Chapter One for Amber Queen: Book Three in the Age of Azuria epic fantasy series
Below, you’ll find chapter one for Amber Queen, book three in the Age of Azuria series.
Missed the prologue? You’ll find it here.
Iellieth stared back over her shoulder at the sprawling mass of roots and vines the black oak had created for her. “Thank you,” she whispered. Without the dryad’s intervention, she too would have fallen into the blood portal that had consumed Lord Nassarq, Briseras, and Lavinia.
Freed from the vampire’s oppressive presence, the catacombs around them were merely dank and dim. Iellieth’s stomach flipped. Now that the immediate threat had passed, she remembered the room Marcon hadn’t allowed her to see, the slaughtered man who had helped them, and the child’s body waiting back in Nassarq’s chamber.
The champion’s brow furrowed as he looked down at her sudden shudder. “What is it, lady?”
Iellieth laid her hand against her throat. The black branch the oak had grown for her rested on the far side of the chamber, inaccessible from where they stood and coated in blood. “I, umm . . .” Iellieth cleared her throat. “I was going to suggest that we return to the surface.” The ceiling of the dungeons seemed intact for now, but she wasn’t sure how badly the portal’s sudden appearance had shaken the stone tunnels.
While she and Marcon talked, Scad had crept over to Quindythias’s side. He kept the lower half of his body far away from the elf and leaned dramatically forward, peering at Quindythias’s tattoos. They were brighter than usual after the elf’s time in the amulet.
“Ellie, who are these two again?” Scad straightened, frowning as he stared between Quindythias and Marcon, the two ancient champions bound to her and her amulet until they found the final piece of the planar seal, located somewhere in the Elven Realms. There, she hoped, she would also find her father, an elven diplomat who didn’t yet know he had a daughter. But he soon would.
“I’ll explain on the way.” She turned to Marcon, who continued to study her with brow furrowed. “The man who arrived with Briseras, and the child . . . should we bring them up with us?”
The champion bowed his head. “If we are able, yes. They have spent enough time in this place.” Marcon glanced around at the dark stone walls, scowling at the crypt where she had nearly disappeared with the two women they’d met in the catacombs, Briseras and Lavinia. They had leapt through the blood portal after the vampire, Lord Nassarq.
There was so much to explain to the Linolynnian court above.
“Very well,” Iellieth said. “Let’s go find them.”
“And be on the lookout for tiny vampires on our way,” Quindythias added. “No sense in driving off the big one only to be turned ourselves and then stuck here, or worse.” He grimaced.
Iellieth turned her head to the elf. “What would worse be?”
“Undeath has always been exceedingly distasteful to me.” He shivered dramatically. “To dwell on and on, never changing? I’m already beautiful, so I don’t know that turning into a vampire will help matters. Very few are considered handsome and heroic. Most undead are driven by a hunger to consume life, while others become puppets.”
“Or what’s happened to Lorieannan.” Marcon’s voice was low and abrupt. His scowl deepened.
They would find a time, once they’d had a chance to rest, to discuss what had transpired in the tunnels beneath the Nocturne estate, especially the fact that his first love had been turned into a revenant whose deepest desire was to kill him. Or to kill Iellieth and wipe out the two champions with her. Clarifying that fact wouldn’t make Marcon feel any better.
Silently, they retraced their steps through the halls and returned to Nassarq’s bedchamber. The man who had arrived with Briseras lay on the floor, his blood pooling around his head and shoulders from the gaping wound in the side of his neck, already crusting over. Iellieth’s hands started shaking, and she stopped at the edge of the room. Nassarq had ripped out this man’s throat with his teeth.
Marcon stretched out his arm, preventing her from going closer. “Lady, perhaps you might find a scarf or cloak to wipe the blood from his bag, and a blanket or sheet to wrap the body in?” He pointed to the closet in the corner, where Scad and the woman called Lavinia had hidden.
Iellieth skirted wide around the body and avoided looking too closely at the dark streaks along the floor, either blood or burns.
Between the closet and a wardrobe, Iellieth found the items Marcon had requested. She flinched as she glanced over toward the bed where the child’s body lay facedown on the mattress. Quindythias stood over the child, lips compressed into a thin line. His amber eyes shone bright as Iellieth approached and held out a blanket for covering and transporting the small body.
Scad had yet to pass through the doorway. He stood with arms crossed tightly around himself at the chamber door.
When she returned to Marcon’s side, he had knelt over the man’s body, uttering a prayer in a tongue she did not know. The words were gravelly, rumbling in the champion’s chest. Their weight settled onto her shoulders, and yet there was a sense of peace to them as well. In the doorway, Scad’s hold around himself relaxed.
Marcon arranged the body as he completed his prayer. He placed Briseras’s broken crossbow on the man’s chest and folded his arms over it.
The champion rose. Tears shone in his eyes as he turned to her. “A prayer of peace and prosperity for one’s battles in the afterlife,” Marcon murmured. “It was a customary rite for those in my battalion who fell in the line of battle. We adopted it from the flaming soldiers of Ignis, warriors wreathed in fire. And we extended the rite to those who died fighting at our side.”
Marcon carried the man’s body out of the dungeons, and Quindythias the child’s. Iellieth exhaled slowly as she watched them walk from the room. She bent to retrieve the man’s satchel, wiped it clean of blood, and wrapped its strap over her shoulder.
At the doorway, she embraced Scad. “Let’s get you out of here,” she whispered in her friend’s ear.
He held her hand tightly as they climbed the pathways out of the dungeon behind Marcon and Quindythias. “We’re going to get you some food and a nice, warm bed.” She squeezed his hand. “And then, I’m going to take you home.”
Scad sniffled and nodded.
As they climbed toward the light, she could see his gaunt cheeks, the dark purple circles under his eyes, and the slashes down the sides of his neck. How long must his days in the dark have stretched, being fed on by a cruel, twisted vampire? A sob gripped her throat, and Iellieth clenched her free hand around the strap of the satchel. How hopeless Scad must have felt, despairing of anyone ever coming to help him. Was it possible to recover from such an experience?
She calmed her own racing thoughts. It was just a spark for now, but she caught a glimmer of the familiar vivacity that had danced behind Scad’s eyes. She didn’t know how long it would take for him to recover from his imprisonment, but in her heart, Iellieth knew that, given time, he would be himself once more.
“Basha?” Iellieth knocked against the wooden archway that opened onto the king’s guest hall in Nocturne.
It had taken longer than she had hoped to find the dwarf pacing before the double doors bedecked with iron. But eventually, after they settled Scad in their room, found a place to lay the bodies of the young man and the child, and asked half a dozen soldiers for their aid, they found the stormguard.
The dwarf looked paler than she’d ever seen him. When he didn’t respond, she called to him a second time.
Basha whirled around, spinning his battle-axe free from his shoulders, and hunched in a ready stance.
Iellieth stumbled back toward Marcon and Quindythias. “Basha, no, it’s me.”
He shook his head and blinked his eyes clear. “Ellie, what are you doing up at this hour?” Basha waved them closer, his voice a low, deep whisper.
She met him halfway down the hall. Deep lines of worry crossed Basha’s face. “We . . . we have to tell you something. It’s about Lord Nassarq.”
Basha glanced over his shoulder at the reinforced doorway. “What about him?”
Iellieth recoiled at the dwarf’s tone. He had never snapped at her before, and she could only imagine him doing so if— She gasped. “Has something happened to King Arontis?”
He nodded gravely.
“Has he been bitten by a vampire?”
“A vamp—how did you know?” Basha scowled at her, disbelief and concern swirling behind his eyes.
Iellieth wrapped her arms around herself and spoke slowly so as not to distress the stormguard further. “Lord Nassarq is a vampire. He’s the one who’s been taking the children.” Her lip quivered as she thought of the prison cell Marcon had shielded her from. They had skirted around it as best they could as they left, but still the soft scraping and crying from inside reached her ears.
Basha stared back at her. If the king had been bitten, why did Basha still doubt her?
The door creaked open at the end of the hall, and her stepfather emerged, his head hung low.
“Wait here,” Basha said under his breath. He pulled his shoulders back and strode down the hall to meet the duke. “Well?”
Duke Amastacia sighed, his lips pulled tight together. As he raised his head to address the stormguard, he spotted her, Marcon, and Quindythias. Immediately, his gaze narrowed. Her stepfather drew himself up, acting as though nothing was amiss. “The healers believe the king will make a full recovery, but he’s weak.”
Basha waved them forward once more.
The duke widened his stance and crossed his arms. “I don’t believe now is the time to allow those who are simply curious about the king’s state into his chambers.”
The dwarf stamped a foot and lifted his head toward the duke’s. “I have dedicated my life to guarding that man.” He poked his forefinger into her stepfather’s chest, and the duke stumbled back against the door. “And I won’t have a sniveling adviser interested only in his own gain stand in the way of me bringing important news to the ears of the king.”
Duke Amastacia’s mouth hung open as he stared down at Stormguard Basha.
“Now move,” Basha growled.
Preserving as much of his dignity as he could, her stepfather slid away from Basha’s squat, imposing frame and stepped away from the door. The duke’s lips returned to their thin, disapproving line, and his haughty eyes flicked over to meet her gaze. A glare she knew well.
He lifted his head high and strode down the hall away from the four of them, not giving her a second glance. Marcon’s hand rested on her shoulder, its glowing warmth subsiding the farther the duke went down the hall.
Quindythias shrugged and pranced forward. “Well, that was dramatic. Should we introduce ourselves to the king now so he can honor us for saving the kingdom?” The elf stepped back at Basha’s glower. “I speak only in jest, Master Stormguard.” He gave a half-bow at the waist and gestured toward the door. “After you, of course.”
The adventure continues! Amber Queen is available now!
New to the world of Azuria? The adventure begins with Buried Heroes, book one in the Age of Azuria series!