Seed Of Creation by Valmore Daniels by Valmore Daniels - Read Online

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Seed Of Creation - Valmore Daniels

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reserved.

Table of Contents

Seed Of Creation

Cielo Lunar System

Oraluno

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Newsletter

About The Author

Cielo Lunar System

Oraluno

Chapter One

20th Day

of the 3rd Winter

of the 872nd Year

of the Hytheno Imperio

The three outer moons flew high in the night sky, closing in on one another so quickly that they seemed determined to collide.

Lonas wrapped the fur coat around his shoulders. It was the first dark crossing in over fifteen years, and the coldest night he’d ever experienced.

For the dozenth time that evening, he poked his head out of the carriage’s window. Trying to ignore the ripe smell from the team of horses ahead, he stared skyward at the moons. True night was almost upon them.

It’s an omen, he said, trying to sound like he knew what he was talking about. A dark crossing never brings good tidings. He was just repeating what he’d heard some of the servants say when they thought none of the nobles were listening.

Superstitious nonsense, sinjoro, said his mentoro, Kresh. There’s nothing supernatural about the position of the moons in the sky. The Ordo Scienco was founded on fact, not fantasy. Have you forgotten your astronomy lessons already?

Without waiting for a reply from Lonas, Kresh turned to the third man in the carriage, Lonas’s father. Still, it would have been better to wait a few more days to make this trip, Majestro. Fourth summer will be here tomorrow. It’s always better to travel during summer.

As a high-ranking member of the Ordo Scienco, Kresh had the ear of Liom, Majestro of the provinco of Cytherio.

Liom’s eyes remained closed. Though it was late in the evening, Lonas knew his father was awake—how could anyone sleep with the carriage jostling and rocking like it was? Most likely, he was pretending not to hear his advisor.

Lonas didn’t blame his father. Whenever Kresh spoke, it was always in the form of a lecture. The man was bursting with self-importance. He always treated Lonas as if he were still a child, though he’d recently turned eighteen, and would soon be taking a position of responsibility in his father’s court.

There was another reason the majestro did not answer, Lonas knew: a summit of the seven majestros had been called for in Sanwollo, the capital of the Imperio of Hytheno, on mid-summer. One did not put off a summons from the imperiestro.

Seeing he did not have an audience in the majestro, Kresh pointed to the night sky and spoke to Lonas. Tell me, sinjoro, which of the seven moons is the largest?

Holding back a sigh, Lonas nevertheless looked out the window. Everyone knew the answer.

Brilaluno, the white moon, was the farthest from Cielo, the planet around which all seven moons orbited. Though it looked smaller than Rugaluno and Mallumoluno, it was the largest. The astronomers of the Ordo Scienco had determined all this through scientific observation.

Lonas answered the question, but then added, Brilaluno also takes the longest to orbit Cielo, taking just over twenty seasons—a full year—to make its circuit.

Good, Kresh said with a satisfied smile. Now, can you tell me which moon is—?

He was cut off when the carriage suddenly bounced, sending all three of the occupants out of their seats. His head smacking the sill of the window, Lonas fought back the curse that came to his lips. He rubbed the spot. There was sure to be a bruise there come tomorrow.

By the makers, Liom growled, putting a hand to his lip where he’d bit it. He leaned out. What was that?

Lonas heard the reply from the wagon master. Sorry, sinjoro; must’ve been a fallen tree branch.

Adjusting himself in his seat, the majestro’s face took on a look of annoyance.

Lonas said, You’d think one of the men would have noticed and moved it out of the way. He shot a glance at the guards on horses ahead of them. Tilting his head, he looked back at the guards following behind to see if any of their horses tripped over the branch.

Even though there were oil lanterns hanging off hooks on each of the carriage’s corners, the soft glow they created barely illuminated the edges of the forest. While they had traveled the plains of Cytherio, the moons had provided more than enough light to see at night. The golden leaved trees of Anafallo cast the road in shadow.

Soon, it would be even harder to see, as Mallumoluno eclipsed the other two moons, dousing their light.

Lonas barely remembered the last dark crossing; he’d been a child. The night had been so black, it seemed not even the strongest of their gas lamps could penetrate it. Though the crossing had lasted less than a quarter of an hour, not a single soul in Delormo had moved from whichever spot of comfort and safety they had chosen to wait it out.

Kresh’s voice took on a soothing tone. Lumo will crest tomorrow, and then we will once again bathe in its luminance. At the mention of the sun, the astronomer made a gesture with his fingers over his eyes; a ritual that dated back centuries.

That always struck Lonas as odd. Since its inception a hundred years ago, the Ordo Scienco had taken great pains to assure the people of Hytheno that there was nothing mystical about the moons, the planet, or the sun. Science would, or could, explain everything. Knowledge was the path to improving one’s lot in life, not prayer. Yet, Kresh still performed that little ritual.

At the very least, Lonas thought, it would be warmer once fourth summer arrived. He disliked the cold of winter. Just thinking about it reminded him of the chill in the air, and he pulled his fur coat around himself even tighter.

We could have ridden the steam train, Lonas said to his father.

Lonas had been following the progress of the new technology all year. Upon the imperiestro’s order, tracks made of wooden rails had been built to connect the capitals of the seven provincos of Hytheno.

Whenever he had the opportunity, Lonas went to the station outside Delormo to watch it. The lead wagon was little more than a giant furnace, which powered the train. It could pull as many as ten other wagons, which were connected one behind the other.

The steam train was due to arrive in Delormo tomorrow evening. Coming from Daero, it would leave for Sanwollo the following morning.

Lonas said, It’ll probably beat us to the capital.

The majestro’s entourage had left three days ago, and they still had another two days of travel before they arrived at their destination.

I told you, I have business to attend to along the way. The train will not take us where I need to go. Besides, men are not meant to go that fast, Liom complained. Have you seen the black cloud of foul-smelling smoke those damned engines give off? He shook his head. If that’s what they’re calling progress, I’ll have none of it. What are they going to do when the entire sky is consumed by that infernal fog?

Lonas didn’t reply, knowing better than to argue with his father; the truth was, he was too enthralled by the prospect of riding the steam train to worry about a little pollution.

The majestro raised an eyebrow at his son. You could have stayed home at the manor and spent this evening by a nice warm hearth.

Lonas had decided to join his father at the last minute. He’d never been to the capital, and before now, never really had any interest in going. His father thought it was because he was taking his upcoming responsibilities seriously, but the truth was there was little for him to do at home. The vicerego and the provinco council would not conduct business without the majestro in attendance. Lonas had no brothers or sisters to spend leisure time with—his mother had died in childbirth, and his father had never remarried.

I’m looking forward to being introduced at court, he said, smiling for his father. It’s long past time I met my uncles … and my cousins.

Liom had two older brothers, Erdrik, who was Majestro of Faldico, and Valan, the Imperiestro of Hytheno. Erdrik had two sons, and Valan had a daughter.

Liom smiled at Lonas in approval. Then he looked outside the carriage window. It’s probably high time to stop for the night, anyway. We could all use a good fire about now. He tapped the roof of the carriage. Driver, stop!

Pulling back on the reins, the driver called out, Whoa! With a lurch, the carriage came to a stop amid a few whinnies of protest from the horses.

Extending his arm out the window, Liom signaled to Sergento Tarl, who was riding just behind and to the side of the carriage. The guard hastened to his majestro’s side. As he rode, the scabbard holding his sword bounced against one thigh, and the rifle that was slung across his back slid down. Tarl adjusted it quickly before saluting.

Majestro?

Let’s stop and make camp, shall we?

Tarl bowed his head quickly in affirmation. Very good, sinjoro. Briskly, he urged his mount forward and began barking orders to the rest of the guard.

Setting up camp would take the better part of an hour. It would probably be that long before Lonas got the feeling back in his rump.

The first order of business was to assemble the majestro’s tent. While the men set about their tasks, Lonas paced up and down the road, stretching his legs and generally being thankful not to have to endure another one of Kresh’s lessons.

While Lonas carried a smallsword in a sheath at his side, it was decorative, worn as part of his required uniform as the son of a majestro. Whenever he went on excursions outside the manor, he took along the cap-lock pistol his father had given him two years ago on his birthday. The muzzle-loading weapon fired a single shot at a time. He sometimes went along with the guards to hunt grouse or hare. Neither weapon was ideal for self-defense; Lonas had been admonished time and again never to stray too far from camp without an escort. Tonight, that rule slipped his mind as he became entranced by the impending dark crossing, and wandered beyond the perimeter of the camp.

The farther he got, the darker his surroundings became; through the gap in the trees on either side of him, the sky above was the clearest he’d ever seen it.

He stared up at the stars and the three outer moons. Their edges were touching now, transforming the three disks of bright white, blood red, and dark blue into a linked chain.

Transfixed, he watched as Brilaluno, Rugaluno, and Mallumoluno began to eclipse one another. The crossing was happening now.

Plunged into the thickest darkness Lonas had seen in his life—he’d been in well-lit Delormo for the previous crossing—the world fell away from him. All that was left was the scene above him.

At the same time as Mallumoluno eclipsed the other two moons, Oraluno—their home moon—blocked out the dim light that shone from the planet, Cielo, which in turn currently completely eclipsed Lumo, the sun.

The dark blue of the nearest moon was shadowed by a growing crescent of blackness. Soon, there would be no sign of Mallumoluno except for the void it would leave in the night sky.

Yet…

As the moons aligned, Lonas could see a few faint sparkling lights where Mallumoluno should have been. It was like the flickering of a candle in a distant window on a rainy night.

Were his eyes playing a trick on him? Were there insects flying overhead, reflecting light from their camp?

No. Lonas knew it deep down in his mind. The lights were coming from the surface of the dark blue moon. Fervently wishing he had one of Kresh’s telescopes right then, he almost shouted for the mentoro to come and look, to confirm what he was seeing.

A few heartbeats later, the edge of Brilaluno poked out on the other side of Mallumoluno, and the brightness of the white moon was as strong as a flash from an arc lamp.

Suddenly blinded, Lonas closed his eyes, rubbing his fingers over them against the afterimages.

As he got his night vision back, he looked skyward once more.

The three outer moons were becoming visible again, and Mallumoluno was returning to its normal color. Of the flashing lights, there was no sign.

A rustling deep in the woods made Lonas catch his breath.

A fox? A pheasant?

He was acutely aware that he’d wandered nearly a kilometer away from camp. His father would be furious.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash; not from a lamp, but a reflection of moonlight on metal.

Someone was in the woods beside him. A hunter out looking for a meal? A farmer seeking to protect his lands? A highwayman waiting for a lone traveler to prey upon?

A ripple of fear went through him, but he did not panic. He was certain he hadn’t been spotted; his dark attire would have kept him concealed in the dark of night.

Sound had betrayed whoever was there, and Lonas was careful not to make the same mistake as he eased himself off the road and behind a thicket on the opposite side. With luck, the stranger would continue on his way without ever knowing Lonas was there.

Straining his eyes, he watched as not one, but four men emerged from the woods. Except for that initial rustling, they made no sound as they walked onto the road and formed up.

Though they were barely more than silhouettes to Lonas, he got the impression by the way they moved that they were soldiers, rather than hunters or brigands. There was something odd about them… At first, he thought the night was playing tricks on his eyes, but he could have sworn the men were much larger than they should have been.

Lonas was on the verge of revealing himself to them; after all, what did he have to fear from the men sworn to protect the imperio?

Then, as they came out of the shadows and into the dim moonlight, he realized they were not soldiers of the Hytheno Armata.

Instead of long-barreled rifles, the weapons they held were short, the length of their forearms. The stock was not made of wood; rather, it looked like it was made of some kind of black metal.

His initial impression of them had been correct. The soldiers were much taller than anyone he’d had ever seen. Lonas caught his breath, and his heart raced.

Instead of the uniform of the Hytheno Armata, the men wore black outfits unfamiliar to Lonas. On their heads, they wore form-fitting black hoods, each with a mask made of glass and metal which covered the entirety of their faces. The leader signaled with his hand, and the men raised their short rifles to their shoulders.

Lonas’s mind raced to come up with an explanation for their actions … and who they were.

Almost, Lonas decided to step out from the shadows, identify himself, and explain that he was with the majestro’s company; but then the leader spoke in a guttural and stilted voice. The pronunciation was so different from anything Lonas had heard before, it was almost as if it were a different language.

Kill them all. Leave no witnesses.

For the span of a heartbeat, Lonas’s mind went blank.

He fought to understand what was happening. Kill them all? Why were they going to assassinate his father and the men? Who were they? They couldn’t be soldiers from any other provinco of Hytheno; Lonas knew the uniforms of the other provincos’ guards. Where were they from? Who had sent them?

The leader signaled the patrol to move forward, and as a single unit, they crept toward the camp.

Lonas had to warn his father, but if he shouted, the soldiers would kill him. Still, if they shot their rifles, at least the sound would give them away.

He tried to move, but his muscles would not respond.

Icy coldness flowed through his body. Was this what it was like to be frozen with fear?

The last thing Lonas considered himself to be was a coward. At the same time, he wasn’t a fool. There had to be a better way to alert the camp other than sacrificing himself.

As the assassins moved farther away, Lonas knew he was running out of options.

Waiting until the patrol was at least twenty meters down the road, he threw off his fur coat and drew his pistol—slowly! quietly!—and began to load it. He worked purposefully, getting out his powder horn, measurer, ramrod, cap and priming tool.

Once he measured out the black powder, he poured it into the muzzle. Reaching into a leather pouch, he grabbed a round bullet and placed it into the barrel, using the ramrod to thrust it firmly into place.

That done, he placed the percussion cap in the ignition with the priming tool.

Keeping the barrel pointed forward, Lonas dropped to one knee at the edge of the forest and held his firing arm out, fighting to keep it steady.

The assassins were too far away for him to make out any of them individually. He aimed for what he hoped was the leader.

His hand shook. He’d fired the pistol hundreds of times, but never at a person.

Steeling himself, he squeezed the trigger.

The crack of the shot was enough to deafen him momentarily. When the ringing in his ears faded, it was replaced by the sounds of shouting.

The soldiers fired back, but not with a single shot from each rifle, as Lonas expected.

Sounding like fireworks, the rifles shot what had to be a dozen bullets each, all in the span of a few seconds. Behind him, tree branches splintered and split into pieces.

Stunned at the counterattack—how could a rifle fire more than one bullet at a time?—Lonas froze right up until something like the tail of a whip slapped his cheek.

Pain blossomed in his face, and his fingers came away thick with blood.

The shot had grazed him; the wound felt worse than it was. Scrambling, he dove back toward the thicket as he heard the barking of more rifle shots.

The low voice of the leader cut through the confusion.

It’s only a scout. Ryadovoy Taras, go after him.

Yes, serzhant.

The rest of you … charge the camp!

Lonas had fired his only shot; by the time he reloaded, the soldier would be on him. Holstering the pistol, he ran deeper into the woods. His pace was slow; it was far too dark for him to see clearly, and he didn’t want to run headlong into a tree.

Behind him, his pursuer was nearing.

Once Lonas had gone a short way into the forest, he angled back toward the camp. There was no way he would beat the patrol there, so he stopped after a dozen steps and crouched behind a thick tree.

In part, he wanted to catch his breath, but mostly, he hoped that the assassin coming after him would continue past him.

His pursuer made no effort to be silent, and Lonas tracked his progress by sound. When he was certain he’d lost him, Lonas got up and made his way back to the road.

There was a dark patch in the dirt. He bent down and touched it. Blood. He’d hit one of them, but it hadn’t killed him, otherwise there’d be a body.

Drawing his smallsword, he ran as hard as he could toward camp.

Before he was halfway there, he heard a chorus of rifle shots. If his father’s guards were shooting back, Lonas couldn’t tell over the rapid barking of the assassins’ rifles.

By the time Lonas got within sight of the camp, the fight was over. It had lasted mere seconds.

Only three men—the assassins—remained standing. All his father’s guards were dead. The campfires still blazed, casting an eerie light over the scene of death.

Before any of the assassins could spot him, Lonas hurried to the side of the road and eased himself low behind a tree, peering around the trunk.

His heart beat against his ribs mercilessly as he spied his father lying on the ground in a heap. The patrol leader stood over the majestro’s body.

Incredibly, Liom wasn’t yet dead. He reached his arm out in front of him and tried to drag himself away.

The leader pointed his rifle at Liom’s head and fired.

The brutality of what Lonas had just witnessed stunned him. The horror was too much to bear. It felt like he was in a nightmare from which he could not wake.

His base instinct took over. Without any real idea of what he was doing—all he knew was that he had to get to his father—Lonas shot to his feet.

Before he could take a step, a hand wrapped itself around his ankle. In mid-motion, Lonas lost his balance and fell to one knee.

He opened his mouth to cry out, but then saw who had grabbed him.

Mentoro Kresh, his face muddied and bloodied, held the finger of his other hand to his lips. His eyes pleaded with Lonas to remain silent.

Fighting down his impulse to ignore the mentoro and charge in, Lonas stayed where he was behind the tree.

Keep hidden, Kresh said, his voice so low Lonas could barely hear him. Wait for them to leave.

Though it felt like it was a cowardly thing to do, Lonas nevertheless lay flat on the ground beside Kresh. If they remained still and kept their heads down, the shadows would provide plenty of camouflage for them.

For countless minutes, they waited. Not daring to look up and expose himself, Lonas listened as the three assassins finally left the camp.

Lonas waited until they were long gone before he started to get up.

No, Kresh said, putting a hand on his arm. Do not.

I have to see.

Kresh shook his head. It will do no good.

They killed my father. They killed all the guards, Lonas cried.

You can do nothing for them now, Kresh said. He looked closer at Lonas. You are hurt, sinjoro.

Touching his face where the blood was quickly drying, Lonas shook his head. A graze.

They will be hunting for you.

Lonas remembered the leader’s words. No witnesses. Once the man who’d pursued him caught up with the group and reported his failure, the patrol was likely to double back.

We have to go, he said to Kresh.

The mentoro choked out a humorless laugh. I’m afraid I cannot, sinjoro.

It was then that Lonas looked closer at the older man. There was a shadow on the ground under Kresh’s midsection much darker than the rest: blood.

I was coming to fetch you, and I must have walked into the first bullet they fired. Kresh gave a weak shake of his head. I’m done for, sinjoro.

I’ll get help—

No. Reaching out, Kresh grasped Lonas’s wrist. You must run. Do not return to Delormo. Whoever is behind this, they are likely to come after you next.

I will find out who is responsible and avenge my father, and you.

Do not, Kresh said. These are not ordinary men. They will kill you. You must flee. Find Zain, my mentoro.

Zain, the outcast?

Kresh’s grip slackened. His voice frail, he said, Zain will know what to do. He will help you.

Lonas couldn’t understand how someone who was in exile could possibly help him get revenge for his father’s death. Still, he needed an ally. If Kresh trusted Zain, then Lonas would trust him as well.

Where do I find him?

Father, Kresh said. Safe. But then he fell silent.

Lonas shook the advisor, but there was no resistance in the old man’s body. He was dead.

The cold hand of grief tightened around his heart. Everyone who was close to him was gone.

He was alone, far from home, and had no idea what he should do or where he should go. Father safe? That made no sense.

It was only after several seconds, when he heard muted voices, Lonas realized the assassins were coming back. If he lingered, he would certainly join his father and Kresh in death.

Silently, he retreated deeper into the woods away from the camp, and hid inside the hollow of a felled tree for the rest of the night.

He passed the hours with only his grief to keep him warm. Soon enough, sleep took him, but the last thought he had was that he would not sentence himself to exile.

Someone had to answer for the night’s crimes.

Chapter Two

Corina, Regidino of Hytheno, stood on the balcony of her rooms in the island palace of Sanwollo. Her two handmaidens, Marial and Tralina, stood beside her. All three watched the dark crossing with wonder and awe.

It was a spectacular sight to behold.

Just as Brilaluno and Rugaluno were blocked out by Mallumoluno, Corina bade the handmaidens to turn off the arc lamps on the balcony. They did as they were told, and the darkness that settled over them was all-consuming.

Marial gasped. I can’t see a thing.

That wasn’t completely true. There were plenty of arc lamps lining the streets of both the north and south halves of the capital. There was enough illumination for Corina to make out the silhouettes of the houses and buildings. The lights reflected off the Murtide River, which flowed down the center of the city and out to the Frore Sea. Dozens of ships were docked in the harbor.

Corina flinched when, at the end of one of the piers, someone set off fireworks. The high-pitched snap of the rockets followed the sudden flare of lights only seconds later.

With your permission, sinjorino, Marial said, her words strained. She took a step toward the door. I find the sound of them unsettling.

Go on, estrino, Corina said, and waved her hand at her in dismissal.

Marial hurried inside, closing the door behind her.

The handmaiden had only been with Corina for the past two seasons. She didn’t yet measure up to the woman who she’d replaced. It had been a sad day