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Gods of Ash and Amber (Seeds of Chaos Volume 5)[PAPERBACK]

Gods of Ash and Amber (Seeds of Chaos Volume 5)[PAPERBACK]

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I didn’t start this war.

But I will
finish it.

I thought we had won, that the worlds were safe. Then I had one final vision, and I saw the truth. The Abhorrent, the eldritch, evil force behind Pestilence, was undefeated and still intent on devouring the light of everything good.

I saw that I would fail, everyone I loved would die, and without us the worlds would crumble, even the gods unable to stand against the Abhorrent.

This left me with one question:

How does one go about changing the future?

They tell me the Abhorrent is immortal. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just a slight inconvenience.


Get it now.

 

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Product Details

Paperback: 490 Pages
Dimensions: 5.5x8.5 inches (13.97 x 21.59cm)
Publication Date: May 16, 2020
ISBN: 978-0999675038
Publisher: Seladore Publishing

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Read a Sample

There are black zones of shadow close to our daily paths, and now and then some evil soul breaks a passage through.

― H.P. Lovecraft

I drew a tremulous breath and held it for a moment, forcing my constricted chest to loosen. I had just finished explaining to my teammates that Pestilence wasn’t the last of his kind, and the words hung like poison in the air. 

After a horrible, silent pause, everyone began to speak at once, but I shook my head, unable to focus on their words. Exhaling, I scrubbed the tears from my cheeks. “I need a moment alone.” 

I spun, searching for an exit, somewhere to hide my face. With an idle thought, I dismissed the VR chip Windows notifying me that some of my Attributes had leveled up. I tasted iron and salt, probably from biting my tongue while seizing under the final puzzle band’s influence. I spat the blood out of my mouth. My eyes caught on the bright crimson as it splattered onto the marble floor and I faltered, arrested by the memory of the vision I’d just endured. 

Adam reached out to stop me from leaving, grabbing my elbow. “Eve, what do you—” 

I yanked myself free of his grip easily. “Just a few minutes,” I said, my voice almost pleading. “My mind’s all—I can’t think, I just need a moment. I’ll be right back.” Ignoring any other protestations, I hurried to a side door and opened it onto one of the balconies overlooking the gardens. The solar eclipse was still progressing, barely past the zenith of complete coverage, and the colors and shadows all looked wrong, like someone had superimposed different times of the day atop each other. I closed the door and leaned my back against it, my chest heaving with suppressed sobs.

I spat again to clear the remnants of blood from my mouth and looked over the Estreyan city. It was beautiful, all cut stone, metal, and crystal that only barely glittered. Only a few blocks away, signs of the street festival celebrating this “incredible” day were just beginning. People cavorted about, drinking, laughing, and wearing colorful outfits and costumes. The crowds pressed between the many street stalls grew thicker as my eye moved toward the grand square in the middle of the city. If I had been there, like Queen Mardinest wanted, Blue would not have been able to clue me in to the significance of this moment. 

I ran my fingers across the sparkling, delicate crown that had woven itself through my hair and clamped down on my skull. Was the Abhorrent’s new game piece already here, on Estreyer, or maybe Earth? If so, would I have felt it arrive, somehow? Felt the pure world smeared with a syrupy drop of taint? Or would I have been catering to the cheering crowds, oblivious? The dark blue sky, short shadows, and muted colors lent a dream-like quality to everything, and it seemed like I should be able to sense something different about the world, like something so monumental should have written itself across the sky in words of doom. But it was just an eclipse. 

The vision had been figurative, like the two before, but the meaning was impossible to misunderstand and all the more terrifying for it. 

Hanging suspended within darkness, lit as if by a spotlight, I had seen a checkered game board. White pieces were set up at one end. Nine of those pieces, the largest ones, bore the familiar symbols of the Seal of Nine. Arrayed around them were various smaller pieces. Their allies. 

The darkness around the board, an abyss of black oil, rippled like someone had tossed a pebble into it. With dream-like intuition, I identified the ripple as one of the strange, warped distortions that had popped into existence over both worlds when Zed had torn Pestilence apart. 

A new piece tumbled out of that darkness like a flipped coin, landing on the opposing side of the board. Contrary to my expectations, the enemy piece was not black. 

Encased within amber, bright metallic shards formed a knotted mass of tentacles. The piece was small at first, but it grew, and continued to do so, until the shiny tentacles broke free from the amber, more a writhing alien creature than a game piece now. 

One tentacle reached out into the darkness, then returned, dragging another small game piece onto the board. The second was different from the first, but I couldn’t quite distinguish the symbol or form it carried within. This one began to grow, too. When it was large enough, both of them reached out and brought back more pieces. I only recognized one. Pestilence was already broken, his cicada husk washed-out and dead. But the other seven were whole, and beyond the edge of shadow that surrounded the board waited the ninth, the hand of darkness, the conductor. 

The enemy pieces began to move across the board, and the white pieces moved to meet them. We fought and maneuvered, and one by one, each matched by a stabbing pang of loss and desperate denial within me, our white pieces were destroyed. 

Finally, the Abhorrent’s pieces stood atop the board alone, surrounded by the broken, ivory remains of their enemies. 

Blood began to well up from between the checkered squares of the game board, spilling over the sides and down into the darkness. My vision followed one drop of crimson down and down, into lightless emptiness, until it swallowed me. I did not know how much time passed in the dark, with no eyes to see and no mouth to scream. 

Finally, it ended, and I had seen again the faces of my teammates and the sparkle of their Seals, blood in my mouth and tears falling down my cheeks. 

That was why I had needed a moment to myself. 

With the previous two visions, there had been hints at a path to follow, clues for me to pick up on, mysteries to decode. They had been a guide. This one was not. It was a prophecy of failure, undeniable and complete. 

What did that mean? 

Had the Oracle given up? But even if so, why give me a vision like that? It accomplished nothing but spreading despair—and that seemed petty, even for her. 

“Come down and talk to me face to face!” I screamed up at the sky, letting my Wraith Skill balloon out and take stock of everything within my sensory range. 

She didn’t, of course. 

I slumped back down. I could hear the faint voices of my teammates in the throne room behind me, arguing about what little I had told them and whether to go after me. 

“What if it’s the opposite?” I murmured aloud, perking up. The Oracle was a manipulative bitch. When we fought the God of Knowledge, she had seemingly tried to force me to give up and let most of my teammates die so I could defeat the Abhorrent in the end. After I told her to shove it in no uncertain terms and ended up defeating Knowledge anyway, it seemed like maybe she’d actually been using reverse psychology or some other stupid thing, trying to get me to refuse to give up and escape. What if this was something similar, and the vision was supposed to catalyze me into acting as she wanted?

A horrible thought sprang up in my mind. What if the reason the Abhorrent’s pieces were going to win now was because I hadn’t listened to her then? She’d told me all my teammates would die eventually, even if I didn’t abandon them. What if it hadn’t been some weird psychological game and now I was seeing the results of my choices? 

I shook my head forcefully, bending over the railing and closing my eyes. The sound of my own blood pulsing through me drowned out everything else. 

I couldn’t think like that. Dying earlier was in no way better than dying later. Plus, I couldn’t imagine any way I alone would have been strong enough to defeat Pestilence, his analogues, or the Abhorrent darkness behind the curtain. 

With a thought, I pulled up my Attribute Window, looking at the numbers with a fear and greed that I hadn’t felt since Pestilence. For a while, I had stopped caring about them beyond vague satisfaction when one of my Attributes increased, but now I bored into the data as if hoping some incredible power would mysteriously appear and save us all. 

PLAYER NAME: EVE REDDING

TITLE: BEARER OF TESTIMONY

SKILLS: COMMAND, SPIRIT OF THE HUNTRESS, TUMBLING FEATHER, WRAITH, CHAOS, VOICE

STRENGTH: 40

LIFE: 108

AGILITY: 50

GRACE: 42

INTELLIGENCE: 43

FOCUS: 39

BEAUTY: 23

CHARISMA: 53

MANUAL DEXTERITY: 11

MENTAL ACUITY: 45

RESILIENCE: 89

STAMINA: 45

PERCEPTION: 60

It seemed that, with the latest update, the Oracle had gotten rid of the now useless “Level” stat, since that only recorded the number of Seeds NIX had given me and was no longer a realistic measurement of my power or progress. She’d also combined Characteristic Skills with the main Skills. That was all irrelevant. Had I gained anything useful?

I suddenly had a few extra levels in Mental Acuity to go along with the vision, but the rest of my increases were natural, from practice or the simple propagation of the Seed organisms within my body over time. Compared to my levels when I had first become a Player, which were in the low teens at best, I was a powerhouse. Now, my Skills made me deadly to even the finest Estreyan warrior, and my Attributes were representative of my status as a godling. 

But according to the Oracle, it would not be enough. I sighed and waved away the Window. 

Of course, I knew I couldn’t blindly trust the Oracle, but she had no reason to fabricate the warning itself. Whatever her purpose in revealing this bleak glimpse into the future, the fact remained that my teammates—and both worlds—were in danger. 

But the vision was devastating. My fingers still trembled faintly. If I were to share it with the others, would it drive them to panic and despair? Perhaps a truncated version would be less damaging. I could warn them of the danger but leave out our destruction and the fatalism. They would help me fight, and maybe, somehow, we could subvert the future I had seen. 

I shuddered at the thought of carrying the horrible weight of this knowledge alone. I had kept secrets and lied to them before—and then dealt with the backlash. Hadn’t I learned by now? If the vision came true, and they died fighting because I had lied to them, it would kill me just as thoroughly as the Abhorrent’s victory. 

Without good information, how could my teammates make good decisions? What if they wanted to abandon the fight and run? I wouldn’t stop them. They deserved better than my manipulation. 

And maybe—maybe if I shared this burden with them, together we could find a way to overcome it. 

I straightened, running my tongue across my too-sharp teeth. I gave the sky a small smile that bore no humor. 

In a deep pit within me dwelt a rage that seemed to have no bottom and no end. Perhaps it had always been there, and I had been oblivious to its true nature. Or perhaps it had been created when Pestilence tried to consume me and I found I needed a godling’s weapon and not just a human’s mercurial willpower. When we’d defeated Pestilence, I’d thought it was over. I’d tried to tamp that rage down and forget about it, but it kept simmering just beneath my surface. It flared up now, sending ice and strength through my veins, and my claws gouged furrows into the stone of the balcony railing. 

The cold rage was happy to do away with my fear; fear was useless to achieving my goals. I could run, or hide, or fight back like the knife edge of death, but whatever I chose, I would not do so as prey. 

In the end, as I turned back and opened the doors to the throne room where my teammates waited, I did not know if my decision to tell them everything was born of honesty, cowardice, or plain recklessness, but I knew that if it were me in their position, I would choose to know the truth. Knowledge, no matter how terrible, was always better than ignorance. 

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