Shown on Page (things clearly told to the reader):
Minor alcohol use
Alluded to (things only mentioned in passing or hinted at):
Isyr. Stronger, brighter, more beautiful than other metals. Once the most desirable thing in Ellasia, now it is priceless, the pure Isyrium needed to produce it mined to exhaustion. What’s left is controlled by the powerful mining syndicates, and such is the demand for their Isyrium that even kings do their bidding. Yet just as the beauty of Isyr hides a deadly secret, so too do the syndicates.
A terrifying enemy is spreading a plague across the land, a sickness that kills or transforms everything it touches. Unable to contain the outbreaks, the King of Lankara begs the aid of the disgraced former Duke of Agrathon, Alyas-Raine Sera, a man who has spent years fighting syndicate expansion and whose resentment over his exile makes him an unpredictable, dangerous ally in the power struggle between the rulers of Ellasia and the mining companies.
Attached to the envoy to recall the duke, the apprentice surgeon Brivar finds his skills and loyalty tested as his service to his new patron uncovers secrets about Isyr and the plague that link it to the mining of Isyrium – and threaten the life of the man it is his duty to protect.
In their own separate ways, Alyas and Brivar must take on the might of the syndicates and confront the greed, murder, betrayal and impossible choices of a crisis that has been decades in the making – and the price of their failure could be everyone and everything.
(This is our attempt at a bit of fun. We ask our authors to come up with a few short, clever, possibly pop culture laden, descriptions of their books just to give a little taste of what’s to come for readers.)
Extinction Rebellion • Cursed Blades • Zombie Apocalypse
It was Della who brought word of the massacre. She appeared on the road in front of them, alone, quite still except for her eyes. Alyas dismounted and approached her, waving the others back. Esar had to restrain Brivar from going after him. A surgeon’s trained observation was more than capable of reading her shock. Whatever it was, it was bad.
They spoke for a few minutes. Esar saw the muscles in Alyas’s shoulders tighten, and turned to give quiet orders to Agazi, who nodded and spurred back down the line. Their people were good; they knew what to do.
When Alyas signalled, two groups were already moving forward. He sent them on, each circling round from a different direction to find and reinforce the scouts already out there. When Della moved to join them, he shook his head, leading her back to where Brivar was bouncing anxiously on his horse. She had a wild look about her, one that Esar recognised from their frantic retreat in Flaeres when they had encountered creatures out of a nightmare.
“What is it?” He had a horrible feeling he already knew.
“Mining outpost,” Alyas said grimly, as Della mounted his horse. “Wiped out. They’re still in there.” Alyas looked up at Brivar’s frightened face. “Stay here with Della. We’ll send for you when it’s safe.”
Della, her colour returning, took the reins from Brivar’s slack hands and led the horses off the road. Alyas was already moving away, giving orders, and Esar signed a question to Della. She nodded and he swore. They’re still in there.
He caught up with Alyas, crouched in the middle of a knot of his officers, sketching his instructions into the dust of the track, Corado looming over them. Esar ignored his glare and concentrated on what Alyas was saying. The scouts had come across a handful of survivors fleeing south. They had gone to investigate, cautiously, and confirmed the wild tale. Much as he wished otherwise, Esar knew they could not skirt safely around this. They had to go in. They could not allow what was in the town to get out, to spread its poison further. Preventing that was why Raffa had finally rescinded Alyas’s exile. Not that they were doing it for him.
As Alyas relayed Della’s intelligence, he gave his orders, and Esar was relieved. He was playing it safe. Still, the faces of their people reflected the reality—they knew what they were up against.
“We’ve done this before,” Alyas reminded them. “We know what they can do. We take no chances. They’re still there, we burn them out. Do not engage directly unless you have to. Do not let them touch you, and let nothing out. Do you understand?”
They nodded. They understood, Esar thought grimly. They remembered Flaeres and what had come after.
Alyas stood and came face to face with Corado’s hostile sneer, planted firmly in his path.
“They probably drank too much moonshine and ran from their own shadows. We’re a hundred miles inside the border. There’s no monsters here.”
“Take your men round to the south,” Alyas told him. “Block the road. Nothing gets out.”
The man dug in his heels and crossed his arms. “So your girl saw something that spooked her. That doesn’t mean shit. This is a Lankaran mine—a syndicate mine. We’re not torching a syndicate mine because a girl got scared.”
“Get your men into position,” Alyas snarled. “Do it now.”
Corado spat. “Make me.”
There was a moment of silence. Then Alyas said, “Shoot him.”
Esar heard the creak of the bow as Lord Sul kicked his horse forward. “You can’t!”
Alyas turned to face him. “Why not?”
“Because he is a Lankaran officer, commissioned by the king, and I will not permit it!”
Corado’s mouth twisted into a triumphant sneer. Alyas shook his head. “Shoot him,” he said again, turning away.
Corado lunged. Alyas had been expecting it. His elbow caught the guard captain in the side of the head, dropping him in the dirt. His foot came down on the wrist of Corado’s knife hand, grinding with his heel until his fingers released their grip. He kicked the weapon away. Esar stooped to pick it up, meeting Alyas’s eyes as he did so. There was no need for his warning.
Alyas stepped back and Corado rolled over onto his knees, his wrist cradled against his chest and loathing in his eyes.
Alyas looked up into Lord Sul’s shocked face. “If he’s a kingdom officer, ensure he behaves like one. That means obeying orders. My orders.” To Corado, as he staggered to his feet, he snapped, “Your men, Captain. In position, now.”
Corado bared his teeth in a snarl. “Next time, Raine Sera.”
Alyas showed his own teeth. “Next time you won’t get a warning.”
Esar held out the knife and Corado snatched it from his hands. At least six bows were trained on him. “You too, Cantrell.”
“Any time, Corado.”
“Your men,” Alyas said. “Now.”
Eyes burning with hatred, Corado gave the order, and his men stirred from their shock. Esar noted the looks that were thrown Alyas’s way as they moved to obey, a mix of hostility and veiled approval. Not all the Lankarans were firmly behind Corado, but there were plenty who needed watching.
He said to Alyas, faintly accusing, “You enjoyed that.”
“That man wants me dead.”
“You threatened to kill him first,” Esar pointed out.
“No, I threatened to execute him. Next time, I will.”
“The sooner the better. The man’s a canker. Alyas, Flaeres –”
Alyas stopped. “You don’t… I remember.”
“Do you?” Esar asked. His own memories were muddled enough, and he hadn’t been semi-conscious and bleeding all over the place. But he would never forget the single-minded nature of that attack. How the creatures kept coming, relentless in their efforts to reach Alyas. In the end, they had set the fire that had saved them and given them time to withdraw. They were lucky it had not been later in the season, when the grasslands of northern Flaeres were tinder-dry and the fires could rage out of control for days. King Diago might not have been quite so grateful if they had devastated an entire region.
“Stay behind,” he said now. “There’s no need to come.” They did not know why he had been a target. What was the sense in risking it a second time?
“Yes, there is,” Alyas retorted, his eyes on Corado’s retreating back.
“Fuck him,” Esar said with feeling. “He makes trouble, I’ll kill him.”
Alyas swung round. “You won’t touch him! We don’t know what Raffa’s game is. I won’t risk putting you at his mercy. When Corado dies, it’ll be by my hand or at my orders. If he didn’t execute me for four hundred deaths, one more won’t make a difference.”
It was an argument Esar would not win. “Fine. Just be careful.”
Author Bio & Information:
Fantasy fan since forever, coffee-obsessed, cake-loving Londoner, wife, mother, journalist, editor, designer, and cowrie collector.
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