Release Week for the Gates of Fire & Earth!
The fun thing about having finished writing a book, and editing, and formatting, and even getting it uploaded for pre-order is that THEN I can finally just enjoy the book.
Not that I don’t enjoy those previous steps. When ideas are bubbling and the writing is flowing, it is one of the most awesome experiences in the world. And I actually really enjoy taking the rough and raw first draft through a meticulous editing phase to turn it into something that has flow and cohesion, something I am proud to have written and that I think readers will love. Formatting is just a necessary evil, lol.
But all those stages have another stage until the book is really on-line and ready for readers. Then I can sit back and see what that final book really looks like!
And that is where I am at with the Gates of Fire & Earth!
Release is this week! I’m super excited and falling in love with the story and characters all over again as I move forward with the final book in the trilogy, A New Goddess, AND take occasional forays into Gates to find passages to share. And when you are an artist as well as an author, sharing usually takes the form of a picture!
I’ve been creating a few with more to come. So I thought as well as releasing the third chapter as an excerpt, I should let you see the snippets I’ve pulled out to create memes. If you like them, check out the Pinterest page for the World of Myrrah to see memes from all the books. And if you have a favorite phrase, let me know! I’d love to create a meme for it. 😀
Hope you enjoyed the memes! They are waaaayyy too much fun to make, though a challenge too to find a quote that makes some semblance of sense if you haven’t read the book (and will fit on a page). lol.
Now enjoy the excerpt from the Gates of Fire & Earth. Don’t forget to pick it up on pre-order this week for only 99¢ before it goes up to full price of $3.99 this coming weekend.
Gates of Fire & Earth
Book 2: Games of Fire trilogy
THE DESERT OF THE ASHANTI
Niri held her breath. Not that it would make any difference to her and Khodan being noticed, but the act gave her some comfort as if she were diving into water. As if she were in control.
“I do not sense anything on the sand,” Khodan said, his eyes mere slits under the deep cowl he wore to protect himself from the glaring sun. “Or in it.” He offered her a half smile.
Niri snorted, nudging the camel forward as she took a tentative breath. “We both know that doesn’t matter. From what Darag and Lavinia have said of the Ashanti and Ekhaba, they could be on the far side of the desert and still sense us … and come with a thought.”
“If they are here,” Khodan answered.
Niri hesitated. She finally looked at her husband, not hiding the worries and fears she felt. “I’d rather they are here than searching for the gates. Isha seemed certain they would learn of them.”
Khodan swept his eyes across the rolling dunes that swept outward as they rode south from the strange border town of Bakk. “Let’s be certain they don’t learn of them from us.”
Niri couldn’t agree more. After fighting the Ashanti above the Water Gate and watching Isha dissolve as Niri’s ability to control water melted from her, from the very world, she very much wanted to make certain the Ashanti didn’t reach another gate. She didn’t want to risk it accidentally closing and the power over an element being lost from Myrrah. If she didn’t fear what the Ashanti would do if they returned to the spirit realm, she’d escort them to the nearest one rather than risk one of her friends losing a power. Or even struggle with regaining control as she did with hers.
“Do you feel a change in water?” Niri asked.
Khodan was a Spirit Elemental and could control all five elements. He’d been trained in each and how to hold them in balance as was the Erowok way. She hadn’t asked before, her mind too full of thoughts on the Ashanti, what Lavinia faced, and what had happened to Khodan in Rah Hahsessah when he’d been trapped beneath the Temple of Rains that she had only considered she didn’t have another Water Elemental to ask.
“It comes slow,” he admitted with a quick glance toward her.
“Like it is blocked,” she agreed but added with a breathy laugh, “but then when it comes it is like a waterfall and hard to stop!”
Khodan’s smile was fond. “It is new again, but not gone at least. We will figure out how to use it, and then when the other gates are nearly closed, we will be able to teach the others to use their powers again.”
“If,” Niri said and paused. Khodan’s patient but curious glance convinced her to finish the fear she held tightly.
“If I can still touch the other elements after their gates are narrowed. My only born ability is water. When the other powers are reduced …”
Worry clouded Khodan’s deep violet eyes. Desert silence that held hissing sand and the camel’s huffing breath fell between them. “I don’t know,” Khodan finally admitted. “It is possible. Can you touch the other elements now?”
“I sense them,” Niri said, not wanting to admit that at times that sense felt more like her imagination than reality. “Whatever happens, at least I will still have water. And you will have all since you are a Spirit Elemental.” Her smiled faded, and she fought a flash of tears. “It is Zhao I worry over. Losing some control in the steppes bothered him enough. If all but air is gone?”
Khodan reached for her hand and squeezed it without answering, his copper-colored skin contrasting with the dusky olive of hers. There was no answer. Not yet, at least. And the problems that lay ahead were more troublesome and deadly.
They rode amid the dunes now. The hardy, thick leaved plants and ephemeral grasses of the landscape near Bakk had been left behind before daybreak. They’d ridden out in the cool depth of the night, more as a means to escape the heat day would bring than to make better time. Because if they wanted to be quick, Khodan could fly them. But the Ashanti would certainly know it was them traveling above their desert, or at least one of the creatures they’d just fought in the marsh. But two riders heading south from Bakk to the Temple of Stone … perhaps the Ashanti would not consider that worth noting. And besides, they were both tired.
The battle in the marsh had come on the heels of the smaller conflict in the Temple of Rain. Khodan had been trapped in its dungeons for over a week, barely fed, and with his power locked away by a firechain. Despite that, he’d fought its effects fiercely enough to break a link with his control over earth, thinning the chain until exhausted, collapsing, and then trying again. Days spent alone in the dark, remembering what had been done to him when he’d been the Curse. The few words Khodan had shared about either time he’d been a prisoner made Niri happy to be riding with him through the growing heat of a desert day, Ashanti or no Ashanti.
As the sun reached broiling heights, they stopped to rest under the shelter of a cloth stretched between thin poles. Lying with eyes closed against the warm grains of sand, Niri reached out her power to feel the earth of the desert as Khodan had once taught her. For a moment, the vastness of the sand flickered in her mind but faded like a dream. The individual grains she raked her fingers through were more real than any sense of the desert as great as the ocean.
Instead, she centered herself and reached outwards, seeking water. Far behind them should be the marsh or to the west the Bay of Tiak. Somewhere ahead lay the fragile oasis born of a spring she had called in need. It took a moment, but the whisper of far off water brushed against her mind. Tension she hadn’t meant to build in her chest released.
“Rest,” Khodan whispered, his lips brushing her temple. “It will come back easier.”
“I know … with practice,” she replied. But her thoughts as she drifted into something like sleep as she sweated in the baking air were for those Water Elementals who were not so strong in their ability. Niri wondered if they felt a connection to the Elemental at all. And if they did not, how would they learn to control it again? Even she needed to practice, but the desert offered little opportunity to touch water, and none she would risk lest the Ashanti sensed it. The worries lingered as they left their meager shelter in the late afternoon, more real to her than dreams of water in the desert.
The journey staggered onward at a pace that felt too slow as the days passed like a mirage. From the small oasis that had grown around the spring she had made, a route marked with twisted glass sculptures stretched southeast. The path from Karakastad to Bakk was not the main roadway to reach the Temple of Stone, but it was a trail nonetheless. Unlike the time she, Ty, Ria, and Lavinia had wandered lost in the desert.
In the distance, flame spouts danced in rising funnels. Deep in the desert, thermals of hot air grew so strong they ignited, sweeping fire and sand upwards to leave behind strange glass sculptures as testimonies of the desert’s supremacy. These were what had been used to line the path to the Temple, though an unwary traveler could easily be misled by the new ones created daily.
Ahead of her, Khodan reined in his camel, his gaze fixed on something in the distance and off the pathway.
“What is it?” Niri shaded her eyes with a hand to deepen the shadows beneath the loose head scarf she wore.
Nothing but desert, fire columns, and the glinting of glass dotted the landscape. As tense as she felt, not seeing the gleaming towers of Ekhaba was a relief. The illusion of the Ashanti city that she’d seen morning and eve on her first delirious journey through the desert had been absent on this trip. She’d begun to worry that meant the Ashanti truly were not in the desert.
“Something white … a piece of cloth perhaps?” Khodan replied. He held his hand frozen on the reins, not giving the beast he rode the signal to continue.
“A traveler who wandered from the path?” Niri glanced skyward. “It is nearly time to rest anyway. Let’s go see.”
She led the way based on Khodan’s gaze, seeing a flutter of white as her camel crested a dune. Cloth wrapped around something heavy rippled in the hot air. Niri guessed a traveler tired of carrying extra baggage had stashed it off the trail to lighten a load best reserved for water.
When she was close enough to see what the too bright daylight hid, Niri jumped from her camel more than dismounted. Stumbling through the sand that buried each footstep to her ankle, she fell before the body of a young woman wearing a white dress similar to a novice priestess’ robe and dug grains away from her face.
Khodan pulled Niri away as a small landslide of sand collapsed and partially covered the woman’s body again.
“She’s been dead for a while,” he said, holding Niri gently against his chest.
The woman’s mouth was open in a silent scream. The desiccated flesh emphasized the woman’s last agony with fleshless lips pulled back over bright teeth. Vacant, shriveled eyes stared into eternity, so that Niri closed hers and leaned against Khodan—until realization tensed her frame. She lunged back at the mummified figure, furiously clawing the sand away from her arms.
“Look at her,” Niri said as Khodan hesitated. “Dark hair, her eyes look dark too, and tanned skin. She looks Ishian, but without tattoos.”
“Riva,” Khodan breathed. He started freeing her as well.
Niri had been wrong about one thing. The dead woman had a tattoo, but just one. It was a water drop marked on her shoulder, visible through a rip in the fabric of her dress. The first hand they found was stiff with fingers clenched which made it difficult to tell if she had the webbed fingers of the Ishian people. But the second stretched rigidly from her body as if reaching for something or pushing someone away. A delicate membrane of dry skin stretched between her splayed fingers. She was Ishian. It was Riva.
“Poor girl,” Niri whispered, looking over the remains of the young Water Elemental. “To die alone in the desert …” She shook her head unwilling to think of the horror Riva must have felt.
“Killed, you mean. She was stabbed.”
Now that Khodan drew her attention to it, Niri saw the dark stains on the front of the dress leading from a gaping wound.
“I guess the Ashanti came back to the desert,” Niri said. “Though it surprises me they would use a blade when they control so much power.”
“Who knows what they did to her before,” Khodan said, his voice sad and empty. Niri pulled her gaze from the ended suffering of the young woman to Khodan, wondering what memory stirred within him. “We must assume that the Ashanti know about the gates.”
Niri swallowed the question she’d been about to ask. “We need to hurry to the Temple. Hopefully, they do not know we seek the spheres. If they get the Sphere of Stone, we will not be able to stop them from crossing into the spirit realm in Akhetta.”
“And when we get there, we need to see if you can speak to Lavinia through water. We need to warn her.”
Doubts threatened to drown Niri, but she nodded. He was right. They needed to tell the others.
They took the time to bury Riva in the sand, pulling it across her body with their hands. They wouldn’t dare use power here in the desert and alert the Ashanti to who they were, especially now. Despite a need to hurry, the fear of facing the Ashanti in their homeland kept Khodan from transforming and flying them to Karakastad.
Two days later, the wind full of sand hissed as they approached the Temple. Niri knew they were close, despite the blinding storm of air and earth that had formed the day before, because she sensed the water that lay in the bottom of the vast sinkhole of the underground Temple. And it was a relief to feel connected to it.
To ride through the homeland of the Ashanti, Niri had refused to take the fragment of the Sphere of Water with her. She wouldn’t risk the small amount that was left, nor the potential that if the Ashanti did find it they might realize the importance of the spheres. So she had ridden through the desert with no contact with her element beyond what sloshed in the canteens. With the gate so newly closed, if not completely then enough to diminish her touch on an element she’d sensed since a child, Niri could not even feel the sea. But she felt the cool call of the water in the Temple.
“We are almost there,” Khodan yelled to her, voice muffled by the cloth wrapped around his head to protect it from the stinging sand. Keeping to their false role of ordinary travelers, neither of them used Elemental powers to shield themselves from the storm. Which kept Niri from discovering if she even could.
“I know,” Niri said. She spoke to herself with warm comfort and relief, but Khodan must have retained something of his gifts when he was a dragon or sensed her mood because he glanced back at her.
“You feel the water?”
Niri sensed his smile without needing to see it. “Could I not? It is the only puddle in the middle of fire, earth, and sky.” The words were matter of fact, but she was grinning like a child.
Khodan laughed, putting an arm around her shoulders to lead her forward and shield her as they led the camels to the rough stable, sand filtering through openings in the boards with each gust. Horses and camels already sheltered inside groaned at the onslaught as they opened the doors, but their three sighed with relief. No one was there to greet them, all having taken refuge below. Not even a Temple of Elementals fought the fury of the desert. Or it was empty like the first time Niri had come. Her heart fluttered with the fear of that idea, but she pushed it aside.
Khodan opened a door in the back of the stable. Moist air free of dust reached out to welcome them. Reaching the Temple of Stone was a relief in many ways.
For the first few turns of the staircase, the only sound was the hiss of the storm behind them. But as they went deeper into the Temple, faint voices broke the growing silence. In the first room below the stable, gear was strewn across the stone floor. Blankets were rolled and tied to saddles while bags spewed contents of bedrolls and soiled clothing. The air smelled of wood smoke and mud.
“… once the storm blows itself out,” a woman said to a boy behind her as she walked into the room. She stopped on her heels at seeing Niri and Khodan hesitate in the doorway leading down from the stables. “Nirine?”
With a blink, Niri recognized the small woman with dark brown braided hair streaked with gray and an oddly styled wraparound rough spun shirt over leather pants. “Kheten! Have you just returned from the steppes?” The baggage and smells clicked into place.
“Yes,” she said hurrying around the debris-choked floor to offer greetings. “That turmoil is done with, at least for now. I do not trust that Elder of the Tiak. Phet was his name. But Zhao left to join you in the Marsh of Isha. He said there was other trouble?”
Niri followed Kheten as she led the way onto the main staircase. Glimpses of the far wall of the Temple were visible through windows carved into the stone wall. The sinkhole that comprised the center of the Temple was vast in width more than depth, but it was deep. Near the top where they were, the light was dimmed by the sand cloud of the storm, though no grains fell into the Temple thanks to Air or Earth Elemental skill. Openings to rooms and other staircases lay across the hazy expanse while far below the faint light reflected upwards from a basin of water cut by stone pathways. From this high, the walkways looked tiny and narrow. Niri had stood on them before. They could hold a team of horses pulling a cart.
“Yes, you could say there had been trouble,” Khodan said. The tension in his voice made Kheten glance toward him.
“Have the Ashanti been here?” Niri asked Kheten, too anxious for the answer to wait until they were in Kheten’s private quarters. Or next to the Sphere of Earth, which seemed potentially the best place to go first.
“No,” Kheten answered. “Not since Behk’sah’s visit a few weeks ago.” Niri froze in fear.