Forbidden Things: Book Three
Apostate

by Nikki McCormack

Being rejected by the man she loves hasn’t stopped Indigo from trying to save his country. Since her own country now sees her as a traitor, she must look elsewhere for help. While Yiloch rushes back to the capital to prepare his empire for battle against an enemy that appears untouchable, Indigo turns to the least likely place to build an army of her own.

The Kudaness, split apart by intertribal rivalries, are bound together in several things, not the least of which are their hatred of her people and their belief that using ascard is an affront to their gods. If she can convince them to excuse her those sins, she still faces the challenge of persuading them to go to war on behalf of their Lyran neighbors. Even if she succeeds, they must defeat a powerful army and then she will have to find a way to clear Yiloch’s name and prove to her country that she is no traitor.

And somewhere out there, Myac is still hunting them both.


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Information:

Title: Apostate, Forbidden Things Book Three
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Elysium Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Length: 336 pages
Release Date: April 2016
ISBN: 978-0996319669

Excerpt from Apostate: Forbidden Things Book Three

by Nikki McCormack

Copyright © 2014 by Nikki McCormack. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

CHAPTER ONE

Indigo moved her mount out at a swift trot to keep pace with the jogging Kudaness. Their stamina in the sand was an impressive thing, but it meant she had to harden the ground under her horse with every stride to keep up his pace without injuring him. That effort required significant energy expenditure, though it didn’t seem to be wearing her down as fast as it had the night she left Yiloch and the others to seek out Suac Chozai. Once she recovered from the side effects of the drug the suac had given her to enable a walk with his gods, her ascard connection was crisp and strong, almost more so than it had been before.

Since the Kudaness looked on deliberate use of ascard as a form of blasphemy, it had already become a source of friction between her and Chozai. Their initial confrontation on the matter was still fresh in her mind. Chozai had stopped them perhaps an hour outside of the Murak village and led her away from the warriors.

“You must stop your use of ascard. Your use of it is an affront to our gods and consequently an affront to us. I cannot allow it to continue and expect to retain the respect of my warriors.”

She’d swept the group with her gaze, noting the dark looks they gave her, then met his copper eyes. “Those gods you speak of have already confirmed my path. I cannot keep up the pace you set on foot and I will not injure this horse. If you take issue with my methods, I suggest you discuss it with your gods.”

Chozai’s answering scowl had chilled her blood, but he had turned away and ordered them to continue their journey. Her refusal to be cowed by him had earned her his grudging respect and they had both shared the vision that sent them on this journey. He was unwilling to argue against the will of the gods

Before leaving his home village, the suac sent messengers out to several Murak villages to request that they ready their warriors and send them to the northernmost village. Along the way, they stopped at two other Murak villages so Chozai could give them the same message. From there, they continued into the Farid tribal lands, resting during the hottest part of the day and traveling through most of the night.

She felt the press of time, knowing the Grey Army had a considerable lead over them. If this journey were successful, would the Kudaness gather only to arrive in Yiroth and find it destroyed? They might still defeat the Grey Army in that case, but it mattered little to her if Lyra was already defeated. Yiloch would try to save his empire at any cost. That was who he was, and she shared his desire to protect that empire even if she no longer held his love.

They came upon the first Farid village midmorning on the third day, a collection of huts gaining form on the horizon. When they were close enough to make out villagers among the huts, a flood of armed warriors surged out to intercept them and she gathered ascard to her as a precaution. Chozai signaled their group to stop. She brought her horse up beside him as the Murak warriors moved in close, weapons ready and eyes full of grim determination.

“They don’t look that pleased to see us,” she commented, trying not to let the tremor of fear in her chest pass her lips.

Chozai’s sour grimace wasn’t reassuring. “Murak and Farid have long been rivals. If they can be turned to your cause, the rest will be easy.”

“If they can’t?”

Chozai said nothing.

She watched the approaching warriors, calming her mount with ascard so her fear wouldn’t panic the animal. When they were close enough, she realized that the man in the lead bore no weapons and, like Suac Chozai, tattoos covered most of his visible flesh. Another Kudaness high priest.

“He is their suac?”

Chozai nodded. “He is why we come to this village first. With your power and the aid of a second suac, the suacs of the other tribes can be contacted through a walk with the gods.”

She shuddered, recalling the vile taste of the liquid he’d given her to initiate the previous walk with the gods and how sick it made her. “You would use my power for this? I thought you considered it blasphemous.”

Chozai narrowed his eyes at her, muscles in his jaw twitching. “You are a fractious woman. If you would rather travel to all the tribes on foot, I can oblige you. By then, Lyra will have certainly fallen.”

“My apologies.” She lowered her gaze hoping he would accept it as a show of deference and sincerity. “What must I do?”

“You will feed power into me to amplify the call,” he replied. There was a catch in his voice and bitterness in his eyes when she met them again that helped her realize what it must cost him to ask such a thing of her.

“As you wish.” She bowed her head again, this time in respect and gratitude for his efforts.

“I do not wish it,” he growled under his breath.

Since the subject was upsetting him, she let the conversation end there and watched the approaching warriors close the distance until they came to a stop a few yards from the Murak group. The warriors on both sides seemed to grow larger, bristling like angry dogs, ready to attack at any provocation. She wondered if they would make it long enough to discuss their proposal before someone lost control and attacked the other side. The opposing suac barked a sharp order and the Farid warriors lowered their weapons. Suac Chozai did the same. The two suacs stepped up to one another and began to converse in their native tongue. Indigo caught a few words she had picked up in her short time among them, but she learned far more following the discussion by reading their emotions with her power.

For a few delicate minutes, the discussion was calm, then it grew heated, both men exuding hatred born of a long rivalry. Careful to keep her activities well masked, she pushed a slow stream of calm over them the same way she would with an agitated patient. Both men would turn on her in an instant if they had any idea that she was manipulating them, but she counted on their lack of conscious ascard control to keep her actions secret. The heated exchange mellowed and she smiled to herself. Eventually, the other suac gave a gruff nod and they turned to her.

She caught her breath. He has copper eyes too.

Did every suac have such eyes? What would cause such a thing?

“Suac Therah has agreed to walk with the gods. We shall go to his temple.”

Doubt swept through her then. She had no desire to experience the side effects of the drug he had given her again, let alone try to choke it down. She didn’t belong here. Nor did she belong in Caithin anymore, not after setting free the man accused of having the Caithin royal family assassinated. Along with her place in Caithin, she’d also lost Yiloch’s love and the possibility of a place in Lyra. Still, she refused to see him or his country destroyed. There were people she cared for there. It wasn’t only about Yiloch anymore. Ian and Cadmar had become dear to her as well. Adran also, for the love and loyalty he gave to Yiloch and for his practicality that balanced Yiloch’s passion. If this was the price she had to pay to get Kudan to help Lyra, then she would do it.

She nodded and Suac Therah answered with a curt nod of his own, giving her a suspicious glower before turning to lead them back to the village. Their destination, Therah’s temple, was a long hut similar to the one Chozai lived in. Warriors from both tribes escorted them to the door.

Before they could enter, the door flaps opened from within and a group of warriors emerged, carrying a body between them. Indigo stepped back, bumping into one of the Murak warriors. The man glared at her and she inched forward, trying to stay back from the emerging group without touching anyone else. She felt small and conspicuous among the tall, dark skinned Kudaness men.

The body was that of a young man. A reddish foam bubbled from his mouth and nose. His dark eyes stared at the sky, devoid of that distinctive spark of life. Indigo dared a quick inspection with ascard. He had died only moments ago. There was something in his system, a poison of some kind that was uncomfortably familiar. None of the others appeared bothered by the death, though Suac Therah inclined his head, closing his eyes for a quick moment, and she sensed a hint of disappointment in him.

 When the group was clear of the door, Therah entered. Indigo followed, staying respectfully behind Chozai. One warrior from each tribe entered with them. Both of the suacs sat, one on each side of a ring of pillows, staring at one another with dislike so intense it charged the air around them. When no one offered any guidance, she sat on another edge of the ring halfway between the two men. At least they had the good sense to start seated this time. After falling the last time, she felt this was a much safer option.

The Farid warrior walked to a cabinet almost identical to the one in Suac Chozai’s hut and retrieved a water skin. This he carried over and handed to Suac Therah.

Therah offered it to Chozai first. She struggled not to fidget as the Murak lifted the water skin, his eyes never leaving the other man. She hoped their standing rivalry wouldn’t come into play here. How easy would it be for the Farid suac to eliminate his rival with a touch of poison? She inspected the substance in the skin with ascard and panic made her breath catch, tightening her chest when she realized it was the same substance she had detected in the dead man’s body. Before she could move to intervene, Chozai took a deep drink from the skin. When Therah accepted the water skin back, he too drank deep and passed it to her.

She hesitated, remembering the dead man’s face, and gave the liquid a tentative sniff. It was the same thing Suac Chozai had given her before. If she refused to drink it now, would he abandon the journey? It hadn’t killed her the last time, though it had made her violently ill. Pushing aside fear, she brought the skin to her lips and made herself drink. She drank less deep than the two suacs had on the reasoning that the two men might have developed a tolerance for the substance.

The Farid warrior snatched the water skin from her and returned it to the cabinet. She was barely aware of the two warriors leaving the hut. Both suacs were swaying now, their eyes losing focus and glazing over. They both began to hum and, as her vision started to blur, she began to sway with them, trying not to fight the drug as she had the last time. This time, the pain that radiated out from her stomach was less severe and the transition less jarring. The hut vanished and there was only a brief instant of blackness. Then she was sitting under a star filled sky in the desert. Chozai and Therah sat across from one another in the same positions they occupied within the hut. A pale, glowing orb appeared in the center of the circle, illuminating the tattooed faces of the suacs.

Reminding herself of their purpose, Indigo focused, drawing on ascard and feeding her power into Suac Chozai. The other man did nothing to indicate that he was aware of the offering, but the orb glowed brighter. Chozai’s lips moved as if he spoke, but no sound came out.

She waited, keeping the feed of power open so Chozai could take in as much as he needed.

Another suac emerged from the darkness beyond the circle and sat across from her. This man appeared older than the other two and was missing his left arm below the elbow. Neither Chozai nor Therah made any move to acknowledge the newcomer, so she followed their example, focusing on the orb. They sat in silence, all of them gazing into the pale orb at the center. The desert pulsated around the edges of her vision, stars flickering and dancing in the sky above. More Kudaness, tattooed with the elaborate designs of their priesthood and the varied facial tattoos that declared their tribes, came into the circle from the darkness and sat. The orb glowed brighter with each new arrival.

She dared to glance around, taking quick inventory of the men joining them. Suac Chozai’s hair was longer and woven with more beads than that of any of the others. She wondered if that was significant or if it might merely be a tribal difference.

Now that she had a better idea of what to expect from a walk with the gods, she felt less out of control. The lingering image of the dead man, killed, as best she could tell from her cursory examination, by the poison they had consumed to get here, kept her nerves on edge, but the experience itself was less terrifying this time. Each suac swayed with the pulsing of the desert, and she did so too, understanding now that it helped ward off the nausea the vile drink caused.

When a twelfth suac joined the circle, they all looked up. Most glanced at her first, their scrutinizing looks like a collection of daggers waiting to be thrown. The notorious prejudice of her people did her no favors here. Then they turned their attention to Suac Chozai. Somehow, they appeared to know that he was the one who called them together.

“I have called upon you to initiate a Dursik un Kar,” Chozai stated. Two of the others began to speak in Kudaness, but Chozai held up a hand to silence them. He nodded to Indigo. “The Unseen Woman has been brought to us by the gods. She does not speak Kudaness. I ask that you speak the trade tongue.”

There was a flurry of discussion around the circle. When it stopped, all eyes turned to Indigo. She struggled to focus past the dizzying influence of the drug and figure out what they expected of her.

Chozai stepped in to spare her embarrassment. “This is your journey. It falls to you to explain why the Kudaness should initiate a Dursik un Kar.” She looked askance at him and he frowned, perhaps searching for the right words. He finally said, “Gathering of blades.”

She nodded and looked around the circle, noticing as she did so that they all had those odd, dark copper eyes. Was it a sign somehow of their being chosen by the gods or could it be a side effect of using the drug? Her gut twisted at the latter possibility. If it was the drug, how long did it take to develop? She had no interest in copper eyes.

There was growing impatience in the eyes of the suacs. She forced her fears aside.

“Some of you have already encountered the Grey Army that swept up eastern Kudan to Lyra. The Silik,” she said, remembering Yiloch’s description of the army’s destructive path. She received a confirming nod from one suac and did her best not to glare at him. Did he have anything to do with Ferin’s death? Glancing away from those cold eyes, she continued, “…and possibly the Denilik…” the elder suac with the partial arm gave a quick nod, “…have felt the power of that army. The Grey Army now travels through Lyra toward the capital. Should they defeat Lyra, they will not leave the Kudaness in peace. The tribes of Kudan must join against this foe.” Several expressions tightened with disapproval and she plunged ahead before they could put voice to their disagreements. “Now is the time to attack. If the Kudaness join together in a rear attack on the Grey Army while they are engaged with the Lyran army, the Grey Army will fall.” She said the last with an assurance that surprised even her, but it felt right and she needed them to feel it to.

“And what if they take Lyra before we reach them,” one suac argued, glancing at Suac Chozai as he spoke.

“Then they will be weakened by the battle and vulnerable to attack,” she countered.

“Who are they?” another Suac asked.

Before she could come up with an answer to that, the suac from the Silik tribe spoke up.

“They came from beyond the Rhuakine. Two of our villages were completely destroyed, no one left alive.” As he spoke, the short, powerful warriors of the Grey Army on their stout horses appeared around the perimeter of the circle. She had to struggle not to react to their presence, but none of the suacs responded, though several glanced up at the Grey warriors, acknowledging this new component of the group hallucination. “I do not know how they defeated our warriors, but none of the Grey warriors left their lives there.”

“I came upon them on my journey to Kudan. They have strong adepts creating protective barriers around their warriors,” she explained. It was a little simpler than the truth, but the truth frightened her and she didn’t want to share that. One adept controlled the power of every adept in the army. That made him more powerful than she cared to consider now. For now, she needed to focus only on convincing the Kudaness to act.

“Then how can we hope to defeat them?” Suac Therah demanded.

She met his eyes, holding up a hand when several of the others started to speak into the moment of silence. Whatever they thought about her for her race and gender they still respected the gesture, falling silent.

“I can destroy their barriers,” she said, hoping that she wasn’t promising more than she could deliver.

The suacs turned on Chozai, slinging outraged objections at him for bringing an ascard user among them and several reverted back to their native tongue. She kept her silence, refraining from commenting about the way they used ascard themselves, for she was certain that power was involved in this in some way. If not, how could her power have been of any use in calling the other suacs together?

Once more, she waited.

The Grey warriors around them vanished, replaced by scenes of Lyran adepts wielding ascard in various destructive ways and the grim outcomes. Fire, ascard enhanced speed, weapons made of power all wielded by Lyran adepts with bloody results. Among those images, she was certain she spotted Yiloch at least once, or perhaps she wanted to see him bad enough to impose his image upon the memories of the suacs.

“The gods support her words,” Chozai defended. “Look.”

Around them, the images changed. Grey warriors fought Kudaness, and not just from a single tribe, but from many different tribes judging by their varied tattoos. Indigo wondered if Suac Chozai somehow controlled the images though she could find no evidence that he was consciously controlling ascard in any way. Blood spattered Kudaness warriors cried out in victory around the perimeter of the circle, raising spears and curved blades in celebration. Then the image of the Grey Army’s leader appeared among them. He stared at her and smiled and she sucked in a breath, terror coursing through her.

Blackness fell around the circle, the glowing orb no longer penetrating beyond those gathered. She was trembling. Whether from fear this time or from the effects of the drug she couldn’t tell.

“I, Suac Chozai Galal of Murak un Ani, pledge the warriors of Murak to the Dursik un Kar,” Suac Chozai declared, his strong voice echoing in the emptiness around them.

After him, silence reigned for several minutes and Indigo, her head spinning now, wondered if she would manage to avoid passing out before the others gave their answers.

The Denilik suac pounded his knee with a fist and swept the circle with a challenging glare. “I, Suac Kipith Denilik of Denilik un Ani, pledge the warriors of Denilik to the Dursik un Kar.”

Chozai offered a nod of appreciation to the crippled elder. The silence held even longer this time then the Farid suac sat up straighter.

“I, Suac Therah Hesik of Farid un Ani, pledge the warriors of Farid to the Dursik un Kar.”

This time there was no pause. The rest of the prophets spoke in turn, pledging the warriors of their respective tribes to the Dursik un Kar. As they spoke, she realized tears were tracking down her cheeks. She made no move to stop them, feeling the gesture would be somehow inappropriate in this setting. They should know she felt the weight of their decision in her heart. When the last suac pledged his warriors, Suac Chozai met and held her eyes. He nodded once and she felt he did it in approval of her emotion. The gratitude her tears represented was not lost on him, though the deeper sadness, the sense that even this would not earn her a place in life, evaded him.

“The Dursik un Kar will gather on the northern border where Murak lands meet Lyra.”

The other suacs nodded and lowered their gazes to the glowing orb. One by one, they vanished, the orb fading more with each departure, until only the original three remained. Suac Therah nodded to Suac Chozai and vanished. Chozai turned to her and reached a hand out. She took the offered hand and blackness fell.

When she woke, she was alone. She threw up again, emptying her stomach, but she recovered faster than she had the first time. Once she’d composed herself, she got up from the pillows and stepped outside. Chozai waited there with his warriors and Suac Therah. They both acknowledged her with a nod and a warrior held the reins of her mount out to her.

“We will meet again, Unseen Woman,” Suac Therah said. “The gods have a purpose in bringing you to us. Never before has anyone from outside the Kudan brought about a Dursik un Kar. But remember, having the attention of the gods is not the same as having their favor.”

She nodded, too tired to worry over his words, and the suac turned away, exchanging a few words in Kudaness with Chozai. Then she mounted and followed the Murak suac and warriors away from the Farid village.