FREE EXCERPT: Read the Prologue from Danie Ware’s ECKO BURNING

We’re pleased to be able to bring SF Signal readers this excerpt from the new book Ecko Burning by Danie Ware, the sequel to Ecko Rising.

Here’s how the book is described:

Ruthless and ambitious, Lord Phylos has control of Fhaveon city, and is using her forces to bring the grasslands under his command. His last opponent is an elderly scribe who’s lost his best freind and wants only to do the right thing.

Seeking weapons, Ecko and his companions follow a trail of myth and rumour to a ruined city where both nightmare and shocking truth lie in wait.

When all of these things come together, the world will change beyond recognition.

Back in London, the Bard is offered the opportunity to realise everything he has ever wanted – if he will give up his soul.

Read on the for the excerpt…


ECKO BURNING (Excerpt)
by Danie Ware

PROLOGUE
Aeona

She’d walked their halls of decadence with wonder.

Now she leaned out over the parapet, breathing in the sunlight, the salt air, like amazement. They watched her through their shared eye, their curiosity whetted and mutual.

“But how do you do this stuff?” She turned to face them, bright with attitude. She was defiant, mischievous and confrontational. “Does anyone know? The Great Library, the Bard…”

Anticipation cut through them both, savage and immediate.

I want her, I want -!

No. Denial was absolute. I’m not giving you one this young. She’s mine. You know why. The creature in his soul slavered at him.

Hungry.

I said ‘no’. Ice-cold, he forced it down. The Count of Time has brought her here for good reason. It glowered at him for a moment, considering, then fell silent.

Patience, he told it.

He turned back to the girl, laughing with her. “I have all the company I need,” he said, amused. “Aeona’s my home – everything’s here; my work, my art, my life. It’s quiet here, I don’t want it invaded.” He joined her, age-spotted hands on worn, pastel stone. Beneath his skin, ink writhed – marks he could never lose slid across his fingers and circled his wrists like serpents.

When he turned to look at her – one eye seeing, the other, the dark one, covered – she caught her breath.

“Shar,” he said her name with affection. “You’ve seen only the beginning.” His gaze caught hers, held it. “Would you like to see more?”

“You can’t have anything else!” Her laugh was casual, thrown away by clean sea wind. Blue water dashed into whiteness on rocks far below. “Why are you even out here?”

Ah, little one. So many questions.

Her lips were parted; her varicoloured eyes shone. He liked her eyes, one blue, one green – they were unusual, they’d caught his interest like a portent. He thought he might keep them.

“Come,” he said.

* * * * * * * * *

Light flooded the high garden, the stone cloisters; a glitter of autumn leaves hung from the pergolas and danced in the breeze. This time, she stared more at the scatter of creatures, his menagerie, his creations and artworks. He walked with purpose and she occasionally ran to keep pace, feet swift on patterned mosaic. Dapples of sun slid over her skin.

“What’re they for?” she asked.

“Themselves.” He gave her an amused shrug. “Me. I like them, and they have a good home here.”

They passed across the shadow of a statue, a creature of hooves and horns loomed above them.

“But why don’t you let them go?”

“To what end?” He raised his one eyebrow. “Freedom isn’t a gift to one who can’t use it.”

She frowned at him.

He pushed open a door. “Here.”

Yes, draw her in. Make her -!

Be silent.

The room was dim, shelves heavy with books. He let her wander, her fingers trailing over their spines. Somewhere in his heart, the creature hissed with heat and helpless fury.

Let me taste her. Or I will rend your insides to bloody shreds. I will tear myself free of your flesh, rip down the skies and rain death on this accursed rock -

Peace. Your melodrama bores me. I’ll bring you what you need – in time. You wait until I say.

I starve; you perish. Where is your learning then?

I won’t let you starve.

He laughed again and the girl turned to look at him, soft in the grey air.

“Come here,” he said gently.

She came, still cocky as she laid a hand on his shoulder. Her chin tilted sideways, assumption and invitation. For a moment, he allowed himself to be charmed by her brazenness.

The creature in him trembled.

And the blade opened her throat.

A single slash, a red line, a ripping, widening smile. A flood of rich darkness that covered his hands, concealed the ever-moving sigils. He caught her as she fell, bubbles on her lips and a final look of shock in those strange, two-coloured eyes. He was sorry to waste her this way, but he – they – sought answers. As if those eyes were a harbinger, a warning from the Count of Time itself, they sought answers now.

They laid her out on the stone floor, life running forgotten to the sea far below.

A single blow shattered her sternum. It took the strength of the creature within him to crack her ribcage and part the two sides like doors – tearing her open to reach the truth that lay within.

Her lungs fluttered; her heart beat desperately, struggled, and was still.

The creature in him pulsed with blood and eagerness; his skin bulged to contain it. Slowly, he raised a bloodied hand and lifted the covering on his darker eye.

Tell me, he said silently. Tell me what you have seen.

It repulsed his clinical nature – but his need for knowledge was absolute.

Foolish! It was laughing, the sound immortal and terrible. The world is wounded, riven to her heart, and now a canker spreads through her flesh. Despite Maugrim’s failure, Roviarath will fall to her knees. Fhaveon lays trembling, her pale thighs wide. Old forces muster at Rammouthe; they have waited so long. And the Bard is gone…

The creature paused.

What?

Ineffectual, his presence or his absence matter not.

Its scorn was like a blade, it severed his consciousness, thought from thought. Under the full onslaught of its presence, he could barely remember who he was – even as it spoke, it pried into his mind with hot, curious fingers, baring his innermost weaknesses, laughing at his doubts and fears. One day, it would tear his soul to screaming shreds.

But not today.

Tell me what you have seen! he demanded.

I know that the world has found eyes, it said, sounding faintly amused. But they’re crazed and broken, and she struggles to focus – to mesh thought and memory once more.

It paused. He found he had to stare at the girl, blood congealing on her skin.

And I have seen something new, something different. It was piqued – he had never heard it sound so… curious. Something that had might enough to thwart Maugrim’s growth. Something dark, cruel, tortured. Something insane. Something that walks as though in a maze of its own mind – and something that -

The creature caught itself.

Something you’ll want, my estavah. Something that may hold the key to the greatest knowledge of all.

The creature could not suppress its hunger: it flooded the man’s mouth like warm red wine. He swallowed.

You can’t fool me, my creature. The want is yours. What are you withholding from me? He pushed back, demanding. How does the world find her vision? Seek her memory? What has happened to the Bard?

It laughed at him then, displaying a cruelty and power so vast he found himself shuddering physically, backing away from the torn-open corpse of the girl.

Ah, my old friend, it said. Do you not trust me, even now?

The girl’s head turned. He thought he saw her exposed lungs inflate, her bloodied lips make words. Trust me, she mouthed silently. Trust

He dropped the covering over the eye.

The girl was still, ripped open like a bweao’s uneaten kill. She had not moved.

You seek ultimate comprehension, the creature said, its tone enticing, a dark charisma that teased sweat from his shoulders. This – man – believes he has it. You should bring him to us, my friend; my captor.

Struggling, he said nothing, thought nothing. Mind empty, he stared down at the girl. Her eyes were open, that look of shock still on her face. She’d given them answers, but raised only more questions.

Sea birds cried as if in mourning; the breeze rattled the shutters. He shivered.

The creature was hiding something, something he couldn’t touch. It was laughing at him. And yet he needed to know, had to know.

Aloud, he said, “‘…that walks as though in a maze of its own mind.'”

The words echoed hollow in the silence between them. The girl cooled on the floor.

Bring him, it said. Coax him; make him come to us. He cannot be broken, but he is in need of a mentor, a father, and you can make him trust you.

Why do you care, creature? What do you want?

I? The creature was grinning – a white slash of savagery in the darkness. Somewhere, embers smouldered in yellow eyes. Trust me, my estavah, my brother. The greatest knowledge requires the greatest risk. Bring Ecko to Aeona, tear him wide, and you will craft the greatest creations of your life.

[end of excerpt]

Read more in Danie Ware’s new novel Ecko Burning!