So, Hounds of the Hunted was expected to be out today. It isn’t out yet.
The final read-through turned up some good spots that needed a bit of altering — nothing major, but time consuming. My awesome proofreader found a bit more stuff than I found and those little tweaks need to be made. I need a couple (2?) more days and by the weekend (June 19th), it will be out. It really is that close to release. I just overshot my target a little.
Here is the Prologue just for you. The book synopsis is on the picture above. Popalia and Wynkkur are the central protagonists of the story. Popalia is a priestess of an agnostic god and she is falling from grace as the evils of the world are wearing her down. Wynkkur a self taught wizard whose abilities are more likely to cause problems than fix them. Not in a sweet and cute kind of way, but in a “Oh, wow, we are going to prison for my mistake,” kind of way. This is a story about outlaw heroes.
Day 15; Before Dawn
Popalia stood in a place no one dared to tread. The ability of sight proved impossible through the blackness ahead, her blindness was powerfully familiar. Popalia knew this void well since she had lived in it for several days now. Naturally, the darkness dredged deep primal fears, yet she stood within a delicate bubble of faith, a faith just strong enough to ward the insane panic away.
Popalia only smelled earth in her nose. She was still underground. Nearby, muffled shouts met her ears. Raenyl? Wynkkur? She could not tell, perhaps the clouded shouts echoed from somewhere in the fathomless distance.
Attempting to twist her neck, it would not move. Fear spiked in her heart and her faith fractured, falling away like a sunbaked eggshell. Paralyzed, her arms and legs were frozen in place.
Scream! Her mind ordered, let the Mystery know where you are, but her words were absent in this permanent night. Tasting dirt in her mouth, all Popalia knew was the suffocating dust of her failure.
Gasping a sharp intake of air, Popalia shot upright and twisted into a sitting position. Clutching one hand between her breasts, she felt her heart trying to beat its way out of her chest. Her eyes scanned the endless rocks and shrubs in the surrounding desert. She’d blinked several times before realizing her nightmare had ended.
A breeze whistled softly through the thick needles of tall cacti. At her feet, a fire pit smoldered in the center of their makeshift camp. Disoriented by her sudden awakening, Priestess Popalia slowly realized that they’d already survived that nightmare. The permanent darkness ended yesterday morning.
However, part of her dream was real.
Popalia spit in vain, attempting to remove earthy grit from her mouth. Not having a pillow, she‘d planted her face into the desert sand at some point during her slumber. She brushed the dirt from off her cheek and nose, then brushed her hands across her blood-stained and crusted robes. Her gesture didn’t matter, really. With filthy hands, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes…or was it just more dirt?
Popalia was born and raised in a reclusive monastery dedicated to the Unknowable God. Nameless, her God was considered the source of all questions—answers were the pilgrimage of life’s experience. The Blessed Mystery was the god of philosophy and teaching. Her god provided questions for those who believed they had answers, offered spiritual protection for those who trusted, and healed the sick, injured, and insane.
The temple where she’d been born was a pilgrimage shrine run by her parents, both high priests. Hidden deep in the wilderness, her home served as a test for faithful seekers needing spiritual aid. Her parents and the other priests were stewards of the holy artifact known as LeSalle’s Grace, a powerful healing scepter. Although many priests of the Unknown Host could heal by the power of faith alone, to touch and to be touched by LeSalle’s Grace was considered a direct blessing from the Unnamed. Although her mother fell years ago, it seemed natural for Popalia to take up her family tradition and join the clergy.
Now two weeks away from her resident temple, Popalia counted the five sleeping bodies lying around the blackened ash pit. Listening to the eerie howl of the wind, the promise of sunrise glowed upon the horizon, offering soft light to see by. Dawn’s radiant glory would arrive within the hour. Stubborn stars still twinkled high in the indigo sky above harsh peaks of the jagged Glitchnod Mountain range that blocked the way west. The mercenary army known as the Regulators controlled the road upon the other side of those mountains. Her group had angered and narrowly escaped their wrath by miraculously navigating a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels.
Finding the caverns began as a rescue mission to save an assaulted merchant caravan. Raided by a war band of orcs, only six out of fourteen caravan members had survived the initial attack, but only to be kept alive as future meals. Of those six survivors, only two escaped the underground deathtrap with their lives. Gregor and Katia were all who remained.
Gregor, the surviving merchant, slept with his back against Katia for warmth despite a mutual dislike for each other. Last night, Gregor had predicted by the end of day they’d reach his hometown of Magistrey. She hoped the merchant was right in his prediction. But for a couple rabbit bones to gnaw on and two half-full skins of water, they had nothing left to sustain them beyond faith. Faith, she knew, faded quickly on empty stomachs.
Katia wriggled and backed up against the elder merchant. Popalia half expected her to run away in the night. Popalia assumed Katia was a runaway slave by the slaver’s tattoo on the woman’s face. A blue ‘>’ that permanently stained the skin over the woman’s left eyes marked her as someone’s property. This belief about Katia’s past Popalia could only assume, but she knew the woman was a thief and a liar. Now she was Popalia’s prisoner without chains.
Popalia regretted promising to keep her unbound, although chaining her again was pointless anyway. She’d never hear the end of it from Seth and Raenyl, who’d both taken a fancy for the rotten woman. The brother’s spoke up for her and said she’d changed. However, Popalia knew Katia would bolt the second she saw a big enough window.
Barely two weeks ago Katia helped steal the holy artifact named LeSalle’s Grace from Popalia’s monastery. By the mysterious power of the Unnamed God, Katia had been struck down upon touching the scepter but not before her partner, Thorgen, escaped with Grace after murdering one of Popalia’s mentors, Priest Maurice.
At least that was what Katia claimed. For all Popalia knew, Katia slid the knife across her teacher’s throat, helping Thorgen escape with their holy treasure. As Popalia saw it, Katia could never be trusted.
Popalia turned to look over the other survivors. Sleeping at her right lay her oldest friend, Wynkkur. Her temple had adopted the wild elf twenty-two years ago. According to her father, Wynkkur arrived upon the day of her birth. After being taught to speak and provided with other domestications, Wynkkur served the temple by helping pilgrims find their way through the woods. He’d proven to be her greatest blessing and friend since her earliest memory. Wynkkur had been conscripted to help her escort Katia to the nearest military garrison for inquisition. Along that path, Katia escaped, coincidentally delivering Popalia to a fateful crossroad. Would she go back and face failure, or would she chase after Katia while the trail was hot?
Keeping the chase, they pursued the slippery thief to Capitol City, a home to more than 55,000 people. It was here where they met the ‘brothers’ Seth and Raenyl, who invited themselves along for a fair cut of the reward––a small fortune of fifty gold coins each.
They weren’t really brothers. Together, they were raised in an orphanage, a rather nasty one from how they told it. They said it closed down after the headmaster ran off with a generous donation. Seth seemed truthful enough, even if Raenyl was a little shifty.
A big man, Seth stood better than a head taller than his ‘brother.’ Broad, strong, and a formidable warrior––Popalia found him to be quite handsome––if in a rather brutish kind of way. With sharp blue eyes, shoulder length dark hair and a roguish beard, Seth’s greatest disadvantage was his lack of education. A powerhouse with his broadsword, she’d bet few men could beat him in a fight.
Although jovial enough, after making several lewd advances toward her, he clearly possessed no moral dignity or respect for her commitment to celibacy. If it wasn’t for Wynkkur, she wondered if he’d have ravaged her. Fortunately, the warrior proved wary of Wynkkur’s spellcraft, and so his advances came off only as annoying words instead of forceful grabs.
Raenyl, the smaller ‘brother’ was half-elven. Wynkkur told her the term half-elf is considered the rudest insult in among elves. She knew in society that to be called half-man would be the same degree of insult. Half-elves were tolerated, and sometimes even exalted. Half-elves generally pleased the eye and often contributed to society as artists, players, and minstrels—those who didn’t become pickpockets and cut purses.
Raenyl would be handsome with his blonde hair and muddled green eyes, but his lips were always twisted in a cynical curl. He led most conversations with a sour disposition. Popalia and Raenyl’s personalities mixed like fire and ice. Always antagonistic, he’d challenge her position as leader with a foul mouth. Perhaps if he’d forgo his worldly ways he could find peace within himself.
However, she could never deny how his skills as an archer had saved their lives many times over the past week. The Unknown’s hand certainly moved mysteriously. They’d been through so much—the attack at the inn, leading to their false arrest by the Regulators, and finally finding the caravan captured within the caverns. She could barely believe this mess began barely a week ago. Purely by the blessings of the divine have they survived.
So now, with a little more help from the gods, maybe they’d reach Magistrey and recover LeSalle’s Grace before the sun set tomorrow evening. If so, by the power of her church, she’d be able to clear the names for herself and her allies, but somehow she needed to recover the sacred artifact first. She’d need to do it before Katia figured out a way to escape again, and the priestess suspected that time would come soon.
So once again, it was time for her to pray for her gods constant intervention, even if it appeared only a little.