would never succeed as a pilot. Reaching over, Sylette placed a hand on the control stick, preventing Matteo from pushing it forward. He glanced at her, eyes narrowed in confusion. "You know," Sylette began, dredging up vestiges of compassion she'd long thought forgotten. "It's pretty tedious to call this flying wreck 'ship' or 'transport' or whatever every single time I talk about it." "Flying . . . w-wreck?" Matteo stammered. "It is; don't interrupt." In the background, Renar snorted, but Sylette ignored him and pressed on. "She needs a name, Matteo. What is it?" "My father called her—" Sylette shook her head. "It's not his ship anymore. It's yours. So what will you name her?" Matteo gazed over his shoulder at the cargo bay door, through which could be heard the sounds of Lilith hammering a sheet of metal and Unter's deep, labored breathing. "We should decide it together. We are a team, after all." Bile twisted in Sylette's stomach at the thought of being on a team with Vallen. This wasn't a team; it was a bunch of idiots and fools thrown together by happenstance. Their continued survival was a greater miracle than any the Veneer had ever performed. She smiled. "But you're the pilot. We don't get anywhere without you or," Sylette waved her other hand at their surroundings, several tons of third grade gestalt steel fixed in place by brittle bolts, bandages, and the collective prayers of its occupants. "Your ship. So what's her name, captain?" "You called him captain." Renar started laughing again. Daggers glared from her eyes, silencing him almost immediately. "Once. It won't happen a second time." "Him," Matteo said. He was staring out the viewport, chest heaving, tears in his eyes. Trembling still shook the yoke they both held, but now from sadness, not fear. "Him," Matteo repeated. "Kinloss. I'll name the ship after Abbot Kinloss, the man who stayed behind—who gave everything so we could escape Etrus. He deserves that much, don't you think?" "Yes," Sylette said.
No strong emotion compelled her agreement. Death stalked her. Her mother's, long past. Her father's, a promise to be fulfilled. And, eventually, her own. She'd be delighted if her vengeance didn't cost her life, but if it did . . . Suffice to say that Kinloss' sacrifice wasn't novel to her. Nor was Leon Descar's. She appreciated them, remembered them . . . and pressed forward. Looking back wouldn't bring her blade to the Emperor's throat. Gently, slowly, so as not to alarm Matteo, she removed her hand from the control stick and allowed him to ease into their descent. The landing that followed was perfect, even though the pilot still had tears in his eyes.
TO BE CONTINUED IN DIVINITY'S TWILIGHT: BOOK 2