Having staked his claim as a master of epic fantasy with The Ring of Five Dragons, Eric Van Lustbader now returns to his world of Kundala to unearth new riches of wonder and excitement in this second volume of The Pearl saga.
With the help of her friends, Riane, the prophesied redeemer known as the Dar Sala-at, saved Kundala from annihilation, preserving natives and V'ornn invaders alike. Together, the companions avenged terrible crimes and secured the Ring of Five Dragons, but their struggles have only just begun.
The Ring averted doomsday, yet it did not open the magical Storehouse Door as expected. That sorcerous treasury remains sealed because of the spell cast by Giyan and her sister. A spell to migrate Annon Ashera's male V'ornn psyche into Riane's dying Kundalan female body. By combining them into a single being, it saved them both and fulfilled the prophecy that the Dar Sala-at would be "born at both ends of the cosmos." But the spell also breached the Abyss, releasing daemons who could wreak havoc on Kundala. The daemons were imprisoned there aeons ago by the Goddess Miina. Now the fiends must be vanquished, not only so the quest for the Pearl can continue, but to save Giyan, who has been possessed by the archdaemon Horolaggia. Their only hope is the fabled Veil of A Thousand Tears.
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Eric Van Lustbader (he dropped his middle name, Van for several years due to a confusion about his last name) was born and raised in Greenwich Village. He is the author of more than twenty-five best-selling novels, including The Ninja, a N.Y. Times bestseller for an astounding 24 weeks, in which he introduced Nicholas Linnear, one of modern fiction's most beloved and enduring heroes. His New York Times bestselling novel, The Testament, was published in September, 2006 and in paperback in August, 2007. It received rave reviews from such notable thriller writers as Nelson DeMille, Steve Berry and Joseph Finder, among others.
His novels have been translated into over twenty languages; his books are best-sellers worldwide and are so popular whole sections of bookstores from Bangkok to Dublin are devoted to them. The Ninja was sold to 20th Century-Fox and the producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown. It is now in pre-prduction.
In 2004, Mr. Lustbader was chosen by the estate of the late Robert Ludlum to continue the Jason Bourne novels. The Bourne Legacy (2005) and The Bourne Betrayal (2007), both instant New York Times bestsellers, garnered rave reviews.
He is also the author of two successful and highly regarded series of fantasy novels, The Sunset Warrior Cycle and The Pearl Saga.
Besides "The Other Side of the Mirror" in the bestselling THRILLER anthology, he has written a number of short stories, screenplays and novellas. Three of the short stories appeared in 1999: "Hush," in Off The Beaten Path: Stories of Place for Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, "Slow Burn," in Murder And Obsession for Delacourt Press, and "An Exultation of Termagants" in the millennial supernatural mega-collection 999 for Avon Books. A short novel, Art Kills, was published by Carroll & Graf in December, 2001.
Mr. Lustbader is a graduate of Columbia College, with a degree in Sociology. Before turning to writing full time, he enjoyed highly successful careers in the New York City public school system, where he holds licenses in both elementary and early childhood education, and in the music business, where he worked for Elektra Records and CBS Records, among other companies. He was the first writer in the US to write about Elton John, and to predict his success. As a consequence, he and Elton and Bernie Taupin, Elton's lyricist, became friends. Writing in Cash Box Magazine, he also predicted the successes of such bands as Santana, Roxy Music, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, David Bowie, and The Who, among others.
In his spare time, Mr. Lustbader serves on the Board of Trustees, the Executive Committee, and is Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee of the City & Country School in Greenwich Village. He also tends his prized collection of Japanese maples and beech trees (which have been written up in The New York Times and Martha Stewart's Living). He is a Second-Level Reiki master. He and his wife, the author Victoria Lustbader, reside in New York City and Long Island.
Riane and Giyan were alone in the Library of the Abbey of Warm Current. It was midnight. A cold wind sighed through thorned sysal trees, and rhythmic pulses rippled through the dense bedrock beneath the abbey, where the power bourns wove themselves like strands of the Great Goddess Miina's ruddy hair.
The Library, columned, marble-clad, lay dreaming like a castle keep in the fastness of the fortresslike complex. The Ramahan abbey had been abandoned for many years before Riane and her friends--the Kundalan sorceress Giyan, the V'ornn Rhynnnon Rekkk Hacilar, the Kundalan Resistance leader Eleana, the Rappa named Thigpen--had made it their sanctuary some weeks before. Khagggun packs roamed the countryside searching for them. Once, they had swept through the abbey, and it was only Giyan's sorcery that had saved them. She had roused them from sleep and, gathering up all evidence of their stay, they had fled into the nearby forest, there to wait in stony silence for the enemy to depart.
The abbey itself, sacked decades before by the V'ornn invaders, was half-burned and crumbling when they had first come upon it. Gimnopedes nested in untidy eaves. Spiders turned shadowy corners into delicately veined cities. A beautiful sysal tree had, for decades, grown up through thick plaza paving to split the lintel of the east-facing temple. The hoary knuckles of its basal roots displaced the artful pattern of the stone, an ironic comment on how life reclaims the void and transforms it. The Library, alone, remained intact, having been protected by a powerful spell that Giyan had counteracted in order to gain entry.
Riane looked at Giyan, tall, slim, beautiful, golden, radiant, save for the blackened crusts of the sorcerous chrysalides that covered her hands and forearms. Even now, she could scarcely believe that they had been reunited. Giyan's presence gave her a sense of profound dislocation. She was not simply Riane, a sixteen-year-old orphaned Kundalan girl who could not remember her parents or where she came from. She was also the V'ornn Annon Ashera, eldest son of Eleusis Ashera, Eleusis had been regent of Kundala until a ruthless coup by his archenemy, Prime Factor Wennn Stogggul, and the head of Eleusis' own elite bodyguard, Kinnnus Morcha.
Riane's searching gaze caught Giyan's whistleflower-blue eyes. "Every time you look at me I see surprise on your face."
Giyan's heart ached, for she heard the sentiment behind the formal words, the fragile sentence Riane could not bear to speak: Do you still love me? "It is a marvelous moment, to be here with you, alone, in private. To be able to call you Teyjattt." Teyj were the beautiful multicolored four-winged birds the Gyrgon--the V'ornn technomage caste--bred and took with them wherever they went.
"Little Teyj. You loved calling me that when Annon was a child."
A sudden fear, a stab in Giyan's heart. "And Annon did not?"
A moment's pause. "Annon did not, I think, appreciate your love. He did not know what to do with it."
"It is odd the way you phrase it."
"I am no longer Annon." Riane spread her hands. "Annon is dead. All Kundala knows it."
"And we? What do we know?"
Riane looked up at the magnificent dome of the Library, encrusted with a mosaic of Kundala and the sinuous star constellations surrounding it. Composed of millions of tiny colored glass tiles, fitted cunningly together as only the Kundalan artisans could, the dome produced an ethereal glow like a perpetual sunrise or sunset. Beneath this sheltering sky she felt safe from both Annon's enemies and those of the Dar Sala-at. For Annon was not simply the heir to the Ashera Consortium. He and the former Riane together--this unique fused entity-- were the Dar Sala-at, the chosen one of Miina, prophesied to find The Pearl, the most powerful, mysterious, and ancient artifact of Kundala, to lead the Kundalan out of their one-hundred-and-one-year enslavement to the technologically superior V'ornn.
"Here, alone, together," she said at length, "we can share a dead past. Like ghosts conjuring the root stew of life."
"Stirring the cauldron."
"Yes." Riane smiled a painful smile. "Making something special of it."
She saw movement out of the corner of her eye. The vigilant figure of Rekkk Hacilar passed before the high, leaded window to the east. His long, tapering, hairless skull was cloaked in a battle helm fashioned, it was said, from the skull of a fallen Krael, and he held his shock-sword at the ready. His purple armor glittered darkly. Once a Khagggun--the V'ornn military caste--he had declared himself Rhynnnon, turning his back on his caste, turning his efforts to a greater cause. In this case, he had dedicated himself to the service of the now dead Gyrgon, Nith Sahor. Because Nith Sahor wanted the Dar Sala-at found and kept safe, Rekkk had sworn himself to protect Riane. Now he was also Giyan's lover.
"We have been given a unique gift, haven't we?" Giyan said. "A second chance."
Rekkk, in the ruins of the courtyard outside, began a ritualistic set of thrusts and parries with Eleana. She was the same age as Riane. Her V'ornn shock-sword looked massive in her delicate white hands, hut she swung the twin blades deftly through the night air. Under Rekkk's tutelage she was quickly becoming an expert in its use. They practiced endlessly. He said it took his mind off his wounds, physical and emotional.
Riane watched her for a moment, her heart in her throat. Annon and Eleana had fallen in love. Now, like everyone else, Eleana believed Annon was dead. As for Riane--this new Riane--she loved Eleana still, and did not know what to make of this love or what to do with it.
Giyan, attendant to Riane's gaze, said, "You long to tell her, I know."
"I love her so. I will always love her."
"And your love makes you want to confess everything." Riane's silence was as good as an answer. "But you cannot. If you tell her who you really are, you put her life--and yours--in grave jeopardy."
"She is Resistance. She is used to secrets."
"Not this kind. It will be too much. Like a mountain on her shoulders."
"Perhaps you underestimate her."
They all heard the sound at once and froze. Their eyes rose skyward as the drone of the Khagggun hoverpods, bristling with ion cannons, flattened the soughing of the wind, silenced the twitter of night birds. There ensued a period of heart-pounding terror, as if the breathable elements were being sucked from the atmosphere. They could see the pale ion trails, ephemeral as smoke, lighted by moonslight, making baleful runes beneath the tremulous clouds. Tense moments later, the drone drifted away, fading from an echo into a stillness that made their ears ache.
Riane and Giyan exchanged a look of relief, and Riane returned her gaze to Eleana, her eyes filled with the girl's lithe movements. Dark lashes. Moonslight on her cheekbones. Soft swell of her belly. "Or is it something else? You do not trust her."
"It isn't simply a matter of trust," Giyan said carefully.
"Isn't it?" Riane said this rather more sharply than she had intended.
"I have told you. It is written in Prophesy that of the Dar Sala-at's allies one will love her, one will betray her, one will try to destroy her."
"It could not mean Eleana. Not her."
"No." Giyan's voice was soft, gentling. "You would not think so, I know."
"She is carrying Kurgan's child." Kurgan was Wennn Stogggul's eldest son; he had once been Annon's best friend. "She will need our help and support in the days ahead."
"You are the Dar Sala-at. You have larger issues to contend with."
"She is still haunted by her rape at Kurgan's hands. What is larger than an individual's anguish?"
"The destiny of our people."
"The destiny of our people is built on anguish. You of all Kundalan would be the first to acknowledge that."
Giyan gazed in astonishment at Riane, golden-haired, sun-bronzed, firm-muscled from her beloved mountain climbing, and thought that this strong, beautiful girl might easily have sprung from her loins had she taken a Kundalan between her thighs. "You must forgive me, Teyjattt," she said. "I have lived my entire life with secrets. First, keeping hidden my Gift for Osoru sorcery, which has been daemonized by the Ramahan. Then, concealing my status as Lady from the V'ornn, who would have killed me had they known. Finally, keeping your true identity a secret, which, had it become known, would have gotten you killed. These have been the boundaries of my life."
Through the five arched windows set into the Library's thick walls, light from two of Kundala's five moons fired the glass tiles, lending them the depth of three dimensions. Giyan, caught in the moonsglow, seemed to throb with sorcerous energy. Her white robes were pale as the snow cloaking the jagged crests of the massive Djenn Marre mountain chain to the north. Her hands and forearms, dead black from the chrysalides covering them, were the only parts of her that did not shine like beacons. The chrysalides had formed after she had violated the sacred circle of the Nanthera, in a futile attempt to keep Annon alive. Well she might have, since he was her son. She had borne the son of the regent, Eleusis Ashera. This was a potentially dangerous fact she had told no one, not Rekkk, not Annon himself. From the beginning, Eleusis had impressed upon her the need for absolute secrecy. Periodically, the Gyrgon sent Khagggun packs to round up the children born to Kundalan females as a result of V'ornn rapes. These half-breeds, though outwardly looking like any other V'ornn, were taken by V'ornn Genomatekks to Receiving Spirit, the vast medical facility in Axis Tyr that had once been a Kundalan hospice. What experiments were perpetrated upon them there even Eleusis had not been able to discover.
Giyan shook her head. "Still, I will not tell you what to do. This must be your decision."
"Whatever decision I make," Riane said, "I promise you that it will not be a rash one."
"I cannot ask for more, Dar Sala-at."
She returned her attention to the book Giyan had given her to study. Giyan, like her twin, was a Ramahan priestess. But, unlike Bartta who had practiced Kyofu, the Black Dreaming sorcery, before her death in a sorcerous conflagration, she was a practitioner of Osoru, Five Moon sorcery. Riane, too, had the Gift; Giyan had passed it on to Annon. She was just beginning her Osoru studies, but she was impatient to become a sorceress-adept like Giyan. Though Stogggul and Morcha were dead, though she had defeated the powerful Kyofu sorceress Malistra, the Dar Sala-at's enemies were legion. And far more powerful than Malistra. They had worked their dark schemes and plots through her; when she had died, Riane was certain, they had moved on, enlisting others to battle for them. But there was another matter, more immediate, that needed explaining.
She set down the book full of complex Old Tongue runes, and approached Giyan. Dust motes hung suspended in the air, flaring as they hit the lamplight. One full moon, the palest green of new grass, hung suspended in a pane of glass, an insect caught in a spider's web.
"Have you so quickly finished your lesson, Teyjattt?" Thick hair of spun copper cascaded around Giyan's long neck, settled on her square shoulders like liquid light.
"In truth, my mind is too filled with questions to absorb anymore." Riane put her hands on the long ammonwood refectory table that ran the length of the Library. "You must tell me if you know why I wasn't able to open the Storehouse Door."
For the longest time Giyan said nothing. Doubtless she was thinking, as Riane was, of the Storehouse Door set eons ago by Miina into the caverns beneath Middle Palace.
The Storehouse was where Miina had secreted The Pearl for the time when Prophesy said it would be needed. Kundalan lore held that it could only be re-opened by the Dar Sala-at, using the Ring of Five Dragons. But the Door could only be opened by the Dar Sala-at. Defeating the Dark sorceress Malistra, Riane had tried to open the Door with the Ring, but it had stayed firmly shut. Why?
Giyan was about to speak when sudden pain clouded her features. She gasped, grabbed at the chrysalid on her right forearm.
"It is all right," she whispered. "Already the pain is passing." Beads of perspiration hung in her hairline.
"I want to help."
"Alas, wanting will not make it so." Tears trembled in the comers of her eyes. She was white-faced, and took a moment to compose herself before she went on. "There is only one reason the Ring of Five Dragons would not open the Door for you. Miina put one last safeguard in place when She built the Storehouse. Impossible as it sounds, the Portal between this realm and the Abyss has somehow been breached. There are daemons here where they have been banished for eons. As long as they are in this realm, the Door cannot be opened even by you."
Riane felt her heart turn over painfully in her chest. "The Tzelos--"
"Yes. You have seen the Tzelos twice, once as part of a spell cast on you, once as a sorcerous Avatar of Kyofu. But I must conclude that the Tzelos has manifested itself here. It is a daemon from the Abyss. It has crossed over into our world."
Giyan's eyes grew dark. "I fear it is my doing."
"Yours? I do not understand:"
"Conjuring the Nanthera posed grave risks," Giyan said. "Not the least of which was opening the Portal to the Abyss." In a last-ditch effort to save Annon from his enemies, Giyan and Bartta had conjured the Nanthera, temporarily opening a forbidden Portal to the Abyss. Thus, Annon's essence, all that made him unique, had been transmigrated into the body of Riane, a Kundalan girl dying of duur fever. He was saved while his V'ornn body was delivered up to his enemies. Thus had he joined with Riane to become the Dar Sala-at, the chosen of Miina. Upon this new Riane rested the future of Kundala.
"But you told me that the Nanthera does so under a number of careful and powerful safeguards."
"True. But I violated one of them. I reached back through the sorcerous circle to try to get you. I couldn't help myself. I..." She put a hand to her head.
Riane encircled her with her arm. "Even if you are right, even if that is what has happened, what's done is done. It doesn't matter how the Portal seal was violated. What matters is sealing it again."
Giyan shook her head. "It is more complicated than that, Dar Sala-at. When Miina created the Abyss to imprison the daemons and archdaemons, She seeded it with seven Portals, each of which She provided with a different sorcerous lock. This was a safeguard. Even if an archdaemon--Pyphoros or one of his three offspring--somehow managed to slip through one Portal, the other locks should protect us. For only when all seven Portals are opened simultaneously can all the daemons escape into our realm." Giyan walked back and forth in a tight anxious orbit. "The real problem is not the Tzelos but the archdaemon who brought it through."
Riane stared at her. "An archdaemon in this realm?"
"The consequences will be catastrophic," Giyan said. "Unless we can find the archdaemon and somehow neutralize him, the damage he can do is incalculable."
"But surely if he is here someone would have seen this ... archdaemon by now."
"On the contrary. Archdaemons cannot appear for long ...
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