Three books in one:
The Dead Held Hands
The Temple of the Exploding Head
Starfarers and explorers, the League settled on Kana thousands of years ago. They found it to be a paradise, a perfect, virtually uninhabited planet waiting just for them in the cradle of space.
Lovely Kana … it was too good to be true …
But, all was not as it seemed. Simmering beneath the ground was a demented god who had soaked Kana in blood for untold ages, luring in victims, lying to them, and rejoicing in their suffering as they died at the hands of his dark angels.
And there will be blood again … From his Temple in the ground, the Horned God stirs.
When Lord Kabyl of Blanchefort, a young man troubled by the weight of the world, dares give his heart to a girl from a mysterious ancient household, one that pre-dates the League itself, he comes to know the shadows of the past that hover over her.
He comes to know of the Horned God, and for love he is destined to face him. All roads lead to the Temple of the Exploding Head, a place of evil and death, rooted in the ancient past, but also tied to the distant future.
“We were evil once,” she said, “and the gods are still punishing us…”
He continued on down the path. Eventually, the trees opened into a small clearing by the banks of a broad, lazy river, the Torr, no doubt. Beyond, he could see the valley below and the mountains in the distance, all tinted in purple. Very pretty setting. Several moons hung in the sky.
A small, long-haired woman sat by the edge of the river. A canvas was set up in front of her, and she appeared to be sketching—lost in concentration. She was wearing light blue and purple veils, just like the King and Queen, and her blue hair was set and ringed in a similar style to Zoladerra’s. Her leg veils were pushed up to her knees, and her feet were submerged in the cool river water. A dusty box of colored chalk sat at her side.
Carefully Kay came up to her side, trying to be quiet.
“Have you come to help me finish my drawing?” the woman asked in a breathy, dreamy fashion, not turning around. “I’ve been working on it for awhile now, and it’s almost finished, but I just can’t seem to know where to stop.”
Kay looked at the canvas. It was nothing but a scrawl.
He had heard of Princess Vroc of Xandarr often while growing up. His father talked about her every so often. His mother despised Princess Vroc. He had heard how she was responsible for nearly killing his mother. He had heard how she nearly managed to blow up Castle Blanchefort and how she was under the sway of the Black Hats. He had heard she was nearly responsible for killing every living soul on Xandarr, her family included.
He had heard, also, how she was insane, a tormented Eleventh Daughter of House Xandarr, worthless and hounded, always at fault; how her father, King Hezru, had sold her into prostitution and then to a meat market in Burgon to be consumed. He had heard how the Black Hats drove and tortured her until she fell into utter madness and killed her entire family, except for Balor who hadn’t been home that day. And, he had heard how King Balor had taken his mad sister back to Xandarr and, through love and care, had restored her to at least a hint of her sanity. At last, she was now at peace.
And, one more thing, he had heard that, for whatever reason, Princess Vroc of Xandarr was one of the greatest swordsmen his father, Lord Davage, had ever faced. It was at first thought that the Black Hats, through sorcery or via chemical means, had enhanced her physical strength and her fighting abilities. But, through the years, her skills and her amazing strength never faded. She was reputed to be a genius, her small but lethal sword arm legendary. She was the tutor of many, many League Lords daring to seek out training. Much of the considerable income derived from these tutoring lessons had gone to help rebuild Xandarr.
Now Kay fully understood. He was here to fight the legendary Princess Vroc of Xandarr. His mother, should she become aware of this development, would be livid. It was a good thing his father had chosen to be discreet.
Kay took a good look at the Princess in the purple afternoon sun. Her physical appearance had been related to him many times, and he always wondered what he might do if he ever stood in her presence. She had achieved a larger-than-life stature in his mind, rather like her older sister, Princess Marilith, another legendary princess of Xandarr.
She was small, not much bigger than his mother, but not nearly as diminutive and bone skinny as she had been described to him. She appeared trim, but well fed enough to not be overly thin. Her straight blueberry hair was down to her waist and ringed in the Xandarr style. In years past, her hair had been cut short in an unflattering crop.
He had been told that Princess Vroc was rather homely—his mother had said that, and his father hadn’t disagreed. Her sister, the famous Princess Marilith had been a rare beauty, but Vroc, it was said, was plain and mannish in the face to the point of being ugly. However, in seeing her in person, her face painted and her hair done up, she certainly wasn’t homely or mannish in the least—she was no raving beauty like the Xandarr 44 up on the hill—or like Sam, for that matter, but nor was she ugly.
Her left arm, covered with a veiled sleeve, bore a ragged, chewed-up scar, a reminder of her long ago battle with Kay’s mother where they nearly killed each other.
And, true to the Xandarr style, her veils were light and see-through. Her nude body underneath was plain to see if he wanted. He tried to be demure and avoid looking at the private areas of her body.
She looked up at Kay, her fingers tinted with chalk. “Would you like to help me finish my drawing?”
Kay knelt down and selected a piece of chalk out of the box. He surveyed the scribbles on the canvas and scratched out a few lines of color. “There, he said. “A fine sunset.”
She looked at what he had drawn. “You are an artist, sir.” She glanced at the CARG saddled at his side. “CARG,” she said. “LosCapricos weapon of House Blanchefort. I’ve never faced a CARG before.”
Kay didn’t bother to correct her; it wasn’t prudent, for Princess Vroc most certainly had faced the CARG before.
She looked at the weapon and sighed. “I suppose it is too much to hope that you are here simply to sit and chat with me.” Her eyes moved to his purple hair. “I like your hair. I wish mine was purple, too.”
Kay took his black triangle hat off and let her look at it. After a time, she spoke again. “I have a price. I require a payment.”
“Payment for what, ma’am?” Kay asked.
“Payment for fighting me. That’s why you are here, to fight me, isn’t it?”
Kay smiled. “No, actually I came to help you finish your drawing.”
Vroc’s face lit up. There was no chair for Kay to sit in, so Vroc scooted over, and she shared her chair with him. Together, they spent the rest of the afternoon scribbling on her canvas, the only sounds being the occasional gurgle of the river and the back-and-forth scratching of the chalk on the canvas.
Later, as the day grew old and the sky darkened to a deep cranberry, and Kay stood to take his leave.
“You’re going, sir?” Vroc asked.
“I am. I’ve a long journey home.”
Vroc gazed at him with her deep blue eyes. “I have enjoyed sitting with you.”
“And I with you, ma’am.”
She stood up and dried her wet bare feet on the grass. “Are you certain you don’t wish to have a match with me?”
Kay placed his hand on his silver CARG. “I feel shy, ma’am.”
“Why?” She drew a BEREN from the side of her chair. It was a sham BEREN, a mock up—the slim, fluted blade was visible, not the real thing which, if his knowledge of LosCapricos weapons was accurate, was invisible. Now that she was standing, he could see the real thing saddled to her left leg. “You needn’t feel shy, sir. I can handle myself, I assure you. Please, I want to see your skills and offer advice if any is needed. I wish to have a match with you.”
Kay sighed and unsaddled his CARG. “What about your price?”
Vroc thought a moment. “My price? Very well, here is my price. I demand a lock of your purple hair. Will you agree?”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, that is what I wish of you.” She raised her fake BEREN and assumed a classic fighting stance. “Please level your weapon, sir.”
About the Author
Ren Garcia is a Science Fiction/Fantasy author and Texas native who grew up in western Ohio. He has been writing since before he could write, often scribbling alien lingo on any available wall or floor with assorted crayons. He attended The Ohio State University and majored in English Literature. Ren has been an avid lover of anything surreal since childhood, he also has a passion for caving, urban archeology and architecture.