Ophian Rising Preview

A Preview of The Ophian Rising
Soul Cycle Book IV

Brian Niemeier

Only fools liken Tharis to hell, Ceyhan reflected. Indeed, the Ninth Circle’s frozen crags made him long for Tharis’ burning dunes. Sleet like icy chips of glass stung his face as he trudged through dirty snow that the howling wind had gathered into knee-deep drifts.

A pang of guilt roused Ceyhan from his musings. Wretch! he chastised himself. What matters your comfort compared to Iyana’s life?

Better to focus on the task at hand than to compound his guilt. The Ninth Circle was forbidden by ancient decree of Queen Nakvin. Ceyhan’s upbringing at his parents’ court on Tharis had instilled a deep aversion to defying royal commands. If only Iyana had been better disposed to obedience by her similar childhood in Seele.

Similar, but with crucial differences, Ceyhan thought as he slogged up a treacherous slope. Rocks like the horns of frozen devils stabbing up through the snow tore his grey robe as he passed. Luckily, the cold numbed the pain.

Ceyhan and Iyana had both been raised as the children of monarchs. But whereas he was the adopted heir to Xander and Astlin of the Nesshin, Iyana was Nakvin’s second natural child. Avalon’s queen often spoke of Iyana’s older sister, even though Elena had died before the younger princess’ birth—twenty years ago for her and two hundred in the Strata.

Which was the second difference between them and the reason he was breaking royal law to track his beloved through hell. Though mortal, Ceyhan was prophesied to return as a Zadokim like his parents. Unlike her parents, Iyana was born mortal—the sad state of all Gen descendants more than two generations removed from a pure-blooded ancestor. For her daughter’s sake, Nakvin had stretched time so that only one year passed in Avalon for every ten years without.

Cresting the ridge of ice-coated grey rock, Ceyhan racked his brain for new ways to console his beloved. He had already defended her honor against more than one churl who’d used Iyana’s mortality to question her parentage, even though her fiery red hair and emerald green eyes were clearly the patrimony of Captain Jaren Peregrine.

Though giving slanderers a taste of his sword was highly satisfying to Ceyhan, his dueling victories brought Iyana small comfort. Her certainty that she would be lost forever after her death resisted all arguments of priests, theologians, and mystics.

Perhaps if I promise Iyana that Mother will guide her to the light beyond…

A bitter wind bearing the taste of decay buffeted Ceyhan as he struggled along the knife-edged ridge. He pulled the saddle blanket he’d taken from his mount tightly around him, drawing courage from the warm scent of horse infused into the dark, patterned wool.

The sleet thinned, and he saw her. Iyana stood near the edge of a precipice against the leaden sky. The winds whipped her light blue gown and tossed her long hair like a scarlet banner.

“Iyana!” Ceyhan cried. His voice carried over the wind like a trumpet blast.

The princess turned toward him but kept her eyes lowered to the frozen ground. “Ceyhan,” she said, “you came.” She issued a curt laugh. “He was right about everything.”

Passion urged Ceyhan to run to her, but a dark warning from his soul made him tread lightly toward the cliff’s icy edge. “Who was right?” he asked.

Iyana gazed into the stormy sky as if the roiling clouds were projections of her mind. “I never knew his name. His hair is iron grey and white like these peaks. His eyes are pearls immersed in dark pools.”

Ceyhan cautiously stepped onto the precipice. His dark brown braid flailed in a sudden gust of wind from the pit below, and he secured it inside his makeshift cloak. “What did he say?”

“What no one else had the courage to tell me,” Iyana spat. “He taught me things—many things that Mother forbade me to learn.”

“Your absence grieves her terribly,” Ceyhan said. A few more steps, and Iyana would be in reach. “Come away from the ledge, and I will take you back to her.”

Iyana shrank back like a cornered beast, coming perilously close to the abyss. “Mother would have come herself, if she’d known where to find me. Only you knew, my love.”

“You spoke to me in secret of your fascination with this place,” Ceyhan said. “If you had confided in your mother—”

“She cares only for soothing lies,” Iyana said bitterly. “My teacher tells me the truth!”

A shadow passed over Ceyhan’s heart. “What truth?”

Iyana finally met his eyes. Her expression, like that of a jackal sighting a fresh kill, chilled him more deeply than the wind. “That you would die today,” she said.

Fear quickened Ceyhan’s steps. He crossed the slick rocks to Iyana’s side and grasped her right forearm. The new vantage point gave him a dizzying view of untold depths churning with black mists below. The unbidden memory came to him of a bull carcass writhing with maggots. “This place is poisonous,” he said. “We are leaving!”

Ceyhan readied himself for Iyana to struggle. To his surprise she stood firm, drew a silver bracelet on a slender chain from her sleeve, and clapped the thin metal circle around his wrist. Ceyhan pulled his arm back, but the silver chain bound his right wrist to a matching bracelet on Iyana’s left. The metal chilled him more than the wintry air. “What are you playing at?” he demanded.

A triumphant smile brightened, but did not warm, Iyana’s pale, lovely face. “I’ve outgrown games. My teacher showed me how to make this chain as serious and final as death. Our fates are now bound!”

Some false prophet or Ophian agitator has filled my love’s mind with error, Ceyhan thought. Drawing his sword, he imagined slaying Iyana’s deceiver on its double-edged diamond blade. But first, he would cut the trifling chain that hindered him.

“This isn’t a mere silver chain,” Iyana warned, “but a silver cord. Your great blade is no more threat to it than a letter opener.”

The barb pricked Ceyhan’s pride. He took his sword in his left hand, pulled the chain taut, and struck the fine silver links. A flash of sallow light repelled the diamond blade and a surge of numbing cold tore the sword from his grip. The peerless weapon—a gift from his father—vanished into the abyss.
Ceyhan’s cry of dismay was cut short as Iyana lost her footing on the icy rocks. She fell screaming over the edge, and terror twisted Ceyhan’s stomach as the chain that tied him to her wrenched him off of the precipice to join her in the black depths of the pit.

What Ceyhan feared would be an eternal fall ended abruptly when the chain snagged on a jagged outcropping. Sharp pain shot through Ceyhan’s arm as the bracelet arrested his descent with a jolt, digging into his wrist and crushing bone. A wet thud like an ostrich egg cracking diverted his attention to his right, where Iyana hung, swaying limply in the wind. The back of her blue gown and the grey rock wall behind her head were both painted crimson.

Ceyhan called to his beloved. Her name echoed from the surrounding cliffs, but she did not stir. Reaching across to her with his left hand drove white hot nails through his right wrist, but he set his jaw against the pain and touched the side of her fair, blood-spattered neck. Finding that her heart no longer beat broke his own.

Lightning flashed in the black mists far below, accompanied by thunder like peals of laughter. Panic replaced Ceyhan’s sorrow. No one knew where he and Iyana had gone. His sword, which had been Worked to send messages, was lost, and he lacked sufficient skill as a Factor to fashion a sending with one arm.

Ceyhan raised his eyes to the cliff’s edge high above. The rock face was too sheer to climb, even unencumbered by a broken wrist and Iyana’s body. Her teacher had been wrong about the date of Ceyhan’s demise, but eventual death was certain unless he could escape.

Mother! Though he lacked her telepathic gifts, Ceyhan hoped that his desperation would make his thoughts heard across the cosmic gulf between the Ninth Circle and Tharis. The abyss answered with mocking thunder, and he stared hopelessly into its heart.

Sickly golden light shone down from above, and cold that made the endless winter seem like a warm spring day ravaged Ceyhan’s battered wrist. The sallow gleam was emanating from the chain that bound him to Iyana. As Ceyhan watched in dread fascination, a golden aura surrounded her corpse. Iyana’s eyelids fluttered as if she were waking from troubled dreams, but instead of eyes, they opened on black voids like mirrors of the pit.

“Ceyhan,” she rasped.

Iyana’s hellish awakening did not make Ceyhan scream. Feeling tendrils of dead golden light burrowing toward his soul like ravenous worms ripped a scream from his chest that joined the awful thunder in a chorus of terror and wicked glee.

Ceyhan’s left hand drew his belt knife by reflex. The mundane weapon, no longer than his hand, was useless against the shackles binding him to the horror that had been his love, but his frenzied fear had a different object. Ceyhan hacked at the delicate wrist below Iyana’s bracelet, bringing his knife down again and again until the last shreds of muscle and skin could no longer support her weight. She fell without a word.

There was a sound like a metal snake slithering over frozen rock. The pain in Ceyhan’s wrist was eased as the silver chain slid from the outcropping, plunging him into the abyss. By then, he was too mad with fear and grief to care.

No comments:

Post a Comment