Sunday Sample – Sovereign of Shadow Excerpt

Sunday Sample, one day late :)  This is the continuation of This Excerpt… Kieran and Galan get into it. Poor, poor Kieran.

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Kieran sought the best vantage point. He crept toward the building adjacent to the alley the girl had indicated, using the rotting awnings and crumbling windowsills to climb to the rooftop. This had to be the worst smelling street in the entire city. He adjusted his mask, thankful that it filtered out the brunt of the foul odor.

Before he reached the far end of the building, he could hear faint shuffling, a whisper here, a murmur there.

Sounds like they’re gettin’ impatient.

Kieran wouldn’t keep them waiting any longer.

He unclasped the lid of a hard case attached to his belt, pinching the end of a crossbow bolt with his thumb and index finger. He slid it out inch by inch, clenching it between his teeth, being extremely careful to keep the tip away from his skin. He pulled another bolt out, loading it into his hand crossbow, then shut and locked the case.

Kieran picked his way carefully across the flat rooftop, pressing his back up against the chimney that stuck up through the roof. He rolled slowly toward the front, studying the layout of the men down below with a few quick darts of his eyes, then dipped back behind the chimney.

A couple of the men seemed bored, one of them leaning against the wall and cleaning his nails with a knife. There was one man at each end of the alley with a crossbow.

Where was Galan? Kieran looked again, risking poking his head out a bit longer, but still saw no sign of him.

Kieran readied himself. First, the crossbowmen. I don’t want to get shot. He propped his shoulder against the chimney and rolled forward, aiming and loosing his shot in one swift motion. He heard the thunk of the bolt piercing flesh as he ducked back out of view. He took the bolt from between his teeth and reloaded.

A dull thump followed by a clatter exploded in the night. The men exclaimed out loud, and Kieran heard their tone go from confusion to caution. The ring of drawn steel reached his ears as they questioned aloud where the shot had come from. He had to be quick.

Kieran rolled forward again, only letting half his body emerge from behind the chimney. The unscathed crossbowman had changed position, but only slightly. Kieran aimed, loosed, and another thief went down with a gurgle when the bolt slammed into the side of his neck. He popped open the case and pulled out two more bolts.

A man’s voice called out. “On the roof! He’s on the bloody roof! Get to cover!”

That’s him. Crouching low, Kieran stealthed toward the sound of their retreating footsteps. They tried to stay under the awnings and against the walls, but Kieran tracked them easily. He propped his hand crossbow against the edge of the roof and pulled the trigger. The bolt flew toward its target with a twang, sinking into the flank of one of the retreating thieves. The man fell against a wall, sliding down to the ground. Then, all was silent.

Kieran reloaded, straining his ears to listen. Did they somehow get around the building?

Galan’s voice echoed against the buildings. “Kieran, that you up there? I recognize your bolts.”

Kieran said nothing. His ears picked up faint footfalls. They sounded like they were coming from the street below him to his left. He flexed his fingers around the crossbow and braced himself.

“Let’s bargain. Stop shooting, and we’ll talk.”

Kieran’s legs burned with the effort of staying low as he approached the side of the building.

“Come, hear me out. I’m a man of honor.”

About as honorable as a Zaraban merchant during trading season.

He heard a faint scrape travel up the side of the building. Was Galan climbing?

“I wanna make a deal with you. Work with me on one last job, and we’ll call our little feud even.”

The scraping noise sounded closer now. Kieran shut his eyes and focused on where the sound was coming from. Must be one of the other men; Galan wouldn’t give himself away like that.

A twang of metal rang out and Kieran’s head whipped around just in time to see a hand appear and grip the lip of the roof. The thief’s grimy hair bobbed into view, and Kieran lowered his crossbow until the bolt aimed between the man’s eyes.

The man’s jaw went slack, eyes opening as wide as they would go. “Don’t-”

Kieran pulled the trigger, feeling the bow vibrate in his hand as the bolt crunched into the dirty spot between the man’s eyebrows, his head jerking back with the impact. The thief let out his breath in a huff as his grip loosened and he crashed to the ground below.

He took the bolt from between his teeth, reloading. “No bargain.”

“Agreed.” Galan’s voice rumbled behind him, too close for his comfort.

Kieran spun on his heel, rearing back when the tip of a sword pricked against the front of his neck. He froze, crossbow lifted halfway.

Galan’s mouth twisted into a wicked grin, his gold tooth glinting in the moonlight. He took a step forward, forcing Kieran back. “Always a pebble in my boot, Kieran. Shoulda left the city while I was locked up.”

Kieran took another step back, feeling with his toe to make sure he wasn’t about to plummet off the building. He could hear scrabbling behind him; the last remaining thief, climbing up to the top. He could hear the man’s heavy breathing, and a sharp poke against his back. A bow?

“Though,” Galan said. “I s’pose you would stick around. Right, Keean?”

He swallowed, wincing when the sword’s tip pricked his skin. Keean. That’s what his sister used to call him when she was young. Galan knew about Raili. Did he know where she was now? Kieran’s mind raced, his heart pounding in his chest. Hatred seethed in his gut.

Galan stepped back, using his sword to point. “Down.”

One chance. He took a long breath, trying to enjoy it in case it was his last one.

Kieran twisted around at the hip, reaching back to grab hold of the crossbow the thief held against his back. He yanked forward, and the bolt loosed. Galan recoiled, backpedaling a few steps, the bolt narrowly missing his face. Kieran elbowed the man behind him twice, trying to shove him off the side of the building. The man growled, his foul breath seeping through Kieran’s mask.

Galan recovered, advancing with a menacing sneer. The man with the crossbow was heavy, more of a brawler than a thief. Kieran threw all of his weight against him and he toppled, arms wheeling in the air. Turning, Kieran reached for the hilts of his knives – but the man behind him grabbed his arm as he pitched over the edge. He felt himself being pulled off the roof.

Kieran’s heart dropped into his stomach. He squeezed his eyes shut as he plummeted toward the ground below.

Sunday Sample – Sovereign of Shadow Excerpt

More “Sovereign of Shadow” goodness. This is a little further along in the story than my previous samples, and will end up in either chapter 2 or 3.

* * * * *

Kieran drew in a deep breath, feeling the cloth covering his face pull in against his lips for a moment before blowing it away. The hood over his head fluttered in the constant breeze that blew along the tops of the buildings. He prowled along the edges of the roof like a cat, keeping his eyes on the network of dirt roads and rotting alleys that marked the beginning of The Dregs.

Most of the access to the Outer Circle from the Dregs had been barricaded, but there were still a few openings that allowed people through. The barricades were temporary while they completed construction on wall that would section off each part of Midcity – a blatant reminder of the rigid class structure of the city.

Walls and barricades wouldn’t stop Kieran though. For the past few nights, he’d been seeking any activity that might lead him to Galan. Though he had to admit that he wasn’t sure what he would do once he found him. Someone had to get Galan’s group off the streets – they were violent and corrupt, and gave thieves everywhere a bad name.

Though the profession itself might have had something to do with that.

The roads were empty; guards didn’t bother much with this area of the city. Anyone walking alone in the middle of the night this close to The Dregs deserved to be robbed.

If all they did was steal, Kieran wouldn’t care. Instead, they beat and raped. They used desperate children with no home or family to lure in their targets.

Kieran neared the end of his third round of the city. Another eventless night. Either Galan was laying low, or he was being extremely careful about his activity.

Perhaps it was time to head back home for the evening. He didn’t have a real plan, anyway. He couldn’t take on Galan and the Theives’ Guild with hatred alone. He altered his course, heading in the direction of his ruined tower when something at the far end of the street below caught his eye.

A woman? Kieran hurried to catch up. Surely no one would be that stupid. No one who knew the inner workings of Midcity, anyway. She had to be a traveler, likely passing through the city. The poor woman seemed oblivious to her surroundings; the fact that she was out alone at night spoke volumes. Her slippers clacked on the cobblestone, and she didn’t seem to be in any hurry. She held her chin up high. Her clothing style and decorative hat suggested she had some money. What would a woman of her stature be doing out this far? He needed to catch up to her.

Or… Kieran stopped. He pursed his lips and watched her. A pretty, wealthy woman like that would catch Galan’s attention.
Though he didn’t want to see the young woman get hurt, he decided to leave her be. He kept her in his sight while scanning the streets.

He didn’t have to wait long. As the woman rounded a corner that put her even closer to The Dregs, something darted across the street and took cover in a patch of shadow.

Kieran crouched down, poking one eye over the edge. Nothing stirred for a long time. What had he seen? He stayed there motionless, eyes fixated on the dark patch near a door where he’d thought he’d seen the movement.

Maybe he was just tired. Though he didn’t really believe that. The one thing he trusted more than anything else was his instincts. He waited, watching.

There. Out of the blackened doorway darted a thin, lanky figure. Whoever it was, they were trying to stay hidden in the shadows, trailing the woman.

Looks like a kid. He narrowed his eyes and followed. Kieran waited until she was further down the road, then padded to the corner of the building. He leapt lightly onto an unlit lamppost, his boots rasping softly as he slid to the ground.

It had to be Galan. They moved fast; it was like they knew the woman would be there. He remembered his own time with the Theives’ Guild, being sent out alone in the middle of the night as bait.

Kieran sped ahead of the girl, keeping one street between them. He poked his head out of an alleyway in front of the woman just as the child caught up to her. He could see now that it was a young girl, no older than Raili.

The girl’s steps switched from discrete to clumsy. She panted and widened her eyes. “Help me! Please Lady, help!”

The woman spun around with a gasp, pressing her fingertips to the top of her chest. “Kernu’s horn, child. You frightened the wits out of me.”

From Belamros, by the sound of ‘er voice. Maybe she’ll jus send the kid away.

“My br-brother,” the girl wailed. “He’s sick. P-please, help!”

Kieran ground his teeth together. The same bloody story I used. You’d think by now he’d come up with somethin’ better.

The woman planted her fists on her hips. “I certainly do not know what you expect me to do. I am no healer.”

“Please!” The girl shrieked, tears flowing effortlessly down her cheeks. She fell to her knees, sobbing. “He’s all I got. My b-brother. He’s gonna d-d-die.”

“Oh, dear.” The woman bent at the waist and patted the girl on the shoulder. “All right then. Take me to him. We will find someone along the way to assist. Perhaps a member of the law.”

That wasn’t likely. Galan picked his locations well. Kieran stepped out of the shadows. “Stop.”

They both jumped at the sudden noise, the girl drawing a tiny rusted dagger from her belt and crouching low.

The older woman eyed him suspiciously, her fists returning to her rounded hips. “And who are you? Her brother? You do not look ill.”

“Don’t follow her,” Kieran said. He addressed the woman, ignoring the kid trying to circle around him. “She’s gonna lure ya into a trap.”

“I highly doubt that. She’s just a child.” The older woman wagged a finger in the air. “You, on the other hand. I do not like the look of you. Don’t dare think to rob me, you hear? I’ve been trained in Fire.” A pitiful flame sputtered to life above her outstretched palm, it’s measly light flickering on the brick walls.

Kieran shook his head slowly, recognizing the imitation of magic for what it was. He took a step forward. “There’s a group of men waitin’ in a dark street for ya. Waitin’ ta rob and beat ya.”

The woman’s fire faltered and winked out. Her eyes were wide as she stared up at him. Her whisper barely reached his ears. “Are you with them?”

Kieran opened his mouth to answer, but a meager snarl interrupted him from behind. He twisted to the side and grabbed hold of the skeletal wrist that had thrust a rusty dagger at him.

The girl squealed, pushing at him with her free hand, kicking at his legs.

Kieran glared at the girl. “Tell ‘er.”

The girl’s face went white and she stopped struggling. Her eyes flicked to the woman and back. She only nodded.

The woman gasped, covering her mouth. “Disgusting child! Who do you think you are? How dare you try t-”

“Enough,” Kieran growled. He stepped forward to loom over the woman, pulling the girl along behind him. “Get. Off. The street.”
The woman looked shaken, but managed a small bob of her head. “T-thank you.” She glared at the girl before hiking up her skirt and running off toward the Outer Circle.

The little girl whimpered.

Kieran glared at her. “You wit Galan?”

She gave him a jerky nod. “I’m s-sorry. I didn’t know what else ta d-do, I don’t have-”

“Quiet.” Kieran took the dagger from her hand. “You got a family?”

She shook her head, and her bottom lip quivered. “J-jus me.”

He thought she might start bawling at any moment. “Show me where they’re hidin’. Then get outta Midcity. I’ll give ya five gold crowns. Find a better life than this.”

The girl’s dark eyes were wide as saucers, covered with a watery sheen of tears ready to spill over. “W-why?”

“Don’t ask questions. That’s the deal, take it or not.”

She took a deep, shuddering breath and nodded, sniffling and wiping at her nose.

Kieran let her lead him closer to Galan’s hiding spot, where he and the Thieves’ Guild would be waiting for the girl to bring them the older woman. She pointed to a shadowy area along the outer wall of the town. As Kieran had expected, they encountered no guards along the way.

Kieran opened one of his many hidden pouches and fished out five fat gold crowns. The girl’s eyes gleamed and she grinned. She’d probably never seen that much money in her life. He emptied the coins into her tiny hands. “Disappear.”

She immediately stashed them away in a pocket, then lunged at Kieran and squeezed him in a brief hug. “Thank you.” With that, she scurried off in the opposite direction.

Sunday Sample – Sovereign of Shadow, Chapter 1

Working on my baby right now, Sovereign of Shadow. This is the second half of chapter 1. This one’s a little rough around the edges and still needs some polishing. If you haven’t read the first half yet, you can find it here:

Sovereign of Shadow – Chapter 1, Part 1

Enjoy!

*****

Galan’s outta prison…. 

Kieran tried to swallow the lump in his throat.

Just then, a loud crash shook the entire house. Shouts and rattling echoed from the ground floor, and he heard the telltale clank of armor against stone barreling up the stairs.

Shit. Kieran stashed the skull away and whirled to escape through the window. He tossed back the curtains, only momentarily surprised to find it already unlocked.

Galan had set him up. He’s probly waitin’ fer me outside, ready ta put a bolt in my heart.

Still, Kieran would rather take his chances at outrunning the man he’d put behind bars than tangle with the law.

He pushed open the glass panes and rolled over the windowsill onto the balcony just as a group of shouting guards streamed into the room, exclaiming over the woman’s body. A female voice barked orders, but Kieran didn’t stick around to hear them.

Using the wrought iron bars surrounding the narrow balcony, he sprang up to catch hold of the ledge above him. Below, a man poked his head out of the window. A gauntleted hand shot up and wrapped around Kieran’s ankle, leaving his legs dangling in the air. He aimed a kick at the man’s wrist. The guard growled, but didn’t let up. Kieran’s arms trembled as he fought to maintain his grip on the iron bars.

Kieran’s strength flagged. His arms weakened. His hands lost their hold for a moment and he slipped downward, barely able to regain his grip.

In a last effort, he hooked an elbow around the bars and let go with one hand. He reached into a pocket on his tunic and pulled out a tiny glass sphere, flicking his wrist to send it smashing into the floor below the window. The liquid within the sphere reacted to the air, and a billowing cloud of thick mist engulfed the guard.

The guard’s grip faltered and he looked down in alarm. A heartbeat later, his head sagged and he folded over the windowsill, arms dangling free.

Not wasting any time, Kieran heaved himself up and over the third floor balcony and scrambled for the roof.

As he pulled himself the rest of the way up, a sharp sting hit him in the upper arm. Intense pain flared through his shoulder.

Kieran grunted, but held onto his focus. He sprinted along the rooftops, glad for the decorative bridge-like arches that connected the buildings. For a short time, he could hear guards running along the street below, shouting at him to stop. It didn’t take long to outrun them, though; they had the twists and turns of the streets to contend with.

He glanced down at his burning arm to see the end of a crossbow bolt jutting out. He left it there, not wanting to leave a trail of blood leading straight to him. He hoped the bolt belonged to a guard. If it was one of Galan’s shots, the poison would kill him in moments.

By the time he worked his way through the Outer Circle and into The Dregs, fatigue shook his legs and his arms hung limp with weakness. Briefly, he considered hiding out overnight until he was sure no one was following him; he certainly didn’t want to lead anyone back to his hideout. And it seemed Galan had been watching him.

Ultimately, he decided it would be best to risk heading straight home. The wound in his arm needed his attention sooner rather than later to avoid permanent damage.

The stench in the back streets of The Dregs of Midcity assailed his nostrils and he gagged, fighting down the rising nausea. That could have been as much from the pain as the odor, though. Every movement, every twitch in his arm sent searing agony through his shoulder. He gritted his teeth and jumped from the last rooftop on the street to the stone wall surrounding the city. His awkward hop nearly sent him over the far edge.

Eyes wide, he righted himself and took a few deep breaths until he felt steady. He lowered himself down and hung off the wall with his good arm, letting go to drop down the rest of the way. His exhausted legs couldn’t hold up his weight and his knees gave out. He rested in the cool cushion of grass, trying to breathe through the pain, trying to calm his racing heart.

Galan’s outta prison. The thought ran through his mind a hundred times. He pulled the little skull out of his pocket, staring at it as if it were Galan himself.

How? He was supposed ta be in there fer the rest of his life.

Kieran balled up his fist and pounded the ground. A barrage of memories raged through his mind, memories of working for Galan as a child. The pain, the humiliation, the terror. Galan had freely exploited that fear in Kieran and other abandoned children, using them to do his dirty work.

He musta been watchin’ me. Fer how long? Long enough to plan a set-up. Did he know where Kieran was hiding out?

Though, if Galan really wanted me ta get caught, I wouldna gotten away. He’s got other plans fer me.

Kieran gritted his teeth, heaving himself back up to standing. Keeping as much to the shadows of trees as he could, he made his way to the abandoned watchtower just east of Midcity near the river. The sight of the crumbling structure filled him with some relief. He didn’t know what had originally destroyed it, or why no one had bothered to repair it, but as long as it remained forgotten he didn’t care. The ruined tower had become his home.

Kieran ducked into a narrow hole between two fallen stones – a makeshift door, as the real entrance had collapsed upon itself. Cutting away his shirt, Kieran gripped the end of the crossbow bolt. He filled his lungs with air and pulled, snarling as he eased it out of his arm. When it came free, fresh blood trickled out of the hole. He inspected the tip, noting the lack of barbs. The fact that he was still alive told him it was a guard who had shot him. Either that, or Galan was toying with him.

He flung the bolt away, sending it careening off the far wall with a twang. He poured an entire flask of water into the wound, then wrapped a strip of his shirt around it as a bandage.

Gotta see Lilyana tomorrow. The alchemist would have something for his wound.

Kieran longed to jump in the nearby river to wash off the sweat and blood, but exhaustion tugged at his mind. He leaned his head back against the wall and shut his eyes.

Galan would pay. He’d pay for destroying Kieran’s innocence as a boy, and he’d pay for trying to frame him for murder.

Galan’s reign was over.

Excerpt, Sovereign of Shadow

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Here’s an excerpt of my fantasy novel, “Sovereign of Shadow,” chapter 1. Just a bit of a teaser. I’m so excited about this book. Comments welcome. Enjoy! =)

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Darkness. Silence. The wealthy Inner Circle of Midcity slept. Only guards roamed the paved streets at this hour.

Or rather, guards and a lone thief weaving his way through the paths of their endless patrol.

Kieran Lazaran padded down a narrow alley. His soft boots made no sound as he crept through the shadows. He stopped at the opening into the street, poking a single eye around the corner, just enough to spot his target: An extravagant house of white stone that stood proudly at the far edge of the Inner Circle. Listening for approaching guards, he climbed up the side of the building using the windowsills and drainpipes. He followed along the connected rooftops of shops, inns, and homes until he got to the end of the street.

He looked across at the house, a full story higher than his perch on a baker’s shop. No light shone through any of the windows, and the lack of a carriage out front confirmed that the husband wasn’t home; he was rarely home, for that matter. Kieran had been watching the house and the couple that lived within for several weeks now.

In the Inner Circle of Midcity, the closer one got to Town Hall in the center, the more guards patrolled the streets. Here, two pairs of armored men crossed paths. Several more dotted the streets at stationary posts, one of which leaned heavily on the ornate fence just outside the white stone house. The sentry opened his mouth and yawned into the back of his gauntlet.

Gettin’ tired, are we? Kieran smirked, his mask pulling tight around his face. He’d timed his outing well. This group of guards were all nearing the end of their watch.

When the patrol passed again, Kieran swung his legs over the alley and dropped down silently onto an awning. From there, it was an easy jump to the ground. He rolled to absorb the impact and pressed his back against the far wall.

Their alleys are cleaner than the streets in The Dregs. He shook his head, eyeing the pristine cobblestone, particularly noting the lack of garbage, sleeping forms, and things that scurried. Using the back street, Kieran moved out of the guard’s range of view and darted across, coming around to the back of the white house.

Now, the hard part. Kieran used the wrought iron fence to vault up to the balcony on the second floor. He peered into the window through a crack in the curtains, but the darkness made it near impossible to see inside. Pressing his ear to the door, he detected only silence.

He reached down and eased a thin, hard case out of a pocket on his thigh. Examining the lock on the door, he opened the case and chose several different lockpicks, sticking the ends of them between his lips as he tried them one by one. Finally, he felt the proper resistance and pulled, a faint clunk pricking his eardrums. He returned the case back into its pocket.

Hoping the doorknob of a rich couple’s home would be well oiled, he gripped it and opened the door. A floral aroma wafted out onto the balcony, fresh and pleasant. In one smooth motion he slid inside and shut the door behind him, immediately crouching as low as he could while he gave his eyes time to adjust to the darkened interior.

Blinking, he looked around. He appeared to be in an empty bedroom, likely used only for guests. A vase of fresh flowers on a table near the balcony door explained the scent.

Kieran crept around a bed large enough to fit three people, his knife rasping softly as he drew it from its sheath. He wanted to be ready; a wealthy family like this was bound to have some sort of security in place.

Just hope it’s not a dog. Hate dogs. He pressed his lips together, remembering the lumbering mastiff from his last jaunt to the Inner Circle. Though he’d been watching this house for days now and hadn’t once heard a bark, so he was counting on a more human type of security. That, he could handle.

Poking his head out into the hallway revealed a polished wooden banister carved to resemble a twisting vine. No one stirred below on the ground floor. His eyes darted around, making a quick note of all possible escape routes.

He sent mental thanks to those who constructed the house for the stone stairways; wood had a tendency to creak at the worst possible moment. He ascended to the third floor and passed two more empty bedrooms until he reached one that looked lived-in at the end of the hallway. The door stood wide open, the massive canopy bed untouched.

The silence had become oppressive. Where was the wife? Had she gone with her husband this time? She never had before. They weren’t a particularly close couple, judging from his observation of various young men coming and going while the husband was away.

And surely a house like this would have a guard. A servant, at least. Or better locks.

A tingle ran up his spine, stirring the hair on the back of his neck. Something wasn’t right. He drew his other knife and slipped into the room.

Where before he had surveyed lavish jewelry in decorative boxes and stands lining the tables and armoire, now the surfaces were bare. He’d specifically chosen this house because the wife insisted on wearing a small fortune in jewelry every time she went outside. She might as well paint a bullseye on her back.

I know this is the right house. Been studyin’ it for weeks. There’s that ridiculous hat she always wears.

Kieran squinted at a dark stain the size of a dinner plate on the rug in front of the armoire. He knelt to inspect it.

He shot to his feet. Blood. And more of it dripped through the crack at the bottom of the armoire door.

His ears pounded and dizziness prickled across his scalp. He slowly turned the tiny knob of the wardrobe and pulled. Something thumped against the door, pushing it wide open. Out tumbled a once-handsome older woman, her naked skin slashed and bruised. Some of the cuts still oozed blood.

Kieran drew in a sharp breath and touched the back of his gloved hand to his mouth. He bent over to prop himself up on his knees. The woman’s lifeless eyes stared at him, accusing him. Her face seemed a frozen mask of terror. He searched the room thoroughly for anyone hiding out, but nothing else seemed out of place. The room was empty.

He swallowed and bent to give the woman’s wounds a closer look. They were placed at high bleeding points – her wrists, neck, and thighs. With that many cuts, and some of them deep, she probably bled out quickly. But the bruises suggested more of a struggle. On examining an ugly, purplish splotch encircling her wrist, he caught sight of something nestled in her curled fingers.

Trying to ignore the blood, he pinched the whitish object from her palm. His heart dropped to his knees, head reeling as he recognized it. A tiny carved skull with a wicked grin, no bigger than his thumbnail. It was something he’d seen before more times than he would have liked. Something he’d hoped to never see again.

Galan’s outta prison….