Chapter One for Hadvarian Heist: Book Two in the Age of Azuria epic fantasy series
Below, you’ll find chapter one for Hadvarian Heist, book two in the Age of Azuria series.
Linolynn’s pale silhouette faded against the shimmer of the Infinite Ocean and an azure sky as Iellieth, Marcon, and Quindythias made their way to Red’s Cross. Quindythias alternated between grumbling at the pace of their travels by foot and regaling them with stories of his daring past deeds. Marcon qualified these tales of bravery and added a few, more modest accounts of his own, painting a picture for her of the long-lost time of the heroes.
“And that’s why they call me the Blade of Bastion,” Quindythias said with a shrug. The elf skipped off, outpacing Marcon’s easy stride beside her to examine the leaves of the willow oak.
Marcon grinned. “Of course, what he’s leaving out is that the moniker began as a defamation campaign by Alessandra’s puppet government in the city and was not actually intended as a compliment.”
Quindythias spun around, hand clutched to his chest. “Marcon! How can you say such a thing?”
The champion shook his head. “I’m only telling her the truth.”
“Are not.” Quindythias stomped. “Iellieth, don’t listen to him. He’s just jealous that after I saved Bastion and had to sneak out, I became the most popular champion in Respite instead of him.”
“Is that so?” She raised an eyebrow as she glanced at Marcon. If he didn’t let up the teasing soon, Quindythias would pout for the rest of the evening.
“No one slips past armies of guards like you do,” Marcon conceded.
Quindythias harrumphed his victory with a nod and darted off into the trees to demonstrate his abilities. He spent the twilight hour sneaking up from behind her and pouncing.
As dusk fell, Marcon gestured to a small copse of trees off of the road that stretched from Linolynn to Red’s Cross. “I think we should rest here for the night, lady.”
“Unless we want to travel by starlight,” Quindythias added.
“Hmm”—Iellieth smiled—“as tempting as that would be . . .” A yawn interrupted her clarification.
Quindythias draped his arm around her shoulders, and they followed Marcon to a cluster of trees. “You’ll get used to the travel after a while. Not everyone can adapt quite so well as Marcon has to keeping up with me, but I have hope for you.”
Iellieth turned her head to hide her amusement from Quindythias. He took laughter that he hadn’t intended to create quite personally. “Your faith is much appreciated.”
Marcon called back to them through the trees, “Quindythias, leave her alone and help me set up camp.”
The elf stopped, halting Iellieth’s progress forward as well, and mock-saluted his friend. With a quick turn and a wink, he scampered across the remaining patch of field to Marcon’s side.
The minor moon, in a waxing crescent, cast a soft orange glow across the inky sky, her sister a silvery white, waning just above her.
Once more, she pictured Katarina handing Mamaun the black rose she had grown, an apology, she hoped, that ran deeper than words. What would Mamaun have said in return? Was she angry that Iellieth had left in the middle of the night? Would Mamaun forgive her for what she had said—that she had failed to protect her daughter, had failed to care? However true it was, she need not have said it. But what would it take for her mother to understand?
Iellieth sighed and glanced down at the dark blue-green grasses around her feet. Strands of tiny white flowers had grown in a circle around her, winding their way across the tall, thin blades and weighing them down. She shook her right foot, freeing it from the flowers’ embrace, and extricated herself from the self-made sanctuary.
“That will happen if you let it,” Mara would have said. “Emotions and energy build, but they need to move. If not, given time, their waters will overwhelm the dam and break through, bringing cleansing life to the dry beds downstream.”
A cold hand gripped her heart, and Iellieth shut her eyes against the vision of her druidic mentor, surrounded by a wreath of green flames. A soft whisper from the earth beside her caught her attention. Careening to the side, its large, petaled head staring up at her, a single black flower blossomed by her foot. Iellieth wrapped her arms around her waist and hurried ahead into the clearing.
“Lady, is everything alright?” Marcon’s eyebrows creased as he watched her arrival.
“Yes”—she managed a half-smile—“I was just . . .” She shook her head. “Just thinking about something. Do you need any help with camp?”
“We’re nearly finished.” He kept one eye on her while continuing to stack wood beside the fire.
Iellieth kept her expression blank. Please just believe me, at least for now.
“Ready, big guy,” Quindythias announced suddenly, catching them both off guard. The elf leaned back on his heels, grinning up from behind a perfect pyramid of sticks that he’d arranged for their fire.
Marcon squatted down next to his friend, his broad silhouette contrasting with Quindythias’s narrow frame. At the third sharp click of flint on steel, a shower of sparks fell onto the kindling and caught. The fledgling fire sizzled. Marcon bent lower, his olive-toned hands pressing into the dark earth of the space they’d cleared beneath the leaves. The runes along his hands danced from dark to light in anticipation of the fire, just as Quindythias’s arcane markings celebrated the kiss of the wind. Marcon breathed life into the flames, and the fire roared to life.
The fire’s chatter soothed her as they ate their bread and dried meat. Marcon’s baritone rolled beneath the dry crackling and warm rumble, and Quindythias’s sharp-voiced stories and exclamations accented the lulling rhythm.
Iellieth pulled Mara’s shawl around her shoulders as she fell asleep beneath the gaze of the stars and Quindythias’s watch. He would wake Marcon partway through the night, and Marcon would wake her just before dawn.
A muffled cry yanked Iellieth from sleep in the middle of the night. The fire had burned down to glowing embers. Quindythias lay splayed beside her, his chest rising and falling with an elbow draped over his eyes.
Iellieth sat up, searching the trees for Marcon. His sword and shield rested beside Quindythias, but he wasn’t within the copse’s close embrace.
A branch cracked in the woods, and she sprang up, sparks of energy dancing at her fingertips. Iellieth ran toward the sound, ignoring the sharp prods of twigs beneath her stockinged feet.
Her eyes adjusted to the obscured light of the copse, her elven vision clarifying the darkness. There. A dark shape writhed in the darkness before her. She darted closer.
A narrow-shouldered figure in a black cloak struggled, shadows sweeping toward their body around the trees’ peaceful silhouettes. Elbows stuck out from beneath the billows of the dark cloak, the figure’s hands pulled back tight in front of their chest.
As she drew closer, a choking gurgle reached her. The figure jerked to the side, revealing a feminine curve beneath the cape and Marcon half-kneeling in front of her, a garrote tight around his neck. His shoulder muscles bulged as he tried to pull away from the attacker.
“Marcon!” Iellieth shouted. The sparks in her right hand erupted into a ball of flame, streaking toward the cloaked form. She willed her strike to set the woman’s body ablaze.
Marcon’s eyes widened, bright in the darkness around them, and he strained harder against his attacker. What power did she possess to have Marcon in such a position?
Iellieth froze as the woman locked burning red eyes on her. Ashen skin glowed, cracked with blazing embers, beneath her hood. She hissed, rows of yellowed teeth gnashing.
Iellieth shrieked as the sensation of frigid, slithering worms engulfed her skin. Chills ran up and down her spine as she shook the feeling off. She sprinted forward, shouting to the trees for aid. The Druidic chant poured from her lips as sparks flew around her. “Branches burn, leaves entangle, above roots’ walk, maim and mangle.”
Limbs shot toward the woman, striking at her arms and face. She pulled back harder against Marcon’s neck, breaking his skin. The champion gagged, trying desperately to wrench himself free.
Iellieth growled her chant again, the druidic energy flowing freely through her body. The incantation burned the back of her throat. Peridot fire smoldered behind her eyes. Roots slithered in the earth below, whipping out at the woman’s feet, entangling them. A sharp crack echoed through the copse as one of the roots snapped her knee to the side. The woman’s screams pierced the darkness. Her hood fell to her shoulders as she threw her red gaze up to the sky. Hair with the crumbling texture of ash slumped over her shoulders. Thick black burns had scarred their furious tendrils across her throat and chest. Moonlight simmered against her flaky gray skin. She clutched her scalp, wriggling beneath the incandescent glow.
Another branch caught around her throat, and she released Marcon, forced to focus on her struggle against the trees. The champion fell forward onto his knees, coughing and clutching his neck.
“Maim and mangle.” Iellieth’s voice clawed at the back of her throat. The forest quivered with energy that leapt from tree to tree, their spirits resolved to root out the intruder.
Branches wrapped around the woman’s wrists and pulled, further snaps echoing through the woods. The red eyes fixed on Iellieth and exploded. A rushing force caught her in the chest and threw her backward. Her spine crashed into a tree, and she fell to the ground.
A roar erupted all around her, drowning out all other sound. Had Marcon recovered? Or had the woman broken free? Iellieth dug her fingers into the earth, gasping for breath, unable to make her muscles comply. She had to finish off this creature of ash and shadow.
Crisp air streamed through her lungs. She gulped it down and sprang up from the wet forest floor.
Marcon drew his hand back. The woman’s nose was a crushed mass of burning coals across her face. Her jagged smile stretched wider, and blazing eyes looked from Marcon to Iellieth and back. “What an interesting twist,” she wheezed. Her head tilted sideways as her blazing eyes fixed on Iellieth. “Goodbye for now.” Her sizzling cackle filled the trees.
Iellieth clasped her hands over her ears at the piercing laughter. Black smoke coalesced around the woman. The wind in the woods lifted a shield around Iellieth, swirling through leaves as the dark being battered branches. With a final whoosh and faint cries of delight, the woman’s body melted to shadow, a dark silhouette flapping away against the twilight.
She vanished in the vast expanse of the sky, and Iellieth ran over to Marcon. He winced and swayed back, staring at the empty hand that had clutched the creature’s cloak. The other hand reached for the bloody gash across his neck. “Lady, I . . .” Marcon’s eyes rolled back, and one of his legs gave way. She leapt forward, catching his side as they both toppled to the ground.
“Oof.” Her thigh struck a root. She clutched his shoulders and gently laid him back. The laceration on his neck was eerily similar to the creature’s glowing-coal lips. Iellieth closed her eyes against the thought. “Elenai.” Her fingertips grazed the cut. Lavender sparks flickered over the wound, knitting his skin back together.
Marcon shivered and his eyes fluttered open, finding her face in the umbral dark of the woods. He opened his mouth to speak, but his body tensed at a crashing sound tearing through the trees. The champion shoved himself up, thrusting his torso between her and the approaching danger.
Quindythias’s lanky form burst through the trees, moonlight glinting off the curved daggers in each of his hands. He stopped short, breathing quickly, when he saw the two of them. His shoulders sagged for a moment. “There I was, sleeping when I heard you scream—wait.” He sheathed the daggers and ran forward, peering at Marcon’s neck. “What happened?”
Marcon’s jaw twitched in response. He turned away from both of them. Quindythias peered at Iellieth, waiting for an answer.
“A woman . . . made of ash, fire, and shadow attacked Marcon in the woods.” The stone line of his jaw jutted out beside her. “I-I don’t know what she was . . .”
“A revenant,” Marcon growled. “A vengeful spirit.”
“One returned from the grave,” Iellieth whispered. Rumors of such creatures had trickled across Caldara, ancient legends that originated in the Frostmaw Mountains. “But how—”
Marcon shook his head. “Not how. Who.”
New to the world of Azuria? Before the new novel’s release, make sure you’ve read Buried Heroes, book one in the Age of Azuria series!