Visions: Knights of Salucia - Book 1, page 1
Knights of Salucia – Book 1
C. D. Espeseth
This would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of my family and my loving wife, Claire.
You inspire and strengthen me beyond measure. This book is dedicated to them.
Cover art by Tomas Honz
1 - Storm Chasing – Wayran
2 - Beneath the Sands – Matoh
3 - Paradise Found – Jonah
4 - Hunting in the Night - Thannis
5 - Detritus – John Stonebridge
6 - Echoes of the Past - Wayran
7 - Patients with Patience - Matoh
8 - Bad Dream - Wayran
9 - Course Correction - Wayran
10- Leaving Familiarity - Adel
11 - A Fresh Start - Naira
12 - Entangling - Naira
13 - Back Home - Matoh
14 - The Fall of Dawn – Jonah
15 - The Gig that Changed Everything - Kai
16 - Into the Street - Echinni
17 - Mother - Matoh
18 - Pressure - Adel
19 - A Bit of Sport - Thannis
20 - An Old Man - Adel
21 - Royal Repercussions – Echinni
22 - Catching a Break - Kai
23 - Onlookers - Jonah
24 - An Old Book - Wayran
25 - Brothers at Arms - Wayran
26 - Blood and Clues - John Stonebridge
27 - New Possibilities – Thannis
28 - Visions - Wayran
1 - Storm Chasing – Wayran
My name is Robert Mannford, and I saved the world by killing it.
Now, I sit here, watching everything die around me, knowing I had to do it, knowing I am the monster who caused this.
If there is a heaven, I will not be in it for I am a murderer, an exterminator, but I may also be our world’s saviour.
There is not but the hope of the future left to me, and that is what I must build.
First, however, I have to watch what I have wrought. I have to witness their end.
I owe them that at least.
And then, when the last fires go out, I will hope and rebuild.
- Journal of Robert Mannford, Day 000 Year 00
Wayran stood atop the dune, across from a hulking warrior, as sand rasped across the wavy crest between them. In his hand Wayran held a spear, a silver one like his mother’s.
The warrior across from him, however, had much more than a spear. His opponent was covered from head to toe in black chitin-like armour and carried a massive two-handed sword.
“Give me the key, Wayran,” the monstrous warrior demanded.
The very air shook with its voice, and Wayran saw red eyes glaring at him from within the slits of its nightmarish helmet.
“You are going to destroy everything,” the armoured monster said. “You’ve been chasing a lie.”
“You’re wrong,” Wayran replied. The words made him sad, and he wondered how things had come to this. Where had it all gone wrong? The wind picked up and began to howl. Sand bit at his skin and Wayran tried to shield his eyes. “It’s not a lie, I have to do this. No, we have to do this. It’s the only way!” Wayran knew his words were a desperate attempt to sway the monster before him; he was almost assured to fail, but he had to try.
“Stop being so blind!” the armoured monster roared. “This is your last chance, Wayran. GIVE ME THE KEY!”
The very sky erupted around them in a show of power. Lightning flashed within the raging sandstorm, illuminating a giant tower atop the next dune to his right. He had to get to that tower and the door at its base. He had to use the keys. Wayran knew there was nothing else he could say. He looked into the red eyes of the steel monster and saw hatred and rage there. Wayran had lost. He couldn’t save this monster, but he could still use the keys. He threw his silver spear at the monster and ran towards the tower and the door.
The steel-clad warrior rushed forward, knocking the spear aside as if it were a toy. Its giant sword cleaved the air where Wayran had stood, and Wayran felt the sizzle of power against his skin as the strike missed.
Wayran rushed down the dune slope and glanced behind him. To his horror, the armoured monster began to change shape as it chased him. The black steel undulated and merged together into shining black skin from which glowing pustules of light burst forth. The giant blade the monster had held merged into dozens of golden teeth within a circular maw. The terrible worm-like creature hissed and shot down the sand dune after him.
The wind picked up, and Wayran lost sight of the monster behind him. He stumbled through the storm and pushed through the onslaught of wind and sand. Finally, he crashed into something solid.
It was the door.
Two metal rods shot up into the sky on either side of the tower, rising into the very centre of the storm. Lightning danced back and forth between the two metal rods and down their lengths into the sand around Wayran. He saw spidery images of lightning trace odd symbols in the sand at his feet. He felt as if he should be able to understand them, but their meaning eluded him.
The worm monster hissed, and Wayran turned just in time to see the razor sharp teeth slashing towards him through the sandstorm.
He dived to his left and the monster crashed into one of the metal rods. Lightning snapped down into the creature and its pustules grew brighter, yet it remained still.
Wayran fumbled in his pocket and found the key. It was shining white with a rainbow sheen atop it like the inside of a clam shell. He found the keyhole in the door, framed by the same material, pushed his key inside and turned it. He threw his weight against the door. Nothing happened. Too late he realised the storm had also ceased around him, and the world was deadly silent.
Wayran turned and saw the worm change shape into a tall, well-groomed man. The man smiled with golden teeth as if at a joke, and then unsheathed two heavy-bladed knives.
“You should have stopped when you had the chance,” the tall man said with a shrug. He looked at Wayran, tilted his head in curiosity, and then thrust the heavy knives straight into Wayran’s chest. Wayran screamed as the air left his lungs, and the man smiled as he opened his mouth to reveal the rows of sharp teeth which then bit into Wayran’s neck.
* * *
“Wayran!” A voice called.
He felt hands holding his shoulders. Someone was shaking him.
Wayran shot upright and sucked in a giant mouthful of air. His heart pounded, and he saw a tall, strong young man holding his shoulders and looking concerned.
“I’m here, it’s alright,” the young man said. “Which one was it this time?”
Wayran had to breathe in and out twice more before he recognised that the young man holding him was Matoh, his brother.
“The monster and the tower,” Wayran said as he began to recognise his surroundings. He was in their shared bedroom aboard their uncle’s airship. Wayran heard the soft hum of the floating hull and the occasional creak of rope. The circular window to his right peered out onto a landscape just lighting up with the first rays of morning.
“Did you get inside this time?” Matoh asked.
“No,” Wayran said as he shook his head to try and clear the fuzziness he felt. Things were slowly coming back to him.
“Too bad,” Matoh sighed. “All these years of the same dream, and you never get inside that stupid tower. Where were you this time?”
“In the Wastes somewhere,” Wayran answered. His heart had finally begun to slow. His hand slipped under his shirt and felt his chest where the knives had pierced him, but he found no wound. It had been so real.
“Well, that figures,” Matoh chuckled as he cocked his head towards the window. “You’d think you would have had enough sand during the day. Dreaming about it now too? You’re completely obsessed aren’t you?”
“Yes.” Wayran tried to laugh. “I guess I am.” He paused as he remembered something odd about the dream. “There was something different this time,” he said as he stood and walked to the window. He looked out onto the vista of sweeping dunes rolling beneath the airship. “Two metal rods were attached to the tower. They were huge and stretched up into the sky. What do you think that means?”
Matoh grinned evilly. “It's quite obviously repressed sexual desire.”
“What!” Wayran turned and punched his brother’s muscular arm.
Matoh just laughed and lay back in his hammock. “Come on, the signs are all there.”
“Oh, get stuffed.” Wayran rolled his eyes, and then rubbed his arms against the slight chill in the air. “You never take things seriously. Recurring dreams are worrying.”
“Honestly, the dreams could mean anything,” Matoh snorted. “The tall man could be someone you're scared of, the weird worm monster could have been something you saw yesterday. The armoured man, I don't know, me going to the Academy, perhaps? Or some skewed vision of Mum? They're just dreams. Tell you what, though, I certainly haven’t missed being woken up like that. Ever since you left home to come out to the Wastes, I’ve slept better than the dead.” Matoh laughed. “I’m seriously regretting my decision to come visit you.”
“Thank you – for snapping me out of it, I mean,” Wayran said. “And for coming to visit me. It must have been a long trip.”
“Yes, yes. Don’t get all sentimental on me,” Matoh said with a smile, but then looked thoughtful. “Why would there be two giant metal rods sticking up out the sand in the middle of the desert?”
“I don’t know. Why would there be a door I can’t open, or a shape-shifting monster chasing me?” Wayran asked.
“Good point. I forgot to ask about the monster.” Matoh lay with his arms crossed behind his head. “What was it this time?”
“A knight, then a worm, and then the tall man.”
“Hmmm.” Matoh rubbed his chin in thought. “The tall guy’s handsome, right? You’ve said that before.”
“Yes, so what?”
“So a tall, handsome man, a worm, and two long metal spikes?” Matoh’s eyebrow rose. “Suggestive just isn't a strong enough word. You've got issues, brother.”
Wayran rolled his eyes and flopped back into his hammock. “Oh shut up. It was a nightmare. Why do I tell you anything?”
Matoh laughed, “You feel better, though, right?”
Wayran sighed. “Yes. I suppose there’s that.”
“So we win, and nightmares lose,” Matoh said with a note of finality. “Come on, we might as well get up. The sun’s rising, and it's your big day today.”
Wayran didn’t need reminding. He shook his head once more to clear any lingering elements of the nightmare, and then took a deep breath. "Alright. I won’t get back to sleep anyways.”
They dressed quickly and crept through the small corridor into the kitchen. Aunt Sandra, who was also the ship's cook, was up and preparing breakfast for everyone.
"You two are up early," Aunt Sandra said as she sliced through a pineapple. "Nervous are we, Wayran?"
"Yes, though I don't know how I couldn't be." Wayran picked up a honey-glazed bun, an apple and a slice of ham before pouring himself some hot water from the big kettle on the stove for a cup of tea.
“I’m sure you’ll do just fine. You haven’t had any trouble on the smaller runs,” Aunt Sandra said with a quick, reassuring smile.
“So, Uncle Aaron is pretty sure that today we’ll find a big one?” Wayran asked. “How can he be so sure?”
“Well, when you’ve been out in the Wastes for as long as we’ve been out here, you get to know the rhythms of it all. Yesterday was very hot, and today is going to be a scorcher as well, you can already feel it in the air. Plus, your uncle’s charted a lot of barometric pressure readings with that gizmo Chronicler Rutherford made for him. Aaron say’s the pressure’s been getting lower each day, and since we’re headed towards the coast, we should run into a dry cold front.”
Wayran bobbed his head, putting together the pieces. It sounded like Uncle Aaron was right, which shouldn’t really surprise him.
“You understood all that?” Matoh asked, raising an eyebrow at Wayran.
“Yes, you see the lower pressure indicates –”
“Stop.” Matoh held up a hand. “I don’t want to know. There is only so much room for understanding in a person’s mind, and I don’t want that nonsense pushing out anything useful.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.” Wayran squinted his eyes at his brother and knew Matoh was only pretending to be thick. Matoh could understand anything he set his mind to, he just wasn’t the slightest bit interested in science.
Matoh winked at him as if knowing what Wayran was thinking.
Wayran rolled his eyes and turned back to Aunt Sandra. “So it’s probably going to be a big one today?”
“Most likely.” Aunt Sandra pushed all the pineapple pieces into a large bowl. “Go on, get your plates full and then get up top. I’m sure there are a dozen things you need to check before you’re ready, and I’ve got meals to prepare.”
Wayran grabbed another honey-glazed bun and some of the pineapple while Matoh filled another plate completely before they made their way up to the top deck.
A hint of sunrise still coloured the horizon as they climbed the narrow ladder up to the main deck. Wayran once again found himself marvelling at the incredible vista. He didn’t know if he’d ever get used to seeing things from so high up in the air.
He followed Matoh across the main deck to the edge of the bespoke landing platform. Most sailing ships never entertained the idea of a glider landing platform, but then again, most ships were built to stay on the sea and never entertained the idea of being hoisted up hundreds of feet into the air by a floating Jendar hull.
Wayran looked up in wonder at the ancient and otherworldly Jendar hull above them. It looked like a giant grey egg, yet if you looked closer at the skin, you could see sparkling pebble-like bumps all the way around it. But the real marvels were inside this giant floating egg. Purple gaseous light danced within the hull, with lines of ghostly blue filaments floating through it.
No one really understood how it worked, but Uncle Aaron had figured out enough of the ancient Jendar controls to make the floating hull go where he wanted it to. Thus, Deliverance, the only known airship in the entire world, came to be, after Uncle Aaron had tied his old caravel to the bottom of the floating hull.
Wonders like the hull overhead were the real reason Wayran had been working so hard to get a place on his Uncle’s crew. No one could get as far into the Wastes as his uncle with this airship, and deep within the Wastes was where Wayran was going to find out what really happened to the Jendar. How had the ancient and vastly technologically superior civilisation simply ceased to exist? They had disappeared almost overnight leaving nothing but ruins and relics of their glorious past. So much had been lost, but all of that forgotten knowledge was waiting for him to find somewhere beneath the sands.
Wayran popped another piece of pineapple into his mouth hoping the sweet juice would help wake him up. He walked across the main deck to peer out at the horizon, seeking a glimpse of sunlight off glass somewhere in the distance. He had seen the flashes before. They were the tell-tale signs of Jendar ruins and their soaring glass towers.
He stared out past the horizontal masts of the airship, which extended like massive fingers into the sky beside them. Wide triangular sails billowed from the masts both above and below the landing deck. The sails on the bottom flowed out sideways like inverted bat-wings, while the sails above soared to the top of the bulging Jendar hull looming overhead like a giant wingless bee. Rigging crisscross
“I can see why you like this,” Matoh said as he stared out towards the horizon. “Pretty spectacular, I have to admit. I’m glad I caught you all in Sandton. This is probably the last time we’ll get to spend together for a long while.”
Wayran was surprised at the sentiment, but Matoh was right. Once Wayran passed his test, he would be travelling through the Wastes for most of the year with only the occasional trip back to any form of civilisation. Whereas Matoh would almost immediately start training at the Royal Military Academy once this run in the Wastes was completed.
“Yes,” Wayran agreed. “Sad, when you put it that way.”
They sat sipping their tea in contented silence, just watching the world wake up. Finally, Wayran shook himself out of his reverie and looked over at Matoh. “Try not to do anything stupid today if you have to fill in again, alright?”
“We were having a moment,” Matoh scoffed, but saw Wayran was serious. “Fine, I won’t do anything stupid, as long as you try not to be so patronising.” Matoh’s all too familiar crooked grin lit his face.
“I’m serious, Matoh. Just follow the plan,” Wayran said.
“I do follow the plan!” Matoh protested. “Well, the spirit of the plan anyways. There is always room for improvement once you get into the field.”
“That’s not your call. You’re just filling in because James broke his arm a few weeks ago. Uncle Aaron doesn’t need you messing things up just because you want to show off,” Wayran said. He knew his words were doing nothing but antagonising Matoh, yet he couldn’t stop himself. His nerves were already making him edgy.
“Wayran, stop freaking out,” Matoh said with more calm understanding than Wayran would have given him credit for. “Things will be fine. If Uncle Aaron needs me again today, I’ll go and do my job. You just focus on what you need to do.”