(Ascension Series, #2)
by: K.A. Linde
This is book two in a series. Feel free to pick up The Affiliate (Ascension series, #1) now. Otherwise this might hold spoilers for book 1.
Jardana’s body hummed with victory.
Ever since she had returned to her rooms to find a note addressed to her from Prince Kael in their secret code, she had known that tonight was the night. Everything would change between them. Their little dalliance behind the scenes had gone on long enough. It was time to make this official.
She was a Byern Affiliate, raised to be one of the most respected women in the entire country. And not just that, she was in a position to rule. Already, she was Assistant Director of Internal Affairs for Her Majesty, Queen Kaliana. Soon, she would rise from Assistant to the actual DIA for the Queen herself. The Queen’s right-hand woman. Her most trusted Affiliate.
And, if things worked out as she suspected they would tonight, she would even surpass that and become a Duchess, ruling over all of Albion, her husband second in line for the throne. A woman could get used to that.
She tugged the black cloak low over her brow. The note had been clear that she was not to be seen when she left. Long ago, she had figured out more than one passage in and out of the castle grounds where no one would stop her from leaving, even in dire times, such as now with Affiliate and High Order murders and that annoying Cyrene’s disappearance.
Truly, Jardana believed Cyrene was just trying to get more attention, as if the King’s pretend interest wasn’t enough. She turned her nose up at the thought. No, King Edric cared nothing for that girl. That was why Cyrene had vanished in the first place.
Jardana rolled her eyes. Cyrene made her blood boil. At least Jardana wouldn’t have to deal with Cyrene again after tonight.
The trek to her rendezvous point wasn’t that far, but she held to the shadows and avoided people. If Kael wanted a private proposal, then she would be happy to oblige him.
She passed a woman in a dirty frock, who jumped backward at the sight of Jardana.
“Get out of the way,” Jardana snapped irritably.
The woman dropped into a hasty, clumsy curtsy. “My apologies, miss.”
“Don’t you know your betters? I’m an Affiliate, not some lowly commoner.”
Her eyes rounded. “Forgive me. I meant no offense, Affiliate.”
Jardana glared at the woman. “Her Majesty will be hearing about this.”
And then she strode away, listening to the woman’s pleas, with dark laughter buried within herself.
She reached the secluded building that Kael had mentioned in his letter. She had memorized it before leaving and promptly burned it in the fireplace. No one was to know what was happening.
Approaching the door, she tapped out the code—three taps, pause, one tap, pause, one tap, wait.
The door creaked open, and Jardana hurried into the house, locking the door behind her. She tipped back the hood on her cloak and surveyed the room. It was completely empty, not a single piece of artwork on the walls, not a single chair in the room, not even a scrap of rug to break up the stone floor. It was dismal.
Why would he propose here?
“Jardana, is that you?” Kael called.
She turned toward a narrow corridor and followed his voice. “Yes, it’s me.”
“Good. You came.”
She walked down the corridor, into the open room, and stopped in her tracks. Candlelight flooded the bare room. A wooden table was in the center, and on top of it was a small book. When Kael turned to stare down at the pages, the air in the room seemed to shift with him. She had an eerie feeling that she couldn’t exactly place.
“You wanted to see me?” she said, losing some of her bravado.
“Yes. Shut the door behind you.”
Jardana swallowed but closed the door and strode to his side. “What are you reading?”
“A book my father left me.”
“I didn’t know King Maltrier had bequeathed you anything,” Jardana said. “What does it contain?”
“A great deal of things that are very important to the country.”
“Has King Edric seen it?”
It was the wrong thing to ask. Kael’s head snapped up to meet her, and his eyes were storm clouds. His pupils dilated, and he looked furious. She should have known better. She knew how much Kael despised his brother. He was the chosen one, born for greatness, given everything on a silver platter while Kael had to wait in the background, was looked down upon by his peers, and struggled to attain such greatness as his brother had already achieved.
“Edric was not always the golden son,” Kael growled. “Once, my father chose me above everyone…above Edric. He left me the most precious thing in his possession, and today, we will see his plans begin to come to fruition.”
Jardana smiled cruelly. She loved when he spoke like this. “Yes,” she told him, “together, we will take over the world.”
“We most certainly will,” he said with that charming smile she knew all too well.
He reached out and dragged her flush against him. “You trust me?”
“Implicitly,” she told him.
They were going to rule the world together. She would be his queen, seated at his side, second only to the Queen. Her ambition had never been higher than at that moment. She could practically taste it. She would sit atop the golden throne, looking down upon all the worthless citizens. She would have full command of the Affiliates, and they would do her bidding and her bidding alone. It was what she had been born for. Her mother had always said that she would be supreme.
“Then, we must be made as one,” he breathed against her neck.
She couldn’t hold back the gasp. Finally. “Yes. Oh, Kael, yes.”
The knife plunged into her back so fast that she never saw it coming. It struck her so precisely that she hadn’t even had the chance to cry out, just as he had planned it. Blood poured from the wound, soaking Kael’s hands and falling onto the stone floor.
“For you, Father,” he said. Then, he chanted the words that his forefathers had chanted before him, which translated from the ancient tongue to, “Life freely given. Power freely taken. Drawn from you. Give thus to me. Cast off the light and plunge into darkness. I surrender.”
As the life drained out of Jardana’s once vibrant body, Kael claimed the life force for his own. There was no greater force on earth than the power he was claiming from flesh and blood. Their connection, so deeply entrenched over the years, only intensified the white-hot power now at his disposal.
It was in that moment, as the power flooded his body, that he finally understood why his father had murdered his mother.
Every single part of Cyrene Strohm’s body ached.
She dismounted from her proud dapple, Ceffy, and dropped to her feet. Her knees nearly buckled underneath her, and she tried to shake off the stiff soreness that had come from riding day in and day out. Even her fingers were cramping from gripping the reins so tightly.
Pulling her bag off of Ceffy’s saddle, she prepared her horse for another long day tomorrow. Her hand reached inside the bag before it fell to the ground at her feet. She removed the golden pin of Byern from the bag and affectionately ran her fingers over its climbing vines. It was the mark of an Affiliate, the highest position in the land, save royalty. It pained her not to wear the pin anymore, but she and her companions had all agreed that it was too recognizable. So, it lay, tucked away, in her belongings.
Cyrene stifled a yawn and covered her mouth to try to bite back the exhaustion. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to see her weariness. She had been the one to convince her friends—Maelia Dallmer, Ahlvie Gunn, and Orden Dain—to flee their home country of Byern. So, she was the one who had to remain strong throughout this journey, no matter what was thrown in her face.
From an early age, she had dreamed about finding adventure and traveling the world. She just hadn’t expected adventure to be this tiresome.
Maelia hauled the packhorse through the open clearing and immediately began to set up camp. Orden scouted the hilly roads far ahead. Ahlvie had already tied up his horse, Belgar, and was collecting firewood. They had been on the run for a few weeks now and had settled into a routine.
“Cyrene,” Maelia said, grabbing her attention, “Ahlvie should have been back already?”
“Already? He hasn’t been gone that long,” she said.
But then her eyes caught the location of the sun, and she frowned.
“I don’t like for him to be too far out with Orden gone and guards on our tail.”
“I’ll find him. Don’t worry.”
“Take that with you.” Maelia pointed at a heavy broadsword hanging from Ceffy’s side.
Cyrene looked at the sword with disdain. “I’ll only be a minute.”
“I’d feel better if you had it with you,” Maelia said.
The sword was an unfortunate necessity. The group had left Albion, the second largest city in their home country of Byern, with no trouble. By the time anyone had noticed that they had left, Cyrene had thought the coast was clear.
Oh, how wrong I was.
News had traveled quickly that King Edric Dremylon of Byern believed Cyrene had been kidnapped, and a hefty reward had been issued for her return. So, even if she could tell Edric that she had not been kidnapped but instead escaped to fulfill her mission to get to Eleysia and discover how to use her magical powers, no one would hear her story. Not to mention, everyone, including herself only a couple of months ago, believed magic was nothing more than a myth.
But magic was more than a myth. After a near-death experience where she had faced a deadly Braj, her powers had manifested, and even if she was in love with the King, getting out of Byern had been a necessity. Edric would never have let her go if he had known the truth…of any of it. So, it was partly her fault that he believed she had been kidnapped, and now, their departure from Byern had turned into a game of duck and cover with guardsmen in pursuit.
Cyrene must have made a face at Maelia’s suggestion, and she fixed Cyrene with a stern look.
“The sun is setting, and the Hidden Forest is notoriously dangerous. You’ve heard the sounds at night. Strange inhuman howls and creepy slithering noises.” Maelia shuddered at the thought. “Just take it.”
Maelia had a way of ignoring Cyrene’s protests. Even though the sword was clunky, Maelia was used to a world where a sword was the best defense. So, Cyrene untied the sword from Ceffy’s side and laced it around her plain blue dress. It dragged down her waist, and she bent slightly to the right to try to adjust it.
“Thank you,” Maelia said. “Be safe.”
Cyrene ground her teeth and set out.
After the first week of trekking aimlessly through the woods, she had cursed her parents for not giving her a proper education on tracking, positioning, and other such important matters. She had thought that all she needed to know could be found in books. But the only book she had brought with her held text that only she could see and read. It was a riddle wrapped inside a mystery.
As she followed the most obvious pathway through the trees, her eyes scanned the ever-darkening sky. They needed to build a fire before they lost all light. Her stomach growled louder than those weird noises.
A rustle of voices sounded in the trees nearby, and Cyrene hastily hid behind a large bush. With a shuddering deep breath, she peered around the corner.
Six Byern guard were in full armor. Each had a headpiece tucked under his arm. The man currently speaking was sporting the royal colors of her homeland with a plume of green and gold feathers jutting from the top of his helmet, the telltale sign of a Captain of the Royal Guard.
“You’re sure you saw someone coming this way?” the Captain asked.
“Certain, Captain,” the guard answered at once.
“Then, where are they?”
“Sir, we’ve sent out Rorick and Naelan to sweep the perimeter of the area. They couldn’t have gone far,” another man said.
Not six guards.
Eight against four with two of my friends missing, and I’m unable to properly use a weapon. Now would be a great time for me to be able to use my magic.
“I don’t like these woods. If we don’t hear back with a definite destination by nightfall, we’ll make camp.,” the Captain said. “There’s a small creek not far from here on the other side of the embankment. Meet there. Now, move out.”
Cyrene’s heart hammered in her chest. Orden had said the guards who were trailing them were gaining ground, but she hadn’t thought that he meant this much ground. She needed to get back and warn Maelia. She didn’t know where Ahlvie and Orden were, but she had to do what she had to do.
When the Captain heeled his horse away from her, she breathed out heavily.
As soon as he was out of her line of sight, she bolted back to Maelia. Adrenaline pumped through her system, fueling her body, and lightening her steps.
She tiptoed around the next tree, careful not to barge into the clearing in the event that the guardsmen had already found Maelia. But Maelia was standing there with her sword in hand, easily swinging it back and forth while pacing the space.
Cyrene walked into their camp as Ahlvie burst into the clearing. He dropped what little firewood he’d still had in his arms.
“Guards,” he choked out. “Everywhere.”
“What?” Maelia squeaked, gripping her sword tighter.
“They’re swarming the woods. I don’t know how many there are, but I barely missed two of them.”
“I saw them too,” Cyrene said. “I saw six and they said the two you saw were out on patrols. So eight of them, and one is a Captain.”
Maelia’s face paled. “A Captain?”
“Creator!” Ahlvie said. He spat on the ground.
“Did you find Orden?” Cyrene asked Ahlvie.
“No. He was still scouting. I don’t know how he missed the guards. They’re right on top of us.”
“We’ll have to make do without him.”
She didn’t miss the glance between Ahlvie and Maelia. She knew as well as they did that Orden was the only reason none of them had been caught yet. He was an excellent tracker and seemed to know these woods like the back of his hand.
“With or without him, it’s clear that we can’t stay here,” Ahlvie said.
“Agreed,” Maelia said.
“I overheard them say that, if they didn’t find anything by nightfall, they were going to make camp on the other side of the creek, due west of here.”
They all looked at the sun hovering above the horizon. Nightfall would be here soon enough.
“Ahlvie, you know better than I do, how feasible it would be to get us away from here without drawing notice,” Cyrene said.
He was more than adept at navigating the woods than either of them. His family was from a small Third Class village, Fen, leagues north of the country’s northernmost city, Levin. The Taken Mountains trailed off into foothills, and a forest surrounded his village. He’d said it was nothing like the enormity of the Hidden Forest, but it was certainly different than Cyrene’s First Class background with Affiliate and High Order parents or Maelia’s life in Second Class with two Captains of the Guard as parents.
“We’d be sitting ducks,” he told them. “We’d have more luck hiding and leaving before first light. That should give Orden sufficient time to return. I don’t want to leave him behind.”
“Then, we’ll do that. Maelia, start packing in case we have to make a run for it. Ahlvie, find something to use as cover. I’d rather not move the horses. They’ll draw too much attention. We’ll set up a watch, and I’ll take the first shift. You two are better with a sword, if it comes to a fight, so you should rest.”
Without complaint, they immediately went into action.
Ahlvie returned with some foliage and branches for camouflage. The horses were obscured from sight by a large tree and shrubbery, and in such a short amount of time, there wasn’t much more they could do. Ahlvie selected an area near the clearing to wait out in until sunset.
No one said a word. They huddled together and hoped for the best. It had been a long journey already, and they had too far to go to quit now.
A noise in the woods off to their right alerted them that someone was coming. They each took in a sharp breath. A small opening in the branches provided Cyrene with a peephole to view the heavy black boot stepping into the clearing. Her heart stopped as the Captain came into view. Maelia and Ahlvie tensed next to her.
He walked forward, his eyes searching the ground for prints to track. Ahlvie had covered their footprints as best as he could before throwing fresh leaves on the ground, but if the Captain overturned the wrong leaf…
She didn’t want to think about it, and they all strained not to make a single sound. The Captain’s head cocked to the side in the direction of the horses. She prayed to the Creator that they were as concealed as she thought they were. When she had made a pass by the horses, she couldn’t see them. But one sound would give them all away.
The Captain took a step toward the horses and then tentatively took another, like he wasn’t sure what he would find there. Cyrene was panicking, the closer he got. Ahlvie reached out and gripped her arm, as if he knew she was about to do something irrational.
When the Captain was practically on top of the horses, one of the other guardsmen barged into the clearing at a breakneck pace.
“Sir! Captain!” the woman cried. She stopped and saluted the Captain.
“What is it, Naelan?” he asked impatiently. “I’d be surprised if anything could hide from you with you trampling around the grounds like that.”
“We found something up the western path. Jaela instructed me to inform you at once.”
“Thank you, Naelan,” he said dismissively.
“Sir,” she said, saluting before retreating.
He followed Naelan out of the clearing, glancing back once before disappearing entirely. When he broke the tree line, Cyrene sighed in relief. She couldn’t believe how close they had come to getting caught.
Unfortunately, their excitement was dampened by the news Naelan had delivered. They had found something along the western path. Is Orden that something? No one wanted to voice the concern.
They waited until dusk fell before removing their camouflage. Soon, night would follow, and Orden still hadn’t returned.
“What do we do?” Maelia asked.
“We can’t go after him.” Cyrene hated the answer.
“We can’t leave him either,” Ahlvie said.
“No,” she agreed, “we can’t. If they apprehended him, we’ll have to get him back. But it’s too dark to go marching through the woods, looking for him, now. They’ll need me before they can return anyway—Orden won’t suffice—so that should buy us some time.”
“Not the kind of time I prefer,” Ahlvie grunted, scratching the back of his head.
“Me either,” Maelia said.
“Either of you have a better solution?”
Maelia and Ahlvie slowly shook their heads.
Cyrene nodded. “All right then, let’s bed down for the night. Don’t unpack the horses. Let’s just find somewhere hidden to rest for a few hours.”
“Somewhere hidden in the Hidden Forest?” Ahlvie asked, cracking a half-smile.
“How can you even joke right now?” Maelia asked.
She glared at Ahlvie, and his smile vanished.
“I’m taking first watch,” Cyrene interjected.
“Let me,” Ahlvie insisted.
“You need rest. I couldn’t go to sleep now if I tried,” she insisted. “Now, go!”
Her friends set out their bedrolls, and Cyrene found a perfect location to stand guard. Her sword was hanging from her belt with her hand holding the oversize pommel as she stared forward into the darkness.
Cyrene awoke with a start with her back firmly pressed against a tree, cursing herself for the fatigue. Her surroundings were pitch-black, and she knew she had been out too long already when she was supposed to be on watch.
Just as she turned to go wake Ahlvie to take over, a chill crept up her spine. She stilled, her eyes roaming the dark forest before her. She could feel someone was out there, but she found it hard to believe that the guards would venture back into the forest at night.
A low guttural growl told her that something, not someone, was stalking these woods.
She steeled herself against the rising panic. She could do nothing if she was immobilized by fear. She had to get to her friends and warn them of the danger.
Internalizing every ounce of preparation that Orden had tried to instill in her over the last couple of weeks, she crept like a wraith through the tree line and caught her first glimpse of the beast as she approached. With the forest obscuring the starlight, she could only attempt to ascertain the enormity of what lay before her. It stood taller than her, even while crouched on four legs.
Thankfully, it hadn’t seen her, and she wanted to keep it that way. Even if this was the only creature of its kind in the woods, she didn’t want to engage with it.
Breathlessly, she waited for the beast to pass out of her sight, and then she hurried to the edge of the clearing. When she saw what awaited her, her hand went reflexively to the sword at her side…not that it would do her much good.
Five more of the creatures filled the area. Their fur was as black as night while their eyes glowed yellow in the meager moon light. Their sharp claws curved out of their massive paws, and fangs the size of her forearm gleamed wickedly. They were not quite wolf or bear or leopard. Something more deadly, something…wrong.
Cyrene was thankful for the still night. No breeze to pick up her scent and send her to her death.
After an agonizingly slow minute, she reached her friends, still wrapped up in their blankets. Maelia slumbered lightly, her hand resting on her blade, poised for the ready. Ahlvie was covered from head to toe. Cyrene could only tell he was there because she had already known.
She bent down to wake them, but movement in the clearing held her still. The beasts were on the move. A low growl signified that one was dangerously close to her. She watched them fan out in a circle. Cyrene had never seen anything like it, and their behavior made her skin crawl.
When she turned back to check on Maelia and Ahlvie, a giant monster stood over them. Spit dripped from one vicious fang, as it was ready to devour its meal. It opened its powerful jaw, prepared to attack.
“Maelia!” Cyrene screamed in warning.
Her friend woke instantly, released her blade from its scabbard, and blocked the beast with such elegance that no one would have guessed she had just been asleep. Ahlvie scrambled out of his bedroll and reached for his weapon.
But the monster was already engaged with Maelia, and it growled its fury at being parted from its meal. Ahlvie tried to divert its attention, but the beast lunged for Maelia. She parried its blows, match for match. Her moves were graceful and precise but fiercely deadly. She ducked and rolled, lashing out at the tough fur, and she fended off the jaw that meant to crush her. She was panting from exhaustion when she finally landed an impressive killing strike. The monster fell to the ground in a pool of putrid black blood.
Ahlvie gagged at the sight of the dead animal. “What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know,” Maelia answered. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“There are at least five others,” Cyrene told them.
“Five?” Maelia gasped.
Ahlvie shook his head in disbelief and then assessed the body. His nose wrinkled as he poked the beast. “It almost looks like—”
“A wolf,” Maelia finished.
Cyrene shook her head. “Worse. They feel wrong.”
“Really wrong,” Ahlvie agreed. “We need to get out of here.”
“Now,” Cyrene said.
Maelia assessed the situation and then nodded. “Let’s get the horses and make a run for it. We can’t kill five more without backup.”
“The only backup in these woods are the blasted guards,” Ahlvie spat.
Maelia sharply eyed him. She seemed to be in her element. “They might be our only choice.”
Get caught by Byern guards, or get killed by monsters in the woods?
They didn’t have to make that decision because, at that moment, another creature appeared. Making its way toward Cyrene, it pounced. She screamed in terror, and on instinct, she raised her sword to meet the creature. Miraculously, the blade bit into the beast’s flesh. She gave it a thrust with all her might, and it drove through the creature, up to the hilt. Black blood gushed out of the dead animal. It smelled horrid as it covered her arms and coated her dress. The beast landed heavily, nearly on top of her, and Ahlvie shoved it aside to release her from its grip. She scrambled to her feet. Her hands were shaking as she tried to yank the blade out of the beast. When she had no luck, Ahlvie put his foot on the beast’s side and wrenched the blade free, handing it back to Cyrene.
Two more beasts appeared. Maelia and Ahlvie were a murderous lot, fighting off the two that had come at them, but nothing they did seemed to dissuade the monsters. They couldn’t keep this up, and the monsters knew it.
Cyrene rose to her feet and took a deep breath. Okay, I can do this. She could make her powers bend to her will. No matter how much time she spent reading the insufferable book or trying to make her powers emerge like they had when she killed the Braj, they had refused to budge. But this was life or death. They had to work this time.
Closing her eyes, she tried to remember what the book had said. She reached deep within herself, to the core of her magic. There, it supposedly lay dormant and untouched, ready to do her bidding. The faintest trickles, like the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, brushed against her. She tried to hold on to it, to do anything to help her friends, but it was like grasping at thin air. She released her breath in a loud gasp.
She could have torn apart the enemy with her anger at her own ineptitude. Just as she went to reach within herself again, a fang bit into her arm.
She went down hard on her knees. Her sword clattered to the ground at her feet, and fire seared her flesh. She couldn’t bite back her piercing shriek. Maelia broke from Ahlvie’s side and sliced through the beast that had attacked Cyrene. The thing dropped with a shuddering cry next to Maelia.
Cyrene’s arm was on fire. It felt like poison burning its way through her soft flesh, and she worried that the monster’s teeth carried venom, like the tip of a Braj’s blade. She shuddered at the thought, but she couldn’t do anything at the moment. Escape first, and assess my wounds later.
Maelia and Ahlvie hauled her to her feet, Ahlvie scooped up her sword and replaced it in its scabbard, and the pair ushered her toward the horses. Cyrene found her stride and started forward at a brisk run, leaving the dead beast behind them. They almost made it to the horses when nearly a dozen creatures attacked.
By the Creator! What can we do against a dozen when we barely survived three?
“Get the horses,” Ahlvie barked as he and Maelia engaged the first.
“I won’t leave you!” Cyrene yelled.
“Go!” he screamed.
He shoved her in that direction, and she wouldn’t gainsay his honor by denying him.
And so, she took off at a sprint. She had little hope that she could make it to Ceffy or that the horses would outpace these creatures. But she had to try.
Just as she was nearing their hidden location, she walked right into another pack of beasts and froze.
She was no warrior.
She didn’t even have control of her magic.
She was just a girl.
But she would not go down without fighting these mongrels. Her hand was shaky as she removed her sword once more. Despite her muscles screaming in pain, the sword felt lighter and steadier than ever before. It had to be her adrenaline. She was sure. Her body hummed to the tune of the battle, and she took a steadying breath. Underneath the animal’s yellow eyes, she saw a flicker of understanding about her movements.
She was ready.
“Come, beast,” she snarled.
The first one lunged for her but was struck down at her feet with an arrow through its menacing yellow eye.
A battle cry erupted behind her, and a woman soared through the air. She landed lightly on her feet with an ice-white blade in her hand that appeared to be an extension of her body. She was tall with pale, almost white, blonde hair. She wore fierce camouflage britches and a shirt that hugged her form. Her blade whirred through the air, slicing and cutting.
Cyrene was dimly aware that others had joined the battle, but her eyes were locked on the incredible movements of this woman who was unlike any woman she had ever seen. She had ethereal beauty yet a ferocious ability.
After what could have been minutes or hours, a spatter of dead creatures lay at the woman’s feet.
Cyrene whirled in place and found an even more gruesome display. More humans, unlike she had ever seen, fought the beasts. Their fighting style was delicate and precise. They looked like they were dancing rather than fighting, yet they were efficient in dispatching the creatures.
Cyrene couldn’t spare their saviors too much thought though. She had to get to the horses and save her friends. She took one unsteady step toward the horses and then sprinted. To her shock, the horses remained, unharmed, though they were in a frenzy from the commotion. She went to Ceffy’s side at once, but a scream stilled her steps.
With a resigned sigh, she untied the reins and hoisted her weary body onto Ceffy’s back. She heeled the horse in the direction of the scream, her steel blade withdrawn before her.
Just as she entered the clearing, a beast sank its teeth into the beautiful stranger’s side.
“No!” Cyrene screamed.
The beast jerked around, leaving the woman for death. It prowled toward Cyrene with ten more beasts on its heels. Ceffy reared up in horror at the unnatural creatures before them.
Cyrene held on for dear life. She was sure this was where it ended. They had come to kill, and they meant to see it to the end. She would need more than a blade to get out of this mess.
Cyrene steeled herself and then slid down Ceffy’s side. Cyrene knew that she should have run as far and as fast as she could. But it would not have been fast enough. Her sword sank into the dirt, as if in defeat. When she released her weapon, she imagined she saw a smirk on the monster’s face.
But it didn’t know that, in that moment, the odds turned.
As Cyrene recalled all that she had learned from her magic book, gold letters danced across her vision. She would not yield.
The gateway to her power opened with barely any effort. A dull ache hit her core as the well of energy intensified within her body. The ache grew as more and more power flooded her system, and she coughed and clutched her chest as it filled her to the brim. She doubled over and dug her hands into the fresh dirt. There was too much. The pain was raw. She couldn’t grasp control over it.
It was as if she would suffocate from the intensity of it all. She couldn’t survive this—not the creatures and not the magical torrent taking over her body. Her ears were ringing, and she ground her teeth against the inexorable pain lashing out at her bones, scraping and tearing her from the inside out.
“Don’t,” cried out the ethereal woman lying at Cyrene’s feet.
Cyrene didn’t know what the woman meant. All she was aware of was the pain and that she had failed.
Her head tilted to the sky, and with a breath, the dam broke. Her power lashed out of her in a deafening boom, rushing over the monsters like a tidal wave. She heard a crash and saw a beast had dropped to the ground. Another one dropped. And another. Then, they all dropped.
Cyrene clawed tooth and nail across the ground toward the girl. She had no energy left, and darkness beckoned her, but this couldn’t all be for naught.
“Are you okay?” Cyrene croaked.
She reached out to touch the girl to try to offer some comfort.
“What are you?” the girl breathed.
Cyrene blacked out before she could answer.
To keep reading, preorder The Bound now!
✦ Amazon → http://amzn.to/2b2G394
✦ iBooks → http://apple.co/1pFJmak
✦ B&N →http://bit.ly/2cU9BmD
✦ Kobo → http://bit.ly/2b2GoIT
✦ Paperback → http://amzn.to/2dtu8lF
✦ Goodreads → http://bit.ly/1PmZn9z