QSFers Jonathan Fuller and Kristina Kelly have a new queer sci-fi book out (ace, bi, gay, poly), Etherea Cycle book 1: Trials of the Innermost.
In a world that stopped spinning, six young people embark on a quest to preserve peace between their homelands and fulfill a prophecy that says they will save their world from being devoured.
A cataclysm in Etherea’s past stopped its rotation, leaving three distinct realms: one of light, one of dark, and one of twilight. Years of war between them followed. Until the establishment of the Trials of the Innermost.
A new set of Six Truthseekers are chosen for this quest of learning and cooperation. But the fragile peace created by the Trials is crumbling, even as they begin their first task. The group is composed of each realm’s best and brightest, and their talents range from magic channeled through music to explosive crystals. They will need all their unique abilities to survive the Trials, which take them through scorched wastes, a wall of storms, and the shadowed Fellwood.
Along their journey, a shared lost past is rediscovered that forces the Truthseekers to question all they once held to be true. Yet even as they grapple with their new reality, a deadly secret is unveiled. A fragment of an alien force called the Penumbra has possessed one of their own, granting him preternatural abilities.
One realm seeks to control the entity, but the Penumbra has other plans. If it can succeed in reuniting its broken pieces, it will gain the power to consume all of Etherea’s abundant life force. The Truthseekers must overcome their differences and work together to stop the malevolent entity before they lose their friend—and their world—to the Penumbra’s hunger.
Get It At Amazon | Publisher | Universal Buy Link
Too much light.
Kharnek awoke to find himself slumped against the wall of a dark hallway. The basalt that composed structures in Zel Morakh chilled his back. His head throbbed. He lifted a hand to rub his face and winced when the stone shards stuck to his palm dug into the skin of his eyelids.
He attempted to stand, and his surroundings whirled. He recalled the events of the last shadowfall after the moon dipped beneath the horizon. His duties were completed with time to unwind before another restless sleep. Too many drafts of ’cano ale with his warrior brothers and then—
An ululating wail startled Kharnek into full alertness. Torchlight flickered into existence near the hallway’s end to his left.
“Where is he?” a manic voice demanded. A woman’s cry crescendoed from grief into rage. “Let go of me! You cannot protect him!”
The creak of polished leather armor and boots registered in Kharnek’s trained ears. Three male silhouettes danced in the orange light, struggling to restrain the woman, who wore a spectral violet gown that wafted about her clawing arms. One of the men broke away to move toward Kharnek.
In an instant, he surrendered to the compulsion that lurked in the back of his mind, the voice that haunted him. The voice that was not his but had infected him like a disease.
Too much light.
Kharnek’s hangover melted away. He slipped past the advancing man, moving so fast that his assailant appeared frozen in place, arms caught mid-swing with his step. When Kharnek walked in shadow, no living creature could see him or match his pace. He paused near the other two men and the woman; they resembled a violent still-life painting. To his surprise, he recognized the woman, Myal, the wife of one of his closest friends. Kharnek remembered this was her home and that just beyond her at the end of the hallway lay the dining hall. He flowed past Myal and abruptly halted at the dining hall’s entrance.
Destruction personified had torn through the room. The twelve-foot-long table, hewn from a single slab of basalt, played host to the broken bodies of several warriors. Kharnek’s friend and Captain of the City Guard lay among them. Hedek’s face was locked by rigor mortis into an expression of horror.
Kharnek instinctively drew his sword. Blood reflected torch light on the cold metal. He dropped the weapon, its clatter echoing as he examined his hands; crimson stains smeared across the map of indentations.
“No. This is a dream.”
The words tumbled from his mouth, half statement, half plea. Kharnek backed away, and his connection to his preternatural abilities broke. Behind him, the frantic struggle between Myal and the two guards resumed. She screeched and broke free of the men restraining her. In her right hand, a slender dagger appeared. A purple jewel set in its handle was filled with a familiar, swirling darkness.
Kharnek turned and opened his arms in welcome as her hand drove toward his chest. The blade pierced his flesh, but he felt no pain. He laughed as the shadow in the jewel joined the darkness inside him, and he unleashed its terrible power. A black miasma enveloped Myal and the guards.
When the darkness cleared, only ashes remained.
Kharnek fell to his knees, overcome with guilt. A soft swishing noise of fabric against stone heralded the approach of his masters. Anguish turned to anger as the priests encircled him. One of them held a flickering torch, revealing a malicious grin on the man’s face as he spoke.
“Well done, son of Komor. Morakh’s Shadow within you is powerful indeed. You will be a great asset in the war to come.”
Kharnek’s eyes flew open, darting in the death throes of his ’burn dream. Sweat soaked the coarse red blanket wrapped around him. His muscled chest heaved as he took in the familiar confines of his bedchamber. He rolled out of bed and stood, the coolness of basalt under his bare feet dragging him further into reality.
The volcanic glow that perpetually limned the skyline of Zel Morakh painted the room in shades of red and orange through its sole, slit-like window. Though dim, it was enough for Kharnek to distinguish the geometric outlines of the black ceremonial tattoos that adorned his pale skin—the marks of a warrior of Komor. He brushed his chest just above his heart, his fingers tracing the raised skin of the scar where Myal had stabbed him. It was a visible reminder that his dreams were grounded in reality.
Kharnek moved to the window and gazed upon the muted sprawl of Zel Morakh, the capital city of Komor. Nestled in a large rift created by ancient tectonic shifts, the metropolis was shielded from the bitter cold of the tundra that comprised most of the realm’s surface. Volcanic activity beneath the city kept its residents warm, their primary defense against the eternal darkness that shrouded the western hemisphere of Etherea. Neither of the moons were visible at this time, which the other realms called “night”, but Komorese knew it as Morakh’s Shadow. The stepped ziggurat of the Temple of Morakh dominated Kharnek’s view from the Warrior’s Wing. It was no accident that the military housing in Zel Morakh lay in the shadow of the residence of the Priesthood elite. Even though Komor’s army was the largest in Etherea, its state religion—and its priests—were the realm’s true rulers.
The sight of the Temple awakened a mixture of anger, remorse, fear, and anticipation. It was because of the Priesthood that he had these bad dreams and that his hands were soaked in blood. His prowess as a warrior and strange powers did not atone for his crimes, and at times he felt crushed by the weight of his guilt and the blood on his hands.
He clenched his hands into fists and willed the darkness into the back of his mind.
Also known as J&K, Jonathan and Kristina are best friends, gamers, and overall geeks. Together, they write science fiction, fantasy (often combining the two), short stories, novels, and poetry. Their friendship (and love of SFF books, shows, games, & movies) led to Trials of the Innermost, the first book in their science fantasy series The Etherea Cycle, releasing May 2023. It blends what they love from science fiction and fantasy while representing the kaleidoscope of people and experiences of the real world. It is a testament to the power of friendship.