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Long ago, magic cracked apart the world and suspended great continents between two suns. But the ebb and flow of human history continues. Trade and war cross the void on dragon wings. Great empires rise and topple…
As the rightful heir to one such fallen state, Drinith has known only exile, dashed hope, and constant threat. She has so far eluded the murderous intentions of the tyrant Magian the Infinite thanks to the prophetic visions of the oracle, Quiescat, but his power is failing. All he can glimpse in the future now is his own death.
An assassin’s blade forces her into a desperate gamble. She takes her one final chance to secure the ally she so desperately needs. But at the end of her journey, she’ll find deceit, betrayal, and murder. And she’ll learn Magian isn’t the only threat to her people.
Fatal Shadow is the first of six books in the Champions of Fate epic fantasy series for those readers who enjoy fast-paced action, intriguing characters, and imaginative world-building.
The ebook is now available on Amazon HERE. Check out the prequel short story No Escape.
Two of my ebooks, A Bright Power Rising and No Escape, are available FREE as part of this great giveaway running until the 28th Feb. Sign up to my email and you get both (and links to other free stories as well). Make sure to check out the giveaway HERE. I’m sure you’ll find something to interest you!
(You can find Chapter 1 HERE.)
A high-pitched cry pierced Quiescat’s heart. In the instant he took to react, Gelasin had flung the door open and disappeared through it. Quiescat stumbled after him into the corridor.
Anxious faces peered through opening doors. A stranger, claret-skinned and yellow-eyed, stepped into the hall, naked save for his rapier. Another assassin. Quiescat froze.
The man arched a hairless eyebrow. “It’s me, Halyard.” He pointed to a pair of interlocked emblems tattooed in yellow on his chest. One of them, an alerion taking flight, belonged to his lover; the other, a peridexion tree, must be his own. Below them was a straight, bright scar. Stripped of his fine clothes and makeup, the courtesar was all but unrecognizable. He looked a much older man, particularly with his cropped pate. His signature feathery coiffure was clearly a wig. The absence of his platform shoes was likewise telling, robbing him of both real and figurative stature.
The gray-blue lowlander, Zin, burst from the opposite room in full armor, sword in one hand, dagger in the other. A murderous grin was set in the diamond of laughter lines between the sharp nose and prominent chin of his long, scrawny face. His black hair was even neatly tied back. Gelasin must have forewarned him, but not the courtesar, for some reason.
The far end of the corridor filled with the echoey thuds of rushing palace guards, arrived much too late.
“You all wait here!” Gelasin growled as he dashed into Drinith’s room. Zin’s grin slid away as he staggered to a halt. Quiescat slipped between him and Halyard and followed Gelasin inside.
The fault for this debacle lay with Quiescat, not Gelasin. Quiescat shouldn’t have let the warrior sway him. Fighting and killing was the limit of Gelasin’s understanding. He respected only killers like Zin and couldn’t countenance following anyone who didn’t share his infatuation with violence. The supposed wiser man had heeded the counsel of a bloodthirsty old fool.
Jarma stood by the bed, her face stretched with horror, a bloody axe dangling from her hand. Quiescat followed her dazed stare to where the princess lay. Gelasin’s crouched back obscured everything except her bare feet. Quiescat seized the warrior’s shoulder to pull him out of the way. Gelasin swung around and punched him so hard he flew backward across the room, smacking the wall. He kept upright despite his stupefaction. His nose throbbed with raw pain. Rivulets of blood tickled his lips and chin.
“You damned lunatic!” Quiescat spluttered.
“Sorry,” Gelasin said with a casual shrug. “Force of habit. My reflexes are honed to react instantaneously to uninvited contact.”
Scowling, Quiescat sought his handkerchief and delicately pressed it to his nose. “I’m sure it’s broken,” he observed sullenly.
“Shall I just let Drinith bleed while I set it for you? A simple procedure. I’ll just hold your beak between my hands and twist—”
“Of course not,” said Quiescat, taken aback. Trust Gelasin to make him feel contemptible despite being the victim of his fist. “How bad is she?”
Gelasin examined the wound for an unbearable length of time before he set about treating it. “She’s fine. The cut’s superficial.” He shifted to reveal the princess’s blood-spattered face. Too weak to speak, she wore a brave grin to confirm Gelasin’s assertion—and to conceal her distress from her companions. Quiescat’s relief numbed the sting of his injury.
Gelasin picked up the assassin’s blade. “Yeah, she’s fine—as long as the blade was clean. He looks like he’s from our home shard.”
Still holding the handkerchief to his stinging nose, Quiescat strode over to the headless corpse. Kneeling stiffly, he examined it. He turned one hand over to discover a tattoo on its palm: five white stars arranged in a circle. “His order doesn’t resort to poison.” The pentaculars never needed to. They always killed their quarry by dint of sheer determination and brute strength. “And they’re not from Rhumgad. They’re local.” He warned Gelasin off interrogating him with a shake of his head. The motion made his nose hurt worse.
An officer pushed his way through the onlookers walling the doorway. Beneath his massive finned helmet, his face blushed violet. “Is the princess injured?” he piped.
“She’ll live,” Gelasin sneered.
“The Aether Emperor must be informed.”
“Disturb your master’s sleep if you must, but the princess has already dealt effectively with the threat—as any fool can plainly see.” The officer, top lip twitching, let the effrontery pass.
“We’ll need a new bedchamber for her, obviously,” Gelasin added. “Take care of that, won’t you?”
The officer spun on his heels and elbowed his way through the sea of gawkers. Gelasin bounded after him and herded them across the threshold. Quiescat’s acolyte, Abecedar, squeezed inside before the warrior slammed the door, his dark eyes bugging more than usual as they darted about the room.
“Master, you’re hurt! How?” He reached for the bloody handkerchief Quiescat pressed to his nose.
“No need to concern yourself.” Smiling, he gently brushed Abecedar’s hand away. “It was an accident. Right, Gelasin?” He shot his rival a condemning glance.
“Hey, I said I was sorry.”
Clutching a bed sheet around her with one hand, Jarma still held the axe in the other. Her red and gold wig leaned precariously to one side. A shred of dried glue marked her forehead where her paste jewel had been located. She looked lost and a little annoyed. She had reason to be. Distracted by Drinith’s injury, everyone had forgotten the poor girl.
“Are you okay?” Quiescat reached out to reassure her, but she flinched from his touch. The axe slipped from her fingers and clattered against the floor. Abecedar stumbled over it and threw his arms around her. She didn’t hesitate to reciprocate his consoling hug. Quiescat did his best to suppress a smile. Would she be so eager for his attention after Abecedar succeeded him? Many people dreaded the Oracle of Godsdoor more than any assassin. They feared the truth he possessed, even those who sought to learn it. His temple had been razed during Drinith’s infancy, and the only future he could now glimpse was his end, but the mystique of his position still daunted most folk—except Gelasin. To him, the oracle, like the princess, was just another weapon to wield in his personal war against Magian the Infinite. But then, the warrior appeared to fear nothing, not even death.
“You never said she’d be wounded,” Gelasin carped.
“I warned you of the dangers.”
The rawness of Quiescat’s indignation surprised Gelasin. Quiescat hadn’t foreseen Drinith’s wounding and his unease about Gelasin’s scheme had been vague at best. As his powers waned, the seer clung even tighter to the illusion of omniscience. Yes, the great Oracle of Godsdoor had degenerated into a petty street conjurer dependent on deception and sleight of hand to keep a step ahead of the other vagrants.
Gelasin pressed: “You never said—”
“If I had, would you—”
“Enough.” The disconcerting faintness of Drinith’s voice silenced him. Her feeble effort to rise drew everyone to her. Even with Gelasin and Abecedar supporting her, she looked as though she might collapse at any moment.
“Sit on the bed,” Gelasin urged.
She shook her head as she pressed a hand to her bandaged wound. “Take me from here,” she said, desperation edging her voice. “Somewhere I can wash away this bloody mess.”
“You’re crying.” It took Quiescat a moment to realize Jarma was talking to him. “I’ve never seen tears shine so,” she added. Gelasin and Drinith likewise looked upon him with keen interest.
Abecedar, meanwhile, regarded his master with a predatory leer. He knew what these tears meant: another prophecy had come to pass, another step nearer Quiescat’s end—and, with it, the passing of his oracular power to his sole acolyte. Poor misguided fool! It was too late to warn him. He had already committed his life to the pursuit of the gift. He wouldn’t listen any more than Quiescat had in his day.
“Don’t weep for me,” Drinith said. “I’ll be fine.”
Quiescat mirrored her wan smile and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He must relinquish his ability to his acolyte, or it would die with him. Drinith needed oracular protection and Quiescat was spent, a husk of a man who couldn’t see beyond his impending death. But was Abecedar ready for this terrible burden?
Fatal Shadow is available for pre-order on Amazon.
(You can find Chapter 1 HERE.)
The clamminess of the dagger’s hilt itched Drinith’s palm as she waited behind the door for the man coming to murder her. She felt none of the readiness Gelasin had claimed to see in her. Stripped of her mail shirt, her tunic felt flimsy. Her heart leapt wildly at every swoop and swoon of the wind beyond the palace.
Another young woman with a cloud of red and gold hair, her living reflection, lay in her bed, creating an eerie sense of disembodiment. The candlelight made the cyan gem shine like a star against the green-black night of her forehead. A sheet of red silk molded around her sprawled body, drawing the eye with its vulnerable nakedness. Beneath the massive pillows, however, the girl held an axe.
How could her handmaid, Jarma, display such remarkable calm knowing all the while an assassin drew near? She had disguised herself as Drinith so that the assassin would assume it was she who lay in the bed. If only Drinith could check her nerves as easily her friend and quell the flutter in the pit of her stomach. If she failed this test, both of their lives would be forfeit. It would have been easier to face the assassin alone.
This scheme was the height of folly. She should have never agreed to it.
But it was too late now to send Jarma away. The bright yellow light spilling through the long windows had already darkened to the burnt orange gloom of a Crevast night. The assassin could arrive at any moment.
Her whole body reverberated with the urgent throbbing of her heart. She needed to calm down. She practiced her moves—her dance, as Gelasin dubbed it.
Something flickered in the corner of her eye; a pair of curved shadows bit into the stripe of light beneath the doorway before it disappeared. She held her breath as the handle silently rotated downward. She stepped back as the door gently swung open with nary a creak. Her heart thumped so loudly in the silence an absurd panic gripped her lest her would-be murderer should hear as he drifted into the room with all the softness of a shadow. Hunched and cowled, he raised a stiletto in his left hand, its needle-like blade pointing downward, ready to strike the sleeping girl.
The multiple shifting shadows of the dagger cast by the encircling candles crept up the blood-red silk to close on Jarma’s chest like the hooked fingers of a massive claw. Still feigning repose, she shifted slightly, sighing softly. If Drinith didn’t strike now, it would be the last sound her friend ever made. Tightening her damp grip on her knife, she plunged forward.
Alerted by her soft intake of breath, the assassin swerved around. His knife flicked upward as he swallowed the gap between them in a single precise leap. He stabbed twice with the whole force of his body where her torso should have been, but she had already swerved clear. He swept the blade after her, but she had stepped inside its arc and clamped her arm over his elbow. She had no time to savor the chagrin, briefly betrayed by the candlelight, on his blue-black face. His second dagger flicked out at her from beneath his arm like a striking snake, but she was ready for it. He yowled as she drove her knife through his hand, impaling it into his forearm, forcing him to drop his weapon. Her blade had penetrated deeper than she had intended; she had only meant to cripple his hand. She yanked her knife free and drove it at his neck, chasing the moment of victory Quiescat had foreseen. The assassin slapped at her with his wounded hand. He twisted clear and jammed his knee into her stomach. Winded, she lost hold of his arm, but she fastened onto it again before it could slip free. Bright pain jabbed her side. Ignoring his bloody slaps, she stabbed his arm three times, cracking bone, snapping the tip of her blade. She threw herself upon him with a violent roar. Her dagger made a loud crunch as it rammed into his chest. As he flopped back, the blade pulled her forward and she toppled with him. The floor slammed her blade deeper, sinking it all the way to the hilt. She rolled off him as Jarma dropped her axe on him. Blood spurted from the assassin’s neck as his severed head rolled across the floor. It came to a stop at an awkward angle, gazing up at Drinith in bewilderment until the last vestige of life drained away.
Warm blood greased Drinith’s tunic. She assumed it was all her assailant’s until a sharp pain in her side reminded her otherwise.
Continue to CHAPTER 3.
Fatal Shadow is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Seven assassins, foiled by the watchfulness of the princess’s retinue, had previously failed to kill Drinith of Kaplar. Now, somewhere in the palace of her host, the Aether Emperor, an eighth crept unchecked toward her bedchamber. In a premonition, Quiescat had seen the man flitting between shadows in dimly lit corridors as he moved inexorably nearer her door, his bland, blue-black countenance rigid with concentration, the blade of his dagger as black and cruel as his purpose. Quiescat had already witnessed every blow of the impending struggle. He had seen her standing blood-spattered over the corpse of her would-be killer. But the vision gave Quiescat little comfort. The child he had raised from a baby was about to face a consummate killer in single combat, and the exiled Oracle of Godsdoor could do nothing but wait and pray his prescience proved true.
Slouched in his seat, wringing his sweaty hands, he stared at the dragon amber tiles covering the bedroom floor. He was only vaguely aware of the Crevast, the void between worlds, howling for his attention beyond the long glass windows. The aging warrior, Gelasin, couldn’t be ignored so easily. Quiescat kept glancing up at that tense knot of bone and sinew wrapped in drum-tight green-black skin and battered armor. His lean mouth always verged on an insolent smile, owing to the rugged, matte black scars in his cheeks where his honor tattoos should have been. Leaning against the wall, his arms folded, he appeared to be the very embodiment of smug indifference.
“How can you stay so damnably calm?” Quiescat whispered. “Our princess’s life is in danger.”
Gelasin arched an amused eyebrow. “I have faith in you,” he said with a whiff of sarcasm. “And I’ve faith in her. She must prove to her prospective subjects and allies that her right to rule extends beyond an accident of birth. Thanks to you, she’s ready for the assassin’s every move. She faces more of a dance than a battle.”
Quiescat snorted. “Don’t thank me. I never should have agreed to this escapade.”
Gelasin’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not questioning your vision, are you?”
“No.” Quiescat massaged the aching stiffness in the back of his neck. He knew his prevision was true.
Unfolding his arms, Gelasin straightened. “Are you certain she’s safe this time? The sequence of moves I worked out with her is specific to the attack you described, down to the wielding hand the assassin favors. She’s not wearing her mail shirt precisely because, according to your vision, it was an unnecessary burden. If you’re wrong…” He gripped the hilt of his sheathed dagger and stared at the door. His whole body compressed as if ready to pounce toward it.
The sudden tension in his demeanor tempted a smile from Quiescat. The renegade, having so often pooh-poohed his misgivings in the past, now turned to him for reassurance. “She will win. The vision is certain.”
Relaxing, Gelasin folded his arms and rested back against the wall, but he kept glancing at the door. “It wasn’t just symbolic or something?”
“It wasn’t allegorical,” Quiescat said wearily. He missed the ambiguity of cryptic dreams, but such things were the poetry of youth. His prophetic glimpses had turned prosaic long ago. Since Godsdoor’s fall, his visions had become limited to fixed points nailed into a dark and uncertain future. After tonight, only one would remain: the moment of his death. It, too, drew close. He had replayed it so many times, it no longer inspired fear, but only a gnawing sense of loss and failure. He could see nothing beyond it. It might be a blessing. Never mind the recovery of her throne; the odds were stacked against Drinith’s very survival, and he didn’t want to contemplate her death.
Could his prophetic insight fail? Could she die tonight? Prescience was a fickle gift, prone to misinterpretation. No, he couldn’t be mistaken. She still lived in his final vision. Unless her presence was an illusion, a trick of some kind, the sort Fate loved to play.
Gelasin pursed his lips. “She’s not alone. Jarma’s in there with her. Between the two of them… you saw Drinith kill him.”
Quiescat winced, nodded.
“I slew my first man when I was fourteen,” Gelasin said. “Drinith’s almost nineteen.”
Quiescat shook his head in disgust. “I’m nearly fifty and I’ve never killed anyone.” That is, not in hand-to-hand combat. Quiescat had caused far more deaths than the warrior ever had or would. His prognostications had divided families, started wars, pitted kingdoms and empires against each other. Yes, his words had possessed the power to kill until the tyrant Magian the Infinite had driven him from his temple.
Gelasin gestured with his forefinger and thumb at the pits in his cheeks. He smiled. In the dull light, they became two jagged black holes in his face. “You didn’t get what once adorned these cheeks until you had killed in the service of the Emperor of Kaplar.”
When Quiescat first encountered Gelasin, the warrior had scorned that same emperor. He had deigned to join Drinith’s retinue only because his detestation of Magian eclipsed even his hatred of her father, Hemrath. The subsequent years as her protector had inspired a change of heart, a nostalgia for the life he had forsaken, and a fierce loyalty to the heir of his former liege. It made his reckless urgency to thrust her in harm’s way even more infuriating.
The fault didn’t lie with Gelasin. He acted according to his nature. Quiescat could have stopped this. He should have. He still could.
“I weary of this,” he declared, slapping his hands on the armrests.
A sudden clamor from the neighboring bedchamber transfixed him mid-rise. His fingers dug into the padded leather, but he remained frozen in a pained hunch, terrified that anything he did, no matter how slight, might sabotage his vision as his princess fought for her life.
Fatal Shadow is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Read Chapter 2 HERE.
I’m giving away A Bright Power Rising as part of the Make A Magical Wish giveaway on Story Origin. There are plenty of SF and fantasy books to cater for all tastes so please check it out using this LINK. If there’s anything that grabs your fancy, all you need do is sign on to the author’s newsletter.
I got my edits from my editor for Fatal Shadow. It’s a slow and painful process working through them. Even though the draft was quite clean (I had already put it through Prowritingaid and Grammarly) it came back with quite a few edits! I must say my editor did a fantastic job. I did a quick sweep through them to eliminate all the no-brainers and now I’m going through the remainder, chapter by chapter, page by page, line by line, word by word. It’s a painfully slow process, because there’s no next draft (aside from a final typo hunt) so everything has to be just right.
For example, I spent a full hour looking at medieval shoes last night to stick a little extra detail in one sentence. I also did some research on weave types on early upholstery. To be honest, I prefer to firm such detail when I know it will be in the book rather than plough a load of time into research that ends up getting cut.
Not all the edits need research, but they all require thought. They need to be carefully balanced and massaged so they fit seamlessly into the story.
However, there are no insurmountable issues so I should have the final edit finished by Christmas. This is certainly the best book I’ve written so far. I can’t wait to publish it.