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The Fantasy of Frank P Ryan
The Fantasy of Frank P Ryan
This is the second novel in Frank P Ryan's acclaimed fantasy series, The Three Powers. The first in the series, The Snowmelt River, is a top ten epic fantasy bestseller on amazon.
Release date: November 8, 2012 by Publisher Jo Fletcher Books (Quercus).
Available at www.frankpryan.com
Four friends, Kate, Alan, Mark and Mo have entered the enchanted but war-ravaged world of Tír, bringing hope for the millions of oppressed peoples who live here. But Kate has been kidnapped by the Great Witch, Olc, who has imprisoned her in the Tower of Bones. Kate is helped by an extraordinary young dragon. Meanwhile Mark is lost in Dromenon, uncertain if he still lives, and Mo is still recovering from her injuries received during the battle of Ossierel. Alan sets out to rescue Kate. But his every move is harassed by the Tyrant of the Wastelands. Meanwhile Olc is luring the friends into a deadly trap in which she is resurrecting the demigod Fangorath, an immortal and dreadful force for malice, who is said to have ended the age of Dragons.
The New Kyra
Across the three-mile-wide estuary of the Snowmelt River, the walled City of Carfon was ghostly in the half-light of dawn. For Alan Duval the stroll, in the company of his friend, the dwarf mage Qwenqwo Cuatzel, offered a brief respite from the despair that had set, like an iron cage, around his heart. Tall, slim, almost gaunt in his features, with his thick brown hair grown a little wild and long, he kept the sea to his right as he headed in broad sweeping strides towards the surf.
Carfon! He spoke its name softly, as a man might speak of a fabled wonder, even when that wonder confronts him in solid stone. Carfon, pearl of the Eastern Ocean, and the last free city in the entire continent of Monisle.
No description in words could have prepared him for the reality of this vision. The walls were a vast cliff face of masoned granite, two hundred feet high on their aprons and a quarter as much again atop the towers that studded the battlemented summit, with row upon row of bronze cannons lowering defensively over sea and landscape. Now, leaning on the heavy spear he had been using like a shepherd’s staff, its upright blade spirally twisted and warded over its cutting edges with Ogham runes, he stared across the choppy water at this brooding fortification.
Yet for all their impregnable appearance those walls were threatened. There were enemies in this strange and menacing world that would be undaunted by any protection of cannons and stone. Carfon might fall, no matter that such an eventuality was unthinkable. And uppermost in the plans of the enemy, as in his own, was the fact that deep within those ancient walls was the portal to the most powerful force of all, a force so dreadful none dared openly to speak its name.
In his mind Alan whispered that name: the Fáil – a strange and ancient word. Even in whispering it he felt a tingle of its power activate in the ruby triangle embedded in his brow – the Oraculum of the First Power. The tingle spread out, a wave of pins and needles, through his heart and limbs. Such a power could never be allowed to fall into evil hands, or the consequences would be too dreadful to contemplate. Alan knew that much about it although he knew little to nothing of its true nature, or for that matter the dangers it might pose to him and his purpose. But now he was this close to it he had no choice but to confront the Fáil.
He took a deep breath, exhaled it slowly.
He couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that he had lost two of the three friends who had been summoned with him to this strange and dangerous world. Thank goodness Mo was safe, sleeping within the protection of the Olhyiu and Shee, whose tents and campfires covered several acres of beach behind him. The very thought was a reminder of the strangeness of this world. The Shee were descended from great cats and the Olhyiu were descended from bears. But as to his friend, and rival, Mark – heck, he didn’t rightly know where Mark was anymore. Mark had saved their lives during the battle for Ossierel. But he had paid a terrible price for doing so. For all Alan knew his friend might be dead. Mark’s body had disappeared from the Rath at the top of the tor. Alan had witnessed the extraordinary change in the statue of the dark Queen, Nantosueta, who now appeared to be locked in an embrace with the figure of Mark. And in his brow Mark bore the same triangle of power as Nantosueta – the Third Power, the Power of Death. The memory caused Alan to hesitate in his stride. He didn’t know how to come to terms with what had happened to Mark. It was a problem that wouldn’t go away. And yet he had no choice but to put it to one side for the moment, such was his anxiety about Kate. Thoughts of Kate, the girl he loved, had preoccupied every distracted moment of his life since she had been abducted by the repulsive bat-like warriors, the Gargs, during the battle. The Gargs had clearly been in league with the Great Witch. They had carried Kate across the Eastern Ocean to the Tower of Bones. Of the four friends only Alan and Mo had stayed together. Mo had also been terribly injured, an injury to the spirit that she was only slowly recovering from. Meanwhile the abduction of Kate, thought that he might have lost her altogether, provoked a rising nausea.
Qwenqwo, the dwarf mage of an extinct warrior people, the Fir Bolg, waited patiently while Alan recovered his composure sufficiently to walk on again.
The beach itself was serenely beautiful, an oasis of fine white sand set between sea-worn rocky outcrops. Broad-canopied trees, their foliage as delicate as puffs of olive-green smoke, decorated the undulating sand, the focus of tiny blue-winged birds that hesitated and darted among the branches as delicate as hummingbirds. Inhaling the briny air, he might be strolling the seashore of some warmer part of his native Earth had it not been for the alien appearance of the two women who watched him from a low headland, perhaps fifty yards away.
A warning, sudden and fierce, cut through his musing.
Alan stopped walking, a warning hand on Qwenqwo’s shoulder, arrested by the force of the command.
Take not another step!
The command was non-verbal but it invaded his mind with irresistible force through the oraculum. He stood barefoot in the sand, his path, and that of his companion, a wandering trail of prints over the virginal white surface – it had been the inviting prospect of this that had tempted him to remove his seal-skin boots, which he had strung by their leather thongs around his neck. He turned his head to stare at the two women, the taller in particular. It had been she who had issued the warning. But now that he was still, she made no further attempt at communication. Leaving it to me, he thought.
Something about the sand.
He gazed ahead at the region immediately in front of him, the place he was about to step into...
‘What is it, Mage Lord?’ Qwenqwo’s right hand had crested his shoulder and it rested on the hilt of the double-bladed Fir Bolg battle axe that straddled his back.
‘The Kyra has sent me a warning.’
Alan planted the spear in the sand before going down on his haunches and studying the beach in front of him, angling his face to its apparently innocent surface. An offshore breeze played over the surface, blowing sand grains against his cheeks. He saw nothing suspicious, just a few fragments of shell glittering with a mother-of-pear opalescence. But as he searched harder the ruby triangle in his brow came alive, an inner matrix pulsating with complex whorls and arabesques of light. What his eyes could not see, his enhanced mind quickly detected. There was something there… a series of ultra fine hairs protruding through the smooth white surface. Returning to his feet he retrieved the spear, then poked the blade among the protruding hairs. Four gigantic jaws erupted from the sand. At their centre was a maw big enough to swallow his leg, stinking of meaty digestive juices, and with the jaws lined with concentric rows of teeth.
‘What demon is this?’
‘A hungry one, Qwenqwo – probably detected the vibration of our feet!’
The jaws closed with a violent snap before withdrawing into their den in the sand.
Alan stood back and lifted his gaze to stare at the giantess who still watched him, expressionless, from the headland about forty yards away. He lifted his open hand in a gesture of thanks.
On the headland, which offered a vantage over the entire estuary, the shorter of the two women spoke to her companion.
‘You do not respond to his wave?’
The speaker, Milish Essyne Xhosa, Princess of Laàsa and unofficial stateswoman of the Council-in-Exile, was herself a statuesque six feet tall, yet she was dwarfed by her companion.
There was a flattened oval disc of a pearly smooth material in the centre of the giantess’s brow, the mark of a Kyra, hereditary leadership of the Shee, and known as the Oraculum of Bree.
The Ambassador placed a tentative hand on the young Kyra’s naked shoulder, decorated with a tattoo of naturalistic shapes and forms.
The Kyra shook her tawny head, returning the young man’s acknowledgement with a frown. She growled, low in her throat. ‘There is much I do not understand – or trust – in him.’
The giantess’s hair was coiled into a braid clasped to her left shoulder. Thick and luxuriant, it would have passed for normal on Earth. But there the comparison ended. No woman on Earth sported those side extensions, which grew down from her temples as ivory-coloured sideburns, any more than those symmetrical markings, like large brown freckles, that decorated the downy skin over her face. The Kyra’s snow tigress inheritance was all too evident in her size and facial markings, as in the glacial blue of her eyes, the upper lids padded, so they readily closed to slits. The same brown marbling bisected the ash-blonde down in two widening tracks, with stripes splaying out to either side and dappling her cheeks. Her oval crystal, like the ruby triangle in Alan’s brow, pulsated with an inner matrix of power.
The Ambassador spoke again. ‘The recent death of your mother-sister has placed you at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the young Mage Lord.’
‘My mother-sister departed the Guhttan heartlands without the opportunity to exchange memories. My legacy has not been confirmed.’
Milish nodded, understanding what a bitter blow this must have been. The Shee, with their great cat ancestry, did not reproduce in the normal way. There were no males. The mother sisters gave birth to identical daughter sisters. And it was essential to the Kyral inheritance that the mother-sister should confer her acquired wisdom and experiences on the daughter-sister with her coming of age. ‘If he appears distant, or distracted it is through grief at the loss of his beloved companion, Kate.’ Milish continued to watch the young man, her luminous eyes the speckled brown of tortoiseshell. Her voice remained soft, a measured contralto:
‘In time you will come to understand why your mother-sister trusted him like no other.’
Ainé was the daughter-sister of the recently dead Kyra in a lineage that stretched back into the mists of history. She was too shocked by the situation she encountered here to be free with gestures of friendship. And none was more puzzling than this youth, Alan Duval, who bore the Oraculum of the First Power of the Holy Trídédana. A callow youth, yet her mother-sister had trusted him like no other? She was obliged to take the word of her companion on that. Milish had been her mother-sister’s mentor in perilous times leading to a battle that had already entered legend. And if such legend were to be believed, this youth had stood shoulder to shoulder with the former Kyra in the thick of that battle. Out there, in the estuary, floated the strangest ship she had ever seen. People spoke of it with awe as the Temple Ship. All this the young Kyra knew. But knowing was not understanding. The warrior race of Shee, under her hereditary command, was exclusively female, as was the Council-in-Exile here in Carfon. Theirs was the honour and burden of protecting continental Monisle from the evil that beset it.
She spoke brusquely, a whispered growl: ‘Nothing in my education by Seers and Aides reveals why such power has been granted to a youth, and an alien youth at that, who has arrived in Tír from another world.’
‘Appearances are deceptive. The mage lord lost his youth at Ossierel. You would be advised to treat him as a man.’
The Kyra snorted.
Most disturbing of all, her mother-sister had died without a Seer present, and thus without the opportunity of transferring her memories to her successor. With a sweep of her arm the Kyra drew her cloak about her shoulders. It was loose-fitting over a tough leathery jerkin fastened high about her neck and falling half way over her trousers of pale green, which fastened at mid-calf above the cross-lacing over her thin-soled boots. Immediately the enfolding cloak took on the camouflage colours and patterns of the surrounding rocks and sand, so the young Kyra became close to invisible, and yet all the while she continued to watch the young man.
The dwarf mage turned his gaze on the ancient walls, which appeared more substantial and awesome by the minute as the rising sun invaded the estuary from the horizon of the glittering ocean. ‘I see from your expression that you worry still about the silence from the Council-in-Exile.’
‘We’ve already wasted six days here, waiting for these people to agree to a meeting. Meanwhile Kate is suffering at the hands of that terrible creature.’
‘Alan – my friend. Though patience is trying in such circumstances, never has it been more necessary. The Council Woman, Milish, has warned you that Carfon has ever been a city of intrigues.’
He shook his head. ‘You know I find this formality a waste of time. I just don’t care about appearances.’
‘Here, above all, appearances matter. Carfon is a city under threat. Soon it may be under siege. Though the Tyrant’s armies have been repulsed from the Vale of Tazan, they may yet attack, in great numbers, from the sea. The Council-in-Exile has its own worries. To them you will appear no more than a distraction.’
‘Meanwhile we lose another day.’
‘My friend – when I was a child at my mother’s knee, she taught me how to play a board game called “Strategies”. The aim of play was to win a great prize, a victory of victories. But to obtain that final victory I had to learn not merely the rules of play, but also the importance of planning and patience. From what you have told me of your dreams, Kate is being held in the Tower of Bones. And her gaoler is none other than the Great Witch, also known as Olc.’
‘I don’t know a damned thing about witches.’
‘It was Olc who sent the succubus that ensnared your friend Mark. It would appear that she understands the need for strategy and patience. Her game set in train the series of events that seduced him and ultimately led him to his present fate. And it is another of her games that torments you through the capture of Kate.’
‘I’m not afraid of her, Qwenqwo.’
‘Fear her you should! You fought bravely against the Legun at Ossierel. But the Great Witch is far more powerful than a Legun. She is second in power only to the Tyrant himself. Were you to rush headlong into such a confrontation, you would lose. And what then would become of Kate?’
Alan sighed. ‘I just can’t bear to think of how Kate is suffering.’
The dwarf mage shrugged.
‘Hey – I know your advice makes sense. But I’m convinced in my own mind that the answer to my problem lies with the Fáil. We both know that there’s a portal to the Fáil right here in Carfon. I’ve got to find the portal and use it to help rescue Kate.’
The dwarf mage shook his head. ‘Even if you persist in this course you must persuade the Council-in-Exile to grant you access to the portal. And they have refused to meet with you, despite Milish’s protestations.’
The Ambassador, Milish, gazed beyond the estuary to the soaring walls of Carfon, where Prince Ebrit had offered them quarters in his palace on their arrival. But courtesy in Carfon was barbed with subtle obligations – not to mention dangers. The palace, more than two thousand years old and a labyrinth of hidden passages and spy holes, offered poor protection. And so, politely, she had declined the Prince’s offer. In the meantime the new Kyra had arrived to take command of the encampment of Shee on this side of the estuary. In the six days since their arrival it had mushroomed to cover a square mile of hinterland above the beach, with sentries posted by Bétaald, the dark-skinned spiritual leader of the Shee, herself not yet fully recovered from wounds received during the battle in the Vale of Tazan.
Milish was aware of a stiffening in the posture of the Kyra. In the Oraculum of Bree she observed a heightened flickering. At the same moment a tiny bat-like creature erupted from the beach below them, close to the walking figures.
‘What is it?’
‘A snooper,’ Milish declared.
In a blur of movement, the dwarf mage’s arm reached back behind his left shoulder and in a flowing arc of movement the double headed axe was in his right hand. But Alan reached out to block the dwarf mage’s purpose.
‘Why does the Mage Lord hold the weapon back?’ the Kyra asked.
‘To spy, a snooper must need a communicating brain – for it accommodates no more than a tiny mind. My guess is that he wishes to follow where that tiny mind will lead him.’
The Kyra followed the flight of the snooper until it passed through a crevice-like window in the city walls. From there, her eyes returned to the youth, whose attention had also followed the flight of the snooper. The movements caused the thick braid of her hair to strain against the silver clasp that tied it down onto her left shoulder.
‘The snooper has reported to a spy in the walls opposite. From what you’ve told me about this city we can anticipate spies aplenty.’
A frown creased the Ambassador’s patrician face. She couldn’t help but be concerned at the thought of somebody spying on them. With her striking beauty and regal manners and posture Milish would have commanded attention in any world. Her hair was a lustrous blue-black, the thick black strands parted centrally over her forehead, and falling down in careful bundles over her temples, with folds that hid the upper third of her fleshy lobed ears. On Earth, with her hair and coppery complexion, she might have been taken for an Oriental noblewoman.
The Kyra pressed her: ‘Would your instincts suggest that such a spy works for the Council-in-Exile?’
‘It’s one possibility.’
The Ambassador shivered as the offshore breeze blew a tuft of hair loose from her plume of ornamental silver, the liberated hair gambolling over her fine intelligent features.