We are thrilled to share the cover and preview an excerpt from Hall of Smoke by Hannah M. Long, an upcoming epic fantasy that features a rogue warrior priestess on her path towards redemption!
Hall of Smoke publishes with Titan on January 19 2021.
Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.
While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa—the last Eangi—must find the traveller and atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.
Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.
Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.
H. M. Long is a Canadian writer who loves history, hiking, and exploring the world. She lives in Ontario, but can often be spotted snooping about European museums or wandering the Alps with her German husband. She tweets @hannah_m_long.
Finally, he had a name. Ashaklon. But it meant nothing to me. Was this one of the Arpa gods or… No. A God of the Old World, he’d called himself. One of the divinities Eang had bound, long ago?
As my mind raced, my knees dug into bloody rock and the old priestess struggling for breath, that Oulden appeared.
The God of the Soulderni was a middle-aged man with wild hair, his body clothed in a tunic of the finest weave and his muscular thighs bare. He wore a pelt over his shoulders and bore a herder’s staff. Everywhere his feet fell, the flowers transformed to brilliant Soulderni red, shedding Ashaklon’s darkness in a fine mist.
At the same time, a great crash of water sent me reeling into the altar. Deafened and half-drowned in spray, I had just enough time to realize that the waterfall had reawakened before my senses were overridden by Ashaklon’s delighted, gut-melting laughter.
The Soulderni priestess, huddled behind the altar beside me, reached up to clutch my arm. Her voice gurgled with blood and grey rimmed her eyes. “Where is Eang?”
The question rung in my ears, more meaningful than the priestess knew. Where was Eang? Where was she when Albor fell, when the Algatt poured out of the mountains, and when I knelt here on the ground of a foreign land?
I had no answer, except that my goddess was too far away right now, and I was an exile. But I bowed my head onto the stone slab all the same, still slick with blood and spray, and prayed to the star-cast sky.
The waterfall continued to roar, Oulden and the formless god raged and the old priestess choked, but my prayers met nothing but silence. Eang would not or could not hear, even on Oulden’s holy ground, where the High Halls bled into the Waking World.
But Eang had to hear me, here as I faced down an unknown deity – it was her duty, her role as my goddess and as an ally of Oulden. And I’d spent enough time at Svala’s feet to know what the High Priestess would do now.
My fear faded into a grim, blinding brand of indignation, and there in the warm blood on the altar, I began to draw runes. Eight symbols, at eight points; symbols of opening and tearing, of the human world and the divine, and of Eang. Brave. Watchful. Vengeful. Swift.
I did not know what to expect. But as my finger left the blood of the final rune, languid and nearly black in the waning light, Eang rushed into my lungs like the flurry of wings. There was no time to be afraid, no time to remember the Eangi girl I had once seen possessed and die in the Hall of Smoke.
My self, my thoughts, all that I considered my own, stepped back through a veil. And then… there was Eang.
She tasted like iron on my lips. She was the coldest hour of a winter night and the brazen heat of the summer sun. She overwhelmed me, roaring through muscle and veins, marrow and bone until that fire, that presence, was all I knew.
My vision sparked with a golden-amber haze, and I stood. My cuts and scraps closed over and I watched Ashaklon tear the earth from under Oulden with a drop of his chin. Oulden leapt, his staff transforming into a spear as he charged. One slash. The haft shattered. Three of the tall standing stones around us exploded in plumes of dust and shrilling fragments.
In the debris, Oulden hurled himself into Ashaklon’s chest. The two went down, humanesque god entwining his spectral fellow in arms of corded muscle. Beneath them, the flowers turned from grey to red in a path of divine rancor.
I – Eang – left Nisien’s knife on the altar and began a slow approach. With every step she sunk deeper into my limbs and I into her mind, her thoughts and instincts laid out before me like the valley before my eyes. There was will, hard and unyielding. Anger and frustration.
And fear. True, fluttering fear.
The feeling was there and gone, hidden away from me, but not before I’d sensed its direction. It wasn’t fear of Ashaklon, but fear of something greater, something vaguer – something he heralded.
Still, Eang strode forward. Amid the stones Oulden and Ashaklon struck one another, the shadow deity’s darkness slipping seamlessly between anthropomorphic blows and spectral retreats. Oulden came back at him with earth and stone, the very ground itself moaning and bowing, bending and cracking at his whim. More standing stones, sacred and riddled with magic as they were, burst. The grass, dirt and rock beneath my strides shuddered, the air in my lungs thinned and the water of the pool behind me trembled, every element reacting to the clash of gods.
I stopped to pick up the remnants of Oulden’s staff. The wood felt as solid as rock, but the break was total; a hundred splintered ends gaped at me, refusing to meet again.
I took one end in each hand and crept after the thundering gods. My wrist protested, tendons straining, barely healed bones grinding. But this was Eang working, not me, and the goddess did not blink at suffering.
Ashaklon backed away from Oulden, his hidden muscles roiling, building for a ferocious charge. I circled to the side, my eyes lingering on his exposed back.
“Oulden,” I called with the voice of Eang, and my throat burned.
Oulden looked up, the flowers beneath his feet shuddering black, then bursting into a brilliant, violent red. I hurled him half of the staff and bolted, rounding Ashaklon just as the being lashed out at me.
I drove my half into his spine. At the same instant, Oulden sprung, his half of the staff meeting mine in Ashaklon’s stomach.
Ashaklon shrieked. Eang’s presence or no, my flesh was still human; the sound blasted me backwards in a blur of sight and sound. I struck a standing stone and my world fractured into blackness.
The next thing I knew, I was coughing. Dust rained around me, choking and obscuring. Beneath my bruised ribs, Eang’s Fire had gone out. The goddess had left me. Dizzying, cloying exhaustion came in her place and I trembled as I pushed myself upright.
Through a veil of dust, I saw Oulden heft Ashaklon like a skewered rabbit and plunge one end of the staff down into the earth. The crook had grown significantly, thickening and extending, wrapping snaking roots around Ashaklon’s writhing form and creeping into the earth like the roots of a tree. At last, the God of the Old World folded from sight, and stilled.
Relief gushed through me. The threat was gone, Eang was gone, and I was still drawing ragged breaths into my lungs.
But something of the goddess remained, curling in the back of my mind. It was that fear I’d sensed, that vague and fleeting dread that Eang had tried – and failed – to keep from me. It was so genuine, so human, that it left me disarmed. I knew, in that moment, that I’d learned something of my goddess that I was never intended to know.
The Goddess of War was afraid.
Distantly, I heard the Soulderni erupt in a wave of lamenting, tremulous cheers. “Oulden! Our god! Oulden!”
I let my head droop onto the mossy earth and closed my eyes.
Excerpted from Hall of Smoke, copyright © 2020 by Hannah M. Long