In a seedy bar in the shadowy corners of Daharia, Jessop comes to the rescue of young Hunter Kohl O'Hanlon. Impressed by her remarkable sword-wielding skills, the Hunters invite her to their training facility, the Glass Blade, though not all are pleased with the intrusion. But they soon discover that Jessop learned to fight from the rogue leader of the Shadow City of Aranthol-and escaped. Now they want to use her intimate knowledge of their enemy to destroy him.
As Jessop grows closer to this elite brotherhood, their leader succumbs to a mysterious ailment, and Kohl learns that Jessop is hiding dark secrets, raising suspicions about the enigmatic woman who saved his life. Has the Hunters' security been breached-or do they have a traitor in their ranks?
Allegiances will be questioned.
Loyalties will be betrayed.
Vengeance will be brutal.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.44(d)|
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The tavern was dark and quiet, barring the muted voices that filled the corners with whispers of quiet corruption and deceit. Hushed sounds traveled on thick smoke to the ceiling and her eyes trailed over the dimly lit corners and over the musty cloaked patrons. Dirty exchanges took place everywhere, too-young girls being offered coins and despair by corrupt travelers, whose lies traveled like fire across the alcohol on their lips. This wasn't a typical bar, this dark, underground dwelling in the heart of Azgul where there were more shadows than light, more smoke than air. It was a seedy, unsafe locale where illegal exchanges could occur. A place favored by those in the city's most important positions, for in this underground dwelling they could act as they truly wished.
From where she sat, with her cloak draped low over her face, she could easily make out the group of Aren. They were more discreet than she had anticipated, but few could go unseen to her well-trained eyes. They were scattered about the bar, donning the civilian attire of common Azgul nomad passer-by. The Aren weren't common travelers though; they were fatalistic believers who waited anxiously for a supposed impending end. A doom and darkness that would swallow the entire Daharian galaxy whole — their belief in some unimagined state of horror for the universe made her certain that not a man amongst them had ever laid eyes on Aranthol.
She scanned the room, counting twelve of the zealots. Without their robes they appeared as normal men, barring their brand, which could be seen on the base of several of their necks. The tender nape of the neck was where all in Azgul had their brands. She knew that their mark was not well-known though, not as well-known as they would have liked it to be. Thinking of the brandings nearly had Jessop reaching for her own neck, certain she could almost feel the hot iron against her still. The smell of burning, blistering flesh unnaturally recoiling from heated metal filled her nostrils. She shivered at the putrid memory and forced it back to the depths of her mind, where she kept all her locked-away thoughts and all her darkness.
Suddenly, the oddest sensation roused her, overcoming her senses. She could feel silk running across her skin, dragging her fine hairs on end, exciting her cells. The energy of the room had completely changed, thickening the air more than any smoke or liquor could do. She had only ever been around one other of her kind, and to feel the changing electromagnetic charge in the room without him present was as compelling to her as it was terrifying. The draw was a beast's cry calling her in, feeding her need to find the one like her. It was a pull strong enough to grip her, strong enough to shoot adrenaline through her, to dilate her pupils and ready her muscles and tell her, without question, that Hunters were near.
She closed her eyes and narrowed in on their presence. She could smell the faintest scent of grease on one of them; it had an acidic air to it — like the oil slick found in the Western corner of the city. She could hear his voice though he did not speak. She could see the diminutive smudge of black slick over his boot though she did not open her eyes. Her senses — so refined — ensured she could see most of him without ever glancing his way.
And then she laid eyes on him.
She found herself staring at a silver star-shaped scar, a twisted knot of marred flesh the size of a plum carved into his cheekbone. He had a mess of blond hair that he wore pulled back and dark eyes that he scanned the bar with. His frame was large but he held one shoulder slightly higher — due to recent injury, she imagined. As one of his large hands curled around a drink, the other rested comfortably against the hilt of his blade. His eyes trailed over the room and for a moment she wondered if he sensed her presence too. His gaze returned to his drink, and he smiled with half his mouth, allowing the star-shaped scar to pull and glisten. He was beautifully flawed.
Her gaze fell to the man beside the young Hunter — an older man, another Hunter. The men dressed as she had expected. Their uniform consisted of black breeches and tunic, over which they wore a waist-length black leather vest, bound shut with the belt that carried their blade. The vest had their sigil imprinted over the heart. She watched as the older of the two pulled a stool out from the bar, slowly sitting as his well-trained eyes searched the corners of the establishment with practiced ease. His braid of silver hair rested down his back and as a rare flickering of light caught his face she saw his skin was mapped with the deep lines of worn scars. She had let her gaze hold him for less than a minute when she felt the whirring energy of his keen mind.
His age made him more attuned to the presence of those like him. He turned in his seat, searching the room — he could sense her. But Jessop didn't worry — he wouldn't be looking for her; he would be searching for a man. Just to be sure, though, she forced her thoughts down, quieting her mind and turning her gaze away.
She concentrated on her hand, on drumming her fingers on the table before her. She could feel her blood coursing, warm and rapid, through her veins, and her heart quickening, all for feeling the presence of those so like her so near. Her foot bounced against the floor, pumping adrenaline through her long legs. The silent room seemed to be getting louder and louder, she could hear her beating heart, swelling under her breast, her green eyes straining to stay down as anticipation welled inside her ...
Through her periphery she could make out the lone Aren, moving swiftly towards the Hunters. He held a blade. He needed to be quick. Her beating heart was pulsing rhythmically, deafening her thoughts. Someone — a girl — seeing the knife, screamed, a shriek that set the room into motion. Jessop finally let herself look up. The Hunters moved quickly in the shadows, swift to unsheathe their weapons. The Aren formed their pack quickly; there were thirteen, not twelve. For a brief moment, she was surprised at how one could have passed under her sight. She threw her hood back, finally able to watch the scene unfold. As the zealots formed a semi- circle around the Hunters, backing them up against the bar, the tavern crumbled into pandemonium.
The young girls cried with an adolescent fear that nearly overwhelmed Jessop. But she had learnt long ago how to ignore pain — hers and theirs. Her eyes stayed set on the Hunters as the travelers and girls and workers all fought for the exits. The dark space that had offered them such safety from prying eyes minutes before now offered them danger and isolation from help. Quick to come for pleasure and quick to escape pain — Jessop had many criticisms for those who came to be in this part of Azgul.
The sound of a man dying refocused her attention. An Aren fell to the ground before the Hunters. Jessop watched the young fair one, his strong arm wielding his blade about him like an extension of himself. Something about his flesh appeared silvery to her, somehow reflective. She couldn't quite make it out. He spun low and struck with ease. He was good. Despite his well-rehearsed steps, he was still exciting to watch. The older Hunter had his fight memorized, a veteran warrior with a trusted blade, faster than one would have prepared for — he was exactly as Jessop had expected.
They were good — better than most she had ever seen. But there were simply too many Aren and she was uncertain what odds the Hunters, especially the young one, had fought against before. With every deflection and assault a new attack came down upon them. It seemed two against thirteen was an impossible fight for them to win without suffering serious harm.
The young Hunter was flung back against the bar as two Aren wrestled his strong arms back, a third moving towards him with a blade. Jessop knew she had little time to make her move.
She leaped from her seat, charging swiftly toward the Aren set on impaling the young Hunter. To the cloaked disciple's shock, she hooked her arm under his neck and kicked his feet out from underneath him. As he stumbled, she wrenched the blade from his grip. With a heavy throw, she lodged the small weapon expertly into the chest of one of the assailants holding the young Hunter's arm back.
The Hunter tore his surprised gaze from her to the dying Aren clinging to him, gargling blood. He shoved his attacker to the ground before gruffly elbowing the other man holding him, bloodying the Aren's nose before striking him in the chest. The Aren fell forward as the Hunter grabbed a bottle from the bar and beat it over the man's head. As glass shattered and liquor spurted across the bloodied floor, Jessop couldn't help but think him resourceful.
He shot Jessop a grateful, if not confused, glance, before grabbing his blade from the ground and continuing his fight. She watched him as he clashed with the fanatics — he moved with skill and grace, his star glass blade travelling silently through the air. The Hunters' blades were forged with the pressurized sediment left over from star formations. The blades appeared as glass, each slightly different in color, but were harder than any material found in Daharia. The young Hunter's sword was entirely transparent, crystal clear from base to deadly tip. It was beautiful.
She kept her eyes on him, while still easily deflecting any attack against her. Thirteen Aren against two Hunters was too many, thirteen against two Hunters and her, was just fine. She grabbed the shoulder of one Aren and quickly spun him around. He stared at her with shock.
"What are you doing?"
She didn't answer him. To see a woman intervene in an Azgul fight would be a surprise to any. She grabbed his wrist and disarmed him with a forceful twist of his hand. He lashed out with anger, hurling his spare fist towards her small face. She ducked and caught his arm with both hands, twisted at the hip, and kicked him viciously in the abdomen. He fell from her, winded. She knelt beside him and offered a vicious strike to his temple, leaving him unconscious.
She was on her feet instantly, turning just in time to grab the neck of the next Aren. She grabbed his wrist, holding his hand back, and then, quickly, released her hold on his neck, recoiled her hand, twisted her fingers into a fist, and struck back at the exposed flesh forcefully, punching him in the throat. The Aren coughed for air, grabbing at his windpipe. She took a step towards him, darted her arm past his face, and jerked it back, hitting him with her elbow. He fell to the ground.
She stepped over his writhing body and caught the eye of the young Hunter. He too had been watching her. A look of distinct admiration was in his eyes, despite being embroiled in his own fight; it was clear she had impressed him. She turned from him and found the hands of an Aren grabbing at her, coiling tightly around her neck. He lifted her off the ground and slammed her back against the bar. She could hear glasses shattering behind her, stools knocking against her legs and falling to the side.
She brought her arm up and over his hands, jerking downward until she leveraged his grip off of her. She kneed him in the abdomen, and as he buckled forward, she kneed him again, breaking his nose. He stumbled back and she crouched to the ground, spiraling with one leg extended and kicking his legs out from underneath him. She was standing, already in mid-motion for her next assault before he hit the ground. She kicked him swiftly and leapt over his body, her hands landing on the shoulders of one of the three Aren surrounding the older Hunter.
She spun him around and struck. She got his throat and elbowed his cheekbone. Holding his collar as she struck at him again, she looked to the old Hunter. "Get out of here — I've got this!" she yelled to him.
His aged cobalt eyes widened with suspicion. "Who are you?" He kicked one of the Aren back, seeming more concerned about Jessop than he was about his attacker.
The guttural cry of the young Hunter drew their attention — the young man was wounded. An Aren fell fatally from the Hunter's sword, but he had left a dagger stuck in the fair Hunter's side. The fight had gone on long enough. As the older Hunter ran past her to his wounded comrade, Jessop took a deep breath and closed her eyes; she concentrated on the feeling of electricity running through her, deep within her. The unadulterated power that she had long since learnt how to lose herself in — how to stay safe within the boundaries of.
She slowly exhaled. And with expert skill, she snapped the neck of the Aren before her, opening her eyes as he hit the ground.
She flicked her cloak to the side and found the hilt of her weapon. She drew the blade from its sheath and spun about, skillfully wielding the sword. The lethal piece was beautiful. Made of star glass, it was the only one of its kind — forged to be entirely onyx in color; the blade was black as night. She ducked low and spun on her knee, moving the sword around her in a circle, and came up behind an Aren attacker. She struck him down and stood as he fell from her weapon's lethal edge, slicking the sword with his crimson blood. She bent her knees and quickly jumped atop the bar, dancing over glasses as she made her way towards the Hunters.
She flipped from the edge, curving her blade out as she spun in the air.
She landed on one knee, the Hunters safely behind her, the Aren before her. She remained crouched down as she brought her weapon's point up into the diaphragm of the next assailant. He stumbled towards her and she spun on her knee out to the side, liberating her weapon from his dying body as she stood. The two remaining Aren descended upon her swiftly. She twirled, her cloak flying about her as she landed a roundhouse kick against one. He fell to the ground as the other, with surprising might, grabbed her from behind. His strong forearm locked around her neck and pulled her back tightly. Her leather boot slipped in a thick pool of blood and she struggled to regain her footing as the other Aren recovered, steadying himself before her.
She backed into the man holding her and thrust her sword outward, connecting with the second Aren's side just enough to sting. He lunged at her, snarling wildly. She leaned back into her captor and kicked at the wounded man. She got his chin and forcefully sent him flying onto his back.
The silvery glint of the dagger caught her eye just in time.
The Aren holding her held his weapon high above her; ready to bring it down on her chest. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the energy between them — on her power — and, just as she had anticipated, the Aren shrieked in agony, dropping his blade to the ground, loosening his hold on her neck. Jessop snaked her sword about in her expert fingers, curved her body to the side, and thrust her sword inward, past her hip, into his abdomen.
She spun out of his grip, pulling her blade loose. He coughed, blood dripping from his lip, pooling in his gut. She remained in position with her sword extended out, perfectly parallel to the ground, her feet steadying themselves in the still-warm blood of her slain victims. She stood at the ready in a circle of the dead or dying. None of the attackers moved and she took a cautious breath, mentally assessing her body for injuries — she was mostly unharmed and the battle was over.
She cleaned her blade swiftly on her cloak and sheathed it before turning to the Hunters. The older was supporting the younger, applying pressure to his wound and they both stared at her with wild-eyed confusion, though the young one looked on through fluttering eyelashes.
The blue eyes of the old Hunter narrowed on her. "Tell me who you are," he ordered.
She looked away from him to his wounded companion. She could see the blood shining over his leather. His paling face and slowing breaths were poor signs. "Your friend needs treatment," she advised.
The silver-haired Hunter nodded, more concerned with his young friend than her identity. "Then help me get him some, girl."
Jessop flinched at the word, but nodded. She took a step towards the Hunters, and eased the young one's arm over her shoulder, slowly pulling him away from the bar. It was only once she was close enough to support his weight did she understand why his skin seemed to shimmer like silver to her — he was covered in hundreds of scars.
"You saved us," he whispered, his hazel eyes studying her. She smiled tightly at him, uncertain of how to respond, and then watched as he lost consciousness; his heart slowing caused her own to speed up.
Excerpted from "The Glass Blade"
Copyright © 2018 Ryan Wieser.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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