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Sworn To Justice – the final Courtlight book – Chapters 1 & 2

So I spent Saturday crying my eyes out, Sunday furiously typing, and here we are one week later with the first glimpse of the latest-and-final Courtlight novel! I am so ready to see what you all think of this next chapter in my original series. 🙂

First let me say how excited I am to be working on the final book of Ciardis, Thanar, and Sebastian’s journey. Every time I open up the manuscript I let out a little squee of delight because let’s face it – these three have been with me so long that its almost like saying goodbye to long-time friends.

As I’ve been writing Sworn To Justice: Courtlight #12 I’ve also been working together plot threads all the way back to Sworn To Raise: Courtlight #1. So you’re getting many answers about different subjects including Ciardis’s father, you’ll see a imperial wedding that I’m also still sobbing over, and a celestial battle that’s been years in the making. Among many other things.

So without further ado, I give you the first two working chapters of the last Courtlight novel. Please keep in mind that this has not been seen by my editor team and even my betas are in the dark, but I hope you enjoy and look forward to the full read!

 

Ciardis Weathervane looked up, up, and then around with wide eyes.

Her mind was trying to comprehend the screeching, howling figures descending down from the sky in massive numbers. It was almost impossible to tell how many were coming at them now. Although she had conservatively estimated the number at hundreds before, she now saw thousands. All because the sky portals weren’t closing.

Instead they were widening and the creatures falling through kept coming without ceasing in a mad dash to enter the mortal realm at their mistress’s bidding. If she wasn’t partially scared and totally infuriated, she might have been impressed. The goddess of death and destruction had found a way around the slaughter of her minions. It was simple and effective and Ciardis had to wonder how long she’d been gathering these creatures in another realm as a back-up force.

But that wasn’t necessarily what mattered at the moment. What mattered was how were they going to fight them? To do that, she had to know what they were and at the moment—she could only guess from this distance. But they looked like scraggly black dots with membrane-like wings as they fell on the winds and swept through the sky.

Beside her, Ciardis heard the daemoni prince say grimly, “This doesn’t look good.”

“Does it ever?” she heard Sebastian say right back without taking his own eyes off the sky.

Ciardis was able to tear her eyes from the teeming mass growing above her only when Thanar began to snap open his larger wings and then close them right back up with unease.

It was like a nervous tic for him but an instant attention-grabber for her.

For reasons she didn’t plan to discuss. Not ever.

For now, she simply turned to him and asked lightly, “Scared?”

She was trying to be humorous in a dark situation but it came out a little tenser than she’d like.

He snorted and said, “Just getting ready, Golden Eyes. You should do the same. They’re coming this way.”

Then he took a step back. Then another. Not in fear though. His stare up at the sky was much too fixed and much too angry. Looking back Ciardis saw that he was right. The flying black dots were gravitating to each other and as their mass of wings and claws drifted lower in the skies it did seem like they were getting closer than ever to her hillside perch.

Ciardis and the others had come up to a higher elevation because it represented a defensive advantage against any enemies. But that only worked if those enemies were on the ground. Instead the goddess seemed to be thinking ahead and her thoughts for strategy were dead on—attacks from the sky and by land.

Grimacing as her eyes swept down from the skies and across the rest of the sweeping forces on the ground, Ciardis had the realization that they sat squarely in the center of a pincer. Even after they had worked so hard to defeat the goddess’s forces with a bold-and-desperate tactic to unleash a wave of magic across the empire so strong that it wiped out the enemies of the Algardis bloodline in one fell swoop, it seemed it still wasn’t enough.

She could see both claws from the goddess’ forces in the air and on the ground coming for her head and Ciardis Weathervane didn’t like it one bit.

Feeling that anger spill over in a mental connection and meet up with Thanar’s own rage only served to stoke the fires of her resentment. Whatever the goddess had planned for a frontal attack wouldn’t work. She was resolute about that. They might have to take a side-step in their plans to face her triumvirate-to-one but Ciardis was quite sure of one thing—they could defeat this group just as they had all those who had come before them. With her lightning strikes and Thanar’s skills in battle, let alone the individuals standing around them prepared to give their own lives for the cause, there was nothing the goddess of death and destruction could do to make them lose.

Ciardis Weathervane would make damned sure of that.

Deciding now was as good a time as ever, Ciardis called up her lighting and let it play between her fingers as it jumped back-and-forth in long, tantalizing arcs.

With a smirk on his face the daemoni prince rose to the challenge as well as he took flight with a strong gust of winds and longswords appearing in both fists.

As anger disappeared from his mental haze, Ciardis instead felt joy radiating from him.

Joy for the coming kills.

Embracing his blasé attitude to loss of life, she even took some of that for herself. If she was to battle against these minions and their deity, maybe it was time that she was a little less emotional and a tad more bloodthirsty.

Just a tad—she couldn’t change who she was after all. But she could certainly show them a side of the Weathervane Companion they had never seen.

She felt Thanar’s approval radiate down even as he rose in the air and her resolve rose with it.

Meanwhile, the mass of black dots was not unaware of their preparations though, and as one the throats of the oncoming beasts let out screeches of raw anger.

It was a challenge for the daemoni prince….and for Ciardis.

Fine, let them vent their anger. She would share her own righteous fury.

They were still far enough away that their focus could be mistaken for a wider target but the chill that went down Ciardis’s spine told her differently. Told her that they didn’t see them, so much as him as their screeching anger seemed to radiate down in a tunnel of echoes that sliced through the air straight towards the daemoni prince.

Looking around Ciardis could see why Thanar would be a prime target. Not only was he a member of the Emperor’s closest circle, but he also happened to be one of the few flying members of the Algardis offensive which could take them on mid-air.

Ciardis frowned.

It didn’t look good that they too didn’t have aerial forces to field as well. That wasn’t for lack of trying though. There were kith members here eager to fight for their homeland just as much as the human contingent was prepared to fight as well. But they were mostly present below on the main battlefield in the flying squadrons, not as personal guards to the Emperor and his retinue who were hundreds of feet away on the mountaintop but might as well have been miles in the distance for all the good it would do with the speed these minions of the empress were showing.

Deciding to not let it bother her, to instead take them on as she knew only she could, Ciardis stepped cautiously to the edge of the ledge where even her weighted cloak began to flap noisily as it was beaten by the fierce winds. Something caught her eyes, not in the sky this time where Thanar took his battle to the air, but on the ground. And it didn’t look too pleasing even from this distance either.

Squinting her eyes as she took a spyglass from her pocket, Ciardis took a good long look at those human and kith mixed together in well-ordered contingents on the fields below. They were packed in tight formation and it would be almost impossible for them to coordinate with the Emperor’s forces up top in time to reverse their positions and flight paths to come to their aid, so she approved when Sebastian conferred with his second-in-command and waved off his request to redeploy forces.

It was the right move.

They were too far off to aid them and would just be gutted from behind by the goddess’s forces lying in wait. This time it would just be up to them to aid themselves.

So like game pieces on a board, she watched from afar as pike soldiers arranged next to battle-ready griffins began to march forward in unison while eager feathered drakes from Ameles took to the skies alongside them with their own bloodcurdling warning cries.

Every one of them focused on the enemy in front, assured that the Emperor and his offshoot of forces could take care of those coming from behind.

Meanwhile high above on the mountain she stiffened in dread as their own piece of the enemy kept coming for them. It took longer because for the moment they were farther away from the area the portals had appeared at, but they would be here soon enough and their offshoot couldn’t back down.

The main forces were taking on the left pincer. She, Thanar, and Sebastian’s deployment were to take on the right. And heaven help either group if the other failed. So swallowing hard and preparing herself for the fury of battle, Ciardis looked up to the skies once more as she memorized every position of the oncoming enemy in preparation.

Their positions of course would change. But it made her feel better. Just as feeling Thanar’s sharp blades cut through flesh as if it were her own arms swinging the longswords also felt invigorating.

Meanwhile she reached out again mentally for Thanar. Almost with unconscious familiarity, hoping that whatever was going through his mind would ease her worry. Maybe he had a plan. He always had a plan after all and since the thoughts currently running through her head mostly consisted of fight and don’t-die she’d take all the reassurance she could get. But instead of warmth and comfort all she got was a blank wall for her troubles.

Glancing at him in surprise, Ciardis noticed that now he wasn’t even paying her the least mind. Too far gone into bloodlust apparently. Which made sense physically, but mentally she felt like a fly swatted away in irritation. This was why even as she spiraled into darkness with Thanar, she knew she could never go all the way. He always had some block, some mental barrier—usually linked to depravity, that kept her from walking into the sunset with him.

At least that’s what she had always felt anyway even if sometimes his block was more her own and as she had learned-and-grown in the court of Maradian, someone’s darkness was someone else’s temptation.

This time she decided to push forward rather than veer away, so she went back up against his blank mental wall and gave him a piece of her mind.

Or at least she thought she did.

But if he heard her, he gave no sign of recognition, which was very unlike Thanar.

Biting her lip Ciardis noticed that maybe it hadn’t been a deliberate attempt to push her away as she thought. In fact, he seemed unconscious to the entire world. Everything except sky above and enemies that would be on them in minutes.

It gave her time to think, if not much anyway.

He seemed to be unconsciously blocking a mental stream of thought from going from his mind to hers, but that didn’t completely prevent her from feeling his emotions.

And from what Ciardis could sense the darkness was only growing in the daemoni prince’s mind. What was once an eagerness to join him as he fought turned to wariness as she felt nothing but bloodthirsty desire. In this ability she almost envied him. His drive to fight and tear apart his enemies was superseding anything else in his mind. He was almost predatory in nature and it was certainly something she she’d never been able to holistically—not naturally anyway.

But did that really matter?

A howling scream distracted her and her eyes flickered from Thanar’s form disappearing in the sky as he was surrounded by a ball of ferocious enemies while more than holding his own to the creature which seems to have locked its gaze on her.

Seeing the drool coming down off its serrated canines as he flew straight for her, Ciardis decided it didn’t matter much at all. She made not have descended into a world of nothing but blood and battle lust, but she could certainly conjure and feast on some anger of her own.

Anger at how unfair the world was—that so many would die today. That they had to battle these minions in the first place. But inside that anger was a core of certainty. Certainty that they would emerge victorious.

She managed to ignore the tendril in her mind that said that they would emerge or die trying.

It wouldn’t do any good to for her resolve to falter now.

No, they had a fight to begin and as her gaze intensified Ciardis would have been unaware that the glint of determination on her face showed in the golden glow of her eyes.

Like sunfire just before dusk.

But the others around her were more than just aware and as they prepared themselves for battle with calmness it almost felt like, to Ciardis anyway, that she embodied more than just a focus point for them.

That she was going to change the world.

She hoped she could. For all their sakes’.

Upon release the 12th book in the Courlight series will be live at http://terahedun.com/sworntojustice

Ciardis and her people, the Emperor’s offshoot, watched and waited.

As the intensity of the fight between Thanar and the dozen or so creatures in the air continued, their brethren seemed less committed. The one that had caught Ciardis in its sights seemed to be hesitating now and they circled in the air like vultures rather than dove towards the ground in search of prey.

Heart in her throat Ciardis realized that even if Thanar had the upper hand now that could swiftly change. It would only take one of those creatures to get close enough to lacerate his wings or—let’s face it—a lot more kills for him to tire enough to be taken down and overwhelmed by brute force.

But there were seemingly hundreds of them in the air and a few dozen of Ciardis’s side on the mountaintop to fight back if the daemoni prince fell.

Licking her suddenly dry lips, she knew they couldn’t wait until the creatures decided to attack. They had cunning eyes, but her forces had ingenuity on their side, and right now they were hovering just out of reach of her lightning or the arrows of the offshoot behind her but that could be changed.

They just needed to force them down.

Turning around to see if they had something, anything that could do that Ciardis instead realized something else. With an uneasy look she acknowledged that they were just as much sitting ducks here as they were strategists with the upper hand.

After all there was no high ground when your opponents could fly.

And at the moment the ledge they stood on was an open flat-top with nothing but pebbles for ammunition, which was great when you wanted an entire group of individuals to get a good look at the battlefield below but left them immensely vulnerable when they needed cover.

The winged creatures realized that just as soon as she did apparently because a call went up and suddenly a squadron of the beasties broke off and dove—straight for the triumvirate and the hundred or so guards who were prepared to die for their reborn loyalists.

She felt Sebastian shift into position by her side and a veritable whirlwind of dust stirred up behind her as he called on the land and air around them to defend his people.

As she watched his suddenly gale-strength winds snatch bodies out of the air and slam them into the ground with such force that their hunched bodies burst, she smiled.

It was good to be emperor, was the only thing Ciardis Weathervane thought as she heard warning shouts go up and she felt a stitch of pride swell in her heart at the composure of those around her. That is before she got a good look at one of the flying beasties faces and seeing them close up—fear overtook her instead.

It was the stuff nightmares were made of and it was coming straight for them as it dove around a hapless daemoni prince and dodged currents of living wind that were snatching the rest of its companions out of air like flies.

Tempering her emotions down she studied its face and body for a weak point. Seeing dark gray skin stretch over prominent bone ridges that erupted into jutting horns told her the face may not be the way to go.

But the caved in hairless chest with its scrawny sternum may have just been the bull’s eye target she needed and satisfied as she stared into its bulging enraged eyes coming for her Ciardis smiled and let rip with her lightning for a direct hit.

It screamed and died mid-air and she was on to the next. Catching three more as she fried them to a crisp before one was able to get close enough to land on the ledge right below her feet. For a moment she stared in horrified disgust at its void of a nose that somehow still managed to throb in time with the pulse of blood in the rest of the creature’s body.

But she wasn’t squeamish enough to be stunned into inaction so she pointed and blasted him off the rock he was standing on with enough lightning to make her hairs stand on end.

Then she looked around for more. Before long she couldn’t turn an inch without seeing a new body to scorch and if she wasn’t throwing lighting, which was rapidly tiring her by the way, she was reaching out to the Emperor of Algardis mentally and physically to check on his stores of power and make sure the winds he was calling up alongside the columns of earth used as sharp bludgeoning tools weren’t exhausting him out either.

So far, so good. At least on Sebastian’s end. The true union of ruler and land had done him good. But it wasn’t doing squat for her as she was relying on her own reserves of power while he and Thanar took out their enemies separately one by one.

As she began to pant with exertion Ciardis didn’t falter but she had to wonder just how this was going to end.

The creatures just coming just like the ones who had gathered in the chasm below the wall of Ban had before…and she had to wonder just how many their enemy had stocked away in a realm unknown to them.

The other gods might have been able to tell them but they were all a little busy to consult with the deities at the moment and surviving—of course—took precedence.

As one particularly brutal flying creature that didn’t seem to want to die even after she struck it with lightning came straight for her, Ciardis stumbled back almost uncertainly until she fell within the security of the wall of soldiers bristling around and behind her with their pikes at the ready.

They had been killing the creatures who had gotten close enough to them all along but as ground forces they were limited in their range. At least within them she could take a respite, catch her breath, and then storm back in ready with more lightning.

She hoped.

Until that is until she heard a voice.

“Scared Companion?” came a taunt from above.

Even if she was, she would have never admitted it then.

“Not a chance,” she snapped back quickly. “Just catching a breather between waves of these…these creatures.”

“They’re gremlins,” Thanar said in between killing strokes. “Not creatures. Subjects of the goddess and pretty low-level scum if we’re going to put them on a scale of things.”

Voice uncertain but trying to be game, Ciardis said, “I don’t care if they’re called sheep, they’re endless.”

“Like ants,” Thanar said suavely as he cut the head and arms off two with almost uncanny finesse. “Just snap the head off, their life winks out of existence, and you’re done with them.”

Ciardis blinked and laughed as he demonstrated just that.

She couldn’t help it. Even surrounded by the angry creatures the daemoni prince had flair. And it was his humor even amid a desperate situation that made her snap out of her horrified state.

Discovering that she wasn’t so tired after all Ciardis Weathervane stepped forward to take them all on.

As she surged up with her energy renewed and began popping wings off the creatures like flies after a while she noticed a dead zone in the air above her. Turning her gaze from one of the falling creature’s dead eyes, she saw that Thanar had decided to use his magic to float about fifteen feet in the air above her. And for once he wasn’t surrounded by bodies’ three-creatures deep.

Instead he hovered in a relatively open space of air as he used his magic to stabilize him in place, almost like a sentry above her. As she watched he casually sheathed both of his swords and called up his magic into his palms. With a dexterity she envied he turned that power into two thin cords of brightly glowing orange fire.

Then he let loose.

The magic whipped out in a high-intensity lash that decapitated every creature that came within centimeters of his little protective circle.

He did it another time and the screams that resulted were music to her ears as their burned limbs fell to the ground if they were lucky, and their headless torsos came next if they were not.

Seeing what he was doing Ciardis Weathervane was at once grateful and incensed.

“I don’t need your protection!” she snapped up at him defiant.

The daemoni prince gave her a grin which flashed his pearly white and sharp incisors as he snapped out a fiery whip with a casual flick of his wrist.

Three more died.

“I just thought you looked a little tired,” he called down.

Ciardis rolled her eyes and threw an extra-large bolt of lightning just to show him she wasn’t.

She heard him say, “That’s my girl” but she didn’t deign to respond to the patronizing, if prideful, tone in his voice.

Instead she straightened her weary shoulders and keep going just as the trained forces around her were doing. She had no choice, because Ciardis Weathervane may have been many things, but she wasn’t ready to die yet.

Not here. Not now. Hell, she had barely lived her life so far and she desperately truly wanted to.

She wanted to relax on a bright summer’s day at the beach.

She wanted to walk down the aisle in a spectacular wedding veil.

She wanted to laugh once more with her friends.

Besides all of that she had fought too long to stay alive to let these minions take her out.

So she waved her hand and tossed lightning in the air. Straight for them.

Not to be outdone Thanar kept raining down body parts from the air and a satisfied smile swept across Ciardis’s features as she backed him up with as much lightning as she could throw, ignoring the subtle creep of ache that swept up her arms as she went for what felt like her fiftieth target and endured.

Then Sebastian stepped up by her side and her concentration was thrown off.

Not fatally, but enough for several guards to have to surge forward with swords and shields to gamely take on those that had gotten around her defenses.

As she turned a head to the side and looked at Sebastian with an arched brow, Ciardis said, “Something the matter?”

He replied with aplomb as if they stood at a ceremony at court all the while.

“As a matter of fact there is,” the Emperor of Algardis replied back.

Then his tone turned grim as he said, “We can’t stay here.”

She didn’t give him time to say more because she had to hurl a blast of lightning so heavy into the air that thunder crackled when it smacked into its intended target. It was more than worth the effort—she caught five of the flying gremlins in one blow.

Panting at the exertion but quite pleased with herself Ciardis shook her head wordlessly at him and stepped forward a bit for better positioning.

As she threw more lightning with maniac glee, she told Sebastian, “It’ll take a lot more than a sore arm and a bit of weariness to get me to back down.”

She looked back at him but his attention was taken up by the captain and a top lieutenant he had turned to confer with.

When he turned back Sebastian shouted at her over the noise, “But don’t you see?”

“See what?” she shouted back as she got into the swing of things and kept up her lightning volley. Her magic was flying so fast and furious through the air now that a distant viewer might be excused for thinking this was an almighty storm bearing down on them rather than one eager and incensed woman smiting a legion of flying beasties from the skies.

The sounds of her lightning blasts becoming thunder were so loud that she couldn’t hear what he said next and to be honest – she sort of liked it that way. The energy flowing though her and out in energy blasts was invigorating. Actually doing something was all-consuming.

Apparently realizing he wasn’t getting through to her and frustrated Sebastian climbed up on to the higher perch behind her. Which distracted her just enough to pull her back from the edge mentally and physically. She had to as the rocky platform they were standing on was barely big enough for one person with wide skirts to account for, let alone a broad-shouldered young man.

But at the very least she could hear him without straining now.

So she listened as he laid out his concerns.

“They’re baiting us,” he said grimly as he too fought off diving attacks from the gremlins who managed to evade Ciardis’s lightning based attacks and the lash of Thanar’s fiery whip.

Ciardis turned shocked eyes on him as her hair blew around her face with the force of the heavy winds.

“What do you mean?” she shouted back as she gestured wildly as the teeming field of soldiers fighting below.

“We’re fighting a ten-to-one battle here Emperor,” she reminded him. “And if we don’t take to the field offensive fast we may not be around much longer.”

He shook his head. “You don’t think I know that? But—“

“But what?” she said back in irritation as she turned back and hurled an almighty ball of lightning at a flying gremlin that got much too close for comfort.

Past Thanar’s defensive lines and almost zooming in so fast that she didn’t have time to kill it.

Listen to me,” Sebastian snarled while motioning to his archers to cover their front.

Gripping her shoulders and turning her to him so that she had no choice, Ciardis was shocked enough to drag her eyes away from the battle in the sky and focus on the irate Emperor of Algardis instead.

Upon release the 12th book in the Courlight series will be live at http://terahedun.com/sworntojustice

Blades Of Destiny: Crown Service #4 – First and Second Chapters

Hello readers,

I am so happy to see the chronicles of Sara Fairchild progressing so smoothly in the Crown Service series! I also love the reviews and comments I’ve received from readers saying they love her spunk and drive and I plan to continue writing this amazing woman’s adventures through 2018. Though fans of Courtlight do not despair! I’ve got something for you next. 😉

In the meantime, ahead of the release of Blades Of Destiny: Crown Service #4, here are the first two chapters that I can share with you TODAY! It’s been read only by me and my crack assistant Rachel, so I hope you enjoy this sneak peek into the newest book in the Algardis Universe!

Please keep in mind that this has not been seen by my editor team, but I hope you enjoy and look forward to the full read!

Also please think about grabbing the first three books in the Crown Service series BEFORE book four releases. I promise you will have a heck of a time gobbling down over 300,000 words in a single day otherwise.

Blades Of Magic: Crown Service #1

Blades Of Illusion: Crown Service #2

Blades Of Sorcery: Crown Service #3

Feel free to grab this banner below for your Facebook and Twitter feeds!

Sara Fairchild took a deep breath. One that was intended to be calming. Because calming herself down was about the only thing she could do at the moment to prevent her hands from wrapping around Matteas Hillan’s throat.

Again.

Face slack with disbelief as her emotions sidled into disgust, Sara looked at the mercenary her father had entrusted with the very secrets that had cost him his life. It was hard to believe this was his choice. As she stared at the man that she could barely believe was a mercenary, let alone a competent one, there was nothing she could say at this moment that wouldn’t turn this situation from bad to worse, so Sara elected for silence.

Ezekiel Crane however was done with silence.

As they all kept wary ears piqued for the signs of close fighting outside her tent entrance, he questioned the man with rapid-fire intensity.

“What do you remember about the layout of the building?” the scholar in a tightly controlled voice. She approved. The tension that echoed in his tones gave her pause, but by keeping his face clear and his hands from doing anything physical, the scholar was showing them both that he had control.

Control that she lacked. Control of her emotions. Control of her actions.

It wasn’t just the darkness rising up that she feared. It was the subtle whispers, the pushes that made her think the transition to becoming a Berserker wasn’t just a sudden change…but rather instead it was a series of cracks in the glass. Too many cracks and the entire panel holding back her darkness would shatter and with it she would lose more than her own control. Instead Sara feared that she would lose the thing that made her who she was as she fell, she would lose her psyche.

As she thought of that it sent a mild shiver down her spine.

But focusing outward on what was important, Sara watched as her friend stepped forward and took control of the situation when she could not. That was what friends were for after all, threatening others when you yourself were close to doing something that would only dig you deeper into the hole you had made.

Though to be honest it was more of a hole that she had inherited.

She’d only begun this quest due to familial obligation. They’d killed both of her parents after all and the least she could do was find out why. Whether it was the imperial representatives of the court or the unsanctioned actions of the mercenary guild was left to be determined and Sara had the feeling that this journal had all the answers. That her father had all the answers.

Her fist bunched tensely at her side as she thought of all he’d accomplished in his sterling career as an imperial officer lastly and as a brilliant gladiator at the beginning. To see it all stripped down to one heinous word, treason, was to feel like her whole life had been a lie. That her father was darkness and she was too, and that their gifts were merely a manifestation of that darkness in their psyche brought to life.

She wished she could brush away those thoughts. Perceptions that she was more worthless than even those who had spit at her feet in the streets of Sandrin had thought, but it was hard to do when the entire empire knew what your bloodline had done.

So she waited and she quietly hoped, that the man who Ezekiel was calmly coaxing answers out of had some for her. Answers that would quiet the ache in her soul and maybe finally allow her to push back the darkness once-and-for-all. Because Sara might have been most combative against the darkness while on the battlefield, but she knew it was always there. Waiting. Watching. Lurking.

And it always had been.

Turning her head slightly from the distant point of the tent corner which had held her focused gaze, Sara’s eyes flicked over to meet another’s who was watching her intensely. So intensely that her hand flexed on the weapon’s hilt whose blade she had managed to start cleaning methodically as they waited in these tense confines.

There wasn’t much better to do and besides…if there were Kades out there and they were coming for her, a ready weapon at her side would do more good than anything else she could get her hands on.

But as she snapped out of her reverie to find Ezekiel looking back at her with concern in his eyes, Sara had the feeling that he didn’t see a warrior preparing for another battle, so much as a friend in dire need of some help.

Not used to that. Not used to anyone coddling her, Sara did what she did best.

She raised a sure eyebrow and barked at the scholar, “What? Has he finally said something of use?”

She wasn’t really upset at Ezekiel. But rather it was this whole scenario, her whole life really. Starting with the memories that kept appearing like grim flashes in her mind—her abrupt-but-necessary beating of the Kade invasion leader into a pulp not even an hour before foremost among them, but she couldn’t tell him that.

However judging by the concerned way Ezekiel was looking her up-and-down he could tell that while she had washed away the blood, the wounds that had been left behind—emotional this time—still lingered.

Still he knew better to bring it up…especially now in front of a stranger.

Sara had always been one to internalize her emotions and feelings first. Muddle them around a bit and only then speak her mind. Her hot springs bath post-execution of the Kade invasion leader had been the first step in that process but it wasn’t the only step. The other part of the process had involved her getting some shuteye…even briefly before Captain Barthis came looking for her, or she had been forced to go to him.

In either case, it was a moot point now as the captain certainly had his hands full and as she looked at Matteas Hillan who gazed back at her with a piteous expression….she had her hands full too.

He didn’t want her to turn him over to the people who had been chasing him.

Which was fair, she didn’t want him going over to them. That however didn’t mean that she was going to protect him without getting some needed answers first.

“What have you given us except some shut out?” She finally spit out furious as she took a step towards the man she finally knew as her father’s confidante and the camp’s, particular the Red Lion guard’s, logistics aide.

He didn’t answer and Ezekiel stood up to shield him a bit with his body as he walked over to her and said in a soothing voice, “He can’t give us anything if we don’t make him at ease first.”

Sara looked at the scholar with her jaw agape, “Do you see the arrows buried in our floor? Do you hear the sounds of people dying outside? We don’t have time to coddle him!”

“Fine, but snapping at him gives us very few results,” Ezekiel said while gesturing at the man behind them. “And he’s—“

“He’s not simple and he doesn’t need your protection,” Sara Fairchild argued with a snarl.

“That’s true,” Ezekiel replied dryly. “But your pacing isn’t helping either. Maybe you should lie down.”

Sara shot him an ironic look, she knew what he was doing.

“To get me out of the way or to get me down?” Sara said slowly while twirling her sword. Not in a threatening manner, more like a habit that was so ingrained that sometimes she didn’t even know she was doing it.

“Now would I ever say that?” he said with a flash of his teeth in a smile—even as he flinched with the sound of weapons clashing grew closer.

Sara shifted her feet and prepared to move.

Ezekiel said in glumness, “I don’t know what you were doing earlier today or with who Sara Fairchild, but you’re too tired to do this now.”

Sara didn’t disagree with him, she felt her very bones aching with the weariness of a woman who had won her fight but at the cost of her own soul, and all she wanted to do was sleep. But she wasn’t wired that way. She couldn’t just back down when it was clear they were all going to be in imminent-and-present danger. Besides, who could sleep over the ringing of shields and clash of swords they all heard outside anyway? Not her.

All she said to him was, “Not now Ezekiel Crane. We can’t afford to falter. Get the information. Get ready to move.”

He didn’t protest, instead he just sighed as he shot a dark look of his own at the tent entrance. They were both like caged animals waiting for an enemy to tumble through the vulnerable flap doors. There was nothing they could do about that however, none of the furniture present was enough to properly blockade a tent entrance and besides, she didn’t want to get stuck inside if a smart opponent decided to burn the damned fabric walls down around them.

So she waited and paced as she watched Ezekiel do what he did best. Question. Discern. Analyze. And even if the answers were more evasive than useful, he at least could keep his anger from showing through when all Sara wanted to do was light up the small tent space with blistering threats.

Threats which would do no good.

The man who was three times as wide as she was, while still being a mercenary somehow, would only quiver and quail as he withdrew into himself more. Though she did note he managed to be as evasive as a snake while doing so. The only other reason she hadn’t gone over there to shake some sense into him was…she saw something in his eyes and it wasn’t cunning. It was fear.

As her hand stilled the sword that she’d been using to put herself through her formalized paces in the small space, Sara thought she recognized that fear. It was the fear of doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing. It was the fear of scaring them off.

While it was true that Matteas Hillan didn’t fear losing the bonds of friendship as she often did, she did see that it was clear he feared for his life and although his eyes jerked towards her every so often it wasn’t her sword his gaze landed on but her face.

He wanted her protection. He might even beg for it. But Sara Fairchild had never been known to back down in front of challenge and this man certainly was one. Not necessarily one she needed but he had fallen into her lap nevertheless. Thinking of how he’d managed to connive his way into the service of the Red Lions—one of the most elite mercenary companies in the empire—she had to admit that what he lacked in courage he most assuredly made up in his ability to be the person everyone needed.

From her father to her father’s enemies and now…her father’s daughter.

Briefly amused as she eyed him askance and Ezekiel continued to question him, Sara had the thought, Matteas must be damned good at his position.

She was very firm in her belief that there was no other way that someone who was both a close ally of her father—accused of treason and executed—as well as a quivering lump of flesh useless on the battlefield would be here otherwise.

Still he seemed to have answers. Answers to questions that Ezekiel was patiently pulling out of him strand by coaxing strand. Questions she would have had asked herself, again had she not been so caught up in her desire to kill the man slumped before them both.

To be fair, he deserved her recrimination. There was no worse place on land or at sea right now for a member of the vaunted imperial armed forces to go, let alone the Empress’s mercenary’s guild, and that was the Madrassa. Fabled as the greatest school for mages ever built in this empire, it only accepted the highest candidates for magical instruction. Those like the weather warden who had died getting their impromptu projectile through Kade defenses and those like the line mage, Arcnus, who had given up his life force alongside him.

The Madrassa didn’t accept fools gladly nor did it take on anything less than the best.

Which was why Ezekiel and Sara were staring at the cringing logistics officer on the floor so balefully.

He’d put those journals in a place no one could reach. No one on their side anyway.

Because the Madrassa was more than just an education institution for mages, by dint of being the best gathering places for magical practice, it also was the home of the Kade’s first uprising.

Although the imperial family had not condemned the whole of the institution for the infractions of one—in their eyes minor, uprising—they had made sure the entire empire was aware that treachery had been first fomented within those hallowed halls.

But just because it was minor didn’t mean it stayed inconsequential forever as the entire empire was learning now. And even if it had, the immediate repercussions of the uprising weren’t something that wasn’t so easy to forget.

Not for anyone Sara knew or for Sara herself. Especially because of what had had happened after the edict from the imperial family had come down.

An edict that no one spoke of. Not because they didn’t know this time, but because they all knew too much. After several more than terse confrontations, the Kades had taken over the institution which had formally belonged to the empire and was a shining example of the exalted progress a former backwater colony of Sahalia had made.

Sara had to admit, losing the Madrassa and it all it represented was like a black eye upon the Empress herself. She had to think the Kades knew that and they also had to know that as such their ruling family wouldn’t rest until it was returned to them.

But that was neither here nor there for Sara Fairchild.

She wasn’t a part of the deployment force assigned to camp outside the Madrassa’s mage-enforced walls night-and-day, waiting for an opening in her defenses.

What she was, was a desperate mercenary who needed to get through those defenses when even the imperial armed forces had failed.

Upon release the 4th book in the Crown Service series will be live at http://terahedun.com/bladesofdestiny

Eyes shuttered as she rubbed her forehead in deep thought, Sara groaned aloud as she imagined the impossibility of getting through her own forces, here and there, past Kade defenses, and to the journal.

When she opened her eyes even Ezekiel Crane looked glum.

The scholar was crouched down clearly trying to think of a simple solution to their problem and she saw him visually discard each idea that he came up with as he searched for another. He had either given up on questioning Matteas directly or was taking a breather.

Either way Sara knew what Matteas was requiring of them would be impossible. They  had to retrieve the journals from inside the Madrassa’s hallowed halls. It just couldn’t be done now that the Madrassa was walled off behind Kade protection spells the likes of which the world had never seen. That was on top of the fact that it was supposedly where the eight foremost mages of the Kade rebellion— the ones who had actually caused this civil war—planned their assaults from, which meant even more people to be watchful for.

Maybe they would have had a chance when the school had been just that…a school. But not now when it was the lair of a uprising.

He might as well have just given those journals to the Red Lions, Sara thought in distress.

Their only goal had been to keep them out of her hands, which this did just as well as them burning them.

With a deep sigh, Sara rubbed agitated hands through her head of tangled curls and paced—for once thinking as deeply as Ezekiel Crane. This, after all, wasn’t a situation she could fight her way out of with swinging swords. Not yet anyway. As she turned on the thinly carpeted floor of the tent, Sara thought about what she knew for facts and what she didn’t know…which was a lot.

A boom sounded not too far off and her entire body tensed at the sound of the blast and the screams that followed. But it was a singular boom, not multiple so she unstuck her feet from their stiff stance in the rug on the tent floor and resumed pacing.

The Kades obviously had specific targets in mind, and running outside like a hen with her head chopped off without knowing where to go would have been foolish. After all if they wanted to attack the commander’s tents further after the hail of arrows they would have done so. No, for now they were finished here which gave Sara Fairchild the desperate few minutes she needed to sort out the strands of deception running through her head.

She couldn’t prove that the journals were in fact what the Red Lions had been after when they’d slaughtered her mother, but they hadn’t come over for tea either and she and her mother had owned nothing of value otherwise. For them to kill an innocent woman and use a necromancer to raise her dead body in her own kitchen was just overkill…or a sign of desperation.

So thinking of those journals sitting right under Kade noses was just irony. But only so much. Because she’d much rather they’d be in her eager hands. She fought so hard for them. Shed so much blood.

Which was why she wasn’t giving up. Not yet anyway.

Pushing away her pensive thoughts, Sara tuned her inner turmoil out and struggled to focus on Ezekiel Crane’s words.

“When you say you left the journals at the Madrassa?” she heard Ezekiel question quietly. “Are you sure you meant the Madrassa?”

Matteas peeked up from where he crouched down on the floor trying to make himself as small as possible. A poor attempt considering there was so much of him and so little floor space to disappear into. If the arrows came through the tent walls again, they’d find their target easily and Sara wasn’t feeling charitable enough to drag him to safety again.

“Is there another?” squeaked the man from between his hands covering as much of his head as he could.

Ezekiel frowned and looked away before he spoke in the far-off tone that Sara had come to recognize as his ‘scholar voice’. The one that said he was mentally diving into the research library he stored in his brain and searching the archives for the answer as he spoke.

Aloud Ezekiel Crane said, “No, this is the only one and damn it all to hell that you chose the Kade enclave to store them there.”

His words were scorching with censure and yet…Sara heard something else in his tone. Hope maybe? Wonder even. Sara almost groaned. That was the scholar in him. The scholar itching to get through the doors of the fabled institution and feast his eyes on the all the texts and scrolls the Madrassa had managed to gather within its vaults in the decades since its foundation.

That wasn’t why they were going.

Feeling fed up with both of the men, Sara stepped forward with folded arms as she said harshly, “Don’t tell me you admire his tactic.”

Ezekiel glanced up at her briefly before going back to staring into the air at nothing as he said, “Admire? Maybe a bit. You have to admit it was a brilliant move to store them there. The empress’s traitorous courtiers may have gotten to your father through whatever defenses he was able to muster, but they’d never get through the Kades.”
“Let’s not forget that neither can we,” she shot back.

Ezekiel shrugged helplessly, “Hence our current predicament.”

“So,” Sara said darkly as she kept a keen ear out for more thumps. Thumps that meant explosives were incoming. They couldn’t stay here forever but she’d be damned if she’d run out onto another battlefield without a plan.

“So?” Ezekiel said pointedly.

She rolled her eyes at him but she answered, “So we need a way through the defenses.”

Ezekiel nodded, “Unfortunately I don’t see how an hour’s ruminations is going to solve the problem that we’ve been trying to find a solution to for ages.”

“No, not we,” Sara said softly as she tapped her fingers on the hilt of her sword in a rhythm.

“What was that?” Ezekiel said while looking over at her.

“I said not we,” Sara replied with emphasis, “The empire has been trying to find out how to get into the Kade’s fortress for ages but we haven’t.”

Ezekiel frowned, “Not to be snippy here but does it really make a difference? We’re still screwed if we think we can find out something that has eluded the finest minds this empire has seen yet.”

Sara snorted, “That would be true except for the fact that the finest minds aren’t at court are they? They’re in the Madrassa.”

“And so?” Matteas Hillan actually interrupted and said this time in an odd echo of Ezekiel’s earlier query.

But Sara didn’t mind, instead she mused.

“And who do we have that counts as among those minds?” she said.

It didn’t take long for at least one of the men to get where she was going with this.

Shaking his head Ezekiel quickly replied, “Not to demean your epiphany or anything but I do think you mean had. The rumors strongly suggest that Nissa Sardonien escaped when the Kades attacked.”

Briefly Sara deflated but she wasn’t through yet, she could still get to Nissa. As she thought about how she heard Matteas speak up again.

“Rumors, what rumors?” Matteas Hillan said in a high-note voice that was rapidly getting on her nerves.

Pinning him with a derisive look Ezekiel still explained, “The whispers going about camp before the attack. I spoke to a bath attendant personally who said we’re on high alert. But they wouldn’t say why.”

“Maybe they were just being overzealous,” Matteas Hillan said with a dark look at the tent walls surrounding him. It looked like he wanted to leave the confines just as much as Sara wanted to stay inside. Too bad, he’d snuck into her tent and now he was along for the ride—come hell or high water.

Ezekiel continued unbothered by the interruption as he said, “Not likely. In fact, it doesn’t take intelligence to figure out that the leadership of the imperial armed forces were either expecting another attack soon or they had other problems up their sleeves. Put that together with the fact that all of Nissa’s prison guards were discovered dead but no Sun Mage was trotted out for a whipping in retribution and you have a fact that’s hard to deny.”

Ezekiel may have been speaking to Matteas Hillan but his voice rose the end in a direct challenge to Sara.

She snorted. She wasn’t going to get in a fight over the fact that the scholar knew what she had already found out herself, if only just a few hours ago, and she wasn’t going to deny it either. The mercenaries weren’t fools and none of them having seen Nissa Sardonien in more than three days and nights meant something was up. Captain Simon Barthis, if he was still alive, was a fool to think otherwise.

Shrugging Sara said, “It’s true. She’s gone.”

Ezekiel pursed his mouth grimly and said, “I thought so. The Kades are strategic and they didn’t trap us and fight us to death for nothing. They wanted an important member of their leadership back.”

Sara raised a cocky eyebrow, this wasn’t news to her, however something else was.

“Listen to the outside,” she said softly.

Ezekiel’s eyes flickered between her and the tent entrance but to his credit he immediately did what he asked. She listened as well.

Soon they heard the thumping blast of another projectile hitting its target.

Then silence except for screams.

A minute, maybe three later. Another thump.

“The Kades are attacking,” Ezekiel said with a nervous shrug. “We’ve known that for the past half-hour.”

“Yes, that’s true but listen to how they’re attacking!” said Sara triumphantly with gleaming eyes.

Ezekiel’s eyebrows rose. “You lost me there.”

Hillan spoke up, “Individual projectiles with light, targeted strikes.”

Sara looked over at him in surprise—pleased. Maybe he wouldn’t be as useless as she thought.

She nodded firmly. “They aren’t doing the massive aerial bombardment from before. They could literally wipe us off the map with a single, well-coordinated strike. But they’re not. Instead they’re flushing out individual sections.”

“For what purpose?” Ezekiel demanded.

“I don’t know,” Sara said with a shrug. “Not as long as I’m stuck in here.”
“But you have a guess,” Ezekiel demanded.

She smiled. “I do.”

The scholar blinked warily. “Okay, so will you be sharing it with us?”

Sara turned hard eyes on the one person holding her back from being forthcoming.

“I would,” she said slowly as she eyed Hillan. “But it doesn’t matter what I think. It only matters if our friend here can do his part.”

The focus of her gaze eyed her back and squeaked, “My part? What part?”

Sara knelt down on her haunches and said honestly, “If I can get us through the Kade defensive lines to the Madrassa, can you get us through its walls and to where you hid those journals?”

Matteas Hillan opened his mouth to speak and she held up a halting hand. “The cold, honest truth if you please.”

He shut his mouth and chewed the inside of his cheek slowly as he thought.

Finally Hillan let out a deep breath and said, “I can but I can’t tell you where it is. I’ll have to show you.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

Finally, Matteas Hillan sat up and looked her dead in the eye, for a moment he shed the quivering exterior and she was finally looking at a man with some spine.

He said quietly, “Won’t. I don’t care if you kill me, I’m dead anyway. This way I have leverage. You need me.”
“Ahh, the mouse has teeth,” Sara said finally in a cutting a voice.

“I won’t be a sacrifice,” Matteas Hillan said as the strength in his voice faded to bluster. “I won’t end up left adrift.”

She laughed as another strike hit. This one no closer than the one before, but bigger. The force of the blast was so large that this time shrapnel came whizzing through their tent walls, cutting through the fabric like it was as thin as silk.

They all ducked to avoid the heated metal that passed inched from her cheek in a blur but as she stood up again hesitantly and stared down at the sharpened thin edge of a blown-off axle embedded in her table, she knew that they had lost all time to continue debating.

The Kades were escalating and it was now or never.

“We’ll get you through in one piece,” Sara snapped darkly. “You do the same for us. Do we have a deal?”

Hillan’s gaze was frozen solid on the shrapnel that was currently embedded in his arm. It wasn’t very deep, just a flesh wound as far as she could tell but all the blood had drained from his usually florid face.

He muttered something. Sara didn’t move closer, she didn’t have time to baby them if they were going to be on the move soon.

“Speak up!” Ezekiel said harshly this time. “Or we’ll throw you outside to the wolves were either the Kade armament will tear you to pieces—“

“—or your pursuers will wring your neck,” Sara said while finishing Ezekiel’s sentence coolly.

Matteas Hillan looked up with a pale and whey face as he swallowed deeply, “Protect me and I’ll get you to those journals, I swear on my family’s graves.”

Sara grunted as she pulled him up and he wailed, “Your word will do.”

Then she focused on the wound and ripped the cloth from his arm a bit to see better.

“Ezekiel?” Sara said in a calm tone. “You have any medical tonics on you?”

“Nope,” the scholar said while whistling softly as he poked at the jagged metal in the archivist’s flesh. It was soot-covered and warped from a hot fire. She couldn’t tell what its original purpose had been before but it didn’t matter much anyway, they just had to get it out of him and get moving.

As Matteas Hillan whined, “You do know what you’re doing don’t you?” Sara rolled her eyes and told Ezekiel casually, “Warehouse maneuver?”

He caught her eye and nodded with a remembering grin. “Am I still the flame?”

“Not this time,” she said with a smirk. “This time you get to pull.”

“Warehouse? Flame? Pull-pull what?” said Matteas Hillan in an increasingly frantic voice as he began to stutter as he backed away. That is before Sara grabbed him firmly, then he began sobbing.

“Stay still,” she snapped. “Ezekiel do it before he tears a freaking artery. That’s all we need right about now.”

Ezekiel, quick as a snake, didn’t hesitate. His hand flashed out, grabbed hold of the tip of the metal stuck in Matteas’ arm and yank back. A small yelp from the inflicted patient and a louder scream as Sara didn’t waste any time calling up her mage fire and sealing the wounds seconds later, was all the man had time to process before he slumped over in a faint.

As Ezekiel held the metal in his hand and Sara held the flame in her hand, they both looked down in disgust at the man who had passed out on her floor.

They were at war, no one had time for sleep at the moment, least all the person it seemed that everyone at the moment had reason to kill or capture.

Upon release the 4th book in the Crown Service series will be live at http://terahedun.com/bladesofdestiny

Blades Of Illusion: Crown Service #2 – First and Second Chapters

Hello readers,

Ahead of the release Blades Of Illusion: Crown Service #2, I’m sharing with you the first two chapters! Some of my first readers have had a crack at it and I thought it was time that you got a sneak peek into the newest book in my Algardis Universe!

Please keep in mind that this has not been copy edited, but I hope you enjoy and look forward to the full read!

On a personal note, as I switch back to the Crown Service series I do so with intense excitement. There are going to be some surprises in store that you wouldn’t believe!

But Sara Fairchild is up for everything as a masterful heroine who doesn’t back down from any challenge – physical or emotional. =) Lastly, this has been a fun and complete re-write of the 2nd book which was released on Amazon-only in 2014. As a reader I hope you’ll enjoy this new take on Sara Fairchild’s adventures and as I finish up the second book in the Crown Service series, I hope you’re ready to go on this journey with me! Here’s a taste of what’s in store for you with the first two chapters of the new Blades Of Illusion: Crown Service #2.

As Sara Fairchild cautiously made her way through the portal doorway in front of her, the victorious shouts of the First Division members behind her did nothing to comfort her.

She was stiff with anger and furious at their betrayal.

Captain Simon Barthis and his mercenaries had proven just moments before that they were everything she had despised as a child — ruthless, uncaring, and most of all — disloyal.

They had not only left their comrades, men and women behind, but had actually knowingly engineered a strategy which all but guaranteed the massacre of hundreds of fellow mercenaries in their ranks. Faces and names flashed before her eyes like ghosts arisen. She couldn’t speak to their betrayals now, but she certainly would when the time was right.

As Sara stared at the living mercenaries who followed her through the summoned portal with jovial claps on each other’s back and jokes as some took the time to poke and prod at their esteemed prisoner, she just grew angrier. Not at their treatment of Nissa, the sun mage, but at the studied nonchalance of a group which had just committed the worse crime one could commit in a warrior’s eyes.

They had turned tail and ran. Now here they stood laughing and Sara could only see red — the red of anger overcoming every emotion and the fury of the battle mage taking its place.

“Don’t let them bait you Sara,” she heard Ezekiel say from a far off distance.

And she was trying.

Trying to listen to the scholarly man beside her, as he was her voice of reason. She needed to hold back the righteous anger of the Fairchild family that was rising in her like molten fire if she wanted any chance of finding out the reason her father was executed.

But that anger was eager.

Eager to burn and consume anyone in her path.

Turning away from the celebrating factions, Sara rolled the coiled muscles in her shoulders carefully. Trying to ease up. Let the tension drain out as her mother had taught her.

Anna Beth Fairchild had meant for Sara to learn to use the tactic as a way to regain inner peace, but Sara’s father had taught her that peace was just another word for tranquility. The inner stillness in a warrior’s heart before they struck.

“And I’m ready,” she said with a fierce grin.

“Ready to let this go?” Ezekiel said in a nervous voice. “Come on Sara, we’re surrounded. Just like in the woods. There’s nowhere to go and more than a few hundred of them against just…us.”

Sara didn’t bother acknowledging his words. They were true. But she didn’t need back-up. She never had and if she was being honest — she wouldn’t consider Ezekiel Crane someone to fight by her side even if she had.

Instead she said in a calm tone, “They made their choices.”

“And we made ours,” he said in a voice that was just above a wheedle. “In the woods, when we handed over the sun mage to the captain.”

“That was before,” she snapped.

Ezekiel moved to stand in her line of vision. Not in her way but certainly not where he could be ignored either. She didn’t really care. She could knock Ezekiel out and keep moving the second she needed to.

“Before?” the scholar asked quietly while opening and closing his hands nervously. He probably could tell from her face that she was very close to making a decision.

“Before I knew what the captain had done,” she continued in a quieter tone.

As they argued, she even tried to rationalize to herself what the captain had ordered done as a practical application in the face overwhelming odds. But as she stared around at more joking faces, nothing about this struck her as tactical. Besides she could see a dozen different scenarios that a proper commander could have implemented to save lives.

Their own mercenaries’ lives.

Standing here surrounded by traitorous mercenaries, Sara was taken back to the visual of the ones who had killed her mother and set her world on fire. Oh, they’d been from a different company — the Red Lion guard but mercenaries were all the same.

Now the members of the First Division, the very same division she had been so unwillingly been elevated to, brushed her aside as they moved to slap each other on the shoulders in congratulations and relieved laughter. But she couldn’t understand how they now held their heads high as they more-and-more division members joined them as they walked through the summoned portal beside and behind her.

It was like being surrounded by a sea of wolves. And Sara Fairchild knew just what to do with wolves. You culled them before they could become a threat to the herd, in this case the rest of Her Imperial Majesty’s troops. Because whatever else she was. Disgraced as she was. Sara was still honor bound to upload her imperial charter.

Matter decided Sara’s lip curled into a contemptuous sneer as her hands itched by her side. She had only one of two weapons remaining — her childhood sword — but that was all she needed to start lopping off heads until the ground at her feet was littered with the round remains.

It would be fitting end to their cowardice after all.  This was no way to honor their dead and she knew that she had been right as a child, mercenaries were the dirt beneath a true soldier of Algardis’s feet.

She wanted to act. Her blood and her father’s dead voice was urging her to do right by the individuals she had served with. The ones who didn’t come through the portal with them. It didn’t matter that she had only done so reluctantly. It also didn’t matter that she’d only been marching and riding with them for a few weeks at most.

Sara Fairchild knew that she had hated the majority of the mercenaries on sight as well. It wasn’t personal. It was just professional preference. She was an elite fighter born and bred, and they were the dregs of the martial society in which she’d grown up in.

As one mercenary came up to her with a clap on her shoulder he said, “Well Fairchild — why don’t you wipe that scowl off your face? You’re a First Division now and we made it to the front lines. Smile, celebrate.”

Sara froze. Not out of fear. But out of the body-aching restraint it took to not slice his hand clean off at the wrist…just for touching her.

Instead she did what any good girl would do.

Giving no warning, she ducked down and kicked out with swift force. Taking him off his feet with surprise, Sara didn’t stop there. She used her right hand to push herself back up off the ground and lunged for his neck.

Wrapping her hands around his grungy flesh was the most satisfying she’d done since she’d been delivered so unceremoniously to the fields of war.

Even caught off surprise, she could sense his battle instincts kicking in.

Too bad, they didn’t come close to hers.

He was reaching for his weapons at his waist, but Sara already had her thumbs at the pulse points of his neck and was cutting off the circulation. The oxygen he needed to think, to speak, to act even was being deprived from his desperate brain.

Joy surged in her heart as she pressed harder. She had him just where she wanted him and she felt his flopping limbs, protesting her grip with ineffectual slaps, grow weaker as he went limp.

She took no joy in slow killings. Only in necessary ones.

But still, this one would feel good. She could tell.

“Release him,” came the command from behind her.

Sara stilled. She didn’t break her hold but she didn’t twist and snap his neck like she’d prefer either. She had been trained to respond to authority and whether she liked it or not, she was a member of this derelict band of mercenaries. At least for now.

So with a sigh of disgust, Sara stepped back and released him with look of warning.

He could get up and she would end him. Or he could stay down and live.

Her opponent chose to live. He fell back into the mud, spluttering and coughing while she looked around defiantly waiting for one of his fellow mercenaries to come forward and take her on in his place.

But none did.

Disgusted, Sara said, “Cowards, all of you. You didn’t stand up for your fellow men on the fields of battle and now this. Does none of you have one shred of dignity about you?”

She was furious.

She wanted a fight. And having these mercenaries, all of whom were supposed to be tough as nails, just stand around with fingers up their asses was doing nothing for her curdling blood.

She wanted to punched faces and break bones. She couldn’t do that if they weren’t willing to step forward on the killing grounds first.

So she lashed out at them with her words, “You’re all despicable. Your ancestors’ greatest shame.”

That at least got some of their attentions. A woman with the braids of the Mung people threaded prettily in her hair stepped forward with narrowed eyes and a firm grip on the baton she carried at her waist. Sara was quite aware of her peoples’ traditions and she knew this one would honor her forefathers every night beside the fire she built at camp.

“You think you’re so right, so tough,” the Mung woman said with fire of her own in her voice. “Say that again and I’ll tear your tongue from your mouth.”

Sara smiled and opened her mouth but she didn’t get a chance to utter a third challenge.

Instead the portal behind them all flashed in warning, indicating imminent closure, and the last of the Corcoran Guard stepped through.

As one the mercenaries turned and saluted with sharp military precision.

Sara didn’t bother doing the same. Instead she strode forward as the Captain came amidst them and began conversing with several of his top lieutenants — pointing all the while with animation at something in the distance.

Sara assumed he was gesturing towards the Empress’s encampment and giving instructions for their deployment but she didn’t bother listening to what he said.

As she walked forward the Captain turned to them all and smiled. Several of his mercenaries raised their fists in salute and some shifted towards her ominously, as they remembered what they’d been about to do before their leader walked through the portal.

Sara paid them no mind, because now that the person responsible for those atrocities was here, her focus wasn’t on a fight with them. As she drew closer, discontent and rumbles grew. Mercenaries who might stand by as she disrespected them, but not their captain. But it was the captain who held up a warning hand to the mercenaries who’d put hands to weapons. Stilling as they followed his lead, he just looked at her with a hard gaze. He couldn’t know what she intended to do as she walked forward but the violence anticipated by his mercenaries had them all on edge.

So when she acted — the cold swift silence that swept across the field was brutal.

Sara gathered up a big ball of spit between her lips and then with the deadly accuracy of a person who could aim just as well with the natural weapons of her body as she could with the metal weapons normally in her hands, she spat directly in Simon’s face.

He didn’t blink or jerk away. Instead the spit slid down his face glistening wet like a badge of honor.

For a moment silence wrapped around them all and she waited for his reaction.

Instead the captain of the Corcoran Guard, like the puss-filled coward he was, simply reached into his pocket and pulled out a clean white handkerchief.

Snapping it open with a contemplative look at her while never taking his eyes from her fury-laced gaze, he wiped the spittle from his cheek.

Then he stepped forward and leaned in to whisper coldly into Sara’s ear.

“You’re a little a hellcat, aren’t you?” the captain of the Corcoran Guard asked her quietly.

Sara leaned back and kept her hands at the ready as she said with no remorse, “Not so little, you traitorous scum.”

Upon release the 2nd book in the Crown Service series will be live at http://terahedun.com/bladesofillusion

The captain stepped back with a bit of a smirk on his face as he said, “I serve my empire and Empress. There has never been and never will be the taint of traitor to my name. Unlike some who stand before me.”

Sara Fairchild stiffened. There was no way he didn’t know who her father was — not after that remark anyway. It sometimes felt like everyone she met did. But she couldn’t pull out a weapon against him without provocation. Not here, not now.

She had to be smart about this, so Sara only shook her head as she said, “Keep my family out of your mouth.”

He raised a curious eyebrow.

“Please, Sir,” Sara spit out in a tone which indicated she was being forced to add in the polite entendre…if only for their audience’s sake.

He was the Captain after all. Maybe he even had some remorse for what he’d done. Though no explanation could ever come close absolving what he had facilitated in her eyes.

But if anything Captain Barthis’s next words were even more cutting. “Believe me I would be more inclined to do so, if I had thought the teachings those family members instilled in you went beyond strike first and think later.”

There was no remorse to be had. Not from him and not for him.

Sara felt her ears burn at the casual dismissal of everything her father had worked so hard to teach her. It didn’t help that the mercenaries surrounding them were hearing every word. Listening. Perhaps even judging. They already thought she was a spoiled warrior caste kid, she didn’t need to give them any reason to assume they were right about those assumptions.

She felt her back crawl with the stares but she didn’t turn and look them in the eyes. Her attention was solely on her captain, as his was on her.

It remained to be seen if each was intensely focused on the other so both could see the twitch of a muscle before the other chose to strike.

Taking in a swift calculating breath, Sara decided to give him one more chance.

One more chance to be the man that a leader was supposed to be.

She stared straight into his soul as she said, “Say what you have to say Captain, but I’d watch the words that leach from your mouth next. You’re already on thin ice in my book.”

Barthis’s gaze, if possible, grew even more distant.

“I don’t answer to an underling and certainly not to a Fairchild,” he said in a clipped tone. “Fall back.”

“And if I don’t?” she asked in a firm tone.

“Then you’ll make this a battle you can’t win. You forget that I, like you, am a battle mage. But I have decades more experience under my belt and if my swords leave their sheaths only one person’s head will roll, ” he said softly — so low that she was certain he didn’t mean for the others to hear.

Sara wasn’t so sure about that, but she knew he was right. Mage to mage, they were equal. So it would come down to technique and prowess and with his time on the battlefield, there was no certainty she could come out ahead, let alone victorious.

Barthis didn’t give her any more time to think that over though.

“Fall back mercenary, I don’t fight girls who could learn to do better before they make the same mistakes their fathers made,” he barked in a voice that was meant to carry over many heads.

That had been a direct order. He wasn’t challenging her. He was demeaning her. And according to the rules of engagement, there wasn’t a damned thing she could do about it. They weren’t standing in a dark alley in Sandrin after all. She stood on the field of battle before her commanding officer. A man she now officially despised more than ever but still served under.

Taking stock of the situation Sara let another moment pass, deciding what to do. How to respond.

“Sara!” hissed a voice she was well aware belonged to Ezekiel Crane.

She ignored him. As did the captain.

Her entire focus was on the man before her. Peripherally she was aware of all the mercenaries surrounding them, tense and anxious — if just to see what their captain made of this upstart. They, as well as she, were assessing Barthis’s actions. They wanted to see what to make of the man who was leading them. Maybe they even had their own doubts, hidden deep, about him.

“If only these idiots had a spine,” Sara said grimly.

“What was that?” the captain asked in a clipped tone. “Are you finally ready to give in upstart? I have been more than patient with you. Now and before.”

Sara’s lips twitched. “Feeling backed into a corner Captain?”

“Not a chance. Just…self-aware. You brought me my sun mage after all. I can forgive a lot for that. But there’s only so much forgiveness you’ll get,” he said while ending in a tight voice. He was feeling out her reticence and her willingness to back down.

Sara knew that was what he was doing because she had studied and been studying his moves since she’d met him weeks ago. He was a fighter that was true, but he was even more consummate tactician — on and off the battlefield.

She’d come to the conclusion that he was dangerous. But so was she.

What she didn’t have was the dark streak of manipulation that she saw running through his core every time she tapped into her gifts. It was the positive side of battle magic — being given the ability to see a person’s intent and divine their true self with it. It was like opening a window to a person’s soul every time she used it. She had sensed murkiness in his aura ever since she’d first met him in the fighting yards of the Mercenary’s Guild.

But by the same token, she couldn’t assess everything there was to know about him instantly. Not without making herself vulnerable to his own intrusions as well. Battle mages had natural enemies on the fighting fields, but for the most part their deadliest singular adversaries were each other. They could all divine intent and they could all enhance their abilities both magically and physically on the battlefield.

What differentiated one from the other was their training and their emotional health.

Many battle mages didn’t even live to Sara’s age because the people who surrounded them didn’t realize what it was they had in their midst to it was too late. Too late to help them, too late to guide them.

That hadn’t happened with Sara Fairchild because she had been born into a family of legendary battle mages.

It also hadn’t happened to Simon Barthis because someone somewhere had recognized who and what he was from an early age. Not as she stared at him with hard, contemptuous eyes Sara couldn’t let herself to allow hate to cloud a genuine assessment of the man.

Personal feelings had no place in a fight, it would only get in the way of her necessary actions. So now she studied and catalogued him for who he was.

Scum beneath her feet but devious scum, one she would have to watch her back with. Not as bad as a certain fishery owner, but worse that Sara wanted in the captain she served — reluctantly or not. She knew that as clearly as she’d seen into the mindset of Cormar, owner of one fishery and a warehouse with more illegal artifacts than sense. That particular man would have killed her as soon as look at her if she stole from him, and she had the feeling that she and Ezekiel still hadn’t seen the last of him thanks to a weapon the scholar had purloined from his warehouse.

As Sara stared down Simon though, she sensed that he didn’t want to kill her. Not yet anyway. Which didn’t meant she trusted him either as her hand hovered over but not on the handle of the weapon at her waist.

She wasn’t a fool. She was surrounded by trained mercenaries in too tight of a formation. She wouldn’t even be able to unsheathe her sword and get off more than a few cuts before they quickly converged. But her knife, well that was another matter.

Apparently her hesitance to fall back and her growing confidence in her ability to hold her own in a fight irked the captain. She saw it in the tightening of his eyes as his mouth thinned in displeasure as well.

But for some insane reason, he still didn’t want her dead for her display of misbehavior.

“Oh, don’t get too cocky. I’ll have you punished one way or another girl,” the captain said in a voice that promised retribution.

Sara settled herself into the dry dirt — more sure now that ever. This was going to be a fight that ended with blood on her hands. Her eyes gleamed in anticipation as she waited for it to begin.

Throwing the first punch wasn’t her style, but it seemed that this was the only way she was going to get some justice this afternoon….well, so be it.

Leaning back just a bit while keeping his voice low Captain Simon said in a conversational tone, “Why don’t you take a little look to your left?”

With a flick of his glance he quickly indicated what he meant.

Sara didn’t have to. She knew exactly where Ezekiel was standing. She had kept an eye own him from the moment he walked through the gates. She just hadn’t considered that the captain would be willing to use him as an incentive to keep her in line.

As she noted Ezekiel’s new predicament, she grimaced and had to admit she should have. A man willing to sacrifice his own to get to his destination a few days ahead of schedule was willing to do a lot of things she wouldn’t.

As for Ezekiel, he stood calmly held by the muscle-bound idiots that stood snugly at his side. An overt threat if she ever saw one.

Sara smirked and raised her hands slowly, “This matter should be between you and me Captain.”

“No underling,” Captain Barthis Simon said coldly. “It’s between an officer and his troops. You want to sow mutiny amongst my people, well you should be well aware of how vulnerable that makes you and your friends — the single one you have anyway.”

Sara sucked her teeth as she held back a sentence that was likely to get Ezekiel gutted.

Instead she said, “I didn’t sow mutiny. I merely spoke my peace.”

Captain Simon raised mocking eyebrow, “Oh, is that what you call spittle to the face? Words?”

Sara said flatly, “You shouldn’t have abandoned your own. No leader does what you did and shouldn’t be reprimanded.”

“I’ll leave it to the fair Empress to make that decision,” Captain Simon said while tapping his fingers on his crossed arms. “For now though — whatever shall I do with you?”

Sara said, “Do what you please.”

“Oh, I shall,” snapped the captain. “Starting with punishment for disobedience and assault of a superior officer in accordance to the Imperial rules of conduct.”

Sara shifted uneasily on her feet. Those were a lot of words and very little action. Precisely what did he have in mind?

“Oh and Fairchild?” the Captain said with a spark in his eyes.

Sara raised her chin in acknowledgement, waiting to hear his words.

“Behave,” the captain purred. “Or your educated friend over there will get the same treatment and I assure you…it won’t be pretty. Agreed?”

Sara’s jaw froze and she felt her fingers curl into her fists by her side. But she deliberately relaxed her hands and took a quick look around at the overwhelming odds. She couldn’t get to him if she didn’t want to call upon a battle rage and she didn’t. She needed to get past this challenge and onward to even greater misdeeds. Her father’s among them.

So Sara Fairchild decided to do something she never did in a fight. She was going to stand down.

“Fairchild,” the Captain chided while waiting for her answer.

Finally Sara Fairchild gave a tense nod and with a dark smile the captain took a few steps back and Sara was left standing alone in a circle.

Then calmly Captain Simon turned in a broad circle with arms raised as he said, “What say you mercenaries?”

There was silence.

They weren’t shy. Just wary.

Then a voice spoke up. “She needs to be taught a lesson!”

Captain Simon Barthis chuckled and nodded his head as he said, “You know what I couldn’t agree more?”

So he turned back to a wary and tense Sara. Oh, she knew that something bad was coming. How bad. Well, that depended on how wounded the captain was feeling. He didn’t want to her challenge her to a battle to death, but he wanted her to feel pain.

She knew that and pain she would feel.

Then he stopped playing games and told those surrounding them in a flat breath, “Men why don’t you teach our newest member a lesson in respect?”

Then he stepped back and the group surrounding Sara alone stepped forward with eager hardness in their eyes.

Hands raised.

Swords sheathed.

A world of hurt promised in their eyes.

Upon release the 2nd book in the Crown Service series will be live at http://terahedun.com/bladesofillusion

Announcing the Blades of Magic Re-Read Marathon AND a sneak peek into Blades of Illusion!

Hello readers,

November is turning into an exciting month!

I know that many of you are extremely excited for the next book in my second Algardis Universe series – well, wait no further! We’re getting started on it now and giving you a chance to bone up on the Crown Service series before we launch. So, it’s time to get super hyped for the new material and read along!

In anticipation of a lot of readers who don’t remember precisely what happened in Blades of Magic, Rachel and I are hosting a re-read marathon in the Guild starting TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 1ST!

Every five days we’ll start a brand new set of chapters, discuss the twists and turns, and talk about what we loved about this particular book. November 1st will begin the discussion of Chapters 1-5, so you’re right on time to join in!

If you are interested in participating, then grab up your paperback or ebook copy and join your fellow readers in our private Facebook group. If you haven’t bought Blades of Magic yet then we offering a special free addition only to read-along members so that no one is left behind!

We really hope you enjoy the first book in the series and are looking forward to book two!

__________

Next, if you’d like a (unedited) sneak peek into BLADES OF ILLUSION: CROWN SERVICE #2 read on for an excerpt of Chapter 1! As soon as I can I will be announcing a RELEASE DAY on this post as well, so happy to be diving back into the world of Sara Fairchild of the Crown Service series. 😀

As Sara Fairchild stumbled through the portal doorway in front of her, the victorious shouts of the First Division members behind her did nothing to comfort her.

She was stiff with anger and furious at their betrayal.

Captain Simon Barthis and his mercenaries had proved just moments before that they were everything she had despised as a child — ruthless, uncaring and most of all — disloyal.

They had not only left their comrades, men and women behind, but had actually knowingly engineered a strategy which all but guaranteed the massacre of hundreds of fellow mercenaries in their ranks.

She couldn’t understand how they now held their heads high as they walked through the summoned portal beside and behind her.

Sara’s lip curled into a sneer as her hands itched by her side. She had only one weapon remaining — her childhood sword — but that was all she needed to start lopping off heads until the ground at her feet was littered with the round remains.

It would be fitting end to their cowardice after all.  This was no way to honor their dead and she knew that she had been right as a child, mercenaries were the dirt beneath a true soldier of Algardis’s feet.

More excerpts for the new book – Blades of Illusion: Crown Service #2 coming soon! Dip into the Blades of Magic re-read discussion while you wait. 😉

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.

Title holder

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!

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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

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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.