NaNoWriMo Project–excerpt 1


The boy scurried across the open square, pausing beside her with eyes wide and breath misting in the night air. Niamsha Pereyra frowned at him. Another of Nijel’s spies, but one she couldn’t bring herself to dismiss. His brown eyes tugged at her grief in a way that Nijel must have intended, the innocence and hue reminiscent of the brother Niamsha had failed to save.

“What, boy?” Her sharp words sent the boy cowering into the shadows of her porch.

“Ya asked fer news when the merchants come,” he replied. “First one’s coming in just now.”

“Then get to the tavern.”

A twinge of guilt rubbed at her conscience. He was just doing what she’d asked. Or so he said.

Niamsha hiked her skirts up, hands full of rough fabric and hem still brushing the ground, and stepped into the dark. She knew these paths by now, her feet well accustomed to midnight treks through the worn, smooth dirt roads. The tavern sat behind a row of houses, hidden from the street. A poor place for a public business, but this town didn’t have the bustle to support a proper tavern anyway. Not enough to support much of anything. No tavern, no inn, the makeshift guild hall lost to the brutality of war almost a decade ago. Most would have taken one look at the ramshackle community and kept moving.

Instead, Nijel had appointed Niamsha to take over the long-abandoned guild hall and turn it into a place where he could gather his followers when he passed through. Perhaps he’d intended for her to create a less wholesome establishment, but she’d had other plans. And a local tavern brought in enough coin from the field workers to cover expenses for her side projects. Nijel had always been expedient in that way. Between the Rendell house in High Lord Arkaen’s home town and this guild hall, she was beginning to think he enjoyed repurposing old, forgotten buildings into new life.

Pushing the door open, Niamsha strode into the dim light and scanned for her guests. Just arrived, the boy said, but the common room sat empty. They should have been here. Unless the boy had lied to her. Her heart pounded at the thought. She had no illusions as to the boy’s loyalties. He’d slipped up several weeks back, hiding a note in a poor spot when she entered a room. Common-born gutter boys didn’t read. Not in these parts, at least.

The door cracked open behind her, just enough to let the cold breeze rush up her spine.

“Nisha.” Nijel’s voice was colder than the wind that chilled her hands. “What a pleasure to see you tending to my partners so diligently. I knew you could be trusted with my interests.”

Niamsha spun around to face him. “Of course, Nijel.”

He must have known she intended no such thing. His eyes sparkled with malice, the shared secret a threat he held over her. One word and he could take her life.

“Come along.” He waved a careless hand at her. “We should prepare. I’ve word a new speaker plans to join our cadre. I’ll need as much information as possible before answering his petition.”

“Yes, Nijel.”

She followed him into the back room, the table chipped and scarred from past negotiations gone wrong. A pitcher of ale sat in the middle of the table, the clay starting to sweat as the heat from the room clashed with the chill of the liquid. No seating, so Nijel wanted his guests off guard. Niamsha stepped forward, circling the table as if her life didn’t hang on Nijel’s whims. He chuckled.

“Don’t be ashamed of ambition, dear,” Nijel said. “I did not find my place by letting others choose for me. I only ask that you respect the efforts I’ve taken for your well-being.” He fixed her with a knowing smirk. “You wouldn’t be here, but for me.”

“Would that be worse?” She shouldn’t have said it, but the wear of this life weighed too heavy for a moment. Just enough to betray her own disgust with her new position.

“Nisha.” His sorrow almost sounded genuine. “How cold this country would be with you removed from it.”

He didn’t sound like her ‘removal’ would be a simple matter of living elsewhere. She hadn’t meant it that way. Emrys’s death still haunted her–she might seethe for the chance to avenge his loss–but she had no plans to let her life to end early.

The door opened before she could answer. A heavyset man entered, pausing at the sight of Nijel as he rubbed at a scar on his chin. He glanced at Niamsha. Stared at Nijel. Stepped inside.

“Didn’t think you lived, lad.” The merchant, Heikkan Carrillo, nodded at Nijel, his casual tone a shock against the tension of the room. “She got you here, too? Just like the rest of us.”

“Young Nisha is my liaison,” Nijel replied. “Though I admit I’m quite surprised you answered, Heikkan. Obedience was never a strong quality of yours.”

Heikkan glowered for a half-dozen breaths. “Obedience is for pets. Men offer loyalty, and loyalty must be earned.”

“Indeed.” Nijel grinned, but she could hear the rising fury in the clipped tone of his voice.

“Earned,” Nijel continued. “Just as your Lord Phoenix earned the men Griffin gathered, protected, and trained. As Kumiho and the Dragon earned the honor and respect the Serr-Nyen owed to their proper rulers. As Griffin earned the betrayal of her army?”

“Griffin went mad.” Heikkan snarled the words like a curse. “I know you believed in her, but you weren’t in the meetings. You didn’t hear. Lord Phoenix–“

“Told you lies,” Nijel interrupted. “Griffin had plans to support Sernyii through our transition. To give power to those who aided her cause. What has Lord Phoenix done for your land since the war? Nothing but enslave his former allies and sell his loyalty to the very empire he opposed.”

“Well.” Heikkan jerked his head at Niamsha. “I did come for a reason. Girl said we got a new power in town. Calls himself the Siren. Supposed to have plans for us all.”

“That is perhaps the first true thing you’ve said.” Nijel paced around the table and lounged against the wall, his lips curling into another smirk. “I do have plans, old friend. Many, many plans.”

Heikkan took a step back, eyes widening at the response. His gaze locked onto Nijel’s, an instant of locked eyes and matched wills. And then Heikkan laughed.

“It would be you, I suppose. Too damned smart for your own good. Always were. We’ll talk, then. When the others get here, we’ll have plenty to discuss.”

To Catch a Prince

High Lord Johannus Sentarsin scowled at his court, their fidgeting and the glitter of their finery grating on his nerves. Spineless sycophants, the lot of them, milling around his marble-floored great hall waiting for a chance to snatch an advantage from their peers. And now they cast terrified glances at his throne, judging how likely he was to let them renounce their vows to follow the newly crowned emperor.

“My lord.” A messenger shoved through the crowd, his rumpled livery covered in mud. He dropped to his knees as soon as he reached the foot of the high lord’s dais and slammed a hand to his chest in salute. “News on the foreign soldiers spotted entering our lands. They’ve done no damage, avoided all our patrols and troops as though they know the and, and—” The messenger licked his lips, casting a glance at the lords to either side. Or maybe at Johannus’s guards lining the walls. “Pardon, my lord. Reports say your son, Lordling Arkaen, rides at their head.”

Gods damn it all. Johannus clenched his fist on the arm of his throne. The boy should have been handled by now. He would have been if Emperor Laisia’s men had brought him home as intended, instead of trying to interrogate him. They’d nearly broken the boy with their tactics, and now there was no telling where his loyalties might lie.

“Have you any reports on his intentions?” Johannus sat forward as he spoke, scanning the assembled lords for any potential spies. The wrong ears in this room could damn the entire province.

“None, my lord,” the messenger said. “But the soldiers are outfitted for war.”

“Then we must assume he plans an assault,” Johannus replied. And Arkaen would know how to weave his army through the province to avoid any positions where they might catch him off guard. “Ready the guards and call conscripts from the villages. We’ll also need—”

“Father, no!” His daughter, Saylina, shrieked the protest as she burst through the hidden door behind his throne. Skulking where she shouldn’t be, as usual.

“Silence, child.” He flashed a glare at her, noting the servant he’d hired to watch her hiding in the shadows of the doorway. Useless, just like Arkaen’s guard had been. Johannus waved her away. “Your sentiment won’t change our status. Your brother is lost to us now.”

“Arkaen wouldn’t attack his own people!” Saylina insisted, reaching a hand forward as though she could sway the entire court by sheer force of will. Her plea almost worked and a whisper of uncertainty swept through the gathered courtiers.

“I said silence!” Johannus slammed a fist onto the arm of his throne and fought the urge to stare the girl down. A high lord didn’t answer to children before the entire court.

Examining the now-silent crowd, his eyes settled on the messenger, still kneeling at the foot of the throne as though nothing had interrupted him. Waiting for orders. Thank the gods he had at least one loyalist.

Johannus rose, facing his lower lords with stately focus. “Our prince has overstepped his place.” He should disown the boy here and now, but Saylina was too naive to take his place as heir. “Ready the guards. Call conscripts from the villages. And send word to the nobility to ready their elites for combat.” He spared a glance back at Saylina’s pale face. “First we’ll bring my son home, then we’ll decide what to do with him.”

Saylina frowned, her shoulders trembling with fear in contrast to the frustrated crinkle of her forehead that so nearly echoed her mother’s fury he almost relented. But there was nothing to be done. She was just a child and could never understand the danger of misplaced trust. Perhaps she could be of use, though.

“You.” Johannus thrust a finger at a servant. “Bring Lady Saylina paper and a writing table. She has a message to send to her brother.”

The lower lords’ council cowered under his gaze, every eye turned away from the crumpled note in the center of the table. As if ignoring the insolent response Arkaen had sent would somehow turn this into anything other than a war council planning combat against their own prince. And through it all, Saylina’s plea hung in his mind. Arkaen wouldn’t attack his own people. Johannus snatched the note up and read the words again.

To High Lord Johannus Sentarsin—

You are ordered to submit to judgment by High Emperor Deyvan Corliann, such judgment to be administered by the emperor’s appointed arbiter. Said arbiter will arrive at your capital in five days’ time. Any attempt to delay his arrival or inhibit his review will be considered an act of treason.

—Signed and penned by hand of Arkaen Sentarsin

As if a runaway noble boy had any authority to speak for the emperor. But then, rumors from the north claimed any number of absurdities. Arkaen pandering to the imperial heir to get his way was hardly the most preposterous rumor he’d heard.

“My lord…” The tentative voice of his Lord Chancellor faded at his sudden focus.


The Lord Chancellor dropped his gaze, falling silent again, but Baron Oskari Weydert stood.

“You know, my lord, what must be done.” Oskari gestured at the message. “This cannot be tolerated.”

“He’s still my son, Baron Weydert,” Johannus said, fixing Oskari with a glare. “He’s still your prince.”

“Is he, my lord?” Oskari asked. “He’s claiming a role in the imperial council. We both know this empire has seen its best days long past. This is our only chance to act.”

Johannus shook his head, leaning back in his chair. Too impulsive, as Oskari had always been. Even when they were children together making plans to conquer their teachers’ classrooms. But for all the recklessness of Oskari’s comments, he wasn’t entirely wrong. Any plans to break free of imperial oversight would die in the grip of a secure imperial succession. And the newly-crowned emperor was young enough with enough respect that even without a wife he’d no doubt solidify his power in short order.

“My son has chosen his side.” Johannus pushed up from the table.

None of the other lower lords would meet his eyes. No doubt too frightened of Arkaen’s empty threats to admit the truth of the situation.

“We’ll need another method of bringing him to heel without bloodshed. Lord Chancellor, send word to my personal guard. I need to speak with my guest in the high lady’s parlor.” Johannus waved at Oskari. “Attend me, Baron Weydert.”

Johannus stepped around the table, leading Oskari into the hall beyond. They strode down the hall, bare stone interspersed with the elaborate—and now painfully worn—tapestries that Johannus had bought for his wife decades ago. Anger simmered in his thoughts as he walked, Oskari silent but too obviously tense beside him.

“You’ve no standing to challenge me before the council,” Johannus said at last. “I’ve long known your counsel on my son, but the choice is my own.”

“Then I encourage you to honor the plans we made,” Oskari said. After several breaths, he added, “My lord.”

“Don’t test me, Oskari. I’ve enough ire to vent already.”

“Vent on your wayward boy.” Oskari paused, crossing his arms and glaring to the north. “He’s the source of these complications.”

“Arkaen’s a brat.” Johannus scowled. “Spoiled by his mother. But he still has value. Without a proper heir, we can’t bring any change but chaos.”

Oskari turned back to him. “You’ve another child for an heir.”

Johannus looked away, running a hand along the edge of one of his wife’s tapestries. Fifteen years dead and he couldn’t bring himself to take them down, but he stood before them discussing the sale of his only daughter. How could he value his wife’s ornaments more than the daughter she’d given him? But Saylina needed a proper rein if she was to serve the province, and she was the last of his line able to do so.

“Write the contract, then,” Johannus said. “Saylina’s to young to wed as yet, but you can set a date a few years out. Let her settle into her woman’s moons before she takes to a bed. The contract should be enough to secure my legacy.”

“I’ll have my clerk draft the papers.” Oskari bowed. “Are you certain of the other matter? I don’t know that your… guest is to be trusted.”

“It’s the only option if we’re to avoid open war.” Johannus cringed at the thought. That Arkaen could be susceptible to the charm of such a man always made his skin crawl. “Keep your men ready in case the louse fails again.”

“Yes, my lord,” Oskari said. “I hope your boy comes home, for your sake, but beware. By rumor…” Oskari hesitated. “Well, they say he may be as like to use you as follow you.”

Johannus waved the concern away and walked toward the parlor where he’d set his meeting. Down a long-disused set of corridors he hadn’t been able to reclaim after his wife’s death. No servant would let dust collect in the high lord’s palace, but the silence spoke volumes of the ghosts that lived in this wing. A place no one dared lurk lest Johannus find them there defiling his wife’s memory. The twists of his keep felt like a maze here, all corridors he’d known forever but hadn’t seen for almost two decades. He’d courted his wife in that study, securing an alliance with the tumultuous Istalli bloodline. Another turn. There was the servant’s common where Arkaen had hidden as a boy after lashings. He wouldn’t have endured so many if he’d taken his lessons to heart. At least Saylina hadn’t followed her brother into those flaws as she had so many others.

Finally, he reached the carved wood door that led into his wife’s private parlor. The low table inside had already been set for tea, the polished wood gleaming in the soft light from a distant window. No candles lighting the room, but he didn’t need much. Johannus inspected the twin sofas on either side of the table, worn fabric still elegant despite the age. He settled into one and poured a cup of tea savoring the blend of herbs and spices that he’d imported from the southern hills. A slight knock announced the arrival of his guest, escorted into the room by a pair of guards, each holding one end of the heavy chains. Matted brown hair hung around his face and from his unkempt beard. Young enough to be Johannus’s child, the man looked almost ten years older than he truly was. Lines on his face hinted at wisdom he had yet to show.

“Vaiyen.” Johannus gestured at a seat across from him. Sit and have a respectable drink. Let’s talk.”

Vaiyen collapsed into a seat with a rattle of chains and the guards took up positions on either side.

“Yes, my lord.”

His voice was raspy with disuse. What would he use it for in an empty cell among an empty dungeon, anyway? Johannus waited for him to pour a cup of the tea, drop a cube of sugar in, and take several sips. When Vaiyen had settled into his seat and replaced his cup—after the heavy sigh of relief from the warm liquid escaped his lips—Johannus leaned forward.

have a task for you, Vaiyen,” Johannus said. “One which you alone have ever managed, and I hope you can do so again.”

Vaiyen froze, his eyes going wide. “Me?” His gaze swept through the room, realizing, perhaps for the first time, the peculiarity of their meeting. “You can’t mean… My lord, I can’t. Even if he were he, he won’t listen to me.”

“He will be here,” Johannus said. “In five days. You will meet his forces before they try to enter the city and you will gain an audience with my son. Bring him home—peacefully—without his army.”

“I said, my lord, he won’t—” Vaiyen hesitated, looking up at the guards on either side of him. “How would I even convince him to see me?”

“You’ve been quite adept at managing his decisions in the past.” Johannus steepled his hands, hiding the grimace of distaste the admission elicited from him. “One might say you were something of an expert in that task. Until your mistake.”

“I could have done nothing more, my lord,” Vaiyen said. “Lordling Arkaen had already decided a course. The only question he brought to me was the choice of whether to betray my own oath, as well.”

Johannus smirked at him. “So you’ve said. Consider this an opportunity to prove your claims.”


“If he asked you to join him, then he will surely welcome your return to his side. Use that and bring my son home.”

Vaiyen scowled, staring into his tea, but nodded. “I will try, my lord.”

“You will succeed,” Johannus snapped. “Or you will watch your family flayed before joining them in Eiliin’s hell.”

Vaiyen paled, taking a deep breath. “Yes, my lord.”

The Demon and the Thief

Kìlashà san Draego de Mìtaran paced the elegant confines of his assigned room, a snarl of frustration on his lips. The quiet murmur of the city drifting through his window grated on his patience. Five years in this place and still he’d found nothing of what his gods wanted him to cultivate here among these… humans. Always complacent in the face of danger and joyous at the destruction of plausible dissent. And he sat here among them, wasting time trying to mold the humans into a usable ally when he could have been preparing his clan for the threats whispered by his seeker’s power.

A sharp knock at his door broke into his thoughts and Kìlashà spun toward the sound, a hiss escaping his lips. An instant later, a voice spoke through the door.

“Pardon the interruption, Lord Kìlashà. May I enter?”

Kìlashà let the tension drain from him. Kaen, his gods-chosen kai’shien and lord of these lands, was the one balm to this cursed pursuit. He crossed the room and threw the door open just as a younger male rounded a corner.

“My lord Arkaen, Count Skianda—” The male froze, his eyes focused on Kìlashà.

Anger rushed through Kìlashà, his lips pulling back in another silent snarl. As if he would harm this human for simply speaking to his liege lord. The slightest tingle of his hair brushing the nape of his own neck reminded him of the real reason for their fear. Kìlashà had no people any longer. Not since his sacrifice to save Kaen years before had turned his skin the palest white and left his veins glowing in rivers of magic patterned across his skin.

Kaen stepped forward—between Kìlashà and the younger human—and cast a reassuring smile at the boy. His slender body and slightly shorter stature hid nothing from Kìlashà’s vision. But Kaen would never try to hide events from him.

“Count Skianda needed what?” Kaen asked.

The messenger stuttered, eyes still locked on Kìlashà despite Kaen’s attempt to interject himself. Kìlashà dipped a mental thought into his seeker’s power, twisting the gods’ gift to his will. A minor shift of the timelines and he could see the moment that would have occurred had he waited to open the door.

“My lord Arkaen, Count Skianda demands your presence.” The young human bowed, his palms clench in the folds of his tunic. A sign of his fear at the response he might receive. They had never learned how to trust Kaen.

“Demands, does he?” Kaen replied, smirking at the boy. He stepped away from Kìlashà’s door. “By what authority does my count makes demands on my time?”

“I—Apologies, my lord. He said—”

Kaen chuckled, striding down the hall to lay a hand on the messenger’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, lad. I’m sure he just wanted to impress upon me the importance of his concerns. I’ll see to him shortly.”

Kìlashà let the vision go, focusing on the hallway before him again.

Kaen reached a hand out in entreaty. “You did say—”

“Your human lord desires an audience, kai’shien,” Kìlashà said. The messenger would likely never get the words out.

Kaen glanced back, a flicker of a frown indicating his frustration, before turning back to the messenger. “Count Skianda needs to speak with me in person?”

The messenger nodded, still mute. After a moment of silence between them, he found his voice. “The count said… He needs you n—” Another glance at Kìlashà and froze. Took a deep breath. “Count Skianda said to tell you, my lord, that his need was immediate.”

Definitely not what the human lord had said. Kìlashà could hear the lie this human messenger used to avoid a confrontation. But Kaen nodded as if he couldn’t hear the deception as clearly as Kìlashà. More so, likely. He understood humans far better.

“Please inform the count that I have heard his request and will attend him as soon as I’ve finished matters here,” Kaen replied.

He turned away, gesturing for Kìlashà to follow as he strode into Kìlashà’s room. A ploy to avoid any follow up and give them a few moments to speak alone. Kìlashà stalked back into his room, the messenger’s fear still irritating his volatile temper. He’d never harmed Kaen’s people since they’d declared the war ended. Not even when they’d deserved it.

“Could you manage to not terrify every new servant I hire?” Kaen asked, pushing the door closed behind him. “That’s a perfectly decent lad from a family struggling to get their feet back under them. If he leaves for fear the high lord’s terrifying demon might eat him, the entire family will starve.”

Kìlashà shrugged, crossing the room to collapse into a chair set by his reading table. “And what, precisely, did I do to frighten the child?”

“You…” Kaen slumped against the wall, drumming his fingers against the adorned stone in thought. “Gods. You answered your door too forcefully.” He let out a humorless chuckle. “What are we going to do with them?”

“Forge them into the tool my people need to face their coming adversity, to protect the lives of as many Drae’gon as can be saved.”

“And protect their lives.” Kaen pushed off the wall, gesturing toward the window. “You swore to me that my return was needed to protect my people as much as yours.”

Kìlashà scowled. The humans would have been back at war already had they not returned. And yet…

He was no longer certain that Kaen’s people were worth their efforts. Not that Kìlashà could ever choose to leave, with the visions granted by Ancient Spirits nagging at his conscience. These humans held some value to the gods of his people and none of the Drae’gon had seen it before Kìlashà. He was starting to understand why.

“Kìlashà.” Kaen took a step forward, crossing his arms and glaring. “You swore it. To me.”

“And I did not lie. These humans need your guidance.” What little of it they chose to follow.

“So what…” Kaen trailed off, turning away to stare out the window.

But the accusation flared from Kìlashà’s power.

“What are we supposed to do next?” Kaen demanded. “I’m no good at these half-truths and manipulations. Everything I do here seems to make the province worse. More poverty, more theft, more division.”

“I should see to Brayden,” Kaen said. “The Skianda family has always supported mine. His request may give us some hint of what’s coming.”

He meant something more for Kìlashà’s seeker’s power to use, allowing him to finally identify what they needed to accomplish in these lands. Unspoken, but they both heard the implication. They both chafed at the obscurity of the visions that had sent them here.

“You came for a reason, kai’shien.”

“I just—” Kaen hesitated, sweeping his gaze over the rich furnishings of the room he’d designated as Kìlashà’s haven.

Kìlashà could see the room as Kaen saw it without the aid of his power. Rich furnishings, magnificently broad bed, gilded decorations. All of it crammed into a space barely half the size of the entry room of Kaen’s high lord’s suite. More than either had during the war, and a pittance by the standards of Kaen’s nobility. A slight toward Kaen’s strange, foreign comrade that he hadn’t been able to prevent without revealing too much. But Kìlashà cared nothing for the opulence of the room and Kaen’s anger burned over the insult, not the result.

“I’m not helping them.” Kaen slumped back against the wall, his words an echo of the frustration in Kìlashà’s vision. “It’s been—” He sighed, pacing across the room and back like a caged beast. Like Kìlashà had only moments before. “Too long. You brought us here to unite them, and I’m not able to do that. Are we failing?”

“They are further from war than when we returned,” Kìlashà replied. But they hadn’t accomplished what he’d expected when he’d convinced Kaen to return. Still… “The Spirits do not speak in absolutes. Should we fail to serve Their purpose, it will not be the result of any choice now past.”

Kaen laughed. “So I haven’t completely dismantled the plans of the all knowing gods who grant the ability to see the future just yet? How reassuring.”

“Kai’shien.” Kìlashà hesitated as Kaen focused on him. But he deserved to know. Pushing up from his chair, Kìlashà strode over to where Kaen stood. “I did not foresee this path. Not precisely. But you have done only what you believed best and thus cannot have forsaken the path the Spirits desired you to take. The Ancient Spirits knew of your skill in these matters when They chose you.”

“They chose you for this, Kìlashà.” Kaen scowled, leaning against the wall again. “They chose me for a far different purpose, and I doubt it has anything to do with my political acumen.”

“The Ancient Spirits are immortal gods seeking to protect Their followers,” Kìlashà said. “You think that spent a great deal of time locating the correct person to warm my bed at night?” Kìlashà smiled at the flush that tinted Kaen’s cheeks. “Even that would be a sign of your unique qualities. They have never before expressed an opinion on a Drae’gon’s choice of mate.”

“All right, They have a plan for me, too.” Kaen shook his head. “I’m not entirely certain that’s a good thing.”

“It is a truth. Beyond that—”

Kìlashà froze, the surge of his seeker’s power flowing through him in a sudden flash of vision. Staggering, Kìlashà caught himself on the wall as the moment overtook his senses.

The young female slipped through the crowd, adept at avoiding notice in all the right ways. People saw her, but they’d never remember the grubby form hunched to mimic an older child more than the young adult she truly was. Her hands acquired meaningless trinkets as she strolled, the last swipe catching the attention of Kaen’s guards.

“Hey, you there!”

This was one of the gaudy guardsmen, left over from Kaen’s father but not immediately corrupt. Or not enough to justify banishment, Kaen said. The guard ran toward the female and she dodged past a pair of shoppers huddled over a stall. The crowd seemed to freeze, the young female and her guard weaving through a sea of shocked faces and angry shouts.

Finally, she broke free of the crowd and hurried toward an alley, the guard close on her heels. Both seemed ignorant of the figure shoving through the crowd on the other side. Baron Oskari Weydert reined his war horse to a halt a scant few steps shy of trampling Niamsha, and she fell back. Oskari’s boots hit the ground an instant later, his boot flying into her gut. Niamsha puked on the ground as he stepped back for another blow. The guard stopped behind her, a flash of uncertainty on his face.

“Kìlashà?” Kaen’s hand on his shoulder, the cool feel of stone beneath him. He’d fallen when the vision took hold. “Do you need anything?”

“I am well.” Kìlashà pushed up from the floor, head still spinning with the vision. Too clear. Every color held the sharp precision of a certainty, every action felt like a truth he’d always known. A vile, horrific truth. This would happen, and the Ancient Spirits desired it changed. “I must go to the city. To the market where the merchants built your statue.”

Kaen nodded. “Then I’ll go with you.”

For an instant, Kìlashà hesitated. The human noble would be angry. But Kaen would argue if he tried to refuse the company and the human female did not have that much time.

“Swiftly. Come.” Kìlashà strode from the room with Kaen in his wake. Finally, the Spirits had given him something to do.


The door slammed, startling Arkaen Sentarsin out of the rough plans he was outlining on the map before him. A glance up. Kìlashà leaned against the wall, the noise of his arrival clearly an intentional warning to Arkaen. His heavy black cloak made a stark contrast to the ghost-pale skin and glowing veins that always set Arkaen’s heart racing with a touch of fear. Not of the man himself but of the power that had taken hold when Kìlashà sacrificed his own will to that of his gods in return for more power. A bargain to save Arkaen from a deadly wound.

Arkaen pushed the memory away and sank into the chair behind him, dropping the bit of charcoal he’d used to mark targets. “It’s done, then?”

Kìlashà cocked his head, the glow of his veins pulsing in time to his even breathing. Too calm for the task he’d just finished. The pose sent a shiver through Arkaen. Hardly the man he’d known before this transformation. But then, no one really knew Kìlashà before Arkaen had been taken captive. Before Kìlashà had risked everything he believed in to save Arkaen—barely more than a spoiled noble brat—from his own stupidity.

“Your tyrant has been removed.” Kìlashà’s hesitation seemed almost planned to allow Arkaen to finish his thoughts before interrupting them again. “You have made the arrangements?”

The statement barely qualified as a question. Kìlashà had no need to ask what Arkaen had prepared. Another courtesy he’d adopted to ease Arkaen’s discomfort. Guilt left an ache in Arkaen’s throat. How much change could he demand from Kìlashà and still claimed he honored the man beneath?

“We both know that answer,” Arkaen said. “Deyvan’s in position to claim his throne. The resistance will crumble without a proper leader. We’ll be at peace in a fortnight, at most. As soon as the messengers reach the northern armies.” He drummed his fingers on the makeshift table before him, the slab of rough wood a reminder of the squalor he was dooming his comrades to endure. As if he needed more to regret.

“They are better served by your absence than your contrition, kai’sh—”

Kìlashà cut off, a shudder running through his body. For barely an instant, he looked unsure, eyelids drooping as if to shut out the world and shoulders tense. A moment of the humanity Arkaen had brought into his life, and the one thing they shared in equal measure: fear that Kìlashà’s gods were wrong about Arkaen and about the relationship Arkaen and Kìlashà supposedly shared. Arkaen pushed up from his seat, crossing the room in three quick strides to lay a hand on Kìlashà’s cheek. Cool to the touch, as a gentle breeze on a warm day, the glowing veins releasing no heat.

“I trust you.”

The tiniest hint of a smile touched Kìlashà’s lips. “A kai’shien bond is not a matter of trust.”

“But you saw it,” Arkaen replied. “You’ve told me over and over that a seeker’s visions are driven by their own skill. You saw this connection, and I trust you.”

Kìlashà cast a look up through the long, elegant lashes that would have had a dozen noble woman tumbling over themselves for his attention. If they’d stopped screaming at the rest of his appearance long enough to notice the sculpted beauty of Kìlashà’s face. Or the lean strength of his physique, or the gentle care behind his too-often harsh decisions. But none of Arkaen’s people would ever see beyond the flaws they perceived in Kìlashà to know the truth. With a gentle nudge against Arkaen’s hand that served both as affectionate caress and a reclamation of his personal space, Kìlashà stepped around Arkaen and stared into the empty shelving on one wall.

“How certain are you of that trust?”

“What?” Arkaen turned to frown at him. “I’ve told you. I’ll go anywhere with you. I—” Arkaen sighed. “Once I might have argued for my duty to my homeland, but they left me. Abandoned me to be tortured into submission by a malicious bastard. I owe them nothing any longer.”

“But they need you.”

“I don’t—” Arkaen froze, the tone of Kìlashà’s statement registering. Hesitation mixed with sorrow. They both knew what returning to the Laisian Empire meant. For Arkaen’s freedom and their relationship. “You want to go back?”

Kìlashà shifted to lean against the shelving, fixing an impassive look on Arkaen’s face. “It is not a matter of what I desire. It is what the Ancient Spirits have set before me. Without your guidance, your homeland with fall into further conflict and many would die that the Ancient Spirits require alive.”

“So your gods want me to go save the people They’re protecting your clan from?” Arkaen’s skepticism was audible even to his own ears. But this new vision of Kìlashà’s couldn’t be true, anyway. Arkaen’s father held sway over his homeland with an iron grip no one would dare challenge. Unless his father was the problem.

“Humans so closely tie destiny with desires.” Kìlashà scoffed, waving a hand as if to dismiss Arkaen’s questions. “It is not that They wish for you to do Them a favor. They have selected me as Chosen of Their will and designated you as my kai’shien. The performance of Their will demands the preservation of your human empire intact. Were we to choose a life among the clans, that empire would fall and the will of the Ancient Spirits would be thwarted.”

Arkaen smirked. “So it’s not that your gods want a hand. They just chose to warn you that not doing what They suggest results in the destruction of civilization as we know it.”

“Precisely.” Kìlashà’s whimsical response held enough mirth that Arkaen almost wondered if he’d lied about the vision to tease Arkaen. But no. The tension in Kìlashà’s posture was real. And he’d been genuinely worried about Arkaen’s trust in his powers.

“Then we have no choice,” Arkaen said, his voice turning sober. “Gods. I’d hoped—”

No need to finish that sentence. They both preferred to avoid the den of lies, intolerance, and pompous self-importance that had overtaken Arkaen’s home province after he left.

“There is always a choice, kai’shien,” Kìlashà pointed out. “We could leave them to their fate.”

“You don’t believe that.” Arkaen shook his head, leaning back against the door Kìlashà had used. “Leave Deyvan to face a second rebellion newly crowned? Or my sister alone in that mess? And even beyond the ones we care about…” Arkaen hesitated. He’d always been so sure of Kìlashà’s opinion on unnecessary death, but too many of their comrades wouldn’t agree. A glance at the intense focus in Kìlashà’s face eased his concern. “You wouldn’t leave innocents to die simply because the other option was more comfortable.”

Kìlashà strode across the room, laying a finger under Arkaen’s chin, tilting his face up as if to kiss him. “I would.” Kìlashà’s voice was barely a whisper. “For you.”

A thrill of excitement ran through him, Kìlashà’s finger sending a jolt of pleasure into him, running across his entire body. Of all the people in this war—in all the nations of these lands—Kìlashà, the chosen hand of the gods, desired Arkaen. And desired Arkaen enough to abandon his service to his gods. The enormity of it left him speechless, staring into Kìlashà’s tar-black eyes without any sense of an appropriate response.

A sharp knock on the door broke the tension, a painful release of the connection between them.

“I will follow where you lead, kai’shien.” Kìlashà stepped away, returning to the shelves as if the empty space would answer the question lingering between them.

Arkaen sucked in a deep breath to calm his racing pulse and stepped forward, pulling the door open. Beyond the portal stood Jarod, the stocky, blond-haired Serr-Nyen native who had appointed himself captain of Arkaen’s personal followers. He snapped to attention, clapping a fist across his chest in salute.

“Milord Phoenix,” Jarod said. “Yer flameguard stand ready. What orders?”

Another twinge of guilt hit him. Arkaen’s followers—the self-proclaimed ‘flameguard’—would have nowhere to go without him. At least half had defected from armies he’d defeated, and a decent number of the rest had been thieves or cutthroats before he’d conscripted them. Only under Arkaen’s leadership had they found a sense of unity and purpose. Where would they go if he vanished into the wilds with Kìlashà?

“Come in.” Arkaen gestured to the table where he’d been mapping out targets. The last bastions of support for the now-dead emperor, Caildenn Laisia, and the places where Kìlashà’s visions said no negotiation could succeed.

Jarod cast an appraising glance at Kìlashà and crossed the room, scanning map with a swiftness that couldn’t have given him any information. But Jarod had a network of informants almost as extensive as Kìlashà’s gods-given powers. He likely knew the plan already and had come only to hear the orders in person. Arkaen paused beside him, tapping the map in pensive thought. The flameguard had stood by him as no one but Kìlashà had. The northernmost post would be impenetrable without them. But they’d earned his respect.

“Which one’s ours, milord?”

“None of them. The main forces can split between these three.” Arkaen pointed out a trio of targets. “I need you south with me.” Arkaen turned away, fighting to hide the guilt of his decision. The northern outpost couldn’t ignore the attacks he had planned. Leaving them unharried would mean a much higher casualty count. But returning to the empire would require Lord Phoenix to disappear and lordling Arkaen Sentarsin to return from war by emperor-apparent Deyvan’s side.

“We leaving our men to die?” Jarod’s voice held none of the condemnation it should have. Trusting in Arkaen’s decisions even when he knew they were wrong. “Ain’t like you.”

“This war won’t be ended in battles over strategic citadels,” Arkaen said. “Kumiho is heading south to take Bloody Emperor Laisia’s throne. I’ll be by his side, and I want my flameguard as protection.” He cast a sharp glance at Jarod. The flameguard had always been a bit hesitant about Deyvan. “For his protection as much as mine. We need this transition smooth to put any bitterness to rest.”

Jarod smirked. “That ain’t how war ends, milord. But we serve.”

With another salute, Jarod strode from the room to deliver his orders. Arkaen stared at the door, not seeing the room as his hands squeezed the edge of the table, the rough wood digging into his skin. Home, where his father had set a guard to spy on him and that guard had lied, using his childish insecurity as a tool to control him. To manipulate him into—

“Kai’shien.” Kìlashà stepped away from the wall, pausing in the middle of the small room. “There are preparations to make if this is to work.”

Like preparing himself to face Vaiyen once more. His own parting words rang in his head. I would have fought for you. The least you could have done is tell me you didn’t want me to. But that was false. Vaiyen had done far more than fail to tell him a truth. Arkaen looked up, meeting Kìlashà’s eyes.

“Will I regret this?”

“Hundreds of times,” Kìlashà replied. “But not for the reasons you expect.”

Arkaen smiled, his fears soothed by the answer. Not a lie to spare his feelings and not a manipulation to get his way. Kìlashà trusted him as Vaiyen had not. As his father had not. As no one in his life had. He pushed away from the table.

“Then let’s go save the bastards.”

Desperate Times

Saylina strode down the hall, her eyes trained on the wall just above her escort’s head and fingers rubbing gently on the grip of her fan in tension. Just enough decorum to look in control while her nerves ran wild. Her father, High Lord Johannus Sentarsin, hadn’t summoned her for nearly a year now, leaving her to the care of her tutors instead. Had he found the notes she’d been exchanging with Lady Arianne Skianda and her brother? Or maybe he’d heard about Saylina’s vigorous search for a malleable husband. The southern trade lord’s youngest looked promising, but without a favorable contract to go with it, her father would never agree.

The servant pushed aside the wide double doors, revealing that smallest court gathering Saylina had ever seen. Her father standing on the dais. his long time friend, Baron Oskari Weydert, loitering near the steps where the herald should have been. But only five other lords graced the chamber. Too few for even a facade of formality to feel reasonable. She crossed the floor, newly bought marble that must have drained the province coffers to scraps. But her father had more concern for image than frugality these days. Not that she could blame him, when his image as a loyal servant to the bloodthirsty emperor was all that had saved her from the dangers of imperial court.

Saylina paused several feet from the group and bowed her head. “You summoned me, Father?”

“Saylina.” Her father gestured to the chair by his side. By his left side, where tradition sat his blood heir. “It’s time we discussed your future, girl.”

“Of course, Father.”

She stepped onto the dais, each step seeming to grow as she crossed the distance from common courtier to province heir. The chair felt too hard under her hands, her narrow, girlish frame of not quite fifteen years too small to fill the place intended for her brother, Arkaen. Saylina eased onto the seat and lifted her chin, meeting the eyes of the few courtiers her father had allowed to attend. Only the most notable of the lower lords. Not even the Skianda family, although he might have simply refused to allow Lordling Brayden Skianda to fill his father’s shoes. But Baron Oskari Weydert was here, along with a handful of others her father had known for decades. Everyone, she realized, who had voiced fears over Arkaen’s loyalties.

“What did you want to discuss?” Saylina pushed an innocent smile onto her lips, turning away from the lower lords to meet her father’s gaze.

Her father scowled. “You’re not a halfwit, girl. You know what that chair means.” He cast a glance at the other lords and sighed. “We can’t trust him any longer. It’s more than rumors, now. Our own scouts saw your brother at the head of a rebel army.”

A chill ran through her. Rumors of treason had been enough to tear the lower lords’ council apart, some defending Arkaen’s honor while others demanded he be removed from the registry of Sentarsin kin. If there was real proof…

“How many saw him?” The calculations circled her mind. If it was only a couple scouts they could cover it up. Prevent High Emperor Laisia from blaming the entire family for her brother’s treasons.

“That’s not the point,” her father replied. “Your brother is lost to us. We need to find you a proper husband to rule—”

“Gods damn your pride, Father.”

She leaped from the chair, her formal skirts swirling in a flash of temper she rarely showed. A flash of temper that drew her father’s fury to the surface and she could see his rage brewing under the calm facade of his mild frown. Her heart pounded against her chest, the danger of her insolence leaving her entire body shaking. But this was bigger than her or her father.

Saylina turned to meet his eyes again, fighting for some semblance of reason in her tone. “Emperor Laisia won’t care who’s to blame or who you plan to succeed you. Can we hide Arkaen’s actions and protect our home?” Her throat clogged at the next thought. But it might be the only way. “If we send assassins…” Her eyes burned. Arkie, her beloved brother, who used to sneak sugary treats into her bed after the cook had banished them both. “We can claim he was coerced.”

“Emperor Laisia has no reason to doubt my loyalty,” her father replied. But she could hear the uncertainty in his voice. “I have served his needs since he confirmed my seat when he was still a boy.”

“She’s got a good head on her shoulders, my lord,” Baron Weydert said. “Better to protect the province first. I did warn you of these actions when he first left.”

Not someone she wanted to agree with, and certainly not on the proper way to depose her own brother. But if these reports were true, Arkaen had damned himself.

Her father spun to face Baron Weydert. “I don’t need your lectures any more than I need strategies from a barely weaned girl, Oskari. I’ve seen to the boy, of course. No one who saw him will tell any tales, and Arkie won’t be sighted anywhere else. Not living, at least.” He fixed a narrow-eyed stare on Saylina as her heart skipped and her eyes burned. “I called my council to name an heir.”

Saylina stepped back, the back of her legs rubbing against her brother’s chair. A chair he’d never sit in again.

“Your lords serve.” Baron Weydert bowed low, his cloak falling to one side and dragging the floor. “I only thought it prudent to discuss the matter, my lord. My guards reported these measures have only just begun. Surely additional caution only serves the needs of our subjects.”

Baron Weydert cast Saylina a guarded smile. And winked. Almost a conspiratorial, friendly gesture, as though he were a peer trying to impress a crush. Gods above. He’d tried to marry his daughter to Arkaen. His son was betrothed to a lady serving at the imperial court. And his wife was long dead. Surely the baron couldn’t mean to take her hand.

“Then do what you will, Oskari.”

Saylina’s focus snapped back to her father, the casual dismissal of Baron Weydert’s challenge impossible to ignore. A lower lord did not spy on his liege. Or at least, he didn’t admit to doing so and the reigning high lord pretended not to notice that everyone did. It was a matter of etiquette. To treat such a breach as meaningless could only mean that her father had been in confidence with Baron Weydert on this already.

“Thank you, Father.” Saylina straightened. Gods, let her be mistaken. If only she could be sure she’d read the situation wrong. “I feel better knowing our council is monitoring the situation.” She licked her lips, casting a hopeful glance at the other lords. All silent and most bored. They had no intention of challenging Baron Weydert for whatever he’d planned with her father. “I’ve given thought to my marriage. There’s a southern trade-lord’s son—”

“No.” Her father shook his head. “When you were just a daughter, maybe, but not as my heir. We need to solidify the province.” He turned toward Baron Weydert and Saylina knew she hadn’t been wrong.

“Brayden.” She nearly shouted the word in a rush to speak before he suggested his childhood friend for her husband. Her father froze. “Brayden Skianda. The family is old but his father has taken to focus on his own lands more than the province. Brayden is more than a little frustrated with his own impotence. An ally for your heir and a chance to honor one of our valuable but less prominent allies with a gift of Brayden’s sister as a bride.”

Except Brayden was halfway through a very complex negotiation for his own wedding to another woman. But at least it was a name her father couldn’t immediately reject. He turned back, the endless pause hinting that he wanted to dismiss her suggestion. Finally, her father sighed.

“I’ll talk to Count Skianda, but that’s a complicated suggestion. Don’t get your heart set on him, girl.”

And just like that she had a reprieve. Time to find a husband that her father wouldn’t reject. If such a man existed. Saylina rose and curtsied.

“Shall I retire, then, to write the invitation?”

Her father considered her for a moment before nodding. “See to your lessons. I’ll write the invitation. Province business is none of yours.”

As though he hadn’t just named her heir in her brother’s place. But she’d expected it. Saylina straightened and crossed the room, refusing to meet the eyes of any of the other lords. A high lady did not beg for approval from her subjects. Stepping out the door, she counted out twenty steps before she let herself run through the halls, her finely held control finally on the edge of breaking. She’d better warn Lady Arianne that her brother was about to get a marriage proposal before her plans fell apart before she got them started. And hope she hadn’t just chosen an ally of someone about to betray her.


Niamsha Pereyra skulked at the edge of the scorching hot room, watching the other candidates trading jokes—and some coin—with the journeymen. Glasswright boys she’d called peers barely three quarters a year past. No one called her anything but gutter scum now, no matter that her papa would have given his last coin to aid these same children when he’d had the coin to spare. At least her now-ragged clothes helped the sweat keep her body cooler.

A series of furnaces built into the walls kept the temperature just within bareable, the breeze coming through the windows serving only to push the heat around as if to ensure everyone felt as uncomfortable as possible. But the tests couldn’t be held anywhere else. The guild craft hall was the only space large enough for a dozen amateur glasswrights to work at once with the masters that would be supervising. Niamsha had only been here once before, when her papa had brought her as a girl to introduce the guild to his intended apprentice. Long before his illness had robbed her of any chance to practice her craft.

“Nia, girl, come here.” The heavily-built guildmaster stood barely a head taller than the hopefuls. Too short to comand his own respect. But the guild gave him enough.

Niamsha slunk through the crowd, feeling the stares and smirks of her former peers as her too-short skirt swayed just below her knees. She’d barely managed to keep her and Emrys fed since her papa had sent the away. New clothes were no more than a dream. Or they had been, until the guildmaster’s servant had found her crouched under the eaves of a market stall and told her the news. Her papa had gone to the guild and done what he swore never to do: sold his personal secrets to the guild in return for a chance at apprenticeship. For Niamsha.

“Aye, Master Ferndon. Whatcha—” Too late she remembered her papa’s endless warnings. Guild’s got enough reason ta turn ya away. They didn’t need any more excuses. “What can I do for you?”

Master Ferndon smiled, gesturing to the furnaces. Behind him, seated at a work table with a fruit tart dangling from his hands, sat a tiny copy of Master Ferndon. His son, Janne Ferndon. Clumsy, slow-witted, and guaranteed an apprenticeship despite the new high lord’s change to the laws. All apprentices had to pass a trial, and any born beyond the guild given training before the tests. But Master Ferndon would never let his own son be rejected from the guild.

Niamsha’s stomach rumbled against the day’s emptiness. She’d never hated someone just for their luck before, but in that moment she hated Janne Ferndon.

“Just wanted a look at ya, girl,” Master Ferndon said. “Guild ain’t heard from ya or yer father since he took ill. Shame he didn’t make it ta see ya here.”

A lie, but one she couldn’t challenge. Master Ferndon had heard plenty of pleas for help from her papa. And, later, from her.

“Papa always…” The words clogged her throat like a hunk of burnt bread dug from the scrap cart. Her only chance to protect Em. “He ain’t been at gettin’ help.”

Another smile on Master Ferndon’s thin mouth, cutting across his pale face. “Glad he came to reason at the end. Yer always welcome in the guild. If you’ve the skill, of course.”

Niamsha clenched her jaw and nodded. No one could doubt her skill. She’d had apprentice offers when she was barely old enough for them but her papa wanted her schooled before she learned the trade. And now, because the gods-damned high lord thought he knew how to manage craft, she might not get a trade at all.

“Now.” Master Ferndon stepped away from the table and clapped his hands. “Let’s begin!”

A cluster of children—all too young to have apprenticeships yet—hurried in from the side alcoves, each attaching to a candidate as if it had all been rehearsed. Guild-provided assistants, each chosen specifically for their inability to influence the quality of the craft. The last girl stood frozen in the middle of the room, sweeping her eyes across the group before finally settling on Niamsha. With a determined smile, the girl scampered across the floor and grabbed Niamsha’s hand. They crossed to one of the massive furnaces. Two stations down from Janne Ferndon with his hands still sticky from the fruit tart.

Niamsha scowled at the boy before scanning the station. Colored glass rods, serviceable tongs and blowpipe and a proper marver and table where she could shape the glass. One of her father’s stemmed goblets with speckled color across the base would be a good piece.

The heat from the furnace throbbed against her skin, a call to the craft like a lost friend pinching her to make sure she was real. For the first time since entering the craft hall a smile tugged at Niamsha’s lips.

Grabbing the thick leather apron and gloves hanging beside her table, Niamsha snapped orders at the girl she’d been given as an assistant. A solid base of clear glass, then—

The clatter of glass rods scattering across the table interrupted her thoughts and she spun around, a sharp reprimand ready. The girl looked up through wide, terrified eyes, pale face gone white and the last couple rods slipping from her fingers. Niamsha snatched the rods away. Incompetent. They’d given her a useless, untrained girl who couldn’t even be trusted with cold glass. How could she hope to match the skill of apprentices who’d been training for this test for months?

Two furnaces down, Janne Ferndon fumbled his blowpipe into the glory-hole of his furnace, grunting as the heavy metal rod clanged against the interior wall. Master Ferndon’s invitation suddenly made sense. He couldn’t just give his boy an apprenticeship. Law forbade it. He needed Janne to do a passable job in a test where another guild-born apprentice failed so he could justify giving his son a place. And he’d chosen Niamsha, over a year out of practice and saddled with an inept assistant.

“Pick ’em up.” Niamsha smiled at the girl. Eiliin take Ferndon’s plan for her. She’d survived more than he knew. “One at a time. Set them here.”

Niamsha took one of the uncracked rods and slid it into the furnace with the long-handled tongs. She’d have to change her plans to something simpler. Cracked glass was dangerous to heat too fast and if she let it blow she’d do more than lose a test. But she could still best Janne Ferndon.

The simple glass goblet sat on the bench, riddled with bubbles from her haste, cool enough to touch, and in one piece. Far from Niamsha’s best work. But Janne hadn’t even managed to properly attach his base, presenting two separate—and therefore useless—bits of glass instead.

The judge gave a final opinion to the boy next to Niamsha and came to her table, offering a cursory nod before turning to her goblet. No one Niamsha had known, and not anyone her papa had talked about in her memory. But the judge seemed to know the craft. She checked the weight of the piece against the glass Niamsha had used, noted the size and distribution of the air bubbles. Finally, she set the piece down and consulted a list her servant held out for her.

“Niamsha, yes?” She drew the name out, hesitating over unfamiliar syllables, but made no attempt to shorten the name. “A commoner?”

“I—” Niamsha considered her choices. Her papa had told her to leave his name behind and Master Ferndon hadn’t marked her as born to the guild. But her papa had a reputation that should have reached beyond the city. That reputation could be her salvation. “Me papa was Master Treiu. He took ill, but taught me basics. Only I ain’t—”


The disappointment told Niamsha her choice was wrong. The judge shook her head.

“A guildie, then. Guildies typically get clearer glass than that.”

“I’s all rushed ’cause—”

“Everyone had the same time, Miss Treiu.” The judge shot her a glare, a hint of reproach in the words. “We know the time is short but we haven’t all day to leave our craft. Young master Janne didn’t even finish his piece, but his glass is clean. His can be salvaged. Yours…”


The word died on Niamsha’s lips, unheard or ignored. It didn’t matter. Niamsha had assumed a finished piece would be worth more. Few commissions tolerated delays and with unguilded, foreign glasswrights sending their wares in the guild couldn’t afford to lose commissions. But Master Ferndon must have known this judge. He’d told his son what to do.

The judge scanned her list again and shook her head. “I’m sorry, girl. With that impatience your only fit for cheap work and we’ve no room for scrap ‘prentices. Cheap glass doesn’t sell through the guild under the new laws.”

“I can do better!” Niamsha leaped forward, grabbing for the judge’s sleeve. “I can. Jus’ need ‘nother chance. I—”

“Let go.” The judge tore her sleeve free from Niamsha’s grasp. “You’re kind are the reason High Lord Arkaen instituted these tests. Assuming you’ve a place simply because you’re born to it. A guild-born child has plenty of chances to learn and take these tests. If you could do better, than you should have. As is, the guild is best rid of you.”

The judge spun around and stormed off to the next table, leaving Niamsha staring in her wake. How was she going to care for Em? The scrap-glass traders didn’t want someone else to pay and no guilded master would risk an unguilded apprentice. She hadn’t been given any chances. By design.

Master Ferndon’s smirk from his son’s table caught her eye. He’d planned this. Brought her in to fail. Tricked her papa into selling his trade secrets for this chance and then assigned her an incompetent assistant. And he’d done it all to steal her place for his own boy. He’d won.

Family Ties

“Father, we don’t have a choice.” Deyvan Corliann reached out a hand, pleading with his father to understand. “Uncle Caildenn won’t let this go.”

“And that is exactly why I cannot agree,” High Lord Mikkal Corliann replied. “Surely you see that. I’ve relinquished the management of my holdings to you and accepted your appointment as his heir. Nothing I’ve done since hints at rebellion. If he won’t trust my word, how can I trust his?”

Deyvan collapsed into the heavily padded chair beside his father’s desk, his hand falling on a pile of ignored papers. Papers that Deyvan should have answered weeks before, but for his uncle’s demands. The entire office overflowed with bits of work Deyvan had yet to examine. Requests for his blessing on new trade agreements, demands he resolve disputes between minor lords, adjustments in laws and regulations that he’d never realized needed the high lord’s approval at all. And more than a dozen contracts with marriage clauses attached, each hinting not so subtly that an alliance with that family might aid him should his uncle remarry and father another heir. No one trusted Uncle Caildenn’s word. Not even Deyvan.

“This isn’t about trusting my uncle,” Deyvan said. “It’s about showing the empire that the provinces remain united. The northern rebellion has been growing for almost six years now and any day they might break out from skirmishes and ambushes into a real war. Uncle Caildenn is our emperor and he needs the show his enemies that our nation is not to be dismissed. What if Mindaine decides the rebellion is a distraction they can use to take back Sentar Province? Or Osuvia wants to rebuild the former country on their lower border as a puppet state?”

“Then the imperial army will rally to our nation’s defense regardless of home province, as they always have.” High Lord Mikkal shook his head, as if the answer were obvious. “Caildenn knows that as well as I. My abandonment of an empty title does nothing but force me into subservience. It’s not about unity, Deyvan. It’s about cruelty.”

“That’s—” But Deyvan couldn’t really argue. Uncle Caildenn had a bad reputation, and nothing could make Deyvan forget the look in his uncle’s eyes when Deyvan had sworn his father’s loyalty. After the province high lords had forced Uncle Caildenn to marry into the Corliann bloodline much too young, he would never trust the brother-by-law he’d gained in High Lord Mikkal. “Uncle Caildenn has his flaws, but he only needs a proper family. The high lords took one chance of that from him by selecting my aunt as his bride, the Serr-Nyen took another with their assassins. Give him a chance, father. Uncle cares about me. I can help him and our empire.”

A sharp knock at the door interrupted their discussion and both Deyvan and his father spun in their chairs to face the entry. If anyone had overheard this discussion it could too easily find its way back to Uncle Caildenn’s ears. One hint that Deyvan or his father disapproved of Caildenn’s actions could tear the fragile truce between their families apart. After a few breaths, the knock came again. A servant poked his head in at Deyvan’s call.

“Pardon, my lords, but there’s a visitor for Prince Deyvan.” At Deyvan’s blank look, the servant pointed toward the formal study. “From up north.”

“Oh, yes.” He’d never get used to being Prince Deyvan. His cousins had been the princes, murdered in their beds by foreign warmongers hoping to disrupt the treaty Uncle Caildenn planned with the now-conquered nation of Sernyii. “Thank you. I’ll be down in a moment.” Deyvan waved a hand to dismiss the servant and turned back to his father. “I’ve a foreign trade discussion. But I promise, Father, I can turn Uncle Caildenn into a decent ruler if you’ll help me.”

High Lord Mikkal sighed. “I know you aren’t that naive, but I can see I won’t convince you. Let’s table this discussion for this evening.” He pushed up from the desk, offering a resigned smile. “May I join your discussion? I’ve missed the dance of negotiations between equal powers.”

Deyvan hesitated. He knew that tone from too many forays into the sweets cupboards as a child. High Lord Mikkal thought he knew something Deyvan shouldn’t be doing. And if he had found out about Deyvan’s communications with Mistress Varela of Serni Province he could wreak havoc on Deyvan’s carefully laid plans. But if no loyal-born imperial could trust a Sernien merchant-lord’s daughter after the massacre they’d made of Uncle Caildenn’s sons. Deyvan’s eyes settled on a piece of paper on his father’s desk. Innocuous but for the seal in a bottom corner. Uncolored wax as any commoner might use, but with a gryphon head pressed into the center.

“I’d be pleased to have you join me, Father,” Deyvan said, a weight lifting from his shoulders. This was the answer to his frustrations. If Deyvan’s father had plans with the Varela family, he could use that to find them a middle ground.

“I’m not certain you’ll feel the same in a few moments.” High Lord Mikkal gave him a knowing smirk. “But it’s better we have these things in the open.”

The warning gave Deyvan only a moment’s pause. For all his worries, he did trust his father. Even if it meant revealing a secret that most would use to control him. Family could be trusted.

Rising, Deyvan motioned for his father to follow and led the way through his keep—his father’s keep. High Lord Mikkal needed no guide through these corridors. Deyvan’s skin prickled under his father’s scrutiny like a child playing at adulthood under a critical gaze. Any moment he could misstep—greet a foreign dignitary with the wrong honorific or offer too much information at the opening of a trade deal—and his father would see. He’d pause, raise one hand and stop himself, smile, and politely comment on the difficulty of keeping etiquette up to date. A reminder that High Lord Mikkal had taught Deyvan everything he knew about politics and could still run circles around him. Deyvan swept his gaze along the hall, looking for anything to distract himself from his nerves, and settled on examining the tapestries adorning the walls. Each was a symbol of some great conquest or treaty that broadened the family holding. Priceless work that could have fed hundreds of refugees for years if his family had spent the money more wisely. Uncle Caildenn’s excesses weren’t so different from those his high lords and their vassals had indulged for generations.

Before Deyvan could sink too far into that train of thought he arrived at the door to his father’s—his formal study. He tapped quickly on the door to warn his guest and opened the door, smiling at the pretty blond woman seated by his crackling fireplace.

“Mistress Varela.” Deyvan crossed the room, waving a hand behind him to indicate his father. “Thank you for coming so far. Allow me to introduce—”

“Lord Sphinx!” Mistress Varela sprang to her feet, dropping immediately into a curtsy. “I hadn’t realized you had connections here, my lord.”

Deyvan froze, staring at her shocked face. Mistress Varela had been barely sixteen when her family came to reside at Deyvan’s home in the upheaval over the death of his cousins, but surely she knew High Lord Mikkal was Deyvan’s father. Except Deyvan’s father had been away at court, he realized. Dealing with the aftermath of the betrayal while some of the suspected perpetrators sheltered among his family. Mistress Varela’s mother and younger brother were dead now, leaving no one to tell her who High Lord Mikkal was. And yet…

“Lord Sphinx?” Deyvan asked, casting a glance at his father. No one had reason to call his father anything of the sort. Their family crest was a fox and High Lord Mikkal was known among all the high lords as the most direct and honest.

“Please pardon the secrecy, High Lord,” Deyvan’s father replied, offering a nod as if greeting an unknown but respected rival. “I consider a man’s identity his greatest commodity and the mistress had recently advised me of a Serr-Nyen tradition I quite like. To choose the name of a mythical creature as a war title for the protection of those you hold dear. She named me Sphinx for my refusal to reveal any details of my status.”

And there it was, buried amongst the casual explanation that would have satisfied any other. A hint of frustration, a nudge to follow his example, and a hidden—exasperated—statement. You knew better, Deyvan. As if his father had shouted the criticism in his ear. Deyvan bit back a curse and nodded.

“Of course. Lord Sphinx.” And Deyvan had better come up with his own title before he took any further steps toward joining Mistress Varela’s cause. If his father feared her knowledge he didn’t dare question that wisdom. He’d already given Mistress Varela enough power by letting her know his true name at all. Ymari’s face swam before his eyes, her strange culture a mystery in itself. A place where Deyvan could learn tricks even his own father didn’t know. “I do think I’ll follow suit. Among your allies, mistress, please refer to me as Kumiho.”

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Saylina Sentarsin tossed the folded bit of paper aside, frowning at the growing pile of invitations beside her chair. A mess her brother would have scolded her for. If he hadn’t run off four years before.

“Got one here.” Caela handed a note across the table.

Taking the message, Saylina broke the seal and smoothed out the paper. Yellow and black wax didn’t bode well. The last lordling from the northern lake regions had smelled of fish and wanted nothing more than a pretty face to flaunt on the decks of his boats.

To the highest of ladies and the fairest of maidens—

Rumors of your beauty reach far and wide.

If you will allow me by your side,

Together may our fortunes ride…

“Oh gods above.” Saylina choked on a laugh, waving the note at Caela. “You are joking, right?”

“Rich.” Caela shrugged, but the twinkle in her eyes revealed her. “Your lord father’d be happy with ya bringing in that coin. An’ this one got such a nice—”

Caela burst out laughing, her front cracking at last. Saylina sighed and dropped the message, shaking her head. Every proposal came with more absurdities and proclamations of affection, often with less and less chance she’d ever met the sender at all. And none had a truly legitimate reason for writing her. All just hints that her impending birthing day—and the leap in maturity from girl to woman it implied—had escaped no one’s notice.

Once she might have been flattered. Years ago, when Arkaen had skulked through the corridors to her door nearly every night to deliver forbidden treats and mock the tutors he so disdained and she so adored, she would have loved these messages. She would have seen them as hints that the lower lords thought her important and hadn’t forgotten her in the shadow cast by her much older and more problematic brother. But to receive them now, when Arkaen had been years fighting a war no one expected him back from and she was the only heir? Each meaningless line of flowery praise was an insult to her carefully laid plans.

“We need someone I can use,” Saylina said, sifting through the papers on her polished wood table. “Father will have spoken to everyone here. They’re only writing me because they think I can use my girlish charms to sway his opinion.”

As if her father would ever respect her wishes on matters of state. But the province didn’t know that. High Lord Johannus Sentarsin had mastered his role as doting father when anyone might see.

Caela pulled another missive from the pile and froze. The paper slipped from her fingers, fluttering through the breeze from the window to land with the seal up. Blue and silver wave with a stallion’s head embossed into the seal. Saylina frowned at Caela, grabbing the message.

“What does Count Skianda want?” She slipped a finger behind the seal and pried it free.

“I’m sorry!” Caela’s voice burst from her lips as if she couldn’t contain herself, her eyes wide and childish as she had rarely been despite her age. “I shoulda—” She cut off, scrunching her lips together in a miserable scowl. Pained, ashamed, and resigned.

The Skianda family had been involved in helping Saylina’s father place Caela as a spy. Caela could have shouted the admission from Saylina’s balcony and been more subtle. Saylina’s hands turned cold, her breath caught in her throat as her heart ached. The friend she’d recruited—had trusted with everything—had a secret master. Not so much smarter than her brother, after all. But Caela, at least, looked remorseful as Arkaen’s false guard had not.

“What have you told them?” Saylina could hear the ice in her own voice, her pain transformed into a parody of anger she couldn’t feel. Yet.

“Nothing!” Caela shook her head as if to convince herself as well as Saylina, the gutter speech she’d been working hard to lose creeping back into her words. “At first I’s just—he asked after you. If you’re doing well. Then your father, he wanted to know what your father’s doing. But I said nothing since we agreed ’cept what we told your father.”

“You truly think he sent you here to ensure I was handling the transition properly?”

Caela scoffed, waving the suggestion off. “Nah. He wanted you controlled, but I ain’t the type for it. I’m a starter. I’d bet one of these is his man.” She nodded at the pile of letters, then looked up to meet Saylina’s eyes. “He’s not…I ain’t with him. Not no more. He just wanted another gutter-born to do his dirty work.”

Saylina clenched her hand, considering Caela’s claim. She made a point. And what choice did a common-born girl like Caela have when a nobleman demanded they spy for him? No doubt Count Skianda had simply wanted a source of information. Especially since he’d been away at his estate so frequently over the past years. With Arkaen gone, Lordling Brayden Skianda had no easy access to the palace to gather information for his father. And Caela’s pleading gaze was so desperate.

“Count Skianda is a different force than my father,” Saylina said, deliberately keeping her voice cold. “He needs a different hand.”

Caela nodded, dropping her eyes to stare at the pile of papers. Disappointment and fear flashed across her features. But no anger. No surprise. Caela had never expected Saylina to forgive her.

“Next time, sister, come to me first.” Saylina smiled. “It’s much easier to plot together, and I have a bit of pressure we could have used on the count. Have you met his son Brayden?”

“The younger lord?” Caela nodded without waiting for Saylina’s confirmation. “He’s the one that found me. Never met the older, though I reckon he knew. Lately, though—” Caela frowned. “He hasn’t asked for me. Like he knows something without my news.”


If Brayden had chosen her, that changed things. Arkaen had considered Brayden a friend, though not one close enough to confide in. And if Caela was truly working for the Skianda’s she’d have no reason to correct Saylina’s mistake. Caela hadn’t truly betrayed her any more than before. And sisters forgave each other. Saylina flipped the message open and scanned the note.

My Lady Saylina—

I am led to believe we share mutual interests. I would be honored if you would grace my sister with a visit morrow-eve. Perhaps we will find the chance to speak.

—Brayden Skianda

Saylina frowned at the note. “That’s not a proper invitation.” It wasn’t a courtship, either, though she’d never have expected one from the heir to one of the most prestigious holdings in the province.

“What’d he say?”

Nothing,” Saylina replied. “Just that he’d be honored if I visit his sister.”

Caela bit at her lower lip. A habit she hadn’t yet lost from the streets. “He’s smart, that one.”

“Part of why Arkaen liked him,” Saylina said. “I don’t have the resources to learn his plans, though.”

“But I’ll guess he knows you’re planning something even without me.”

Saylina dropped the letter, meeting her gaze. “That’s a poorly kept secret by design. Are you implying he’ll try to stop me?”

She shook her head. “No telling.”

But Caela stared at the message like it held a meaning they were both missing and the urge to look again crept through Saylina. The timing was too close to be chance. A message inviting her to discuss mutual interests right as she was hunting a pliant husband to name heir in her brother’s place? The Skianda family was loyal to Sentarsin rule, but they weren’t fools.

“You gonna see him?” Caela asked.

“I have no reason not to.” Saylina took the message back, examining the too short, too cursory invitation. “I might learn quite a deal from such a meeting.”

Caela nodded. “Then I’m going with you. Not as a maid. Sisters fight for each other.”

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Kìlashà snapped awake from the Dream, heart pounding as the images played through his mind. Another death, this one slower and harsher—bloodier than the last. Each vision came with the same face, not always present but always a part of the slaughter. The golden blond hair that had marked a long-dead prince framed a far crueler face, etched as though from a stone gone mad with bloodlust. A face he knew and yet could barely recall.

With a shudder, he pushed back the hides that served him as bed coverings and rose, the cold stone of his home a solid comfort against his visions. The sparse decor of a table, a rough bench, and a discarded wooden rack for drying hid beneath the evening’s cloud-darkened skies. But Kìlashà had no need of light to see these surroundings. He strode across the space, a flash of warning from his power warning him in time to sidestep the pile of wood his clanmother had left by his door after he’d fallen asleep. The darkened camp beyond his doorway still held a few flickers of campfires, twinkling up from the base of the cliff as he peered over the edge of his own narrow path. Sentries waiting for the next shift. No one dared sleep without guards while war raged in distant lands.

“Good eve, Kìlashà.” His clanmother’s voice sang like water tumbling over rocks, her bluish skin shimmering in the darkness. “I thought you retired for your rest.”


He couldn’t bring himself to explain further, but she would understand. As the kin he’d known as a babe could not. His clanmother stepped closer, her skin too bright for comfort though her colors shifted to mimic the rustling waves of a restless sea. Her worry showing through in her skin.

“The seeker’s power will yield to your will in time,” she said. “All our people struggle to master their talents, and yours are more demanding than most.”

Kìlashà shrugged. “I do not fear—” She would know the lie. No reason to mislead the one who had cared for him when no other would. “Such fears are not what takes my rest from me. I feel a duty to see my visions answered.”

She laughed, the sound somehow deeper and more grating than her usual voice. A glance showed her skin had changed again, lightening to a sky blue as she shook her head in amusement. Not understanding what he’d said, no doubt. She always believed their powers nothing more than a tool when he could feel the deeper pull behind the information gleaned.

“Lasha, my child.” She laid a hand on his shoulder, gesturing to their sacred prayer house. “The Ancient Spirits grant you skill and allow you to glimpse Their wisdom. They do not make requests. There is nothing to answer.”

“You have not seen the moments in my Dreams,” he insisted. “They do not come to the others of our clan. Why to me, if I am of the clans? There is a need for my actions among the western lands.”

“No, Kìlashà.” Her hand clenched on his shoulder, though she kept her voice calm. “Those creatures have earned nothing from you and shall have none of my child.”

“You cannot be the one to decide.” He spoke the words with a conviction beyond his own knowledge, certain as he did that he could only cause her pain. But deception served no purpose here. “I am marked by the Ancient Spirits. We must follow Their will, not our own.”

“Their will brought you to me.”

But not for this purpose. He couldn’t explain how he knew what the Ancient Spirits intended, but the confidence rang in his very being. His clanmother sought to protect him from the very destiny she had insisted was his. But no value came from disabusing her of such beliefs at this time.

“Of course, clanmother.”

Kìlashà stepped away from her, examining the patterns of the fires below. Two fires by the western edge, where barely a fortnight past they had only maintained one. Another skirmish close to the borders of clan lands? Or had the council simply added guards to ease some of the restless tension suffered by the younger members of the clans. Hunting restrictions and travel limitations. Every week a new caution and smaller area to range and learn and train. Not as it had been when Kìlashà was still a child. Before the northern humans had rebelled over a murder more than a decade old and sworn vengeance for a crime they didn’t understand.

With a sharp twist of his vision, Kìlashà’s power flared to life and dragged him into a full fledged vision. An alternate moment of time similar to the flashes that had permeated his childhood, but this one stronger. He could barely hear his clanmother’s shout of alarm as he lost himself the the new moment before him.

Kìlashà lay back on the branch, watching the empty woods beneath him in casual disinterest. The spirits called him here, but They had not bothered to reveal their purpose. He’d learned by now to trust in Their will and so he waited, one leg dangling beneath him as though he were a child playing. A rustle of branches echoed through the forest sounds, cutting the bird songs short and sending the foraging rabbit ducking into a nearby thicket. Kìlashà examined the ground below for signs of the intruder, finally noting the branches of a bush the swayed ever so slightly against the breeze.

Not entirely inept at maneuvering, he noted. But clearly this intruder had no close knowledge of these lands and his inexperience left him announcing his presence to any who had lived and loved this forest. And Kìlashà knew this intruder was male, young, and important to the Ancient Spirits. This was why They had sent him to this mome—


His clanmother’s sharp voice cut through the vision, dragging him back tot he current moment. Darkness closed over him and for just an instant he was blind, deaf—he couldn’t breathe. Then everything returned at once, like a wave crashing down upon him, searing his eyes with the dim light from his clanmother’s skin as her worried face floated before him.

“Lasha, what happened? Are you injured?”

He shook his head, more the clear his thoughts than to answer, and pushed away from the cliff wall where he’s fallen.

“I am well, clanmother. I was simply unprepared. My visions are not usually so forceful.”

Or so unexpected. He’d rarely had an uncalled vision sine he’d come to live among the clans, and never one so strong and clear. Not even as a child, when his visions had led him from his bed and into the safety of the clans.

“That was not a seeker’s vision, child,” his clanmother said, her voice still heavy with worry. “The Ancient Spirits grant access to knowledge. They do not drag our people into visions unasked for. Think of the danger. A seeker unprepared could get lost in such a vision.”

“But…” He looked up into her eyes, paled to a seaweed green from their usual emerald. “The Spirits have always spoken to me thus.”

She shook her head, skin paling further into a barely blue-tinted haze as she considered the import of his words. Kìlashà frowned, considering the images again. She would like what They’d said even less.

“Perhaps you misunderstood.” She sounded as desperate to convince herself as to explain to him. “Many born of the clans use their skills without knowing. In dreams and when desperate. You’ve been worried. You just said your visions have invaded your dreams again.”

He turned away, looking to the est as if he could find the forest branch where his older self had sat. Not much older. Two, maybe three years. But he’d known the lay of that land as he knew the land beneath his feet here. A home he’d built for himself.

“The Spirits have ever spoken to me thus,” Kìlashà said. “And They have given me a task to see done.”

“Lasha, you can’t follow a single vision,” his clanmother cautioned. “You know the dangers of an unconfirmed moment. Any number of factors could lead to the moment you saw.”

“But some things must be done to achieve Their ends,” he replied. Kìlashà smiled at her, his reluctance to leave tugging at the need to follow his visions. “I know your frustration, clanmother. But these are the same as the visions which led me to you. The Spirits have a design for me and it lies to the west.”

“You’re twisting the vision to suit your own ends,” she said. “Seeing a solution to your nightmares and your vision at once. Lasha, you must bring this to the council.”

Kìlashà nodded. “Yes, the council should convene. I’ll need to explain my intentions.”

He slipped past her and hurried down the path. The council should still be in session. They’d met until long past moon-set for weeks now, everyone fearing for the safety of their clan. A safety he could now provide. His clanmother’s steps on the path behind him came too fast. Not following, but hurrying to catch him before he could say his piece to the other leaders of his clan. Kìlashà paused at the bottom of the path to wait.

“What do you plan to tell them, Lasha?”

“A simple truth.” He met her eyes, his voice steady despite her frantically shifting colors. “Our people need a guardian. Someone to serve as a buffer between the clans and this human conflict. We need this guardian to be someone unable to reveal our people simply from a glimpse through the trees, lest a human wander into view. Only one among us can handle such a task.”

Kìlashà held up a hand, the mix of tan and pink a sharp contrast to his clanmother’s bluish tones. Too much shade to be born of the air, too little to be born of the earth, and none of his clanmother’s watery coloring. Human-born.

“But you’ll be alone.”

As alone as she had been before the Spirits had sent Kìlashà to her. He could read the sorrow as clearly as any of the languages he had studied under her tutelage. But it could not change the will he’d seen in the Ancient Spirit’s plan.

“I am not leaving, clanmother. Only taking the invitation to educate myself.”

And perhaps, living at the edge of the people who had birthed his body, Kìlashà might learn what the Ancient Spirits had intended by cursing his soul to live in such a frail incarnation.


All content on this blog is provided free for any readers and I’m always delighted to reach new audiences. If you enjoyed this story and are able, please consider supporting my work with a donation:

All content on this blog is provided free for any readers and I’m always delighted to reach new audiences. If you enjoyed this story and are able, please consider supporting my work with a donation:

All content on this blog is provided free for any readers and I’m always delighted to reach new audiences. If you enjoyed this story and are able, please consider supporting my work with a donation:

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Check out more free content below, and be on the lookout for my upcoming debut epic fantasy, Wake of the Phoenix.

Check out more free content below, and be on the lookout for my upcoming debut epic fantasy, Wake of the Phoenix.

Check out more free content below, and be on the lookout for my upcoming debut epic fantasy, Wake of the Phoenix.

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Map Madness

Thanks for everyone taking a look at the blog today. My goal is to release a new post every Tuesday morning but unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, I am not able to get a full post out today. Instead, I’d like to share two preliminary maps with everyone while I take the next week to prepare my story for release.

With no further delay, here are a couple locations within the setting of my upcoming debut novel, Wake of the Phoenix.

All of the original fiction released so far on my blog, Tales of the Laisian Empire, are set in Myiratas. Many of these stories take place in or relate to Sentar Province, a province contained with the Laisian Empire. The capital city of Sentar Province is Torsdell, marked on the map just above the central mountain range. Here’s a preliminary map of Torsdell, where the main action of Wake of the Phoenix takes place.

Some of the items marked here relate specifically to events in book one, as this map is intended for inclusion in the opening pages.

Thanks for your patience while I finish my next post, and check back regularly for updates on Wake of the Phoenix!