A hundred and fifty years have passed since the Thrall Masters rained destruction upon Thac. With a resurgence of dark dragons, demons, and undead, have these dread fiends returned to continue their rain of terror?
Protectors of Penwick, book two of Rise of the Thrall Lord (ROTL), is now available at Amazon, Nook, Apple, Kobo, and Google Play. Once again, I've dropped the price of book one, City of Tears, from $4.99 to $3.99.
In my last few blog entries, I've presented some excerpts and introduced you to some of the new characters in this second novel. I've also covered the premise of the series as a whole. The entire world of Arinthar is at stake this time with hordes of demons crawling up from the Abyss and the possible return of the dread Thrall Masters.
In Protectors, demons still hold the tower in the mountains and are using it to summon more of their brethren. However, demons are not your normal monsters. Weapons of great power are needed to defeat them, rune weapons like those of legend.
Meanwhile, Penwick has been infiltrated by creatures of the night and people are disappearing at an alarming rate. Even more terrifying, these vampires might be heralds of the dread Undead Thrall Master.
With all Arinthar at stake, can the companions protect Lloyd's home city and still find the magic they so desperately need before demons overrun their world?
Now I'd like to present the next excerpt from the Protectors of Penwick. Lloyd Stealle has had his share of tough battles. From mercenaries, to giant serpents, to his epic confrontation with Sir Fafnir, and even iron golems and dragons, the young spiritblade has somehow managed to prevail. Yet, what happens when Lloyd meets his match? Find out in this passage from the fourth chapter, "Stealle Academy of the Sword".
A slim woman with a tan complexion leaned against one of the door jambs, the frilly white arms of her shoulderless blouse folded across her chest. Deep brown eyes stared out at them from beneath a bright red bandana, her long, light brown hair spilling over the one side. A pair of curved swords hung from the dual belts strapped across the woman’s waist.
Kratos moved to the front of the group. “And to whom do we have the pleasure of speaking?”
The woman pushed away from the door jamb. She moved with a lithe, catlike grace as she strode up to meet him. Stopping about an arm’s length away, the top of her head barely reached Kratos’ nose. Still, she met his eyes with a confident stare, the difference in height not seeming to bother her in the slightest.
“My name is Solais”—she hesitated a brief moment—“Onueva.” She looked Kratos up and down. “And I suppose you are the ‘great’ Kratos Stealle?”
A thin smile crossed Krato’s lips. “I don’t know about ‘great,’ but I am indeed Kratos Stealle.”
The corner of Solais' mouth twisted upward. “Either way, I am here to challenge you to a duel”—she stood back and rested her hands on her sword hilts—“whenever you are ready.”
Lloyd studied this woman intently. Her current stance, the way she moved, and the positioning of the blades at her sides, all suggested she was an experienced fighter.
Thea edged her way next to him and whispered in his ear, “Watch yourself. This one has a powerful aura.”
Kratos hesitated, most likely gauging the woman for himself, then responded to her challenge. “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Solais cocked her head to one side and narrowed her eyes at him. “I’ve heard many stories of the great Kratos Stealle. None of them suggested that he was ‘chicken.’”
The slur on his father irritated Lloyd. He nearly took a step forward, but Thea placed a restraining hand on his arm.
Kratos responded with a closemouthed laugh. “It’s not that, young lady. It’s merely that you are not ready for someone of my level.”
A momentary trace of anger washed over Solais' face, but it disappeared equally fast. She shifted from one foot to another and pushed her thumbs into her belt. “Well, isn’t that convenient. So what do you suggest? Should I meditate on a mountain top for a year or two first?”
“I could tell her a couple of places to go,” Seth murmured off to one side.
Lloyd had to stifle a snort. Leave it to Seth.
If Solais heard his comment, she ignored it. Her gaze remained firmly fixed on Kratos.
Kratos took in a deep breath. “I don’t think that will be necessary.” He stepped aside and motioned to Lloyd. “This is my son. If you can best him first, then I shall give your challenge serious consideration.”
Lloyd squared his shoulders as Solais' gaze fell upon him. The intensity in her eyes caused the space in the center of his brow to tingle. Thea was right, this woman does have power.
After looking him over, Solais breathed a reluctant sigh. “Very well, but none of this practice-weapon crap.”
“Fine by me,” Lloyd responded to her challenge.
As he went to get his blades, Thea smacked him on the arm and hissed, “I thought I told you to watch yourself.”
Lloyd halted in his tracks. Despite her ire, he could clearly see the look of concern in her eyes.
Ever since Lloyd could remember, Thea had been looking after him. Between their parents’ constant responsibilities and Pallas joining the navy, it had fallen on her shoulders to raise her younger brother. Up until now, Lloyd had thought of his sister as being far older, but in reality she was only two years his senior.
Lloyd suddenly realized how difficult it must have been for Thea to raise him. In truth, that responsibility should never have been thrust upon her.
The young man reached out and placed a sympathetic hand on Thea’s shoulder. “I’m not a kid anymore, sis. Plus,” he added with a wink, “she’s not the only one with power.”
Thea held his gaze for a few moments, then let out a long sigh. “You’re right. You’re an adult now and I shouldn’t tell you what to do.”
Lloyd felt a sudden tug on his other arm and met Andrella’s stern gaze. “But I certainly can.”
The young man sighed at thought of having to explain himself a second time. Yet as he opened his mouth to speak, Andrella put a finger to his lips.
“I understand. Just be careful,” she told him in a soft voice, then stood upon her toes and kissed him briefly.
“If you’re done over there, lover-boy, let’s get this party started already,” Solais called out from the nearest sparring square.
Lloyd arched an eyebrow at her, but Seth cut him off before he could respond. “Aw, does somebody needs a hug?”
Solais leveled a gaze at the halfling that could melt steel. “Watch it, shorty, or you’ll be next.”
Not intimidated in the slightest, Seth folded his arms across his chest and clicked his tongue. “Tsk. You’ll be lucky to last that long.”
Solais glared at him for a moment longer, but then a thin smile crept across her face. “I like you. You’ve got guts.”
Lloyd appreciated Seth’s support, though he hadn’t quite expected it. More often than not, he’d been on the receiving end of the halfling’s sharp tongue.
The young warrior hurried to grab his blades before anything else happened. Luckily, everyone simmered down and took seats along the wall.
Moments later, Lloyd joined his opponent out in the sparring square. The two of them spread out about ten feet apart. Solais drew her blades and fell into a fighting stance.
Lloyd eyed her curiously as he did the same. He had never quite seen a stance like that before—one blade held before her and the other almost above her head. To the untrained eye, her flank appeared wide open, but Lloyd had enough experience to know that wasn’t quite true. In fact, strange as it appeared, he could find no clear opening in her stance.
Kratos walked up between them, holding out his favored weapon—a long-bladed, two-handed katana. He glanced first at Solais, then at Lloyd. Finally, he stepped back, swiped his blade downward, and uttered the word, “Begin.”
Solais didn’t waste any time. She rushed in, her twin blades flickering almost faster than the eye could see. She slashed at him from odd angles that seemed nearly inhuman in nature.
Thankfully, Lloyd wasn’t wholly dependent on his vision. He sensed her moves as she made them, staving off her lightning-fast attacks. Furthermore, though somewhat unorthodox, he recognized elements of her style. It was almost as if she had spiritblade training.
Circling each other, the pair engaged in a few swift exchanges, the clash of their swords echoing across the hall. Slowly adjusting to her rhythm, Lloyd began to test her defenses.
After a few more quick exchanges, Lloyd finally broke her guard. The tip of his blade caught Solais across the left arm, cutting through her frilly sleeve and leaving a red gash across her skin.
Cheers went up amongst his friends, but died as Solais immediately retaliated. She flicked her blade almost faster than he could follow, slicing across the back of his hand.
Lloyd swiftly back-pedaled and examined the stinging wound. She had neatly cut through his leather glove and into the skin beneath. Any deeper and it might have cut a tendon, making it impossible for him to grasp his sword.
Lloyd looked up at Solais and grinned. “You’re good.”
Solais peered up from her own wound and gave him a begrudging nod. “You’re not so bad yourself—for a pampered noble.”
Lloyd shrugged, ignoring the verbal jab. “Guess it’s time to get serious.”
The young warrior stilled his mind and reached down inside to the very core of his being. There in the midst of the darkness shone a white-hot star—the spark of life that was his inner spirit. Focusing his intent, he touched it.
The energy rushed up and outward into his limbs. It flowed through his hands and into his blades, where it burst forth into red-hot flames.
The corner of Solais' mouth upturned slightly as she eyed the crackling fire that engulfed his blades. “Oh, so it’s going to be that kind of fight? Maybe this won’t be so boring after all.”
The young woman slowed her breath and a low hum came from her throat. Lloyd could feel the energy rising within her. He watched with fascination as her swords, too, lit on fire. Yellow flames danced up and down her blades, with small sparks of blue mixed in.
“Those are electrical arcs,” Ruka commented from the sidelines.
“Is she some kind of spirit blade?” Andrella asked in a hushed voice.
“Similar, but not exact,” Thea answered, her tone laced with concern.
Lloyd supposed he should be worried as well, but the young man couldn’t quite suppress his excitement. He met his opponent’s eyes, and though she would not admit it out loud, realized that she shared his enthusiasm.
The duo clashed once again in another barrage of swift exchanges. Blades flashed in all directions, leaving trails of fire behind them. Fiery sparks flew this way and that, yet neither seemed able to gain an advantage.
After the sixth clash, Lloyd decided to try something else. He took a few steps backward and once again stilled his mind. This time as he reached inside, the world around him slowed to a standstill.
When he touched his spirit, the energy burst forth, surging through every corner of his being. His entire body vibrated with power, then all at once, the world shifted around him. It moved past in a frantic blur, then suddenly stopped.
Lloyd now stood directly behind Solais. Yet before he even had a chance to move, she lashed out backward and caught him in the gut with her boot. Somehow she had anticipated his move and knew just where to strike!
Stunned by the unexpected turn of events, Lloyd found himself again on the defensive. Solais was on him, her blades flickering so fast that he could barely hold them off. Abruptly she broke through his guard, the tip of her sword mere inches from his throat.
“Lloyd!” he heard Andrella cry from the sidelines.
Instead of cutting him, however, Solais held her blade at his neck. Lloyd could smell the ozone from the sparks that danced across her blade.
Solais stared at him with a keen intensity, as if she were trying to read his mind. Lloyd met her gaze unflinchingly. He had been stupid, thinking he could win a battle with flashy moves against this level of opponent. She had neatly anticipated and countered his teleport technique. At this point, he deserved whatever scar she decided to give him.
Solais held his gaze for a moment or two, then surprisingly pulled back. “It would be like kicking a puppy,” she mumbled under her breath.
Lloyd stepped back and let out the breath he’d been holding. The fight was over. Solais had clearly won. Andrella came running to his side and threw her arms around him. “Are you alright?”
Lloyd grinned sheepishly, his hand going to the back of his neck. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just my pride wounded, is all.”
“I told you to watch yourself with this one,” Thea admonished him. She stood there with her arms folded, wearing that look of disappointment he saw so often as a child.
Lloyd responded with a heavy sigh. “You were right about Solais. I should have listened to you.”
Thea raised an eyebrow. “That’s it? No excuses?” She pressed her lips together and gave him a begrudging smile. “You really have grown.”
Sorry, but we'll have to stop there. Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave your comments or thoughts below. In the coming months, I'll have more excerpts from Protectors, news on Raiders of the Dark Coast, the next book in the ROTL series, and info on the audio book versions of the Serpent Cult and the Dark Monolith.