Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, Writer, Possessed by Cats

Tag: Dagger of Elanna (Page 2 of 3)

Tuesday morning thoughts

It’s going to be a short post this morning, mainly because I’m blogging at Mad Genius Club today. Go check the post out. I talk about Books-a-Million and their indie publishing print platform as well as some of the changes over on the KDP side of things.

The other day, I posted a brief snippet of what I thought might turn out to be the opening to Nocturnal Rebellion, the next book in the Nocturnal Lives series. I’ll be honest. I had hoped by writing the scene, the muse would be satisfied and let me finish the final tweaking on Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2). But noooo, the book has taken hold and the muse is demanding my attention. So, it looks like the next couple of weeks will see me splitting my time between the two. Fortunately, all that is needed on Dagger is minor tweaking and the final check of the print file before taking the book life. For now, however, the e-book is available for pre-order and, hopefully, the print book will be ready to go by the time the e-book goes live.

If Rebellion continues as it started, it is going to be a roller coaster ride. When I started figuring out the plot for the book several months ago, it did not look anything like what is happening now. Of course, as I’ve said before, my muse is an evil bitch and she is loving not only throwing me for a loop with the book but also in not letting me know what is happening more than a few pages ahead at a time. So far, it’s working — or so my alpha readers have said. Well, they also told me I had to keep writing it, so I guess something is working right.

Now I’m off to find another cup of coffee — idiot dog and BratCat decided 0430 was a wonderful time to get me up. It didn’t matter that I disagreed. Sigh.

Later!

Monday morning, oh how I loathe thee

This is the morning so many employers dread. Super Bowl Monday. The day when employees drag in, suffering from too little sleep, too much over-indulgence and either too much bragging because their team won or too much angsting because their team lost. Those who supported the Falcons — or at least wanted to see the Pats lose — might admit it was a great game, especially the last few minutes. But, there is still the fact the Falcons lost after holding a 21+ point lead at one point, something no other team has done in history. So, Falcon supporters have ruffled feathers, adding to the Monday morning blues.

As for me, I started the day off much too early — thank you, BratCat — and have already been to PT. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am firmly convinced physical therapists are frustrated sadists in their private lives and they take it out on their clients. All I can say right now is OUCH!

Which is also sort of what I’m feeling right now about my muse. Myrtle has never been an easy muse to live with. But, right now, she is taking great glee in causing me problems. Normally, when I finish a project, I need a week or so to recharge the batteries and get the new novel’s “voice” in my head. Except this time, Myrtle has different plans. I’m not officially finished with Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2). Sure, it’s up for pre-order. Yay!. But there are still a few tweaks that need to be made and I need to finish the print set-up because I’m not happy with how it looked when I did it earlier. But is Myrtle letting me do it? Nooooo.

As you saw yesterday, she has ambushed me with the next Nocturnal Lives opening scene. Except now it is scenes. And, let me tell you, the book is already throwing me for a loop. Not only because I hadn’t planned on it being the next book I wrote but because of how it starts off. Worse, as I think I said yesterday, I don’t know where this is going. Myrtle is hiding more than the next few pages from me. Sigh, someone come take my muse on vacation for a week or so. Hell, I’d be happy if you’d just take her out for drinks and let her spend the night with you.

Why do I feel like Rodney Dangerfield right now when he would joke, “Take my wife — please”?

I guess I don’t need to sleep.

One more thing before I head off to do some work — after finding coffee. If you haven’t read Dave Freer’s Mad Genius Club post today, do so. He hits it out of the part with this post.

A pre-order and something new

Like Punxsutawny Phil, the writer slowly sticks her head out of her burrow and looks around. Unlike the thrice-damned ground hog who foretold of more winter to come before hiding back inside his hole, I welcome the sun. The last two months have been interesting, in the not-so-fun sort of way. But I have seen the light at the end of a tunnel — note, I don’t say “the tunnel” because I learned long ago that life consists of a lot of tunnels and then clear areas. And that means I have pulled the lever and have a new title up for pre-order on Amazon.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2) is available for pre-order — finally. I’m very proud of this book and, in my opinion, it is even better than the first book of the series,Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

Not only is Dagger available for pre-order but I got hit with the opening of Nocturnal Rebellion yesterday as well. When I say “hit”, I mean in the sledgehammer sort of way. My muse has once again proved she is not only evil but that she revels in it. This is very rough it was one of those moments where I had to drop everything to get the general idea down.

***

The bullpen fell silent as the chief of detectives moved to the front of the room. The look on his face mirrored how they each felt. Disbelief, sorrow and anger but mostly anger. Every cop, not to mention every cop’s family, faced this possibility each time they stepped out the door. But that didn’t make it any easier, especially not when it hit this close to home.

“This squad has faced a number of challenges the last two years.” He paused and reached up to rub his eyes with thumb and forefinger. Then he cleared his throat and continued. “Each time, you have risen to the challenge and done what was necessary to carry out your duties as detectives for DPD. I know I’m asking a lot now, but I need you to do so once again.

“The next few days are going to be difficult for the entire force, but especially for you. You lost one of your own the other day. Tomorrow, we will lay your fellow detective to rest. I expect each of you to be there in dress uniform. Show the city that we bleed blue. Then show them that DPD does its job, no matter what. Find the bastards responsible for the ambush and bring them in to face justice.

“It would be easy to seek vengeance. I understand that feeling because I share it. No one, no matter who they are, is allowed to kill one of our own. But we will not lower ourselves or the rest of the force down to those bastards level. Find them and bring them in. We will let the courts deal with them and we will be in the viewing chamber on the day they are brought in for their execution.” He glanced around as detectives, uniformed officers and clerical workers nodded grimly. “Do your lieutenant proud and find those bastards before they manage to kill anyone else.”

As one, everyone present turned to look at the darkened office with its closed door and silence once more fell over the squad room.

Have Some Free Promo

(This post originally appeared at According to Hoyt. I’m reblogging it here not only because I know and highly recommend most of the authors listed but also because it has a link to — wait for it — Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2). Yes, it is finally live for pre-order on Amazon.)

Once more unto the breach comes the promo post! Reports of my demise may have been slightly embellished. On the contrary, the Oyster Clan has recently grown by one more minion. Granted I may look somewhat dead now, but I assure you I still have a pulse. But! Back to the matter at hand: BOOKS! In my hiatus I’ve received several new submissions. We have a new series launched, a series finished, a couple others continuing; life is good in indie Hun fiction land. Go grab a book and a nice cuppa, and enjoy the lovely winter weather from the comfort of your couch. If you’ve already read everything on offer, give a shout in the comments for some recommendations. As always, future promo post entries can (and should!) be sent to my email. Happy reading!

Jason Dyck, AKA The Free Range Oyster

Karen Myers

ON A CROOKED TRACK

The Chained Adept Book 4

SETTING A TRAP TO CATCH THE MAKERS OF CHAINED WIZARDS.

A clue has sent Penrys back to Ellech, the country where she first appeared four short years ago with her mind wiped, her body stripped, and her neck chained. It’s time to enlist the help of the Collegium of Wizards which sheltered her then.

Things don’t work out that way, and she finds herself retracing a dead scholar’s crooked track and setting herself up as a target to confirm her growing suspicions. But what happens to bait when the prey shows its teeth?

In this conclusion to the series, tracking old crimes brings new dangers, and a chance for redemption.

THE CHAINED ADEPT

The Chained Adept Book 1

A STRONG WIZARD WITH UNANSWERED QUESTIONS AND A CHAIN AROUND HER NECK.

Penrys’s past is unknown, but she’s got a better grip on her future: find out where she came from, discover what happened to her, and figure out how the unremovable chain around her neck makes her different from other wizards.

What any of this has to do with the renewal of an ugly war between neighboring countries, half a world away, is just something she’ll have to sort out, along with the rumors of wizards where they don’t belong.

Assuming, of course, that no one removes her as a threat before she can find her footing.

All she wants is a firm foundation for the rest of her life, with a side helping of retribution, and if she has to fix things along the way, well, so be it.

Laura Montgomery

SLEEPING DUTY

Waking Late Book 1

Gilead Tan and Andrea Fielding survived their stint in the military, got married, signed up to emigrate to a terraformed colony world, and went into cold sleep for the journey from Earth. While they slept, the starship went through the wrong fold in space and settled for a different world, a wild world. Three centuries after the founding of a colony on the uncharted planet, Gilead awakens to find humanity slipped back to medieval tech and a feudal structure. Worse, the king who wants Gilead awake won’t let Gilead awaken his wife.

Amie Gibbons

PSYCHIC UNDERCOVER (WITH THE UNDEAD)

A Paranormal Mystery

Vampires aren’t the only things that go bump in the night…

Singers are a dime a dozen in Nashville, so despite her mama’s urging, psychic Ariana Ryder’s working her way towards a career in law enforcement at the FBI, one tray of fetched coffee at a time, instead. She’s got an extremely handsome boss, a dancing partner among the lab techs, and a solid year as the team rookie under her belt…

Right until the director gives her a big break, working undercover as a singer at a club to investigate why it’s being targeted by a serial killer. This might have worked better if the club didn’t happen to be a vampire nest.

Now, with the vampire’s investigator, Quil, on her case, the jurisdictional battle isn’t the only thing heating up as they race to solve the case before the killer strikes again!

Cyn Bagley

DRAGON BOY

Hilda’s Inn Book 2

So who or what is Davi Dracson?

If you’re down on your luck, come to Hilda’s Inn for a game of dice and cheap ale. The hundred-year-stew has been stewing for a hundred years and the fire never burns out.

Except Hilda’s Inn is under new management, and Hilda is on the run with Davi, a dragonling. There will be dwarfs, ogres, dragons, and magical trinkets between Delhaven and Koenigstadt, the king’s city.

Don’t forget that the woods are not a safe place—the Draugr is lurking and hungry. And, he has a taste for magic.

Henry Vogel

THE UNDERCOVER CAPTAIN

Captain Nancy Martin Book 2

Unwillingly drawn out of her annual drunken stupor, Captain Nancy Martin, Retired, finds herself involuntarily reactivated. Her assignment is to help Special Agent Erica Hampton solve the disappearance of an entire school’s student body. Hampton’s superiors suspect a slaver ring has kidnapped the children, to sell them on a rim world beyond the Terran Federation’s borders.

When Nancy and Erica discover the truth behind the abductions, they realize their deadline is quite literal, and much closer than they thought. When the gloves come off, the missing children couldn’t have anyone better fighting for their lives.

It will take every bit of skill Nancy and Erica have to track down the villains behind the disappearances. Defeating them will be a different matter entirely.

Amanda Green

DAGGER OF ELANNA (SWORD OF THE GODS BOOK 2)

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Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

I’m baaaack!

It seems as if every time I make the commitment to blog daily, things start off fine. Then real life takes my pledge as a challenge to see just how much it can throw at me before I cry “Surrender!”. Usually, when that happens, I can dig out after a couple of weeks. It seems like this time real life decided to not only knock me down but try to knock me out, at least for the first quarter, if not longer. I won’t go into all the details, just know that we’ve had more than our fair share of death of extended family members, illness, death of appliances. Well, you get my drift.

What happened as a result is my writing, editing and everything else associated with publishing got pushed to the back burner for awhile. In some ways, that’s been a good thing because it has let me come back with fresh eyes to projects that are now not only late, but very late. It has also given me time to think about how I approach my career and make some decisions about how to move forward. I’ll probably be blogging about those decisions later.

However, for those of you who have been patiently — and some of you not so patiently and I really do appreciate knowing you are looking forward to my work — waiting, here are a couple of cover reveals.

Dagger of Elanna will be released Tuesday, Feb. 21st. Assuming real life doesn’t decide to see what sort of twists and turns it can throw me today, I will hopefully be able to get it up for pre-order today or tomorrow. However, with all that has happened for the last two months, I’m not making any promises on the pre-order.

Here is the second cover reveal. We will be tweaking the cover very slightly before the book goes on sale, but I have to say I really like what Sarah has done with it. And, for those of you who have been waiting for the next Honor and Duty novel, the plan is to have it ready for a May /June release. There will be more about that after I put Dagger to bed. Oh, and the title for the next book is Victory from Ashes.

That leaves Nocturnal Rebellion, part of the Nocturnal Lives series, which I am planning for a Late Summer/ Early Fall 2017 release. The so-far untitled second book in the Eerie Side of the Tracks series will come out around Halloween. It, like Victory from Ashes,  is already in the works. Somewhere in there will be the next installment to Skeletons in the Closet. The nice thing is, the novellas and books set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks world are quick writes, relatively speaking, because they don’t require as much research and fact-checking as some of my other books. Now, this is a tentative schedule because I am not, absolutely NOT, going to tempt real life to try to beat me over the head any more than it already has.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), click on the link or the image to check it out.

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails. Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission. Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

 

Snip, clip and pic

Apologies for the silence this past week but I’ve been up to my eyes in remodeling chores around the house. There has been patching of walls — especially the one place in the hallway that BratCat decided was his place to try to dig through the drywall. The only thing was, this spot was about 3 1/2 feet off the ground. So, he would jump, claw and rip. At least he has left the patch alone. — painting, cleaning and final touch up. There has been furniture shopping and carpet cleaning. The result is a new office for me (still in the final fix-up phase but at least workable) and a remodeled bedroom for my son when he comes home as well as other guests. Oh, and a very sore and tired body.

The downside of all this has been little writing, relatively speaking, has been happening. I can still make my NaNo goals but it means picking up the pace some. Unfortunately, today is going to be a lost cause between workmen coming to the house, a lunch date and then a meeting tonight. So, while I have a few minutes today, I’m going to try to blog and get some writing done.

But, to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to, here is a picture of part of the study. The bookcase runs from the floor to almost the ceiling, with books and a few other things on top, basically making floor-to-ceiling. I spent the better part of two days going through the books in it, clearing out those that could be donated, setting aside those to be checked before determining what to do with and moving some of my books from various nooks and crannies around the house.

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The chair in the bottom left hand corner will be going away eventually, when my old lady cat lets me take it out. That’s why there’s a towel in it. She likes to sleep there — after doing a lot of kneading. The ancient TV, kept for older gaming systems and the built-in DVD player, is sitting atop a circa 1940 RCA Victor radio. The radio was rescued from a closet in my grandmother’s house more years ago than I want to admit. A guy I dated for awhile restored the radio to working order and it is something I treasure. Here is a shot of it. Sorry for the glare. I have window film on order to cut that out.

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Here is a quick snippet from the rough draft of Dagger of Elanna. No, I’m not posting this in order. Nor am I going to give context. Why? Because I’m evil. VBEG

***

Cait stood before the fireplace and stared into the flames of the fire someone had built up before she arrived. If asked, she would have been hard pressed to name another time when she had felt so cold. She never should have taught all her classes without the proper outerwear, especially when rain and sleet mixed with the snow. But after doing so with the yeomen the day before and then taking the journeymen on a run that morning, she had little choice. She refused to be the instructor the students believed had favorites. Besides, she had taught them an important lesson. At least she hoped she had. The sooner they understood conditions would rarely be optimal when they were forced to take up their blade to defend themselves or someone else, the more prepared they would be for trouble should it find her.

For the most part, her students had quickly accepted the lesson. A few, like Isabella, had actually taken to the lesson. Then there was Ciaran. She sighed and hugged the quilt she had thrown across her shoulders close. The day’s classes had left her with a great deal to consider, where Ciaran was concerned. After the day’s lesson, and especially after the way he had taken that cheap shot at Yasmin, Cait wondered if he would ever accept the fact his father’s position in the Imperium had nothing to do with his role in the Order.

Had she and Jerrod added to the problem where Ciaran was concerned by having her teach that particular journeymen’s class? Yes, she was newly Confirmed into the Order but she was something very different from those who had been Confirmed with her. That was something she still had a hard time accepting. Why had the Lord and Lady chosen her the way They had? She looked at her markings and shook her head. She could not deny she had been blessed by the gods but that blessing set her apart, no matter what her friends and mentors said.

Perhaps it would be best to ask Jerrod to assign Kala or one of the other knights to teach that particular journeymen’s class. Let Ciaran finally see his father’s position meant nothing to them and it most certainly did not accord Ciaran a senior member of the Order as his instructor.

A knock interrupted her thoughts. Before she could call out, the door opened and Berral stepped inside. Cait grinned ruefully as the Adept moved quickly to place a tray on the low table in front of the fireplace. The enticing aromas of hot soup, fresh bread and roasted vegetables filled the room. Cait took a step toward the table and then stopped as Berral shook her head.

“You are going to catch your death if you keep teaching without wearing your winter gear, child.” The Adept reached out and lightly touched Cait’s forehead. “And you are still chilled. Go bathe. Your food will stay warm while you do.”

Not giving her a chance to protest, Berral escorted her through the sleeping room to the bathing room. Like a mother with a recalcitrant child, the Adept simply motioned for Cait to begin undressing. As she did, Berral drew her bath, carefully adjusting the knobs and water from the hot springs under the Citadel soon filled the room with steam. When she slid into the hot water, Cait signed in relief.

“So, why did you feel it necessary to do without your winter gear today, child? You promised you would not do so again unless absolutely necessary.” Concern filled the Adept’s voice.

Cait slid further into the tub until only her face was above the water. “I hadn’t planned on it, Berral. Unfortunately, it became necessary.” She lay there, letting the heat from the water seep into her, warming her, and explained. “Ciaran continues to be a problem. His attitude is bad enough but today, after Kala called an end to an exercise – one in which Yasmin proved his greater size is not all he needs to win a fight – he struck Yasmin. He knew the exercise had ended and Yasmin had moved away, dropping her guard. He took advantage of her trust in us to try to harm her.” Anger laced her voice as memories of how Avrim had done even worse to her pushed against her.

“Is she all right?”

“She is and Ciaran is lucky their classmates did not get hold of him. It won’t surprise me to learn they have figured out a way to teach him how foolish he was.” She doubted they would harm him, but they would get the message across. Whether he heeded it was something entirely different. “Berral, he has been here long enough to understand his father’s status in the Imperium does not entitle him to special privileges or treatment. Yet he continues to try to use that status to his benefit.”

The older woman nodded, her expression serious. “Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with him?”

“I thought to speak with Jerrod about assigning someone else to teach the class. The others understand that, though I am the Knight-Cleric, I am also one of the newest Confirmed members of the Order. All Ciaran sees is that the third highest ranking of the Order is teaching the class. He sees it as reinforcement of his status.”

For a moment, Berral said nothing. Then she shook her head and smiled ruefully. “None of us thought about that possibility when we determined your teaching schedule. But it does explain why you taught your classes outside and without wearing your winter gear.”

“In a way it does.” She sat up and reached for the washcloth hanging over the edge of the tub. “I had the yeomen’s class work without winter gear yesterday. After Ciaran’s missteps today, I felt it necessary to make a point with his class. Once I had, I thought it best not to appear to have a favorite class by having them all work outside and that meant I had to make the same points with them I had with the morning’s journeymen’s class.”

“I wish I could say I did not understand and certainly did not approve, but I do both. However, you must promise not to do this again, not for a while at least. We cannot afford to have you make yourself ill.”

“I have no intention of doing so, Berral. I promise.”

“I’ll leave you to finish bathing. Your dinner will be ready when you are done.” The Adept walked gracefully to the door and then turned and smiled. “I will send word to both Jarrod and Alicia that we need to meet over breakfast come morning. They may have an idea or two the best way to deal with Ciaran.” With that, she left the bathing room, closing the door behind her.

Cait smiled slightly and once more lowered herself into the warm water. For the first time in hours, she did not feel so cold she would have sworn her bones might shatter if someone bumped into her.

***

Dagger of Elanna is the second book in the Sword of the Gods series. It will be available for pre-order in the next week to ten days. Release date will be shortly after that. The first book of the series, Sword of Arelion is currently available as e-book and in print.

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

A Tease

I’m not exactly sure where this scene will occur in Dagger of Elanna. Well, that’s not quite right. I know but I’m not telling. VBEG.

A cold wind, as cold as his master’s heart, whipped through the trees. The moisture in the air, not quite frozen but near enough not to matter, felt like knives cutting through his exposed skin. Snow covered the ground for as far as he could see. What he would not give to be warm.

Shivering, he pulled his hood tighter around his face, swearing as he stumbled over something hidden by the snow. Plodding along at his side, the dappled gelding whickered in ill-temper. Neither of them liked being out. Unfortunately, he had no choice. If he wished to continue living, he had to do as he had been told.

Twelve hours earlier, he had been warm, well-sated and safe inside his small cottage. Then a knock sounded at his door. Little had he known that simple action would change his life and not for the better.

Not that it had been unexpected. He had known the summons would one day come. That was the price he had to pay for practicing the black arts. Blood magic was only part of his repertoire and that would earn him death should he ever be brought before the Imperial courts. But should the Imperium discover his other talents, death would not come fast enough. So, when his master sent for him, he knew he had no choice. He either did as instructed or he died. The choice had been an easy one, at least at first. Now, knowing what he did about his master, he wished he had refused.

Slogging through the snow, he knew the chances of successfully completing his mission were slim. Had it been otherwise, he never would have been sent for. His master preferred keeping him and his pets close to hand. What he had not known when he left his cottage was how bad the situation would turn out to be. Now he feared he would not be the only one to suffer his master’s wrath.

Death would be welcome compared to what his master would do to him and all those he cared about should he fail in this mission. A mission he never would have been forced to accept but for the failure of that bastard son Wolf. If his master had asked sooner, he would have told him not to trust anything so important to a skin walker. They were well-suited for violence but not for stealth or patience. Their bloodlust all too often led to them making mistakes. The fact Wolf and his pack were now dead, Gareth knew his prediction had been right.

Wolf and his pack would not be the only ones to die. Their failure to complete their mission would soon result in the deaths of all they cared for. Their master would see to it. When failure happened, those responsible, should they still live, tended to die painfully as did their families. Those who successfully did as instructed were, on the other hand, well-rewarded.

Not that it helped him any just then.

As he neared the edge of the tree line, he glanced across the wide open area of fields and training rings. Beyond them lay the Citadel. The home of the thrice-damned Order of Arelion had been built to be easily defended. Resting atop a tall hill, almost a mesa, three sides formed cliffs leading down to the river. The fourth side, the side he currently surveyed, was nothing but open land, easily watched and guarded. Anyone approaching, either across the fields or by the trade road, would be seen long before they reached the main gates.

His master knew that but cared not. He had given Gareth one order: watch the Citadel. Report who came and went and, should the opportunity arise, kill the girl.

All of which would be easier said than done, as Wolf and his pack discovered. At least he had one tool Wolf had not. He had his pet.

At the thought of his only companion other than his horse, he turned to the gelding. A slight smile touched his lips at the sight of the black raven perched on the pommel of the saddle. Except, when one looked closely, they would see it was not a raven. In fact, it was not alive, not in the strict sense of the word. The bird was a construct, something created from blood and magic. His blood and his magic, as well as the blood of others. Bound to him, the construct was as much a part of him as was his heart or brain.

That alone was enough to turn his blood cold as he looked once again toward the Citadel. Whatever his master might do to him should he fail paled when he considered what the Order might do should they discover him spying on them. To begin, the would destroy the construct and that would be like destroying a part of himself. It would very much be like stripping him of his soul.

The Order did not understand the glory, the power, of blood magic. They were too bound to the Lord and Lady, too blinded to the power they could wield if they would just allow themselves to stray even a little from the Codes. Because of that, they would strip him of his magic, of all that made him. He had no doubt if he failed to answer their questions, they would imprison him or worse. They might allow him to live, a pale shadow of himself, but his family would not be so lucky. If such an existence could be called lucky. No, his master would make sure those he cared about suffered as he should have.

He couldn’t even run. Damn his luck. He should have trusted his instincts the day before when the knock sounded at his door and the messenger said their master wanted to see him. It had been years since the man, if he could still be called such, had issued such a summons. In that moment, every instinct had screamed for him to run and hide. It had warned him not to answer the door. But, unfortunately, his had become over-confident. Ego had overridden common sense and now he found himself in a situation with only two possible outcomes — death or worse.

Standing in the shadows of the trees, he closed his eyes. For a moment, the world seemed to shift under his feet. A moment later, he looked out of this construct’s eyes. He heard the sounds of the forest around them through the construct’s ears. It was time to set the raven to watch. Then he could locate a safe place to set up camp.

A few moments later, he opened his eyes and extended his arm. He watched as the construct hopped onto his gloved fist, much as a living bird would have. The raven cocked its head to one side as he held it close. The feathered head rubbed against his cheek and he smiled slightly. The bond between them was strong and growing stronger. That meant the raven could keep watch on the Citadel while he remained out of sight. That was the best plan, the only plan, he had been able to come up with on such short notice. His master might not approve but his master was not the one risking life and limb watching the Order.

“You know what to do, my pet.” His fingers caressed the construct’s head. “Watch them. Let me see any who come and go. Look for the girl. She is our target. Find her. Our lives depend on it.”
The construct nodded, almost human-like, and unfurled its wings. A moment later, Gareth lifted his arm and watched as the bird took flight. It would keep watch and let him know if trouble neared.

As the construct wined ever closer to the Citadel, he turned and moved further into the trees, the gelding pacing after him. If he wanted to be warm that night, he had best find some place to set up camp. The last thing he wanted was to be forced to cold camp, especially with more snow moving in.

Hopefully, there would be a cave nearby he could ensorcel, one where no one could see his fire or sense his magic. Then he would be safe to practice his craft and find a way to complete his mission without it costing him his life.

***

Dagger of Elanna is the second book in the Sword of the Gods trilogy. Here’s some information about the first book in the series.

Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1)

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Dagger of Elanna — snippet 4

As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here , Snippet 2 here and Snippet 3 here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

***

The glass flew across the room, shattering against the far wall. He was surrounded by fools, nothing but incompetent fools. That thrice-damned Wolf had failed him time and again. His death at the hands of the Order had been the only thing that saved him from being sacrificed upon the altar to Balaar. The skinwalker had lied to him. To him! He had assured him the girl had died in the ambush. Then, when finally forced to reveal the truth, Wolf had promised on penalty of death to hunt her down and kill her. Even then Wolf had failed him. Instead of being the hunter, Wolf had become the hunted.

Wolf’s death may have denied him one victim but the man’s family would replace him. They would serve as a reminder to anyone foolish enough to consider betraying him what the penalty for such foolishness would be. It did not matter who they were or what their personal connection to Wolf. They would die, screaming Balaar’s name and begging for mercy, and all because the head of their family had failed in one simple task.

Their deaths would not enough to make up for the Order now knowing the girl – no, the young woman – was in danger. It had taken steps after Wolf’s death, steps that had driven his contacts within the walls of the Citadel out lest they be discovered. Now security within the Citadel was so tight few could come and go without first being vetted by the Knights Council. That meant the likelihood of getting any of his people in place any time soon was negligible. Something else the skinwalker’s family and friends would pay dearly for.

Damn Wolf!

And damn his successor. The magicker had assured him nothing would go wrong. If he could not be physically near the Citadel, watching and reporting, his constructs would be. At first, everything had gone as Gareth promised. For more than a month, daily reports came in. They might have reassured him the target had not managed to slip her watchers again. But the magicker had been no more successful at arranging her death than had Wolf. Still, the daily reports had at least proven the magicker had not betrayed the mission.

Until that morning. The expected report had not come. Nor had Gareth responded when his pet magicker at the keep tried to contact him. Mykel had stammered, his fear a stink that filled the room. He knew not why Gareth failed to respond. Nothing he tried brought a response from Gareth or the construct. All but pissing himself, Mykel had begged not to be killed for the failure of another.

Gods above and below, what did it take to kill one woman?

He turned to the guard standing near the door to his rooms. “Have the prisoners been secured?”

“Aye, m’lord.” The guard never looked at him, his expression never wavered. But there could be no mistaking the fear in his voice.

“Bring mother and son to me. Now!” Before the guard slipped out of the room, he changed his mind. “No, bring them to the dining hall. Send word to my family and advisors to make their way there at once. Any who tarry very well may join the prisoners.”

“Aye, m’lord.” The guard saluted and hurried off down the corridor.

Ten minutes later, he made his entrance into the dining hall. He nodded once to see all he had sent for gathered at the far end of the room. As one, they turned and bowed. Without breaking stride, he motioned them forward. He wanted them to see what he had planned. The lesson would be clear. Fail him and all they cared for would be destroyed. More importantly, they would see to it that word of what happened was spread. No one would dare fail him again.

Without a word, he approached the two figures in the center of the room. Long tables formed a “U” around them. At other times, this area would be filled with musicians or dancers. But now, it served a different purpose. The entertainment would be his alone.

“Your husband and father failed me. He knew the price and now you and the rest of your family will pay it.”

He stood before a woman in her middle years and a young man who had just seen his twentieth summer. They had been stripped by his guards. Filthy rags gagged them. Their arms were chained over their heads and their ankles secured to bolts in the floor. They were not the first to entertain him here and they would not be the last.

He reached out, one hand running from the young man’s chest to his abdomen and below. As he did, the woman jerked against her bonds, her cries of protest muffled by her gag. She was protective of her cub, that much was sure. But how would the young man react when the tables were turned.

“Such a pretty boy,” he purred as he continued his exploration. “But your mother has her own enchantments. Perhaps I should sample her charms before playing with you. What say you?”

The young man did not disappoint. He flung himself against his bonds, anger and fear at war with one another. Good, so very good. Breaking the mother and son might at least partially make up for Wolf’s failure. Then he would let them live long enough to see the rest of their family executed before he slid his own knife into their hearts.

“I think I will start with the boy. Move him to the table.” An almost feral smile touched his lips. “Uziel.” He turned his attention to his youngest son who stepped forward

“Yes, m’lord?”

“Get the woman ready for me. Use her as you will. Hurt her. But do not kill her. Do not let her lose consciousness. I want her aware of everything I am doing to her son even as she knows all you are doing to her. Fail me in any way on this and you will take her place.”

“As you wish, m’lord.”

Uziel studied the woman, a thoughtful expression on his face. Then he instructed the guards to move her to the same table where her son was being secured. As he did, Gavril Dalasqua nodded in approval. The baron knew his youngest son took after him in ways his eldest son, Laion, never would. This day, Uziel’s actions would be a lesson for Laion. Only those strong enough to do that which was difficult survived and flourished. If Laion failed to learn the lesson, Dalasqua would shed no tears in naming Uziel his heir.

Soon, mother and son were bound to the table, head to head. What happened to one would be felt and heard by the other. The fact they could not actually see what happened would only make it worse for them. Their imaginations would work against them. Good. Their terror would translate to the other and, in turn, to those looking on.

“This is your only warning,” Gavril said as he turned to those gathered to witness his punishment of Wolf’s family members. “Failure will not be tolerated. These two will begin paying the debt owed by the head of their family. The rest of their relations will pay the balance on the executioner’s block. Guards, remove the prisoners’ gags. I want to hear their cries and hear them beg. For the rest of you, the guards will tell me if any turns away. You will watch everything that happens here or you will join these two.” He waited, watching as one after another of those gathered slowly nodded. Their fear, almost as strong as that of the prisoners, filled the air. Good. Let them remember who held the power and who had been chosen by Balaar as his human hand. “Uziel, you may begin.”

“As you command, m’lord.”

The sound of the young man’s fist striking the woman and her cry of pain was soon echoed by that of her son as Gavril went to work. Unlike Uziel, he used a blade, leaving a shallow but painful cut across the prisoner’s chest. Perhaps this was the day to teach his youngest just what could be done with a blade without actually killing the prisoner. It wasn’t as if they did not have enough volunteers to practice on. Wolf had been prolific as a sire if nothing else.

Dagger of Elanna – Snippet 3

This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here and Snippet 2 can be found here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

*   *   *

The howling of the wind outside her small cottage greeted Cait as she emerged from the sleeping chamber. She carried her mug of hot tea to the window and looked outside.  The light snowfall of the night before had turned into a blanket that coated the ground. Large, heavy flakes continued to fall and she shivered slightly.

The early morning sun reflected brightly off the snow. Cait hissed in a breath as the glare triggered a new round of pounding in her head. She should never had stayed as late as she had at the tavern. The fact she had drunk more than normal did not help either. But it had been worth it to spend the time with Fallon. Hopefully, he would not have to leave the Citadel any time soon. There was so much she wanted to tell him, not to mention everything she wanted to ask him.

Days like this she wished she could stay inside. But that wasn’t to be, not today at least.

More than a month and a half had passed since she stood for Confirmation. There were still times when she had to look at her forearms and see the markings the Lord and Lady had blessed her with to believe everything that had happened. Less than two years ago, she had been nothing more than a slave to Giaros, his to use and abuse as he saw fit. She had prayed for death during those long, dark times. Then Fallon had entered the tavern and her life had been forever changed. He had brought her to the Citadel where she had worked hard to join the Order. But never had she expected what happened when she stood for Confirmation.

No longer a student, a journeywoman in the Order, she now held a seat on the Knights Council. She did her best not to think about the fact she was technically the third highest ranking member of the Order. She had enough on her plate with the classes she now taught as well as her own continuing studies. Then there were her duties as assistant to both the Weaponsmaster and the Tacticsmaster. There were times when she longed for the days when she had been a journeywoman. At least then she had the occasional day off when she could rest or spend time with her friends.

In some ways, she was more tired than she had ever been during those dark days in Lineaus. Nightmares of her time there still plagued her, although not as badly as when she first arrived at the Citadel. Keeping busy helped. But she knew the best medicine had been finding her place in the Order. She might not yet know what the Lord and Lady had in store for her, but that mattered not. She had willingly given herself as Their weapon to wield against the evil of Balaar and his followers.

Still, hearing the wind howling outside and seeing snow swirling in the air, she shivered and wished she could stay inside, warm and dry. It would be easy enough to change the location of her morning class from one of the outdoor training rings to the salle near the stables. Temping as it might be, she would not. She had not moved the yeoman’s class the day before. They had managed to not only survive the lesson but some had thrived with it. If they could do so, then so could the journeymen.  Their survival, not to mention the survival of those they were sworn to protect, might one day depend on it. Hopefully, she would not have to teach the class without the protection from the elements her cloak provided.

She finished her tea and returned her mug to the small kitchen. A few moments later, she shrugged into the padded jacket she often wore for weapons practice and reached for her fur lined cloak. As she settled it around her shoulders, a knock sounded at the door. Wondering who could be out so early on such a nasty morning, she crossed to the door and opened it.

“Your pardon, Lady Cait,” the journeyman standing before her said.

As he spoke, he lifted his hands and pushed back the hood of his cloak so she could see his face. When he did, the corners of her mouth turned down. That one act was yet another reminder of the troubles that had come to the Citadel before her Confirmation.

Recognizing the journeyman as one of those currently assigned to the Knight-Commandant’s office, she stepped back and motioned him inside. For one brief moment, it looked as if he might agree. Then he shook his head and her frown deepened.

“What can I do for you, Jaysen?”

“M’lady, the Knight-Commandant sends his greetings and requests your presence in the council chamber at once.”

Her frown deepened. She could count on one hand the number of times the Knights Council had been called to emergency session since her arrival at the Citadel. In the time since her Confirmation, such a session had not been held. That Knight-Commandant Kirris had seen fit to call on that morning worried her, not that she would let the journeyman know.

“Thank you, Journeyman.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “Please find Lady Kala and ask her to take my morning class. Tell her I will relieve her as soon as I possibly can.”

“I will do so as soon as I finish delivering the Knight-Commandant’s messages, Lady Cait.” With that, he turned and took off at a run.

She closed the door and lightly beat her head against it. Much as she had not looked forward to working out in the snow, at least that was something she understood. More importantly, she was comfortable teaching weapons to the yeomen and journeymen. Being part of the Knights Council was new and not something she felt at ease with yet.

Wanted or not, she had a duty and the sooner she performed it, the sooner she could get back to her classes. With that thought in mind, she glanced around her cottage. Something was afoot, elsewise Kirris would not have called the meeting. Never one to take chances, she shrugged out of her cloak and hurried to her sleeping chamber. She might not have time to change clothes, but there was time enough to make a few adjustments to her wardrobe.

Five minutes later, she checked her appearance one last time. Her hair, still in the braid she wore when teaching weapons, had been twisted into a tight bun at the base of her skull. She now wore a white silken blouse under the black leather jerkin. Hidden under the sleeves of the blouse were her quick release sheaths and her throwing knives. For a moment, she considered her sword and sheath where they lay on the foot of her bed. Her hand closed over the sheathed blade and she made quick work of securing it in place across her back. Being so heavily armed might not be necessary, certainly not within the safe confines of the Citadel, but it also made a statement. Fallon had not given many details about his mission over dinner and drinks the night before but he had said enough to let her know he had found serious trouble. She had no doubt that was at least part of the reason for this unscheduled council meeting. So she would go in, reminding the other members that they were a warrior order, sworn to protect those who looked to them.

Nothing else mattered, not in the grand scheme of things.

***

Beautiful elf woman woth bow and arrows. Isolated on grey. Fighter woman in armor witj bow By  Fxquadro

Beautiful elf woman woth bow and arrows. Isolated on grey. Fighter woman in armor witj bow
By Fxquadro

I am back to work on this and it feels good to get back to Cait’s story. The very rough draft is done but there is a lot of work let to make it publish-ready. Part of that is finding the right cover. I really loved the image used for Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) and am seriously considering using another image from the same set it came from. Here is one of the images I’m considering.

Dagger of Elanna — Snippet 2

This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  Don’t be surprised if you find placeholders for names or places. They are there to help me remember to go back to the story bible and confirm spellings, etc. By the time the book goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Snippet 1 can be found here. Also, click on the image or the following link to check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

***

Fallon neared the Citadel’s main gates and slowed his mount. Eyes narrowed, he watched as two guards stepped forward. As his horse paced forward, the knight glanced at the walls. The sight of several archers taking aim on him both reassured and worried him. His concern deepened as he realized the main gate had yet to be opened for the day’s business. Was that an indication the Order’s leadership knew of the watcher in the trees or was there more going on than he knew?

Important as that was, he had other things on his mind as well. Knowing he would soon be able to have a hot bath, hot food and a bed with clean sheets had pushed him to ride throughout the night. He did not mind roughing it on the trail but he had spent most of the last year and a half doing just that. If he did not have to leave the Citadel for a while, he would not argue. Besides, he had ridden hard the last week, stopping only when his mount needed rest. Something had driven him back to the Citadel, a sense of urgency he still felt.

Almost as important as that sense of urgency was the knowledge he would soon be reunited with Cait. How hard it had been to leave her so soon after rescuing her from that thrice-damned tavern master in Lineaus. He had known she would be safe at the Citadel just as he knew the Adept would look after her. But he had wanted to be there as she began her studies. Now he looked forward to learning how she had fared during his absence.

The thought of the young woman brought with it the memory of her letters and he relaxed slightly. Throughout all those long months away from the Citadel, he had worried Cait would resent him for leaving her. He was supposed to be her mentor and yet he had not been there for her. Yet none of the resentment he feared had been present in her letters. Instead, they had been filled with details about her new life at the Citadel, her excitement about her studies and a sense of wonder as she made friends. Through the letters, Fallon saw how Cait had grown, how she became more settled with her new life. The scared, suspicious girl she had been had grown into a young woman dedicated to the Order and her friends, someone who obviously thirsted for knowledge. He reveled in knowing that all had gone well for her even as he wished he had been there to see it all unfold.

“Welcome home, Sir Fallon,” one of the guards said as Fallon stopped his horse in front of the gate.

For a moment, Fallon studied the young man. There was something familiar about him but he could not quite place it. Then he smiled. The months had added height and muscle to journeyman. Damon no longer looked the almost frail youngster he had been when Fallon left.

“It is good to be back, Damon.” Fallon swung his leg over the saddle and slid to the ground. As he did, he winced slightly. He was getting too old to ride day after day, not to mention a few nights, to get home as quickly as possible. Almost as soon as his boots hit the ground, a yeoman approached and reached for the horse’s reins. “How fares everyone?”

“Just fine, sir. We are trying to adjust to a few changes since you were last home is all.” Damon turned and motioned for the gate to be opened. Before Fallon could ask him to explain, Damon motioned to a tall figure moving in their direction from inside the compound. “I shall leave it to Sir Stefan to explain.”

Sir Stefan?”

Things most definitely had changed. At least this was one change he could heartedly agree with. But how many other surprises awaited him?

“Fallon, it is good to see you!” Stefan pulled him into a friendly embrace and thumped his back in greeting.

“And it is good to see you, lad. But you’re not lad any longer, are you? When were you Confirmed?” He started to follow Stefan inside the gate and paused, looking back to the yeoman holding his horse. The girl quickly assured him she would have his belongings taken to his quarters and that she would personally see to the horse. He nodded and then turned his attention back to Stefan. “And who else was Confirmed with you?”

“At (XXX). Ric and Kala were also Confirmed as were several new clerics.” The young man smiled devilishly and Fallon narrowed his eyes. Stefan was hiding something. But what?

“Your assignment?”

Two could play that game. Fallon had no doubt Stefan wanted him to ask what else had happened at the holy day ceremonies. Not that he would. He would wait and sooner or later Stefan would tell him. If not, he had other ways of finding out, something the young knight would do well to remember.

“I’m assigned as Kiernan’s assistant until I am Called elsewhere.”

Fallon nodded. It was a good assignment for the young man. Stefan had learned to ride almost before he had learned to walk. Pairing him with the riding master made sense. Add to that Stefan’s natural ability to teach youngsters who had never sat astride a mount of any sort before and it made even more sense.

“I’m proud of you, Stefan.” He smiled and then paused as the sounds of a yeomen’s class drilling nearby reached him. Their practice was punctuated with exclamations of relief and frustration as someone put them through their paces. Then, much to his surprise, he heard a familiar voice.

“Hold!” a woman ordered, her frustration clear. “If you lot don’t start paying attention to what you are doing, we will be here all day. I know it’s cold but that is no excuse. Ask any knight or cleric. You will spend many a night in cold camps and the enemy will not attack only when the weather is fair. So quit worrying about the fact there is a little snow falling from the sky and focus on making sure your partner doesn’t score a killing blow.”

Fallon would have bet his life that the woman speaking had been Cait. But that made no sense. She had been at the Citadel less than two years. He had seen first-hand her ability with a blade but that did not explain why she would be teaching a weapons class, even one for yeomen. Good as she might be, there was no way the weaponsmaster would put a journeywoman in as an instructor.

Turning, Fallon looked at Stefan in open question. The young man simply smiled. There could be no doubting he was enjoying himself. His eyes danced with mischief and Fallon ground his teeth in frustration before giving the young man a look that promised they would soon discuss how Stefan had held back this information. then Fallon hurried off in the direction of Cait’s voice. If no one would explain what was going on, he would find out for himself.

His report to the Knight-Commandant and the Adept would just have to wait.

A few moments later, Fallon slid to a halt outside the training arena. He stared in surprise at the sight that greeted him. Cait stood in the center of the packed dirt arena, a look of frustration on her face. In her right hand, she held a training sword. She wore black leather trousers, and a matching leather jerkin that left her arms bare. Intricately woven wide leather bands were in place on each wrist. Her heavy boots moved silently across the ground. Despite the way her breath fogged before her and snow fell, she seemed oblivious to the cold.

That much registered even as Fallon’s eyes were drawn to her forearms. Never before had he seen anything like the markings she bore and the implications rocked him. then, just as he thought he was beyond surprise, he felt the power surrounding her and he blew out a breath in surprise. He had known she was special from the moment he first saw her in that thrice-damned tavern but he had never expected this.

Before he could recover his wits, Cait turned and saw him. The frustration left her expression and she smiled gaily. Then she called for one of the senior journeymen working out in the next ring to take over for a moment. Before they could respond, she sprinted toward Fallon and Stefan. Fallon recovered enough to smile in approval as she agilely vaulted the three bar fence surrounding the training ring before she all but leapt at him in greeting.

“Fallon!” She grinned gaily before throwing her arms around him. “It’s so good to see you. When did you get back?”

“Just now.” He looked her up and down, amazed by the changes in her. She seemed so confident, so settled. Gone was the doubt and fear that had lingered in her eyes the last time they had been together. “And I can see we have a great deal to discuss.” He lightly touched her forearm where the Lady’s dolphin rose from the water. “But I must report to Kirris and Berral, so I can’t tarry any longer. Just answer me one question. When did this happen and what does our Knight-Commandant think about it?”

“That’s two questions, Fallon.” She laughed gaily and he shook his head. “And it will take more time to answer than you have right now. The very short answer is it happened at (XXX) when I stood for Confirmation and it surprised everyone, most of all me.” She smiled a little self-consciously and then shook her head. As she did, he realized she had had a difficult time accepting what happened. “Kirris and Berral will tell you more when you see them but, so you aren’t taken completely by surprise, I am the first Knight-Adept of the Order. I will explain more tonight over dinner if you’ll join me.”

“Of course, I’ll join you.” He smiled and gave her another hug before stepping back. “I’d best find Kirris and Berral before they send someone looking for me.”

“And I had best get back to my students.” With that, she turned and once more vaulted the fence.

Fallon shook his head, feeling more than a little bemused and confused, before making his way toward the administration building. As he did, he heard Cait once more calling for the yeoman to pay attention to what they were doing. This was a class, not a game. They needed to learn the basics or they would never be able to defend themselves in the field. Good advice but not what he expected to hear from here that morning.

Ten minutes later, entered the Knight-Commandant’s office. As he stepped inside, he nodded in greeting to both Kirris and Berral. The Adept smiled briefly in response from where she stood next to Kirris behind his desk, a distracted smile, before turning her attention to the dispatch she and Kirris had been obviously been studying before Fallon’s entrance. As for the Knight-Commandant, he simply motioned for Fallon to have a seat, not once taking his eyes from the dispatch on his desk.

Impatient though he might be, Fallon waited in silence. He knew them both well enough to know only something of grave import would cause them to keep him waiting to give his report. He also had no doubt they knew he would have questions about Cait. After all, every dispatch he had sent them had been filled with questions about the young woman he had taken as his ward. Those questions would be asked and answered but in due time. Business first.

“Welcome home, Fallon, and my pardon for keeping you waiting,” Kirris said a few minutes later. Despite his smile, Fallon saw the strain reflected on his expression and that only served to increase his own sense of foreboding.

“It is good to finally be back.” He stretched his long legs out before him, crossing his ankles. “And I have to admit to having a great number of questions for the two of you.”

“I take it you ran into Cait.” Berral’s expression no longer seemed distracted. In fact, there could be no mistaking her humor and pride as she waited for his answer.

“I did. I also ran into Stefan, who refused to explain what happened.”

“We shall do all we can to answer your questions after you make your report,” Kirris assured him.

Frustration filled Fallon despite the fact he knew the Knight-Commandant was right. His questions would have to wait, for a few minutes at least. However, no matter what the others thought, he would not leave the office until he had at least some sort of explanation for what he had seen.

“As agreed, I returned to the Arteris compound.”

For more than an hour, he discussed all he had done during his absence from the Citadel. While stationed at the compound, he, along with the others stationed there, had gone on the offensive against the raiders that had been plaguing the region. It had taken several months but he had finally identified their local contact. The new of who the traitor had been had rocked the region.

“That contact turned out to be a member of the local militia. His position in the militia make him privy to such information as what merchant trains carried the best goods or the most important passengers, not to mention what routes they would be taking.

“When we finally cornered him, he turned out to be a skinwalker. From what little we learned before he died, it appears someone is trying to unite the bandit leaders out of the Wastelands. Those who have joined the cause have pledged to follow Balaar and report to his human representative.” His distaste at such a notion roughened his voice. “Whoever this representative is, the skinwalker said he was not from the Wastelands. He also said other skinwalkers have been sent into the Imperium with orders to cause as much trouble as possible. They are, apparently, the first wave of a systematic attack against the Imperium and the Order.”

He leaned back and waited. He had seen the look that passed between Kirris and Berral when he mentioned the skinwalker. The fact they did not seem surprised worried him as did the possible explanations for their reactions. With each moment that passed, he became more convinced he had been gone too long from the Citadel.

“Once the skinwalker and those working with him had been dealt with, I left the compound and began the next par tof my mission. I traveled throughout the Imperium as well as the surrounding realms on this side of the Great and Black rivers. Unfortunately, I was unable to learn anything about Cait’s history. However, I did run across several more cases of slavery. Each was much like Cait’s story. They woke in a slaver’s tent, only to find themselves being sold to someone else. That person took them to farms or into villages where they worked.” He almost choked on the word. “Until I discovered them and freed them. Unlike Cait, however, they did remember who they were and I was able to return them to their families.”

“Did you learn nothing that might not help us?” Berral asked, disappointment clear in her voice.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “The one common thread these cases had was that their families were completely stunned to learn their loved one lived. Each had disappeared under circumstances that led the families to believe they had been killed.”

For a moment, no one said anything. Then Berral frowned, her expression hard. “That could be why no outcry was made when Cait went missing. Her family could believe she had been killed. While they mourned her death, she was fighting to survive her enslavement.”

“That could be what happened,” Kirris said. “And those responsible for taking the others as well as those enslaving them?”

“Turned over to the local authorities for punishment. The local compounds have made it clear that the Codes must be upheld and I made sure the locals understood my report would not only reach the Citadel but would be forwarded to the Imperium’s council as well.”

“Your report tends to confirm some of the rumors that have reached us as well as certain happenings near here.” Kirris leaned back and Fallon looked at him in concern. In that moment, the Knight-Commandant looked as if he had aged decades in the months Fallon had been gone. “The council needs to hear your full report. You have until morning to prepare. Once the council has met, I shall send word to the capital. In the meantime, I shall issue orders to have squads readied to leave. I fear we need to tighten our border patrols.”

“No worries, Kirris. I’ll be ready.” Truth be told, he could give the report then. But the need for food and rest might cause him to miss something. “Before we get to anything else, can you explain what you meant when you said tis explains what has been happening near here?” He would not push if the Knight-Commandant did not respond. There were other ways of finding out.

“Let me,” Berral said. Then, instead of continuing, she took time to refill Fallon’s mug as well as her own. “You saw Cait, so you saw her markings.”

Fallon nodded.

“Very simply put, she was one of a dozen to stand for Confirmation at the holy day. As always, some stood for the knightly discipline and some for the priestly. Then there was Cait.

“You know from our letters as well as from hers that we had been cross-training her. We did it because she showed no distinct Calling for either discipline. Because of that, when it came time for her to stand for Confirmation, she was tested in both disciplines. The council chose to do it that way in the hope the Lord and Lady would reveal what They planned for her. We weren’t prepared for what happened.”

For the next half hour, Fallon listened closely as Berral and Kirris took turns describing the Confirmation trials. With each passing moment, his disbelief grew. He could not remember a time when someone had been allowed to stand for Confirmation with less than two years’ study having been undertaken. Nor could he remember anyone ever having stood for Confirmation in both disciplines. He had recognized Cait was special the first time he saw her. Hidden beneath the dirt and grime, cloaked by the filthy hair she let fall over her face like a mask, had been a power unlike any he had ever felt. Even now, almost two years later, he wondered at it. He held close his promise to find out what happened to bring her into the hands of slavers and he swore to do whatever it took to make sure no one else suffered as she had. But to hear how she had stood against all on the Confirmation field was much more than he expected.

“Fallon, if you had seen her, you would understand everything she did that day made it clear she is something special to the Order. She truly is a combination of both disciplines. More than that, she performed at a level that, had she been Confirmed into the knightly discipline, it would have been difficult not to name her a knight-commander. From what I saw and from what Berral has said, it is the same had she been Confirmed into the priestly discipline,” Kirris said.

Feeling as though he had to be dreaming, Fallon stood and, with his mug in hand, walked across the office to stare out the window. Cait had managed to out-fight Alicia, Kirris and others before finally facing off against Kirris. She had managed to turn aside the Knight-Commandant’s magical attacks with her own. Clearly, she had come a very long way in his absence. But that much?

“So,” Berral said when Fallon returned to his chair. “We created the new rank for her. She is now the Knight-Adept and third in command of the Order behind Kirris and myself. She works with both of us on a daily basis so we can discvoer the full extent of her powers as well as give her the experience she needs in case she has to step in for one or the other of us.”

“And the other members of the council?”

Kirris chuckled then and there was a touch of self-deprication in it Fallon recognized. “None dared object. How could they when the Lord and Lady made their favor of Cait so evident? None of the rest of us have been blessed with Their markings in the way she has. Each of those who have examined the markings have said the same thing. They resonate with the power of the Lord and Lady. While it would be nice to know what They have in mind for Cait and for the rest of us, we will do as we always have. We will accept Their challenges and Their blessings and continue to do Their bidding.”

“As is our duty and our honor,” Fallon said and the others nodded in agreement. “But there is more.”

“There is.” Kirris once more looked serious enough to cause Fallon concern. “But that can wait. Know that Cait did much as she did on the trail with you when you were bringing her here. Her actions helped save the squad she was out with and let us know Balaar had his skinwalkers, at least one of them, in this region.”

Fallon blew out a breath and shook his head. It seemed there was much they still had to discuss.

“Go rest for a few hours, my friend. Then join us for the noon meal. We will continue our discussion then,” Berral said as she gently drew him to his feet. “But know you have served the Order and the Lord and Lady well, not only with the information you gathered during this last mission but in bringing Cait to us.”

“I have a feeling I will have many more questions by then.”

“So will we, I’m sure.” Berral smiled and led him to the door. “Rest now. We will see you soon.”

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