And, now, the moment you have all been waiting for! The cover art for Book 3 of the Stories of Lorst, Secret Burdens. There is also an excerpt and book description!
A soldier coughed, shattering the silence of the clearing. Jarrett took a deep breath and flexed his fingers around his sword hilt. Before Jarrett’s squad of sixteen men was a hole, the height of a tall man and three times as wide, dug into the rocky hillside.
Within the cave, nothing moved in the darkness. All around them, birds twittered and flies buzzed in the sun-splotched forest. But from the hole came only silence.
Jarrett could imagine its interior. Stinking of offal, dung, and the dry musk of snake, it no doubt led down into a warren of similar tunnels. They riddled this part of the forest for miles, twisting like the branches of a gnarled oak.
It would be suicide to enter. There wasn’t room enough to swing a sword, no easy exit, and a group of men would bottleneck or become trapped. He’d never gone further than a single turn in such a tunnel. Jarrett wondered how long he would last if he ventured deeper.
He tilted his head back, peering beyond the broad brim of his kettle helm to mark the sun’s position in the bright blue sky. Summer heat simmered in the clearing, leaving him sweaty and restless. It was nearing noon. They had been waiting close to two candlemarks.
While this was normally Jarrett’s squad to lead, Lieutenant Nathaniel gave the orders on this hunt. The man had tired of patrols and especially requested this assignment. So, not only did it chafe not giving orders to his own men but it also irked Jarrett to be underneath a sallow-faced lieutenant a decade younger than him.
“Sir,” Jarrett said, “maybe we should slaughter the goats?” He forced a lilt to his voice, turning a pointed suggestion into a question.
A pair of goats stood tied to a holly tree. The lizards often came out to lie in the sun at this time of day but, on occasion, they needed encouragement. It looked to be one of those occasions. Unless this particular beast had slipped out of an exit they missed.
Jarrett and his men had spent the last week closing up holes into the warren. It was possible they’d missed one or the holes they closed belonged to a separate den. Anything was possible with Marduk’s creation. If the creature hadn’t come out yet, then they needed spilled blood. If spilled blood didn’t work, then it was another week in these damned woods, searching for a monster that had eaten three cows and a farmer’s daughter.
On occasion, deep in the night, Jarrett still heard the screams that tore from the throats of the men and women Marduk changed. The sorcerer-king used elemental spirits to turn people into his monsters. Because he was Captain of the Royal Guard at the time, it was Jarrett’s job to protect Marduk in case the wizard lost control of his creation. After the spell was complete, Jarrett escorted the new creation to its cell under the Palace. It was a ritual that happened night after night.
On the walk beside the confused creature, stumbling on four legs instead of two, it never failed to strike him that their eyes remained human. Unless it was the progeny of one, Jarrett knew that every creature he killed had once been a human who did not ask for its fate. And even as he killed them, over a year after their creation, their eyes still remained too human.
After Clara and Emmerich killed Marduk, mak-ing Emmerich the new King of Lorst, a traitor opened the cells and released Marduk’s menagerie. It was discovered later that it was Remus, a Tieran who had been attending the Academy for magic workers. It was part of Remus’s plot for revenge, one that Clara and the King foiled through luck and violence.
The monsters spread throughout Lorst, most of them going into the Eastern Forest. After the business with Remus ended, and Clara returned with her parents, Jarrett left his commission. He joined one of the companies assigned to clear the Forest. That had only been two weeks ago but long enough for him to become acquainted with what they fought. Not that he needed much of an introduction.
Nathaniel nodded. “I think you’re right, sergeant.”
Jarrett, nerves tightening his stomach, signaled to the men in charge of the goats. They untied the animals and brought them over to the gaping tunnel. However, as they came closer, the goats tossed their heads and bleated, their eyes rolling in their heads. The soldiers picked them up and carried them the last few feet.
With swift motions, the men slit the goats’ throats and dumped the bodies in the mouth of the hole. They backed away in quick steps. The rest of the men shuffled like saplings brushed by wind, complete focus centered on the hole.
Jarrett became intensely aware of the sweat on his skin, the robin singing in a nearby sycamore, and a bee buzzing around a clump of wild yellow roses. He felt his heart beating in his chest and each whoosh of breath passing through his lungs.
There was a sense of movement in the dark, a darker bulk in the blackness. It might have been his imagination but Jarrett swore the air grew heavier with the reek of dung and old, rotten blood.
Jarrett opened his mouth out of habit but Nathaniel beat him to the order.
“Archers, nock,” the lieutenant called.
The four archers, standing at the flanks, notched their arrows.
A lizard’s clawed foot, larger than Jarrett’s head, reached from the dark and dragged one of the goats into the tunnel. Jarrett listened hard. He didn’t hear anything to suggest the creature had left. He hadn’t heard it approach, either.
“Draw,” said Nathaniel.
Jarrett raised his sword as the archers pulled back.
The men sent their arrows whizzing into the dark. Screams erupted. Claws scrabbled against earth and stone.
“Nock. Draw. Loose.”
More arrows. More screams and tearing of ground. A salamander three times the size of a horse lunged out of the hole, three arrows buried in its scaled hide. The sun glinted off its crimson and gold scales. It opened its mouth and screamed again.
“For the King!” Jarrett shouted, charging forward and trusting his men to follow. Behind him, the others echoed his war cry and the heavy thud of their boots covered the sounds of the summer day.
Jarrett failed everyone close to him.
In disgrace, he resigned his position as Captain of the Royal Guard and entered self-imposed exile in the Eastern Forests. As a common soldier, he fought the remainder of Marduk’s monsters.
A surprise summoning, though, brings Jarrett back to Bertrand. He finds Clara nearly bedridden from an assassination attempt. Tension between Lorst and Tier runs high. In need of someone she trusts, Clara appoints Jarrett Captain of the Seer’s Guard over his protests.
He searches for both her enemies and his sense of honor. However, his investigations threaten to expose secrets that could ruin them all and shake Lorst to the core.
The third Stories of Lorst novel will hit electronic stores on July 20, 2018.