I was finally able to get Blood of Esta professionally edited from beginning to end by author, university Dean and writing instructor, Mark Spencer. (Thanks Mark!) He gave me great feedback and editorial suggestions. I think the manuscript is finally ready to go out into the world so I’ve decided to post the prologue and first chapter. Enjoy.
BLOOD OF ESTA
N. M. Carrara
Thirty Years Earlier
Rayina Esta’s hair, once an iridescent red and black, clung to her hollow cheeks. She looked down at the newborn cradled in her wasted arms. The blue-grey light of the approaching dawn illuminated the child’s face. It was still slick with afterbirth, having been pulled from Rayina’s dying womb only a moment before. Her time on this earth was ending. The whispers of the Earth had told her so months ago. The moment the Mietmoda had succeeded in killing all other members of her race, Rayina knew she too would die. But she fought with all of her power to keep the essence of her soul inside her dying body long enough to hold her baby girl one time.
“Bring her to Adorna and raise her there with you. Like you raised Leoh,” she said to the two cloaked men who knelt by her bed.
She didn’t look at them. She kept her eyes on her little girl, watching her matted, blood-covered hair flicker from black to red to black like the flames of a smoky fire. “You must protect her. Train her. She is the Tribe now—the last healer of the Earth.”
“We’ll keep her safe,” said the man kneeling to her right. A tear rolled down his scarred jaw.
Comforting voices whispered in Rayina’s ears, It is time to say goodbye, child.
She took in a shallow breath and looked up. Her vision became clouded. She began panting.
The man on her left rubbed an ointment on her head to ease her pain. “Do you want to name her?”
Rayina looked at the third man in the room, standing at the foot of the bed. His broad shoulders slumped, he leaned against an unadorned steel sword like a crutch. She looked at the glint of the steel, then into the man’s dark eyes.
“Pastella,” she said.
The swordsman closed his eyes and nodded.
“Futchesta Pastella.” She looked at her child one last time. Then the essence of her soul broke free from its earthly confines, and rose from her body with the dawn.
Welcome Futchesta Pastella, the voices of the Earth sang into the newborn’s ears like a choir. Creator be praised for the blood of Esta.
PART I – ZADE
“Over there.” Jax pointed to the west and trotted into the field. The tall grass swallowed up most of his ginger-colored warhorse.
I rode out of the forest, stroking the two-day-old stubble growing on my jaw as I took in a sea of six-foot-tall lilyweed grass. It spanned the space between us and the rocky face of Mt. Siensi rising from the horizon five tarans to the west. The morning sun reflected off something at the base of the mountain—the domed roof of the monastery—our destination.
I pressed my hand against the pocket in my robes to make sure the papers I carried were still safe. I’d made a habit of checking my pocket as we rode though the night. These papers contained the only proof we had of the Mietmoda’s return.
Deep divots peppered the narrow paths that cut through the field. The bruises on my ass and thighs ached as I bounced around the saddle. I wasn’t used to riding horses. My officers and I rode pedal bikes around our village, only the farmers used horses. I didn’t even own a horse. I borrowed this one last night when we fled the village of Weston. If the International Railway came this far west, I wouldn’t be black and blue from the waist down.
The roof of the monastery was all that could be seen as we drew closer. Full-leafed trees and what looked like a wall of bushes hid the rest of the compound from view. The summer wind blew from the grounds beyond the wall, sending waves through the tall grass. A second wind wafted at my back, and on it I caught the scent of wet laundry. My hand flew back over my pocket. Jax squared his thick shoulders and pulled Thorn to a stop. We both scanned the area.
Something rustled the in the field to the south, heading towards us.
“We have to move, Zade.” Jax dug his heels into Thorn’s flanks, and the warhorse charged towards the monastery.
My horse galloped after them. I gripped the reins with white knuckles. A low growl rose up from the field, and I spotted movement coming from the north as well.
“Do you see a gate?” I yelled to Jax. My heart pounded in my chest. I feared not for my own safety—as a high ranking peace officer, I had years of combat training. My concern was for the papers in my pocket, the warning they carried.
The snares of the beasts grew louder. My mount jumped at the sound. I heard a snap as the horse landed. Its front leg buckled under it, and I flew forward through the air. I hit the ground hard and tumbled through the field, the air knocked from my lungs. I struggled for breath as I rolled onto my back. I tried to yell for Jax, but no sound escaped my lips. A bone-hound emerged through the tall grass by my feet. Its hairless, black skin stretched tight around its large, skeletal frame. Lean muscle rippled on its hind quarters as it readied to strike. I raised my arms to fight it off when something silver whistled through the air above my head. A dagger struck the bone-hound in the skull—right between its soulless eyes. A second dagger soared through the air closer to Jax, followed by a yelp and a thud. I jerked my head towards the monastery just in time to see a hooded figure jump off the twelve-foot-high wall of bushes and disappear on the other side.
“Zade.” Jax’s towering frame came into focus above me. From the flat of my back, he looked more like a giant than his seven feet of height had already made him seem. I was considered a tall man, at just over six feet, but I always felt like a dwarf standing next to Jax. He took my hand, helped me to my feet, then went to check on my horse.
I brushed the dirt from my robes and checked my pocket. A sigh of relief escaped my lips when I felt the delicate paper beneath my fingers. Only two days ago Jax and I were on a leisurely trip to an international peace summit, but now…. I didn’t have time to finish that thought.
I surveyed the outer wall of the monastery. I’d never seen leaves so green. Or vines so thick. They looked like swollen pythons stacked and entangled in a way that concealed all that lay beyond them.
“Who approaches?” a raspy voice called out from behind the foliage.
I whistled Jax over.
“Zaderade Masters,” the voice said after a moment. “Jackson Palome.”
I sucked in a breath at the sound of my name. Jax thundered over, his pale eyes looking as hard as his thick shoulders.
I stepped closer to the wall. “How do you know our names?”
“Why have you come here?”
“We seek council with the Brotherhood. We need their help.”
“The monks are old. Seek help elsewhere.”
The gritty crunch of footsteps against gravel reached my ears. I grabbed hold of one of the vines and tried to move it aside. Jax placed a massive hand next to mine, and together we created a thin gap. I saw the hood of a cloak moving away from the wall.
“Please,” I called. The cloaked figure kept on walking. “It’s about the Mietmoda. We think they’ve returned.”
The man stopped. He whispered to himself but I couldn’t make out the words. He turned around, the hood of the cloak cast his face in shadow. He spoke again, this time in a language I recognized, but didn’t understand—Sarian, the language of magic.
The vines trembled. They slithered away from each other to reveal a cast-iron gate attached to a wall made of blocks of stone. The trembling stopped and the gate creaked as if it hadn’t been opened in a century. The scents of jasmine and lilac floated on the breeze that came off the monastery grounds.
The cloaked man stood in the middle of a narrow road, barrel-chested and several inches shorter than I had originally thought. “Leave your horses here and follow me.”
Lush, green grass blanketed the vast lawns of the monastery—a stark contrast to the ground outside the walls, which was covered for a hundred tarans with tall, brown lilyweeds. Exotic bushes in deep reds and purples outlined footpaths that ran off from the main pathway towards orchards of cherry blossoms, or plum trees, or gazeboes laced with vines of fully bloomed roses. The rays of the morning sun danced off the petals of the flowers and I wondered how elderly monks could tend this land so well.
The main building of the monastery was built into the base of Mt. Siensi. “Brotherhood of Siensi,” was chiseled into the stone arch above thick, oak doors. The cloaked man pushed the heavy doors open and escorted us into the entrance hall. Sunlight poured in from skylights above. The light filled the room, but I could also hear the low hum of electricity. Two generator stones, one a full metre wide, the other just shy at four feet, both two feet thick, rested atop the copper rafters of the foyer’s domed ceiling. The magic contained within the stones turned sunlight into energy, and caused them to glow like sapphires.
“Wait here,” the cloaked man said, and then disappeared behind a door on the other side of the circular room.
“Do you think they can help?” I asked Jax as I scratched stubble on my chin. But his eyes were focused on a portrait on the wall.
Seven tapestries hung on the smooth marble walls, each woven with the portrait of a different person. Four were of men, three of women, some old, some young, but they all had one thing in common: each had hair that flickered between one color and another. Some changed between white and orange, while others went from silver to violet. The one in the center was of a woman with bronze skin and amber eyes whose hair changed color from black to red like ripples in a pool of fiery water.
“Portraits of the Tribe of Sansolo, the ancient healers of the Earth,” I said in awe. I’d never met a Tribe member. They were all slaughtered by the Mietmoda when I was a baby. I’d never even seen a likeness of one before. I’d only read about them in books. The monks of this monastery were once the protectors of the Tribe. Now, they protected no one.
I moved to the wall to get a closer look. There were words under each portrait.
“Seone, Laluz, Freira, Esta, Vargas, Ceriole, Hargain.” I read each one. “Jax, you knew some Tribe members. What do these words mean?”
“Those are the names of the seven ancestral houses of the Tribe. These portraits represent each house.” He pointed to a silver and violet haired man. “That’s Gino of the House of Vargas. He was the Tribe leader during the war. I was ten when my parents brought him and his family to hide in our house in Norberg.” Jax lowered his head and turned away from the portraits. He had watched Gino’s family die two years later, along with his own parents and brothers.
The door at the back of the room opened. An old man entered wearing plain linen pants and a linen tunic. He had the build of a soldier who had been whittled down by decades of battle. The old scars on his square jaw nearly blended in with the rest of the lines on his face.
He bowed. “Rejen Masters, Ambassador Palome, if you would follow me. We’re ready to speak with you.”
“How do you know our names?” Jax asked.
The monk didn’t answer. He simply turned around and left the room.
* * *
Seven monks sat behind a semicircular table perched on a dais in the middle of a windowless room. Five of them had the same withered looked as the one who had greeted us. The other two appeared to be Jax’s age—the skin on their faces was still taut. Wooden chandeliers with glass bulbs hung from the rafters. The white light reflected off of the glassy sheen of the stone table, giving the faces of the monks an otherworldly glow. Jax and I sat in a straight-backed wooden pew in front of the dais.
The monk that had led us to the council room sat at the center of the table. He went by the name Earon and was the head of the Order.
“We defeated the Mietmoda thirty years ago,” Earon said. “We know that a few may have escaped us and gone into hiding, but we killed their leader and their heart. Besides, they completed their mission. They vowed to erase the Tribe of Sansolo from the Earth, and they did. What proof do you have that they’re a threat again?”
I pulled the charred sheets of paper from my pocket. “These were discovered in the village of Weston two days ago.” I handed the sheets over to the council. “It’s flash paper. It’s used with a carbon pen to send secret messages. The paper had already been lit when the Rejen of Weston found them, but she wasn’t able to decipher what had been written on them. The only thing she could make out was a reference to Leayone.”
“How did you come to get these?”
“Jackson and I are on our way to Leayone for the international peace summit. Jackson’s an ambassador from the Empire of Norberg, as you already seem to know. And I’m a commanding officer in the Adorna Peace League. I’m Rejen for the village of Bangee. We stopped in Weston last night to rest. When I introduced myself to Rej. Sanden, she showed me the papers to see if I could figure them out.”
They passed the flash paper around the table. The most ancient looking of the monks ran his hand over the sheets with his eyes closed. Behind me, I heard a whisper. The man who’d met us at the gate stood at the back of the room. The hood of his cloak was still drawn over his head.
“This was a map of Leayone,” the ancient monk said. His face might have been ancient, but his grey eyes looked sharp as a blade. “It’s a new map. There are buildings on it that did not exist last time I was there. Why do you think this has to do with the Mietmoda?”
I pointed to the bottom corner of one of the sheets. There was an indent in the shape of a squiggly circle. “This is the Mietmoda’s insignia. This paper was recently burned, less than a week ago I’d guess. I think they might be planning an attack on the summit. I’ve sent a post to High Governor Zuulos De Lear with a warning. The Rejen of Weston told us you could help. We rode through the night to get here.”
“Hunter,” Earon called to the back of the room. “Have your scouts heard anything that might suggest the Mietmoda’s return?”
The man in the back of the room shook his head.
Jax rose from his seat. “Are you Hunter Dowe?”
An image formed in the back of my mind. A memory. I’d heard that name before… I swung around. “The Hunter Dowe who won High Governor De Lear’s inauguration tournament last year? The female monk?”
Hunter pulled back her hood. She had olive-toned skin and dark-brown hair tied up behind her head. Her face had a youthful glow and her large, brown eyes captured the entire room in their reflection.
“I’m not a monk,” she said in a voice gentler than the one she had greeted us with.
“Hunter is a hired Knight for the Order. She scouts and recruits for us.” Earon said. “The Tribe might be dead, but this Noble Order shouldn’t die out with it.”
“You’ll help us then?” I asked.
Earon rose. “My council must discuss what, if anything, we can do. If the Mietmoda has returned, then we will do what we can to finish them.”