The conclusion to the award-winning The Asphodel Cycle is now available from Aspen Mountain Press.
Aspen Mountain Press
Tamsen Ka’antira has grown into a woman of incredible power as the Virgin Huntress’ player in the game of the gods. After discovering the Hippolytes, a fabled race of women devoted to the arts of combat, she must lead them back to the plains of Ilia to fight the greatest war of antiquity again. The pantheon of gods awaits her in their Hall of Judgment, where the ultimate fate of the Elven Realm will be determined. Not only must she defeat her uncle, Gabril de Spesialle, but she must contend with a renegade goddess whose sole purpose is to overthrow the pantheon and rule over a universe wrapped in chaos. But when Tamsen finds herself standing alone against overwhelming odds, she is forced to make sacrifices that threaten everything she loves. Can she find the strength to complete the game and redeem the Elven people? As the Apostle of Asphodel, Tamsen must transcend from a wielder of magic into a part of the magic itself.
As I’d seen her represented in her temple on Hippolytos, the witch-goddess was naked, her body gleaming in the storm-diffused light. Heavy manacles swung from her slender wrists, trailing several feet of massive chain that clattered restlessly when she gestured. The lion’s head of the goddess bore a feline, feral grin as she cradled two coiling vipers to her breast.
"Thou hast impressed me, mortal," the goddess said, her voice a low, throaty purr that I could hear over the rush of the sand scouring the granite obelisks. "Thy determination has brought thee to this point, when most other mortals would have fallen to my snares. Nevertheless, now thou dost stand before me, Queen of the Elves, unprotected by thy puny Huntress or even by thy husband. Thou art weary and wounded and unarmed. Thy magic is weakened through great toil. None can come to thy rescue, mortal; thou art entirely in mine power. I can do with thee as I will and none may gainsay me."
"I will gainsay you, cursed and damned goddess! I have survived your snares because they do not tempt me and have bypassed your ambushes because they do not challenge me. Despite all that you could do, here I stand at the very foot of the one place you did not wish me to reach and I will continue to defy you!"
Lamashtu laughed, throwing back her head in a gruesome parody of the abandoned pose her statue had taken in her obsidian sanctuary. "Not wish thee to reach? Foolish mortal, this is the one place on earth I would fain have you reach, for only here can I triumph wholly over thee. In this place, the protection of thy goddess cannot fall upon thee. In this place, the strictures of cursed Deimos do not surround thee, gifting thee with power beyond that of mortal kind. In this place, the judgment hall of the gods, thou art but a simple mortal girl, bereft of her magic and undefended. Here, thou will fall below my power, easy prey for the goddess who returns to ascend her rightful place in the universe!"
Lamashtu screamed the last sentence to the sky and the intensity of the storm trebled. The wind emitted a high-pitched howl, rising in answer to the challenge of the goddess. Her feral eyes fell back upon me and my mouth went dry.
Where was my magic? Why couldn’t I feel it? Frantically, I grabbed at my chest for the Ka’antira pendant, but my fingers scrabbled futilely and came away empty. Lamashtu lifted one slim hand and I saw with horror that the viper was twining its coils through the heavy gold and silver chain of the pendant.
"So, thus, do all of the ineffectual implements of humanity fall beneath the foot of a god," she said, her voice as cold and incisive as a knife. Deliberately, she let the necklace fall to the ground, grinding it into the sands beneath her slender, unshod foot until it disappeared from my sight.