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Agent: Sarah E. Younger

Agency: The Nancy Yost Literary Agency
Mailing address: 121 West 27th St., Suite 1201 New York, NY 10001
Main office: 212.239.2861

November 12th, 2019. You can find preorder links for the book here

2019. It is not currently available for preorder. 

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THE IPPOS KING – Rough draft serialization – part the eighteenth

Link to part the seventeenth if you missed it when I posted:

Author’s note: This serialization is an abridged rough draft of THE IPPOS KING, therefore expect to find numerous errors. The final, edited version will reflect corrections and revisions as noted by my editor and proofreader. THE IPPOS KING is currently available for preorder on Amazon, B&N, Apple Books and Kobo (order links provided at the bottom of the post).

My goal is to update once a week, but there may be a couple of weeks where I’ll update twice in a week or miss a week and double up the following week.

As we move through an unpredictable summer, I hope this serialized version offers some entertainment for you. Stay well. Stay safe.

On with the show.

That night they camped not far off the main road. As Serovek promised, Erostis worked culinary magic over the fire to turn the humble but much-loathed potato into a delectable dish that had his mouth watering for a plate piled high with the vegetable.

Anhuset’s nostrils flared as Erostis handed her a plate to pass to Klanek. She held it for a moment, eyeing the golden-brown cuts of potato with their crispy edges and generous sprinkling of salt and herbs. Her eyebrows slowly climbed as she stared at the plate, then Erostis, then the plate again. “This is the same maggot potato thing?”

He preened, delighted by her obvious amazement. “It’s all in the technique, madam. I can make your shoes taste delicious given enough time and spices.”

Serovek hid a smile as Klanek gazed longingly at the plate Anhuset held. “If you don’t mind passing that over, sha, before it gets cold, I’d appreciate it.” Serovek noted the driver dared not reach for the plate. Smart man.

She reluctantly gave up the plate, nostrils still flared to catch the smell of herbs and smoke infused into the potatoes. Serovek motioned to Erostis to fill another plate as Klanek took his from Anhuset, his gaze hard on her clawed hands as if he feared she’d change her mind and snatch his supper back from him, taking his arm with it.

“Care to brave the roasted maggot, firefly woman? It won’t try to kill you like scarpatine.” Serovek couldn’t resist teasing her. “Or if you don’t wish to take so big a risk, I’ll be happy to share a few pieces of mine with you.” He raised his plate in offer.

Her glare might have set him on fire had it stayed on him longer, but the helping of supper Erostis handed her proved a more powerful distraction. All three men watched as she brought the plate up to her nose, indulging in a long inhalation before spearing a potato chunk with one claw and popping it into her mouth. As she chewed, her lamplight eyes widened and rounded.

“This can’t be the same disgusting heap of dirt-tasting mush I had to swallow at the Khaskem’s wedding dinner,” she declared once she swallowed. She speared another piece, this time eyeing it with a speculative look.

Her audience’s laughter coaxed a smile from her, much to Serovek’s delight. “One and the same,” he said. “Erostis’s boast wasn’t an empty one. He’s a good cook.”

“Why do you think I’m here?” the soldier added, giving Anhuset a wink. “It isn’t because the margrave thinks I’m pretty to look at.”

Anhuset embraced her conversion from hater to lover of the previously despised vegetable with gusto, wolfing down three heaping servings before announcing she intended on abducting Erostis to take him back with her to Saggara so he might share his culinary secrets with the Kai cooks.

Erostis gave his liege a pained look. “Sorry, my lord, but I’m not learning how to cook that bug pie abomination you like to eat if I go there. I have my limits.”

After the destruction of High Salure’s kitchen as half his garrison waited outside the doors to do battle with an escaped scarpatine, Serovek agreed with him. “I think it best to leave the preparation and consumption of such a dangerous meal within Kai territory, where the staff knows how to handle one of the creatures in most situations.”

“No pie for you at High Salure, margrave,” Anhuset said with mock sympathy.

“It just means I’ll have to visit Saggara more often, madam,” he replied, waiting for her expected scowl at the idea of seeing him. His heart knocked briefly against his ribs as her expression turned pensive instead, nor did she fire back a sharp rebuttal.

Anhuset further shocked him by setting her plate down and announcing she was off to scout the area. If he didn’t know better, he’d suspect the fierce Kai sha had found a ready excuse to flee.

She returned just as Serovek finished brushing down Magas for the evening and checked the ropes of the makeshift corral he and Erostis had strung earlier between a grouping of trees. The firelight behind her edged her silhouette in a ruddy corona. Her silvery hair challenged the moon’s grace, and the bright tapestry of her eyes glowed in the darkness as she approached him. “I wondered if you’d still be awake when I returned.”

He met her halfway. “Did you discover anything odd?”

She shook her head. “No.” She dragged out the word, and they both paused in their trek back to the fire, stopping next to the wagon.

Serovek frowned. “There’s a wealth of questions in that one word, Anhuset.”

Her lips turned down at the corners. “I could just be twitchy thanks to our trip to Haradis.” She nodded toward the dark barrier of trees from which she’d emerged. “I found three sets of tracks heading in the direction we’re traveling, following a line of trampled brush and trails of blood. Boar tracks too. I think a trio of hunters was tracking a wounded hog. The spoor wasn’t fresh, but I followed it for a short time until it faded. Nothing of interest really.”

“But?” She might well be twitchy as she claimed, seeing an enemy behind every tree, under every rock, and lurking in every shadow. It didn’t matter. He trusted her instincts, and something about the spoor had raised her hackles.

“It feels purposeful.” She blew a strand of silvery hair away from her face, and her foot tapped the ground in a sign of her frustration. “I’m not explaining this right. Old tracks, old blood. An ordinary hunt. But like someone went to the trouble of making it look that way.”

He gazed beyond her shoulder to the shadowy wood. They weren’t far outside contested territory, and even in places where peace mostly rained, raiders and brigands of every source still presented a threat to travelers. If they were being followed by miscreants with the intent to rob them, they were in for a nasty surprise. Even with their numbers halved, Serovek’s party presented a formidable fighting force. Erostis and Klanek were experienced soldiers and had seen their fair share of skirmishes, and he almost pitied anyone who’d challenge a Kai sha.

At his prolonged silence, she raised an eyebrow. “Do you doubt me? You’re welcome to see for yourself.”

“I’m not that big of a fool, Anhuset. If you suspect there’s more to those tracks than meets the eye, I believe you. We’ve known to be on our guard since the outset of this trip. We’ll continue as we are. If we’re being tracked by thieves who think us easy prey, they’ll learn differently soon enough.”

She gestured to the wagon. “Who’d guess an ordinary cart pulled by ordinary horse flesh would draw so much attention. You’d think it’s a monarch’s sedan and stallions from Nadiza’s lightning herd.”

Serovek walked to the wagon, and Anhuset followed. He leaned over the center board and folded back the blanket covering Megiddo’s ensorcelled bier. The thrum of Elder magic tickled his fingertips when he did. The monk’s face, peaceful in repose, carried none of the blue corona Serovek had half expected to see when he move aside the covering. “It isn’t the wagon itself or the team that pulls it. It’s the fact the cargo is covered and accompanied by an armed escort.”

“Such inspires curiosity,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily incite robbery. There’s something more at work here.” He felt the weight of her curious gaze before it settled on the bier. “For no reason I can explain, it’s difficult not to stare at him. Even when he was alive—still awake and aware—he drew the eye.”

Serovek gazed at her profile from the corner of one eye. She’d gathered her hair in a loose knot at her nape, exposing her graceful neck and sharp line of her jaw. He liked her face with its high cheekbones and swooping eyebrows as white as a snow owl’s feathers, the curve of her lips that were so parsimonious with their smile. She wore a contemplative expression as she studied Megiddo, an expression tinged with admiration. “You find him handsome then?” A nettle of unwelcome jealousy spoiled even more with a touch of envy pricked his insides. How he’d love to garner such an expression from her for himself.

Her quick, derisive snort answered his question before her words did. “Hardly, but even ugly can be arresting.”

Her remark gave him hope. She’d been stingingly blunt regarding her opinion of his appearance. Anhuset, like most Kai, considered humans ugly, and the sentiment was returned by most humans. Still, he’d never taken her harsh honesty personally. Even had she thought him as impressive as Megiddo, or as handsome as the handsomest Kai man, it wouldn’t matter. This was a woman whose affections would be hard-won if won at all, and they wouldn’t be obtained through surface attractiveness. H

He flipped the blanket’s edge back into place, hiding Megiddo’s face and turned to his companion. He studied her as she studied him, her lamplight eyes bright in the darkness, the emotions there hidden in depths of numerous citrine shades. “And beauty is a quality defined by more than appearance,” he said softly. “Good night, Anhuset.” He bowed and left her at the wagon.

Her reply, just as softly uttered followed him back to his bed. “May your rest be peaceful, margrave.”

The following day they rode parallelto a deepening ravine, their paceslowed by the topography’s gradual ascent and the degradation of the road. The smooth packed earth of the market roads gave way to rocky, uneven ground, and Klanek dared ot push the horse team to a faster pace and risk breaking an axle.

Serovek consulted his map twice, searching for a spandrel bridge that crossed the ravine and allowed them to reach the other side and the entrance to the Lobak Valley. The map showed two bridges ajacent to each other; the beam bridge and a primitive footbridge. The footbridge came into view first. And last. No other bridge stretched across the ravine beside it.

He reined Magas to a halt and signalled the others to do the same. “Fuck,” he muttered, scowling at the rickety footbridge, just wide enough to allow two people to cross side-by-side if they were willing to risk the sway and swoop of frayed ropes at the mercy of a howling wind.

Erostis and Anhuset stopped on either side of him. The soldier stated the obvious. “There’s no beam bridge.”

“I can see that.” Serovek unfolded the portion of the map showing the bridges. It hadn’t changed since his last study of landmarks. Two bridges, not one, and he was certain they hadn’t taken a wrong turn. The way here had been mostly a straight track.

Anhuset leaned toward him for a look at the map. “Your map says to cross here?” One eyebrow slowly climbed as she changed positions to stare at the footbridge. “You’ll not get one horse across that death trap much less a wagon and team. It looks ready to snap under the weight of a rat.”

He nearly bit his tongue to keep from snapping at her in frustration. He held up the map. “The mapmaker I purchased this is reliable and renowned. There’s supposed to be a beam bridge here as well as the footbridge.”

“Maybe we took a wrong path after the village or the forest.” Erostis turned his mount in a circle as if to search for some hidden road whose markers they’d missed.

Serovek shook his head. “No, we’re traveling in the right direction.” He coaxed Magas toward the footbridge, buffeted by the ravine’s chilly gusts as they rode parallel to its edge. As he got closer to the footbridge, the discrepancy between map and reality revealed itself.

The map was correct as was their direction. A beam bridge had once spanned the ravine, but no longer. Someone had destroyed it, tearing the anchor bolts from the cliff walls. Bits and pieces of spandrels and parapets not fallen to the river far below, hung on narrow outcroppings, providing sanctuary for bird’s nests. The bits of stone looked like broken teeth against the cliff’s dark rock.

“Well, that explains why there aren’t two bridges,” Anhuset said behind him, her remark snatched away by the spiraling wind.

“Aye,” he replied as they rode back to where Klanek waited with the wagon. “I’ll wager those who destroyed all the other water crossings we’ve seen had a hand in its collapse.”

“But why not take out the footbridge as well? A quick swipe with a scythe on the ropes, and it’s done. Much easier than the beam bridge.”

He’d questioned the oversight as well for a moment until he gave the footbridge more than a passing glance. “Whoever it was, they were wise not to cut that one. It’s an escape route. Someone fleeing the galla can still cross the ravine, and the demons can’t follow.” He gestured toward the bridge. “Gaps between the boards. Too narrow to trip a person, but enough space between them that you see water. The demons can’t cross.”

Klanek’s face wrinkled into deeper worry lines when Serovek relayed the news about the collapsed bridge to him. “If we can’t cross here, we’ll be forced to take the round-about way to reach the valley, and that means going through what’s left of Chamtivos’s territory.”

Serovek was about to tell the driver he’d love to hear any alternative options when Anhuset straightened from her casual slouch and pointed to a spot behind him. “It seems your map missed a third bridge, margrave.”

He twisted in the saddle, then wheeled Magas around for a better look at this newest surprise. While the spot where they stood had cleared of morning fog hours earlier, dissipated by sun and wind, it still clung to a part of the cliffs in the distance—a gray shroud whose folds now parted in ripples and folds to expose a magnificent beam bridge of swooping arches, decorative spandrels, and graceful parapets constructed of ivory stone.

“That one isn’t on the map, is it?”

Startled by the unexpected discovery but hopeful the gods had just bestowed a mercy upon them, Serovek bit back a smile at Erostis’s almost forlorn question. “No, it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be crossed. We might as well scout it before we decide to take the longer route.” He didn’t relish traveling through Chamtivos’s territory, and if this new bridge offered a way to avoid that, he’d gladly take it.

They set off toward the bridge, and Serovek suffered a splinter of unease the closer they came to it. How a map maker could capture the details of a footbridge but miss a beam bridge of this size and majesty made no sense. Judging by the depressions in the cliff walls where the other beam bridge had been anchored, it was wide enough to accomodate both light and heavy transport as well as foot traffic, with a lane dedicated to each side crossing instead of having to wait for clearance.

This bridge dwarfed the collapsed one, easily three times its size and wide enough to allow full battalions and cavalry to cross, along with wagons of every size. Tendrils of fog wound through the parapets and floated just above a bridge deck partially covered by a carpet of tightly twisted ivy. The greenery wrapped pilasters and spilled over the deck’s edge in long garlands. More of it draped statues twice the height of a man that lined the bridge on both sides

Where bridge deck met cliff’s edge, a set of pavers carved in arcane runes marked the transition from ground to bridge. Their party halted, and Serovek dismounted for a closer look at the carvings. He stretched out a hand to trace one of the symbols in the air. The abrupt change in temperature made him step back before reaching out a second time to test the air.

“What is it?” Anhuset had dismounted as well and came to stand beside him and Magas.

“Put out your hand,” he instructed her. “Just over the line where the bridge starts.

She hesitated for a breath before doing as he described. Like him, she yanked her hand back. Unlike him, she didn’t try a second time, electing instead to wipe her hand on her leg. “It’s warm. Summer-warm compared to where we’re standing.”

Serovek had assumed the runes carved in the pavers were eithe wards or a greeting and was inclined to believe the first more than the second, therefore he wasn’t overly startled when his hand slipped across an invisible barrier that separated the hard cold of a lingering winter still gripping the land from the heat of a day in high summer. No wonder the ivy draping the bridge was so lush and green. An enchantment protected it from the elements.

What made him pause was Anhuset’s lack of awareness to the sorcery. The Kai he’d known, blessed with a heritage of magic, could sniff it out when it was nearby. She’d said nothing nor given any indication she’d felt its presence, even when they stood at the bridge’s entrance.

“Did you not sense the magic as we got closer?” he asked her in a low voice, keeping his tone light and conversational.

Her entire body stiffened, an infintesimal tensing. If one wasn’t watching her closely, they’d have missed it, but Serovek had been watching, and the tell-tale reaction told him his question had touched a raw spot.

Her expression as well told him more than she realized. Studied. Distant. An indifferent mask. Her careless shrug didn’t fool him either. “It’s human magic,” she said in a bland voice. “The Kai don’t always sense the sorcery your kind wield.”

Your kind.

Had she slammed her shield down between them, her message couldn’t have been clearer. He tread where he wasn’t welcomed with his question, and she warned him with those two words that he’d be wise to back off from any more inquiries.

He held up both hands, palms out, in a gesture of surrender before turning his attention to Erostis and Klanek. “We don’t know what these wards do or if the bridge’s apparent stability is just an illusion. I’ll walk it first…” Three sets of protests went up so that he had to raise his voice above them. “Then come back so we’ll go as a group.” He scowled at Anhuset and the two men as they all readied to launch into another spate of argument. “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you.”

“I’m going with you,” Anhuset returned his scowl. “My magic might have missed the first ward, but it may catch something else before you stumble into it.”

Her suggestion gained an enthusiastic nod from Erostis. “It’s a good idea, margrave. Better than you going alone or me and Klanek with you. The sha would know what to avoid if there’s anything unseen lurking on the bridge.”

Serovek’s faith in Anhuset’s sorcerous senses had been tested one too many times now. It was no longer as strong as Erostis’s, but he didn’t argue the point. He passed Magas’s reins to him instead and motioned to Anhuset to do the same. “Leave your horse. We’ll keep the risk to a minimum.”

When they stepped onto the bridge, a tilting sensation made him sway, and his ears popped as if he dropped suddenly from a greater height. He widened his stance to keep his balance and saw that Anhuset did the same. The sensation passed as quickly as it struck, leaving behind a cloying heat and the scent of decaying vegetation.

Dressed for winter, the two shed their heavier layers of clothing, but even down to a thin shirt, he still broke a sweat. Beside him, Anhuset wore a sleeveless tunic. A fine sheen of perspiration already glossed her arms, defining long muscles. She’d unsheathed one of the knives she wore at her belt, the blade catching the dull gleam of sunlight on its edge.

She stretched out her arm, inviting him to lead. “Ready for a stroll, margrave?”

Up close, the bridge was more dilapidated than what they’d seen from the road. Age and abandonment had left their marks, as had the purposeful defacement by long-vanished vandals. Even half choked in the creeping ivy, it was still a magnificent structure of lavishly carved stone. The statues he’d seen lining the parapets towered above him, standing on plinths engraved with epitaphs in an unknown script. The sculptor or sculptors had rendered the rich texture of silk and delicate embroidery from stone in the garb worn by the effigies, and the crowns they all wore told all who looked upon them that these were kings and queens. Larger than life in both marble and flesh and blood, they loomed over their lesser subjects with haughty majesty.

Anhuset’s voice beside him startled him from his contemplation. He’d been so distracted by the sight of the statues, he hadn’t heard her approach. “I can forgive a mapmaker for overlooking a bridge, even one as grand as this, but an entire city?” She pointed to the other side of the ravine where the mist hung thick as a barrier wall, obscuring everything at the bridge’s opposite end. Until now.

The impenetrable gray had fractured in spots, creating gaps in the mist wall to reveal a true fortification complete with imposing gate, battlements, and turrets. Towers, claimed by more of the ivy soared skyward behind the walls. The crumbling remains of graceful sky walks once connected a few of the towers, their spans dismembered. In the sun, the city gleamed alabaster pockmarked by lichen and mold. Serovek imagined it a woman, once beautiful and healthy, now disfigured by disease.

As much of a ruin as Haradis, this nameless city perched on the cliff’s edge in equal silence. Serovek fancied he still heard the faint echo of voices and the creak of cart wheels as they rolled over a bridge deck clear of ivy and crowded with people.

Unease crawled down his spine. What lay behind the mist and fortifications? Was the silence born of a place devoid of inhabitants or one that simply hid a quiet predator? A galla waiting to ambush the unwary if they walked through the gate?

The final version of THE IPPOS KING is currently available for preorder at all the usual retailers. See below for the links as well as a link to the second book in the Fallen Empire trilogy, DRAGON UNLEASHED (available now).


photo of Grace Draven

Grace Draven is a Louisiana native living in Texas with her husband, kids and a big, doofus dog. She has loved storytelling since forever and is a fan of the fictional bad boy. She is the winner of the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice for Best Fantasy Romance of 2014 and 2016, and a USA Today Bestselling author.


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