Friday, February 26, 2016

Blackfrost: WIP Excerpt

My next release, scheduled for this spring (probably very early May) is Blackfrost, the sequel to Burn the Sky. This story begins in the spring, less than a year after the events of Burn the Sky. When the story opens, Kian is nearing the completion of his training as a healer, and is about to be sent off to Blackfrost, an isolated estate in the kingdom of Miraen. There, he finds Prince Ambris and a bit of a mystery...

Prince Ambris of Miraen stared out at the dark tangle of the Blackwood. Over the years, the forest had encroached ever closer to the ruins of the estate, until now it threatened to overtake the charred remains of the north wing. The piles of burnt timbers were still covered with snow, but soon, tiny green tendrils of vine would be sprouting, and by midsummer, a mist of green would cover the fallen-in roof.

In a few more years, it would all merge back into the forest, leaving nothing to mark the place where Ambris’s life had taken such a dramatic turn for the worse.

Movement in the snow-covered courtyard below the window of his attic bedroom caught his eye, and he watched as the guard patrolling the courtyard and the ruins of the north wing was relieved by his night-time counterpart.

There was always a guard in sight of his bedroom window. Overkill, as far as Ambris was concerned, considering that the window was barred and could only be opened a crack.

Ambris let the heavy curtain fall and turned away from the gathering twilight. He had, perhaps, half an hour before old Cyrith brought his dinner and his sleeping draught. It was enough time. He would make it enough time.

He crept to the door and opened it a crack to listen. He heard no one moving about; the off-duty guardsmen would all be at supper, and Patra would have her hands full getting them fed. Ambris eased the door shut and moved to the center of his room.


He rubbed his pale, slender hands together. Tonight he would face the fire. Tonight, he would master his fear and take back both his freedom and his life.

Face the fire.

He mustn’t dither this time, and he mustn’t allow himself to dwell on his previous failures. If he thought about it too much, he’d lose his nerve, and who knew how long it would take him to get hold of it again?

Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes and sought the writhing core of flame at his center.

It sounded like such a simple thing whenever Wytch Master Taretha explained it. Build the pattern in his mind, then push it into place around the surging core of chaos at his center.

He hadn’t counted on it being fire.

Hadn’t counted on the dark, flame-filled memories sweeping him away every time he tried to focus on the core of his power. The moment he drew near enough to begin weaving the pattern, he’d hear his mother’s screams, see her fleeing, her eyes wide with horror, her hair on fire.

Ambris shuddered as his flesh began to twist and writhe, and his bones began to lengthen and change, piercing his skin. Blood… pain… and the sense of striving for something that was just out of reach, something he couldn’t quite grasp…

White hot agony rippled through him in waves, becoming more intense with every passing moment. There was no way back, though. Once the shift had begun, he could only grit his teeth and endure. It tore him apart from the inside out, and all Ambris could do was scream.

When he came to, the room was fully dark, and he hurt all over. The floor under him was cold, and his clothing was wet and sticky. Every muscle in his body was torn and throbbing, having been stretched beyond its limit. His skin had split in too many places, congealing blood oozing from every wound…

He groaned through a throat that was raw from screaming, and wished for the oblivion of unconsciousness. Where was Cyrith? The healer should have been here by now, should have eased his pain and healed his ruined flesh.

Steps sounded on the stairs. Not the hesitant shuffle-tap-shuffle of the gentle, blind healer, but the light, quick tread that always struck a chord of fear in his heart. Malik, captain of the guard, was approaching.

The footsteps stopped and the door squeaked open on hinges in need of oiling. Golden lamplight shone in from the hallway beyond the partially open door. A sharp intake of breath was held for a moment and then released on a barely audible chuckle.

“Had another accident, did we, Highness?” Malik’s voice was a mocking growl that Ambris wouldn’t have dared respond to even if he weren’t in too much pain to speak. “Or were we thinking about escape again?”

When Ambris didn’t answer, Malik continued, “Accident or not, it’s bad timing on your part. Cyrith’s dead, you know. Patra went to fetch him for dinner and found him all stiff and cold in his cot. Dead since this morning, she thinks.”

Cyrith dead?

Despair washed over him, magnifying his pain a thousandfold. He whimpered, but dared not try to speak. Whatever he said would be wrong, would stir Malik’s temper to violence. As it was, Malik had no way of knowing or proving that he’d deliberately chosen to do this to himself, and Ambris intended to keep it that way.

He squeezed his eyes shut as Malik’s steps came closer. Rough hands took hold of his torn, broken body and lifted it none too gently. Bone scraped on bone and pain flared through him.

The last thing Ambris heard before losing consciousness once more was Malik’s soft laughter.

When he came back to awareness, Malik was gone, and steady, competent hands gently dampened long strands of blood-encrusted hair with a wet cloth and smoothed them away from his ruined face.

“Ah, pet, I’m so sorry.” It was Patra, the housekeeper, sounding genuinely distressed. “Poor old Cyrith never woke up this morning, I’m afraid. Malik’s sent for the Wytch Master, but I’ve no idea how long she’ll be. I’ve brought you some blackseed, for the pain. Do you think you can drink it?”

He tried to speak, but the pain was too great, so he opened his mouth just a crack, hoping that Patra would understand. Her hand slipped beneath his head to lift it, and she held a small vial to his lips.

When he’d swallowed it all, Patra set his head back down carefully. The blackseed seemed to take forever to do its job, but eventually, a warm glow worked its way through him, starting at his shoulders and slowly spreading until it encompassed his whole body. The pain ebbed away, and Ambris finally drifted off to sleep.

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