My name is Xal and I live in the dims, a walled prison where my people are kept by our cruel masters, until we are needed to fight once more. One member of every family must answer The Call, for our blood bears the magic of a demonic god, and all the terrible power that brings.
We march to war against the Fomori, an unstoppable army of giants, and their behemoths. If we do not, then our families are put to death. The Hasrans use us as cannon fodder, and worse. They used up my father, and he never came home. Die resisting. Die fighting. My choice isn't if it happens, but rather how I sell my life.
If by some miracle I survive I will be granted entrance to the Imperial Academy, where every noble house will vie to architect my end. They cannot allow the void-blooded to live. They cannot allow us to thrive, or to gain more magic from the bodies of other dead gods. They cannot allow us to win. They fear the rise of another dreadlord. And they are right to fear. I will pull down an empire, and that is just the beginning.
Shattered Gods is based on the Magitech Chronicles pen & paper RPG, and takes place in the same universe. If you're a gamer, litRPG fan, or just want to see the stats for the characters in the book come join us! Links in the book or check us out at magitechchronicles.com
Release date: August 1, 2021
Print pages: 533
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Princess Li of House Calmora could not have been more miserable. Even the icy wind provided no balm as the airship sliced through the cloudless sky toward the mightiest city in the world.
It carried her from her home upon the celestial moun- tain, and from her family, away from looming threats she should have been there to help them face. She’d been excited about the prospect of another term at the Imperial Academy, but now that it was actually happening?
Staying home and defending the mountain from the mighty wyrm Khonsu and his get sounded much more attractive. Yet her family needed warriors and leaders, and she had a duty to become both. She must master all the Hasrans could teach while earning their respect anew for her people, as every scion must each generation.
Hasra was powerful and arrogant and if not reminded, tended to bully whichever vassal it felt the weakest at the moment. That hadn’t ever been Calmora, and she wasn’t going to be the first in her line to allow it to happen.
“Are you all right, little one?” Bumut’s shaggy form moved to the prow of the airship next to her and rested on the metal railing, despite the crust of ice. The hulking troll smiled into the headwind, focused on their destination in the distance. “You see the capital there? Shining. Welcoming us. Past those mountains, that small range.”
Li frowned then. She’d poured over every map in her father’s collection, and it included the topography between Calmora and Hasra. She’d studied the trip she was to take with exacting care and remained positive that there had been no mountain range in this location. Only forests and the Hasran plains outside the outer wall itself.
“Captain Bumut!” a deep-throated troll boomed from the crow’s nest. The sailor only bore one horn, the other no doubt broken in some fight. “Three flyers. Coming fast from below.”
Bumut’s enchanted eye glowed with fiery sigils as the leather-faced troll peered in the direction his crew had indi- cated. Li remained unconcerned until Bumut’s expression tightened. She had never seen her protector worried before. Not like this.
“What is it?” She peered in the direction the mighty sky sailor had been looking, but without the aid of fire magic could not pierce the darkness.
“Three drake riders.” Bumut withdrew a heavy mace from his belt. “It will come to a fight. Prepare yourself. Swiftly. I believe they are here for you.”
Li moved to the center of the ship’s deck near the base of the feathersteel mast carrying their enchanted sails. High above, the purple moon, the moon of dream, watched over them. Chaos. Unpredictability. Below, just off the horizon, sat the white moon, the moon of spirit. Death. It may have meant nothing, but her mother had taught her to seek meaning in celestial movements.
Four troll warriors moved to flank her with the cabin wall to their backs. Each wore black iron mail, though the fact that it had been forged from enchanted alloys likely belied the heavy part. They moved unencumbered, while further augmenting impressive hides with magical metal.
A screech broke the night from less than forty meters away, far closer than Li suspected the drakes could approach without being detected. The long, lithe serpent streaked toward them, its dusky brown scales gleaming in the night as the wingbeats heralded its arrival.
The rider atop the saddle held a long spear, which Li supposed might have been better than a stave. She’d rather face a lance than a mage and their spells, any day.
The drake sucked in a lungful of night wind, and Li’s eyes widened. She dropped prone even as she screamed her warning. “It’s going to breathe!”
A river of green acid broke over the four troll warriors, and the kinetic force knocked them to the deck even as the sizzling liquid clung to their bodies. Their thick white hair fell away in clumps, and deep booming screams came from the troll who’d borne the worst of it. Their armor had done nothing to save them.
The armored rider leapt from the drake’s back and hurled his spear at one of the trolls, who’d dropped their shield to wipe away the acid. The weapon punched through the sailor’s throat and carried him to the railing, where the troll stumbled, then toppled soundlessly over the side.
The helmeted rider then drew a sword belted at his waist and ended a screaming troll with a single brutal chop.
A second drake streaked over the deck and breathed, and this time Li could not dodge as the caustic liquid washed over her. Acid clung to her parka, but she whirled her hand and the winds answered, whisking it off the slick material before much damage could be inflicted.
The two surviving warriors were not so fortunate, and both took the full blast of acid. Before they could even fall, the third drake passed above and added its own fury.
Had their ship been constructed from wood it would have already begun breaking apart, but the feathersteel shrugged off the attacks and protected the vulnerable reactor below decks.
A glance showed that Bumut and three more troll sailors still stood their ground, each now holding a round shield nearly as large as they were. They would be prepared for the next pass from the drakes.
That left the rider who’d landed on the deck with his blade, which he’d have not done were he anything less than a master swordsman. Li extended a hand and summoned her staff from the void pocket sewn into the cuff of her parka.
The space between universes opened and vomited a four-foot feathersteel bar into her palm, the drake-hide wrappings a familiar comfort.
“You!” She advanced on the helmeted warrior as she spun the slender silver staff, the sigils etched across its surface glowing with power as the air magic within the weapon surged, adding to her own. “You came for me? Then come and take me.”
At seventeen she was the second youngest duelist to ever win the solo arena tourney in Calmora. Her mother had trained her with the bow, and her father with the blade and stave. Bumut had taught her to fight with her hands, elbows, and knees. She could not call herself living weapon yet, but Li stood ready for this battle.
The drake rider stalked forward across the deck, all power and no finesse in that heavy plate. His blade was twice as thick as her staff and would be difficult to parry. The throw with the spear said this man knew battle, and if she closed within range, he’d end her with those powerful blows.
Right now her staff afforded her a bit more reach, but only a bit. She needed to keep him off balance until more of the crew could rally. A dozen more hearty warriors slept below decks.
The drake rider advanced, face obscured behind that armored helm, then launched a two-handed chop. Li vaulted backward and rolled to her feet well out of reach as the blade thunked into the deck where she’d been standing. The rider yanked his weapon loose and pursued until her back pressed against Bumut’s cabin.
He lunged again and she rolled away, this time over to the railing. Each time his blade came closer, and she couldn’t avoid him forever. But then she didn’t have to.
She rose into a defensive stance and beckoned at the rider. Acid boiled in the background as another drake streaked by, but she ignored it. Something exploded deep within the airship, and they began losing altitude. That she could not ignore. The deck canted wildly, but she shifted with it, having sky sailed many times.
The rider also reacted well, but Li noticed that he had no immediate handholds near him. As the deck tilted further she summoned a tendril of air and wrapped the translucent appendage around his right ankle, where his weight rested. She yanked for all she was worth, and the rider tumbled to the deck and began to slide along the slick surface.
Li thrust her hand forward and concentrated, and the wind obeyed. A solid wall shoved the heavily armored warrior down the slick deck, and when he slammed into the railing it was with too much force, and he toppled word- lessly over the side.
By now the deck had canted far enough that she could see over the side as well, and they were coming down fast over the mountains. The rider slammed into a distant boulder on the snow-covered slope, the impact swallowed by the wind. She was grateful she wasn’t close enough to observe details.
Another rider landed on the deck, and she turned to engage him just as Bumut flattened the poor fool with a single blow from his massive mace, the head as large as a man’s torso. The troll’s one-handed attacks were more lethal than those most humans could deliver with two.
The last rider and the drakes winged off into the night. Bumut cupped his mouth and yelled in her direction, “They were a distraction. The real threat must have been below deck.”
Li grabbed the handle to Bumut’s quarters for balance as the deck continued to tilt. Black smoke billowed from the hold, telling the tale of the fires within. She had no idea what had happened, but the result was clear. They were going to crash on that mountain spinning up at them.
“Inside!” Bumut pointed at the door Li already clung to. “Take shelter on the bed. Go!”
The airship picked up speed as the sail suddenly tore off and flapped away, and then they began to tumble. The spin started slowly enough that Li was able to reach the cabin. She wrapped tendrils around the door, the bed, and the far wall, then pulled herself atop the bed, which was built into the cabin floor.
Through the small round windows on either side of the cabin, she watched the spin build, and with every revolution, the darkened mountain loomed larger. Trees became clear, as well as snow and individual boulders.
Li closed her eyes to combat the vertigo and prayed that the ancient Elentian engineering might be equal to the impact.
The screech and groan of tearing metal drowned out all sound, and she bit down hard on her tongue as the impact slammed her down into the bed. If not for that soft landing she didn’t know how she’d have fared.
Then the ship began to roll, and they tumbled down a long, steep slope. Their passage slowed as the occasional tree scraped their hull, but it was long moments before the Tavren’s Triumph came to rest against an enormous boulder about midway down the mountain.
“Li?” Bumut’s voice boomed through the door, then a moment later it opened and the armored sailor ducked inside. “Thank the smiling lady, you’re all right. I haven’t been below, but no one else on the surface survived the impact. Grab what you can carry. Food. Drink. Blankets. We move now or not at all.”
Bumut was already sifting through his belongings, picking up the things that he thought useful and adding them to a pack by the door. Li’s pack still lay in her own cabin. She darted to the doorway and realized that part of the ship had been crushed by the boulder they’d come to rest against. All of her things were gone, except what she carried. She would have nothing this term...if she survived.
She darted back inside and fetched a sack of scrolls from next to the desk. Then she began stuffing loaves of bread, wheels of cheese, and the occasional pastry into the bag, wincing as the sugar stained the priceless parchment. Better stained than lost. The temple would understand.
Li slung the pack over her shoulder and darted after her mentor into the chill night. He vaulted the ruined railing and began sprinting up the mountain toward the closest tree line. She leapt after, sucking in quick breaths as she fought against the thick snows. The cold ate through her boots, reminding her of home.
They did not stop running even once the towering pines surrounded them, and Li’s breath came in short, pained gasps from the unexpected exertion. The bag tugged at her, mercilessly, but she refused to drop so much as a scroll. Knowledge was to be revered and preserved, at all costs. So much had already been lost.
“Up that ridge, and then we can stop. In that cave.” Bumut had paused ahead, his massive fingers splayed against the trunk of a pine.
Li nodded grimly and followed the furrow in the snow made by Bumut’s passage as they briefly left the trees. The light of the dream moon made the land red and dim, and she longed to summon a magical light. Too dangerous, she knew.
She couldn’t ask the questions building in her mind. What had happened below decks? Who or what had destroyed the reactor and caused them to crash? Reactors were priceless. Airships could be rebuilt. Reactors could not. All that just to kill her? There had to be more to it.
Bumut finally crested the ridge. The shaggy troll did not pause, but rather increased his pace, lumbering through the snow until he reached a wide cave at the crest of the ridge. A similar cave lay on the other side of the ridge, and she wagered they connected somewhere within the mountain.
“Inside.” Bumut beckoned her and Li obliged.
She dragged the pack behind her, unable to lift it any longer. Speed she’d drilled in. Endurance she’d cultivated.
Strength? Not so much yet. That needed to be remedied. This was humiliating.
An eternity later she entered the cave behind Bumut and noted the moist ichor along the rocks. Disgusting. Some sort of fungus? The stench was awful. Still, shelter was shelter. She scanned the ground until she found a relatively clean spot and deposited the pack.
Li shored it up into something like a proper chair back, and sat crosslegged and rested against the scrolls. She’d carried them. They could carry her for a bit.
“We are safe, I think. For now.” Bumut moved to sit at the fire. “Dawn will be upon us soon, and whoever those riders were, they do not wish to be seen this close to the capital in the light of day. It should be safe for you to carry us upon the winds to the outer wall, at least, if that is not presuming too much, Princess.”
“It is not. My magic is at the ready if it is needed.” She pulled her knees to her parka and in a few moments, stopped shivering entirely. This place wasn’t nearly so cold as home, especially now that they were out of the wind. “Why did they do this? And who are they, do you think?”
Bumut settled against the wall between her and the cave entrance. As the bulky troll settled, a low whooshing came from deep within the mountain and reeked of sulfur and worse things.
The troll bared a pair of tusks as if to fight. “This place is an active volcano, and I believe we are in a lava tube. We are not safe. We should not sleep. Perhaps we tarry only until the sun is fully up.”
A violent tremor toppled the scrolls onto Li, and she strained to keep them from falling into a puddle of the awful mold, or whatever the goo was. Many moments later, the tremor abruptly ceased, and she laboriously forced the bag back into the spot where she’d originally set it.
“Perhaps we shouldn’t wait.” Bumut peered through the doorway, down the slope. “Predawn is here. And this place is not safe. If you use your magic we can be airborne and away.”
Li nodded wearily but didn’t rise. “I need rest, Bumut. Just a few minutes. That hike taxed me. You trained me to fight in comfortable places, not run up mountainsides in the snow.”
“Then I have failed you in that way.” Bumut pushed past her, and all of a sudden her pillow vanished as he seized the scrolls and hefted them. “Carry yourself and I will carry these. As to who attacked us? I cannot speculate, but someone does not wish you to reach Hasra alive and wants to weaken the Calmoran navy in the process.”
Li didn’t have the faintest idea which of mother’s enemies would most wish her dead and be foolish enough to attempt this. “Whoever it is, risks the imperial flame read- ers. They will be discovered and killed. Just as soon as we reach the capital.”
Bumut shrugged uncomfortably and strode from the cave. He paused outside to wait for her, and she followed. He didn’t move far, just down the ridge to the tree line. They were out of sight, but able to survey the forests around them for miles.
The spirit moon had set, and the dream moon touched the western horizon. The sun already stained the east a ruddy red and would be upon them soon. Whether Bumut wished it or no, that meant the prudent course was to rest until the sun well and truly rose.
Li rested her back against a tree and tried to calm her breathing. She’d genuinely thought herself in shape, but none of her training had prepared her for tromping in the woods under burden. Why had no one mentioned carrying heavy things as being requisite to attending the Imperial Academy?
The mountain rumbled, and the rumble became a full quake. Li tumbled to the ground but grabbed a root of the tree she’d been sheltering beneath. Bumut toppled to his back and clattered down the slope until he came to rest against the bole of a pine forty or fifty paces away.
Li almost released her grip and went to him, but another earthquake came, this one far more violent. The entire mountain shifted and heaved and looked as if an entire peak were collapsing to the west.
Only the peak didn’t collapse, and it wasn’t a peak. An arachnid leg extended from the main mountain and stabbed into the soft forest below. Another leg emerged, and another, and then the main body of the mountain, the part she and Bumut clung to, thrust hundreds of cubits further up into the sky.
Flame burst in the air behind her, and she turned in time to see magma flowing from both caves. Only they weren’t caves. They were nostrils. A pair of airship-sized eyes opened on either side of the slope, four in total, and peered past her down to the plain below.
Li spun to see what had piqued the terrifying monster’s interest. A caravan of six boxy steel wagons crept along the road, not two days march from Hasra itself. The safest area a caravan could pass through, outside the walls.
The mountain scuttled forward, and all she could do was cling to the root and pray as the mountain lunged. They dropped into free fall as its mouth scooped up the caravan, the surrounding trees, and the road itself in a single mouthful.
She summoned three tendrils of air and cinched herself to the tree, then prayed fervently that the roots held it in place.
The mountain chewed twice and gave a tremendous belch of flame and magma, which sent a wave of heat upward. Snow melted all around her and then became steam as it exposed the mountainside around them.
The behemoth—for that was the only thing it could be —shook like a dog, and she barely hung on. Below her, Bumut screamed in terror, but despite being bounced around seemed safe enough.
Finally, the creature settled and lay down across the road. The titanic legs retracted, and within moments the awful creature disguised itself as nothing more than a small mountain range once more. Such a clever ruse.
Li slid down the slick rock and landed in a crouch next to Bumut. He cradled a wounded arm, but his natural regen- eration would take care of that soon enough. Would that she’d been to the summit. Then she could have healed his wounds herself. “You’re all right otherwise?”
He nodded, the terror seeming to have stolen his words.
“You realize what we just witnessed?” she demanded, stabbing a finger at the nostril behind her. “This is a behe- moth, not two days from the capital. We need to get word to the Imperator. Immediately.”
“I agree, and you know what it being here must mean. You will go faster alone.” Bumut rose shakily to his feet and handed her the sack of scrolls. “Take these with your winds and fly as fast as you can to Hasra. Warn them. Tell the Imperator that the time for another Call has come. The Fomori are active once more. I will take a circuitous route to the city away from the creature. I’m too small to attract its notice, I believe.”
Li nodded grimly as she agreed with his logic. “Be care- ful, Bumut. Live.”
Then she sketched a series of blue-white sigils in the air, deftly fusing the colorful symbols together until the magic crystalized into a flight spell. The winds billowed up around her as the sigils fell away, and she seized the sack with two air tendrils.
Fear found fertile soil within her as she rose into the sky and zipped away from the mountain, toward the enormous shining wall in the distance, not nearly so tall as the behe- moth. Closer and closer she came, but the creature never stirred.
Whoever her would-be assassins were, they had failed. She’d survived. And now the Imperator would learn of it. If the Fomori truly were stirring, they’d find the Imperium stood ready to oppose them.
The opposite of love is not hate. It is apathy.
That was the last lesson my father ever taught me. That I must not give up my passion. For if I did, that meant they had truly broken me.
An eradicator thrives on passion, he’d said. Let it fuel your magic. So I had.
I’d survived seventeen years, two of them as a mage, and only twelve that I could really remember. I’d survived the demons, and the warrens, and the bullies, and the preda- tors. I’d outlasted them all. Not many had. I’d lost three older siblings, two to the dims and one to the calling.
No one survives on their own, of course. My mother was exempted from the calling because of my father’s sacrifice during the last one, which left her to guard and teach us.
She still woke us each morning at dawn, a soundless touch to my thigh, just a brush as she passed among my sisters and delivered the same. One by one we rose silently, no words or light as we navigated the near darkness.
My first task was emptying the chamber pot, the most dangerous chore and not the most dignified. I fetched the
battered pail and lifted it silently as I ducked under the curtain and into the pre-dawn chill.
Once the curtain had settled behind me, I allowed my vision to adjust to the near darkness, instead relying on my ears. Shuffling sounded in the distance, but it was distant. A big one from the sound of it. Bigger demons were usually slower. Usually.
I darted silently out past the salt line, painfully aware that I stood outside its protection. My heart thundered, as it always did, despite the fact that I’d never been attacked when emptying the pail.
Each movement came with deliberate care as I slowly ascended the pile of rocks outside our hovel and poured the filth over the side into the abyss. Every morning I stared into those lurking depths, expecting to see something. Every morning my empty future stared back.
The pillar of rock we lived upon slithered into the dark- ness below, its length covered in warrens and caves that one could follow down into that well of night if they were tired of living. A void Catalyst lay down there somewhere if the legends were true. The body of a dead god. Magic beyond understanding.
The only other view of note was the titanic wall enclosing the moat around the dims, a magical edifice layered in runes that would block destructive spells levied by the void mages trapped within. Mages like me. The wards made it visible, though the towering golden pyramid behind the walls would have provided illumination regard- less. It allowed no true night in the dims.
That pyramid, the Reactor, was reputed to be a magitech forge of divine power. The first mortal-constructed Catalyst. A man-made god. One that bestowed fire magic upon those allowed within.
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