Dust of a Moth’s Wing
by R. Ramey Guerrero
Series: The Age of Fire
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: Older Teen to Adult
Published: March 25, 2022
Publisher: Self Published
Shown on page: Fantasy drugs (similar to Gandalf’s pipe), Violence, Racism (different tribes of the same race do not get along), Arachnids
Alluded to: Torture
The age of Fire begins in six days.
For fifteen hundred years, Slate and the other rebels have trained students to return Fire’s energy to the city of Wen. All have failed. Only one is left, and Nokhum’s past is less than ideal. If he cannot convince the Council of Elders to allow Fire magic to return, chaos will claim the city. The rebels are determined to avoid that end— even if it means sacrificing his student to chaos’s demons to make the Council believe Fire’s energy is necessary.
Magically talented people are disappearing.
Nokhum is convinced that his life-mate is still alive— no matter what everyone else says. Human slavers who salivate for magical beings have taken her. Realizing the Council of Elders will not help him, he seeks forbidden magics to find her. His plans are derailed when Slate sends him out of the city for training. Will his time in the Whisperwood be his undoing?
Like a Moth to Flame • Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires • #Vegetarian
Slate, tribe of Onryx
Bowls clacked together, and tea hissed upon the heating stone. “The age of Fire is nearly upon us,” Adahai called to Slate from the hearth, deeper within the cave network. The echoes caught part of every word, distorting the sound.
Slate groaned. Resting his weathered, slate-brown hands over the hump of his belly, his grey-black eyes glanced to each side. He scratched his belly button through his violet tunic before stroking his beard. Turning the first of three beads woven into his greying beard, his shoulders slumped. His deer-like ears drooped. Other than his own, he only counted eleven mats arranged on the floor.
Years ago, their circle was thrice this size.
Young, old, poor, wealthy– they all came together in secret to dissolve the oppression. It was too broad a goal. Those who hadn’t perished under the harsh new laws, decided to separate because of various concerns. Schisms of ideals, execution of plans, disputes of morality, or simple fear. Now, their revolution had dwindled to twelve.
As he sat cross-legged on a thin mat over hard stone, an ache formed in his hip. Slate readjusted himself, listening to his joints pop. He rested his hand on his brownspun pants. Oh, when did I get to be so old? He glanced at his gut. And fat… ugh.
He leaned back against the stone wall, which he soon realized was a mistake. He arched his back. The wall was damp, leaving the back of his tunic moist.
“Are you listening to me?” Adahai plopped a bowl of spiced tea on the mat by his knees. Her skin was the color of the soil that was sacred to her people. Her rickety frame shook from the fury in her voice. With white eyebrows pinched together, pointed deer-like ears perked, and skeletal fingers outstretched; she looked positively terrifying. Her emerald hood fell back, exposing her thin, white hair. Mud-puddle colored eyes focused on him.
“Yes, yes.” Taking the bowl in his massive hands, he inhaled deeply. Complicated layers of spices bathed in sweet cream played for his senses.
Usually, he didn’t indulge in the Yerikuu blends, but he appreciated its warmth. Tilting the bowl upward, he took a long swig until tea dribbled down his beard. “So, what do you suggest that we do?”
Adahai scraped her fingernails through the frizzled white hairs that coiled at her temples. He’d seen her hair many times over the centuries, but every time she left her head uncovered, it gave him a strange jolt. For someone from the tribe of Yerikuu to have white hair was often a dangerous secret. It was a sign of Goblin blood. A sign of foul magic.
Settling herself into the mat over a bed of pine needles, Adahai slurped her tea. “The others will be here soon.” She grimaced. “We’ll have to decide something.” She stared vacantly. Slate looked outside. A clump of carefree reindeer grazed, blocking his view.
Tapping his fingers against his bowl, he remembered the drips in his beard. Slate patted himself dry with his sleeve. After a while, it was clear Adahai wouldn’t say anything more. “We still have six days.”
Upon hearing the number aloud, both cringed. Slate set down his bowl. They’d squandered their time. Fifteen hundred years seemed like plenty of time once. Enough time to realize peace is not some kind of naturally occurring phenomena.
Of the eight apprentices they’d selected, only one remained. Seven failures weighed heavily upon them all.
That might be all the time we have left.
Adahai slurped her tea, tucking her legs underneath her tiny frame. Like a nesting quail. As eldest of them all, the final decision would be hers. No matter what, he must accept that.
Anitka and Lotan slunk into the shadows behind their Onryx companion. The two Tassis stood nearly two hands smaller than their Onryx companion, and practically hid behind him. Not saying a word, like mice, they huddled over a meager breakfast of rice loaf.
Slate watched them with his peripheral vision, trying to remember who they once were. Respected. Fiercely intelligent. Confident. Absolutely the funniest pair anyone would ever meet. It was awful to see how ragged they’d become over the years.
Some things hadn’t changed though. Anitka’s brassy skin was splotched with ink. Black dots were everywhere— her cheek, her nose, and in between her fingers on her right hand. Squinty-eyed, she tilted her head to admire the altar in the tiny alcove. Lotan, though, seemed to be observing another, far more interesting, world. His dirty blond hair hung in front of his eyes. Giggling and whispering into his knuckle, he rocked.
Elwyn and Daylii, from the Awat tribe, walked in behind him and knelt together before the altar. Tall and thin, the women had to duck to avoid the rocky wall. Elwyn’s acorn buttons rattled as she made the signs for Fire’s blessing above her head. After a short bout of silence, she left her life-mate to choose one of the free mats. The heavy scent of reindeer clung to her dyed wool tunic— and wafted toward him every time she moved. Slate tried to ignore the odor as she smiled his way.
Raising a silver eyebrow, Elwyn nodded toward the altar. He watched her continue to bob her head to the side. Confused, Slate glanced first at her life-mate, then the altar, then the mural. Though he had no idea what she wanted him to notice, he smiled politely. Elwyn beamed, settling herself into a mat she’d made from her painted-wool cloak.
Daylii joined Elwyn, tugging a silver braid. Blinking her water-colored eyes, Elwyn smiled as Daylii settled beside her. She wore muted blues, while her life-mate wore multicolored wool. Daylii’s white face was thin, while Elwyn’s face was round.
Fire symbols stretched across the wall. Seeing the red, orange, and yellow mural, Slate’s throat tightened. When they began, ‘Strength through Fire’ seemed an emboldening statement. Empowering. Unifying. To preserve the magics that kept them. People died to restore that balance for their children’s generation.
Or, more accurately, people died.
Now it seemed as if their ultimate failure circled overhead. Like buzzards, waiting for them to fall.
“Hey.” Edom, from the tribe of Atkla, rubbed the shiny red-brown patches amid his thinning black coils atop his head. Wiping his hand on his striped rust and gold tunic, he smiled. His small amber eyes flashed. He elbowed Slate in the kneecap. “Don’t suppose you’ve heard yet ‘bout what happened at my family’s inn last night. Tolmasso came. Just like you said he would. Ikahn scum. Drank up most the ungog and wrecked the place.”
Edom looked both ways before leaning closer. His honeyed eyes glimmered. “Strangest thing though… that Human from Parosh had two visitors, within a day of his arrival, and I bet you’ll never guess who.”
Slate wrinkled his forehead. Anyone who met with that mangy Paroshi deserved to be closely observed. Tolmasso once bragged to have sold his younger sister for a small fortune. “Will there be a report then?” He smoothed his beard, allowing his fingers to rest upon each of his stone beads. White marble for strength. Green jade for balance. Black onyx for knowledge.
Edom rubbed the back of his neck. “This, I feel, cannot be recorded…” Making a popping noise with his lips, he unwrapped his poppyseed bun. “My daughter said that he fled long before the Protectors arrived to stop the mischief, but, well…” Edom clicked his tongue. “Your student, Nokhum, had my daughter arrange the meeting.”
Of course, it was Nokhum. Slate suppressed a groan. “Who was the other visitor?” As much as he didn’t like it, the fact Nokhum discovered and met with Tolmasso himself wasn’t shocking. Frustrating, but not in the least bit surprising. No matter what anyone told Nokhum, he was determined to force the Council of Elders to acknowledge these threats of slavers. Little good would that do if it were more profitable to ignore them.
Edom took a bite, speaking with a full mouth, “You’re not gonna like this.” He swallowed. “It was Damek.”
Slate opened his mouth to ask why that Tithe-collecting tick would be meeting with a Human, when Edom slapped his great thigh, trying to dispel the tension with a cheery attitude. “Well, Grandmother, we all are here that will be here. Shall we begin?”
Like children at the feet of a great one, they all gazed at her. Adahai coughed. “Yes, um, first…” She scratched the back of her neck. “Thank you all for coming.”
Her gaze lingered upon the altar. The symbols, only they could read, spiraled in the background. The paintings of Fire remained flameless. Lifeless red-orange and yellow tongues licked the air.
Sometimes, it seemed a bit pitiful— risking their lives by gathering under such a banner, while no one had the courage to light even a candle. Slate assumed it was because of the smell. Even if the smoke didn’t billow, it refused to be shrugged off. It clung to clothes and hair. Wearing that smell would ensure their discovery and demise. Fire was forbidden. There couldn’t be Fire magic without fire to fuel it.
Adahai sniffed. “Elwyn, would our kind tyrant, Wasii Pon Ruwa, be persuaded to indulge in a discussion about the Oracle’s predictions… given how extremely limited our time is until the new age?” If the judge over the Council could not be persuaded, it would make things more difficult.
One of the reindeers shuffled into their circle, nudging her caretaker. Elwyn reached to pet her nose, and the doe snorted. Elwyn brought out a sack and produced a handful of crabapples for her to munch. “Mm, no. Pon Ruwa thinks those old legends are nonsense. Calls them ‘ridiculous fantasies dreamt up by fear mongers.’”
“How much more evidence does he need before he’ll admit the prophecies are being fulfilled all around us?” Edom’s hands were balled so tightly, Slate could see the whites of his knuckles through his clay-brown skin.
Elwyn shrugged at Edom’s fury. “Vague words are bound to find truth if someone looks for it. To predict that bad things will come— it isn’t enough. Especially not for my brother.”
Slate interjected, “Just yesterday, the Wasii gave the new general the authority to arrest anyone purely on suspicion. General Zakeri believes he can succeed in stamping out pockets of rebellion where my brother, Flint, has failed.” He looked around. “So, we must be wary.”
Adahai grunted. She’d said the same recently. She felt Zakeri was like a rabid wolf on the loose. More certainly interested in biting than protecting. “Whether the Wasii believes the Oracles or not, when the Wheel turns, there will be no dominant energy. The city of Wen will fall apart without our magics.”
The Wheel of the Elements marked the passage of time. Every two hundred years, a new age began. The age of Fire started in six days. Without fire stewards, fire would be unrestrained. It would birth Chaos.
“Excuse me.” Anitka made a small coughing noise. “Voshtiki’s temple has already offered a solution.”
The others scoffed. Of course, the Sea Temple had graciously offered to fill the void. For the greater good of the city. The temple only wanted more power. Salt was already the most powerful element in Wen. It cleansed most magics until there was a generation born without talents.
“That sea witch— high priestess— will spin the waters until the Wheel turns in her favor,” Elwyn spat. “She’s already distorted the visions in the goddess Ayala’s waters.” She elbowed her life-mate, signing, “Tell them.”
“The images will not come to me anymore.” Daylii didn’t look at anyone while Elwyn interpreted her movements. There was a tremble in her hand.
Daylii, last of Ayala’s water stewards, could no longer see through the eyes of pure waters. Another lost connection to the Otherworlds. Ayala hadn’t seen fit to bestow her gift upon the younger generations.
Adahai sunk down onto her mat, her knobby knees wobbling. “Ayala has abandoned us then, in our time of need. After nearly fifteen hundred years of trying to restore a connection to the gods of our youth.” She shuddered. “I think it’s time that we accept reality. We’re on our own to make things right. The Wheel cannot remain unbalanced into another age.”
“So then, how do we do this, when speaking about the legends at all bears a death sentence, Grandmother?”
Sucking on her teeth, Adahai pinched the fleshy point of her ear. “We must bring back Fire. It’s the only way to fix the Wheel.”
“But how do we convince the districts to allow Fire’s return?”
There was a wild look in Adahai’s eyes. “We must convince the people that Fire is needed.”
Slate narrowed his eyes. “What are you suggesting?”
“Once, in my youth, the city of Wen faced the monsters of Chaos. Venomous monsters— armored and enormous. It was only with Fire’s fury that they were contained in the Sands at all. Should the monsters return, well, the Wasii would immediately admit the desperate need for Fire’s magic.”
Before his jaw could hang open, Slate caught himself. “You wish to draw those monsters into the open? Are you mad?”
“We’ve six more days until New Spring. Six days until the Wheel turns. What other option do we have?”
The silence became uncomfortable too quickly. The doe grunted. Daylii’s hands moved rapidly, “Ayala promised to send the Nez’kali to restore the balance.” Even without her gift, she hadn’t given up trusting the goddess. “Of eight— one remains.” As Elwyn translated, she nodded enthusiastically.
The Nez’kali was an old legend that became their rallying cry. The gods and goddesses of the elements were supposed to bless the one designated as the Nez’kali, and that person would have the power to restore balance to the magics in a time of need.
“No.” Adahai glared. “I’ve said before, we cannot rely on that one. Nokhum’s connection with the Otherworld was severed— he cannot be the one to lead us all into a new age.” Rocking forward, she looked into each of their eyes. “You all feel it too. Even if you don’t say it.”
“So, instead of teaching the Nez’kali what he should know— you wish to give up? Release the monsters into the city— then what? Cry out in the streets for Imbyr’s aid? And what, the Wasii will see his flaws and repent and all will be well in Wen?” Edom barked. Slate admired his unflinching resolve.
Adahai continued, “The water goddess, Ayala, claimed that a Nez’kali would restore balance. That is the whole reason for the Nez’kali’s existence. The fires of Imbyr predicted that the monsters would return before the next age. They will try to bring about chaos.” She took a shaky sip from her bowl. “Legends say that the monsters will be bound to seek the Nez’kali.”
“So, what if, instead of trying to stop the monsters from finding him, we lure them out into the open? We could force the Otherworlders to intervene— or prove to Wen that without Fire’s energy we all are in danger.” Adahai tapped on her knee, wide eyes scanning the shocked room.
No. No. This is madness. Slate’s mind screamed with objections, but he bit his tongue and planned his words. “Unless… we find that the Otherworld does not protect the last Nez’kali. When those monsters strike him down, the forest will blame us for their loss, while my brother leads the Protectors into battle against those things— swarming, like ants— defeating the monsters. And so no one listens to those whispered suggestions of invoking Fire.” Slate knocked his dandelion bread off his knee, and the doe hastily gobbled it off the stone. “Ugh.” He pushed her away. “You’ll only be proving that the Protectors are like gods.”
“These monsters cannot be killed by farendiil steel.” Adahai’s eyes seemed empty. At her solemn words, Slate felt a shiver run down his spine. The Protectors would be defenseless.
Leaning forward, he glared into Adahai’s eyes. Once, he believed someone with such kind eyes could do no harm, but now he wasn’t sure. “Would you lure the monsters into Wen, knowing that we have no defenses against them?”
“It’s the only way to return Fire to the world. The Wheel cannot stay unbalanced into the next age.” Adahai’s voice grew shrill, as her ears flattened against the sides of her head. “If flames return to Chaos, the whole city will burn.”
Slate thundered above her, “People will die. Innocent people.”
Adahai stood and kicked him in the kneecap with her bare toe. “Nokhum spends a lot of his time in the forest— outside of the city boundary. That’s where they’d find him.”
“No, we can’t—”
“No one else has to get hurt this way.” She knelt in front of him. “The barrier will protect the city, and when the Protectors fail to eliminate the monsters, the Wasii will be forced to side with our cause.”
1. Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.
When I was eleven, my life changed drastically. My siblings and I were taken away from our family, and my new guardians were very strict. We weren’t allowed to read, watch, or listen to anything that wasn’t Evangelical Christian.
Before that, my mom had encouraged me to read what I liked. One day, when I was complaining that I had nothing to read, she told me to write the story I wanted to read. My new guardians thought this was a waste of time when I could be doing chores.
I wasn’t allowed to explore my love of fantasy, so I stole a copy of The Hobbit from a Goodwill (sorry). After sneaking and reading, I was inspired to create my own world. I began The Age of Fire, but every time I finished a draft, I just started over from the beginning.
It wasn’t until I began suffering from a disabling mental illness that I started writing the final version of this series. I was in the hospital when I was writing the first chapters that I started with, which were the scenes that my characters fall into another world.
2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
This book took me twenty years to write, and I think the most important thing I learned was how to properly use POVs. Another important lesson was that I needed readers’ feedback ahead of time. I was able to find critique partners and Beta readers online.
3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
This wasn’t really a surprise, but I found this interesting. I learned that a calendar year may have either twelve or thirteen full moons. I based my world’s calendar off of the lunar calendar, which made things a little difficult.
4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
In my book, my main character’s tribe produces soil stewards. Nokhum is able to do dust magic. A slur for his people is Moth, so when a Yerikuu’s spirit is broken, it is said that their wings were broken.
5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
This is not flattering, and they do not know. Flint and his life-mate Casdya were inspired by my guardians’ personalities. Casdya is a small role in this book, but she becomes a POV later in the series.
6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
I didn’t set out to teach a lesson, but the theme is that peace is not a naturally occurring phenomenon—it must be maintained.
7. What is your favorite part of the book?
My favorite part of the book takes place in the whimsical but dangerous land of Nod. The creatures that live there are hostile, but I really liked the aesthetic. If it weren’t a spoiler, I’d say more. It’s a magical part of an otherwise dark circumstance.
8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
Slate was my most challenging character. I’ve never been an elderly gay man before, and his chapters were a little more political. Because my characters’ lifespans are to 5200 years, I needed to create a history that went back a few thousand years. He also leads the Peace Keepers, so I needed to create other cultures and races for them to interact with. His POV also provided structure to this first book and introduced the theme.
9. What are your immediate future plans?
I’m trying to work up the courage to call libraries and Indie bookstores in my area to ask them to carry my book.
On October 21st, I’m releasing my Christmas-time middle grade horror, called The Boogeyman’s Portal. “In a suburb of Chicago, children are disappearing. Police are no help. They responded by putting the neighborhood in ‘quarantine’ and stopping communication. Ten-year-old Rain is determined not to let the Boogeyman take her next.”
And on November 11th, I’m releasing book two of The Age of Fire series. I’d leave a blurb, but there is not a way to do this without spoilers. I’ll be putting Poison from a Scorpion’s Sting up for pre-order soon.
When I release Poison from a Scorpion’s Sting, I am going to be selling book boxes that have signed copies, a custom-made candle, a scorpion lollipop, a custom artwork sticker, and a few original recipes from the world of The Age of Fire. If you want one, let me know on twitter (@guerrero_ramey) or through email (R.RameyGuerrero@gmail.com). If you missed a signed Dust of a Moth’s Wing and want one, tell me, and I’ll send one too.
And behind the scenes, I am editing book five. I’ll tell y’all later what that one’s called.
About the Author:
To cope with disabling mental illnesses, R. Ramey Guerrero created a world of their own to explore. Their apartment in San Antonio transformed into forests, cliffs, and sea shore. With pen and paper, they filled their world with creatures and people as diverse as a world should be. Now, R. Ramey Guerrero edits fantastic stories written by amazing authors with a kitty on their lap. They live in the medical center in an apartment by the woods with their pets. Two cats: Enki and Katara. An Australian shepherd: Tlaloc. A box turtle: Gaia. Two red-eared sliders: Atl and Tera. And a ball python: Artemis.
Starts: May 26, 2022 at 12:00am EST / Ends: June 1, 2022 at 11:59pm EST