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Dindi is kidnapped to be the bride of a shark... To escape she must untangle a terrible curse caused by a love and magic gone wrong.
This stand-alone novella is set in Faearth, the world of The Unfinished Song. Available here ONLY.
The Unfinished Song - This Young Adult Epic Fantasy series has sold over 70,000 copies and has 1,072 Five Star Ratings on Goodreads.
Henrietta and the Dragon Stone is a new story of young adult epic fantasy adventure by award-winning author, Beth Barany. Book 2 in The Five Kingdoms series of the continuing adventures of Henrietta The Dragon Slayer. What if everyone you loved was threatened by a force you couldn’t see or fight? Henrietta the legendary dragon slayer wants to return to her village for a heroes’ welcome. But an unknown sorcerer rides after her and her Dragon Stone and aims to destroy everyone she cares about. Can she claim her newfound powers sparked by the Dragon Stone and keep her loved ones safe, or will the sorcerer destroy everyone and everything she loves?
The Dracontias, dra-con-ti-as, emphasis on the second syllable, is the most powerful gem in all the Five Kingdoms, and more powerful than all the other so-called Kingdom Stones. This one and only Dragon Stone unifies the kingdoms and empowers its user. But beware its one fatal flaw.
—from the Fire Wizards Compendium
Early Winter New Moon (Mitte Moon), Oro Islands, One of the Five Kingdoms
King Singfan sucked in a breath, stretched the crossbow, and held it steady, tracking the beast.
Time was of the essence. If he didn’t kill this dragon and obtain the Dragon Stone on the great dragon’s forehead, he’d have to start all over again. Unthinkable. Impossible.
He had to renew this king’s body during this night, while the stars were aligned just so, and the moon hung below the horizon.
The girl Dragon Slayer, that Henrietta, was performing exactly as he’d expected. She’d taken the proffered reward and given him the secret dragon lore, confirming what he needed to know. She crouched nearby, ready to do his bidding.
King Singfan breathed out, steadying his aim, and smiled.
Inside of him, Bjirn Eyvindir smiled, too, at Singfan’s glee. Hidden to everyone, Eyvindir had occupied the body of King Singfan for seventy-five years, a long king’s rule—longer than anyone on the Oro Islands could remember. If they did remember the length of King Singfan’s reign, Eyvindir by King Singfan’s hand had made sure they didn’t remember for long, and didn’t remember anything ever again.
King Singfan had given him free reign to run his magic through the man and control his every move. The man was his best and most perfect servant. Eyvindir wasn’t going to end the arrangement anytime soon. He’d planned this renewal too long for the moment to go awry.
The dragon hovered above the enormous cave floor about to settle, its scales flickering and iridescent in the torchlight. King Singfan held his breath, steadying his strong stance and perfect aim. He readied the powerful crossbow.
Before he could loose the arrow, Henrietta yelled “You can’t!” and shoved him to the hard-packed ground.
The dragon slayer pinned his arms against his torso with her legs, heavy on his chest. He struggled beneath her weight.
“How dare you!” he snarled. “We had an agreement.”
How had she slipped past his guard?
With every second that ticked by, he felt his power draining from him like water down the drain, no doubt shifting his appearance. But his voice held strong and loud. He gathered courage in that. There was still time to kill the dragon and obtain the Dragon Stone.
“I can’t let you!” she shouted, glaring down at him.
Suddenly, her friends appeared at her side.
“Who’s this?” the injured bard, Jaxter, asked.
“The king,” Henrietta growled.
Little did she know who she was truly up against.
“How dare you!” Eyvindir protested again.
But his voice sounded strange. Gurgles, high-pitched clicks and garbled words were all that he could manage.
How did the dragon slayer’s friends arrive at the cave? He’d left them under guard at the castle.
“Magics! I don’t trust my eyes. Franc?” the dragon slayer shouted, as if she were yelling right into his ear.
“I have not ever seen this old man before, but I have heard whispered tales,” Franc, the knight, said. “What is he saying?” The knight he’d sent to retrieve the dragon slayer, crossed his arms, and frowned down at him. The betrayer.
“I don’t know, but we have no time for tales.” Henrietta bound the king’s wrists and ankles together with a rough rope.
He wriggled, but to no avail. Something sharp stabbed his back.
“Don’t move!” Henrietta barked.
Eyvindir glared at her, through King Singfan’s eyes, furious and unable to move his body, his faculty for speech gone. How dare she! He’d miscalculated the girl slayer. He’d waited too long to act. Frantic, he reached in his mind for his power, but it was too late.
The moment when the moon was just so, right below the horizon, was gone. The shine of the rising moon grew brighter.
The dragon spun to settle, flapping its wings. He’d missed his moment. Torches lay on the ground where his cowardly men had fled. The dragon slayer’s friends had had a hand in that, no doubt, yet he’d dismissed them as weak. Another mistake. How could he have so miscalculated? He brushed the thought aside. He didn’t make mistakes. He drew strength from that knowledge.
“You won’t get away with this!” the king hissed and spat, his voice fully recovered. “The dragon must die, or the Five Kingdoms die. The Oro Islands Kingdom is the first kingdom and must be renewed!”
The dragon slayer frowned, confusion and panic written on her face. Good. He drew more strength from her fear and uncertainty. He may be still tied up, but that state couldn’t last long.
She turned to her friends. “Franc, Jaxter, is this true?”
“Whispers only,” the knight said.
“I don’t know,” the bard said. He leaned on his staff for support.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” the dragon slayer said and clenched her fists. Her heart revved up a notch.
Her panic rippled off her in delicious waves. Excellent.
“I didn’t ask for this responsibility! I don’t want this responsibility!” the dragon slayer cried.
The bard coughed and struggled for breath, leaning heavily on his staff. Most excellent.
Eyvindir pulled power from the skinny young bard’s weakness and from the dragon slayer’s doubts.
The weakened bard managed to speak. “It’s been so long, the story’s been told many different ways, but one of the legends says that the dragon must pass every peak of the wave, at the emptiness of the moon, in the year of the waning ruler, by the hand of a dual heart awakened, bounded on all four points.”
“But what does that mean?” the dragon slayer yelled over a loud hum, her panic at a near-fever pitch.
“I don’t know!” the bard shouted.
“Why didn’t you tell me all this before?” the dragon slayer said, her voice high-pitched, frantic.
“You never asked,” the bard replied.
“But you knew who I was facing.”
“The legend doesn’t say the name of the dragon. I just realized who it meant.” The bard hung on to his staff.
“But still you should have told me! You know all the tales.”
The dragon slayer sounded at wits end. She was weakening. Perfect. He sucked in more of her fear as sustenance to rebuild his strength.
“You should have asked!” the bard said again. “Besides I thought you knew them as well as I did! What is wrong with you? This is what you do, save people and kingdoms from dragons!” Jaxter coughed.
Eyvindir reveled in the bard’s increasing weakness and in the argument brewing.
“Stop! We don’t have the time to argue!” the fire girl, Paulette, yelled. The sneak somehow saw through his facade back at the castle. She would not last a day under his new reign.
“What?” the dragon slayer said.
“The dragon is changing,” the knight said.
The beast’s crystal scales shifted through the primary color spectrum. A second dragon arose from the first, consisting only of a matrix of rainbow light.
Eyvindir would regain the upper hand. He drew ever more strength from everyone’s confusion and fear. Clarity blossomed anew. The moon wouldn’t rise for another hour. He still had time. The dragon slayer’s surprise betrayal would delay him no more.
“You have to kill it before it disappears for another millennia!” Eyvindir yelled, his strength growing from their pain. He could wriggle in the ropes. Soon his power would reawaken and then he would easily break his flimsy bonds. “You must! I command it!” But his last words were drowned out of his own hearing by a roar from the beast.
“Shut up!” the dragon slayer managed to shout over the din.
How was she able to do that when he couldn’t even hear himself? He yanked the ropes.
“He’s right, or something like it has to happen every millennia so the dragon can come back,” the bard said.
“I can’t,” the dragon slayer said, her voice hoarse.
“What do you mean ‘you can’t’?” the bard asked. “You are the Dragon Slayer!”
“I can’t.” The dragon slayer’s cheeks were wet. Splendid! Her life force was depleting.
Any moment now he’d be renewed and free. He used all his years of experience to yank her life force from her. She had to obey him. All his plans rested on her demise, now that he’d taken what he needed from her.
The dragon nudged the dragon slayer with its large head. The dragon slayer stumbled back. She was weakening. The beast nodded slowly, its Dragon Stone glowing green then red on its forehead.
Was the beast communicating with the dragon slayer? Couldn’t be. The beast was for him only. Power flooded through him hot and molten, anger strengthening him.
“Dragon slayer, you must kill it,” Eyvindir shouted. “The fate of the island is in your hands. The fate of the whole Five Kingdoms!”
“Jaxter?” the dragon slayer turned to the bard as if to confirm his words.
“He may be right. Do you trust me?”
“What kind of question is that?” the dragon slayer asked.
“A question that demands an answer,” the bard said in a voice so soft Eyvindir wasn’t sure he heard correctly.
He glared at the stupid dragon slayer. How could he have miscalculated? He’d planned for every contingency. Nowhere had he predicted that the dragon slayer would be strengthened by the new web of connections around her, her pesky friends. She was a loner. That was to be her downfall. He’d made sure of it.
“What do I need to do?” the dragon slayer asked. Her friends must have answered because after a pause she said, “I need your help.”
Damn the old gods and all the lore of his people.
The dragon slayer barked an order cutting through his curse. “Paulette, get to the dragon’s tail. You’re fire. On my mark!”
“What?” The fire girl shouted too close. She hovered over him. “And leave him?”
“He can’t do anything. Go! Time fades, and so does he,” the dragon slayer ordered.
“You must not! The Dragon Stone is mine!” But his words croaked out in sputter. He felt more than saw the new moon rising and his life-force, his prana, ebbing out of this body.
The King Singfan identity, his soul, had been quiet, letting him take command. Eyvindir rallied King Singfan’s soul to lend him strength.
The dragon’s hum deepened and filled the cavern with a low vibrato. It flapped higher and brightened, both the dragon of light and the real dragon. Its scales shot sparks, which exploded against the cavern walls. Two dragons melded into light, too bright to peer at directly. Fire and wind swirled into a funnel and exploded into a white light and blinding bang.
“No!” He shouted, but he couldn’t hear his own voice.
“Don’t stop!” the dragon slayer yelled above the storm.
From all directions, explosions like a fireworks hammered him. Bound as he was, he managed to bend double to guard against the pain, but his efforts were useless. His skin crawled as if ants wriggled under his skin. Pain pierced all layers of his being—both the body and the magics layers.
“Stop!” Eyvindir tried to yell, but it came out like a series of croaks. No, it couldn’t be. He couldn’t move his body.
Then in breath, he lost all sense of feeling. Impossible.
He was able to sense his life force being jettisoned out of his body and into the night sky, on its way back to where his actual body rested inert in his fortress far to the north and east. Through his cloud of shock, from his vantage point in the sky far above, he spied his body, actually the body of King Singfan who had ruled the Oro Islands for over seventy-five years, burst into flames. He felt nothing. He was frozen in shock. The male body that had been the Oro king’s was now cinders, a miniscule pile of ash.
Panic almost scattered his prana into a million trillion irretrievable bits. Only his mighty skill as the oldest living sorcerer saved him. He’d heard rumors of such things. But no, he could not die. Unacceptable. He mustered his focus. His actual ancient body existed within reach.
He focused on his prana, a faint thread of light, a line leading in a northeasterly direction, through the clouds, across the sea, to his obsidian mountain enclave. He didn’t follow the thread to nestle in his sleeping form in that cold room. Not just yet. To do that would admit defeat. He would not let an upstart dragon slayer ruin his plans.
But she had. He had wits enough to admit that.
For a moment he burned white hot with rage and felt an unbearable pain sear his energy body. His anger, intricate and quite useful, connected to his identity, his soul. But now his anger was burning his life force, his prana connection, to the only body he now had.
He brought his attention back to the island city of Plumaria and hovered over it. He quickly allowed dirty white cloud particulates to drench his rage. He had to focus. He had to retrieve the remnants of power from that flimsy old pile of dust that had been the Oro king. He had to find another body to use and fast. Before she got away with the Dracontias, the precious one and only Dragon Stone.
The search for and habitation of a suitable body only took him an entire day, but he finally accomplished his task. Withdrawing his powers from the dust pile, he spied the body he needed in the Plumaria castle’s sick room. His low simmering fury and tenacity built up over three centuries of scheming had made him strong. With his powerful focus, he propped up the dying soul, revived it, and pushed his will and identity into the young man’s heart.
In a breath, he healed the youngling’s body to temporary vibrancy. The body wouldn’t last, so he had to hurry. There was not the time to pick a more robust body. That took preparation, study, and careful calculations. He didn’t have the time for that. He had to get back what was rightfully his.
Once more in control of a vibrant body and pliable identity, he followed the rumors of the slayer’s departure all the way to the piers. That she-slayer was supposed to do his bidding. Failure hadn’t been an option. Perhaps seventy-five years in the Oro king’s body had made him sloppy and dulled his normally exceptionally high acuity and brilliance.
His complacency must have been how she had tricked him, how she’d deceived and betrayed him. He hadn’t been blindsided by a female since his sister had stolen the royal crown from him over a century ago.
Never mind the mistakes of the past. This dragon slayer, this Henrietta, had destroyed his ambition to rule over the Oro Islands for the next one hundred years and beyond. In that time he had planned to seize control of the other four kingdoms using the might of the Dragon Stone, combined with the other four kingdom’s crystals and stones he’d meticulously collected over the centuries. His life’s calling entailed ruling over all the Five Kingdoms. No one was going to come between him and his destiny again.
She would pay for ruining his plans.
He’d end this before she ever left the city of Plumaria. The child-woman, Henri Etta, was no match for him. He couldn’t be destroyed that easily.
He directed his new body through the marketplace, causing havoc. Then he rushed up the pier and delighted in the feel of youth in his limbs. A crazy thought flitted through his mind—that of the faraway and long ago carefree youth he once was who’d loved the freedom of birds and spent hours watching them in flight.
Then he saw her, waving and nodding to the peons who thought she’d liberated them. He swatted away memories of his flimsy faraway past. His pace quickened. She could not take his dream away. No one could, especially no woman. He was to have complete control of all the Five Kingdoms.
Once he had the last object of power, his plans would click into place.
She’d taken the most powerful gem in all the Five Kingdoms from him, and she would pay. With her life.
With nearly 100 reviews averaging over 4 stars, Tara Elizabeth’s Zoo is definitely worth a read.
A chronicle of my time living in a zoo . . . I’m not really sure where to start, and you may have trouble believing me even as I tell you my story. My family did. They laughed the first time I told them, so now I just say it was all a crazy dream. You see, I died in a totally preventable car accident . . . or so I thought. When I opened my eyes, I was shocked to discover that I had been resurrected into the year 2282 and, just as unbelievably, was locked up in a zoo! A HUMAN ZOO! Oh wait, I mean the People’s Past Anthropological Center.
The Global Government created the Centers because all of the different cultures of the world had, over centuries of time, slowly absorbed into one uniform culture. Everything and everybody felt the same, and the world didn’t like it. So, to help the people of 2282 find cultures they thought worthy to live their lives by, they used time travel to zap the people of the past into the future. They created enclosures to house their live human exhibits. And that’s what happened to me. I became a research project, a source of entertainment. I was a prisoner who was over two hundred years away from my family and friends.
Most of my time in the enclosure was spent trying to escape. I also made friends, lost friends, fell in love, was betrayed, was held captive within captivity, and lots of other fun stuff. There were some shocking moments and some devastating moments . . . It’s a lot to recount, but I’ll try my best to tell you all about my time travel . . . PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE.
I’m Emma, by the way.
DAY ONE – THE ENCLOSURE
When I woke up, I saw green, lots and lots of green. There were green plants, green trees, and green moss covered rocks. Underneath me was a cushion of green grass. I heard rushing water coming from somewhere nearby, but the pounding in my head dulled the pleasant sound. They drugged me, and my body did not like whatever they gave me. I stayed stretched out on the soft carpet of grass, trying to adjust to my surroundings.
“Hi there! About time you woke up,” a breezy, female voice chirped.
I slowly rolled my head in the direction of the voice. A girl about my age was sitting on a boulder staring at me. Her blonde hair was wild, like she took the time to tease it but used a twig to do it. Her eyes were a cool blue like a clear sky. Her dress was plain. It was made from what looked like burlap or some other horrible fabric (if you could even call it fabric). It looked completely out of place on her.
I was thinking about how awful it would be to wear something like that while I was scratching at my own skin. And sure enough, I had the same horrible fabric on. I was so mortified. I was wearing a brown sack that came to about mid-thigh, and when I checked, I discovered that I also had on tiny, bikini-cut panties. I was more of a boy short kind of girl.
“Where am I?” I asked the blonde girl.
“Didn’t they show you the film?”
“Yeah, but . . . ”
“Well, you’re in your new home.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder, and I almost expected her to start smacking on some gum.
I sat up and looked around. There was a small jungle toward the back of the enclosure with the rest of the area being flat land. The jungle was thick with ferns and trees. I could see a hint of a waterfall over some low hanging vines. At the front of the enclosure, on the flat land, I could see a small vegetable garden, a fruit tree, and a cow tied to a post. Half of the space was surrounded by a rock-wall, and the rest was encased by a glass-dome.
“This isn’t anything like where I came from,” I said aloud to myself and to the girl.
“Yeah, me neither. All I can figure is that they want to experiment by putting us in different environments and then seeing what happens.” The girl shrugged her shoulders. “So, what’s your name?”
“Emma David. You?”
The girl spewed a ton of information at me all at once. “Janice Hall. Grew up in Manhattan. Got into partying young. Overdosed on cocaine in a nightclub. Been in here alone for about a month. It’s good to have some company. I started talking to the cow a few days ago. Can you believe that? They could have at least put me in one of these things with some good neighbors or something.”
She completely overwhelmed me, and I didn’t know what to say in response. The thing that stuck out the most about her little speech was that she said she had overdosed. She looked too young to have had an overdose. “How old are you?” I finally asked her.
“Sixteen,” she answered nonchalantly, while inspecting her cuticles. Then she dropped down next to me and grabbed my hand to have a look at my nails. She was behaving like a monkey. I could recall watching them at a regular zoo. They would sit and pick at each other, searching for bugs or whatever nasty things inhabited their fur. It made me uncomfortable, but I was so focused on figuring her out, that I let her continue for a while longer.
Janice was so young and beautiful, and she was probably wealthy if she grew up in Manhattan. I’ve seen plenty of famous socialites on cable TV hit rock bottom before they hit 18. What a waste. Drugs were one thing that I never messed with, and she was a prime example of why.
“What year are you from?” I could tell she wasn’t from my time, even though we were dressed the same. There was something about her that was different, besides the New York accent.
She continued to look over my cuticles. I let her because it seemed to calm her down, which also helped my own nervous energy. She answered, “I was born in 1962. They ‘saved’ me in 1978.” She made air quotes with her fingers as she said the word “saved.” Then she asked me, “What about you?”
The time travel crap was starting to weird me out. I felt like my head was going to explode, but I held myself together long enough to answer her. “Um, I’m 17. I was born in 1995 and they ‘saved’ me in 2013 . . . This is crazy!” Nope. I couldn’t keep it together after all. Why was I sitting there making small talk with a strange girl? I needed to get the hell out of my new prison.
I ran over to the rock wall, searching for a door. Nothing. After I reached the glass front of our enclosure, where the public would be observing us from the other side, I beat my fists against the hard surface. I screamed and screamed and screamed.
Then, I screamed some more.
“Tried that already. It’s no use. Besides, the park’s not even open. Nobody’s here, silly,” Janice told me. She stood behind me, next to the cow, with her hand on her hip. I noticed she had fashionably tied some kind of vine around her waist to accentuate her curves under the hideous sack dress.
I didn’t care what she said, so I ignored her and kept beating the glass wall from one side all the way to the other. I went on that way until I reached a point where I could see into the enclosure next door. What I saw was unexpected.
Let’s start Friday off with a FREE ebook: Kaybree versus the Angels from Harrison Paul.
Kaybree has grown up hearing stories of the Angels, mythical beings who used to defend Nordgard from the creatures of the forest. After leaving mankind without guidance for centuries, they returned fifteen years ago, leaving a fiery swath of destruction.
When Kaybree is called to the outpost by the forest, home to her mother’s mysterious Vormund Order, she stumbles into the latest Angel attack. Soon she learns that she has the unique power to fight them: the ability to transform into a radiant being of fire and lightning.
As she begins to receive visions from Angelic messengers, she delves deeper into her mother’s organization. She starts to wonder: why would Angels, holy messengers of God, attack people? Every answer she finds only sparks more questions. Because Vormund holds a deadly secret—one that could change Nordgard and the human race forever.
If the bards could be believed, Kant Vakt was a magical place, the site of my mother’s great battle with the Angels, where gallant warriors wielded the ancient relics in mankind’s defense. But bards’ tales had a reputation of being slippery, told with a wink and a nod, stretching the truth to impress girls with a clever song.
When I first arrived at the city, I had the haunting feeling that this time, the bards were right.
I stood on the deck of the ship as the Sea Pilgrim approached the docks of Kant Vakt. Icy wind whipped at my cloak and dress, making my scarf to flap in the breeze. I leaned on the railing, gazing out at my mother’s city. The Sydstrom Channel ran alongside the main road, and dozens of arched stone bridges connected the two sides. Oarsmen rowed their longships through the channel, carrying messages and cargo from one end of the city to the other.
The smells of sea brine and pine mingled in the air with the scents of chimney smoke and roasting meat. A carriage drawn by two rangir with long antlers rolled along the cobblestone street, but the crowd of people was sparse. Having come from the capital, I’d expected more of a welcoming party. I looked over at the far end of the city, toward the dense foliage of the forest. The thick cluster of Nordgren spruces was laden with snow, and blocked my view of the world beyond, where unseen horrors could be lurking.
The border wall came into view, or what was left of it. High stone watchtowers with crownlike tops dotted the borders by the forest. The ruins of the city walls remained where they stood, warped stone and eroded fragments that covered the expanse between towers. This was the Kant Vakt of the stories. Fifteen years ago, the walls had been burned away in a brilliant flash of white fire, pieces of stone exploding and raining down on the city. I shuddered thinking about it. The walls had never been rebuilt—probably because the Angels could just destroy them again if they wanted to.
I remembered my mother’s letter. I clutched the parchment close, to keep the ink from smearing. Not that it would have mattered. I’d read the letter enough times to recite it in my sleep. My mother had never sent a letter directly to me, penned in her scribe’s own hand, so I had to make sure I wasn’t reading it wrong. It was a summons to Kant Vakt.
“In Nordgard, Kaybree, everyone works,” my mother had told me each time she’d come to visit. “Peasants labor in the fields. Artisans craft in their workshops. Even kings and princes are expected to undergo rigorous schooling in their youth, followed by an approved apprenticeship. Idleness is not permitted, and all must learn their place. Mine is to defend our borders. Yours is to study at this sagekeep.”
Yet after sending me from the longship ports of Arleon to the frigid tundra of Nordgren to the eastern border of Holmgarde, she had never allowed me to even set foot in her city. Sometimes her excuse was my health, since I had a rare disease and needed special blood treatments weekly. Other times she would say that it was too much of a risk to travel to Kant Vakt, because I might get caught in the next attack. So I hadn’t asked for a few years, and had grown content to let her visit when she found the chance.
What had changed now?
I disembarked from the ship, stepping out onto wooden docks that seemed to shift as I walked. Maybe my sense of balance was still thrown off by the sea voyage. I looked around at the people, but didn’t recognize anyone. My mother’s letter had told me she’d send her assistant to find me, but no one came forward to introduce themselves.
Of course, I thought. The ship had arrived late, and she probably hadn’t bothered to track its progress. I could have a message sent, but knowing her, something of vital importance to defending Nordgard would take precedence. I would have to go straight to her tower at the sagekeep, and let the porters bring my chests of clothes and other belongings up later.
I waved to an oarsman on the channel and stepped into his longship. Its wooden frame was peaked on the ends, and seemed to glide on the water like a swan. It only had six benches for rowing, and was likely bought from a fisherman to use on the channel.
“Where to?” he asked. He wore a heavy gray cloak and had arms of corded muscle. Another bench was occupied by a younger man, his hands tight on the oars.
“The sagekeep,” I said, handing him a few coins. Without a word, he took the coins and began rowing. We passed along the main road, where rangir trotted along with nobles’ carriages in tow. Other longships wove around us in the water, more agile and practical in the city than the newer ships with their towering masts and large cargo holds. The ride took less time than I’d expected, and before I knew it, I was stepping onto the steep slope and toward the sagekeep.
I reached the outer courtyard and gazed up at the soaring figure. The sagekeep of Kant Vakt was legendary. Since it had nearly been demolished by the attack of fifteen years ago, the sages had commanded that we build it up again, a fortress that the creatures of the forest would never overthrow. My mother said it was the Angels who destroyed the city, but the sages still said the dark denizens of the forest were responsible. Now that I was here, I could find out for myself.
Two towers flanked the vaulted keep. Arched black spires reached into the skies, their tops lost in the gray clouds, and the entire southern wall was covered in intricate designs. A great circular window was placed at the top of the keep, giving it the appearance of an eye watching over the city. A statue of Giles the Philosopher, the first of the sages, stood at the top, his granite face turned south toward the forest.
I passed a pair of armored guards through the double doors of the sagekeep, entering the high-ceilinged entrance chamber. It opened into a hall that stretched as far as I could see, and voices and footsteps echoed off of its ceiling like the inside of an underground cavern. This was my mother’s fortress, where she’d earned the warrior’s surname of Staalvoss, or “steel fox.”
Also check out the second and third books of the series: My Very Own Witch Hunter and Girl of Fire and Lightning. The latest versions of all three books are available on Amazon, and soon will be available on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Apple as well. Book 1 is free on all sites, and Books 2 and 3 are $2.99. Book 4 (Steel Fox) will be released this summer.
Check out the first book in Kai Strand’s Super Villain Academy series: King of Bad.
Jeff Mean would rather set fires than follow rules or observe curfew. He wears his bad boy image like a favorite old hoodie; that is until he’s recruited by Super Villain Academy – where you learn to be good at being bad. In a school where one kid can evaporate all the water from your body and the girl you hang around with can perform psychic sex in your head, bad takes on a whole new meaning. Jeff wonders if he’s bad enough for SVA. He may never find out. Classmates vilify him when he develops good manners. Then he’s kidnapped by those closest to him and left to wonder who is good and who is bad. His rescue is the climactic episode that balances good and evil in the super world. The catalyst – the girl he’s crushing on. A girlfriend and balancing the supers is good, right? Or is it…bad?
Check out an excerpt from Shana Norris’ YA paranormal romance, Surfacing, the first in her Swans Landing series.
Sixteen-year-old Mara Westray has just lost her mother, and now, being shipped off to live with the father she doesn’t know is not how she imagined grieving. She’s already counting down the days until she turns eighteen and can leave the tiny island of Swans Landing.
But from the moment she steps off the ferry, nothing is as ordinary as it looks. Whispers of a haunting song on the wind make her see impossible things, and she isn’t sure she can trust her judgment about what is real and what isn’t anymore. Maybe she can’t even trust her judgment about quiet Josh Canavan, whose way of speaking in riddles and half-truths only confuses her more, luring her deeper into the secrets hidden beneath the ocean’s surface.
As she tries to unravel the events that led to her mom fleeing the island sixteen years ago, Mara finds that the biggest secret of all is only the beginning.
A loud crack to my left made me jump at least a foot. The hairs all along my arms and all the way up my spine were certainly standing on end. I turned my cell phone in that direction, extending a frozen and trembling arm to try to make the light reach farther into the darkness.
“Anyone there?” My voice was low and shaking, barely above a whisper. I cleared my throat and tried again. “If you’re out there, come here or I’ll find you and kick your ass for scaring me.”
My eyes searched the darkness, but no one came forward despite the definite feeling that unseen eyes hid within the trees. I listened again for several moments, but there were no sounds other than the usual woodsy ones.
If I survived this night in one piece with my sanity still somewhat intact, I would never come back into these trees again.
And then I heard it.
I spun around, trying to determine what direction it came from, but it was impossible. The song seemed to be coming from everywhere all at once.
It started as a low hum at first, soft and sighing, but gradually it grew in volume and intensity. The sounds vibrated through me and I suddenly craved saltwater more than ever. My body cried out for it and every bone in me ached and popped and itched. For what, I didn’t know. My only thought was that I wanted to go toward the sound, even though I still couldn’t determine where exactly it came from, and so I started forward, stumbling over a tree root.
A hand closed around mine, stopping me. My head whipped around to find Josh’s face peering at me in the dim glow of my phone.
“What—” I started to say, but he shook his head. His expression was tight, his lips a thin straight line. He closed his eyes, swaying slightly, and a look of pain washed over his face.
“What’s going—” The words died in my throat. A movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention.
When I turned in that direction, I saw a figure slip between the trees, into the darkness.
I stared hard at the area where she’d disappeared, searching the shadows. She was there, I knew she was even though at the same time I knew this was impossible. Mom was dead and her body was buried in a little cemetery in Tennessee. My mom was not wandering around Pirate’s Cove in Swans Landing.
And yet I smelled her perfume. She whispered my name and then laughed. She was there.
“Mom!” I called.
But Josh clasped his free hand over my mouth, his eyes still closed and his face contorted in pain. I struggled against him, trying to break free. Mom was there in the woods and I needed to find her. But the more I struggled, the more Josh pulled me against him, his arm wrapped around my ribcage and crushing me to his chest.
I fought against him, kicking and hitting. My teeth clamped down on his hand.
“Ow!” he cried, letting me go.
With my newfound freedom, I lurched forward, stumbling over roots. I ran through the trees, narrowly missing hitting my head on a low branch. “Mom!” I shouted. My eyes scanned the darkness of the forest, desperate to find her.
Josh caught up to me and grabbed me again. I tried to break free, struggling against the violent craving for salt water that wracked my body in order to keep my wits about me. But maybe I had long ago lost my sense of reality. I didn’t know what was really true anymore.
Josh’s fingers dug into my wrist. “Mara, no!”
“I have to find her,” I told him, my voice high-pitched and wild even to my own ears.
He wrenched me toward him. I raised my fists to push away, but Josh’s arms enveloped me, pressing me close.
And then his lips met mine and the world I barely had any remaining grip on slipped away completely.
Today I’m featuring the fifth book in Dale Mayer’s Family Blood Ties series, Vampire in Defiance.
This was it. For Tessa. For Cody. For Jared. Her family. Her Friends.
Moltere’s Mountain is collapsing. With Tessa, her friends and family still inside. Tessa won’t go down without a fight…and she won’t leave the others behind. But as she races to save everyone, time runs out.
Cody glanced around to find Tessa standing behind him. Tessa. I’m fine. Or I will be. Are you okay?
She nodded. My leg is damaged, but I’m alive. That’s what counts.
Pride and joy surged through him as she stood, injured herself but worried about him. She was such a warrior. You are so right. I’m going to be fine. Although I won’t be taking you for a flight around town any time soon.
She laughed, the sound bouncing through his mind and making him smile. Using his hands to push himself up, he slowly straightened. Once back on his feet, he took a deep breath and gazed around at the devastation. Rocks, dirt, and clouds of dust everywhere. Hearing a sound on his left, he turned to watch David, Ian, and Jewel approach.
“About time you woke up. All you’re doing is sleeping on the job.” Ian reached out to hit him, realized his fist was aimed at his injured shoulder, and swerved away at the last moment.
Cody glared at him. “Yeah. Thanks for missing me.”
Jewel kissed him gently on the cheek. “I’m so happy to see you alive and well.”
“Almost well.” Cody straightened and shrugged gently, barely holding back the grimace of pain. “With any luck, I’ll be fine in a few hours.”
“And that brings us to the next item of business. We need food and rest. A place to stay in until you two heal and we can recharge. Doesn’t have to be too long, but we have to make sure it’s enough that we can fight our way out of here,” David said with a pointed look at Cody’s wing.
Cody nodded. “Damn good idea.”
“Tessa can’t move without help,” Serus pointed out. “Goran, can you carry her back to the tunnel opening? We’ll scout ahead and see what we can find.”
Goran nodded. “Give me a minute to move the two of them over.”
Cody snorted. “I can get over there on my own. Go get Tessa.”
With an assessing glance at his son, Goran lifted up and headed toward Tessa.
He grinned at Tessa’s voice in his head as he made his way slowly back to the tunnel. Maybe. But I can walk. You can’t.
True. Her disgruntled tone made him chuckle. He caught their friends looking at him strangely. He dropped his smile and shrugged at them sheepishly. “Sorry. Inside joke.”
“You really can talk to her, can’t you?” Jewel asked?
He nodded. “It’s weird. And fun.”
“Sounds like it,” Jewel said.
Serus stepped up and said, “Talk when we’re back at the tunnel.”
Cody straightened, hating the damage his body had sustained. It had been a tough week. As long as he wasn’t floating ash, he was good with it. But that tunnel appeared to be a long way away.
In a quiet voice, Jewel asked, “Are you okay? Do you want a hand?”
He hid his grin as he gazed down at the tiniest vampire he knew. “I’ll be fine. But thanks.”
David smirked at him. “I could toss you over there.”
“You and whose army?” Cody scoffed. “You can barely drag your sorry ass around without trying to lift mine.”
The gentle wrangling continued as they made their way to the tunnel entrance. The whole way, Cody had tried to talk to Tessa, but she’d closed a door between them. Up ahead he watched his father land and stand almost protectively in front of her.
Was she more badly injured than they’d thought?
His breath wooshed out. You disappeared. I wasn’t sure what happened.
You were worried? Her smile rippled through his mind. No need.
Then why did you leave. It’s like you shut me out.
Why? He asked cautiously. But inside, frustration built. Why would she do that? And how did she do that? He had no idea how to leave her mind at all.
Because the pain was so bad I didn’t want you to hear me screaming.
Oh shit. Are you that badly hurt?
My leg. It might be healing, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.
Yeah, it must suck to be human. He couldn’t imagine a leg taking six weeks to heal. A bad break could take a vampire six hours, but normally a couple of hours would put one back to good health. In Tessa’s case, he had no idea. And you didn’t need to hide your feelings from me. I wouldn’t have thought less of you if I heard you scream, you know.
She smiled again, so faint it was like a whisper, something he felt more than saw. How weird was that?
I hated hearing your pain.
Oh shit. Yeah, that changed things. He thought she’d been worried about what he’d hear, and instead she’d been protecting him from being upset at her suffering. Somehow, he felt like he’d failed a test.
No! No tests here.
Maybe, but I didn’t understand, and I feel like I should have.
She laughed. We haven’t had time enough to know how the other one thinks or reacts for that.
I know. But you’re right. I hadn’t considered what hearing you scream would do to me. And you thought of it before I did.
So? It’s not a contest. Quit your complaining and get over here.
But her words were warm and tinged with humor, making him once again aware of how mature she was.
Yeah, life is like that.
No, I mean it. You understand people like no one else. Except… He thought about it. Your mother, maybe?
Then that’s easy, I learned it from her.
No. I think you learned because of the challenges you’re faced. You might have gotten your big heart from her, but you use it differently. Look at Jewel and how you handled her. Look at Xana and how sorry you were that I’d been forced to kill her. She needed killing, but you were worried about the effect of doing so on me. See, that’s all you. It comes from your heart.
Silence. He was almost close enough to see her face now. Her face was lowered. He wasn’t sure, but it looked like she was hiding it.
Are you okay? He asked in alarm.
She lifted her face and he could see the shy smile and bright pink cheeks.
He’d embarrassed her. I tell you the truth and you get shy and hide away. He shook his head in bemusement. You’re going to have to get used to it. I’m not going to hold back when I see something fantastic. Honestly, you’re something very different for me, and I’m learning a lot about myself through you.
He could feel a hesitation in his mind. He rushed to add, Different in a good way. You’re warmer, more caring than other females I’ve known. You’re almost… and he held the words back.
But she said them herself. Almost human?
Check out this new YA dystopian series: The Breeders.
“When the Breeders come for ya, there ain’t no escape. They strap ya to a bed and all ya hear is the thud of your heart and the cries of your friends as they wheel ya down to hell. Then the doctors come. You squeeze your eyes shut and pray you can forget. But ya never do.”
Sixteen-year-old Riley Meemick is one of the world’s last free girls. When Riley was born, her mother escaped the Breeders, the group of doctors using cruel experiments to bolster the dwindling human race. Her parents do everything possible to keep her from their clutches– moving from one desolate farm after another to escape the Breeders’ long reach. The Breeders control everything- the local war lords, the remaining factories, the fuel. They have unchecked power in this lawless society. And they’re hunting Riley.
When the local Sheriff abducts the adult members of her family and hands her mother over to the Breeders, Riley and her eight-year-old brother, Ethan, hiding in a shelter, are left to starve. Then Clay arrives, the handsome gunslinger who seems determined to help to make up for past sins. The problem is Clay thinks Riley is a bender– a genderless mutation, neither male nor female. As Riley’s affection for Clay grows she wonders can she trust Clay with her secret and risk her freedom?
The three embark on a journey across the scarred remains of New Mexico– escaping the Riders who use human sacrifice to appease their Good Mother, various men scrambling for luck, and a deranged lone survivor of a plague. When Riley is forced into the Breeder’s hospital, she learns the horrible fate of her mother—a fate she’ll share unless she can find a way out.
When the dust cloud appears, we know they are coming.
My mama and I spy the cloud churning up the road at the same time. Her potato peeler clatters to the porch floor, sending goose flesh over my arms. I stare at the cloud kicked up by dozens of approaching tires and then back to my mother. There’s no mistaking it. The fear is written on her face.
She grips my shoulder, hand already shaking. “Get in the cellar.” Her face tightens. “Now.”
Her rocking chair scrapes against the porch floorboards. She yanks open the screen door and runs into the house, yelling for my brother.
I stand up, my own hands trembling now. The advance of the dust cloud has me riveted, like an animal caught in headlights. It’s what we’ve drilled for, prepared for, whispered about at night. And now they’re coming.
My mama’s frantic screams pierce my thoughts. “Riley, the storm cellar! Hurry!”
I shake myself out of my stupor and force my jellied legs to move. Running into the house, I spy my stepfather, Arn, at the pitted kitchen table. He slips round after round into his hunting rifle, his calloused fingers fumbling for more in the box that holds too few. He drops one. It hits on the floor and rolls under the table.
“Gawddammit!” he swears. His leathery forehead wrinkles as he searches frantically.
I run over, grab it and hand it to him. The bullet feels cold against my hot palm.
His eyes latch onto mine and a sadness creeps over his face. This frightens me more than anything. He grabs our pistol off the table and thrusts it forward. “You’ll need this.” His eyes say one gun won’t be enough.
The revolver is heavy and solid in my trembling hand. I curl my fingers over the wooden grip, worn smooth with use. I let my index finger stray to the trigger, place my other hand under the grip like he taught me and aim at the dust cloud. I look up at him, unable to ask what I need to know.
In this moment Arn looks old. His sun-beaten face is carved by wrinkles and his forehead is dotted with sweat. The patched overalls sag on his too-thin body. Before this he was out milking the cow or mucking out the barn, mundane, boring tasks that I wish he could go back to now. Arn grabs both my shoulders and fixes me with frightened blue eyes. “You ‘member what I taught you?”
“Is it the Breeders? It is, isn’t it?” My voice breaks with the terror that’s sticking to my insides and knotting my stomach. Arn says nothing. He doesn’t have to. His face tells me everything I need to know.
“I can fight.” The gun trembles, but I lock my elbows and grit my teeth. I want this chance to face the people who’ve been hunting us our whole lives.
Arn shakes his head, the lines around his mouth deepening. “Soon’s they see you, they’d kill the men and take the women. Get in the cellar. I’ll handle this.” His weathered hand squeezes mine. It’s the most affection he’s shown me in months. I savor the roughness of his palm. Then, quick as it came, he drops my hand and goes back to slipping bullets into his rifle, his eyes marking the approach of our enemies.
From behind me: “Riley?!” My mama is near hysterics.
“Coming!” I sprint through the old farmhouse, the boards moaning beneath my feet. I skid to a stop at our bedroom and scan it for my brother. Both beds lay empty. Ethan’s boots lie on their sides under his bed. His comic book is forgotten on the floor. He’d never leave it there on a normal day. But this isn’t a normal day. Angry motors growl closer. How soon before they get here? Minutes? Seconds?
I burst through the back door. The storm cellar sits fifteen paces from the house, dug deep in the ground. When we moved in six months ago, my mama showed us the cellar that, when shut, folds neatly into the dusty landscape. We’ve taken pains to camouflage the doors, but will it be enough?
The cellar doors yawn wide, revealing the dark earthen hole. My mama crouches at the cellar’s mouth, her hand-sewn cotton dress gathering around her knees. My little brother, Ethan, descends the ladder. His hand clutches her scarred one for a moment before he disappears into shadow. He’s gone. An urge to sob washes over me. I bite it back and run over.
My mama turns, searching for me. From this angle she is breathtaking in her loveliness. Her shoulder-length black hair shines in the hazy sunlight, and her left cheek is supple and pink. She’s a beauty queen, a ten as Auntie says. It’s the other side of her face that marks the horrors she’s seen. Red angry burn scars travel her neck and face. Her skin bunches and grooves like a pitted dirt road. Her left ear is only a ragged, red hole. Yet, I rarely notice her burned face. This is the way she’s looked as long as I can remember.
I step to the edge of the cellar and peer at my brother. From the bottom of the hole, his eyes are wide as a jackrabbit’s caught in my snare. His lower lip trembles. He looks five instead of eight. “It’s okay,” I lie.
My mother grips my shoulder and presses down. “Get in.” Her voice is a choked whisper. She glances back at the dust plume. The gray cloud hangs huge, blocking out the horizon, a tornado set to tear our world apart.
I take a step back and narrow my eyes. “You first.”
“I have to get Bell.” She looks towards the upstairs window.
I grip her arm. “No! They won’t take Auntie. She’s too old.”
My mama pulls me to her chest in a brief hug. Then she scrambles out of my clutches. I claw for her dress, but she’s gone. “Don’t go!”
“I love you!” she yells over her shoulder, her voice full of tears. The back door thwacks as she disappears inside it.
“Come back!” I yell, but it’s too late.
I stare at the door, wondering if I’ll ever see her again.
Today I’m excited to share an excerpt from Penny Blubaugh’s fantasy novel, Blood and Flowers.
Three years ago, Persia ran away from her drug-addict parents and found a home with the Outlaws, an underground theater troupe. This motley band of mortals and fey,puppeteers and actors, becomes the loving family Persia never had, and soon Persia not only discovers a passion for theater but also falls in love with Nicholas, one of the other Outlaws. Life could not be more perfect.
Until an enemy with a grudge makes an unfair accusation against the group and forces them to flee the mortal world and hide in the neighboring realm of Faerie. But in Faerie, all is not flowers and rainbows—with blood thirsty trolls, a hostile monarchy, and a dangerous code of magic, the fey world is not quite the safe haven the Outlaws had hoped for. And they must decide what’s more important: protecting their right to perform or protecting themselves.
“In case you don’t know, you use a thin paste of the flour water to stick the poster down. Put them on boards, telephone poles, newspaper boxes – whatever. The paste dries hard but clear, and it’s a bitch to get off.”
I slapped one of our flyers on the wood covering the broken window of Clem’s Furniture Store (furniture long, long gone) and demoed to Lucia. Then I handed her the paste tub. “Your turn.”
Lucia worked carefully, setting her flyer next to mine. The double whammy. The manicured nails on her scarred hands were perfect, cream with ebony tips. Her hands were graceful and when they moved, her scars flared in the just turning on streetlights. She finished and looked over at me. “How’s that?”
I had to make myself stop watching her and look at the side-by-side flyers. I don’t know what it is about Lucia. She always makes me wish that we weren’t the same sex, or that I was attracted to women.
Our flyers said:
Outlaw Puppet Troupe
The Bastard and the Beauty
A play of love, dislike, and anti-corruption
Place: You’ll know it when you find it
Date: Now and them
Time: Eight o’clock, usually. At night. But things can always change.
Find more from Penny on her website.
Download The YA Fantasy Book Club Guide today for $0.99!
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
MockingJay – Suzanne Collins
Divergent – Veronica Roth
Insurgent – Veronica Roth
Incarnate – Jodi Meadows
For Darkness Shows the Stars – Diana Peterfreund
Legend – Marie Lu
Prodigy – Marie Lu
Graceling – Kristin Cashore
Fire – Kristin Cashore
Initiate – Tara Maya
Taboo – Tara Maya
Sacrifice – by Tara Maya
Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas
Falling Kingdoms – Morgan Rhodes
Poison Study – Maria V. Snyder
Magic Study – Maria V. Snyder
Fire Study – Maria V. Snyder
Twilight – Stephenie Meyer
New Moon – Stephenie Meyer
Eclipse – Stephenie Meyer
Breaking Dawn – Stephenie Meyer
Team Human – Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan
City of Bones – Cassandra Clare
City of Ashes – Cassandra Clare
City of Glass – Cassandra Clare
City of Fallen Angels – Cassandra Clare
The Iron King – Julie Kagawa
The Iron Daughter – Julie Kagawa
The Iron Queen – Julie Kagawa
The Iron Knight – Julie Kagawa
Beautiful Creatures – Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Beautiful Darkness – Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Beautiful Chaos – Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Beautiful Redemption – Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Pivot Point – Kasie West
15 Minutes – Jill Cooper
Mind Games – Kierstan White
My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century – Rachel Harris
Waterfall – Lisa Bergen
The Emperor’s Edge – Lindsay Buroker
Dark Currents – Lindsay Buroker
Deadly Games – Lindsay Buroker
Clockwork Angel – Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Prince – Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Princess – Cassandra Clare
The Girl in the Steel Corset – Kady Cross
Lady of Devices – Shelley Adina
Soulless – Gail Carriger
Check out this young adult fantasy novel from Katie O’Sullivan, Son of a Mermaid. The sequel is coming this May!
Shea MacNamara’s life just got complicated.
After a freak tornado devastates his Oklahoma farm, the fifteen-year-old orphan is whisked away to Cape Cod. Struggling to make sense of his new surroundings, he’s trying hard to deal with feelings of abandonment… and the emotions stirred by a girl he meets along the shore.
Kae belongs to an undersea world hidden from drylanders. The daughter of royal servants, she knows the planned marriage of her Princess to the foreign King should put an end to the war between the clans. But two things stand in the way of lasting peace: the ambitions of the foreign King’s regent, and rumors of the Princess’s bastard child.
Sparks fly when she meets Shea, but could the cute drylander really be the Son of a Mermaid?
The blue-green coolness swirled around him as his body tumbled down through the water, arms and legs flailing as he struggled to hold his breath. Millions of tiny bubbles of precious air traced the path of his descent, escaping from his clothing and through his nose.
Eyes wide even as the water rushed past, he watched a huge school of shimmering minnows part down the middle as they swam around him, surrounding him like a silvery box. Turning his face upward to the surface, he could see the blue sky receding further and further as he sank deeper into the water’s depths.
His throat and lungs burned from the effort of holding his breath. Darkness pressed hard against his eyes, and swirls of strange colors danced in front of him as his whole body strained against the lack of oxygen.
I need to breathe, he thought wildly, his whole body feeling like it was on fire. I can’t hold out much longer. His feet finally hit the mucky bottom with a thud, coming to a stop as the mud swirled around his legs.
There, hovering before him in the water, swam a beautiful woman with flowing golden hair…and a green fish tail that sparkled with golden flecks among the scales.
Her big green eyes looked so familiar, like the ones he saw in the mirror every morning. She smiled at him, reaching out to take his hand. His head pounded as searing pain ripped through his throat, as if his entire body would tear apart any second from the effort of holding his breath.
The mermaid squeezed his hand and nodded. The pain receded as Shea stared into her eyes, lost in their green depths. As she nodded to him again, he opened his mouth to exhale the stale air that pounded like a jackhammer in his lungs. Large bubbles rushed to the surface as he struggled to breathe, but there was no air to be had. Only salty ocean water rushing in to fill his mouth, his lungs, his body…
Shea woke with a start, clawing at the sheets and disoriented for a full minute before remembering where he was. At the Hansen’s house. Because his own home – the farm where he’d lived and worked all his life – was gone, swept away and crushed by the freak tornado.