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Pilgrim of the Storm: The Stormblade Saga, #1
Pilgrim of the Storm: The Stormblade Saga, #1
Pilgrim of the Storm: The Stormblade Saga, #1
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Pilgrim of the Storm: The Stormblade Saga, #1

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



About this ebook

Sidge is a model acolyte of the Stormblade Temple in every way except one: 

He isn't human.

To the temple elders, he is an abomination. A lowly bugman. Undeserving of his duty as a protector of mankind.

When the unbridled power of the Mighty Storm Dragon seeks a new vessel to lead the temple, Sidge and his mentor embark on a desperate pilgrimage to secure the title. Fail and he will be banished from the only home he's ever known.

Sheltered by his eccentric mentor, Sidge soon learns that beyond the remote temple walls, those of his kind are little more than slaves. Unable to fully channel the Dragon's Wisdom, he begins to wonder if that won't be his fate too.

But an encounter with a streetwise woman named Kaaliya sets off a chain of events millennia in the making which will reshape Sidge's destiny – and the course of an entire age.

If you like character-driven plots, intricate world-building, and want a refreshing spin on the typical epic fantasy, then you'll love all three books of the Stormblade Saga. Tolkien meets Kafka on the banks of the Ganges in this tale of self-discovery and triumph.

Buy your copy and embark on a pilgrimage with Sidge today!

PublisherRuss Linton
Release dateNov 10, 2015
Pilgrim of the Storm: The Stormblade Saga, #1

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    Pilgrim of the Storm - Russ Linton


    To get your starter library subscribe to Russ Linton’s mailing list by clicking this link.

    You’ll receive updates about new releases and other news as Russ travels the U.S. seeking inspiration for his tales of science fiction and fantasy. The starter library currently includes the first book in each of his series:

    Crimson Son – A misfit hacker tries to fill his superhero father’s shoes and stumbles into a web of conspiracy. Only has he been the target all along?

    Blood Harvest – Former cop and full time shaman, Ace Grant, will face the forces of Hell to get back home to his family – that is, if he hasn’t already lost his soul...

    Pilgrim of the Storm – Sworn to defend humanity from a vengeful god, acolyte Sidge must first undertake an epic journey of self-discovery. First step? Admitting he was never human...

    For more information, visit www.russlinton.com


    The two Ek'kiru in the courtyard below barely looked humanoid.

    Some of Sidge's temple brethren called these creatures bugmen. He could see it now. Only by their upright stance could he tell they weren't anything other than enormous insects. Among the swirling robes and soft, mahogany skin of the acolytes bustling about the courtyard, the cart-sized beings didn't seem real.

    Sidge let his sweeping taper off and he clutched his broom in two hands. He leaned against the windowsill on his second pair of arms to get a closer look.

    The Ek'kiru were massive, much larger than Sidge had imagined they would be. He'd never seen another one but had been told of the different variations in size, color, and shape. Witnessing precisely how different astonished him.

    Their deep black underbellies melted into the polished obsidian wall behind them. Heads, impossibly small for their enormous bodies, sat atop their broad chests. Each one's forehead sported a single onyx horn the size of a man's thigh.

    When the creatures turned, he could see the shells across their backs were iridescent; one a shade of green and the other gold. Lightning from the Storm reflected off them in a prismatic curve, mirrored on the metallic blue chitin of Sidge's own forearm resting on the windowsill. He tugged the sleeve of his temple vestments so it lay evenly across his wrist.

    Sidge was certain the only way these creatures could pull the palatial carriage that they loomed over was by scuttling along on their hands and feet; exactly like bugs.

    He felt a shiver along his antennae.

    The rest of the courtyard writhed with activity. Gray-robed acolytes formed rhythmic chains, passing crates from the storehouses toward an armada of gilded carriages. The armada's patchwork of metallic roofs sat dull and lifeless under the clouded sky, but flared brightly with each arc of lightning. Fading waves of thunder rolled over the dark, seamless walls of the Temple. Beyond them lay an empty landscape where the sky spiraled in black troughs, circling like a hungry raptor around a brilliant white eye.

    Sidge stepped away and let the chaos of the courtyard slip out of sight. His many lenses continued to marvel at the storm and the dazzling display of fire that took place there. Each pulse of light called to him—Vasheru called him. In the weeks ahead, he could not fail. Not only for his beloved master, but for a life spent beneath the Undying Storm, their pilgrimage had to be a success.

    Through a sleepless night he'd packed his and his master's belongings; all that remained to be ready for the journey was to hitch the two horses—a mismatched pair in both health and temperament, but the best their meager funds could afford. He wondered if the team would make the long journey.

    Of course, the journey itself was not his toughest challenge.

    Do you have my robe ready? A voice at the door interrupted Sidge's thoughts, though it did not surprise him. While Sidge faced the window, his compound eyes ensured the door, behind him and to his right, was well within his field of view. Acolyte Girish stood in the doorway with his two arms folded across his chest.

    Sidge turned, unconsciously making sure his mandibles faced the human acolyte. He set the broom against his wall, placed his four palms together and bowed. He walked to a hook by the door where a gray robe, much like the one he wore, hung. As he pulled it down he ran the hem through his fingers. Silk, and a fine grade. The stitching had been done by a master tailor's hand, but had recently come unraveled. Sidge had been pleased his repair had turned out nearly identical to the original.

    You can still see the transition to the repair if you know where to look, but it is the best I could do with what I had to work with. The temple stores had no silken thread.

    Girish snatched the robe and held it so the light from the window fell upon it. The repaired section dangled somewhere below his hands. His thin, severe features were absolutely gaunt in the flickering light of the Storm and the scattering of dark whiskers along his cheeks, barely noticeable. I'll have it properly sewn when the pilgrimage arrives in Stronghold.

    Yes, you've been before, said Sidge, his excitement getting the best of him. You must know many wonderful tailors there.

    Know tailors? Girish was already turning toward the hall. "Master Udai arranges for such things through our raksha. I don't know any commoners."

    Oh, of course, said Sidge.

    Girish paused in the hallway long enough to bow toward the sound of approaching footsteps. Acolyte Farsal.

    Girish, replied a familiar voice.

    Girish disappeared into the hall and Farsal stepped into view. The smiling acolyte rolled his eyes. Such a simple gesture, Sidge felt a twinge of jealousy that his eyes couldn't do the same. Yet he also understood the curt nature of the display to be unacceptable and decided it was best to quirk his mandibles in displeasure, but Farsal's smile only deepened. They exchanged bows and Sidge retreated into his room.

    Farsal entered and moved to the window, teeth shining into the storm outside, white like the ferocious tempest's eye, whiter against the dark lips and thin beard surrounding them. His smile disappeared as he chewed his lip in thought.

    I don't know why you bother, muttered Farsal. Girish doesn't even like you.

    We are all brothers. Beneath the Undying Storm. Unyielding before the terrible might of Kurath, recited Sidge.

    You have more wisdom than I.

    Not me. The Attarah's words, his wisdom, so the Forge tells us.

    Farsal bowed deeply and his smile returned. As always, you're correct. Your recall of the mantras is flawless. His eyes lit up and he focused on Sidge. You'll make an excellent Cloud Born.

    Sidge spread his mandibles and felt his antennae splay under the sincerity of Farsal's words. I thank you, brother. I can only hope our horses can make—

    Lightning exploded just beyond the wall. The landscape seemed to shatter and be made whole along the path of the strike. So much power to be wielded. No, the toughest challenge was definitely not the journey.

    He pretended to wait for the thunder to pass so he could respond but he couldn't regain the confidence Farsal's praise had instilled. When he finally spoke, uncertainty crept into his words.

    You know the pilgrimage is only one part of my potential ascension. And we travel without a raksha. Without such a sponsor, I don't know when or if we'll be able to afford another trip, let alone complete this one. He only said more because he knew Farsal would lend a sympathetic ear. And there are other obstacles I have yet to overcome.

    Farsal's face twisted in concern. Channeling? Still?

    Sidge nodded.

    Don't worry. Farsal placed a hand where Sidge's shoulder would be had his wings, tucked beneath his robes, not been in the way. Master Izhar will help you.

    Sidge turned to the window but couldn't push his friend's face into his narrow blindspot without being rude and turning his back entirely. The hectic motion of the courtyard did much to distract him, but Farsal's pity maintained a corner of his vision. He wanted to draw the hood of his robe over his head to close his lidless eyes.

    Farsal must've sensed his discomfort. You're making us all look bad again. He laughed and grabbed the broom next to the window. I noticed your vardo in the courtyard is all packed, and now you have extra time for chores?

    Doing some last minute tidying, is all. You know I have plenty of spare time. He motioned to the empty bed frame against the far wall of his room.

    Of course, of course. I've always wondered if that's a fair trade—sleep for chores.

    Not chores. Duties. And there is no trade. I simply have more time than the others.

    Farsal laughed and returned the broom to the wall. Speaking of which, I should be going, brother. Master Gohala's carriage won't fill itself. He headed for the hall and with another bow he was gone.

    Yes, Master Gohala's carriage, the one next to the behemoth Ek'kiru. It glinted as another seam of lightning opened the sky.

    Even viewed from several floors up, the carriage was clearly the largest among the dozens arrayed there. Its wheels stood as tall as a man, their spokes gilded and polished. On the sides hung the face of the mighty Storm Dragon, Vasheru, in a gleaming silver relief. The roof rose into a golden dome crowned by a silver sword wreathed in lightning: the symbol of the Stormblade Temple.

    Apparently there were certain perks if your raksha was the living Attarah himself. Savior of all humanity, a title handed down across the centuries like the twelve thousand one hundred and sixty-two mantras of the Temple.

    Sidge sighed.

    His and Master Izhar's vardo slumped at the other end of his vision, the beaten-copper roof dull and lifeless. A collection of crystals and foil streamers jangled from the upper rails. Green stains streaked beneath the roof, adding a dilapidated appearance to the already weathered wood of the cabin. A white image of the temple's symbolic sword burned starkly on the graying walls.

    The symbol, at least, had been freshly painted. Sidge had insisted, even when Master Izhar balked at the cost. Vanity was not the concern of the holy, Master Izhar had said, in an odd paraphrasing of the ninety-seventh verse of the Rule. When Sidge had corrected him, he'd relented.

    Sidge examined his room one last time. A bed he didn't use, a chest whose contents he'd loaded in the vardo long before the sun had risen, a hook on the wall for his robe; until now, this had been all he'd ever needed.

    But with the pilgrimage came his chance to ascend to the rank of Cloud Born. To make his master proud. To put to the test a life's worth of rigorous memorization, study, and meditation. Rather, attempts at meditation. Sidge rattled his wings. He wanted to believe it was possible. Vasheru willing, it would be.

    An errant gray thread on the dark stone of the floor caught his eye. He knelt and plucked it off the ground. Holding it in front of him, he twisted it between his fingers and examined the rest of the floor from his new vantage point. Remnants of his late night work? Or perhaps fallen off Farsal's robe. The fine silken thread wasn't from his own. Satisfied the strand was the only one, he returned to the window.

    He let the storm wind carry the thread out of his hand and shuttered the window as it drifted away. Grabbing his broom, he swept a path to the hallway and closed the door behind him.


    Sidge knelt with his face to the floor outside his master's chamber. Each of their quarters was furnished with a bed and chest, but Izhar's bed had a down mattress and the chest was iron-bound with a sturdy lock. The room was only mildly more apportioned than an acolyte's. Most of the other masters lived more lavishly.

    The open chest which Izhar hunched over, Sidge knew well. He'd lain there as a child. He never slept, even then, but too often he'd startled a Cloud Born while underfoot in the middle of the night, so the open chest became his bed. Now there seemed little room inside for a squirming babe—and certainly no room for Izhar's head and shoulders.

    Izhar burrowed through the contents, tossing items onto the floor: a bent twig, a scrap of an old robe. Next came an implement Sidge didn't recognize—a chisel with an oddly rounded edge. Sidge tracked the wayward path of each as they joined a growing pile, and his mandibles clacked together with every new addition.

    Where's my flute? Izhar mumbled.

    Tradition held that an acolyte would supplicate himself in his master's presence and wait to be acknowledged. Izhar wasn't much for tradition but here, on the Cloud Borns' floor, right below the inner sanctum, violating protocol was a dicey proposition. What if another master heard him speak before being addressed? But the urge to stem the tide of clutter was quickly overpowering his adherence to temple protocol.

    Sidge kept the edges of his mandibles pressed to the floor. Something else skidded toward him. Was that a dead bird? He tossed his hood over his eyes.

    By the Dragon's lightning shrouded ... Izhar courted anger and blasphemy with his outburst.

    I have packed it, Master, Sidge blurted.

    Furious digging stopped and Sidge risked a peek down both sides of the hall, tenting the hem of his hood with his upper hands. They were, as far as he could see, alone.

    Sidge! Come in! Enter! Bows and apologies and all that.

    Yes, Master. Sidge rose and straightened his robes.

    Across the room, Master Izhar stood amid a pile of the odd keepsakes. A flush of frustration receded across his coppery cheeks. A deep chestnut beard, bisected by a streak of white, hung stiffly above his naked chest. His trousers, wrinkled beyond any sense of fashion, sagged under a belly sprouted with coarse hair.

    You got everything? Izhar asked.

    Sidge went through the three-hundred-ninety-six-item list in his head. Yes, Master.

    Izhar stroked his beard and squinted an eye as though he might test him, but he broke into a grin instead. Wonderful! Now, if I could only find my robes. His eyes drifted to the cluttered floor.

    Sidge spied a crumpled patch of thunderhead-gray cloth peeking from the tangle of linens on his Master's bed and rushed to rescue it.

    "I still don't understand why we need everything, said Sidge as he snatched the robe and shook off the blankets. The soil? Sure. Farmers and commoners value the earth touched by Vasheru's Fire." He snapped the robes in the air and handed them to Izhar, who began the process of wriggling inside.

    Izhar's head popped through the collar. The Kiss of Vasheru is a wondrous thing, but do not forget all has been touched by the divine.

    Yes, the Wandering of the Formless. Sidge moved forward to guide his Master's arms into the sleeves. This way he could appear focused on a task and not disinterested in what was being discussed.

    Izhar's fascination with the first cryptic verses of the Temple's mantras was the subject of quiet derision among many of the other Cloud Born. Most members of their order preferred the structured verses of the Forge, which covered the founding of the Stormblade Temple, as opposed to the mysticism of the earlier Trials. Sidge quietly counted himself among them. He didn't find Izhar's interpretations offensive, just ... messy. But his master's unorthodox views had other problematic consequences, which concerned him more.

    Sidge scanned the room for the jagged white stole which would complete his master's robes of office. I don't suppose you've received word from any potential rakshas? he asked, doing his best to sound unconcerned.

    You worry too much, Sidge. Izhar crouched by the bed and one arm disappeared under the down-filled mattress. Eyes lit up and he withdrew the stole. Sidge swallowed a gasp of horror at the crumpled mass. Vasheru provides, my pupil. Izhar waved the white cloth triumphantly and draped it over his shoulders. Excited about our journey?

    Somehow Izhar always managed to be both irksome and infectious. Absolutely! Sidge replied, adding a quick, Master.

    We walk in the footsteps of the Attarah at last. We'll greet the Four Corners and follow the Moonstrider.

    Isn't it correct that the Moonstriders are only symbols of the Attarah's glorious lineage, Master? He asked this in the most deferential way he could manage. Normally he wouldn't bother, for he knew Izhar's answer, yet the condition of the room was stretching his patience thin.

    And you, continued Izhar, ignoring the question, you shall ascend to the rank of Cloud Born. And I, the seat of the Stormblade.

    Sidge had long grown used to Izhar's bluntness, but felt it prudent to add, By Vasheru's will.

    Izhar feigned an apologetic gesture. Naturally. I only say it with such certainty for if I'm not the one seated in Vasheru's Sanctum, it will be that lout, Gohala.

    But there are two other—

    Udai and Tarak? Izhar grunted. Tarak has no desire, and Udai would wash Gohala's feet and drink the water if he asked.

    Sidge's antennae sprang upward, alert, and he checked the empty hallway. Master!

    Oh, fine. Izhar bent and examined the ceiling. Apologies, Mighty Dragon, for naming the wolves in your fold.

    Sidge reeled and waited nervously to be struck by a bolt through the stone walls of the temple. This, too, was a common feeling around Izhar, but not the kind he'd ever gotten used to.

    As a wise mentor once said to me, 'The present moment is the only moment' Sidge said, using one of Izhar's unorthodox sayings which he actually did like. Whether you ascend to Stormblade or not will only be determined when we return and the chaining ritual is completed. Though I do have faith Vasheru will choose you over Gohala.

    Izhar closed the chest and sat down, staring into his hands. Truth be told, I have little desire for the office myself, but I'll be damned if this temple comes under that vile man's thumb. He exhaled and seemed to relax. An inexplicable joy crept across his face and his eyes indicated behind Sidge. One more piece remains of my vestments.

    Dangling from the robe hook next to the door was a pendant no larger than Sidge's fist: a corestone.

    Izhar raised his eyebrows and impatiently gestured, his lips parting in a smile. Sidge crossed the room to retrieve the pendant under the glow of his master's expression. He slipped the silver chain from the hook and draped the stone across his palm.

    Robes were one thing, a symbolic lightning-shaped stole another, but the corestone represented true mastery. All Cloud Born wore a corestone, an artifact of Vasheru's will left by the lightning which battered the Stormblade Sheath surrounding the temple. Izhar's stone was a fused clump of black earth with a smooth, cylindrical cavity, the whole of which was set into a thin copper cage. Not purely a symbol, the corestone served as a focus for the divine power of the Storm.

    As Sidge held it, he felt the invisible push against his fingers—the Kiss of the Mighty Dragon, Vasheru, champion of the Attarah. Fire for their foes. Wisdom for the worthy. For him, always only a slight whisper of power. An unanswered promise which he desperately wished to hear.

    When they returned from the pilgrimage, Sidge would be given the honor of retrieving his own corestone. Before this could happen, however, he'd need to demonstrate channeling. Proper technique, following in the Attarah's footsteps, and a perfect recall of the mantras, this was all it took according to the teachings. That, and a meditative mind given to the glory of Vasheru. Focused. Like the power within the stone.

    Izhar cleared his throat.

    Sidge approached his master with the pendant's chain draped across two hands and pressed his middle palms together. He undid the clasp and Izhar stayed him with a gesture.

    No. Sit.

    His master meant for him to practice. Sidge was eager at first, but he froze halfway to a crouch as he searched for a clear spot on the floor. If only he could arrange things even a little. A grouping based on materials perhaps or whatever hidden power Izhar ascribed to the item in question.

    Everywhere his lenses fell, curiosity and

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