Justin and I can’t wait for you to read Death Defied. And you won’t have to wait long…
In the meantime, here’s the second snippet. If you missed the first one, you can read it here.
In this snippet, we find out what Kalan, Bob, and WearlÂ have been up to since the end of book one, and we see them step into a hornet’s nest once again.
Let’s get to it!
Kalan had been on the planet Coybon for three days before he found the damn temple.
And once he did, he didnâ€™t much like the looks of it. To think heâ€™d gone through all that trouble for this old stone building!
Bob had spent most of the three days at local drinking establishments, supposedly trying to gather Intel. He came back to the ship every night smelling strongly of alcohol and the strange leaves they smoked on this planet.
Wearl had disappeared for up to a day at a time. She was secretive about it, refusing to reveal even to Bob what she was up to.
On the third day, Bob surprised Kalan by coming through with a lead. A male claimed to have seen a Grayhewn near the Skulla temple south of the city. It had been many years ago, but he said he remembered it vividly, and just as importantly, he agreed to lead them there.
Kalan was following up on the fourth record from his fatherâ€™s files. Each record contained the suspected location of a Grayhewn, as the Pallicon called them, or a Bandian, as they called themselves. Most of the records were nothing more than vague rumors, and theyâ€™d already spent nearly a month chasing down three dead-end leads.
This one was different in that Kalanâ€™s father had actually had an eyewitness, although as they learned when they got to Coybon, that eyewitness happened to be dead. Still, they took it as another bump in the road.
But Bobâ€™s lead had come through for them.
So it was they found themselves standing in the middle of a forest gazing down at a few stone spires jutting skyward above a thickly wooded valley.
Bob scratched his head. â€œAre we sure this is the place?â€
Kalan gave him a look. â€œAre you serious? We got this intel from your lead.â€
â€œYeah, I know, but the guy seems shady. I have a weird feeling weâ€™re maybe, I donâ€™t know, grasping at straws.â€ He paused for a moment, listening. â€œWhatâ€™s straw? Seriously, Wearl, you donâ€™t know what straw is? Itâ€™s like hay. Dried long grass. It doesnâ€™t matter. Itâ€™s just a saying.â€
They marched through the thick trees, their rust-orange trunks twisting upward at impossible angles, and were halfway down the steep trail when they spotted the temple below. It was a large squat building whose stone walls were the same color as the trunks of the strange trees.
Before long they found a narrow stone path that quickly broadened as it approached the temple. It widened enough that ten men couldâ€™ve walked side-by-side.
Bob glanced nervously toward Kalan. â€œAre we sure this is a good idea? The Skulla religion is all about fighting, right?â€
â€œNot all about fighting,â€ Kalan said with a smile. â€œLike seventy percent maybe. Honestly, thereâ€™s a lot more to it than that.â€
They reached the bottom of a long staircase leading up to the door of the temple. Each step was only a few inches high, which made the staircase much longer than it needed to be. A staircase for a shorter species, Kalan mused.
When they reached the top, he put his hands on his hips and stared at the stone wall in front of them. â€œHuh.â€
The stonewall was thirty feet high, ran the entire length of the building, and appeared to be seamless. Impossibly, it looked as if it had been made from one solid piece of stone.
â€œNot big fans of doors, are they?â€ Bob muttered.
â€œShut up, Iâ€™m thinking.â€ Kalan slowly walked forward, his hand outstretched toward the stone wall in front of him. â€œStick close behind me, you two. If I step into some sort of deathtrap, grab my shirt or something before I fall.â€
Bob sighed. â€œWearl says sheâ€™d never let that happen to someone as handsome, kindhearted, and muscular is you.â€
At first Bob had refused to pass along Wearlâ€™s flirty messages. Sheâ€™d coerced him into doing it with threats of bodily harm, and now, after three weeks together as a team, heâ€™d pretty much resigned himself to playing weird messenger boy.
Kalan didnâ€™t know what to think of the messages. For all he knew it could be the strange Shimmer sense of humor coming through, or she could actually have the hots for him. One thing he did know was that he wasnâ€™t interested. His standards weren’t sky-high, but he did prefer his girlfriends to be visible and able to communicate to him without Bob whispering in his ear. That would make for a truly awkward date.
Kalan extended his index finger until it was only an inch or so from the stone wall and leaned a bit closer, his finger almost brushing the orange stone. Suddenly the wall was gone, and he saw a long corridor leading away from the empty spot where the wall had been up until a moment ago.
Whether the wall had been some sort of hologram or if itâ€™d actually moved that quickly, Kalan had no idea. He didnâ€™t have long to think about it before he noticed an especially short Skulla in a flowing orange robe standing at the end of the dim hallway.
â€œCome! All are welcome.â€
Kalan and Bob exchanged a surprised glance. They been ready for hostility, aggressive questioning, or even a fight, but the one thing they had never expected was hospitality.
â€œThank you,â€ he said simply. â€œI am Kalan Grayhewn, and my colleagues and I are here to seek your help.â€
â€œFine, fine. Thatâ€™ll do. Weâ€™re happy to help.â€
Kalan took a deep breath and figured he had nothing to lose. This was why theyâ€™d come into this strange valley forest, after all. Theyâ€™d found the temple, and he was one step closer to either another dead-end or to finding one of his kinfolk.
He walked forward with long but slow strides, scanning the walls and the floors as casually as he could for any sort of traps.
The Skulla priest waited, his hands pressed together, the arms of the robe drooping nearly to his knees. â€œAs I said, all are welcomeâ€¦all who are willing to pay the price of entry.â€
Kalan stopped walking. â€œDid you say â€˜price?â€™ I think you might have the wrong idea here. I have a couple questions. I donâ€™t want toâ€””
The Skulla priest waved his hand as if dismissing a foolish notion. â€œIt makes no difference. You are here, and that means we will get our payment. As will you.â€â€™
Even though the words were menacing, the priest spoke them in such a friendly and welcoming tone that Kalan began second-guessing himself. Was he reading too much into this?
â€œKalan?â€ Bob called in a soft but insistent voice.
Kalan glanced back and did a double-take. The stone wall was back, and now they were trapped inside. He was more than a little tempted to take a run at the thing and find out once and for all if it was a hologram, but instead he turned towards the priest.
â€œListen, I think weâ€™ll have our chat right here if itâ€™s all the same to you.â€
The priest slowly shook his head, and Kalan was almost certain he saw a pang of regret in the old Skullaâ€™s eyes. â€œIâ€™m afraid that wonâ€™t work. I must take you deeper into the temple.â€
Kalan casually rested his hand on the butt of the Tralen-14 pistol hanging from his belt. â€œAll due respect, but thatâ€™s not happening. Youâ€™re going to answer our questions. I donâ€™t mean to be impolite, but youâ€™ve sort of put us in a tight spot here, what with the occasional wall popping up behind us and all.â€
The priest sighed. â€œFine. Ask your question.â€
Kalan hesitated, surprised the old priest had so readily agreed. But why should he be? Three strangers were towering over the old maleâ€”wasn’t that incentive enough?
â€œExcellent, thank you. Weâ€™ve heard tell you have a Grayhewn here at the temple. A male of my species.â€
The priestâ€™s eyes widened a bit. â€œThose who come to the temple do so in secret. Iâ€™m afraid I cannot reveal any information about those inside.â€
â€œOh, yeah? How about now?â€ Bob drew his pistol and trained it on the priest.
Kalan resisted the urge to smack Bob so hard heâ€™d fly through that stone wall, but the damage was done and now they needed to present a unified front. Thereâ€™d be plenty of time for chewing Bob a new one later. He drew his own weapon, though he didnâ€™t point it at the priest.
The priest frowned. â€œIs that how guests behave where youâ€™re from?â€ He shook his head sadly. â€œI fear it will be no joy collecting the payment from you.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s this payment you keep talking about?â€ Kalan asked.
The priest smiled slyly. â€œAnyone who sets foot inside these walls is bound to our service for the rest of their lives.â€
Bob took a step forward and waggled his gun, as if trying to bring it to the priestâ€™s attention. â€œIâ€™m sorry, did you just threaten to make us slaves?â€
â€œNot slaves, but disciples.â€ He turned to Kalan. â€œAs to your question about the Grayhewn, there was one here, a grouchy old male who couldnâ€™t be taught manners. Sadly he is no longer with us. He passed on to the final resting place ten cycles ago.â€
Kalan grimaced and turned to Bob. â€œAll right, let’s get out of here. â€œ
The priest waved his hand and suddenly the wall behind him disappeared, revealing five armed guards.
â€œI enjoyed having a Grayhewn here,â€ the priest said. â€œAnd now I have one once again.â€
That’s all for now. We’ll jump back to Valerie’s POV for snippet #3, coming tomorrow!