It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Author, artist, woodworker, and world traveler currently thrives in Austin, Texas with his beautiful wife Mandy and daughter Zoё Isabel. His plethora of numinous literary inspirations are often stirred by being in nature – hiking, camping, fishing, spelunking, rock climbing, and, of course, reveling in the unadulterated, wall-less freedom of riding his motorcycle through the hill country.
Visit the author’s website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
A foreboding evil is slowly creeping around the heart of the Freelands, threatening to choke away its very life. The Lords of this mass of evil are after eternal power – and if they succeed, the lands will plunge into an endless blight. Unfortunately, most of the people of the Freelands are unaware they face an ominous future – and those that know the truth are in dire straits.
Watcher Lord Ertael plots to destroy his arch enemy, Darius, when Drakon finally delivers the elusive Eden Scroll – the enigmatic scroll of Enoch the Seer that discloses the secret location of the Tree of Life. Lord Cain and the Watcher Lords want eternal life and, now united, with an army of Offspring at their disposal, they will stop at nothing to achieve it.
As a group of diverse characters band together with one common goal, only time will tell the fate of Darius, and the meaning behind the cryptic mural on his cave wall – the mural that mirrors Noah’s curious dream that seems to be the key to their survival.
In this fantasy tale filled with unexpected twists and turns, the birth of the dark legend continues as the future of mankind hangs precariously in the balance.
List Price: $21.95
- Paperback: 392 pages
- Publisher: iUniverse Publishing (August 11, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1462034608
- ISBN-13: 978-1462034604
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The mural on the cave wall was the key.
A powerful waterfall veiled the mouth of the cave as it cascaded down into the deep pool below. Mist rolled skyward away from the violently churning water as the Watcher’s stiff broken body lay pinned against jagged rocks on the bottom of the deep pool. Engulfed by a crimson cloud, he tried to move but could not. Every muscle was locked, completely paralyzed. He was trapped in his own body, pinned by the crushing force.
His own sword skewered through his wrist, pinning it like a piece of meat against his shoulder. His left wing was folded awkwardly behind his back as the right wrapped stiffly around a large tooth-shaped rock. His entire body throbbed, the pain accentuated by the cold of the water.
He felt the powerful suction of the rip-tide yank one of his eye patches off his face. His vision was filled with the swirling blue light of the tumultuous bloodied water. It was the life-glow that could only be seen through spirit eyes.
Darius tried to move once more, but to no avail. He had been expertly paralyzed by one of his own kind.
Drakon … that demon.
Darius knew that without precise care, his condition would be permanent.
Noah … find me.
Darius felt the last bit of air leave his lungs. His mind flashed colorful visions of the mural painted in the cave above – the small island – the rotting branch lying on the water’s edge and the purple flower that grew from it.
Find me …
Find her … the flower … the hyacinth…
The mural was the key.
Starved of oxygen, his sight – the life-glow, began to wane black.
Help me … Elohim …
As reality began to fade into the swirling chaos his last thought melted away into the blackness.
Soon. So very soon.
Nothing will be impossible with the acquisition of immortality.
The mirrored irises of Ertael reflected the sprawling City of Cain as he sat introspectively in the east window of the highest sanctum of his tower. He sat on the sill sideways, legs crossed, back ridged. The long stately wings of the Watcher Lord were out stretched, one tucked inside the tower, one dangling outside.
A long wound in Ertael’s left wing that had been a debilitating gaping slice, was now a lengthy stretch of countless black stitches of boar hair. Ertael knew that in two days’ time, the wound would be nothing more than a scar, serving as a reminder to return the favor tenfold. Torture is far too shallow of a word to describe what he will do to Darius when Drakon finally delivers.
He will destroy Darius.
Seething ire raged in Ertael’s black soul as he glared out over the city.
If Drakon finds Darius … when he finds him, the Eden Scroll will be at his fingertips. He was beginning to wonder if the satisfaction of killing Darius would merit the sacrifice of the secret location of the Tree of Life dying with him.
Eternal life … what power! Ridding his enemies – those Elohim-fearing nuisances who make it arduous to build an empire, would be only the beginning. The knowledge he would gain from years of uninterrupted advancement would make him the greatest lord of all time.
The greatest. The god.
But what of Cain – that decrepit cursed human man? He was the embodiment of the curse that imprisoned his soul, his very presence plaguing the earth … like an annoying thorn infecting Ertael’s dominant hand.
“Drakon …” Ertael quietly growled, interrupting his own contemplations, as he continued to stare out the window.
Behind him, Drakon’s dark form stood motionless in a shadow on the opposite side of the room.
It was not the sound Drakon made coming through the window; he was perfectly silent. Nor was it a rush of wind from his wings; the air was deathly still. Not even was it the smell of fresh blood that ran down Drakon’s leg onto the marble floor; the room was overwhelmed with the strong fragrance of incense, but it was the sudden spiritual gloom that saturated the room’s already dark atmosphere, that alerted Ertael of Drakon’s presence.
Ertael turned his head to see the silhouette of the one whose presence he felt.
Drakon stepped out of the shadow, his wings folded, standing silhouetted against the colorful western sky through the window behind him. “I am ready for you to cede our agreement.” Drakon’s voice was low and raspy as if his very own darkness had clawed for years at his vocal cords.
“Did you fulfill your part?” Ertael hissed. “I do not see Darius or Noah.”
Drakon pulled a scroll from the inside of his black leather robe.
Ertael eyed the scroll’s every movement as Drakon lifted his hand and stretched it out toward him, his long dark nails curving outward from his hand.
“Our agreement was not for another one of Enoch’s scrolls,” Ertael said scathingly, snatching the parchment from Drakon’s veiny hands. “It was for Noah or Darius.”
“What about The Scroll? Would that suffice?”
Ertael did not believe him. He sneered, “The Scroll?”
“It is what you ultimately desire, is it not?”
Ertael unrolled the scroll, laid it flat on a table, and in the light of a large orange candle began to read it.
“Flip it over,” Drakon said.
He did, and what he saw captivated his attention. The characters were inverted. Instead of black ink on light tan parchment, the scroll was dyed black and the characters were inkless. With every ink-surrounded word, his eyes grew wider with intrigue.
Drakon stepped forward, looking over Ertael’s shoulder.
Ertael slid his hand on the handle of his sword without taking his eyes from the ever-elusive scroll that finally lay before him.
“Still do not trust me?” Drakon hissed.
“I trust you as far as my blade will reach,” Ertael said, then continued to scan it. “It does appear to be the Eden scroll.”
“Good,” Drakon growled. “Now, your agreement … at least the part you can give me until you find the Tree.”
Ertael opened a small alabaster box that sat on the table. Pulling something out of it, he held it tightly in his fist. “Where – is – Darius?” His eyes locked onto Drakon.
“He securely awaits his demise.”
“He is in a paralytic state at the bottom of a deep pool.”
Ertael smiled at the irony of Darius helplessly imprisoned under water. If anyone could undertake a feat like that, it would be Drakon. “Tomorrow, you will take me to him. My wing should heal enough tonight to fly by morning.”
Only then did Ertael held out his fist to give Drakon the contents.
He stepped forward, palm outstretched.
The two locked eyes with the intensity of a duel, their gaze of steel mirroring the other. “Meet me here at first light or else you will never receive the other half of our agreement. In fact, if you do not deliver him to me, I will see to it that you are given the exact opposite of eternal life.”
Drakon gave an evil grin, full of sharp jagged teeth. “What makes you think I need to receive anything from you?”
Ertael ignored the hostile comment and opened his fist. A large ring dropped into his palm.
“This ring that once belonged to Armers, confirms you as the new Lord of the Isle of Verus. If steward Zeror gives you trouble, just show him the ring and this scroll.” Ertael said as he picked up a small scroll from the table and handed it to him. “And Drakon … don’t kill him. Utilize him. He is skilled in sorcery. You will have plenty of others to do with as you wish.”
Drakon slid the gold ring past his long black fingernail, onto his bony middle finger and gazed into the entrancing red facets of its huge dazzling ruby.
“And do not be stunned if the palace lies in shambles. No Watcher has lived there since Armers … since the Rebellion,” He explained. “Do with it as you please.”
“And the prisoners?”
“I fear you must conjure up a bit of patience in that depraved soul of yours. As I told you, I will send to you every prisoner that is in the Dark Hall, and from now on, all prisoners will be sent to Verus. But first things first …” Ertael gazed at the Eden scroll sitting on the table.
The evil grin never left Drakon’s face. Whether the grin formed from the prospect of everlasting Lordship, or the anticipation of ruling an island full of iniquitous human flesh to do with as he pleased, did not matter. Both were equally gratifying.
Noah and Ariadne wished this brief spell of calm was permanent. But they could not ignore the reality that there was simply no way it would.
Their journey had brought them across the rugged terrain of the North Mountain Range, through open glades and narrow valleys, and now, after a day of descending the south face of the range, they made their way through a dense forest of exceptionally tall eucalyptus trees. As far as they could see, the impressively straight trunks swayed gently, complaining to each other with eerie groans and creaks. Rays of muted light streaked through the vast canopy of leaves, drifting like sullen ghosts over the lush forest floor.
The combination of sounds and light created an unsettling atmosphere that weighed subtly on the two as they continued riding south. Even Unknown, Noah’s borrowed horse from Uriah, seemed to slow his pace from the thick gloom. Though Unknown’s master was too distracted to notice his horse’s behavior, Ariadne noticed everything, including Noah’s silence. Up to this point their conversation had been intermittent but pleasant as they both enjoyed the feeling of freedom after their narrow escape from Ertael near Rimrock into the splendor of the wilds. However, Ariadne had begun to notice that Noah had more on his mind in the moments of peaceful silence than he was letting on. There were troubling thoughts brewing in his head and she was keen to help in whatever way she could.
Her position behind Noah on the horse was not exactly ideal for serious conversation but Ariadne would just have to make due with talking to the back of his head.
“Is there something wrong?” She gently asked, and though her sapphire eyes were only staring at the back of his head, they were still full of curiosity and compassion.
“Um … I don’t exactly know,” He said with a contemplative pause, “But, I feel something off in my spirit.”
“Like what kind of something?” Ariadne was careful to keep her words light so as not to worry her distracted companion. “And what kind of off?”
“It’s hard to say,” he continued even more slowly as if his thoughts were away in a far off land. “I think it may have something to do with Darius.”
“Darius? The Watcher. He seems like the type who can take care of himself.” She reassured him playfully. “Don’t you think?”
“I know, I know,” he replied, straining to look back at the beautiful, young, raven-haired woman behind him, and feeling a bit embarrassed at his disappointment to find that he could not quite turn far enough to see her. Thankfully, he had also been pulling Unknown’s reins to the left and he hid his failed attempt under the guise of looking for a way around the thorny, white flowered thicket that sprawled in front of them.
Unknown resisted Noah’s attempts to turn and stubbornly threw his head back with a snort of defiance.
“Come on boy … settle down,” he said calmly, firmly patting the reddish-brown hair of the horse’s neck in reassurance. “We need to get back to Darius as soon as possible.”
Ariadne was not sure if he said that to her or the horse.
Unknown was nervous, throwing glances from side to side and slowing his pace to a hesitant plod.
“Looks like he’s feeling the same thing you are.”
“Yeah, except I want to go forward…” Noah let out a frustrated chuckle as they rounded the edge of the thicket. His laugh was still hanging in the air when Unknown stopped dead in his tracts, gaze fixed to his left. Almost in that same instant Noah and Ariadne also froze. They felt their breath catch in their throats and fear pound in their hearts as they caught sight of what the horse had sensed.
What they saw was something that Noah had spent a lifetime hoping never to encounter. But there it stood.
The huge form of a Baryonyx Dragon was unmistakable.
The agile but muscular dragon sauri stood over a large ground nest in which laid four spotted tan eggs that were slightly smaller than the Baryonyx’s head. A long string of slimy yolk stringed down from between the dragon’s long and sharp black teeth as it held half of a broken egg shell in his front claws.
Hunched on muscular back legs, the dragon stood about the height of four men, little more than the dragon’s-tail-length away. He slightly cocked his head toward the horse and riders with a savage, predatory glare in his blackish eyes.
They had interrupted a Baryonyx dragon from his meal, offering the beast a tastier one. Noah knew that without some sort of divine intervention, they would not survive this rare encounter. Silently, he let Elohim know just that.
The Baryonyx dropped the shell from his dagger-like claws and it bounced off another egg in the massive nest.
“Hold tight,” Noah whispered to Ariadne.
She did … almost too tight.
Noah eased the reins to the right.
At that slight command, Unknown’s nostrils flared as he snapped backwards and reared, kicking his front legs.
In response, the dragon crouched as if readying itself to pounce and let out an angry hiss followed by a bone shattering roar, bearing his wicked black teeth which lusted for his next course: human and horse flesh.
Unknown spun tightly, treading up soil as he launched into a full gallop through the trees away from the beast.
With a powerful push of his rear legs, the dragon sprang into the air. It was silent for a fear-inducing second as the dragon sailed effortlessly through the trees, only to land dangerously close behind them. The earth trembled at the weight of the dragon’s landing and leaves were shaken loose from the trees above and drifted slowly downward as the dragon snapped his fierce jaws at his fleeing meal.
Unknown darted to the left to avoid a tree as the dragon’s jaws clamped shut barely missing Ariadne’s head to her right but pinching the fabric of her flowing right sleeve. Her heart leaped with panic when the powerful concussion of air from the dragon’s nostrils knocked her off balance. She screamed when the dragon forcefully jerked back and twisted, ripping the sleeve from her arm, causing her to nearly lose her grip on Noah.
Wide-eyed with terror, Ariadne glanced at her arm as they galloped between a dense cluster of trunks, thankful it was still attached and unharmed. She tightly gripped Noah’s torso again.
“Duck!” Noah yelled right before he ducked a low-hanging branch.
Ariadne barely got her head down in time.
With a loud snapping crash, the dragon burst through the same branches, splintering them to pieces that exploded through the air.
Noah and Ariadne could feel every pounding thump of the dragon’s footsteps close behind them. Adrenalin coursed through Noah’s veins as he desperately steered Unknown between tree trunks, barely avoiding the dragon’s powerful bites.
Noah glanced back. The constantly shifting yellow-green skin of the dragon filled his sight. It was entirely too close. He kicked Unknown to run faster.
The dragon lunged and snapped again. The crushing bite barely missed them as it sank into a eucalyptus trunk instead, snapping it like a twig
The dragon’s momentum made him slide, colliding sideways into the fractured tree.
Ariadne looked back. “Watch out!”
Noah glanced back to see the tall tree falling towards them, crashing through the branches above.
“Turn left! Turn left!” Ariadne yelled.
He did. Just as Unknown turned, the tree crashed down with a reverberating thud right beside them.
The collision with the tree allowed them to gain some distance, but the Baryonyx was quickly on their trail once again.
Noah looked back just in time to see the dragon bound into the air again. Time seemed to slow as the dragon soared through the trees, snapping every branch in its path, knocking leaves from the treetops.
Noah was not entirely sure, but in that instant when the dragon was airborne, he thought he heard the distinct sound and felt the vibration of another set of sauri footsteps. Could there be two of them?
Elohim help us.
With a mighty thud, the ground vibrated with the force of the massive dragon landing right in front of them in a small glade of tall shade grass.
Unknown came to a dead stop and reared up at the edge of the clearing.
The dragon roared, baring his vicious black teeth.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Noah heard it for sure now. It was the unmistakable thumping sound of running sauri feet.
There were two sauri. One directly in front of them, ready to strike and the daunting sound of one unseen was rapidly approaching from the forest behind.
Noah instinctively drew his sword though he knew it would be useless.
Ariadne locked her arms around Noah in a death grip as the pounding heavy footsteps behind them grew louder and the vibration stronger.
The Baryonyx snapped again as Unknown backed away in a desperate shuffle. Noah slashed the dragon’s snout, blocking the teeth from ripping them apart. But the force of the blow sent Noah and Ariadne tumbling off the horse’s back. Crashing to the ground, they rolled to a stop in the tall grass of the small clearing.
As the dragon roared in anger, Unknown galloped away, disappearing into the forest.
Noah shot up, snatched his sword from the ground, and ran over to help Ariadne to her feet.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Noah looked toward the rapidly approaching sound that came from the forest and just as the Baryonyx sprang off his back legs into the air to pounce on his prey, the trees parted. With the sound of snapping branches and an escalating hiss of malice, another dragon burst from the forest’s edge and butted its head sideways, smashing into the side of the leaping Baryonyx, sending him crashing to the ground.
“I don’t believe it …” Noah whispered, frozen in awe-filled stare.
Ariadne was also staring at the colossal new creature. “Is … is that …”
Almost twice the size of the other, this dragon stood over the Baryonyx ready to strike. The dragon’s dark green and brown plates of skin were like battle armor. Her long, thick tail thrashed about like a whip ready to strike.
“A King Dragon.” Noah finished Ariadne’s uncompleted question. “That must have been her nest.”
He slowly started backing toward the edge of the forest, through the tall grass, Ariadne close beside him.
The snap of the King dragon’s powerful jaws echoed through the forest but the Baryonyx swiftly dodged the strike, scrambling back up to his feet.
The King let out a vicious roar which, no doubt, could be heard for miles around. Noah’s and Ariadne’s ears rang.
With the agility of a panther, the Baryonyx sprang straight up and latched onto the back of the King’s neck with every claw in its arsenal. Then he bit down hard, teeth arduously cracking through the armor skin. Blood oozed from the King’s neck, she tried to shake the Baryonyx loose. But when that did not work, she spun around and backed up forcefully, slamming the Baryonyx into a large tree trunk. The heavy blow knocked the tree over, root system exploding from the soil, and the Baryonyx lost its grip.
As soon as he hit the ground, the King used her spinning momentum to whip her tail, catching the Baryonyx under his jaw, which sent him flipping through the air.
Hiding behind a tree, Noah and Ariadne could not take their eyes off the fierce battle until the Baryonyx came plummeting their direction, giving them the incentive to tear their eyes away.
“Run,” was all Noah said.
The ground thundered as the Baryonyx crashed to its back, landing no more than a horse length away from their fleeing feet. The dragon rolled and thrashed about as Noah and Ariadne disappeared back into the forest.
The last thing Noah saw when he looked back through the trees was the twisted mass of the two dragons. The Baryonyx’s jaw firmly clamped the King’s throat even while the massive jaws of the ferocious King dragon were locked bloodily around the smaller dragon’s entire lower body.
My Thoughts ~
So far, P is the one who’s read this book. Or should I say, he devoured the book rather quickly. While he couldn’t quite put his finger on what he truly enjoyed about the book (aside from the story being compelling to him), I could tell it was good when he then promptly tried to hide the book from us so no one else could read it.
P enjoyed this first book in the series enough that he recommended it for one of the selections for his literature circle. Now I suspect he’ll be sharing about this new book when they have that discussion in April.