TEASERS, TIDBITS, and TANGENTS

 

Here you will find excerpts for all three books in the Crown of Stones Trilogy as well as  character insights, deleted scenes, and some unedited teasers. Please note: some excerpts may contain spoilers for those who have not read the previous books.

Tidbit
 

Read the complete prologue of Magic-Borne, and discover how the  ancient Shinree created the Crown of Stones!

Tidbit
 

The following excerpt is the complete prologue of Magic-Price, the first installment in The Crown of Stones trilogy.

 Prologue

 

A’nalia placed the stones in a tight circle on the altar. There were nine, uncut and on the small side; celestite, sapphire, magnetite, ruby, spinel, diamond, topaz, amber, and obsidian. Touching each in turn, her aged fingers flowed across the jagged tops from one to the next. A pulse of color followed, making the air between the stones seem to blur and the hues to merge.

 

Glancing behind her, A’nalia regarded the eight hooded figures standing silently off to the side. Their consent was not required for her to continue. She was, after all, their equal. But choices of weight, decisions affecting the whole of the empire, were not meant for the shoulders of a single man or woman. And no greater choice had been made in the history of the Shinree as this one.

 

The eight nodded in approval, one after the other, so there would be no mistake. A’nalia returned the gesture. Her sandals shifted in the layer of silt on the cave floor as she turned back to face the crowd. The weight of the moment would lend a quiver to her voice. Yet, A’nalia made no attempt to calm her nerves. Let them assume age is the culprit, she thought. Better that than betray the true precipice in which their nation stood. Society had passed judgment enough on the Ruling House. She would have it no more.

 

A’nalia beckoned with her hands. “Come forward. All of you.”

 

The eyes on her flitted elsewhere, hands clenched, feet shifted.

 

A’nalia wasn’t surprised. Being chosen by the House was an honor, yet their hesitation for the ritual was understandable. Magic, blood, and souls would be taken. From this day, the future of the Shinree would be forever changed. For if it is not, it will continue to crumble under the influence of corruption and anarchy.

 

Such an end was unthinkable. The ability to channel magic was a gift of the gods. A responsibility bestowed at the beginning of time to the Shinree alone. Given in this holy place, A’nalia knew, as she glanced proudly about the waterfall-ringed room. Her eyes landed on the well in it center. Though what lived inside was not visible from her angle, A’nalia envisioned the auras that swam inside. Imagination was unnecessary for what dwelled within the cavern walls. Their glow seeped out from the gaps between the cascades. Watching it gave her strength, and a confident, determined smile emerged.

 

There could be no other course. The oracles have spoken. Fate has guided their visions.

 

And Death will guide my hand.

 

Waywardness among a people so superior would not be tolerated. No matter the cost. A’nalia hid her smirk as the young men and women lined up. Their obedience betrayed what she already knew. They had not the courage to defy her for long. She wondered if her fellow House Members were grieving over what was to come. Regardless, they would never show it. Nor would they flinch. They would commit their sons and daughters to the undertaking as promised. Still, she counted to ensure none had recanted. The number must be exact.

 

“Eighteen. Good. You are all here.”

 

Her gaze wandered over them again. Their faces, youthful and fresh, with bones as sharp as the stones they channeled. Their white eyes were wary, more from awe than fright. Most had never traveled so far outside the city. Theirs was a generation with little care for tradition. It was a shortcoming that left them ignorant of the impending ritual’s outcome. They were unaware that only one would leave unscathed. Nine would never leave at all.

 

A’nalia positioned them around the altar. “Each of you who share familial blood will place one hand on the stone directly in front of you and your sibling.”

 

Her order was followed. At contact, color pulsed beneath their fingers.

 

“You will pick up the stone together and move it to the center of the altar. Place them as I have; in a circular formation. Channel as you normally would, a small measure of the stone’s power. But do not remove your hand. No matter what you feel. Is that clear?” There were cautious nods all around. “You may begin.”

 

A’nalia peered over once more at her colleagues. Their white eyes had darkened, adopting the color of the stone chosen to represent each of their families. She felt their magic; ripe and resonating with intent. Their chant was a low, melodic sound. It fled their lips like a chorus of distant thunder. Their level of skill made traditional vocal casting unnecessary. Yet she appreciated their caution. In this, there could be no mistakes.

 

Listening to the words of the spell fill the cave, A’nalia offered a silent prayer for Fate’s blessing. She hoped that, centuries later, this moment would be seen as the turning point in Shinree history. That rupturing their gifts, dividing the people and their magic at the very core, would put the power back where it belonged. If it did, she, and the other first families would be hailed as heroes. If it failed, there would never be a greater tragedy.

 

A’nalia drew the dagger from the folds of her robe. The stone-laden hilt of the Nor-Taali glistened and pulsed in her grip. Power swept into her and she breathed, deep and grateful; deeper, as the vibrations pierced her veins.

 

Eyes radiant, saturated with power and conviction, A’nalia made her way around the circle of eighteen. All of them frozen by the spell, her presence was no longer noticed as she halted briefly at every other one. Lingering only to place blade to throat and slide it across. She tried not to pause longer upon reaching her own sons. They were close, only a year apart in age. The pain would be great for the one who lived. But he was a Reth. He would survive.

 

Cutting him open, A’nalia moved onto the next. Her quick work splattered blood on the stones. Their appetite whet, the spell begged for more, drawing and siphoning until crimson rolled like mud down the snared, trembling bodies. The magic they channeled fled with it, slipping over arms, hands, and fingertips.

 

Blood and magic slithered into the circle. It seeped between the stones. Gaps filled. Colors flowed and ran, rolling like liquid. The sides of the stones shifted and blurred. Solidity lost, their edges melted one into the other. As they fused, power built within the glistening cavern walls, tensing the air, tightening and warping it.

 

One after another, the exsanguinated bodies fell. The auras they shed secreted deep, booming vibrations. Its pulse escalated painfully with each kill.

 

A’nalia slew the last one. She beamed with pride and satisfaction at what their sacrifice had created. The auras had united, forming a circlet that was seamless and whole, bursting with more magical power than any artifact the house had spelled before. For a moment, she wished the Shinree were governed as other realms, by a single sovereign leader. Because surely, what they had made here today, was a crown fit for a King.

Teaser

 

The following excerpts are from the draft of Magic-Borne, the  final book in The Crown of Stones Trilogy.

 *Teasers may not be final copy.

Teaser 1

 

Detecting a sudden increase in heat, I swung right, lunged left, and met burning steel both times. Stepping back, I blocked with a hard parry and sent one opponent’s arm wide. Fire trailed behind the flailing limb like sparks in a dark room. Making use of the brief opening, I snuck in a kick to his flaming chest. Heat breached the sole of my boot like it was parchment. Flames coiled up, singing my breeches. I cursed at the pain as I evaded the second man’s wild swing. I met his next, slid it away wide, and ripped my blade across the front of his thighs. Blood poured from the wound. Fire splashed like water as he fell.

Magic-Borne Teaser 2

 

Setting sights on the closest knot of eldring, I veered off in their direction. As I fought my way through, I reached in. The crown’s auras surfaced and my exertion was forgotten. My body moved on instinct as the nine auras climbed to override all else. They wanted to climb higher. They wanted to scale my defenses and rip them down. Recognizing my circumstances, feeding off my aggression and the heat of battle, the crown begged me to cast, to obliterate. The hot tingle of my scars reminded me how easily it could be done. It reminded me I was more now.

 

Temptation and curiosity butted in, asking: how much more?

 

It was a question I couldn’t afford to answer. Not here, channeling the Crown of Stones amid another desperate battle. I was too close to repeating history. Only it wasn’t a Queen’s life on the line this time, it was a King’s.

 

But I’m smarter now, more disciplined. I know what to expect.

 

It’ll be different this time.

 

Tangent
 
Character Insight

The scene below was cut from the final edits of Magic-Scars. This unused text is a short flashback to Ian's childhood in Kabri. It bears light on his last moments before he fled the city.  

I didn’t need to get any closer. I didn’t need to check; the dead had a sense of quiet about them the living just couldn’t manage. 

 

She taught me that.

 

Still, I’d watched her all morning from the doorway, standing, and then sitting when my legs got tired.  I watched her all day and all night to be sure. 

 

I watched because I didn’t want to believe it.      

 

She’d rarely been warm or affectionate. She’d never been like the Rellan mothers. But she’d been my mother.  

 

I didn’t mean to kill her.

 

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I should have tried harder. I should have studied longer…just like you said.” My eyes going blurry, I wiped at them. I clenched my fists—clenched my whole body—holding the tears back. “I’ll learn to control it.  You’ll see.”

 

I settled the pack on my shoulder. There wasn’t a lot in it. I took what money we had, some clothes and food, her book of sketches, and an old dagger that belonged to our ancestors. The blade was ceremonial, a keepsake. It wasn’t intended to draw blood so I took a knife to protect myself and the bag of stones she used for healing. I had my own I practiced with. But for some reason, I wanted hers.

 

I went over to the bed. Bending down, I kissed her forehead. I couldn’t remember when the last time was I kissed my mother goodbye, and I wished I could. Because I suddenly couldn’t remember what her skin felt like before it was so cold. 

Tangent
 
Character Insight

The following scene from Magic-Scars is a flashback that takes you back to Ian's tumultous years after the war, when he was first struggling to break his addiction to magic. 

Sweat soaked the cot beneath me. I was trembling, blurry-eyed. Pain hit my stomach and I doubled over, grabbing the bars of the cage.

With a scream, I stood and rattled them. I hated the bars. I hated the man that put them around me-that actually listened when I told him to lock me up. I hated how he sat, all comfortable and self-righteous in his chair by the fire.

 

“Let me out,” I said.

 

He didn’t even glance up from the book in his hand.

 

I growled his name, “Broc. I’m fine. Let me out.”

 

Still, he didn’t look at me. He sat and read, stretching out his legs and stroking thoughtful fingers over the long point of white beard dangling off his chin. It was a rare sight on one of us. Trees grow faster than Shinree grow beards, so I knew it had taken Broc years to cultivate. Even if it wasn’t filled in enough to complete hide the dimple on his chin, it made him look a bit lordly. It was a testament to the man’s strength of character and impossible amount of patience. And if he came close enough, I could grab it and yank his head into the bars.

 

“Let me out,” I said again. “I don’t even feel like casting. I think I’m over it.”

 

“You won’t ever be over it,” he said quietly.

 

“Don’t you think I know that?” I shouted. Wrestling with my anger, I tried again. “Look, I’m okay. I was wrong. I don’t need to be locked up. I can—”

Broc snapped his book shut. “This is the third time in the last three months you’ve come to me. The first was the day you left Kabri, after Aylagar’s funeral. You showed up drunk and left the same way a day or two later. You claimed you were fine then too, rambling on, all puffed-up and cocksure about how you were going off to hunt bounties or sell your sword to the highest bidder…or some brash, foolhardy crap like that. The second time, you crawled in sick and beat to hell. I healed you, cleaned you up. You went a whole week without casting and swore up and down you could handle it. You were shaking when you left, so I can’t imagine you lasted too long.”

 

Standing, Broc tossed his book on his chair and walked up to the bars. There was a speck of sympathy in his white eyes, but mostly he looked fed up. “This time you came in sober. Your head was clear. You bought the materials and built this cate in my barn. Then you told me to lock you in it and not let you out until you could hold a fucking stone in your hand and not give a shit—your exact words, I believe.” Slipping a hand in his trouser pocket, he pulled out a small, blue stone. It sat in the middle of his palm; edges course, color dull. He called to it and the stone pulsed. “Well? Go ahead. Take it. Hold it. See if you still give a shit.”

 

I did, very much.

 

Swallowing, I gripped the bars harder. “Put it away.”

 

Tidbit

 

The following excerpts

 are from Book 2,

Magic-Scars.

 

Magic-Scars Excerpt 1

 

 

I eyed the door. Instinct told me to hold off. I tried to listen. I crouched among a group of snow covered barrels and waited to see if a sentry was on watch.

 

It took less than a minute to know waiting wasn’t on my list of favorite things. I was pretty confident I didn’t like eerie silences either, as the longer the quiet stretched, the more it unnerved me. Swiftly, uneasiness became panic, then dread.

 

With each scrape of the swinging lantern and flap of the sail, the calm ate at me.

 

It ate until I was hollow. Until that same nagging notion (the one I had just started to ignore) crept back. It was a noiseless, internal clamor. An urge that gouged into what was left of me, chiseling pieces off, scooping them out even as it reminded me that I’d lost the very thing that once filled the hole.

 

Something was missing. It’s more than that, I realized.

 

It’s someone.

 

He was out there, past the night and the snow. He was in trouble. He was suffering and it was my fault. Or was it? I had no memories to match my guilt. No face or name to prompt such urgency. All I had was intuition ringing like a claxon in my head telling me to go, to find him.

Magic-Scars Excerpt 2

 

 

Wrapping an arm around my waist, I groaned as the pain struck again. This one was stronger than the rest, and I folded, as waves of wrenching hot stabs danced through my gut.

Their touch was deep and long and rolling, like skeins of steel goring through me—so much, I had to lift my shirt to be sure nothing was there. But something was.

 

With a cry, I scrambled back.

 

“Let me look.” Reaching out, she lifted my shirt and gaped at the thick, black veins of magic squirming across my stomach. Wriggling, thrashing like a nest of snakes; with each move energy pulsed through me, too hard and fast to be anything close to enjoyable.

 

The lines coiled tighter. A thumping pain struck my head. Shaking, my insides constricting, a rapid, fierce hunger overcame me: I wanted to cast. There was so much building in me. I had to let it out.

Prologue

 

 

Bodies pressed in on me on all sides. More were piled up beneath my feet. The grass, gorged with assorted fluids and trampled remains, squished under my boots as I carved open my opponent’s chest, pushed him aside, and moved onto the next.

There was always a next. The Langorians were a swarm…an inexhaustible, savage, mindless swarm. And we had no choice but to become like them to survive. To become animals, going at each other, mechanically pushing against the tide, battering whatever stood in our way with whatever we had; clubs, axes, swords, knives—our bruised, bleeding bare hands. Fighting for days, months, years, striving to hold out against an enemy that knew nothing of mercy, an enemy stronger, and far more brutal than us, we’d become something less than we were.

And we were still losing.

I grabbed the Queen’s arm and steered her out of the fray. “We can’t take much more of this.” Needing to be heard, I drew her close. “We should pull back.”

“Pull back?” Queen Aylagar Arcana yanked herself free. She gave me a wild, defiant look. Full of passion and reckless resolve, it made her exotic features come alive. “My order stands. We press on, Troy. As always.”

 I shook my head. “Our numbers are dwindling too fast. We can’t win this.”

“We can and we will.” Aylagar raised a hand. She touched my face, and the sound of metal clashing and men screaming seemed to fade away. Brushing back the blood-splattered white strands that had come loose from my braid, she ran a finger down the strong line of my jaw. “Trust me, Love. The Langorians will not have Rella.”

“How can you still believe that?”

“Because I must. Because I have faith.”

“Ayla…” I hesitated. But it had to be said. “I saw the messenger arrive from Kabri. I know he carried orders from the King. You can’t keep ignoring them.”

She dropped her hand and backed up. “My husband is a fool. I don’t care how many messengers he dispatches from his throne, he is not out here. The blood of these men bathes my skin, not his. This is my war, Troy. Mine!” she cried. “We fight. We die. We go on until we prevail—by my command. I will not surrender. That is the way of it. That is the only way.” 

My throat went dry at the fire in her. The way she stood, outlined by the backdrop of chaos, flanked by the crackling flames that consumed our camp, with sweat beading on her dark skin and battle-lust glazing her stare, I wanted to pull her into my arms. I wanted to go back to this morning, on the furs of her tent, when Aylagar’s flawless ebony skin was on me. Where status and race didn’t matter and death felt far away. Mostly, I wanted to believe her as I had so many times, that every battle brought us closer to victory. That persistence was our greatest strength, and it would carry us through.

But this was it. King Draken of Langor was throwing everything he had at us, making one final push to wipe us all out. To once and for all lay claim to the land his forefathers had sought, and failed, to conquer.

Surrendering was unacceptable; she was right in that. Yet, Aylagar had lost her way. Somewhere along the line, the outcome had stopped mattering to her as much as the fight, and my affection, my awe of her, had blinded me for far too long.

“Give me the order,” I demanded. “Let me shift the odds.”

Her dismissal was quick. “No.”

“We can’t keep going like this, sword for sword, day after day, until there’s none of us left. Let me cast hell down on these black-hearted bastards.”

“I have given you my answer. And it is no different than the last hundred times.”

I moved closer. “You know what I can do. My magic can give us an advantage the Langorians can’t match. We can stop this fucking, never-ending war, Ayla. We can stop it together, with steel and magic. If you’ll just—”

“You are Shinree,” she hissed. “Your kind are meant to do as they are told. Yet, after six years in the ranks you still push for something that I will never bend to.”

“Then you’re as big a fool as the King.”

Her hand, that only a moment ago had caressed me, struck my face. “My husband forced your service in this army upon us both. And from day one, when you stood in my tent, a young man, eager to please, drooling with the urge to cast, I made it plain that this conflict would not be solved with magic. It’s dishonorable. I don’t trust it. I forbid it. You are my best soldier, Troy. I have given you free reign in my bed, but not out here. Not in battle. Ever. Is that clear?”

Staring at her, my heart went cold. “I don’t think I can do this anymore. Fighting as half a man. Ashamed of what I am because you don’t approve. I’m not just a soldier.” I held up the sword in my hand. I called to the stones embedded in the leather-wrapped handle and they began to glow. Their vibrations pressed in through my skin, down into my veins, and the uncertainty washed away. “I’m a Shinree soldier.”

“Put that magic away,” she scolded. “Do you want to kill us all?”

“I can control it.”

“Can you?” Her eyes were harsh. “Can you promise that when your spell steals the strength it needs to be born, that it won’t steal from my men? That it won’t steal from me? Your magic is a disease, Ian. Your need for it, your addiction, clouds your judgment. It threatens us all and undermines my orders.”

“Your orders contradict my duty to keep Rella safe. I’ve tried to pretend they didn’t. I’ve tried to be what you wanted. But I can’t. I’m Shinree, Ayla. I am magic. And if you don’t untie my hands, we will all die here today.” 

Stunned, Aylagar gaped at me. For a moment, there was a rare vulnerability in her eyes, a kind of resigned sadness. Then she raised her sword, turned, and re-joined the battle. She left me standing alone on the rim of the conflict, watching with a crushing sense of finality as the men I’d fought beside for years were being slaughtered.

I can save them, I thought, though they wouldn’t do the same for me. A magic user, granted exemption from the slavery that kept my kind in check; I was tolerated at best. Lately, though, I’d seen it in their eyes, next to the pain, the hunger, and exhaustion. They no longer hated me because I might use magic and bring them harm. They hated me for not using it, for continuing to let them die.

Frustration pushed a scream from my lungs. A pang of rage and resentment sped through me. I pulled my second sword, dove into the mayhem, and started swinging. I sliced through bodies one after the other, trying to lose myself in the rhythm. I pressed forward, deeper into the madness; wrath blazing in my white eyes as I strived for an answer to the conflict burning inside me.

My magic knew nothing of sides. My spells fed without discrimination. They were selfish, heartless. They didn’t care who was right or wrong, who was strong or weak. To create themselves they would drain friend as easily as foe.

In the villages they called me a champion, but I wasn’t. I was a weapon.

Somehow, I’d forgotten that.

I looked around me, at the dogged Rellan soldiers fighting for their realm, at the spirited Arullan warriors of Aylagar’s homeland, and I made my decision.

I sent the magic back into the stones on my sword. Not here, I thought. The cost is too great. I had to get out in the open. Going against Aylagar’s wishes was bad enough. I couldn’t risk catching her army in the crossfire.  

Spying an opening, I moved to make my way off the field, and the ground began to shake. In seconds, it was undulating with such force that none of us could stand.

It was inconvenient, but it was no surprise. Mirra’kelan was a fidgety continent that didn’t stand still for long. And having fought for years in the worst of it (the disputed, quake-plagued region between Rella and Langor) we understood the land would quiver when it pleased. After, we’d all get up and resume the battle.

But today, something was different. The trembling wasn’t stopping. The ground wasn’t just cracking. It was rupturing. Not in slender, minute fractures as in times past, but in long jagged canyons that ripped across the field, dissecting the valley. In deep chasms that opened without warning, swallowing fifteen men at a time and spewing plumes of ancient dust high into the air. Hillsides were sliding away. Overhanging cliffs broke off and tumbled down. The entire landscape was being violently rearranged, as I lay watching, prone on the heaving, blood-soaked ground.

Coughing out the debris in my lungs, as panic broke out on both sides, I thought, I should get up.

I still had a sword in each hand. Enemies were all around me.

 

I should attack, now, while the ground is still shaking. Before they recover.

But as the land continued to buckle and roll, my attention shifted away from the quake and the battle, to the crooked crevice opening up alongside me, and the object buried within it.

Halfway down one wall, partially obscured by a layer of dirt, was a curved row of fused colored stones. Glowing softly in an array of shades, the stones—sapphire, spinel, diamond, ruby, obsidian—were pulsing, emanating a vibration that was definitely magic. Yet, its tone was unfamiliar. It was pungent. So sweet and alluring, I couldn’t look away.

Sliding a sword into the sheath on my back, I scooted closer. The edge of the rift crumbled some at my weight, but I didn’t waver. Buried in this very spot was the once sprawling empire of my Shinree ancestors, a fallen realm, lost and unseen by the world for over five hundred years. Whatever artifact the quake had uncovered was worth the risk.

 

I reached inside the hole. My fingers brushed the rounded lip, and an immediate intense current of energy licked my skin. It ran through me, and I let out a yelp. Not from pain, though. The jolt was one of pure pleasure. It was raw and acute, and I quickly wrapped my entire hand around the thing and held on.

 

Nine distinct, magical vibrations were alive inside it. I could feel them all, swirling and overlapping. Each had their own well of energy, but together they formed a compilation of searing, pulsing power that was vast beyond any magic I had ever experienced before. It was massive, concentrated.      

 

Enthralled, I abandoned my other sword and started digging. Loosening the soil, I tugged on the artifact. It didn’t take long for the dirt wall to collapse and my prize to come free. As I lifted it out of the hole, I shook it clean.

 

Fashioned like a King’s crown, the circlet was pure perfection.

The others, the soldiers around me, wouldn’t see it that way. They couldn’t feel its magic, couldn’t taste it. They had no idea the pleasure it could offer. Yet, simply looking at the stone crown opened a familiar sinking, wrenching pit of need in my gut.

Sweat beaded then poured off my skin. Tremors erupted deep inside me, rivaling those that split the valley floor. I was suddenly so empty, so hungry.

“Troy!”

I heard my name, but I didn’t turn. It was Aylagar. I didn’t want her to see me like this.

“Troy!” she shouted again.

The urgency in her voice tore at me. Aylagar was Queen. She was my commander and my lover. The ground had settled all across the field. Weary bodies were rising up, raising their weapons to resume the killing. She could be in trouble.

 

But as I stared at the ring of vibrating, colored stones in my grip, I knew what I had. And I realized I had no choice but to betray her.

 

The answer is here. It’s in my hand…in this crown of stones.

 

It’s always been in me.  She was just too headstrong to see it.

 

Once more, Aylagar called me. This time, I pulled my eyes away and found her.

She was close and fighting her way closer. Trails of blood streaked her skin and clothes. But from the way she was moving, none of it was hers.

I can’t let this go on. Good men are dying for her stubbornness.

I have to make her understand, convince her that I can end this. Make her see how we’re fighting on borrowed time. That if it wasn’t for me we would have been dead a long time ago.

She’ll be furious, I thought. If I admitted that my spells had been sustaining the men, bolstering their endurance, tightening their aim and heightening their senses—so long they had no idea their own limits anymore. She would never forgive me.

But there are so few of us left now. She has to realize that magic is the only way.

Aylagar spun to block an attack from the rear. Pushing the man away, she caught sight of me. She gave me a brief smile. Her eyes were fierce and confident. For just a moment, I felt better.

Then a sword point burst through her left shoulder. Another pierced her chest. Aylagar went down and anguish consumed the last of my doubt. Pain obliterated the hope she’d given me. Consequence and reason bowed in the face of so much fury.

As I looked down at the stone crown in my hand, I had one coherent, desperate thought. This ends now.

Tidbit

 

The following 

excerpt is from Magic-Price

 

Turning to the stones at my wrist, and gathering the obsidian inside me, in one breath I wished for strength in my blade, the stamina to wield it, and the speed to avoid my enemy’s attacks. In the next, I cast.

 

Magic flew swiftly out of me. Pleasure swept in just as fast. As men started dying in a wide circle around me, power rippled across the sword in my hand. It sped down through the muscles in my arms and legs, and my sight came back in time to see the soldiers at the outer reach of my spell go down. Mounted, as their life drained away, their massive warhorses succumbed as well. The foam of exhaustion already bubbling from their mouths, the frantic animals let out terrible, desolate wails as their tall, muscular bodies went limp and slammed hard to the ground.

 

One after the other—five, ten, fifteen of the great beasts fell, trapping the dead and the living beneath them and sending a heavy spray of dust into the already murky air.

 

It was a dramatic sight that brought an instant hush over the battle. Soldiers on both sides disengaged and turned to stare through the haze at the staggeringly wide circle of Langorian bodies surrounding me. Silent but for their heavy breaths, what was left of the enemy held position, but they didn’t advance. They knew me. They had just watched the hunger of my spell drastically reduce their numbers in mere moments, and they were afraid of what might come next.

 

The Rellans knew me, too. I watched their faces carefully, waiting for them to cower. And it moved me greatly to see that they were far from afraid. To the contrary, it was clear; in me they saw a chance for something other than defeat. They saw hope.

 

A rousing cheer rang through the Rellan ranks and they rushed forward.

 

The Langorians met their charge. The two sides ran straight into each other and once more, screams and the sounds of metal filled the night.

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