“THERE MAY BE NO GHOSTS OR GHOULS HERE, BUT THERE ARE MONSTERS. IT’S OUR JOB TO STOP THEM.”
Fleeing Al’Myrah, Tzarik sails with Sybal as far away from Sharar as they can. Landing on the far eastern continent of Xia, they discover there are no Runers on Xia and a civil war is heating up between the traditionalists and those who believe it is time for Xia to join the ways of the modern world.
A mysterious creed called Wushito culls the monsters without runes or the white blood. Revered or feared, Wushito exists to support the ruler of Xia–the one touched by the White Dragon. But with Runers ashore, their secrets may soon be brought to light and the traditions on which Xia is built will be tipped into chaos.
Put in the middle, Tzarik and Sybal set events into motion they must see through to the end or risk unleashing a malevolent force into the world. However, a shadow from the past appears amidst their new struggle, complicating their sojourn and quest for sanctuary.
The sulfates calming inside her, Sybal gathered all that remained of her patience and followed the general. Not wanting to ever be that close to the general again, she chose a perch a few yards away behind a boulder. Just as she ducked down, the small army came into view. She’d expected them to be out3tted in matching regalia, gleaming armor, and spears. The troupe that emerged was a ragtag team in mismatched pieces of armor. Some wore furs patched together with black leather. These had black paint on their faces and over their eyes. They looked harder and 3ercer than the others. The placards they carried were the only uniform item; it bore the familiar crest of House Xhiaoh.
“They’re peasants,” she whispered. “People.”
Wu-Zhiang scoffed. “What did you expect of a people who want to overthrow Wushito? Ignorant rats.”
Touching her runes under her tunic, Sybal said, “I will not kill them. I will stop them.”
The Masahk narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “As you wish. I have no qualms with killing those who seek to overthrow my creed. On my signal...”
Swallowing hard, Sybal prepared herself. For the 3rst time, her crime 6oated to the front of her mind. She could not cut down another sentient being. She didn’t know what would happen. All she knew was that the recompense was said to be horrifying to witness and painful for the oath breaker. A long, grueling death, no doubt.
Rearing up, Wu-Zhiang held her yari aloft and struck down into the army. Without hesitation, Sybal jumped after her, drawing halat as she landed. She opted for her bow, kiting away from on-coming attacks. Drawing buhkar, she misted away and was able to stay back from the attackers. Wu-Zhiang was not as merciful nor inhibited by a magical oath that would take her life. Her fangs 6ashing in the moonlight, she bit the enemy with quick, deadly strikes. Arching her spine, she turned upside down to 3re a fatal arrow into a man who threw a spear at her.
Sybal thought they’d gotten the upper hand too quickly. She’d released a half dozen arrows into shins and feet when the invading army turned and ran forward into the trees.
“Follow them!” Wu-Zhiang hissed, wiping blood from her lips. “They are heading right to Yasuke!” A wicked grin warped her face into demonic joy. “To the blus.”
Chasing after the serpentine woman took all Sybal’s speed and strength. When the Masahk went down onto her belly and shot o, she moved with the speed of a hunting viper. A whipping, hissing sound alerted her to ShanBao’s arrow going up from where the others waited. This should have been their signal, but Wu- Zhiang had preemptively struck. Now it signaled Yasuke and Jin to move in. Sybal saw how well ShanBao knew his generals when she heard Yasuke give a wild, canine cry.
The two women came over the rocky outcropping and stopped.
“A trap!” Wu-Zhiang shouted.
Below, another horde of Wu-Tang warriors waited, unleashing arrows towards Jin and Yasuke. Sybal prepared to scream for the boy to duck, but he easily dodged the arrows with elegant lips, scaling a tree before hopping across to another, shooting his own arrows down at the same time. Yasuke leapt into the frey for melee attacks, using his claws. His fur stood on end as he roared. A 3ery fox shadow appeared behind him as his attacks grew in rage.
From behind Jin and Yasuke, the Shiuki warriors emerged, spears and staves in hand. Sybal skirted around the edge, the blood from the Wushito general’s savage attacks painting the vibrant green grass red. She met with ShanBao and the royal commander.
“I will lose my rank for this,” Commander Zhen stuttered, his face white. “We are involved in a civil dispute. A battle! The Di- Huan will have my head.”
“This was unexpected, Zhen.” ShanBao watched, horri3ed at the bloodletting. “They played us for the peaceful fools we are.”
Below, Sybal watched a royal warrior brought to his knees by a man welding the banner of House Xiaoh. The royal warrior begged for his life before the Xiaoh 3ghter stabbed him with the placard, standing it up in his corpse. Unable to bear the sight, she leased an arrow into the Xiaoh warrior’s knee.
“Careful, Sybal!” ShanBao cried. “Your oath.”
Glaring at the evil sigil, she spat. “It is far worse a punishment that I cannot take my revenge.” In truth, she had killed Whoang Xiaoh twice. She had tasted her revenge. But the opportunity to fell more of his kinsmen and followers loomed before her in insatiable temptation.
“Guard your anger,” ShanBao whispered, touching her shoulder gently from behind. “I do this to protect Xia. House Xiaoh wants one of their own on the throne.”
“Why are they striking now?” Zhen cried as he watched his men fall. “I thought we were close to an accord.”
“Hardly,” ShanBao replied. “The Di-Huan is ignorant and indecisive. His son has no desire to rule.”
Zhen swallowed hard before he spoke. “He is not touched by the dragon. They must be frightened their rule will be challenged.”
Abi has been a writer all her life, but is a mentor at heart. When she is not writing, you can find her slaying enemies online or hunting for the next bohemian adventure. She has published works of fiction, poetry, academia, and even won awards for her short stories in science fiction and horror.
Abi is also a proud mom of two…ferrets! She live streams on Twitch where you can enjoy her terrible gaming skills and join the live discussion. She works part-time as a freelance ghostwriter, editor, and audiobook narrator, hoping to one day make these passions her full-time job. She currently resides in Kansas.
She is one of nine children–all who share the creative spark.
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My thoughts: running away never ends well in fiction. Tzarik and Sybal have found themselves in the middle of a civil war, pursued by old enemies, making new ones and drawn right into the middle of various conspiracies. Probably should have gone somewhere else. They stand out a bit too much in Xia, where there are no Runers and attract too much attention. Sybal seems to have a hard time keeping things to herself, confessing her crimes to people Tzarik isn’t too sure they can trust. He’s not happy about what’s happening around them at all. He doesn’t want to get involved with a strangers war, but Sybal has mixed them up in it.
It took me a while to get to grips with the magic system (I hadn’t read book 1) but once I did, I thought it was quite clever and I liked grumpy Tzarik, who’s just trying to get on and keep out of trouble while staying one step ahead of the past. Sybal’s a bit of a hopeless romantic and hasn’t learnt to keep her mouth shut about things. Unfortunately both her sharing and their past misfortunes lead them into further danger before they can get away. The answers to what happens next are still to come but I can foresee more trouble ahead…
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.