If you are a member of the Guild you saw the original first chapter weeks ago, but today everyone gets to see the new book and series I’ve been working on! Please note that these chapters haven’t been seen by my editor yet and as always content can change between now and publication!
It’s been such a breath of fresh air to start a new series with a new main character. Maeryn Darnes is woman set apart from those who came before her. She’s feisty and surly, vulnerable and touchy-feely, she loves her huge family and would do anything for those she calls friends. She’s also an untapped mage. Untapped until now that is. Check out the blurb below for Mages By Chance: Algardis #1 and read on for Chapters One and Two. The release date may be coming sooner than you think – so keep your eyes peeled and make sure you’re signed up to get my blog and newsletter emails!
Maeryn ‘Mae’ Darnes is a young woman torn between two worlds…life or death. She has watched her siblings slowly wither away just like all the others blighted by the cursed Darnes bloodline. These two will be dead within days.
When the outsiders come and promise wonders, how can she say no? Only they have the ability to heal the babies. But her elders refuse their only demand—that a woman of Mae’s family strike the symbol of their heritage from her neck, the tattooed collar.
Removing the collar is so anathema that not even the mother of the dying children will risk it. But Mae will. Whatever the punishment, she knows she’ll survive and so will they. In secret, she works in concert with the mages to undo what her family has done. The elders are furious. They cast her out but its too late, Mae now knows why no woman in her family has removed the inked design in five generations.
The moon winks at her in her sleep, fire leaps to her call at a glance, and she phases between cities when she hiccups. With no other choice and a family who will no longer even say her name, she leaves with the outsiders, the mages who saved her siblings when no one else could. But deep down Mae wonders if she may have unleashed something far more powerful than a blood curse in doing so.
Mae’s chest felt so tight—it was like she was going to burst from the inside-out. That was because it was decision time. And this one wasn’t a decision she could make lightly. Confront her parents or walk away. She had already broken the covenants of the commune by even considering using dark magic to save the two lives that hung in the balance. But according to the useless soothsayers they didn’t have long left to live and the little magic her family did have on its own…wasn’t enough to save them.
So dark magic would have to do.
It was a desperate ploy and uncertainty roiled through her. Even a little rage that she needed to go this far…but mostly she was filled with weariness. She had been tossing and turning over what she would do for almost a full week and now that the moment was here—Mae hesitated.
Biting her lip as she stood in the hallway, Mae was trying to pull it together, but found herself unable to put anything past a semblance of grief on her tired face. Mainly because she only had a hope and a prayer of her illicit effort working, and if it failed…not only would she be punished but they would all be heartbroken once more. She feared the latter far more than anything else. Everyone in the greater holding had already been through so much that one more failure on top of the dozens of other desperate attempts they had made over the last week was a blow she herself wasn’t sure their close-knit family could take.
Still she had to try. So she kept looking. Because even though she was nearly at peace with doing whatever it took to save them, she didn’t yet have anything in place to make it happen. So Mae sighed, tilted her head back while ignoring the misery threatening to cloud her mind, and aimlessly reached down by her side to pick up the heavy tome once more. Through weary eyes she blinked down at the grimoire of her family. One of many forbidden texts she wasn’t supposed to have her hands on—proven by the fact that the text had singed her fingertips the moment she’d touched it. She remembered like it had been yesterday, because it had been. The day she’d decided to take a leap from worried sister to defiant sibling. She was putting a lot of her own goodwill on the line. Goodwill she had meticulously stored up over the year by doing chores without being asked, running to the market whenever her older relatives needed it, and even cleaning unbidden. Which for Mae…was a minor miracle in and of itself. Of course, she hadn’t done any of those things without a goal in mind. Namely her parent’s permission to go to the midsummer’s fair with a certain someone without supervision. She had imagined winding ribbons in her hair and wearing a pretty courting dress Instead she was now sitting in a dark hallway with illicit materials in her hands while she prepared to spend all that hard-earned favor in one fell swoop and not for her own enjoyment. But right now something mattered more than that. Lives were in the balance and it was up to her.
Because if anyone else was capable of solving this death spiral, they would have stepped up already wouldn’t they? Mae thought bitterly.
It wasn’t that Mae thought anyone in her commune was holding back. Quite the opposite. Each of the families, Mae’s being the largest, which made up their collective holding had something to fear from the deaths—past and present. And they also had a vested interest in finding a cure as soon as possible. Before Mae’s siblings died. Before more lives were taken.
Because this wasn’t over, not by a long shot. Not if they didn’t end it with the two girls now. Thinking of the future risks, it made Mae sick with anger just thinking about the possibilities of others suffering the same fate that was currently meeting her sisters—draining their life forces and leaving them in agony at the same time. It was hard to watch, it was even harder to listen to as their intermittent screams bounced across the holding walls and echoed down hallways like some macabre morning bell. Even though she had to. They all did. Every day and every hour the illness kept up its scourge. Even now the howl of a distance scream rose up. Mae knew it was them even as far away as she was. It was hard to mistake the howl as anything else. The sound rose and peaked into a sharp staccato and Mae shuddered in commiseration. It was as if she could feel their pain, the pain that was carried in every harrowing gasp and cry.
Time began to slow and Mae felt the beat of her heart slow as she listened to it start up again. She thought it might be the older of the two victims this time. And as they joined together in one cry, it was as if the world stood still while she listened. Mae couldn’t escape it, it was as if she was living through it for those moments. But the strength of the cry faltered when one voice dropped out abruptly. A rest period that she knew would have the girl slumped down from where she had lain almost unnaturally arched off the bed and family members frantically reaching over to wipe off the cold sweat on her bed. Finally after what felt like eons later but was only seconds, the second of the two screams trailed off. It was sickening but also a relief.
They could rest together, just like they did everything else together.
Miserably Mae wiped away some wetness from her own eyes as she said, “Though no siblings should have to do this together.”
She wasn’t just referring to the suffering illness either. Her older sister and the rest of their family were all participating in this haunting wait, their lives on hold, and their actions strained while they hoped and some prayed.
Most cried at some point. Whether it was the beginning when they realized that the blight had struck the most innocent of them all or when they were weeks into watching the progress of the debilitation. Or just…whenever they heard a pain-filled scream that echoed in their hearts.
It could be cathartic to cry in sympathy. Like Mae was doing now.
But she refused to admit that it was an emotional response to the pain. No, it wasn’t just that.
She was crying because she furious, frustrated, and damned tired.
They all were and the physical toil was hard on a body. It didn’t help that her stomach was turning into knots as she waited to see if the two girls would pick up screaming again. Sometimes they did. Sometimes they waited, giving all of those around them a slight respite. If you could call it that. For Mae, the tense wait in-between the screams was just as horrible as listening to it in an echo.
It made her so upset she might just hurl all over the floor.
Instead she forced back her nausea and tightened her jaw. Willing back both tears and rage. Neither would help her here and screaming wasn’t something Mae did—not unless she had a damned good reason. Licking her suddenly dry lips, Mae looked down at the vellum that was creasing under the grip she had reflexively tightened when she heard the screams.
She only said one thing to the object in a voice hoarse with hurt, “You’d better work.”
But she meant that with all her heart. Because if it didn’t, she was out of options. They all were. And that didn’t sit well with Maeryn Darnes. It made her ballistic just thinking about it, a fury she was desperately trying to control so that it didn’t control her. She had the legendary Darnes’ propensity for a temper. It came out in different ways but for Mae, it had always been with fiery consequences.
As if it was reading her mind and didn’t like the anger it felt in her emotions, it heated up so hot and fast that she had barely had time to yelp before dropping the tome on her bare feet. Making her one of the only people in the commune most likely howling at the top of her lungs while hopping on one foot and sucking at her burning fingertips simultaneously.
“What did I do that has all the demi-gods in the kingdom trying to break my foot?” she howled as she leaned back against the wall clutching her abused foot.
As the pain of the heavy hit died down to a throb in her big toe Mae glared down in offense at the grimoire lying on the floor innocently as if it hadn’t just wounded her twice—once on its way up and another time on its way down.
But that wasn’t the last of her troubles by a long shot. Mae heard a step down the hall that had her hastily straightening up and hoping whoever was coming up the back stairs didn’t look too closely in the shadows.
Seconds ticked by and no one emerged.
Slight relief began to filter through Maeryn’s imagination as she said, “Maybe it was just my imagination.”
Then she heard another sound…like a step. But she wasn’t sure. Still better to be safe than sorry. So she reached down to frantically put out the candle she’d been hoping to read by with her left hand and kicked back the grimoire against the wall with her opposite foot.
She may have been hoping, but she was no fool. Besides—keeping the candle going would only attract attention not turn it away.
Not a few seconds later Maeryn’s worst possible nightmare was confirmed.
An explosion of light hit the corridor as a young woman’s voice screeched down the hallway, “What is going on here?”
Instinctively Mae willed the dropped grimoire to be silent and stay hidden behind her. She hoped it would choose to be passive seeing as she wasn’t touching it anymore. As the fiery text did nothing for the moment, she could assume it worked.
Then she let out a curse as she knew who the voice belonged to from the first word. Now the only thing she could do was wait for her odious sister to come down the hallway seeking confrontation. It was after all the family way. Fight each other like rats within the holding and tear up anyone who sent any of them an errant look outside of it.
Mae sighed deeply as the figure which came into focus through the bright light confirmed her suspicions. It was none other than her older sister and outright pain in Mae’s behind—Ember ‘Emes’ Darnes.
The only one worse person to come down the hallway would have been the grandmother Maeryn stole the grimoire from, but Ember would most assuredly tell their father’s mother of Mae’s misdeeds when she got the chance. That was part of the reason Mae didn’t like her.
The other reason?
Well, they were like oil and water. Her and Emes. If Mae liked juice, Ember liked water. If Ember loved riding, Mae loved walking. If Ember hated her family nickname—it was a diminutive form of their names assigned by their elders on their first naming day—Mae loved hers. They’d been like this since childhood and almost every conversation ended in confrontation. It was well-known that if you heard a shouting match in the Darnes household, there was a three-fourths chance it was the two oldest siblings going at it.
Mae flicked her thick braid over her shoulder and assumed a confident expression. If there was one thing Ember always sensed like a predator in the water…it was fear. And Mae did fear something—discovery. Knowing she had something to hide if she was going to have any hope of pulling off her plan, she eased herself forward—careful to hide her illicit goods behind her in the shadows and plastered a smile on her face. Maybe if she set Ember off balance from the beginning, this would go the way she wanted…for once.
So Mae grinned and waited like a fool in a dark hallway as her sister kept coming forward. Except now Ember was uncharacteristically silent. Mae wondered if it was trick to make her nervous but it wasn’t long before goosebumps had risen at the base of her neck as she wondered if it was something much more disheartening.
What if it was the worse thing she could imagine?
What if it had already happened while she stood foolishly in a hallway like a limpet?
Still Ember came on silent as a shade and Mae had to drop her smile and act.
Confidence cracking Mae quickly said, “Tell me quick—its not the girls is it?”
Ember’s approach paused for a moment before she kept going.
“No,” her sister said. “They’re the same as far as I know. I just left them an hour ago.”
Mae nodded quickly…in thanks.
They may have despised each other but neither was willing to play around with the others emotions when it came to the possibility of death in the family.
There were some things you didn’t joke about or hold back information on. And that was one of them. They all were on tether hooks about the girls’ fate anyway. Anymore drama would be like setting a tinderbox on fire with no water nearby to douse the house in flames.
And Maeryn Darnes wouldn’t be the one to see her family put through more pain than they already were. So she uncrossed her arms and held out her hand in greeting to her most odious sister.
It was up to Ember if she wanted to take it.
Stepping forward in a greeting so quickly, Mae would have missed it had she not felt the responding pressure of her arm being gripped and released by Ember as her sister met her halfway.
Mae licked suddenly dry lips but she made an effort again and said, “Morning sister.”
Ember stared at her with suspicious eyes but she gave the traditional greeting back.
“A good day’s dawn,” she replied.
Swallowing anything she wanted to say about her appearing where she wasn’t wanted, Mae instead asked “What brings you this far into the backways sister?”
Mae managed to say it with a smile on her face even though it hurt to keep it up. Dealing with her sister was already giving her a headache and they hadn’t even said more than a few words to the other.
“Passing by,” her sister replied softly with a mysterious air as she studied Mae’s face with a sharp look that belied her tone’s casualness.
Mae knew that look well. It told her that Ember had found whatever she saw particularly interesting and she pretty much would have zero desire to move on. Not without getting whatever it was she came for.
Which was just Mae’s luck. Ember’s favorite game was to hassle her and unfortunately asking her to just leave wouldn’t work. It’d just egg her big sister on. So Mae had to hope that by being as dull and uninteresting as possible that would make her move on instead.
It was going to have be a day that the stars aligned to make that work though.
As the silence stretched on too long, Mae asked “A bit out of your way though, no?”
Ember gave a soft snort and said, “Not really. I like to study the architecture of our holding when I get the chance and as you know…our home is the oldest on-site which makes it a particularly beautiful subject to wander around in.”
Mae’s mouth twitched but she couldn’t really say Ember was wrong.
That was the other disturbing reason they didn’t get along.
Ember could speak and it was like honey dripped from her mouth.
She’d be lying straight to your face but she did so matter-of-factedly and with such truths woven in that it was hard to see the lie…unless you knew her.
And Mae her knew her so well. They were only two years apart but it might as well as been a decade. Different personalities and approaches to living even though they’d been raised from the time they could walk by the same set of parents.
Mae wanted to give her sister the benefit of the doubt at times but she had learned over the years that sometimes even that was too much. Still—people in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones and Mae certainly was in her own bit of predicament right now.
She couldn’t confront her sister about her shadiness when she herself was desperately trying to hide a forbidden tome she had lifted from their elder’s sanctum without permission. No justification in the world would work to explain away her ill-gotten gains.
Mae elected to divert attention more and perhaps get her sister to move on.
“So you’re looking at the architecture,” Mae asked nervously. “Find anything interesting?”
“Very,” chirped Ember with the beady-eyed gaze of a bird swooping down on its prey.
Meanwhile Mae’s back was still to the wall and she felt sweat begin to roll down her neck. She was still trying to project confidence but it was hard to do when your older sister was starting at you as if she could pull your secrets out of you by peeling off your skin bit-by-bit. As if noting Mae’s nervousness and reveling in it, Ember flicked her hand holding the lantern, making light momentarily flare in Mae’s eyes and throwing her off balance just a bit again.
“So sorry,” she heard her sister say as Mae quickly turned her head away to get the glare out of her eyes. When she had turned back after blinking away the spots dancing in her vision, this time Mae watched Ember warily.
It was another piece of movement that seemed like it could have been a mistake. But Mae would be a fool to think it hadn’t been intentional.
“Also,” her sister said in a too cheery voice. “I’ve got a bit of work to do myself.”
“Oh?” Mae asked weakly—knowing the trap was closing in but not quite sure how to maneuver around it.
Ember didn’t hold polite conversation for just any reason.
She had something on her mind.
As if to answer her question, Ember jiggled a basket that Mae only now noticed was on her back. The shoulder straps were cleverly hidden by the folds of her outercoat.
“Just some washing,” Ember said lightly with a false sincerity.
“Taking the shortcut through the backways to get to the old washroom?” Mae guessed.
“Yes,” Ember replied. “It’s less crowded than the new one by the sickrooms.”
Mae’s eyes flickered once more to the basket on her sister’s back. It looked barely half-full and she’d eat her shoe if dear Emes hadn’t come this way in search of her. But she couldn’t prove that. She just knew her sister’s favorite game was to hassle her and Ember’s eyes always lit up with an eagerness for trouble when Mae was around so it wouldn’t have been too farfetched to assume the worst.
But that’s all it was—an assumption.
Wanting this interrogation that to be over Mae said as meekly as she could, “Well I’ll just let you be on your way.”
“Hmm, yes,” Ember replied. “But I haven’t yet asked you…”
She trailed off—leaving her words ominously unfinished.
“Asked me what?” Mae said suspiciously.
Ember followed up with a smile, “What brings you this far off the beaten path?”
Mae looked around as she thought about an acceptable answer.
“Well?” Ember said—pressing the matter.
Finally Mae replied with a shrug, “I was just looking for some solitude…you know with all the healers in our home plus the family…its’ getting crowded out there.”
“That’s true,” Ember said slowly.
Then she began to tap her foot on the hollow wood floors and Mae practically jumped out of her skin. She had to wonder what was next.
When would she move on? Mae thought desperately.
Apparently not that soon, because Ember continued to study her with all the patience of the world and cornered Mae couldn’t stand it anymore.
Changing her tactics, Mae sucked her teeth and then said, “What do you want Ember?”
Ember cocked her head with a suspicious look in her eyes.
“I can’t just stop when I see a sister?” Ember pointedly asked.
Mae’s mouth curled in resentment.
Then she firmly said, “Drop the act. You know and I know that you’d have no time for me unless you were up to something.”
“What?” Ember asked with a politely shocked gasp.
“Spit it out,” Mae barked in a command that even she was surprised by.
Ember’s eyes narrowed into a glare as she responded, “You don’t talk to me that way you little brat.”
“Ah there’s the sister I know and love,” Mae said dryly.
Ember huffed and responded, “Well, then if you’re going to insisted on dropping pleasantries, and I was just beginning to enjoy having a civil conversation, we can do that.”
“I do,” Mae snapped. “Insist that is.”
Ember shrugged and let a smirk drop on her face.
“Fine then,” Mae’s older sister said in a sing-song tone. “I want to know why you’re standing alone in a corridor like a cockhead with your foot over a book like that will do anything to hide the fact the you’re up to something.”
“What book?” Mae instantly said as she stood as tall as she could and tried to look imposing.
That instantly brought a laugh from her sister.
“Don’t play with me Maeryn,” Ember said amused. “You’re not very good at lying and my eyesight is just fine.”
Mae felt her heart freeze and then she groaned. This was why she hated her sister.
Nothing was ever let alone. Nothing was private. And she’d dance like a chicken in a wire trap if she thought she’d caught her younger sister up to no good.
Trying for diplomacy Mae complained, “For once in your life Ember—let it go.”
Her sister just kept giving her a superior stare and Mae realized that as long as she was appearing to shrink from a confrontation, Ember would feel like she had the upper hand.
So Mae straightened up and stepped forward to glare eye-to-eye with the young woman who was practically preening in front of her. Ember, of course, was unphased by any look of ire directed at her. Instead, she smirked and stared her down. And Mae did the same.
The female tempers of the Darnes line ran hot and none more so than in the youngest women in the holding. Ember and Mae had never really gotten along, but they hadn’t come to blows either—yet. Mae was waiting for that day to come though. They fought over everything from who’s turn it was to do the laundry in the old room to who it was that had stolen the last ripe blueberry from the bowl in the cold storage.
Neither was willing to back down.
Which was why even though Mae’s back was literally to the wall, she wouldn’t give sour-faced Ember the satisfaction of an answer…or turning her in to their parents and the elders for fun. Besides all that there was a fine point between responsibility and obedience in sibling rivalry, and Ember wasn’t the boss of her.
“Oh Mae,” Ember said in a mock sympathetic voice.
“What?” Mae snapped—her temper was already high, she didn’t need any mockery from someone she despised.
Ember rolled her eyes. “Have you ever considered that I might just be trying to aid you?
“Aid me with what? I’m just standing here on my lonesome,” Mae said piteously.
“Now who’s playing the dumb one?” Ember said pointedly.
“Alright, well what do you think it is I’m up to?” Mae asked.
She wasn’t expecting Ember to guess, just hoping to run down the morning so her sister would get hungry or summoned and have to leave.
“Something that’ll get you in trouble,” Ember replied with narrowed eyes.
“I’m not always into something you know?” Mae muttered.
“Yes, you are,” Ember said simply.
Then she hesitated a brief second and added, “But if its to help the girls…this time it could be justified.”
Mae almost choked on her tongue. Ember never, ever approved of anything she did.
“Well, this is first,” Mae said with semi-amazement. “You agreeing to something I did?”
Ember waved a dismissing hand. “Let’s not go that far as I still don’t know what it is exactly that you’re doing but it has to do something with that book under your foot I’d wager and it’s illicit if you’re hiding in a back hallway to do it.”
“I’m not hiding,” Mae said indignant. “I just wanted some privacy.”
“Right,” Ember said slowly.
Slightly offended at her sister’s implications, even worse that she was right, Mae said, “Oh just piss off.”
That apparently was the wrong thing to say.
“What was that?” Ember asked sharply—her voice rising an octave into a range that irritated Mae and usually everyone else in hearing distance. It was early morning in a deserted corridor though, so there was only the two of them to hear it.
It didn’t stop Mae from changing the subject by telling Ember, “You know you’re disturbing everyone three rooms away right?”
Ember sniped in response, “Stop deflecting—I asked you a question.”
Mae wondered if she was referring to her insult or the original big inquiry as to what she was doing here.
As if reading her sister’s mind Ember added, “You may think you’re clever by pushing me away but I know you—you’re up to something. Maybe even something I would want to aid in.”
“So?” Mae said—stalling.
“So, tell me. What is it?” Ember said in a cajoling tone with an interested look.
Briefly Mae was tempted. To give in. To answer. Perhaps it would be nice to have some help after all. But it was Ember and the tone in her voice was still the objective know-it-all who thought she was better than her.
So instead of giving in, Mae double-down with a firm answer as she said, “I don’t have to tell you.”
Then Ember rolled her eyes. “You’re acting like a child.”
“Better a child than a busybody,” Mae retorted back.
For her part Ember kept staring into Mae’s face as if she could command her secrets from her with just a look.
I don’t know who she thinks she is, but that look only works with father, Mae thought to herself. Ember’s got nothing on me.
As if realizing that Mae had settled in for a fight from the beginning and nothing would budge her, Ember’s nose went into the air.
Then her voice hardened into a threat as she said, “You’ll tell me what it is you’re hiding Maeryn Darnes!”
For a moment Mae was actually impressed. Her sister was a stubborn as goat. But Mae could kick like a mule and right this moment, she was more than willing to show her sibling just how physical she could get when pressed.
Keep an eye on the Mages By Chance: Algardis #1 page for buy links!