From the Back Cover
The world of Neta comprises of four floating islands beset by twin suns in lilac skies. When the ruthless captain Afton Orochi of the Stormkite and his pirate crew sack the village of Laan they unwittingly set into motion a change of events which will leave none of them the same.
Armatrine Dupree, acolyte in the Order of the Pearl dreams of completing her showing and becoming a priestess. It is all she desires. Yet events conspire to rob her of her dreams and shape her destiny anew. With the guidance of her friend and teacher master Arlandus she must learn to make sense of the shifting world around her.
When Mitrick Tenebris is killed he never dreamed what was waiting for him in the beyond. Now he must complete the bidding of a dark mistress or be lost to oblivion.
Fates conspire and destinies intermingle and each must learn sacrifice to bring about a new world.
“Fate is nothing more than the will of the cruel and monstrous upon the powerless.”
Genre: Teen & Young Adult Steampunk
Below you can read the first 10 pages of Bliss, by Daniel Lawley
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The stars outshine themselves, in this waning grace.
For all is as once was, and in narrow echoes of fading time.
Between the turning of cogwheels and the burning of suns,
Machinations take hold, divine or otherwise.
– Ancient Order Proverb
The sky that night was perfect lilac. The brightest hue of the darkest shades abreast the aether. The stars within the cosmos lay perfectly in their place amongst clouded nebulous swirls, emerald greens and sapphire blues against blood red bolt lightning. Cosmic serenity raged within the heavens above.
The ancient trees could do naught but bend to the will of the wind as it caressed them with its tender fingertips. Gentle yet unmistakably powerful.
He hoped wind was all that was in the air. Foolishly. He knew it was not. He felt the touch of destiny upon his skin as the wind brushed it past the fabric of his robes. It quickened within him and he knew. There was not much time. Perhaps a wiser hope would have been longer legs at which to make speedier pace. He trod along the tired path, a gait in his step giving the illusion of a man much older than his years. A man whom time had indulged with its passing cruelties. Yet closer inspection revealed a man much untouched by age. The blessings of youth stark upon him. He trod the path before him with determination as the wind protested his presence. It had always been in his experience that fate and good fortune rarely met. Hardening himself to his unease he continued.
The stars glowed in the basking embrace of lilac skylines. Their angelic halo of spherical light crowning all the splendour of the heavens. He trod the worn path below, looking upward only to make certain of his direction, heavy, deep strides thudding upon the dirt. Tired strides, how long had it been since he last rested. He’d followed with clarity and devotion. Now he longed for rest.
He knew all the stars by name, intimate, friendly. They had known him all his life, decades. Yet he was nothing but an exhale of breath in theirs, mortal. Ending. So he trod and he walked. Clear in his goals. Reminiscent of the permanence of the universe, juxtaposed to the brevity of himself. Lost in the thoughts of a wandering monk. His three goddesses his companions on the journey nearing completion. Faith would be his guide in this strange journey.
He heard the sounds of the village before he saw it over the meandering hill. The jollity of all songs eve hung in the air as sweet as a concerto to the masses. The closer he strode the louder it grew. A din to press fear upon evil hearts on this, the most wicked of dusks.
He noticed he’d grown closer to the falling shores, where the floating isle met tumbling sky. Where solid land turned to only air below and below the below? The Three only knew although he suspected the hard embrace of surface rock at a velocity to rival even the quickest of airships. He noticed he’d veered from the road and corrected his direction.
The music grew louder still, yet another sound caught him unawares. So lost in thought was he that he’d hardly noticed the boy wandering behind his back until he almost crept in his shadow, quiet and unassuming yet present all the same.
“Good eve, sir!” The boy exclaimed, his accent common to the region. He spoke with a whistle, as though he had too few teeth for his small, ginger, head.
“Good eve indeed” he replied, surveying the urchin before him, standing no taller than his elbow he carried the dirt upon his fair, freckled skin that told of a day playing in the outdoors or a life living in it. He inspected further finding his feet to be well shod, and his clothes to be of an older style, well fitting yet worn and patched in places, not such as beggar’s robes, just enough to cause suspicion.
“It is a cruel thing boy, to play the beggar whilst thou art so well fed!” He smiled as the words spilled from his lips, remembering a time as when he’d oft taken up the robes of a sporting older brother and he too would have played the same game.
The boy returned a crooked grin confirming his suspicion about gaps.
“Tutt, tutt” he chided. “Not yet past your eighth summer and already playing at these mummers games, terribly foolish or terribly talented” he winked, a knowing smile spreading from his lips and radiating across his face. “Did you take much?” He asked, a pleasant tone in his voice.
“Not nearly as much as I’d have liked, seems everybody already knows this one” he spoke with a sadness to his voice.
“Never mind young man, no reason for sorrow when you can spend your time playing such games”. Suddenly his face changed, as if sensing something sinister in the air. “Hmmm, dangerous night to be wandering though, all song’s bliss”. The boy crept closer for his own security much to his delight. “I tell you what, you travel with me for protection as far as a small town over yonder and there’s a bright copper penny in it for your troubles”.
It paid to be generous, even when poverty and he held an intimate courtship “So long as you can tell me about why danger prevails” he added, it would be good to test the child to gather an understanding of what faith was taught here in the further reaches.
“Oh sir, that’s easy” the boy laughed jovially, imagining this to be the easiest copper he’d make in his life, as their feet pattered in unison against the dust of the ancient dirt road, “because the Order of the Pearl deem it so!”
“Ha! Do they now? Interesting, but why is it that they do so?” He looked again at the boy, thinking hard as he matched his own strides with two for every one of his Older companions.
“My father told me a story about this, this one time.”
“Yes? A wise man, your father.”
“It was at the start that the Three in their wisdom banished the demons and thus vanished them from our world.”
“You’re funny mister, everyone knows this one!” He commented. “Anyway, now it’s the end of the year, all song’s bliss, or the end of all songs, when the two suns hide one behind the other, then both hide behind their sister moon covering Neta in complete dark!”
“Very good, but why is there danger?” They followed the road to a bend and approached the hill, the music grew louder still.
“Well, when the light of the suns fade, we are left in the dark, and in the dark lurk the ones who…. well… lurk in darkness!”
“Well put boy! In the darkness, dark things lurk!” He chuckled again at the graceful simplicity with which the entire affair had been surmised through the eyes of a child. One which had priests, monks and elders arguing for centuries.
For it was true that in the dark, dark things lurked and there was no time more dangerous than when the twin suns hid themselves. For then the thin membrane between the realities parted, allowing those who might wish harm to the world of mortals opportunity to slip through and begin their mischief.
“So tell me boy, why then do we spend all song’s bliss reveling in the joys of our fair world instead of cowering in front of well lit firesides awaiting the inevitable?”
“That one’s simple too! It scares away the demons” he answered confidently.
“A common piece of misinformation I’m afraid young sir” he spoke sternly although truthfully he found himself not entirely disappointed at an opportunity to impart some grain of knowledge to the boy under the ever darkening lilac. “You see, that’s what most come to believe, that the noise of the revels scares them away, pitiful creatures unable to understand joy and merriment, in actuality that false belief has seen many poor souls simply struggling with some depressive malady falsely accused and consigned to some unkind manner of horrible death.
Nay,” he paused, “fear of that which we do not understand is a fear that belongs to us mortals, try again”.
He smiled as the boy stared in wonder, his expression changing from one of wonder to puzzlement. A momentary silence hung in the air before the boy deemed to hazard a second attempt.
“Is it that it’s not for their benefit at all, but our own?” He asked, blue eyes swimming with the wonderment of a mind caught in its own thoughts.
“Go on…” he encouraged as they continued along the path.
“The more we are together, the safer we are, in numbers I mean. Like when my mother sends us out on some errand it’s always two or more, never alone.
And while we are together we may as well tune out our minds from the seeping danger at the edge of our world and become something stronger, something seemingly so unafraid that any enemy would stop to think twice before attacking” his mouth tripped over the words, stumbling almost as quickly as his mind could think them, yet the logic was there.
“To some degree at least!” He answered. “There’s more to it of course but for a lad of your age I’d give a passing grade for that.”
The boy smiled, holding out his hand expectantly toward the monk. For a moment all that could be heard was the slapping of feet upon the path they trod. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the elder reached into a leather purse he’d hidden within his cassock at his breast and produced two pennies.
“Here you go lad, one for yourself and one for your mother, but before I hand them over” he clinked his fingers shut against his fleshy palm, the coins encapsulated inside. “Can you show me to the town Alderman?”
He smiled as the boy’s eyes lit up, this was likely to be more money than he’d seen together in his life, and enough to feed his family for a whole fortnight. He spied the daydreams upon his face of being the family provider for a short while at least. The thoughts of pride running through his head.
“Of course mister! Yet we should hurry, it’s darkening and we don’t want to miss it.” They quickened their pace as they approached the town. Small yet well maintained. There could not have been more than forty houses and a handful of other settlements such as a temple of the Three, a town hall (for what reason he’d no idea) and an alehouse.
Thatched roofs stood tall against the nighttime sky starkly different to the usual metropolitan flat roofed buildings he was used to, or the enormous stone dome of the temple. Smoke billowed upwards and they came upon the source. Around a large campfire in the main square a fierce man barked orders at a set of minstrels readying their instruments for the night’s festivities. At the sight of the man in his cream robes he stopped short.
“This man wishes to speak to ye da!” The boy blustered as he received the pennies with a smile.
“Ah thanks Jakson, my boy!” The man blustered. Rotund, he stood dressed in a black overcoat, dark boots covered the span of his calf to just below the knee. His long red hair flowing from under his black velvet tricorn gave an aura of fierce authority, his thick ginger beard hid his expression well yet the man sensed that underneath the bravado and showmanship stood a man with a heart of pure gold.
“Who might you be good sir? Not many visitors around these parts at this time!” He exclaimed loudly enough for all persons in the square to hear, they were beginning to form a crowd. Their leader and this stranger who had come visiting upon the holy night.
“My name is Euricles Thadisius Arlandus.” The man spoke loudly. A touch of the theatrical as he made his introduction. “Master within the Order of the Pearl, you may call me Arlandus.” He gestured his arms widely before settling them once more to his sides. The Alderman eyed him suspiciously, smoke from the bonfire partially distorting his face.
“What brings the order out so far as Laan?” He asked, unmoving. “Hasn’t been a master here in a good fifty years or so!”
“Oh?” Arlandus asked “That is a shame, I had been led to believe…”
“You’ve been led to believe nothing!” He spoke harshly, turning his back to the visiting monk. Broad shoulders as good of a wall between the two as there ever would be found.
“Master Alderman, if we may talk quietly you could see that the business I attend here is of the utmost import,” he stressed across the billowing smoke. “Just a moment of your time is all I ask.”
He turned, a rash anger upon his deeply bearded face. “Two minutes and you make yourself scarce!”
“Turning out a living soul in all son…”
“One minute, better make it fast Master Arselandus” he quipped.
“Very well, Eight short years before this night my order left a girl at your door, to raise and love as one among your flock, to care for her and raise her in the light of the three and to be returned to us upon the turning of the wheel before her ninth.” He spoke quickly yet with effect. The Alderman turned from fleshy red to a shade of pale rarely seen upon the living. His mouth agape in protest yet unable to find the words he required. “Her ninth upon this world dawns on the morrow and as such I am required to bring her to the temple to begin her studies in the ways of the order.”
He spoke, deciding that no matter how much the news became dressed in honeyed words the essence would be the same and as thus was best presented detached, matter of factly, as not to evoke a highly emotive response. A tear trickled from the corner of the Alderman’s eye. “I see from your response you know the words I speak to be true, alas it is difficult to lose contact with a beloved child.”
“You know nothing of it!” The Alderman snapped, taking Arlandus unawares. “The pain of losing a child, how could you?”
Arlandus stood silent, listening.
“I gave the babe to my friend, she grew up fair and true and he raised her in just the way the order prescribed, yet three short months ago they were caught by a vicious plague, wracked the village fierce and all were lost.” He buried his large head into his larger hands, covering his face with the span of his fingers.
“Yet the crops grew ripe and plump on time this harvest, free of disease and rot. Your buildings are in repair afforded to a well populated village and I see no graves save for the small yard on the outskirts. Do not lie to me Alderman.” His tone turned from one of concern to severity. “I do not care who has raised her, so long as she was raised in the light of the three, I will spend the night, she is to be presented willingly to myself upon the morrow.”
The Alderman shot him an angry glance. “How do you expect us to give up our own to you, for nothing in return?”
“It had been recorded that no complaints were made when you were paid handsomely for your troubles, the girl was simply never your own in the first place, only fostered among you until the time that she can be proved to be ready” he stated, again detached from the situation, focusing solely upon completion of his objective. After a long pause his face softened. “It is in the best interest of all that she leave with me Alderman,” he gave stark warning, “for my kind do not take kindly to falsehood, and already they come. He allowed his words to hang in the air. Threat and promise intermingled with malice.
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