QSFer Riley S. Keene has a new FF fantasy book out in the Heroes by Necessity series: Crossroad.
A long forgotten god. An abandoned Temple full of undead. Can the Favor of Isadon really bring the dead back to life?
The Age of Mortals temporarily forgotten, Elise Bresch and Ragan Ermolt regroup to focus on returning their friend and companion, Athala Dohn, from the Nether. Or wherever Meodryt’s fateful bite sent her.
Following instructions that are little more than campfire tales leads them to Marska, a long-abandoned city full of rumors – and bandits. Finding the fabled Temple of Isadon – a relic of centuries past – is easy, but getting inside proves to be a bit tougher.
Elise and Ermolt refuse to leave empty handed; their goal is to retrieve the Favor of Isadon, a magic relic of the forgotten God of Death, and use it to bring Athala back. But the guardians of the Temple – including the fearsome Champion – refuse to just let them take it. Will Elise and Ermolt overcome the trials of Isadon’s Temple, or will the long-dead God of Death gain two new servants?
Crossroad is the fourth book in the Heroes by Necessity saga of sword and sorcery fantasy novels. If you like magical Dungeons and Dragons inspired worlds, multifaceted and diverse characters, and pulse-pounding action, then you’ll love Riley S. Keene’s epic tale.
Riley is giving away two eBook box sets of the first three books in the series, Ancients, Bargain, and Destiny – mobi and epub. Comment on the post below for the chance to win.
The city of Lublis emerged from the rocky ground like a corpse unbidden from the grave. It was a city unlike any other, and was constant proof that humanity would do whatever they could to tame Neuges to match their vision. No matter how blasphemous.
Elise’s skin crawled at the sight.
Where they had once been rocky highlands—and a budding mountain, no less—there now stood a city that had been carved from the rock itself. The people of antiquity had shaped the stone to suit their needs, going as far to even redirect the east-flowing branch of Ydia’s Tears, as if the destruction of the stone wasn’t abhorrent enough.
The thought gave Elise pause. It had been less than a week since she had shed her tabard and declared herself no longer a Conscript of Ydia. And yet, she still thought like one. Lublis, in her mind, was a city of monstrosities, of acts against the Gods even as the Rises were left untouched in reverence. She did not see it as a testament to the strength and ingenuity of humanity, even though so many others did.
Perhaps it was a thing that would come with time.
Her teachings were still too fresh.
As was her pain.
Athala was dead. Had been for just under a week now as well. And while she and Ermolt were determined to do whatever they could to bring her back, it seemed like an impossible task. A font of power, located in the ruined city of a forgotten God. And one rumored strong enough to match the power of the divine.
The Favor of Isadon.
With it, they could bring Athala back from the dead.
Lublis’ sacrilegious construction was forgotten as Elise toiled with the idea of bringing her best friend back to life. The very thought seemed impossible. And had Sieghard not given her the very book Athala had notated on the subject, Elise would have dismissed the idea outright. As it was, the wizard’s notes were written in a cipher that neither Elise nor Ermolt could read, hence why they traveled to Lublis.
If there was anyone who could read that cramped script, they resided within Lublis’ profane walls.
Both Elise and Ermolt had been to Lublis before, and so it was not the first time either of them had seen the shadow of the stone spires growing long into the evening, painting the town in bars of light and shadow. It was a breathtaking view just the same, and while they didn’t have time to stop and admire it now, Elise found herself slowing her pace as they approached the southern-most gate. Another long shadow loomed ahead, bisecting the road. Elise once more shivered.
“We don’t have time to waste,” Ermolt said, his deep voice rumbling low in his chest. His words were a reminder that barbarian had spent much of the last week taking care of Elise while she dealt with her rage and sorrow. While she was thankful for his concern and duty, a part of her resented his ability to stay focused as well.
“What does it matter?” Elise hated the whine to her voice and bid it away with little success. “Meodryt likely knows where we are, or at least where we’ll go. And if Her dragon knows, so too does Ydia.”
“Which is why we must hurry. We’ll be safer inside the city. Even Ydia wouldn’t risk assaulting Lublis just to get to us.”
“Of course,” Elise said, picking up her pace once more to match the barbarian’s long strides. “Attacking Lublis would show her hand, and no matter what story she spins, it would turn the people against her. Very few enjoy seeing even the most belligerent blasphemer melted with dragonfire.” A grin came to her lips, and it felt mean. “We could use that to our advantage, of course.”
“Let us not get ahead of ourselves,” Ermolt said with a faint chuckle. “Athala first, revenge second.” He fell silent a moment, and Elise knew what dark thoughts tickled his mind as they lurked in the murky mire of her own.
“And revenge against Ydia, third,” Elise finally said, her grin fading to a grimace.
They walked in silence for a moment more, plodding ever closer to Lublis. Elise ground her teeth together in an attempt to silence her raging mind, but there was no stopping the inferno between her ears.
The thought of that very name forced her jaws together in a way that caused her to wince. They had avoided saying his name aloud since Jirda, and for good reason. If the past few weeks had taught them anything, it was that Ibeyar and his ilk were vermin who could be hiding in every shadow. It mattered not that they fled Jirda under cover of darkness and traveled nearly non-stop since. Elise knew the man would appear ahead of them, against all logic, if they let their guard down.
“We should discuss our plans,” Ermolt said, breaking the silence between them.
Elise, roused from thoughts dark enough to scare the night, almost didn’t follow what he meant. “For Lublis?”
“And for the book.” Ermolt patted his side where Athala’s journal was safely stored against his person. Elise had tried not to notice the time he spent crying over it, but she did. And she’d been jealous.
“We’ll need to work covertly. Every face within the city is another who could be working for him.”
“Are we so afraid of the man to avoid saying his name aloud?”
Elise frowned. “While we’re alone on the road, of course not. Ibeyar Frey, may the Nether take his soul and rip it to a thousand pieces.” She spread her arms wide as if she could bid the Nether to do just that. “But once we are within the walls, we’ll want to avoid it. I would rather not have someone connect us with Jirda and whatever Ibeyar has become.”
Ermolt clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “I don’t like it, but you’re right. Let us avoid that nastiness for as long as possible.” He stared down the road ahead as the sun finally slipped fully behind Grunith, bringing twilight. They continued in darkness, not bothering to light a torch. Lublis was less than a kren away, and the light of their torch would only bring unwanted attention. “But how do we go about getting this translated?”
“There are two possibilities, and I’m not very fond of one. I think our best bet is to make contact with the Overseers.”
Ermolt’s sharp intake of breath told Elise of the wince she couldn’t see. “I don’t think that’s a good use of our time.”
“And you might be right, but it’s the best alternative. We have connections with the Jalovan Overseers, and I think we can use that to our advantage. They might have someone on retainer who could break the cipher without needing to involve the Dohn family at all.”
“The Jalovan Overseers are a separate organization, though. While our connections might get us an audience, we’d still likely need to earn whatever favor we require.”
“We have coin.”
“But for how long? What coin we have came from Meodryt, and it is unlikely the dragon or their God will be willing to refill our purse if the Overseers decide their price to decode the book is every coin we have.” Ermolt grew silent for a moment, and when he spoke again his voice sounded lost in the darkness. “And regardless, we might still need our coin to match any bounty Ibeyar can put upon our heads, if we wish to leave the city unharmed.”
“We don’t have many alternatives,” Elise said, her own tone muted. “Our only other option is her brother. I don’t know exactly what happened between them, but Athala was convinced that he would be happier to see her dead anyway.”
“It might be that he’s our safest option, though.”
“I know, and that worries me.” Elise clenched her jaw together tightly. “It seems we’re running out of possibilities quicker and quicker these days.”
Ermolt only grunted in return.
“Alright. We can try it.” Elise sighed and squared her shoulders against the night. “I don’t think he’ll be of much help, but we can at least try talking to him. Thought I worry about how he will respond to finding out that she…” Elise trailed off, blinking away the unbidden tears that rose to her eyes. She cleared her throat. “About what happened to her. I only hope he doesn’t react badly to us planning on bringing her back.”
“We do more than plan,” Ermolt said gruffly. “We will succeed. No matter what it takes.”
“Right.” Elise nodded, even though she knew he would have trouble seeing her.
But it wasn’t enough.
Ermolt stopped, grabbing Elise by the shoulder and spinning her to face him. Elise cried out in surprised and windmilled her arms to keep from toppling to the dirt. He held her tightly around both shoulders, mutually stabilizing her and holding her in place. The barbarian’s face swam out of the twilight as he drew her close. “Promise me. We will do whatever it takes, right?”
“Ydia’s Grace!” Elise cursed, wincing at how quickly the words tumbled from her lips. She’d need to find another. “Of course, Ermolt.” She pried his hands from her arms, wincing at what might be bruises forming against her olive flesh. “I will do anything to bring her back, and there is no price too great.” Elise looked to the road. “We failed her. Ifailed her. And if it comes down to it, if the Favor’s price is a sacrifice, I would gladly give my life to put this right.”
“Let us hope it doesn’t come to that,” Ermolt said with a ghost of a smile. “But thank you. I just… I just needed to hear that. We don’t know what’s in this book, and we don’t know what the Favor’s price will be.” He took a step back from her, and together they returned to their previous pace.
The gates of Lublis loomed ahead, close enough for Elise to see the City Guard who forced away the darkness with lantern and torch. They dotted the walls and stood attention at the gates, protecting the citizens of the capital of Neuges from all dangers.
Elise didn’t fault Ermolt for questioning her motives, for as confident as Elise’s words had been, her mind was less sure. While she was willing to sacrifice everything to return her friend to the realm of the living, logic whispered that there was no way to undo death.
It would not matter if she would move Grunith itself to bring Athala to life—if she couldn’t find a spot to grip and a place to stand, there was no hope.
Riley S. Keene is a pseudonym for a married writing duo. They live in the Pacific Northwest and enjoy the rainstorms, lack of sunlight, and excess oxygen that comes with it. Robert is in charge of the writing part of Riley’s books, and he has a love for video games and a dislike for pretty much everything else. Kristen is in charge of outlines and edits, and they love gloomy weather and good books.