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Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The final test has finally come into play - The Sage's Reign (The Final Lesson #2) by Shakyra Dunn

"For lovers of epic fantasy, incredible new worlds and watching characters grow, Shakyra Dunn’s writing is magnetic, and the rich details she adds to her world will have readers walking the same paths as the characters, feeling their youthful emotions and witnessing the turmoil and rewards of their journey! An amazing journey into both adulthood and self-awareness wrapped in a cloak of magic!" about book #1 Dianne, Goodreads

Description:

Release Date: September 13th, 2018

Eternal night looms over Adrylis.

After her Grimoire is lost to the Order of Helix, Leilana is left to prepare herself in a newfound way before her return to the crown city of Linmus to help reclaim Prince Remiel's throne. One by one, countries lay burning at their feet. Magic is on its last legs, but the Orb of Concord is within their reach.

From the opposite spectrum, the mastermind awaits, playing puppet-master as they march to their doom. Time is against them as the final moonless night looms above. The final test from the Warlords of Old has finally come into play.

EXCERPT

Six moonless nights passed, and time etched away like a pen to paper. Six months in the dark. One by one, regions fell at the hands of the Order of Helix, and all that Prince Remiel’s party could do to quell the ordeal was train themselves further and prepare for the war at their doorstep, all the while keeping updated through Leilana’s radio and occasional travel.

Rem pushed open the slightly ajar door, tucking away his neck-length scruffy dark hair. “Leilana?”

Leilana was planted in the center of her room with shut eyes, mumbling charms in the Minsuran tongue, incense illuminating the room in place of lanterns. Uh oh, she was in one of her zones, which meant that his timing was all wrong. Filling any free space around her were open notebooks, every page filled, and Rem didn’t want to overstep his bounds to approach her. One solid misstep, or even a word out of context, and she was sure to chew him out. The last thing that he wanted was to aggravate her. Solus was always better at handling these situations.

She remained perfectly still, her lips continuing to move at a timed pace, her voice hushed and hollow beneath the crackling wood of the incense. She wasn’t going to hear him if he called her name again, so he would have to rouse her the hard way. He stepped off of his right heel and planted a single toe rather than his foot over one of the nearby books, bringing his left leg over to bypass the remaining paper-bounds. He attempted to keep his footsteps as slow and purposeful as possible, not wanting to risk her snapping out of her fixated stupor.

“You don’t have to sneak, you know.” Rem flinched at the address in fluent Sentience, cutting through her unwavering concentration. She didn’t open her eyes, but she did lower her head as if drifting between slumber and waking from a long dream. “Is something wrong?”

“Not wrong at all. I think it’s something you can use to your advantage.” He held up his index finger. “Two things, matter of fact. Gale got wind of where we can find Lunious through his-” Leilana’s eyes snapped open, a guttural snarl rushing past her once pursed lips. Rem nearly fell on his back out of fear alone. Her vengeance was festering for months, but now it was in full bloom. “P-Please don’t shoot the messenger.” Leilana cleared her throat, tucking some loose strands of her lengthening wavy hair behind her ear. “Sorry. What else is going on?”

“You remember that little hint you told us? Solus and I started putting pieces together about places in Adrylis that fit the mold. It has to be someplace recently impacted by magic, particularly fire. Maybe the ash from the flames causes it to rain down.”

“But that wouldn’t be a permanent occurrence.” “I wasn’t done explaining.” Leilana nearly scoffed but decided to withhold her disdain. “Solus had another idea—what if we overlooked something on your map? The only places remaining that could involve smoke would be towns that have a lot of mining. It would explain the idea of ash always falling, and maybe those people get covered in the flakes when they’re working or whenever ash from the mines spread, which would add up ‘cloaked in shadow,’ since it’s the same shade.”

Leilana’s lips parted. Mining. How had she not considered that? There were farming towns and shrines, and even reserves scattered all over the landscape, and yet mining towns never came up anywhere in her mind. Maybe it was her overanalytical thinking that everything in scriptures had to be sentimental. It made perfect sense. The fates sure did love toying with her head, it seemed.

“We’re going to find my grimoire, scout out as many places as we can with that description, then we’re going to find our Orb of Concord, end the war, get on with our lives.”

“Good plan! Great plan!” He collided his fist with hers, and she giggled at the enthusiasm. “Got in all of your meditation for the day? Solus wants to get things rolling while it’s still early out, and Gale’s got our breakfast all packed.”

“I think I’m prepared enough,” she replied. Resting on her bed was a long metallic staff, freshly polished, basking under the morning glow. She could see dust on the nightstand and assortment of books drifting about, but now that the time to move on had come at long last, there was little left that she wanted to accomplish in terms of cleaning up after herself.

With a sweep of her hand, the flames burning the wood-scented incense promptly ceased to exist, a puffy haze of smoke left to fester in the room. Rem inhaled the aroma, far used to the sensation. She stepped towards the nightstand, clasping her hands around the staff. The bearings were rough on her hands, tearing into her skin the harder that she grasped the weapon, but she was well trained—the pain had gradually minimized to a dull ache rather than outright agony.

“Are you sure you don’t want one more lesson before we get back out there?” Rem’s face was reflecting into the metal, his confident expression carrying her mind into a comforting place. Leilana couldn’t help but smile. He always did get antsy when change was coming.

“I’m in the middle of one,” she replied. “I don’t want to tack on too many side-missions knowing that. I’m one step closer to becoming a Warlord, and this task will prove worthy in showing me how much loss has affected my skills.”

“Well, that loss is going to strengthen you, and all of us as well.” He glanced back when he heard his name and he rested a hand on her shoulder before gesturing towards the door. “I’m going first. Sol’s calling me. Try not to slow me down, yeah?”

“I don’t plan to.”

As Rem departed, she allowed her gaze to waver over the surroundings she had familiarized herself with for the last six months. Six grueling months of working to the bone, coming to understand that magic and power can only be formed with her own two hands, ending in the place where they began. The staff in her hands was a symbolism of growth. She could be of better use with two forms of attack, even after she retrieved her grimoire. Her time had come.

She decided to change clothes after going through the wardrobe in the corner, settling with her white uniform blouse underneath a black vest, dusting off a knee-length tan skirt. She wiggled her toes around her tanned flats, satisfied with the feel. Afterward, she stepped into the hall, where Sien, Solus, and Rem were awaiting her. All three of them stood near the door.

“Took you long enough!” Sien stated. On her back was a bow and a quiver filled with arrows, her long red hair braided in two pigtails hanging past her shoulders. She was dressed in an ankle-length tanned dress, her boots concealing her legs. “We were worried that you were thinking of backing out!”

“There’s no way that I’d turn down this kind of opportunity.”

Solus chuckled, his tied shoulder-length hair practically bouncing with him.

“Happy to hear it.” He rested a hand on his dark brown pants, the sleeves of his baggy shirt slightly overlapping his arms. “I was hoping that you would keep the faith.” Rem was bouncing in his spot, a big grin plaguing his face. “All in good faith and all that, can we go now? Please? Pretty please?”

“All right, all right,” Solus laughed, patting the boy’s head. “We’re going.

Gale and Luna have given us their regards in advance. All that we need to do is set off. We will return here, someday. For now, we finish what we have begun.” “Rula!” Rem called, “We’re leaving! Are you coming?” From the kitchen, Rula came running, his tail swishing back and forth.

“Actually, I’ve decided to stay here with Lulu and Gale,” he explained.

Rem raised an eyebrow. “What? Seriously?”

Rula lowered himself into a position where it appeared that he would pounce, and when he did, Sien caught him in her arms. “Luna says that when Lancett is done taking care of the initial work in Linarus, she wants to go back to help gather people to the city. Once everything is in order, I’ll be able to return home to the mountains. I don’t want to be too far away.”

“Well, I guess if you’re sure, we won’t stop you.” Sien rubbed the young Dirionus behind his elongated ears, and Rula graciously tilted his head to the left.

“You were a big help to us,” Solus stated. “We are grateful to you, Rulakinja. Best of luck to you. Your master would be proud of you.” Rula was gazing at each one of them as the words reached his ears before he covered his eyes with the fuzzy limbs. Sien giggled at the embarrassment he was showing off.

“You guys are too much!” Rula proclaimed. “Stop picking on me!”
“Aw, no one’s picking on you,” Rem replied, patting Rula’s head. “We just want you to know that you’re loved, no matter what.”
“Then you don’t think I’m just some monster?” Rula whimpered, staring up at Rem. 
“If anything, I’m a monster too.” Rem bore his teeth, holding up both arms before chomping his teeth down. “A big scary Bloodlinch with spooky powers!

Grr!” Rula pounced forward, hitting his face with his tail, causing Rem to falter.
Leilana and Sien couldn’t help but laugh. “Rude! Very rude!”

“Monsters aren’t all bad if you’re one then!”
“All right, all right, enough of the fun. We’ve got to get moving,” Solus stated.

Sien nocked an arrow carefully, her weapon still grasped in her hand as she trekked down the corridor furthest left from the entrance. Her mouth and tongue were dry, her breaths shallow. Being inside of this stronghold made her feel uneasy enough already, and the foul stench of the medicine filling the are did nothing to help alleviate her nerves. The creak of a nearby door alerted her, causing her to turn her back with her weapon ready to fire, only to find that there was nothing in her path. Maybe it was the wind from an open window. She lowered her bow again, sighing in relief.

The idea of being so close to terrorists that destroyed her home was overwhelming. They were willing to stop at nothing to have Rem’s power, likely to hold him for ransom and have his lineage act as a catalyst for the Orb of Concord. If his untapped power was used for malice, there would be no country left to defend, let alone no war to draw out the end.

“Playing adventure, are we?”

Sien jumped at the new voice. It was real, no doubt about it. They were hidden, beyond well for what skills she possessed. She squinted her eyes, and every half second, a silhouette swept through the halls before meeting head-on.

Centimeters from her face, touching her nose, grazing Sien’s parted lips to close them shut again, stood a girl with long blonde hair tied with red bows into two ponytails cascading down her back. She was clothed in a black cloak, red rosaries on either side.

“We’ve never had strange visitors in Megalina before.” The girl’s voice was rather seductive, and Sien felt more confused than aroused. “Hi, I’m Faris! You’re a real cutie.”

“Megalina?” Sien cut in, deciding not to acknowledge her obvious advances in favor of answers. “Is that the name of this place?”

“Right!” Faris beamed, not seeming to mind the cold shoulder. “It’s a name with many meanings—sanctuary, understanding, resolve. But we call it ‘home.’

It’s torn and desolate, much like the rest of us. We have no place in this world as isolated magic-users.” The girl ran her fingers along Sien’s exposed shoulder, her scarlet locks becoming entangled in her aquamarine-coated nails. Sien swallowed, her head spinning from her overwhelming anxiety in tandem with the antiseptic odor, but she didn’t allow herself to drop her guard. “But you…

you’re different. You’re a drifter, I can tell. You don’t act like the others.”

“I use my gift to help others,” Sien retorted, prying herself free from the girl, pointing an arrow at her. “I don’t kill without reason.” The girl folded her arms behind her back, cocking her head to the left, a soft grin on her delicate features. Not a single line on her face went out of place; there was no fear resonating in her. That made her dangerous.

“That makes you brave. Not a lot of people can keep their cool.” Sien eyed the girl’s movements closely. Her fingers were twitching, but hardly enough to peak Sien’s attention. Still, something about her calm demeanor was unnerving.

“Why don’t you stay a while longer? We can play together!”

Faris swept her hand out, a stream of needles conjuring from her fingertips.

Sien barely gasped when the needles pierced through every fragment of skin, pinning her to a wall. Her bow and arrow fell in front of her, blood seeping from the miniscule cuts on her body. They were multiplying each passing second, and the pain erupted all at once. She couldn’t close every wound no matter how fast she could channel her energy. There would be more to take its place.

“Your aura interests me. It’s rare to find people blessed with the art of healing, and those that possess it lose themselves along the way because people become so ungrateful. But the way that you carry yourself is dull.” Sien’s heart skipped a beat, and her struggle to escape her prickly prison had ceased. Faris sat on top of a nearby pillar, kicking her feet, her hands resting under her chin. “You don’t provide much entertainment. It’s going to be hard to remember you if all that you can do is act serious.”

Sien lowered her head, ignoring her budding tears. This girl was a mastermind at manipulation, and she knew it well, but the words still cut to the core. There was little that she had to offer besides some laughs now and again, bottling her pain in favor of spreading more joy to others. If she could make one person smile, it was worth a little more pain, but for what? Compared to such magnificent people in her group like a wayward prince, a future Warlord, and a jack-of-all-trades servant, where did she stand? She wasn’t strong and could fight at a distance. Her magic was minimal, good for healing wounds. She was nothing but a walking burden.

All she could do was laugh now to mask her agony.

Faris raised an eyebrow. “Did I say something funny, darling?”

As much as Sien wanted to scream at her for annulled criticism, or even curl up in a corner to resolve the issue right away, she couldn’t help laughing at herself. Her face probably looked so horrible. She always scrunched up her nose when she was fighting tears, and her eyes always got puffy and red even when she wasn’t letting it all out. Crying was the most terrible feeling in the world.

Letting go of the burdens and weeping made it seem like all hope was lost the moment they started to fall.

Faris scoffed, stomping her foot, the sound of her heel clanking against the metal floor echoing. “Stop laughing! For a cute girl, you’re really not dignified at all!”

“I-I’m sorry,” she responded, continuing to laugh. “It’s just, you’re judging someone that you don’t even know. I mean, not that I don’t think I’m boring too, but you can’t go around saying things like that. It makes you look as undignified as me.”

Faris’s mouth fell open. “I-I-” Her lips curved into a scowl, and she flung a finger forward, pointing at the girl. The action sent a few needles flying, grazing the side of Sien’s face before sticking into the wall next to her. “You are unbelievable! How dare you say something so outlandish!”

“I’m not too wise, but idiocy is easy to read,” Sien pointed out. “I get nothing but backlash from Solus every time that I try to come up with ideas.

Leilana can be so focused on her goals sometimes that I fear breaking her from her thoughts. Rem is so conflicted that it’s hard to tell when his head shifts from left to right. Even my little sister criticizes me. You wanna tear me down, you’ve got to do better than that. I’ve gotten a lot better at getting my head out of my ass when it counts.” Faris’s shoulders were trembling. “So, what’s your insecurity? 

Do you go the typical route of tearing people down because you’re lonely andunaccepted, or do you just like causing mayhem for no reason at all?”

“Don’t belittle me!” Faris plunged needles into the girl’s stomach, and Sien shrieked.

About the author:
Shakyra Dunn can't stray away from the impression that there is always an adventure around every corner! When she isn't playing the role of the Creator, she is marching through the worlds of her favorite video game characters or taking drives around her city to see the sights. Born in Chicago, Illinois, she currently resides in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, striving to experience more than the little town. 

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3 comments:

Shakyra said...

^-^ Thank you so much for sharing the release!

ALL ABOUT OLD CARS said...

Sounds really great.

Laura Thomas said...

i already have this series on my to read list. This is a favorite genre for me.