Please welcome Gerry Huntman to The Qwillery with an excerpt form Guardian of the Sky Realms from Meerkat Press. And check out the giveaway below!
Guardian of the Sky Realms
The Sky Realms Chronicles 1
Meerkat Press, September 1, 2020
Trade Paperback and eBook, 216 pages
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.
It was a balmy night but Maree shivered, buttoning up her coat. It was fear. Not for something specific, but the unknown—the back lanes of the Rocks were dark and menacing at midnight.
This was one of the oldest parts of Sydney and many of the narrow buildings she silently passed were over two hundred years old. In the old days, footpads and other villains frequented the narrow byways. They killed for a few shillings. The history of the area was tangible; you could smell it, taste it, and every shadow seemed to form into a knife-wielding psychopath.
Maree kept reminding herself that she had an overactive imagination as she continued down Kendell Lane, looking for No. 42. Still, she glanced over her shoulder every few seconds.
“There,” she whispered, when she spotted the rusty number in the dim light. The sign underneath it read: Azimuth Gallery. Viewings by appointment only Not this night.
Maree made sure no one was in sight. She pulled out a pair of stiff wires and clumsily picked the old lock, following the instructions of a dubious website she had looked up the previous night. It took a while, but she won the struggle when she heard the tell-tale click.
She quickly entered the old building and shut the door. She pulled out a pocket torch and flashed it around to get her bearings. It was, in some ways, scarier in the gallery than in the lanes, as the paintings in the shadows appeared to come to life, shifting as the torch flickered by, the eyes of abstract figures seemingly following her. She shivered again, wandering into the next room, picking up her pace as if to avoid the gaze of the phantoms behind her.
Her torchlight almost immediately found the painting she was after. Wings in Despair. The picture she saw on the web; the magnificent work of art she had to have. This was not going to be theft for profit—this was for her.
She had been dreaming about the painting for weeks, the swirling reds, grays and oranges of barely discernible winged figures; angels perhaps, but the subject matter wasn’t angelic. There was grief and death in it. She needed to study it alone, to absorb the artist’s impression, to feel the bumps of paint under her fingertips, to grasp the complete meaning of the work.
Maree held her breath and approached the painting. It was larger than she thought, almost four-foot square. The colors were also richer, more vivid, and the winged man and . . . yes, woman! were more evident. She was in awe, frozen with wonder before it.
“A beautiful work, no?” came a deeply masculine voice from behind her.
She started in surprise, but she didn’t move an inch. She was frozen with fear.
The voice came again, this time a little closer. “Don’t worry. I’m a stranger in this gallery as well. I too have an . . . affinity with the painting.”
A cold sweat bead ran down Maree’s neck. She found the courage to turn around. A tall man stood before her, no more than five feet away. He had short-cropped hair—light, but the exact color was unclear in the shadows. His eyes were pale, perhaps gray; his face was thin but his body seemed full and fit. It was hard to tell his age; perhaps in his early twenties, possibly older.
“I suppose you are wondering why I am here?”
Maree’s voice was weak, still with fear. “I . . . I suppose so . . .”
“I also wanted to see the painting. I have looked upon it before but never tire of viewing the captured emotions on the canvas.” He slipped past Maree and came within a few feet of Wings in Despair. “Do you mind?” he asked, pointing to her torch.
She complied, standing next to the stranger, and illuminated the painting.
The mysterious visitor’s voice mellowed, almost breaking with emotion. “This is the story of Alanar, Guardian of the Northern Sky Realm, and his share-heart, Mirriam. They were Protectors and fought the daemons of the Fire Lands valiantly, never allowing the enemy to taint the Homelands. Protectors always work in pairs, as a team.” The stranger started to cry, not vocally, just allowing the tears to slowly flow down his cheeks. “One day a stray arrow dug deep into Mirriam’s breast, piercing her heart. Alanar was devastated, and he caught her as she fell and carried her in his flight to the Homelands.
“This painting captures the moment when Mirriam’s body was caught. It faithfully portrays the agony of Alanar, his yellow-tipped wings rippling in the wind as he concludes his terrible descent. The swirling colors reflect the awful light of the Fire Lands but they also depict Alanar’s darkened heart. I look upon this work and I cannot but weep.”
His words rang true to Mirriam. How could this be? she asked herself, for this was but an artist’s fantasy; and yet she now realized why she was drawn to the painting. There was some inherent truth on the canvas. It said something to her that she needed. She also began to weep.
He turned his gaze to her. “You feel this too?”
She could only nod. Words were too difficult at that moment.
She shrugged her shoulders. She still couldn’t speak.
“Come with me.”
Maree turned to the stranger. She saw compassion in his face, and yet they only met a few minutes ago. Maree wanted to instantly reply “yes” but all she could do was stare at him quizzically.
He laughed while he cried. “Look at the painting again.”
She did. The swirling colors suddenly came to life; they actually were swirling.
“You are linked with this painting in so many ways,” Alanar said. “From the moment you were born you were meant to do this.”
She didn’t know why but she allowed herself to fall into the painting, and then, without warning, she unfurled her expansive, blue-tipped wings, and flew into the maelstrom of colors.
Alanar gently grasped her shoulders, to steady her clumsy flight.
“It has been a long time, Mirriam.”
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.