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!
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! ^.^
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
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?”
“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.