Doors to Eternity

Wrestling with giants, tracking evil spirits, and starting a blood feud with heretic wizards—it’s just another day of searching for truth. An epic sword and sorcery mosaic in the style of A Game of Thrones or the Belgariad.

Tashi the sheriff is one of the last priests of the Traveler. Avoiding the Brotherhood of Executioners, he visits ancient temples in order close the Doors to Eternity—the places where magic creeps into our world. Something went horribly wrong when the Inner Islands erupted, something only a priest can fix. Following riddles from a dead faith and a stolen sword, his quest ignites brushfires of heresy and civil war, making new enemies with every border he crosses. All roads lead to the legendary City of the Gods.

Seasoned with humor and action, this world has been built from the coins and calendars up. Society, magic, martial arts, and even the gods follow strict codes. Each character sees themselves as the hero, even the villains. Listen and they’ll tell you why.

Book one of the Temple of the Traveler series. Book two is "Dreams of the Fallen."

SAMPLE of Doors to Eternity
Copyright 2012 Scott Rhine

Chapter 1 – Beneath the Altar

“Why are we doing this, teacher?” Tashi hissed. Gripping his crossbow tightly, he studied the dwindling candles near the entrance to the sanctuary. They’d been trying to find the altar’s relic for too long.
“Patience,” Jotham the Tenor responded in a high voice. The tall man reached deep into a hole in the floor. He pressed his ear against the polished wood, and his white hair fanned out beside him wildly like the rays from the sun. A hammer, chisel, and fencepost lay within reach of his right hand. The priest had disassembled the stone bench of the altar and pried up several flooring sections. “The guards don’t make rounds often. We have at least ten bits longer.”
Tashi wanted to say, “Patrols are infrequent because only an insane person would try to rob the Brotherhood of Executioners in their own headquarters.” But that would be disrespectful. Instead, he counted the heartbeats they had left.
The priest saw his lips moving. “Your disguise is flawless. You’re dressed in one of their uniforms with a set of their chainmail. You have the same olive skin tone as most of the locals.” Finding nothing of interest, Jotham placed the fencepost under the next section. Another floorboard cracked loudly as the priest pushed on the lever.
Tashi didn’t argue. They’d see through his disguise. The last time he’d dealt with the Brotherhood, they’d left him for dead in a ditch. “It helps me to know why, teacher.”
“For the last forty-nine years, since the Great Silence began, what question have people been asking?” inquired the priest as he wrecked more of the finely crafted wood.
“Why has the Traveler, the messenger of the gods, decided to cut off all communication?”
“But hasn’t he been an excellent friend and helper to our race in the past?”
“Yes,” Tashi agreed.
“The Lord of the Doors?” The priest pointed to a stone doorway set into the floor at a forty-five-degree angle. It was etched with a repeating, geometric pattern that decreased in size as it spiraled inward. Though one could reach out, touch the surface, and know that it was flat, the illusion created by the engraving and spells was of a tunnel stretching off to infinity.
“Yes.” Tashi wanted a simple answer, but his teacher was determined to make him learn logic.
“The magic of gods seeps into our world through these portals when they’re open.”
“Who can use that magic?”
“Anyone in the temples?”
“Who would that be right now?”
“The people who slaughtered his true followers.”
“Are you not a sworn follower?” Jotham asked, pointing to the prominent tattoo on Tashi’s forehead. The tattoo was a stylized representation of three roads crossing, the sign of the six-fold path of the Traveler. Tashi’s jet-black hair, cut so short that it stood on end, did nothing to hide this mark.
“Then we should be asking ourselves: how can we help the Traveler while he’s gone?” Jotham fixed him with a disconcerting gaze. One eye was Imperial ice-blue and the other Mandibosian brown.
Tashi hated when his teacher made him do thought exercises. He wanted to massage the scar over his right ear, but couldn’t do that while he held a weapon. “By cleansing the heretics from his temples?”
“You’d be busy killing for the rest of your life. There will always be more people, as long as there are doors,” Jotham explained.
“Then we close the Doors to Eternity, so there’s no power to abuse,” Tashi concluded. It was the right thing to do, but a lot of important people were going to be angry.
At last Jotham delivered his short answer. “If we remove the sacred relic, we make certain no one else can reopen that door.”
Tashi sighed as he considered the ramifications. “They’ll send hunter teams after us.”
“We’ll have to split up for a while. Together we draw too much attention.”
Jotham raised an eyebrow, searching for a polite response as he continued to remove flooring. Tashi suffered from a marked lack of subtlety. “Won’t your tattoos still draw attention?”
“That’s all right. I’m better equipped to outrun the hunters; I’ll draw them west around the Inner Sea while you head east. We’ll meet at the apex of the Emperor’s Road, at the College of the Bards.”
Jotham wanted to protest that he wasn’t as old as he looked. Indeed, his hair had turned white early due to certain drastic life experiences. But a discovery interrupted his reply. “Ah, there’s the latch.” A secret panel in the floor opened to reveal a tiny cubby. The priest pulled out the contents and displayed them proudly.
Tashi stared in disbelief. “Gloves? I risked my life for gloves?”
“They were made by the Traveler himself,” said the priest, absorbing information from the object with his extra senses. “No human has ever worn them.”
“What do they do?”
Jotham shrugged, stuffing the dark-blue gauntlets into a hidden pouch in his cloak. “No clue.”
“Let’s go!”
“First, Sheriff, we have to find a way to destroy this altar, to make sure this Door will never open again,” Jotham said, calling Tashi by his religious rank, the head of the church militant. It didn’t matter, as they were the only two members still belonging to the church, but it reminded the younger man of his duties.
Tashi picked up the massive stone bench and flung it over a balcony to the flagstones three stories below. It shattered with a loud crash. “Done.”
“We’re going to have to work more on that immediate gratification problem.”
Alarm gongs sounded.
They could hear boots running their direction. Tashi asked, “Do you still have that diplomatic pass from the Great Library?”
“Yes . . .”
Before Jotham could stand, Tashi pulled the trigger and pinned the priest’s robe to the floor with a crossbow bolt. He then climbed over the same balcony from which he’d launched the altar stone.
Jotham slid a patch over his brown eye an instant before guards pounded into the room. “I’m so glad you’ve arrived. I came into the chapel to pray and that thief surprised me.” Then he pointed in the opposite direction from Tashi and announced, “He’s getting away!”
One of the guards pulled the bolt out and helped him to his feet. Jotham quavered, “That was most frightening; I may need to use the privy. Could you please direct me?”
Once at the front gate of the fortress, Jotham strode boldly up to the guard and presented him with identity papers from the Great Library. The huge double doors were already barred. Only the man-door to the side remained open.
“Hurry through, sir,” ordered the guard who’d admitted him earlier. “I’ve got orders to lock up.” Once Jotham obeyed, the guard bolted the door behind him. Through a tiny grill, the man asked, “How’d your historical research go?”
“I dug up something small that’ll require considerable legwork to verify,” Jotham said.
“Rotten luck.”
Jotham shrugged. “That’s how it works with history. But you never know where even the smallest bit of evidence can lead you if you’re persistent.”

Chapter 2 – The Hunt

An old, balding mason in homespun pants worked to repair the retaining wall. The Emperor’s Road was an ancient highway of rock that had been magically leveled to be as smooth as glass, and which traveled the entire circumference of the Inner Sea. The entire civilized world bordered upon this great body of water. The Myranosos Dynasty once ruled from the Imperial Islands at the center of this almost perfectly round sea. Due to the recent, heavy rains, water now poured through the crumbling dike in countless places, submerging the road for as far as the eye could see. A few feet beyond his wheelbarrow, the road was now a lake. Because of this, the mason could only work on the dry, upper portion of the wall.
The sheriff stopped and looked back over his shoulder. A hawk hovered below the sun, well out of range of a crossbow, pinpointing his position for the hunters. “Pardon me,” the sheriff said, trying to get the laborer’s attention.
The unexpected interruption caused the mason to drop a brick into the water on the far side. He swore profusely. “What kind of moron sneaks up on a man like that? That could’ve been me.” The Inner Sea was a cursed place. In addition to the great waves accompanying the earth shaking, there were unpredictable storms. The waters often bubbled or emitted sulfurous fumes due to the demons that infested its depths. The men on an unwarded ship could be ripped to shreds by evil spirits.
Then the mason glanced up at his visitor and fell silent. The first things he noticed were the hilt of the ancient sword, gray linen uniform, and the chainmail vest. Apologizing, the workman climbed down and bowed as deeply as his back would allow. “Forgive me; my eyes and ears are no longer strong. How may I help you, sir?”
“Is the water passable?”
The old man shook his head. “For the next league, it’s waist-high. Trying to plow through would be suicidal, sir. Even ignoring the danger from stray spirits, there are huge snakes, unseen holes to twist an ankle, and buried logs to trip over.”
“No chance of walking on top of the wall?”
The mason winced. “I wouldn’t, sir. If you double back to that last dirt road to the south, it winds its way back to the Emperor’s Road on the dry side.”
“That’ll cost me an hour,” the sheriff lamented. He’d led his pursuers at a grueling pace that would walk most normal men into the ground. Every day for the past week, he’d gained a little more distance on the mercenaries that had been sent after him. Now his lead was slipping away.
“Sir, anyone important around here rides by boat. Everyone else gets used to the mud and more delays. Since the Scattering, things have fallen apart. To make up for your inconvenience, I’ll share my afternoon tea with you.”
Tashi bowed. “Thank you for your kindness, but I am pressed for time.” Already, he was revising his strategy. They were near the border of the sea and two individual kingdoms: Intaglios and Zanzibos. The crossroads of the three would be a sacred place where he might find the strength to face his enemies. A thought occurred to Tashi. This might not be a simple mason. Therefore, in parting, he asked, “Do you know where I might find the Answer?”
“To what, sir?”
Tashi replied, “I unask the question.”
Walking along the narrow, dirt road, Tashi, the Sheriff of Tamarind Pass, kept watch on the scrub forest to either side. Unlike the Emperor’s Road, which was kept cleared of large trees for the distance of a bow shot on either side, this road was fraught with opportunities for ambush.
Soon the forest thinned until trees merely represented the border between one subsistence farm and the next. Since no farmer wanted the road going through his land, the path meandered to skirt property lines. The scrub was reduced to a glorified hedgerow used to ensure a measure of privacy and windbreak. In spite of his situation, the sheriff’s mood lifted when he smelled freshly cut hay and he envisioned children riding in a hay wagon.
A league later, about the time he would normally schedule a rest, he saw the way-station cottage by the side of the road. This way station was more like a home than an inn. Typically, it would be small but serviceable, providing nourishing but inexpensive fare for all travelers in need of refreshment from the road. This building bore the sign of the temple, three nails fused together in the distinctive star shape affixed above the entrance. The way station served priests and the armed men who patrolled these roads for free. The hunted man breathed easier, looking forward to some time resting his legs in a warm, dry, and friendly environment. The proprietor might trade news and give him detailed directions for these back roads.
The sheriff pounded three times on the front door and pushed it open. He smelled fresh bread and an overtone of something else. Even before he consciously identified the smell of human death, the long dagger from his boot appeared in his hand. The sword needed too much room to swing, and the knight’s code said he couldn’t sheath it again without drawing blood. If there turned out to be a logical explanation, such as a recently slaughtered pig, the bared sword would have been an insult to his host. He could see the whole common room and part of the kitchen area, and there was no immediate danger. The only two places remaining to check were upstairs and in the stockyard.
In the kitchen, the sheriff noted a staircase to the owner’s bedroom. There were several pairs of muddy footprints leading out the back door. That could mean either there was no wife, or foul play was afoot.
Opening the back door a crack, he could see nothing moving outside. Even the pigsty out back was empty. The pantry door was wide open. The food stores were empty, except for some flour spilled on the floor and a few pickles floating in a keg of garlic and vinegar brine. Shelves and cabinets had been ransacked more than a pack of raccoons could have managed. Then, he noticed that a large, hardwood cudgel had been dropped on the staircase. Three steps higher lay a single house slipper. The sheriff breathed a silent prayer under his breath.
The symbol over the front door was also a declaration of protection. Anyone harming or stealing from this house would face swift and determined justice. As he climbed the steps, he hoped, for his own sake and the proprietor’s, that his nose was wrong about this. The trap door above him was wide open, so he announced himself at the halfway point. Silence.
Reluctantly, Tashi climbed to the top. In the attic was a modest bedroom with a straw mattress and assorted personal items. Face down, in the act of reaching, was a dead man. Something had taken him down from behind by attacking the right ankle. The body had a dark, crescent-shaped bruise on the exposed skin. Perhaps the night robe he had been wearing had prevented any punctures. The fatal wound had come from a similar bite on the neck. Blood had sprayed everywhere. Even though it had been licked off the walls and furniture, he could still make out the distinctive stains on wood and fabric. The killing looked like the work of a large, savage animal. But the cudgel would have made a credible defense. How had the animal gotten inside? Why hadn’t the man’s flesh been eaten?
The terror on the innkeeper’s face was obvious. Tashi scanned the murder scene again and wished that his master were here. The old priest would have solved the riddle instantly. “Ask the right question and any secret may be known,” he would quote from the ancient scrolls. What was the owner coming up here for? What hope did this room promise? Moving the edge of the mattress with his dagger, the sheriff found a large, leather sack of coins.
The sheriff, still puzzled, opened the bag. Inside was a collection of every possible coin of the realm. The relative value of each coin was proportional to the amount of time it represented. There were seventy heartbeats in a copper bit, and seventy bits in a silver hour. Hexagon-shaped, the golden week was the standard of pay for one week’s service for a commissioned officer of the Imperial Army. There were special rods that went though a hole in the center of each coin, enabling them to stack neatly.
The jewel of the innkeeper’s coin collection was the single, rare, sesterina coin, worth seven weeks. Because the soft metal was the most valuable in the realm, the coin had steel rims on both the inside and outside edges to keep its form and prevent shaving. Sesterina was also known as spirit metal, and the only substance other than Emperor’s Sand that could affect the unseen world.
There was no doubt in the sheriff’s mind that the innkeeper had been reaching for the salvation of spirit metal. That meant the man had probably been murdered by a revenant beast. These vile creatures didn’t know they were long dead and persisted as ever-hungry shadows of their former selves, going through the same motions. Their touch could disrupt nerves or cause cramping of muscles, like he had seen on the ankle. Several times, he had seen spirits move light-weight items: blow maps off a table, wrap a swimmer’s leg in seaweed, or hurl tiny chips of stone to induce an avalanche. However, spirits had to be very angry and expend a great deal of life force to affect the physical world directly. These spirits often fed on those buried alive in order to become stronger. The more they fed, the more solid they could appear.
But that sort of supernatural animal never wandered far from the Inner Sea, and couldn’t cross the protective wards that every peasant had cast over their thresholds. A quick check verified that the man’s slippers were not muddy and did not match the tracks made near the pantry. Having eliminated all other alternatives, the sheriff deduced that the beast had been summoned for the express purpose of killing. Sighing heavily, he went outside to make sure the culprit wasn’t still lingering around. A thorough check indicated that everything of value from the first floor had been loaded into a wagon and hauled away to the north. He did manage to find a shovel with a broken handle in the shed.
By the time the last spadeful of dirt had been thrown into the grave, the sheriff had spent nearly all of his lead over the hunters and received little rest in exchange.
Fortunately, there had been a large, detailed map painted on the wall of the common room where he had eaten his journey bread. On the wall, this way station was marked with the traditional X. One of the characters grabbed his attention more surely than the whisper of steel sliding from a sheath. A nearby temple site had originally been labeled in white paint with an old symbol for spirit. This label had since been converted to the one for demon using black ink.
From this place of tragedy, he took the nail symbol from above the front door and a cup of sediment from the bottom of the pickle keg. He put both into the new coin pouch at his waist and set out the after the summoner’s wagon.