2017/10/10

Ophian Rising Preview

It's my pleasure to report to my loyal readers that work on The Ophian Rising, Soul Cycle Book IV is proceeding well. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this preview.


“Guide me to the ether mine, Tallon,” the smuggler said to the empty corridor in a mocking imitation of Astlin’s voice. “Ignore the priceless ore deposits and help me look for shriveled old dead guys. Who cares if your expensive saw broke? I’ll just give you dirty looks and tell you to go find a new one.”

The path went upward relative to the crypt where Astlin was busy transcribing mummy tattoos, but technically descended since it delved toward the asteroid’s core. Tallon felt like he’d been walking a level path the whole time. Gravity was weird in the ether. That went double for ethereal asteroids.

“If I take a fall or get lost,” Tallon muttered to himself, “it’s her fault!” Thanks to Astlin, the expedition was running uncomfortably long for his taste. And so far all he had to show for it was a busted piece of equipment that was his only means of salvaging the whole mess. The last thing he needed was the client getting uppity on him.

I’m starting to think those Ophian punks might have a point about the Zadokim exploiting humanity, Tallon thought as he threaded his way around crystal spikes jutting from the floor. Not that he was dumb enough to raise a hand against people who could walk through walls and catch bullets. The offer of a blanket pardon alone made this job worthwhile. With a little luck, he just might solve his legal and financial troubles in one stroke.

He just had to find a replacement for that saw. Any unworked veins would be closer to the core, and so would any tools the miners had left behind. Then it was a simple matter of—

“…would have liked to see the tyrants’ reaction when they find out Temil and Tharis are just diversions.”

The male voice drifted down the tunnel, though the tricks that solid ether played with sound hid the origin point’s distance and direction. Tallon laid his hand on his rodcaster’s grip. Nobody else should be here! Like all men in his profession, he hated it when “should” diverged from “is”.

A second unseen man laughed. “They’ll react like they always do—calling for peace while denying there’s a war.”

“Won’t work this time,” said a third. “The word’s come down from Lasker. We’re done with symbolic gestures and empty demands. Today we start taking back what’s ours.”

OK, thought Tallon. Either the original miners are still around—which is unlikely since these guys are speaking Trade instead of ancient Stranosi—or I’ve been claim jumped! 

He slid the rodcaster from its holster and switched off his flashlight. A diffuse rosy glow bled through the tunnel walls up ahead. Tallon stood still and listened. The voices had gone silent, but the sounds of footsteps and metal ringing against stone wafted down the corridor.

Tallon considered going back for Astlin, but the interlopers sounded like they meant to do some serious mischief, and soon. Who knew what they’d get up to while he went running to his client like a clingy puppy? Besides, one of those voices kind of sounded familiar…

Silencing the jumble of loose metal object in his pocket with one hand, Tallon crept forward. The wall grew rougher and the din of men at work louder as he felt his way through the rosy near-dark. His hand passed over jagged raw crystal as he came to a bend in the tunnel. The washed out glow of work lights filtered down the passage to his right.

Tallon pressed himself against the unfinished—and uncomfortable—tunnel wall and poked his head around the corner. Less than fifty feet past the turn, the tunnel gave onto the floor of a rough-hewn shaft a hundred feet on a side whose walls rose out of sight. Tallon counted four men—all wearing sturdy clothes in tans and browns with dingy helmets.

A shout from above revealed the presence of a fifth man. Tallon slipped from cover and around the bend just far enough to see what was happening higher up. Crystal spars the size of redwoods crisscrossed the shaft’s upper reaches. Rose-colored fluid flowed lazily through the crystalline ducts.

That’s liquid ether! No wonder they abandoned this tunnel.

The fifth man, his drab clothes sprinkled with glittery crystal dust, slid down a rope secured to the largest ether pipe. A jolt ran down Tallon’s spine when he saw what the workman had attached to the duct.

Option one: these guys are geologists, and that bundle of blocks, pipes, and tape is some kind of scientific instrument. Option two: they’re total nutjobs who’ve planted a bomb inside a rock made from the most combustible substance known to man.

Though he owned an underground casino, Tallon didn’t like gambling. That’s why he’d pre-loaded his rodcaster with the perfect Worked ammo for a trip to an ether mine. He let out a deep breath, raised the heavy gun, and pressed the trigger. A tight cone of freezing mist blasted from the rodcaster’s barrel, leaving the bomb and a large section of the duct it was attached to rimed with a crackling layer of frost. The spent shell chimed as it hit the ground.

All five men in the shaft rounded on Tallon. Three of them clutched mining tools that could just as easily excavate a man’s face. One of them drew a scuffed black revolver.

Tallon snapped off a wild shot and turned to run. His foot collided with a crystal spur, and he pitched forward onto the coarse tunnel floor. His gun skidded away into the dark. Sharp rubble cut his hands and dug into his chest. He flipped over to see three armed workmen advancing on the tunnel entrance. Another pawed desperately at the ice-caked jacket covering his frozen arm and shoulder.

The fifth member of the demolition team stretched out his arms to signal the others. “Wait.”

They stopped. The fifth man strode to the front and center of their line. He wore grimy clothes similar to the others’, but unlike them he lacked headgear. His hair was cut down to a light brown bristle, and three x-shaped cuts scarred his forehead.

“Captain Tallon is a man of honor,” the scarred man said in a lower-class Mithgarder accent. “More importantly, he is a man. One so instrumental to our victory should share in it.”

Tallon furrowed his brow. “Do I know you?”

The lead workman motioned to the gun-toting man on his left, who removed a visored helmet to reveal a stubbly, broken-nosed face. He handed his revolver to the leader.

“Hey!” Tallon exclaimed as he staggered to his feet. “You’re the guy who sold me that bag of guns.”

“He also extracted this mine’s location from you,” the leader said. “A handsome payment.”

Tallon pointed an accusing finger at the gun seller. “Hold on. I don’t remember telling anybody about this mine.”

“Perhaps you were too deep in your cups,” said the leader. “Happily, you seem sober enough to witness our triumph.”

The leader pointed his gun at the ether duct and fired. The frozen crystal shattered with the crash of a massive chandelier hitting a marble floor. A rose-colored flood gushed out. The etherfall boiled off before it touched the ground, filling the air with the scent of an onrushing storm.

“Are you suicidal!?” Tallon cried. “One spark will blow us all to hell!”

The leader handed the pistol back to the man on his left and took a grenade from his coat pocket. He held up the red metal canister in his right hand and pulled the pin with his left. A smile twisted his lip. “Not suicide; martyrdom. Have no fear. No hell awaits us, only oblivion in the Nexus and eventual return.”

“I don’t get it,” Tallon shouted between rapid breaths. “What are you throwing away our lives for?”

Sapphire light filled the tunnel and washed over the would-be martyrs. Their mouths gaped in awe.

Astlin’s voice echoed down the passage, undiminished by the walls’ dampening effect. “To kill me.”

Tallon knew better than to turn and look at those beautiful, awful lights. He kept his eyes on the leader, who still clutched the grenade in one trembling hand.

Astlin stepped to the mouth of the tunnel and faced her attempted killers. “Drop your weapons.” She turned to the leader “Not you.” Three mining implements and one revolver clattered to the ground.

“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful,” Tallon said to Astlin, “but what are you doing here? Don’t tell me you already finished taking dictation from those dead guys.”

“Oh, I barely scratched the surface,” said Astlin. “It doesn’t help that I can’t understand those symbols. But you’re my responsibility. I came as fast as I could when I felt your distress.”

Tallon poked Astlin’s shoulder with his finger. “Wait a minute. You were in my head this whole time!?”

“She treats you like a child,” the leader hissed through gritted teeth. “She and all her kind. They claim to liberate us but keep us in chains.”

Astlin glared at the man whose three scars mocked the lights on her brow. “I’m in your head, too,” she said. “I can feel your resentment; your blind hatred. Lasker’s filled you with lies. We only want to help!”

The leader strained to speak. “So say all despots.” He managed to spit at her.

Astlin took a step forward, her arm outstretched. “Hand me the grenade,” she said. “Slowly. Carefully.”

The leader’s face reddened. Veins stood out on his forehead and neck. Suddenly a shadow of his smile returned. “I’m not your servant,” he croaked.

He opened his hand. The safety lever sprang from the grenade.


The Ophian Rising, the final book in the award-winning Soul Cycle, will be out later this fall. If you haven't read Nethereal, Souldancer, and The Secret Kings, now is the perfect time to get caught up for the fourth book's release. Pick up the first three Soul Cycle books today:

The Soul Cycle - Brian Niemeier

6 comments:

  1. This is really good.

    I actually love them thinking of her as a tyrant. After all, when true and proper authority is obfuscated, then people will resent any authority they do not agree with.

    Really, really looking forward to the upcoming book, as well as the cover updates!

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    1. Your approval fills me with warm fuzzies. Strong work nailing the novel's major theme based on a short excerpt!

      Cover updates will definitely be released as they become available. On a similar note, now is the time to subscribe to my newsletter--which you can do via the link in the upper right and get a free book in the bargain. There will be some major exclusive updates and special offers coming to newsletter subscribers soon.

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    2. Well, that theme is the proper outgrowth of the moral morass of book 1, and the delving behind the scenes of the cosmology in books 2 and 3. But I am still pleased that I am consistently going with the moral implications. Sure, space opera is fun, but I like the philosophy behind things like this as well! Good job writing something your audience can enjoy for diverse reasons!

      Already signed up for the newsletter, so I will possess myself in anticipatory patience.

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    3. Thanks. One of my chief writing goals is to never let it be said of one of my books that "you can just turn your brain off" while reading it.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Alex. You won't be waiting long.

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