The Cost of Failure: A #BookQW Excerpt

Another Wednesday, another excerpt from A Wizard’s Sacrifice, using the #bookqw (Book Quote Wednesday) hashtag created by author Jenna Barwin on Twitter. I’m planning to run these previews every Wednesday until the book launches on October 6, so keep your eye out. There’s a randomness to the #bookqw word of the week (this week, it’s NEED), so that means these excerpts aren’t appearing in any particular order. I promise to share only chapters from the first half of the book, though, so as not to spoil how things turn out. It’s a big book, so there should be enough material (we’ll see!).

Spoiler Alert: A Wizard’s Sacrifice is the sequel to A Wizard’s Forge, and this excerpt directly references the events, including the conclusion, of Forge. (If you’re spoiler averse, you can simply click on the picture of Forge in the right margin and get yourself a copy!) That said, if you’re interested in the worldbuilding of this science fantasy, this may be the excerpt for you! Here you’ll find some information on the origins of humankind on this world and of Vic’s telekinetic powers, as well as some speculation on the telepathic abilities possessed by so many of Knownearth’s inhabitants.

The Cost of Failure

Snow sifted from a gray sky, piling into fluted garlands on roofs and fences. Vic’s boots sank in fresh powder, toes clenched against the cold. A blizzard in Latha was like a spring squall on the distant northern tundra where she’d been born, but after six winters here in the south, this gentle snow shower had her hunched into fur, wishing for summer.

You always want what you don’t have, she thought, stopping in front of a modest peaked cottage. Not the sort of dwelling you’d expect a prince to favor, but Ashel was proud of the little house he’d bought on his minstrel’s salary. In Latha, even royals worked for their bread, and the fact he adored his work was one of the things she loved about him.

“But you don’t love him,” she muttered. It had been a litany she’d repeated ever since she refused to wed him half a year ago. His proposal had ambushed her, left her reeling in a vortex of hope and shame and fear that had churned for months until it spun out of control in Olmlablaire, leaving three hundred and thirty-seven people crushed under a mountain. And Ashel with half a hand. If she loved him, she would have rescued him before Lornk could butcher his fingers. She could have. She should have. She would have, except she’d been a bloody coward. Shame burning her cheeks, she remembered the root of that terror.

She sits with knees drawn up, watching the door open. Lornk’s hand on the doorjamb is a hint of the dawn at midnight. Wet heat blossoms in her loins, the blood rising to her skin, the hairs on her arms and thighs and nape standing to attention. Her awareness opens toward him. She smells him, herbs and musk; she feels him, warmth like the sun. The door fully open, he stands against the darkness of the tower stairwell, golden and terrible with eyes darkest blue, his hands large enough to encircle her throat. She rises to her knees, eyes on the floor, eager to meet his demands.

She’d been only fifteen when Caleisbahn slavers had taken her from her homeland and sold her to Lornk Korng. He had stripped away everything she cared about, had almost succeeded in bending her will entirely to his, but she escaped and found refuge here in Latha. Half a dozen years in the Lathan army had made her hard; the Waters of the Dead had made her powerful, but all that strength had evaporated when she confronted Lornk in his mountain fortress at Olmlablaire. Only Ashel’s willingness to sacrifice his own flesh had saved her. Freed from the worst man in the world, she’d failed the best.

“Coward.” She forced her hand to lift the gate latch, though her feet itched to turn and flee. “You will go in there, and you will say goodbye.”

The gate banged shut. Snow crunched, porch boards squeaked, and her heart’s pounding drowned out every step. The door creaked open. Ashel stood there, beaming, and her limbs quivered with the desire to run. To him or away, she wasn’t sure.

“You’re in town! Come in. How are you feeling?”

“Fine—much better, thanks.” It had been a week since Elekia had fed Vic her blood—her throat closed on the memory of iron on her tongue when she woke up that evening. The headaches had returned within a day, but they were nothing to what she’d suffered after the Battle of Re. She squeezed between Ashel and a set of traveling cases piled near the door. “I was just down at the Cobblestone, talking with Helara about apprenticing with the Innkeepers.”

“Vic the Blade—from soldier to chef, is it?”

“Not that. I’d prefer to avoid killing people from now on, but anybody who survived my cookery might wish they were dead.” She grinned at his chuckle, then went on, “Helara’s going to let me start as a maid and teach me how to manage the books and brewing. Bethniel said you’re leaving.”

His grin melted. “The Guild’s sending me to Mora.”

“You’ve chosen the Loremaster’s path after all.”

Chosen isn’t how I’d put it.” He dropped onto the sofa, and a pang hollowed her lungs as he rubbed the stubble peppering brown cheeks and chin. Dark and beautiful, like stars on a quiet bay, he outshone even his sister. “Melody Reyendal said I’d be jeopardizing the dignity of the Guild if I performed now. People would be distracted by the stump, he said.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Her cry reverberated through the house. 

“I’m not a master yet,” he replied in mindspeech. She wished he’d spoken aloud, if only so she could hear the deep timbre of his voice. Six years she’d lived among Lathans, and while she’d come to think their winters cold, she’d never grown accustomed to their silent way of speaking. “But even if I were a master, I couldn’t perform without the Guild’s approval, which means Reyendal’s permission, since he’s leader of the Minstrels. The Loremaster’s path is the only one left to me now.” His lips sagged. “The Mora Guildschool is a worthy post, or so the Harmony took pains to remind me. Most Loremasters have taught there for a time, and it is an honor for a journeyman to have a residency there.”

“You always said, if you were a Loremaster, you could leave a greater legacy than you could as a Minstrel.”

“I believe what I said was, ‘Stagecraft is ephemeral; scholarship eternal.’ What a load of pompous rubbish! I suppose I thought in the end, they’d make an exception for me—or rather, for His Highness Prince Ashel of Narath, the Crystal Voice of Latha—and let me become a Master Minstrel and a Loremaster.” Head down, he massaged the raw, pink patches mottling his maimed hand. In the hearth, crackling logs spat sparks up the flue, and beautiful dark eyes met hers. “The library in Mora is almost as big as the one here at the Academy. You’d love it.”

Desire and terror grappled with each other, her gut caught in the middle. “I’m sure I would.” Before she’d been a soldier or a slave, she’d been a Logkeeper, a scholar dedicated to preserving the ship’s logs of the United Mineral mining ship LSNDR2237, aka the Elesendar. For three thousand years, the empty spacecraft had orbited the planet, appearing as a bright star that crossed the sky two or three times a night. For almost two hundred generations, her people, the Oreseekers, had memorized and passed down the text of every log in their possession. Lathan Loremasters revered the same documents but treated them as religious parables. To them, Elesendar was not a ship, but a god. She cleared her throat. “I’m sure I would, but I’m a heretic.”

He clasped her hand. “I don’t care about that. Come with me.”

Every cell in her body strained toward him, an instinctive need that splashed and roiled against her will like a river against a dam. It’s just the damn Woern—you do not love him. Yet her hand rose and stroked his cheek. His lips parted hers, tongues twined, and warmth and energy flowed into her, wiping away the ever-present ache behind her eyes. He pulled her to his chest; one hand caressing her neck, sliding into her hair, a single thumb massaging the nape of her neck. Just a thumb.

Coughing, she pulled away. “I’m sorry.” Eyes brimming, she stood and hugged her shoulders, struggling for breath. “I can’t accept succor from you.”

“Succor? That’s not—”

“I can’t. It isn’t fair, not to you.”

His mouth flattened, leeching the kindness from his face. A year ago she could not have imagined those beautiful eyes smoldering with rage, but now the heat rarely left them. “I do not blame you for this,” he said, his thumb folded over his palm, severed knuckles bent into half a fist.

“How can you not? I could have saved you, but I saved myself instead. Some things are unforgivable, Ashel. You deserve better. That’s what I came to tell you—you deserve better. I hope things go well in Mora. Goodbye.”

Porch boards banged and snow groaned under running feet. Ducking into an alley, she checked for witnesses, then shot through sifting white into the cold gray clouds blanketing the city. Her nerves sang with the rush of power, and bliss washed from her loins to her eyes. Her body hungered for more, and she breathed deeply, hurtling faster through swirling ice crystals, across the city and out over the forest. She had not used the Woern in nearly two months, not since the day she’d fried a woman’s hand down to the bone. She would have gladly made the interrogator suffer for what she’d done to Ashel, but Vic would have done it with a dagger. Bethniel insisted she use her power, and the Relman Council hastily agreed to all their demands, to Bethniel’s triumph and Vic’s shame.

It had been so easy. Wizardry was outlawed for good reason.

Throat tight, she dropped into the forest. A mile or so from the Manor, she slipped down a familiar wooded slope into a glade dominated by an ancient cerrenil. Leafless branches drooped in the snowy gloom, a twig-laden veil. The trunk rose from drifted snow like the bodice of a fancy gown. In bright sunlight, the branches would reach for the sky, solid and strong, but at night they became as flexible as vines and hung like an old crone’s ratted hair. Lathans revered these white-barked trees, called them old mothers and believed their god Elesendar came down and mated with them to beget humanity. A ridiculous story no one should credit, except everyone in Latha—in most of Knownearth, in fact—believed it a likelier explanation for human origins than spacefaring ancestors.

Vic settled beside the tree, one hand on the trunk. “How could everything go so wrong in half a year?” A twig brushed her cheek, and her lips curved despite the anguish gripping her heart. She had never seen the cerrenils do anything unusual beyond lift and lower their branches according to variations in sunlight, but she knew they had guided her steps and hidden her from enemies during the war. They had also somehow tapped into her memories, giving her strange visions and helping her find her path after she escaped from Lornk Korng. “Is that like the Woern?” she asked, scientific curiosity nudging aside her cares. As a soldier she’d suppressed her scholarly impulses, but it felt good to let her mind escape into observations and hypotheses, even if only for a moment. “Everyone in Latha having mindspeech—is that also due to an infection that opens the mind to strange powers?” There were people outside Latha who had mindspeech, but the Kiareinoll was the only place where telepathy was universal. She hadn’t been born with the ability, but she’d gained it after she had come to Latha and lived several months in the Manor.

Tears brimming once more, she pressed her palm on the snow drift. “Thank you for taking me in.” Beneath the folds of the cerrenil’s roots lay the late King Sashal, Ashel and Bethniel’s father. Lathans buried their dead in unmarked graves beside old mothers, returning the life the trees gave them, or so they believed. A kindhearted, generous man, the king had treated Vic as a daughter from the moment she arrived in his throne room as a terrified refugee. He was the polar opposite of Lornk Korng, the tyrannical madman whom he’d fought for twenty years. “Would you have wanted me to kill him?” she asked. In their youth, Sashal and Lornk had been friends, although she couldn’t fathom how. “I think you would have approved of what Ashel did, overcoming his own pain to call for justice rather than revenge.” She sucked in a sob. “I’m sorry I failed to save you.” An assassin’s blade had struck down the king and driven Ashel’s ill-fated quest for revenge. “I’m sorry I failed to save your son. You both deserved more, and better from me.”

Snow drifted through bare twigs, settling on her cloak and hair. Curled against the tree, she wept over her foster father’s grave until the southern winter froze her tears.

Like what you read? Find out what happens before and after:

Get a copy of A Wizard’s Forge

Get a copy of A Wizard’s Sacrifice

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