Echoes of a Gloried Past
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Aaron Jace barely survived his last encounter with the Drake, a ruthless technological advancement constructed to murder the Alenzar'seth, the Lords of Shandara. Sarah, the woman he loves, has been kidnapped by the deadly machine, and Aaron's closest allies suggest he abandon all hope of ever seeing her again.
As Aaron recovers, rumors of the Alenzar'seth's return begin to spread throughout Safanar, causing kingdoms to mobilize their armies for war. The pressure is rising, and Aaron knows the people of Safanar are all in grave danger.
Aaron has one shot to protect his love and stave off war, but it will leave him vulnerable to the cunning High King Amorak and the vile Elitesmen Order. If he fails, the world will fall and nothing can save Sarah from an irreversible transformation.
Echoes of a Gloried Past is the second installment in The Safanarion Order, an epic fantasy series that fans are calling a perfect blend of magic and technology. Expect a gripping tale with a rapid pace, detailed and realistic world-building, exquisite villains, and excitement on every page. Author Ken Lozito continues the high-octane action in the next book of his sword and sorcery series.
If you love Terry Brooks, then start reading this worthy successor today!
Release date: April 20, 2014
Publisher: Acoustical Books LLC
Print pages: 390
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Echoes of a Gloried Past
Time passed as Aaron slipped in and out of consciousness, occasionally awakening to the muttering of voices, both familiar and not. The steady rise and fall of the airship as it rode the winds was gone, replaced by a soft bed. He forced his eyes open again, ignoring their determination to remain shut. Sunlight and a gentle breeze oozed their way in through the balcony doors on the far side of the room. The harsh burning on his back where the Ryakul clawed him had faded to a dull ache. Stretching his neck, he slowly turned his head, trying to wake up. Stiff limbs quickly yielded to movement as he sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He was almost naked except for where his wounds had been cleaned and dressed. The skin of his arms and legs was dotted with the remnants of faded bruises. A brown robe hung near a metallic chest across the room. The rune-carved staff rested on the wall near the chest along with his medallion, which sparkled in the sunlight, sending hazy dragon emblems upon the smooth walls. He swung his feet to the floor and bit his lower lip, wincing at the burning pain along his back that flared at his movement. The tiled floor warmed beneath his feet. He took a steadying breath and slowly rose. The more he moved, the less his body seemed to protest.
Aaron crossed the room and pulled the robe on, tying it off at his waist. Its silky fabric felt cool on his skin. His mind still felt muddled, as if he were still waking up. He stepped out onto the balcony into the warm sunlight, allowing it to caress his face. He slowly stretched his arms out to either side, feeling the tender skin protest at first and then give way to the slow movements of his arms. Birds chirped nearby, and a few hawks circled high above him. As he glanced to the side, he saw the outlines of white buildings, which appeared more like pods joined together than the grandeur of the architecture of Shandara. He reached out and ran his fingers along the outer wall, and where his fingers met the surface it turned black. Aaron removed his hand, and the color returned to white. He ran his fingers along the outer doorframe, watching as the surface went from white to dark and back again.
More technology, Aaron thought to himself, and then his thoughts turned to Sarah. She was out there somewhere, under the influence of the Drake. Images of the battle flashed in his mind like lightning. He closed his eyes and tried to draw the energy into himself, but felt as if he were trying to grasp something made of smoke. He couldn’t reach out to her. How could the Drake control her so easily? He suppressed a shiver, remembering her baleful yellow eyes looking back at him. With a gasp, he held onto the balcony railing and opened his eyes, filling his vision with the clear skies to keep from seeing her that way, but his last image of Sarah was burned into his mind. He hadn’t anticipated the Drake taking a prisoner. Instead, foolishly believing that its only aim was to kill him. His pulse quickened while his hands clutched at the railings.
“You’re awake!” Verona said, coming into the room through a metallic door that slid silently into the wall. “They said it would be another day.” He poured some water and handed the cup to Aaron.
“Thank you,” Aaron said, taking a sip of water. “How long have I been out?”
“Three days. It was touch and go there for a while, my friend. The Ryakul’s claws are quite poisonous,” said Verona.
“Sarah?” Aaron asked, fearing the answer in his friend’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, but we haven’t seen her or the Drake since Shandara,” Verona said.
Aaron nodded slowly, expecting as much. He sipped the water, tasting the faint hints of cinnamon, and felt his stomach tighten for a moment.
“It’s medicine that will help purge the remaining poison from your body.”
Aaron remained standing and allowed the queasiness to pass. “Where are we?" he asked.
“We’re with the Hythariam, north of Shandara in a place called Hathenwood,” answered Verona.
“Is everyone… Did everyone else make it?” Aaron asked.
“Yes.” Verona smiled. “Some bumps and bruises and a few shallow cuts, but the Hythariam helped with those as well. The repairs to the Raven will be complete in the next day or so, and the Hythariam are installing some extra things that will help against the Ryakuls,” Verona said.
Aaron sighed and felt his shoulders slump in relief. He stretched his neck and rolled his shoulders, still feeling the effects of the medicine. He needed a clear head, and the medicine didn’t appear to be helping with that. “I’d like to take a walk.”
Verona frowned for a second before giving a small nod. “There is clothing in there,” he said, pointing to the chest. “I’ll give you a few minutes to change, and then we should get some food in you.”
Verona left the room by placing his hand on a pad near the door, and the door slid silently into the adjoining wall. More technology, Aaron thought. He walked over to the chest, which didn’t have any handles. He placed his palm on top of a pad similar to the one on the door, and a drawer extended from the bottom. The clothes were loose fitting and, like the robe, felt good on his skin. He pulled on black boots that molded themselves to the contours of his feet. He stood up and noted how comfortable they felt while being both sturdy yet almost weightless at the same time. They were a clear improvement over the hiking boots he had brought with him from Earth. He hung the medallion around his neck and grabbed the rune-carved staff. It was a good walking stick, after all.
Aaron exited the room into a quiet hallway where Verona waited. His stomach rumbled noisily, giving Verona the audible clue he needed to lead the way. As they made their way down the hall, a Hythariam appeared, heading in their direction. His golden eyes flashed briefly in surprise, then with a nod to each of them, he turned back the way he had come.
“We’ve had you on constant watch since arriving the other day,” Verona said. “Eric and Braden had only just left your door earlier at my insistence.” After Aaron nodded he continued, “I know you want answers, and you’ll get them, but I must tell you that it’s really good to see you awake, my friend.”
“Was it that bad? The poison, I mean,” Aaron asked.
“Lethal to most people almost immediately. Even the Hythariam will die if they don’t get help in time.”
“Colind?” Aaron asked.
“Will be anxious to see you. He’s been all but locked in a room with Iranus, Vaughn, and several other Hythariam. I haven’t seen much of them since I kept Eric and Braden company.”
“Thanks,” Aaron said and swallowed a lump down his throat as the image of Sarah’s smiling face flashed in his mind. They walked in silence, and the more he moved, the better he felt. Aaron could tell that Verona was holding something back and guessed he didn’t want to overburden him. The rune-carved staff proved to be a good walking stick, even on the smooth metallic gray floors. The farther they ventured from his room, the more Hythariam they came across. Most nodded in friendly greeting, but some looked at him with worry in their golden eyes. Those eyes were so similar to the Drake, it was disconcerting.
“Is it much farther?” Aaron asked.
“Not much. We can rest if you need,” Verona answered, gesturing toward one of the benches along the wall.
“I’ll be fine,” Aaron said, waving him on.
The corridors echoed of people walking, and muffled conversations could be heard throughout the place. Wherever they were, there was a bustle of activity. They turned down another corridor, and Aaron smelt food, making his mouth water. He just needed to eat, then he wanted answers.
Verona took him to an open courtyard filled with tables and benches, which was a cross between a garden and an outdoor cafeteria. People took plates of food from several buffet stations strategically placed throughout. Aaron selected food by Verona giving either a nod of approval for some or a vigorous shake of his head for things to avoid. He stuck mostly with vegetables and meat, preferring not to experiment with things he couldn’t readily identify.
The Hythariam still glanced in their direction, with some whispering to their companions, and others nodding in friendly greeting. Aaron had never seen so many golden eyes and was surprised to see green ones as well. They were very similar to humans except that their eyes were just a bit bigger and had an almost feline quality to them. They wore clothing of the same quality as he had been given, which Aaron found quite comfortable. Nothing too colorful, and all could have blended easily in a forest if needed. The occasional cyan-colored scarf adorned some of the women, and similarly colored cords were tied around the arms of the men.
They ate in silence, or more like Verona watched as Aaron devoured his meal. The moment the first bite passed his lips, he was filled with an overwhelming need to eat. He was starving. They washed down their meal with water, and Aaron felt his mind clear and more of his strength return.
“You’re looking more human now,” Verona said.
“Feeling like it, too,” Aaron answered.
They were approached by a tall Hythariam with raven hair and green eyes. He had the bearing of a soldier though he was out of uniform. He gave a slight bow to them both and said, “Hello, I am Gavril. Iranus sends his greetings and asks for you to join him and Colind, if you are able.”
Aaron shot to his feet, ready to follow Gavril, and Verona rose as well.
“It’s not far,” Gavril said and led them down a short corridor lined with glass doors. Behind each of the doors appeared to be oval-shaped rooms that hung suspended over tracks heading in different directions. They stepped into one of the rooms, and a panel opened on its far side. Gavril keyed in some of the buttons on the holographic touch screen. “The tram will get us there much faster than on foot,” Gavril said, and the door quietly shut behind them.
The tram shot forth, following one of the tracks leading outside. Verona looked delighted, and Aaron reached immediately for something to hold onto before he realized that while they were moving quite fast, he hardly felt as if they were moving at all. Aaron figured the trams must have some type of dampeners to suppress the forces that would put them off balance. Gavril studied their reactions and nodded to himself.
The tram took them outside, and Aaron looked out the window at the complex of buildings from which they left. Some were similar to the style he had seen in Shandara but more modern by comparison. Where Shandara had buildings and gardens complementing each other in their design, the complex of the Hythariam buildings seemed to be more sparse and functional rather than built for appearances. After a few minutes, they approached another set of buildings mostly hidden by the trees, but Aaron saw a few metallic towers strategically placed around a central octagonal dome that peaked over the tree line. The tram entered one of the tunnels near the dome, and Aaron watched the track disappear behind them into darkness. They exited the tram, and Gavril led them away from the platform.
Aaron was growing tired but refused to give in, and he straightened up when he felt himself start to stoop. Gavril pressed his palm to a panel, and the metallic door quietly hissed open. Colind and Vaughn turned immediately and came over to greet Aaron.
“You should not be up and about yet,” spoke a silky voice behind him. Aaron turned to see a beautiful raven-haired Hythariam reach inside her pocket and pull out a device. She held the device inches away from his head and slowly scanned down his back.
“Aaron,” spoke an older Hythariam, “please forgive my daughter, Roselyn. She is a healer first and person second. Do you remember me? I am Iranus, and I’m most pleased to see you recovering so quickly.”
Aaron remembered Iranus, with his long white hair contrasted by his golden eyes. He had been among those on the ship that rescued him when he fell. “I do remember you,” he replied.
“Since you’re here and not resting in your bed where you should be, give me a moment to examine you,” Roselyn ordered and ushered the others away.
The others quickly moved to give the healer room to work, save Verona, who stood rooted in place for once but was clearly at a loss for words. Roselyn raised the device to Aaron’s eyes and slowly scanned downward.
“Can you give us a moment please?" she said to Verona, snapping him out of his reverie.
Verona joined the others across the room, giving them some privacy, but he kept glancing back in Roselyn’s direction.
Roselyn focused her attention on Aaron and asked him a few questions about the Ryakul wound on his back.
“You’re a remarkably fast healer, Aaron,” she said sternly. “You don’t realize how close to death you were.”
“You’d be surprised,” Aaron answered quietly. “But thank you.” “Indeed,” she said and then leaned in so only he could hear what she was about to say. “You have friends here, Heir of Shandara, but be careful, as all is not what it seems, and the answers given may not be complete in their truthfulness. Some would see the return of the Alenzar’seth as a very grave threat.”
Aaron gave a slight nod, and Roselyn moved away.
“He’s recovering well. Do not keep him long,” she said, looking sternly at Iranus.
“Thank you, my dear. Won’t you please join us?” Iranus asked, motioning for them to sit in one of the nearby circles of chairs.
Aaron sat down, and after everyone else was seated, all eyes drew toward him. “First, I’d like to thank you for your help and for giving us a place to stay.”
Iranus held up his hand. “No thanks are necessary. It was the least we could do.”
Aaron nodded. “Second, where is the Drake, and what did it do to Sarah?”
“We don’t know where the Drake is now,” Iranus said. “As for what it did to your friend, I need to know exactly what you saw.”
“What I saw… ” Aaron began, and the image of the Drake holding Sarah up by her neck invaded his thoughts. “It blew some kind of green vapor into her face, forcing her to breathe it in. Then she began to writhe in pain, and after only a few moments her eyes turned yellow like his. When I called to her, she pulled away as if she didn’t recognize me. It was like one moment she knew who I was and the next she wanted to kill me. Then the Drake called to her, and she went with it… I could…I could still see…her, but at the same time she was different,” Aaron said. “I know, it doesn’t make much sense, but that’s what I saw.”
“It makes perfect sense,” Roselyn said and then turned to her father. “The Drake is using a biological delivery agent to spread itself. We suspected, but no one could confirm before now.”
“What is it delivering exactly?” Aaron asked.
“A way to control its victims,” Iranus said.
There were a few moments of silence until Colind cleared his throat. “Tell him the rest.”
Aaron divided his gaze between Colind and Iranus, expectantly.“I had hoped to give you more time to recover before burdening you with this,” Iranus began. “We have observed your world. Where you were raised.”
“Earth,” said Aaron. For a second, he thought of his sister, Tara, and how he would have liked for her to meet Sarah someday.
“Yes, I’ve no doubt you are familiar with machines?” Iranus asked and continued when Aaron nodded. “We’ve developed machines that are smaller than the finest grain of sand. They can live in our bodies and group together to form larger machines to perform any number of tasks.”
“We have something similar. We call it nanotech,” Aaron said. “It deals with manipulation on a molecular level.” His response drew a frown from Verona, but Colind, he noted, didn’t look at all out of sorts.
“Excellent, I suspected you would be familiar with the concept,” Iranus said. “The Drake used a gas to deliver the Nanites into your friend. It was the Nanites and not the gas that caused her to change.”
“But what do the Nanites do exactly?” Aaron asked.
“By themselves not too much, but networked together they can perform complex calculations, including probability, and can adapt to a number of situations. They can form tiny power plants to recharge. Within an organic host, they can convert the movement of the beating heart into energy. When they were first developed, they were coded with a prime directive to keep the body healthy. They worked with the brain and the body, observing the body’s reaction to infection. After some analysis, they would help eliminate infections while allowing the body’s natural immune system to still function. This was essential so we didn’t lose our natural immunity to diseases. We also equipped them with the ability to communicate with other nanotech so knowledge and methods were shared. This went a long way, ultimately eliminating the visible signs of sickness altogether.”
“I think I understand. Like a cold, once you start feeling the effects of the cold, you’re already sick,” Aaron said.
Iranus smiled slightly. “Correct. So, by all outward appearances we ‘cured’ most diseases entirely, but in truth, the Nanites enabled us to resist them before they were even felt by the body.”
“I understand the concept of Nanites, but that doesn’t explain what happened to Sarah,” Aaron said.
“I’ll need to delve a bit into our history to help you understand better,” Iranus began. “Particularly how we came from our home world of Hytharia to Safanar. The Nanites’ ability to keep the body healthy was only the beginning of their capabilities. We could also use them to manipulate the biological blueprints of a living organism. We learned how to alter the genes for aging, to increase brain function, thus stimulating growth in our ability to calculate, and even increase our bodies’ durability and strength.”
Iranus paused, allowing for what he said to sink in. The gravity of such a momentous advance in technology was not lost upon Aaron.
“The moral implications of those advances must have been profound,” Aaron said after a few moments’ thought.
“That’s putting it mildly,” Roselyn said, speaking up for the first time since she had examined him.
“Aging?” Aaron said. “So, you were able to stop aging entirely? Didn’t that lead to overpopulation on your world?”
“Much more than that,” Iranus said evenly. “When people live too long, they lose perspective. Organisms such as ourselves were not meant to evade death entirely. So yes, we were able to heal ourselves and delay aging, allowing for the possibility of a fuller life, but some wanted to live forever, believing that since we could, in theory, live forever, that we had a right to do so.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Verona said.
Iranus’s lips curved in a knowing sort of way. “It sounds wonderful, does it not? But imagine this, if you will. A whole society that doesn’t have to fear death or growing old? You would amass a multitude of knowledge but without wisdom—without the certainty that you were allowed a finite time in this life. People became unmotivated, and their fundamental values changed. Instead of bringing people together into harmony, it drove them apart into chaos. Essentially, we took away the things that made life worth living.”
“What did you do?” Aaron asked.
“We decided not to stop aging altogether, but simply slow it down to acceptable levels,” Iranus answered.
“How did you decide how long one should live?” Aaron asked.
“We voted on a range and agreed on 200 to 225 years, lifestyle permitting. To prevent constant lobbying in our courts, an agreement was put into place to revisit the age range every 50 years,” Iranus said.
“I can’t imagine deciding as a society how long one should live,” Aaron replied.
Iranus pursed his lips in thought for a moment. “Is it so foreign a concept to you? If you live a healthy lifestyle, you have a better chance to live longer. People, no matter their origin, have this balance, and ours was the next logical step with the resources at our disposal. We were able to manage the genes for aging so that it still took place, but at a much slower rate.”
“Still,” Aaron said, “even with a majority vote, conflict or even outright war must have been inevitable.”
“Yes,” Iranus replied solemnly. “There are those who worked in secret to thwart the council’s efforts to maintain peace. War, as you said, became inevitable. The precious gift stemming from the Nanites became a weapon. You’ve glimpsed the remnants of Hytharia through the portal. You’ve seen firsthand the result upon our world.”
“Why Safanar?” Aaron asked. “Couldn’t you open a gateway to another world instead?”
“I’m sure they tried, but opening a door doesn’t mean you’re going to like what is on the other side.”
“That’s not really an answer, now is it?” Aaron replied.
Iranus smiled. “No, it’s not. Safanar was the first successful connection to a habitable world we were able to make. But to understand why we came here, I must explain the situation on Hytharia. Our planet was dying.” Iranus began addressing everyone in the room. “In developing our technological prowess, we all but exhausted our natural resources. Something happened to our sun that caused it to age faster than we had originally projected. The lifespan of our star should have ranged in the billions of years, but was eventually reduced to thousands and then hundreds of years. Even then, it should have been enough time for us to find a suitable world to colonize. We utilized every means possible in the search. Sending out probes through space as fast as possible, but these things take time.
“The search for another home became a cycle of destruction for us. Those in power used the impending crisis as a way to justify reckless decisions that eventually put the stability of Hytharia in jeopardy. Super volcanoes killed millions, and a war for the remaining resources necessary for survival reduced our numbers further. Amid all the death and destruction, we found Safanar. Our beacon of hope. A short distance, relatively speaking, but it still took our probe thirty years to find this place. We could never build ships with enough resources to take a significant number of our people here, so we had to find a different solution, but at least we had a target to reach for. This gave us hope and brought the factions of our society back into harmony…for a time.
“The probe continued to send us information and landed on the surface not far from where we are sitting right now. With all the hope that a new home brings, war all but ceased as efforts were focused on viable solutions to get us here.
“The most brilliant scientists of the age were brought together, along with a specialized branch of Hytharia’s remaining military factions. They acquired the resources we needed and gave us a place to work.”
“Us?” Aaron asked. “You mean you were one of the scientists?
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