Ashes to Embers

Excerpt from Chapter 01

“Why is it so bloody hot out here?” Liam complained. Reven only snorted,

stepping over a fallen log. He used a staff to balance himself, Liam following along with

groans and complaints.

“This is your fault,” Reven said. “Nearly five years I’ve known you, chivalrous is

never a word I’d have thought to describe you but suddenly you grow a set when

Mahrvain is involved?”

“Shu’ up,” Liam groaned. They remained silent for a time after that, stopping

occasionally to rest their legs or drink from a canteen that needed refilling.

“How much further?” Reven asked while they sat against a tree. He was tired

already, his left leg cramping uncomfortably. The jungle was beautiful but stifling in its

heat and humidity. The air felt like a wet blanket and, despite the sun, both men walked

in little more than small clothes through the living sauna.

“Eh…Just over that small ridge. There’s a network of caves, I guess. That’s where

this treasure’s s’posed t’be.”

“Do we even know what this stupid treasure is?” Reven countered.

“Jewel,” Liam shrugged, tucking the map away in his sack. “Red one. Ishaq said

we’d know it when we saw it.”

“Glorious,” Reven grumbled. “Who in all the hells is Ishaq?”

“Guild master,” Liam answered, pushing off the rock he leaned on. “C’mon.”

Reven only made a confused face and followed. Liam knew too much, kept too

many secrets. It was not worth an argument now.

By the time the two men reached their marked destination, Reven wanted to

hang himself in one of the tall trees. The cave was so blessedly cool compared to the

outside he nearly wept with joy. He even went so far as to plaster himself against the

cave wall for several minutes just to cool his aching skin. It was dark inside the cave, 

with a sharp smell of fresh mud. Somewhere there was a water source that trickled

through, leaving tiny puddles inside the cave or creating slick falls along the walls. It was

the most glorious thing he’d seen all day.

“Now where?” Reven asked, cautiously stepping further into the cave. The

ground angled down, the tunnels narrow but damp, with a few vines growing overhead.

“He didn’t give me a map o' the cave, just how t’get here,” Liam admitted. Reven

stopped, turned, and fixed the other man with a glare that could shatter

stones. Liam only grinned. “Maybe we’ll see one o'them mortal gods they all

worship, yeah?”

“I’m going to hit you,” Reven intoned. He was about to do just that, raising his

fist, when he stopped. Liam flinched, expecting the blow to land, but Reven ignored him,

turning back toward the darkness of the cave tunnel. He felt something that made the

spot between his shoulder blades tingle uncomfortably and his stomach twist into

knots.

Power.

The thought came to him in an instant. There was something terribly Powerful

nearby. It pulsed through the ground, the energy of it running up through the soles of

the bard’s leather boots, all the way to the tips of his burnt ears. It robbed him of

breath, making him sway in his stance enough that he would have fallen backwards

were it not for Liam’s steadying hand.

“You a‘right?” Liam asked, with genuine concern in his voice. Reven shut his eyes,

frowning as he ‘listened’ to the Power beneath them sing its terrifyingly beautiful song.

It sounded oddly familiar to him, like the echoing voice he kept hearing in his

nightmares. It made him cringe and take a step back right into Liam.

“Rev?”

“Fine,” he managed to breathe out. “I’m fine. There’s something Powerful

here…”

“Oh dandy,” Liam quipped. Reven glared at Liam but kept moving, following the

pulse beneath his feet rather than exploring at random. If there was something

Powerful, chances were good that there would be treasure nearby. He had his theories

about the mortal gods that the people of Kalaegh worshiped.

Dragons were very Powerful beings and known to hoard all manner of things. He

could see how the uneducated might look to the large mythical beasts as gods. It sent a

thrill down his spine, followed by a shiver to think of it that way. He did not want to face

off with a dragon. Or get too close to the Power making the terrifying song in his head.

Liam followed, muttering to himself. He was always muttering. It was a nervous

habit of the thief- taker that Reven had not yet puzzled out. Nervous ticks and deep

secrets. He was an odd man, Liam.

“Where are we goin’?” Liam whispered against the back of Reven’s burnt neck.

“Toward the source of the Power,” he whispered back.

“Why? I thought we was supposed t‘be findin’ treasure?”

“We are,” Reven sighed. “If I can find the source of the Power, the treasure might

be theeeEEEHHHHHHRRRE!!!”

The last of his statement was wrenched from his lungs and throat as the ground

beneath him gave way into a steep, jagged hole. The flesh tore off his back and sides as

he fell, Liam’s voice echoing after him in desperation to help, without the ability to do a

damned thing. It was desperation Reven felt as acutely as each jab of rock or slice of

stone raked across his bare skin. The hole ran deep, all of it black as pitch until the very

end when a rush of bright blue light blinded him just before his feet collided with a loud

crunch onto the stone beneath him. Pain radiated up through his legs. They gave out

from beneath him, landing him face first on the floor. He had no breath, no strength to

move, and just groaned, listening to his partner holler his name from above.