I’ve been busy working on drafting the fourth Gargoyle and Sorceress book and revisions for Death’s Queen. So, yes, busy author. Starting this month, I hope to have a new book out each month (or at least up on pre-order) from now until spring. First out the pipeline with be Death’s Queen, which is still with the editor, but here’s a preview chapter. (I’ll try to post one next week as well.)
Disclaimer (Unedited–all typos and mess up are entirely my own.)
In the Dead City, far below the weight of its living twin, the absence of sound had become a presence with each passing year. Now it lay heavily upon dust and stone alike. Such would drive ones of lesser fortitude to abandon their honor and duty long ago.
His Watchers of the Dead were not such weak-willed beings.
They waited now, as they had for uncounted time; their expressions unreadable under their heavily tattooed and painted features. In times long ago, their names were revered by the living, but like many things forgotten in the long passage of time, their names had been forgotten by those above in the living city of Grey Spires.
His Watchers of the Dead did not forget so easily and they awaited their king with infinite patience.
Only the soft flickering light of the mage globes moved, castings shifting shadows to flow across the carvings on the stone walls. At its center, surrounded by twelve radiant crystal pillars, rested two elegantly carved stone sarcophaguses. One depicted a tale of love and loss. The other of a long life lived with honor, compassion, and wisdom. That one was now empty. Dead Queen Karneska—his last guide and mentor—had made her final journey to the spirit realm a century past.
In spirit form, he ghosted between the crystal pillars and the guards, as he returned to his mortal shell after a lengthy commune in the Oracle Tower. Both dire and joyous tidings it had imparted, making clear what he’d already gleaned from his fellow ruler before she’d departed to rejoin her own beloved king—Soryn’s predecessor.
A soft rustling of his feathers, the first sound heard after its long absence, drew his guards’ focus and betrayed his return. Time was something he had in plenty, but for once he found himself wishing for more, so that he could mull over his own feelings on the subject of what the Oracle had revealed. He’d known the foretold events were approaching. The Twelve had been reborn.
And so had she. His beloved.
He knew what that meant. He would be reunited with her—only to be forced to make her his queen and then send her from his side to complete her task, her purpose. For the first time in all his long existence, he wasn’t sure if he could do what was asked of him. He wasn’t sure if he could part with her. Again.
A singularly selfish part of him didn’t want to be parted from her again.
Had he still been mortal, he would have sighed. Or fretted and paced. In truth, while he no longer had breath to sigh with, he still wanted to fret and pace. Instead, he merged his spirit with his body inside his tomb.
The stone sarcophagus, which acted as an anchor for his spirit when he was not in his body, still inspired a twist of dread deep in his avian soul and he forced his wings to still their restless shuddering. The millenniums he’d spent in his current form had dulled almost all other instincts left over from a time when his heart still pulsed within his chest. Only the call of the open skies still existed deep in his phoenix soul. But it was useless to dream of the skies, his dry lifeless feathers no longer able to carry him aloft.
He shoved aside that old mental longing.
Duty required him to act. There was no point withholding his orders from his guards. The path was clear. The future written in this one regard.
Even as he had for his predecessor, the previous king, there must be a new queen to take up the mantle left by the old.
His mind, spirit, and body aligned in agreement, the heavy stone lid of his sarcophagus moved with the scraping of stone on stone as the strength of magic and will pushed it aside. Joy spiked through his spirit at the thought of escaping his stone confines.
Rising from his sarcophagus in a swirl of power and dark robes, he looked to his guards. Even before he had fully descended the stairs to stand before them, they had all dropped to the ground in graceful bows. It was an honor he’d never truly grown accustomed too, even when he’d been a living king. Breaking them of the habit had proven frustrating, so he had given up long ago.
‘Raikena, arise,’ he said in a voice both soft and hollow, one that had not known the constraints of mortal flesh for many centuries. ‘You shall convey my commands to your brothers and sisters of the order.’
“My King, I listen and obey.” The gryphon folded her wings tight to her back and raised her crested head from where it had brushed the cold stone of the floor.
‘I have been with the Oracle.” He paused, assessing their thoughts, learning what his guards had already discovered while he’d been within the tower. “As you have guessed, the Twelve have returned. The Destroyer, protector to the Twelve, is abroad in the land once again and she and her bondmate have been enslaved by his Larnkin, Itharann. But as dire as that would normally be, they are not my concern. There is another darkness sullying our land. A creature capable of devouring other forms of magic. Its most potent slave is a human by the name of Lord Master Trensler. The leader of the human acolytes.’
Raikena tilted her head, her dark eyes intense and watchful. “While you were within the Oracle’s Tower, the living queen and council ventured to Sorrow’s borders and requested your guidance. She asked if you knew what Trensler was. We said you we’re communing with the Oracle Tower.”
‘If I was to tell the truth, I do not know what Trensler’s master is, but I know it is lethal to all living things—perhaps the greatest threat creation ever faced. The Oracle and I have a plan that may allow us to learn more about this deadly enemy, but first I must solidify my magic, and only with another queen at my side will that be possible.’
“Your queen has been reborn at last, hasn’t she?” Raikena’s voice held a hint of joy. “Tell me where to find her and I shall bring her to you.”
‘Yes. She has been reborn at last. And while I rejoice in that, I also despair that she will not know me, likely will not remember what we were to each other until long after her Larnkin awakes. Unfortunately, Lord Master Trensler will not give us the time needed for her to remember.’ Dead King Soryn turned from his guards and made his way across the chambers vast floor until he reached the first stair leading up to the two thrones overhead. ‘She is already in danger. I shall protect and watch over her until you and your brothers and sisters of the order reach her. If she will not come willingly, then bring her by force, but she must come for her own protection. Once she is safe I shall make her my queen.’
“Force, my king?” Raikena stiffened, her shock evident in her raised crest. “To force one of our sovereigns….”
‘If it will set your mind at ease, think of this as rescuing your king’s beloved. What Lord Master Trensler will do is more horrific than what the gods have planned for her.’
Although he left unsaid her true fate was almost as terrible. Being bonded to him would be a living nightmare for any creature of flesh and blood. He couldn’t keep the horror from creeping into his own soul at the thought of bonding a warm, living being to his current form. How was his poor beloved supposed to accept him as her bondmate?
She didn’t have a choice—not if creation had a hope of survival. The only comfort he could take was in the knowledge that she’d always been strong—all heart and fire and steadfast determination. She would not fail.
“As my king commands.” Rising gracefully, the gryphon returned to her position among the other guards. With the surety of one who is ancient, she remained silent and waited for the rest of her orders.
‘The Oracle told me Queen Lamarra is in the company of her youngest sister, Sorsha. They are both fleeing from acolytes. Go now. Make sure they both are safe, but bring Lamarra to me.’
“At once, my king. Would you have us tell her why?” Raikena, loyal as all her kind, would serve, but her tone said she would take no pleasure in this.
‘No,’ Soryn said. If he was going to condemn her to a fate where she was bonded to the dead, where she would be helpless against the raw power of his Larnkin and the primal energies of the Spirit Realm, then the burden was his to explain—that she, a human woman, who knew nothing of Larnkins, bondmates, or magic would be required to submit. And after she endured all that, her reward would be death. ‘I will explain her fate. That is my task.’
“Very well, my king.”
Even though he wanted to rage at what fate required of him, he merely paused and then ordered, ‘Go, take a dozen other tomb guards and bring Lamarra to me as quickly as possible.’
Raikena nodded and then bowed once more before turning and disappearing into the shadows to carry out his orders. The remaining guards neither moved nor betrayed their sorrow in any way. Yet he could feel what they felt. None deserved such a fate as what was about to be served to this human woman, but divine will would be served as it had for generations past.
Death would claim a new queen. It mattered not what he himself wanted.
Once again the chamber was quiet, no sounds invaded from the world above as deep in the heart of Sorrow, the city of the dead, its king settled upon his throne and awaited his queen’s return.