Cover Reveal–RIDER OF THE CROWN

Rider of the CrownToday my new book, RIDER OF THE CROWN, is available for pre-order on Amazon.com! The cover is by Clarissa Yeo at Yocla Designs and I think it looks fantastic (and will look great on my shelf next to SERVANT OF THE CROWN). This new book features characters from SERVANT, but the main character is Imogen, one of the nomadic riders of the Kirkellan tribes:

Imogen, warrior of the Kirkellan tribes, has never wanted to be anything else. But when the long war between the Kirkellan and the country of Ruskald ends, the terms of the peace treaty require Imogen to be married to the vicious King of Ruskald for five years. Confined to his freezing city, forbidden to fight, Imogen sees nothing but darkness in her future—until the arrival of Elspeth North, heir to the Crown of Tremontane, brings three countries to the brink of war and sets Imogen free.

Now, sent to be the ambassador of her people to Tremontane, Imogen faces new challenges as she struggles to maintain her warrior’s identity in a world of glittering ballrooms and foreign customs. As a diplomat, Imogen discovers skills she never knew she had—as well as a forbidden attraction to the handsome and charismatic King Jeffrey North. But when war once again threatens not only Tremontane but her own people, Imogen must decide: is she the warrior, the diplomat—or something greater?

Release date is 10/22. I hope you enjoy this book! (For those of you who are wondering why this isn’t a book about Zara North, don’t worry–she returns in the third Tremontane novel, AGENT OF THE CROWN, and there will be a novella about her that fits between books one and two.)

Sesskia’s Diary, part 40

4 Lennitay, evening (continued)

The woman went a short distance down the hallway and stopped at the third door. “Again I apologize for the paucity of your accommodations,” she said, and pushed the door open for me. I went inside and nearly fainted. I have never seen anything so opulent, and I have stood in the King’s own antechamber and wondered which of his treasures I should take first while he slept in the next room. The flagstone floor, identical to that of the hallway outside, was covered with a thick maroon rug like the pelt of a very large, strangely colored bear. Glazed windows, their golden velvet drapes pulled back to admit the morning sun, looked out over the roofs and windows of the patchwork palace. A bed stood in one corner, covered in blankets that matched the rug and the drapes, with enough white pillows that I could have made a bed from them alone; four pillars at its corners supported a gauzy golden curtain that was currently pulled back and tied at each post. A dressing table made of the same mahogany as the bed, mahogany that would have cost a fortune in my world, stood next to a matching wardrobe large enough for me and Audryn and Sovrin to hide in together while we plotted tricks to play on the men. A mirror hung over the dressing table, and I don’t know why that struck me as a far greater luxury than any of the rest of the furniture, but I’ve never had a mirror that wasn’t cracked and certainly not one that could show me my entire body at once, supposing I cared to look.

There were more rugs scattered across the floor, and I went forward to open the wardrobe, because this all felt like a joke the God-Empress wanted to play on the otherworlder woman, and someone might be waiting inside to leap out and startle me. It was empty except for a few drawers and hangers. I didn’t have nearly enough to fill it, which was good—always travel light, that’s one of my many mottoes—but it made me feel awkward, as if they were giving me all of this because they think I’m more important than I am. I hope I’m not more important than I think I am.

“This will be adequate,” I managed to choke out, and the woman bowed and bobbed even more than before.

“Someone will call for you, when it is time for our audience,” Cederic said, and then he abandoned me—well, not really, but the woman closed the door and I was alone amid opulence I’m certain I don’t deserve. On the other hand…it is awfully nice, and the bed looked soft, not that I’d jump on it until I was out of these travel-stained clothes.

I jumped on it anyway. I’m not ashamed.

I practiced locking and unlocking the door with the pouvra—I noticed the woman didn’t give me a key, so it was important I learn to do that—and I took off my boots and jumped on the bed a little more, which is undignified in someone my age, I know, but I couldn’t resist, and then I sat around trying to decide what to do next. I thought about exploring, but I didn’t know when the God-Empress would call for us, and I didn’t want to miss that audience. So I put off exploring until I could do it when no one would expect me to be running around.

This book was nearly discovered when a couple of men entered my room without knocking. I shouted at them and explained at length about my customs (really, what is it about Castavirans that they don’t believe in waiting on an invitation?) and they bowed and groveled until I felt guilty. It turned out they came to measure me for my palace wardrobe. Wardrobe? Yes, wardrobe. Etiquette is very strict here in the palace, and while as I am an otherworlder it’s understood that my mistakes aren’t meant as a slight to the God-Empress, I’m still expected to make an effort. The men had armloads of clothing, most of it the same rich brocades and velvets Vorantor’s mages wear, and if I didn’t know the God-Empress was crazy, this and the mosaics would definitely confirm it, because brocade and velvet in this climate is insane. Even if the palace does have some kind of cooling system.

Anyway, they made me put on everything, and some things they discarded and others they fitted to me, and there was one long-skirted dress with full sleeves, made of linen, that they said was a pattern for my other dresses. Since they’d already fitted me with ten robes of varying lengths and trousers with wide legs like divided skirts, I’m not sure how many more dresses I need. At least they’re nothing I’d want to carry with me, because there’s no way I could manage that lot.

While I was being fitted, another servant came in with my bag and began putting my things away. Good thing I keep this diary on me, though I had to undress for some of the fittings and it was tricky keeping it hidden inside my discarded clothes. It’s too bad I’ve never had to do anything like that before. Hahahaha. This servant kept looking at me as if thinking “why does the otherworlder have so little?” and then he left and came back when the fitting was almost done with a box filled with all sorts of things: hairbrush and comb and hair clips, soaps and lotions, a file for my nails, and—this really shocked me—a flat box filled with jewelry. Not fake jewelry. They go in for cabochons rather than faceted stones, and they use more semiprecious stones like agates and jaspers, but the workmanship is incredible and some of the filigree work is far beyond anything my world has produced. And they just gave it to me. No one’s ever given me jewelry before; I’ve always had to steal it, and of course I never kept any of it because it was far more valuable in trade for books. It still shocks me.

I should stop if I want any time for exploring tonight. I didn’t realize how late it was. Cederic just came in to say good night. He also said, “I would tell you not to wander, but I realize that would be pointless,” and he’s right, because there’s no way I’m not going to investigate this palace. But I’ll have to write about that tomorrow. That, and seeing the God-Empress this afternoon. It was nothing like I expected.

Blog tour ends today!

Today is the grand finale of my book blog tour! Make sure you scroll to the bottom to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for copies of each of these books–I’m really pleased to be in such good company!

On tour with Prism Book Tours.

It’s the Fantasy Prism Tour Grand Finale for
Spindle
By W.R. Gingell
Servant of the Crown
By Melissa McShane
The Frey Saga
By Melissa Wright

If you love fantasy, we hope you enjoyed the exclusive content shared on the tour. 
If you didn’t get a chance to check out each book and their stops now…

SpindleSpindle
by W.R. Gingell
NA Fantasy
Paperback & ebook, 300 Pages
August 10th 2015

She’s not a princess . . . but then, he’s no prince.

Polyhymnia is deep in enchanted sleep. High in a tower, behind an impenetrable barrier of magical thorns, she sleeps, dreams, and falls ever deeper into her curse.

Woken by a kiss, Poly finds herself in an alien world where three hundred years have passed and everyone she has ever known is dead. Luck, the enchanter who woke her, seems to think she is the princess. Understandable, since he found her asleep on the princess’ bed, in the royal suite, and dressed in the princess’ clothes.

Who cursed Poly? Why is someone trying to kill her and Luck? Why can’t she stop falling asleep?

And why does her hair keep growing?

Sometimes breaking the curse is just the beginning of the journey.

“What If…” Guest Post @ Mythical Books

With Spindle my what if? was what if Sleeping Beauty wasn’t actually the princess? From that first little seedling of what if? I also ended up with what if she slept for more than three hundred years instead of one hundred? I was fascinated with the thought of how much life would have changed for her. Language would have evolved and passed her by, her loved ones and family would almost certainly be dead, and both the political and social aspects of life would have changed completely.

More at Mythical Books.

W.R. Gingell

W.R. Gingell is a Tasmanian author who lives in a house with a green door. She spends her time reading, drinking an inordinate amount of tea, and slouching in front of the fire to write. Like Peter Pan, she never really grew up, and is still occasionally to be found climbing trees.

Website – Goodreads – Twitter

Servant of the CrownServant of the Crown
(The Crown of Tremontane, #1)
by Melissa McShane
Adult Fantasy
Paperback & ebook, 405 Pages
July 15th 2015 by Night Harbor Publishing

Alison Quinn, Countess of Waxwold, is content with her bookish life—until she’s summoned to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Tremontane’s mother for six months. Even the prospect of access to the Royal Library doesn’t seem enough to make up for her sacrifice, but Alison is prepared to do her service to the Crown. What she’s not prepared for is Prince Anthony North, Queen Zara’s playboy brother, who’s accustomed to getting what he wants—including the Countess of Waxwold.

When the fallout from an unfortunate public encounter throws the two of them together, Alison has no interest in becoming the Prince’s next conquest. But as the weeks pass, Alison discovers there’s more to Anthony than she—or he—realized, and their dislike becomes friendship, and then something more—until disaster drives Alison away, swearing never to return.

Then Alison is summoned by the Queen again, this time to serve as Royal Librarian. A threat to Tremontane’s government, with her treasured Library at stake, draws Alison into the conflict…and into contact with Anthony once more. Can they work together to save the Royal Library and Tremontane? And can she open her heart to love again?

Exclusive Excerpt @ Brooke Blogs

“Without thinking, Alison whipped her hand out of his grasp and brought it around hard to slap the Prince’s face. The sound of her bare palm striking his cheek carried unnaturally far in the crowded, overfull ballroom. The dancers nearest them stopped to stare, and their stillness spread outward until half the floor was occupied by unmoving figures. The music went ragged and then stumbled to a halt. The Prince stood with his hand pressed to his cheek, his eyes wide and unblinking in surprise. Alison felt her breath coming in short, quick pants that left her dizzy…”

More at Brooke Blogs.

Melissa McShane

Melissa McShane grew up a nomad, following her family all over the United States, and ended up living in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains with her husband, four kids, and three very needy cats. Her love of reading was always a constant during those uncertain years, and her love of writing grew out of that. She wrote reviews and critical essays for many years before turning to fiction, and was surprised at how much she liked it. She loves the fantasy genre and how it stretches the imagination.

Website – Blog – Goodreads – Pinterest

The Frey SagaThe Frey Saga
by Melissa Wright
YA/NA Fantasy
Paperback & ebook, 779 pages
February 1st 2013

This collection includes The Frey Saga Book I: Frey, Book II: Pieces of Eight, the short story Molly, and Book III: Rise of the Seven.

Unaware she’s been bound from using magic, Frey leads a small, miserable life in the village where she’s sent after the death of her mother. But a tiny spark ignites a fury of changes and she’s suddenly being hunted by council and forced to rely on strangers for protection. But the farther she strays from home, the more her magic and forgotten memories return and she starts to suspect the band of strangers are not what they seem. They help her find her rightful place and destroy the bonds, but securing her future might be more than she can do with magic alone.

Exclusive Excerpt of book I, Frey, & Sneak Peek of book IV, Venom and Steel @ Beck Valley Books

    “The library was chaos. Books and pages, precious scrolls and ancient casting ledgers strewn over the wood plank floor. I’d never seen this room molested by their madness and the shock of it had me stumbling to a standstill. They had lost all regard for it, broken their own rules. They were a wild people, but they did have at least some barriers.

    If there was one thing the fey respected, it was knowledge.”

More at Beck Valley Books.

Melissa Wright is the author of the Frey Saga and Descendants Series. She is currently working on the next book, but when not writing can be found collecting the things she loves at Goodreads and Pinterest.

WebsiteBlog – Goodreads – Twitter – Pinterest – Instagram

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Sesskia’s Diary, part 39

4 Lennitay, evening (continued)

It wasn’t completely dark, just really dim by comparison to the blindingly white buildings outside. The loenerel slid to a halt, though the collenna’s thumping continued, more quietly now that it wasn’t pulling anything, and Vorantor (we were all sitting in a couple of the senets filled with rows of seats) stood and went forward to the door, which is a thing that is hinged in the middle so it folds on itself, and opened it. It was almost like a ceremony, he and his mages looked so solemn, and they all remained seated while Cederic and our mages and I stepped out past Vorantor and into the chamber beyond. It was narrow, almost like a corridor, and low-ceilinged, and its shape looked as if it had been designed specifically for the loenerel. Cederic immediately began walking forward, which is to say toward the front of the loenerel, without waiting for Vorantor to catch up. We all followed him, me at the end of our little procession that had to go single file because the room (tunnel?) was that narrow. I kept close to Kaurin, who was immediately in front of me, and I would have held on to her robe if I’d dared, because the whole thing made me claustrophobic in a way the Darssan had not, even when I felt most oppressed by the weight of the mountain hanging over my head.

We came to a pair of double doors at the end of the tunnel, and Cederic pushed them open as if he had a perfect right to be here. I wished I had a good excuse to push past everyone and stand next to him, to have some idea of what to expect based on how he felt, but I guessed by how abruptly he was doing things, how rapidly he was moving, that he was trying to control his anger. I don’t blame him for being angry. Now that we were actually in the palace (or, rather, I assumed we were in the palace and not just wherever the loenerel could be stowed) it was nearly impossible not to remember why we were here, and the manner of our being brought here. I don’t think Cederic told any of our mages, the ones who came with us, what threats Vorantor had made—not something they needed to be burdened with, in my opinion, and not something they could do anything about. And I imagine all of them knew better than I did what kind of danger the God-Empress presented.

The double doors opened on a space even larger and taller than the cavern in the Darssan, and far more opulent. The walls were tiled with mosaics depicting all kinds of heroic deeds, again in colors that reminded me of jewels—a hero slaying a giant, another wrestling with a dragon, yet another holding back the tide from a city on the edge of the ocean. It took me a minute to work out what was wrong with the pictures, and then I couldn’t stop noticing it. All the mosaics appeared to be the work of a single hand, which was impressive—it must have taken a lifetime to create them, based on the size of the room—but the heroes’ faces had been put in by someone far less gifted, and they were all the same woman’s face. No doubt what had happened there, and whose face adorned each mosaic. If I hadn’t already been convinced of the God-Empress’s self-aggrandizing lunacy, this would have done it.

The floor was tiled with larger tesserae in gold and copper, making a pattern far too large for me to make out. Maybe if I could find a way up to the upper levels—there were four of them, all with balconies that had nothing but a single protective rail keeping an observer from plummeting to a painful, skull-cracking death. I saw no stairs, but five dark openings spaced evenly around the room separated the mosaics from one another, the one we’d entered by making a sixth. The room was completely empty except for us. Cederic walked toward the center of the room—no, I’m certain that, since he’s Sai Aleynten, it was the exact center of the room, and now I can say that out of admiration and not annoyance—and stood with his arms folded across his chest, waiting. After a minute or two in which the rest of us became increasingly nervous and fidgety, a woman emerged from the dark opening directly ahead of us, walking rapidly, her hand closed in a fist over her throat. She managed to bow, a sort of rapid bobbing of her head, as she walked, and as she neared us I could tell she was terrified and trying not to show it. “We apologize, Kilios, a thousand apologies. Someone was meant to meet you—Kilios, please forgive—”

“We require accommodations and the wherewithal to wash after our long journey,” Cederic said. His cold tone of voice made me shiver. The woman bobbed even more rapidly and waved her hands in the direction of one of the other alcoves. Cederic allowed her to precede him; everyone else followed in a line, with me again at the rear.

Now that I know that the palace has been built and rebuilt over the years, with sections being shut off and others rediscovered (literally; there have been rooms no one even remembered until a God-Emperor’s building project uncovered them), I can understand why the woman led us in such a circuitous route. I’ve had years of experience in remembering my way out of homes and castles made to thwart thieves like me, and even I couldn’t remember the path we took. I’ll have to do some exploring later tonight. At the time, I thought she was trying to confuse us, possibly in retribution for how rude Cederic was. But the servants here all seem thoroughly cowed, and while I don’t know why they called Cederic Kilios, and I still don’t know what it means, they definitely venerate him. And they’re uncomfortably terrified around me. I have yet to make one of them look me in the eye. How that reconciles with my suspicion that someone is spying on us, I don’t know, except that it’s unlikely all the God-Empress’s servants are this spineless.

The woman brought us through some narrow passages that smelled damp, which I thought was strange given how arid Colosse is in general. Then we went up a fairly steep ramp into a wider corridor made of yellow bricks twice the size of my head, lined with doors on both sides. The doors were made of the same metal the ones in the Darssan were, and none of them had locks, which made me less nervous than if they had locks that could only be locked from the outside, but not by much. The woman, bowing again (she’d stopped briefly while we were in the narrow corridor), opened the first door and said, “Please accept the God-Empress’s hospitality during your stay,” and beckoned to Sovrin, who was at the head of the line, to enter. Sovrin glanced at Cederic, who nodded just a tiny bit, and she went into the room and closed the door. I just had time to wonder how they’d get our things to us when the woman moved on to the next door and repeated the ritual for Jaemis. Ultimately, everyone got a room to him- or herself, until it was just me and Cederic left with the woman. Cederic still looked like a statue. I probably looked confused. The woman went through a doorway at the end of the corridor, where there were stairs leading up, and said, as we climbed and climbed, “Otherworlder, we have nothing that befits your status, I hope you will forgive our inhospitality, we will put you in the wing with the Sais, I hope that is acceptable,” and we came out of the stairwell into a long, broad hallway paved with giant gray flagstones that had a roof open to the outside, made of metal grilles that made diamond patterns of shadow and light on the floor. It wasn’t nearly as hot as the wasteland, but the air was very dry and smelled of dust and, more distantly, of magic. Doors more widely spaced than the ones where my friends had been housed, these made of new, planed wood and bearing shining steel plates with locks by the doorknobs, stood along both walls of the corridor. I wanted to run down the hall and see what was at the other end, but that would probably have given the servant woman a heart attack, so I decided to save that for later. I have a lot of plans for later.

to be continued

Sesskia’s Diary, part 38

4 Lennitay, evening

This is how paranoid I am: There is a perfect little niche in the wall of my bedroom, behind the headboard of my bed, that my book fits into exactly. And that’s why I’m not using it. I’d bet hard money, if I had any, that someone in the palace knows every single hidey-hole there is in every single room, and I’d bet even more of that nonexistent money that someone’s searched my room since we arrived this morning. So I continue to keep my book and pencil on my person, and keep it under my pillow at night, because it’s the last thing I have of my world and losing it would devastate me.

Colosse isn’t as big as I imagined, smaller than Venetry, probably, and not as sprawling as Thalessa, but it’s impressive in a way neither of them ever dreamed of being. I don’t know if it’s how white the walls are, or how all the lines and angles are so exact, but it looks so clean I wonder that anyone can bear to live in it. Audryn, who comes from Colosse, says that no animals are allowed within its city limits, as per orders of the God-Empress. (I’ve decided to start calling her that even in the privacy of this book, so I won’t slip up when I’m speaking of her or, horribly, to her.) So there’s no shit in the streets and no smells of warm animal bodies. What kind of stink the humans make is something I haven’t discovered, as the loenerel came straight through the city and inside the palace to unload us, so I’ve only seen a little of Colosse so far and nothing up close. But I saw lots of people walking, and some riding in bearer-borne chairs that in my world would only be used by the very wealthy, and there were some little wheeled carts that fit two passengers while a third person pulled it. Audryn also said that machines like very small versions of the collenna are becoming popular among the upper classes, but their th’an are so small and intricate it takes a lot of practice to learn how to operate one. I’m guessing the God-Empress has one of her own, but big enough that someone can drive her around in it. It fits what little I know of her.

What else did I observe about Colosse: it sits athwart what Castavirans call the Coell River but in my world is the Myrnala. (I think it’s Coell, with the long ‘o’, but some people pronounce it as ‘call’, and I’m going with Audryn’s pronunciation, since she’s actually from here). The loenerel crossed it at one point, and it was the strangest feeling, because the Myrnala is so much greener and slower and it bears no resemblance to the Coell; I only know the two are the same, or at least in the same place, because I saw it on the overlapping maps. This whole region is much drier and hotter than the corresponding places in my world, particularly that wasteland surrounding the Darssan, which in my world is nothing but grassy plains and a few very unwelcoming settlements. If Colosse is always this arid, the seasons might not even correspond. We ought to be heading into fall, by my reckoning—I’ll have to ask Audryn or someone what time of year this is. Either way, I’m not changing the dates in this book.

I feel as if I keep getting distracted. Well, Colosse was a distraction, a distraction from worrying about the God-Empress and what Vorantor might want from me and whether or not Cederic would be able to prove himself right. It might not be as big as Venetry, but it’s still pretty damn big, and blindingly white in the sun because they surface all their buildings with white plaster or white marble, depending on the wealth of the owner. The roofs are like jewels in the sun, all different colors that don’t come from paint but from this huge variety of slate that either comes from the nearby mines or is imported from elsewhere. I learned that the color of a roof represents some kind of religious allegiance. They all worship the same God, but their God has so many traits that people here adopt one and let it define their lives. For example, someone might value Truth above all else, and they’d put a blue roof on their home and be known for always seeking for truth, however uncomfortable that might be. Not that someone who valued Strength couldn’t be trusted to be truthful, and a seeker for Truth might not always be totally honest, it’s just that Strength or Truth would be what drives that person. And it’s still true that you can count on an adherent of a particular virtue to behave in certain ways, because they see that virtue as an important aspect of who they are. To me, it seems a little like bragging about how truthful or strong or generous you are, but Audryn also implied that someone not adhering to the principles of their adopted virtue can be charged with impiety in front of the God-Empress, who probably doesn’t appreciate people treating her (as avatar of their God) with such disrespect. One more reason not to declare one’s allegiance, I’d think.

Anyway, what with the colored roofs, Colosse looks like a pile of gems snuggled up against the banks of the river, but with the white walls and the wide, paved roads that are perfectly regular, it also looks a little like a model city, something built by a giant and left behind when she went home for supper. Even though I could see all the foot traffic, the loenerel is nearly soundproof and what noise it lets pass is muffled by the noise of its wheels and the thumping of the collenna, and the silence made the city seem even more like a toy, with people being made to move by that giant’s pouvra. It was almost a relief to roll through the big, square opening in the side of the palace and into the darkness beyond.

to be continued

Sesskia’s Diary, part 37

3 Lennitay, after dinner (continued)

The rest of it I’ll sum up, because it’s too painful to remember. I think Cederic told Vorantor to keep his stooges out of the way when he told the Darssan mages what was going to happen, and there was a lot of noise and furor. Cederic was so still during all of this that I couldn’t help wondering just how painful it was for him, that they all thought he’d abandoned them and the research they’d all worked so hard on. I tried to stay out of the way as they all packed up the books and washed down the walls, shut down the kathanas powering the commodes and the pools, and gathered up their belongings, because it felt as if my home were being destroyed. I had so many goodbyes to make that it didn’t help that the thirteen mages coming with us (not including Cederic) were all friends of mine, ten of the group leaders, including Terrael (that was an obvious choice) and Sovrin, plus Audryn and two other men I knew well. I had to hide in my room often so I wouldn’t make them feel worse by how miserable I was. This is why I’ve never had friends. It’s too hard when you have to leave them behind, and you always have to leave them behind.

No, that’s a lie, and if I’m going to be lying a lot in the days and weeks to come, I shouldn’t lie to myself. I’ve never had friends because I never could trust anyone before, and as much as it hurts, saying goodbye, I’d rather have had friendship than not. And Sovrin was more miserable than the rest of us. Her lover isn’t coming along, despite her arguments and even my pleas to Cederic to make an exception. He said, damn him for being right, “We can’t look weak in front of the Empress, and Denril will know we didn’t bring our best. Hard choices, Sesskia.” So the best we could do was give them as much time together as possible.

Eventually, the second loenerel arrived, and I didn’t go up to see it, but if the one we’re riding in now is small, I can’t even imagine how huge that one was. After it left, there was some uncomfortable shuffling around—I think Denril’s mages had the decency to feel guilty about why they were there—for an hour or two before our loenerel was positioned for us to bring our things on. It’s beautiful, in a hard and gleaming way—lots of brass and rubbed brown leather, and some of the senets are just rows of seats with lots of windows, and others have sleeping cubicles, and there’s one for eating in. It smells of hot metal all the time, though as I wrote above, the smell becomes stronger when it stops, and there’s also a bitter-oily scent I now associate with large quantities of magic, and never mind what Terrael said about magic being completely used up by th’an or kathanas. I went up to look at the collenna, which is what actually contains the magic—the senets are all connected to it in a long row—and it positively reeked of that odor. The master, whose name I’ve forgotten, showed me where he draws the th’an, and it was so clever! There’s an engraving on this brass panel in the shape of a couple of linked th’an, a groove just thin enough for a skinny paintbrush to fit, and the master has a five-gallon bucket full of that silvery ink or paint Terrael used on the aeden to give me his language. He paints the th’an, following the grooves exactly, and that makes the th’an work. That’s how people other than mages can use magic, though I gather it’s not as simple as just filling in a line. The masters, not just of collennas but of other machines as well, have to be taught to write their rune in exactly the right way, and they usually only learn just the one their job makes them responsible for. I’m not sure how that doesn’t make them mages, though I suppose in Castavir being a mage is defined as knowing hundreds or thousands of th’an. But it is reassuring to know if anything happened to the master, we’ve got fifty people on the loenerel who can make it go, which is good because the idea of being trapped in this horrible, hot, arid, stinking wasteland makes me feel even more queasy.

And that brings me up to now. To sum up:

  1. We’re all going to Colosse to take part in research none of us believes in.
  2. Denril Vorantor is dangerous.
  3. The Empress is even more so.
  4. Cederic still has hope the Codex Tiurindi will prove him right, and in time for that to make a difference.

We should be out of the desert soon, probably by tomorrow morning. I wish I knew how fast we’ve been traveling, so I could get a sense for how far we’ve come, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. And despite everything, I’m a little eager to see Colosse. I’ve visited many cities in I don’t know how many foreign lands, but this is my first time visiting a city in a completely different world. I hope it isn’t a disappointment.

 

Sesskia’s Diary, part 36

3 Lennitay, after dinner (continued)

Cederic looked horrified, and that frightened me more than anything Vorantor had said. “Denril,” he said, “how can you possibly condone this? Let alone preside over it?”

“Cederic, I have little choice in the matter.” Vorantor said.

“No choice. That is never true, and you know it,” Cederic said in a low, intense voice. “I warned you not to throw in your lot with hers. She’s insane, Denril, you know she is. Only a madwoman could order such a vile thing.”

“Do not make such accusations, even where only I can hear,” Vorantor said. “She is our ruler, Cederic, and she deserved to know what was coming. We will need her temporal power in the aftermath, however well we are able to contain the destruction. She has amassed an army the likes of which no one has seen since the days of the Conqueror to maintain Castavir’s stability after the coming disaster. But the God-Empress is preparing for war against an enemy she knows she can’t fight, and her paranoia is increasing. She insists I produce results, regardless of the cost, and you and I agree on one thing: Thalessi, or whatever you call her, as an inhabitant of the shadow world, is crucial to our ability to preserve this one—that’s true no matter which of our theories is correct. And I am sorry, old friend, I am truly sorry, but you must give up this mad, doomed quest. I need your help. Your skills are unparalleled; I can even admit you’re better than I am. Your continued refusal to join me will mean the deaths of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions. You made a request of me. Let me extend the same to you. Help me. Please.”

Cederic turned away—and looked directly at me. I’m sure he hadn’t been aware of my presence until that moment. His face was once again impassive, but his eyes were pleading with me—for forgiveness? For approval? I nodded, though I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to. He turned back to look at Vorantor and said, “I will join you. And Sesskia will come peacefully.”

“Thank you,” Vorantor said. “And I truly am sorry for this.”

“I am sorry, too,” Cederic said, though he didn’t say for what. I wrote that Vorantor was smart; he stood up from his chair and said, “I will leave you to decide how best to tell the mages. They really should be evacuated from the Darssan.”

“And I suppose you have a plan for that as well,” Cederic said.

“I have called for another loenerel to transport them to Trengia,” Vorantor said. “From there they will be able to return to their homes.”

“And forbidden the opportunity to save their world,” Cederic said. His voice was as expressionless as his face.

“You know most of them lack the skills to give us any advantage. Choose your best, and thank the others for their assistance to date,” Vorantor said.

“They were your best, once, Denril,” Cederic said. “Are you so completely lost to human feeling?”

“This is a hard time, and we must make hard choices,” Vorantor said. I couldn’t see his face, but he sounded angry. “Past time you learned that.”

Cederic said nothing, just made a little dismissive wave of his fingers as if to say the conversation was over. Again, Vorantor demonstrated his intelligence by leaving without saying another word. When the door was shut, Cederic said, “I wish you had not heard that.”

I released the concealment pouvra and said, “I’m sorry. I know I said I wouldn’t use the pouvra like a thief.”

“I am not angry at your eavesdropping, Sesskia, but you do not need to be burdened with the knowledge that we are at the mercy of a mad Empress who is willing to slaughter innocents,” Cederic said.

I said, “Why not? It was me she wanted to coerce. I’m the one she’s going to try to control. I think I have a right to know in what way I need to defend myself.”

Cederic shrugged. “You have a point,” he said. “And now I must decide how to tell two hundred mages that our work is not only over, but has been a waste of time. Without implicating Denril.”

“Why not implicate him?” I said. “It’s his fault!”

“He is the Empress’s right hand in this matter. If I give them reason to murmur against him, and that murmuring gets back to her, their lives will be forfeit,” Cederic said. “I will take the blame myself. I will explain that in light of new evidence, I have been convinced that our work needs to take a different direction, and the Darssan must be closed for everyone’s safety. If I am lucky, they will hate me and not Denril.”

“That’s not fair,” I said.

Cederic looked up at me, and his eyes showed all the pain his face never would. “This has never been about fairness,” he said. “Was it fair to pull you from your world into this one, make you a pawn in a game you never agreed to play? Denril was right, in part—this is a hard time that requires hard choices. The difference is that he believes he has the right to make those choices for everyone else. I have never agreed with him in that respect.”

“Do you still believe you’re right?” I said.

“I do,” he said, “and I will take with me the mages most capable of proving me correct. We will summon the Codex Tiurindi, and it will prove the truth to Denril. I only hope it will do so before it is too late.”

“I’ll help you find a solution,” I said. “I don’t have to be cooperative with him,” and then I remembered what Vorantor said about killing the mages, and it made me so angry I couldn’t go on speaking. I would be going to Colosse surrounded by hostages.

“You see the problem,” Cederic said, drily.

“Damn him to hell and damn your God-Empress too,” I said.

“Never say that again. Never even think it,” Cederic said. “She is dangerous in ways you cannot imagine, because she is erratic and paranoid and is capable of destroying things, and people, even when that destruction hurts her cause. Your guess is correct: she wants you in Colosse so she can control you personally, and not because Denril has told her you are necessary to his work. But if she turns on you…God only knows what she might decide to do.”

“I can defend myself,” I said, “but I can’t defend everyone around me.”

“Exactly,” Cederic said.

I sat down in the chair next to him and said, “How can I help you? Since it’s clear I won’t be able to help myself.”

He smiled. “Behave as if you know nothing of this conflict. You don’t have to be cheerful about it, naturally, but a desire to mitigate the coming disaster would be appropriate. Cooperate with Denril when he asks you about pouvrin. I’m glad you understood what I asked you earlier.”

“Now I’m especially grateful I did,” I said. “Having pouvrin he knows nothing about could save my life.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Cederic said. “We won’t leave until that second loenerel arrives to transport everyone—I won’t let it seem I’m abandoning anyone. You and I will have to find a way to pursue the correct line of research without me seeming to be insubordinate. It could be dangerous.”

“Because nothing about the rest of this is dangerous,” I said. “I don’t understand loenerel.”

“It is a machine powered by th’an that can transport large numbers of people more quickly than walking or riding,” Cederic said. “They are made in segments, so those segments, the senets, can be added or removed depending on how many people it needs to transport. It will require a fairly large loenerel to move all the mages of the Darssan—minus the few I am to be allowed as part of my entourage,” he added, sounding bitter. “I cannot believe Denril is so dismissive of their abilities, simply because he took many of our best mages when he left for Colosse two years ago.”

That was a surprise. “Those men and women with him, they used to belong to the Darssan?” I said.

“Many of them, yes,” Cederic said. “Some of them were privately employed before Denril coaxed them to work for him. But enough of those mages have friends here….” We both sat silent for a moment, and I’m sure he was thinking (as I was) about what kind of people could agree to kill their friends for any reason. Or maybe Cederic wasn’t exaggerating about the Empress’s madness. “And there were more Sais here, once,” he went on. “Seventeen of us. They all believe as Denril does.”

That made my heart ache for him. Seventeen people who might have been his friends in a way the ordinary mages could not. “So you were the only one who saw this possibility,” I said, and he nodded. Then he stood, and said, “I hope for all our sakes you are as good a liar as you are a thief,” and I could see he was trying to make a joke, so I laughed. It didn’t hurt my feelings—I’m sure he meant it as a compliment—but it reminded me that my life had suddenly become dangerous, and that I have secrets that could mean people’s deaths, or even my own, if I reveal them.

to be continued

Sesskia’s Diary, part 35

3 Lennitay, after dinner

So. Eavesdropping. I followed Cederic and Vorantor, keeping behind groups of mages and acting as if I were interested in their discussions. When Cederic and Vorantor left the cavern, I lagged behind them as they moved along the corridor until they were out of sight, but not out of hearing—fortunate they weren’t wearing those sandals. I stayed just close enough to know which one of the sitting rooms they entered, which was the one Cederic and I had used when I read to him, and then they shut the door and I stood alone in the corridor, trying not to panic.

I wrote that I’ve only used the walk-through-walls pouvra once. It’s frightening. It makes you mostly insubstantial, which means it’s impossible to breathe, and alters whatever you walk through to be a little insubstantial too. But you can still feel, and it feels as if you’ve been turned to liquid, and you’re flowing through the cold stream that is the other object, and if you don’t concentrate, you’ll be swept away and mingled with it. But I also feel if I try to pull away from the other stream, I could go too far the other way and become solid in the middle of whatever I’m moving through, which would make it become solid too, and that sounds like one of the more gruesome deaths I can imagine. But I was sure whatever Cederic and Vorantor were about to discuss was important to me and not just to them. So I took a few deep breaths, did the concealment pouvra (because coming through the wall completely visible would ruin everything), prayed the walk-through-walls pouvra wouldn’t negate the concealment, and went straight at the wall before I could think too hard about it.

I felt that moment of transition, that sensation of being fluid and the horrible feeling of having all my organs exposed to the wall’s near-immaterial substance, and then I was through and standing next to the door. Cederic and Vorantor were seated across from each other, and Cederic was using a th’an to pour water for them. The pitcher was steady and he spilled not a drop, which made me proud and a little smug on his behalf, because I’d bet Vorantor couldn’t do as much. He can’t write th’an on air, either.

They were chatting, mostly small talk about people they both knew and I didn’t. I paid close attention to this conversation, so I could record it more accurately later, but I didn’t bother remembering that part. I leaned back against the wall and prepared to wait for a while, but a few seconds later, Cederic said, “I hope you are convinced by this, Denril.”

Vorantor sipped his water, put the glass down, and said, “I was about to ask the same of you.”

“Sesskia’s arrival nearly brought down the Darssan around our heads,” Cederic said, which was news to me. No one ever talked about the day I came here, and while Cederic had said the kathana was dangerous, I had no idea just how dangerous that was. “Imagine the devastation if the transfer had not been confined to a single individual.”

“You know I have never downplayed the extent of the coming catastrophe,” Vorantor said. “I know very well how bad it will be. Which is why we have been working so hard to find ways to minimize it.”

“It will be impossible to protect everyone, Denril,” Cederic said, in a voice that implied they’d had this conversation a dozen times before. “We have to prevent it happening entirely.”

“If you would allow yourself to think rationally—” Vorantor began.

Do not accuse me of irrationality,” Cederic said, sounding so intense that Vorantor flinched back. “We worked side by side for years. I disagree about the results of our research. That hardly makes me irrational. You are the one who sits there and counts casualties and talks about acceptable losses instead of working with me to prevent the coming disaster!”

“I apologize, Cederic, my words were poorly chosen,” Vorantor said, but I’m pretty sure he was lying. He wanted—still wants—Cederic to be off-balance in Colosse, so he can get him to do as he wants. “You are correct, we disagree, but time and again our research has indicated that complete prevention of the worlds’ coming back together is impossible. Containment is the only solution.”

“We are close to summoning the Codex Tiurindi,” Cederic said, calmer now, and he definitely surprised Vorantor. “And thanks to Sesskia’s input, we will be able to read it when we do.”

“Astonishing,” Vorantor breathed. “You did not put that in your letter.”

Cederic actually smiled. “I wanted to tell you to your face and see your reaction.”

“Well, I hope you’re satisfied with my surprise and delight,” Vorantor said, laughing. It was a strange conversation. At times, they sounded like mortal enemies, and then they could joke and laugh together like old friends.

“Entirely,” Cederic said. “Now, Denril. Please see sense. The Codex Tiurindi will show us how to keep the two worlds apart permanently. No future generation will have to struggle to prevent chaos the way we are right now. I want us to work together again. Please.”

“I was unaware Cederic Aleynten knew how to make requests,” Vorantor joked, but it made Cederic recoil as if he’d been slapped. “You know the contents of the Codex are in large part a mystery. We don’t know what we will learn from it. The end is fast approaching, old friend. We no longer have time to entertain your…optimistic ambitions.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Cederic said.

“I mean it is time for you to work with me,” Vorantor said. “You have failed to prove that your theory is correct. I, on the other hand, have a great deal of proof on my side. The God-Empress sees the need for action, now, and has entrusted me to carry out her orders. I am to collect what you have learned and bring it back to Colosse for the Sais to study.”

“Denril—” Cederic said. His voice was rising.

“Don’t shout at me, Cederic, you know it doesn’t affect me,” Vorantor said. “You have a choice. Stay here in the Darssan, with your mages, and face destruction—you know this is too far from civilization for my kathana to protect you. Or come with me and have a part in saving the world.”

Cederic said, “This world, naturally.”

“The destruction of the other world is regrettable, but there’s no hope for it,” Vorantor said. “Its mages will have to save it themselves.”

“They have no mages,” Cederic said. “You are condemning a world to death.”

“As I said, regrettable, and the thought of all that death pains me, but I have an obligation to this world,” Vorantor said.

I’m a thief. If I went around reacting in surprise or anger or fear or horror all the time, I’d be a dead thief. But hearing Vorantor talk so casually about the destruction of my world made me so furious I nearly dropped the concealment pouvra and throttled him there in that seat. Cederic said, “You cannot take the knowledge in our heads. We will still be able to summon the Codex Tiurindi.”

“Possibly,” Vorantor said. “With the help of the woman. I thought her name was Thalessi.”

“Sesskia is not a name she shares with casual acquaintances,” Cederic said, “and her magic is key to that kathana, yes.”

“Unfortunate that the God-Empress has instructed me to bring her with me, then,” Vorantor said, and he sounded so sly that I know, I just know, the bastard waited until that moment to strike at Cederic when he was at his lowest point.

Cederic sat straight up in his chair. “She is not a thing you can simply carry away,” he said.

“No, but she will not refuse the God-Empress’s command, I think,” Vorantor said.

“I would not count on it,” Cederic said. “She has no more loyalty to this world than you have to hers.”

“I have brought thirty-five mages, thirteen of them Sais, to ensure her compliance,” Vorantor said.

“That might not be enough to contain her,” Cederic said.

“They aren’t to contain her,” Vorantor said. “My orders are to begin killing the mages of the Darssan if she refuses. From what you wrote of her, we know she’s developed an attachment to them. The God-Empress thinks she won’t want to see them die when she can prevent it with a single action.”