C. L. Schneider
Indie Book Spotlight: Starlight Jewel (Gifts of the Auldtree Bk 1), by E. L. Lyons
Axly, the Starlight Company's premier seductress-thief and assassin, will do whatever it takes to keep her human brother hidden. The secrets of his origin could tear their world apart, and keeping them has driven her to lies and murder. Her people, the sprygan-human hybrids that live under the city of Minalav, aren't keen on allowing their most skilled asset to roam free. A job with a human offers a chance to get her brother out of danger, but it comes at a price. Divided loyalties, duty, romance, and the twisted hands of fate intertwine in this epic fantasy adventure.
Axly stood. “No. I don’t need an accomplice. I already have two of those.”
Cami chuckled and followed as she made her way to the girl. Some of the children and
instructors took notice of them, giving confused and nervous stares. The girl with the book, now hidden in the waistband of her pants, noticed their trajectory and set off at a run.
Axly pushed herself to a sprint and grabbed the girl’s hair, which was tied up with a leather band. The girl’s arm flew back and loosed a dagger from Axly’s sleeve, then sliced her hair off at the band. She took a few running steps, then turned to face her pursuer.
Axly looked down at the mousy brown bundle of hair in her hand, then at the girl. “So you know I’m faster. That’s smart enough of you. But you really think you can best me with my own
“Don’t know until I try,” the girl retorted.
“What’s that book about?”
The girl tilted her head but didn’t lower the blade. “Nothing that would interest a High Bird like
A woman’s voice chimed in from behind Axly. “It’s a book on the variations of hybrid anatomy.
She asked me to train her, but I already have enough students.”
Axly noted the girl’s aura, not bad for her age, but certainly nothing to brag about. “Give me the book or try to kill me. Those are your options. Pick quick.”
“What...? If I kill you, they’ll kill me. I just don’t want you to kill me. I’m defending myself,”
the girl said indignantly.
Axly chuckled. “Camille, you wouldn’t kill her if she killed me, would you?”
Camille was twirling a lock of her blonde hair absently as she shrugged. “No. I’d take her to
Tarley. Tarley’d kill her.”
“See there? If you killed me, you’d just have to give Cami here the slip before she got you
upstairs. The rest of these birds don’t care about me. Do you really think they’d kill you? The
people who actually know you and have never met me?”
The girl looked about nervously and tightened her grip on the blade, her knuckles going white. “I don’t want to kill anyone. I just want to train in medicine.”
Axly took a step forward and pulled a blade from her boot. “Train then. I didn’t need a book to
teach me anatomy. You’ll learn it faster with a blade. Cut me open and see for yourself. Or else
I’ll learn about yours. Compare your left lung to your right to see if the inside’s a reflection of
Axly lunged forward with the blade. Steel clattered on stone and Axly’s blade sunk in—to the
book, now held out like a shield in front of the girl.
The room was silent for a moment before Camille broke the silence with laughter and clapping.
“The little Apprentice is smart after all!”
Axly took the book from the small trembling hands and tossed it back to the instructor without
bothering to remove the knife. “Have Baj bring my knives back to my room. I’ll take the thief off your hands.” She would have been your best student. Fool of you to let her go.
The girl looked down at the ground as Axly led her out of the room. “I’m sor—”
“I don’t care. It’s a book. It’s not even a good book. If you’re going to steal a book, steal one
Axly led the girl up the stairs and down two halls to the library.
The librarian, Nishley, nodded to Axly, then bristled when she saw the girl, her eyes darting to
the ringless hand. “No Nameless in the library. These are Company books.”
“Noted,” Axly said as she pulled the girl in the rest of the way, not stopping ’til she got to the
shelf on hybrid anatomy and physiology. “Pick one.”
The Nameless girl shifted nervously, eyeing Nishley. “I’ll pass...”
Axly assessed the girl more carefully. A piney scented, Norgan-colored child with one barkskin
hand. Long sleeves and pants covered the rest of her, concealing how much barkskin she had.
Probably a lot by the smell of her.
“You’ll not pass. You’ll do as I tell you or I’ll cut out your eyes and sell them. I know a few
Ashites who think they’re worth more out of your head than in it. Now pick a book.”
“Because you want to learn. Now you’re going to.” The girl shook her head and Axly sighed,
looking to Camille. “Cami, can you go draw a bath in the cabochon and have Fria—well,
whoever’s making dresses now come up?” Camille tilted her head, then shrugged and left.
Axly continued once she was out of earshot. “I was younger than you when I got these two
stains. Do you know how I got them?” The girl shook her head. “I got them because I made a
decision. I decided to choose safety and obligation over freedom. I had the chance to be my own person, and instead I chose to become Tarley’s. This is your chance. Not to be your own
person—not yet—but to be mine instead of his.
“You decide now and there’s no going back. You can choose to live down there and eventually
die of dark rot, or you do as I say, everything I say, without question, and the next time I leave,
take you with me.”
“To somewhere where you can study whatever you want and see the sun whenever you please.”
The girl pursed her lips and looked back to the shelf. After a few moments of deliberation, she
slowly selected a book and pulled it to her chest.
“Good. Think up a name for yourself by morning.”
About the Author
E. L. Lyons is an author of adult, dark, epic fantasy. Lyons has a BS in psychology and is
now managed by cats.
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