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.
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.
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