A sample from THE SHATTERED PRISM--book one of my fantasy trilogy. Let me know what you think!
Aerin tensed. Awake in the darkness. In spite of the fatigue of travel, despite slogging into Crystalmer earlier that evening, drenched to the skin and numbed to the bone she couldn’t settle. Every nerve thrummed—aware. Body braced. Ears straining. She heard nothing but the usual shouts and laughter from the tavern below. She saw nothing but the faint light that seeped under the ill fitting door and through the thin walls from the hall.
The flickering light made the shadows of table and stool sinister in the gloom. More than once in the last several weeks she’d jumped at a mysterious shadow seen out of the corner of her eyes.
Fresh nightmares brought on by her current search, and old nightmares of the last Circle convergence drove her from sleep. Aerin wondered if she’d always jump at shadows?
Her fingers fumbled at the lacings of her shirt and she pulled out her amulet.
Running fingers over the disk she could feel the eight-pointed star etched into the silver. It was warm to the touch now—not the eldritch cold it had been during the long muddy trip up from Natoon. It had pushed her, driven her as oxen before the yoke to move, search, seek; without ever telling her for whom she was looking.
Twice now she’d been compelled by the Circle, enslaved by this obscure power of the universe to hunt for others to stand with her and save the world. It spoke to her through the amulet, odd tugs and pulls, urgings and yearnings. Not for the first time she wished it would just speak to her. No matter that Robyn had told her the Circle couldn’t take such obvious form, the power created from that that would rip the very fabric of reality itself, Aerin still wished it would just send her a map.
The Circle’s tugging had been insistent. It drove her out of a cozy bed two nights ago all but in the middle of the night. She’d been planning on riding out the newest spate of storms in Felbar, two days away from the city of Crystalmer. She’d lived in the North long enough to know better than to wander through a wicked fall blast, but the amulet and the thrice be-damned Circle wouldn’t let her be.
It had begun this time around as that vague restless feeling that takes you once in a while; when you feel itchy, as though your skin were two sizes too small, then became a pins and needles feeling of searing cold dancing up her spine. It had been followed by the dreams--memories of the last Circle. Faces burned into her mind, names scored into her soul. Painful reminders to Aerin that only four of them had walked away from the last convergence, the other five lay buried beneath the star carved into the stones or as nothing more than ashes scattered on the winds. She’d dreamed of cities in ruins, of the chaos that would spin storms in the seas, tear down mountains and rake civilizations into great gaping chasms as the earth itself opened if the Darkness won the next battle.
Unable to sleep, aching from wounds long since healed, but shooting with phantom pain, she’d risen, packed her bag, grabbed her father’s sword and left Felbar hours before dawn. Rain sluiced down her face, soaked her boots and made her wish she understood why the Circle was being so vague this time.
Years before, when she’d first been called to stand on a point in the Star Circle it had all seemed so clear! She and Robyn knew, deep down in their bones that what they needed to do. The Chosen of the Circle had seemed to glow like beacons in the night and draw them like metal to a lodestone. This time it was all odd itches, vague tugs and pulls. It wouldn’t let her rest, but it wouldn’t give her any insight. She’d screamed in frustration a few times on the wet, cold slog from Felbar. It hadn’t made her feel any better.
Now, though, that she was finally in the city, the star was giving her no more direction. She’d collapsed exhausted on the low slung bed pausing long enough to just tug off her boots and prop her sword against the bed near at hand. She’d dropped like a stone into sleep only to surface in the middle of the night, wide awake. Aerin wondered if she’d been so used to the hyper-alertness of the Circle, the fact that it hadn’t let her have a dreamless sleep for the last week or two, that her body just didn’t know how to relax?
Rolling her eyes, she shifted position, punching her pillow a couple of times as if she could batter some sleep from the coarse rush-stuffed sack. She’d left the window shutters open hoping that the cold autumn rains would drive out some of the sharp scent of wood rot and tobacco smoke that had permeated the room. Rain sheeted outside the window, a soothing thrum blowing in gusts of cold air. Her fingers twisted in the silver chain, flipping the amulet back and forth. “Something?” she whispered. “Anything?” The amulet and the Circle were silent.
With a weary groan, she dropped the pendant.
The metal suddenly seared to life, icy against her skin. Aerin grabbed it. It glowed with faint white light.
The quiet creak of the door froze her. She stiffened, slowing and evening her breathing, one hand cupped around the amulet’s telltale gleam to hide it from the intruder.
Aerin heard the faint whisper of drawn steel and tightened one hand into a fist. Stealthy footsteps whispered from the threshold to the bedside. The scent of sweat, sea salt, and brandy wafted over. Harsh breathing rattled her ears. She wanted to roll her eyes. If he were trying to sneak up on her, maybe he should have bathed? The sour breath made her eyes water as the stranger moved.
Aerin rolled, dove off the far side of the bed to snatch her blade. The would-be assassin's knife slashed into the dirty rush-stuffed mattress. He swore and dove after her.
Aerin rose to her feet, stripping the blade from the sheath all in one fluid move. The room was dark, but her eyes were long used to the gloom. She saw the assassin as a dark blot against the lighter shades of the table and chair, a shadow framed by the light filtering in from the hall. He'd dropped to a crouch, his knife weaving. She saw him more clearly in the low light, long hanks of hair, thick lips twisted into a sneer and one eye sealed shut with a vicious scar.
"Damned Freesword bitch," he spat.
Aerin didn’t react, though her pulse leapt. She could feel the beat of her heart throb all the way down to her fingertips. She held her blade ready, silent. Let him make the first move; the first mistake.
He lunged, knife slashing downward in a vicious arc.