A cursed city shrouded in mist. The power to level an army. A deadly race against demons to find it.
This month I'd like to present another excerpt from City of Tears, the first book in the Rise of the Thrall Lord (ROTL) series.
The original cast from Heroes of Ravenford return in this new series as the world of Arinthar suddenly finds itself plunged into a war with demons, undead, and more. All signs point to the return of the dread Thrall Masters, the incredibly powerful mages whose armies overran the isle of Thac a hundred and fifty years ago. Yet things don't seem quite that dire at first.
When we last left off with the companions, two major problems still hung over their heads. The first was the occupation of Ravenford by the forces of the land-grabbing Duke of Dunwynn. The second was the existence of a tower full of demons somewhere in the mountains northwest of Ravenford. Realizing both issues are far too great to handle on their own, the companions decide to seek aid from their old friend Lord Hightower. Thus, they travel to Lukescros to consult with the Penwick Lord, only to be confronted with an irate Princess Anya.
The companions had not parted on the best of terms with the Princess of Lanfor and now she is accusing them of stealing something highly valuable from her. Their dealings with Anya are cut short, however, when a deadly attack is launched by parties unknown at the opening ceremonies of the annual Lukescros Faire.
Here now is that excerpt from City of Tears:
Night had fallen by the time everyone gathered at the fairground isle. With the floats parked off to one side, townsfolk and visitors alike gathered around to hear the mayor make an opening speech. A stage had been erected just south of the tent area, with seating up front for special guests. The rest of the crowd parked themselves on the grass behind the reserved seats.
The companions had met up with Lord Hightower and were invited to sit with him. Donnie observed Sir Fafnar off to one side, and Anya and her retinue on the other. Somewhat to his relief, he saw no sign of the two knights who had marched in the parade earlier.
Once the mayor finished, fireworks lit up the sky to the west over the open water. The show was accompanied by rousing music provided by the group from the bardic college. Everyone got up and funneled toward the water for a closer look at the dazzling display.
Lloyd and Andrella were out in front with Hightower. The young lady snuggled close to the tall warrior as the show continued.
Elladan nudged Donnie gently in the arm. “They really do make a cute couple.”
Donnie cast a sidelong glance at the bard. “I guess—if you’re into that sort of thing.”
Elladan’s eyes twinkled as he continued to needle Donnie. “Says the elf who was recently smitten with a certain red-headed lady knight.”
“Hm. And just who was this lady knight?” Kara, on the other side of Donnie, raised both eyebrows at the abrupt revelation.
𝐺𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑡. 𝐽𝑢𝑠𝑡 𝑔𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑡, Donnie thought to himself. The last thing he needed was Kara asking questions about Alana. He fixed Elladan with a dark look, when the bard’s grin abruptly faded.
“Hey!” Elladan cried, patting down his waist with his hands. “Where’d it go?”
Donnie immediately forgot his irritation with the loose-lipped bard. “Where did what go?”
“My portal bag!”
Glo grabbed Elladan by the shoulder and spun the bard around to face him. “Wait, wasn’t the dragon orb in your bag?”
Elladan glared back at Glo with a sarcastic expression. “Yeah. That and a few evil magic items that we still need to dispose of.”
Everyone began talking at once until Andrella cried out over the din, “Hold it! We can argue later. Right now let’s split up and look for anyone suspicious.”
“Right!” Lloyd agreed as he grabbed Andrella by the hand. The two of them headed off toward the tents.
Glo and Elladan stopped their arguing and went off together in the direction of the floats.
Kara put her hands on her hips and glared expectantly at Donnie. “Well, you’re the expert on this kind of thing. Where do you think we should check first?”
Donnie glanced over his shoulder at Anya and her entourage only a short distance away. “I don’t think we need to look very far.”
Kara followed his gaze, her face lighting up with the insight of his unspoken suggestion. “So you think the Princess Anya is responsible for this?”
Donnie opened his mouth to respond, but never got the chance. A brilliant flash lit up the sky behind Kara, followed by a loud 𝑏𝑜𝑜𝑚!
A huge half-sphere of red and yellow flames expanded outward, engulfing the parked floats. It disappeared a few seconds later, leaving all of them scorched and on fire. A few town guards and soldiers had been downed in the blaze.
The entire crowd had gone silent. The fireworks had stopped as well. As everyone gawked at the carnage, a large group of black-robed figures appeared from behind the burning floats.
“We’re under attack!” someone screamed.
The town guards who hadn’t fallen rushed the newcomers, but were met head-on by a group of black-robed figures wielding swords. Behind the clash, a second group of robed mages began tracing spells through the air.
“Watch out!” Sir Fafnar’s voice rang out across the fairgrounds.
A moment later, a wave of fist-sized glowing red spheres shot from their hands. They sped across the fairground at blinding speed toward the crowd. Donnie grabbed Kara’s arm, but it was too late to do anything else. He braced himself for the inevitable impact.
A split-second before the balls of fire hit, the air around them began to shine with a strange purple glow.
𝐵𝑜𝑜𝑚! 𝐵𝑜𝑜𝑚! 𝐵𝑜𝑜𝑚! 𝐵𝑜𝑜𝑚! 𝐵𝑜𝑜𝑚!
The small, fiery balls hit their targets and exploded into giant spheres of flame, engulfing everything around them—all except for the one that had been headed directly for them. That one exploded as well, but the blast had hit some sort of energy field and instead expanded harmlessly around it.
Donnie’s eyes fixed on a purple-robed elf standing in the center of their protective globe. Glo had turned back just in the nick of time. Elladan stood next to the tall elf, with Lord Hightower on the other side.
Donnie let out a sigh of relief, then shouted out to his friend. “Thanks, Glo! That would have been a nasty sunburn.”
Still struggling to hold up his shield, Glo called back over his shoulder. “I just wish I could’ve made it larger.”
Donnie glanced at the surrounding crowd and winced at what he saw. Folks outside the globe had not fared so well. Many were down or badly hurt. Even the resilient Sir Fafnar had taken a hard hit, his hair singed and his powder-blue uniform covered with scorch marks. Only a few stood unharmed, including Lloyd and Andrella.
Andrella’s dress lay in tatters, but beneath those shreds her scarlet outfit showed through. A 𝑅𝑒𝑔𝑎𝑙𝑖𝑎 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑃ℎ𝑜𝑒𝑛𝑖𝑥, the garment made the wearer immune to fire.
Lloyd stood with his swords crossed in front of him, smoldering but not burnt. The adept spiritblade had used them as a fire shield of sorts.
One other group stood unharmed. Anya’s wizard, Sigfus, had thrown up a protective globe just like Glo.
The black-robed casters seemed surprised their combined attacks had not felled everyone. Before they could regroup, the companions launched a counterattack.
Andrella immediately retaliated with a fireball of her own, catching them unprepared and breaking their concentration.
Lloyd and Kara charged the line, the former yelling a battle cry, “For the honor of Penwick!”
To his credit, though obviously hurt, Sir Fafnar joined the charge with a cry of his own. “For the glory of Dunwynn!”
The scarlet-clad Mallona trailed the rest, pausing once she had cleared the crowd to shift into a huge red dragon. Easily thirty feet long, thick leathery crimson scales covered the top of her serpentine neck to the tip of her long, sinuous tail. Huge, tapered bat-like wings extended from her back, a deep scarlet color, but with a burnt-blue tint along the bottom edge. Two massive brown horns swept back from her skull, flanked by a pair of crimson-fringed ears. A backswept scarlet crest capped her head and ran down along her spine, all the way to the tip of her tail.
The fearsome sight elicited cries of awe and terror from the crowd. “Anya’s retainer is a dragon?” Hightower exclaimed in wonder.
The dragon roared, a bone-chilling sound, then surged forward, swiftly closing the distance to their attackers. Yet before any of them could reach their foes, a blue blur leaped into the fray. A long spear with an axe at the end swung around in a wide arc, beheading two of the mages instantly.
Donnie squinted at the formidable figure at the other end of the field. Though the hair was shorter and the outfit was a bit different, he immediately recognized the grim-faced young man. “It’s Cyclone!”
The one corner of Elladan’s mouth lifted into a lopsided smile. “Now they’re really in for it.”
Cyclone was a fierce young dragon hunter. They had met him at the Darkwoods Monolith while being stalked by an adult green dragon. Between Cyclone, the companions, and a bit of chicanery on Donnie’s part, the dragon was dead before it knew it. With Cyclone now on their side, these black-robed intruders didn’t stand a chance.
Seeing things were well in hand, Donnie decided to follow his hunch concerning the missing dragon orb. He inched his way over to Anya. With their attention fixed on the battle, neither the princess nor her wizard noticed Donnie until he was practically right on top of them.
“I know you took Elladan’s bag,” he whispered into the princess’ ear.
Without so much as missing a beat, Anya turned her head, her face mere inches away from Donnie’s. “So?” She breathed back at him in a deep, throaty voice.
Donnie hesitated for just a moment, entranced by her flawless beauty. Yet he was no novice when it came to flirting and matched her tone with his response. “So, it’s probably what these guys are after. Be a good girl and give it to us so we can lead them off.”
Anya drew in even closer, her fingertips dancing across his chest. She tilted her head to one side, her lips nearly touching his. “Just what’s so interesting in that little bag of yours, anyway?”
“It's probably just garbage,” Sigfus growled, the irritant wizard’s voice ripe with jealousy. “Don't waste your time with these buffoons, your majesty.”
Donnie turned his gaze toward the wizard, but any retort he may have had died on his lips. A glowing blue oval coalesced in the air just behind Sigfus.
A portal was a doorway through the astral plane to another nearby location. Before Donnie could warn Anya, the wizard grabbed her by the hand and dragged her through the swirling gate that hung in the air.
At the very last second, Donnie caught her other hand and was dragged through with them.
The Lukescros town guard were losing ground. Two more of their number had already fallen, and the rest would soon follow.
Lloyd plowed into the line, deflecting a sharp curved blade headed straight for a guard’s gut. He immediately followed through with a spinning backslice that nearly cut the attacker in half. Kicking the robed figure away, he sliced across the outstretched arm of a second attacker, making it drop its sword.
“Thanks, I’ve got this,” the guard acknowledged as he lunged after the disarmed figure.
Lloyd swept his gaze across the battlefield, looking for anyone else who needed help. On the one side, Kara had impaled a robed swordsman on her spear. Beyond her, Sir Fafnar had entered the fray. The skilled warrior caught his opponent’s blade with his hand axe and sent it flying.
Seeing they had things well in hand, Lloyd shifted his attention to the other side of the line. A couple more town guards and black-robes were locked in combat.
Lloyd started in their direction when his eyes fell on a chilling sight. The red dragon had stopped a few yards behind the line. Her maw wide open, white hot flames were gathering in the back of her throat. None of the combatants seemed to notice this new threat.
𝑆ℎ𝑒’𝑠 𝑔𝑜𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡𝑜 𝑘𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑚 𝑎𝑙𝑙!
Red dragon breath was hotter than fireballs. There was no way the guards would survive, unless…
Without another thought, Lloyd stilled his mind. The world around slowed to a standstill. He sank deep inside himself, down through all the outer layers to the very core of his being. There in the midst of the darkness, burning like a white-hot star, lay the spark of life—his inner spirit. Focusing his intent, he reached out and touched it.
The energy burst forth like a raging river, carrying him outward with it. It surged through every corner of his being, his entire body vibrating with power. All at once, the world shifted around him. It moved past in a frantic blur, then suddenly stopped.
Lloyd now stood right next to the two guards. Only a couple of moments had passed, but the dragon was about to unleash a terrible blast. With the last traces of spirit energy still flowing through his limbs, the young warrior lunged forward.
Lloyd slammed into the first guard and kept going as he hit the second. His momentum carried them a few yards before all three of them tumbled to the ground. They continued to roll head over heels until they landed in a heap nearly a dozen yards away.
Behind them, the red dragon unleashed a white hot stream of searing flame. It slammed into two black-robed swordsmen and continued on to engulf a portion of the black-robed casters a few yards beyond. The torrent of raging fire continued until the dragon’s breath ran out. When it finally did, all that remained of the black-robes were a few charred sets of bones.
“Th–thanks,” the two downed guards stammered, still shaking from their near-fatal encounter.
Already on the move again, Lloyd barely heard them. Thankfully no one else had been hurt.
Cyclone, Kara, Fafnar, and the rest of the town guards had managed to avoid the path of destruction. The former, however, fixed the dragon with a hate-filled stare. “Watch where you're pointing that foul mouth of yours!”
A deep rumble came in response from the dragon’s great throat. “What’s the matter, little man? Can’t take the heat?”
Cyclone’s gaze grew even more hate-filled. He fell into a deceptively mild stance, his lethal weapon held firmly in a single hand. “I’ve buried this in your hide once before. Want to see how easily I can do it again?”
Both Cyclone and Mallona were extremely stubborn. A fight might have broken out between them then and there if Kara hadn’t intervened. “Save your pissing contest for later. We have bigger problems right now!”
Lloyd swung his gaze back to the remaining black-robed figures—only they were no longer there. Instead, a huge globe of inky blackness now stood in their place.
A moment later, the dragon roared and charged. Cyclone fell into a defensive stance, but she hurtled past him, straight into the sphere of darkness. With a loud curse, the blue-clad warrior spun around and charged in after her.
Kara called out to Lloyd as she, too, rushed in after them. “Aren’t you coming?”
“Can’t see in the dark!” Lloyd cried back with more than just a touch of frustration. While he was certain the three of them could handle themselves, he wasn’t the type to stand idly by.
“That’s not a problem!” a familiar voice called to him from the opposite direction.
Lloyd spun about to see Andrella running toward him. She halted just a few feet away and began to trace a symbol in the air.
“Andrella, what are you doing out here?” he asked in a harsh tone that he immediately regretted. He intrinsically knew she could take care of herself, but it didn’t stop him from worrying about her.
“This,” she responded with a smug smile. Andrella finished tracing her symbol, then reached out and touched him with two soft words. “𝑇𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑏𝑟𝑖𝑠 𝑉𝑖𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑒𝑚.”
A surge of energy centered around each of Lloyd’s eyes.
At that same moment, cries rang out from the direction of the darkness. Lloyd spun his gaze around and found he could suddenly see into it. The red dragon was batting around a few black-robed figures. Cyclone was fighting two more, and so was Kara.
Lloyd grinned as he turned back toward Andrella and gave her a quick kiss. “Thanks!”
With that, he whirled on his heel and plunged straight into the globe of darkness.
Sorry, but I'm afraid we'll have to stop there. If you'd like to read more, City of Tears is now available in print and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo. Also, check back here in the coming months for more excerpts from City as well as another clip from the upcoming audiobook version of the Ruins on Stone Hill.