Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Khalshir: WIP Excerpt

Getting the new series sorted took a bit longer than anticipated, but I finally have something to show you. Khalshir, the first book in the Kingmakers series, is in the final editing phase, and should be available in March. This story takes place a few years after Leythe Blade, in the same part of the world. Though Leythe Blade is a stand-alone novel and not part of this series, the main characters from that story will be making appearances in future books in this series (though not in book 1). I'll have cover art to show off in a week or so, but for now, here's a little taste...

They wouldn’t kill him.

Rio paced the windowless room and tried to calm his frayed nerves with logic. The Khalshir Guild had invested years in his training, and he’d served them well up until now. They wouldn’t just throw that away on one mistake, would they?

Bajhan wouldn’t let them.

Would he?

After a night alone to ponder his transgressions, he wasn’t nearly as certain as he had been when Bajhan had shoved him in here last night. He wasn’t certain of anything, not even where he was. It was a Guild facility, certainly, but which one was anybody’s guess. The Khalshir network covered almost the entirety of the Middle Kingdoms; he could be anywhere.

The only thing he could say for certain was that this wasn’t the Mirage in Akhat. Bajhan had dragged him through the mythe-gate underneath the Mirage last night, but he hadn’t said a word about where they were going. Hadn’t said anything as he’d escorted Rio down the hall, shoved him into the sparsely furnished room, locked him in.

Rio tried to take comfort in the fact that he was being fed. Twice now, someone had shoved a bowl of thin, greasy soup and a chunk of bread through a narrow slot next to the door, but no one had spoken to him.

A sharp rap behind him startled him. Heart pounding, he spun around to face the door. A key grated in the lock, and Rio steeled himself to face his mentor, but when the door swung open, it wasn’t Bajhan who walked in carrying Rio’s weapons and a pile of clothing. It was Coryn.

Rio’s limbs went slack with relief at the sight of his childhood friend. It had been nearly a year since he’d seen Coryn. Their assignments never seemed to place them at the same Guild house at the same time. Rio started forward to greet him, but stopped short as he got a look at Coryn’s face. His friend’s features were hard, his face so pale and cold it could have been carved from snowy white marble. Ice-blue eyes raked over Rio before darting away, as if Coryn couldn’t bear to look at him.

What had Bajhan told him?

Coryn dropped the clothing on the bed and set Rio’s weapon belt on top of it. “We’ve got a job,” he said flatly. “Both of us. You need to change.”

Rio blinked and glanced down at himself. He was still wearing the pale blue silk robes he’d been wearing that awful night in Akhat. “What kind of job?” His voice wavered as he struggled for composure. He ought to be relieved beyond measure; if he was being sent out on another job, it meant he wasn’t being retired.

“Bodyguards.” Coryn closed the door and leaned against it.

After only a moment’s hesitation, Rio ran his hand over his sheathed sword, then let it linger on the bone-handled knife, twin to the one Coryn wore. When Bajhan had taken his weapons from him, he’d wondered if he’d ever see the knife again.

“Thank you,” he murmured, moving the weapons aside to examine the clothing. Brown breeches and a rough-woven, pale brown shirt — common laborer’s clothing, similar to what Coryn was currently wearing. “Bodyguards for whom?” he asked before hauling the robes over his head.

“Nobleman’s son.”

Rich nobleman, if he could afford to hire two Khalshir to protect his son. Khalshir didn’t come cheap, but they were the best money could buy. “Coryn, I…”

Coryn bent his head as if looking down, but Rio caught the glint of those pale eyes through untidy black bangs. “You fucked up, Rio.”

Rio’s chest tightened, and he pulled on the clothing in silence. By the time he was dressed, he trusted his voice enough to speak. “I know that. Where are we?”

“A day’s ride south of Jakhar in Tallin. We’ll ride up there today and spend the night at the Copper Kettle. In the morning, we’ll report to the Jherek estate.”

“A day’s ride?” Rio frowned. “Doesn’t the Guild have a base in Jakhar? It’s the biggest city in Tallin.”

“The Wild Rose is our base.” Coryn still wouldn’t look at him. “There’s a Guild representative stationed there, but there's no mythe-gate. Not since Tallin’s king outlawed weaving the mythe.” A long silence stretched between them before Coryn stirred again. “What happened?” Coryn’s voice was low, with that hard, cold edge that meant he was furious. “I’ve never seen Bajhan so angry.”

Rio opened his mouth to spin a yarn about how none of it was his fault, but snapped it shut before a word could escape. Lies wouldn’t do here. Coryn was his sworn brother, and as the one who’d led him into this life, Rio owed him the truth. It was the only thing he had left to give him.

“I choked,” Rio said simply. “We were in Akhat, me and Bajhan. Spy job, I thought. Bajhan was playing a diplomat, and I was his scribe. But he… he set up a meeting with a merchant to talk trades and tariffs, and… and while the merchant was out of his suite, I was supposed to sneak in and strangle his wife.” Nausea still roiled in his gut when Rio thought about it. He stared down at the floor. “I couldn’t do it. She was… she hadn’t done anything. It was…” His voice dropped to a whisper. “It was wrong.”

From the direction of the door came only icy silence, but when Rio glanced up to ascertain that Coryn hadn’t slipped out during his confession, ice-blue eyes met his, wide and stunned. “Wrong? You knew what you were getting into when you joined the Khalshir.”

Rio swallowed. “Never been given the order to kill before.” Coryn had, he knew. Coryn had been doing solo assassinations for five years now, and if he had any qualms about it, he’d kept them to himself. But then, Coryn had made his first kill at thirteen, and Rio…

Rio was twenty-seven, and had yet to do so.

“But… those bandit scum that tried to rob us on the road three years back—”

“That was different,” Rio protested. “They would have killed us. Got no problem taking life in a fight for my own, but killing in cold blood is… I thought I could do it. But when it came down to it, I… I couldn’t. She was innocent, Coryn. She was gentle and sweet. We had dinner with her and her husband the night before, and she sang for us. I’ve never heard such a beautiful voice. She had eyes like one of those little deer we used to chase in the jungle. She wouldn’t have hurt anyone.” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Bajhan did it. I begged him not to. He locked me in a store room. I—” He snapped his mouth shut as Coryn closed his eyes briefly and shook his head. Rio swallowed again before voicing the thought that had been chasing itself around his head for the past three days. “I don’t belong with the Guild. Maybe… maybe I should leave. Go someplace far away, where they’ll never find me.”

“You think?” Coryn’s eyes went dead, because Coryn mad wasn’t a thing of fire and fury. Coryn mad was ice fucking cold, and Rio had never been on the receiving end of it before. “Thought we were in this together, Rio. You said Bajhan would take us in, train us up, give us a chance to prove ourselves. And you were right. He did give us a chance. And even if you want to blow yours, I can’t. I’m not going back to that, Rio. Not ever again. I got the Khalshir Guild at my back now, and that’s more than I’ve ever had.”

Rio blinked, surprised at the hurt in Coryn’s voice. “You have me,” he offered.

The anguish twisting Coryn’s face was there and gone almost before Rio registered it. “I thought I did.”

“I’m sorry,” Rio whispered. “I didn’t mean—”

“Save it. I don’t want to hear it.” Coryn turned and opened the door. “I’ll send someone down with breakfast. Make sure you eat. We won’t be stopping until we get to the city.”

Before Rio could think of a thing to say, the door was shut firmly and the sound of the key scraping in the lock confirmed that he was locked in again.