The Blackmoon Shards
Note: The following excerpt contains spoilers from Book One, The Ukinhan Wilds.
The shrike peered back at him with unmistakable bloodlust, its eye a crimson garnet burning with reflected torchlight and gleaming with primal hunger. Matching red markings painted its breast, its pinion feathers, the tips of its ashen talons and the scimitar curve of its ebony beak. Stark against an otherwise obsidian sheen, the vivid splashes of color seemed to pulse with the rapid ebb and flow of its breath. The magnificent raptor knew that it had once again served its purpose with unerring strength and efficiency. All that remained was to collect its reward.
Darkness engulfed her.
Her head spun. Her stomach churned. She clenched her eyes, her jaw, gritting her teeth in a determined effort to hold the expulsive forces in check. But the lightless void in which she found herself rose and fell, rose and fell, rocking at the same time from side to side in ceaseless rhythm. A roiling pressure mounted from within. Building . . . squeezing . . .
She lurched forward, vomiting in the blackness, cringing at the sound of her wretched heaving and the splash of half-digested food chunks spilling into the bilgewater at her feet. The stench of her own sickness washed over her, summoning another wave. She gave it vent, having no choice now, succumbing to her body’s urgent need.
She gasped for breath before retching again, and again. When a subsequent spasm produced only empty sputtering, she spat and rolled back against the coarse-grained wall, gripping her knees in surrender and self-loathing, allowing her dizziness to take her.
To the depths, she hoped. This entire cursed ship, and me with it.
The mere thought ignited a fire in her belly, a coursing warmth set to greedily consume pain and weakness. Nara grimaced, shivering there in the dank blackness of the cramped bilge while scathed from within by the flames of self-reproach. A mere two days had they been at sea, by her estimation, though it felt like weeks, and may in truth have only been hours. Whichever, too soon to be praying for death or elsewise relinquishing commitment to her purpose.
Would you let them win? Would you see them go unpunished?
Their faces paraded through her mind’s eye, as if to remind her of her course. Thane, her brother. Ulflund, her faithful shadow. Abinama, her love’s light and devoted companion. Pain stabbed at her with the memory of each, and new faces emerged—vile, disgusting. Grendavan, the Grenarr overlord, dark and imposing as he leered at her from across the altar. Ledron, her father’s mindless lapdog, expressionless and bull-headed in the execution of his assigned orders. And Kylac, the impertinent mercenary, so reckless and cocksure. Undaunted. Undisciplined. A marvel in action, true, but those actions had cost her everything.
Not everything, came the inner voice, as her brother’s face pushed to the fore. A plea, it seemed, as she envisioned again his dismembered ring finger—presented to her in Wingport. If she would see him returned by the Grenarr unkilled, they had said, she must forfeit all resistance and return to Avenell to seal the accord with their hated enemies. This, she had done, never truly believing that it would come to pass as her father or Ledron had planned, knowing that her light roamed free, trusting that he would find a way to liberate her.
Her heart clenched in concert with her stomach. She bucked forward and offered another involuntary heave. Liberate her, he would have, save for Kylac. For it was the rogue alone that had made Abi wary. Barring his presence, her Ukinh love would have made short-enough work of Ledron’s tattered company, likely before she had ever been led from Kuurian shores. She would have yet had a chance to put her request before the Imperial Council, to beseech her father’s aged cousin, Emperor Derreg, for aid against the treacherous Grenarr. The voyage home, the trek across the Harrows, the confrontation within the Ukinhan birthing warrens—
None of it would have transpired.
Nara spat again and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, permitting herself a voiceless, shuddering sob in the undulating void of her prison. Her broken thumb throbbed within its splint, an unnecessary reminder of the conflict in those subterranean caverns. Would that Abi had confronted Kylac sooner. Would that any number of the natural perils inhabiting the Ukinhan Wilds had done so for him. His very presence, shadowing hers, had kept a swarm of rival predators at bay. Kept her safe. But doing so had also served to shield Kylac from untold hazards, to make possible their continued trek, their pursuit underground in search of the lifesaving sageryst, into the domain of the merciless jaggeruunt . . .
Bilgewater soured by stomach fluids lapped at her feet as the ship continued to rise and fall in relentless rhythm. As unrelenting as the truth she kept fighting to deny. It stalked her even in her dreams, cold and implacable. He had claimed ignorance, the rogue, and genuine it seemed, not feigned. He had even tried to apologize, in his own rash and clumsy way. Far too little. Far too late. The attempt itself, though a blow to her enemies, had likely only made matters worse. While she might bear grudging respect for his refusal to cow to authority, and for his seemingly matchless skills, she could not abide his cavalier approach, or trust that he had truly taken her or Thane’s interests to heart. A mercenary, for all his professed aims to set matters right. And even if he followed through in all that he claimed, achieved all that he intended, the most grievous harm inflicted upon her could not be undone.
Her precious Abinama would remain to her forever lost.
The ship rose beneath her, buoyed by a particularly large swell, increasing her lightheadedness. Her intestines knotted, but managed to hold onto whatever contents they had not already rejected. Vomit burned in her throat. She resisted the desire to quench the sensation, understanding that her freshwater supplies were limited. Only when convinced that her retching was finished would she wash the foul flavor from her mouth. Emptying her skins too soon would force her in search of more, greatly increasing the chances that she would be discovered. Be discovered too soon, and she was liable to be returned right back home to her father, who would no doubt shackle her in rusty irons, if need be, to prevent her from repeating this course.
She would have suspected him clever enough to do so before, had he not demonstrated elsewise. He had certainly kept a tight leash in the hours leading to her would-be wedding ceremony. But the chaos that had ensued, and the mad scramble with which the king and his inner circle had reacted afterward, had evidently chased such considerations from his mind. She had been all but forgotten, it seemed, once her protestations at being denied a berth aboard had been rejected. Shuttered in her chambers with a Blackfist to ward the door, cocooned in her own disappointment, had been caution enough, her father must have assumed.
The notion brought a smirk of grim pleasure to her lips, which even another abrupt heave from her stomach could not curtail. It wasn’t the first time her royal father had underestimated her. Defying his refusal, she had stolen out the window and down into the bowels of the castle, there to treat with one who she believed would be sensitive to her wishes. He, too, had denied her at first, echoing many of the same driveling protests coughed up by the others, and adding to them the fear that his life would be forfeit should it be discovered that he willingly aided her in an act bordering on treason. But she knew that he himself had volunteered to join this mission solely out of his love for Thane, and that he had only done so to ensure to the best of his limited abilities that the endeavor met with success. For that, he would need all the help to be mustered. Once she had persuaded him of the value of having her present to oversee any negotiations with the Grenarr—and of vowing to carry the secret of his involvement in her stowaway effort to the grave—he had capitulated and reluctantly agreed to see her smuggled aboard.
A fact she now had ample cause to regret. She knew not how long she might have to endure these torturous conditions, secreted away in the deepest recesses of the ship’s bowels, punished by thirst and hunger and seasickness. She knew not how long she could. Eventually, her presence would be discovered, or she would be forced to emerge of her own volition. But she had sworn to herself that it would not be until they had crossed a point of no return, when reversing along their own wake would no longer be a tenable option. Before then, she would accept whatever pain, whatever illness, whatever horrendous discomfort could inflict itself upon her. Recalling Abinama’s face and the certain agony of his final moments, she determined that she would feast on rats and roaches if she had to, choke down vomit and bilgewater, shiver and soak amid the dank, briny darkness until her bones cracked and the skin sloughed from her feet, ere she yielded to her enemies.
She owed it to her brother, her people, her Ukinh consort. She would see Thane rescued, delivered from his abductors without further harm. She would see the Grenarr punished, their ill-begotten attempts to invade her homeland foiled. Kylac, mercenary and self-assumed warder, would be her weapon, a willing instrument used to achieve these ends.
And when he had, when her brother and her people were safe, she would see him flayed and gutted, obtaining her vengeance with the song of his screams in her ears, and the taste of his blood upon her lips.
Order the Limited Edition Hardcover
Also available as Digital Download (eBook)
- Excerpts -