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"The Acolytes of Regnaröv, through their youth and silence, shall be its most valuable guardians." –Book of Leviathan
"Amos, Eli, get up! Wake up, now!" Sister Una shouted.
Amos groggily removed his thin blanket, flinching as drops of rain from the open window stung his skin.
"Now, boys! We haven't much time," she urged.
Frustrated, Amos opened his eyes. A hand gripped his arm and yanked him, and he knew at once what was wrong. Rain. Leviathan's warning. The Naga always attacked during rain.
Amos jumped out of bed while Sister Una rushed over to Eli, his best friend and fellow acolyte. He snatched his lantern, nearly knocking it over. The rains pelted the stone windowsill more aggressively than he had ever witnessed. A bad sign.
"Eli! Eli, please, you must push through. For the sake of Regnaröv, grab your lantern."
After retrieving his hooded cloak and lantern, Amos conjured an azure light. He rushed over to Eli's side, unnerved by the paleness in his fellow's face. While Naamah's blessing normally gave the red-skinned inhabitants of the monastery a paler complexion than other Yudeccans, Eli's skin spoke of sickness and fragility. Una could not reasonably expect him to aid in the fight.
"Go, go help the others," she fussed, shoving Amos toward the doorway.
"Una?! We need those acolytes. Chappa can't do it alone!" Brother Akando boomed from below.
Amos took one last parting look at Eli as Una ripped the sick acolyte from bed. Remembering the rain, he turned and made for the spiral stone steps.
"Come, Amos," Akando ordered as he descended.
Akando, a well-built veteran monk, took Amos's arm and strode through the monastery's dormitories, exiting into the main hall. The assembled monks turned as they entered.
"And the second?" one asked.
"He's coming. Let's move."
"Shouldn't we wait for Eli?" another inquired.
"No! If the Naga make it past Regnaröv's nets then what purpose are we? Let's go!" Akando barked.
The monks followed him through the main hall and through the open double doors.
Amos swallowed, trying to fight back his fear. Gloomy thoughts about Eli's health, the rain, and the Naga sat heavy upon him. From somewhere behind, a bright melody caught his ear; a melody the monks needed to hear.
Several gentle notes from a flute rang out, carrying a spell that calmed their hearts and filled them with fervor. With her flute as a catalyst, Bo — one of the two monastery seers — contributed to the battle in her own passive way. Through just a handful of notes, her spirit blanketed her listeners, lifting fear from their shoulders.
His doubts musically repressed, Amos marched on, lantern ready.
"Kohana!" Akando called through the thunderous rain.
Amos gazed at the lightshow emanating from the monastery tower. Rays of light burst from the silhouette of Chappa, the acolyte-on-duty, toward the sea. Ready to assist, Amos began channeling energy into his focus, the lantern. The iridescent light grew bigger and brighter, reaching out through the yard as he cast it farther and farther, searching.
Outside, the night's rain had melted the light blanket of ice that typically garnished the stone pathway. A handful of scattered monks took position among the staggered sets of stairs leading down to the frozen slope where even grass could not grow. In the near distance, flashes of light flurried the sea.
"Lightning to the west! Their nets are ready!" someone called. "To the boats!"
"They've reached land!" another shouted as Amos swung his light over to the west. The beams soon found the living, smothering their figures and marking each with a distinctive aura that pierced through water and walls alike. The blanket of light revealed a horde of reptilian lurkers slithering through the shallows of the beach, otherwise invisible in the night's shade.
"They're already here ... Have the others fallen?"
"No, there's still lightning out on the water!"
Akando did not wait to observe. Without a word, he faced the Naga lines, leapt down the slope, and sprinted toward the beach, all others soon at his heels.
With a loud, "Hah!" Akando brought his staff to the ground. Lightning seemed to spring from the earth, snaking and coruscating over Akando's flesh. His eyes glowed white in the darkness. For the first Naga wave, there was no escape.
Already out of breath from the charge, Amos watched as the bare-chested monk cradled the lightning in his hands. For a moment, all was still — but then Akando thrusted, sending forks of white-hot electricity into the ranks of voracious reptilians. Turning away from their hissed screams, Akando looked back at his monks. He raised his staff. "To the boats!"
Amos, awestruck, hesitated. Hardly a fighter, he would not fare well out on the seas if attacked, but the monks needed him. Remembering his crucial role, he got moving.
"Three of you, reinforce the eastern line," Akando instructed the monks, water pouring down his thin black beard.
"With no acolyte?"
"Over there, Eli has come."
Back at the monastery doors, Eli's lantern tore through the rain with even more intensity than Amos's. Una stood beside him, half-supporting the pale boy. Eli's skills had always outshined Amos's, and Amos only hoped his friend's condition wouldn't change that.
Akando grabbed Amos by the arm and lifted him onto the wooden boat. If people didn't refrain from violently jerking him about, Amos thought, they'd be the ones to injure him, not the Naga.
The monks wasted no time getting the boat out to sea. Amos used his lantern to mark targets underwater, each serpent glinting beneath the waves. Lightning came down like the wrath of the heavens, each strike more deafening than the last, more deafening even than the Naga shrieks or the monks' battle-shouts. Electricity arced across the roiling surface of the sea, catching the metallic nets that formed an impassible wall as far as the monks' boats could patrol, but Amos' light warned of more serpents approaching, and the rains had yet to relent. Soon, the precise, relentless bolts of lightning slowed, some even missing their targets. The monks' panting gave it all away. Their hearts pounded and their lungs screamed. They faltered. The Naga didn't.
Amos illuminated a particularly swift Naga as it darted toward the boat. Before he could gasp, the beast lunged from the water, its venomous maw stretching, its eyes glinting. Amos's instincts took over: he flinched.
His concentration broken, his light stuttered and died. In its place, a shadowy indigo haze rose from his lantern, engulfing the attacking Naga, suspending it in a slow, midair drift. As the Naga gently glided toward Amos, Akando swung his staff.
Amos released the spell just as Akando's staff connected. Despite the rain, the bolts, and the shouts, Amos still heard the sickening crack of the Naga's scales and bones.
Amos hurried to reignite his lamp, but the remaining reptilians were swarming the hull, rocking it so hard that he stumbled backward. As he struggled to remain upright, the boat shifted once again, throwing him off its port side. Amos closed his eyes as he hit the water, but opened them as soon as he recalled the creatures with him.
A Naga youth stared back at him. No lightning would save him now, not while he was in the ocean.
He scrambled back as the Naga reared its head. He tried to breathe, choking back water, and struggled toward the boat, slamming his head against the hull. He had to make for the surface. The Naga darted past him, teeth glinting, but froze as Amos channeled the last of his power, but he knew he couldn't keep the spell up for long. More Naga rose from the depths.
Eyes burning, lungs quivering, and heart pounding, Amos frantically swam upward toward the shadow of the ship. Finally: moonlight.
He pushed toward it, his hand breaking the surface. His lungs burned as he gulped in the salty air.
A head appeared over the rail. "Man overboard!" the monk yelled, and Amos was dragged up. Had he not been so light in weight, his shoulder would have dislocated long ago.
"He's clear!" the monk who saved him shouted.
Akando turned, raising his fists to the heavens, and let out a head-splitting roar, electricity rippling across his bare skin. He slammed his staff onto the deck and with its falling the skies split, the largest lightning bolt Amos had ever seen blasted the surface of the ocean, rain and water rising as steam in the sudden silence, concealing the acrid scent of burned meat and scales.
Amos looked away, turning his lantern back to the island. Men were clustered there, waving, crying out.
"They made it to the mainland? Are they not usually drawn to prey in the water?"
"There are not usually this many Naga. The rains are still pouring," Akando answered. "Back to the monastery! They're overrun!"
The fleet reacted quickly, and soon all were on a top-speed course back to the island.
Akando patted Amos on the shoulder.
Amos nodded. Despite his exhaustion, he was there for a reason.
His heart still pounding, he illuminated several more predators, which the monks in the boat proceeded to kill. As soon as the boats were within shallow waters, they jumped in and waded through, staves ready.
Amos stayed close. As an acolyte, he'd practiced only two skills: the ability to illuminate nearby threats, and the ability to hold them in a slow-moving stasis. His lantern, dimmer now, flickered in the darkness.
As he climbed back up the wet foothills of the monastery, Amos paused. Beneath him, three-toed footprints large enough for a man to sit in marked the mud. He swallowed. Ahead, a brief glint of light flashed from the doorway of the monastery. Eli.
Amos broke into a run, passing the monks on either side. He leapt a ruined wall, headed for the door, and almost ran into the tail-end of a tall, stout, four-legged creature decked in scaly armor. A drake. Amos had only seen one once before, and it had been much smaller than this. Two dead monks lay nearby, their blood leaking onto the bricks, but something else had its attention. A dark aura flickered across the beast's scales. When he saw the flash, he threw himself back behind the wall. A barrage of lightning bolts tore into the creature's core, almost blinding Amos. He recovered in time to see the drake break free and lunge at the closest monk.
Even Akando hesitated. The only person in the monastery who had any experience taking these things down was Elder Tahki himself.
"Get the Elder," Akando huffed before rushing in, capturing the drake's attention with a sharp roar.
The drake swung its spiked tail in a full circle. The muscle and scale cannoned into the chest of the nearest figure, sending them sprawling with a shriek across the courtyard. Amos knew in an instant that it had been Eli. He knew Eli's voice, even though it was the first time he'd ever heard it.
Amos rushed toward Eli — his one true friend — without hesitation. While the drake turned on Akando and the other monks, Amos assessed Eli's injuries.
Eli's eyes flared, searching Amos's face. His arm came up with a jerk and forcefully gripped Amos's, as if it would keep him alive, and with adrenal strength, Amos lifted his heavier friend, running toward the entrance hall as fast as his body would allow.
A steady stream of blood leaked onto the floor. The drake's tail had smacked Eli squarely in the ribs, and blood leaked from Eli's ears and mouth as his eyes flickered.
When Amos finally got to safety in the seer's hall, Luyu — another seer — locked the door behind him. Her mid-length brown hair had been hastily tucked into her blindfold, and she wildly swung her walking stick with each stride.
"The boys are here!" she announced.
"Thank goodness. The Elder was tied up defending the east; I feared for the worst when I heard the commotion out — oh!" Una had spotted Eli. She ran over. "Set him on the table."
Luyu backed away. "Is Chappa okay?"
"Unless the Naga grow wings, he will be safe," Una breathed as she helped Amos carefully lay Eli on the table.
Bo joined them, descending the steps. She too wore a blindfold, her long brown hair neatly draped over it. She carefully placed one foot in front of the other, one hand on her flute and the other on the wall. "Something's wrong," she declared, standing next to Luyu, who was at least a head taller.
"Yes, Eli has been hurt," Luyu explained.
"Is he dying?" Bo asked, but Luyu had no response.
"You two would be the first to know, Bo. Luyu, run up the steps and get me some bandages. They're on the table next to my bed."
Luyu tentatively nodded and headed upstairs.
"Oh, dear ..." Una muttered as she assessed the damage.
Amos stared at her.
"His ribs. He's broken on the inside. I ... I can't fix this. We need our best healers. We need Brother Yenene." She looked around the room, eyes narrowed. "Amos, I need you to find Yenene as quickly as possible. He must still be helping the monks out on the battlefield. Eli! Look at me."
"It's too late ..." Bo murmured.
"The Shepherd reaches for him. I see him cowering. He's scared because he knows the Shepherd is never wrong. When he comes, it's time to say goodbye."
Una looked away from Bo, biting her tongue. Amos knew that she'd had much experience dealing with death. Even though he — they — saw her as the closest thing they had to a mother, she'd always kept herself at a distance.
Amos did not hold back his tears. Eli was his closest friend, his brother. While he'd long shared a hall with the seers, they couldn't see, and the acolytes couldn't speak, so there was little common ground. Even Chappa was older by a full millenox, and therefore spent much of his time alone.
Amos and Eli may have never said a word to each other, but they'd been brothers by heart. They'd cast shadow images on the walls, telling tales through light and darkness ... with Eli gone, Amos would be stuck with a few moldy books, his studies, and his duty to serve Naamah and Leviathan.
"I have your bandages, Sister," Luyu told them as she returned.
"When they see the Shepherd, they have hours. Perhaps Yenene can give him days with us."
Bo walked forward and reached for Amos. With one hand, she clutched Amos's arm, and with the other, she placed her hand over Eli's heart. "May the Shepherd guide you to a better home," she prayed, assuring herself as much as the others.
It was all too much for Amos to process. He would not accept Eli as dead until they sent him out to Leviathan's Throat on a raft. With his heart throbbing, he reached for the bandages Una had not even accepted. They had magic and medicine. Surely Bo was wrong; but Amos was no healer. Their gods could, but Amos would not forsake him.CHAPTER 2
"May the Seers of Regnaröv, through innocence and sacrifice, be the harbingers of Naamah's Blessing." – Book of Leviathan
"The turn of the centenox begins with tragedy," Bo muttered.
Over twelve hours had passed, and Amos had refused to leave his friend's side. The monks had just finished tallying the dead and wounded. The night had ended without a victor.
"Twelve of our brothers left with the Shepherd in the night," Bo continued, but Amos didn't turn. To him, Eli's impending death was a greater pain than the loss of the others combined.
"If only Leviathan had given us greater warning. So many Naga attacked. Perhaps it is an omen. I tried to help, but I'm who you're all protecting, and what use is my flute if the chaos is too loud for you to hear me?"
Amos finally turned, recalling how she'd played her flute as they'd marched into battle.
While Bo certainly was an asset in battle, the monks kept the female seers away from danger at all costs. Still, Amos knew that Bo had a rebellious streak. She'd found a way to help, if only a little.
An uproar ripped through the courtyard. Amos looked up, listening carefully. "Naamah beckons us," Bo stated.
A knock on the door to the seers' hall reaffirmed that. "Children, let's go," Una ordered from the doorway. Bo took Amos's hand so he could guide her through the doorway, but Amos did not budge. Finally, Sister Una entered with a scowl and a quick grip.
She led them down the steps and out to the entrance hall, which rarely failed to amaze Amos in the daylight. Ice had already formed on the many windows, filtering the sunlight that seeped through and bathing the entire hall in cerulean. The ceiling beveled into a dome with a sunroof that let even more light bleed in. The interior waterfall, a sanctified structure that gathered and purified seawater, glinted below. It was the sole source of fresh water for those within the monastery.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Pious Insurrection"
Copyright © 2018 Dexter Morgenstern.
Excerpted by permission of Lulu Publishing Services.
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