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Authors: Ginn Hale

10: his holy bones

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His Holy Bones

Book Ten of The Rifter

 

 By

Ginn Hale

 

 

 

 

 

His Holy Bones

Book Ten of the Rifter

By Ginn Hale

 

Published by:

Blind Eye Books

1141 Grant Street

Bellingham, WA 98225

blindeyebooks.com

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may used or reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews.

 

Edited by Nicole Kimberling

Cover art, maps and all illustrations by Dawn Kimberling

Proofreading by Jemma Everyhope

 

This book is a work of fiction. All characters and situations depicted are fictional. Any resemblances to actual people or events are coincidental.

 

First edition December 2011

Copyright © 2011 Ginn Hale

 

ISBN 978-1-935560-10-4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huge thanks to all the great people at  Goodreads.

Andy, Antonella, Astrid, Barb, BeC, Blaize, Bluesimplicty, Calathea, Caryn,David, Diane, Dlee, Em-nat, Eugenie, Gwendolyn, Jen, Jenre, Jill, Josh, Kassa, Kate, Katee-nz, Kiyokyo, Komkon2, Kristin, Laura, Leslie, Liade, Lisa, Mandy M, mariana, Meraehl, Merith, Merwan, Michael, Michael, Michelle, Mmj, Moniquee, Nikyta, Nithu, ns, Orannia, Philipp, Pink, Pushubuu, Renee, Rosmary, Sagajo, Sally, Sarah, sms,Sujata,Susan, Sylvie, Tashina, Vanyel,Whitney, Zelda—you’ve all made this project wonderful!

 

—Ginn

 

 

  

The Story So Far:

 

Kyle left behind his name and home when he was ordained as the Kahlil of the Payshmura Church. In the foreign world of Nayeshi, he watched over the destroyer incarnation of the god Parfir, though the young man—John Toffler—had no idea of his deadly potential.

Only once in ten years did Kyle desert his duty, leaving Nayeshi to rescue his sister, Rousma, from the burning convent of Umbhra’ibaye. After a deadly battle against the witch Ji Shir’korud, he returns with his sister only to discover that John and two of his friends have intercepted a message meant for the Kahlil alone: they’ve taken the golden key that unlocks the Rifter’s death.  Unwittingly, John and his friends have used the key and traveled to Kyle’s home world of Basawar.

Though the Great Gate is damaged, Kyle follows John in order to stop him from unleashing untold ruin on his home. However, the passage back to Basawar not only throws Kyle forward in time but leaves him badly injured and deeply changed. He neither bears the ugly red scar that once disfigured his face, nor does he possess the Prayerscars that marked him as Kahlil—instead he carries a small, red Fai’daum tattoo. But most jarringly, his memories are a jumble of contradictions.

Fortunately, Alidas, a captain of the Bousim rashan’im in the vibrant city of Nurjima, takes Kyle in. Kyle spends two years as Alidas’ secret weapon—an assassin who can walk through walls and kill with just a touch of his hand.

When Kyle is deployed to stop an assassination against the leader of the Fai’daum—a powerful sorcerer called Jath’ibaye—he uncovers a much larger plot among a small group of nobles to seize control of Basawar and breach the world of Nayeshi. While the ambitious and seductive Ourath Lisam seems to be in control, Kyle soon learns that he and his Bousim conspirators are in league with a man from Kyle’s shattered past—his nemesis, Fikiri. At the same time he discovers that Jath’ibaye is John—the Rifter. Unlike Kyle, who was thrown forward in Basawar’s history, John fell into the past and has altered the world’s history as well as events in Kyle’s early life.

Despite orders to the contrary, Kyle intervenes in the assassination attempt against Jath’ibaye. Both the Bousim heir, Nanvess, and another noble gaunan, Esh’illan, are killed in the ensuing battle. Though injured, Kyle takes possession of the mystic blade, the yasi’halaun, which Fikiri planned to feed on the Rifter’s blood and use to open a gateway to Nayeshi.

In the aftermath of the killings, Jath’ibaye evacuates his people, including Kyle, to the Fai’daum lands in the north. Misled by Ourath, the gaun’im rally their armies to avenge Nanvess and Esh’illan and march on the Fai’daum stronghold of Vundomu.

 In Vundomu, Kyle is welcomed by the Fai’daum, but soon he realizes that he is not the man who some of them believe him to be—Jath’ibaye’s dead lover, Ravishan. Still, he and Jath’ibaye grow closer and Kyle takes on a student, Pesha.

With Alidas’ aid Kyle is able to stop the  guan’im attack. This allows Ji to use the yasi’halaun to devour many of the hungry bones, which Fikiri and Laurie have unleashed against the people of the north.  However, in Jath’ibaye’s absence Fikiri launches a surprise attack. Ji dies  and Pesha is just able to escape with the yasi’halaun. Enraged, Kyle battles Fikiri into the depths of the northern ruins where he kills him. But only then does he discovers that he is trapped by Laurie...

         •

When John uses a key that belongs to his mysterious, scarred roommate, Kyle, to unlock a door in a crumbling ruin, he and two friends are transported to the world of Basawar.

There, John befriends and eventually becomes the lover of a young priest named Ravishan.  Bill and Laurie are sheltered by Lady Bousim, whose son Fikiri is also an ushiri priest like Ravishan. But as rivalries and secrets multiply John and Ravishan are soon betrayed by Fikiri and John narrowly escapes being burned alive on the Holy Road.

In the Bousim house, Bill is murdered and in her violent revenge against Bill’s killer Laurie betrays her powers as a witch. She and her unborn child are taken to Umbhra’ibaye where she will be made into one of the skeletal issusha oracles.

John and Ravishan join the Fai’daum rebels, where John hopes that he will be able to aid them in bringing down the Payshmura Church and thus free Laurie and Ravishan’s sister Rousma. And he isn’t alone in shifting his alliegance. Fikiri too soon seeks the  sanctuary of the Fai’daum and is taken in by them.

While both Fikiri and Ravishan use their powers as ushiri’im to carry messages and perform assassinations, John remains in the north. There, he begins to hone his powers and earns the name Jath’ibaye.

After John and his old friend Hann’yu expose the extent of the Payshmura Church’s corruption the kahlirash’im of Vundomu rebel against the Payshmura Church. Because they are devotees of the Rifter, Ravishan chooses to stand and fight beside the kahlirash’im when the armies of the north attack them.

In desperation, John unleashes his destructive power to reach Ravishan in time to save him and the stronghold of Vundomu. Though he destroys the Payshmura and Bousim armies, he also devastates Vumdomu and arrives only to discover Ravishan dying of a mortal wound from a curse blade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ninety-Eight

 

The old priest moved from cot to cot, murmuring a constant stream of Payshmura incantations. He treated the wounded kahlirash’im with herb poultices that had been mixed with John’s blood. John was vaguely aware that more injured men were being brought in. Bloody, almost inhuman shapes stretched across pallets that covered much of the floor.

He had borne the injuries of many of the wounded, but many more were beyond his aid. Over those, the old priest simply whispered last rites.

John remained kneeling beside Ravishan’s cot, watching the slow rise and fall of his breathing. John’s legs had gone numb against the stone floor. The countless cuts, burns, and bruises that mottled his body seemed to sink into one constant ache. Just below his right shoulder blade, the wound he bore for Ravishan flared and smoldered like an ember slowly burning out against his skin.

John watched Ravishan for any sign of consciousness. He breathed, but that was all. His eyes didn’t flicker beneath his eyelids. Not even the faintest expression moved over his face. The proud tension that played through Ravishan’s every motion had gone, leaving behind a beautiful muscular body that lay as inanimate as the blankets wrapped around it.

John watched Ravishan take one shallow breath after another. He felt like he had been kneeling here for days.

“Please wake up,” John whispered. “I came for you. I came all this way. Please…”

Ravishan lay like a stone.

No, not even that accessible to John. A stone he could have reached into and felt its strength. With Ravishan there was nothing. John bowed his head against the cot.

“Most holy lord.” Wah’roa’s voice came from behind John.

“Don’t call me that,” John said.

There was a long silence.

“Call me Jath’ibaye,” John said at last. Reluctantly, he turned away from Ravishan.

Wah’roa and another kahlirash crouched on the floor, staring intently down at the stone tiles. Their uniforms were wet, muddy, and torn. The men themselves didn’t look much better. Water dripped from their braided hair, leaving pale tracks through the soot, mud, and dried blood that spattered their faces. They knelt in silence and John realized they were waiting for his acknowledgement.

“What is it, Wah’roa?”

“Most hol—” Wah’roa caught himself. “My lord Jath’ibaye.” He glanced up at John.

“Just Jath’ibaye,” John said. “I’m no one’s lord.”

Wah’roa clearly took exception to John’s statement but then didn’t seem to know how to proceed. He lowered his gaze. “We have come to present you with what is yours and to beg your aid and benevolence.”

Wah’roa reverently lifted a bundle of black silk from his coat and laid it in front of John. A design of red crescent moons decorated the edges of the cloth. John unfolded the silk, revealing another layer of silk, this one dark red. Beneath the smooth surface of the fabric he felt something hard and rough. He pushed aside the red silk to reveal a pocked white thigh bone. A tingling, almost electric sensation played through John’s hands as he held them over the bone. He looked to Wah’roa.

“This is the bone that the yasi’halaun was to be carved from. It’s a Rifter’s bone, isn’t it?”

“It is yours, my lord Jath’ibaye. We have guarded it faithfully. And now we present it to you, so that your enemies will not have use of it.”

“Thank you,” John said. He stared at the bone. It was small and looked so fragile, and yet he could feel a presence to it. Hecould feel something like the power and life he sensed in the earth and wind. Very gently, John lifted the bone from the swathes of silk. It seemed to vibrate in his hands, sending resonant waves through his muscle and bones. He could almost hear a low note ringing through him like the hum of a tuning fork. It felt sweet and pure. The bone shimmered and then melted into John’s hands, leaving them feeling warm and just a little stronger.

John remained staring at his hands for several seconds, before he realized that the kahlirash’im were still kneeling before him, waiting.

“You said that you needed my aid?” John asked Wah’roa.

“Yes, most holy lord.” Wah’roa’s voice was hushed with awe. “Many of your faithful are trapped on the lower terraces and cannot escape the fires. We have attempted to reach them, but most of the walkways between the terraces have been destroyed. The few still standing are badly cracked and we’re afraid that they may collapse.”

John closed his eyes and briefly allowed his senses to spread over the ravaged mass of Vundomu. He’d all but demolished the first three terraces. The fourth terrace remained, but its buildings, walkways, and walls were all collapsed. Huge fires blazed where an armory once stood. Most of the buildings still stood on the fifth and sixth terraces, but they were riddled with oil fires and cracked infrastructure. Only here on the seventh terrace, where the watchtowers and the Temple of the Rifter stood, did the buildings retain their structural integrity.

If people were trapped on the lower terraces, he had to help get them out. He didn’t want to leave Ravishan, but he knew he was of no further use here in the infirmary.

“I’ll do what I can.” John stood.

Wah’roa and the other two kahlirash’im followed him out. In the temple’s central chamber, the huge black statue of the Rifter gazed down upon a sea of dirty, injured refugees. John guessed that several hundred people now huddled in the temple’s shelter. They crouched on saddle blankets and prayer mats. Nearly all of them looked cold and very few of them had coats. Most ofthe men wore the thin work clothes and leather aprons of metal smiths. The few women and children were dressed in simple shifts. They lowered their heads as John walked past.

“I pray that you will forgive us, most ho— Jath’ibaye.” Wah’roa seemed almost unable to address John by just his name. “We gave shelter to the women accused of witchcraft. We did not intend to defile your sacred temple with their presence. We will put them out at once—”

“No, let them stay,” John said. “I’d be far more offended if you didn’t allow women inside the temple than if you did.”

Wah’roa raised his brows but said nothing. The other kahlirash, a skinny young man with a badly bruised face, quickly wrote something down on a small roll of paper.

“What are you doing?” John asked him, though he already had an uneasy feeling that he knew the answer.

“I am recording your sacred edicts, my most—most, my lord, Jath’ibaye.” The young man flushed dark red and bowed his head.

“My sacred edicts can be recorded later.” John tried not to let his frustration creep into his voice. Of course they expected edicts; they probably expected far more. He was the Rifter and they had dedicated their lives to him. The trouble was that their Rifter—that magnificent, righteous deity whose statue loomed up in the temple—was not John. Their Rifter was the promise of divine justice and unfailing courage. John could promise neither of those things. He was tired and hurt and worried that all he could bring to these people was more ruin.

 “Right now I’m…” John glanced at the black walls of the temple where golden script invoked divine wrath and salvation and then to the proud ferocity of the statue of the Rifter. Both Wah’roa and the young kahlirash stared at him.

He couldn’t be their Rifter. He could just barely manage to be a Fai’daum witch.

“I think we should just concentrate on rebuilding the walkways and putting out the fires,” John said at last. He glanced to the young kahlirash. “Look…what’s your name?”

“Sen’an, my—Jath’ibaye.” The young kahlirash said his namewith almost breathless reverence.

“Sen’an,” John said the name, trying to impress it upon his exhausted mind. “There’s no need to write down everything I say. All right?”

Sen’an stared at John for several moments and John wasn’t sure if the young kahlirash was too startled by being directly addressed to respond or if he just didn’t believe what John had said. Then suddenly Sen’an bowed. He tucked his paper and clay pen back into his pocket. Wah’roa studied John with his head cocked slightly to one side but said nothing.

Outside the temple, the bodies of dead kahlirash’im and ushiri’im still littered the steps and shattered tiles of the courtyard. Freezing rain pelted down through violent gusts of wind. The cold lashed over John’s bare chest. He shuddered. Both Wah’roa and the young kahlirash looked a little surprised. Wah’roa began to pull off his own coat, but John stopped him.

“It’s too cold for anyone to be out without a coat,” John said.

He knelt down beside the body of a kahlirash who had died in the shelter of the temple steps. Blood soaked the left side of his coat, but otherwise it was dry.

“I don’t mean any offense,” John said. He glanced to Wah’roa.

“It’s filthy,” Wah’roa said. “I can get a coat from one of the men in the temple.”

“People are going to need their coats, and you know that I’ve worn worse than this,” John said.

Wah’roa looked a little confused.

“Remember when Alidas told you about first meeting me? I was dressed in rags and weasel pelts,” John reminded him.

Wah’roa stared at John for a moment and then seemed to remember.

“You came here as the Kahlil’s attendant,” Wah’roa said slowly.

John nodded. “That’s how I knew your name.” Briefly John wondered how Wah’roa had imagined that he had known his name. Divine knowledge? John supposed people expected deities to simply know their names. Maybe that was why Sen’an had seemed so startled when John had asked.

“Yes, I remember now.” Wah’roa regarded him levelly. Johnthought he could almost see Wah’roa attempting to merge his memory of an awkward attendant with his concept of the Rifter. He wondered if this might be the kind of experience that made a man lose his faith. John almost hoped that it was. Instead, Wah’roa said, “You were in Gisa as well, at the prison gates.”

“I was.” John gently lifted the dead kahlirash and stripped off his coat, socks, and boots. He whispered a blessing over the body, then dressed quickly in the dead man’s clothes. As he set out for the lower terraces of Vundomu, Wah’roa and Sen’an followed him, both seemingly dazed.  

The shortest path to the edge of the terrace was easy to find. John had created it himself on his way to the temple. Each footstep and brush of his hand had left a path of shattered walls and cratered flagstones. Once or twice John noticed men staring out at him from the pitted buildings that lined the street. When he looked up to meet their gazes, they bowed their heads.

From the crumbling wall at the edge of the seventh terrace, John took in the vast devastation that he had wrought on Vundomu.

As his gaze descended the terraces, the damage became more severe. Cracked stone and exposed iron supports on the seventh terrace gave way to shattered walls, ruptured buildings, on the fourth. Tangled railroad tracks, and oil fires were all that remained of the first. Plumes of smoke rose on the wind, only to crumple under the onslaught of the rain.

Beyond the walls of Vundomu, wreckage spilled out across the valley in a chaos of splintered rock, limbs, and mud. And past that, a huge chasm spread north for miles. The bodies of men and animals, crushed supply wagons, and cracked mortars littered every inch of the ground.

Sickness washed over John. He wanted to look away, but he couldn’t. He noticed movements on the terrace directly below him. A group of kahlirash’im hauled rubble from the remains of a stable. John could hear the distressed cries of the tahldi trapped inside. One of the kahlirash’im looked up.

“I think the central supports held,” the kahlirash shouted up to Wah’roa.

“We’ll have a walkway cleared and stabilized by the time you get them out,” Wah’roa called back.

John realized that now was not the time for self-recrimination. He might not be the Rifter that the kahlirash’im expected, but he could stabilize a walkway and clear rubble. So right now, he was the Rifter that they needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Ninety-Nine

 

 John went to work at once, examining the remains of the wide walkway that had connected the sixth and seventh terraces. A few iron supports jutted out from the terrace wall. The rest of the walkway lay strewn over the street below in massive fragments of stone. John drew long filaments from the exposed iron struts and painstakingly pulled arches and supports up from shattered heaps of granite. He fought against the natural, simple forms of the stone and metal, forcing them to flow into architecture. His body ached. He drank strength from the fury of the storm above him and then descended to the sixth terrace. As he built another walkway and then another, the brutal rain ceased.

All around him, workmen and kahlirash’im looked on in awe. Most of the workmen backed away as he strode near them, but the kahlirash’im bowed down. John heard them uttering prayers to the Rifter and whispering his praise as he moved past them. Behind him, Wah’roa gave his men quick orders and commanded the workmen back to their endeavors.

 John only stopped when he reached the remnants of the walkway connecting the fifth and fourth terraces. Wah’roa and Sen’an halted just a little behind him. Below them entire blocks of the fourth terrace blazed. Munitions from the armory exploded, spewing fragments of rock, metal, and burning wood into the air. Without the rain to restrain them, geysers of flame shot up over the streets, nearly reaching over the walls of the fifth terrace. The heat rolled over John, scorching his bare face.

 John stared down at the sea of fire. The smoke burned his eyes and caught in his throat. Even after all the crushing, bloody injuries he had endured, the thought of being burned alive still terrified him. The memory of the writhing, charred bodies on the Holy Road curled up in his mind, triggered by the sharp scent of smoke and veru oil. He couldn’t imagine any worse pain than burning. But the fires needed to be extinguished and there was no one else to do it.

“You should probably stay up here,” John told Wah’roa and Sen’an. Wah’roa bowed his head. Sen’an nodded, but his gaze hardly wavered from the roiling flames that arched and roared all across the fourth terrace.

John’s heart hammered in his chest. His entire body trembled. He closed his eyes against the blinding light. Then he drew a brutal wind around him and descended into the inferno.

He braced himself against the agony of burning, but the pain never came. Flames rushed over him and died instantly. Reflexively, he drank them in as he had the storm. The wild energy twisted and churned inside him, but John refused to release it. He walked through the flaming armory, devouring heat and light and leaving cold ashes in his wake.

Sometime near dusk he completed the last walkway, cleared the wreckage of the railway, and reached the shattered remnants of the valley. The bodies of dead men and tahldi blanketed the earth as far as John could see. He turned away.

When he returned to the sixth terrace, he found the kahlirash’im and their loyal ushvun’im still searching for survivors in the wreckage of the stables and barracks. John joined them. He lifted stones carefully by hand and reached deep into the spaces between the stones. He found bodies and terribly crushed remains. He dug one mutilated boy free only to watch him die in his arms.

John almost broke down then. He could never even hope to mend the damage he had done here. The destruction seemed endless and irreparable. He didn’t know if he could stand to see any more burned remains or crushed bodies. He wanted to walk away to somewhere quiet and safe to escape from the all-encompassing ruin.

But he knew he couldn’t give up. He had brought this devastation down on Vundomu and he had to do all he could to make amends. He hauled stones away and pushed shattered beams aside. There were still people alive in the wreckage. He couldn’t stop. Even after darkness fell, John continued to dig through the rubble for those last few faint lives he sensed buried beneath the perfect masses of stone.

He freed seven workmen trapped in the lift shafts and another ten who had been buried inside boxcars in the train yard.

By the time the sun rose, John had freed another twelve men and five tahldi and he knew that there were no more left alive. His arms felt like dead weights. The muscles of his back and waist ached from the constant exertion. It hurt just to breathe.

John glanced up to the seventh terrace where the morning sunlight gleamed off the black tiles of the Rifter’s temple. He wanted to see Ravishan.

But there were still more collapsed buildings. And there were oil fires to be dealt with as well. John dragged himself back to work. He extinguished the fires threatening the two remaining grain silos. He dragged bodies to a stone warehouse where they could be given rites and then burned.

In the afternoon, while Wah’roa’s men took stock of the meager supplies remaining in Vundomu, John returned to the infirmary. He knelt beside Ravishan’s cot and curled his hand around Ravishan’s.

Ravishan’s fingers were like ice. The memory of so many other deathly cold bodies knifed through John. He stared at Ravishan, watching him breathe, reassuring himself that Ravishan still lived. He was too tired to say or do anything else.

Behind him the old priest still tended the wounded men. Two other men had come to join him. All of them shied away from John, never meeting his eyes or speaking to him. Out in the main chamber of the temple, John could hear men praying. The kahlirash’im prayed for strength. But common priests and workmen wept. They begged the Rifter for mercy, begged him not to end their world.

John watched Ravishan in silence. Steadily three days of exhaustion crept over him. He bowed his head against the edge of the cot and closed his eyes.

He slept, but not peacefully. His dreams were a chaos of flames and the shrieking Gray Space. He caught glimpses of Ravishan. Strange black forms writhed over him, and when John reached out to pull Ravishan free, his arms came back filled with nothing but dripping black tar.

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