A hundred hundred seasons have turned since the Goddess banished the Small Gods to the sky, leaving the land to mankind alone.
For Prince Teryk, life behind the castle walls is boring and uneventful until he stumbles upon an arcane scroll in a long-forgotten chamber. The parchment speaks of Small Gods, the fall of man, and the kingdom's savior—the firstborn child of the rightful king. It's his opportunity to prove himself to his father, the king, and assure his place in history. All he needs to do is find the man from across the sea—a man who can't possibly exist—and save mankind.
But ancient magic has been put in motion by a mysterious cult determined to see the Small Gods reborn. Powerful forces clash, uncaring for the lives of mortals in their struggle to prevent the return of the banished ones, or aid in their rebirth.
Named in a prophecy or not, what chance does a cocky prince who barely understands the task laid before him stand in a battle with the gods?
The priest raised his arm to his face, protecting himself from the blaze as he fell to his knees, the roll of parchment pressed to his chest. His nostrils flared at the stench of his own hair melting, the stink sickening him, but he ignored it, thankful he’d paused in the channel to set the words of his dreams on the paper.
He lowered his arm and held the scroll on his lap, closed his eyes. Flames licked at the sleeves of his robe, crackled in the grass on which he knelt. It singed his flesh, but he’d prepared his entire life to concentrate on the task that needed his attention to the exclusion of everything else, including himself.
Ine’vesi ran his reddening fingers along the surface of the rolled parchment. Its coarse texture instilled hope in him and he brought to mind the solemn, sparse temple in Teva Stavoklis. He imagined each grain in the wood of its posts and beams, every rock and pebble strewn across its dirt floor. Bundles of protection herbs hung on spikes protruding from the walls; greasy smoke snaked up from tallow candles. He breathed deeply and, instead of scenting the blazing gardens, he inhaled the unsavory odor of the burning fat.
The priest opened his eyes and found himself in the temple. He rose to his feet, knees creaking and vague pain crawling across the surface of his flesh, but he ignored it, concentrating on the table set in the middle of the room.
When he took a step toward it, pain shot up his spine. Ine’vesi gritted his teeth and pressed on, covering the distance with a stumbling gait. He reached the table and leaned against its edge, raised his hand to place the scroll upon it. Flames flickered along his sleeve, and he fought the urge to shake his arm in an attempt to extinguish them. They’d not be put out.
With greater effort than expected, he extended his arm and set the roll of parchment down. The flames on his sleeve leaped to his hair and he released his grip on the scroll lest the blaze make its way to the paper. As soon as his fingertips left the surface of the scroll, the humble place of worship disappeared. Fire filled the priest’s vision and the stink of burning flesh replaced the scent of protection herbs and melting tallow.
He stumbled back, his foot teetering on the edge of the boiling river. A bolt of lightning rode a thunderclap down from the sky, striking the base of the last of the nine Pillars of Life: Faith. The column tumbled, and Ine’vesi watched it fall toward him. He raised his flaming hands and, an instant later, the heavy stone crushed him.
On the last day the Small Gods walked the land, fire fell like rain from the sky.
Original Publication Date: February 16, 2015
When shadows fall, the darkness comes...
A disgraced Goddess Mother wanders blind and alone, praying for her agony to end. When a helpful apostle finds her, could it truly be salvation, or does worse torment lie ahead?
A sister struggles to understand a prophecy that may not be meant for her while her brother fights for his life. If the firstborn child of the rightful king dies, will it spell the end for everyone?
Darkness and shadow creep across the land in the form of a fierce clay golem animated by its sculptor's blood. It seeks a mythical creature whose sacrifice portends the return of ancient evil banished from the world long ago. With its return will come the fall of man.
As the game unfolds, the Small Gods watch from the sky, waiting for their time to come and their chance to rise again. They wait for the fall of shadows, the coming of the darkness.
They wait for night to descend.
Kuneprius attempted slinging each Brother over their saddle, intending to lash them in place and return them to the temple for burial, but they proved too heavy for him. He struggled Brother Fildrian up, the effort leaving him drained and panting, and worried that, if he took the time to do the same for the others, he’d be discovered. So it was the young Kuneprius rode through the gates of Teva Stavoklis with a child in his arms, four horses on leads, and a dead man lashed to a saddle.
Brothers and priests were already gathered in the square, though the leading edge of sunrise had just grazed the horizon. The sky perched on the cusp of the earth was crimson as the blood he’d seen spilled; the Small Gods swam in the ocean of darkness above that, waiting to surrender to the light of day.
Hands took control of Kuneprius’ steed, offered him help out of the saddle. He accepted, his sore and weary backside sliding off the smooth leather. When his feet hit the ground, his knees threatened to buckle, and another hand grabbed him by the elbow, helped him keep his feet. He glanced from one man to the next, realizing he knew each of them, but not recognizing any. A priest with his face hidden by a drooping cowl stepped forward and Kuneprius extended his arms, ready to hand over the child. The priest didn’t take the babe. Instead, he led the apprentice away from the throng of Brothers occupied with unlashing Fildrian from the saddle.
Three priests followed as the man led Kuneprius on a winding journey through the streets, past stone abodes and empty fountains, to a low building with no windows. To those unfamiliar, it appeared more storehouse than place of worship.
They crossed the threshold, as Kuneprius did every morning to pray for the return of the Small Gods, but didn’t stop to kneel on one of the threadbare prayer carpets. The hooded priest led him through the sanctuary room to a wide, stout door at the back, where they paused.
Kuneprius’ head spun and his belly churned, though his body had taken steps to ensure nothing remained inside it during his return. The scent of melting fat hung thick in the sanctuary room, given off by the squat tallow candles flickering and hissing on stands in each corner. For an instant, he thought his stomach might rebel again at their odor, but he forgot his beleaguered gut when the priest raised his hand and rapped on the door.
The baby, who’d been miraculously sleeping, shifted in Kuneprius’ arms, as though sensing the lad’s discomfort. He’d often wondered what lay hidden behind the short, wide door but now, as he stood on the precipice of finding out, he decided he’d prefer not to know. Unfortunately, the choice didn’t belong to him.
“Enter,” a voice within said, and a shiver ran along Kuneprius’ spine.
The priest pushed the portal open. Beyond, the chamber appeared similar to the sanctuary room, except much smaller. Bundles of herbs hung from spikes driven into the beams supporting the ceiling and thin tapers flickered in the corners. A table sat in the center of the room, a roll of yellowed parchment atop it. Beside it knelt Kristeus, the high priest.
In his twelve turns as an apprentice, Kuneprius had never laid eyes on the man or even heard of the door being opened. Seasons of wondering if someone truly lived behind the door had come to an end.
He hesitated in the doorway, gaping and waiting for the priest who’d led him there to enter, but he didn’t. A moment passed, expectation hanging in the air, before one of the other hooded priests behind Kuneprius laid his hand on the lad’s back and ushered him across the threshold.
The door clunked closed and the apprentice turned to find the others had left him alone with the high priest. The baby wriggled in his arms, then settled. Kuneprius gulped.
“This is the babe?”
Kuneprius knew the hooded figure spoke the words, but they seemed to float down to his ears from the ceiling. Before answering, his eyes flickered around the barren room, noting the lack of honey pot or personal items—only herbs, tapers, table, scroll, high priest.
The hood moved minutely, as though the invisible head inside nodded.
“And the others are dead? Killed by the women?”
The words dropped on Kuneprius flat and monotone, except the last: women. It came out twisted and skewed, spat more than spoken. Kuneprius’ throat tightened with the urge to sob, forcing him to nod rather than attempt speaking. A dozen heartbeats passed and he thought the high priest might not have seen the gesture.
“Yes,” he said, his tone quiet.
Kristeus tilted his head back, revealing a chin and mouth, but nothing further. Lips pale to the point of transparency moved, the yellow teeth behind them clicking together twice before he spoke again.
“Bring him to me.”
The High Priest held out his arms, the sleeves of his robe falling away as he extended his hands. Skin as pallid as his lips; nails long, curved, yellowed, and cracked. Kuneprius hesitated. The baby stirred again, squeaked in his sleep.
Kristeus gestured with his fingers and Kuneprius found his feet carrying him the short distance to the middle of the room, despite not having asked them to do so. He passed the baby into the High Priest’s hands and the child’s eyelids fluttered open. Kristeus regarded the babe for a moment, then lay him on the floor and bowed his head, words whispering from within the hood. Kuneprius resisted the urge to fidget.
Time crawled. The apprentice glanced away from the child, saw the herbs hung on the spikes were fresh, the floor swept, the walls free of soot from the tapers’ greasy smoke.
Someone comes in here.
The baby gurgled and the air in the room grew warmer on the lad’s skin. Kuneprius snapped his gaze back to the High Priest and found the man looking at him instead of the baby. He shivered despite the rising temperature.
“You have done well, apprentice. I have seen the coming of this child and you have done what needed to be done to make it so. Henceforth, you are Brother Kuneprius.”
The boy’s eyes widened and a flutter of pride pushed aside the nausea gripping his midsection. Never had an apprentice been named Brother before reaching their fourteenth turn. Eight seasons yet remained before Kuneprius reached that age. He thought it must be expected of him to respond, so he parted his lips to thank the High Priest, but Kristeus raised a hand, stopping him before he spoke.
“You will no longer be part of the liberating expeditions.” He slipped his hands under the baby, his long nails scraping on the wooden floor. “From this time forward, you have a much more important role to fulfill.”
Kristeus picked the babe off the floor, held him up as though examining a ripe melon rather than gazing on a living thing. Kuneprius wondered if the High Priest viewed everything in this manner, but put the thought from his mind. The air in the room prickled against his skin, standing the short hairs on the back of his neck on end. His sight wavered and, for an instant, he saw flames raining from the sky, trees burning, a river boiling. The hallucination disappeared as quickly as it came.
“Henceforth, you will be caretaker to the child,” Kristeus said, raising the baby into the air. “For you have brought to me Vesisdenperos, the sculptor. The one born to ensure the return of the Small Gods.”
The sweat on Kuneprius’ brow went cold.
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don't take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.
Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn't really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the "u" out of words like "colour" and "neighbour" than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l's). The father of two, Bruce is also the trophy husband of a burlesque diva.
Bruce's first short story, "Another Man's Shoes" was published in the Winter 2008 edition of Cemetery Moon. Another short, "Yardwork," was made into a podcast in Oct., 2011 by Pseudopod. Bruce's first Icarus Fell novel, "On Unfaithful Wings", was published in Dec., 2011 while the follow up, "All Who Wander Are Lost", came out in July, 2012. The third in the series, "Secrets of the Hanged Man", came out in July, 2013. The first part of his Khirro's Journey epic fantasy trilogy, "Blood of the King", was released Sept., 2012, book 2, "Spirit of the King," in Dec., 2012, and book 3, "Heart of the King," in Feb., 2013.
The two books in the Small Gods series, "When Shadows Fall" and "The Darkness Comes", were released in 2013, after which Bruce took a year out to concentrate on his family and career. Book three in the Small Gods series is Bruce Blake's current project.