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Guardian of the Sky Realms by Gerry Huntman - Book Tour + Giveaway

By 5:00 AM , , , , , ,

GENRE: Upper Middle-Grade / Lower YA / Fantasy

Maree Webster—an "almost-emo" from the western suburbs of Sydney—hates school, has few friends, and is obsessed with angels and fallen angel stories. Life is boring until she decides to steal a famous painting from a small art gallery that has been haunting her dreams: swirling reds, grays and oranges of barely discernible winged figures. There, she meets a stranger who claims to know her and stumbles into a world where cities float in the sky, and daemons roam the barren, magma-spewing crags of the land far below. And all is not well—Maree is turning into something she loves but at the same time, fears. Most fearful of all is the prospect of losing her identity—what makes her Maree, and more importantly, what makes her human. Guardian of the Sky Realms takes the reader on a journey through exotic fantasy lands, as well as across the globe, from Sydney to Paris, from the Himalayas to Manhattan. At its heart, it is a novel about transformation. Book two of the series will be released in 2021.

EXCERPTChapter 3

The Sanctuary

As Maree and Alanar approached the white walls of the Sanctuary, she was mesmerized by the otherworldliness of the marble stonework, and the quality of its craftsmanship. More impressive than the architecture was the simple fact that something the size of five large city blocks was suspended thousands of yards above the Fire Lands. “How . . . ?” was all she could mutter, as they flew toward the largest of the Sanctuary’s golden gates.
Alanar smiled, gazing at her with his piercing eyes. “Do you remember anything? You and I passed those gates so many times.”
Maree could only respond with a blank expression, no recognition whatsoever.
“It’s not important. It will all come back to you, including our wonderous floating cities. They have always been here. Always.”
“Everything has a beginning,” Maree responded.
“True, but there is no Divine who remembers the creation of the worlds. Even the Heirarchon, who has existed longer than any of us, does not recall the creation.” His eyes blazed when they met hers. “If we die in the outer world, our old memories eventually return to us when we return, and our brief lives in the human world fade away.”
At first, Maree was impressed with how old the Sanctuary was, and she gazed at the walls and gates again, in wonder. But Alanar’s comment about ‘fading’ registered, and an awful feeling came over her. Does that mean that Mirriam will return and I will disappear? Isn’t that like dying?
Before she could ponder further her disturbing thought, the distraction of the Sanctuary was complete. The golden gates opened for them, and her breath was taken away on seeing the courtyard before her. There was grass that was more vibrant green than she had ever seen before, marble statues of lifelike, exotic gods and goddesses, and pools with fantastic water fountains. A variety of birds were about, including peacocks, doves, and blue wrens, flitting about or perched in contentment. More astonishing for her, was the presence of dozens of Divine, waiting for them, crowding near the gates, presumably, for her return. They were all dressed similarly to Alanar and herself, but with slight variations in the colors of their clothing and equipment. They all varied in the tone of their skin, hair, and hairstyles, representing a United Nations, in her estimation. Especially striking were the different color combinations of their wings and wing tips.
Maree made a rough, but adequate, landing on the platform before the gate entrance, while Alanar swiftly moved ahead of her, with excitement. “Divine!” he shouted to the crowd. “Mirriam has returned! She has been reborn!”
Maree’s face turned red, not just because she was the center of attention, but also because of the look of delight in the faces of the onlookers, and the way they followed her every step and gesture. She noticed one exception—a tall, black-haired woman hung back from the rest of the Divine, gazing at Maree, with sadness in her face. Their eyes met for a fleeting moment, and she thought she sensed an underlying anger smoldering in the Divine’s deep green pools.
The golden gates closed behind them and Maree glanced around, trying to take in the imposing courtyard. It was the size of a football field, the majority of the ground level consisting of immaculately groomed lawn. White pebble-lined paths crisscrossed the grass in intricate geometric patterns—she was sure that from a height it had some special meaning. The courtyard was surrounded by high walls, which transformed into a high-buttressed ceiling—made from a light, translucent stone, which allowed the illumination of the heavens to pass through. It seemed odd that a courtyard would be covered, but she remembered that everyone who lived in the outer world could fly, including the Divine’s enemy.
They stopped near the crowd of Divine. The group before them smiled and parted, allowing a tall, dark-skinned black-winged figure to approach them. Alanar whispered quickly into Maree’s ear, “This is Jibrīl—he is the Demiheirarchon—second only to Mikhail, the Heirarchon of the Sky Realms.”
Before Maree could respond, Jibrīl, all six feet of him, rushed forward and hugged her. “Ah, Guardian. It is so good to have you back!”
There were others who expressed the same view, congratulating her return. Many joined Jibrīl and Maree, touching her shoulders and wings, or simply hovering nearby.
Jibrīl raised his hands. “Friends! Once again, after a great loss to the Sky Realms, we have had one of our beloved return! Behold, Mirriam is here and must be reintroduced to her relic.”
Maree looked to Alanar, mouthing the word ‘relic?’, questioningly.
He leaned over, so only she could hear. “All Divine have something that is attuned to them, something related to their role in the Sky Realms that represents who they are. More importantly, it is the one thing that survives the life and death cycle, unless—” He paused, biting his lip.
“Unless what, Alanar?” she persisted.
“Unless it is the final death. There are circumstances when a Divine does not come back . . . this is not the time to talk about it.”
Maree, obstinately, wanted to pursue the thread of discussion, but Jibrīl held Maree’s hand and escorted her up a set of wide, white marble steps to a dais on a platform. As she approached the stone pedestal, she noticed lying on it a finely crafted bow and a quiver full of arrows. The quiver was made of white leather, with ornate embossing and gold trimming, while the bow was constructed from a pale wood, and it too had gold work at its tips and around its red leather grip. The arrows were made of the same wood as the bow and were fletched with golden feathers.
Jibrīl lifted the objects and presented them to Maree. “These are only attuned to you, Mirriam, and will not function for any other.”
Maree picked them up, and as soon as she did, two amazing things happened—the weaponry glowed a brilliant white which spread to her whole body, making her a beacon; and while this light momentarily pulsed, she had a flash of memory—or so it seemed—where she was hovering among the clouds, bow in hand, and pulling an arrow out of her quiver which was strapped to her back. It made her dizzy for a few seconds.
Alanar was near her. “Are you alright?”
“Ah, not sure. I had a hallucination or something. I saw myself using this bow.”
Jibrīl laughed. “The transformation has quickened.”
“How can I have a vision,” Maree asked, “when I don’t know how to fire a bow?”
The Demiheirarchon smiled. “Take an arrow from your quiver, and nock it to your bow. Shoot it there.” He pointed to a wall a hundred yards away from the dais.
Maree pulled an arrow from her quiver and saw that it was light and slim, with a gold-tipped arrowhead, and down-soft feathers at the fletched end of the shaft. As soon as she picked it up, she knew exactly what to do. Almost in a blur she positioned her bow expertly in her right hand, twirling it like a juggler, and quickly nocked the arrow on the bowstring. She spotted a junction of several blocks of stone on the target wall and let loose her arrow. As soon as the missile left the bow, it transformed into a bolt of golden energy and blasted against the wall, doing no damage at all, but the crack of the blast echoed in the courtyard. She knew that her bolt hit the mark a hundred yards away to the inch.
She shook her head in disbelief. She was a master archer, and her weapon was otherworldly. She saw the Divine around her, and especially Alanar, grin with delight at her exhibition of skill. Without thinking, she expertly hung the bow and quiver over her left shoulder.
Jibrīl motioned for her to come again with him. Alanar followed behind, but the remaining Divine stayed at the dais, watching the three disappear into the castle keep.
They entered a hallway consisting of light stonework: browns, pinks and greens. Maree was still confused by her earlier vision, and worried she was going to have another. It caused her to be light-headed, and she didn’t like being out of control.
They entered a large hall. Seated on a high throne was a tall and muscular, lightly tanned Divine, with a shallow white beard and close-cropped hair. His wings were a light gray, with deep purple tips. He didn’t look old, but he had an ancient quality about him, as if he witnessed eons pass by. It was like viewing a tall, healthy tree that was a thousand years old.
He stood up and smiled when he saw Maree. “Ah, no doubting it is Mirriam! You are different, but then again you are the same. It is always like this.”
Maree was escorted to the throne and the Divine stepped down and clasped both her hands within his, and warmly shook them. “I doubt that you recognize me this early, but I am Mikhail—I am the Heirarchon of the Sky Realms. I rule the five Archons, who in turn rule the five Realms. You have met Jibrīl, who is second to me, and he is known as the Demiheirarchon and rules over the Sanctuary. Those other Divine who have elevated themselves to prominence—often by deed, are called Elders, and the only other Divine who have formal titles are those whose function in our society is to protect the Sky Realms and battle those who threaten us—these are the Guardians, sometimes informally called Protectors. Alanar is one such Divine, and you are another.”
Maree was overwhelmed with the formality of Mikhail’s introduction, as well as the matter of fact way he said it. She simply nodded and felt hopelessly ignorant.
Mikhail led the small group to an alabaster table near the throne, and bid everyone to sit. He served all a delightful beverage made from honey, and sat with them. “Mirriam, you have probably already absorbed much today and I do not wish to make it more difficult for you, but it is important that I tell you some of our ways, while your memories are still submerged inside you. This will help you over the coming days and weeks. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions, and hopefully it will make your adjustment easier.”
Alanar placed his hand on hers, as a sign of reassurance. She briefly studied his face, to see if there was more to his touch, but there wasn’t. She appreciated his mental strength, his patience.
Mikhail said, “I have already described our leadership. Perhaps I should talk more of our creed, and our cities. There is a tangible link that exists between humanity and the Divine, and in past ages we often provided the role of protectors of our weaker, earth-bound kin.”
“Why does humanity not know about you?” Maree asked. “If our kinship is so close, why’re we unaware?”
Mikhail grinned, but there was a layer of sadness as well, especially in his deep blue eyes. “My dear, there are remnants of stories of our kind among all the cultures of humanity, but the years have faded their memory and altered them to myths and legends. Angels and seraphim, jinn, and efreet; all can be traced back to human witnesses of our kind. The Conflict that caused the Imbalance can be found in humanity’s folklore and religions. But even in current times there are sightings on the rare occasion we visit the human world in our Divine form.”
“What about those, like me, who suddenly disappear?” Maree asked. As soon as she asked the question, the blood drained from her face—she realized her mother and Ayesha would be at their wit’s end.
“How many adolescents are reported missing in each of humanity’s years?” Mikhail countered. “Many indeed. And a tiny number of them are Divine who are reborn.” He paused, seeing the pain in her face. “You are worried about your human parents, aren’t you?” His dark eyes had compassion in them.
“Y . . . yes. I forgot about Mum and my best friend. I have no father.”
Mikhail’s voice softened. “Dear, a birth among humans is a delightful event but it is not without a discomforting process—pain. This will be the hardest part of your journey—you must accept that there will be sorrow for those you once knew, and especially those in your family. They are still your family, but you can imagine how difficult it would be to explain who you really are. This is not possible. We have strict rules on only a few matters, and this is one of them.”
Maree now had tears in her eyes. “My mother . . . can’t I even say goodbye?”
“No, Mirriam. It would be too hard on you, and impossible for your mother to accept, let alone understand.”
She didn’t know how to respond, but her intuition told her that it was terribly unfair. She said nothing, allowing the conversation to change course.
Mikhail sighed. “Now, onto other matters of importance. You are a Guardian and they always work in pairs—Alanar is your partner, and has been for many hundreds of years, as counted by humans. It is not always the case that a rebirth brings the same pair back together, but it is the usual way of things. Over the years while you were growing up in the human world, Alanar was not able to function as a Guardian. I should point out, however, that time does not behave the same way here in the outer world as it does for humanity. It tends to slip past more quickly and irregularly.”
Maree’s eyes widened, and realized that yet another negative consequence had been stated, for if time flowed more quickly, then those she left behind would already have worried themselves sick for a long time. She bit her tongue, as she could tell that her concerns would amount to nothing more than just glib sympathy from the Divine.
Mikhail gazed into her eyes, and she guessed that he understood at least in part what she was thinking. “I think that we should soon finish this meeting. It has been a long day for you. Alanar will show you to your room and allow you time to make yourself comfortable. Rest and ask questions when you are ready. Alanar is your partner, and both of you are now, once more, Guardians of the Northern Sky Realm.”
Maree stole a glance at Alanar again—she couldn’t help but think that while he was handsome, and gave her plenty of respect by keeping at arm’s length, he had strong feelings for her. She wondered if there was an expectation that they were an item together, or even—and she was definitely getting nervous at the thought—that they were considered married.
Alanar led Maree through unfamiliar hallways and corridors of the Sanctuary and eventually up several flights of marble stairs to an accommodation floor. As she wandered silently with him—and she noted that he was careful to pick up her need for some personal space—she tried to distract herself from the thought that she might be sharing her room with him. It wasn’t that she didn’t think he was good-looking, or for that matter a hunk, but she wasn’t prepared for what was happening, nor did she want to have a physical relationship with anyone.
She reviewed the seven or eight hours since she broke into Azimuth Gallery and her mind spun with the radical events that had happened. As she thought about the many things Alanar and Mikhail had said she wondered more and more about her personal identity. I am Maree, not Mirriam! Apart from a fleeting moment where she saw herself in Divine form firing energy arrows, she couldn’t think of herself as anything other than the girl from the western suburbs of Sydney. The almost-emo schoolgirl. The awkward teenager who was afraid to ask Jason for a date because she thought she wasn’t popular enough. The more she reflected on her identity, as painful as moments of her life was, the thought of someone else—Mirriam—taking over, seemed like the death of who she was. It frightened her. It scared her to death.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Gerry Huntman is a writer and publisher based in Melbourne Australia, living with his wife and young daughter. He has sold over 50 short fiction pieces, most of which are dark and for mature audiences, but he also has a love for middle grade fiction. He loves travel and gets many of his story ideas from distant lands and culture, but is equally happy with the cafe set in his hometown.

AUTHOR LINKS: Website | Twitter

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