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City of Tears: Best Laid Plans


A cursed city shrouded in mist. The power to level an army. A deadly race against demons to find it.

I love getting feedback from fans! It really helps since writing is a never ending process of learning and growth. Because of a few folks thoughts and ideas, I rewrote the first chapter of City of Tears.


In this new version, the characters are presented in two smaller groups, giving the reader a chance to get to know each of them better. While it does not affect the overall plot of the book, it does make for a cleaner intro while still capturing the adventure and fun of the Rise of the Thrall Lord (ROTL) series.


The latest copy of City of Tears does contain the new first chapter, but for those of you who read this blog, I'm presenting it in its entirety here:

__________________________________________________________________________________


⁣ “Glolindir!” ⁣

 The sound of his name broke the quiet of an otherwise peaceful midsummer morning. Sunrise came early this time of year, and the warm bliss of the rising sun had beckoned enticingly to Glo. He soon found himself on a soft plot of lush green grass in the courtyard of Vermoorden Keep. With a clear canopy of blue overhead and the songs of birds in the trees, the young elf had been lulled into a gentle meditative state. Yet those few moments of peace had been shattered all too soon.⁣

 Glo’s eyes fluttered open to settle on the Lady Andrella Avernos. The striking young woman stood at the top of the stairs to the keep, her eyes searching the wide courtyard. The daughter of former Baron and Baroness of Ravenford, Andrella was not your typical vapid noble. She had a keen intellect and the will to match. ⁣

 After combing the yard for a few moments, her gaze finally settled upon Glo. “There you are!” ⁣

 Andrella pushed back a lock of neatly arranged strawberry-blonde hair as she hastened down the stone steps of the keep. The long flowing skirt of her gold-laced scarlet dress swayed back and forth as she hurried across the grounds toward him.⁣

 Glo unfolded his long legs and stood up to his full six feet. The young elf was far above the average height for his race, a trait that seemed to run in his family. He brushed off his long purple robes and smiled at the approaching young woman. “Lady Andrella, to what do I owe the honor?”⁣

 Andrella peered up at him, her electric-blue eyes barely level with his chin. “I want to continue my training, of course.” She finished with a dazzling smile that lit up her entire face.⁣

 Glo let out a small laugh. “Oh, I see.”⁣

 A wizard by trade, Glo had been trained in the arcane arts by his temperamental father. Also a student of the arcane, Andrella’s studies had been cut short by her equally irritable master. Still, the young lady had talent and was not shy about using it. Thus, it had fallen on Glo to continue her training before she accidently hurt someone.⁣

 Before Glo could say another word, Andrella grabbed him by the hand and dragged him toward the training grounds. A wide swath of earth had been flattened in that area of the yard. A row of archery targets stood along the one side, while stout wooden training dummies sat at the other end.⁣

 Glo watched with a small sense of pride as Andrella began her lesson. Just as he had taught her, she smoothly gathered in mana, the life force that flows in and around all living things. The energy coalesced at her brow, the chakra gate for an arcane caster. In one fluid motion, she pointed at a practice dummy and brought her will to bear.⁣

 “Radius ardens.” The trigger words fell from her lips as a red-hot ray leapt from her fingertips. It struck the dummy straight in the chest, leaving a scorch mark. Though powerful, the Ray of Fire spell was rather simplistic. More complex spells required either a material focal object, or the tracing of intricate patterns through the air.⁣

 “Excellent.” Glo nodded his head in approval.⁣

 Andrella looked up at him, a wan smile across her lips. “Actually, I was aiming for its head.”⁣

 Glo inwardly winced. His own experiences had not been that smooth. After decades of tedious, repetitive study, the young elf had set out to wield magic in the real world. His father cautioned him before he left, but Glo had been too stubborn to listen. Since then, he had made more than his share of mistakes.⁣

 Andrella stood with her lips pressed together, her eyes narrowed as she reviewed her performance aloud. “I emptied my mind, focused only on the spell, and targeted the dummy in one motion.” She bit her lip. “What am I missing?”⁣

 Glo chuckled softly. “You forgot to breathe.” It was a common mistake he had made quite often himself. “Take a deep breath and let it out slowly as you aim.”⁣

 Andrella slapped herself on the forehead. “Duh. Of course.”⁣

 The young lady set her jaw as she faced the target dummy once more. Again she drew in mana through her brow, but Glo noted there was much more energy than before. He watched curiously as she let out a slow breath and raised her arm. “Radius ardens.”⁣

 Another red ray sped from her fingers, this time colliding with the dummy’s head. Flames erupted from the skull, and a moment later it fell off and hit the ground below. In mere seconds it had burnt to ash.⁣

 Glo arched a single eyebrow. He had seen her display this type of raw power before, but had only recently developed the sight to understand what lay behind it.⁣

 “I think we’ve got another pyromaniac on our hands,” a familiar voice drifted across the courtyard.⁣

 Glo nearly jumped out of his skin. He spun to see Seth Korzair resting comfortably against the trunk of a nearby tree. The halfling sat there casually twirling a short knife between his nimble fingers. Dressed almost completely in black, he had been difficult to spot in the dim shade around the tree trunk.⁣

 Seth peered over at Glo, the side of his mouth lifting ever so slightly.⁣

 Glo let out a short sigh. Some of his worst mistakes had been more than a bit explosive. Seth took great pleasure in constantly reminding him of that.⁣

 Andrella, however, seemed completely unaffected by the halfling’s snarky tone. She spun about and gave him an unabashed smile. “Guess some of us have it and some of us don’t.”⁣

 Seth shrugged, not missing a beat. “True. Some of us are happy just blowing things up.”⁣

 “Alright, everyone. Play nice.”⁣

 A small, copper-haired figure clad in white robes now approached them from the direction of the keep. Aksel Alabaster, the young gnome and healer, wore an expression of exasperation. Aksel was the implicit leader of their group, his sense of practicality and concern for others making him a natural fit for the role.⁣

 “Yes, Dad,” Seth shot back, emphasizing the last word.⁣

 The jab brought a slight smile to Aksel’s face. The pair were like night and day. Where Aksel looked for the best in everyone, Seth saw only the worst. Yet somehow, these two had become the best of friends.⁣

 Ignoring Seth’s comment, Aksel addressed them all. “The Lady Gracelynn and Baron Gryswold are ready to see us.”⁣

 “It’s about time,” Seth grunted, the dagger disappearing from his hands as he pushed off the tree trunk and rose to his feet.⁣

 Andrella’s hands went to her hips, a frown forming across her brow. “What about Lloyd and the others?”⁣

 It came as no surprise to anyone that Andrella’s first thoughts would be of the young man. Despite all the hardships they had faced these last few months, Lloyd and Andrella had formed a close relationship. The thought stirred a brief pang of melancholy within Glo. He had also been in a relationship, but it ended as abruptly as it began.⁣

 “Donnie went to get them,” Aksel answered Andrella’s query.⁣

 “Tsk,” Seth clicked his tongue. “Who thought that was a good idea?”⁣

 Glo exchanged a nervous glance with Aksel. Seth was not altogether wrong. Sending Donnie after Lloyd, Elladan, and Kara was like throwing a lit torch into a pile of kindling.⁣

 Andrella started for the keep, nonchalantly waving off their concerns. “You worry too much. They’ve all matured these last few months, especially Lloyd.”⁣

 Seth’s eyes rolled to the heavens as she strode away. “Right,” he murmured under his breath, “and I’m the Queen of Lanfor.” ⁣

 ⁣

 ***⁣

 ⁣

 Lloyd Stealle sat in the midst of the tavern room at the House of Barmann. Though not fancy, it was a clean establishment, with a rustic décor and a dozen or so tables scattered about. Being the singular inn in the town, it was also the only place to sit back and have an ale or a meal out.⁣

 “That was quite a workout.”⁣

 Karathralla Brightwing sat across from the young man, her tall frame garbed in dark armor with polished, winged steel guards. She pushed back the ends of her long, braided flaxen hair, a lingering trace of excitement in her dark eyes.⁣

 The young spiritblade let out a deep breath. “You can say that again. I can’t tell if I’m more exhausted or hungry.”⁣

 Sparring with Kara had been exhilarating. An adept warrior, she matched him blow for blow despite his rigorous training. As a spiritblade, Lloyd had learned the disciplines of both mind and body, and mastered multiple weapons. Yet what truly set spiritblades apart was their ability to enhance their battle prowess by tapping into their inner spirit.⁣

 Without warning, a rather loud grumble emanated from Lloyd’s abdomen. ⁣

 Kara exhaled a short laugh. “Heh. I think your stomach just answered for you.” The lady warrior half-turned in her seat and called out across the room, “Elladan, you better hurry with that food before Lloyd here passes out from starvation!”⁣

 Up at the bar stood a young elf dressed all in white, except for brown leather boots and the green cloak draped across his shoulders. Elladan spun about and rubbed a hand through his jet-black hair as a half-smile graced his handsome face. “Well, we wouldn’t want that to happen, now.”⁣

 As if by magic, a golden-brown lute suddenly appeared in the elf’s hands. “Maybe some music will take your mind off your hunger?” He strummed a few chords, filling the room with a lively tune.⁣

 Elladan was a bard, a consummate entertainer as well as a stalwart ally. Able to lace his songs with magic, he proved to be an invaluable asset both on and off the battlefield.⁣

 Still, Elladan’s attempt at levity made Lloyd feel all the more self-conscious. A sheepish grin spread across the young man’s face, his hand going to the back of his neck. “That’s okay. I’ll be fine.” ⁣

 Abruptly, an even louder grumble escaped from Lloyd’s midsection. Elladan let out a hearty laugh. “I think your stomach begs to differ.”⁣

 Lloyd felt the blood rush to his cheeks when a new voice sounded from the tavern entrance. “Why don’t you mind your own business, elf.”⁣

 Lloyd immediately sat up his hunger all but forgotten. In the doorway stood five armored men wearing all-too-familiar powder-blue tabards. The sight made Lloyd bristle.⁣

 Kara narrowed her eyes at the newcomers. “Who are these buffoons?”⁣

 “Dunwynners,” Lloyd responded through gritted teeth.⁣

 “What’s their problem with Elladan?” she whispered.⁣

 “They’re xenophobes,” Lloyd responded, pushing his chair back and rising to his feet.⁣

 Kara joined him as the five Dunwynn soldiers advanced to the bar to confront Elladan.⁣

  “Who said you could talk to humans?” the same soldier continued to harass the bard.⁣

 Elladan put his hands up in a peaceful gesture and replied to the man in a calm voice. “Now, I’m not looking for any trouble, friend. Let me buy you all a beer.”⁣

 Elladan reached into his pocket, pulled out a few silver pieces, and placed them on the bar. “Glami, how about a round for these fine gentlemen?”⁣

 The Dunwynners shifted their focus to the short, squat, dark-bearded dwarf who stood behind the bar. Glami stopped cleaning the glass in his hand and stared back at them wide-eyed.⁣

 Without a word, the lead man reached over and swatted Elladan’s coins off of the smooth surface and onto the wooden floor. He sneered at them both. “We don’t accept money or drinks from non-human scum.”⁣

 Lloyd had heard more than enough. Already on the move, he drew up next to Elladan and casually laid his hands on the hilts of the swords strapped to his waist. “Then I suggest you turn around and ride on out of here while you still can.”⁣

 The Dunwynn soldiers turned their gaze on him. At six-foot-two, Lloyd stood a nearly a head taller than most of the men. The lead man looked him up and down, taking in the crimson armor that covered his torso, arms, and legs. ⁣

 “Ah, a Penwick mongrel,” he snorted with clear disdain. He motioned to the men behind him. “Maybe you want to check again, but we’ve got you outnumbered five to one.”⁣

 “Make that five to two.” Kara strode up next to Lloyd, her spear held in a deceptively casual grip.⁣

 The Dunwynn soldier leered as he gave Kara the once-over. “Maybe you’d like to try a real man, honey, instead of these boys and elves.”⁣

 Lloyd nearly drew his blades when a familiar voice sounded from the doorway. “And maybe you should learn some manners.”⁣

 Lloyd peered past the men to see Donatello standing in the doorway. Clad in a puffy white shirt, brown vest, pants, and boots, the sandy-haired elf leaned nonchalantly against the door jamb. ⁣

 One of the soldiers scoffed as he spun to face him. “Another elf? This place is lousy with them.”⁣

 The man beside him elbowed him with a wicked grin. “Good thing we know how to exterminate pests.”⁣

 Lloyd had reached his limit. His prior encounters with Dunwynners had proved equally insufferable. There was just no reasoning with their bigotry. Without another word, he stepped forward and swung a huge fist at the lead soldier. The man managed to dodge the blow, but got caught by the follow-up jab Lloyd aimed at his jaw. ⁣

 The man’s head snapped back, his entire body propelled backwards into his fellow soldiers. Three of them struggled to catch their companion, barely managing not to fall over. The lead man rubbed a hand across his mouth, his lip bleeding and beginning to swell.⁣

 “You’ll pay for that, whelp!” he declared hotly. ⁣

 As the five soldiers drew their swords, Lloyd, Kara and Donnie did the same. Not a fighter, Elladan leapt behind the bar as his three companions spread out, prepared for battle.⁣

 One soldier went after Donnie, but the elf proved too quick. He tumbled beneath the man’s blade, sprang up, and vaulted onto a nearby table. ⁣

 “You’ll have to do better than that!” Donnie taunted.⁣

 Angered, the soldier swiped wildly at Donnie’s legs, but again the elf proved too agile. He leapt straight up, the sword swishing under him, then lashed out with a fierce kick that caught his attacker in the jaw. The soldier’s head cracked back as he went sprawling onto the tavern floor.⁣

 At the same time, two soldiers attacked Kara. Unfortunately for them, they vastly underestimated the lady warrior’s strength. Kara caught both blades on her spear and with a huge shove sent the men reeling backwards. ⁣

 One of the soldiers ended up against the bar. Elladan took advantage of the situation, scooping up a pitcher of ale and slamming it down on the man’s head. The glass shattered, ale spilling all over him as he crumpled to the ground, out cold.⁣

 Elladan chortled with glee. “Bartender, I think we need another round.”⁣

 “Coming right up!” Glami replied merrily.⁣

 Meanwhile, the lead soldier merely watched on as the last man launched himself at Lloyd. Lloyd easily parried the man’s blade, but did not strike back. When the soldier lunged at him a second time, he overextended himself. Lloyd moved smoothly out the way and chopped down on the man’s neck with the pommel of his sword. The soldier collapsed from the blow and did not rise again.⁣

 Lloyd turned his attention to the lead soldier. “I thought you were going to make me pay?”⁣

 The man’s face reddened with anger. ⁣

 “Why you…” Words failed him as he charged forward to take on the spiritblade.⁣

 Across the room, Donnie had leapt down and disarmed his stunned opponent. He held the tip of his blade to the man’s throat as he slowly rose. “I think you should leave now.”⁣

 “Y—yes sir,” the soldier stammered as Donnie escorted him at blade-point to the door.⁣

 Near the bar, Kara engaged her second attacker. The man swiped at her, but she easily parried with her spear. He lunged at her next, but she pushed his blade aside and in one swift follow-up motion broke his nose with the blunt end of her weapon. ⁣

 Stunned, the man dropped his sword and fell to his knees holding his nose in both hands. ⁣

 Elladan, ever the gentleman, threw a bar towel to the bloodied soldier. The soldier grabbed the towel and peered at the elf in disbelief. ⁣

 Elladan shrugged and gave him a half-smile. “I figured you need it more than I do.”⁣

 At the same time, the lead soldier attacked Lloyd. Even angered, this man was a bit more seasoned than his compatriots. His slices were calculated, not overextended, and he even tried a feint or two. Still, in the end he was no match for the spiritblade. Lloyd caught his sword in a counter-parry and sent it flying across the room.⁣

 The haughty Dunwynner stepped back and gazed all around him. His men were all either down or gone. Shoring up his pride, he shook his fist at Lloyd. “You’ve messed with the wrong people. You’ll rue the day you tangled with Dunwynn.”⁣

 Behind him, Donnie laughed. “Friend, you are way out of your league.” He nodded toward Lloyd. “You’re looking at the man who bested Sir Fafnar.”⁣

 The blood drained from the Dunwynner’s face. He peered back at Lloyd and gulped, his bravado suddenly gone. “Y—you’re the one that beat Lord Strakentir?”⁣

 “Guilty as charged.” Lloyd would have felt sorry for him if he wasn’t such an insufferable prick. He advanced on the man and glared down at him. “Now maybe next time you’ll think twice about bullying folks from other races.”⁣

 “Y—yes sir.” The Dunwynn soldier gulped again. He took a couple of steps backwards and peered around at his fallen men. The two who had been knocked out began to rise. The third still knelt on the ground holding his broken nose.⁣

 “Get up!” he growled at them. “Get up and get out of here you disgraces to the Dunwynn army.”⁣

 Lloyd, Kara, and Donnie escorted the soldiers to the door. Elladan joined them as they went outside and watched from the porch. The soldiers slowly mounted their horses, trotted off the tavern grounds, and turned north up the road.⁣

 Elladan placed his hands on Lloyd’s and Kara’s shoulders. “Well, that taught them a nice little lesson.”⁣

 Lloyd shrugged. “I doubt it will stick.”⁣

 Kara snorted derisively. “At least they’ll be licking their wounds for a while.” ⁣

 “Probably headed back to Ravenford to do just that,” Donnie noted glibly.⁣

  “Yeah, we need to do something about Ravenford.” Lloyd sighed. They had accomplished so much these last few months, but in the midst of it all, the town of Ravenford had fallen under Dunwynn control.⁣

 “Not to mention that tower full of demons,” Kara added grimly.⁣

 Donnie abruptly slapped himself on the forehead. “Oops, in all the ruckus, I nearly forgot. I was supposed to tell you all the Baron and Baroness are waiting for us up at the keep.”⁣

 Lloyd exchanged a glance with Elladan and Kara. They were all a bit mussed from their altercation with the soldiers. “I don’t think we’re exactly presentable at the moment.”⁣

 Elladan gave them a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about that. I’m sure they’ll be fine when they hear we cleaned up another Dunwynn mess.”⁣

 The four of them laughed as they started up the road together toward the keep.⁣

 ⁣

 ***⁣

 ⁣

 Glo, Andrella, Aksel, and Seth waited for the others in the main hall of the keep. A long room with a vaulted ceiling and thick columns along its length, the décor here was rather gaudy. A remnant of the recently deposed mayor, there hadn’t been time to change it as of yet.⁣

 They had only been waiting a short while when the front doors to the keep swung open. “I’m tellin’ ya, yer aim could be better,” a voice wafted in from the foyer.⁣

 A moment later, Kalyn Rahn and Martan Folke entered the main hall. Garbed in forest green and browns, the pair were expert trackers and archers. The long-brown-haired man held a brace of rabbits in one hand while stroking his close-cropped beard in the other. His expression was decidedly gloomy. “I don’t know as I’ll ever be as good as you.”⁣

 Kalyn held a similar catch in her hands. She paused to adjust the loose braids of her long, wavy, reddish-brown hair, then her storm-gray eyes fixed on Martan. “Well, we’ll just have to see about that.”⁣

 Glo traded a knowing smile with Andrella. The duo had a long, tumultuous history, and as such, Kalyn never went easy on poor Martan. ⁣

 He opened his mouth to greet the pair when another voice interrupted them. ⁣

 “The Lady Gracelynn and Lord Gryswold will see you now.” ⁣

 A tall man with long blond hair and the hint of a beard had entered the hall from the other end. It was Captain Ascue, the head of the Vermoorden town guard. Ascue was rather young for the position. He had been installed by the former mayor, a corrupt woman who preferred someone with little experience. Still, he appeared to know his own shortcomings and was open to suggestions.⁣

 Kalyn held up her hands to the Captain, displaying her catch of the day. “I was sort of plannin’ to drop this off in the kitchen first.”⁣

 “I’ll take them,” Martan offered with more enthusiasm than usual. The tracker had his run-ins with nobility in the past, and thus tended to shy away from these types of meetings.⁣

 Kalyn put her hands on her hips and glared at him. “Oh, no ya don’t. Yer going this time and sittin’ through the whole thing.”⁣

 Martan’s face fell. Before he could respond, however, the front door opened once more. Lloyd, Elladan, Donnie, and Kara entered the main hall, all looking rather disheveled.⁣

 “Told you so,” Seth snickered.⁣

 Andrella gave him a dark look, then went to meet them. Mixed emotions played across her face as she looked over Lloyd’s dirt covered armor. “What happened?”⁣

 “We had a run-in with a bunch of Dunwynn toadies,” Elladan explained before Lloyd could respond. ⁣

 “You pummeled a bunch of Dunnies and didn’t invite me?” Kalyn drawled. “Darn! I always miss out on the fun.”⁣

 Elladan gave the tracker a sideways grin before relaying the full tale of their altercation with the bigoted soldiers. From the sounds of it, it didn’t last very long. ⁣

 Even so, the story brought up painful memories for Glo. Their previous run-ins with Dunwynners hadn’t been pleasant. Xenophobia seemed to be embedded deep into their culture, fostered by the Duke himself.⁣

 When Elladan finished, Andrella relented. “Well, I suppose it couldn’t be helped,” she looked Lloyd up and down, “but we’ll need to do something about your clothes.”⁣

 She traced a simple symbol through the air, snapped her fingers, and spoke the words, “Parva Magicae.”

 Glo watched the mana release from the symbol and flow all around Lloyd. Within a few moments, his armor had been completely cleaned. Even his shock of tousled brown hair had fallen neatly into place.⁣

 Lloyd gave her a sheepish smile. “Thanks.”⁣

 Glo was impressed. Again, it was a simple spell, but she had executed it like a pro. While he and Andrella cleaned up the rest of them, Ascue had a servant take the catch from Kalyn and Martan.⁣

 Afterwards, Ascue addressed the group. “I trust we are ready now?”⁣

 Aksel took a quick glance around the room before answering for them all. “We are.”⁣

 Ascue gave him a firm nod, spun on his heel, and motioned them forward. “Then follow me.”⁣

 ⁣

 ***⁣

 ⁣

 The captain led them through the back hall and into the throne room beyond. Another room with a vaulted ceiling, it was not as large as the main hall, but the décor here was no less gaudy.⁣

 Ascue ushered them to a side chamber off the throne room. A large wooden table took up most of the space in that chamber. Twelve chairs had been fit around it, though it appeared rather cramped.⁣

 The Lady Gracelynn Avernos and her husband, Gryswold, stood as the companions entered the room. A tall woman, Gracelynn was the very picture of elegance. Dressed in an immaculate light blue gown, her long chestnut hair was perfectly arranged in a tight braid. ⁣

 The former Baroness of Ravenford and sister to the Duke of Dunwynn, Gracelynn carried the distinct air of nobility. Nonetheless, she had a gentle heart and treated everyone she met with kindness and respect. Lady Gracelynn’s amber eyes flashed with warmth as they entered the room. “Friends, dear daughter, welcome. Please excuse the cramped accommodations.” ⁣

 Gryswold, the former Baron of Ravenford, stood just behind his wife. A powerfully built man, his dark hair and beard were tinged with just a hint of gray. More of a fighter than a noble, Gryswold wore modest finery of a military cut. “Unfortunately, this room is not quite as big as the one back home.”⁣

 Glo studied Gryswold closely as everyone found a seat. He still looked a bit pale—a side effect, he supposed, of recently having been revived from the dead. ⁣

 The former baron had been murdered a little more than a month ago, and the Duke used the opportunity to seize both his sister and Ravenford. Glo and the others followed a perilous trail to save Gryswold and Gracelynn. Somehow they managed to succeed, despite the odds being stacked against them. ⁣

 Once everyone was seated, the Lady Gracelynn swept her eyes around the room. An instinctive diplomat, she immediately noticed Martan’s discomfort.⁣

 Gracelynn gave him a warm smile. “Welcome, Goodman Martan. It is nice to finally see you at one of these proceedings.”⁣

 Martan’s face flushed bright red. He shot up out of his seat, nearly knocking his chair over as he attempted an awkward bow. “It’s… good to be here… your ladyship.”⁣

 Kalyn caught his chair and grabbed him by the arm. “For gods’ sake, Martan, sit yer hiney down.”⁣

 Soft laughter erupted around the table as the embarrassed archer reseated himself. Lady Gracelynn then continued.⁣

 “As you already know, things here in Vermoorden seem to be well in hand. I have agreed to oversee the town until a new election can be held.”⁣

 With the corrupt mayor gone, the running of the town had fallen to Captain Ascue. With no experience in such matters, the captain had turned to the Avernoses for help. Due to the law of the land, Gryswold could no longer hold a ruling position, but Gracelynn was more than capable.⁣

 Gracelynn pressed her hands together, her expression growing hard. “Yet that still leaves us with the issue of what to do about Ravenford.”⁣

 Gryswold cleared his throat. “No disrespect, my love, but your brother is an obstinate prick. Once he gets his hands on a town, he never lets go. Look at what happened to poor Karajon.”⁣

 Dunwynn was one of the largest cities in northeast Thac, with a formidable army to match its great size. Yet that didn’t seem enough for the Duke. He had extended his influence to a number of towns neighboring Dunwynn, with Ravenford being the latest in that long line of acquisitions. Glo suspected the Duke’s expansionist policy was an attempt to create a buffer between himself and the rest of the world.⁣

 “Baron Gryswold is right.” Lloyd agreed, his voice filled with more than a trace of anger. Lloyd disliked the Duke even more than the rest of them. He was from the city of Penwick, Dunwynn’s rival to the south.⁣

 “Not Baron anymore,” Gryswold corrected him.⁣

 A pained expression momentarily crossed the young man’s face. Gryswold was also originally from Penwick; in fact, his brother was the baron of the city. Furthermore, he was old friends with Lloyd’s mother and father. Thus, a bond had developed between the two that made Lloyd feel responsible for all that had befallen the older man. “Right. Sorry.”⁣

 “Please continue on, Lloyd,” Gracelynn encouraged him.⁣

 “Well, I was thinking that we could petition Penwick for their help in freeing Ravenford.”⁣

 Gryswold made a sour face at the notion. “My brother wouldn’t have the spine to take a stand against the Duke.”⁣

 Andrella grabbed Lloyd by the hand to get his attention. “You weren’t thinking of asking the baron, were you?”⁣

 Lloyd slowly shook his head. “No, I agree with your father. Baron Avernos would never put himself out like that. I was actually thinking of asking Lord Hightower to intercede on our behalf.”⁣

 Lord Lagerie Hightower was the Penwick liaison to Lukescros. Lukescros was a neutral city with representatives from all over the world of Arinthar, including Dunwynn, and even the country of Lanfor.⁣

 Andrella grabbed Lloyd by the arm, her eyes brightening. “Well, I think it’s a marvelous idea!”⁣

 Gracelynn and Gryswold shared a contemplative glance.⁣

 “He was quite helpful to us last time we were in Lukescros,” Glo added, to bolster Lloyd’s suggestion.⁣

 Gryswold tilted his head to one side. “Lagerie is an old friend of mine as well as Lloyd’s family. He was never shy about taking a stand.”⁣

 Gracelynn’s expression visibly relaxed. “Well then, all things considered, we will contact Lord Hightower, as you suggest.”⁣

 Elladan rapped his knuckles on the table. “Begging your pardon, Lady Gracelynn.”⁣

 Gracelynn turned her attention to the elven bard. “Yes, Elladan?”⁣

 “Since this is such a sensitive subject, I was thinking it might be best if we meet with Lord Hightower in person.”⁣

 Gracelynn placed a finger on her chin and began to tap it slowly. She traded a furtive glance with Gryswold. The former baron signaled his agreement. ⁣

 “Very well,” Gracelynn responded, sweeping her eyes around the table. “Who should go, then, on this diplomatic mission?”⁣

 Lloyd shot up out of his seat. “Andrella and I should go. We were the ones who first met with Lord Hightower.”⁣

 “Plus, he likes me!” Andrella grinned as she stood up and wrapped her hands around Lloyd’s arm.⁣

 “I think the entire group should go.” Aksel also rose to his feet, speaking for the first time since they had all sat down. “We may have some unfinished business in Lukescros.”⁣

 “You mean with Anya?” Donnie eyed Elladan impishly.⁣

 Elladan’s eyes darkened. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention that witch’s name.”⁣

 A puzzled look crossed Gracelynn’s face. “Did something happen with the princess in Lukescros?”⁣

 Glo chuckled softly to himself. On their first meeting with the Princess Anya of Lanfor, she had turned Elladan into a fluffy little bunny. It had been a sore subject for the elven bard ever since.⁣

 “It’s nothing to worry about, your ladyship,” Glo interjected before anyone else had a chance to speak. “But I believe Aksel is right. It might be best if we go to visit Lukescros as a group.”⁣

 “I’ll definitely join you.” Kara stood up and placed her hands on the table in front of her. “I would like to also petition Penwick’s help with the demon tower. I understand your concern with your hometown, but be assured that the demons are a threat to your entire world.”⁣

 Aksel met Kara’s gaze evenly. “Anya aside, that’s actually what I was referring to when I said we had other business in Lukescros.”⁣

 “Oh. Fine, then.” Kara sat back down and elbowed Donnie in the side.⁣

 “What was that for?” Donnie yelped, nearly jumping out of his seat.⁣

 “For making me look like an idiot.” Kara chastised him, her cheeks flushing a light shade of pink.⁣

 “Tsk,” Seth clicked his tongue in disdain. “Don’t worry. Donnie’s got a lock on that title.” He turned his attention to Aksel before Donnie could retort. “Anyway, you all go ahead. I’m going to stay here and keep an eye on things.”⁣

 Aksel’s hand went to his chin. He stroked it for a moment before responding. “That’s probably a good idea. Someone else should probably stay with you, though.”⁣

 “I’ll take Martan,” Seth replied before anyone else could make a suggestion.⁣

 Martan had been slouching in his chair, keeping quiet since his earlier debacle. The dour archer now sank even lower into his seat.⁣

 Kalyn, in contrast, sat up and blurted, “So, when do the rest of us…”⁣

 “I think Kalyn should stay as well!” Andrella burst out before she could finish.⁣

 Glo had a hard time suppressing his laughter. Andrella had been trying to play matchmaker between Martan and Kalyn ever since she found out the two had a history.⁣

 Kalyn stared at Andrella with daggers in her eyes. “Gee, thanks.”⁣

 “Well, that’s settled, then,” Gracelynn said, clapping her hands together and recalling everyone’s attention to the head of the table. “Masters Seth and Martan and Mistress Kalyn will stay here in Vermoorden with Gryswold and myself. The rest of you will head to Lukescros to request the aid of Lord Lagerie Hightower in our effort to free Ravenford…” ⁣

 She paused a moment and dipped her chin toward Kara. “…and to seek his advice on dealing with these demons.”⁣

 Kara roused herself from her prior embarrassment and gave the lady a grateful look in return.⁣

 Gracelynn then fixed her gaze on Aksel. “When do you think you’ll be ready to leave?”⁣

 Aksel cocked his head to one side and mulled it over for a moment. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t leave this morning. The trip to Lukescros is only a day’s ride by horse.”⁣

 A warm smile spread across the Lady Gracelynn’s lips. “Very good. We’ll have Captain Ascue set you up with whatever you need for the journey.” She swept her eyes around the table one last time. “And may the gods watch over all of us.”⁣


__________________________________________________________________________________

Well that's it. Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts below. Also, check back here in the coming months for more excerpts from City as well as news on the Ruins audiobook and next book in the ROTL series, Raiders of the Dark Coast.


Thanks!

F.P.

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