Raina Nightingale interviewed me about Fatal Shadow and other stuff. You can check it out here.
In Gyre, true power rests in the Parliament of Merit, the Ducalion of Gyre being merely an impotent figurehead. However, despite the pretence of all meritocrats being equal, matters related to the seccurity of the state in the broadest sense are delegated to a select group of the most influential and popular among them. This shadowy commitee is known as the Vicenary Jury. It is also nicknamed (somewhat degoratorily) as the Iron Circle.
This group originally consisted of the Ducal Steward, a single cordent general, the Grand Parsimon (the state’s finance minister), the Justiciar General (chief judge), the Dragon Keeper, and fifteen jurists. However, as Gyre grew and its interests spread to Noster and beyond, the number of officials increased, squeezing the number of jurists until only five remained.
The jurists are elected by secret ballot during Crevastival for a term of one year. Every meritocrat is a potential candidate. The result is never formally declared, but any meritocrat worth the title makes it their business to know the identities of the winners.
At the time that Drinith first arrives in Gyre, the Vicenary Jury consists of:
- The Ducal Steward who acts as chair
- The Grand Parsimon
- The Justiciar General
- The Dragon Keeper who manages the meritocrats’ dragons and is in charge of the defense of the airspace around the city
- The three cordent generals
- The Intelligencer General
- The Ambassador General
- The Governor General, responsible for the administration of Gyre’s colonies
- The Inspector General, in charge of customs
- The three conflagration marshals who manage Gyre’s mercenary armies
- Five elected jurists
As a rule, its proceedings are secret. No minutes are recorded, no written annals kept. Its orders percolate through the Meritocracy in whispers. Its meetings, held in strictest privacy, are conducted in a chamber deep under the parliament building. No outsider is allowed to enter. According to rumor, the members themselves take turns to clean it. Few outside the Meritocracy are even aware of its existence, but it is an indelible menacing presence in meritocrats’ lives. Even its members fear it.
Diane Donovan, Editor, Donovan’s Literary Services published a review of Fatal Shadow. The same review is also published in the MidWest Review.
“From ambushers and assassins to the evolution of more than one conspiracy that places Drinith in the middle of battles she didn’t even know were being fought on different levels, Noel Coughlan creates a fantasy force to reckon with.”
Lexie Foxe from Reader’s Favorite also published a review.
“Fatal Shadow is an excellent opening to what promises to be an exciting fantasy series, with danger and action around every corner and deep and coherent lore binding the work together.”
A lie made Drinith one of Gyre’s rulers. It secured the city state’s support against her enemy, the tyrant Magian the Infinite. Now it threatens to destroy her.
Drinith voyages to Gyre’s bitterest rival, Ophigee, to convince its rulers to join the fight against Magian. But her audience with her hosts turns into an ambush.
Quick thinking wins her a reprieve from the execution block, but the route to salvation may well prove more treacherous than anything she has faced before. Everyone who attempts the journey she must undertake vanishes without trace. Can she succeed where they failed and uncover the secret that threatens not only Ophigee but her adopted homeland?
Greater Evil is the second book in the Champions of Fate, an epic fantasy series with fast-paced action, intriguing characters, and imaginative world-building. The ebook (Amazon only) and paperback are available HERE
The first book in the series, Fatal Shadow, free until 4th March, can be found HERE.
As I’m planning to launch Greater Evil on 28th February, I thought it worthwhile to do a bit of an introduction/refresher to sailed dragons used to travel across the vast distances of void between shards.
The crew of such dragons are known as drakers. Originally, they hailed from the fabled Aerhaunt Archipelago but they spread across the Crevast and mixed with other cultures, leading to most crews have diverse ancestories. They regard themselves as distinct from the peoples living on shards and refer to them as Landlubbers. They worship dragons rather than gods.
Though fiercely independent, they have built many powerful kingdoms in the past. They were unified briefly under the Emperor of the Crevast, but his empire fractured after his mysterious disappearance. Gyre and Ophigee are two successor states. During the Crevast Empire period, the peoples of the shards called them pyrates, a name that now only applies to those who engage in illegal activity.
Typically, the vessel on the back of the dragon is called the saddledeck. The saddlemaster is the senior officer on the saddledeck. From most viewpoints, it looks like a ship and most parts of it are named using nautical terms. However, the hull has two keels allowing the saddledeck to straddle the dragon’s back. The dragon’s dorsal spikes stick through the hull giving the saddledeck some added ‘grip’. A strap around the dragon’s midriff is critical to keep the saddledeck secure.
This strap is protected by the cinchdeck, a series of connected compartments across the dragon’s belly. These compartments can be used for transporting people or goods. The cinchdecks of most drake-o’-wars are equipped with cannons. The cinchmaster is in charge of the cinchdeck.
The headstall is a structure under the dragon’s frill that extends in a band around the dragon’s head. A key part of it is the pineye, the compartment from where the captain commands. Generally, the pineye is easy to spot because of its large, hemispherical window. The whisperers are also based in the headstall. They are the drakers who communicate directly with the dragon by crawling into the dragon’s ears. They are treated with reverence by the rest of the crew and are paid in dragon wax.
Because the headstall is subject to the movement of the dragon’s head, navigation is managed in a compartment in the saddledeck’s quarterdeck called the whereabout. This contains an attracton, a ‘compass’ which is pulled toward different shards to varying degrees based on their relative positions. The whereabout also communicates with the headstall by means of signal lights. Commands are relayed to the cinchdeck by speaking tubes.
The dragon must bend back its head to facilitate boarding of the headstall from the saddledeck. The gap between them is bridged by the springboard. During flight, the headstall, saddledeck, and cinchdeck are physically isolated from each other so trust between the captain and his two senior officers is critical.
Travel by wing & sail to the floating city of Gyre. Get Fatal Shadow for free on Amazon until 22nd April. Check it out HERE.
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.
(You can find Chapter 1 HERE.)
A high-pitched cry pierced Quiescat’s heart. In the instant he took to react, Gelasin had dashed out of the room. 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 bedsheet 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 made Drinith’s palm itch 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 as her friend did and quell the flutter in the pit of her stomach. If she failed this test, both of their lives would be forfeited. 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 and emitted a soft sigh. 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, eyes 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.