It’s Book Quote Wednesday (#BookQW), a Twitter promotion started by author Jenna Barwin. These previews will (should) run every Wednesday until A Wizard’s Sacrifice launches on October 6, so keep your eye out for more previews.
This week’s word is ZIP, which is not a word that lends itself to fantasy worlds where zippers don’t exist. Usually I try to avoid cheating and use the word rather than one of conjugates or other forms, but the only two instances of zip in a 156,000 word novel were zipped—so cheating was necessary.
The good news is, zipped appears in a Thabean chapter, and I’m thrilled to introduce him to you here. Thabean was mentioned in A Wizard’s Forge, but he makes his first on-page appearance in A Wizard’s Sacrifice, and I have to say, I love this guy. He’s an old school fantasy hero—one of the few you’ll see in my books.
The Second Rogue
Thabean settled into the surveillance blind, fury steaming his blood. Glowing orbs flickered over the minions bustling in and out of the Lair, but Nelchior’s gloating sneer dominated his thoughts. Hatred seethed with each heartbeat, and he trembled with rage. At himself most of all. He’d claimed the self-proclaimed princess to keep Nelchior from building some scheme around her, and now he’d implicated himself in the emergence of a rogue wizard! A colossal blunder, all because he’d let a pretty face turn his head.
But another rogue wizard—the thought chilled his blood. For more than fifty years the Code had kept the world from chaos. If someone outside the Council had acquired the Elixir and was spreading it through the populace . . . Nelchior? No. The fiend was devious, but he wouldn’t unleash a power he couldn’t control. Yet if that scoundrel got his hands on the rogue? Thabean shook his head, tamping down his anger and shifting his focus to the mission. First, find the new rogue.
The night wore on, the milling creatures thinning until all but a few sentries disappeared into their hives. Keeping to the shadows, he drifted over the wall and released the Woern. Meylnara might sense his power, and her minions had proven remarkably resistant to direct assaults with wizardry. Crouching low, he crept to the dungeon. A rank stench of blood and excrement wafted from the pit—human odors, to be sure. The gigantic arthropods occupying this compound smelled good. Eyes darting for the creatures, he worked a puff of air into the lock, and the grate clicked open. Down inside, a broken chain clinked against scorched stone. Rusty stains reeked of iron. No captive wizard now, but someone with power had been held here no more than a day or two ago.
He climbed out and stole toward the hive, freezing at every noise. A pair of minions exited, clicking and rustling as they passed. Hunkered in the folds of a tree, he suppressed a chortle. Since he’d received the Elixir, he had mostly forgotten how to fear, but now his heart thumped in his ears like a boy on his first lupear hunt. He felt alive. Swallowing another chuckle, he slipped through the arched doorway.
Inside, spongy walls shimmered with a sallow light. He could see no lamps; the walls themselves glowed dimly. Ramps ascended to his right, descended to his left, and plunged straight inside. He froze, eyes closed, ears sharp for some sense of wizardry. Nothing. A small ripple of power altered the molecular structure of the dyes in his robe, and the color changed to match the pale walls. Taking the ascending ramp, he followed a smooth, featureless passage as it wound up and up to a bulbous dead end. There had to be chambers along the corridor, but he could see no doorways. Puzzled, he retraced his steps. A click and a rustle pricked his ears. Pulse thumping, he ducked under his cloak and pressed himself to the wall. A panel slid aside and a minion emerged, shut the door, and headed down the ramp. Thabean exhaled and stole to the hidden door. His fingers slid along the surface, discerning no seam until at last he found a serrated edge and a slight indentation. He pressed the surface, and a narrow gap clicked open. Very slowly, he slid the panel aside. He imagined the chamber might hold a laboring queen, with attendants to remove the eggs and put them in cells, or a room stacked high with maturing larvae, but he found only a large volume of webbing piled together into a nest. He exhaled, and his heartbeat slowed.
Back in the corridor, he searched for more doorways. They were slightly more yellow than the wall, a difference so subtle he wasn’t sure he found them all. Wary of traps, he strained his ears each time he cracked open a door. Inside the chambers, creatures lay curled into armored balls, slumbering atop the nests. The rooms provided a hiding place while minions shuffled past in the corridor. Sweat soaked his shirt as he searched, the fear of discovery rising with each chamber lacking a human occupant.
On the lowest level was a doorway streaked with faint, rust-colored smears. The chamber within reeked like a midden. Suppressing a cough, he swiped at watering eyes. Someone groaned softly, the sound dying to a whisper. Cautiously, he spun a light orb and sent it bouncing into the room. Upon coils of thick white webbing slept a woman, her face hidden beneath snarled red hair. Meylnara! Blood surging, he drew his dagger—then froze. Yellow pus and raw muscle ravaged her shoulder. The woman quivered in the grip of a chill; heat shimmered off filthy skin. “Rockfall,” he breathed. He knew such wounds. In the last assault on the Lair, the minions had rained their spit on the troops scaling the walls. Screams scorched the eardrums as soldiers fell, their flesh melting off their skulls. Sheathing his dagger, he brushed aside a clump of hair, exposing pale freckles scattered across the face of a woman much younger than Meylnara. He stretched his fingers over her arm, watched the hairs stand and bend toward his palm. The rogue, as grievously wounded as Bethniel claimed, and Woernsick too. His anger ground finer, thicker, leavened with sympathy.
The young woman’s eyes opened. Gasping, she clutched his arm. “You came! I knew you would.” She climbed to her knees, her eyes glazed. “I waited so long—I thought you’d abandoned me. Forgive me! Forgive me for doubting you!” Shushing her, he backed away, but she stumbled after him, her voice rising as she switched to the language of the Oreseekers. “I love you. You came; I love you—” As his shoulders butted the wall, she collapsed into his arms.
Ears twitching, he held his breath. Hers came in heavy gasps, her skin bleeding heat into him. He pushed the hair off her face and studied the delicate nose, the pointed chin. Her lips were thin, her face gaunt. Not a beauty like the princess. Not likely to be Bethniel’s blood sister either—from their complexions to their height and build, the women couldn’t differ more, but the world was full of fostered orphans. He scooped up her legs—she did have a fine figure: a body small and slight, but solid and strong. Shrine, get hold of yourself, he chided. Lust had gotten him into this mess and would only make things worse if he got the rogue back to camp.
A shriek pierced the air, and he ducked the silver fire crackling from the doorway. Clutching the rogue, Thabean slammed a wall of solidified air into Meylnara and zipped past her. The corridor teemed with rattling minions. Raising a shield, he sent an electric jolt through the floor, frying the feet of his enemies. Wizard and minions faltered, and he sheared up through fibrous walls to reach the stars.
Like what you read? Find out what happens before and after:
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