Blog Tour (Book Spotlight): The Way of Unity (Velspar – Elegies Book 1) – Sarah K. Balstrup


Today I am joining the Escapist Books blog tour for The Way of Unity by Sarah K. Balstrup with a spotlight post featuring a extract to whet your appetites.

Please do check out the other stops on the tour.

Book Summary:

The Seven Lands of Velspar put their faith in the Intercessors, a psychic priesthood responsible for the purification of the spirit. Where passion flares, they soothe its intent. Those who cannot be soothed, are cast out, their spirits destroyed by fire.

The Intercessors are mystics of the highest order, but Velspar’s ruling Skalens believe their power has grown too great.

Surviving the Intercessor’s murder plot against her family, Sybilla Ladain rises to power. The Skalens come together under the banner of her grief, bringing the practice of Intercession to its brutal, bloody end.

Yet victory brings Sybilla no peace. In time, she will have to face the people of Velspar, forced to live in a psychically alienated world, and a band of rebels led by an escaped Intercessor set on her annihilation.


The Year of The Fire

The way of unity must not be lost. When you read my words, slow first your breath, and open your inner eye. Among them is a silver thread. Follow it, and you will find Velspar. Return always to Velspar.

     We are the threads that together form the Great Stream.

     Before Velspar, we were fragmented.

     Death desiccated the spirit,

     And we were lost to the wind.

     The light in us scattered, ever outward.

     Like so many bright stars, we separated,

     And other forces held us at their mercy.

     We were mixed with the dark spaces between the stars, and we remained unconscious.

     Then, Velspar, the eternal,

     Called the silver threads of spirit to gather,

      In one place: in Velspar; As Velspar.

      When the Holy Ones were revealed,

      The Stream was purified, and fortified, through our unity.

       Mother Siatka, serpent of sea,

       Father Kshidol, bird of sky,

       Opened their mouths,

        And guided us home.

        And so opened the eye.

         It opened in the earth, beneath and among us,

         and within our own minds.

         All who are lost – in vision – may find Velspar.

         All who are lost may return to Velspar.

         Turn inward.

         You have passed this way before.



Six Years Before The Fire

Her father was young. He was Reyan Terech then, and nobody’s father. He was just out of boyhood and there at his mother’s behest. Reyan was running down the Temple stair, slipping on blood as he tripped, but the Intercessor drew him back into the room. Reyan was afraid. He had passed the First Gate of Wisdom – sympathy; the Second – to know a vision’s source; and the Third – to instil a vision. The Fourth was to administer blood rites, and these he had performed, but to pass through the Fifth was to follow red thoughts right down to the base of the stem. To know the substance of evil intimately, so one might recognise its symptoms in others. The necessity of the Fifth Gate was to be alleviated by the promise of the Sixth – where red thoughts were drawn out; and the Seventh, where one learned how to cause evil’s dissipation.

     The Blood Call had ended for the day, and with the sealing of the door, smoke rose thick around Reyan, stinging his eyes. The Intercessor was still there, the soft flesh of his cheek quivering as it rose into a half-smile. Was he the only one there? No, there were others. The Intercessor’s fingers were greasy with oil of Alma as Reyan’s wrists were bound. He could not run now if he tried. Reyan’s tongue grew heavy in his mouth and could no longer form words, but he knew the binds were to prevent the initiates from clawing their eyes.

     Reyan’s name swung back and forth in the gloom. The smoke was so sweet he began to drool. Reyan. They were checking whether he was still there, or if he had passed through. All parts of him swelled, as if he were an overripe fruit, the animal essence rising in his flesh, showing itself. The pain in his head was unbearable, his fingers like sausages, and his other part deformed past imagining.

     In a shocking surge of will, he prised open his eyes. A momentary breeze passed through the window. They stood there, motionless and trembling, naked of their robes, their faces naked of skin, their eyes seeking some forbidden place at the back of their skulls. An excretion pulsed from their bodies that stank of pack animals and rutting, of raw flesh ripped with the teeth. Reyan could not bear to look at them, and with all of his strength, he moved his eyes to the wall.

     The wall was white.

     He stared at it, refusing to close his eyes. Smoke coiled and shifted and, in a flash, he saw something concealed there. A scaled form liquefying the marble, pushing up against it as if encased in an egg sac. She split through. Siatka’s scaled body emerged from the wall, first in relief, then fully formed. She slithered low across the floor so the others wouldn’t notice, moving quietly around Reyan’s legs, encircling him – his ribs, his neck – cracking his bones into splinters. She smelt of soured milk, of bloodied rags. She squeezed until the world turned white – Reyan’s thoughts exploding into stars.

    He was almost gone when he felt Her release. Her scales whispered across his skin, Her body slick with spiritual blood. She moved away from him, leaving the throb of his injuries, the chill of his nakedness.

     He could hear Her, a sound all meaty and wet, but he did not want to see. It went on and on, Her fevered presence circling, waves of terror emanating from the bodies in the room. They were there, the others – on some level he knew that – but when he opened his eyes, the space was empty, bone white and blood stained, a forsaken place where they had left him to die.

     Only then did he see what had become of Kshidol – The Father – the winged one. His belly had been full to bursting with the flesh of the dead. So heavy was He that He could not fly. So sated was He that He fell drowsy and slept. His eyes were glossed with Alma, skyward in ecstasy, even as She gorged herself, ravaging the swell of His belly.

     Her eyes fixed on Reyan, sensing the rousing of his consciousness. She tasted the air, yearning for the oil at his wrist, the sweet smoke in his hair, and his flesh that was suffused with it where it had got in through his mouth and nose. The Alma. She neared, and nobody came to help him. She slid through his spirit like a knife–

    Sybilla gasped for air.

     Her body was drenched in sweat and the sheets stuck to her skin.

     The vision had come again. She stared at her hand as if it were on fire, a prickling sensation running up and down her arm.

     Sybilla considered lighting a candle but did not want anyone to know she was awake. The sick feeling lingered, drawing menace into the darkened rooms of the Skalens’ House. Unable to withstand the intensity of her own imaginings, she slid out of bed and crept across the flagstones to find her sister. In the hallway, one of the night lamps spluttered, a mouse darted, but all else was still.     

     She opened her sister’s door.

 “Lucinda,” she whispered.


     “Lucinda,” she said, louder this time. The mound of sheets groaned as she tiptoed into the room.

     “Sybilla? What are you doing?” Lucinda mumbled.

      “Can I sleep here till morning?” Sybilla perched herself on the edge of the bed.

      Lucinda sat up, glaring in the grey light.

      “I just…” Sybilla could not find the words.

      “You had a dream.”

       Sybilla nodded.

       “Why don’t you just put on your Meridian and sleep in your own bed?” she said, pulling the covers around her.

      Sybilla hugged her knees, emptiness shivering at her back. Lucinda sighed. “It’s alright. Take mine.” She reached beneath her pillow and offered the Meridian.

      Sybilla traced the leather straps, determining which way it should go. She positioned the blinding stone at the three points – forehead, crown, and nape – then tightened the band. The stones exuded their cool serenity, their obliterating numbness spreading out to encompass her.

      “Thank you,” Sybilla said and lay down beside her.

      “Don’t be like that, you can come under the covers,” Lucinda said, turning on her side to face her.

      Sybilla shuffled in, staring at the ceiling. “Did you go to town today? I could hear the drummers practising from here. I don’t know why they start so early, Festival is more than a month away.”

     Lucinda exhaled sharply. “Do not wake me in the middle of the night to talk of trivial things. What is going on? This is the second time this week. You are too old to fear your dreams.”

     Sybilla remained silent. She’d bothered her sister too many times with this, but she preferred Lucinda’s lectures to a night alone in her chambers.

     “Siatka and Kshidol are symbols, not gods, Sybilla. You have to trust in this. The creatures that come to feed at the altar do so because they are hungry. They hold no power over the living or the dead.”

     Sybilla looked at her sister. In the soft light, she could just make out the curve of her cheek, the gleam of her eyes. She wanted Lucinda to understand. “Are you telling me that you feel nothing at Blood Call?”

     Lucinda sighed. “I don’t like to be near them, but that is because they are dirty animals. If they were anything more, then Mother would have told me.”

     She must have felt the sting of her own words, the favouritism they implied, because when Lucinda spoke again it was in a more careful tone. “I’m sorry, Sybilla. I know it is hard, but they are only distant with you because you feel things so deeply. They don’t want you to worry. Mother is preparing me and I want to tell you everything, but I must also keep her confidence. Just know that things are going well. Father is making progress.”

     Sybilla shifted away from the pressing warmth of her sister’s arm.

     “You know what scares me?” Lucinda gave her a half-smile.

    “That horrible guard from Maglore. His face would give anyone nightmares.”

     Sybilla let out a snort of laughter.

     “See? Things are not so bad. We are safe here,” her sister said. “Now try to get some sleep.”

    Sybilla turned to face the wall. As the smile faded from her lips, a familiar disappointment settled around her. Lucinda seemed to live in a different world. The one person Sybilla could have confided in about her dreams was her grandfather, and he was gone. She remembered how he had looked up at the Intercessor at his bedside when he was days from death. How the flick of his hand told Sybilla to conceal her thoughts, and quickly.

    The Intercessors had their tendrils everywhere, and her grandfather did all he could to arm her against them. Ever since she was a child, he had set aside his duties in the Skalens’ Guard to train with her. Most afternoons, Sybilla and her sister would go down to the barracks to see him, and there he would be, staring into the middle distance, waiting for their silence. He’d present a cup or a leaf or a stone, and ask them to fill their minds with it, to become nothing but the thing they saw. They’d practise with sounds, with feelings, with nothing itself. Then they would test one another. What am I thinking of now? To Lucinda it was a game, and she enjoyed it even though she rarely won.

     For Sybilla, the silence preceded a yearning to spill out of herself, to be taken by the flood of images and sounds that shook from silver threads. This was not Hiatus, her grandfather told her, but the first stage of Intercession, and his look told her that she should not pursue that path. He wanted his granddaughters to learn Hiatus, the Guard’s principle – the remedy he had taught his son – to make them impervious to harm. For if the spirit was silent, it could not be heard. If it was protected, as if by a shell, it could not be breached. And that was his gift to them.

    The day he died, his body was washed and wrapped in white cloth. The Intercessor held her hand above her grandfather’s forehead and closed her eyes, listening for the call. Numbly, Sybilla watched the woman’s eyelids flicker and the reddening of her hands. Mother Siatka hears his call, she said, and so it was decided that her grandfather would be buried at sea, to be reborn as a girl-child.

     The next day, Sybilla and her family arrived at the Gulf, making their way to the front of the crowd. The Intercessors had cleaved his body into seven pieces, wrapping each in fine muslin, anointed with oil of Alma. They had built a raft for him, chanting softly as they sent him out upon the waves. The shore was thick with mourners and Sybilla was thinking of the tumour at his throat, wondering whether the Intercessors had cast it out, or whether they had wrapped it up with the rest of him.

     The first of the siatka rose from the waves, tipping the raft. She saw one of the white-wrapped parcels lodge in wide jaws before it disappeared beneath. Her father gripped her arm. A sickly pulse went through her and she glanced up. She looked into her father’s eyes, and that was when it happened. The vision coursed through her, every part of it – from him to her – in a surge of anguish. It could not be undone. And when they roused Sybilla from her faint, her father looked upon her in shame.

      The vision lay between them like a burning chasm, the horror of what had been done to him, and he would never let her in again.

Sarah K. Balstrup is an Australian author of dark fantasy with a PhD in Religious Studies. Sarah’s academic work on religion and the arts, religious emotion and mystical experience has been published by Bloomsbury Academic and a range of academic journals.

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