As Matticus mentioned in a post of his, we (along with Arden and Ethan) have a new book coming out. It is a collection of seven fantasy stories all set in the same world. For some of my longtime readers, the first story may look familiar. After all, I first published it on this blog about five years ago. It was called Sceptre of Chaos.
Now, the version of the story in the book is different than what appeared on this here blog. It’s been edited (which I didn’t do before posting the chapters) and I’ve added things. While the core remains the same, there’s more to it.
I’ve since taken down the original. After all, I don’t want to give away everything from the first story. I’m not going to be completely stingy, though. Below, you’ll find the first two chapters of Sceptre of Chaos as they originally appeared here. If you like it, and want to continue reading, please pick up a copy of the book once it’s been released. I’ll be posting the links to purchase the book when it’s available.
The cold hands of death closed around his throat and began to squeeze. Every instinct in his body was telling him to fight, but his head was telling him how useless it would be. There was no way he would ever break the grip. Besides, his attacker would be expecting him to fight, and he knew from experience that doing what his attacker expects is not usually a good thing. So, in defiance, he sat back, waiting.
Just as spots were beginning to form in his vision, the hands released him. Air rushed back into his lungs as he drew deep, gasping breaths. It was many moments before he gained his composure. When he finally did, he looked into the eyes of his attacker and saw that the anger that caused the outburst was still there. He prepared himself for another attack, but it never came.
Instead, his attacker asked, “How long have you been my High Priest?”
“Nine years, my Queen,” Fragiel answered.
“Fool,” she shouted, the voice echoing in his head. With a thought, she lifted him off the ground and threw him into the wall behind him. “Any mortal woman can be made queen. I am a GODDESS! You shall address me as such.”
Fragiel briefly considered reminding his goddess that, the last time they spoke, it was her that requested that he call her ‘Queen’, but he discarded it after he regained the senses that had been knocked loose when he hit the wall. “Yes, my Goddess,” was all that he replied.
“What was the first command I gave you nine years ago, when I made you my High Priest?”
“That even though the sceptre of Accura, your sceptre, cannot be handled by any except for those blessed by you, I should still guard it with my life.”
“And where is the sceptre now?”
“On the stand I had made for it, over…”
Fragiel found himself pointing to an empty stand. The sceptre was gone! He couldn’t believe it. How had he not noticed it was missing before now?
“Tell me the name of the priest that has betrayed you, my Goddess,” he exclaimed. “I will gladly make him pay for what he did to you!”
“I have looked into the souls of all those who have sworn their loyalty to me. None of them is responsible for this,” Accura said, her voice trailing off at the end, lost in thought. Suddenly, she snapped out of it, furiously. “Besides, I will not be doing your work for you! You were the one who lost the sceptre. You will be the one who finds it. Is that understood?”
“Yes, my Goddess.”
“One last thing before I go, my High Priest. Until you recover that which you have lost, I will no longer be granting any of your prayers.”
“How will I be able to find the sceptre without your blessings?”
“Figure it out yourself,” her voice screeched so loudly in his head that he inadvertently covered his ears and closed his eyes.
When he opened his eyes back up, he stood alone. Looking down at the floor, he wondered how in the world he was going to do what he was asked.
Fragiel looked out the window at the capital city of Qyooniba. The view from his bedroom window at the temple had not changed much in the nine years he had lived there. That angered him. It angered him almost as much as having to live in this city in the first place. He would not have tolerated living here for this long except that his goddess had told him to do it. Not because she wanted him to be there, but because she needed him to be there.
In the time right before he moved there, the city of Qyooniba was in trouble. Its citizens were on the verge of rioting in the streets. The followers of each of the seven deities fought over which church should be ruling the city. In the end, the gods themselves stepped in and prevented the people from tearing their homes down.
The Seven enacted a compromise that decreed that each deity would have a temple within the city. Each of the temples would have a High Priest. A council, comprised of the seven High Priests, would then rule over the city, with all decisions being made by a majority vote. All of the gods agreed to this compromise, except for one: Accura, goddess of chaos. She argued that by imposing rules on her, and her followers, that the other gods were taking away her power and denying her faithful their free will. Eventually, she was forced to give up the fight, as she had no hope to win against all six of the others.
Though there were many of Accura’s followers that had been serving her longer, Fragiel had only been her priest for two years, the goddess chose him to be her High Priest. She told him it was because his father had been a soldier and brought him up in a strict military manner, making him used to a scheduled life. Fragiel always suspected that there was more to it, but he knew his goddess would never tell him.
A knock on the door interrupted his reverie. Parshal, one of the temple acolytes, opened the door and walked in. Normally, Fragiel would have chastised the man for entering without permission. Since he was anxiously awaiting the news Parshal was supposed to have gathered, he decided that he would wait.
“I’ve finished my interrogation of my fellow acolytes and the temple staff, High Priest Fragiel,” Parshal announced.
Fragiel waited for the man to continue, but he didn’t. “What did you find out,” he snapped.
“Nobody saw anything out of the ordinary except for the two cooks. They reported that they saw two strange dwarves exiting out through the kitchen. The dwarves, according to the cooks, wore the symbol of The House of Hond.”
Fragiel shook his head. The House of Hond was a dwarven clan notorious for being mercenaries. Two years ago, he had been part of the council vote to banish them from the city. Since the mercenary band was good at creating havoc, he voted for them to be allowed to remain, but he had been the only one.
Turning back to Parshal, he asked, “You were part of the city guard before you joined the temple, correct?”
“Yes, High Priest.”
“What do you make of this situation?”
“Either The House of Hond is not as good as their reputation says they are, or someone is trying to frame them for the theft. Either way, it is our only lead, and it should be followed.”
Fragiel had been thinking the same thing. He was also thinking that Parshal would probably be useful to him on the road. After ordering his acolyte to pack for the road, he pulled him aside. “Go to Main Street Inn. Ask the bartender there to send me his finest Mishaken wine as soon as possible. We’ll leave when it arrives.”
“Are you sure it’s wise to wait on a bottle of wine, High Priest?”
“It could be the difference between life and death. Now, go to the inn and get back here immediately to pack. We’ll need to be ready.”
An hour later, Parshal returned from his tasks. In that time, two new explanations for why the House of Hond had let themselves be known had popped into Fragiel’s head. Both of them were a lot more frightening than either The House of Hond being lazy or them being framed. It could also be that The House of Hond had information that made them believe that Fragiel, and his church, were no threat to them, or that The House of Hond let themselves be seen to draw Fragiel into a trap. Either way it was not good for him.
This line of thinking had him in a foul mood. His mood was not improved by Parshal, who was walking the grounds with his High Priest. Parshal, to Fragiel’s dismay, tried to fill the silences with small talk, but would also question Fragiel’s insistence that they wait for the package from the inn.
“Are you sure we have to wait for this wine,” Parshal asked once again.
The High Priest had finally had enough. “By our goddess, I swear if you ask me that one more time, acolyte, I will decapitate you and ask Accura to smite your headless corpse.”
Suddenly, Fragiel felt cold steel against his neck. He immediately froze. “That’s not very nice, priest. You should learn to play better with others.”