Excerpt from Inferno by Kat Ross – Blog Tour
Excerpt from Inferno:
Lieutenant Captain Arshad shaded his eyes against the low sun with one hand, resting the other on the pommel of his sword. From his vantage point atop one of the fortified towers flanking the Carnelian Gate, the seventh gate of Samarqand, he could see six leagues of the western road before it wound into a fold of low hills. Farther out lay the Gale, which appeared as a smudge of darkness on the horizon. He couldn’t make out it today; a southerly wind carried smoke from the blacksmith’s quarter, painting the landscape with a grey haze.
Since the Hazara-patis had ordered all the gates leading into the city to be sealed, traffic had dried to a trickle. But now he saw a group of dust-coated travelers trudging along the western road.
At first, Captain Arshad assumed they were refugees from Delphi. The Pythia ruled with a heavy hand and not everyone liked it. After the massacre of the Ecclesia, there’d been an influx of people, afoot and riding on wagons, who’d had enough of her fanaticism. But this bunch didn’t look like Greeks. They all had bright red hair and wore sand-colored cloaks. Arshad frowned. Perhaps they were a troop of players in costume come to entertain the king.
“What is it, captain?” asked his second in command.
“I’m not sure.” He sighed. “I’d best go down and find out.”
The group neared the gates and the captain revised his opinion. Not travelling players. They had no baggage and they all wore the same odd cloaks. They were a weird-looking bunch, most likely some religious cult. There seemed no end to the number of gods worshipped by the heathen Greeks. Arshad discreetly made the sign of the flame.
He trotted down the winding staircase to the bottom of the garrison’s watchtower, moving at an unhurried pace. They’d already refused other refugees fleeing Delphi, and a few country folk who’d hoped to shelter inside Samarqand’s walls until things settled down. Arshad felt bad turning them away, some were families with children and he had two sons of his own, but orders were orders and there was no bribe large enough to induce him to open those gates. Everyone knew what King Shahak did to traitors.
His generals were the latest casualty. Rumor said they’d been plotting to unseat the king and replace him with one of their own. Somehow Shahak had gotten wind of the conspiracy. They were now on display in front of the Rock, their bodies rearranged in monstrous contortions.
That was four days ago and no new generals had been promoted, leaving the middle-ranking officers in charge. Lieutenant Captain Arshad commanded a garrison of a hundred men at the Carnelian Gate. Each of the six other gates was similarly guarded. The rest of the army, about a thousand men, kept order in the city and patrolled the inner curtain wall enclosing the Rock of Ariamazes. The king would be in no danger from this ragtag group.
Archers lined the top of the wall, arrows duly knocked to bows although it seemed unlikely they’d be needed. More soldiers with spears and shields occupied the garrison, sparring in the muddy yard.
When Captain Arshad reached ground level, he peered through the ornamental grillwork of the towering wooden gates. The group had halted thirty paces away, but their leader kept coming and now Captain Arshad got a better look at him. The first thing he noticed was that the man had been burned in a fire. Swathes of scalp were bald and misshapen, with thick seams of scar tissue. The second was his eyes, which were a shade of blue so light as to be almost colorless. He seemed to have no eyebrows.
“The gates are sealed,” Arshad said curtly. “You’ll have to go back to wherever you came from.”
The man nodded and grinned, dirty red hair swinging. Arshad wondered if he was simple.
“I’m here for an audience with King Shahak,” he said.
The solders laughed at this, although Captain Arshad didn’t join them. Something about the group made him uneasy. All the adult males save for two also bore the marks of fire, though only on half their faces. Arshad found that very odd—as if the burns had been inflicted deliberately. Then there were the identical cloaks, made from some tanned hide the captain didn’t recognize.
“And who shall we say is here to see him?” one of the soldiers taunted from the wall.
“Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus.” The man spread his arms wide. “King of the Avas Vatras.”
The soldiers exploded into laughter at that.
Lieutenant Captain Arshad felt himself losing patience. His original assessment must be correct. They were a troupe of performers hoping for a crust of bread and a cup of wine in exchange for some mindless entertainment, and desperate enough to risk the displeasure of Samarqand’s notoriously unstable king.
“There’s a village not far from here,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument. “Just walk north along the river. You’ll find food and shelter there, if you have coin for it. But you won’t be getting into Samarqand. Not today, nor anytime soon.”
He looked at the children again. They were ragged and thin, but they didn’t look afraid. Lieutenant Captain Arshad had seen a lot of refugees and they all wore the same expression, a mixture of weariness, suffering and resignation. But these children stared boldly back at the soldiers. It was eerie. The only one who did look afraid was a man leaning on a stick. Arshad seemed to remember him limping as the group approached. The man’s intense gaze met his own and Arshad had the impression he wanted to say something, but then he cast a furtive glance at the scarred leader and Arshad realized his fear was not of the soldiers on the wall. Suddenly, he was very glad for the wall between them.
“You heard me,” he said sharply. “Go on with you.”
The leader crooked a finger and a little girl came forward. She couldn’t be older than eight or nine, with fiery hair down to her waist, tangled and wild. She had the same pale eyes. Unbidden, Arshad thought of a story his grandfather used to tell about a monster called a wight. They were cunning things. They pretended to be human, but their eyes were like black almonds and when you realized what they were and tried to run, they were very fast….
The scarred man leaned down and whispered in the little girl’s ear.
She stared at Captain Arshad, her gaze finding his through the carved grillwork in the gate.
“We don’t want to leave,” she declared in a high, childish voice.
Cold fingers of dread traced a path down Arshad’s spine. The archers sensed it too and he heard the creak of bowstrings. No one laughed this time. A heavy silence fell on the garrison.
“Are you sure you won’t open the gates?” the leader asked softly.
Captain Arshad started to make the sign of the flame. His finger brushed forehead and lips, but before they touched his heart, a wall of fire raced toward him.
The girl stepped forward, a smile on her face.
It was her, she’d done this somehow….
A wind rose, whipping the flames into a bonfire. They consumed the gates in a matter of seconds. Arshad had never seen a fire burn so hot. It quickly spread to the garrison towers. Captain Arshad grabbed a young messenger boy who stood frozen in the yard.
“Get to the inner curtain wall and send word to seal the Rock.”
“Who are they?” the boy gabbled, his eyes huge. “What are they?”
“Just run. Faster than you’ve ever run before.” Arshad gave him a hard shove. “Go!”
One of the archers screamed and tumbled from the wall, blue flames trailing from his body. The boy took off into the warren of streets, legs pumping. He didn’t look back.
Lieutenant Captain Arshad drew his sword and waded forward into hell.
(Fourth Talisman, #5)
Published by: Acorn Publishing
Publication date: March 15th 2019
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
In the last volume of the Fourth Talisman series, the worlds of the living and the dead collide in a final confrontation that will leave Nocturne and Solis forever changed….
Three talismans adrift.
Two mad kings.
One poisonous crown.
As dark forces gather at the Rock of Ariamazes in Samarqand, Nazafareen discovers that there are worse places than the afterlife. The twisted creature pulling the Vatras’ strings is holed up in the deepest level of the Dominion—and only she has the power to follow him there, though at the potential cost of her own soul.
Prophecy claims the three daeva clans must unite to face their greatest enemy again, but two of the talismans have vanished and the third is a child more used to skulking in the shadows than leading an army. Meb the Mouse might be their last hope—if anyone bothers to take her seriously.
And within the confines of the Rock, a dying king makes a pact with the devil, setting in motion a chain of events that could spell doom for friends and foes alike.
WARNING: This book contains twists and turns, richly deserved comeuppances, shocking revelations, knock-down, drag-out fights, obsessive stalkers, some very nasty monsters…and, of course, true love.
Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She’s the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day, the Fourth Element fantasy trilogy (The Midnight Sea, Blood of the Prophet, Queen of Chaos), and a new gaslamp mystery series that opens with The Daemoniac and continues with
The Thirteenth Gate. She loves myths, monsters and doomsday scenarios. For more information about Kat’s books, come visit her at katrossbooks.com.