Through great sacrifice, Hessa has forged an alliance between warring tribes, but a new threat is growing…
We’re excited to reveal the cover and share an excerpt from H.M. Long’s Temple of No God, the sequel to Hall of Smoke. Look for Temple of No God January 2022 from Titan Books.
After a brutal war between the gods, Hessa—High Priestess of the Eangen—has brokered a fragile peace. Through great sacrifice, she has forged an alliance between warring tribes and introduced her people to the true god.
But a new threat is growing across the southern border. In the remnants of the once-great Arpa Empire, three factions are vying for the imperial throne, and the vast well of raw magical power only accessible to the Arpa Emperor. Already beating back former Arpa legionaries at her borders, Hessa knows she cannot let this chance slip by. She must intervene, for the safety of her people.
With the peace she has sacrificed so much for at stake, Hessa must venture into the heart of enemy territory, where warring Arpa factions are not the only danger she must face. A sinister new cult is on the rise, one with the power to suck the life from everything it touches. With enemies on every side and her fragile alliance beginning to waver, Hessa must decide who to trust—no matter what it may cost her…
H. M. Long is a Canadian fantasy writer, author of HALL OF SMOKE and TEMPLE OF NO GOD, 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.
My shield moved on instinct, down and out in one quick strike. The rim cracked off bone and I raised my axe for a second blow, muscles moving in sequences I’d known since childhood.
I froze mid-strike. In the mud, a stunned Arpa woman moaned and clutched a bundle to her chest. A baby’s fragile wails merged with the pounding, roaring and shouting of the raid as the woman’s—the girl’s—dazed eyes found mine.
Her pupils were uncoordinated, stuttering and dragging apart. Closing her eyes again she clutched the child and began to babble in her own language.
“The Mother, the Mourner, hear me, hear me, hear my child—”
I backed off. We were alone in our quarter of the night, two women and one infant. On our left, the flames swelled and spread. With each passing second the light increased, her prayers became more fervent, and my heart thundered louder in my ears.
She expected me to kill her, harm her, or at the very least drag her back into the burning village. But as the seconds flicked past, all I could do was stare.
I felt her fear, deep in my guts, watery and hot and crippling. It poured and cracked through my jaw—a child’s terror at horns in the night, or a young woman’s in a smouldering Hall of Smoke.
I had been her, once.
“Go,” I said in her language.
The Arpa’s eyes flew open. Her lips still twitched in frantic prayer, but her rhythm faltered.
“Run,” I insisted, the word coming out as a growl.
The girl found her feet. Her infant’s wails grew as she took two tottering steps sideways, her eyes never leaving my face or my axe. Then she staggered into the fog with a ripple of skirts and patter of bare feet.
The night quietened in her wake. On the far side of the village, a horn blast signaled our victory—again that hollow, disgraced word.
My eyes still fixed on the spot where the girl had vanished, I relaxed my shield arm and swung my axe at my side, trying to loosen the tension in my shoulders. I needed to find Briel and ensure this madness ended quickly. It would be dawn in a few hours, and I wanted to be back with the horde by mid-morning.
Then, in place of the girl, the tepid night divulged someone else.
Firelight ran along the curved blades of a poleaxe—a long, bearded axe-head and a hooking sickle blade—held by a fog-shrouded figure. I became aware of my breaths deepening and my vision narrowing. The figure, the man, was alone, but his posture was not that of a vengeful farmer, nor was his clothing. His shoulders were spread beneath a robe of earthen, darkened yellow, and his stance was calm. He knew how to carry himself, and he was not afraid of me.
I understood my situation very clearly. I was alone, his weapon had a deadly reach and my back was exposed. The village was close, but my chances of reaching its cover—burning cover—before intercept weren’t good.
Still. I crouched, letting my compact, muscular frame slip into a familiar stance; weight low, feet rooted, shield raised and the haft of my axe pressed into the rim.
The newcomer advanced, straight-backed and deliberate.
I slipped a half-step backwards, then another. The wind shifted and smoke gusted into my face, raking through my nose and lungs and displacing the fog even more. The dark shadows of trees materialized out in the night and behind me, the flames surged and roared.
One step. Two. The stranger followed, the wind plucking at his robes and carrying a fine, pale ash into the fog.
My second, unnatural Sight awoke.
Magic. It gusted off him like chaff from a threshing floor, both glistening and blanched, but no sooner had it left him then it gained a life of its own, eddying and fluttering in a cautious swirl around me.
I froze, watching the tide of magic merge with the smoke and fog. Though it came within arm’s reach, it did not dare touch me. No magic could. But this was not an assault—I realized that at the same time as the sounds of the village muffled. This was a shroud, concealing and shielding. Concealing a second attacker.
A cold blade hooked around my neck.
I stilled. There was no time to berate myself. My world simply crystalized, centering on my exposed throat, the presence at my back, and the certainty of death. My reflections of a few minutes before—that faux nostalgia and mourning of a proper challenge—echoed now, sick and senseless.
But there was more power in the fog than these strangers’ ashen magic. I inhaled, letting my own strength, golden and warm and tasting of honey, awaken.
“No words,” an Arpa voice said from behind me in my ear. His weapon, whatever was hooked about my throat, had to be small—a sickle? The voice again was male, languorous and calm, and his Northman was thickly accented. “Do not speak.”
His free hand pressed into the small of my back and a spike of fear shot up my spine, but I contained it. Keeping quiet, I allowed him to guide me out into the fog and away from the village.
The first man, the one with the poleaxe, proceeded us. I watched the ash swirl off his robes, sifting through everything I knew of the Arpa, their gods and their magic. This tasted nothing like that. This presence, this unnatural power, tasted of one thing.
Excerpted from Temple of No God, copyright 2021 by H.M. Long
Text is not final, and subject to change before publication