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Indulgence Series

The Stone God Indulgence Series 1

★★★★★ "Fantasy lovers will find The Stone God unputdownable. I stayed up way too late saying I'll just read one more chapter, now one more.... Anyone who enjoys great storytelling will feel the same too." — pw reader

Enter bestselling author Erin Kellison's captivating new world of gods, monsters, passion, and games...

Terah Crane knows not to tempt the gods. A happy life—or at least an uncomplicated one—involves no gods at all. When an unlikely flood carries a cracked pillar of stone from a nearby shrine right to Terah's doorstep, it's clear the gods demand her service.

The man trapped inside the monolith is still alive, and Terah's reluctant task is to resurrect him, his godkiller of a sword—and his fury for vengeance.

The gods' awesome powers are matched only by their capricious whims—and vulnerable mortals are often the ones to suffer and die. Now, the gods are watching Terah, making her a pawn in their savage game. Her survival depends upon navigating a new world of peril and treachery, taking up a weapon, and making a fateful move of her own...

Book Info

Reviews

"Fantasy lovers will find The Stone God unputdownable. I know I stayed up way too late saying I'll just read one more chapter, now one more, maybe just one more, I didn't want to stop for the night. Anyone who enjoys great storytelling will feel the same too."
- pw reader

"I honestly can't wait for book two to see where they will end up. A fantastic story that had me gripped from beginning to end. Absolutely recommended by me."
- Merissa, Archeolibrarian

"There are gods and monsters and people who think they're ordinary, but turn out to be anything but. There's betrayal and heartache and ... I feel like we've just skimmed the surface of what's going on and there's a whole lot more underneath than we can see just yet…there's a lot going on here and I have no idea where things are going to go, BUT I AM HERE FOR IT. *thumbs up*"
- Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal (VINE VOICE)

"This book is a wild ride...The ending of this book left me eager to read the next installment in this series."
- HappyBookWorm

"This is a well written story with true to life characters and a world that feels real. I couldn't stop turning the pages and when I had to put it down, I found myself thinking about what might happen next in every spare moment! I can't wait to see what happens next in this story!"
- schris11

"Adventure, romance, world building, fights, and fantastic characters. Gods, mortals, and creatures of every type. Terah, a mortal, is caught up in the relationships between gods and forced into a position she neither wants nor understands. She is a forthright woman so, polite and tactful responses challenge her. This leads to delightful situations with gods and mortals alike. This story is emotional, suspenseful, and fun. I am so looking forward to the next book in this series."
- Sandee, GoodReads reviewer

"It's a cleverly thought out book. And very well written. And I can’t wait to see where the next book takes us."
- butterfliesandbooks

Excerpt from The Stone God

CHAPTER ONE

Terah Crane woke to the sound of a ferocious rush of rain.

Drowsy and warm in bed, she turned from her side sprawl onto her back. There was no thunder and lightning, but the bucket gush from the sky made her smile. This was why she'd moved back here from the city—no cars, no lights, no voices to find her. The rain was loud and fast. Brutal. Above all things, honest. And out here, like the wide fields and the craggy trees, the rain was all hers. Maybe she'd get a dog. She'd always wanted one.

As a yawn arched her back, she thought of drinking tea on the porch and filling her lungs with deep breaths of the storm.

She sat up, her gran's quilt dropping to her waist.

And the sound reoriented itself.

The water wasn't coming from above, wasn't smacking the roof and windows. It came from below, a deluge of force and power.

Terah threw back the covers and went to the window. The darkness was just starting to gray with the coming day. She spotted her car askew when it should've been parallel to the porch, and the ground...seemed to be moving.

What in the...?

She squinted to see better, but it was no use. The predawn stole color from the yard, rendering everything monochromatic and undifferentiated, much like the monotonous sound, now tumbling in her head and blotting out other noise.

Rushing barefoot out of her bedroom, she went downstairs to the entry. She paused, her hand on the doorknob, the roar outside rattling the metal in her grip.

With a dry swallow, she eased the door open. A low wind whipped her hair and stung her eyes. The smell of mud was thick in the air. She double-blinked against tears, and then she stopped breathing as she gaped at the sight before her.

Rutting gods!

The front yard had been washed away by a churning brown river at least ten arnots wide. The water rushed just below the porch steps and carried branches, white slats of wood—the garden fence?—and bits of random trash. The current had pushed her car from its parking place at the side of the porch into a fishtail caught in a thicket of bushes.

A river had appeared out of nowhere. Something...somewhere...must have flooded.

The breath she finally drew was ragged. She gripped the doorjamb and half-turned as if to go inside. Haul the important stuff upstairs? Her grandfather's books? How would she move all of those?

Emergency Services.

She lunged inside and found her bag on the kitchen counter. Her mobile phone had a red sliver of battery, but...no signal.

Because there was never any signal at the little house—it was too far from the village, too near the Phemeran border—and she hadn't turned on the old landline since moving in two days ago. She hadn't even thought of it.

A loud crash outside brought her sprinting back to the porch. The brightening horizon had turned a ruddy tangerine, enough to delineate a large, oblong rock that had slammed into the side of her car.

As the orange sun spiked through the boughs of the trees, the rock dappled with early morning light. She knew that shape. She knew it well.

No, no, no. Please, no.

It was the Stone Man from the shrine at Oralla Pond just up the road a ways. As there'd been no bad weather, the god Aran must have caused the flood. This land might be near the border, but it was still under his dominion.

Oralla Pond was a bean-shaped lagoon that lured local fishermen for a lazy bite on summer afternoons and horny teenagers into midnight skinny-dipping. Long ago, a man had been immobilized, left standing at the water's edge until he became encased in stone, as some kind of horrific punishment from the gods. He'd been forgotten by everyone except those who lived nearby.

In Aranos, if a person paid their tithe portion—a tax for living—or bought Aran's Indulgence outright, as had Terah's grandfather upon her birth, then life could go on in the shadow of his greatness. Those who didn't pay had to serve whenever, and however, the gods chose. And those who angered the gods were made examples of.

The Stone Man must have done something very bad.

"I don't owe service," Terah said aloud to comfort herself. The temple statement that came every year in the mail had the word Exempt printed right next to the year's tax balance, and Aran, the god to whom she'd been pledged.

Terah stared at the large, long piece of rock trapped by her car and stopped from moving downstream to someone else's doorstep. Maybe if the water kept pushing it...? But even now, the current was slowing to a deep, murky lapping of sludge and ferny-smelling pond scum.

For a sickening moment, she wondered if she were being punished for something.

She took a deep, steadying breath. The temple statements were in a moving box upstairs in what she'd planned to make her home office. She had only to show them to the right people, and everything would be sorted out.

The house wasn't even insured against acts of the gods. A god rider was too expensive.

She'd have to hike to the village. Call for help from there.

The slowing current had the Stone Man banging ominously and rhythmically against the side of her car. Leave it bobbing in the murky water? She didn't want to get near the thing. It wasn't her problem. Her grandfather had said so. But...for whatever reason, the temple had designated the Stone Man as a shrine.

Cursing, Terah bent her head to the front door's frame, squeezing her eyes shut in useless denial. The sound of the water had diminished to a soft lap and gurgle. The chirping morning bugs were audible above it. An early bird cried in the sky. Terah felt like screaming, too.

Fine.

If she were going to do it, she'd better do it right away. Be cooperative.

Then go to the village for help.

Shoving her feet into her shoes, she descended the porch steps and tried her footing in the water. Cool, but not cold. The water sucked inside and squished around her toes. Taking her first step, she slipped slightly in the mud, but she didn't dare take her shoes off and risk stepping on debris.

Although...injury might get her out of this situation.

She considered the idea as she slogged forward, her drenched sleep pants lashing tightly around her legs. A strike of pain on her shin had her faltering, and she fell to one knee, her breasts and shoulders submerged in a flash before she heaved herself back up onto two feet.

No. Injury would exacerbate the situation. Aran wouldn't care if she were hurt. People were disposable. Mortals were born of dirt and went back to dirt. Inconveniencing the gods just made the process go faster. There was no out until a potent from Aran's temple dragged the Stone Man away.

Terah neared the rock that had long ago ceased to resemble a person. Never in her lifetime had the Stone Man looked like anything but an upright phallus. Wading through leg-tangling pond fronds, she stifled a snort, remembering a summer ten or eleven years ago. Jeramy Heyes had compared the length of his dick to the height of the Stone Man. What could she have done but challenge him to prove it?

Reaching around the stone casing, she shuddered to think of the disgusting remains inside—rattling bones and leathered skin, crunchy like an insect. The water's current dropped a bit as she tried to grasp the thing. Its shape was cumbersome as it half-floated, half-anchored at her car, but the water took some of its weight. Controlling the stone at its midsection, she hauled it into the deeper flow. The Stone Man maneuvered easier until she neared the edge. And then she had to pull, scraping through loose muck to get it up partway onto the mud-sludged grass.

Only when she stepped back did she notice the jagged crack that ran down the middle of the stone and the black stuff that seeped out of it.

Gagging, Terah turned away to control her sudden nausea. Decayed body stuff. Absolutely disgusting.

It was enough to propel her back to the house. She shed her sopping, muddy clothes on the porch and ran naked inside and up the stairs to the bedroom.

Filthy and shivering, she ransacked her boxes marked Clothes to find something clean to wear. Her legs were smeared with mud. She opted for pants and a light linen blouse secured by a simple, wide belt for the long hike to the village. She bound her hair in a quick knot at her nape. Found socks and grabbed her boots since she'd already ruined her other shoes. A glance in the mirror told her that she wasn't an attractive target for Aran's interest. Small consolation.

Next, she needed a recent tax statement to prove her exemption. She crouched to open a moving box and pulled out her personal files. The yellow folder had a tab that read Records on it. Inside, she found her Certificate of Dedication with the affixed red stamp of Aran's Indulgence. Love you, Grandfather. The statements were chronologically organized up until a couple of years ago when she'd gotten sloppy and started shoving the unopened envelopes inside the file.

She ripped open the mail to find this year's. Perfect.

She was just coming downstairs when she heard the distant beat of rotors—a helicopter.

Yes! Help was coming. Help was nearly here.

She went out to the porch to wait. She grimaced at the pile of her sodden clothes and hurried to hide them inside, then returned outside again. The cacophony remained remote as the big metal insect set down in the clearing beyond the trees. Her heart felt battered by the rotors.

The flood was now stagnant, standing water, smelling of rank pond and wet earth. Shapes jutted from the surface, debris brought down by the gush. A moldy satchel. A wet heap of fur there at the edge. Silver fish floating, the morning sun glinting off their scales. Her car, mud-locked. And the gruesome, stone-entombed corpse, neatly set aside like a morbid chrysalis—a present for...someone else.

Five figures emerged from the trees. One was a female potent in crimson robes, connoting temple Aran. The rest were male in the gray drabs of temple attendants.

So the flood had been an act of a god.

Terah tried a friendly smile, but it felt wrong on her face, considering the tortured dead man in the stone, so she dropped it.

As the group approached, fighting through the tall summer grass, they seemed to size up the situation: the Stone Man, still seeping black muck, and the wide, muddy streak that had brought him swimming down from the shrine at Oralla Pond. When the party approached the other side of the water, Terah startled a bit as she hadn't thought they might need to cross to get to her.

"Um..." she called out, directing them to the right, where a bar of earth nudged out of the wetness.

But they waded directly into the waters without hesitation. The potent's robes dragged behind her, collecting gunk. Her gaze flicked to Terah, then she leaned in to one of the attendants, and they moved off to examine the Stone Man.

Terah extended a hand to greet the potent as the woman came up her steps from the mud below. A gold brooch shaped like petals of fire was pinned over her heart and gleamed against the crimson of her robes. She wore her dark hair in intricate braids that rounded her crown and finished in high, tight love knots. Her forehead had beaded with perspiration from her walk.

The potent didn't take her hand, so Terah awkwardly parleyed the gesture into a wave toward the seeping, petrified rock. "The Stone Man from Oralla Pond. I dragged it from the waters. I'd have pulled it to the other side had I known you'd approach from over there."

Now, can you please take it away?

"I am the Honorable Caiman Jaid. I've been sent to investigate the incident," the potent told her. Honorable. So, not just any temple power but one with some degree of authority to pass judgment on behalf of the god.

More than a little frightening.

Jaid pulled a device—a recorder?—from a pocket in her robes. "Your name?"

Of course, the temple would want her account. Terah backed herself up to start again. "Terah Dail Crane."

"This is your home?"

"Yes." Terah loved the sweet, two-story cottage. She'd spent her summers here growing up. "It's been in the family for several generations."

"Can you tell me what happened?"

Terah took a deep breath. "Yes. I woke to the sound of rushing water. I came outside to see a river—it was raging then, the current up to the front step. The Stone Man came down in the flow and crashed into my car. I dragged the stone off to the side, in case you needed it preserved. I was just about to head to the village for help when I heard your helicopter." Pausing to get her wording right, she asked, "Was this a natural flood?"

Jaid's gaze flicked up to the clear, pale blue sky.

"That's what I thought, too," Terah said, breathy and nervous. "I—I'm exempt from service to the gods, though." She held out her file, which the potent took. "I have my Certificate of Dedication and my latest statement right here."

Jaid opened the file. Her gaze darted over one page, then the next.

"My grandfather gifted me with Aran's Indulgence when I was born."

The little house still felt like her grandfather, though he'd died a little more than eight years ago. Same family pictures on the wall. Same scarred kitchen table she'd sat at in her childhood. This place was all she had left after her divorce. It wasn't worth much to anyone else. Still, she'd fought in court to keep it, had traded everything else to her ex as if, in so doing, she could somehow go back to the time before when everything had been good. This was where she'd hoped to start over.

A sudden sound like a gunshot, its report echoing and sending birds flying upward from their nests, brought Terah's attention to the attendants. They were crouched over the Stone Man and had used a tool to penetrate the casing. With great precision, they drew out some kind of sample. Black glop streaked from the perfectly round hole they'd created.

The potent closed the file. "There must be a mistake."

Terah turned back and sighed, relieved. "I thought so, too. We've always been a devoted family." She winced inwardly at the exaggeration. Devoted. Her family paid their portion and ducked from sight like all sane mortals in Aranos.

"Perhaps your grandfather stole the money he used to buy Aran's Indulgence."

Terah's relief stalled, turned. On the other side was anger, and it leapt, hot in her chest. "What? No. He mortgaged the house." And then worked extra years to pay it off. Her grandfather had been a good man. The best. "I can get you those documents, too."

The paperwork had to be in the attic. How fast she could put her hands on it, however, was the question. She should've thought of that.

"Then perhaps someone further back in your line didn't pay or wasn't dedicated."

Further back? "Like how far back? And what has that person got to do with me? My portion was paid in full at my dedication." Terah knew her voice was rising, but this potent couldn't just stand there and deny what was written in black and white in front of her.

"All I know is that the Stone Man came to you. You, specifically. Can you deny it?"

"I can't deny it totaled my car. And let's see...washed away my driveway, most of the road, filled the yard with muck and trash. Who knows if it damaged the house?"

She had no money for this level of repair. For any level of repair.

"The Stone Man came to you," Jaid repeated. "You must've done something to deserve this...attention."

Suddenly, Terah felt naked standing there on her stoop. Confronted. Because...yes, sure, she'd made mistakes in her life, and some of them were big. One in particular years ago wouldn't let her go. But nothing intentional. Nothing to warrant Aran's interest now, unless he counted all her cursing because she'd done a rutting lot of that recently.

But she wasn't about to explain herself to Jaid, honorable potent or not. "So you're...what?...just going to leave that thing here?"

The temple potent gave a single, sanctimonious nod.

Terah looked over at the Stone Man. The attendants were taking photos of the site, of Terah, of the house. They didn't seem to have any intention of helping clean up or restore her life, or maybe they'd have brought shovels.

"In the meantime," Jaid said, "I'll search your family records to see if there is an anomaly to indicate why you were singled out."

This wasn't fair, but apparently, Terah would have to deal with it.

"It would probably be easier to just bury him," she mumbled. From dirt, back to dirt. His life journey had merely been delayed during his imprisonment.

Jaid looked startled. "Oh, no. You are to tend to him."

"Hose off the black goo?" Because Terah wasn't getting near enough to scrub it.

"Ser Crane," Jaid said, her lips thinning. The title Ser made Terah's eye twitch. It was clearly meant to remind Terah that service to the gods was why humankind had been created. "He is still alive."