“The Undying King” Now Available!

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Previously only available in the duology, “For Crown and Kingdom.” Now available on its own! Soft-released to Amazon, and will be released to other distributors soon. This tale is intended for more mature audiences and contains graphic descriptions of physical intimacy.

~| Amazon |~

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A little bit of this and that – and a contest

I wanted to send out a sincere thank you to everyone who bought EIDOLON.  Thanks to your purchase, the book debuted on the USA Today Bestseller list at #107.  Awesome!  I celebrated by doing laundry.  :-)  However, I’m hoping to have a true celebration soon with a nice dinner out.  Doesn’t even have to be a fancy-schmancy place.  As long as I don’t have to cook it or clean up the mess afterwards, I’m happy.

Today is the first day of a contest/giveaway thing I’m participating in.  It goes until May 9th and the winners will be announced on May 10th.  The author Patricia Burroughs is heading the charge on this one, and it looks pretty cool.  I’d enter if I wasn’t participating.  Grand prize winner gets a Kindle Fire and 40 books.  Second place winner gets 40 books.  My contribution is a digital copy of EIDOLON.  These are all fantasy romance themed books, so if this is a subgenre you enjoy reading, then there’s lots of good stuff in the contest.  Follow the link for a look-see and enter for a chance to win:

http://furytriad.com/giveaways/tales-of-enchantment/

Today is Monday; it’s overcast and cool.  A nice change from the muggy heat we’ve had the past several days.  I have a book to revise, a manuscript to edit, and typography to design for a cover.  I’m also eyeing the giant pile of laundry on the living room chair that’s calling my name, waiting to be sorted and put away.  Blergh.  The glamorous life of a writer.

Have a great week.

Grace

 

 

A Thank you and an additional update

First, I wanted to say thanks to everyone for their patience while EIDOLON was delayed three times, for their best wishes and good thoughts regarding my husband’s and my dad’s medical issues, and for your kind words after reading the book. I’m both glad and incredibly relieved you’ve liked it so far. This was a difficult book to write from the get-go, so I’m glad it’s meeting expectations.

Print format is currently in production. I had to redo the formatting for the print template and am now waiting for the hard copy proof from Amazon so I can make certain all the various parts came together right: cover flat doesn’t have a weird bleed or spine misalignment on the typography, color isn’t too dark or too light, there aren’t font size changes or inserted blank lines in the text, etc. Once I review the proof and don’t find any errors, I’ll release it to go live and post that it’s available. My awesome website person, Kathryn, will also update on the book’s page with the buy link.

For the audio format, I sent my narrator, Gabrielle, the manuscript so she can look it over and start her side of the production process. She’s currently working on another project at the moment that hit her queue before mine did, so she probably won’t have a chance to peek at it until next week at the earliest. Estimated release time for the audio format is summer. I can’t give you a more exact date than that at this time. Audio book production is a labor-intensive collaboration with tons of hours put in by both Gabrielle (narration, post production) and me (post production). I love it, but turn-around time on this format is a lot slower than the one for digital or print format.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to give a shout-out to all the folks who helped me pull this book together. I’m not just EIDOLON’S writer; I’m also its publisher, so I wear a lot of hats and get a lot of help from talented, dedicated folks:

Lora Gasway – editor
Mel Sanders – editor
Isis Sousa – cover illustrator and cover flat designer
Kimberly Ladd – assistant
Jeffe Kennedy – beta reader
Ilona Gordon – beta reader
Gabrielle Baker – voice actor and narrator
Emma Ricks – model for Ildiko
RJ Blain – formatter
Kathryn Pope – website guru

An additional thank you to those who bought the book and read. I appreciate both your patronage and your time. For those who reviewed, many, many thanks for the signal boost!

Best,

Grace

2016, you can have your crap back now.

Quick note:  I’m heavy into revisions on Eidolon.  I can’t give a release date.  My father just had surgery to remove a brain tumor, so things are in a bit of an upheaval at the moment, and I’m revising while doing vigil in the ICU.  I’ll update as soon as I have something more concrete.

Thank you,

Grace

A little something extra in the monthly newsletter

February has been a rough month here at Casa Draven.  Spouse broke his ankle in three places and is bed ridden, and I have an elderly parent in decline, so things are a little chaotic these days.

Goodreads has listed EIDOLON with a new release date of March 31st, and I’m still shooting for that despite the unexpected issues that popped up this month.

My newsletter is going out tomorrow (February 29th) and will include the first four chapters (Prologue – Chapter 3) of EIDOLON.  Caveat lector – these chapters are rough drafts, therefore they are unedited, unbeta’d and mostly uncorrected.  What I always like to call the bedhead versions.  As such, be warned there will be typos and hiccups galore, and I can’t guarantee that some elements existing in the rough draft will still be there once my editors give it the once-over and I put in the necessary revisions and corrections.

These first four rough draft chapters will only be available in the newsletter (okay, the prologue is also on my blog, but we won’t count that), so if you’d like to read them prior to the final version of EIDOLON going live next month, please subscribe to my newsletter here:

Grace Draven newsletter

Best,

Grace

 

 

BENEATH A WANING MOON now available in audio format

I’ve been chomping at the bit waiting for it to go live, and it’s finally up. BENEATH A WANING MOON in audio format and narrated by her awesomeoness Gabrielle Baker of Gabrielle Voices is now available over at Audible.

If you’re unfamiliar with this title, BENEATH A WANING MOON is collaboration between Elizabeth Hunter and me (our second one) that was released in October 2015 in digital and print format. It contains two novellas, one from Elizabeth’s Elemental Mysteries series called A VERY PROPER MONSTER and a stand-alone by me called GASLIGHT HADES. That story is now actually a gateway story into more books, with the second tentatively titled GASLIGHT VIDUUS.

Anyway, if you like audio books and narrators with buttery voices, then I believe you’ll like listening to BENEATH A WANING MOON.

http://www.audible.com/pd/Romance/Beneath-a-Waning-Moon-Audiobook/B01BHB1M48/

 

WHY ALL MY FB POSTS HEAD STRAIGHT TO HELL IN THEIR BASKETS – an end-of-year post

So, the obligatory Year-in-Review post.

Unlike the great end-of-year post Elizabeth Hunter posted on her blog (and if you haven’t read it, you really should), with its insight, information and organized construction, this post will be a meandering mess of things that strike up my brain spark as I write this.

I recently posted on my personal FB page, asking for suggestions on what to write for this kind of post.  Responses were interesting to say the least.  Everything from:

  • Favorite creatures from various cultures
  • Writing sex scenes vs. battle scenes
  • My New Year’s resolutions (shortest article ever consisting of one word – none)
  • Unladen swallow air speed velocity
  • How do I plan out a story arc

to:

  • Ways to combat writer’s block
  • How the romance novel has evolved over the past 100 years
  • Are publishing houses doing away with Urban Fantasy
  • Merkins (let me save you the trouble of Googling this term if you don’t already know it.  A merkin is a pubic wig.  That set off a huge thread of commentary which inspired one of my editors, Evil Editor Mel, to say I should title this post WHY ALL MY FB POSTS HEAD STRAIGHT TO HELL IN THEIR BASKETS.)  Winner, winner, chicken dinner – hence the title of this post.

Believe me when I tell you that the folks who visit my pages and blog and interact with me are a lot more interesting than I am.  :)

Honestly, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a fairly dull person.  I write books while sitting in an old desk chair with my smelly dog stretched out under my feet.  Unless I have errands to run or am expecting visitors, I tend to write while comfortably dressed in 20+ year-old concert shirts, lavender pajama pants with the fashionable pattern of cartoon cats and fish skeletons on them, and my favorite pair of Vans which have holes in the toes and look like they’ve been gnawed on by a shark.  Glamorous, eh?

Anyway, as this is a Year-End post about 2015, I’ll focus on some of the things for the year and what to expect in 2016.

2015:  What a helluva ride.  I started serializing RADIANCE on my blog in 2014 as a way to drum up some interest in my brand-spanking new website put together by the lovely Ilona Gordon.  RADIANCE was supposed to be a short story of 12k words or less–a straightforward tale of a marriage of convenience between two people of different species with different ideas of what constituted physical beauty.

That remains the core of the tale, but at some point RADIANCE grew beyond the constrictive confines of a short story, hit puberty in novella-length and shot right on past that mark to become a full blown novel.  While I wish I could say I was surprised that happened, I’m not.  When I first told my editors, Lora and Mel, that RADIANCE would be a short story, Mel replied with “Are you suuuuurrre?”  She knows me well.  :)

When the story went live in January 2015, it had some legs on it thanks to the serialization, word of mouth from readers, reviewers and fellow authors (thank you Elizabeth Hunter and Ilona Andrews!), and a support structure from a very small back catalogue of previous works like MASTER OF CROWS and ENTREAT ME.  Thanks to Jill Smith, reviewer at Romantic Times, who reviewed ENTREAT ME in 2014, my name went in front of a wider national audience.

A lot of good stuff had positioned RADIANCE for a healthy start.  But dayum!  That little book shot out of the gate, all thrusters burning, and is still running the track at a healthy speed.  What started as a little tale to show off my new website became the novel-length gateway book to a 6-book series.  Now THAT did surprise me.

My books wouldn’t come together the way they have in their various formats without a ton of support from an awesome team of folks, so shoutouts and hearts to my editors Lora Gasway and Mel Sanders, my artists Louisa Gallie of The Art of Louisa Gallie and Isis de Sousa of Helheimen Designs, my narrator Gabrielle Baker of Gabrielle Voices and future narrator Jay Britton of Voice of Jay Britton, my cover model avatars Nora, Jeffrey and Emma, my personal assistant Kimberly, and my website guru Kathryn of Overmountain Studios.

I’m crossing my fingers that 2016 will be as breathtaking and as fun as 2015 was.  It will be a hell of a workload, with more books planned in the Wraith Kings series, a revamping and expansion of an earlier short story of mine, THE KING OF HEL, which will go into a duology with a story by the fabulous Jeffe Kennedy called CROWN OF THE QUEEN, a story (not yet sure of the length) about the Bonekeeper named Gideon whom you met briefly if you read GASLIGHT HADES, and who knows what else on the roster for 2016.

And while I thought it might never happen, it looks like MASTER OF CROWS will go out in audio format by spring of 2016.  I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am about this project.  Jay Britton of Voice of Jay Britton is spearheading the narration for this book, and what a golden voice he has, perfect for this book.  Other audio stuff:  EIDOLON will be available in 2016 in audio format (not yet sure of the exact date) as will BENEATH A WANING MOON (duology with Elizabeth Hunter). Both are narrated by Gabrielle Baker of Gabrielle Voices.

While I have you here, a quick note about EIDOLON:  I’m working fast and furious on it to meet my self-scheduled January 31st go-live deadline.  However…I’m not giving a guarantee.  This is why I don’t put up pre-orders.  This has been a difficult book to write for various reasons, not the least, the fact it has a high bar to reach.  I never expected RADIANCE to be as popular as it has been or for EIDOLON to be anticipated to the level that it is.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m thrilled.  But I’m also scared shitless I’ll screw up Book 2.  With that being said, I’m taking my time and being careful.  If I feel the story isn’t where it should be by the deadline date, I’m moving it (the beauty of being a self publisher).  I’d rather put out a good story late than a crap story on time.  I owe that to myself, the book and to you, the reader.

So, that’s a wrap.  My sincerest thanks to you all for reading my flights of fancy.  I hope they’ve given you a few hours of entertainment.  Raising a toast to each of you for a healthy, happy and prosperous 2016.  Be kind to each other.  Slainte!

Grace Draven – December 31, 2015

A cover reveal for a fellow author

Friend, editor, and fellow author Mel Sterling (fondly called Evil Editor Mel by me) has a new book coming out in January 2016. TRUEHEART is a fantasy romance that centers around a couple who challenge the malevolent Unseelie faery court. These aren’t Disney fairies of sparkly wings and magic that can make you fly. This is Faery, red of tooth and claw, complete with a goblin market, kelpies who drown people and eat their livers, redcaps who dye their haberdashery in blood, and the primal Wild Hunt with its powerful deer-headed Huntsman and hounds that are more demon than dog. I loved this tale so much and can’t wait for the book to go live next month. Until then, I’ll leave you with a cover reveal of TRUEHEART. In addition, when my newsletter comes out (hopefully by next week. My hardworking assistant Kimberly is putting it together), I will include the first chapter of TRUEHEART (with Mel’s permission) for you to read. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

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Cover design by Skyla Dawn Cameron of Indigo Chick Designs

Here’s the back-cover copy for the print version (coming spring, 2016).

Loyalty. Desperation. Grief.

Eight months ago a mysterious drug killed Tess Gordon’s brother, and now it’s spreading through her rehab counseling clients. They all claim they’re not addicted, the drug leaves no trace except its drained victims, and the cops aren’t interested. Aching with loss, Tess vows to find the source. What she finds instead is Thomas.

Slavery. Duty. Enchantment.

Thomas, the half-fae guardian of the goblin market, has plenty of problems—and just got another one. Pressed into the service of the Unseelie Queen, all he wants is his freedom. But Tess won’t go away, and the human girl is in way over her head.

One perilous late-autumn night, the fae and human worlds collide. Tess’s and Thomas’s separate tasks are inextricably tangled. Now, a half-fae and a human rehab counselor must walk the knife-edge of obligation, love, death and transformation–with the entire Unseelie Court, including the malevolent Wild Hunt, out for their blood.

Welcome to Portland, After Dark…

TRUEHEART COVER REVEAL!

————-

Rough draft of prologue for EIDOLON – Book #2 in the Wraith Kings series

Sorry for the long silence in blog posting.  I’ve been tapping away at EIDOLON with the goal of having it go live in late January.  ~keeping fingers crossed~  I was hoping for December, but a bout of bronchitis that left me about as energetic and spritely as a wet noodle put me way behind on the schedule.

I’m considerably further ahead than the prologue but wanted to posted it here to assure folks I’m working on the book.  This is the rough draft version, so expect hiccups and errors.   There are also no guarantees that what you see here will be the exact same thing you see in the final version.  My editors will flense it when it’s done and wrestle it into shape.

Other news about the book:  my artist Isis Sousa is working on a book trailer for EIDOLON.  We’re shooting for a release date of December for that.  She’s illustrating panels at the moment, and they promise to be pretty awesome.  I can’t wait to unveil it.

Anyway, on with the show.

EIDOLON (Wraith Kings, Volume 2)

by Grace Draven

Copyright 2015 by Grace Draven

All rights reserved

———————————————

PROLOGUE

When Kirgipa accepted the coveted position of second nursemaid to the youngest of the Kai heir apparent’s brood, she never imagined the role entailed consecutive days of sleep deprivation and exile to the farthest corner of the palace.  The baby in her arms nuzzled her shoulder, grunting like a piglet.  Her small fingers twitched against Kirgipa’s sleeve, her thin nails scoring marks in the fabric.  Kirgipa tapped her gently on the back in steady rhythm as she paced back and forth across the room under the watchful eye of a royal guard.

The chamber housed a pallet for Kirgipa, a more luxurious bed for the baby, a chair, and a basket of supplies for feeding and changing an infant. Beyond that, it was a room spare of comfort, tucked far away from the nursery and anyone else who wanted to sleep, undisturbed by a fractious child’s cries.

Kirgipa ignored the ache in her arms from holding her charge for hours and eyed the simple pallet with longing.  It wasn’t much protection from the hard, cold floor but after days of almost no sleep, it looked as inviting as an eiderdown mattress.

“Have you worn holes in your shoes yet?”  The guard, a man she now knew as Necos, offered a sympathetic smile.  As the guard assigned to day watch for Prince Harkuf’s youngest child, he kept Kirgipa company in the stretch of time when the rest of the palace slept.  Mostly silent, he sometimes surprised her with inquiries into her health or brief advice for how to soothe the baby.

“Not yet, but close,” she replied softly and began her hundredth, maybe thousandth circumnavigation of the chamber.  “If I counted the steps I’ve tread across this floor, I suspect I could have walked to Saggara and back.”

Times such as these, when her eyes felt scratchier than dried thistle and her lids heavier than stones, she wished she had accompanied the herceges Brishen and his entourage to Saggara months earlier.  Instead, she’d chosen to stay behind in Haradis.  Her short tenure as second maid to the herceges’s human wife had aided her in capturing her current position, but this was much harder work.  The human hercegesé had been a fright to look upon but was of pleasant disposition and held to a much more merciful sleep schedule.

Kirgipa idly wondered how Brishen’s human wife had adapted to her new home among the Kai.  Whether brave or reckless, any woman who stood up to the formidable queen Secmis possessed the backbone necessary to cope and succeed
in any situation.

The Kai feared Secmis-a fear beyond that of lesser nobles for a ruthless monarch.  Maybe since Brishen’s bride had not been Kai and unfamiliar with the queen’s reputation, she hadn’t understood the need for caution. Whatever had moved the hercegesé to take such risks, Kirgipa wished she had witnessed herself that first confrontation between the two women.

She ran a soothing hand down the baby’s back as the little one squirmed into a more comfortable position.  The guard, Necos, tracked her path with his gaze as she passed in front of him once again.  “This is dull duty for a soldier,” she said.

He shrugged.  “It is still duty, and I am bound to it.”  His eyes shimmered in the room’s shuttered gloom.  “There are worse things than keeping watch over the newest royal child and her pretty nurse.”

His compliment surprised her, and her face heated.  She lowered her head, hoping the action hid the telltale blush she suspected swathed her cheeks. Necos was a well-favored man, a decade or more older than her were she to guess his age.   His position as a royal family guard denoted both fierce loyalty to his king and experience in battle.  During the many days Kirgipa and her charge spent under his protective watch, she had learned he was kind but not inclined to flirtation.  A compliment from Necos carried weight and meaning.  Her blush burned under her skin.

She was saved from forming a witty reply by a noise rising from the palace’s lower levels.  The floor beneath her feet vibrated with the sound.  It fell away into a silence that, for some reason, made the fine hairs on her arms rise.  She met Necos’s eyes.  “What was that?”

He shook his head, the easy half-smile replaced by a grim look that made her shiver almost as much as that wrong-feeling sound.  Even the baby, slumbering restlessly in her arms, stilled.

The noise rose again, sly whispers like the soft chattering of aristocrats exchanging salacious gossip or the quick patter of tiny nails from vermin trapped in the walls.  Her skin crawled at the second thought then nearly leapt off her bones at the sudden piercing scream that overrode the strange whispers.  Another followed it, louder, tortured, as if whatever wailed convulsed in the throes of suffering beyond comprehension.

The baby startled awake with a squawk.  Frozen in place by the horrific sound that swelled and tapered and swelled again outside the chamber’s door, Kirgipa clutched the youngest royal and stared wide-eyed and silent at the guard.

Necos had drawn his sword.  Any hint of softness in his expression had vanished, and he made a sharp cutting motion with his free hand, indicating she back to the farthest corner of the room away from the door.  He threw the bolt, locking them in.  The screaming became a chorus, resonating through the floors and the walls, punctuated by the whispers.  Kirgipa’s knees turned to water, and she huddled against the wall to hold herself up. Necos pressed his face to the wood, one eye squinted closed as he peered through the peep hole in the door with the other.

“Necos, open the door!  Open the door!”

Kirgipa recognized the voice-Dendarah, the night guard who shared watch duty with Necos.  He leapt to do her bidding, throwing back the bolt and swinging the door wide.  The infant princess was now wide awake and indulging in a full, screeching tantrum.  Kirgipa could hardly hear Dendarah over the cacophony.

The guard barreled into the room and skidded to a stop.  Her silvery hair hung in tangled locks that had escaped her braid.  Pale and wide-eyed, she barked another command.  “Close the door and bolt it!”

Necos did as she commanded.  “What’s happening?”

Dendarah ignored his question, her gaze lighting on Kirgipa in her corner with the baby.  “We have to get them out of here and to the river.”  Her hands curled into fists, and a great shudder wracked her frame.  “Someone has released galla into the palace.”

Kirgipa whined low in her throat and hugged the baby.  Galla.  Demons.  Their very name meant destruction in the old tongue.  Necos could wield ten swords, and it wouldn’t matter.  Clean steel didn’t kill galla.

Necos froze, turning as pale as Dendarah before resheathing his sword.  “How much time do we have?”  He spoke as he turned to Kirgipa’s pallet and ripped the linens from the mattress.  He tossed a blanket to Kirgipa.  “Make a sling,” he ordered.

“They’ve overwhelmed the entire south and east wings and the first three floors of this one.”  She joined Necos in stripping bedding and tearing it into long strips they knotted together into a makeshift rope.

The baby halted her crying when Kirgipa plopped her on the floor at her feet to fold and knot the blanket into a sling.  “The others?  The royal family? The nursery?”  Her questions were rhetorical, but she asked them anyway, hoping against hope that someone had survived to escape.  Sorrow warred with horror inside her.  All that screaming.  Men, women, children.  Consumed by the galla.

Dendarah’s gaze mirrored Kirgipa’s turmoil.  She gestured to the small child, whimpering and hiccupping at Kirgipa’s feet.  “Behold your new queen,” she said flatly.

The screams continued, joined by the sounds of twisted revelry, of laughter bloated with malice as if something fed off the terror and the agony and found it delicious.

“Hurry,” Dendarah said.  She and Necos finished tying together the rope.  He anchored the end to the bolt ring riveted to the door while Dendarah threw open the shutters to a punishing sunset that bloodied the western horizon.

Kirgipa shrugged on the makeshift sling and lifted her charge with shaking hands.  Queen of the Kai.  The baby settled into the sling, finally quiet and content, unaware of the abominations that boiled and frothed and consumed below them, unaware that tragedy crowned her in the role of monarch.

Necos tossed the remaining length of rope out the window.  It rippled down the outside wall, stopping short of the ground.  “We’ll have to drop a ways,” he said.  “Enough to rattle your teeth when you land, but if we’re careful enough, we won’t break anything.”

“I’ve never climbed before.”  Kirgipa stared out the window, at the descent to the ground that seemed to go for leagues.  “What if I drop the baby? What if I fall?”  Her reason told her that plummeting to their deaths would be far cleaner than any death meted out by galla.  Still, she didn’t want to die at all, didn’t want to harm the innocent who rested so trustingly in the sling against her body.

Dendarah gave the rope a last yank, testing its strength and the knot Necos had made to fasten it to the bolt ring.  “If you fall, one of us will catch you.”  She turned her attention to Necos.  “How old are you?”

“Thirty and four,” he said.

She nodded.  “I’m forty and one.  My magic is stronger.  You go first and wait for the nurse.  I’ll follow her.”

Necos nodded as if what Dendarah said made sense.  Confused, Kirgipa watched as he wrapped a section of rope around his forearm and slung a leg over the window sill.  He paused, his gaze lighting first on Kirgipa and then Dendarah.  “Climb fast,” he said and swung out of sight.

The two women leaned out the window and watched as Necos propelled down the wall.  Dendarah turned Kirgipa to face her and checked the knotting on the sling.  “Your turn, little maid.”  Behind her, the sound of demonic revelry rose to a fevered pitch, drawing ever closer.

Kirgipa stared at her.  “Why does it matter that your magic is stronger?”

Dendarah glanced out the window once more.  “You know the tales.  The galla feed on magic.  I’m the more enticing meal.  If they breech the door before we escape, they’ll feed longer on me than they would on Necos.  It will give you more time to get away.”  Kirgipa gasped, made speechless by the woman’s practical courage.  The guard ushered her closer to the window.  “He’s down. When he tells you to drop, let go of the rope.  No hesitation.”  She helped Kirgipa across the sill, offering additional instructions for how to propel down the wall and not injure the infant.

Her descent was harrowing, stomach-churning, and she was soaked with sweat by the time Necos called out “Let go!”  She released the rope.  Her stomach wedged itself into her ribs as she fell, slamming back into place when she landed solidly in Necos’s arms.

He tipped her out of his hold and onto her feet and grabbed her hand. “Run!” he shouted and yanked her toward the herb gardens that surrounded the palace’s western side.

Made fleet and nimble by terror, Kirgipa easily kept up, feet flying over the ground as if she’d grown wings from her heels.  Her heart thundered in her chest, thundered in her ears, almost drowning out the sickening shrieks that raged behind her.  Had they breeched the door?  Did Dendarah escape in time and raced to catch up?

She didn’t dare look back at the palace, but she glimpsed movement from the corner of her eye-a blackness that writhed and clawed at itself as it spread over the palace grounds toward the city of Haradis like a dark tide.  Oh gods, the city.  Her mother and sister were there.  Everyone’s mother and sister were there.  Sons and daughters.  Fathers and brothers.

“We have to warn them!” she shouted to Necos.

His grip on her hand was punishing, and her fingers throbbed.  “Someone will.  Someone may already have.  We must get to the river.  Save the queen.”

The stitch in her side burned, and her shoulders ached from the baby’s weight as they raced the seething black tide purling toward Haradis.  She almost fell once, slipping on a slick stretch of grass that reeked of decay and burned refuse.  Necos clapped a hand over her mouth to muffle her scream.

The slippery patch had once been a Kai.  The only way Kirgipa could tell was by the single yellow eye that floated in a viscous gray puddle peppered with bone splinters and the remains of a mouth that impossibly opened and closed over and over like a fresh-caught fish gasping out its last breath.

Necos’s voice shook even as he steadied her and pulled her along once more. “Don’t look.  Keep running.”

Dry sobs rattled in her throat as she clutched the baby and sprinted alongside the guard.  The river, the river, the river.  The two words echoed in her mind in sync with her heartbeat.

The great Absu, born as a stream in the far Dramorin mountains, bisected the city as it rushed toward the sea hundreds of leagues south.  Its waters, deep and perilous, had broken ships and drowned sailors.  Now it was the salvation of the Kai.  The old tales spoke of how galla couldn’t cross over flowing water.  Kirgipa prayed the tales were true.

They reached the city outskirts, plunging into streets filled with panicked Kai.  Necos was right.  Someone had warned the denizens of Haradis, creating a beast made of terrified people that heaved and labored toward the Absu’s banks.

Necos shoved his way through the solid wall of bodies, clearing narrow wedges of space for Kirgipa to pass.  No one parted before them.  They were like the rest-ordinary folk desperate to save themselves from the boiling darkness erupting out of the palace to spread across fertile fields and toward the city.  The infant queen was nothing more than a baby clutched by her frightened mother and protected by her soldier father.

A cry, resonant with terror, rose above the mayhem.  “THEY ARE COMING!”

All of Haradis screamed in reply, and the crowds transformed into a stampeding mob.  Kirgipa shouted Necos’s names as the surge wrenched her from his grasp.  She held the baby close, fighting to stay on her feet as others fell around her and were trampled to death.  The guard struggled against the wave of frenzied Kai to reach her but to no avail.  He disappeared in the throng, swept away, as she was, toward the riverbank.

The infant queen squalled in Kirgipa’s arms, her tiny features lavender from her bellows.  Kirgipa rammed her elbow into the face of man who literally tried to climb her and others to walk atop the crowd.  He toppled, fingers clawing her dress in an attempt to gain his balance.  She stumbled, falling toward him.  He grunted as she tried to kick herself free.  Her skirt ripped through to the hem, snapping the tether that bound her to him.  He let go of her, his plaintive calls for help silenced beneath the crush of running feet.

A powerful hand gripped the back of her shirt and shoved her forward.  “Step lively, little maid.  We’re almost there,” Dendarah said near her ear.

Were they not in the midst of a panicked herd of people with galla at their backs, Kirgipa would have turned and hugged the royal guardswoman.  Instead, she doubled her efforts to reach the Absu, Dendarah beside her, doing as Necos had done-using brute strength to clear a path.

The Absu’s icy waters swirling around her legs robbed the breath from her body.  People crowded around them, packed tighter than salted fish in barrels and shivering in the frigid air.  More Kai stood on the opposite banks, pulling their wet, shaking breathren onto the banks and the docks.

“Can you swim?”  Dendarah asked in a voice pitched loud above the din. Kirgipa nodded.  “Good.  We have to ford the river.  Stay as far away from others as you can.  Those who can’t swim will drown those who can in an effort to save themselves.  You have to hold the baby so I can protect you both and help you cross.”

They navigated slowly across the river, pulled by the rushing current. Kirgipa recited every prayer of deliverance and protecton she learned in childhood, her teeth chattering as her sodden skirts weighed her down in the cold water.  The baby rested high on her shoulder, kept dry except for the sling’s trailing ends.  Dendarah swam beside her, rising out of the current twice like an avenging water nymph to shove away other swimmers who drew too close.

The protected side of Haradis swelled with people – those fleeing the galla and those who patrolled the banks to help the swimmers ashore.  Dendarah was helping Kirgipa to her feet when a dripping wet Necos rushed up to them and wrapped his arms around both women and the baby.  All three squawked in protest until he let them go.

“I thought you were galla meat, woman,” he told Dendarah, a faint smile flitting across his lips.

She didn’t smile back.  “Almost.”  Her gaze turned to the opposite shore and the twitching, gibbering darkness that had swallowed all the fields and seethed into the first streets of Haradis.  “And I may well be yet.”

The screams and warped laughter that had followed Kirgipa and Necos as they fled the palace echoed in the avenues and alleyways.  Some of the Kai had not run fast enough or had been unable to flee.  Kirgipa closed her eyes, praying her mother and sister were among those who swam across and were somewhere in the throngs of people finding sanctuary on this side of the Absu.

More people clogged the river, struggling to reach the opposite shore. Kirgipa’s mouth dropped open when she caught sight of a group of Kai doing the exact opposite.  Clothed in their armor and mounted on horses, they plunged into the Absu, cleaving a path to the side vulnerable to the galla.

“What in the name of Emlek are they doing?” Necos said, his eyes wide. “They can’t fight those things with swords.”

Kirgipa glanced at Dendarah who watched the commotion for a moment before answering.  “They aren’t.”  She pointed to the group.  “Look at them.  All are old, long retired from service. They aren’t there to fight; they’re there to die.”

Dendarah was right.  The contingent of armed Kai consisted of men and women who might have been her own grandparents.  They rode to the opposite shore, dismounted and set the horses loose.  The leader, a Kai man with his black hair silvered by advanced age, faced his troops and the river.  Hunched and elderly he might be, but his voice carried strong and true over the dying screams of the Kai and the howls of the galla.

“There is no better legacy to leave than this – to die in the effort to save our descendents.  Join with me so that those who came after us will live to remember.”

He then put his back to the river and spread his arms.  Those who followed him lined up on either side, grasping forearms and linking to each other until they forged a living chain that stretched along a portion of the riverbank.

Kirgipa’s heart ached at their bravery, and she hugged her small charge to her breast for solace.  Beside her, Dendarah’s voice rang hard and bitter. “Duty is a weighty burden.”  She met Kirgipa’s eyes, her face drawn and aged. “My first purpose is to protect your charge.  It is your purpose as well, and Necos’s.  But I would be lying if I said I don’t wish with all my heart to be among those who stand unyielding before the enemy.”  She pointed to the river.  “See there?  The words of a brave leader are their own powerful magic.”

People left the water’s sanctuary, mostly elderly but some in their prime. They waded to land, unheeding of the frantic relatives who tried to hold them back.  Others abandoned the safety of the opposite shore and forded the river after them.  Grandfathers and grandmothers, soldiers long retired from the field and many whose professions bore nothing of war and glory.  They joined their comrades, bound together in a line that now stretched far down the river’s banks.

Kirgipa’s heart lurched to a horrified stop at the sight that met her eyes. Her mother Tarawin, wet from the river, joined the chain.  Atalan, Kirgipa’s sister, stood hip-deep in the water, begging her not to go.  Kirgipa screamed and lunged toward the shore, forgetting the baby in her arms and the guards who watched over her.  “No, Muta!  Don’t!”

She would have fallen into the water had Necos not hauled her back. Dendarah plucked the baby out of her arms, leaving Kirgipa’s hands free. She swung at Necos, writhing in his arms to get free.  “Let me go!  That’s my muta in the line!  My sister in the river!”

Necos shook her so hard, her vision blackened at the edges.  “Stop, Kirgipa!”  He spun her to face the river, his grip on her shoulders like shackles, unbreakable, unyielding.  He lifted one hand and pointed to a spot in the chain.  “My oldest brother is there,” he said, indicating a man of middle years.  He pointed to the man beside him.  “Our uncle.”  He turned her to look at him, and Kirgipa keened at the grief in his eyes.  “They have made their choice, and it’s a courageous one. Our memories will preserve their sacrifice as heroic.  Honor that choice by staying alive and doing your duty.”

She could only gasp and moan, sick with the knowledge that she and her sister were about to watch their mother die.  “My sister,” she said on a hiccup.  “She’s in the river.”

Assured that Kirgipa wouldn’t try to rescue her mother, Dendarah returned the infant to her.  “Can she swim?”  Kirgipa assured her she could.  “Then she’s in the safest place of all.”

She had no opportunity to argue.  The galla ravaging that side of the city reached the riverbank.  The Kai locked arm and arm along the riverbank began to chant, and then they began to glow.  Their magic, the strength of earlier generations, arced across their linked arms until it suffused their entire bodies, creating a glowing blue barrier that brightened the oncoming night and sent the living darkness into a frenzy.

Not a barrier, Kirgipa thought.  Bait.  She shuddered, her gaze frozen on the shimmering column of cerulean light that was her mother.  The Kai still in the river and those on the shore had gone silent.  The river’s dull roar filled the quiet, along with the chant of spells that awakened a Kai’s magic and the ravenous screeches of galla.

Dendarah forced Kirgipa to face her.  The guard’s features were pinched. “Do not let this be your last memory of her.  I will watch.  I will remember.”  She glanced at Necos.  “I’ll do the same for you.”

Necos shook his head, his gaze locked on the spot where his brother and uncle stood.  “I carry the burden of this memory willingly.”

Kirgipa clutched Dendarah’s sleeve.  “Promise you’ll save my sister when it’s done.”

“I’ll do my best.”

She knew when the galla struck by the collective gasp inhaled by the Kai standing around her.  She almost turned, stopped by Dendarah who pulled her into her embrace, the baby between them.

More screams, these loud and long and so piercing as to crack the moon above them.  They were the cries of the dying and the cries of those who watched them die.  Kirgipa shuddered in Dendarah’s embrace and prayed that their suffering would speedily end, that her mother would perish instantly and not know agony.

In the end, she couldn’t judge if the attack lasted moments or months.  It seemed to last lifetimes.  When Dendarah freed her long enough to face the river, she saw nothing of the blue glow built from Kai magic or the men and women who formed it.  Only a wall of writhing shadow fenced the far shore, nebulous shapes made of crimson eyes, pointed claws and drawn fangs that dissolved into smoke and char only to reform again and again.  The river itself was bloated with more people.  Those who had sacrificed themselves to the galla had allowed everyone still trapped on the shore to reach the water in time.

The mass churned at the river’s edge, its frustration at not being able to feast on the victims just beyond its reach, palpable.  Howls and rapid clicks, as of teeth gnashing together, filled the air.  Behind the black wall, the palace rose in the distance, a broken, crumbling silhouette under the rising moon’s light.

Dendarah spoke behind Kirgipa.  “So falls the kingdom of Bast-Haradis.”

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