What do I have to celebrate this release? Well information on both books, you will meet the author, I got an excerpt, and oh yes, a giveaway as well (US Only)! Phew!
Cyrus Maro—the sixteenth Chancellor of Osha—should have been pleased. Exuberant, even. The leaders of the Shadow Watch lay in the dungeons beneath the White Citadel, their magic-rich blood filling him with power each day. Many of the Watchers had chosen to serve him rather than suffer this horrid fate, which made Cyrus Maro even more powerful. Monsters ravaged the New World for the first time in centuries, and the people of Osha looked to their chancellor as though he were their god.
And he was their god. When the chancellor revealed his magic to the people of Osha, the day he paraded the Watchers through the streets of Maro’El, their mouths had gaped with awe; they’d knelt in reverence as he’d ridden past. Magic had returned to the world at his hand.
Nothing had gone according to plan, but everything had turned out better than he ever could have dreamed.
The monsters that had come through the portal between the worlds had been unanticipated, but they had turned into a precious opportunity. Rulaqs and Nosferati had returned from the realm of nightmares and myths to ravage the world. The people of Osha were afraid, and fear made them loyal. Their chancellor wielded power unknown in all the New World, and his new magical army, the Sky Guard, would keep the empire safe from hellish beasts.
While other nations plunged into chaos, Osha would remain strong, and the people of the North would be grateful, worshipful.
Cyrus Maro was more powerful than his father, and his father before him. He was far more powerful than Loras, his precious, perfect brother, had ever been.
But it was not enough.
It was as though Loras had returned from the dead to taunt him with this fact, as he had taunted Cyrus with his magical prowess when they were children. Of course, like their parents, Loras had not practiced his magic… much. It was this self-denial that held the empire together, their father had liked to say. Cyrus had showed no prowess to deny himself of, but he had always thought it a ludicrous notion. Self-denial had made his father—and all his forefathers, and especially Loras—weak, far weaker than Cyrus had ever been.
Cyrus had fashioned his own power. No longer would an Oshan chancellor be mocked by foreign dignitaries as a vestige of another time. No longer would the nobles rule the empire like puppeteers.
Now, more than ever, the chancellor was revered and feared. But for one thing:
The Gallows Girl.
Cyrus Maro had hoped that in the turmoil of Old World monsters ravaging the New World, the Gallows Girl might be forgotten. It had been weeks since she’d been lost in the catacombs beneath the Crooked Teeth. And many months since any common person had seen her. Yet here he was, on the balcony where he first drank the Gallows Girl’s blood, and it was time to inflict pain on her account once more.
There came a knock on the balcony doors. A Morph announced the arrival of his visitor, and Cyrus motioned for them to enter.
“The noble traitor, Ren, of House Andovier,” the attendant announced.
“That’s Captain Andovier,” murmured Ren weakly but defiantly as he entered.
The Watcher was escorted to the balcony by a traitor to his own cause. Dajha Bhati was one of the first Watchers to join the chancellor’s Sky Guard, and he was all too eager to demonstrate his new loyalties. He led Ren with a shove that sent him to his knees.
“Careful,” said the chancellor. “Your captain might break.”
Despite his quick tongue, the captain of the Watchers looked like he’d been inflicted with a plague—his skin hung loose and was tinted a greyish hue, as though he were beginning to rot. Even his eyes had lost their lustre. Brilliant blue now appeared dull and faded.
“Yeh’re my captain now, milord,” said Dajha, bowing his head. “Reckon the best thing for Ren might be breaking.”
The chancellor chuckled, pleased with the young Parjhan’s unabashed loyalty. Nevertheless, he motioned for Dajha to help Ren up. Ren moaned.
“Had enough of my dungeons?” said the chancellor. “Dajha’s doing quite well.”
Dajha stood behind his former captain with arms crossed, his expression hard. The chancellor loved the anger that flared up at the mention of Ren’s own soldier’s betrayal. Suddenly, the Watcher captain didn’t look so pitiful. There’s fire in him, yet. Good.
“Am I ready to betray my own kind?” said Ren bitterly. “Like my… brother?” He spat the words, and the chancellor grinned. “Like you?”
Cyrus Maro’s lips curled. “Betray? Your Gallows Girl sets monsters upon the entire world, and you accuse me of betrayal? You sought to return the glory of the Watchers to the New World, and I have done that. I am sorry to have stolen your glory, but it is time you accepted the world as it is and moved forward. The Sky Guard awaits you, my friend. It will welcome you with open arms, as it did Dajha.”
At this, Dajha nodded coolly.
A table had been set out on the balcony, and the chancellor gestured to Ren. “Sit. Eat. You must be tired of the stale rations of the dungeons. Replenish yourself. I insist.”
Ren sat and replenished, tearing into a leg of roasted venison. The juices splattered from his lips, staining the white tunic he’d been given for this meeting.
As he ate, the color returned to Ren’s cheeks, only a little, but nothing was missed by Cyrus Maro.
“See, I’m not all blood and horror,” the chancellor said.
Ren did not answer, but he did not stop eating.
“You know, you might have been a part of all this,” said the chancellor. “The return of our kind.”
Ren choked back a sip of wine. “Our kind? You’re no Watcher.”
The chancellor tensed, though he tried not to let it show. Instead, he smiled, reached out with his sense, and summoned a second goblet. It floated through the air to his hand, and he drank a glorious red liquid. It was not wine.
As its coppery taste left his tongue, he could already feel his power increasing like a stoked fire.
“Yes,” said Cyrus Maro. “Our kind. Or are you naïve enough to think that magic is restricted to your Old World orders? It was that sort of thinking that led to the fall of the Watchers, my friend. I thought you more sophisticated.”
“I know what happened in the Old World. My family was there,” said Ren.
“Yes, they were. As you were there when I discovered what can be done with Watcher blood. So was Scelero. And yet both of you have the audacity to paint yourselves righteous.”
Ren’s expression grew hard, and the chancellor was pleased. He knew Ren regretted serving him those many years ago—those events had led to the death of the royal family, all but Cyrus. Much as Ren might hate to believe it, he had helped make the chancellor what he was.
“We are more alike than you think, Ren. We both created a problem.”
“Astoria may be the one who let those beasts through your portal, but you made it possible. Don’t you paint yourself righteous.”
The chancellor laughed. “Still bantering, even after weeks of bloodletting. Your strength is returning. Good.
“Why are you treating me well?” said Ren bitterly.
“I’m reminding you of the finer things. The things you have longed for ever since you fled the city. You may have spent the last few years out in that gods-forsaken tower in the woods, but you are still a true noble of Osha. I’m trying to seduce you, of course.”
For a moment, Ren looked taken aback. The chancellor enjoyed surprising people with the naked truth. Ren recovered and took a loaf of bread. It steamed as he broke it open. “And why else are you treating me well?” Ren said.
The chancellor was pleased. Nothing got past Ren Andovier. “There’s something I need you to do for me. And for that, you will need to be strong.”
The chancellor procured a parchment from his robes. It was such a little thing, found in the pockets of a mere servant boy. But if Tori had taught him anything, it was that servants could pose a considerable threat, even to him. Especially to him.
Ren unrolled the parchment. Inscribed on the crumpled paper were no letters or words. Servants were rarely literate. No, there was only one symbol. Small, in the bottom corner of the page, so small it might have easily gone unnoticed—mistaken for a scribble by one of the scribes.
The symbol was that of a gallows, the overhanging beam cleft in two.
Though it was not his writing, Ren’s face betrayed horror at the sight of it. “What do you want me to do?”
“Commander Redvar! You may enter.”
The servant boy, who had been brought up from the dungeons, did not tremble when the commander of the chancellor’s Sky Guard forced him into the chancellor’s presence. The boy was expressionless, and this infuriated the chancellor, though again, he tried not to let it show.
“Here is your insurrectionist, milord,” Darien said, shoving the servant boy to his knees.
Sparing the Gallows Boy had turned out to be one of Cyrus Maro’s greatest decisions. When the chancellor appointed Darien Redvar as commander of his magical army, the people of Osha had been in awe. The chancellor had proven cunning even in his own apparent grace. The Gallows Boy—who once had defied him before all of Osha, who had triggered the Gallows Girl’s very demonstration of forbidden magic last year—had turned into his most feared servant.
Darien’s expression was cold as he stood over the defiant little rebel.
This will be interesting. The chancellor smiled at the boy, offering his hand, and the boy looked dumbly at it. “I am helping you stand,” Cyrus Maro said.
Like Ren, the boy was dressed in a fine-spun tunic, better than anything the boy had likely worn before. He took the chancellor’s hand and stood.
“What’s your name?” the chancellor said.
“Me name’s Liam,” the boy said, his lowborn accent thick.
“A Morgathian,” said the chancellor, noting the boy’s speckled skin. “But it would seem, one not so blessed by your god.” Red hair was seen as a blessing from Nafta. Hollsted had been thus blessed, and yet Nafta had not spared the Rebel King at the hands of the Gallows Boy.
Cyrus Maro mussed the boy’s plain, tawny hair. He gestured to Ren. “Show Liam what we’ve found.”
Ren’s expression was visibly pained as he regarded the boy, but still, he obeyed and handed over the treacherous parchment. Liam clenched his fist around it, crumpling the poorly drawn gallows into a ball.
“You do not deny it is yours?” said the chancellor, amused.
Liam’s knees weakened a little, but he stood tall for one no older than thirteen summers. He shook his head without hesitation. “I don’t deny it. Don’t regret it, neither.”
The chancellor chuckled darkly. “You realize that the Gallows Girl is a traitor, a dark sorceress who brought back the terrors of the Old World?”
“She’s a saint,” Liam said obstinately. “And she’s coming to save us.”
“Save you? A horde of Rulaqs march toward the city as we speak. At her behest.” The chancellor grew cold, gripping the boy by the collar of his tunic. Despite his bravery, little Liam was shaking, and this pleased the chancellor. “I saved you. My armies keep the beasts at bay.”
“No,” said Liam. “Y-you en’t no savior. Y-you’re a tyrant.”
His grip tightened on the boy. A part of him admired his brashness. It was such a spark that had prompted him to spare the Gallows Boy not so long ago. But this boy would receive no such grace.
“Yes, well, we become what we must, my boy. And you are about to become exactly what you must.
That symbol is a sign of treason. Do you know what happens to traitors, boy?”
The boy swallowed, but nodded. “Y-you’re going to k-kill me.”
The chancellor released his grip on the boy. “Actually, Ren, here, is going to kill you. He’s a traitor too. And it’s time you both understood what that entails.”
Ren backed away from the boy. “I won’t,” he said.
“Ah, now that is just charming,” said the chancellor. “After all that’s happened, Ren, you still believe you have a choice.”
Medea appeared behind Ren, stepping from a sudden rise of mist—the path of the godstones. Before Ren could react, her pale, tendril-like fingers extended from billowy silks and latched onto his skull.
“You don’t want to serve me again?” said the chancellor. “Ren, I am afraid, you have no choice.” The chancellor took hold of Liam by both arms and held him still. “This is the fate of those who hope in the Gallows Girl.”
At Medea’s command, Ren began channeling his Conjuri power in a way he had never done before. First, the boy’s tunic was wrenched from his chest, exposing his torso. And then, the incision began, starting at the center of his scrawny chest. The cut ran slow and deep, compelled not by a blade, but by pure, unadulterated magic. It was the cleanest cut the chancellor had ever seen. The skin split open so smoothly, it was as though the image were being painted on a canvas rather than carved from flesh. It was beautiful.
Throughout the process, the servant boy screamed in agony, crimson life gushing from the growing wound
By the time Ren had finished, the boy was dead, his life poured onto the balcony floor.
The chancellor turned the boy over so he could examine the finished product. The image carved from the little rebel’s chest had come out perfect. An exact likeness. A piece of art. Etched into the dead boy’s chest was a broken gallows.
The symbol of the Gallows Saint.