Authors: JM Guillen
From the Book
“Your lies will do no good, Keiri. I know who you are.
I know why you are here.”
There. I caught the slightest motion in the doorway.
“I’m here for Orin.” I stepped backward, toward the
“Orin will be the last fool you cozen.”
I heard the whisper of drawing steel as the shadowed
figure stepped forward. The candles in the room flared slightly as my heart
pounded in my chest.
“Please.” I uttered that single word in a mewled
whisper, the epitome of helplessness. In actuality, my mind raced. Hadn’t there
been a second door—?
“Quiet.” The whisper was sharp. “I am not fooled,
Handmaiden.” He stepped forward again. Now, in the flickering candlelight, I
could see the shadowed cowl of his cloak. “Silence now, and I will send you to
the painless blanket of death.” The metal of his long knife gleamed in the
Finding no way around him, I made my eyes hard.
“No.” Power, pleasure, and pain sang through my body.
Sire Mattias had prepared me well. I’d spent hours in
his bed before I came to Orin. Sire Mattias played my desire like a lute,
sculpted my passions like an artisan. As a result, I come to Orin with sigils
full of my Lady’s desire.
Inside me, Her Passion raged like a river.
Briefly, the Karas sigil flashed with warm delight.
Then, in answering call, the candles of the room all flared as one, so bright
as to be almost blinding.
I saw his face.
He was no man.
Pale skin gleamed beneath the hood, deathly white.
Black veins ran beneath the surface, and his eyes gleamed a hellish red in the light.
The smug curve to his lip gave way as the candle flames leapt upward.
He was a horror.
This is the first in the series
A Canticle of Fire and
, and is only one of the myriad paths into our bent and Irrational worlds,
one which has others forthcoming. It regards the intimate escapades and wild
adventures of Keiri Sul-Rydia, a priestess
devoted to the Goddess of
. It is a story of a fantastical,
magic rich world, a world with a dark and horrific history, ancient secrets,
and fell lore.
Keiri’s stories are a strand in
The Paean of Sundered
, a multi-genre, universe-spanning array of tales with Lovecraftian
themes. Some of the strands of this work are
technothrillers, some dark fantasy,
and some Lovecraftian steampunk,
but they share the
same horrific universe. They weft and weave together, each leaving breadcrumbs
of clues for the next story.
Each tale echoes a beating heart of darkness, cackling
quietly in the shadows of existence.
If you are the kind of reader who cannot rest until every
secret is found, for whom genre is unimportant, and who will travel a wide and
vast multiverse to learn things man was not meant to know…
Welcome, wayward wanderer.
This was written for you.
Book One in A Canticle of Fire and Shadow
of the Singing Stars
When he kissed me, it was like fire
and the shadows of night. For an all too brief moment, I could completely lose
myself. I whimpered and felt my mind start to drift. My heart pounded, and my
breast heaved in great pants against Sire Mattias’ well-sculpted chest. His
words rumbled against me, more felt than heard.
“Brys will take you, but even he
doesn’t know our complete plans. Find out what Devariis is doing and then come
back. Do not sleep over; do not do anything that lets him believe I am watching
“I won’t, Sire.” I smiled at him.
Seeing my smile, he stopped for a
moment. He placed one of his large hands beneath my chin and held me with his
raptor’s eyes. “Handmaiden, remember: Orin Devariis may be the most dangerous
man in the city.”
I knew. Truly I did. Sire Mattias had
told me of the slave markets that the man operated and of the bodies that had
been found. There was little doubt that the man was a sorcerer, secretly
performing forbidden rights of blood and pain.
But no one could catch him.
Orin was clever.
Further proof was needed before Sire
Mattias could make a solid case to our temple. That’s where I came in.
“I understand how dangerous he is,
“Be certain that you do.” He reached
I clutched at him, reveling in the
taste of his mouth. We had spent the past two hours ritually preparing for my
task, and as a result, my body burned.
the sigils he had painstakingly scribed on my lower back, thrummed and sang
with our passion.
The desire formed a raging river of
fire through my body.
The last thing I wanted to do was
“If you succeed at this thing for me,
you will have a bond with this man as long as you both live.”
“I know, Sire.” I tried to find the
proper words. “I know what you are asking.”
“I’m not certain you do. Devariis is
a monster. Creating the bond will place a tiny shadow of him within you. I
worry for you, Handmaiden.”
“I understand what I have agreed to,
Sire.” I held his steel-gray gaze. “I am a tool in your hand for our Goddess’s
He nodded. “Give him whatever he
wishes. Seduce him. Be his plaything. But don’t waste your opportunity.
Discover what we need to know and then get out. Get out safely and whole.” His
sharp gaze bore into mine. “Brys will wait for you.”
I reached for him and wrapped myself
around him. The sigils, a warm, heavy presence, urged me to take him in my arms
Control. I had a purpose.
I stood there for long moments, held
in Sire Mattias’ arms as I battled my urges. I took in a deep breath, nearly my
undoing. He smelled like myrrh, like twilight and wood smoke. I shuddered and
began a soft chant, a litany to the Goddess Rydia.
The moment passed.
Then, it was time to go.
“Be my good girl. Be safe.”
“Yes, Sire Mattias.”
He turned and left.
I watched him go as I stepped into
“The inn is named Mist and Days.”
Brys looked back at me with warm brown eyes. “I will await you behind it in an
alley there. Then we go back to the temple together.”
I leaned close, so he could better
hear me over the clopping of the horse. “I have no way of knowing how long it
“From Sire Mattias’ instructions, I
expect your return within three hours, but I will await you here until dawn
before I inform the Sire.” Brys gave me a stern look. “I trust you will surely
be returned by then.”
I smiled at him. “You worry overmuch,
Brys. I want to be quit of Lord Devariis as soon as possible.”
“I should hope so.” He guided the
horse for a moment and then added, “From what the Sire has said, it’s not
possible to worry overmuch about a man like Orin Devariis.” He glanced at me.
“Sire believes the man a sorcerer.”
It was more than a belief at this
point. One of my Sire’s agents had found pages from a very old sorcery tome in
Orin’s rooms. I hadn’t personally read the
, but I knew the
kinds of rituals it contained, strange bent things that created monstrosities
from the dead.
I put my hand on Brys’ knee. “I’ll
take care. I promise.”
The man nodded in silence, apparently
at a loss for words. He let me off three blocks from Orin’s manse. Before I
stepped into the shadows, I favored Brys with a kiss on the cheek.
“Soon. I’ll see you soon.”
My bodyservant nodded. “Yes,
Handmaiden. Behind the Mist and Days.”
I turned from him, swallowed by
The city was like a living thing.
Stormhaven formed a mish-mash of
cultures, all crammed together on a peninsula overlooking the Ebondeeps. Creamy-white
villa walls with coral-colored roofs crowded alongside sprawling gray-stone
buildings full of archways and columns. Fishwives called their wares on paved
streets that stretched underneath clotheslines flapping with fine linen and
silk and coarse broadcloth alike.
Fountains and public bath houses on
every corner filled our city with so many statues that it earned the nickname
City of Simulacra.
At night, the silent figures could be
eerie. I walked past two of them, shuddering. The stark, alabaster figures were
so real that, in the mist, one might think them alive.
By all rights, Stormhaven should be
near constantly freezing, as the city is on the coast of the most vicious and
storm-tossed sea ever known to sailors. The Ebondeeps kept the city in fish and
adventure as it frequently hurled unlucky ships upon our sheltered shores. Its
cold, squalling, savage wonder has shaped our city for centuries.
Even though I had only been out of
Brys’ carriage for a few hundred steps, I already felt the chill in the wind
that came off the ocean. Glancing around, I stepped to one of the grates that
covered the hot water conduits pumping beneath the city. The warm steam
provided a brief respite.
Without the innumerable hot springs
and currents that wrapped around the coast, the city never could have survived.
But survive it had. Prospered, even.
Sailors and merchants traveled from all over the world to sell at our
Guildmarket and the Downmarkets in nearby Wintersedge, providing us riches
otherwise out of our reach.
Stormhaven made for both a beautiful
and a dangerous place to live.
I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
The city proved no safe place for a
woman to walk alone, however, particularly at night dressed as I was, though my
clothing was part of our ruse. Sire Mattias and I had planned well.
“Orin has women over. People are
accustomed to seeing courtesans and Lord’s daughters paying him visits. You
must be as conspicuous as possible. Leave all traces of our order here, and go
to him as some foreign highborn. Make certain you are seen.”
I would certainly be seen.
I wore my emerald green eyes lined in
deep kohl and my lips painted to scarlet perfection
. My hair hung around my face in
red-black rivulets, which caught and danced in the ocean breeze. I wore the
thinnest summer gown I owned, a wisp of fine-spun, green silk that hugged my
breasts and hips and showed far too much leg. Men and women alike openly
stared, but I paid them no heed. I was well prepared for trouble.
In Stormhaven, people found trouble
I could not say if my poise deterred
trouble this night or if people could subtly feel the power that Sire Mattias
had sealed within my sigils. Either way, I walked the streets unmolested,
although many had wandering, wanting eyes.
The cause of my safe passage mattered
little to me. I was only on this side of town for one purpose, to seduce Orin
When I arrived at the outer gates, I
showed his watchman the card Orin had sent me, and he quickly ushered me
through with a lascivious smile.
“You want the garden house. Master
Devariis has made preparations for you.” The man pointed along a well-worn
I smiled, playing the part of the
good little courtesan that he obviously thought I was. As I walked away, I
glanced over my shoulder. He watched my progress.
I gave him a grin before continuing.
“Play the part. Be what they expect.”
Sire Mattias was clear.
“Do the job
and then get out.”
The garden house, according to Sire
Mattias, was the smallest building on the property yet large enough to house an
entire family. I found it unlocked, as expected, and a note in Devariis’ hand:
Detained by business. I shall be
along shortly, after twilight. I look forward to our meeting very much. —O
That suited me well. The garden house
held everything I needed to set a scene for him: candles, incense, even a lap
harp if I chose to play. I doubted I would. Tonight called for play of a
different sort. I busied myself with readying the room, trying to ignore the
cold knot of fear in my stomach.
When twilight came, all was prepared.
The room was awash in jasmine and
candlelight, and the open window let in a summer-scented breeze. The entire
cottage was bathed in the soft, flickering light of thirty candles, giving a
feel of mystery. The light cast flickering shadows across my skin.
I leaned against the window, looking
out into the city. In the minutes before curfew, people milled about in the
street. I watched them, pretending I wasn’t about to spend my evening in bed
with the most dangerous man in the city.
Then, he entered.
Orin Devariis appeared exactly as I
remembered him: tall with night-black hair and stunning blue eyes. His clothes
were rich, and he smelled like cedar and cloves.
Yet there was something more,
something I couldn’t name. He seemed cold, somehow removed. His eyes were a
touch too hungry, and his manner a shade too formal. The man held himself in
tight, rigid control.
“Hello, Keiri.” He reached for my
hand and lifted it to his mouth. His lips were warm, and his eyes gleamed. I
felt his gaze scorch across my skin.
I beamed him my smile, a work of art,
the result of six years of Handmaiden training.
I purred, “Lord Devariis.” I glanced
down and then back to his eyes. I bit my lip the tiniest bit. “I’m pleased you
allowed me your audience.”
Then he kissed me with the tempo of a
dark, thunderous poem.
Orin was a fierce man. He took me
with no preamble, no game. He wasn’t here to seduce; he was here to take, to
After a moment of stunned surprise, I
remembered: I had a part to play.
My mouth melted under his, and I
moaned as his fingers traced their way under my dress. I arched toward him and
felt his fingertips tickle their way along my body.
Heat blossomed in my sigils, a
reminder to act carefully. The sigils did not know the difference between the
marauding fingers of Orin and the touch of a Sire of Rydia. As magical
embodiments of passion and sensation, I had to fight the burn of the Fervor of
Rydia, the sigils of my Goddess, even though I knew what a monster Devariis
“I’ve needed you.” His whisper
I crushed myself against him and
smiled. Then I bit my lip and nuzzled his neck.
“Have you?” I pulled at his clothing
and curved my painted lips into a devilish smile. “Certainly the man who owns
most of Stormhaven can have any woman he wishes.”
“That’s true enough.” He wrapped a
large hand into my red-black hair, tracing his fingers through it. “But I have
found none with your,” he grinned, “unique qualities.”
I must admit I loved the way he
smelled, even if I knew what kind of man he was. I kept my green eyes glancing
upward at him, wide and innocent.
He softly moaned as I nibbled at his
“That’s my good girl.” His words
still a whisper, Orin wrapped his fingers into my hair. Holding me still, he
began kiss me fiercely, an assault. Orin began to ravish my mouth relentlessly.
He held my head still, his fury like a force of nature.
On my back, steady, insistent warmth
grew and flowered through my body from my sigils. I did everything I could to
ignore it. I had hoped for a greater reprieve before feeling that shimmering
heat, but that hope was in vain.
The touch of my Goddess could not be
I knew that if I let myself go, then
the Fervor Rydia would overwhelm me. I would lose control of my body and mind,
hurl myself upon this man, and take him until he couldn’t walk. The gifts of my
Goddess were fickle, tempestuous things that no dockside whore or streetwalker
That was the problem.
Lord Orin Devariis must never learn I
was one of Rydia’s Handmaidens. As far as he knew, I was the daughter of a
powerful shipping merchant. That was all he needed to know.
I did my best to calm myself.
He broke the kiss. “You spoil me,
I gave him a sultry look. “I believe
I am the one being spoiled, my lord.”
I had him. In that moment, I knew he
“Let us retire to the back room.”
The words weren’t a request. I took a
breath, focusing on the job at hand. The candles flared slightly.
Do the job and then get out.
I traced my hands along his well-muscled
sides. I kept my eyes large, my voice kitten-soft.
“Is that what you want?” I glanced
He smiled, a wolf’s grin. “Yes.”
I turned, peeking over my shoulder at
him, biting my lip.
Then, I walked into the shadowed
No sooner had I crossed the
threshold, than he lit upon me, tearing my bodice as he pulled it from me. It
wasn’t graceful or seductive. No, Orin took whatever he desired.
” My word trailed off
into a gasp.
He caught me by the hips, his large
hands holding me fast. His speed and power stunned me. He kissed me again,
pressing me beneath him.
His eagerness was apparent, and with
no subtlety or cunning, Orin took what he wanted.
I gasped at his suddenness, which he
took for pleasure.
What he lacked in grace, he made up
for in force. I imagined a lesser woman would feel claimed by him. Orin did
nothing by half-measure, and even I earnestly whimpered from the intensity of
He was like a sea in storm.
I couldn’t resist the force of him
even if I had wanted to.
He clutched me and bit my shoulder,
I gasped again, trying to catch my
The sigils flowered in my body,
bringing a warm, burning pleasure far greater than Orin’s efforts, but the
effect was the same. Red ecstasy blossomed deep within me. I moaned softly,
only encouraging Orin.
“Such sweetness.” His voice was
I rent my nails down his back, and he
kissed me again.
My Goddess’ gift, Her Fervor, began
to drift through me. The candles flared again, brighter this time.
I focused, holding the Fervor at bay. It was nigh impossible.
Focus. I had to pay attention to my
The Touch of Rydia made an amazing
aphrodisiac. When caught in Her grip, the man in my arms became my devotion, my
one love in the entire world. My lovemaking became powerful, my every small act
According to the stories of other
Handmaidens, carelessness on my part could kill a man.
I felt Her strength as Orin kissed me
He has beautiful eyes.