Cover Reveal: My Freshman Year of Fabulous by Jennifer DiGiovanni

YA

When Avery Thornton needs to escape a first day of school disaster, she ducks into an equipment room to hide and meets someone else who’s also having a really bad day. Eli Fields just got demoted to third string on the football team, a sport he doesn’t even really want to play. On the hunt for a dance partner before her competition season begins, Avery discovers Eli’s secret, non-football life outside of school. She thinks he could be the dance partner she’s dreamed about. But Eli wants no part of dancing with Avery. When someone else steps in as Avery’s partner for competitions, she and Eli begin practicing steps “just for fun.”

But, is that really all that Eli wants? And although Avery has found a perfect partner, she’s learning that perfection doesn’t necessarily equal happiness.

Jennifer

Author Bio

Jennifer DiGiovanni is a freelance writer and YA author of the School Dayz series. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, working on home design projects, or trying to meet the daily goals on her Fitbit. She also likes to try new sports and activities, from archery to ballroom dancing, with varying degrees of success.

You can learn more about Jennifer and her novels using the links below:

Twitter: @JenniferDiGiov2

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.digiovanni.author/?fref=ts

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14097810.Jennifer_DiGiovanni?from_search=true

Website: http://www.jenniferdigiovanni.com/

Swoon Romance on Twitter: @SwoonRomance

Swoon Romance on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swoonromance/?fref=ts

Author Spotlight: Shani Green-Dowdell

Shani

Shani Greene-Dowdell is a wife, mother of three, grandmother to two awesome tots, and has worked 18 years as a medical transcriptionist. Shani enjoys weaving words of romantic fiction and suspense and has written her way into a new reality as a full-time writer. It all started with a Black Expressions subscription back in 2004. Shani burst open the first shipment like it was Christmas Eve and soaked in the soulful and riveting stories of Kimberla Lawson, Eric Jerome Dickey, Carl Weber, Zane, Darrien Lee, and too many other greats to name. Inside of great storylines is where her zest for storytelling was born. She completed her first book, Keepin’ It Tight, and self-published it in 2007. To date, Shani has 20 books to her credit in Interracial Romance, Erotica, and Urban genres.

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For more information regarding Shani Greene-Dowdell or her novels, please visit her WEBSITE or EMAIL.

Book Tour: MIDLIGHT by Autumn Grace

Midlight

 

MIDLIGHT

YA Science Fiction

If the daylight doesn’t kill you, the diurnal ones will. But when death is the one requirement to be transitioned into a mechanized Hybrid, why spend another night lost in the dark?

 Deadly radiation has forced the population to become nocturnal in an effort to avoid the mutilating effects of daylight. While this helped for a time, rogue groups began neglecting these practices, increasing the death rate and the need to finalize a procedure to bring the dead back to life. This controversial advancement became means for prosperity to President Umber as he took over the growing city of Umber Heights.

 Five years ago, Bain woke up on the side of the road with no prior memories. After three years of serving as a brutal Corsair for Ailand’s ruthless leader, Beckett, Bain cuts ties with his current life. He must revisit his estranged friend in his safe coastal town with the proposal to join him in Umber Heights, the only place Beckett and Umber’s feud prohibits Beckett from entering. Bain and Argon struggle to get their relationship back, cautiously diving deeper into their romantic feelings while trying to balance conflicting personalities and Bain’s lack of readiness to open up.

 Now in Heights seemingly for good, Bain must determine if the lines of right and wrong really do gray when it comes to protecting human life over man-made creation. 

Author Bio

Autumn Grace grew up in New England with her mom, older brother, younger sister, and her identical twin. Her aim is to bring diverse characters outside of genres they have identified with to promote equality and acceptance. She’s drawn to retro-futuristic concepts and is obsessed with robots and aliens.

Purchase MIDLIGHT HERE

Fantasy Fiends Podcast Interview

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There wasn’t any better way to begin my new year than an interview with The Giant and the Gnome! If you don’t know these two gents, you should. Andy Peloquin and Stevie Collier are the creative minds and talent behind the award-winning Fantasy Fiends Podcast.

Every week, they have a new guest and interesting topic. I was fortunate enough to discuss language creation in fantasy and beyond. You can listen to this fun and exciting interview below! As a special treat, we acted out a scene from my upcoming diverse epic fantasy, Kurintor Nyusi toward the end of the show.

Visit their YouTube page, like and subscribe! You won’t be sorry.

Enjoy the full episode HERE.

Book Tour: Goddess of the Wild Thing

Paul DeBlassie III

Goddess of the Wild Thing is a dramatic tale of one woman’s spiritual journey where magical happenings, unexpected turns of fate, and unseen forces influence her ability to love and be loved. Eve Sanchez, a middle-aged woman and scholar of esoteric studies, encounters a seductive but frightening man who introduces her to a supernatural world in which the wicked powers of a surrogate mother’s twisted affection threaten love and life. In the mystic realms of Aztlan del Sur, Eve and three friends struggle with whether bad love is better than no love and discover that love is a wild thing.

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Paul DeBlassie III, Ph.D. is a depth psychologist and award-winning writer living in his native New Mexico. He specializes in treating individuals in emotional and spiritual crisis. His novels, visionary thrillers, delve deep into archetypal realities as they play out dramatically in the lives of everyday people. Memberships include the Author’s Guild, the Depth Psychology Alliance, the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, and the International Association for Jungian Studies.

Excerpt I

Eve sharpened her focus. She saw the sharp nail of a witch’s right finger tracing Graciéla’s image on a foggy mirror in a grungy bathroom, touching the center of the mirror with a hatred so intense, the glass burned red hot. The mirror in Graciéla’s kitchen cracked. Shards jettisoned at the old healer then were magically warded off and drifted in place about her head and neck.

Graciéla’s energy, tired as she was, had fended off the pointed shards. She hadn’t been impaled. But the strain had ushered her from one world to the next. Death came not by the hand of another but by a weakened mind and body defending itself.

Eve, shaken, allowed her soft touch to stay on Graciéla’s forehead, confirming the horror of what she’d seen. Shamanic wisdom, often discussed between the two kindred souls, spoke to Eve as she stroked her friend’s head, remembering that death provided passage for one whose life had been well spent and whose time had come.

Eve wept.

After a few moments, she closed her friend’s green eyes and whispered tenderly, “Always my friend, always love, always together in life and in death.” She stood and wiped the tears from her eyes. A gray-brown, green-eyed, great horned owl hooted from the largest cottonwood branch outside the back window.

Eve heard Shirley finishing her call to the EMTs and police, and then walking to the front of the store to await their arrival.

One large shard lay at the end of the table, sharp tip pointed outward. It reflected Eve’s image, a glowing red ember menacingly centered at the brow point.

Excerpt II

“Shirley spoke up, “Maybe we just gotta give it up and say there’s no good out there and no damn good men.” Shirley spat on the sidewalk, as she was prone to do when attitudes turned south and a pissed-off mood overrode a physician’s reserve. A petite woman, hovering around five-foot-three, she was a spitfire to friends and foes. Her red hair was a fine match for her spicy temperament. She never hesitated to snap her tongue, making an envious woman or cocky man shrivel and long to crawl into a nearby hole and cry. Shirley lived as a healer and a warrior, a woman who cared tenderly for the hurting and raged viciously at pretense and abuse.

Eve, Shirley, and two other friends, Tanya and Samantha, were plagued by man troubles the way pollution settles in during dusty days and humid nights in the Middle Rio Grande Valley of Aztlan del Sur. They were four esteemed professional women who could have any man they chose. Yet time and again, they went for the lower, the bad, the worst. They sabotaged the good, the permanent. Commitment was a frightening consideration for four women who’d suffered childhoods of parental dysfunctional neglect and split-ups. They often quipped, “We found each other because like finds like.” Tonight, Eve’s troubles were front and center. She’d done it again or at least worried she had. The glitch in the man was in the type she attracted: charmers—striking and untrue. Suffering had begun. Time was critical. To stick it out or get out was her dilemma.  Things with a new man had taken a terrifying turn.”

For more information regarding Paul DeBlassie or his novels, please visit his WEBSITE, TWITTER, AMAZON, of FACEBOOK pages.

New Year Reflections

2018

Wonderful New Year wishes to everyone!

I’ve made a post regarding my fantastic convention year in Atlanta, GA. I was blessed to meet some wonderful creatives and a few of my favorite professional actors and authors. Being a panelist with Christopher Paolini and Michael Livingston at DragonCon was a great way to end this busy year. However, meeting Colin Baker (Dr. Who) and J.G. Hertzler (my favorite Klingon, Martok, from DS9) was an extra special treat!

Year End Review

Some unexpected honors also helped to make 2017 a memorable year. My debut novel, The Rise of Nazil, is a Readers’ Favorite award-winner, and my Science Fantasy Duology (Rites of Heirdron and Orbs of Trenihgea) won two gold awards as well. Being recognized for my novels is a humbling and fulfilling experience. It’s difficult to share my work with the world, and I’m overjoyed that readers relish each well-crafted tale and email me expressing their love (or loathing) of the multilayered characters and the worlds in which they live.

2018

Thank you to everyone who purchased, read, and reviewed my novels. With the vast amount of literary works available to you, it’s an honor to have my novels selected and loved.

Enjoy this exciting holiday season and GREAT success in 2018!

Happy Holidays!

Al-Pos
During the holiday season, a plethora of creatives have some amazing sales on their novels and art. Whereas I have a vast (and varied) listing of titles, I’d rather gift my readers with a free excerpt of my upcoming diverse epic fantasy, Kurintor Nyusi.

Naturally, you’re welcome to peruse my Amazon page for diverse and compelling epic fantasy and science fantasy. Once you’ve finished, enjoy a few chapters of Kurintor Nyusi. It’s not your parent’s epic fantasy!

Happy Holidays!

Chapter One

Kalvgah

A plume of dust wafted into the air when the blow struck, propelling her backward to the ground. Nurisha grunted, glaring up at the man. She nursed her throbbing wrist, uncertain if she could withstand another one of his powerful strikes.

Get up! Get up! her thoughts urged, willing her body to submit to her mind. She focused on the dangerous man stalking toward her, his sword glinting in the dawning rays cresting over the treetops. Each of his calculated steps matched a beat of her pulse, sending a rush of blood through her heart.

She slid backward, desperately groping for her dropped sword, never taking her eyes from the daunting figure. He was but strides away when her fingertips grazed the edge of the pommel. After reclaiming her scimitar, she sprang to her feet, assuming a defensive posture.

“You should’ve stayed down, lass.” His enormous build shielded the sun’s rise, casting an obscuring shadow over her slight frame.

“My Da taught me to never stay down.”

Dodging the oncoming sideswipe, Nurisha dove forward, ending up at his back. Though his weapon missed its mark, her foot didn’t, kicking him hard in the gut as she went by, landing in a crouch beyond his reach. It was a well-landed kick, and he’d felt it.

“Your size is your weakness,” she said. “And so is your arrogance.”

“You’ll pay for that,” he said, tightening his grip on his sword.

“We’ll see.”

With seemingly unnatural speed, he roared, attempting a glissade. Her eyes widened, retreating instead of parrying as he’d predicted. She whirled from his reach again, initiating a backward somersault while drawing her second sword. Leaping from a defensive crouch, she crossed her scimitars, meeting his downward swipe. The strength behind his attack nearly drove her to her knees and she struggled to remain upright.

“Your Da should’ve taught you to stay down,” he sneered. “It would’ve been easier on you.”

“The Sans don’t do ‘easy’,” she said, breathlessly.

Her visage and movements were contrary to her words. Her arms shook violently, pushing back against his blade. She couldn’t match his strength or his weight, which he applied to deliberately attempt to overpower her.

Her teeth gnashed as she gave ground, rolling to the side, barely missing the tip of his blade. She leapt back to her feet, only to be forced into a backbend by his powerful thrust—his blade but digits away from her face as she hit the dirt. She rolled again, clumsily regaining her footing while parrying his sword a hair’s breadth from her face. When he reached for his dagger, she dipped low, side-sliding and catching him in the ribs with the hilt of her sword. As he stumbled, she kicked up, sending his weapon high while thrusting forward with her left sword. He parried the poor attempt, shifting his dagger in a reverse-cut position.

She blocked his next thrust, but paid for it with a wicked slash at her throat. As she fell away, she lost her right sword and tried to compensate with her left. He laughed, batting away her scimitar and clutching her wrist.

“You should’ve stayed down,” he said, his dagger’s edge against her throat.

“Qaradan? Qaradan?” A voiced called from behind them.

He released an exasperated sigh, tapping his dagger against her chin. “There’ll be no one to save you next time.”

“Qaradan! How long ya gonna make me wait? Lareese might toss my meal to the pigs if ya don’t get this wheel fixed. C’mon now, I’m miss’n my meal.”

Qaradan winked, clapping Nurisha on the shoulder. “Always listen to your Da,” he said, gesturing toward their barn. In truth, it was a modest six-room cottage with a smithy and barn attached to it. They’d lived in the town of Kalvgah since she was a child. Her father, Qaradan, was the only smith within the neighboring villages. With the lack of farriers, wheelwrights, and armorers available to the commoners, the stream of customers was constant, but the earnings meager.

Most of the folk in the villages couldn’t pay for the goods and services he provided. Ofttimes, Qaradan would accept livestock or other wares in trade. Now, they had a fair amount of goats, cows, chickens, and pigs for their farm. It was a good living, and a simple life that she’d grown to love.

“Move along, Cassie,” she said to the goat as it came up beside her. “I need to fetch some eggs for Da’s breakfast. Move along.”

She giggled, roughly patting its ears as she went about her daily routine. She could hear Qaradan and Strähn bickering about the morning meal as usual. Strähn’s cart needed repairs often, and he squabbled about its condition and Qaradan’s lax demeanor when fixing it.

Once she’d fried the eggs and ham, she heard Qaradan’s heavy footfalls on the wooden steps. She rushed around, setting out his meal and pouring him a hot cup of coffee.

“Smells good, ‘Risha. Any biscuits left?”

“They’re warming now, Da. Did you want some honey, too?”

He rubbed his hands together, offering a broad smile. “Nothing better than your hot biscuits and honey.”

“Well, I can think of a few things,” she said, bringing the basket to the table and taking a seat across from him. As he began to eat, she nibbled her bottom lip, looking up at him. Qaradan was a large man, larger than most in the surrounding towns and villages. Although nearly fifty, his work as a smith had kept his considerable six-foot-five-inch frame well-toned and muscled. Nurisha didn’t miss the attention he received from the women in town. She smiled at that. If her Da noticed the extra attention that they paid to him, he didn’t make it known. He put his energies into their small family and farm.

“You’re sure quiet today,” he said, shoveling another spoonful of eggs into his mouth. “Don’t worry about your training; we’ll have more time before evening meal. Gotta focus more on the sword than those fancy tricks you like doing with your bow. Now, you got Aljoša doing them, too. You both need more sparring practice, but I’ve got a few things lined up today, and the animals need tending first.”

“You’ve been more aggressive lately,” she said, stroking the fresh bruise on her arm. “I used to fare better when we sparred.”

“Can’t get better by staying the same,” he said, motioning to his empty cup.

She grabbed the tin of steaming coffee and another slice of ham. “I know, Da. I’ll do better next time. I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“Not Druehox, I hope. That coxcomb skamelar ain’t worth teats on a bull.”

“Da!”

Qaradan shrugged. “Well, he ain’t.”

“Don’t worry about Druehox. He’s the last thing on my mind. I was thinking about heading down through Shade Fall to do some fishing after tending the bees. It’s been a while since we had some fresh fish.”

“Might be best to wait and we’ll go together in a few days. Folks been talking ‘bout some big cat roaming around Shade Fall. No telling what might be lurking in them woods.”

“Da, I’m not afraid of any cat. I’ve been trained by the best.” She smiled. “And I’m no stranger to the woods either. Besides, not even a wild cat would dare approach the daughter of the formidable Qaradan San.”

He chuckled at that, leaning back in his chair. “Still, no sense taking unnecessary chances. We’ll go down to Crossover River in a day or two. Plenty to do here first.”

She sighed wistfully, offering a nod of assent. As he continued his meal, she thought of the last time they’d trekked down to Crossover River. When they traversed the earthen trail, she felt as if someone or something was watching them. She couldn’t shake that feeling, and the hairs on her arms rose as she thought about it.

“Is that still bothering you?” Qaradan asked, noticing her rubbing her wrist.

She examined the raised, discolored mark again. It had begun bothering her lately, and was larger than it had been. She’d been born with the mark, and never thought much of it until a few weeks ago. After her twentieth name day, she noticed the elongation. Now, it was nearly three digits…twice the length it had been. At first, it merely itched as if a dozen insects had stung her during the night. However, lately she’d noticed a strange shimmering and tingling sensation as well. She didn’t mention that to Qaradan. He worried too much as it was.

“Just itches a little.”

“Best be going to visit Chaween and have her look at it. She’ll make up a salve for you and probably a tincture of herbs. Can’t have the best archer in town missing her shot ‘cause her wrist won’t stop itching.”

She laughed. “I can do without Chaween’s concoctions. They taste horrible.”

“Yep, always have, and they always work.”

“Da?”

He shook his head, stuffing the rest of a biscuit in his mouth. “Ain’t taking no for an answer, ‘Risha,” he said, rising and kissing her cheek. “Tend to your chores for now. Aljoša will be by soon enough to help in the smithy. I want you to pay Chaween a visit on the morrow and get some of that pinacate salve when you go.”

Her face scrunched. “Da, it stinks!”

“Worse thing I’ve ever smelled ‘cept a rotting boar.” He chuckled. “If we’re going through Shade Fall it’d be best to have the salve. Now, go on and tend your chores, got plenty of my own to do.”

“Yes, Da,” she said, not turning until the door had closed behind him.

Qaradan was the only father she’d ever known. Her mother, Esmel, died when she was but ten. That’s when she’d learned she wasn’t their natural child, although she always felt as if she was. In fact, many townsfolk had commented on their likeness. Esmel had the same caramel-colored skin and coiled tresses as she did. She even had one brown eye like Esmel, the other grey like Qaradan.

They loved her endlessly, and probably would’ve never told her if Esmel hadn’t insisted after falling ill. They’d discovered her at the edge of the Matryohn Wood near the northeast side of the kingdom. Esmel had spoken of it as a miracle straight from the Goddess Yemojan.

When they set camp near the tree line, Qaradan inspected the area carefully, as he always did. After years of scouting and serving as a sentry in Zradiir, he knew the best areas to camp and those to avoid. With the rogues and banditti stalking the main roads, one had to be cautious, especially when traveling with women. He set his usual traps and kept watch most of the night while Esmel slept. However, when the moon surrendered to the sun, the brightest ray shone on a basket tucked beneath a bush. Her basket.

They couldn’t offer much information regarding her birth parents or home, just that they were traveling from Zradiir to Kalvgah and found her along the way. Esmel had recently lost their third child before they’d decided to make the trek. She’d enjoyed her tenure as a teacher, but there were too many memories in Zradiir, too many reminders of hurts and disappointments. When they found Nurisha abandoned, they felt the gods were blessing them and their new start. Nurisha had never visited Matryohn Wood, though she’d promised herself that she would. There might be answers there, and she intended to find them.

With that, she glanced down at her wrist again, sliding her fingertips over the raised, jagged mark. It looked more like a strike of lightning than anything else…a peculiar mark that matched the color of her one pale grey eye.

She sighed then, pushing up from the table. Those answers would have to wait.

Nurisha removed her tunic and lifted the smoking pan from the fire. She did her best to clear her recent thoughts and focus on her chores. When she opened the door, she could hear Qaradan arguing with another neighbor about prices. They didn’t need the extra coin, but he wasn’t working for free either.

“Folks don’t value what they don’t earn, ‘Risha. You don’t have to charge ‘em a lot, but charge ‘em something. A man feels more a man when he’s earning his keep.”

“I’ll remember, Da,” she said, waving the billowing smoke from her face, stepping down to her worktable. After scooping a ladle of roasted fenugreek from the pan, she sprinkled it in a large bowl of wild mallow and olive oil. As she continued to mix the sticky concoction, she gazed out at their ploughed fields. The new planting season was fast approaching, and Aljoša would be at the farm more often. Although he helped her Da in the smithy, during the planting and harvest, he spent more time with her. She wouldn’t admit it, but she enjoyed being with him more each season. She smiled at that, spreading the fenugreek mixture over her arms and face.

“You don’t need to be putting that stuff on to keep me away. All you have to do is say so.”

She suppressed her smile, turning around to face Aljoša. “I’ve said so more than once. How’d that work out?”

“Well, you didn’t really mean it then,” he said, leaning down to kiss the one clear spot on her cheek. “Besides, it’d take more than that to keep me away. Not even your Da could do that.”

“It didn’t appear that way a fortnight ago.” She chuckled. “I’ve never seen anyone run so fast. Tell me: how’d you get your face to change color like that? It was paler than last winter’s hard rime.”

He joined in her mirth, removing his baldric and jerkin. His smooth, almond-colored skin glistened in the sun’s light, and she did her best not to notice. Aljoša dipped his hands in the bowl, rubbing the mixture down his chest and abdomen.

“Can you put some on my back?” he asked.

She looked up, examining every inch of him. His corded muscles flexed, and she followed the alluring curve down his back, admiring the perfect fit of his trews. Licking the dryness from her lips, she cleared her throat, turning back to the table. “You don’t need any on your back, or anywhere else for that matter. I don’t want you going near my bees. I swear: you and Da are worthless when it comes to such things. Haven’t you been stung enough?”

He shrugged. “Just helping out where I can. Besides, Chäna was asking ‘bout the honey mead.”

“You tell Ms. Chäna that I’ll be adding a few casks to her regular delivery soon. It needs a bit more time before it’ll be ready. Don’t worry,” she said, grabbing a pail from the ground. “You’ll have your mead and some roast boar, too, if you’re feeling up to a hunt.”

“I’ve been practicing, you know?”

“I hope so, ‘Joša. Maybe you won’t scare away our meal this time.”

“Ain’t no one as good as you with a bow, ‘Risha, but I’ll be making the next kill.”

“That so? How about you tell Da that I need you for a bit. After I check on my bees, we’ll head into Shade Fall. Just remember: if you make the kill, you prepare the meal.”

“I can find my way ‘round a kitchen well enough. Chäna and Aemar made sure of that.”

“Better sharpen your skinning knife, then,” she said, walking away. “And put your clothes back on.”

Shytahn

Alyelu fastened the clasp on his claret cassock, stepping over to the hearth. A chill hung heavy in the air as the last of the embers glowed dimly within its stone encasement.

Mocheentáe,” he whispered, extending out his right hand. The symbol on his wrist glowed, sending a jagged, flaming stream down through his fingertips.

The embers ignited, their orange and red flares leaping up and surrounding him before lowering back into the hearth.

He basked in the warmth, relishing the heat of the flames while reciting a prayer of supplication.

Alyelu was the Shytahn and most powerful of the Nyola priests. His tower was constructed on the northern edge of Falmehdorn, with his upper room facing the Nyusi Mountains.

For the past two decades, he’d headed the Nyola Order, gaining more prominence within the kingdom and beyond. Even the Premier, Radič Burián, sought his counsel and unique abilities. With his elevation came power, and he utilized his position to further his own ambitions, not those of the Order.

“Pardons, Shytahn Alyelu,” Veselin said, as he knocked and entered the room.

“I didn’t want to be disturbed.”

“Pardons, Shytahn. We’ve received a message from Varrnas.”

“And why would that concern me?”

“You’d ordered us to report any sighting of the beast, and we’ve received word of an attack.”

Alyelu turned, his amber eyes flaring. “In Varrnas? When?”

“It’s not certain, Shytahn, but the sighting was reported by several people.”

“Who sent the message?”

“Overseer Dezmehn Deòir.”

He nodded, clasping his hands behind his back. “Leave me.”

“Yes, Shytahn,” Veselin bowed, exiting the chamber.

Alyelu moved to the window, opening the wooden shutters. He stared out over the vast city, and then beyond to his former home, Cyrehn. When his gaze rested on the Nyusi Mountains, his eyes narrowed, an inscrutable sensation encompassing his soul. 
“Varrnas?”

“Is it the one you seek?” Zaharija asked, entering from a side room.

“It’s doubtful, but I’ll send some men to investigate.”

“These sightings can’t be a coincidence, Alyelu. It’s been years and we’ve heard little. Now, the reports arrive nearly every full moon. This could be the one.”

“Perhaps,” he said, taking a seat at the table. “But there’s been no evidence of that. Esuhnd has an intimate connection with the beast. If it was near, I’d sense something more from him.”

Zaharija came up behind him, massaging Alyelu’s broad shoulders. “Allow me to speak with Esuhnd. He might be more forthcoming if handled with a gentler touch. A hot bath and a good meal might weaken his resolve. I’m certain he tires of the hard bread and sour wine. If you’d consent, a bed as well. In better spirits and health, you might receive that which you desire.” He smiled. “Just as I have.”

“Have you?” Alyelu turned around to face him, removing his hands from his shoulders. “Is that all you desire, Zaharija? Are you so easily appeased?”

“That appeasement is temporary, and always at your behest.”

He grinned. “I’ll allow it. Esuhnd’s worth depends upon his cooperation.”

“Cooperation? It’s been years.”

“I don’t need him to reveal the location to me. I only need his mind to weaken enough so I can enter it. Pain and starvation have done little. Perhaps your methods would prove more useful. He’s a handsome specimen, isn’t he?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Zaharija said, turning away.

“Truly? Your lust has been evident since first I permitted you access to his cell. Do you think that you can deceive me?”

Zaharija cried out, grasping his temples, overcome by the intensity of Alyelu’s psionic probe. He crumpled to his knees, screaming in agony. “Forgive me! Please, forgive me!”

“I’d thought you’d learned your lesson the last time, Zaharija. I take no pleasure in reminding you of your place, or your inferiority. I rather enjoy your company.” Alyelu removed the stopper on a ewer, pouring a glass of wine as Zaharija continued to writhe on the floor.

“After you’ve recovered, you’ll see to our guest and attend him properly. If the beast has emerged, it must be found. It’s the key to the lost city, and the beginning of the awakening.”

Chapter Two

Chaween

Nurisha shifted the pack to her other shoulder as she crossed the bustling town square. Chaween’s cabin was on the far edge of Kalvgah near Clear Creek. She recalled when she’d first visited the elderly apothecary and learned about the significance of the creek’s name. It appeared that every wood, river, tributary, and mountain had a lengthy story behind its naming. Couldn’t just be called Clear Creek because it’s clear, she thought, acknowledging townsfolk as she passed.

Many were setting up for the day’s market or tending to their chores. Unlike Qaradan, Nurisha rose with the sun every morning. She couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t. Qaradan preferred to sleep longer, avoiding any early comer to the smithy. Not her. She’d have his breakfast made and the animals fed before he’d even turned over in bed.

Nurisha smiled at the thought. She took care of him as much as he did her. She didn’t want to think of the possibility of ever losing him. He was all she had, and she’d stay with him just as she’d promised her mother.

“‘Risha!”

She halted as she heard the call. Recognizing the caller, she resumed her pace.

“‘Risha!”

She sighed, turning to meet Druehox’s grinning face.

“Hey ‘Risha, where you off to?” he asked, tethering his horse to a post.

“Don’t call me that,” she said, walking away.

“All right, sorry. I thought you’d like it.”

She rolled her eyes, increasing her already fast pace.

“We’re getting together at the inn later to celebrate my brother’s name day. Ale is on me.” He patted the coin purse on his belt, flipping his long, blonde hair to his back. “How’d you like to be my special guest?”

“I wouldn’t.”

“Oh, come on now, ‘Rish…Nurisha. No hard feelings. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“There’s nothing to make up, and I’d rather cover myself with honey and lie in the Sand Sea than sit and drink with you.”

His smile broadened, gazing at her from toe to head. “We could do that, too. Can I spread the honey?”

Nurisha scowled, delivering an uppercut that made him cry out, doubling over in pain.

“Gods! What was that for?”

“You’ve had that coming and then some. Better leave me be or there’s more where that came from.”

“Nurisha, wait. All right, maybe I had that coming…maybe.”

She glared at him, adjusting her pack again.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I’m going to Chaween’s.”

“Mind if I walk with you? I’ve barely seen you lately. Well, not since the tournament.” He smirked. “Shame you missed that shot.”

“I didn’t miss the shot, Druehox. Whether you’ll admit it to anyone else doesn’t matter. We both know what happened, and it had nothing to do with my aim.”

“You can’t expect to win every time, now, can you? There’s always next season. We’ll see if you can beat me then.”

“Beat you?” Her eyes narrowed. “I’d need but one eye and two fingers to do that.”

“Couldn’t tell that by your ranking last time. Second place is good, too, just not as good as first.”

She paused, wanting nothing more than to plant her fist right between his grinning lips. Had he not shot her with his slingshot before she loosed the arrow, she wouldn’t have missed. She never missed. The more she thought about that, the tighter her hands balled into fists. But Qaradan had already warned her about Druehox. Regardless of anything else, he was the Overseer’s son, and she didn’t want to make any trouble for her Da.

Druehox was a smug churl who wouldn’t have given her the time of day had she wanted his attention. Since the opposite was true, his advances bordered on stalking. Every night, he appeared to have a different woman’s company. They doted and sniffed behind him as if he was the ruler of the twelve kingdoms.

Druehox wasn’t a bad-looking fellow. In fact, many found him handsome. He was tall with broad shoulders and a toned build. His long, golden hair was always neatly woven into a thick braid, styled so that parts of it flowed down his shoulders. His hair was reminiscent of graceful, glistening waves rolling over a perfect sand hill on the beach. Not that she’d really noticed.

Those eyes of his might’ve been attractive if he weren’t always staring at her lasciviously. They were his best features, and happened to be her favorite color: a beautiful, rich emerald with magnificent golden flecks. Too bad they were wasted on someone like him.

“What do you want, Druehox? I need to see Chaween.”

“Come now, Nurisha, you know what I want…what I’ve always wanted.”

When he noticed her hand lower to the dagger nestled in her belt, he raised his hands up innocently.

“I’d just like to walk with you and talk, nothing more. Besides, I need a poultice for my mother.”

“Fine. You can walk with me, but you don’t need to talk. In fact, don’t.”

He smiled, coming up beside her. “So, do you want to meet me tonight? Everyone will be there, and you never come out with us.”

“I thought I told you NOT to talk.”

“‘Risha,” he said, gripping her elbow. “I’m sorry, all right, I’m sorry. You should’ve won the tournament. There, I said it.”

“Yes, you said it to me, not to your father or the judges.”

“You just expect me to tell my father that I cheated? Is that what you want?”

“I don’t want you to do anything but shut up. You wanted to win and you won. End of story. The great Druehox Tomić doesn’t have to abide by the rules, isn’t that right? You just make them up as you go along. It doesn’t matter who you step on or push aside. So, don’t come to me feigning some type of interest. You only want what you can’t have, just like the tournament.”

“Nurisha?”

“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. You can walk with me, but I don’t have to listen to you.”

The bells jingled as Nurisha pushed open the door to the shop. An immediate smile found Chaween’s wizened face as she peeked over her spectacles. She closed the leather-bound book she was perusing, grabbing her staff, and pushing up to her feet.

“Ma-ween,” Nurisha said, moving forward to embrace her.

“My sweet ‘Risha. Oh, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you. Can’t you come and visit an old woman from time to time?”

Nurisha giggled, leaning down to kiss her cheek. When she met Chaween’s eyes, she noticed the milky film covering them. It had been nearly a month since she’d seen her, but she appeared to have aged a year in that time.

Nurisha couldn’t recall Chaween being any other way, but not her eyes. Even when she was a child, Chaween appeared aged. From what Qaradan had told her, she was one of the first denizens of Kalvgah. She’d lived in the same little cabin with her potions and elixirs. The town grew and continued to build around her, leaving her small tract of land untouched. With that thought, Nurisha gently gripped her elbow, helping her to one of the rocking chairs near a table full of phials and philters.

Chaween hadn’t merely been an apothecary; she’d begun instructing Nurisha as well. It began with learning about herbs and healing, and then escalated to more spiritual, metaphysical, and sensory abilities. She could sense Chaween’s weariness and her love.

“I’m sorry, Ma-ween. I should visit more often. The smithy has been busy, and Da has increased my training.”

“It’s ‘bout time. Your old Da is as stubborn as my mule. I told him myself ‘bout that keen eye of yours. It ain’t just for hunting, ya know. It’s special, just like you’re special.” She smiled again, caressing Nurisha’s cheek with a soft, wrinkled hand.

“You’re the special one, Ma-ween, and I promise to visit more often. I’ll sit with you a while today if you have time.”

“I always have time for you. There’s much for us to discuss.”

Nurisha’s brow knitted, staring into her eyes. The same kindness she’d always projected was there, but there was more: an imperceptible foreboding or trepidation. She couldn’t discern which. Chaween’s aura usually emitted the warmest of energies. Something was different, and she couldn’t sense her essence as distinctly as she always had.

Before she could respond, Druehox cleared his throat. “Pardon, Chaween, my mother is in need of one of your poultices.”

“Is that so? All right, young Druehox, I’ve got some in soak now. Tell me what ails your mum and I’ll get what you need.”

“I didn’t mean to interrupt. Nurisha was before me.”

Chaween waved dismissively. “No worries. I’ll get what you need so that you can get back to your mum. Then I can visit with ‘Risha for a bit.” She smiled at her again, squeezing Nurisha’s hand. “Think you can fix us some tea so we can talk, my dear?”

When Nurisha returned with the tea and biscuits, Chaween was seated on a divan in the corner, cleaning an old clepsydra water clock. The melody she was humming made Nurisha smile, recalling it from her early childhood. That song and the way that Chaween hummed it, reminded Nurisha of her mother.

“Yemojan’s Cradle,” Nurisha said, setting the tray on the table.

“You remember. That’s good. Your mum always loved that one.”

“Of course, I do. Mum sang that to me every night and sometimes in the morning, too. She loved that song.”

“Aye, she did. Esmel loved you, ‘Risha. Not many ‘round like your mum and da anymore. Now, c’mon and have a seat, so we can talk.”

Nurisha stepped forward, and then glanced around the room. “Has Druehox gone?”

“Not soon enough. That one is a menace, ‘Risha, and up to no good. Don’t trust him.”

“What’s wrong? Has something happened?”

“Not yet, but don’t trust him. He’s just waiting for a chance, that’s all. Biding his time.”

“Ma-ween, you’re worrying me. Have you seen something?”

“Not enough. Don’t need the sight to know what’s in his heart and mind. He fancies you for sure. However, his envy and resentment are what trouble me. You’re not like the other lasses ‘round here, ‘Risha. He’s used to having what he wants when he wants it. But you see him as he truly is. The Tomić men don’t take rejection well: not the father or the sons. Just mind yourself with that one.”

“I will, Ma-ween, I promise.”

“Good. Now tell me what’s ailing you?”

“Da insisted that I have you look at my wrist.”

“Let’s have a look, then. Has it been troubling you?” she asked, sliding her spectacles up.

“Well, the birthmark’s been itching for a while, and—and—”

“Oh, come on now, child. You can tell your Ma-ween. How else am I to tend you if I don’t know what’s wrong?”

Nurisha nodded, reluctantly sliding back her sleeve.

“Gracious me!” Chaween grabbed a magnifier from the table, inspecting the birthmark and surrounding area. “How long has it looked like this?”

“A few weeks or so. It—it started…well…kind of shimmering, I guess. But it only itches most of the time, and…and it’s spreading, too.”

“Last time you were here, it was less than half this size. Marks of birth don’t grow, ‘Risha, or shine, for that matter.” She pointed. “Hand me that box with the red jar sticking out of it and we’ll take a closer look.”

After spreading an oily black substance over Nurisha’s wrist, Chaween whispered a series of words Nurisha hadn’t heard before. She then lifted a red taper from the table, allowing the paraffin to drip down onto the mark.

Nurisha clenched her eyes, bracing for the burn that would surely follow. When she felt only a cooling sensation, she reopened them, gazing down in wonder.

The whole of her wrist and hand were aglow with shimmering waves of heat or energy rippling down towards her fingertips. When she raised her hand, a slight spark emitted from her fingers, causing her to jerk back in response.

“What—what is it, Ma-ween? What’s wrong with my hand?”

“Nothing that needs fixing. It’s just the ointment and wax mixing that caused the reaction.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, examining it closely.

“I am. Tell me: have you ever been to Solluna?”

“Solluna? It’s east of Keir, isn’t it?”

“It is. Solluna lies between Keir and Matryohn Wood.”

When Nurisha’s eyes widened, Chaween nodded.

“There’s a small cobbler shop located in the northeast corner near the mouth of the Matryohn Wood.” She paused, digging through the box and pulling out a small, rolled piece of vellum with a wax seal.

“Ask for Tryn Kasia, and give her this. She’ll have the answers you seek.”

“Answers? I can’t just leave for Solluna. Da would never allow me to travel so far alone. What’s going on, Ma-ween? Is something wrong with my wrist?”

“All things are as they should be. There are questions in your heart that have yet to reach your mind. Don’t worry, ‘Risha, your Da will allow it, especially if Aljoša accompanies you.”

Nurisha blushed, attempting to keep the smile from her face. Aljoša had been her best friend since they were children. He was also the first and only fellow she had permitted to kiss her. It was only once, and over quickly. Still, it happened, and she felt the same butterflies in her stomach now as she had then.

“Come, my child, let’s get you a salve for your wrist and some pinacate for your Da.”

“How do you always know?”

“‘Cause I sense what’s there beyond what’s said. The vibrations of energy surrounding us reveals more than you can see and hear, ‘Risha. You needs to be coming more often to learn what I got to teach. Just remember: the sight is more than what your eyes perceive. Those images, colors, and patterns are reflections of what we’re taught to see. True sight lies within your heart and mind. Once you embrace what’s felt, beyond what’s known, then you’ll truly see. A dream is but a vision of all things that were, and many that will be.”

“I don’t understand, Ma-ween.”

“By the time your next vision comes to you, you will.”

 Xavion

The distant clamor from the Kumasi port faded into the background as Xavion hoisted his heavy haversack over his shoulder. His back ached from unloading the haul for delivery throughout the kingdom. It was arduous work, but he enjoyed being out on the open sea, and most of all the way his favorite young lasses greeted him upon his return. He smiled, considering Siobhan awaiting him at the Sea Winch tavern. Unlike the tap houses at the dock, the Sea Winch touted a higher standard in not only the selection of bevvies, but also the women.

“Oy! Xon! Oy!”

Xavion paused, noticing Qawiun running to catch up with him. His smile was immediate, as he turned, walking over to greet him. Qawiun was like an older brother to him. His parents had raised Xavion, and they were closer than Qawiun was to his biological siblings. In many ways, they looked like brothers as well. Both stood over six-foot-two inches tall, and their work kept them well-toned and muscled. Except for Xavion’s dark brown eyes and copper complexion, they appeared much the same. Linzi, Qawiun’s mother, always mentioned how much Xavion favored his father. He only hoped to be as good a man as he’d heard that he had been. Well, after he’d had his fill and his fun, of course. Great men weren’t created overnight; it was a process, and he was enjoying it.

Although he was pleased to see Qawiun, it could only mean one thing: his plans with Siobhan might have to wait.

“I didn’t think I’d ever find you,” Qawiun said, pulling him in for a quick hug. “If not for Capt. Coburn, I’d still be at the dock.”

“Well, if I’d known you were coming to meet me, I would’ve waited for you. For now, I need to check on Kuro.” He smiled. “And visit with Siobhan. It’s been three months, after all. I hate to leave a lady in wait.”

Qawiun laughed, clapping him on his shoulder. “No worries. I’ve kept an eye on your horse, and your lass. However, the former is more loyal than the latter. Mayhaps you should let the other lads know that Siobhan is yours. She certainly doesn’t behave that way when you’re off acting like some common lumper.”

“As long as they know their place once I arrive in Kumasi. Can’t blame a lass for earning her keep.”

“Speaking of,” Qawiun said. “Mum sent me and Damali over to get you. She’s been worried you wouldn’t return in time.”

“Damali? Where’s she at now? You didn’t leave her at the Sea Winch alone, did you?”

“That sea water must be affecting your memory, Xon. Since when has Damali not been able to handle herself? Hell, she bested Parsa before we left Galbraith, and still gave me a lickin’ as well. She’s a tough one, always has been.”

“I’m not arguing that. It’s just not proper to leave her unattended. Folks in these parts ain’t too keen on how to treat a lady. C’mon, Kuro can wait. We need to check on Damali.”

Before they even reached the Sea Winch, the chaos inside was evident. There was the usual music and drunkards, but the whoops and shouts caused them to quicken their pace. After stepping over a few unfortunate men nursing their wounds, they rushed through the doors. Qawiun’s mouth gaped as Xavion laughed aloud, dropping his haversack on the floor.

Damali arched her three-bladed urumi above her head, perched atop one rogue, her boot at his throat, while her dagger edged in the groin of another. When she noticed them enter, she smiled, her right leg coming around with a kick, sending the man careening into the wall. When the other one tried to rise, she stomped him in the groin, and then coiled the urumi back around her waist.

“Xon!” she said, rushing over and pulling him down for a hug. “It’s about time you showed up. We’ve been waiting for two days now.”

“That explains the men out in the streets. I should’ve known that was your doing, Damali.”

“Those weren’t my doing; they were getting too fresh with Siobhan and got tossed out. Now, those over there,” she motioned, and then rested a hand on her hip. After scanning the surrounding tables, Damali picked up a heavy mug, draining its contents. Once it was empty, she aimed, sending it flying across the room, contacting one of the men in the forehead. As he crashed on the floor next to his friend, she winked. “Some folk don’t know how to stay down.”

“Not to worry,” Damali said to the gentleman at the table. “I’ll buy you another one. Good stuff, it was.”

Qawiun shook his head, pulling out a chair for his sister. Once seated, he leaned in, whispering. “Parsa was up in Kalvgah a fortnight ago. You’ll need to visit soon, Xon. Things are happening quickly now. You need to get serious about this and stay inland. We need you here, not off at some bordello in the Seventh Kingdom.”

“Parsa was there?” Xon asked. “Did he see her?”

“She hasn’t changed much,” Qawiun said. “She’s still stunning, Xon, and formidable.”

“Not fair that you lot get to do all the traveling,” Damali said. “I’d like to see Nurisha, too. It’s been a year since I’ve been able to go.”

Xavion listened to their banter while sliding his glove off his hand. The mark on his palm shimmered, releasing a short burst of energy. Closing his eyes, he envisioned Nurisha, until her image was clear in his mind. He did so often of late, especially when he was abroad. However, when Xavion returned to the Fifth Kingdom, their connection amplified. Nurisha was beautiful, and he couldn’t wait until he could be with her as he was always meant to be.

“She’s with her Da, now,” Xavion said, relinquishing the connection. “We can leave at noonday on the morrow.”

“Noonday,” Damali protested.

“It has been three months, you know.” Xavion gestured over to Siobhan. “It’s going to be a long night.”

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