The Book of Kings
Book Two in the Equitas Series (The Living God)
In a world of towering glass and rivers of stone, a stranger seeks her past…
On The Second...
Saran D’Mor, the Queen of Adrid, wanders a foreign world without a shred of memory. Lost, alone, and plagued by dreams of a place and people that cannot exist, she sets out to unravel the mystery of her forgotten life by making friends and enemies in the underbelly of New York City.
On The First...
The Vel d’Ekaru–the Living God–has conquered the world. Only Mavahan and a small band of rebels stand against him and the Book of Kings–a record of history and a map to the keys of the universe.
In order to stop the Living God, Rowe Blackwell must find Saran and return the memories he stole. If only he knew where to start…
New York City, United States - The Second
On a cold day, a little less than three months after arriving at Fairmount Hospital and waking from a coma, the doctors transferred her to a different, less familiar, part of the facility. Her escorts had referred to it as the “psychiatric ward.” At the time, she had not understood the term, as they spoke a language unfamiliar to her. She came to realize that it was a place for those who were no longer physically ill, but had not recovered their wits.
They gave her a name, as she could not recall her own. After pouring through a list of names to find one that felt familiar, they settled on Sara. But, as she could not recall her whole name, they gave her the name Sara Jane Doe.
Sara spoke eloquent and confident in the language she knew, but no matter what man or woman they put before her, no one could decipher her words. Muddling through what little she knew of their tongue, Sara spoke to those around her in broken sentences that made her seem unintelligent. Soon, she stopped speaking at all.
The language barrier in Fairmount seemed the least of her worries. Sara soon discovered that she knew nothing about her surroundings. She spent her first days in the common room squatting beneath a rectangular box mounted to the wall, just out of the patients’ reach. The pictures on the front moved and changed, with different faces, costumes, and voices. She taught herself their language using the rectangular box by mimicking the people she saw. This did not help her case for sanity, as she spent a lot of her time mumbling repeated words from where she sat beneath it.
The only possession she had, aside from the hospital-issued clothes, was a gold ring around the fourth finger of her left hand. They told her that, despite every means possible, they could not remove it. They called it a wedding band, but she could not remember ever having a husband.
Sara had weekly meetings with a doctor named Andrea Davis. At first, Sara spent most of the meetings listening to the idle tick of what Doctor Davis referred to as a clock. At the end of each meeting the clock gave a shrill ring and, no matter how many times Sara heard the sound, it sent her leaping out of her skin. Dr. Davis eventually made it a point to resort to a different means of keeping time.
After the meetings with Dr. Davis, Sara took her medicine and spent the rest of her time in the common area with the other patients until she felt too drowsy to keep her eyes open. Looking out the window, she traced the bars that lined them with her finger. Bars were familiar, yet she had not known how to use the big metal box in the hall with the colorful food lined in rows. Bars held her prisoner, she knew that, but she had not known that you could put green paper or silver coins into the box in the hall and get food–not until someone showed her.
Sara didn’t understand why she knew some things so surely, but not others. It frustrated and frightened her. So, rather than investigate and show her relative ignorance to the world around her, she stood at the window and looked at what she did know. When she wasn’t observing the small park square outside the hospital, she sat in front of the rectangular box with the pictures.
Sara began to wonder about the images, especially the ones that touched some part of her that she could almost remember. It appeared to be a window to a world she felt she belonged to, at least during the hour of nine and ten PM.
One night, Sara reached a trembling hand out to Mrs. Myrtle, an elderly patient with what the orderlies called dementia, and pressed a finger into the soft folds of the white robe gathered around her arm. Mrs. Myrtle blinked, halting a conversation with her invisible, dead husband, and turned dull, half-blind eyes to Sara. “Yes, dear?”
“Are you real?” Sara asked.
Mrs. Myrtle chuckled. “No dear. None of us are.”
Even if the world felt fuzzy and out of touch, Mrs. Myrtle felt real to her. Sara felt real. How could she believe a woman who spoke to thin air?
They were all mad.
Did that make her mad too?
They had to teach her what a phone was, how to use the porcelain bowls to dispose of excrement, and operate faucets. Sara did not know what coffee pots, remote controls, cell phones, or cars were. She did not speak their language natively, and no one they put before her could understand hers.
Maybe this place wasn’t real at all. Maybe it was all a dream. Maybe what was inside the rectangular box...
A month after arriving in the ward, Sara broke the box. She climbed into a chair and clubbed it three times with a cane she’d stolen from Mrs. Myrtle. The men in white clothes tackled her down before she could climb through the broken glass and escape into the black void beyond. When she screamed at them in the tongue she knew so well, they made her sleep with a sharp prick to her neck.
* * *
One year and four months later...
Andrian, Adrid - The First
Rowe Blackwell had not seen the sun in over a year, nor had he felt the soft kiss of a fresh breeze, or smelled the sweet scent of pine. He’d not bathed, not shaven, and not changed his clothes since the moment the feverish followers of the Vel d’Ekaru had dragged him down to the deepest depths of Andrian’s city prison.
Rowe’s beard had grown long and matted. His black hair tangled in dreadlocks around his head and he no longer carried himself with the straight back of a nobleman. Hunched in the corner of his tiny cell, he carved runes into the granite walls with a small rusted nail. At least, it was better use on the walls than his shackles. Rowe knew enough about magical Binds to know not just any instrument would work. Nothing would unlock him save the key that dangled at the Captain of the Guard’s waist and he lacked the strength to get it on his own.
For a year he’d subsisted on the gruel he shoveled into his mouth, delivered to him on a pewter plate slid under the wooden door. His only light, a flicker of torch flame that filtered in through a barred window. His brother–no, not his brother anymore–the Vel d’Ekaru visited him often if only to torment and interrogate him.
Rowe spent long hours with the white-haired monster that had stolen his brother’s body as its vessel, a torture on its own. The cruelty of the Vel d’Ekaru was an uncharacteristic departure from the selfless love his brother, Keleir, had shown him, even when Rowe didn’t deserve it. It made it easier for Rowe to hate the creature, despite his familiar face.
That afternoon the Vel d’Ekaru did not visit him, as he’d done every day before. No one held Rowe Blackwell, once an infamous Lightning Mage, to the hard stone earth. No one dragged hot knives across his skin, or plucked off his new fingernails. The guards collected him from the cell, hoisted him up, and carried him away while complaining of his stench.
Rowe shuffled his brittle, worn leather boots across the stone as they hauled him up the spiraling stairs to the main castle floor. When the heavy metal dungeon door opened, sunlight spilling in from the windows blinded him. Unable to see, he let the guards take him where they wished.
Blazing sun and summer heat washed over his skin. They dumped him unceremoniously on the floor of a balcony that overlooked the castle courtyard. His shaking, shackled hands pressed against his sun-blind eyes and, wincing, he attempted to see the world around him.
“Gods that smell,” a female said, the first woman he’d heard since Saran’s unwilling departure. Frowning at the stone, he tried not remember her. Best to pretend she never existed, like the Prophetess he once prayed to–just a figment of his imagination.
Squinting, he lifted his gaze to the sweet, siren call of the stranger’s voice. Petite and cloaked in black and green robes, her hair hung long and straight down her back. She looked similar in age to his brother and Tomorron in descent, with pale skin and eyes that curved to a point. She was Oruke, like the Vel d’Ekaru. They had the same trademark white mane and gleaming red eyes, like the color of fresh blood, and a smile weighted with all-knowing malice. Her arms, wrapped tight around one of the Vel d’Ekaru’s, hugged him to her breast.
“He hasn’t bathed in almost two years, my dear,” the Vel d’Ekaru replied, tilting his head at her with a smile. “But, you think all humans smell foul, don’t you, Cyra?”
“They do.” Cyra released her grip on the Vel d’Ekaru and sauntered over to where Rowe knelt, pressing her sleeve to her nose. She cast her red eyes down to him, dangerous and quiet, like any predator. “Why do you keep him alive, Nakar?”
Rowe stiffened, flashing his gaze to the Vel d’Ekaru. The name she gave the monster in the guise of his brother, he’d never heard someone call Keleir that. Spoken with such fondness too, as if she’d known him for a long time. The Lightening Mage didn’t recall ever meeting her, and he’d spent the better part of his life standing next to Keleir.
“He knows where she is, though no amount of persuasion seems to sway him into confessing. He seems immune to torture of any method.”
“Have you tried castration?” Cyra asked, a dance of amusement in her voice.
The Vel d’Ekaru’s eyes twinkled. “No.”
Cyra laughed, backing away from Rowe, and looped her arms around the Vel d’Ekaru, the Living God. “Well, Nakar, I’ve found human men are most attached to that appendage, and would rather lose all others to save it.”
“That does seem the ultimate negotiating chip, however, drastic,” Nakar mused.
“You’ve been looking for so long,” Cyra whispered, brushing her palms along his cheek. “Let me use my magic for you. This calls for radical measures, no? The Vel d’Ekaru has risen and it is time to fulfill your purpose. The sooner we have her, and ensure your right to the Book of Kings, the sooner we purge the universe of the parasite called humanity.”
Nakar pried her groping hands from him and nodded to Rowe. “Go on. I brought him here so you wouldn’t have to endure the stench of my dungeon. Take what you need and work those silly incantations you call magic.”
“Dregs is just as powerful as elemental magic if you use it right,” Cyra muttered, drawing a long, thin knife from her robes. As she knelt before Rowe, the guards seized him. She pulled a glass vial from her other pocket and pressed it against the skin of his neck. The tip of her blade grazed his neck and he jerked in their grasp. “Careful, little human, or I may slit your throat if you don’t behave. Wouldn’t that be a shame?”
Rowe narrowed his blue eyes on her, a woman too beautiful to exist. She transfixed him as powerful as any potion ever could, and yet something else more alluring than her looks drugged him to stillness. A scent wafted around her. Each angry breath he took pulled it into his lungs until finally he slackened. With a quick cut, the blood poured into the vial. Once filled, she capped it with a cork.
“All done,” she sighed, like a healer bandaging a cut. She stood and slipped the blade and bottle into her pocket. “You can take him back to the dark. I’m sure his eyes will thank you for it.”
The dreamy haze the Oruke woman placed him did not lessen until the moment the guards dropped him on his dirty cell floor. The wood door banged shut, the latch fell heavy, and he listened as their boots quieted to nothing.
“I thought they were executing you,” came the deep, rough voice of his neighbor–muffled by the stone walls.
An image of Ishep Darshan lurking in the dark shadows of his cell with a pleased smile sprouted in Rowe’s mind. The old Waster Mage might have hoped they would execute him.
“No, Darshan, you can’t escape my company that easily,” Rowe muttered, sitting back against the wall.
Darshan scoffed. “Some company, you don’t talk anymore.”
“I talked when we planned, and you stopped planning a long time ago.”
“I don’t focus on futility.”
“You don’t focus on anything.”
The air grew quiet and Rowe felt sorry for it. He desired the conversation. Needed it to feel human–to feel like something other than a man alone in a box. Clenching his eyes, he smeared his dirty hands over his face. “There are two of them now.”
“What do you mean?”
“A Oruke woman named Cyra is here. A Dregs witch, from what I gathered.”
“Not surprising,” Darshan huffed. “More will crop up when they realize their god has taken his post. You should have killed him.”
Rowe clenched his teeth, still not ready to admit how right the old Water Mage was. “She calls him Nakar. I’ve never heard the name.”
Darshan laughed. “Think about it, boy. That thing existed in the world between worlds, with others like himself. Nakar and Cyra are the names of the Orukes, not the bodies they inhabit. They are old. As ancient as the universe.”