Excerpt: Hymn by Ken Scholes

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Ken Scholes completes his five-book epic that began with his acclaimed first novel Lamentation. The battle for control of The Named Lands has captivated readers as they have learned, alongside the characters, the true nature of world called Lasthome.

Now the struggle between the Andro-Francine Order of the Named Lands and the Y’Zirite Empire has reached a terrible turning point. Believing that his son is dead, Rudolfo has pretended to join with the triumphant Y’zirite forces—but his plan is to destroy them all with a poison that is targeted only to the enemy.

In Y’Zir, Rudolfo’s wife Jin Li Tam is fighting a war with her own father which will bring that Empire to ruin.

And on the Moon, Neb, revealed as one of the Younger Gods, takes the power of the Last Home Temple for his own.

Hymn will become available December 5th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Prelude

The watchman, Cyril Thrall, waited beneath a moonless sky scattered with stars that he’d been able to name since childhood though he’d not seen them until his twentieth year. He’d dreamed of them, of course, and when he’d reached adulthood, he’d stood beneath them for the first time here at Endicott Station, not far from where he now sat and in fact had sat for so many nights these past four decades. That canvas of space above him, until last week, had been more full of wonder than anything he’d ever seen. A million points of light that illuminated and enhanced the plain paper charts he’d studied on the ceiling of the observatory when he was a boy. He’d wept the first time he stood beneath them, his lungs full of the dry, dead air of the Barrens after spending the first two decades of his life hidden away.

And then last week, the dream had brought a new wonder to him.

Cyril had not fully understood the significance of it in the moment of the dream. But he had given himself to the experience, taking it all in, slack-jawed and rubbing his eyes. The massive tree white with seed, the multitudes stretched out across the plains and the loud voice of Winteria bat Mardic, a daughter of Shadrus, rising above the roaring wind to conclude two thousand years of dreaming with the proclamation that would allow the Firsthome Temple to be unsealed.

The path to the moon will now be open again, Cyril realized as he stood in that field and bore witness. It was the culmination of millennia spent waiting, watching and preparing carefully. It was the fulfillment of Frederico’s Bargain—an event that stretched back to the days of the Under-Exodus, before the Time of Tending and Gathering. And somehow, they had shared that dream together, every man, woman and child. He’d seen them for as far as his eye could see, all gathered together on the plain.

It stirred everyone’s sense of wonder, and launched a flurry of activity. Vessels to prepare, ambassadors to send out and now, most recently, guests to receive. His own two children, barely grown, had already been sent out in their service to the council for their part in the making of history.

Cyril watched as he always did, from a plain wooden chair facing south, just at the edge of the run-down stone buildings that made up Endicott Station. Most nights, all he saw were stars, or a field-worker returning home. Only once in forty years had there actually been an intruder at the station, and it had been dealt with quickly and efficiently. The grave wasn’t marked, but Cyril knew just where it was. He blinked away the memory of violence, grateful that it had been done by hands other than his own. Still, he felt remorse from having any part in it and had dug the grave himself.

Guests were another thing altogether. He couldn’t recall the last occurrence in their carefully recorded history. In the earliest years, they’d received a slow trickle of pilgrims and refugees seeking sanctuary, but that had evaporated over the course of a few hundred years. That trickle started again, according to historians, once the Y’Zirite blood cult sprang up. But eventually, that slow migration had stopped. Or, if people out there still attempted the journey, the harsh travel conditions—and the imperial Blood Scouts who hunted down any apostates that fled—prevented their arrival.

But now, guest cottages were being cleaned in the midst of everything else.

The hours slid by, and twice Cyril stood to take a slow stroll around the station. It was a quiet night with no wind, making it easy for him to hear the approach.

It was the softest hum at first, growing louder in the south. He stepped toward it, scanning the night sky as he reached into his pocket. He put his hand upon the stone there and focused his words through it.

“I have an approach from the south,” he said in a quiet voice.

A small patch of sky shimmered and Cyril focused his eyes there, watching as the shimmering grew along with the hum of the engines that propelled it toward him. They’d made them as quiet as they could, but the noise seemed deafening to him against the backdrop of the night’s stillness. It amazed him that these vessels could fly over cities and villages, unnoticed by the unsuspecting souls below. He felt it drawing near now—a fluctuation in the air that raised the hairs on his arm.

The reply came through, a tickle in his skull. Escort them to the translation point.

“Understood.”

He’d seen the ships a few times—well, not exactly seen. The vessels were coated with an extract that rendered them nearly invisible, and they were never anchored too close to any of the access points for longer than was necessary to disembark passengers.

Now the entire sky above him warbled and shifted, and suddenly, ropes began to drop. Even as they fell, shadowy figures descended. Cyril stepped back as they pulled the airship down. A doorway opened and a gangplank was lowered.

“Disembarking,” a voice said from the doorway.

Then, a stream of people exited. A large number of them—at least ten—were bound, with their faces hooded. Men and women in dark robes moved around them, guiding their sluggish steps. A woman wearing the uniform of a captain in the Council’s Expeditionary Force stepped off the gangplank briskly and approached Cyril. “I believe we are expected.”

He nodded, taking in the group. “I hadn’t been told it would be so many.”

Behind her, two more robed figures materialized. Each held a sleeping child—a boy and a girl. “There were complications,” the captain said.

Cyril knew better than to ask. Instead, he turned. “Come on then.”

Behind him, he heard the slightest whisper of the gangplank and ropes being pulled up.

He led the way, entering the first low building. In the back room, he moved the thick, ancient carpet to reveal the hatch and then spun it open. “You’ll have to untie them,” he said, pointing to their prisoners.

The captain nodded. “They’re still recovering from the salva root. I don’t expect they’ve much fight or flight left in them.”

Despite the root, at least two put up brief struggles when they were untied, but the rest were peaceable enough. Guards before and behind, they started down the metal ladder. Cyril waited until everyone had descended, then followed, sealing the hatch behind him.

Another hatch waited at the bottom of the shaft, and beyond it a silver pond stretched out, lit dimly by lichen that scattered its high ceiling. At the edge of the pond, a white tree stood, its limbs heavy with purple fruit.

Cyril touched the stone in his pocket again, his eyes moving over the group of people gathered by the edge of the pond. “Endicott Station preparing for translation.” Then he went to the tree and picked four large, purple globes.

They pulled off the hoods, revealing frightened but slack faces beneath, eyes rolled back from the power of the drugs they’d been given. All but one of the prisoners bore the cuttings of Y’Zir, though Cyril couldn’t read the runes carved into their flesh. The other was a young, bearded man—one of the strugglers—with fierce, dark eyes. The look on the man’s face was disconcerting enough that Cyril’s hands shook as he tore into one of the globes. “Bite into this,” he told each of them as he stood before them.

He watched as they chewed and swallowed the fruit; then he went to the children. He wasn’t sure who the others were or what complications had led to them being brought along, but these two he’d expected. The boy and the girl were just past two years old, and while Cyril wasn’t certain that they were the salvation of the world, they certainly were an important move in that direction. Important enough that the council was intervening in matters that it normally would not. Important enough that Grandmother had sent for them that she might give her blessing in the midst of everything else that transpired.

And that these two children might be safe from the insanity that produced them in the first place.

He sighed, then gently shook the little girl’s shoulder, pressing the fruit against her lips. “Eat this,” he whispered, though she certainly couldn’t understand the words he used. But she licked at the juice he dribbled into her open mouth and finally stirred to nibble at the fruit. When he was satisfied, he did the same with the boy, then stepped back and touched the stone in his pocket again. “Endicott Station translation commencing.”

Then, one by one, he watched as the men and women stepped into the pool, evaporating instantly with a flash of blue and green. The boy stirred and opened his mouth to cry out when the woman who carried him stepped into the pool. In that moment, his mouth and eyes open wide, Cyril saw terror. But the boy was gone before he could make a sound.

When the room was empty, Cyril left. He was halfway up the ladder when his scalp tickled again.

Translation complete.

He climbed out of the shaft and locked the metal hatch before moving the carpet back into place.

Then Cyril returned to the remainder of his watch, but the stars no longer held him. Instead, it was the look upon the boy’s face.

Perhaps, he thought as the stars winked out and the sky went slowly gray, we should all be frightened.

But even as he thought it, Cyril Thrall felt more wonder—not fear—stirring to life within him.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Ken Scholes

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