Here you can find samples of Book One of the Sleepless Flame series. Please keep in mind that these are Beta formatted excerpts, and may not reflect what is inside the finished book.
The Prismal Caravan was making its rounds through the Old District with its sleek, tank-like vehicles assembled in single file. While they appeared to be owned by private sector militia, when business was open, their reinforced paneling opened up to reveal a variegated assortment of trinkets. The massive cargo vehicles were accompanied by an entourage of motorbikes toting convertible trailers, which dismantled to create makeshift tables and shelters on the market grounds.
Though not nearly as large as the majority of the traveling markets, the Prismal Caravan did however boast the most unique vendors, known for exclusively offering luxury items such as antique art and textiles. But occasionally food stands shadowed behind, reaping the benefits of limited competition as they offered sustenance to hungry consumers.
Nara made her way over to a sweet-smelling truck deviously wafting spiced fumes into the air. She glanced over the foodstuffs on display, tracing her eyes over the ropes of brilliantly colored, rock-like chunks that draped over the window. Mounds of biscuits and cakes decorated with fruit were stacked neatly into pyramids, tempting her with a sugary vice. A small wood grill beckoned her attention over with its smoky-scented allure, crackling seductively as it softly charred an orderly row of skewers. She obeyed the calling, placing an order to the truck owner in Darktrade. She then leaned on the counter to wait for her delectable prize.
Garrett watched intently as the owner produced two rectangular trays, delicately placing two skewers of ivory colored orbs in each from the smoldering grill with a set of tongs. The shopkeep rotated the delicacies, revealing a fire-kissed golden brown that gently blushed the sides of the orbs. The artwork was completed when the man drizzled a translucent, coffee colored syrup on top, dressing the treat with a brilliant glossy sheen. He grabbed two beers from a fridge underneath the counter before finally passing off the steaming order.
Nara paid and collected her bounty, making her way over to a standing table. She pushed one of the trays to the opposite end, not waiting for Garrett to join her before diving in.
Garrett sniffed curiously at the offering, dipping a finger into the sauce and sampling the liquid. A strange, yet pleasing combination of salty and sweet baffled his tongue. The flavor was simple, yet complex. He attempted to take a small bite from the orb, but its surprisingly springy consistency would not yield to his attack. As he struggled, the treat quickly slid down the skewer, threatening to drop on the questionably clean table. Catching the object with a snap of his neck, he thwarted the orb’s evasion and engulfed the entire sphere with a sickening slurp. He tasted the sweetness of the orb as its flavor intensified the sauce, complementing it perfectly.
Garrett grabbed his other skewer and followed Nara into the crowd, munching contentedly as he absentmindedly eyed through the assortment of displays. A small idol caught Garrett’s attention: a golden figurine of a young man sitting on a throne, brandishing a spear, two hounds curled up at its feet.
“Huh, that’s a Feyntinet icon,” Nara said, picking up the artifact.
“Yes, a Fifth Era relic in fact,” Garrett said, raising an eye at her curiously.
“No, you’ll find that a Third Era,” the shop keeper piped up at the interested customers.
“What? How do you figure?” Garrett questioned the man.
“Well, look at the coloration, it’s inked, not enameling. It is clearly a depiction of the god Auselros, patron of the hunt,” the salesman pointed out. “Also take a look at the inscriptions, it’s missing the RE and UT runes that were used in later periods.”
Garrett furrowed his eyebrows at the merchant, taking no notice of Nara, who and began to scrutinize the piece for herself.
“They have found evidence of RE and UT used all the way back since the First Era,” Garrett argued, letting his annoyance slip in his voice. “The new dig sites off on Myrmith have found common books using the inscriptions. That has no relevance of age. This is obviously a piece made by an independent artisan.”
“Auselros lost his influence at the end of the Fourth Era, when his temple was destroyed by Haalmat invaders!” the shopkeep laughed boisterously at him.
“Which definitely points to a small artisan, probably created for an underground cult that still worshiped him years after the temple’s destruction,” Garrett seethed. He had spent far too much time researching Feyntinet civilization to be demeaned by this pompous vendor.
“You’re both wrong,” Nara suddenly interrupted. The two men stared at her in silent surprise. “It’s a replication. There’s a maker’s mark from an old Tevernan factory. It’s small, and damaged, but present. The ink is also a uniform shade, implying it was created through machines. Still old though, probably a couple centuries.”
“Huh?” The combatants replied synchronously, blinking at her.
Nara pointed out a tiny symbol on the bottom of the figurine for them to analyze.
“It’s right here. And it’s not a statue of Auselros, his spear was barbed and he was never shown seated in art. This is a king from the Fourth Era, Gemnal of the Earth. He was also known for his hunting prowess,” she added, delicately placing the idol back on the table.
Garrett stared at her in disbelief while the shopkeeper looked furiously at the statue, muttering something about using teeth as a method of payment.
“How did you…?” Garrett started.
Nara shrugged at him, not particularly interested in his conclusions.
“Hey boss,” one of the gunners piped in. “We lost our cover fire from the other end, it’s getting kinda hairy out here.”
“South side, what’s your status?” Nara inquired.
“We’re a little busy over here. Buggers started crawling from out of the windows and climbing up to say ‘Hi.’ Ahh…shit!” a sniper replied.
“Too many up here, we got nowhere to run and we’ll be cornered in a few moments.”
“If you can get into the building, hide there, I’ll be out there in a minute to cover,” Nara informed as she began to sprint towards the end of the building.
“A minute’s a long time to wait, boss.”
“Mechanist, you got any friends you can throw their way?” Nara asked.
“Negative, every’un’s occupied. These guys are right pissed off.” The machinist let off a sharp whistle into the communication line.
“Alright, I’ll be there in just a – WOAH!”
Nara suddenly snapped her torso backward, dodging a ball of green slime whizzing past her. Another soon followed, plopping on the beam she was kneeling on with a wet smack, the impact shaking her footing violently.
She let out an annoyed growl as the erratic vibrations stole her balance. She instinctively snapped an arm out, grasping a bar in the support beam. She let momentum swing her forward while she concocted an escape from the predicament.
“Nara, below you!” Garrett yelled in her helm.
She glanced at her feet and discovered the source of the noxious sputum. Swimming in a massive open air tank was a being that resembled something found in a sub-par ocean themed monster film, gurgling angry shrieks in her direction.
It was a giant creature composed of a green, fleshy brain like orb that sat on top of a short stalk of vertebrae. The mass of wrinkly orange flesh that served its torso sprouted numerous tentacles lashing around viciously in the purple murk. It squawked once more through a giant mangled, cracked beak, and glowered at her with enormous human like eyes. Eyes that glowed with heavy cybernetic augmentations, and certainly possessed the capability to see through her armor’s disguise.
As the creature whipped a tentacle back to hurl another gob, Nara jutted her hand out in front of her. The armor on her forearm split open with a rapid series of sharp metallic clicks, ejecting a pistol towards her palm. She caught the weapon as the armor reformed itself, and fired of several pulses of cerulean energy into the giant brain mass.
Its shrieks reverberated throughout the walls, drowning out the sizzle of flesh as the green matter began to dissolve. Its tentacles flailed furiously, splashing liquid over the sides of its containment tank.
Nara changed her target to try and contain collateral damage, focusing her attacks on the flailing tentacles, preventing even more hazardous waste from spilling over onto the floor below.
“Watch my back,” She ordered Garrett as she rained another barrage.
“Right,” Garrett acknowledged. He was so enthralled with the user interface of the armor that he almost forgot he was supposed to be working.
According to the information feed, Nara was no even holding onto the beam herself, the grips in the armor was. There were sensors that informed her of how much force was being spent to combat the recoil of her weapon, keeping her body exactly where she wanted it to be. It was all so fascinating to him, and he wondered how much of the information she actually used, or if she does everything out of instinct.
A rain of tentacle chunks splooshed into the vat as Nara continued her assault. But the remnants of the creature showed no signs of perishing. The pathetic mass only became angrier, chaotically failing its multitude of cartilaginous stumps in its own broth.
Nara targeted the only other vital object it possessed: its synthetic eyes. She squeezed off a volley of two shots, one for each eerily glowing ball. Electric sparks crackled across the reflection of the water as her shots hit directly into the center of the silvery orbs.
The creature let out an ear splicing shriek, the noise reverberating through the walls of the warehouse. The glow of its irises flickered, then died as Nara followed with another blast. Having reached its limits, the amalgamated lifeform finally quieted, letting out a series of defeated gurgles as its weakened body descended into the bubbling froth.
The commotion yanked Garrett away from the addictive data, violating his ears as he observed the carnage in disgusted fascination.
As the death throes finally silenced, Nara sheathed her weapon and permitted herself a breath of air.
But a corrosive sizzling adjacent to her announced that her troubles were far from over. She glanced up at the beam she held on to, and witnessed the metal nearby slowly dissolving in a violent hiss. Shiny silvery droplets plummeted towards the murky pool below as the remnants of the creature’s sputum ate away at her only means of support.
“Ahhhh, fuck,” she growled.
He knows I’m here, Nara scowled, raising her rifle. Let’s see how determined he is to avoid me.
She gently squeezed the trigger, ejecting a soft pulse of energy from the barrel of her gun. The bolt splattered over the visual disruption, delicately nudging the trespasser’s shoulder forward. The intruder’s cloaking effect flickered and broke apart in spidery cracks, revealing a black metallic shell of armor underneath.
Before Nara could cycle the charge, the camouflage healed itself, shrouding the man’s armor back under its illusory blanket.
Undaunted by the warning shot, the thief resumed their objective, extracting a shiny glass vial from inside the cryo container.
Oh, fuck this shit, Nara fumed a she watched the vial levitate through the intruder’s cloak. Fuck the alarms, fuck security. No more time. He needs to leave.
“Forgive me, comrade. I can’t let you do that,” she apologized under her breath.
She purged the remainder of her sickly fatigue out through a restorative exhale, and fired once more.
Molten red exploded from her weapon as a vicious missile sliced through the air with a howling war cry. The noise abruptly ceased with a crackling splash as the charge hit its mark, engulfing the pixelated haze below her in synthetic fire.
The force of the impact threw the intruder forward, and his faceplate smashed into the lip of the container with a shattering crunch. As the thief unconsciously thrust an arm out to brace himself, the glass vial launched from his grasp, disappearing into the murky atmosphere.
The man’s armor fizzled in angry sparks as the surge of energy tore through the synthetic illusion, unmasking the gruesome damage Nara inflicted. A jagged chasm split apart the protective shell across his shoulders, revealing corpse-pale flesh dripping with sickly black organic fluid.
Silvery liquid metal crawled over the humanoid’s back as the armor reacted to the injury, meshing and hardening to its normal blackened state in a fraction of an instant.
Unhindered by severe physical trauma, the figure snapped back upright, clawing at the table as if possessed by a deranged spirit. The maniac bolted after the lost vial, disinterested in the adversary with the smoking rifle behind him.
You fucking asshole, Nara growled as she vaulted over the railing, infuriated by the resilience of her rival.
Thermal smoke whooshed away from her form as she landed on the ground floor, only to immediately swallow her up with its misty veil. Just as she lifted a foot to pursue her quarry, the green lights illuminating the chamber above clacked off, replaced by a bloody crimson smolder.
Its slumber disrupted by the rowdy quarrel, the facility’s security system bellowed a warning inside the chamber:
SECURITY BREACH. SECTOR F9. SUBJECT 552984729 HAS BEEN COMPROMISED.
Transmissions flitted across the network channels, commanding the maintenance drones in the vicinity to break from their routine tasks and engage the intruders.
INTERNAL BIOSCAN INITIATED.
The chamber detonated in a flare of white light, causing Nara to recoil as her visual sensors overloaded. While her cameras scrambled to recover, a streak of the red outlined humanoid blazed past her peripherals.
The hell do you think you’re going? Nara challenged as she chased after the figure.
SCAN COMPLETE. LEVEL FIVE ENTITY DETECTED. ANOMALY 0975 RECOGNIZED. COMPENSATING ATTACK PATTERN.
Really? 0975? she grumbled as she slid under a table, waiting for the inevitable reinforcements to appear. They couldn’t have bothered to put my name in their system? Now I’m insulted.
Echoes of mechanical fluttering droned inside the chamber as the maintenance bots swarmed at the central pillar. Their multitude of limbs extended from underneath their square frames, briskly accelerating them to their destination.
Nara ignored the spectacle above as she spotted her rival dashing to another location. She patiently watched him as he feverishly scoured the floor for the precious object, letting him hunt for the vial in her stead.
Ignoring his observer, the man frenziedly twisted around, diving to his knees as he frisked the ground in front of him.
Nara burst out of her cover, sprinting to catch up to the thief. She slid into the man and planted a truculent knee to his ribcage, cutting off his search as she knocked him over onto his side.
Reacting with the grace of a street dancer, the man pivoted around on a hip and swept a leg behind her knee, pulling her down to the floor with him. With his attacker distracted, he scrambled to snatch the devious vial rolling away from them.
Nara growled as she recovered her balance, latching onto the man by the calf. As her opponent’s fingers brushed the base of the glass vial, she injected a debilitating shock from the palm of her hand.
The man choked out a stifled cry as the surge coursed up through his body. A violent spasm thwarted his command over his muscles, and with a sharp clink of glass, he involuntarily slapped the vial deeper into the mist. Wrenching his leg from Nara’s grasp with a retaliating kick, the man scrambled to his feet and chased after the accursed object.
Nara dashed after him, only to be interrupted by a message on the security broadcast.
CONVERSION COMPLETE. TARGET AQUIRED. FIRING.
She glanced over her shoulder to find a giant metal cephalopod scuttling along the walls of the chamber. A bundle of glassy spires jutted out from the center of the saucer-like torso of the mechanical beast, each casting a shifting rainbow of colors as the golem approached the intruders.
“Ahh, shit!” Nara exclaimed as she darted behind a set of cooling tanks.
A thin streak of cobalt pierced the ground next to her, instantly vaporizing as hit the flooring.
TARGET OBSTRUCTED BY PRIORITY A SPECIMEN. CALCULATING NEW COORDINATES.
As the bot pondered over its next destination, Nara pinpointed the man sprinting through the haze. She fled from her cover and barreled after him, intercepting his flight path. Pitching her weight forward, she slammed her shoulder into the fleeing perpetrator, knocking him underneath a catwalk.
The man took several rebounding steps to the side as he was propelled from his target, whirling his arms in controlled arcs to counteract the force.
TARGET CLEAR. HEADING TO NEW COORDINATES, the bot announced.
Well, this will be just a wonderful fight, Nara grumbled as she tuned in to the clunking of the security bot’s gait.
She lunged to grab at the man’s shoulder, but her arm seized up as a blur of motion cut off her strike. A gasp stole the air from her lungs as an impact sliced through her abdomen, the sensation shadowed by a searing pain that gnawed through her flesh. She unconsciously stepped back while her brain pieced together the attack in her memory. Confidence in her combat ability waned with a sinking feeling in her gut as a glimmer of the offending weapon caught her eye.
A silvery streak of metal protruded from the man’s armor in a honed edge, tracing a lethal border around his forearm. His fingers merged into a single knifepoint, slick with a fresh coat of her blood.
Having stunned his opponent, the man whirled around and charged into the mist. The savage blade liquified as he retreated, relinquishing control of his fingers as it receded into the armor.
Fuck, he is no longer playing nice, she griped as her first aid system reacted to the injury.
A Little R&R
Upon the arrival of the spectacle, the gentle blue giant standing behind the counter looked up from his battered analog book. Both of his eyebrows reached up above his horn-rimmed glasses in concern.
“My humble friend,” Nara proclaimed as she leaned heavily on the doorframe. “I’m afraid I will require the full-service treatment.”
“Oh, no. What happened to you, my dear?” Matteus hastily approached, ushering her inside and shutting the door behind her.
“A long, tiring series of events,” she sighed. “I have an excess of funds at your disposal, and I will steal for you whatever priceless artifact you may require if you make me leave this planet for the next few hours. Three artifacts if you make me forget days.”
“You know exactly my opinion on that issue,” he scolded as he led her to the counter.
“Yes, yes,” she waved him off, bracing herself on the furniture. “Only if I can also go back in time and return it to the rightful owner, I know.”
“Well, you are one of the few clients who are capable of respecting my wishes in that regard,” he said with a smirk as he approached a massive black wooden door at the back of the room.
A hearty clunk resonated through the shop as he flipped the latch of an antique wrought iron mechanical lock. With both hands, he grasped an aged metal ring set in the jaws of a carved stone gargoyle, and heaved the door aside. He then collected his guest from the counter and escorted her inside.
A comforting aura radiated from inside celestial blue painted walls. The clandestine sanctuary was a perfect blend of mystical old-world aesthetic and modern technology. Every detail, including the position of the furniture, was arranged in a harmonious composition. Soothing energy assured the newcomers with a hospitable, ethereal glow.
The domed ceiling above was formed by stained glass panes of deep blues and purples. Their swirling patterns were sporadically broken by orbs of contrasting sheen representing symbols of celestial bodies and glimmering constellations from a faraway galaxy. A glow of soft light diffused behind each panel, and the resulting reflections dotted the room with a rainbow of soft glints and sparkles.
Nature-carved stones of varying heights bordered the perimeter, each possessing a collection of white candles and curious golden icons of ancient deities from long forgotten traditions. A sweet, smoky scent permeated the air as incense gently smoldered, tracing a haze of relaxation through the atmosphere. A miniaturized waterfall constructed of neatly piled rocks filled the chamber with its gentle chattering, inviting listeners to enjoy its soothing narrative. A small stream trickled its way towards a pond on the opposite side of the room, where aquatic plants and iridescent scaled fish peacefully swayed inside its crystal waters.
Nara stepped inside the spiritual haven and groaned painfully as she shed her coat, which Matteus obligingly assisted with and carried off. Every part of her ached, and the hazy air actively obstructed her mental functions.
She let Matteus guide her to a carved stone seat in front of the simulated waterfall. Much to the delight of her tender muscles, the throne was heated to an inviting temperature. She sank into the oddly comfortable chair and let her back absorb the warmth, fighting off the immediate urge to fall asleep.
Matteus set a small copper cauldron next to her that contained a bundle of dried herbs. He took out a lighter and ignited the bouquet, then softly blew the flames out. He fanned at the smoldering pot to encourage the herbs to release their inebriating smoke.
“Well, you’re still breathing,” he assured as he helped her remove her shirt. “So now, you have another notch in the armor to tell others about.”
“This notch has been here for quite some time,” she commented, wincing at the slightest movements.
“Even the largest chinks can be repaired. But you are right, some of them may never be clean again,” he sympathized as he examined the injuries on her torso.
“I don’t…” she trailed off, incapable of processing his metaphors.
“Did you do this stitch work?” he inquired, tracing a finger near the gash across her abdomen.
“Why, is something wrong?” she asked in a brief snap of sobriety.
“No, it’s executed properly,” he assured as he continued his examination. “It just doesn’t look like your work.”
“Hmmm.” She murmured unintelligibly as she eased back into a state of semi-consciousness.
Matteus continued his inspection along the back of her neck. He softly tsked as he encountered the grisly series of wounds created by the inhibitor.
“Ahh, I see that man has been harassing you again,” he commented.
“Close. Took a job that was a little much to handle.” She grunted as she leaned over to attempt to undo the clasps of her boots.
“I see,” he said as he shooed her hands away, removing the shoes himself.
He slid open a stone panel underneath her feet, revealing a bubbling whirlpool of effervescent water.
Nara released a whimper from her throat as she lowered her toes into the churning liquid, the warm fizzing soaking through her flesh. She absentmindedly watched Matteus trace a finger over her arms, his gentle motions mesmerizing to her lowered cognitive performance.
He continued removing her clothes, wincing sympathetically as he delicately peeled her torn pant leg out of the dagger wound in her shin. He then continued to examine her arms and legs for the extent of the damage, sighing softly in disapproval.
He gingerly opened the palm of her hand, his eyebrow raised as he uncovered the curious superficial cuts dotting the surface of her skin. As he rotated her hand experimentally, the dim ambient light caught glimmers of glass from inside the still seeping gashes. He looked up at Nara questioningly, but the merc averted her gaze, unwilling to respond to potential interrogation.
He gently laid her hand down and produced a tray of clean, warm towels, along with a basin of water delicately scented with sweet flowers. He then began cleaning off the night’s grime from Nara’s skin, gently scrubbing away the frustration and gloominess. With the help of the sparkling waterfall behind them, Matteus rinsed off the final shreds of her discontent.
He walked over to a glass bowl of simmering water perched on top of a stone pillar, and extracted several black pots of salves from inside. He carried them back over to his client, and brought out an assortment of wooden tools and gauze wrappings from his storage. He gently unscrewed the lid off one of the jars and stirred the waxy balm loose, then started to spread the warmed remedy over Nara’s injuries.
Inebriated by the fumes Matteus had smudged into the air, Nara watched the motion of the apothecary as her mind melted into a warmer place. The salves stung slightly as they seeped through her more severe cuts and holes, but her chemically dulled senses provided an ample diversion from the tenderness.
Matteus finished wrapping the last of her open wounds, then assisted her up from the stone throne. Slinging his shoulder under her arm, he half carried her over to a cushioned table at the center of the room, lying her down on her back.
He dotted the lip of the table with a line of incense cones, meticulously placing them in a symmetrical pattern. He circled the table a second time, lighting each cone in order or placement.
He reached up to the ceiling and poked at a floating mechanical mobile composed of translucent rough-cut crystals, brass bells, and metal filigree symbols. The device awoke to his command and turned in slow rhythmic rotations, reciting a gentle saga with delicate metallic clinks.
From a drawer underneath the table, Matteus extracted a large marble mortar and pestle, along with an assortment of ingredients: a vibrant range of oils, herbs, both fresh and dried, and other strange dusts from far distant worlds.
Glass clinked and clicked as he began his ritual, methodically combining elements into the stone basin. Powders painted the air in colorful tufts as he carefully measured out his concoction. Fragrances melded into a softly scented waltz as each new component was introduced into the enigmatic formula.
With the initial mound of ingredients to his liking, he began to grind the mixture down, imbuing the air with soft scraping sounds at each turn of his wrist. As he continued churning away at the oil soaked powder, he coaxed the healing elements out of the materials and began to form a homogeneous blend.
When the remedy began to structure itself, Matteus paused his stirring to amplify the desired effects, adding in a pinch of this, a drop of that.
Nara slowed her breathing as her senses were saturated with ethereal information. Her eyes were no longer needed, and words could not form inside her head. Only metaphysical emotions unidentifiable by consciousness flooded her perception.
When Matteus was satisfied with his brew, he extracted a silver metal stylus from his collection of arcane tools. He scraped up the infused mixture into the core of the utensil, then pushed the paste down with a metal rod until the potion poked out of the tip in a fine strip of pigment.
He then began tracing methodical lines over Nara’s flesh, forming words long lost to modern society, words that expressed concepts rather than thoughts. He sketched out spirals of characters across her body, each stroke made with utmost care and precision.
As he continued his ritual, he hummed an ancient hymnal; a song of conflict and trial. A song of adversity, and the struggle to overcome. With each note that passed his throat, the runes glowed a bright lilac warmth, scorching their image onto flesh. The light followed his stylus as he traced onward, the cinders trailing in soft wisps with each stroke he made.
The song continued with words of perseverance as he moved along her limbs, sprouting abstract concepts of guidance and healing through experience. An armored spirit entered the room from another plane of existence, enveloping the altar with a force of resilience as it warded off the anguish of the physical realm.
The room faded around Nara, the blue walls melted into a starry night sky. She submerged herself into the ether, no longer possessing a sense of physical presence. She became a passive observer to the trials of existence as the world around her slowly evaporated.