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Dindi is kidnapped to be the bride of a shark... To escape she must untangle a terrible curse caused by a love and magic gone wrong.
This stand-alone novella is set in Faearth, the world of The Unfinished Song. Available here ONLY.
The Unfinished Song - This Young Adult Epic Fantasy series has sold over 70,000 copies and has 1,072 Five Star Ratings on Goodreads.
Discover the heroic fantasy world of Nathan Hawke’s Gallow: The Fateguard Trilogy.
I have been Truesword to my friends, Griefbringer to my enemies. To most of you I am just another Northlander bastard here to take your women and drink your mead, but to those who know me, my name is Gallow. I fought for my king for seven long years. I have fled in defeat and I have tasted victory and I will tell you which is sweeter. Despise me, then, for I have slain more of your kin than I can count, though I remember every single face.
Collected here are the first three Gallow novels, along with a collection of framing short stories. THE FATEGUARD TRILOGY tells of the years when Gallow discovered that a man as notorious as he was cannot live a quiet life, and in the end must choose a side, even if that means betraying his own people.
And when you betray a king, you accept that there will be a reckoning. The Fateguard are coming…
Addic stopped. He blew on his hands and rubbed them together and took a moment to look at the mountains behind him. Hard to decide which he liked better: the ice-bitter clear skies of today or the blizzards that had come before. Wind and snow kept a man holed up in his hut with little to do but hope he could dig himself out again when it stopped. A clear day like this meant working, a chance to gather wood and maybe even hunt, but Modris it was cold! He stamped his feet and blew on his fingers again. It wasn’t helping. They’d gone numb a while back. His feet would follow before much longer. Cursed cold. He looked back the way he’d come, and it felt as though he’d been walking for hours but he could still see the little jagged spur that overlooked the hut where he’d been hiding these last few days.
Up on the shoulder of the mountain beyond the spur a bright flash caught his eye, a momentary glimmer in the sun. He squinted and peered but it vanished as quickly as it had come and he couldn’t make anything out. The snow, most likely, not that snow glinted like that; but what else could it be so deep in the pass?
Snow. Yes. Still, he kept looking now and then as he walked, until a wisp of cloud crossed the mountain and hid the shoulder where the old Aulian Way once ran from Varyxhun through the mountains and out the other side. The Aulians had fallen long before Addic was born, but that didn’t mean that nothing ever came over the mountains any more. The winter cold was a killer, but shadewalkers were already dead and so they came anyway.
He quickened his pace. The high road was carved into the mountainside over the knife-cut gorge of the Isset. It was hardly used at the best of times, even in summer when the snow briefly melted. No one had come through since the blizzards, and so he was left to wade thigh-deep through the snow on a narrow road he couldn’t see along a slope that would happily pitch him over a cliff if he took a wrong step. It was hard work, deadly tiring, but he didn’t have much choice now and at least the effort was keeping him warm. If he stopped to rest, he’d freeze. And it probably hadn’t been another shadewalker high up in the mountains, but if it was then he certainly didn’t want to be the first living thing it found.
By the time he ran into the forkbeards, hours later, he’d forgotten the shadewalker. By then he was so tired that his mind was wandering freely. He kept thinking how, somewhere ahead of him, one of the black lifeless trees that clung tenaciously to the gentler slopes above would have come down and blocked the road completely and he’d have to turn back, and he simply didn’t have the strength to go all the way back to his safe little hole where the forkbeards would never find him.
And there they were: four of them, forkbeards armed to the elbows and riding hardy mountain ponies along the Aulian Way where they had no possible reason to be unless they’d finally caught wind of where he was hiding; and the first thing he felt was an overwhelming relief that someone else had come this far and ploughed a path through the snow so that he wouldn’t have to, and how that was going to make his walking so much quicker and easier for the rest of the way. Took a few moments more for some sense to kick in, to realise that this far out from Varyxhun the forkbeards had come to hunt him down, winkle him out of wherever he was hiding and kill him. He might even have been flattered if he’d been carrying anything sharper than a big pile of animal pelts over his shoulder.
The crushing weight of failure hit him then, the futility of even trying to escape; and then a backhand of despair for good measure, since if the forkbeards had learned where he was hiding then someone must have told them, and there weren’t too many people that could be. Jonnic, perhaps. Brawlic, although it was hard to imagine. Achista? Little sister Achista?
His shoulders sagged. He tried to tell himself that no, she was too careful to be caught by any forkbeard, but the thought settled on him like a skin of heavy stone. He set the pelts carefully down and bowed in the snow. The forkbeards seemed bored and irritable, looking for trouble. ‘My lords!’ They were about as far from lords as Addic could imagine, but he called them that anyway in case it made a difference. Maybe they were out here on some other errand. He tried to imagine what that might be.
‘Addic.’ The forkbeard at the front beamed with pleasure, neatly murdering that little glimmer of hope. ‘Very kind of you to save us some bother.’ He swung himself down from his pony, keeping a cautious distance. It crossed Addic’s mind then that although the forkbeards had horses, they were hardly going to take the High Road at a gallop in the middle of winter when it was covered in snow, nor even at a fast trot unless they were unusually desperate to go over the edge and into the freezing Isset a hundred feet below. And if they knew him, then there was only one reason for them to be out here. He turned and ran, or tried his best to, floundering away through the snow, not straight back down the road because that would make it too easy for them but angling up among the trees. The snow shifted and slid under his feet, deep and soft. As he tried to catch his breath a spear whispered past his face.
‘Back here, Marroc. Take it like a man,’ bawled one of the forkbeards. Addic had no idea who they were. Just another band of Cithjan’s thugs out from Varyxhun. They probably looked pretty stupid, all of them and him too, not that that was much comfort. Struggling and hauling themselves up through the steep slopes and the drifted snow, slipping and sliding and almost falling with every other step, catching themselves now and then on the odd stunted tree that had somehow found a way to grow in this forsaken waste. The forkbeards were right behind him. Every lurch forward was a gamble, a test of balance and luck, waiting to see what lay under the snow, whether it would hold or shift. Sooner or later one of them would fall and wouldn’t catch himself, and then he’d be off straight down the slope, a quick bounce as he reached the road maybe and then over the edge, tumbling away among the rock and ice to the foaming waters of the Isset. Which for Addic was no worse than being caught, but for the forkbeards it was probably a worse fate than letting him get away. Perhaps desperation gave him an advantage?
But no, of course it was him that slipped and felt his legs go out from under him. He rolled onto his back, sliding faster and faster through the snow, trying to dig in his feet and achieving nothing. He could see the road below – with two more forkbeards standing on it right in his path – and then the great yawning abyss of the gorge. He threw out his arms and clawed at the slope but the snow only laughed at him, coming away in great chunks to tumble around him, past him. He caught a glimpse of the forkbeards on the road looking up. Laughing, probably, or maybe they were disappointed that the Isset and the mountainside were going to do their work for them. Maybe he could steer himself to hit them and they could all go over the edge together?
Two forkbeards on the road? He wondered for a moment where they’d come from, but then he caught a rock which sent him spinning and flipped him onto his front so he couldn’t see where he was going any more. A tree flew past, bashing him on the hip; he snatched and got half a hand to it but his fingers wouldn’t hold. Then he hit the road. One foot plunged deep into the snow and wrenched loose again with an ugly pain. His flailing hand caught hold of something and tried to cling on. The forkbeards, maybe? Again a moment of wonder, because he could have sworn he’d only seen four forkbeards with their ponies and they’d all been chasing him, so these had to have come the other way, but that couldn’t be right . . .
A hand grabbed him, and then another. He spun round, tipped over onto his back again, felt his legs go over the edge of the gorge and into the nothing, but the rest of him stopped. The forkbeards had caught him, and for one fleeting second he felt a surge of relief, though it quickly died: the forkbeards would have something far worse in mind than a quick death in the freezing waters of the Isset.
A cloud of snow blew over him. When it passed he brushed his face clear so he could see. He was right on the edge of the gorge, the Isset grinning back up at him from far below. Two men stood over him. They’d let go and they weren’t hitting him yet and so his first instinct was to get up and run, but getting back to his feet and avoiding slipping over the edge took long enough for his eyes to see who’d saved him. He had no idea who they were or what they were doing out here on the Aulian Way in the middle of winter, but they weren’t forkbeards after all.
The bigger of the two men held out a hand to steady him. They weren’t Marroc either. The big one, well, if you looked past the poorly shaven chin, everything about him said that he was a forkbeard. Big strong arms, wide shoulders, tall and muscular with those pitiless glacier eyes. The other one though . . . Holy Modris, was he an Aulian, a real live one? He was short and wiry, wasted and thin and utterly exhausted, but his skin was darker than any Marroc and his eyes were such a deep brown they were almost black. He was also bald. Their clothes didn’t say much at all except that they were dressed for the mountains.
The four forkbeards were picking their way down from the slopes above, slow and cautious now. The two men who’d saved his life looked at him blankly. They were half dead. The Aulian’s eyes were glassy, his hands limp and his breathing ragged. The big one wasn’t much better, swaying from side to side. Addic thought of the flash he’d seen from the mountain shoulder hours ago and for a moment wonder got the better of fear. ‘You crossed the Aulian Way? In winter?’
The forkbeards were almost down now and they had their shields off their backs. The first one slid onto the road in pile of snow about ten paces from where Addic was standing. He pulled out his axe but didn’t come forward, not yet. He watched warily. ‘Hand over the Marroc.’
The big man stood a little straighter. ‘Why? What’s he done?’ He was breathing hard and his shoulders quickly slumped again. He looked ready to collapse. An ally, maybe? But against four forkbeards? Addic glanced down the road, back the way he’d come.
‘Pissed me off,’ said the forkbeard with the axe. ‘Like you’re doing now.’
The stranger growled. The Aulian put a hand on his arm but the big man shook it off. ‘Three years,’ he snarled. ‘Three years I’m away and I come back to this.’ The other forkbeards were on the road now, the four of them grouping together, ready to advance. The stranger drew his sword and for a moment Addic forgot about running and stared at the blade. It was long, too long to be a Marroc edge – or a forkbeard one either – and in the winter sun it was tinged a deep red like dried blood. ‘Three years.’ The big man bared his teeth and advanced. ‘Now tell me how far it is to Varyxhun and get out of my way!’
‘Three days,’ said Addic weakly, bemused by the idea of anyone telling four angry forkbeards to get out of my way. ‘Maybe four.’ The forkbeards were peering at the stranger’s shield, an old battered round thing, painted red once before half the paint flaked off. It had seen a lot of use, that was obvious.
‘Move!’ The stranger walked straight at them.
Addic didn’t see quite what happened next. One of the forkbeards must have tried something, or else the stranger just liked picking fights when he was outnumbered and exhausted. There was a shout, a red blur and a scream and then one of the forkbeards dropped his shield and bright blood sprayed across the snow. It took Addic a moment to realise that the shield lying on the road still had a hand and half an arm holding it.
‘Nioingr!’ The other three piled into the stranger. Addic wished he had a blade of his own, and if he had might have stayed. But he didn’t, and there wasn’t anything he could do, and so he turned to flee and ran straight into the Aulian.
‘Out the way.’ He pushed past. The darkskin had a knife out but obviously didn’t know what to do with it. ‘If I were you, I’d run!’
The Aulian ignored him and took a step toward the fight. ‘Gallow!’
Addic heard the name as he fled. It stuck with him as he ran. He’d heard it somewhere before.
Find more from Nathan on his website.
Discover the fantasy world of The Seedbearing Prince…
Dayn Ro’Halan is a farmer’s son sworn to a life of plowing on his homeworld, Shard. After finding a lost artifact called a Seed, he’s thrust into an ancient conflict between voidwalkers of the hated world Thar’Kur, and Defenders from a floating fortress called the Ring. Dayn must become a Seedbearer and learn to use the Seed’s power to shape worlds before the entire World Belt is lost.
The torrent shifted again, and a thousand shards of onyx flashed to fire as Corian swept through a roiling field of ice and stone. The sheath on his worn black armor held, but would not last much longer. The stream of rock in the space between the worlds drifted slower here, and boasted several floating mountains large enough to hold a layer of air. Green ferns covered the surface of the nearest, providing plenty of cover. Corian was tempted to stop and rest, but crater wolves likely roamed in such thick foliage. The entire World Belt hung on the message he bore to the Ring, and he could rest after his task was done.
A field of red granite stretched in the space above him like the bizarre clouds of some nightmare, the individual boulders careening off each other by the hundreds. Only the hardest minerals and metals endured the endless pounding of the rock flow, and only the most foolish men would brave such a swath of torrent. They were moving the direction he needed to go, into the flow where the rock moved fastest. In the torrent, speed kills, he reminded himself. He was the best courser among the Ring’s Guardians, but the rock never cared.
Corian deftly attached a new talon to what remained of his silver wingline, then heaved it. The metal hook took hold, his wingline snapped taut, and the boulder yanked Corian into the flow. He repeated the process, each time roping a boulder moving faster, until his last guide rock pulled him along at hundreds of spans a second. A layer of white frost appeared on his armor and mask in a blink. He reeled himself in and clung to the red surface, like a flea riding a river bison in the middle of a stampeding herd. He watched every direction at once from his perch, digging his gauntlets into the crumbling surface. The boulder was actually some ancient rusted metal, not granite as he first thought. The torrent here was so thick he could barely see the stars, and it filled his ears with a distant roar.
He sped along this way for some time, until he spied a pockmarked mass of stone and iron, large as a dwarf moon. A cleft right down the middle threatened to split the entire thing in half. A tower in the northern axis had seen more than its fair share of rust, but the light strobing from it pulsed regularly, illuminating the smaller rocks orbiting around it. As a whole, the wayfinder was ugly and old, but the mass of rock was the most blessed sight Corian could imagine after a week of surviving the torrent’s attempts to grind him to powder.
His next wingline took him closer. If the wayfinder was powered as well as he suspected, he could use the array inside it to find out where he was in the torrent, and see how close the Ring lay. He might even find food and water, if peace favored him. A fellow Guardian must stop here often for such an old wayfinder to be this well preserved, he thought.
Smaller debris pelted the wayfinder’s old crust, disintegrating in flashes of light. The surface shone with hundreds of impacts, large and small. Corian chose a crater near the old tower, perhaps seventy spans deep with high walls that would offer good angles to slow himself as he approached.
As he prepared to throw out another talon, dark shapes poured from the wayfinder’s cleft. He stared for a moment, incredulous. There could be no crater wolves on a wayfinder, with no game to hunt, unless they were marooned after striking some other erratic in the torrent. No, those shapes moved with a military precision, more lethal than the deadliest pack. He could see them clearly now, massive men covered in black. “No. Not here!” Corian barely recognized his own weary voice.
The voidwalkers had seen him. A pinprick of light shone on the wayfinder’s surface, brighter than the tower’s regular strobe. He eyed it mistrustfully as he searched for a place to throw his next wingline and change his momentum. He spotted a tumbling boulder half covered with ice, moving away from the wayfinder too fast.
The light near the voidwalkers flashed. A beam of energy rushed into Corian’s path, hot as molten steel. A lifetime of coursing experience kicked in, and he curled his legs up until his knees touched his ears, rolling forward. The strange fire passed underneath him by less than a span. He could feel the heat of it through his protective layer of sheath. The beam burned past, and slammed into a rock fifty spans away. The tumbling boulder barely even slowed in its course, but the spot where the weapon struck—for there was no question that is what it was—glowed red hot at the edges. The glistening center had cooled quick as glass.
Another pinprick of light. He twisted around in the weightlessness of the void to point his feet back toward the wayfinder and make himself a smaller target. It did no good. The beam rushed straight at him, and his world turned red with pain.
An impact jarred him awake. Another. Corian opened his eyes. I’m much too cold. The voidwalker weapon had burned away his sheath. Layers of his black armor were peeling away from the metal plates like paper curled in a fire. He had been caught in a tangle of purple-rooted vines intertwined in a mile long cluster of the floating rock, what Jendini coursers called a knotted forest. The roots were nearly hard as stone in places. Dusty old bones from animals Corian did not even recognize littered the tangles. Debris from the torrent stretched around the forest in every direction, and errant stones pelted the mass of vines, which he immediately recognized. Courser’s nap, the whole forest is covered with it.
Corian reached into a compartment on his armored belt and removed his last flask of sheath. He applied the clear liquid to his ruined armor in quick, smooth motions, not leaving one inch exposed. The sheath locked together in small patches of light, and his body’s heat immediately began to warm the interior of the invisible, protective barrier. Once the sheath was gone, his armor would not prevent the smallest pebble from killing him, if one struck him moving fast enough. For the first time, Corian considered that he may not survive.
This was to be his last circuit as a Guardian for the Ring, and he held the hope that he would look into his grandchildren’s eyes back on Jendini now that his service was finished. Yet his duty hung over him, heavier than ever. In the distance he could see the world of Shard, verdant and green just beyond the torrent’s chaos. His resolve hardened.
He slipped a speechcaster into his mouth and began to speak as he worked himself free of the tangled vines. The small wafer could hold his words in secret for a few days, should things go badly here.
“I am Corian Nightsong, a Guardian of the Ring. There are Thar’Kuri warriors on the world of Nemoc. The voidwalkers have built a device that allows them to…teleport themselves at will through the Belt. They are gathering in numbers, preparing for an attack. There are captives from all over the worlds imprisoned on Nemoc. The voidwalkers have weapons unlike anything known from the Ring. They use energy and can attack over great distances. They must have been made in the age before the Breach.
If you knew where to look for this message, you must deliver it with all haste to Force Lord Adazia on the Ring. The worlds all depend on you, for I have failed them.” The admission filled Corian with bitterness, but he forced a strength he no longer felt into his words. “My sons and daughters live in Denkstone, on Jendini. Tell them…their father served well.”
One of the vines tangled around his torso began to quiver. Corian looked down, fearing a leaf, but instead he saw a voidwalker, climbing toward him. Corian was tall, but the hulking brute easily overtopped him by a head. His glistening black armor looked as if it were melted to his frame, and covered him from head to toe save two dark slits for his eyes. The vines broke like dried mud in the voidwalker’s grasp.
Corian began to climb, scrambling further into the vines. He did not bother to draw his sword, the voidwalker would overpower him in moments if they were to fight.
“So afraid of an old courser?” Corian shouted. He pulled at every vine in his path as he fled, but most of them were stiff and gray. Living vines of the courser’s nap were purple and sticky, but the true danger lay with the leaves.
The voidwalker’s gravelly voice called to Corian, cold as an orphan’s gravestone. “Come to me, degenerate.”
Corian drew his sword, and began slashing his way through the vines. They sparked as his blade struck, but gave way. He leapt through an open space nearly ten spans across. The voidwalker followed without hesitation. So strong. Corian knew the brute meant to take him alive. He could not allow that.
He landed on a solid gray swath, fleshy beneath his feet. He rolled and lunged just as the leaf stirred. A row of spikes slipped out of the edges, thick as Corian’s leg and sharp enough to cleave a horse in two. Corian barely cleared them. The voidwalker was not so lucky. His momentum carried him right into the center of the carnivorous plant, which enveloped him with a twist of blue-veined leaf. Steam issued from the folds near the plant’s edges as it fed.
More pods of the courser’s nap were coming to life, enlivened by the voidwalker’s screams. Corian avoided the leaves wherever they stirred. He climbed and lunged and dived through the vines, soon pulling himself to the edge of the knotted forest. Pure torrent lay before him, an endless landscape of chaotic rock. There was no clear flow in any direction, the individual boulders in the skyscape crashed into each other in a hundred shattering impacts. I’ll leap blind and pray that my sheath holds.
Another voidwalker tore himself out of the vines a few spans away. Peace, but look at the size of him! The voidwalker’s armor looked as chewed up as the oldest rocks of the torrent, endless dents and scratches plastered the black surface.
“I’ve enjoyed hunting you, degenerate.”
Another courser’s leaf reared up behind the voidwalker as he lumbered toward Corian. The leaf lunged and took the voidwalker up, curling round and round as the folds of leaf tightened. Corian allowed himself a moment of elation, but it was short lived. A pale hand appeared on the side of the courser’s nap, and bright green fluid poured out. The leaf whipped back and forth, emitting a piercing shriek as the voidwalker pulled it apart piece by piece from the inside. Corian needed to see no more. He leaped, and prayed the torrent would show him mercy.
Henrietta and the Dragon Stone is a new story of young adult epic fantasy adventure by award-winning author, Beth Barany. Book 2 in The Five Kingdoms series of the continuing adventures of Henrietta The Dragon Slayer. What if everyone you loved was threatened by a force you couldn’t see or fight? Henrietta the legendary dragon slayer wants to return to her village for a heroes’ welcome. But an unknown sorcerer rides after her and her Dragon Stone and aims to destroy everyone she cares about. Can she claim her newfound powers sparked by the Dragon Stone and keep her loved ones safe, or will the sorcerer destroy everyone and everything she loves?
The Dracontias, dra-con-ti-as, emphasis on the second syllable, is the most powerful gem in all the Five Kingdoms, and more powerful than all the other so-called Kingdom Stones. This one and only Dragon Stone unifies the kingdoms and empowers its user. But beware its one fatal flaw.
—from the Fire Wizards Compendium
Early Winter New Moon (Mitte Moon), Oro Islands, One of the Five Kingdoms
King Singfan sucked in a breath, stretched the crossbow, and held it steady, tracking the beast.
Time was of the essence. If he didn’t kill this dragon and obtain the Dragon Stone on the great dragon’s forehead, he’d have to start all over again. Unthinkable. Impossible.
He had to renew this king’s body during this night, while the stars were aligned just so, and the moon hung below the horizon.
The girl Dragon Slayer, that Henrietta, was performing exactly as he’d expected. She’d taken the proffered reward and given him the secret dragon lore, confirming what he needed to know. She crouched nearby, ready to do his bidding.
King Singfan breathed out, steadying his aim, and smiled.
Inside of him, Bjirn Eyvindir smiled, too, at Singfan’s glee. Hidden to everyone, Eyvindir had occupied the body of King Singfan for seventy-five years, a long king’s rule—longer than anyone on the Oro Islands could remember. If they did remember the length of King Singfan’s reign, Eyvindir by King Singfan’s hand had made sure they didn’t remember for long, and didn’t remember anything ever again.
King Singfan had given him free reign to run his magic through the man and control his every move. The man was his best and most perfect servant. Eyvindir wasn’t going to end the arrangement anytime soon. He’d planned this renewal too long for the moment to go awry.
The dragon hovered above the enormous cave floor about to settle, its scales flickering and iridescent in the torchlight. King Singfan held his breath, steadying his strong stance and perfect aim. He readied the powerful crossbow.
Before he could loose the arrow, Henrietta yelled “You can’t!” and shoved him to the hard-packed ground.
The dragon slayer pinned his arms against his torso with her legs, heavy on his chest. He struggled beneath her weight.
“How dare you!” he snarled. “We had an agreement.”
How had she slipped past his guard?
With every second that ticked by, he felt his power draining from him like water down the drain, no doubt shifting his appearance. But his voice held strong and loud. He gathered courage in that. There was still time to kill the dragon and obtain the Dragon Stone.
“I can’t let you!” she shouted, glaring down at him.
Suddenly, her friends appeared at her side.
“Who’s this?” the injured bard, Jaxter, asked.
“The king,” Henrietta growled.
Little did she know who she was truly up against.
“How dare you!” Eyvindir protested again.
But his voice sounded strange. Gurgles, high-pitched clicks and garbled words were all that he could manage.
How did the dragon slayer’s friends arrive at the cave? He’d left them under guard at the castle.
“Magics! I don’t trust my eyes. Franc?” the dragon slayer shouted, as if she were yelling right into his ear.
“I have not ever seen this old man before, but I have heard whispered tales,” Franc, the knight, said. “What is he saying?” The knight he’d sent to retrieve the dragon slayer, crossed his arms, and frowned down at him. The betrayer.
“I don’t know, but we have no time for tales.” Henrietta bound the king’s wrists and ankles together with a rough rope.
He wriggled, but to no avail. Something sharp stabbed his back.
“Don’t move!” Henrietta barked.
Eyvindir glared at her, through King Singfan’s eyes, furious and unable to move his body, his faculty for speech gone. How dare she! He’d miscalculated the girl slayer. He’d waited too long to act. Frantic, he reached in his mind for his power, but it was too late.
The moment when the moon was just so, right below the horizon, was gone. The shine of the rising moon grew brighter.
The dragon spun to settle, flapping its wings. He’d missed his moment. Torches lay on the ground where his cowardly men had fled. The dragon slayer’s friends had had a hand in that, no doubt, yet he’d dismissed them as weak. Another mistake. How could he have so miscalculated? He brushed the thought aside. He didn’t make mistakes. He drew strength from that knowledge.
“You won’t get away with this!” the king hissed and spat, his voice fully recovered. “The dragon must die, or the Five Kingdoms die. The Oro Islands Kingdom is the first kingdom and must be renewed!”
The dragon slayer frowned, confusion and panic written on her face. Good. He drew more strength from her fear and uncertainty. He may be still tied up, but that state couldn’t last long.
She turned to her friends. “Franc, Jaxter, is this true?”
“Whispers only,” the knight said.
“I don’t know,” the bard said. He leaned on his staff for support.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” the dragon slayer said and clenched her fists. Her heart revved up a notch.
Her panic rippled off her in delicious waves. Excellent.
“I didn’t ask for this responsibility! I don’t want this responsibility!” the dragon slayer cried.
The bard coughed and struggled for breath, leaning heavily on his staff. Most excellent.
Eyvindir pulled power from the skinny young bard’s weakness and from the dragon slayer’s doubts.
The weakened bard managed to speak. “It’s been so long, the story’s been told many different ways, but one of the legends says that the dragon must pass every peak of the wave, at the emptiness of the moon, in the year of the waning ruler, by the hand of a dual heart awakened, bounded on all four points.”
“But what does that mean?” the dragon slayer yelled over a loud hum, her panic at a near-fever pitch.
“I don’t know!” the bard shouted.
“Why didn’t you tell me all this before?” the dragon slayer said, her voice high-pitched, frantic.
“You never asked,” the bard replied.
“But you knew who I was facing.”
“The legend doesn’t say the name of the dragon. I just realized who it meant.” The bard hung on to his staff.
“But still you should have told me! You know all the tales.”
The dragon slayer sounded at wits end. She was weakening. Perfect. He sucked in more of her fear as sustenance to rebuild his strength.
“You should have asked!” the bard said again. “Besides I thought you knew them as well as I did! What is wrong with you? This is what you do, save people and kingdoms from dragons!” Jaxter coughed.
Eyvindir reveled in the bard’s increasing weakness and in the argument brewing.
“Stop! We don’t have the time to argue!” the fire girl, Paulette, yelled. The sneak somehow saw through his facade back at the castle. She would not last a day under his new reign.
“What?” the dragon slayer said.
“The dragon is changing,” the knight said.
The beast’s crystal scales shifted through the primary color spectrum. A second dragon arose from the first, consisting only of a matrix of rainbow light.
Eyvindir would regain the upper hand. He drew ever more strength from everyone’s confusion and fear. Clarity blossomed anew. The moon wouldn’t rise for another hour. He still had time. The dragon slayer’s surprise betrayal would delay him no more.
“You have to kill it before it disappears for another millennia!” Eyvindir yelled, his strength growing from their pain. He could wriggle in the ropes. Soon his power would reawaken and then he would easily break his flimsy bonds. “You must! I command it!” But his last words were drowned out of his own hearing by a roar from the beast.
“Shut up!” the dragon slayer managed to shout over the din.
How was she able to do that when he couldn’t even hear himself? He yanked the ropes.
“He’s right, or something like it has to happen every millennia so the dragon can come back,” the bard said.
“I can’t,” the dragon slayer said, her voice hoarse.
“What do you mean ‘you can’t’?” the bard asked. “You are the Dragon Slayer!”
“I can’t.” The dragon slayer’s cheeks were wet. Splendid! Her life force was depleting.
Any moment now he’d be renewed and free. He used all his years of experience to yank her life force from her. She had to obey him. All his plans rested on her demise, now that he’d taken what he needed from her.
The dragon nudged the dragon slayer with its large head. The dragon slayer stumbled back. She was weakening. The beast nodded slowly, its Dragon Stone glowing green then red on its forehead.
Was the beast communicating with the dragon slayer? Couldn’t be. The beast was for him only. Power flooded through him hot and molten, anger strengthening him.
“Dragon slayer, you must kill it,” Eyvindir shouted. “The fate of the island is in your hands. The fate of the whole Five Kingdoms!”
“Jaxter?” the dragon slayer turned to the bard as if to confirm his words.
“He may be right. Do you trust me?”
“What kind of question is that?” the dragon slayer asked.
“A question that demands an answer,” the bard said in a voice so soft Eyvindir wasn’t sure he heard correctly.
He glared at the stupid dragon slayer. How could he have miscalculated? He’d planned for every contingency. Nowhere had he predicted that the dragon slayer would be strengthened by the new web of connections around her, her pesky friends. She was a loner. That was to be her downfall. He’d made sure of it.
“What do I need to do?” the dragon slayer asked. Her friends must have answered because after a pause she said, “I need your help.”
Damn the old gods and all the lore of his people.
The dragon slayer barked an order cutting through his curse. “Paulette, get to the dragon’s tail. You’re fire. On my mark!”
“What?” The fire girl shouted too close. She hovered over him. “And leave him?”
“He can’t do anything. Go! Time fades, and so does he,” the dragon slayer ordered.
“You must not! The Dragon Stone is mine!” But his words croaked out in sputter. He felt more than saw the new moon rising and his life-force, his prana, ebbing out of this body.
The King Singfan identity, his soul, had been quiet, letting him take command. Eyvindir rallied King Singfan’s soul to lend him strength.
The dragon’s hum deepened and filled the cavern with a low vibrato. It flapped higher and brightened, both the dragon of light and the real dragon. Its scales shot sparks, which exploded against the cavern walls. Two dragons melded into light, too bright to peer at directly. Fire and wind swirled into a funnel and exploded into a white light and blinding bang.
“No!” He shouted, but he couldn’t hear his own voice.
“Don’t stop!” the dragon slayer yelled above the storm.
From all directions, explosions like a fireworks hammered him. Bound as he was, he managed to bend double to guard against the pain, but his efforts were useless. His skin crawled as if ants wriggled under his skin. Pain pierced all layers of his being—both the body and the magics layers.
“Stop!” Eyvindir tried to yell, but it came out like a series of croaks. No, it couldn’t be. He couldn’t move his body.
Then in breath, he lost all sense of feeling. Impossible.
He was able to sense his life force being jettisoned out of his body and into the night sky, on its way back to where his actual body rested inert in his fortress far to the north and east. Through his cloud of shock, from his vantage point in the sky far above, he spied his body, actually the body of King Singfan who had ruled the Oro Islands for over seventy-five years, burst into flames. He felt nothing. He was frozen in shock. The male body that had been the Oro king’s was now cinders, a miniscule pile of ash.
Panic almost scattered his prana into a million trillion irretrievable bits. Only his mighty skill as the oldest living sorcerer saved him. He’d heard rumors of such things. But no, he could not die. Unacceptable. He mustered his focus. His actual ancient body existed within reach.
He focused on his prana, a faint thread of light, a line leading in a northeasterly direction, through the clouds, across the sea, to his obsidian mountain enclave. He didn’t follow the thread to nestle in his sleeping form in that cold room. Not just yet. To do that would admit defeat. He would not let an upstart dragon slayer ruin his plans.
But she had. He had wits enough to admit that.
For a moment he burned white hot with rage and felt an unbearable pain sear his energy body. His anger, intricate and quite useful, connected to his identity, his soul. But now his anger was burning his life force, his prana connection, to the only body he now had.
He brought his attention back to the island city of Plumaria and hovered over it. He quickly allowed dirty white cloud particulates to drench his rage. He had to focus. He had to retrieve the remnants of power from that flimsy old pile of dust that had been the Oro king. He had to find another body to use and fast. Before she got away with the Dracontias, the precious one and only Dragon Stone.
The search for and habitation of a suitable body only took him an entire day, but he finally accomplished his task. Withdrawing his powers from the dust pile, he spied the body he needed in the Plumaria castle’s sick room. His low simmering fury and tenacity built up over three centuries of scheming had made him strong. With his powerful focus, he propped up the dying soul, revived it, and pushed his will and identity into the young man’s heart.
In a breath, he healed the youngling’s body to temporary vibrancy. The body wouldn’t last, so he had to hurry. There was not the time to pick a more robust body. That took preparation, study, and careful calculations. He didn’t have the time for that. He had to get back what was rightfully his.
Once more in control of a vibrant body and pliable identity, he followed the rumors of the slayer’s departure all the way to the piers. That she-slayer was supposed to do his bidding. Failure hadn’t been an option. Perhaps seventy-five years in the Oro king’s body had made him sloppy and dulled his normally exceptionally high acuity and brilliance.
His complacency must have been how she had tricked him, how she’d deceived and betrayed him. He hadn’t been blindsided by a female since his sister had stolen the royal crown from him over a century ago.
Never mind the mistakes of the past. This dragon slayer, this Henrietta, had destroyed his ambition to rule over the Oro Islands for the next one hundred years and beyond. In that time he had planned to seize control of the other four kingdoms using the might of the Dragon Stone, combined with the other four kingdom’s crystals and stones he’d meticulously collected over the centuries. His life’s calling entailed ruling over all the Five Kingdoms. No one was going to come between him and his destiny again.
She would pay for ruining his plans.
He’d end this before she ever left the city of Plumaria. The child-woman, Henri Etta, was no match for him. He couldn’t be destroyed that easily.
He directed his new body through the marketplace, causing havoc. Then he rushed up the pier and delighted in the feel of youth in his limbs. A crazy thought flitted through his mind—that of the faraway and long ago carefree youth he once was who’d loved the freedom of birds and spent hours watching them in flight.
Then he saw her, waving and nodding to the peons who thought she’d liberated them. He swatted away memories of his flimsy faraway past. His pace quickened. She could not take his dream away. No one could, especially no woman. He was to have complete control of all the Five Kingdoms.
Once he had the last object of power, his plans would click into place.
She’d taken the most powerful gem in all the Five Kingdoms from him, and she would pay. With her life.
For some exciting reading, download Callie Kanno’s first novel in The Threshold Trilogy, The Threshold Child.
Adesina has been trained from childhood to serve her nation as a warrior and a spy. When she is selected to combat a group of seditious magic users, she must summon all of her abilities to defeat her enemies—including talents that have been buried in the deepest part of her.
No one ever looked up.
For this reason, a black clothed figure was crouched in the gnarled arms of an ancient tree. In the sparse moonlight she was invisible against the background, waiting patiently for her prey. Her metallic purple eyes, the only visible feature, scanned the ground searching the darkness for every possible detail.
The minutes ticked by slowly.
The whisper of the breeze was chilled by the promise of winter, but she ignored the dropping temperature. Her intense focus even overshadowed the slight ache in her muscles from maintaining her position for an extended period of time.
Every rustle in the underbrush, every stirring of the leaves, brought her sharp eyes around in search for some sign of her quarry.
Finally, a similarly garbed figure passed beneath her tree, slinking from shadow to shadow. She felt a surge of satisfaction as she shifted her weight to the balls of her feet in preparation for the attack.
She dropped down from the branches and brought her prey to its knees before there was any time for her victim to react. She removed the hood and scarf of her opponent, revealing the pale, narrow face of a young woman with short sandy hair. Her features were harsh but blunt, giving her the brutish appearance of one who delights in violence.
The young woman looked up at the strange metallic eyes that were flecked with gold. She clenched her fists, immediately prepared to lash out, and her face contorted in an expression of pure loathing. “Adesina,” she spat.
Adesina didn’t need to ask how she had been recognized. She knew her eyes made her easily identifiable. “I hoped I would be the one to mark you, Basha.”
“I had hoped to kill you.”
Adesina didn’t doubt it. The two young women were part of a class of students training for an elite and selective military group, commonly known as the Shimat. The competition was fierce, and “accidents” happened.
Basha was an unremarkable student, but she was vindictive and unrelenting, which some teachers mistook for determination and strength of character. From the moment she had laid eyes on Adesina, some ten years ago, Basha had hated her. That hate only grew as Adesina excelled among her peers.
Adesina was unusually gifted, even for a Shimat. She had the uncanny ability to sense her surroundings and knew how to use that to her advantage. She was exceptionally agile and her endurance levels were far above normal. These traits, among others, were the reason why she had begun her training five years earlier than any other student.
Adesina reciprocated Basha’s intense dislike. Not only that, but she was aware of her own gifts and Basha’s shortcomings. It rankled Adesina’s pride to see Basha gain distinction through the misconceptions of certain instructors.
A number of sarcastic retorts rose in Adesina’s fifteen-year-old mind, but she ignored them. Basha saw the scornful quirk to Adesina’s eyebrows, and her own eyes gleamed with the desire for violent revenge.
Instead of voicing her thoughts, Adesina drew the dagger from the belt around her waist. “I have unveiled you, Shi Basha. Yield or be disgraced.”
Basha’s expression twisted as she debated whether it was worth the disgrace to defy the person she despised more than anything in the world. When she spoke, it was between clenched teeth.
Adesina stepped forward so she was facing Basha’s kneeling figure and placed the edge of her blade against her enemy’s cheek.
“I mark you, so that all may know of your first failure.”
Her stroke was perhaps harder than it needed to be. Basha swore, but let it bleed freely. Adesina took a small square of white cloth from a pouch on her belt and stained it with some of Basha’s blood. She held it carefully in her hand and returned Basha’s hood and scarf to her.
Basha took them and got to her feet. “A day will come when I will make you pay for this mark. You will rue the day you came into this world.”
Adesina rolled her eyes. Basha had always tended to be melodramatic. “Come on. We have to return to the school.”
Adesina began to turn, but her eyes caught the movement of a sleek shadow several yards away. It was hard to imagine that there was anything more black than the woods at night, but something darker crouched just out of sight. Two golden orbs gleamed momentarily but then seemed to disappear altogether. When she looked closer she could see only trees.
It must have been some sort of animal, for Adesina seemed to be the only human with odd colored eyes. Given the size of the spheres, it must have been an enormous creature. There had never been any beast so large this close to the fortress.
She considered investigating further, but an impatient movement from Basha brought her head around sharply. Adesina’s learned suspicion of Basha overrode her present curiosity. Frowning to herself, Adesina continued on her way.
The autumn leaves lay thick on the ground, but the footsteps of the two young women were muted by the damp soil. They were merely two silhouettes slipping through the darkness, hidden among the crooked trees that surrounded them.
As they walked, Adesina’s mind turned back over the events of the night. It had been a surprise to be shaken from sleep and told that tonight would be the final test for their year of training. If they passed they would be eligible to advance to the next year. If not, they would be put through a remedial course of training.
They had been individually led to different parts of the forest northwest of the school and told that their one objective was to find and unveil one of their classmates. Those unveiled were to be marked by the victor.
Now Adesina and Basha emerged from the forest and approached a small camp. It consisted of two small tents set up on the hill overlooking the forest. The three instructors of Adesina’s group of students stood waiting, robed in black. In the darkness they took on the spectral appearance of the harbingers of death, and the young student felt a chill run down her spine at the sight. Beside the instructors stood a spidery device similar to a brazier, but with flames instead of coals.
Adesina looked at the faces of the men that had taught and trained her since she was five years old. They regarded her gravely as the two young women approached. She greeted them respectfully in order of seniority, bowing to each. “Shar Breyen. Shar Jareb. Shar Per.”
They bowed back. “Shi Adesina.”
Basha went through the same ceremony, but did not receive any acknowledgment in return. Her pale blue eyes smoldered even though she kept them lowered.
Breyen indicated toward the brazier. Adesina took the stained square of cloth she was holding in her hand and gently laid it on the fire. The flames licked at the corners of the cloth, blackening them and curling them as if it were contorting in agony. Adesina watched it dispassionately and wafted the smoke onto her face before stepping back again.
This was a symbolic ritual of the Shimat. The stained cloth represented the victory won, and all that the victory had cost. The sacrifice, the skill, the lessons learned. By breathing in the smoke, it all became part of you. The ritual was also a way to honor those who made you stronger.
Per nodded approvingly. “Shi Adesina, take your prisoner to the medical wing and then you may retire.”
Both students bowed again before walking past their instructors.
The hill leveled out to become flat ground after a few steps. The grass was greyish-green in color and coarse in texture. In the meager moonlight it took on a sickly appearance. This, in addition to the thin mist swirling over the ground, gave a ghostly feeling to the fortress that served as the school and training facility.
The fortress was set on the edge of a cliff that overlooked the ocean. The great outer wall looked harsh and forbidding at night, but during the day it gave a strange sort of comfort in its solitary strength. There were no other cities or villages near the fortress; no other buildings that might call themselves neighbors. The fortress stood alone for many leagues, and it seemed to take power in that seclusion.
The massive gates stood open, which was quite unusual, but several Shimat guards compensated for the lapse of security. Three stood along the wall directly above the gates, and two more stood on the ground on either side. The others were positioned at even intervals along the wall like dark columns, upright and unmoving.
All of them wore the black uniform that Adesina and her peers had been privileged to wear for the night’s activities. Black clothing, knee-high boots, gloves, a high-collared black leather vest, and a hood and scarf that only left the eyes visible. These glittering spheres watched the two young women closely, but the guards remained otherwise still and silent.
Basha fumed inaudibly as they walked. Her burning glare was fixed on the ground and her fists were clenched at her side. When they passed through the gates, she turned to Adesina and said venomously, “I can go to the medical wing by myself.”
Adesina shrugged and walked away. Less time spent in Basha’s presence was always a good thing, and she wanted to get what rest she could before dawn.
Basha took the corridor to the left and Adesina turned right, back to their sleeping quarters.
Each of the rooms that served as sleeping quarters held ten to fifteen students. There were two or three metal washstands per room, and one large mirror on the wall in which they could thoroughly inspect the neatness of their personal appearance.
Every Shi, or student, was instilled with a strict sense of order, which carried over into every aspect of their lives. The uniform had to be meticulous, the hair combed back from the face, proper hygiene attended to, and so forth. All such rules for personal care and general cleanliness were set down in what was casually called “the code.”
Keeping this in mind, Adesina resisted the urge to simply plop into bed fully dressed in spite of her fatigue. She took off the Shimat uniform she had been given for her assignment, folded it carefully, and placed it on the small chest located at the foot of her cot.
Under normal circumstances, a student wasn’t allowed to touch such a uniform. They were only worn by full Shimat, and had to be earned. For certain tests, however, that rule was waived.
Adesina put on her sleeping uniform, unpinned her hair from its tightly braided knot, and climbed carefully into bed. With a weary expression on her face, she settled down for some much needed sleep.
Blood and Iron, the first book in the epic fantasy series The Book of the Black Earth, is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus set in a richly-imagined world.
It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand.
Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.
Jirom reeled back with blood pouring into his right eye. He blinked it away as he retreated. He blocked a hard jab and grimaced as the iron spikes protruding from his opponent’s gloves gouged long furrows down his forearm.
Boos rained down from the stands where workaday freemen of the empire stomped and swilled from clay mugs. Their betters sat in shaded wooden boxes along the top of the tiny arena, fanned by slaves and served wine from silver chalices. Jirom would’ve killed for a flagon of beer right now.
A blow to the ribs knocked the air from his lungs and left stinging gashes along his side. Jirom covered up and circled away, and the crowd continued to make its displeasure known. His opponent was called the Lion. He was ferocious, young, and as strong as his namesake. With his light complexion and proud, hawkish nose, he could have passed for a member of the upper caste except for his iron collar and the sigil—three diamonds joined in a triangular pattern—branded on the right side of his face which marked him as a permanent slave, unable to ever regain his freedom again. It was possible his family had sold him into slavery as a child, or he’d insulted the wrong person. There were many ways to end up a slave in Akeshia, as Jirom well knew. Most gladiator bouts—whether fought with sword, spear, or bare-handed—didn’t last long because the fighters were criminals or slaves who had sinned against their masters. They usually died their first time out, fed to the more experienced gladiators. But the Lion was a different breed. Jirom didn’t know his story, save that he’d been brought down from Chiresh for these games. That meant money had been invested in him—a lot of it.
Jirom blocked a right hook which would have caved in his head, and more blood poured down his arms. As he stepped back from a straight-armed jab, his shoulders hit the rough boards of the arena’s eight-foot-high partition. A hard punch to the gut nearly forced him to drop his guard, but he saw the follow-up to the head and slipped away. Something wet and sticky struck his back. Rotten pomegranates and oranges landed around him, making pulpy divots in the sand. Jirom looked into the stands. In one of the private boxes, a portly, middle-aged man with deep brown skin was talking to an equally portly, slightly older patrician. The first man was Jirom’s owner, Thraxes, so engrossed in conversation that he wasn’t even watching the bout.
A grunt warned Jirom in time to cover up before a powerful clout smashed against his temple. He staggered, his vision fading into black and white spots, before righting himself. Through the speckled haze, he saw the Lion drawing back for another blow. Jirom slipped past a punch aimed at his chin and pushed off to make some space between them. More jeers rocked the arena.
“Come on, you dog!” someone in the stands taunted. “Fight!”
Jirom slapped away another punch and continued his slow retreat around the pit. The familiar twinge in his lower back from an old injury climbed up his spine, making every movement that much more painful. He glanced up to the private boxes at the wrong moment, and his opponent charged with a hoarse bellow. Jirom covered his face as he backpedalled, but a couple punches got through, drawing more blood. His feet got tangled up and he fell hard on his backside. A kick to the back as he rolled over sent jangling shocks of pain down his legs. His opponent stood over him with arms raised to the crowd, and the onlookers showered him with adoration. Thraxes was still engrossed in his discussion.
Jirom crawled to his knees as the Lion paraded around the arena. His opponent didn’t give him time to fully recover before charging at him again. Jirom circled away to his left, always the left, and more boos came down from the stands. The people wanted to see death.
His or mine, it doesn’t matter whose.
Another hard blow almost knocked Jirom down again, but he kept his footing. The Lion came after him, relentless and seemingly inexhaustible. If anything, his attacks were getting stronger and more confident. Jirom glanced up. Thraxes was now standing in front of his seat. With a bored expression, the slave owner yawned and scratched his ample belly. That was the signal.
About time, you fat bastard.
The Lion unleashed another straight punch with a growl. His eyes widened as Jirom caught the fist with an open hand. Air exploded from the Lion’s mouth as Jirom drove his other fist into the younger man’s ribs. A punch to the back of the ear dropped the Lion to his knees, and the next one laid him out flat with blood trickling down his branded cheek.
Jirom felt the rage churning inside him like an ill wind. Breathing through his mouth because his nose was clogged with blood, he knelt down and wrapped both arms around the Lion’s neck. With a heave, he twisted until he heard the spine snap with a sharp pop. The crowd roared with approval.
Cheers and a few copper coins fell from the audience as Jirom walked to the gate, but he ignored them. As he traveled down the dark tunnel to the slave cells, scores of feet pounded on the boards above his head.
As part of L. Blankeship’s blog tour for the Disciple Half-Omnibus I’m delighted to feature an interview with her!
1. What is your favorite place to write?
I write best at home, at my desk, surrounded by my sound system, with an adult beverage at hand. Oh, and my shoes off. Not sure why, but my shoes need to be off.
Music is a must when I’m writing. I organize my iTunes library into playlists with particular flavors — rough, fast stuff for action scenes, quiet background music for when I need to hear my characters’ voices clearly. Every writing project gets its own customized playlist too.
2. Tell us a little about your writing process.
I’m a plotter, not a pantser, so I plan out my nightly writing shift extensively. Every story has its master outline, and each scene within the story has its own sketch before I sit down to write. Since I have a daily Butt-In-Chair habit, I also have a daily habit of preparing to write before that. Going into my writing shift cold is difficult for me.
I love world-building and developing characters, so I generate copious notes on background details. I love research too, needless to say, and I consume a lot of non-fiction.
But I try to leave room for spontaneity in all of this. When the characters disagree with me or make suggestions, I listen. They’re usually right, I’ve found!
3. If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?
Because of my voyeuristic side, I think I’d be Mr. Universe from Serenity. Seeing all, knowing all, having all the stories at my fingertips…
Yes, I’m a Joss Whedon fan. But it’s dangerous to be a character in one of his stories!
4. What is the best writing advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I’ve gotten wasn’t exactly writing advice. It was said to me by a painter, actually.
“The universe will give you what you need for your art.”
This is true, IMO. Ideas cross my path all the time. I just need to be open-minded and look at them in the context of how they can help me with a WIP or a story that I’m developing. Not every idea will work, of course, but the mental goose it gives me can get me looking at a story problem from a different perspective and from there I can take the plot in an interesting direction.
It’s good practice at thinking outside the box, in other words — and no artist should be thinking inside the box.
Thanks for hosting my blog tour, Tara!
War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.
She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.
Disciple, Part IV arrives in March!
Or try out PART I for free!
The Heirs of Cothel series is about Stephenie, a young woman, whose father and brother are fighting in a war two countries away. Stuck at home in the castle with her mother, the Queen, Stephenie realizes her mother is plotting something and must to try to escape if she is to save her father and brother.
Born a witch, Stephenie’s powers are believed to be a curse against her mother for sins that were committed against the gods. It is a curse that would fall upon her mother if Stephenie were to die.
Always fearful of discovery and execution by fire, Stephenie has concealed her powers her whole life. However, in order to disrupt her mother’s plans and save her father and brother, she may be forced to learn what she truly is and make use of the powers everyone believes comes from the Demon god, Elrin.
With the help of some soldiers and an unlikely friend, Stephenie sets out on a personal quest that even if successful, could lead to her destruction.
Daughter’s Justice, the second book in the series, resumes the story and deals with the aftermath that is left in the wake of her mother’s plots. With the revelation to the world that she is a witch, she has to find a way to survive, keep her family’s control of the throne, and avoid tearing apart the country in a civil war.
Download Mother’s Curse from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes. Download Daughter’s Justice from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes.The much anticipated Daughter’s Revenge is scheduled to be released before the end of March 2014.
It was dark and Stephenie ached all over. Her arms burned with what felt like hundreds of little cuts and scrapes. Her knees and ankles were throbbing as much as her head. She tried to look around, but there was absolutely no light. She smelled a pungent combination of urine, blood, and oil.
Below her was something cold and somewhat squishy. Slowly she tried to sit up and had to toss off several pieces of wood. As memories of what happened returned, she realized she was laying on top of a dead soldier. Scrambling away from the body, she stumbled over the debris of the walkway that had given out beneath their weight.
“Hello,” she called out and heard her trembling voice echo back to her. Fear of being caught was pushed away by the fear of being trapped alone in the dark forever. “Hello!” she called again much louder.
After several moments, she neither heard, saw, or sensed anything around her. Shivering from fear as much as the chill that had settled into her body, she searched with her hands in all directions to see what was around her. She felt a wall to one side, but nothing on the other sides.
“Damn it. I need light.”
She sighed. Feeling disoriented, she crouched down, uncertain if perhaps she was on a ledge, and taking a step in any direction would lead to her tumbling away into more darkness. After a few moments to build her confidence, she felt further around her immediate area.
Among the remains of the rotten walkway, she felt a sticky substance. Bringing her fingers to her nose, she identified it as lamp oil. “So, no light. Thanks for nothing Elrin.”
She knew the dead soldier was close by. Since she wasn’t wet with urine, it was likely that the soldier had soiled himself when he died. “Unless I happened to land in a waste pit,” she added ruefully.
Carefully, she searched around, hoping to find the dagger she had lost in the fall. She found the broken remains of the lamp, but not the weapon. She also realized the floor was mostly level with mortar joints. “So I won’t be falling off a cliff? Unless this is just the ledge they use to push people to their deaths.” Slowly she expanded her search, but did not find the dagger.
Eventually, apprehension of touching the dead man lost out to the apprehension of being alone in the dark with no weapons. After a brief moment, when she realized she had become disoriented in her prior searching, she found the body of the soldier. She found another dagger and removed it. His sword had become bent when he landed on it and she could not draw it from the scabbard. “Elrin, you really want to play with me before I die.”
Today I’m excited to share Jennifer K. Marsh’s Times of Old, the first part of the Ilimoskus fantasy series.
“Times of old are leaving, my friends; know that soon it will be the end”
Living amongst the humans of Earth is a race of beings unbeknown to them; they are Ilimoskus, the elemental folk: beings of fire, earth, air and water. They are a most peaceful race who lead uneventful lives in harmony with nature, but one fateful autumn, the Flamikus (fire folk) feel the ground tremble beneath them in tension they have never before endured, and troubling concern starts to linger.
Throughout this ever-growing tension, Fii’dezrhu Reotum – a rebellious Flamikus – discovers a momentous secret he then acts upon by venturing to the forbidden human lands; while there, he inadvertently reveals the Ilimoskus’ existence to one young girl. Little does he know that this sets in motion the beginnings of an earthquake so great, it will result in gruelling searches, confounding ambiguities, painstaking truths and heart-wrenching decisions. In time, both humans and Ilimoskus will watch the world they once knew crumble around them.
Excitement roused within himself and he wanted to share his discovery with Nax. And he would have, had he not suddenly heard Gnotsu’s words echo inside his mind:
‘But if your urge for misbehaviour is too strong and you cannot resist it, Fii’dezrhu, I strongly suggest that you leave Nax’pala none the wiser to your plans. If anyone should be avoiding trouble right now, it is he.’
This sudden recollection of Gnotsu’s words crushed Fii’dezrhu’s spirits, for he shared everything with Nax, good and bad alike. But, despite this, he obeyed Gnotsu’s words. It hurt him to do so, for he was keeping a massive secret from Nax. A dangerous secret. A secret that could cause catastrophe for him if anyone else knew what he was doing, what he was planning. Perhaps, then, it was for the best, for enlightening Nax on such a monumental discovery would surely make him want to participate, and he could not possibly in his current confused and fragile state. Fii’dezrhu knew this.
“…You don’t know that,” said Fii’dezrhu, subdued, after a long pause for thought.
Nax did not answer, just simply looked at Fii’dezrhu. This time it was he who was examining the other’s expression.
“You know,” Fii’dezrhu said, “if Kaidoyrr Allo does grant you permission, which he will, you are unable to refuse if it’s in your bloodline.”
“I know…” Nax mumbled quietly. “I can’t help but feel so guilty and awful for feeling the way I do about being Dook. You have no idea what it’s like, Rhu. There’s all this pressure on you before you even understand why, everyone looks and treats you differently because ‘you’re the Dook’s son’. Everyone knowing who you are, everyone expecting you to be someone you can’t be!” He covered his face with his hands, hiding from the world.
Fii’dezrhu wore sad eyes while looking at his friend; much distress radiated from him. Nax was right, he did not understand, but then Nax did not understand what it was like to be him, either. “You’d be surprised how many long for your life,” he said gently.
Nax separated his fingers so that only his eyes could be seen for a time, but he then moved both his hands away from his face completely. He wore a soft, yet remorseful expression, taking his time before speaking. “We come from different worlds, you and I, yet we aren’t really all that different.” When Fii’dezrhu met his eyes, he smiled kindly.
Fii’dezrhu smirked to himself. “I’m the leogesso, triuvo’so scum of the holid while you’re the son of a Dook. Different worlds indeed.”
“Your destiny was cruel by taking away your parents.”
“Just as yours is cruel by trapping you somewhere you don’t want to be.”
The first thing to reach my brain was noise. A muffled sloshing, like blood in a bowl. Shallow breaths being taken by two other people. No other noise. I opened my eyes and there was no change. No light penetrated the depth of the darkness. I could now feel that I rested on a squishy surface that slid and heaved under my body.
Rejoin Ott on a journey full of humor, talking creatures, magic, romance, and an enemy who is laying plans.
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“So we probably have a long time till we reach the surface.” I stated. At least we knew something now. Suzie looked at me and grinned. “Well then. Since we are stuck here should we talk?” Something in her voice made me nervous. Raven’s grin did not help at all.
“Yes, why not talk?” Raven chimed in while scooting closer. The glow on the back of her hand had spread more.
“What would you ladies like to talk about?” I stupidly asked. I felt like I was missing something, yet I could not stop myself.
“Why the oldest riddle of all time.” Suzie slyly grinned. “Love.”
“What about love?” I again could not help myself. I was walking into a trap, I could see that now.
Raven’s smile grew wider and more sneakingly. “Why, Ott. What do you think of love?”
Suzie’s smile was resembling Raven’s, “Yes Ott, who do you love?”
“What? Who?” I stumbled over my words. “Who says I love anyone or anything?” Time to find another type of escape. Both girls looked at each other and giggled. Giggled! Both of them!
“Why Ott, I do believe you are blushing.” Suzie’s eye’s glowed with mirth.
“You do know, dear Suzie, what that means?” Raven’s eyes had grown darker. “There is in fact something or someone he loves.”
Oh man. “Well, of course I love. I love my friends, my family, even some of my prized possesions.” I was scrambling for safe ground.
“And that makes you blush?” Suzie just would not let go.
“I think there is more to it.” Raven stated. “I think there is someone he does not want us to know about.”
Both girls grinned. “But perhaps we should discuss this at a later time.” Suzie seemed a tad hesitant to continue.
Raven looked at Suzie and nodded. “Perhaps that is best for now.” She looked at me, her eyes deep and penetrating. “But we should discuss it more later.”
I just stood there stunned. I thought I was in real trouble, but now I felt confused. Who did I really love? Did I love either of these amazing girls?
I looked at Suzie who smiled. She was a fun loving, free spirited woman who enjoyed teasing me. I knew she was interested in me, that had already been discussed. Did I love her? I know I enjoyed her company and she was a very beautiful women. She blushed and turned away at my lingering gaze.
I turned to Raven and realized she had watched my appraisal of Suzie. Her eyes were dark and mysterious. This woman drove me insane, yet I found her alluring. A mysterous air always seemed to flow around her very being. At times she was abrupt with me and at others moments there seemed to be a gentleness that none other might suspect. She fought like a dervish yet showed a kind hand when needed. A true woman of opposites and more complex than most. Her appearance was equal to Suzie yet different. Suzie had a softness to her. Raven had a strength that showed through her femininity.
Raven continued to watch me. I turned away, confused yet coming to some conclusions. I could hear Raven sigh and she leaned against Suzie. Their whispers carried just enough that I knew they were talking, yet I could not discern what subject.
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Darkness is covering the land. As the city of Mezrah grows with power and greed, the rest of the world can only stand by and wait for their inevitable destruction. The only hope against this growing power is an ancient prophecy that people have stopped believing in.
Then a star begins to fall.
Princess Kyla of Taramon stopped trusting in the power of light the day her father died. Trapped in a city she does not care for, under the watchful glare of her mother, the queen, she struggles to accept her fate.
Then a star begins to fall.
Jethro has loved Kyla for as long as he can remember. Learning that she was to marry his cousin drove a wedge between him and the feisty princess. Watching her from a distance is a torture he is unable to free himself from.
Then a star begins to fall, sparking an ember of hope and sending these two seekers on a treacherous journey into the unknown.
“Nikara?” Mordekai poked his head into the room, he saw the small lump in the bed and hurriedly approached his apprentice. “Nikara, my dear.” He shook her shoulder.
She let out a soft groan and turned towards him. “Morning already?”
“No. No.” He shook his head. “Sorry to wake you, but this is of the utmost importance.”
Her wide, slanted eyes looked dry as she gazed at him. He knew she would never have the impudence to consciously show it, but he could sense her reticence.
“Please, child. You must see this.”
Biting her rosebud lips together, she slid out from beneath the covers and took the candle he held out to her. Throwing a robe over her shoulders, Mordekai danced like an excited child as he beckoned her to follow.
Her steps were too sleepy and slow for his liking, and he found himself dragging her through the streets. She knew not to question him before she must and stayed silent throughout the short journey. They reached the top of the stairs and stepped out onto his small perch.
“Mordekai, what are we doing up here?”
He turned away from the inky blackness below and gazed up at the sky. His white teeth beamed through his grey beard. “Look through the telescope.”
Nikara covered her yawn with delicate fingers. “Mordekai…”
“Just look, child.”
She blinked slowly. He knew she didn’t like him calling her child anymore; she was nineteen years of age and quite a beauty. He noticed how men now stopped to glance at her, something he was struggling to adjust to. To him, she would always be the little waif he found bleeding on his doorstep.
He bit his lip as she stepped towards the telescope he had spent hours gazing through. He knew the night sky better than anyone in the city.
Nikara squeezed her left eye tight and peered into the lens.
“Do you see my star?”
Her small fingers swivelled the telescope to the north. “Yes,” she mumbled.
He watched her in agitated silence. Her body was rigid, her fingertips turning white as they pressed against the smooth wood.
Had she noticed? Why wasn’t she saying anything?
Finally unable to bear it, he whispered, “Do you notice—”
“It’s moving.” She glanced up at him, her lips parted. “I thought I was seeing things, but…” She bent down to have another look. “It’s…” Stepping away from the telescope, she leaned against the wall. “Mordekai, is it falling?”
He let out a chuckle. “Look for a diamond glowing in the north, though it falls, it will not fail.” He quoted the second part of the prophecy with a laugh.
“What does that mean?”
“It means I was right. The diamond of the prophecy is not the crystal in Taramon Tower. It is this star.”
The one he had discovered sixteen years ago.
Nikara swallowed. “Mordekai, it’s been too long. No one believes the prophecy anymore.”
“Well maybe they should.”
Her lips pressed together in a tight grimace as she looked out into the inky blackness. “Do we tell—?”
“No. No, we mustn’t. He forbade talk of the prophecy years ago; we must keep this to ourselves.”
His face scrunched in thought as he turned his gaze to the far borderlands.
The tremor in her voice was hard to miss, and he felt a touch of guilt as he turned to her. “Pack your things, child. It’s time to leave Mezrah.”