Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties launched on March 27,
and I’m so excited to give you a sneak peek of Chapter One!
Enjoy the read.
Pale white blood dripped down Misti Eildelmann’s curved short sword as she readied herself to meet her next attacker. Ignoring the shouts of the battle around her and her own frantically beating heart, Misti eyed the banished one. The overly bright pale blue eyes. The slight smirk on the woman’s face. The confidence in her expression frightened Misti, and she hesitated, the upward slash with her sword halting for a moment. The banished crafter snarled and leapt, knocking Misti’s blade aside with her staff and sending an aching jolt through Misti’s arm. The banished one reached out to grab her neck, eyes glowing white as her fingers dug into Misti’s skin.
In the span of a heartbeat, many thoughts tumbled through Misti’s mind. Blood crafting. Moon above, not now. Not yet. Her eyes. Her veins! Misti swept her gaze down the woman’s arm, and sure enough the banished ones’ veins had brightened to white, same as her glowing eyes, the color tracing the banished one’s blood and heading right for Misti. The sight of this woman’s crafting sent a spike of fear down Misti’s spine. Blood crafting was meant for healing of the body and the mind and the soul, but it could also be used to suck life-energy from a person. Suck the life-energy from me. Especially in this banished one’s hands. She latched onto the woman’s arm to try to wrench her away from her neck. It didn’t work.
The woman’s piercing gaze seemed to fill Misti’s vision as her crafting washed over Misti like cold water. She yelled as pain shuddered through her, eyes watering from shock. Try as she might, Misti couldn’t free herself from this woman’s grasp. Couldn’t lift her sword to save herself, or stop what little strength she possessed from draining away from her. Even after seasons of training to be a Moon Knight, she still wasn’t strong enough. Her vulnix bloodline didn’t give her strength, not like the wyvern or neades.
The woman moved closer, so close Misti could smell the dirt and sweat and salt clinging to her skin. Her watery vision skittered from the glowing in her eyes and focused instead on the thin line of white blood on the woman’s cheek, dripping down her near-translucent skin. As Misti grew weaker, the woman’s cut glowed, stitching itself up. She grabbed the back of Misti’s head, twisting her fingers into Misti’s long hair. Misti tried again to yank herself away, but couldn’t. Fear squeezed her lungs, blurring her vision and her mind.
A hand appeared on the woman’s shoulder, jerking her attacker away. Misti’s thoughts spun, as she drew in a deep, shaky breath and swiped light brown strands of hair from her eyes, vowing to cut it later. Dylori? Sure enough, when Misti’s vision cleared, her fellow Moon Knight and superior grinned at her. The expression sent an all-too-familiar kick through Misti’s stomach that had nothing to do with the battle at hand. Now’s not the time, girl, Misti told herself. Keep your head.
Dylori’s dark eyes glinted—a glint Misti knew well. T’zil Dylori Clyofis winked before spinning around, swinging her blade in a wide arc—Dylori’s favorite attack. Misti recognized the thump of an arm severed from its body hitting the ground. The banished one collapsed with a harsh cry, her gray hair in disarray around her head. White blood soaked the strips of rough cloth covering her from head to toe. She wouldn’t last long, and Misti was glad for it.
“Sunbaked idiots! Hold the rear and keep an eye out for suncreatures, okay? We’ll handle the front.” Dylori’s deep voice rumbled through Misti, shaking her from her fear. Dylori swept her black hair out of her eyes, then slammed a gauntleted hand on Misti’s shoulder armor, making a crash of metal meeting metal. A smear of white blood decorated Dylori’s dark cheek, partially covering the scar there. “If you need an extra hand, use that one.” She winked again and nudged the severed limb with her foot.
Misti winced at Dylori’s grim joke but nodded all the same. She could feel strength flooding back through her limbs, and with it her courage. Rubbing her bruised neck with one hand, she motioned with her sword to the battle. “Send them all to the Sunglade.”
“With pleasure,” Dylori replied, chuckling, before hefting her own blade and running to stand with the other Moon Knights.
A rush of pride filled Misti at seeing her friend in her element, a fighter through and through. She had the perfect build for it, too, a tall wall of strength. Dylori thrust her blade into another banished one, and Misti focused on the battle once more.
Deep purple light filtered through the trees as the sun continued its descent, but the coming darkness didn’t bother this group of knights. Most of them were Vagari like Misti and could see quite clearly even in the darkest of hours. As Misti watched, another banished one snuck out from the forest line and got past the Moon Knights in the clearing, heading to the village they were sworn to protect. Misti narrowed her eyes. The knights’ companion animals were stationed in the forest behind them and might catch the runner, but some banished ones knew how to sneak past even the most vigilant guard. If this one succeeded, he would wreak havoc in the village, as the banished ones had been doing for the past moon cycle: kidnapping, torturing, killing, and stealing. It was a common lifestyle for the banished ones—people who had done something unspeakable, like murder, and had somehow gotten free of the iron cell. They tried desperately to stay alive without the comfort of guards and a roof over their heads, so they did terrible things because of it.
The runner was too far away for Misti to catch…but maybe not too far away to throw at. She’d been practicing in her spare time, throwing weapons, even though her superiors didn’t exactly like it. Should she try for it? The man was pulling further away, and a reckless sense of urgency shivered down her spine. Yes. Misti sheathed her sword and darted after the runner, pulling a dagger from her belt and throwing it at the nape of his neck. Met’zil Zarious would be so disappointed. Her commanding officer would never willingly loose a weapon from his hold. When the dagger grazed the banished one’s armor and sailed past, Misti could almost hear Zarious’ admonishments. Throw another, she told herself. Try again.
She narrowed her eyes, calling up her Animal crafting, the forest turning a deep orange as her vulnix bloodline took hold. Vagari shared some of their companion animals’ abilities, and in Misti’s case her vulnix bloodline brought her a keener sense of sight. Calm flowed through her, a cool sensation spreading from her core and reaching even the tips of her fingers. Her vision sharpened, focusing on the man’s broad shoulders, his black-scaled armor, the bead of sweat running down the back of his hairline. She threw a second dagger, knowing that this time her aim was true—but it seemed to hit something, spiraled off, and thudded into the tan bark of a tree nearby. Shock rippled through her. Missed again? How?
Fear raked through Misti’s mind. She couldn’t let another one get away, not again. She almost called for Zora to fly ahead and dig her claws into him, distracting him and stopping his frantic dash, but then Misti remembered she wouldn’t respond. A pang of loneliness sliced through her as cleanly as a sword. Misti needed her feathered friend, her swift and clever companion, but her little vulnix—a small, furry vulpine animal with wings and three tails—was being tended to after a terrible injury.
Misti’s heartbeat quickened, pulsing in her ears. The man turned, and she saw a cut inching itself across his cheek, brightening with a searing blue light. A small blue shield shimmered into view, protecting his back. Blue? Misti drew up short. That’s why my dagger missed. This man wasn’t a Divus like the others in his banished group, but an Elu. The blue of his shield could only be Moon crafting. Another blue cut opened, this time by his eye. What is he doing?
Misti’s vision dulled, the orange glow vanishing. The calmness that had filtered through her body shattered, and the cool sensation melted away. She tried calling up her crafting again but failed. But that’s…impossible. No crafting can suppress anothers’. Not that she knew of anyway. While Misti wavered in hestitation and dismay, the banished one darted around a tree, vanishing into the coming darkness. She drew a third dagger from her belt, but it nearly slipped from her clammy, shaking hands. Her crafting seemed…gone. She couldn’t even sense it anymore. She had never felt this way, the sudden emptiness in her chest where her crafting lived. Misti pressed a hand to her forehead, trying to quell the anxiety suddenly boiling in her stomach.
A bellow of rage came from the direction of the Moon Knights, shaking Misti from her fear-state like leaves from a tree as new buds of alarm grew in its place. All of a sudden she remembered her orders: hold the rear.
“My post!” she yelped.
Misti made a mental note of where the Elu had slipped through the line and ran back to her post. She reached the clearing just in time to see banished ones pouring from the forest, charging directly at her fellow Moon Knights. The attackers’ eyes glowed white, and their hands reaching out to suck away life-energy. Panic coursed through Misti at the sight. She pulled her sword from her belt once more, fingers clenched so tight it hurt. It had only taken one Blood crafter to take her down…what could twenty do?
But the Moon Knights forced them back, some slashing with their curved swords, others using their own crafting in the brute-force attack Met’zil Zarious’ knights were feared for by banished ones. Their crafting burst forth from their bodies in a dark orange light, extending their hands into claws or shooting orange static at their enemies. Whatever their bloodline gifted them, the Vagari used. Misti wanted to join in, but her orders stayed her sword. Hold the rear. Their companion animals—beasts matching each Vagari’s bloodline—came crashing from the forest line behind them and joined in the fight now, too, assaulting their enemies with claws and teeth, poison and fire, smoke and water.
A twinge of sadness prickled through Misti at the sight of the beasts. Again she missed Zora, missed her slashing claws and fluttering wings, her comforting weight around Misti’s shoulders.
When more banished ones spilled from the treeline and it seemed like the Moon Knights would be overrun, Dylori called forward her companion animal, a neades named Dis. Built like a boulder, the bovine beast towered three hands over Dylori’s head. Dis’ muscles moved visibly beneath his long fur as he thundered toward the front and shook his broad head, his dark bushy mane swaying around his neck. Pointing his thick muzzle straight into the air, he inhaled, his chest expanding ominously. Misti covered her ears, as did the rest of the Moon Knights. The neades lowered his head and let out a roar so loud it cracked the ground beneath the banished ones. A crevasse that would fit four men standing atop one another opened up beneath the banished group, screams following them on the way down.
Dylori stepped beside her beast companion and stomped. It would’ve been a strange sight—a woman stomping her boot on the ground—had Misti not seen this attack before. A deep orange glow spiked out from Dylori’s boot and rocks shoved up from the cracked ground, sending the remaining attackers sprawling. The knights cheered at this display of sheer power, Misti loudest of them all. The forward knights darted around the crevasse to slice open the necks of the fallen banished ones, dispatching those remaining easily, then readied for another attack. None came. Did we win?
Misti called up her crafting to scan the treeline and this time, it came easily. Her earlier fear bled away. Surely the odd lack of crafting had been a fluke—probably just anxiety from having let the banished Elu get away. Her gaze turned orange, piercing through the darkening forest: dirt, darkening sky, tiny animals skittering about… A mostly empty forest. She could see no other banished ones. No suncreatures, either, though that was to be expected since it was nearly dusk. We won! Another group of marauders destroyed. Another village protected. A surge of joy rippled through her, but guilt followed soon after, twisting her stomach at the thought of the one who had gotten away.
Dylori and the other knights filtered out into the forest, scouting for more banished ones. Misti was just about to call out her concern when something knocked the wind out of her, slamming her to the ground and landing on top of her. Pain spiked through her body, radiating through her shoulders, back, and legs. Misti blinked, pulling back her crafting, the orange glow retreating from her vision. Another banished one was pinning her gauntleted hands into the dirt. He grinned, eyes glowing a bright white.
Desperate, Misti kicked the man hard in the groin. He groaned in pain and loosened his grip, and she wiggled out of his grasp and rolled to her feet. The crafter knelt before her, still groaning and clutching himself, his thin body quivering. His near-translucent skin, overly bright yellow eyes, and small build gave him away as a Divus. A small scar decorated his chin. He seemed young, not past her own twenty-seven seasons for sure. And this man looked almost familiar.
The banished one shifted, going for a dagger at his belt so Misti shoved those thoughts away and and swung down on his shoulder. The curved blade cut into his armor, but its tough black scales didn’t allow her blade to reach his skin. Divus armor was built notoriously strong, to protect the fragile body within. The blow did knock him to his knees again, a puff of dirt billowing up as he struck the ground. The man glared up at her, fury in his eyes, and suddenly Misti saw the resemblance. He looked nearly identical to her younger brother—Danill. Misti felt as though something had reached inside of her and squeezed her heart. The broken jewelry piece Danill wore surfaced in her mind, followed soon by the broken jewelry pieces all three siblings shared. And like an idiot, she hesitated in her next attack.
The banished crafter saw his chance. He rose from his knees into a lunge and wrapped one arm around her shoulders, almost like an embrace. His other hand slipped between her armor plates just below her collarbones and pressed something against her skin. Misti felt a surge of heat from the area as something coiled around her neck, wrapping tight. The banished one drew back and smirked, then darted away.
Misti’s strength left her all at once, and she sank to her knees. What’s happening to me? Her world tilted at an alarming angle, and she pressed a hand to the dirt to keep upright. Why I am so weak? Panic skittered across her skin. The heat at her collarbones pulsed like a heartbeat, once. Twice. Three times. Her strength slowly returned. Her world righted. She shook her head, feeling dazed, confused. Worry slipped into her, chilling her to the bone.
Movement caught her eye, and Dylori skidded to a stop in front of her while the other Moon Knights and their companion animals rushed after the banished one.
“What happened?” Dylori asked, kneeling.
“I’m—I’m not sure,” Misti murmured.
She didn’t look at her friend, clawing at her armor instead. Heat was still pulsing between her collarbones, and she had to see why. She undid the buckles under her left shoulder and let her chest plates swing away. Underneath, sweat made her plain white shirt cling to her body. Just above its collar, Misti saw a white orb encased in silver metal. What in Ponuriah’s ass is that? A symbol of some kind was etched into the orb, but Misti didn’t recognize the crooked circle through her rising panic.
Dylori eyed the pendant. “Did you get a new lover I don’t know about, Misti? They have a terrible eye for trinkets.” When her dark eyes flicked up to meet Misti’s, Dylori’s grin melted into a frown.
“It’s not mine. That Divus put it on me.” Panic pressed Misti’s voice up an octave. She tried to pry the pendant away from her skin, but a painful burst of heat forked from the orb and traveled through her shoulders, neck, and chest, making her cry out. The pendant didn’t budge, but something around her neck did: a thin silver chain. Emboldened, she tugged on the chain, but it merely slid around her neck. Loose enough to tug on, but not enough to pull over her head and certainly not with the pendant still fused to her skin. She looked at Dylori, terror building once more like a wave surging inside her. “It’s not mine, Dylori, it’s not mine, and it’s not coming off.”
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek and be sure to check out Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties when it comes out on March 27, 2019 from Desert Palm Press!