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.
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!
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.