In this second installment of The Admiralty Archives, the warrior Lady Alexin, the Keeper of the Keys for the Elf realm of Eledon, finds herself exiled to the harsh world of near-future London. Rendered little more than a political pawn by the Elfin Council of Elders to avoid a war with the Rock Elves, she has little choice but to struggle to find her way in this strange new land. Taken under the protection of kindly mentors, Vice Admiral Malcolm Teller of the British Royal Navy and his wife, Alex brings all her skills to the fore as she uncovers a series of deadly plots.
Murder is on everyone’s mind as an underground White Supremacist organization takes aim at Admiral Teller while two wizards, resurrected from death, must kill Alex in order to survive. To make matters worse, the Rock Elves dispatch a hundred assassins from Eledon with their sole mission to bring Lady Alexin to the very… Edge of Death.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Writing fantasy novels are Joni Parker’s passion. She’s completed two series so far: “The Seaward Isle Saga” and “The Chronicles of Eledon.” Her latest series, “The Admiralty Archives, is a three-book series that begins with the “Curse of the Sea.” The second book is called “Edge of Death” and the third will be finished next year. In addition to her novels, Joni enjoys writing short stories and has contributed two stories to the anthology, “Beyond Tucson: Adventures in the Multiverse” with her writing group. Joni retired from the U.S. Navy and the Department of Homeland Security and currently resides in Tucson, Arizona with her sister.
An unusual sound caught her attention and she gazed out the sunroof of the black limousine. It was a helicopter. Or a chopper. A helo—whatever they called it. Alex leaned her head back and sighed. What was it doing here? It wasn’t part of the motorcade. Over the past few weeks, she’d seen a lot of them flying in and out of Portsmouth’s Royal Naval Base in southern England. The Royal Marines had told her about them. This one hovered way too close. The pilots smiled and waved at her, so she waved back. Friendly, she thought, at first. But why were they wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day? Her instincts told her something wasn’t right. Who were these men? Assassins? Why were they waving at me? The hairs on the back of her neck rose as she thought of the worst-case scenario. The helo was going to attack them.
She nudged Leftenant Nelson of the British Royal Navy—the red-haired, fair-skinned man raised his chin, but his eyes remained fixed on the screen of his mobile. He played a video game to pass the time.
“Wait.” The young officer pushed the buttons with his thumbs and stared intensely at the small screen. The car crashed and the game ended. “Damn it!” He shook his fist and gritted his teeth. “I can’t get past this level. What in the bloody hell do you want?” He pulled his ear buds out and turned sharply; his eyes narrowed—his anger still prevailing.
“Sorry, but why is that helicopter flying so low?” Alex pointed up. She had learned one thing about the mortal world—it could be dangerous here.
“It’s just a traffic helicopter, looking for accidents on the highway.”
“So why are those men wearing sunglasses? It’s cloudy out.”
“They’re pilots—they think it makes them look cool.” He waved his hand dismissively and went back to his game.
“Good.” Alex felt relieved. Her instincts were wrong. No need to worry. This was normal. Since that night she was supposed to return home to Eledon, but couldn’t, she wasn’t quite sure what was normal and what wasn’t here in the mortal world. She relived the scene, repeating in her head on an endless loop and clenched her jaw. Lord Fissure of the Rock Elves had threatened to kill her grandfather if she tried to return home—and the sneer on his face told her that he’d won.
The man was so close she could smell garlic on his breath. Still invisible, she touched the key to his nose. He recoiled, shook his head, and touched his nose, where a bright red spot spread across his face. Then the man grabbed his chest and collapsed. Seconds later, he stopped breathing.
Oh, yeah. Alex raised her eyebrows.
The second scout called out from behind. Alex froze. As a precaution, he fired a volley of bullets in her direction, hitting the tree. Although she could feel the impact, she remained in place and uninjured. He ran up and checked on his friend, only to find him dead. Alex touched the key to the back of his head. Instantly, his face turned red and he clutched his chest and fell over…dead.
Alex stripped a Kevlar vest off one of the men, sliding it over her head and noticed the tattoos on his neck—lightning bolts and the Celtic cross, symbols of the 23rd Infantry, the white supremacists. The same group who’d tried to kill the Admiral before. She grimaced and stashed their handguns in her waistband, then grabbed the assault rifles and an ammo belt. With the rifles safely over her shoulder, she returned to the stone wall and tossed the key near her pouch to become visible once more.
Leftenant Nelson turned to her. “Where’d you go?”
“I got some weapons from those men on the left.”
“Alex, tell me what you’re going to do before you do it.” The Captain’s voice growled low and his eyes narrowed.
Alex ignored him—he would have just told her, ‘no.’ He didn’t believe in her magic. She pulled the pistols from her waistband and took off the Kevlar vest. “Admiral, put this on. It’s body armor.”
“Excellent, but does it come in another color? Black hasn’t been so lucky for me.”
“I’m fine, Millie. It’s been a tough morning. On the way back from Portsmouth, we were attacked by some men from the 23rd Infantry. They’re getting more daring, I must say.”
“God, no! Malcolm, were you hurt?” She looked him over.
“No one on our side was hurt, thanks to the young lady I brought along.”
“I told you about her when I called. She helped us recover those men from the naval exercise I was in charge of—Hunter Dawn 2031.”
“Yes, but you told me she was going back to wherever she came from. Didn’t they show up?”
“They did, but she wasn’t allowed back.”
“Well, it’s hard to explain. She wasn’t allowed back because of…the Rock Elves. She’s a Water Elf and they claim that she’s been a lethal threat to them.”
Millie stared at him; her dark brown eyes wide. “She’s dangerous? And you brought her here? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wanted to tell to you in person.”
“Malcolm, what are you saying? I’m confused.” She sat back and stared at him.
He squeezed her hands in his. “Let me start over. Do you remember I told you about the young girl who brought the sailors home in a wizard’s ship?”
“Yes, of course. She was arrested and put on trial but you had the Ministry drop all the charges.” Her eyes grew large. “Why?”
“It’s the same girl. She’s the reason why I went to Portsmouth.”
“What?” Her eyes flashed with anger.
“It’s not what you think, Millie. She told me that the sailors were going to arrive in Portsmouth on the fall equinox and once they came back, she could go home.”
“You just said they came back.”
“They did, but she wasn’t allowed to leave.” He took another deep breath. “She’s a real Elf, Millie. She doesn’t understand our world, even though she’s already stopped four assassination attempts on me, if you include this morning.”
“Malcolm, I’m not naïve. Tell me the truth.”
“I am. Please just meet her and let her stay here for a while. She’s due a lot of reward money and once she gets that, she can find a place of her own. Please, Millie. She saved my life. It’s the least I can do.”
Millie’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Malcolm. I don’t know.”
It is said that dreams are just that: only dreams. But believe me, this is not always true. Some dreams are as real as the dreamer.
Thanks to their dreams, dreamers can receive the special visit of eternal wisdom that has inspired the creativity of great inventors, scientists, musicians, and even writers throughout the ages.
This creative wisdom is not always the type that appears to the eager conscience. Sometimes, a Defiler, a destroyer of dreams, is the one who tries to appear before the dreamer. These creatures were once humans, but they allowed their pain and desire for revenge to take over and seek the same miserable fate for the one who dreams.
You must not fear — Dream Guardians, also known as Kelsdrant, will always protect the one who dreams, even with their own life. They are people of flesh and bone, just like you and me, or at least they are on Earth.
The following story is dedicated to the fun, extravagant, and enlightening life of Julian Fox, the Dream Guardian.
Be prepared, dear reader. It is time to dream, laugh, reflect, and even maybe cry.
Welcome to the Land of the Wise Dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J. Miranda is an avid reader, an enthusiastic traveler, and a passionate author. Her great sense of humor and love for nature have granted her a rebellious writing style: her approach describes the adventures of life, but in such a way that each reader can have an individual take on the matter. Her inspiration comes from her curiosity about other countries’ cultures and peculiarities. A few countries in particular which spark her curiosity are Colombia, Italy, Costa Rica, England, Belgium, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Her favorite places to visit are historical sites and museums, locations that allow her to explore important and even overlooked details. She currently lives with her husband in Colombia, but frequently travels to Houston to visit her daughter and son. E.J. Miranda has a degree in tax accounting, but she prefers interacting with people to calculating their taxes. To learn more about her life and work, visit www.ejmiranda.com.
Excerpt: The Fox Family
There is no perfect family. This is a universal truth, but if the imagination of a pair of mischievous minds is added to reality, the result can be an explosive combination that shuts the door to normalcy.
Sonia and William’s marriage is an example of how patience can be extended to the absolute limits. After all, parental love can only tolerate so much nonsense from the ingenuity of their children, especially when they happen to be Julian and Nicholas Fox.
This outlandish story begins at the crazy end of a pleasant vacation. The two brothers, Julian and Nicholas, were enjoying the afternoon heat near the banks of the river that crossed their ranch. They lay in the shade of an enormous tree, listening to the torrent of water as if it were a magical lullaby.
Julian, the eldest, was twenty-one years old. He had just completed his university studies and the memories of experiences with his classmates were still fresh in his mind. Nicholas, the youngest and last of the two children, was twenty years old and he was still studying in college.
They stayed silent for several minutes with their eyes closed, hoping that a miracle would occur and the family vacation would continue for a while longer. But, resigned to returning home in just two days, they decided to make the most of nature’s sweetness.
Nicholas broke the peaceful silence to make an interesting proposal to his brother.
“Hey, Jul! What do you think about the idea of staying another week? We just convince Mom and that’s it. You know that Dad will take our side.”
A slight smile crossed Julian’s lips before he gave his opinion. “Sounds good to me Nico, but when you talk to Mom, even though I support you, I’d rather stay at a safe distance in case she decides to give you one of her maternal speeches about missing classes.”
Nicholas opened his eyes and sought some kind of solidarity in Julian’s face, but Julian was resting peacefully. Annoyed by this, Nicholas closed his eyes in surrender, and told his brother:
“You’re right, I would suffer an eternal telling-off. But, who could blame me? I think we’ve regained our sanity here. We’re almost like angels—no fighting, no insults, and no jokes or pranks.”
He quieted immediately, and bit his lip, feeling sorry for what he had said, but it was too late. Julian’s beautiful gray eyes had become large and full of rage.
Nicholas’s last remark felt like an unpunished mocking memory to Julian. His heart raced and started running towards the inevitable. He felt like demanding they forget about this shameful situation, and even more so, requiring a fair rematch to Nicholas’s last prank. Shrewdly, Julian cautioned self-control to his heart to avoid hinting its intentions to his recently condemned brother. He mastered his instincts and decided to wait. The gray gems hid again, and a slight sideways smirk appeared on his lips, presaging the beginning of a new battle between the brothers.
Nicholas closed his eyes so Julian wouldn’t see the nervousness erupting in them. He knew he had awakened a sleeping monster and, from that moment on, he should be careful.
Maya, a weekend at a hot springs with her boisterous friend Rhondey is just what she needs to move forward after her divorce. For Rhondey, it’s an opportunity to help Maya cut loose a little, shed some of her inhibitions. Maya doesn’t see the need to shed anything, and she’s not looking for a teacher. But the more Maya clings to her privacy, the more difficult it is for her to recognize her true teachers…and the right moment to step free.
Katharine Coldiron’s work has appeared in Ms., the Times Literary Supplement, the Rumpus, the Manifest-Station, horoscope.com, and many other places.
Ten-year-old Brian McKibben is a wanderer. Eight months ago, he wandered into the street and was hit by a truck. Olivia Richards, his newly divorced mother, was accused of neglect by Child Protection Services. She’s doing her best to prove them wrong. Essential oils, a consultation with an herbalist, and an airtight schedule are only some of the things she does to keep Brian safe and help him heal from brain damage caused by the accident.
Her carefully laid plans begin to unravel when it becomes apparent Olivia’s CPS caseworker isn’t the only one watching her. The walls of her Pilates studio seem to have eyes, especially at night. Cryptic messages of death and danger begin showing up in strange places. Someone is stalking her.
Who can she turn to for help? The authorities would inform CPS, and she might never be free of the county’s intrusion in her life. She suspects her ex-husband of using scare tactics to regain custody of their son. Her new relationship is complicated and old suspicions haunt the young mother.
About the Author
Greta Boris was raised in Greenwich Village, New York by an opera singing, piano playing, voice coach and a magazine publisher. Her original life plan was to be a famous Broadway actor, singer, and dancer, but when she moved to Laguna Beach, California, she changed her plans due to the commute. Today she writes to inspire, entertain, motivate, and so she can afford nice wine.
The person, if it was a person—it could have been a large dog, she hadnʹt gotten a good look—lay unmoving where theyʹd left it. Her heart thudded in her chest. What should she do?
Abby couldnʹt leave her cell. Not without help. Her father had wanted to give her an escape hatch, but sheʹd said no. The experience had to be as realistic as possible.
If she could come and go whenever she wanted, it would defeat the whole purpose. But sheʹd never imagined something like this would happen.
Guilt and anxiety itched like a hair shirt. What on earth had possessed her to take six weeks off work to lock herself in these four walls? She hadn’t anticipated this feeling of helplessness. She’d only thought about the peace solitude can bring and her publishing goals, of course. She pushed herself off the stones, walked five steps to the other end of her enclosure, pivoted, and took five steps back. Repeat. Repeat.
Book Excerpt: 2
That should be engraved on her tombstone—a perfect and succinct description of her life. The number of things sheʹd left undone was staggering. She should have let Carlos know where she was going. She didnʹt. She should have said yes, or even no, to his proposal. She didnʹt. Were marriage and children going to fall into the category of things she didnʹt do but would regret later?
She should have gone away to college, escaped the small town labels attached to her family name. But she didnʹt. Sheʹd stayed, and hoped somehow her motherʹs legacy would disappear from the communal memory. It didnʹt.
Her greatest sin of omission, however, the sin that had knocked over the first domino, the one that brought the whole line tumbling down, was ever present in her mind. Sheʹd thought, hoped, and prayed that she could shed the guilt by devoting herself to this time of renewal.
But so far it hadnʹt worked.
Book Excerpt: 3
The irony of her position struck her. She had willingly shut herself into a room with much the same dimensions as this one. It had only one small window, like this one. It had no door, however. But even without a door, sheʹd had freedom.
The anchorites of old willingly consigned themselves to a cell which would eventually become their grave. They had a funeral service before they entered. Yet, they were freer than Abby was now, because it was their choice. Would this room become her grave?
Autonomy. Sheʹd never realized before how beautiful that word was. When one was stripped of the ability to rule themselves, to determine their own fate, didnʹt they cease to exist in some way?
Sunlight streaked the gray floor with gold. By its slant, she guessed it was at least 1:30.
She still had one hour of freedom, one hour to be Abby. She wanted to experience every moment she had left. When the sun reached her and warmed her skin, that would signal the end of her time in this new anchorhold. But she couldnʹt bear to watch the minutes move across the floor. She closed her eyes.
First – The updated version of my debut novel The Rise of Nazilis complete and available on Amazon! If you haven’t journeyed to the fantastical lands of Faélondul, now is the time. The Rise of Nazilearned a Readers’ Favorite award in 2017 and numerous reader awards. Complex characters, epic battles, fierce Desu Beasts, divine Guardians, and a conflict that reaches beyond the physical that will determine the fate of humans and Nazilian alike. Faélondul Awaits!
Second – My new novel Kurintor Nyusi just released! Like my Nazil series, Kurintor Nyusihas the same multi-layered plot style, diverse & relatable characters, both mental and physical battles, and plot twists you won’t see coming. Add an exceptional female protagonist, flawed gods, a tormented priest, new & old magic, and so much more, that encompasses the fantastical Fifth Kingdom. What’s not included that my Nazil series has? That grimdark edge. If you love epic reads to titillate your every receptor, discover the Fifth Kingdom.
Third – I’ve mentioned some upcoming events this year. Below are just the first few that I’ll be attending. However, if you have the time and are in the area, I recommend coming to JordanCon in April. Even if you don’t want to drop by my booth (but why wouldn’t you want to visit me?), JordanConis a family friendly event and my favorite of the year. Great People…Great Con.
Makayla Loveis an aspiring Harley Quinn-esque super villain who has decided to spend her time between nefarious schemes by writing paranormal novels in her lair somewhere in the general Kansas area. She enjoys sit-coms and doesn’t have enough shelf space for her ever multiplying collection of books.
How long have you been writing?
Jeeze, so far back I can hardly remember. It goes all the way back to when I was a little kid sitting in my fifth grade class with a notebook writing Harvest Moon fanfictions. I remember once writing a horror story (albiet a terrible one) and binding it together with cardboard I found around the house and some string. I think I tried to illustrate it with a “how to draw anime” book I had at the time but I might be getting two memories mixed up with that one.
I do remember, though, that in sixth and seventh grade I had this red notebook that I wrote (again) Harvest Moon fanfiction in, and all my friends loved it. They passed it around to each other whenever I finished a new chapter and would beg me to write more. That’s one of my fondest memories of my middle school days, and probably one of my best memories in my life so far. I’ll always be grateful to my friends for that early support.
What is your favorite genre to write?
I actually had this conversation with my husband not that long ago. I dabble in a lot of different ones, but I think horror and romance are my favorites. I say horror and romance, instead of just picking one, because those two are so tightly neck-and-neck for the number one spot that I don’t think I could choose only one. All of my stories, no matter the genre, always have romance because I’m a sappy romantic at heart. But I also feel like a story has a hard time holding my interest if there isn’t some viseral horror in there as well. So the more those two work together the happier I usually am with a project.
Which genre have you never tried before, but would you like to try out?
I’ve never tried straight-up YA. Not YA fantasy, not YA horror, not YA romance (though, again, knowing me it’ll get in there) but like Young Adult-Young Adult. The trials and tribulations of growing up as a kid. I’ve tried to try it before but never really stuck to it, but I keep wanting to stick to it. I think its because I know virtually nothing about the genre besides what I’ve read in other books, and even then I haven’t read that many YA books. I feel like I have this instinctive urge to talk down to them when I know thats rediculous. It might have something to do with the fact that I don’t think I paid any attention at all during my teenage years.
Please tell us about your book.
“Sanctuary” is the second book in the Titanomachy series, which is a steampunk/post-apocolyptic series I’ve written. It follows Shiloh and Rilei Beaumont through their adventures in a war-ravaged future. The culture of the Victorian Era was never given up and was, instead, incorporated into the war between genetics and technology.
Here is the excerpt for Sanctuary:
“Shiloh isn’t adjusting well to her new life in Ironbridge. Life isn’t how she always imagined it would be, and every day is harder than the last.
Things only get worse when a small family on their way to a settlement called “Sanctuary” shows up on Shiloh’s doorstep looking for an escort the rest of the way.
But Sanctuary isn’t all its supposed to be. When they find themselves trapped, every second becomes a fight for survival. Can they find a way out before one of them falls to a mad tyrant? Or will their little group be broken up forever?”
Which character was your favorite, and why? Which character was your least favorite, and why?
Although I know a lot of people probably pick their main character as their favorite, I think my real favorite is Garth. He’s got such emotional depth that I find my heart breaking for him every time I think about his wants and his goals and his hang-ups. Despite how he acts, he’s a beautiful human being and (being the way overly emotional person that I am) I’ve found myself crying for him more than once.
My least favorite is a tie between Hiram Jefferson and Victor Beaumont, which shouldn’t be that surprising given that one of them is the major villain. Neither is completely clean in this story. Neither is really the hero. With them it’s a question of “who is the least at fault here?” because both had a hand in making the world what it is now. They both believe they’re right and won’t give it up, both believe what they’re doing is for the betterment of humanity even as the world collapses around them, and both are willing to sacrifice anything and everything to defeat the other.
What was the hardest part about writing your book?
Keeping things in sequential order. I always have a problem with stories where there’s an overall plan thats kept secret from the main characters, but is fully in the mind of a character I can’t get into the head of. I love them, but they’re a challenge for me to do in a way that I feel is believable. Luckily I managed to make it work in this one, I think.
Another problem I had was Shiloh’s depression. Whether people believe it or not, depression is a real problem child to translate onto paper. Especially when you know that some people might read it who have never felt it before. I had to toe the line between believably depressed and not having her come across as whiny. I feel like that worked too. Otherwise it would still be in the editing phase and not published yet.
What is your writing routine? Are there things you absolutely need to start writing?
My writing routine is fairly simple. I have to write before I go to my day job or else its just not going to happen that day. Half the time its because I come home exhausted and end up going to bed about an hour or two after I eat dinner. I’ve been trying to fix it so that I wake up earlier in the day and have time to work, since I’ve noticed I write better if I do that anyway (even if I have the whole day to write and don’t have to work.)
I need music to work, and that’s usually a challenge because it has to be the right music. Sometimes it has something to do with getting the atmosphere right, and other times it’s just putting my head in the right space to do something worthwhile. I never know what the song is until I found it and sometimes that can be kind of a challenge.
How long did it take you to write your book from start to finish?
“Sanctuary” didn’t take nearly as long as the first book, “The Gilded Cage.” It maybe took a few months to write. I think I finished it in April of last year, and just put off the editing for several months. Truth is I think I halfway forgot I still had to edit it—but once I remembered, I sat down and did it in maybe a couple of months. Maybe less than that. Then I put it out!
Can you tell us about your editing process?
My editing process has gone through something of a metamorphosis since I started publishing again. For a while I did it just reading through the whole thing and using my best judgement, then I tried this app called “Hemmingway App” that goes through and helps you find words that could be better or sentences that sound bad or paragraphs that could be parred down. I liked that app for a while, but it stopped working for me when I had to switch to “OpenOffice” instead of paying for a full subscription to Microsoft WORD (cause at the time we weren’t making the kind of money that would allow something that expensive), so I had to go back to where I started, and that’s where I am now. I just read through the whole thing and pick out things that sound funny to me or that I think I can do better.
Is this book part of a series? If so, how many installments do you have planned?
Yes, “Sanctuary” is the second book in my Titanomachy Series. “The Gilded Cage” is the first.
There’s a very specific reason why I chose to call my series the “Titanomachy” series. In Greek mythology, the “Titanomachy” was a ten-year series of battles fought in Thessaly, consisting of most of the Titans fighting against the Olympians and their allies. My books stretch it out to two centuries and the “Titans” are Hiram Jefferson and Victor Beaumont. I just felt like it really captured the essence for what this series is really about.
Jeeze, I have no idea how many books will be in this series. It’ll probably depend on how many of my ideas for it I can pack into how many books. I’ve been able to work several into the third and fourth books, so there will be at least four, but beyond that we’ll both be surprised!
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t give up! No matter what, keep going! I can’t count how many times I’ve almost given up because it was hard, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Write for yourself and no one else. Tell yourself a great story and worry about the other stuff later. Don’t panner to the popular genre at the time because that changes like the winds, and don’t let self-doubt get you down! I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted on self-doubt.
If you could meet three authors, dead or alive, which authors would you choose?
Edgar Allan Poe
What inspired you to write your book?
This is the second book in my Titanomachy series, and it didn’t occur to me until it was too late that maybe I should’ve done this with the first book (“The Gilded Cage” ) first, but with this book I really wanted to explore the psychological trauma Shiloh experianced thanks to the events of the first book, and how hard it can be to adjust to a new situation when you’ve been sheltered all your life. But, more than anything, I wanted to show someone overcoming that sort of thing.
Are you working on something at the moment? If so, can you tell us more about it?
I’m working on a lot of somethings right now. A couple of one-shot books that aren’t related to any of my series at all, the third book in both the Lost Angels series and the Titanomachy Series (the book after this one), and just toying around with a few other things that probably will never see the light of day.
Finally, after several months of editing and perfecting the manuscript to be exactly how I want it, my new diverse fantasy Kurintor Nyusi is ready for release!
Kurintor Nyusi is a diverse fantasy without my usual grimdark edge. My son has been asking for years to read one of my novels. With that in mind, I wanted to craft a tale that would possess the same depth, multi-layered plot, creative world-building, and exceptional characterization as my previous works, without the more…well…graphic elements that could scar a child for life. He’s only eleven, after all. Kurintor Nyusi delivers that and more!
The official launch date is March 14, 2018. Why? Well, for two outstanding reasons: #1 it’s Albert Einstein’s birthday (my son’s favorite). #2 it’s pie day. PERFECT! No Ides of March for me.
I’ll have links to this fantastic new fantasy soon! You can read an early review from D. Donovan, senior reviewer of Midwest Book Reviews.
Midwest Book Review
“Many epic fantasy reads hold the same familiar trappings: destiny redirects a young life, heritage dictates its obstacles, the protagonist either rebels against or struggles to achieve his birthright, and new abilities come into play to change everything.
Kurintor Nyusi takes a different approach, adopting a focus on protagonist choices in the face of changing circumstances and emphasizing these changing options at different points during the tale.
The battles aren’t just physical confrontations, and they don’t always take place in the arena of a physical world, either. That’s just one powerful piece in a story that winds through threats and arrogance, strong female characters who wield swords and defy death, and one savvy girl’s devotion to her Da and her self.
One strength to note in the course of these events is the language Aaron-Michael Hall employs to describe scenes and characters: “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.” An attention to atmosphere and psychological insights is just one of the strengths that lend a touch of the fantastic to even ordinary scenes and descriptions.
Another strength lies in the story line’s emphasis on developing mental as well as physical prowess. The descriptions of training and battles are well done, as are the explorations of how such training occurs on different levels. These insights influence into other kinds of preparations for survival against all odds: “You have to be aware of your battlefield, Damali,”he lectured, using his cover to mask his position. “There’s more to combat than speed and brute force. Use your mind and harness your true abilities.”
From the loss of parents and the desire to carry on their teachings to unexpected new beginnings “Once the gate closed, Alyelu grinned. “I’ve shattered the mirror, Father, and buried the past. With your death, I’ll truly begin to live.”
Kurintor Nyusi is replete with subplots that cover various forms of choice and transformation.
Wind these elements into an epic fantasy filled with satisfying battles, confrontations with self and others, and changing ties between present, past, and future for a powerful saga especially recommended for epic fantasy fans who like their action-packed stories seasoned with examinations of personal power and how that is cultivated.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
She halted as she heard the call. Recognizing the caller, she resumed her pace.
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
Toronto’s newest homicide detective, Reggie Swann, seemed to have it all: great career, handsome husband and plans to start a family, until she was framed for murder…
A cop has very few friends in prison. After surviving ten brutal years behind bars, Reggie’s conviction is finally overturned thanks to her tenacious mother, a new forensic test and a very clever lawyer. She quickly discovers that getting her old life back won’t be as easy as she hoped. To many, she was still as the media had dubbed her: ‘Black Swann – murderer and cop-gone-bad’. The Toronto Police Department still considers her to be a suspect, Reggie’s husband has remarried and the real killer is still on the loose.
Before Reggie can return to Toronto and solve the crime that ruined her life, she reluctantly agrees to investigate a murder in her home town of Penticton, only to discover the two cases which are separated by ten years and five provinces might somehow be connected. Will anyone believe the wild theories of the disgraced detective?
The real murderer does. He framed her once, this time Reggie Swann must die!
Canadian author, Wayne Kerr, was born and raised in the small town of Biggar, Saskatchewan (New York is big, but this is Biggar). He married his high school sweetheart, Marlene, thirty-nine years ago and has lived happily ever since. They resided in the United States for the past twenty years, but recently returned to Canada and now call the beautiful Okanagan region of British Columbia home. The writer honed his story-telling skills while keeping his five younger siblings and later his daughter entertained during long cold winters. When not reading or writing thrillers, Wayne is probably hiking, biking or playing tennis.