I'm so excited to share with you the cover of my next book in the White Road Chronicle series.
The first chapter, too.
The manuscripts are back from my editors and I'm in the process of cleaning up whatever last boo-boos they've found. So, I can confidently say you all should be looking for Ignited's release before the end of February.
Until then, here's a sneak peek.
Look for the announcement newsletter when Ignited goes live. It'll be soon. I'm as eager to get this story to you as you are to get it. Trust me. =)
The ball of light Alyra held suspended in the small cell grew dim from her weariness. She breathed out a long sigh and willed the ball of luminance to move through the rusty bars separating her from Tarek. He still slept on the cold, dirt floor, his linen shirt stained and leather pants covered in dust. He wore a vest with a small White Tree emblem on the right breast though he still didn’t have the medallion marking him as one of King Shaydon’s people.
With his arm thrown over his tranquil face, he lay perfectly still aside from the occasional twitch or mumbling as he dreamed.
Reaching through the bars, Alyra’s fingers barely brushed his blond tendrils curling around his forehead. She leaned against the cool iron, remembering the many nights they’d met together in the woods, hoping they’d not be discovered by one of Darnel’s guardsmen. Tarek had taught her to fish and how to set traps to catch small game. He’d instructed her on shooting a bow. He’d worked hard to prepare her to survive when they escaped.
What had gone wrong? Even though she had most of her memories back, finally, the last months she’d lived in Racah remained in a fog. She’d wanted to ask Tarek during their long hours in the Curian dungeon, but feared angering him. Finally, they’d been reunited, and for the first time in a long many months, she felt as if a big piece of her heart had been set back in place. She didn’t want to ruin that with questions that might stir more awful memories.
Not only did she remember their training times together, but she recalled their stolen kisses, as well, which caused a pleasant warmth to heat her chest. The hours sitting under the stars held in his arms brought a smile to her face. Now everything made sense. Why he’d followed her around like a hungry puppy. Why he’d risked so much to keep her safe. Why he’d traveled out of his way to be with her when she was sent to visit the dragons ….
Because he loved her.
And she loved him.
Tarek gave a startled jerk and bolted up to a sitting position. “Where…?” He looked around in bewilderment. Like her, he probably had trouble accepting where and what they’d tumbled into three days ago. The strange cliff-side pit she’d fallen into that turned out to be a library. They been left in this damp, underground chamber without a chance to speak to anyone, or ask questions. Where had they taken DezPierre, her Okbold friend who had saved her from several scrapes over the last couple of years?
She didn’t even have her pack with her Ledge-o-graph, the marvelous book which allowed her to communicate with her friends currently scattered across Alburnium.
Lotari and Stitch, the centaurs, had to be worried out of their minds, not to mention her brother, Ethan, who was also stuck in Wilderland. At least, she hoped Ethan remained with the centaurs and their guardian, the Elderad Riyah.
Alyra made her ball of light grow brighter to catch Tarek’s attention. “We’re still in the dungeon.”
She’d lost all sense of the time of day, outside of counting how many visits the guard, always dressed in a brown cloak with a hood covering his head, had entered with food and water, but no words. Never any words. And the deliverer of the food would only push the tray through the slot along the floor then rush back out, covered head ducked so she couldn’t see if he was one of them, or not. Surely, they were all of the lost race. The Curians.
She wanted more than anything to write Katrina and tell her that they had truly found the remnant. Before being locked in the prison, Alyra had momentarily seen a few of them with their swirling marks covering their faces and strange, drooping ears. The elders’ ears nearly touched their shoulders.
Tarek turned to face her, but the shackles on his ankle kept him from getting any closer. He reached out, and they were able to clasp hands. “Have you slept, love? You need your rest, too.”
“My mind is racing too much to sleep. I was thinking about our life in Racah. Before Dean, the Messenger showed up.”
He smiled and managed to bring the tips of her fingers to his lips. “Those were some of my best times, despite that wretched land and king.”
Bristles covered his cheek and tickled as she lightly stroked his face. When she made to pull back, he caught her hand again and didn’t let go. “I’m growing impatient with them. I think we need to go ahead and break ourselves out of here.”
Alyra motioned her free hand at the chain bound around his foot. “Did you say you could get rid of that?”
“Just say the word, and I can get us out of here.”
Chuckling, Alyra shook her head. “Just remove the shackles off so we can sit closer. Maybe when they come in with our next meal they’ll see we are growing impatient with them.”
“Do you think they know what I can do?” Tarek removed the small dagger from inside his boot that the Curians missed when they stripped them of their weapons. A flash of light lit up the small enclosure.
Alyra noticed there were two more cells, and she wondered when they had needed to use them. Did they often have visitors drop in on them?
“I’m not sure. They know I’m an Illuminate because they saw my medallion. Not sure what they think about you.”
“Most likely that I’m the traitor scum who doesn’t have one.” A loud clank echoed off the granite walls when the shackle broke loose. “Which is probably why they will leave us here to rot.”
“I’m sure they are just trying to decide how to approach us. That’s why I don’t want to threaten them.” Alyra slid both arms through the bars and waved him to scoot closer. Once she could wrap her arms around his wide shoulders, her nerves calmed considerably. “That’s better.” Their foreheads pressed together in the gap and her senses filled with his pine, woodsy scent she remembered so well.
“This is better.” He brushed his lips against her hairline. “If I can stay like this, I might reconsider my plan to bring this mountain down on their stubborn, pride-filled heads.”
“Hey, they’re no different than Katrina. She’s good and kind. They’ll come around. Eventually.”
Tarek let out a derisive snort. “Miss K is completely different. She wasn’t brought up with them. If it weren’t for her marks, I never would have believed she was a Curian. She’s nothing like the stories I’ve been told.”
“You knew about them? I mean before you met Katrina?” Alyra wondered at his name for her friend, then assumed that’s what all the folks of Little Delve must call her.
“My mother used to tell us stories about Alburnium until Pops ordered her to stop filling our heads with those fairy tales.” His voice lowered with anger at the mention of his father. Alyra didn’t care for the man much, either.
Tarek sighed, his warm breath washing over her ear and sending delightful tingles down her neck. “I’m ready to get out of here, love. What do you suppose they’ve done with DezPierre? Why won’t they tell us something?”
“I don’t know. I’m worried, too. What about that army surrounding Wilderland? What if they attack? I… I hope Ethan stays close to Riyah and doesn’t try to find us.”
Tarek pulled away, causing the chill from the cold floor to invade her momentary warmth. “Look, we have to do something. We’ve wasted enough time down here waiting to see what they’ll do. I say we make them speak to us. I can get us out of here.”
“Tare, I don’t want to frighten them. We need to...” The sound of a creaking door opening silenced her. They both stood. Alyra let her dim light fade. For a moment they were plunged into darkness before a lantern light flickered on the walls. The same man who always kept his head covered entered, wheeling in a cart with their trays on it. Tarek released her and rushed for the door, despite her warnings to not hurt him.
“Look, you,” Tarek demanded, his hand thrusting through the bars as he pointed at the attendant. “We need to speak to your elders. Right now, or…”
The man’s head jerked up, his eyes wide. He opened his mouth but no words came out, only a stump of a tongue. He was a mute. That explained why he never spoke to them.
Alyra caught sight the lines on his face indicating he was also a Curian. She hurried to the door, but her chains hindered her from getting too close. “Listen, sir. We mean no harm. But we need to speak with someone in authority.” She reached for her medallion. “I’m a representative of King Shaydon. Please, tell them we are here to help. We mean no harm, I swear.”
The man looked from Alyra to Tarek. He reached for the first tray and slid it under her door. But Tarek, free of his bonds, must have frightened him, because he also slid Tarek’s tray through her slot. Then taking his torch, he rushed back out, leaving them both in darkness again.
Tarek slammed his palm against the bars, sending up sparks.
“Tarek,” Alyra warned. “Don’t lose control.” She hadn’t seen him in action yet, but if he could do the things Riyah had wanted her to do, she wasn’t sure she was ready to see his Empowering abilities just yet. She sent up another ball of light that floated near the ceiling between their cells. Thrusting her arms through the bars that separated them, she motioned for him to return to her. “We’ll be all right, Tare. Come here. Let’s eat and think this through.”
He pulled his knife from his boot again. “Fine but I’m removing your chains, too. Come closer to the bars.”
She tried not to wince when the blade lit up. He had trouble reaching his muscled arm through the slot between the bars, but he did manage to cut off the metal bonds, allowing blood to flow down into her foot again.
“Thank you.” She gathered the food and water bags from the tray and passed his meal to him. “I’m getting tired of these leafy wrap meals. What is this inside, do you think?”
Tarek shook his head, his brows still furrowed over his sullen face. “Probably something they can grow underground. I didn’t see any signs of life above. I’m curious beyond belief over how they managed to survive down here so many years.”
Alyra bit into the wrap. There was some kind of meat with a gamy taste, perhaps venison or rabbit, surrounded by a creamed nut and root mixture. The whole thing was tucked into a large section of some kind of lettuce. She didn’t find the meal unpleasant, only unusual and somewhat bland. How did they manage to grow food without being seen?
For a while they ate in silence, both lost in their own thoughts. When Tarek finished his, he wiped his fingers on the cloth napkin they’d provided. “This is it. If nobody comes to speak with us by the time they serve us our next meal, I’m unlocking our cells and we’re going to find DezPierre and get out of here.”
Alyra swallowed down her bite. “I sure hope they didn’t hurt him.” Her Okbold friend could be pretty obstinate when provoked. He looked like a stump of a tree with sharp, twig-like fingers that could do a person great damage if the creature had the notion to cause harm. She watched Tarek for a long moment and knew from the resolute set of his jaw he wouldn’t be persuaded to wait any longer than he already had.
Finally, she gave a nod. “Very well. If it comes down to a fight, I can throw up a shield so they can’t hurt us. And we will not hurt them.” She pushed a chunk of bread through the bars to him. “If they don’t seem willing to talk, we’ll find Dez and leave. At least, we know where they are. I’ll find a way to speak to Riyah, and maybe he can bring Issah here or come himself.”
“You can’t hear him now?”
She shook her head. When she’d lit up while trying to escape her kidnappers, she’d heard her guardian loud and clear inside her head when he ordered her to stop glowing. “I’ve not been able to hear him since they brought us here. I’m not sure why.”
His head bobbed once as he considered her words. “Let’s hope that army hasn’t charged into Wilderland and attacked. Though that might explain why he isn’t speaking to you.”
A shudder raked down Alyra’s back. She didn’t want to think about that possibility. Her old master, King Darnel, wouldn’t be pleased to find a Meeting Hall had been built in Wilderland, where he’d always gone to stock his army with creatures.
When they finished eating, Tarek settled next to the bars. “Come sit by me. I want you to get some rest. I’ll keep watch now and wake you if anything happens.”
Alyra wasn’t sure she’d actually be able to sleep, but weariness hung on her like a hundred pounds of chains. She’d need to try if they were going to attempt an escape. Oh, please King Shaydon, let the Curians see reason, she silently petitioned, hoping the King would hear her way down in this underground dungeon.
Riyah insisted the King heard his children wherever they were. So, with that thought easing her fears, she rested her head against the bars and let Tarek’s arms circle her shoulders. His closeness soothed her fears, and his hummed song stilled her rampant thoughts. He tenderly stroked her hair, lulling her to sleep and she knew no more until the cells filled with a brilliant light.
Fighting her way back to the land of wakefulness, Alyra hoped Tarek hadn’t let loose his Empowering light. But when she opened her eyes and blinked against the brightness, she saw he also slumbered, rested against the bars like her.
“See?” said a younger man dressed in leather like a guard. He pointed toward them. “Samuel wrote that they’ve broken their chains. Which one do you think did it?”
A group of hooded figures stood outside the cells, each carrying a lantern, which explained why the dungeon was so well lit now. Tarek was on his feet in a moment, the dagger in his hands, but not glowing. Alyra also stood and slowly moved toward the door of her cell.
“We mean no harm. Please, sirs, give us a chance to explain how we came to be here.”
One stepped forward— an elder, she guessed from his stooped frame and glazed eyes that were nearly completely white. “Let the Illuminate girl speak, Sirth. Perhaps she can shed light on our current situation. Once we know all the facts, then we can make an informed decision on how to proceed.”
“Father Rowel, please,” said a younger one holding his arm. A female, from her voice.
Alyra peered at the face beneath the hood. The girl looked just like Katrina, with her dark hair and narrow face. “I have a Curian friend who is right about your age. She also has faint markings and your color of hair.”
“Impossible,” rumbled the one they called Sirth. “We are the only survivors.”
“No.” Alyra clutched the bars to still her trembling hands. “There is a Curian who escaped the attack. I think her parents were warned and sent her away before it happened. Her name is Katrina and she was raised by a family living in the northern Semitamon Mountains. She now lives in The Halls of Knowledge.”
The girl gasped. “But the Halls, they’ve been destroyed.”
Tarek moved toward the edge of his own cell, causing everyone to take a cautious step backward. “Not all of the Halls. There’s a portion on the southern summit that’s been preserved. The library is still intact and now in use. And the people of Little Delve are—”
Sirth hit his walking stick on the bars. “Hush! You have no voice here, unmarked one. We will listen to the one bearing the King’s mark and no other.”
“Stop it,” Alyra snapped. “He lived there with Katrina. He knows what’s going on, more than I do.”
Sirth glowered. “Impossible! An outlander in our Halls? What is this foolery?”
The elder moved forward with the girl still supporting him. “Let us hear their story, Sirth. Patience is a virtue we must work hard to achieve on a daily basis. Come, dear light-bearer, finish your story.” He patted her hand, and Alyra wondered if he was able to see her or not. His cloudy eyes seemed focused on her.
She swallowed down the nervous lump forming in her throat. “My name is Alyra. I’m from Belluvita and belong to the House of Lamb. This is Tarek of the House of Lion. Sir, we’ve both escaped from Racah and are familiar with the Dark King’s schemes. We saw his army approaching Wilderland moments before I accidentally tumbled into your library.” She patted her chest with her free hand. “For the past several months, I’ve been living in the ancient forest with my brother and centaur friends, helping them build a Meeting Hall for King Shaydon.” She paused and pointed to Tarek, just in case the elder could see her. “My friend Tarek, he sought sanctuary in the Denovo Meeting Hall. Prince Issah assigned him to help our Curian friend, Katrina, reclaim the Halls of Knowledge.”
Jerin and Carah, her warrior friends, were there now, helping.
The one named Sirth, dressed like a soldier, gave a derisive laugh and shook his head. “Such lies they’ve come up with.”
“Please, sir,” Alyra pressed on, ignoring his scoffing. “If you’d allow me to have my belongings back, I can contact my friends and warn them about the army that approaches.”
The elder stroked the long white hairs growing off his chin. “The Ledge-o-graph has been making much racket. We’ve sought a way to silence it, but I see the creator of the journal has put a protection over the device so no one can read it except the owner. Is my assumption correct in this matter?”
“Yes, sir. I can fix it, sir. If you’ll allow me to come out. And I need to know how my Okbold friend is. Please, you haven’t caused him harm, have you?”
Sirth stepped between her cell and the Elder. “See? She admits to being associated with the miscreant creature.” He turned to her cage and added, “We’ve secured him so he can’t hurt anyone. But my patience with him wanes, girl.”
“Alyra, sir. My name is Alyra.” She stared back at him, matching his stern expression with one of her own. She’d come too far and been through too much to allow people to intimidate her anymore. “Please hear us out, sirs. We’ve been looking all over for you. Issah has been searching, too. He wants you back in his Kingdom and we can help you get there. If you’ll only give us a chance.”
“Issah?” The Elder whispered the prince’s name with a longing in his ancient voice. “Oh, how I’ve missed the connection we once had with Aloblase. Back in the day, we had a portal—”
“It’s been reopened,” Tarek interjected. “I helped rebuild the pool with the help of the townsfolk. We all worked together and repaired the assembly halls. The portal has been reopened and the Logorians have traveled through. They’ve come to help.”
A collective gasp escaped from the group. Even Sirth seemed taken aback by this news for a moment until his stony-faced doubt returned. “Father Rowel, please see reason. They even admitted to their association with the Dark Lord. My guess is they are his spies and accidentally found a way in. We must do with them as we’ve done with the other trespassers.”
The girl supporting Rowel shook her head. “You do not mean, Sirth, to toss them into the pit without a proper trial, do you?”
He glowered at the girl. “I see no reason to waste the Council’s time with these lying trespassers. Yes, that is exactly what I propose.”