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In the wake of their defeat, Starry Wisdom has retreated to their home world of Cerulean, a seemingly idyllic society they have engineered for their own dark purposes. There, Joan Metz; her son, General Michael Anglicus; and the rest of Starry Wisdom proceed with their plans to assemble the Staff of Solomon, even as they prepare for the inevitable reprisal from the Order and Corbenic. Already plagued by doubts and in-fighting, further conflict arises when Countess Elizabeth Bathory is brought into their inner circle, with Nathan DePriest as her apprentice.
The surviving members of the Order, along with a team of Corbenese soldiers and geomancers, have succeeded in infiltrating Cerulean. As they launch a series of attacks, they, too, struggle to overcome their differences.
Meanwhile, in Cerulean’s central city, Bill Welsh is posing as a citizen. Still in thrall to the creature Akhenaton, he wages a fight for his very soul.
Already, heavy losses have been sustained on all sides, driving everyone to increasingly desperate actions. Despite Cerulean’s modern exterior, ghosts, spirits, fearsome beasts and demons still lurk. Worlds hang in the balance as enemies clash. With the end game fast-approaching, anything is possible, and no one is safe.
Excerpt (SPOILER ALERT!)
The morning of the funeral dawned chilly and gray. There was to be a graveside service. Cerulean had no cemeteries, per se, as the Cerulean people preferred natural burial for their dead, interring them in the raw dirt of forest, field and, presumably, fen. To dust thou art and all that. Bathory supposed it was all Joan’s doing. You can take the girl out of Rome, she thought. But she will never be completely rid of that papist streak.
A spot had been selected for Katarina in a city park, a four-mile green space with sculptures and gazebos, ponds, footbridges, and a small river lined with willows. The hole had been dug, the coffin suspended over it by a mechanized lowering device. A brazier had been set up nearby. Millicent had assured Bathory that they would have Cerulean’s finest artists submit designs for a proper monument. In the meantime, a simple marker served as a headstone. It bore Katarina’s name and the year of her birth, 1601, which was really only an approximation. They had always celebrated her birthday in February, since that had been the month in which Bathory had found her. But they hadn’t known the actual date of Kat’s birth, a fact which Bathory had always taken in stride.
Until now. Grief tightened her throat like a pair of pincers and her vision suddenly blurred. At her sides, her gloved hands balled into fists. She would not cry. Not now.
Not before the rulers of Starry Wisdom, who were gathered with her at the graveside. Eight of them. They had all introduced themselves, but offered no support—not that she needed or desired any. It was not their way. They respected only strength. As they waited for the officiant, she peered around at them. Some of them she had known, if only by reputation. But they certainly seemed to know her. No doubt there was an extensive file on her in some Cerulean archive and no doubt they had all read it. She knew they were watching her, even as she watched them, weighing, measuring, appraising her right down to the soles of her new patent leather pumps.
One of them, Bautista, was so silent and still, he gave Bathory the cold shivers. Even Nathan, who stood at a respectful distance from the proceedings, seemed unnerved by him.
On the other hand, there was Esfir Taghvaei. A master of geomancy several times over, she was not only from a well-to-do family, but from an Eastern land. Add to that an apparent lack of love between her and the General and the possibilities were indeed encouraging. Taghvaei’s specialty would allow a graceful excuse to meet and discuss the wand. With luck, she would be arrogant enough to underestimate the newcomer, and allow any alliance to ultimately be to Bathory’s advantage. And if not-- well, Bathory found it unlikely that the Persian would exactly be missed.
At last, Joan Metz and her son arrived together in a small hovercraft. It touched down with a soft purr onto the dry grass.
The General got out first and helped his mother alight. She kept her hand on his arm as they approached, Joan in a long white priestess dress with belled sleeves, a lotus sewn into the bodice with golden threads. The General wore his dress uniform, charcoal with blue piping and black cuffs. Despite the radical difference in dress, the pair of them looked so much alike, they could’ve passed for siblings rather than mother and son.
The assembly parted respectfully to make way for them, and Joan held out her hand to Bathory. As Bathory took it, she said, “Lady Bathory, I’m so sorry that our first meeting is under such circumstances.” Her voice was rich and low, her gray gaze steady and sincere. “Please accept my condolences for your loss.”
“Thank you,” Bathory murmured.
As for that son of hers-- he’d made his judgment of Bathory long ago and had never swayed from it. He hardly glanced at her now, confident in his dismissal of her. More fool, he.
Now, Joan took her place at the head of the open grave. “Hail, ye Children of Osiris,” she began. “Our brethren has been counted, and there is one among us who has not answered to her name, Katarina Benicka, whom Death has vanquished. We are unmoved by its victory. We are no more affected by the shadow of death than by the darkness that divides today from tomorrow. Immortal we are and ever shall be.”
As Joan recited the rite, Bathory’s thoughts strayed. For nearly four hundred Earth years, she and Katarina had been together. Katarina had been her only certainty. Her solution. Her love.
“We deny your dominion,” Joan said. “We deny your justice. We stand in defiance of all knowledge forbidden to men. We see the faces of all Gods and all Time. We are powerful. Let us say unto you, ‘I have come. I see you. I know your name. I claim my place among the gods.’”
Memories of Katarina, her darling Kat, frolicking merrily down an alleyway in Corbenic, her little skirts rustling, her blade at the ready, looking for muggers and ravishers to accost her and ripping out their kidneys. The sweetest memories had to be kept close to heart. The first memory. The peasant man in the snow. How could it have come to this?
“We didst stand up and smite our enemies. We set fear in our adversaries. The splendors of the world are ours. We claim guidance of the world as long as times endure. Our crown penetrateth the height of heaven. Our wisdom is the wisdom of the stars. We are the first of our brethren, favored among all souls.”
More life. More blood. More of everything. There could never be enough. Until the end of time. Her and her Katarina and their pleasure.
Which meant that if Katarina was now gone...did that mean that time would end?
“We say to Katarina, do not be cast down. Do not be disquieted. Hope thou in deliverance, for the day shall come of our ascension. Lift up thine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh thy help. We shall come. We shall not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth the world shall not keep thee. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. Ye shall be preserved, thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth, and even forevermore. Immortal we are and ever shall be.”
Now, Joan turned to the brazier, which erupted into bright red-gold flames. She drew a scroll of paper from her sleeve. Bathory had inscribed Katarina’s name herself.
Joan threw the paper into the fire, intoning, “Depart, thou One, who shinest from the moon. We bid that this Osiris Ani, Katarina Benicka, may come forth among the multitudes who are at the portal. Let the Duat be opened to her. Behold, the Osiris Ani shall come forth by day to perform everything which she wisheth.”
The gathered watched as the paper disintegrated and the wind carried its ashes upwards.
“Go forth by day, Children of Osiris. The dead are the stars that light our path to wisdom. Immortal we are and ever shall be.”
Together, the mages intoned, “Amen.” Not a blessing or entreaty, but a declaration of will.
As she concluded the rite, Joan nodded to Bathory. Stepping forward, Bathory threw the lever that lowered the casket into the earth. The mechanism worked silently, and she could hear the breeze move about her as she watched her beloved descend into darkness. Bathory vowed that her darling would not be held long.
“Amen,” she whispered.
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