When the Northerners invaded, the ciudades-estado knew they faced a powerful army. But what they didn’t expect was the deadly magic that was also brought to the desert: the white-robed priests with their lethal Diviners, and the evil god, Dal. Cities have burned, armies have been decimated, and entire populaces have been sacrificed in the Sun God’s name, and it looks as if nothing can prevent the devastation.
But there are still those with hope.
Claire, a Woman of the Song, has already brought considerable magic of her own to fight the Children of Dal, and Ramiro, a soldier who has forsaken his vows to Colina Hermosa’s cavalry in order to stand by her side, has killed and bled for their cause. Separated after the last battle, they move forward with the hope that the saints will hear their prayers, their families will be saved, and that they’ll see each other once more.
A stirring conclusion to the Birth of Saints series, Ramiro and Claire’s journey finds completion in a battle between evil and love.
The final Birth of Saints novel, Steadfast, is now out; so if Ramiro Fights the Darkness by Black Friday Shopping gets your interest, make sure you check out the first book, Grudging.
Ramiro Fights the Darkness by Black Friday Shopping
Ramiro stood in the world of gray fog, thin tendrils enclosing him away from a land that was neither desert nor swamp. Through the wisps of mist, he didn’t see the familiar white stucco of Colina Hermosa, but a place he’d never visited. A place with one vast building, containing many doors and walls of glass and brick. The structure was impossibly tall. All around him were odd enclosed wagons that he only recognized as vehicles of conveyance by their four wheels.
The vehicles had no horses to pull them and were made from materials he couldn’t recognize, not metal or wood or stone. His mare Sancha would not believe this sight. Ramiro could hardly believe it either—except the world of fog, abode of long-dead saints, never lied. Lights at front and back of the carts glared red or white. The carts stretched to either side of him in a close-packed line. Loud sounds like angry dogs barking but louder came from all around in violent stabs to his ears. Ramiro noted many hundreds more of the carts sitting idle in between yellow lines, perhaps waiting to be claimed by their owners.
Ramiro turned from the impatience of the carts. Just over his left shoulder stood the one constant of the gray world: the figure of his dead brother Salvador. Bearded as he was in life, but robed like a priest. Salvador’s figure, but not truly his brother. Over time Ramiro had learned the specter who brought him to the fog while he slept was Santiago, greatest of saints and founder of cities.
“Why am I here?” Ramiro asked the saint. He hadn’t dreamed of the world of fog in years.
Santiago pointed with his brother’s hand, and Ramiro turned to stare up and up. A giant deer covered in small white lights towered over him. Ten… no, twenty feet high. With antlers. And a nose of red light.
“By the saints.” Ramiro gasped. “What the hells? Is this the god of this world?”
Impossibly, Santiago grunted. The saint had never made a sound in all of Ramiro’s prior visits. His arm remained pointing. His beard seeming to bristle in disappointment. Ramiro grinned sheepishly and followed the saint’s finger to a sign even taller than the deer-god. It read Bloomtown Mall.
Santiago grunted again, and Ramiro fixed on a smaller sign underneath, where words formed in red lights. HAPPY BLACK FRIDAY!
“What’s a Freeday?” Ramiro asked. The red lights disengaged and reformed. “Thirty-two days,” Ramiro read. He frowned. “Thirty-two days until what?”
The other words vanished leaving the number thirty-two to grow larger and larger until the red lights forming it split apart and flew across the sign like fireflies.
Such a portent could only bring dire news. Perhaps thirty-two days until this land’s destruction.
“The Darkness,” Ramiro said, feeling his shoulders hunch as he dropped into a defensive crouch automatically. “Is it here? Is that why you have brought me? Another leviathan to fight?”
For answer a hand touched his back and shoved—hard. Ramiro went sprawling forward to topple through the fog and land awkwardly at the foot of the giant deer-god, amid wet grass. Colors popped into focus, becoming bright as he entered this strange world. Nasty smells as if from a smelter’s forge assaulted his nose.
“Hey! That wasn’t very saintly!” Ramiro turned to glare at Santiago, but the world of gray fog had vanished. Santiago had never touched him before. Or left Ramiro stranded on an alien world.
It must be some kind of message. A lesson he must learn. Then he’d learn it. Ramiro straightened his clothes and took stock. No sword on his hip as he’d been sleeping before arriving here. Not even a knife in his boot. He wiggled toes in wet grass. No boots for that matter. Ramiro huffed. A solider caught unarmed. What was he supposed to do here? If the Darkness was in this world, how was he to combat it without his weapons?
The window on the strange vehicle closest to him scrolled down and a handful of girls several years younger than himself peered out. Their red mouths curled in appraisal. “I’d hit that,” one exclaimed. They giggled and tossed back their hair.
Ramiro flinched. He wore nothing but his smallclothes, cotton pants and a sleeping shirt much too snug, leaving nothing on his body to the imagination. “My clothes! You could at least leave me my clothes!” Santiago had a cruel sense of humor apparently.
A small pop and a bundle of clothing appeared at his feet. Ramiro snatched up leather pants for wearing under his armor, and his boots before they could get wet. “Gee, thanks.” He rolled his eyes and turned his back on the giggling girls to pull on the pants, then the boots, quickly deciding not to share this part of his adventure with Claire when he got back.
If he got back.
The giant deer stared off into the distance, uncaring, as the vehicle with the girls inched forward. He wouldn’t find answers standing here. Ramiro gave a quick bow to the red-nosed deer-god—he’d learned the hard way not to underestimate strange gods—and set off for Bloomtown Mall, making much better progress on his feet than the line of people in their horseless carts.
A group of people crowded around the doors, and more trailed off around the side of the building. Their skin and hair represented every color from Ramiro’s own buff brown to Claire’s fair, and even the Northerner’s blonde. The men were shaved like barbarians, or priests or boys. Ramiro proudly touched his own short beard that he’d earned by his first kill. The people near the doors chatted happily together—until they saw him.
“Line cutter,” a female shrieked.
Expressions changed from excitement to anger in an instant. Ramiro had gotten pleasanter welcomes from Northerners trying to kill him. The others started to chant. “Line cutter! Line cutter!”
Ramiro held up his hands in a gesture of peace and tried to back off, but just then five men in uniforms with shiny stars on their chest appeared on the other side of the glass doors. They opened the doors. People surged forward, faces frozen in a rictus of anticipation, catching Ramiro among them and squeezing him close. Someone stepped on his toe. Pushing broke out as another shoved him in the back. Yelling.
“The eighty-inch plasma!” a male shouted, breaking free.
All-out shoving ensued. A woman fell to the ground and others ran over her. Ramiro reached out to help her, but she slapped his offer away, scrambling up on her own, and dashing toward a sign that read Xbox5s.
The crowd tossed Ramiro around like a packrat caught in a flash flood, finally spinning him out at a glass counter containing powders and potions. An apothecary. Something familiar at last. A woman leaned across the counter and sprayed him in the face with a stinking concoction. “Perfume for your lady?”
He gasped, pawing at stinging eyes. “Er… no!” Two people hurried by carrying a giant flat box boasting 4K. The corner of the box struck him on the back of the head. “Ow!”
More people buffeted him, thrusting him around until he found himself pushed out the rear of this feverish market and into a bigger space with high ceilings. Screaming music with a driving beat came from somewhere above. People rushed past now, almost as crowded as the other market, clutching bags to their chests as if they enclosed something precious like infants.
“I can’t believe I got five before they ran out,” a woman with green hair said. “I’m gonna sell the extra four on eBay. I’ll make a fortune.”
“Hot chocolate. Free samples!” A man pushed a tray of tiny cups in Ramiro’s face. “Our new flavor. Candy cane chocolate pumpkin spice!”
“Er… no!” Ramiro tried to back away. Were these people or demons? He’d never seen a market like this one. Half of the stuff they grabbed so frantically he couldn’t even identify. He tried to ask someone about the Darkness and how long they’d been under attack, but they rushed right past without answering.
He fell in with the flow of people so as not to be trampled, following in a daze. More people. More bags. Buying. Buying. What was this hells? He was starting to hate this Black Freeday. Saints! What if he was stuck here thirty-two days?
Without his armor. Without his sword. A throbbing grew in his forehead to match the din of music.
The crowd pushed him into a new market and everything changed. The agitated music slowed, becoming soft as the invisible singer lauded a silent night. Nobody rushed. Nobody pushed. People stood calmly to inspect the market. Some even sat in chairs, reading. Ramiro let out a sigh of relief. Here the shelving was filled with row after row of books. Hundreds. Thousands. A shop for books.
Ramiro stared in wonder. As a soldier, he was not a great reader but even he was impressed. Maybe this world was not so bad. “Teresa would love this place.”
He approached one of the men standing by the shelves. One of the few men with a real beard, proving some of them knew of honor. “How can I stop the Darkness? Does it force you to purchase at this market?” The Darkness had always just killed before, but maybe in this land it followed a different sinister path.
“Not into Christmas yet,” the man with honor said. “I don’t blame you. There’s no alcohol at the mall but try the coffee bar at the front of the store. They have the best mocha lattes and get a shot of caramel. It’ll take care of your darkness.”
Ramiro nodded. “I shall try this mocha latte if it cures the Darkness. Thank you, friend.”
“Good luck to you.”
Ramiro might not understand horseless wagons, but he could recognize a bar when he saw one. He plunked down a gold coin. “Your best mocha latte and add to it…” What had the man with honor said? “…caramel.”
“This real gold?” the boy behind the bar asked. His mother bustled forward, snatching the coin from his hand.
“Looks real to me. One mocha latte coming up. Two pumps of caramel or one?”
“Whatever is required to vanquish the Darkness.”
“Two it is,” the barmaid said. She handed over a paper cup of warm liquid. The first sip burned Ramiro’s tongue but then the flavors hit. His eyes opened wide. Maybe this wasn’t a land of total barbarians after all.
In the corner of the bar the gray fog beckoned. The way back. But not yet.
“One more, barmaid. I must make sure the Darkness stays vanquished.”
Meet Michelle Hauck!
Michelle Hauck lives in the bustling metropolis of northern Indiana with her hubby and two kids in college. Besides working with special needs children by day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. A book worm, she passes up the darker vices in favor of chocolate and looks for any excuse to reward herself. Bio finished? Time for a sweet snack.
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