Friday Reveal Blood Road by Amanda McCrina @9inchsnails #BookReveal #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 
Today Amanda McCrina and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for BLOOD ROAD which releases April 25,
2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to
receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:

 

 
The funny thing about historical fiction—or
historical fantasy, in this case—is that it often reveals more about the
present than it does about the past. It provides a lens through which we can
understand and contextualize our own experiences. BLOOD ROAD is a tribute to my
love of Roman history, but it’s also very much a product of its time. It’s a
story about corruption and injustice and empire and a young soldier who stands
up and resists, and writing it gave me the opportunity to ask hard questions
about my own present and the part I play.
 
 
Title: BLOOD
ROAD
Author: Amanda McCrina
Pub. Date: April 25, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 329
Find it: Goodreads
| Amazon | B&N
| TBD
Nineteen-year-old Torien Risto has seen
dissidents dealt with before. He knows the young local girl who just knifed him
will hang for assaulting an Imperial officer, unless he can stop it.
Someone inside the provincial government
is kidnapping Imperial citizens and selling them across the desert to the salt
mines, silencing anyone who tries to intervene. The girl’s brother is one of
those who has been taken. Rejected by the corrupt courts, she’s waging a
personal war against the Empire.
Determined to save her life, Torien sets
out in search of answers on the Salt Road, the ancient trade route running deep
into the heart of a desert—territory claimed by the hostile Mayaso tribe.
Now, Torien is no longer sure where his
own loyalty lies, or how far he will go to break the cycle of tyranny,
political bullying, and social injustice in an empire that seals its borders in
blood.

 

 

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONEHe could see the sky in pieces between the tenements, bruised purple now with dusk.

At first he was glad for the darkness, because it meant they would be firing the beacon in the lighthouse at the point. He leaned on his saddle-horns, craning his neck to look down the narrow cross streets, trying to catch a glimpse of the great light burning in the distance. By means of the lighthouse he could reorient himself. But the cross streets twisted away into deep shadow between the tenement blocks, and there was the irksome thought at the back of his mind that if they had wandered so far into the city as not see the lighthouse, then they had wandered so far as to be where Imperial control was more a matter of theory than practice—at least at night.

Earlier, when the young summer sun was glaring white in a blue- glaze sky and the air under the awnings still and close and hot enough one could feel one’s skin baking in it—the tenements shut out the harbor breeze—the streets had seethed with people: sellers of figs and dates and pomegranates and honeyed almonds and goats’ milk and flavored ices and sour wine; and potters and silversmiths and leatherworkers and basket-weavers at their shopfronts; and housewives browsing the market stalls; and slave girls with water in sloshing panniers over their shoulders; and naked children playing sticks-andhoops along the foot-stones; and now and then a mounted official in white linen, shouting and swearing until the crowd shuffled aside to let him pass. Now in darkness they were alone in the street. It was as though the rest of the city had died with the sun. The air was dry and rapidly cooling, heavy with silence like a bated breath. He would not mind the darkness if not for the silence. In a city such silence was unnatural.

“Do you suppose they’ll look for us?” Alluin said. “Or just wait until our bodies turn up in an alley in a week or so?”

“I imagine they’ll expend the effort for me, if they wouldn’t otherwise trouble about you.”

“So there is some benefit to your acquaintance, after all.”

“If not for my acquaintance, you’d be just finishing the first course at the officers’ dinner.”

It had been his idea to explore the city. Alluin was city-born and indifferent—all cities were the same when you got down to it; there came a point when unwashed bodies and stray dogs and bad wine in dirty shops ceased to be as interesting as bed. But he, Torien, still had 3 Blood Road a provincial awe of big cities—an itching, impatient need to see and hear and know. He had been determined not to idle away his time in Modigne behind the fort walls. True that he and Alluin had no more than a smattering of bastardized Modigno between them, and that Modigne was a rabbit’s warren of nameless, ancient streets, built and overbuilt in incongruous layers—in daylight that had seemed far less important than it did now. In daylight it had been enough to know he was an officer of the Imperial army, and a Vareno nobleman, with sufficient coin on his person for any foreseeable difficulty and a sword at his hip in the event his coin should fail. It was remarkable how in darkness one saw things more clearly.

Certain things, anyway—other things than the way back to the fort or the direction of the harbor light.

The street, so narrow now that Alluin had to rein in his horse and fall in behind, plunged into a honeycomb of tight-packed adobe huts, each no wider than the span of Torien’s arms, joined to its neighbors by rickety wooden ladders running an uneven line from flat rooftop to flat rooftop. He took the downward slant for a good sign: he knew, from studying the maps on the wall of the headquarters at the fort, that Modigne, built as it was along a volcanic crater, went down to the ocean like the insides of a bowl, and so for the street to be sloping downward meant it must be working its way however haphazardly to the harbor.

He leaned on the saddle-horns, lifting himself a little to see if he could pick out the lighthouse below.

There was a rustle on the rooftop above. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a darker shadow take shape against the darkness. He recognized the glint of metal in time to jerk around in his saddle, hauling on the reins as he turned. He took the blade in the back of his left shoulder rather than in his throat.

He had braced for it and did not slip from the saddle, though for a moment he thought he might: his knees, pressed against the horse’s ribs, went as weak as water. He lost the reins from his left hand. Above him, he heard very clearly the patter of footsteps as the knifeman fled across the rooftop for the nearest ladder. Just as clearly, he heard the thin cry and the muffled thump as the knifeman lost his footing on the ladder and fell back to the roof.

Silence followed.

Torien brushed away Alluin’s hand and propped his right shoulder against the wall. He nodded to the hut. “Bring him,” he said—calmly, though his heart was pounding. “That fall won’t have killed him.”

He saw Alluin’s face as a pale blur in the darkness. “Tor—”

“It’s nothing. It’ll wait. Our friend won’t.”

In truth, his knees were still trembling, and he was speaking through clenched teeth because he knew if he unclenched them they would chatter. There was blood seeping through his tunic and jerkin, and he was conscious, as he hadn’t been at first, of the knife blade sunk to its hilt just beyond the cuff of his shoulder. His body was revolting against the thought, sickness threatening in the pit of his stomach.

Lamplight blossomed inside the hut. Low voices filtered out through the reed curtain in the doorway. Torien dipped his chin again, with effort. Alluin swore and swung from his saddle and drew his sword. He pushed into the hut through the curtain, and Torien heard him issuing orders in a clumsy hybrid of Modigno and Vareno—heard the crash of pottery breaking, the scrape of wood dragging across stone, a child’s whimper. A moment later, Alluin’s head and shoulders and sword hand emerged above him from inside the hut. Alluin pushed himself up on his hands from the opening, landing lightly on his feet on the roof. Picking up his sword, he vanished beyond the roof edge.

Torien leaned carefully back against the wall. He glanced down the street. There were no other doorways lit, no other sound than the clatter of Alluin’s hobnailed boots on the rooftop above. In Choiro, there would have been a crowd by now. Modigne lay as still and silent as a plague city.

Alluin reappeared at the roof edge. He had sheathed his sword. He was handling the knifeman along by the shoulders—no, not a man, Torien thought, certainly a boy: he came barely to Alluin’s chest. His arms and legs, silhouetted black against the sky, were thin, stick-like things around which his tunic fluttered shapelessly.

Torien pushed up from the wall and gathered himself together and dismounted. The ground was springy under his feet. He wavered for a moment as his heels touched, swallowing back the sickness. There was a ringing in his ears. He blinked in the sudden brightness of lamplight as Alluin flung aside the curtain in the doorway and shoved the boy before him out into the street. Behind him the hut’s occupants—a man and a woman and an assortment of half-dressed children—gathered silently in the doorway to watch.

The boy had stumbled and fallen in a heap of skinny limbs and wool rags. He caught himself on his palms. He adjusted the cap on his head and sat back awkwardly, keeping his knobby legs to the side. In the dim light, Torien could see enough to know the left ankle was broken. There was blood dribbling from the boy’s nose, and he was sucking breath low and softly through his teeth. His eyes darted over Torien’s face, lingering for a moment at Torien’s shoulder. He looked quickly to the ground. He was, Torien judged, eleven or perhaps twelve—not yet old enough to face execution for an assault upon an Imperial soldier. He would go to a slaver’s block instead. There would be an examination to determine the guilt of his family.

He caught Alluin’s eye and jerked his chin to the sullen family in the doorway. “Wine if they have it. Water otherwise—and something passable for bandage cloth.” The pain had started, and he was leaning into his horse’s shoulder for balance.

The woman in the doorway said something in Modigno. He recognized the word for wine. He said, “What did she say?” Alluin’s Modigno was bad, but better than his own.

“They have wine, but it’s for a wedding,” Alluin said, “for her sister’s wedding—I think.”

He was irritated and impatient now. “Water, then. Tell them I’d have paid for wine.”

Alluin stood at his shoulder and unbuckled his cuirass while the woman went into the hut. “Do you want to do this inside?” he said. His voice was quiet.

“Not until I know he acted alone.” Torien nodded to the boy, who had sat motionless all this while, studying the ground as though he were reading something written there. “You. You speak Vareno?”

The boy looked up incuriously into Torien’s face. He had determined not to speak: Torien could see as much from the set of his mouth, the hollowness of his eyes. His thin brown hands were clenched to fists on his lap.

From the doorway, the man spoke up in rapid Modigno.

“He’s reconsidered about the wine?” Torien said. The shoulder was hurting fiercely.

“He says he knows her family,” Alluin said.

“Whose family?” There was a moment’s silence in which he suddenly understood.

“A girl,” he said, stupidly. “He says he knows her family and will tell us where she lives,” Alluin said.

“Also, he would appreciate very much his lord’s kindness if his lord would consider a pittance in return for the service.”

The girl flung up her head suddenly to spit at the man’s feet. The man seemed embarrassed. He hunched his shoulders and looked at his hands. The woman came out from the hut with a water jug and a cloth. She held them out to Alluin at arm’s length, making a quick, nervous gesture with her hands. Alluin shook his head. “Hold them. Quedas—hold them, you understand?”

“Give them to me,” Torien said.

“Don’t give them to him,” Alluin said. “He’ll drop them when I do this.”

He jerked the knife from Torien’s shoulder. Torien folded to his knees. The street swam around him. He heard Alluin’s voice as though it were carrying to him underwater. He shook his head. Alluin was prying the cuirass from his shoulder and tugging the jerkin down his arm. The night air through his blood-soaked tunic was sharp and cold; he shivered. The girl’s eyes were on him. She was watching with the same flat-eyed incuriosity. There was blood trickling over her lips from her nose, but she made no move to wipe it away.

“Her ankle,” Torien said. For some reason, her silence shamed him.

Far above him Alluin said, patiently, “What?”

“Tie up her ankle. And tell the Modigno he can show us where she lives, because I don’t trust the word of a coward.”

****

The Modigno walked ahead, self-consciously, shoulders still hunched in embarrassment. Alluin followed on foot, leading his horse by the reins. The girl huddled in his saddle with her hands outstretched to the horns, her face buried in the horse’s mane, her bare legs dangling limp against the horse’s belly. Torien rode at the rear. The street, which turned this way and that through the honeycombed huts, ran steadily downhill all the while, and he knew they must be close to the water because there was a stiff salt breeze rising to his face. It cut through his soaked tunic like a knife. His fingers were numb on the reins. He had knotted them in the horse’s mane to keep himself upright in the saddle.

He could have ordered the Modigno to show them instead to the harbor light, of course, or to the fort itself, and they could have delivered the girl into the prison on the hill, and very soon now he might have been enjoying the comfort of his own quarters and a skin of wine to ease the pain in his shoulder—but it might easily be a month before the girl’s case went to the governor, and he was due to report at Tasso in a week, and he had too many questions of his own to let it go like that.

Only after they had gone on for near half an hour, the adobe huts having given way to ramshackle wooden shanties and the street sunk in soft, rank mud, the air heavy with the smell of brine and rotten fish, did it occur to him that most likely the Modigno had no idea about the girl’s family and no idea where she lived—had grasped for the chance to make a quick coin and come away with more than he had bargained for, and was looking for the opportunity to dart down an alley and vanish into the night.

He had opened his mouth to say this to Alluin when the Modigno swung about suddenly and said something in his own tongue, gesturing with his hands. The shanty at his back was threesided, sheltered from the street by a tattered sailcloth curtain, unlit.

“He says it’s here,” Alluin said.

The girl shifted in Alluin’s saddle. A shudder ran through her shoulders, but she did not raise her head.

“Tell him to lift the curtain,” Torien said. He was cold and aching and the Modigno was a fool, but that was no reason to abandon caution.

The Modigno lifted the curtain. The shanty was empty. There was a fire pit dug in the bare-dirt floor, but the coals were dead.

The Modigno spoke very quickly in his own tongue, his eyes going from Alluin to Torien and back again.

“He seems to think we think he’s lied,” Alluin said. “He wants us to ask the girl.”

“Tell him the girl’s our concern.” Torien dismounted, cradling his left arm against his stomach. He was too tired for anger. Anyway, it was pointless to threaten reprisals: they would not find him again if they tried. He fumbled at his belt and withdrew a bronze from his wallet. He flicked the coin in the Modigno’s direction. “Bayas—go.”

The Modigno dropped to his heels to dig out the coin from the mud. He made a mockery of a bow as he straightened: it had occurred to him that they had been essentially at his mercy. His shoulders were straight as he walked away back up the street.

Alluin pulled the girl down from his saddle by the waist and held her before him, as easily as though she were made of straw. “I’ll have a look around. The harbor can’t be far.”

“No. We can spend the night here.”

“That shoulder needs more than water, Tor, and sooner is better. Though I appreciate your faith in my medical ability.”

“I don’t like the idea of splitting up. It won’t do my shoulder any good if you end up in the harbor with your throat cut. And I couldn’t drag myself back into a saddle right now if I wanted to.”

Alluin was silent, studying him. He had the girl’s shoulder in one hand, his reins in the other. He let go the girl’s shoulder, reluctantly. “Adienta—inside,” he said. And to Torien: “I’ll see to the horses.”

Weak moonlight filtered through the roof of the shanty, which was nothing more than a reed lattice tied down with leather strips. The girl sat down against the left-hand wall, stretching her bad leg straight before her. She watched silently and unmoving while Torien crouched on his heels at the fire pit and searched one-handed through the ashes for salvageable tinder. By the time he had built up a decent pile, and had found flint and iron to strike a light, Alluin had ducked in from the street with a saddle on each arm.

“I’d have done it if you’d waited,” he said. He deposited Torien’s saddle against the right-hand wall and sat down with his own against the rear wall.

Torien unbuckled his helmet and leaned his head back against the wall. He sat with the helmet on his lap, his eyes closed. Beyond the crackling of the fire and the rattling of the lattice in the salt breeze, the silence stretched vast and hostile. “If you speak,” he said, “it goes better for you.” He opened his eyes and looked at the girl across the fire pit. In the firelight, he could see the details of her bony bronze face. She was older than he had thought at first—older than he’d thought when he’d thought her a boy. It was possible she was fifteen. The smallness of her limbs and the sunkenness of her cheeks made it hard to tell. She was looking into the flame in silence, her eyes halfclosed, her face magnificently blank, but he knew she had heard and had taken his general meaning by the way her shoulders tightened against the wa

ll. “Tell me if there were others,” he said. “Tell me how many.”

When she said nothing, he said to Alluin, “In Modigno. Tell her if she doesn’t answer to us now, she’ll answer to the governor in court—she and her family.”

The girl jerked her chin, suddenly. “No others,” she said. “I understand what you say.” Her eyes came up to his. Her voice was low but hard. “I do it alone. No family. The cobarte he lies when he brings you. No family. He says it because he wants your coin.”

“Why did you do it?”

She turned her face back to the fire.

“Answer me,” Torien said.

“I go to the slavers anyway,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if I answer you.”

“Possibly you’ll go to the slavers. Possibly they’ll decide you’re old enough to face execution. My word means a great deal, either way.”

“I do not care,” she said.

“My word can spare you an examination.”

“I do not care.”

He glanced over to Alluin, who shrugged very slightly against the wall. Torien could sense his discomfort in his silence. He looked back at the girl. “Speak now and I’ll listen,” he said. “Come tomorrow in the city prison, it’ll be too late.”

She said nothing. He saw there was no use in it. He said to Alluin, “We’d better set a watch.”

“I’ll watch,” Alluin said. He seemed thankful for something to do.

“I’ll take it over in a few hours,” Torien said. “Wake me if you need to.”

He did not sleep. He lay against his saddle, carefully still on account of the shoulder, watching the sky through the cracks in the lattice and waiting for sleep to come, but his mind was moving on and on through the streets of Modigne, and in the silence he was restless. At length, he got up. The fire had died to embers. Across the room, the girl was huddled shapeless in the darkness. He could not tell if she was asleep. He went over to the doorway, where Alluin sat cross-legged against the corner post. “You sleep,” he said. “I can’t.”

“Your shoulder?” Alluin’s voice was tight. “You should have let me go for help, Tor.”

“It’s fine. It’s just that I can’t sleep and you might as well.”

“Next time you’ll listen to me. Next time when I say I can see enough of Modigne from the fort walls, and you say—”

“You talk like you’re the one who took the knife.”

“That’s the difference between us,” Alluin said. “I don’t have to take a knife in my back before I recognize a bad idea.”

Torien sat with his back against the post, his sword unsheathed across his lap. Through the gap between the post and the curtain, he could see the horses and the moonlit street beyond. He watched a cat come noiselessly down the street. It saw him as it approached the shanty, and it paused and watched him and went on again when it decided he was no threat. Behind him, in the shanty, Alluin was breathing long and steadily in his sleep. It was perhaps midnight or a little past. He heard a noise like a muffled laugh or a cough, and he started, fingers seizing instinctively on his sword grip. At his movement, the noise stopped. Across the room, the girl was struggling to hold herself still against the wall. Her shoulders shook with trapped sobs.

He pulled himself up to his feet, supporting himself on the sword. He crossed the room to her. She heard him approaching and drew herself stiffly up, but she did not raise her head. He knelt beside her. In the moonlight through the lattice, he could see the tear streaks on her cheeks. Leaning on the sword, he said, quietly, “Tell me why you did it.”

Another tremor ran through her shoulders. She bit her lip. Alluin’s untroubled breathing was loud in the silence.

“Give me the truth and I may be able to help you.”

She shook her head, once, sharply, her eyes squeezed shut. “You lie. I know you lie.”

“I don’t lie.”

“All Vareni lie. I know this.”

“Maybe. But I’m Cesino blood through my father’s line.”

“Then to your people you are a traitor.”

She said it flatly, without interest, as though it were as obvious as the weather, and he understood the absurdity of trying to explain to her, in that moment, how one could feel loyalty to homeland and to empire without hypocrisy. He said, instead, “I’m trying to help you.”

“Why do you want to help me?”

“I care to see proper justice done.”

“I know your justice.” She lifted her face to his, finally. Her voice was thick with anger and tears. “I know what you mean when you say justice. You take Mahlan when he does nothing wrong. I know what you mean by justice.”

The curtain rustled in a draft of cold salt breeze. Torien was on his feet and spinning to the doorway in one motion, his sword ready in his hand. Behind him, Alluin sat bolt upright, flinging aside his cloak. He drew his sword and scrambled up, his back to the wall. The figure in the doorway stood frozen at Torien’s sword point. For a moment, there was silence in the shanty. Then Torien jerked his chin over his shoulder and said, “Sit—slowly. Linta.”

He kept his blade leveled at the newcomer’s throat while the newcomer slid down beside the girl. He said to Alluin, “Light.”

Alluin dropped to his knees at the fire pit. There was another stretch of silence while he coaxed a flame from the spent tinder. In the moonlight, Torien could see the newcomer’s arms tight around the girl’s shoulders, head bowed against the girl’s head. He lowered his sword. After a moment’s consideration, he sheathed it. He turned on his heel and went to the curtain and looked out into the street. It lay empty and silent as before. The horses stood tethered at the post. He drew the curtain shut. There was a tightness in him that had nothing to do with the wound.

Feeble light sprang over the shanty walls.

“It won’t last long,” Alluin said.

“Use this.” With one booted foot, Torien prodded the bundle of sticks that the newcomer had let drop in the doorway. The girl watched him over the newcomer’s shoulder. Her face was set as hard as stone, but he saw the flicker of fear in her eyes. He crouched on his heels, facing her, the fire pit at his back. “No family? So it’s not only Vareni who lie.”

The girl said nothing. The newcomer straightened slowly against the wall and looked at him. He saw the girl’s face in near-exact duplicate, but duplicated as it would be in twenty years’ time: bronze skin prematurely lined, lips cracked by the sun, dark eyes sunken with hunger and hardship and grief. There was neither fear nor defiance in the woman’s face, but rather a resignation which shook him. “I give you what you want. Do not ask it of the girl.”

“You can give me satisfactory answers. Otherwise the girl goes before an Imperial court for sedition and attempted murder.”

The woman looked at the girl, the girl at the floor. Neither spoke, but in the firelight Torien watched the color drain from the woman’s face.

“Dependent upon her age, the penalty is enslavement or death, so I advise you to consider your answers carefully. Who is Mahlan?”

The woman was silent. The girl raised her eyes briefly from the floor.

“Silence does your daughter no good,” Torien said.

“My son. He is my son—Mahlan.” Her mouth contorted as though the name pained her.

“Where is he?”

“They take him,” the woman said. She swallowed. “This spring when the harbor open they come and take him.”

“Who?”

She said nothing. Her fingers were tight around the girl’s arms. They were bony fingers, bent and blunted from work, the knuckles swollen, the nails split. The backs of her brown hands were traced over with lines like dry leather.

“Vareni?” Torien said. “Answer me.”

The woman closed her eyes. “Of the jente.”

He did not know the word. He darted a glance to Alluin, who was sitting and watching from the other side of the fire pit. “One of the crime lords,” Alluin said, quietly.

Torien said to the woman, “This jente took your son?”

“When the harbor open, they take him.”

He supposed in her mind and in the girl’s the Imperial governing authorities were partially culpable in that they had not stopped it; and he supposed he had made more accessible a target than the jente for the girl’s retribution. It was a stupid reason to be knifed in the street, and a stupider reason to be executed. He was irritated. “You should have gone to the governor. He might have explained to you the difference between justice and vengeance before the girl need hang for it.”

“I go to your courts.” The woman flung up her head. “I am a citizen. My daughter she is a citizen. My son he is a citizen. I go to your courts for justice. They say to me I have no case, and they tell me if I am not silent then they will silence me. Always it is the same. Always you pretend you do not see, because the jente he pays you not to see. I know what is justice and what is not justice. What you hang my daughter for it is not justice, and you know this too.”

“How many others besides your son?” There was a moment’s silence. He could sense Alluin frozen behind him across the fire pit. He said, “You say always like it’s common practice. How many others?”

The woman drew up a little. Her eyes were flat, her mouth tight. She thought he was mocking her. “There are hundreds the jente take. You know—”

“I know nothing. I’ve been two days in Modigne, and despite the fact I just took a knife in my shoulder, I hope to be shipboard and gone tomorrow.” He kneaded his temples with his fingertips. “So the jente takes them—why? As slaves?”

“He sells them into the salt mines in Tasso. I hear it from the sailors.”

“And you say the governor knows and does nothing.”

Anger flashed across the sun-cracked face. “I say because I know. We tell him what happens. We tell him the jente he takes us to be slaves in the mines. We ask his protection. ‘We are citizens,’ we say. ‘Help us against the jente.’ But the ones who speak out he gives their name to the jente, and the jente he kills them or he takes them to the ships. I have seen this. The jente he kills us in the street, and your governor and your courts and your garrison they do nothing.”

“Every ship coming into or going out from an Imperial port is inspected—slave ships more closely than the rest. Every manifest is reviewed, every cargo taxed. So many kidnapped citizens would hardly escape notice. It would take more than the governor turning a blind eye. At the least, it would mean the city guard, and the harbor master and his agents, and the harbor master at Tasso, and every level of the administration at the mines. This jente can’t have bought them all.”

“The city guard always they belong to the jentes,” the woman said. “Anyway, the jente he doesn’t use the slave ships. I see it myself. In the night they put the slaves on trade ships—hundreds of slaves into hidden holds. In the day they fill the ships with jugs of wine, jugs of oil. That is what the harbor master sees. They put water in some of the jugs so it doesn’t show on the manifests that they carry water for the slaves. I don’t know about the mines.”

Torien was silent. The girl was looking at him over the woman’s shoulder—unblinking, contemptuous, as though she were daring him to call it a lie. Alluin sat motionless behind him, waiting for him to speak, because in the end the decision was his alone, but he knew Alluin’s thoughts like his own, and he knew Alluin, too, was thinking of the empty streets outside the shanty and the silence like a bated breath—fear hanging over the city like a plague.

He rocked back on his heels and got to his feet. The shanty spun as he stood. “This is what will happen. In the morning, I take ship for Tasso. You’ll go with me down to the harbor, and you’ll show me the jente’s ships, and I’ll investigate crew and cargo for myself. If I find nothing to convince me of this slaving business, then I’ll leave it for the governor’s court to decide your fate. Otherwise I’ll do what I can from Tasso to see this thing ended and those responsible made to pay for it—Modigno and Vareno alike. In any case, I swear to you I’ll see justice done. If you’ve told me the truth, you’ve nothing to fear by that.”

The woman’s fingers were tight on the girl’s arms. “I tell you the truth,” she said. Her voice was low and hard, and in it he heard what she left unsaid: that she knew the value of Vareno oaths just as she knew the value of Vareno justice. The truth made no difference to whim.

He ground out the fire under one boot heel. “I’ll take the watch,” he said to Alluin. It was perhaps four hours to dawn, and he knew he would not sleep.

 

 
Amanda McCrina has studied in Italy,
taught English in Japan, and currently tutors Latin in Atlanta, Georgia. She
received her BA in History from the University of West Georgia, and is now
pursuing her MA. She writes stories that incorporate her love of history, languages,
and world travel. She drinks far too much coffee and dreams of one day having a
winning fantasy-hockey season.

 

 

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ROAD, International.

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I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

THE LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF By Charles Day #CoverReveal #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

Today Charles Day and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for the Bram Stoker Award Winning
THE LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF, which releases October
18, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive a eGalley!!

On to the reveal! 

A quick note from the author:
As the townsfolk sleep, something creeps into the neighborhood. Hidden in shadows, its presence is as old as time itself, its intent not born of goodness. Nick, a teenager who fancies himself a detective, wakes to find his carved masterpiece missing. Now a mystery is afoot, and Nick has his first assignment, to find out who or what is snatching up the town’s pumpkins and why. Unfortunately, as with all great detectives, obstacles stand in Nick’s way—the neighborhood bully and his cronies, and the strange old lady and her dog who share the run-down house at the end of Nick’s block. As Nick investigates, an urban legend unravels . . . . The Legend of The Pumpkin Thief. Nick fears the legend as he embarks on the most dangerous adventure of his young life. Collecting clues, getting ever closer to the true nature of evil, he learns that curiosity comes with a high price.
 
When I fist saw the cover, I was blown away at just how cool and creepy it was. I mean, it’s almost identical to the vision I had of the evil legendary character who shows up and a new town every year for Halloween. As an artist myself, I really dig all the colors and inks. Kudos and congrats to the artist. You rock, buddy. 

 

Title: THE
LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF
Author: Charles Day
Pub. Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N
|
TBD
|
Goodreads
As the townsfolk sleep, something creeps
into the neighborhood. Hidden in shadows, its presence is as old as time
itself, its intent not born of goodness.
Nick, a teenager who fancies himself a
detective, wakes to find his carved masterpiece missing. Now a mystery is
afoot, and Nick has his first assignment, to find out who or what is snatching
up the town’s pumpkins and why.
Unfortunately, as with all great
detectives, obstacles stand in Nick’s way—the neighborhood bully and his
cronies, and the strange old lady and her dog who share the run-down house at
the end of Nick’s block. As Nick investigates, an urban legend unravels . . . .
The Legend of The Pumpkin Thief.
Nick fears the legend as he embarks on
the most dangerous adventure of his young life. Collecting clues, getting ever
closer to the true nature of evil, he learns that curiosity comes with a high
price.

 

“Charles
Day’s The Legend of the Pumpkin Thief should be every Halloween-crazy kid’s
favorite book–and a lot of us adults will love this wonderful tale as well.
Part mystery, part fantasy, and part perfect Halloween scary story, it all adds
up to 100% sheer delight. Bravo to intrepid young detective Nick, that
black-suited Pumpkin Thief, and Charles Day for putting them together in this
sweet-‘n’-spooky novella.”
~Lisa Morton,
four-time Bram Stoker Award winner and author of The Halloween Encyclopedia.

 

Excerpt

Chapter OneNick sniffed the cold air that had started to settle in and around Chesterville, New York, his quaint, upstate hometown located in the Catskill Mountains. Halloween was one day away, a Friday this year. Nick looked forward to the holiday, one of his favorites, next to Christmas, of course. However, today he had something he enjoyed even better: a great mystery.

Nick flipped through the final pages of yet another mystery novel that fed his mind with exciting characters and great plots. As he sat in bed with his new favorite book held in his sweaty palms, the earth could have exploded into smithereens, his house pulled from its foundation by a tornado—it didn’t matter what catastrophe might occur at this moment; Nick found himself fully immersed in the final chapter with his favorite characters.

He loved stories about missing people, crazed or degenerate criminals intent on doing their victims harm, or a detective two clues away from capturing his suspects.

Although he was only twelve, Nick had already completed a good number of mystery novels in his short life. He kept his own personal collection in a large cardboard box on a shelf in his closet, safe above wooden hangers holding football jerseys, dyed T-shirts, and ripped blue jeans, and he was about to add this latest mystery to his library. Just a few pages to go and he would know what these characters were up to … until he heard a voice from downstairs.

“Nicky, time for dinner! I’m not going to call you again,” his mother yelled up the stairs, apparently for the second time. Yes, nothing interrupted his concentration when he neared the end of a good mystery book—except his mom, with her threatening voice.

Nick’s mother was not unlike other mothers in the neighborhood. He had some friends whose moms were the same when it came to gathering their families for dinner, but tonight was not the night. He wanted to finish the final pages before stepping back into reality.

“I’ll be down in a minute, Ma!” Nick screamed back, but his eyes still focused on the book. Sure, he knew he’d be in trouble if he didn’t heed her call. Dad would eventually come upstairs and yell at him for not showing up at the table on time. So he bookmarked the page, took a quick peek at himself in the mirror on his way out of his room, admired the short blond hair, blue eyes, and thin physique—still looking good, guy—then quickly ran downstairs to join his family.

As Nick walked into the dining room, he saw Samantha, his younger sister, still ten but going on sixteen, already seated at the table with a generous portion of meat and potatoes
falling over the edge of her plate. Her dark hair, pulled up into pigtails, bobbed as she inhaled the aromas. And, coming out from the kitchen with freshly baked dinner rolls, was Mom.

“Sit down, Nicky,” Mom said, passing him by while the smell from those warm rolls filled his nostrils and made his mouth water.

As Nick suspected, Mom, adorned in a silk blouse, yellow skirt, and high heels, was dressed as if she’d just stepped out of one of those beauty magazines scattered about the house. However, he focused on those dinner rolls she’d placed on the table. He had to have one. As he went to grab a roll, Samantha’s annoying voice short-circuited his growing appetite to savor the warm goodness.

“Glad you could make it, snot-face,” she said, smiling at Nick.

There she was, in all her glory, his pigtailed brat of a sister.

Nick’s appetite suddenly disappeared. He stared at Samantha, who continued to smile, and wondered how … how he could make his sister’s life miserable at that very moment.

“That’s it, sis. Fill up on all that food you got there on your plate so you can keep getting nice and fat, because—”

“Ma!” Samantha yelled.

“Knock it off, Nicholas. Leave your sister alone and let her eat,” Mom said.

Of course, Samantha screaming was always his fault. Whether or not his sister was wrong didn’t matter; it seemed that he’d be the guilty one. In fact, Nick knew that even if she stood on the dinner table and kicked the plates full of food to the floor, with his parents witnessing the whole event, he’d still be the guilty one, accused of making her do it.

“Yeah, okay … I know it’s my fault. Even though she called me snot-face, I’m the one who’s guilty.” Nick gestured, using his hands to show his frustration. “Whatever.”

Nick watched his father come in while he argued.

“I don’t care much who’s at fault; what I want is for everyone to stifle it and eat your food … understood?” He sat down at the head of the table.

“Ma, have a seat and join us.” He looked to his left. “Nick and Samantha, not another word out of you two, or you’re both grounded.”

That’s what Nick wanted to hear—fairness. His dad was harsh when it came to disciplinary things, but he also was fair. Nick could reason with him on occasion, and he liked that.

“Oh, by the way,” his father said, looking confused, “I was coming in from the rain and noticed the jack-o’-lantern on the steps out front is missing. Anybody know where it went?”

He knew his dad wanted an answer from him, by the stare he sent deep into Nick’s eyes. The Stare of Death!

Nick felt singled out again. Sure, Dad, blame it on me. Score another win for Sam.

Nick heard the drops of water as they exploded on the roof. Loud tapping sounded against the windows from the windswept rain. Halloween is tomorrow. Maybe one of the local punks in the neighborhood took it to use as a flying projectile. I don’t know.

Nick figured that since eggs were hard to come by on Halloween, especially for kids his age, it had to be a teenager who’d stolen their pumpkin to toss around instead. That would make a nice mess on some unsuspecting neighbor’s driveway.

Then it hit him. Here was his chance to find out who may have taken the carved-out pumpkin and, just maybe, assist in the apprehension of the punk. After eating most of his dinner, Nick excused himself from the table and ran up to his room to gather a few items.

He shut his door, surprised his parents didn’t question his early departure from their nightly dinner ritual. Not even an evil eye glanced his way from his mom. That had certainly made him feel better. No need to get on Mom’s bad side.

There was another good reason to venture out and start his investigation: to be far away from his sister.

She was trouble.

Besides, there was a mystery to solve, the case of the missing pumpkin, and he figured he’d start by checking to see if any of his neighbors were missing their pumpkins.

The new mystery reminded him of the stories he’d heard among his classmates: the urban legend of the Pumpkin Thief. He’d cut out an article about this legend from the school’s newsletter a few years ago, when he’d first heard the story, intrigued by the creepiness of it all.

Nick wanted to read the article again. He went to his desk and rummaged through his stack of papers until he located the piece of tattered print, written by some kid, a Jeffery Beamer, in the Journalism Club. He’d certainly done his research on the urban legend. Nick re-read the whole thing while standing.

“Legend of the Pumpkin Thief, by Jeffery Beamer.

“One thing that truly amazes me is urban legends. I’ve heard a few good ones over the years, some from watching TV, others from Googling urban legends. So when some of my older friends in school shared with me the Pumpkin Thief legend, I just had to do a little bit of research. And this is what I found.

” Legend has it that around Halloween, this evil creature, the Pumpkin Thief—a tall, green-bean-thin figure in a black suit and large, orange tie, with a massive orange pumpkin for a head and carved-out eyes, nose, and jagged mouth—would sneak into a town of his choosing and snatch up the pumpkins at night. He’d collect as many as he could hold, then he’d carry them away to a secret location.

“Why did he snatch up all the pumpkins? Well, my dear readers, folklore said it had to do with him trying to stop the townsfolk from using them to ward off evil spirits. You see, without the pumpkins to protect their homes, they were prey to all the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins that float around on Halloween, having fun on the one night when they get to celebrate all things horror. They run amok and frighten trick-or-treaters. It’s their night, and the Pumpkin Thief does what he can to allow them to have fun on this special night.

“Now, although the urban legend has been discredited, I was able to retrieve some stories from people who said they have evidence that he is indeed real.

“It appears that a few local towns had confirmed that this Pumpkin Thief visited them. They had their pumpkins stolen, and on Halloween night, weird things happened to a few of the townsfolk. Some said they saw ghosts peering into their homes through the windows. One person claimed that floating chased about his bedroom Another said his doorbell kept ringing, but no one was there. I even found a few photos from a nearby town that showed strange, large, orb-type lights floating above their homes on Halloween night.

Of course, experts discredited these allegations. It seems no one had concrete evidence of a Pumpkin Thief caught red-handed grabbing pumpkins; nonetheless, the legend continues. Which town will be next?

Nick stopped reading. He had enough to go on. One missing pumpkin certainly did not qualify as a visit from the Pumpkin Thief. But it was kind of cool, getting all worked up the night before the holiday, a special holiday devoted to celebrating evil and dead things. And the article intrigued him. Maybe I should look into this some more, find out who else might have been visited by this legend since Jeffery wrote the article. I need to track down this kid. I’m sure he’s got more to tell.

He replaced the article on the pile of papers and went to pack his jacket pockets with all the detective tools he’d need for tonight: a flashlight, cell phone, and a small pair of binoculars. Those were all he had, so far. He’d ordered some other items out of one of his detective comic books, but they hadn’t shipped yet. He loved all the detective gadgetry!

He knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. He wanted to be a detective with the police department. He wasn’t sure how to get there, but between his parents, teachers, and those guidance counselors they had in the big high school he’d be eventually attending, he’d find his way. Once he had the title of detective, and access to all that high-tech gadgetry he’d seen on his favorite TV shows, he’d be happier than an ant in a picnic basket.

And now that his family’s pumpkin had gone missing, most likely stolen, he’d been given the perfect opportunity for an early taste of detective work. Just the thought of it excited him as he began preparations for tonight’s quick investigation.

Nick sat on his bed for a moment longer, still imagining how, one day, he’d succeed at what he wanted to do. Detective work. The girl. The cars. The life.

Nick had to stop thinking so much about the future and instead concentrate on solving the mystery afoot. He already had an idea about who may have put their grubby hands on his pumpkin. Lou, the bully of his neighborhood! He stood and walked out of his room, closing the door behind him, then to the top of the stairs. But when he approached the top step, he saw his evil little sibling with the pigtails at the bottom, looking straight up at him.

Samantha put both hands on her hips and smiled. “Where are you going? I’m telling.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, Sam. What is your problem? You’re ten, but sometimes you act like a spoiled baby. Do you really hate me that much?”

Nick hoped a little guilt would soften his sister up, and possibly keep her from saying anything to their parents. She seemed to have a relentless desire to make his life a living mess.

For real.

“You’re playing stupid detective again, right?” She smiled, her arms folded. “Well, you’re going to need me if you want to solve a mystery because I know how to be a real detective.” She continued to smile while blocking Nick’s exit.

He knew her motive. She wanted to follow her big brother through a night of detective work, a complete gathering of clues, and hopefully witness a crime get solved through the quick actions of her detective brother.

He also figured she’d tell all her friends that her older brother could solve any crime that dared to enter her neighborhood. He could see it in her eyes. “Yeah, sure. Get your coat and let’s go. It’s getting dark out.”

Nick wasn’t the least bit happy about having to drag Samantha along, but he didn’t want her telling her friends and their parents any lies about his motives. Besides, she might be able to help keep an eye on things.

***

Nick and Samantha left the house together, first telling his parents he was taking his sister across the street to his friend’s house. He knew they would’ve noticed Samantha missing, with her always under their feet.

As they crossed the street, Nick took out his flashlight. He directed its yellow beam to his neighbors’ stoops and porches in search of pumpkins. He pointed the light at each home, every porch that may have displayed a pumpkin, as he walked farther down his street, Samantha by his side.

He was having trouble getting a clear view. Although the rain had stopped, a misty fog had taken over, reflecting the beam of his flashlight back into his eyes. That made it difficult for him to check for pumpkins, even with some porch lights on. But as far as he could tell, none of the houses had any pumpkins on their porches, either. That bothered him.

Eventually he made it to the last house on the left, the home of Mrs. Needlewhitter, an eighty-seven-year-old widow who hated children. Nick knew she was a mean old lady, and he usually did his best to steer clear of her. Tonight was different. He needed to check her porch, just like he’d checked the others.

Nick slowly approached the gate, then jumped back in sheer fright, pulling his sister to the ground with him. Baxter, the old lady’s German Shepherd, slammed up against the fence, barking, snarling, and showing off his white canines.

Samantha cried and screamed, “I want to go home!”

Her loud voice made the dog bark even more.

“Come on, sis, let’s go. He can’t hurt you. He’s behind the fence,” Nick said, lifting her up off the wet grass that left a fresh, green stain on the knees of her white pants. He shined his flashlight on Mrs. Needlewhitter’s porch, noticing a few smashed pumpkins by her bottom stoop.

Could that be it? Had he found the culprit? An eighty-seven-year-old, half-crippled, almost blind, gray-haired … pumpkin thief?

Baxter stood on his hind legs, his massive front paws hanging over the top of the gate, snarling and barking at Nick as he came closer for a better look. He shined his flashlight in Baxter’s eyes, turning them red as blood, reminding him of a movie he’d seen last week on the Chiller Channel about this dog gone bad, evil incarnate, determined to do harm to those who’d messed with him while he was still a pup.

Nick shook this thought from his head and, instead, focused his attention on the front porch.

The porch light turned on.

“What’s going on out there, Baxter boy? You see trespassers, is that it?” Mrs. Needlewhitter yelled through the screen door. “Get ’em, boy. Rip ’em to shreds. Dirty rat punks.”

Nick couldn’t understand why she said what she did, but he wasn’t waiting around to find out what would happen next. He grabbed hold of his sister and ran across the street, not looking back as they sprinted home. He still heard the old lady’s dog, barking in the distance.

When they reached their house, Nick walked his sister up the front porch steps, and then opened the door. He gave his tearful sister a nudge inside. “Go, and don’t say a word to Mom or Dad, you hear?”

She didn’t look back or reply as she walked indoors.

He quickly shut the door, then sat down on his front steps to think of what he needed to do next. He’d found a few broken and smashed pumpkins, and Mrs. Needlewhitter might just be the pumpkin culprit, but why?

How?

How could she manage to sneak around and grab all those pumpkins? Or could this be the work of Lou, the bully? Or worse. Has the Pumpkin Thief chosen this town for this Halloween? My town? Now Nick had even more reason to find this Jeffery Beamer.

In the interim, Nick knew he had to gather some evidence, so he thought up a plan, a great plan on how he’d get closer to those pumpkins scattered about Mrs. Needlewhitter’s yard. This was going to be his first real detective work, and he knew deep inside that he was so ready to accomplish the task.

 

 

Charles Day is the Horror Writer
Association’s Mentor Program Chairperson, Co­-Chair for the NY/LI Chapter, and
a member of the HWA Library committee. He is also a member of the New England
Horror Writers Association, the American Library Association, and the Young
Adult Library Services Association.
He is also the Bram Stoker Award®
nominated author of the YA novel, THE LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF. He’s also
published his first adult novel DEEP WITHIN and the first book in his
Adventures of Kyle McGerrt trilogy, a YA western heroic fantasy, THE HUNT FOR
THE GHOULISH BARTENDER, and his first co­authored novel with Mark Taylor,
REDEMPTION
His forthcoming publications and
projects in development for 2014 include a comic book series
based on the ADVENTURES OF KYLE McGERRT
trilogy, his first middle­ grade series, THE
UNDERDWELLERS, and his third YA novel,
IMMORTAL FAMILY.
On the publishing business side of
things, Charles is the owner of Day Media and Publishing in New York, which
houses the successful imprints, Evil Jester Press, Evil Jester Comics, and
Hidden Thoughts Press (mental wellness collections,)
He’s also an artist and illustrator, who
is passionate about creating the many characters he’s brought to life in his
published, or soon to be published works. You can find out more about his
upcoming writing projects, check out his illustrations and art, or find out
what he’s cooking up next with that evil dude­in­the­box, the evil Jester, by
visiting his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/charles.day.92

 

3 winners will receive an eGalley of
THE LEGEND OF THE PUMPKIN THIEF. International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

IMMORTAL by Nicole Conway #CoverReveal @ANConway @chapterxchapter @month9books

 

Today Nicole Conway and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for IMMORTAL, the final book in the Dragonrider Chronicles which releases November
8, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive a eGalley!!
  #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books
A quick note from the author:

This book marks the end of
the first Dragonrider series, and I couldn’t imagine a better cover to go with
it. It’s a darker but beautiful reflection of the first book’s cover, just as
the war has changed Jaevid from an innocent boy to a man chosen by destiny and
driven to do what is necessary to save his loved ones. To be honest, I had
mixed feelings as I put the final touches on this book. I’m filled with hope
for the next series, confidence that my readers will enjoy it as much as they
have the first one, but also sadness to see this one come to a close. It’s like
saying goodbye to an old friend, knowing you’ll see them again someday.
On to the reveal! 
 
 
Title: IMMORTAL
(Dragonriders Chronicles#4)
Author: Nicole Conway
Pub. Date: November 8, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Find it: Amazon | B&N
| TBD
|
Goodreads
Destiny has called.
With Jaevid Broadfeather forever lost to
the depths of Luntharda, Felix Farrow struggles to stand on his own. He begins
a violent downward spiral which causes him to abandon his post as a
dragonrider, hiding in the halls of his family estate. His one hope for
redemption lies within the heart of someone from his past—and the very last
person he ever wanted to see again.
And now the time has finally come.
Hovrid, who has ruled Maldobar as a
tyrannical imposter, is preparing to make a decisive assault against Luntharda
that will destroy what remains of the elven race. Only Jaevid, Felix, and their
trusted friends are able to stand in his way. They have only one chance to end
the war, and only one hope to absolve the curse that threatens to destroy their
world. The stage is set. The plan is in motion.

What began as one boy’s adventure will
now end in blood.

 

Excerpt

PART ONEFELIX

ONE

I lost Jaevid and Mavrik in the fray almost immediately.

In front of me, my riding partner, Lieutenant Darion Prax, was leaning into his dragon’s speed as we made our final approach. Behind me, a dozen more riders were following us in. Below me, the city of Barrowton boiled with the fury of battle. Our lines of infantry were broken, but trying to reform. The gray elves fought like savages, wielding spears, bows, and scimitars. Some of them rode on the backs of jungle monsters, others were zipping around us through the sky on creatures called shrikes. Our natural enemies.

Prax gave me a few brisk hand signals, instructing me to move into place and get ready. I twisted my saddle handles slightly, applying a bit of pressure under the saddle. With a few heavy beats of her wings, my dragon caught up with him and flew right underneath him. Nova was a big girl, bigger than most male dragons twice her age. But what she lacked in speed she made up for in other ways—something the gray elves were about to figure out

first hand.

We dropped down lower. Arrows sailed past my helmet. One bounced off my breastplate and gave me a scare. I leaned down closer to Nova’s body for shelter from the hail of fire coming from below. Unlike most of the other dragons, gray elf arrows couldn’t pierce her thick hide.

I checked Prax out of the corner of my eye. He was giving me one finger and a closed fist. First target. Time to hit hard. I clenched my teeth and twisted the saddle handles, giving Nova the signal.

Prax and I dove as one, our dragons spiraling in unison towards the ground. We pulled out of the dive flying side-by-side, barely a hundred feet off the ground behind the enemy lines. I squeezed Nova’s sides with my boot heels, and I felt her take in a deep breath.

Together, our dragons showered the ground with a storm of their burning venom.

Gray elf warriors screamed. They fired at us with everything they had. But our rain of fire didn’t end until Nova had to stop for another breath.

We broke skyward and began preparing to make another coordinated pass.

But the second time wouldn’t be so easy. The trail of flames and burning corpses we’d left behind had gotten the attention of a few warriors on shrikes. I spotted four of them heading straight for us.

I gave Prax the news—we had company.

He quickly replied with a plan.

I was slower, so I was bound to be their first target. But that was fine; I was ready.

When his volley of arrows failed, the first gray elf rider had his shrike attack us outright. The bizarre creature was like a furious mirage of mirrored glass scales. It wrapped around Nova’s neck and started clawing at her eyes. Nova roared and slung her head back and forth. The shrike’s rider was twisting in his saddle, drawing another arrow that was aimed right at me.

“Better make that shot count,” I yelled and drew my sword.

Suddenly, Prax blurred past us.

There was a crunching sound and a shrike’s yelp of pain as his dragon got a tasty mouthful of the monster. I saw the gray elf rider fall from the saddle and begin to plummet toward the ground. A very small part of me felt bad for him. The rest of me still remembered he’d just tried to kill me.

Another shrike hit Nova. Then another. One was wrapped around her head again while the other hit much closer to the saddle—closer to me—right at the base of her tail. I twisted the one saddle handle I was still hanging onto and Nova pitched into a violent roll. She spun, getting faster and faster.

The shrike on her head lost his grip. He flew backwards, bouncing along her body and whooshing past me. One well aimed thrust of my sword made sure he wouldn’t be coming back around for a second try.

The last shrike and rider were a problem, though. She was trying to cut my saddle straps. Clever. Effective, too, if she managed it.

But I wasn’t about to give her that chance.

I sheathed my sword and twisted the handles again, hanging on for dear life. Nova snapped her wings in tight against her body and dropped from the sky like a giant, scaly stone. The further we fell, the faster we went. The wind howled past my helmet. The ground was getting closer and closer.

I bit back a curse and looked back. It was working. The shrike was losing his grip, sliding further away from me down Nova’s tail.

I squeezed my heels against her ribs.

Nova spat a burst of flame directly in front of us, and I hunkered down against her as she wrapped her wings around herself. Everything went dark. I could smell the acrid venom in the air. It made my eyes sting. I could feel the heat of the flames as I panted for breath.

Dragon venom is funny stuff. It’s sticky like sap and highly acidic. It’ll burn through just about anything—except a dragon’s own hide.

Nova flew through her own burst of flames, shielding me with her wings. When we came out the other side, she flared her wings wide and caught the air like a kite. Below us, a shrike-shaped fireball crashed into the ground.

Prax appeared next to us, giving me hand signals again. You okay?

I gave him a thumb’s up.

Good. Time for another pass.

*****

The battle was over.

The shouting voices and clashing blades had gone quiet. Now, there was only the crackling of the flames still smoldering in what was left of Barrowton. It was a wasteland – barely more than a charred crater littered with the bodies of the fallen.

Yet another ugly scar on Maldobar’s landscape.

We’d only just gotten back to the citadel at Northwatch—our little slice of paradise where the forces assigned to protecting the northern border were housed. Group after group of dragons and their riders continued to land on the platform and file into the tower. One hundred proud warriors had left to retake the city only a few days before. Less than forty of us returned.

Still, I was only looking for one.

“Where is he? Does anyone see him?!” I shouted at the top of my lungs and shoved my way through the other dragonriders. I called his name over and over, hoping to spot him or his blue dragon making their way down the corridor ahead of me. They must have fallen behind.

I searched every bloodied, war-beaten face that came walking in from the rain. Before I knew it, I was standing back at the open gateway that led out onto the platform.

Jaevid Broadfeather was nowhere to be found.

Someone grabbed my shoulder. A bolt of hope shot through me as I spun around, hoping to see him standing there.

It wasn’t him.

It was my riding partner, Lieutenant Prax, standing over me like a giant in blood-spattered battle armor. He was much older than I was and a far more seasoned rider. That’s why the look on his face absolutely terrified me.

“No one saw him or Jace depart with us.”

I was instantly sick. I couldn’t accept that. Jaevid wouldn’t just roll over and die—not this easily. We’d made it this far, gone through all of our dragonrider training together from beginning to end – so I knew he could fight. Sure, I’d teased him plenty about sucking at hand-to-hand combat, but I’d never met anyone faster or better with a blade. He was half gray elf, for crying out loud. Granted, he hid it well, but I knew he had that elven killer instinct buried down deep in his soul. I’d seen it surface once or twice before when someone pushed him too far.

I had to believe he was here somewhere. I just hadn’t found him yet.

I turned around with every intention of standing out on the platform in the driving rain until I saw him land. Boy, was he in for it. That little jerk should have known better than to pull a stunt like this after our first battle, the one time I hadn’t been standing right next to him while we did something ridiculously dangerous to make sure he didn’t get killed.

Prax grabbed my arm to stop me. There was no shaking off his grip. “We can’t go out there. They want the platform clear for the riders still landing. We’ll have to wait in the stable.”

I stole another glance out of the gateway. The skies were choked with rumbling black storm clouds and the rain was falling hard enough to obscure the city below. Every couple of minutes, the ominous, dark shape of a dragon appeared through the gloom, wings spread wide and legs outstretched to stick the landing. As they landed, infantrymen rushed out to help the riders dismount and escort them inside. Some of them had to be carried because of their injuries. Their cries of pain were drowned out by the sound of the thunder.

“Come on.” Prax shook me a little to break my trance. “You need to look after your lady. Then I’ll wait with you back at his stall.”

I didn’t like it. I wanted to be standing right here when Jae finally dared to show his face after making me stress out like this. But Prax was right. My dragon, Nova, was still dressed in her saddle and I needed to get her settled in before I did anything else.

The work was distracting. It kept me from staring at the gateway every single second while I unbuckled her saddle strap-by-strap and checked her over for injuries. Thankfully, she was unharmed. Her scales really were as strong as iron plates. And judging by a few nicks and scrapes I found around her chest and neck, that trait had saved her life more than once.

Once she was fed and nestled into a bed of hay for the night, I closed the door to her stall and immediately made a break for the platform. I had every intention of waiting there again. I didn’t make it there, though.

Everyone was waiting on me. The other surviving riders in Emerald Flight had gathered outside Nova’s stall.

“They still haven’t come back yet?” I looked at Prax, expecting an answer.

He didn’t have to give a verbal one. Once again, his expression said it all. Jaevid and his senior partner, Lieutenant Jace Rordin, still hadn’t returned.

So we waited.

Sitting outside Jaevid’s empty dragon stall, we watched the rest of our dragonrider brothers tending to their mounts like I had. It wasn’t looking good. The elves had made an impressive stand at Barrowton and our ranks had taken a beating. Less than half of us had returned and many of those were wounded or grounded because their mount had been injured. The riders landing now were barely able to limp in out of the rain. Some of them even had to be carried.
I watched one rider who had to be dragged off the platform by the infantrymen. He was shouting like a madman, still crazed from battle. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying or why he was so upset until a big group of soldiers rushed past us to help restrain him. Then I heard why.

His dragon had managed to carry him back safely to the tower, but the creature had died on the platform shortly after.

The rider’s grief-stricken screams mingled with the constant rush of the rain. It was a sound I’d never forget.

I couldn’t watch anymore after that. I leaned against the stall door with my eyes closed, trying not to think about or imagine anything. Then, infantrymen rolled the iron grate down over the passage that led out onto the platform. It made an awful clanging sound.

That was it. The last of us who survived the battle had landed.

It was over. We all knew it, and yet none of us wanted to be the first to get up and leave.

It didn’t feel real. I didn’t want to believe it was. There had to be some kind of mistake. He was going to pull off another miracle, come wandering in with that weird, self-conscious smile on his face and start apologizing—he had to. It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

“Jace was set on going head- to- head with that gray elf princess again.” Someone finally spoke up and broke the heavy silence. “He must’ve dragged Jaevid into it, too. Poor kid wouldn’t stand a chance in a skirmish like that.”

I pushed away from the door and started walking away. I didn’t want to hear this. I didn’t care how he died. He was gone. The how didn’t matter.

I thought I managed to get away without any of them following me. But I should’ve known better than to think Prax would let me go. I heard his heavy footsteps and the clinking of his armor as he fell in right behind me.

He waited until we were well away from the others, standing just inside the stairwell that spanned the full height of the fifty-story tower, to catch me by the shoulder. “I’m sorry, boy.”

“Sorry won’t bring my best friend back from the dead. Sorry never did anyone any good. It’s a waste of everyone’s time,” I snapped.

He let me go. I could see sympathy in his eyes as he stared down at me. It pissed me off. For a few seconds, neither of us said a word. Then he shook his head. “We’ve all lost someone today, Felix. Every last one of us. So go do whatever you have to do. Work it out. Then clean up your armor and get ready again. You and I are some of the few who are still battle-ready.”

I already felt like a total failure for letting my best friend down. I’d let him die alone in battle. And now I felt worse knowing I’d offended Prax, although there wasn’t a lot I wanted to do about it right now. All I knew was that my insides hurt. I couldn’t think beyond the rage that was burning in my body like hellfire. I could practically taste the flames crackling over my tongue. I needed a way to let it out.

****

Three days. That’s how long it took Prax to resurface and try talking to me again.

I knew he’d be coming. I was already on borrowed time. At any given moment, orders could come down and I’d be sent back to the battlefront somewhere to kill more elves in the name of peace and justice. A bunch of crap, really. Neither existed in my world.

My knuckles were bleeding through the strips of bandages I’d wrapped them in. It probably had something to do with me facing off with a sparring bag every day at dawn, pounding at it with all my strength until I was too weak to stand. I didn’t stop to eat and sleeping was totally out of the question so I didn’t even bother trying.

Honestly, I didn’t know what else to do. I was asking myself a lot of hard questions while whaling against the sand-filled training bag, and most of those questions I no longer had an answer for.

Why was I here? Punch. What was this all for? Punch. Could I even justify not being at my estate now? Punch.

“Felix.” Prax’s voice interrupted the rhythm of my internal interrogation.

I stopped and let my arms drop. They were so numb I couldn’t even feel my fingers anymore. I turned around, wiping away the sweat that was dripping into my eyes.

I expected to see Prax there, giving me one of those cautious, sympathetic gazes. But I hadn’t expected to see the guy next to him. I didn’t know him. Rather, I’d never laid eyes on him before. But I knew right away who he must be.

Jae had never been all that chatty when it came to his family. I could sympathize. My own family life hadn’t been great, but it didn’t hold a candle to what I suspected Jae had put up with.

When we’d first met, he looked like a pulverized, half-starved puppy. Some of the other guys training with us liked to pick on him because he was one heck of an easy target—but they weren’t the cause of all those bruises. Some of those marks had been older. Much older. He’d gotten them long before he’d darkened the door of the dragonrider academy. So I went out of my way to ask Sile about them. Needless to say, the answer had been unsavory.

My father had never beaten me, even when I probably deserved it. He didn’t have the strength or the audacity. He popped me across the cheek a few times for mouthing off, sure, but that was more embarrassing than anything else.

Jae, though? He probably weighed eighty pounds soaking wet when we first met. And that father of his had been beating him mercilessly for years, according to Sile.

Now I was looking at the one person who should have stuck up for the little guy whenever his dad decided to use him like a doormat. I knew this had to be his older brother. The family resemblance was strong, even if this guy wasn’t a half elf like Jae. Same piercing eyes. Same strong jawline.

“Roland, I presume?” I glanced him up and down. He was taller than me, unsurprisingly. Chalk that up to yet another Broadfeather family trait. “You look like hell.”

It wasn’t an insult. He really did look awful. His right arm was sealed in a plaster cast all the way up to his shoulder and he had bloody bandages wrapped around a wound on his head. He was obviously one of the lucky infantrymen who made it back to the citadel from Barrowton—the uniform tipped me off. Except for the stubble on his chin, he looked so much like Jae it would make anyone stop and take a second look. Granted, this guy had a lot more muscle to throw around, but he had the same piercing eyes, squared jaw, and high cheekbones.

“I don’t believe we’ve met.” He was looking at me cautiously. I suspected being in the dragonrider quarters was making him uneasy. Infantrymen weren’t supposed to be up here.

“We haven’t,” I replied. I left it at that, hoping Prax would take the hint that I wasn’t really up for a heart-to-heart discussion with this guy.

I walked past them to a corner of the sparring room where I’d stashed a few of my things, including a towel to wipe myself off with. I could hear them both following me.

“Colonel Bragg has issued his official statement. Medics swept the battlefield at Barrowton looking for any remaining survivors and taking record of the dead,” Prax spoke up.

I stopped. All the little prickly hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “And?”

“They never found his body—or Jace’s for that matter. But his dragon was sighted in the area with an empty saddle,” he answered quietly. “Some of the other riders report having seen them engaging the gray elf princess in aerial combat. They saw her shoot Jace’s mount down. Jaevid was right on his tail, so . . . we can only assume . . .”

“—That he’s dead. Yep. Thanks. Figured that much out on my own, you know, when he didn’t come back.” I scowled at them both, hoping it would be enough to stop this conversation from going any further.

It wasn’t.

Prax turned his attention to the silent infantryman standing next to him. “We cleaned out their room. There wasn’t much left behind, but Jae’s brother here insisted you should have it.”

That’s when I noticed Roland was holding something. It was a mostly empty burlap sack. He held it out to me with a tense expression. “They tell me you two were close.”

I didn’t want to take it. Just the thought of seeing what was in there made me start to feel nauseated all over again. “Shouldn’t this be given to his family?”

“That’s why I’m giving it to you.” Roland fixed his gaze right on me. “I know how you must feel about me. And you’re right to despise me. I can only imagine the things Jaevid told you about me let alone the rest of our family. I won’t deny any of it. But I never laid a hand on him. Not even once.”

I snatched the bag away from him. “Some might argue that joining in and just standing by and watching it happen are basically the same thing.”

Roland hesitated. Slowly, his eyes moved down until he was staring at the floor. “We were both trapped in that house, both suffering at the hands of the same man. Jaevid never knew how many beatings I took for him, how many nights I would sleep by my bedroom door so I’d hear if Ulric went outside after him. My every waking thought was about how I could get out of there. But I couldn’t just run away and leave Jaevid there alone. I would have never done that to him. So I waited until Ulric came back from Blybrig and told us he’d been adopted by the dragonriders. Then I left.”

An uncomfortable silence settled over us. I’m sure Prax was learning a lot more about the Broadfeather family than he ever cared to. After a few seconds I cleared my throat, crammed the bag of Jae’s belongings under the rest of my gear, and nodded. “Actually, he didn’t talk about his family life much.”

“I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me,” Roland sighed. “I just thought, since you were closest with him, you ought to have what was left of his things. He’d probably want it that way. And considering the circumstances, I wanted to thank you in person.”

“Thank me?”

“Yes. I’m not trying to be condescending. But I am grateful that you were willing to step in and befriend him. Someone of your social standing—”

I stopped him right there. “That never had anything to do with it. It wasn’t charity.”

He nodded. “I understand. I’m just saying that there aren’t many others who would be willing to jeopardize their reputation. You’re a better man than most. And I want you to know I appreciate that.”

“Ah.” This was beginning to make me really uncomfortable. I began picking up my stuff and planning a quick exit.

“I also wanted to ask if there was anyone else we should inform,” Roland added, as I slung my bag of gear over my shoulder. “Did he ever mention having a lover?”

Once again, my body locked up involuntarily. I hadn’t even thought about her. Did she know? Who was I kidding . . . of course she didn’t know. I cursed under my breath and flashed Prax a telling glance. Someone was going to have to tell Beckah Derrick what had happened.

“I’m willing to do it,” Roland offered. I guess he could read my expressions well enough to tell what I was thinking.

I clenched my teeth. “No. I’ll do it. She should hear it from me. I’m the one she’ll blame.”

The trouble was, I didn’t know how I was going to find her. Beckah lurked on the edge of every battlefield, haunting our blind spots like some kind of avenging angel. To my knowledge, she’d been keeping her distance from the riders otherwise, which was smart since she was playing a dangerous game. Being the only female dragonrider wasn’t something to be proud of. It might earn her the hangman’s noose or the business end of a sword if anyone found out her real identity.

If anyone could actually catch her, that is. Being paired up with a king drake, the biggest and baddest of all the dragons in Maldobar, put her at a big advantage over the rest of us.

I had my work cut out for me. As soon as I managed to shake off the pity brigade, I headed straight for my room and started thinking of ways to get in contact with her. I didn’t know where she was hiding out between battles, though. Jae might have known, but if they had a secret lovey-dovey rendezvous spot, he’d never spoken a word about it to me. That sneaky devil.

I decided to look for clues when I got back to my room. I dumped out the burlap sack of his belongings onto my bed and began to look through them. There wasn’t much. It was mostly spare uniform pieces and a few bundles of letters tied together with twine. I hesitated to go through those because that kind of stuff was probably pretty personal. What right did I have to go digging around in his private life?

Then again, what did it matter now? And one of those letters might contain a clue about how to get in touch with Beckah.

Hesitantly, I untied one of the bundles and opened up a few of the letters. None of them were helpful, really, and going through them gave me an eerie feeling. It just felt wrong.

Finally, I came to one that looked like it hadn’t been opened in a while. The address scribbled across the front said it was from Saltmarsh, a town down on the southern coast. I’d never been there, never had a reason to. It was a port city, home to mostly fisherman and hired hands looking for shifts on the merchant ships that came and went from the harbor.

Seeing that address struck a chord in my memory. Jae had mentioned to me before that Beckah and the rest of her family lived there. He’d visited them before the start of our avian year. When I opened up the letter, I found only one line scribbled inside. There wasn’t a signature, either. Just two initials:

— B. D.

They had to be Beckah’s.

I knew she wouldn’t be there. It was a long flight between Saltmarsh and Northwatch, too long for her to be going back and forth every time there was a battle. Heck, I couldn’t even be sure her family still lived at that address, either. Sile struck me as kind of a shady character, like he had something to hide. He might just pick up and leave without saying anything. But this was the best lead I had. I was going to have to start there and hope for the best.

I lit a candle and took out a few sheets of fresh paper. I wrote three letters. The first one was to Sile Derrick, letting him know what happened and where he could find me. The second one was to my commanding officer, Colonel Bragg, who was in charge of all the dragonriders here at the citadel.

And the last one . . . was to my mom.

 

 

About Nicole: 
Nicole is the author of the children’s
fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into
manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. Originally from a small town in
North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s
career as a pilot for the United States
Air Force. She received a B.A. in English from Auburn University, and will soon
attend graduate school. She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic
artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time
occupation.
Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping,
cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She lives at home with
her husband, two cats, and dog.

 

Giveaway Details:
3 winners will receive the complete
series (in eBook format) of the DRAGONRIDERS CHRONICLES including an eGalley of
IMMORTAL. International.

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I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

Friday Monthly Book Reveal from Month9Books #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 
Today Month9Books is revealing the cover
and some excerpts for their Charity Anthology IN THE BEGINNING! Which releases October
25, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive an eGalley!!
 
On to the reveal!

 

 
Title: IN THE BEGINNING: Dark Retellings of Biblical Tales
Editors: Laureen P. Cantwell and Georgia McBride
Author: Stephen Clements, Nicole Crucial, Mike Hays, Sharon
Hughson, Marti Johnson, Elle O’Neill, Laura Palmer, & Christina Raus
Pub. Date: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon
|
B&N |Goodreads
 
In the Beginning (Oct. 25, 2016) –Eight authors
come together to build a powerful collection of dark young adult short stories
inspired by the mysteries, faith, and darkness found within the Bible. Old Testament
and New Testament, iconic and obscure figures alike are illuminated, explored,
and re-envisioned throughout this charity anthology from Month9Books.
 
IN THE BEGINNING, edited by Laureen
Cantwell and Georgia McBride
 
Daniel and the Dragon by Stephen Clements
A troubled orphan named Habakkuk
dutifully follows his master, the prophet Daniel, into temples of blood-thirsty
demon-gods, battles with unspeakable horrors, and bears witnesses to
mind-breaking evil until his master’s zealous defiance of the king’s law seals
their fate.
 
Babylon by Nicole Crucial
Far above the earth, in Second Eden,
where moments and eternities all blur together, young Babylon befriends Sefer,
the Book of Life. As Babylon awaits the moment she’ll fulfill her destiny, she
and Sefer try to understand the world in which they live.
 
Last Will and Testament by Mike Hays
A homeless young boy, Baz, bears the
weight of humanity on his shoulders and upon his body. When dark forces test a
new-found friendship, Baz’s willingness to bear the ugliness of their world
will be shaken. 
 
The Demon Was Me by Sharon Hughson
Based on the story of the
demon-possessed boy healed by Jesus, this tale provides a glimpse into a
post-apocalyptic world where a teenage boy seeks to journey to a better land
and yearns to discover the kind of man he’s meant to be, only to be hijacked by
an evil spirit intent upon chipping away at the hope, faith, and resilience of
its host.
 
The Deluge by Marti Johnson
A non-believer shares the story of
Noah’s ark-building and the deadly downpour that follows. Fear, faithlessness,
and the fallibility of mankind collide in a community where second chances
aren’t unlimited and a better-late-than-never attitude just might be your doom.
 
Condemned by Elle O’Neill
Just sixteen-years-old, Barabbas finds
himself pulled out of Routlege Academy and into a reality show
competition—against Jesus himself—where the reward for the winner is life.
 
First Wife by Lora Palmer
In a first-person retelling of the saga
of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, themes of family, deception, guilt, and heartache
emerge amidst the first days of Leah’s marriage to Jacob—a marriage mired in
trickery a mere week before Jacob was to marry Leah’s sister Rachel.
 
Emmaculate by Christina Raus
Based on the story of Mary’s Immaculate
Conception, we enter the troubled mind of Emma, who finds herself torn between
her religious upbringing and the purity ring that binds her to her boyfriend
and the pregnancy that results from her relationship with another boy.
 
Anthology Excerpts:
 
From THE DEMON WAS ME, by Sharon Hughson:
 
The ghastly black fog overtook me.
Icicles pierced my back. Every muscle in my body spasmed. I plunged face-first
against the ground. Something sharp gouged my cheek. Shivery tingles pervaded
my insides. A vile presence pressed against my mind.
            
“Get out!” I rolled to my back, arms
outstretched. I wanted to fight, throw the intruder off me. But how can you
resist something as ethereal as air?
            
Laughter rang in my ears. Sinister.
It shuddered against my soul. Terror and hopelessness collided in my chest. A
foreign power clutched at my mind.
            
I screamed. I rolled to my side and
squeezed my eyes shut. If only I could disappear.
            
Another dark wave of laughter
echoed through my skull. Convulsions gripped me.
Against my will, my limbs flailed in
every direction. A spike pressed into my mind. I cradled my throbbing head. My
body, a tumbleweed in the wind, spun on the ground.
 
 
From BABYLON, by Nicole Crucial:
 
Only those will enter Heaven whose names
are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
 
These were the first words I heard, in
the beginning of time.
 
But Sefer, the protest comes, Revelation
wasn’t written until the first century.
 
My answer is that time is a funny little
plaything to God, or so I imagine. That first sentence was the wind that
breathed life into my chest, the binding of my pages, the ink in my soul. It
knitted together my stardust-atoms from across centuries and millennia and
planes of existence.
 
And when the first dregs of
consciousness swirled at the pit-bottom of my spine, I yawned and opened my
eyes to paradise.
 
 
From CONDEMNED, by Elle O’Neill:
 
To his surprise, as he heard the metal
door grind to a stop, there was a popping sound, like the flash-lamp did when
they experimented in Classic Photography at Routlege. Except no camera
appeared—not that he could see anyway—but rather a digital time clock, bold red
numbers, already beginning their descent, in striking relief against the black
paint covering the walls.
 
29:48:12.
 
29:48:11.
 
Of course they would include the
fractions of a second, he thought. He was now fighting a tiger against a racing
clock. For all that they were merely numbers, he saw their dwindling trickle as
if he were watching grains of sand pour through the hourglass of his fingers,
helpless.
 
29:47:03.
 
The tiger looked at him. It didn’t
glance his way. It directed its massive head at him, its eyes trained on
Barabbas … and they didn’t turn away.
 
Another man, in another arena, stood
calmly while the tiger advanced. His breathing was even, he did not watch the
clock, and he looked with love upon the prowling beast. When it snarled, he
slowly exhaled; when its whiskers glanced his weaponless fingers, he blinked
gently as the hot breath of the tiger dampened his skin.
 
 
From LAST WILL & TESTAMENT, by Mike Hays:
 
I’ve found money, I’ve found food, and
I’ve found myself in plenty of trouble on plenty of occasions, but I’ve never
found another human being just lying around. That’s what happened when I found
a person-shaped ball of olive drab and camouflage clothing—which would have
been more at home in the reject pile down at the army surplus store—under our
decrepit, worn sign for the, “Extraordinary 
 
League of Witch Assass_ _ _.”
 
It’s true. I found a boy about my age
sleeping at the end of the Extraordinary League of Witch Assassins driveway.
 
 
From UNWANTED, by Lora Palmer:
 
“Let me see you,” he whispers. “Let me
truly see you.”
 
I swallow down the fear this moment
brings, the anxiety that once he does see me, he will no longer accept me. No,
I must stop thinking this way. My husband is not like Jacob, dazzled by the
superficial beauty of my sister. My husband, my love, will see me.
 
Taking courage from this, I let out a
shaky laugh as he helps me stand. I long to see him, too.
 
“All right,” I say.
 
He lifts my veil, his deft fingers
moving slow, relishing the anticipation of this moment. At last, he lifts the
linen over my face and lets it slip to the floor behind me. We stare at each
other, stock still, in stunned silence.
 
It was Jacob.
 
From EMMACULATE, by Christina Raus:
 
The Ten Commandments are pretty
straightforward. Killing? Bad. Lying? Nope. Adultery? Don’t even think about
it. But is real life really that straightforward? If you tell your boyfriend
that you’re going golfing, when really you’re going out to cheat on him, is the
lying or the adultery worse? What if you stab the guy you’re having an affair
with? Isn’t being a murderer worse than being a cheater? I think the stabbing
is worse than the lying and the cheating combined. So, it was kind of unfair
for God to group killing, lying, and cheating all together under one umbrella.
They all seemed really different.
 
I was an adulterer. I couldn’t deny
that. I was also a liar. A very, very good liar. But I wasn’t a murderer.
 
 
From THE DELUGE, by Marti Johnson:
 
The stench of mildew and mold is heavy
in our nostrils, and my lungs feel as though they are on fire. My breathing is
audible in the lulls between the thunderclaps. My mother huddles, shivering,
propped between two rocks. She is coughing painfully, and I can hear her teeth
chattering.
 
It is hard to breathe because the air
itself is full of water.
 
A deeper shadow has fallen across the side
of the mountain on which we are sheltering. I pull aside the brambles, and gasp
in amazement when I realize what it is. “Look!” I call to the others, and point
at the sight. The ark has risen with the water, and now bobs up and down. It
sits high in the water. We hear nothing from it but the creaking of the wood
timbers and the sound of the branches and rocks on the hillside scraping
against its hull.
 
 
From DANIEL AND THE DRAGON, by Stephen Clements:
 
Your god is a liar!” roared the wizened
man in thin black robes, as he pounded his breast with his fist.
Habakkuk stood by the gates of the
temple as his master picked a fight with a sanctuary full of the slavish
followers of Bel, a bloodthirsty demon god. A fire raged in the fanged maw of a
giant, stone head sunken into the back of the temple, there to receive the
offerings rendered unto Bel. He had seen this before in other temple raids with
his master, though not on such a massive scale, and not at the heart of the
demon cult in Babylon itself. The fire raged as the greatest offering that the
Babylonians—who adored Bel above all other gods—could sacrifice to their deity
was their own newborn children, rolled their screaming, helpless bodies down a
stone, handshaped altar into the fire. They offered the fruit of their wombs to
their dark god, who devoured the innocent souls sacrificed to him in eldritch
rituals.

 

Giveaway Details:

 

3 winners will receive an eGalley of IN
THE BEGINNING, International.





a Rafflecopter giveaway
I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

POLARIS Trailer by Beth Bowland #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books @chapterxchapter @BethBowland

 
Today Beth Bowland and Month9Books are
revealing the trailer for POLARIS, which releases August 16, 2016! Check out
the gorgeous trailer and enter to win a paperback of the book!!
 
A quick note from the author:

When I first watched the trailer I was in awe, tears formed in my eyes, and I
was frozen in my seat. I tried to say “OMG”, but only the “O” came out and “MG”
got stuck, because at that moment I watched as my story literally took a breath
and came to life.
 
I had such a great time writing Polaris, it
combined my love for creating stories and conspiracy theories. I love “What
Ifs” What if there is life on other planets? What if they’re really not so
different than we are? The big ticket question, what if they’re already among
us. Polaris takes a quirky but fun spin on an old conspiracy theory, but what
if the conspiracy is not a theory…
 
 
On to the reveal! 
 

Please make sure you want the trailer, it is brilliant.  


 
Title: POLARIS
Author: Beth
Bowland
Pub. Date: August 16, 2016
Publisher: Tantrum Books
Format: Paperback,
eBook
Find it: Goodreads
Amazon | BAM | Chapters |Google Play  | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks
 
Bixie, Montana is in the middle of
nowhere, not connected to any place, and not needed to get to any destination.
But one snowy evening, a lone visitor walking down an old country road changes
thirteen-year-old Aaron Martin’s life forever. Aaron thinks he’s being a Good
Samaritan by inviting the nearly-frozen visitor into his home, but he’s
unwittingly initiated “The Game.”
 
A group of Elders, known as the Council
of the Legend, come together from time to time to enjoy a rousing event they
playfully call “The Game.” Now, Aaron’s town is the playing board and he and
his fellow townspeople are the players.
 
The rules are simple. Win. Because if
Aaron loses, he won’t just lose his family. He’ll lose his very identity.
 


 
 
Beth Bowland, a native Ohioan, has
always enjoyed reading and creating stories of her own. As a child she devoured
every book she could get her hands on and spent numerous hours at the library
each week. She loves writing stories for tweens and young teens and her
characters are often described as quirky and fun, but always relatable. When
she’s not writing, she loves watching HGTV. She has one daughter and resides in
Arlington, Texas with her husband, Phillip.
 
 



1 winner will receive a paperback of
POLARIS, US Only.





a Rafflecopter giveaway
I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

OPERATION TENLEY by Jennifer Gooch Hummer #FridayReveal #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

Today Jennifer Gooch Hummer and Month9Books
are revealing the cover and first two chapters for OPERATION TENLEY, book 1 in the
Fair City Files Series which releases September 13, 2016! Check out the
gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley of
OPEARTION TENLEY!!

 

Title: OPEARTION TENLEY (Fair City Files #1)
Author: Jennifer
Gooch Hummer
Pub. Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback
& eBook
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Meet Tenley Tylwyth, an Elemental Teen
born with the power to produce weather. Cool? Not really.
Elementals make Mother Nature angry. And
who can blame her? Humans have been destroying her planet long enough. It’s
time she got rid of them all together. Tenley, and those like her, are the only
things standing in her way—and they don’t even know it.
It’s a Fair One’s job to keep Elemental
Teens safe. These ancestors of fairies have created a perfect plan to keep kids
like Tenley out of harm’s way – from afar.
But when rookie Fair One, Pennie, allows
her charge to use elemental powers once too often, she’s forced to travel to
Earth—a place where no Fair One wants to go—to save her.
Now, Pennie has forty-eight hours to
convince Tenley to stop manipulating the weather. But it won’t be so easy.
Tenley’s got a way with wind and has no plans to stop using it.
But then a field trip provides the
perfect opportunity for Mother Nature. She catapults Tenley deep into her
gardens, where trees grow upside down and insects attack on command.
For Tenley, things get real, fast. And
suddenly, knowing she’s got a few Elemental powers up her sleeve might be just
what Tenley needs to survive. Even if it kills her.

 

Excerpt

1Hadley Beach, California

Tenley Tylwyth needed votes.

Which is why today she stood outside in the busy quad wearing a sash draped over her left shoulder that read Vote For Me, Tenley T!

Behind her, a group of boys played Frisbee, while in front of her, students hurried by, ignoring the flyers she held out.

Please totally Nominate Tenley Tylwyth to represent Hadley Middle School on America’s Next Most Inspirational Teen this Friday Night.

When the Frisbee flew straight toward Tenley’s head, none of the students noticed.

Except one.

Holden Wonderbolt was a size or two skinnier than the other boys his age, with milk chocolate skin and impressive skateboard skills. He was on the way to the skate ramp when he spotted the Frisbee.

“Watch out!” he yelled.

Tenley turned around just as Holden leaped off his board and launched himself forward. Instead of intercepting the Frisbee, though, Holden sailed toward Tenley while above them, the Frisbee spun off in the opposite direction.

Had others seen it, they would have wondered: Did that Frisbee just stop in midair, flip itself sideways, and zoom off in a completely different direction? But no one had seen it. Not even Holden, who was busy preparing to land on Tenley.

This is what Tenley did: step back.

This is what Holden did: (crash) land.

This is what the rest of the students did: stare.

Oh, and a few photos were taken and posted on the Internet within seconds.

2

North West Observation Spot, Fair City

Standard Fair One 3rdi’s were sufficient enough to see everything happening on Earth, even from the far edge of Fair City. But Laraby must have missed something. Why would his client ditch his skateboard and dive toward another student like that?

He tapped at his 3rdi and groaned, then flung it back over his head into its holder. “Piece of junk. A 3rdi-All wouldn’t have missed anything,” he mumbled. Laraby coveted 3rdi-Alls, which were infinitely better, but were only issued to Lieutenant Fair Ones.

Frustrated, he rubbed his bald head and stepped back over jagged rocks and dust, the latter of which was always the archenemy of his pristine white robes. He pulled a controller out of his tool belt and entered some information. A small hologram screen appeared. A few more clicks and the scene he had just watched on Earth projected in front of him.

There was Holden, skateboarding through the quad, when suddenly and without reason, he flung himself off and dived straight into an unsuspecting girl. Nothing in Holden’s immediate surroundings gave any indication of potential danger. Wind, humidity, barometric pressure, fire, temperature, tectonic plates—all normal.

Laraby pulled his eyes off the screen and sighed. Today he was not in the mood. He’d been hoping to grab a small bite, and now his client’s potential injury would eat into his lunch hour. He’d have to fill out an accident report, for one thing, and Holden Wonderbolt was getting dangerously close to his limit. Another injury could very well result in a red flag for Laraby, which might then lead to a review. And although Laraby did quite enjoy Holden Wonderbolt, he had to admit the boy was a bit of a klutz.

Laraby prepared for departure. The sooner he submitted the report, the better. City Hall was becoming ever more crowded and less efficient.

Just as his propellers started to activate, a loud whirring sound made him take pause. There was nothing wrong with his equipment, as far as he could tell. No damage that he could recall, and he was always on top of the updates. But the whirring noise increased. Perhaps it was another Fair One coming to share his ob-spot. This seemed to be happening more frequently, even though he always picked the farthest, most remote sites to observe his client.

Or perhaps it was asteroid winds picking up. He’d heard talk the last time he was in City Hall that Mother Nature and her Weathers were on the brink of infiltrating the Fair Force’s protective layer again. A stronger system had been implemented since her first infiltration, but no one knew if this was enough. Mother Nature and her Weathers were becoming increasingly hostile, which meant the clients on Earth were in even more danger. Time spent filling out injury reports was precious time away from monitoring them.

Dust picked up around him. He’d washed his robes only yesterday. Annoyed, Laraby stepped out of the swirling debris but stopped when an enormous wind tunnel appeared overhead, close enough to be dangerous. With no time to protect his gear, Laraby took cover under his arms, abruptly knocking the 3rdi sideways. He yelped. A Fair One’s tools were powerful but not indestructible and once damaged, were never quite the same.

He waited for impact, but nothing happened. He peeked up at Fair Force, three of them, hovering a few meters above. Their badges were visible, and red sirens flashed over their propellers.

“Fair One lara b3. You are under arrest. Anything you think can and will be used against you. You are hereby ordered to City Hall in three minutes. Failure to do so will result in further penalty.”

“Officers,” Laraby shouted above the noise. “I think you must be mistaken.”

The Fair Force typed into a small tablet. A pocket in Laraby’s tool belt buzzed. The arrest warrant was delivered.

City Hall in three minutes? He’d never been arrested before.

“Good day,” the Fair Force nodded, before propelling upward and zooming away as fast as they had come.

“It’s lunch time,” Laraby grumbled, activating his propellers again. As soon as he felt his feet lift, he tipped his head left and started for City Hall.

 

 

Jennifer
Gooch Hummer is the award-winning author and screenwriter of her debut novel,
Girl Unmoored (SparkPress). Girl Unmoored has also been published in German (Carlsen).  Jennifer has worked as a script analyst for
various talent agencies and film studios. She lives in Los Angeles with her
husband and three daughters.

Connect with
the Author:  
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest |Instagram | Google +

 

3 winners will receive an eGalley of OPERATION
TENLEY, International.

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I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl