Wren’s world has been ravaged by terrible storms for centuries. Only the Stormwardens, powerful elementals who bend water and wind to their will, are able to hold back the worst of the devastation. Riding on the wings of sea griffins, the Stormwardens soar amidst the clouds and battle the raging elements.
A violent storm killed Wren’s parents when she was only six summers old. A decade later, as she tends to her flock on the harsh mountains, Wren sees black clouds gathering. It’s the third storm of the season, and rumors are stirring that with so few Stormwardens left, the destruction of their lands is imminent.
Then a young griffin crashes through the roof of her hut, and sends Wren on an adventure that changes everything.
Our weekly roundup of our projects and lives (29th Oct to 4th Nov).
Redrafting word count:
Weekly total: 35,050
Book total: Ugh, don’t look at me!
This week I worked on the first 30,000 words of Horkso Hustle. Sounds great, right? Hmmm, not so much. You see, I gave that section of the book to Kel at the beginning of the week and she pointed out something that I had missed. Apparently, I have an overwhelming desire to blow shit up at the end of each scene. I think it’s fun, she thinks it’s exhausting.
Needless to say, I’ve spent all week adding in some fun stuff to space out the explosions. It’s made the book better, but blown out my timeline. I had set myself the deadline of publishing Horkso on December 3rd for no other reason than ‘why not?’. The past week and next two weeks of rewriting doesn’t change that deadline, but it certainly ramps up my anxiety considering all the new work I have to do.
Anxiety is an old friend of mine, and she’s currently cosying herself up nicely on my shoulder to watch and comment on everything I do. She’s a bitch, in truth, but she’s also a teacher. She’s teaching me that when she gets really loud, that’s when I need to ignore her and do the work. And wow, is she noisy. She doesn’t like that I’m writing instead of watching Netflix. She doesn’t like that I’m not running to the first packet of biscuits that I can find. She doesn’t like that despite being tired from night shift, and not having had a break since finishing my degree, and having a family to take care of plus a hundred other excuses available at my fingertips, I’m still working towards my December 3rd goal.
I don’t think she’ll ever shut up, but I don’t think that matters, either.
First draft word count:
Weekly total: 10,352
Book total: 14,945
It’s been a struggle. Not only because I really don’t enjoy first drafts (redrafts are my one true love), but because I’ve had a wretched cold for the entire week. It’s been bad enough to haul me away from the laptop for three days running. I’ve even turned to the dreaded senega and ammonia cough syrup. Anyone had that before? The core ingredients include ammonium bicarbonate and camphor (the stuff they put in mothballs). I’ve been quaffing that syrup so much that I feel like I can cough and light a candle with the fumes.
I only started coming out of the cold-induced haze on Sunday, which is why my word count improved significantly that day. Hoping for a better week ahead, because I’m really happy with the story so far.
For centuries, the deadlands have separated the kingdoms of Roldaer and Amas, enforcing an uneasy truce. But the deadlands hold their own secrets.
Danil is a deadlands scavenger, his days spent scouring a barren land for ancient battlefield relics and mage-crystals. When the brutal magi of Roldaer take over his village, Danil becomes the key to unleashing a powerful enemy set on plunging both kingdoms into war.
Desperate and on the run, he finds unexpected aid from the Amasian shapeshifters. Among them is Hafryn, an irreverent shifter who fights the magi with sword, tooth and claw. But safety with the shifters cannot last. As the magi set their plans into motion, Danil will have to embark on a terrifying mission to a broken citadel. Failure to stop the magi may cost him far more than his life, and Danil discovers that courage and determination may not be enough…
Messenger: Book One of the Shifter War is available from Amazon now.
As the first ever human custodian, Danil is sworn to protect the strange new magic threading across the deadlands. But the armies of Roldaer are stirring, and when an assassin nearly takes his life, Danil sets out to win the aid of the Amasian High Council
With Hafryn by his side, Danil discovers that allies are rarely what they seem. Intrigue and betrayal haunt their steps, and soon Danil and Hafryn must use all their wits to stay alive. Meanwhile, a fearsome magic that has not been unleashed since the blackest days of the Great War is reawakened.
Using such magic could see Danil save the deadlands, or destroy it.
Visioner: Book Two of the Shifter War is available from Amazon now.
War is dawning and not even Danil’s growing abilities can stop a powerful dread lord from taking revenge.
Finding themselves deep within enemy territory, Danil and Hafryn soon discover a greater destiny awaits them – one that has its roots in the Great War. With unexpected new companions, they must journey across Roldaer to halt the spread of a terrible curse.
But the dread lord Kaul has plans to ensnare Danil and Hafryn. In the midst of a land being destroyed by those meant to rule it, Danil must use all of his wits to keep them safe. If he fails, he stands to lose not only Kailon and Amas…but also the wolf shifter he loves.
Destroyer: Book Three of the Shifter War is available from Amazon now.
We acknowledge the Bindal and Wulgurukaba people upon whose Country these books were written.
Destroyer is out!
To say that we’re a wee bit puffed and chuffed is an understatement. Destroyer completes the Shifter War trilogy, along with Danil and Hafryn’s story. They go through a lot in this book, but we think their struggles are worth it in the end 🙂
We figured you’d like to have a preview of the first chapter, so here it is!
Shouts and the clash of steel rang out across the valley.
Danil hunkered amidst the towering grasses and wildflowers, moving at a cautious trot as shifters fanned out and followed. The Roldaerian border lay just beyond a gurgling stream, where a worn path meandered its way through the hills east to the village of Scara.
The fighting had to be a mile inland at least.
Danil glanced at Hafryn, noting the thin, worried line of his mouth as they sloshed through the chilly water. No Amasian shifters were supposed to be patrolling the area—not since the arrival of the Roldaerian battalion a week ago. Three hundred of King Liam’s soldiers, together with as many as ten magi, were camped now at Scara. It was clear they were waiting for the Roldaerian army to leave the royal city of Aqila. Danil’s only solace was that the Amasian shapeshifters were likewise gathering in Kailon to stop the Roldaerian invasion.
But that didn’t explain the nearby skirmish.
Beyond the softly rolling hill, the sound of fighting grew thin.
From the corner of his eye, Danil spied Blutark mutter a few soft words to awaken the glyphs lining his quiver of arrows. Soft light emanated from the large man’s bow as he pushed through a dense line of purple milkweed. The flowers shivered as Elania slinked beneath them in her snow leopard Trueform, her spotted coat blending with the dappled sunlight and damp loam. Ahead, a startled flock of wrens took flight when Sonnen neared the hill. He threw the birds a disgruntled look, golden eyes flashing.
The party squatted low and waited.
Hafryn tilted his head to listen. “Fighting’s over,” he muttered. He pointed at a lone pine tree on a nearby hill. “That way.”
They trekked along the shoulder of a hill and scarcely entered the shallow gully below before Danil spied crushed vegetation.
A horse lay slaughtered in the tall grass, arrows bristling in its side. A man lay sprawled facedown beside it. Moving cautiously forward, Danil spied more bodies, all vacant-eyed and still. The ground about them was churned up from the fight, with broken arrow shafts and abandoned swords in the dirt.
Hafryn gripped Danil’s shoulder. “Ambushed,” he whispered, pointing a series of spikes half-buried along the gully. Another dead horse lay skewered in the trap.
“Watch your steps,” Sonnen muttered as he navigated past a live snare. A waxy green substance covered the spiked teeth.
Blutark fired a bolt into the grass, setting off another snare of sharpened pikes.
They moved cautiously as they examined the fight. Elania nosed out of the undergrowth to sniff out the area beyond the dead animal. The air shimmered as she transformed. “Over here,” she called out, squatting beyond view.
Sonnen strode toward her, gaze moving about warily.
Danil reached them and suddenly slowed at the sight of a dead Roldaerian soldier lying prone in the clover. The soldier’s red tabard was blackened, his skin blistered and charred. The surrounding grasses were scorched as if struck by lightning.
“A mage curse,” Elania murmured, grimacing.
Danil’s brows drew together. “An accident, perhaps?” He gazed back toward the ambushed party. “Maybe the soldier was caught by a blast meant for those poor folk?”
Hafryn crouched beside the felled man, plucking a tuft of blackened moss from the soil. “I don’t think so. Likely the spell was retaliation from someone in the attacked party.”
Danil gaped. “Roldaerian soldiers ambushed a mage?”
“Appears so,” Hafryn said, frowning. He used a stick to pull loose the soldier’s pouch, where a handful of Roldaerian silvers and playing dice fell out. Finding nothing of note, he added, “We should search the area more thoroughly.”
Sonnen nodded. “No lingering. We might be miles from Scara, but we could find ourselves hip-deep in Roldaerian soldiers with little warning.”
Taking that to heart, Danil helped to search the hill. Disquiet settled in his bones as he counted twelve bodies plus horses. Judging from the barrage of arrows, the initial attack had been thorough and brutal. Only four had survived the first wave, only to be cut down by steel.
Blutark crouched over a patch of scuffed earth and broken milkweed. “Looks like two were taken prisoner.” He traced dark blood in the soil. “One’s injured.”
“Headed for Scara, do you think?” Sonnen asked.
Scrutinizing the surrounding hills, Blutark muttered, “Aye.”
Sonnen cursed softly.
Kneeling beside a dead woman, Danil took in the careworn state of her clothes and the dirt under her nails. A glint of metal caught his eye, and he pulled a dagger from its sheath at her side. “Hafryn, take a look at this.”
The wolf shifter trotted over and took the blade. “High grade Roldaerian steel,” he murmured, turning the dagger about. “Well cared for, too. Typical of the Magi Guard.”
Blutark looked skyward, gaining his bearings. “This close to Kailon, I’d say they planned to harvest kiandrite for themselves.”
“We’d have never let them past the border,” Elania growled.
It hardly surprised Danil that a mage had sought to get ahead of his cohorts. The mage caste of Roldaer needed kiandrite crystals to fuel their curses and spells. Having long since decimated the crystals in their own land, the magi had turned their insatiable hunger to Kailon and Amas.
Movement at the base of the hill caught Danil’s eye. A ghostly, blonde-haired woman in battle armor stepped out of the towering grasses and stared back at him. Fine symbols and scrollwork adorned the woman’s breastplate, her leg and arm bracers similarly inscribed with strange letterings. Sigils likewise painted her cheekbones and forehead. In one fist, she held a battle-axe with a kiandrite crystal embedded in the hilt.
No one else in the clearing noticed her.
The skin on Danil’s arms pebbled. A ghost…
As if knowing she had his attention, the ghostly woman turned and disappeared back into the swaying wildflowers.
Rising, Danil gripped his dagger and followed.
“Where are you going, fala?” Hafryn called out, shading his eyes from the sun.
“I’m not sure.”
The ghost waited as Danil shoved through a thicket of briars that tangled about his legs and cloak and pulled vengefully at his hair.
Danil stumbled to a halt.
A young woman lay sprawled deep in the grasses, so badly burned and bloodied that Danil knew she must surely be dead. A Roldaerian arrow sat lodged in her chest, its red fletching bristling in the breeze above her brown travel robes. She was blond and freckled, her face blackened and raw as if someone had mercilessly struck her with a fire curse.
The ghost stood over her, expression somber.
Cold rushed through Danil. Even with his unique abilities, he’d never seen a ghost before. He resisted the urge to make a warding sign, instead whispering, “May you find peace with the ancestors.”
The ghost raised her gloved fist, light seeping from between her clenched fingers.
On the ground, the burned woman suddenly gasped, her back arching in a rictus of pain. She gave a wretched, rasping gurgle.
Danil fell back with a startled curse.
The ghost dissipated like smoke.
“Fala?” Hafryn pushed through the wildflowers and stuttered to a halt at the sight of the injured woman. “Merciful gods—she lives?”
Danil managed a nod. His gaze flicked over the surrounding hills, where a mournful breeze made the grasses pitch and roll in waves. The ghost was nowhere to be seen.
Hafryn ran a quick gaze over the young woman’s injuries and swore. “Damned horse must have thrown her free of the fighting.” He turned and called out for others to join them.
Wading through the grass, Sonnen paused at the sight of the woman, a low rumble in his chest. “Elania, if you would lend your skills,” he asked.
Elania quickly knelt, grimacing as she studied the fletching wound and terrible burns. Blood appeared dark and thick as it dripped onto the soil. “The bolt has her heart.” Her hands weaved a glyph above the injured woman, only for it to drift apart like gossamer.
Danil threw Elania a dismayed look. “Can’t you help her?”
“There are limits to what can be healed, Danil, even with my talents.” Elania’s brow furrowed as she studied the burns. “Truly, it’s a wonder she lives at all.”
Danil thought of the woman’s ghost and wondered how it had achieved such a feat.
“Is she a mage?” Sonnen asked.
They all looked to Danil.
Shifting his vision, Danil saw a waning iridescent light in the woman’s belly that indicated she’d ingested the kiandrite tincture the Roldaerian magi used to power their spells. His chest tightened.
“Mage it is, then,” Hafryn muttered, reading Danil’s expression.
A glyph formed about Blutark’s fingers, dark with animosity. “Is she still dangerous?”
“Not this close to death,” Elania murmured, sweeping back the woman’s blonde hair. The charred, weeping side of her face made her features unrecognizable. “She’s barely holding on.”
Danil glanced about the surrounding hills, wondering why the ghost had gone to such effort if it was all for nothing.
“Let’s get her out of the brambles,” Hafryn said with a sigh. “Gently, now.”
They carefully lifted the mage out of the tangling undergrowth, setting her onto a cloak in the soft grass at the base of the hill.
Blutark folded his arms, eyeing the discolored tinge to the woman’s mouth. “She won’t survive the journey to Kailon.”
Sonnen rumbled. “Elania, if you cannot save her, may you extend her life for a time? There are questions this Roldaerian must answer.”
“Not without causing more suffering,” Elania said, mouth thinning. “I can only dull her senses in the hopes that her waking up won’t be in agony.”
Sonnen nodded, flames showing in his golden gaze. “Perhaps that is best.”
Frowning in concentration, Elania drew a fresh glyph. It flared gentle blues and pinks as it dispersed over the injured woman.
With a stuttering gasp, the mage woke. Eyes wide and panicky, she attempted to flail upright but quickly dropped back, chest heaving. Her limbs trembled, her blistered lips tight in a rictus of pain.
Danil knelt and gripped her shoulder. “Rest easy. You’re safe.”
The dying mage fixed him with a startled look, relief flaring. “Danil,” she gasped. “I found you at last.”
Kel here. Putting in the finishing edits for Destroyer has been more work than expected, but with 26 days to go before it’s out, I’m not worried. The additional scenes are really improving the flow of the book. And it’s the biggest book we’ve published so far (about 80K), so of course the final edits are going to demand more time and energy.
As for Messenger, we’ve got a one day only free promo happening today, so feel free to head over to Amazon to download your copy! It’s also the first time we’ve advertised a free promo, so we’re interested to see the results and whether it’ll help build momentum for the launch of Destroyer next month.
On a more personal note, Sheldon is recovering from haemorrhagic gastro (HGE). I won’t go into the details of what HGE entails, but anyone whose beloved floof has gone through it knows how horrific it is to see them so sick. Sheldon spent a few nights in puppy hospital and is now on the mend. It’s his third medical emergency since April, and he’s developing a worrying habit of turning minor ailments into life-threatening situations. But he’s cute and happy, loves his walks and treats, and gives the most beautiful nose boops, so I’ll just keep saving up for the next trip to the vet.
Kim’s in her final weeks of her psychology degree and she’s up to her eyeballs with assessments, full time work, family and me waving fistfuls of scenes under her nose. Pretty sure I’ve given her an eye twitch. But she’s the type of person who powers through epic amounts of deadlines and commitments, so she’s only cussed at me twice. I suspect she’ll sleep for a week once the degree’s done and then be hungry to write.
Speaking of…it’s back to editing for me.
Enjoy the rest of the weekend everyone!
For almost a year, my labrador Sheldon has been having hydrotherapy to help manage his arthritis. Despite going for riverside walks every day, he’d suffered significant muscle loss due to his pain—he’d basically been walking funny in order to put less pressure on his hip joints, and in doing so wasn’t exercising the muscles the way they needed to be.
Sheldon wears a life jacket for extra buoyancy (and cuteness). The weightlessness from the water means he can use his joints and muscles without having to make corrections for pain. He swims once a week with a vet nurse for 20-30mins.
Amazingly, it took only three sessions for me to notice changes. On our morning walks, he became more adventurous by trotting off the path to smell the surrounding vegetation or jump in the water. At home, he tore apart innocent fluffy toys with gusto. He slept hard and well, rather than moving restlessly whenever the pain woke him.
We’ve just finished his weekly hydro session, and I’m writing this because I’m so grateful for what it’s done for Sheldon’s wellbeing and quality of life.
He’s old. He’s grumbly. And some months he’s expensive (I have an emergency fund specifically for his vet bills). But he’s also happy, healthy and no longer hampered by his arthritis.
What more could a human want for her floof?
Just a quick update on how things are going.
Firstly, Destroyer is on schedule for release later this year. It’ll round out Danil and Hafryn’s personal storyline and give them a solid dose of HEA before we move on to other familiar (and new) characters for the rest of the series. I (Kel) am currently dictating a few new scenes and doing the redraft…and handing the book bit by bit over to Kim to scrutinize and edit.
Kim’s final semester of her psychology degree has started and she’s already feeling under the pump. I’ve got no idea how she manages to work full time, study full time, have fun and great relationships with her husband and daughter, work on Destroyer and also have Horkso Hustle bustling along…but somehow it all happens. The woman’s got drive.
As for me, I’ve been spending my downtime snuggling my puppy after he got sick and had minor surgery earlier this week. Sheldon might be recovered now but he’s demanding treats like he’ll never see tomorrow. Typical Labrador. Here he is soaking up life in the post-op bath.
There’s been a lot happening for Kim and me. We’re motoring ahead with Destroyer and Horkso Hustle, with both novels in the post-feedback redrafting stages. We both gave sighs of relief that the feedback was pretty good (with changes needed, of course).
That said, here’s a wee story about what’s gone wrong lately.
Kim and I love plans (and checkpoints and daily targets and deadlines and all the office stationery and apps that go with them). When we create our plans, we tend to be over-ambitious and come up with deadlines not based on reality or our own capabilities.
We’d decided last month that July was the month that Destroyer was coming out. I ignored the fact that I’d just revised the plot and therefore needed to add about 30K new words (and then do the revision, redrafting and line edits those new words naturally require). We’d also decided that Horkso Hustle was coming out in August…ignoring that Kim works full time and has a full time load for the final semester of her psychology degree.
(Like Rapture, the mouthy droid in Horsko, would say: “Ain’t a cream in the universe that can fix that kind of dumb.”)
It’s taken quite a few days of flailing about for us to admit our deadlines aren’t realistic. In fact, our stupid, stressful deadlines were robbing us of the most important reason why K K Ness exists at all—our love of writing.
So, the result? Destroyer is now coming out in August (yippee!) and Horkso Hustle is gonna be here in the coming months.
Stick with us. We’re making mistakes, but we’re better people and writers because of them.
The past week has seen the last pieces of uni assessment finished for the term. Thank goodness! I always seem to end the term wondering how on earth I survived the juggling act. This time, though, I’m super excited because I have five glorious weeks ahead of me that I can dedicate to editing both Destroyer and Horkso Hustle. Destroyer is on track to be out next month, and there’s a chance that Horkso will be ready then, too! I still have to work, however, and I really want to talk to you guys about that.
First of all, like the vast majority of people, I’m not a huge fan of working for other people. I would love to have writing be my full time gig, and that’s absolutely the goal. In the meantime, bills have to be paid and I’m just the girl to do it. The thing is, I work in the coal industry here in Australia…and I have soooo much guilt about that.
Life conspired more than a decade ago to move my family and me to a mining town. If you’ve ever lived in one, you’ll know that they are EXPENSIVE to live in. Like many Australians my age, I bought a house I couldn’t afford and essentially trapped myself in a job that I didn’t believe in to make the monthly repayments.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel, though, and I’m using my inner turmoil about my job in my writing. I think it’s fair to say that most of us will find occasions in our lives where we stick our heads up, have a look around and wonder how the hell we got here. The main character in Horkso Hustle is like that. Her name’s Elise, and she never really planned on being a smuggler…just like I never planned on driving coal trains. Being a criminal doesn’t make Elise irredeemable and the same can be said about me working in the coal industry (despite my frequent thoughts to the contrary). We’re all messy, and our not-so-great choices are offset by better ones (like Elise giving sanctuary to a battlecat, and me investing in clean energy).
I like that I can use my doubts and fears (and how I respond to them) in my writing. I like that I can expose myself and my humanness to others through my characters, to show that under the facade, we’re all unique and also somehow the same. I hope that you can relate.
As always, thanks for stopping by and we hope you have an awesome week.
Destroyer is nearly done (we’ll announce the release date soon). The book is a much bigger adventure than Messenger and Visioner, which is really exciting but has also added a few grey assassins into my once perfectly auburn hair. I’ve been busy making a few plot changes with Kim by adding in an unexpected new enemy, and I have to say that collaboration rocks. There are days when I write myself into a wall but an offhand comment from Kim often sends me bouncing away from self-inflicted craziness.
That’s actually how Destroyer has come together—after throwing around many ideas with Kim, I’ve written the first draft (and the redraft and major redraft). Up next, Kim’s going to spend her uni break working on the larger edits before we work line-by-line together. For the latter, it helps that I’ve spent years as an editor, although most of that experience is in the dry corporate world (Kim points out I’d edit the lifeblood out of a character’s veins if given the chance).
There’s a number of weeks to go, but we’re on track and a wee bit in love with what Danil and Hafryn are getting up to in Destroyer.
As always, thanks for the support!
As many of you probably already know, K K Ness is the pen name of identical twins living in Queensland, Australia. The official bio is here, and it really doesn’t say much about us.
In truth, we’ve been wondering for a while about how much we really want to say about ourselves and our authoring journeys. And we’ve decided we might as well be upfront.
The ‘K K’ stands for Kel and Kim. We’re in our thirties. One of us is unapologetically asexual, single and spends all her money on squeaky toys for her labrador; the other stumbled upon an upstanding guy for a husband and has a daughter who is already way cooler than any twin could ever be (she’s also in our author bio pic below). One of us recently went back to uni, got a social science degree and now writes full time; the other squeezes in writing time between family, shift work and finishing a degree in psychology.
Writing together under K K Ness is complicated. We’re both in different places in our lives and our experience as writers. Kel’s been writing fantasy since they were sixteen and also spent two decades torturing herself as a corporate writer, editor, and in communications. Kim’s a happy newb to the writing world, still finding her voice and excitedly discovering what ‘show, don’t tell’ means.
Together, we fumble around and make it work. But plenty of days are a hot mess, and that’s when the twin thing gets interesting.
Give us time and we’ll show you what we mean.
Excited that Destroyer is coming in June 2018, but in the meantime, please enjoy the first chapter for Visioner.
Danil pushed through the ferns, his homespun tunic damp with cold as a slow drizzle swept down from the Amasian mountains.
A stream led him east, where trees grew thick and wild. Danil could hear the steady drip of water echo deep within long abandoned mine shafts as he passed their entrances. He took care to step clear of the unstable shale fields covered with newly grown moss and lichen as a force he didn’t understand, but was compelled to follow, drew him forward.
An abandoned hut emerged from the early morning gloom, its door askew and mud walls overrun with vines. More huts sat amongst the sprawling trees and thick undergrowth, marking where the village of Farin and its people had once eked out a harsh existence on the edge of the deadlands. Danil paused at a blackened mound, bile rushing into his mouth as he was assaulted with memories of what lay beneath.
He could never forgive the magi of Roldaer for what they had done in their quest to awaken the halfbreed, Kaul. The promise of kiandrite crystals, the source of the magi’s waning power, had seen the Roldaerians cut a path of destruction through everything Danil had once held dear and forced him to become a traitor to his people to prevent a catastrophic war. In the process, Danil had discovered a connection to the deadlands not seen since the Great War, and his life irrevocably changed.
Danil felt a soft hum beneath his feet, a gentle whisper of comfort wrapping itself around his mind. As he watched, a single flower pushed its way through the blackened soil. Petals of shimmering blue peeled open as though to embrace the awakening day. Balance was returning.
Breath pluming, Danil continued deeper into Farin as a force that had been calling him for days beckoned him closer. He paused in the town square, recalling better times when a troupe of acrobats had performed, and the once vibrant streets had been filled with laughter. Instinctively, Danil crouched beside a ring of mushrooms and pressed a hand to the wet soil. A soft murmuring filled his mind as magic pushed up through the ground. He waited.
There, burrowing its way out of the dark mud, was a kiandrite crystal. No larger than his forefinger, it changed from silver to blue as Danil gently wiped away the remaining dirt. The Corros House glyph on his palm glowed as if in greeting, and he felt a surge of warmth when the crystal momentarily turned gold to match.
An oversized red wolf trotted out from the undergrowth and padded toward Danil with a confident swagger. Danil buried his hand in the fur before scrunching his nose as the wolf snuffled happily in his face. The wolf gave him a grin, tongue lolling to one side in amusement. Spying the crystal, the wolf tilted his head curiously and nosed at it. The air shimmered, and suddenly Hafryn crouched beside him, green eyes reverent.
“Your first crystal as custodian, Danil,” he murmured in awe.
Turning it about to catch the weak morning light, Danil said, “It’s beautiful.”
The heart of the crystal brightened to emerald.
Hafryn snorted. “It knows it has admirers.”
Danil grinned. “I guess so. Though I didn’t expect to find it in Farin.” An old ache settled in his throat as he glanced once more at the decaying buildings around them.
The wolf shifter shrugged. “You grew up here, no? Perhaps it chose this place in honor of your custodianship.”
Danil supposed Hafryn had a point. Only two months had passed since the failed magi plot. It was his duty now to ensure that the magic that had been trapped for centuries by Kaul’s desire for domination was able to grow across the land as originally intended.
“Should I keep it?” Danil asked. The crystal sent a warm, buzzing vibration up his arm.
“It would be an insult not to, fala. We can’t leave it here, in any case. Roldaer isn’t the best place for kiandrite.”
Danil grunted. Any magi who came upon the crystal would grind it up for spells and curses. “We shouldn’t be here in any case—Elania and Blutark won’t like that we’ve left the deadlands.”
Hafryn winked. “Your tutors are probably wondering why you’ve skipped out on a lesson.”
Groaning, Danil said, “As long as they don’t make me create magelights, I’ll do double.”
“Magelights aren’t so difficult.”
“For Amasians, maybe,” Danil groused. Most days, even the simplest enchantments seemed beyond his ability to master. Magelights were one of the enchantments taught to younglings just coming into their gifts. He eyed Hafryn. “I’ve never seen you make one.”
Hafryn rose to his feet and stretched his arms above his head to expose his lithe belly. “I have other talents.”
“I’m aware,” Danil replied dryly.
Hafryn’s grin turned rakish as he gripped the fabric of Danil’s tunic. Danil let himself be tugged up and close until the full length of his body pressed against Hafryn’s. The shifter’s green eyes brightened. “I suppose you are, fala.”
Suddenly, the crystal in Danil’s hand burned angrily, and he stepped away from Hafryn in alarm. “Why is it—?” Danil stopped at the crunch of footsteps in the leaf mold.
They whirled as six Roldaerian soldiers stepped out from behind the fernery. Swords drawn, they crowded close.
The crystal in Danil’s fist darkened.
Air rippling, Hafryn transformed back into a snarling wolf. He pushed in front of Danil, hackles bristling as he bared his teeth. Danil gripped his ruff and buried the crystal in his pocket. Hastily he drew the dagger at his waist. Beneath him, the leylines stirred in agitation.
A middle-aged woman stepped between the soldiers. Finely dressed in red robes and fur-lined cloak, she bore an officious silver crest on a long chain about her neck. Her pale hair was held back by a jeweled clasp, her dark eyes mild as they swept over Danil and Hafryn.
“How momentous to find you here,” she said, drawing closer. Her robes rustled over ferns and detritus.
Hafryn’s growl deepened. He pushed back into Danil’s legs, propelling him away from the Roldearians.
Pausing, the woman pressed a hand to her chest. “Oh, there’s no need for alarm, Amasian,” she said, eyes wide. “I bring you no ill will.”
Danil eyed her and the soldiers critically. “Then why are you here?”
She curtseyed, making the jewel in her hair twinkle. “I am Arlyn Nera, an emissary of King Liam of Roldaer.” Straightening, she smiled. “I have been tasked to make contact with the High Council of Amas. We wish to parlay for peace.”