Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Blitz--> Keepers of the Dawn (The Dawn Cycle #1) by Herb J. Smith II

Book Blitz--> Keepers of the Dawn (The Dawn Cycle #1) by Herb J. Smith II


Add to Goodreads: Keepers of the Dawn

Genre: New Adult, Scifi, Dystopian, Epic, Post-Apocalyptic

~Blurb~
For two thousand years the Teeth have stood, three immense barriers of divine light rising high into the heavens, encircling the world, dividing it from Paradise. Like others of the Penitent world, Dreen and his telepathically impaired son, Bartu, cling to a dream. A dream that one day a savior will arrive to fell the imprisoning Teeth. Unlike others, however, their dream rests on more than mere faith. It rests on the promise of an artifact that came to their family centuries ago. A holy relic that is key to a future savior’s success. 

To keep the relic safe, Dreen and Bartu must keep it secret. A task not easily accomplished in this world of telepaths. Making the task even more difficult is an obscure prophecy that foretells of the sacred artifact. A prophecy that Rue-A-Kai, the Destroyer, knows well. With the strength of a hundred wizards, the reincarnated savior of the Vile hordes imperils not only the Penitent kingdoms he now threatens to overrun, but also the promised arrival of a true future savior. Were the demonic Rue-A-Kai to acquire the holy relic, his perverse interpretation of prophecy would transform the relic from a device of deliverance to one of damnation, ensuring that the Teeth never fell, that the world never saw Paradise. 

Yet the relic remains safely hidden, as it has for centuries. And there is no reason to believe it will not continue to remain so for centuries to come. No reason at all, that is, until the accident... 

~Excerpt from Keepers of the Dawn~

        Flecks of snow swirled about the middle-aged trapper’s face as he emerged from a small stand of pines and made his way to the edge of the stream. His tired eyes scanned the streambed. Ice, as thin and delicate as a reflection, stretched from the bank to the narrow rivulet flowing down the frozen stream’s center. Near a tangle of roots where the bank met the ice, he spied his trap. He took a step toward it and then pulled up short. From the bank he saw that the trap had been cheated of its quarry. The bloody stump of a coyote’s forelimb stood erect in its iron jaws, testament to the beast’s overwhelming will to survive.

        A sudden weariness overcame the trapper as he stared at the bloody limb. He set his staff firmly into the half-frozen mud of the bank and, leaning against it, eased himself to the ground. With a grunt, he gingerly extended his right leg. He laid his staff aside and began massaging his knee. The trap and its grisly prize called to him, but he turned from it and gazed instead at the narrow channel of water bubbling between the jagged margins of ice. Two angry jaws of cold seeking to trap the fleeing stream.

        The trapper felt a sudden rush of sorrow. He had not even been trapping for coyote. He bowed his head, struggling against the tears. He felt tired. Exhausted. He turned and lay on his side, resting his head on the cold ground. Through a light flurry of flakes, he stared at the severed limb. The beast’s plight was not the cause of his sudden sorrow, merely its trigger. He closed his eyes to keep the tears from coming. Why he tried to keep them from coming he was not sure. He was not sure why he tried to do anything anymore. Perhaps it was his own overwhelming will to survive.

        The ground was wet and cold, but he did not care to move. Not just yet. He knew if he had any hope of returning to his cabin by nightfall he would need to get down the slope by midmorning to check the rest of his traps. But the weariness refused to relent. Perhaps he would lie here awhile longer, he thought. Just a short while. He drew his legs up and reached across his chest with his left arm, taking hold of the stump of his right. He opened his eyes and blinked away the tears. Wet snowflakes fell gently on his face. The snow was pretty the way it fell, delicate tiny flakes of cold fragility that stuck where they alighted. He imagined himself covered in those fragile flakes and then buried within them. Perhaps the coyote was now lying just as he was lying, it too gazing passively at the sparkling snow as it fell, delicately covering its body. The trapper closed his eyes again. The shower of tiny, cold kisses continued to fall upon his weary face.

        His thoughts journeyed back to that fateful day twenty-two years earlier. The snow had fallen all that day too, but it had not fallen so softly and delicately then. That day a freezing wind had driven the snow into a blinding curtain that had bit and stung and piled high in drifts down the narrow defile. The army had been pushing hard all night and through the morning to get clear of the pass before the blizzard struck. And they had nearly made it. Nearly.

        A young Penu-Um-Brah bowed his head low to one side against the pelting sleet as the wind threatened to unhorse him. Ahead, through a stinging curtain of cold, he could just make out the Savior’s massive form astride his mount. Bracketed front and rear by guards and advisors, Rue-A-Kai sat tall, staring the onrushing storm full in the face, as if to defeat it through a sheer force of will. It was certain the storm would not unhorse Him!
        A monster of a man, the current incarnation of Rue-A-Kai stood nearly eight feet tall and weighed a quarter-ton. Adorned in full battle gear, only the stoutest of draft horses could bear Him. His strength was so great as to be unmatched by any man and all but the hardiest of beasts. But that is not why the enemy feared Him.

        As Master Coercer and leader of the Inner Circle, Penu-Um-Brah rode near the Savior in a place of honor. It was an honor well deserved. At only twenty-three, Penu-Um-Brah’s prowess had lifted him to near-legendary status among the Kalifai. He had never lost an engagement, never witnessed a losing battle. Although, truth be told, in the Savior’s army that was hardly a worthy boast, for those who had ridden with Rue-A-Kai over the previous twelve years had rarely seen anything but victory. Still, the Kalifai’s later successes were due in no small part to Penu-Um-Brah’s skill and able command of the receptor corps. On this particular morning, he had even more reason to celebrate his achievements. But Penu-Um-Brah was not in a celebratory mood. He was on edge. Something at the very periphery of his awareness nagged at him. What that something was, however, he could not quite discern.
        Penu-Um-Brah extended an ultra-tight thread to Hulta-Il-Uld. The coercer picked it up.

        My lord?
        Anything?
        Nothing. I have spoken with the master compeller. He says he senses something too, as do others of his command, but he thinks it just the weather. He says a storm will sometimes cause such distractions.
        Penu-Um-Brah’s derision oozed over the link. “The day a compeller knows better than a coercer . . . Hulta, you have command. I am taking to spirit-form.
        Concern flowed back over the link. “Penu, are you sure? The spirit world has doubtless taken note of two large armies passing through this point in space within days of each other. They will be alert to any opportunity. If they find your body vacant while you are away . . .
        I know, but I do not like the look of the trail ahead. The pass makes a sharp bend only a mile or so on, and there is something about that bend that troubles me.
        The crusaders escaped us days ago, Penu. They are so far ahead of us now that we no longer pick up even their tracks.
        I do not know, Hulta. With this weather . . . Perhaps the scouts missed something.
        Missed an entire army? The scouts have ridden to that bend and several miles beyond and have seen nothing.
        All I know is that something is amiss, and the feeling is getting stronger. I must go.
        If you must, Penu, but I implore you, do not disconnect. There is no telling what malevolent spirits might be lurking about.
        I shall not be long.” Penu-Um-Brah closed the link.

        She was right of course. Although he hated the thought of limiting himself, it would be unwise to disconnect entirely from his body. After all, the sensations he had been feeling might be nothing at all. Worrisome as they were, they did not warrant such a risk. Penu-Um-Brah hunched low over his mount’s neck and wrapped his good arm tightly around her. Once he teleprojected, he would have virtually no awareness of his body. And he had no desire to return to his flesh to find it trampled in the snow! He tightened his grip, closed his eyes, and concentrated. There was an instant of intense vertigo and then he was away.
        From the spirit realm, the physical world around him appeared vaporous and indistinct, like a world of shimmering mirage. The cliffs wafted in and out of existence as his awareness took note of its surroundings. After moments, he oriented himself. Through intense concentration, he was able to perceive details in the cliff face and the trail below. Then all reverted back to ghostly images. He now resided in a strange realm where only the rarest of talents could journey. Despite his many incursions here, he never felt comfortable in this place outside of place. Always he felt like a stranger here. Or, more specifically, like an intruder.

        Amidst the ghostly landscape, life’s energy blazed forth in illuminated splendor. Even the lowest of creatures shone brightly here. Below, Penu-Um-Brah clearly saw the light radiating from each of his comrades, each of their mounts, and each of a host of otherwise-hidden creatures scampering about among the rocks. All glowed like dazzling spheres of wizard-fire flashing brightly over a battlefield, each a blazing sun of varying diameter. If the enemy was hiding somewhere ahead, he would surely spot them. They would not escape his eye from this vantage point that was certain. Penu-Um-Brah glanced at his own body. Its grip on the horse remained secure as the mount plodded forward through the blowing snow. The coercer turned and sped down the narrow mountain pass.

        Within moments, Penu-Um-Brah was at the bend. He hovered over the area, focusing, looking for signs of life. He saw none. He peered above him at the high cliff walls on either side. The cliffs were sheer, treacherous, and pregnant with calamity. Any attempt to scale those walls would have brought down tons of snow and stone even if such an attempt could have been made. He flew on.

        The falling snow looked distorted as he passed through it, like undulating strands of spider silk. The strands, however, conveyed no chill. There was no cold in the spirit realm. No warmth either. In fact, there was no physical sensation of any kind, not even sound. But there were spirits here. He sensed them even now. Not clearly, but they were here. Were he to disconnect from his body entirely, their presence would become immediately apparent. As long as his mind maintained even a tenuous hold on his flesh, the spirits could not threaten him.

        After two miles, his concern began to ease. He increased his pace, speeding eastward through the narrow pass between the sheer cliffs. At this speed, he was unable to pick out much physical detail at all. He had only a vague notion of the landscape around him. But that was unimportant, for now he searched for life, those burning signal fires of living spirit. He increased his speed. Five miles out, six miles, seven. At what he estimated to be nearly ten miles out from the army, he flew clear of the pass.

        A road wound from the exit of the pass, down into the foothills, and on to the rolling plains beyond. From his vantage point, he could see for miles in all directions, his sight while in spirit-form only slightly obscured by the falling snow. What he saw was beautiful, despite its indistinctness, for below him lay the Penitent lands of the east. His mind exalted. After twelve long years of war, his people were but one day from the place where his spirit now hovered. He could not imagine they would stop for anything—not even a blizzard—now that they were so close. Miles in the distance, he caught sight of the Penitent army retreating along the road. He was relieved. It seemed his apprehension had been unwarranted after all.

        As he turned to go, a sudden thought occurred to him. He turned back toward the foothills and rose high into the sky to get a better view of the retreating army. Something was not right. He rose higher still, high enough to view the army in its entirety. He immediately saw that the army was comprised of only a few thousand warriors, a mere fraction of the number there should have been. He was puzzled. Where were the rest? He wondered if perhaps they had doubled back somehow. But doubled back to where? There was nowhere for them to go but back through the same pass he had just traveled.

        He turned and sped back the way he had come. Nine miles out, eight miles. His concern grew, fueling his pace. Seven miles out, six miles, five. He scanned the pass below as it rapidly fell away. He saw no sign of human life. Four miles out, three miles. He slowed as he approached the bend in the pass. At two miles out, about a mile from the bend, an odd imperfection in the ghostly outline of the cliff wall caught his eye. How he had managed to see it he could not guess, but see it he had. He stopped and focused on the cliff face below. He saw that the imperfection was actually a small fissure, scarcely wide enough to admit a man. Had the scouts even been able to spot it through the teeth of the mounting storm, it is doubtful they would have made much of it. But something about that fissure troubled him.

        Penu-Um-Brah swept down the cliff face and hovered before it. He concentrated, attempting to pick out detail from the ghostly, nebulous rock. Small strands of spider silk threatened to cloud his vision, as concentration increased his acuity. After moments, he discerned a mass of large stones and rubble lying tumbled in the fissure, piled high to a depth of about six feet. The slide appeared recent. He peered into the fissure and saw that it extended several feet beyond the slide. His fear grew. He scanned the cliff face on either side of the fissure, concentrating intensely on detail. About twenty feet to the left, he found a mass of small fractures. He hovered nearer. Amid the fractures and falling spider silk, he spied clear indications of tool marks greatly worn with age. He flew back to the fissure and shot through it.

        Only five feet inside, the fissure made a wide bend and opened out into a narrow canyon that was wider, actually, than the mountain pass down which the Kalifain army now traveled. He saw that the southern wall of the canyon was also the northern wall of the pass, such that the two passages ran parallel to each other. The far end of the canyon ended with the very cliff face that formed the sharp bend in the pass. It was as though the canyon and pass together had once formed a wide expanse, down the center of which a Titan had placed a stone wall to divide the two, and another stone wall at the end of the canyon side to box it in. It was the perfect site from which to launch an ambush.

        Penu-Um-Brah stared in horror down the length of that canyon. There he clearly discerned the blazing life force of thousands upon thousands of crusaders milling about in the canyon and at the foot of the cliff and several hundred more up top. Suddenly everything fell into place. The entrance to the canyon had lain hidden, most likely for generations, behind a false wall of loose stone. The canyon stood as the Penitents’ last desperate defense against the Kalifai and their attempted escape from the Cursed Lands. It screamed the Kalifai’s doom!

        Penu-Um-Brah felt sick as he shot up out of the canyon, over the cliff wall, and down the pass toward his army. Attempting a link while in spirit-form was futile; he had to get back to his body if he was to warn them. In his heart, however, he knew it was already too late.

        As he approached the bend in the pass, he saw wizard-fire light the sky and a great cloud of white powder come billowing down the defile toward him. He rounded the bend just in time to see the last of the eastern cliff face slide down into the pass below. For a quarter mile or more, entire ranks of warrior, cavalry, and war dog disappeared beneath tons of snow and stone. Although the hindmost units of the army had escaped interment, their beasts were now mad with panic, throwing their riders and wrecking their wagons, trampling both in a desperate attempt to flee the noise and calamity of the avalanche. In the center of the devastation, the Savior and his kineticors had somehow managed to erect a wizard-shield in time to channel the avalanche to either side of their position. They now stood backed against the face of the western cliff in what had become a hollow in the snow ten feet deep. A massive gold-colored wizard-shield, one hundred feet long and fifteen feet on a side, shimmered diagonally across the pass, holding at bay tons of snow and rubble.

        Penu-Um-Brah nearly panicked when he thought of his flesh buried beneath that mass. But he felt the connection to his body still strong, which meant that it was still alive. In what condition it was in, however, he did not know. If his body were crushed and dying, he would have only moments to make a truly horrific choice. Either return to his body, immediately, before it lost its life force, and die with it, or eschew his body as its life force departed and remain trapped in the spirit realm. Although it would be difficult to embrace death when presented with a chance at escape, still there would really be no choice.

        To find oneself trapped in the spirit realm would be a fate truly worse than death. Without a connection to its flesh, his spirit would have no connection to its life force. And without a connection to a life force, his spirit could never find death. It could never move on to that unknown realm that lay beyond life. His spirit would remain trapped in the void, frantically seeking a living but spiritless body to appropriate. Within weeks, or perhaps only days, disconnection from the ether would drive his spirit insane. But then insanity would most likely be a blessing, for his spirit might well be trapped in the void for centuries before it found an abandoned body. Or it might never find one, in which case it would remain trapped for eternity.

        To his immeasurable relief, Penu-Um-Brah spotted his body lying beneath the golden wizard-shield. His subordinate and dear friend, Hulta-Il-Uld, was struggling to drag it within a shallow grotto in the cliff face. It did not appear to be injured and, thankfully, neither did she.

        Suddenly he saw a searing sphere of blue wizard-fire flash into being atop the northern cliff face and speed toward the wizard-shield below. Other spheres of blue, orange, and red quickly followed. Brilliant flashes of exploding color erupted from the shield’s golden surface as the spheres smashed into it. Multi-hued sparks sprayed out in every direction above the shield, lighting upon the snow and sizzling through it. The wizard-shield flickered under the onslaught. More brilliant spheres of color burst into being and rained down on the shield.


~Buying Links~

~Meet the Author~
Herb J. Smith II is a computer programmer and author who enjoys writing science fantasy. He holds a degree in English Literature as well as degrees in Computer Science and Law. In September 2014, he released Keepers of the Dawn, the first installment of a four-book, science fantasy epic entitled, The Dawn Cycle. Keepers of the Dawn is Herb’s third published work and his first novel. Herb lives with his wife in Jacksonville, Florida, where they share a home with two short-tailed cats and a pair of adventuresome cocktails.

Follow the Author: Website | Amazon | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter
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