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Chapters I & II of Courtlight Book 10 — Sworn To Quell

Hello readers,

Ahead of the release Sworn To Quell: Courtlight #10, I’m doing something special. I want to share the opening pages with all of you tonight! So go ahead and get your fill, keeping in mind that this is after beta readers but before copy edits.

With all the feedback I’m getting from betas, editors, and proofreaders, I’m excited to deliver an action-packed fantasy adventure. This manuscript is also already officially the longest book in the Courtlight series yet. Here’s a taste of what’s in store for you with the first two Chapters of Sworn To Quell: Courtlight #10. Hope you enjoy!

The assassination was on everyone’s mind. Even Ciardis Weathervane’s. Although tonight she was quiet. Contemplative. She stood at the edge of the tower, leaning forward to stare out onto the sea with a concentration that suggested every lap, every wave, held the answer to her problems in its depths. She almost believed it did.

“Nature is serene, is it not?” a voice behind her asked.

“Hypnotic,” she called back as she shifted her stance from where she leaned against the white stone guard of the tower. Ciardis had a long glaive perched against the wall next to her. But she didn’t reach for it. It was too long for her to do much with in such a confined space anyway.

If she needed to deal with a malcontent individual, the tiny knife with the pearl handle at her waist would just have to do. She’d found it covered in soot in the wreckage of the east wing of the palace. She was in the north wing now. A maze of corridors and towers left almost untouched by the inferno that had leaped from one level to the next in the lower buildings. Made of glass and gilt and pretty burnished wood, those parts of the palace had gone up in flames as cheerily as a holiday log crackling in the furnace.

But this wing, and others, were made of harsh stone and fierce magical enforcements. Remnants of the Initiate Wars from long ago. Remnants of a time in which the Algardis Empire had been beset on all sides by enemies.

Dragons. Gods. Kith. Even their own people, Ciardis thought wryly.

The person behind her cleared their throat nervously.

They hadn’t gone away. She had half-hoped that they might. With a deep sigh Ciardis turned away from the entrancing vision of the sea and faced the chaos behind her.

Her eyes met the gentleman rocking back on nervous heels as he faced the woman who the city was beginning to refer to as a legend, and not in the kindest terms.

Ciardis knew what they thought of her now. It hurt. But she couldn’t show it. Not when they stood so perilously close to the edge, both figuratively and physically. She needed to be strong and she had to win their hearts and minds. But if the citizens of Sandrin weren’t willing to give her that, she’d still take their subservience. People were very accommodating when they wanted to live.

“What is it?” she murmured quietly as a harsh wind came off the sea and blew through her hair.

It got in her face and her clothes, a loose tunic with long sleeves and a cape to match, tangled around her form. They were practical clothes if not stylish.

She didn’t need stylish right now anyway. They could be mid-battle at any moment and she’d take alive and well-fitted to fight over beauty any day.

Even Lillian had agreed.

She’d nearly keeled over in apoplexy when forced to admit it during one of the few self-defense trainings she’d squeezed into Ciardis’s transition from village maiden to court-worthy Companion…but she had agreed.

But what mattered now was the fact that Ciardis was very well aware that she could fight in a dress if she had to. But she knew that she could win in pants.

The man, a young person no older than his late twenties, bowed nervously and said, “The conclave has been convened.”

Ciardis didn’t let any emotion show on her face. No joy. No relief. No anxiety.

This was going just how they had planned. Or rather…as closely as it could to the plan after they had killed an emperor, lost far too many friends, and destabilized all the lands without a proper transition process.

Ciardis Weathervane might have even been able to live with all of that.

The lost knowledge.

The lost friends.

But her heart beat with an empty hollow knowing that she had lost someone more precious than all of that combined.

She wished she could say it had gone down differently. But it hadn’t.

Life seemed to love to jerk her around.

This week had been no different.

The man cleared his throat as he swayed back and forth on jittery feet that even his palace training couldn’t hide.

She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. She felt like she’d been through the wringer and hung out to dry. Which she had. They all had.

As if mirroring her dark mood, the winds off the sea picked up in harsh bursts. The storm that had been rolling in, bringing in the fresh smell of the wet sea that Ciardis so loved at the same time, broke at that point.

Harsh rain began to slam against her back and almost took the servant off his feet as he faced the winds head on while trying to maintain his position in front of her.

When lightning struck so close to the tower that she could see the arc of bright energy out of the corner of her eye, Ciardis smiled and he jumped like a frog into the air.

To his credit, he landed back in the place where he had started, but that apparently was the end of his deference to courtesy. The man was halfway back down the stairs before he halted, and very reluctantly turned to look back up at her while he gripped the remaining stair rail with a hand so tight that his flesh was ghostly.

Ciardis raised an eyebrow. She wasn’t entirely sure if he was waiting because he couldn’t move or because he needed more from her. He’d delivered his news after all. But she also knew that she wouldn’t get her answers by deferring to what protocol demanded of her in this situation. Which was waiting for him to say something. She could see from the dull glaze in his eyes and the way he opened his mouth then closed it again, that he was in shock.

So she said kindly, “You’ve told me your news, now you may go.”

“May I take your response to the prince?” the man finally said as gracefully as he could under pressure. His words were a little frightened, but his delivery was fine.

“Where is he?” Ciardis fairly shouted as another roll of thunder sounded over the both of them.

The servant said something then and nature drowned him out.

She asked again, but apparently he heard something entirely different. A question in her words about the person, rather than a clarification on where the person was.

Ciardis was highly frustrated. Because of fear and perhaps protocol, he wouldn’t come any closer to her.

This is ridiculous, she grumbled as she prepared to make her way across the tower. Keeping a wary eye on any stray fingers of lightning in the air.

But then just as she put one foot in front of the other, suddenly the thunder and high winds died.

It was like they had never been there in the first place, and the servant was already readying his reply to their previously drowned out conversation.

She didn’t have to struggle to hear what he was saying now.

He still began with a shout, “No, milady. The prince heir. The prince heir!”

She nodded, “I understand.”

“Not the diabolical one,” he was saying as he shivered in the now cold and still air.

She sucked in a breath but didn’t reprimand him. She couldn’t. He was right.

Besides, he realized his mistake all too quickly in the empty silence that followed.

Ciardis wanted to reassure him that it was all right. She put false cheer in her voice, but the words weren’t really for him. They were for her.

“Thanar’s been called worse,” she said cheerfully as the newly soft wind buffeted her.

The man blanched. “I-I didn’t mean…”

She shot him a darkly amused look. “I wasn’t speaking to you. Go. Leave me to myself. I’ll be along in just a few minutes.”

He took her at her word and scurried off to the dubious safety of the exit while she looked around at the vista below. This vista was different from the seascape just behind her. It was like standing on a precipice and being able to see the world burn. Or what was left of it anyway.

As Ciardis stared at the palace in ruins and she felt her hope die with it.

But she wasn’t empty. Because anger took its place. Anger and retribution.

It almost seemed silly, but when Thanar had taken his rage out on Maradian. Every blow, every crunch of bone, every yell had been both for her and without her. She thought victory would ring sweet, instead it was hollow. Like a log that had finally cracked and revealed an inside destroyed by beetles, then give over to rot and mold. She couldn’t shake the sensation that she hadn’t won, that instead she’d been allowed to win.

Ciardis let out a bitter laugh as she said aloud to the empty tower, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Maradian thought it better to die now than face a god at the head of a human army.”

It would seem to be just his temperament — throw a wrench in Ciardis Weathervane’s plans one last time, even if he had to die to do it.

She had the thought, which ran down her spine like an ice-cold shiver, that this was just the beginning. They had seen the palace burn. But before the end, the entire city and even the empire itself would be up in flames.

That was something she didn’t want to see. Something she couldn’t even imagine.

But she wasn’t sure she could prevent it either.

Everyone was dead. Everyone.

How were one inexperienced Companion, one unscrupulous daemoni prince and one very overwhelmed prince heir supposed to be able to commit deicide on their own?

The answer was…they weren’t. And Ciardis Weathervane was starting to realize that she had been set up to fail. It was a long game and even though he was dead at Thanar’s own hands, it seemed that the false Emperor had had the foresight to set his hands in play well before they had even stepped on the board.

It was the way the games of court life were played.

But just because Ciardis Weathervane was down, it did not mean that she was out. She knew that to win this fight it would take all she had, all they had, in one united force. Starting with the conclave awaiting her appearance. Awaiting her explanation for the string of deaths she had left behind her. Awaiting an explanation most of all for the death of the man they knew as Emperor Bastien Athanos Algardis.

So she turned for one last look at the sea and then began the long journey down the steep tower steps into the wreckage of the palace below.

She thought about the wicked storm that had descended on them with barely a moment’s notice. It was incredible that it had last for only seconds.

Like a storm called down from the heavens, she thought. Or a storm that a mortal mage had called in.

Neither idea appealed to her.

If there was an unlicensed mage in the city of Sandrin, or the seven gods forbid, on palace grounds—they would have to deal with them. Ciardis had the feeling that the palace and the people were a lot more vulnerable now than they had ever been. Whether the fight between she and Maradian had taken down more than just a ruler, was left to be seen. But one didn’t see incredible thunderstorms forming in seconds and weird snaps of mage power at the oddest intersections when everything was fine.

That, by definition, was the opposite of fine.

And she shuddered to think of what else was to come.

Whatever it is, we’ll handle it, she thought firmly. Like we always do.

And yet those words didn’t comfort her nearly as much as they had in the past.

 

As she walked down the steps Ciardis made a note to herself to ask the Weather Guild to keep a firmer eye on their members. Almost all the city inhabitants were running scared like headless chickens since a day and a half ago with the Emperor’s death.

But that didn’t mean that they could just descend into anarchy.

No, that won’t do, she thought as she trailed a finger in the dark ash that coated even the walls of these steps.

She hadn’t witnessed it personally, but she knew that the fire that had raged, stoked by unrestricted magic, had been a furious one.

Furious enough to throw the flames so high that they reached into an enclosed stairwell and roared to the fresh air at the very top.

She wouldn’t have wanted to be trapped in the resulting inferno. She didn’t think anyone would have survived.

And now the palace was once more in order, or as orderly as it could be considering that the people had simply traded the foreboding rule of a maniacal Emperor for the unspoken of, but very much realized presence of one very troubling god.

“No wonder everyone’s so frazzled,” Ciardis muttered with a grimace as she took the last step down and met the barely sane eyes of some skittish servants running to and fro like mice trying to avoid the notice of a very large predator.

Ciardis had the sense that it wasn’t necessarily her they were afraid of. But what was coming in general.

Panic and fear hung over the palace and the city itself like an oppressive cloud that would not rise.

It wasn’t something you could shake off. You lived with the fear, you woke with its choke hold on your breath, and you went to work with it riding your back like an ominous crow.

As she stepped around some flagstones that had been upended into crag-like outcroppings on the floor, she pursed her mouth into a grim line. They were in the eye of storm. She knew it. The servants knew it.

It was so calm that it was actually unnerving. Waiting. Watching. Wary.

Not knowing when the god would appear. What he would appear as. What they could do. What they would do.

She knew that the citizens of Sandrin feared for their lives. For their families’ lives.

Unfortunately, Ciardis Weathervane didn’t have much reassurance to give them.

All she could manage at the moment was to plan, even though her plans previously had had very nasty habits of falling apart.

“Plan and keep people busy,” she said as she looked around with a critical eye. She saw a man so frazzled that he walked straight into an ash-covered pole before hastily straightening himself with a frightened look and hurried along again with his fellow mice.

Ciardis reached out and snagged the hand of the person nearest her. A servant walking by with her cloth-wrapped head firmly down.

Another mouse, she noted disappointedly. She couldn’t blame them for their fear. It would rule her too if exhaustion hadn’t already taken a predominant place.

As of now all Ciardis Weathervane had time to do was function. Function and act as if every second was her last. So she planned and she schemed and she scoured the palace for anything that would give them the upper hand.

And today she would act. Because they had to. Their leisure time had run out. With the emperor dead and a god descending, they have very little space left for preparations. She would make the most of it.

“Where is the prince heir’s meeting?” Ciardis asked the woman not unkindly.

The woman blanched under the layer of dust and dirt that caked her face but fortunately didn’t lose her composure. She dipped a hasty curtsey.

“In the chambers of the Imperial Conclave,” she managed to say with barely a squeak of her voice.

Ciardis noted her calmness and gave her a smile. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure, Your Imperial Highness,” the woman said smoothly as she curtsied again and scampered off before Ciardis could correct her.

Looking after at her with a perturbed expression, Ciardis called out, “I’m not an Imperial anything.”

When five different servants stopped scampering through the halls mid-run and looked at her, Ciardis ducked her head self-consciously.

She wanted to shout out to them that they had it wrong, but it wasn’t just a problem of servants uttering the wrong title. Everyone from the head of the Merchant’s Guild to busy countesses looking to gain power while the social circles of the imperial courts were in flux, were referring to her outside of her current title. That didn’t mean that she had to like it. In fact it made her unsettled to think everyone was automatically foisting the title of Empress upon her. It almost felt like she’d been selected to run a town as mayor and yet had never even been asked if she wanted the position.

Ciardis knew logically that by agreeing to the wedding, she had agreed to all assumptions of the office, but she hadn’t gotten married yet, by the seven gods. She wanted her freedom for a little longer.

So she glared at all of the servants standing around and staring at her silently. Not challenging them, but not letting this go either. Whatever they saw in her eyes made them keep right on moving.

Which was just fine with her. She didn’t feel like having the discussion that she wasn’t married to the Emperor-to-be, and at this point in time wasn’t even sure she wanted to.

“We’re all going to die anyway,” Ciardis said as she resolutely turned around and headed down the imperial hallways.

If she had had a moment of clear thought, she might have wondered why the servant who had come to fetch her hadn’t waited to escort her to the conclave himself, but with a palace falling apart around her and no less than five friends dead thanks to scheming of her former future father-in-law in less than forty-eight hours, to say that her judgment was a bit clouded would be an understatement.

Grief could do that to you.

Ciardis Weathervane, above anyone, else understood that.

It was all she could do, to rein in the tide of emotions that were threatening to sweep over her. The pain. The fury. The burning need for retribution.

Retribution not just against the man who was a stone-cold corpse now, but also for the actions he had put into place.

But she couldn’t undo the past. No one could.

She picked up her pace from a fast walk to a trot. As if she could outrun her personal demons.

She couldn’t say it worked too well, but she did manage to avoid conversations with any more individuals along the way.

When she reached the conclave’s chambers, she noted with a frown that there were no soldiers guarding the doors.

Even the hallway was empty.

Hesitating, Ciardis lifted a fisted hand and knocked on the door.

It was the polite thing to do, after all, since she didn’t know who was in there.

Though when she thought about it after a moment she realized how silly she looked. Not the knocking itself.

But the fact that no matter who was in the room, she outranked them all. She recognized that the triumvirate gifts had made her one of the most magically powerful Companions in the land, if not the most powerful, and she also happened to be in line for the throne herself.

If only as the future Empress.

So Ciardis cleared her throat when no answer was forthcoming and turned the heavy crystal handle on the door herself.

With a bit of force and a firm hand, the broad door opened. She stepped inside to see dozens of individuals.

None of whom were paying her the least bit of mind.

Sheaves of paper were being waved about like weapons, voices were rising, fists being pounded into the table or the wall depending on where the occupant stood, and people were clearly getting angry.

She closed the door behind her softly and took in the scene.

A long, wide room opened in front of her. As big as one of the minor ballrooms, it was taken over by a grand oval table made of dark wood, maybe ebony, inlaid with crystal panels at intervals. Intervals that corresponded to the chairs that sat around the table. There were at least thirty seats with proper placements, but even more had been wedged into open spaces at the table. It wasn’t the mannerly seating arrangements that the nobility usually demanded.

Instead, Ciardis silently counted men and women, even kith, arranged around the table with fists raised in anger. Even more leaned over the backs of those individuals with places at the table and screamed to be heard.

The kith, she noted, stood apart. In a far corner of the room where their hooves and hands could defend any challenger if needed. She noted that even apart they, however, seemed more distressed than furious when compared to their compatriots around the room.

Ciardis delicately began to make her way to the front, where she had spotted a rather large set of dark wings raised upwards in warning. She hoped to find Sebastian standing firm by Thanar’s side.

They had had their personal pissing matches, but if there was one thing she knew she could count on, it was the fact that the members of the triumvirate would have each other’s backs.

Especially when faced with an angry mob.

If they don’t, Ciardis thought grimly, I’ll twist their ears so hard they wish they had.

She ducked the wide swing of a meaty fist of a merchant and practically got picked up off her feet by an angry group of women dressed in gowns that had been fashionable when her forefathers were alive — wide hoop skirts being brandished like the weapons they were as the women wearing them took Ciardis along with them in an angry flurry of skirts. It was then that an Imperial guard finally noted her presence. The guard hastened to Ciardis’s side to make sure she managed to make the rest of the way to the head of the table without being waylaid.

When the nobles closest to her noted who she was, their voices got louder and more belligerent instead of dying down.

Ciardis felt a hint of fear when she was finally able to untangle the words they were saying—one over the other.

It was hate spewing out of their mouths. And not directed at the Emperor. Nor at the coming god.

At her.

Ciardis turned to face the angry, powerful mob in the room that all of sudden felt far too small, and she flinched.

She looked around, wondering if she was mistaken but it was clear she wasn’t. Bloodshot eyes and furious expressions re-focused on her.

“We wouldn’t be in this mess if not for her,” screamed one irate noble.

“Traitorous concubine,” shouted another. “I knew you and your Guild whispered into our ears like snakes, but to see it with my own eyes—.”

“Enough!” shouted Sebastian.

When that didn’t settle them down, he signaled to soldiers—strategically placed throughout the room, Ciardis noted in surprise—and they unsheathed longswords at once.

That silenced their detractors.

Or rather her detractors, Ciardis thought glumly.

When she had come into the room, the nobles had been angry at Sebastian, scared at the turn of events, but they had also clearly acknowledged his right to lead in the place of his fallen family.

But for Ciardis, the tide had immediately turned. Their expressions, their emotions had shifted and like a feral pack they had turned on her in blame, in hate.

No, not hate, she realized. It’s fear.

Surprise colored her thoughts. Of all the things she had imagined when coming to court, being the instigator of fear had not been one of them.

“Now that I have your attention,” Sebastian said in a steely tone, “you’ll act like adults or you’ll be ousted from this conclave like children.”

There were rustles around the room as everyone looked at their compatriots and decided it wasn’t worth it to keep insulting Ciardis like they stood in the midst of a taproom.

She straightened her shoulders and tried to look as unintimidated as she could. But by the dark and disgusted looks directed her, she wasn’t so sure she succeeded.

Thanar, however, had no problem making his frustrations known.

He stepped forward and magic seeped into the air.

Dark magic that moved like shadows, forming into cloud funnels to reach out to the faces of surrounding individuals with lightning quickness.

They all jumped back and fell over each other to avoid his dark touch.

Even the soldiers had to hastily sheathe their swords in order to avoid spearing an individual tumbling towards them by mistake.

Ciardis couldn’t see the look on Thanar’s face as he came up to stand directly behind her and put protective hands on her shoulders, but she caught the looks on the faces of the individuals whose eyes he met.

They all fell back in line after that.

She glanced out of the corner of her eye to see how Sebastian was taking Thanar as the enforcer instead of himself.

But if the prince heir had any misgivings about Thanar’s use of magic to cow the angry crowd, he kept that to himself.

A moment later he reached out to her mind-to-mind. This is exactly what I need. I’m holding on to power with a tenuous grip right now, and to be seen arguing with my subordinates would not…be wise.

Ciardis wanted to say more, but there was no time.

Outwardly Sebastian said, “We’re calling this meeting to order. As the triumvirate that killed the sitting Emperor of Algardis, I have many claims to make known — the first should come as no surprise — I validate the actions which forced the former emperor’s death.”

“And the second?” said a voice from the far back of the room.

Sebastian let out a grim smile. “He was family but the late emperor wasn’t who you thought he was. He wasn’t who I thought he was. He was my uncle and an imposter who was doing everything he could to send the empire back in time a century or more as he consolidated power.”

Shocked cries echoed throughout the room.

Hope you enjoyed your sneak preview!

Sworn To War: Courtlight #9 Cover + Blurb Reveal

Sworn To War Cover

I want to thank all my readers for continuing on the  journey with me through the Courtlight series! I hope you’re enjoying reading Sworn To Sovereignty and are getting all geared up to read Sworn To War! Without further ado, sit back my pretties and read the summary of Ciardis Weathervane’s new adventure!

 

War1

Ciardis Weathervane is facing a war on two fronts. One with the dragons. One with the deities.

She is ready to face the god that they’ve known was coming for months, but the people that she thought would coalesce around her are faltering under the pressure, the lies and the deceit.

She knows that the very foundation between ruler, nobility, and commoner had fractured down to its core. Now the capital city and its people need to be reforged, bound in fire before they’re consumed by brimstone.

But the citizens of the empire need more than a speech to believe in the rulers that betrayed them just days before. With their empire on the line, Sebastian lays out his first ruling edict which may be more than even he bargained for.

As Sandrin comes together once more before the final struggle, the daemoni prince is struck down and the princess heir-in-waiting has doubts as to whether they can forge a more perfect union without the one that completes their souls.

With Thanar trapped in purgatory while they fight to resurrect the city that gave them lifeCiardis and Sebastian are in a battle to the death against a god bent on living forever.

Click to pre-order on Amazon, iBooks, or Google Play today.

A Deleted Scene from Sworn To Sovereignty

Recently on Twitter I mentioned a deleted scene from Sworn To Sovereignty, in which loyalties are questioned and motives are undermined. The scene was cut from the book for the sake of keeping the narrative moving, but its an interesting piece that I still like. This week I spoke with the Chicago Book Examiner (again) about my work as an author and how I write my books, so this seemed appropriate. The second Examiner interview will be live in the coming few weeks but I can tell you that they gave me a pretty exciting official review for Sworn To Raise now:

Chicago Books Examiner praises Sworn To Raise “First of series raises expectations for young adult genre”

Here you go! Enjoy. I’ll be posting buy links with the reveal of Chapters 1 and 2 soon.

 


How does this help us? This constant bickering? This distrust. Anytime we encounter a new foe it rears its ugly head like a hydra who can’t be destroyed? Ciardis mused to herself wearily.

But Sebastian answered her anyway. By weeding out friend or foe. We need to make our alliance stronger. We need to know where we stand and who we can trust.

“We can trust Terris.”

“Because she’s your friend?” He said in a soft voice.

Ciardis felt ire and then anger build in her gaze. She didn’t bother softening that look however, she didn’t care who saw.

“She saved my life numerous times, all of our lives not even a week ago.”

Sebastian nodded and said, “Now we shall see if she’s willing to do more than risk her life and our own. Let’s see if she’s willing to risk her soul to protect her empire.”

Ciardis raised an eyebrow. “You mean to protect you.”

“The motives are one and the same,” he replied.

Ciardis took an uncomfortable step back and held up a forestalling hand. “No Sebastian, they’re not. Not this time. Not in this place.”

Sebastian cocked a quizzical head and looked at her. “Do you really believe that?”

Ciardis looked at him straight in the face and said, “I trust my friends. I trust Terris. She is loyal. She is kind. She, above all, is not someone whose motives I want to question. I might as well as question my own heart if I was to question hers.”

 

 

 

Sworn To Vengeance: Courtlight #7 – Second Chapter

Wow, if I knew this weekend would be this busy with posts and flurries of emails and excitement I would have stocked up on iced coffee ahead of time. ^.^ Without further ado, here is the SECOND chapter for Sworn To Vengeance: Courtlight #7. I’m back in the game and focusing on my primary readers. I can’t thank you all enough for the support, love, and emails. The book is coming along and the translations/library efforts don’t need as much of my time now.

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A REMINDER that this is a first glance at CHAPTER TWO for Sworn To Vengeance. It hasn’t been edited or seen by my betas yet. I’m letting you all read it first. Hope you enjoy and the book is worth the wait!

Also a very cool picture to share. Check out SWORN TO VENGEANCE: COURTLIGHT #7 outselling GEORGE R.R. MARTIN on iBooks. Yes, that’s right! Sworn To Vengeance hit the Top 100 on iBooks Overall and the Top 5 in Science Fiction & Fantasy!

Top5SciFiFantasyUpdate

If you’d like to read CHAPTER ONE first, go here!

Second Chapter

 

Suddenly the wind shifted in their direction and Ciardis heard a voice say “It’s time!”

She couldn’t readily identify who the voice belonged to, but she was pretty sure it was one of the soldiers. He sounded young but sure.

Surer than I’ll ever be about this, she thought with a moment of envy.

Turning around she silently walked forward so that she stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a small circle of individuals. She couldn’t see who it was that stood immediately to her right or left but she could hazard a guess…a guess she’d be willing to stake her life on.

Perhaps I’m not as unsure as I thought.

She could feel Sebastian’s presence to the right of her, singing to her like a bright flute on a summer’s day. Entrancing but closed off. Sebastian could close his mind all he wanted. So could Thanar. But they couldn’t close off their presence. Just as she could feel Sebastian’s bright and strong aura near her, she could sense Thanar’s denser if not darker miasma of power just across the circle.

Three steps. Maybe four…and I could… she thought to herself before snapping out of it. Could what? She didn’t know. She didn’t know if she wanted to slap the daemoni prince or kiss him. She didn’t know if he deserved to die or deserved to be free. Free from a promise to the Weathervane family. Free to pursue other obligations.

It was actually kind of scary to think of what else Thanar would consider an obligation.

Ciardis flashed back to the words he had flung at her the day they had arrived at the palace of the former empress, Sebastian’s mother, “You don’t know half of me, Ciardis Weathervane.

At the time Thanar’s mood had been playful, teasing even.

And now? Now Thanar reminded her of a caged beast just waiting for an opening. An opening that would allow to devour them all and escape into the night. Not the most wonderful thing to think of when discussing the person you were soul-bonded to. But then again it was Thanar, when was anything ever normal with him?

Still. Ciardis thought. We have to try to make this work. For the empire. For its people. We need him to destroy that god.

At least she thought she did. The truth was they didn’t know if they could destroy it. They had hope. Hope and allies.

Besides which Thanar had been right. She didn’t. She didn’t know a thing about him other than what she had observed in the short time since he’d elected to journey with them from the North. It felt like forever.

Yet it also feels as if it was only yesterday when I stood over his bloodied body trapped in a cage. Head shorn. Wings damaged.

Even now she couldn’t decide if he had deserved said punishment. He’d ordered his family to their deaths. He’d killed hundreds of refugees. And yet – it wasn’t up to the soldiers in the field to decide his fate. That was for the courts of Sandrin and their emperor-on-high to preside over.

He was conundrum. A mystery. A Pandora’s Box that she was eighty percent sure she should lock away in a trunk and tossed chained into the sea. That Pandora ’s Box spoke up in the next second, “I assume that your plan doesn’t call for us to stand in the dark like idiots for the night. I can see, but as far as I can tell the rest of you are as blinds as bats.”

Christian cleared his throat off to her left somewhere and said, “Do you intend to help with that?”

“Say please,” was Thanar’s self-satisfied response.

Ciardis felt herself rolling her eyes before she could respond.

“Enough Thanar,” said Ciardis in disgust.

She saw the glowing ball in the palm of his hand flash bright, bright enough for her wince just as a smirk appeared on his face and the ball which had been the size of his palm dimmed and shrunk until it was barely bigger than his thumb.

“Those weren’t the magic words,” the daemoni prince said in a slow purr that had a distinctive edge.

Ciardis glared. If he thought she was going to kowtow to him he had another thing coming.

A snort from her right told her just what Sebastian thought of Thanar’s antics. Curiously though, the prince heir said not a word aloud.

“Really?” said the shaman who had accompanied them on this mission in disgust. “This is how we’ll defeat the enemy down there? By acting like children.”

Ciardis felt her edge of her lips tilt up slightly in satisfaction. It sounded like the shaman’s fascination with the bat-winged idiot was disappearing as fast as a bird in quicksand.

“The two groups down there are not the enemy,” said Terris – her voice wavering just a bit. “They’re just in our way.”

Ciardis grimaced. It wouldn’t do to seem uncertain. Not with this group of alpha idiots that was only a team by the farthest stretch of the word.

You don’t know what they are and what they aren’t,” the shaman snapped. “My people have lived with these desert dwellers as neighbors for centuries. They’ll rob you blind and rape your grandmother before opening your chest to feed the desert with your blood.”

“An exaggeration, wouldn’t you say?” one of the soldiers murmured.

“I wouldn’t,” Rachael said. “You, who come from far lands, have no idea what the peoples of the grasslands and the deserts have endured.”

“No, no we don’t,” interrupted Sebastian, “And while relevant that isn’t the time for this discussion.”

“It never is,” said Thanar in a low, mocking tone.

Ciardis heard Sebastian shift beside her as the rustle of weapons leaving sheathes sounded in the air. Sebastian’s or his soldiers, she didn’t know.

Before this could get uglier, Ciardis said, “Enough.”

She grimaced. It was an echo of what she’d said earlier. The same phrase that had started this whole discussion in the first place.

Eager to move on Ciardis tilted her head and said to Sebastian, “Please. Let’s just get through this.”

It was both a warning and a plea.

But her words became harsher when she pitched her voice slightly louder to say, “And you, soldier, sheath your weapons. We have one enemy in our mist and it isn’t someone with bat wings.”

For a moment there was silence, and then the sound of a sword hilt hitting a metal guard met her ears.

She didn’t sigh in relief, but her shoulders definitely slumped with the release of tension. She had been waiting to see if they would follow her orders. She was sure Sebastian had been too.

Terris said wryly, “Now that our mini-breakdown is done. Who’s up for a little sand-hunting?”

A second soldier pipped up, “A little what?”

Ciardis had the exact same question on her mind.

Terris said again, “Sand-hunting. A past time of our friend over here and one that we’re going to be adept at before dawn.”

“And what exactly is sand-hunting?” asked Sebastian. His voice was cool.

Ciardis wanted to search his face to see what he was hiding behind a detached tone, but she couldn’t in the darkness.

As if reading her thoughts Terris said, “Thanar, Rachael if you please.”

Without a sniping comment, unusual for Thanar, he flicked his hand forward, tossing the tiny marble-like ball of light he’d been flicking between his fingers into the center of the group.

Ciardis guess the ‘please’ had done its job. As soon as the small ball of light hit he center, the shaman called up a similar ball which she’d doused before and let it join his side-by-side.

“Shaman, daemoni prince,” Terris said cautiously, “If you wouldn’t mind giving control of those mage lights to the Muareg please. Imbue them with a bit of lasting power if you can.”

Thanar raised an eyebrow, one that Ciardis could see was calculating because of the new source of light in their center.

Rachael opened her mouth and closed it abruptly as if she had thought to say something and changed her mind.

With an abrupt movement of her hand, the shaman pushed her light into Thanar’s until a ball triple the size of his original light floated in their midst – casting a strong glow that was mostly concealed by the bodies surrounding in a circle.

The Muareg, once apart from the circle and within it, took two steps further forward from the position he maintained just in front of the two soldiers acting as his guard.

His face was still covered with flowing linen as he said in a reedy voice, “If I may?”

He gestured at the ball of light.

Terris waved him forward and they all watched with cautious impatience as he reached forward to grab the larger mage light.

Grab wasn’t exactly the right term, Ciardis thought as she unconsciously bit her lower lip and watched his movements with narrowed eyes.

Instead she could see that he was resting his hands just to the left and right of the flowing orb. As soon as he did strings of energy leapt out from his palms to connect with the mage light in the center.

Ciardis blinked and her eyes flicked over to gauge the shaman’s reaction almost reluctantly. Ciardis needed to know how Rachael felt at this moment, even if she disliked her and she had her reasons to, the shaman was the foremost expert on the being in front of them all. Especially since Raisa had clammed up like a mussel since night had fallen. At least the light had one good use so far. It finally made the nuances of everyone’s facial expression visible in the night once more. Unfortunately for Ciardis, the shaman who stood to Thanar’s left and across the circle from Ciardis had an impenetrable gaze. It was like watching water flowing down a glass pane from the inside, she couldn’t touch her thoughts or emotions. Just a steady reflection of contemplation.

Ciardis grimaced and had the uncharitable thought that if everyone in the group continued to keep to themselves like this, they’d be worse off than when they’d first come. Reluctantly she dragged her gaze away from the shaman and the perplexing dragon ambassador next to her and back to the Muareg with lightning jumping from his palm to the mage light and back again. Slowly the mage light began to waver. Ciardis assumed that meant the sand dweller was taking control of the magical essence that formed the ball.

As it wavered the light stretched and dimmed into a soft glow. The glow spread out like putty between the Muareg’s fingertips until lightning no longer spread between his palms and instead a web of power lay on a horizontal plane as if he had spent the afternoon weaving a glowing net of silvery white light.

“What’s he doing?” Christian finally demanded.

Terris spoke then, “We know where the camps are, we just have to get down into the sand plains undetected and through their security perimeters before the sun rises.”

“And this will help us do that how?” Ciardis asked cautiously.

This time Ciardis could hear a smile on Terris’s face without turning to the right to catch her friend’s expression, “By giving us a map which will allow us to thread the needle of Hamunse.”

Ciardis felt confusion rise in her chest as she dragged her gaze away from the glowing web between the Muareg’s fingertips and up into the enraged vision of a dragon whose eyes had transformed from a calm human-like gaze to the red slits of a Sahalian enraged.

“I’m guessing you object,” Ciardis said quietly. She wasn’t even sure she knew what the dragon was objecting to. A theory? A magical trick? An unknown path.

“You guessed right,” said the dragon ambassador with a snarl.

Ciardis and Raisa turned to Terris at the same time to watch the woman known as Kithwalker impatiently toss her beaded braids over her shoulder with a shrug.

“I don’t care if you object,” Terris said with an uncharacteristic bravado that had Ciardis’s eyebrows raising in awe. It wasn’t often that you saw someone bluffing a dragon. Not someone who wanted to live anyway.

Terris continued as she pointed back to the center of the group with the nod of her head, “Because that will not only get us between those two groups but inside the walls of Kifar with no blood shed.”

What exactly is that? Ciardis wondered.

Before she could blink something started to happen with the flattened plane of light and Ciardis’s eyes widened as she let out an involuntary gasp. She watched as the silver web solidified and raised above the Muareg’s hands like an architect’s rendering made of the moon’s rays.

Buildings rose between and over his palms. An entire landscape of dunes and walls appeared to encase his hands. It spread with quick precision and they all watched as a beacon of light emitted from the tallest building in the city straight towards Ciardis Weathervane.

It stopped inches away from her chest and the straight line frayed into a network of fragments. A path of light now lay before her and the glowing city in the Muareg’s palm. A light that led directly from the dune they now stood on, down through the valley of armed brigands, and up under the miniature version of the walled city of Kifar.

 

 

 

In My Inbox: Letters from Readers, Sworn To Vengeance Imposter! & Assorted Goodies

Hi Readers,

I usually post In My Inbox on my TUMBLR account – located here – POST 1, POST 2, POST 3 etc. But I thought I’d try something different and post them on my blog as well. Here’s some of emails I’ve gotten recently and my responses as well as goodies in the mail.

LETTER ONE FROM GAIL:

It’s hard for me to believe you have given up on or put off Courtlight 7.
That’s what it kind of feels like to us.

I know you are working on the Spanish version of Courtlight and other things.
But…. I think it would be a smarter move for you to work on the new book.

It feels to your loyal readers that you have forgotten about us, and given up on Ciardis and Sebastian.

I wish you might post an update somewhere about book 7 (facebook, twitter, blog)

ANSWER FROM TERAH:

I haven’t forgotten about my core readership Gail! But you’re right I haven’t been releasing as quickly as I have in the past. I’m trying to do so many things at once and I’m only one person. Luckily, I now have a great team of individuals who are helping me move forward. After reading your impassioned letter I couldn’t not try to re-prioritize my days. I’ve passed on CHAPTER TWO of SWORN TO VENGEANCE: COURTLIGHT #7 to Rachel (my Author Assistant) and she’s sharing it in The Guild (the Facebook Fan/Reader Group) as well as select quotes from the rest of the manuscript in the coming days. Rachel has direct access as I’m writing and editing now, so you won’t have to wait for extras or tidbits for long and the book will release quicker.

LETTER TWO FROM SRI:

Just wanted to inform you that the for iTunes, when I pre-ordered your book 7 for the court light series and downloaded it, it gave me book 6. Not sure if I’m supposed to contact you or apple but thought it was worth a shot!

ANSWER FROM TERAH:

First of all, a huge thank you to Sri and six other readers who emailed me at 1:00am to tell me there was a problem. I can’t tell you how amazing that it is.

Second – This was completely my fault and I’m incredibly sorry that you were disappointed like that. It’s been a crazy week, a crazy month, a crazy summer. READ MY NEXT POST to see at least partly why. But I’ve been working on translations for three languages, a new library program, and closing out two bundles for 27 other authors so I’ve been working like a madwoman to clear my plate. All of these objectives are something that I LOVE DEARLY and I’m so excited about. I can’t wait to see wait for you see what I’ve been planning but in the meantime Vengeance got accidentally pushed aside. (Not anymore though – see Letter One lol).

My apologies all that I forgot to change the pre-order on iBooks for Sworn To Vengeance on iBooks (that’s totally on me), and some of the copies have already gone out. Fortunately its NOT an unfinished copy of Courtlight #7 but instead the prequel book. I’m working with iBooks to edit this and I really appreciate the 7 readers who emailed in the dead of night to let me know. Your support and dedication is simply amazing. I’ll update you when I know what will happen regarding the pre-order but email me terahedun.ya@gmail.com or Rachel at assitant@terahedun.com to get a personal response before then.

LETTER THREE FROM AMBER:

I was wondering if you give out book swag and / or how to go about getting book marks? Plus I was wondering where I could get autograph copies of your books I have them all on the nook but I would love actual books to hold.

ANSWER FROM TERAH:

Thanks for the email! I do give out book swag. Just send an email to assistant@terahedun.com with your physical mailing address and I’ll get some plus bookmarks over to you.

I’ll be having a few signed copies of the first four Courtlight books available through my website in August so look out for that as well!

ASSORTED GOODIES

I’m putting together mailers for libraries across the country and this is what the table in the dining room looks like as the process is under way –

Page of Wonders

The Blades Of Magic Audiobook is going on tour

Blades Of Magic Audiobook CoverBig Congrats to Janie M.! You won the Audible.com $20 Giftcard for the Blades Of Magic Audiobook Tour! Thank you for participating in the promotion and I hope everyone got a chance to check out the preview for Blades Of Magic on audio!

—————————————-

Stop by these blogs from June 29th – July 3rd for quotes, thoughts, and critiques. 😀

 

June 29th

Victoria Simcox’s Blog           http://victoriasimcox.blogspot.com/

Undercover book reviews        http://undercoverbookreviews.blogspot.com/

Donnie Darko Girl      http://donniedarkogirl.blogspot.com

June 30th

3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too!          http://3partnersinshopping.blogspot.com

My Tangled Skeins Book Reviews     http://mytangledskeinsbookreviews.blogspot.com

Why I Can’t Stop Reading     http://whyicantstopreading.wordpress.com

Mama Reads Hazel Reads      http://mamareniazen.wordpress.com

July 1st

WOrkS of FiCTioN    http://bkwrm29.blogspot.com/

Spiced Latte Reads     http://spicedlatte.blogspot.com

Paging Through The Days      http://pagingthroughthedays.blogspot.com

July 2nd

Around the World in Books   http://www.aroundtheworldinbooks.ca/

Cornerfolds     http://www.cornerfolds.com

Book Lovers Life        http://bookloverslife.blogspot.ie/

July 3rd

Addicted Readers       http://addictreaders.blogspot.com/

Deal sharing aunt         http://dealsharingaunt.blogspot.com/

Ashley’s Bookshelf     http://ashleysbookshelf.blogspot.com

 

 GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sworn To Vengeance: Courtlight #7 – First Chapter

Time seems to have gotten away with me on this book. But I’m fast at work on it now! No release date to announce yet but I do have a very nice excerpt to share and a very cool shot of the exclusive pre-order that was promoted to the entire iBooks store on their science fiction & fantasy page. You can still pre-order Sworn To Vengeance on iBooks and only there! It will release on all retailers though. Now check out the blurb below before you read the excerpt! iBooks Promo

Title holder

Ciardis Weathervane is nothing if not resourceful but she and her friends are running out of time and options. They stand at the westernmost edge of the Algardis Empire with a mission from their emperor – bring home the collar that will stop a god in its tracks or die trying.

But nothing is ever that simple. In their way stands thousands of people trapped inside a walled city for half a century. With the souls of the living and the corpses of the damned, the denizens of Kifar have become the living undead.

What’s worse than confronting the undead? Learning that those poor souls blame the imperial family for their predicament. Now the city and its people want retribution and the only thing they will accept is the sacrifice of the empire’s most famous son – Sebastian Athanos Algardis.

He will stand trial for the crimes of his bloodline and it will take more than diplomacy for Ciardis to win his freedom, before a reign of fire comes down from the wyvern and the dragon to burn them all.

——

Also keep in mind that this is pre-beta readers and pre-edits, so content may change.

Without further ado, the first chapter of SWORN TO VENGEANCE: COURTLIGHT #7. Hope you enjoy the first look! ^.^

First Chapter

Ciardis Weathervane stared at the dying embers of the campfire in front of her. Her body was still. If you looked at her face you would think that she was calm. Serene even. She wanted it to seem that way. Only two people in this encampment could read her mind at any point in time and at this moment they both were consciously doing their utmost best to not slip into her thoughts. Ciardis didn’t think it was out of respect that Thanar and Sebastian were keeping their mind-to-mind magic to a limit. But she had to admit, it didn’t seem to be out of petty vindictiveness either. Instead, she and they were at an odd impasse. One that required more effort that any of them were willing to put in at the moment to solve. After all, that effort would actually require them to voice their thoughts on the bond and even worse, do something about it. What that something was Ciardis had the feeling that none of them yet knew. But the push for change had been growing like a slowly rising tide ever since they had left Sandrin.

But it wasn’t yet to the point where it had to be addressed or they’d drown as sure as a fisherman with a cracked boat would. Which suited her just fine. They all had enough things to worry about and despite Christian’s tirade and Vana’s admonishments they weren’t in danger of dying from the strained bond. Not yet anyway. They were however about to be surrounded by the enemy, literally, so Ciardis could be forgiven if her mind was rather preoccupied with more pressing matters of life and death. She pursed her mouth into a thin line and she thought about the tension, no, not tension, the sense of nervous energy in the air. They were getting ready for another adventure. A new one. For some that meant they finally had a plan and a purpose. Terris, the shaman and the soldiers fell into that camp. Eager to move forward. For others, it meant that they were walking into a danger that they couldn’t quite assess. Ciardis, Sebastian, and Christian fell into that one. The worried camp. She didn’t like walking into anything blind, even if she was following the leadership of a friend.

Especially so, Ciardis thought dryly, If Terris dies because of this I’ll never forgive myself.

Ciardis turned to eye the one individual whose thoughts were unknown. Thanar. He had barely strung two words together since they’d gathered at the edge of the ruins two hours ago. She couldn’t hear his thoughts either and so she wasn’t sure if he was angry at the plan, at her or at the world. For now, she’d assume a little bit of each and keep her distance. He didn’t look very approachable anyway. He sat close enough to the small fire pit to see his work in front as he dragged a whetstone over a sharp curved blade. It was a scimitar he’d managed to purloin from one of the soldiers with a whispered promise…or threat, she wasn’t sure which. It could have easily been both since the man had turned as pale as a ghost as Thanar walked away with one of the soldier’s secondary weapons.

At least the soldier didn’t necessarily need the weapon, Ciardis thought with no little guilt. She had no idea why she felt so guilty though, it wasn’t like she was in charge of Thanar. That was her mother’s job.

Now the daemoni prince sat glaring at said weapon with an intensity hot enough to set fire to the steel if he was so inclined. Fortunately, he wasn’t. Instead of melted metal dripping down his fingers, the sharp scrap of the whetstone against the blade filled the air of their small enclave like the sound of nails on a brass wall. Far from soothing. But by the set of his shoulders and the determination of his gaze, the person who tried to pry the weapon from Thanar’s hands would lose more than an arm.

Just watching Thanar made Ciardis’s shoulders ache. She reached up with her unburdened left arm to massage the right. It was sore. In fact her entire upper body felt like a bruise. She wasn’t sure if that was from falling down a sand dune, fighting a group of Muareg on arrival, or sleeping on a stone floor. All three possibly.

But she wouldn’t complain. Because everyone else was in the same situation. Besides they weren’t here for a vacation, they were here on a diplomatic mission that could save their empire. She could live with a few sore muscles.

What she couldn’t live with was the thought of walking into a trap. But they didn’t have much choice. They didn’t have the time or the capability to travel around the encamped groups at the base of the valley. So they had to go through them.

“Threading the eyes of the needle as Terris said,” Ciardis whispered.

If this tactic went wrong, and she still wasn’t exactly sure how they planned on threading the needle without being seen, then they would be pitted against a couple thousands individuals that she’d much rather just avoid.

But it wasn’t just what they were walking immediately into that had Ciardis concerned.

It’s what comes after, she thought as she wiped a finger across the edge of her brow. For a moment she expected to feel sweat on her skin. But just the touch of her parched flesh, dry from a noonday sun and little hydration, met her fingers. She wasn’t surprised. More of an afterthought to remember that here, unlike the cool sea coast of Sandrin or the bitter cold of the North, the humidity in the air was nonexistent and moisture was a wishful thought. Probably the reason that there were no flora or fauna for miles. As the sun disappeared on the horizon and even their campfire smoldered into oblivion, her ability to see more than a few feet in front of her diminished to inches as she watched. They were slipping into the darkness that would cloak them in shadows as they raced across the sand. Hopefully undetected.

She pushed her fingers back into her hair impatiently, catching stray curls as she did so and threading them with stiff fingers into the nest of her hair. As she stopped fidgeting Ciardis closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and listened. Just for a moment. She heard the low whistle of wind as it flowed across sand dunes and around the broken ruin walls that housed their daylight camping spot.

She cocked her ear to the left at the final crackle of a dying fire. Then the low murmurs of a group of voices to her right caught her attention. They were discussing something. She couldn’t quite hear what and she was too grounded in this spot, with the wind in her hair and the sand beneath her booted feet to move over towards them.

It was probably important. Probably.

She opened her eyes, exhaled and looked up as another cool wind whipped around the columns with a burst of energy—throwing sand straight into her face. She grimaced as soon more sand whipped along her bare arms. Nothing about that felt particularly good. The little grains stung, but at least it wasn’t in her eyes. Add that to the cool temperature in the air and this little sojourn was turning out to be a delight.

Ciardis had to crack a wry smile. Who would have imagined being cold in the desert. But as she certainly knew now, it was possible.

She thought about how she felt. Despite the trepidation and energy around her, inwardly she felt calm. Not as serene as she’d like to project but calmer than she had been before previous circumstances of similarly dire straits.  And because she’d encountered plans like this before, she knew her mental state for what it was. She knew that it was the calm before the storm. She couldn’t avoid it or temper it. She could only acknowledge what was to come and prepare. The entire group felt on edge. And why shouldn’t they? They were about to invade enemy territory with little more than a few knives and swords between them and at least a thousand trained marauders in their way.

The tightness in her belly grew stronger. It just added to the wariness she already felt about their mission and the secret they had uncovered. Or rather the secret that they had been told. Their captive, the male known as ‘the Muareg’, hadn’t minced words about what awaited them in the city of Kifar.

So even if by some miracle we get through these marauder camps unscathed, we still have a city that not only has been locked away for half a century to deal with but now the possibility of something I hadn’t even thought about since I was in the forests of Ameles has arisen. Death magic, she thought to herself wryly while exhaling with a tense breath.

To be fair, what she had been dealing with in Ameles was shadow magic or the ability to control the shadows and the shades that inhabited bodies. But she had had one fatal encounter with a necromancer on that journey, fatal for him that is. All of which had left her with an aversion to death magic of any kind, let alone the type that allowed the dead to live again.

As she looked out of the corner of her eye, Ciardis spotted Sebastian staring at her with an inquisitive look. He didn’t say anything but the gaze was enough to tell her he was wondering why she was staring off into space. So Ciardis shook her head abruptly to clear her thoughts.

Focus, she chanted to herself. One thing at a time.

With her back to the edge of the steep embankment that led down into the valley she noticed that everyone was finally prepared to leave. They’d been ready for hours. But they couldn’t put Terris’s plan into action and thread the needle until full darkness had fallen. And with it came the stealthy way forward they needed.

In front of her the soldier smothered the orange glow from the remaining embers by kicking sand tersely over it. Ciardis watched the glow die and mage lights emerge all around her. Thanar held one light like a pet orb in center of his palm. Rachel had another hovering just over her shoulder.

Ciardis felt her brow furrow as she shivered. This time not from just the cold. She shook her shoulders to shrug off the feeling. It was true that the cold air of the desert night was giving her the shivers, but it was the foreboding feeling in the pit of her stomach that gave her the most unease.

Biting the bottom of her lip, she accepted a bundle of brown cloth from Christian as he walked over to her and left the convened group behind.

Taking her gaze from the steep slope that led down into the valley and the two groups of marauders that stood between them and Kifar, Ciardis gave the koreschie a small smile.

“Last minute preparations?” she asked

“As always.”

She laughed. It was a bitter one the she couldn’t help as the bad feeling in the pit of her stomach grew.

“Nervous?” he said quietly as he handed over a small bronze clasp. Looking at it and shaking out the musty bundle of cloth he’d given her, she realized it was a cloak and the fastening pin for the nape of her neck.

“About?” she said.

She heard the chuckle in his voice which she ignored to see why everyone in their group was suddenly standing on the edge of the embankment. She turned back to the vision that currently had their entire group enthralled. The campfires of their enemies had become visible as soon as dusk hit. And there were a lot of them. What had seemed improbable just hours before, seemed downright impossible now. How were they supposed to slip between two camps that has many fires burning as there were visible stars in the sky. Or so it seemed.

Beside her she felt the sand shift around her boots as Christian took firmer footing on the vista that it seemed everyone had gathered silently to stare from.

Finally he replied, “Are you more nervous about threading the eye of that needle…or what we’ll find on the other side?”

“I’m…not sure.”

“Try.”

“What does it matter,” she said harshly.

As soon as she said it she regretted it. Not the words themselves. The tone. She sounded more anxious than a high-strung mare facing down a pack of wolves.

But to his credit Christian didn’t comment on that.

He did, however, say, “Sometimes the greatest fear is admitting the fear itself.”

Ciardis replied, “Tell me that again when we’re facing down a satyr with mind-wielding powers or a god of destruction. I’m sure it’ll be helpful.”

She tightened her hand on the rough staff in her right palm almost involuntarily. Yes, she was scared. But she didn’t have to admit it every second. She wouldn’t. She needed to be brave. They all needed to be brave.

“I agree we need to be brave,” Christian said.

“Did I say that aloud?” Ciardis murmured startled. “What I meant was—“

 “You were right,” Christian interjected.

Ciardis blinked and turned to eye him with no little surprise. “About what?”

Christian snorted. “That perhaps…admitting the fear serves no purpose at this time.”

“Will wonders never cease?” Ciardis said.

Christian shook her head. “For you? No.”

Ciardis punched him in the shoulder and he broke the tense atmosphere with a hearty laugh.

She couldn’t help it, she responded with a chuckle of her own.

“We’ve been in worse situations,” Ciardis said reluctantly.

“Yes, we have.”

“And we survived.”

“For the most part,” said Christian diplomatically.

Ciardis sighed. “Yes, well we’ll just have to keep pushing through.”

He looked down at her with a raised eyebrow as she looked up at him.

“Through these trials I meant,” she murmured.

He nodded. “What else is on your mind?”

Ciardis opened her mouth to answer and then swallowed hastily before clamping her mouth shut.

“Ciardis,” he prodded.

“Alright, fine,” she said harshly, “You can’t tell me that even the mighty koreschie, killer and healer, doesn’t have some reservations about this plan.”

This time he laughed. “I would never dream of it. In fact, I’m terrified.”

“Of what awaits us behind the city walls?” Ciardis asked curiously.

“Of the people who await us in the valley below,” Christian.

Ciardis blinked. That wasn’t the answer she’d been expecting. Granted, she did fear the marauders. But that’s all they were. Thieves. Scoundrels. Human ones.

She’s rather face a thousand immoral humans, than one hundred undead ones.

And it was the undead that awaited them in Kifar.