If you’re an author like me, you’ve faced down a lot of different dragons — typo dragons, self-doubt dragons, and revision dragons. The last is the regenerating kind, where you think you nailed the re-write and then here it comes again, yelling at you about that little detail you thought of the night before and then forgot to add once morning came around.
Corruption of Honor’s revision dragons was a big, black, horn-covered thing and kinda had foul breath, but I felled it in the end. And man, is the second edition of this book good.
But don’t take my word for it. I’ll give you a sneak preview below. If you are dying for the rest when you get to the end, it drops this Thursday. Pre-order it here.
THE LAND held its breath, waiting.
A bitter blackness, blacker than night, crept in from the fields outside the high gates of Riverend. It spread across the meadows and pastures and grew until it reached high into the night’s sky, smothering the light of the stars shining in the faded twilight.
Soldiers on the western wall did not notice the darkness at first. They felt the deep cold that came before it, shuddering as it sucked the last bit of warmth from the late summer’s eve.
The black reached the gates. Tendrils of it dripped down and
curled around the torches on the wall, snuffing them out, one by one.
THE GUARDS outside Black Waters Keep nodded to Shaun as she passed, but not before they exchanged quick looks with each other. They probably thought she didn’t notice.
Sighing, she thought how nice it would have been if she was born the daughter of a blacksmith. Simpler.
Passing through the gates, she stepped to the cobblestone path leading to the city center on one end and the academy on the other. She kept her sword close as she made her way through the crowd. The first even bell had already rung, but the path and Riverend’s streets beyond it were still busy and loud.
Tradespeople in work-worn leathers passed her on their way to the taverns, while clusters of nobles mingled with courtiers from lands near and far. A small army of attendants hovered at the edges, still and silent, like golems waiting for their masters to give them life and purpose again.
Her linen tunic and loose woolen leggings made her look more like a messenger or maybe a carpenter than a noble. The sword and scabbard at her side were equally plain. The scars along their lengths were their only markings, which suited her just fine.
Most in the crowd where known to her by sight if not by name. It was her job as a watcher to know who came and went around the castle and much of the surrounding city.
She exchanged nods with the tradespeople, a few of the attendants, and even fewer of the nobles. They showed no great enthusiasm at seeing her either. The courtiers were more affable, never ones to burn a bridge that might prove useful later.
Gossip was the life blood of nobles and courtiers alike in Riverend’s court. They all clung to it like ticks. And tonight, she was the topic of choice. It wasn’t the first time either.
Many of the old houses still felt the king should have given the title of Guards Master to a highborn rather than her father. He was a mere captain on the wall then, just before she was born. A soldier descended from soldiers. But Jaris Hahlerand had always liked Tor and her grandfather, who was Master of Arms for his father, before the war reshuffled all the decks.
The nobles couldn’t take their anger out on the king, so most treated the Graysons as outsiders to be shunned. Others assumed they must be hungry for an ally in the court. Tor Grayson, however, preferred the role of an outsider to a bootlicker, and she was no different. She was just less shy about saying so. Sometimes, it got her in trouble.
Doubling her pace, Shaun searched the crowd for her friend Sara, though she knew she was unlikely to find her out here, just as she knew Sara might not want to talk to her right now. She was probably already at the academy, a place Shaun hated as much as Sara loved it.
Shaun had little choice but to look for her there, no matter how much she dreaded it. Sara was the rope she needed to get out of the sinkhole she had dug for herself this time.
She stopped short, however, when a blast of icy, acrid air cut across the path, chilling her hands and making the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Others in the crowd who were dressed in light silks and satins more suited to the summer’s eve than winter’s torment gasped and cursed. Many of them turned off the path to find warmth indoors.
Shaun’s gaze was drawn up to the torches lining either side of the path as the bare flames began to flicker and waver. Tucking her short amber hair behind an ear, she watched the wild shadows they cast across the cobblestones. Then they fell dark, one torch and then another.
Three of them in a row did this, until she stood in a pool of stark night, a much darker night than it should be, given the stars she swore had been overhead just a moment before. Looking to the sky beyond the dead torches, she saw why.
A deep blackness unlike anything she had seen before was rolling in from the west, devouring the stars in its path. It flowed eastward like the slow tide of a river darker than even the Kerning.
“A storm is coming.”
Shaun swore under her breath, startled by the sudden voice behind her. Turning on a heel, she found a woman she didn’t recognize standing next to her. She wore a yellow gown that complimented her dark skin and hair. A blue and silver Panagreshi headscarf curled around her shoulders, perhaps caught by the wind or perhaps pushed aside by her own hand so that she could better see the black above them. She stared at it as Shaun had, while everyone else seemed oddly oblivious.
When the woman met her gaze, Shaun saw her eyes were a startling pale gold like her dress. If she recognized Shaun, her face did not show it, though her eyes trailed down to the embroidered crests on Shaun’s low collar. She added, “Perhaps it is a storm from the mountains?”
Shaun knew she meant from Mordwell. The woman’s accent was also Panagreshi, but her question suggested she had been in Riverend long enough to have at least heard of the strange storms that sometimes plagued the kingdom if not experienced a few firsthand.
They always came across the Golden Peaks west of the wall, the natural division between the kingdoms of Riverend and Mordwell, their sworn enemy. Many believed the storms had dark magik origins, because they turn the sky strange colors and produce foul rains that sours the water in the rain collectors if they are left open when the rains fall. It’s a superstition born of their long history with the sorcerers of Mordwell.
The sorcerers’ infamy extends throughout the Ten Kingdoms, in part for the powerful magiks they command, but in larger part for their role in the start of the Nine Years War which tore apart the Empire. Sorcerer-assassins under the command of the House of Mackritae murdered King Jaris’s sister during her seventh year celebration. When the Mackritae claimed responsibility, his father—patriarch to the House of Hahlerand—declared war. The Empire did not survive the civil war, leaving the surviving houses to form the Ten Kingdoms. Even after three decades, the tensions between Riverend and Mordwell remain strong.
Perhaps it was her youth, having just reached her nineteenth summer, but Shaun could not help but be skeptical of the idea the storms were sent by magikal means. If felt far too passive an act in comparison to murder.
A rumble in the distance seemed to reinforce the idea it was a storm coming. The Panagreshi woman pulled her headscarf over her dark hair and said, “Best we take shelter before the rain breaks.”
Shaun nodded. Getting caught out in a storm, regardless of its origin, would be an unwelcome cap to this night. “Good eve to you, lady.”
“And to you, Watcher.”
Breaking into a jog, Shaun headed for the academy grounds and the Arrum. She took the wide steps in front two at a time and did not stop until she had reached the end of the main terrace and stood before the Arrum’s doors. Pausing, she turned back and realized she could not see the torches on the western wall. Had they gone out or was there a fog rolling in with the storm and they were simply hidden by it?
Looking eastward, she saw the blackness had reached Black Waters Keep. The castle’s towers paled beneath it.
A trio of men walked along the lower south parapet, near the water barrels stationed there. The massive collectors dwarfed them in size. It would take all three of them to lift just one of the covers. If they had been ordered out to the parapets to cover the barrels, others must think the blackness was a sign there was a storm coming in from the west.
Despite her previous skepticism, she considered the idea all the other storms had merely been practice. Perhaps this one would bring something worse than foul-smelling rains, like a plague of locusts. Or boils.
She could feel a dark energy building in the air that was not there before. No storm had ever felt like this before. The energy danced across on her skin, sending a wave of gooseflesh up her arms.
For just a moment, she wondered if this was what magik felt like. It had been forbidden in Riverend for so long, since the War, that none but a few knew what magik really felt like anymore. But the thought was gone again before she even had a chance to register it.
Shaun turned back to the Arrum. Her place was not out on the terrace, waiting on a storm. She was a Watcher. If she was to have any hope of still being a Watcher in the morn, she needed to find Sara, regardless of whether Sara wanted to be found. Grabbing hold of one of the Arrum’s doors, she heaved it back and stepped into the heavy silence of a vast open space.