Sisterhood, she is commanded by her madam to appease an order of
vicious crusaders by seducing a powerful magician masquerading as a
companions must descend beneath the Silver Rose into a labyrinth of
deadly traps and shadowy guardians. For only there can she defy the
crusaders who threaten her sorority and avert the prophecy of a
darkness that returns to consume the world.
BELLS CLAMORED throughout the Silver Rose. Shadyia glanced up from her board game as the sisters around her stopped mid-sentence and leaped to their feet. The tones were far from the usual rhythm beckoning them to meals or a lesson with the madam. Could the palace be under attack?
The doors to the east vestibule burst open and Mistress Sybaris strode into White Hall. “Reception Etiquette,” she said and made a shooing gesture with a flick of her arms. Her silver clips scarcely held her frizzled hair in place and dampness stained the armpits of her burgundy gown. “To your positions.”
The sisters scattered and Shadyia stepped toward the doors of the audience. Whatever had kicked over the anthill had to be serious. During the six years she had resided within the palace, she had never known Sybaris to lose her poise or move at other than a steady and measured pace.
“Sister Shadyia, wait. Come with me,” Sybaris said over her shoulder as she lifted the hem of her gown and glided up the grand stairs. “The madam wants a word with you.”
Shadyia froze in her tracks. Why did Madam Amrita want to see her? She hurried to catch up, her house slippers slapping the shallow steps built for ladies in dresses. The bells fell silent as they entered the east ballroom. Only moonlight pushing between the tall, purple curtains showed the way as they crossed the dance floor, viewed by the silhouettes of ghosts tooled into the tapestries. Madam Amrita and Mistress Makayla stood buried in the drapes as if hiding from someone. The madam beckoned them over.
“We must use all our skills, Sisters,” Amrita said as they drew near. “Dustan is the most dangerous of the House of Mienhard.”
Shadyia parted the heavy drape and peered down at the dawn gate. Lord Dunstan Mienhard—here? Beneath the light of lanterns set on high poles, three shadowy figures dismounted gray chargers. Stable hands rushed to take over the horses as the riders moved toward the gated arch. A well-dressed man in a brimmed hat led the other two, his head tilted back as if searching the windows where Shadyia observed. As he neared the gate, his elbow pushed aside a leather riding coat and his gloved hand rested on the hilt of sword.
Cold fingers grazed her spine. It was he, sure enough. Dunstan Mienhard, the infamous swordsman known as the King’s Beloved Uncle. The man to Lord Dunstan’s right had hair that hung straight and fair, his stern gaze and hewn physique suggested years of hard training. Tattoos of black flame covered his arms. He kept pace with his master, his fist tight on the hilt of a curved dagger at his side. The other man mirrored the first perfectly, save for a longsword strapped across his back.
Shadyia gripped the curtain. Wolfguard!—the sentinels of the king’s family, trained from birth to kill at a nod.
The three men halted before the gate and Lord Dunstan leaned slightly as if to speak to the man with the curved dagger. The wolfguard answered and pointed with his chin at the palace.
“What are they saying?” Amrita asked.
“He said she’s in there,” Sybaris replied.
Shadyia glanced at her mistress of guardians. How had she—? Ah! Lip reading. Useful.
Lord Dunstan pulled hard on the bell. Guardian sisters dressed in white tunics and armed with slender batons rushed down the marble steps. They unbarred the gate and Dunstan’s guard shoved them aside. He marched up the steps into the palace.
Shadyia backed away from the window and glanced at the madam and her two mistresses. Hopefully, someone would tell her what all this was about—and why she, of all the sisters, had been invited to bear witness. Sybaris knelt and loosened a stiletto sheathed in a boot. Uttering grim predictions, the raven-haired Makayla paced, gripping the sides of her black gown.
Madam Amrita turned from the window. “Ladies, please wait for me at the back doors to the audience. I’ll be with you shortly.”
They bowed and departed.
The madam gathered her dark brown hair, streaked with gray, behind her shoulders. “I believe I know why Lord Dunstan is here. He’s come for you, Sister.”
envelope the sisterhood she adores.
madam of the Silver Rose strives to please the evil that has
promised, upon its freedom, to make her a queen.
to crush the faith of the old gods. He needs but a bit of magic to
carry out his ultimate plan.
the enchanted box. Soon he will unleash his servants, and every
horror of the abyss will once again consume humanity.
IN THE SHADOW of the Black Tower, Shadyia nudged the shoulder of the scruffy, tired woman strolling by her side. When Deresi turned her head, she offered her a spirited wave. Hello, my sweet friend. They both needed a hot bath and a good night’s rest, but that hardly mattered. Deresi was alive. They had each survived the horrors of Mirrikh’s labyrinth with whole skins and sound minds.
Deresi crossed her eyes and stuck out the tip of her tongue.
Shadyia shifted her attention to the damp street. Yes, I know. I should stop gawking at you. She couldn’t help it. Her fingers ached to get lost in the tangles of Deresi’s red curls; her ears yearned for the sounds of Deresi’s passion, and her skin craved the warmth they had not shared often enough. I almost lost you. The death they had faced during the past two days made her crave another night, like the smallest fox in a litter peering at the last quail egg. Words Shadyia had spoken that morning they lay entwined in arms, legs and blankets—the morning Deresi had pledged her love—coursed through Shadyia’s veins and spurred her heart to beat. I will never leave you, and I will always come for you. Shadyia had never made such a promise to anyone before.
She yanked her thoughts from the past and listened in on the men walking a few paces in front of her. Aaron was asking his apprentice what it had been like to hear Verthandi’s voice in his thoughts.
“I didn’t know it was his voice,” Benjamin replied. “I thought it was mine.”
Aaron swept a hand through his graying hair and narrowed his gaze at the young man. “But you had no idea how to open the tower. Didn’t it seem odd to you that these thoughts were in your head?”
Benjamin shrugged. “It does now. At the time, I thought I was just guessing, experimenting. Do this, turn that, push, pull—and then the doors opened. I couldn’t believe it.”
Shadyia seized the pommel of her blacksteel sword. She couldn’t believe Benjamin had left Janell outside while he bumbled around inside the Black Tower. Janell may be a fellow sister of the Silver Rose, but for all of Madam Amrita’s training, she was a mewling kitten lost in a rainstorm. Anderholm was no city to walk about alone, even for a veteran with a drawn sword and a stern gaze on every dark alley. Shadyia tamped down her anger. If Benjamin hadn’t opened the doors of the tower and entered, she, Deresi and Aaron would now be facing a slow death from thirst and starvation in Mirrikh’s oubliette, the place the ancient magician had used to forget people who had angered him.
Aaron led them north. They followed the smooth stones of Queen’s Way, the scrape of their footfalls the only sounds in the damp streets. Shadyia glanced around. Too quiet. Today was the second day of Samprina and so the citizens were either fasting in their homes or visiting relatives in the country, but the silence didn’t feel right. Anderholm was a city of noise. The clap of hooves, the roll of wagons, merchants bellowing over one another, armed guards hollering to clear a path for a snobbish lord on horseback, the squeal of orphaned children, the bark of dogs—chaos was the lifeblood of Anderholm. Quiet did not become the trade capitol of the northern realms.
“Here, this way.” Aaron turned them down a long alley between the Ministry of Art and a pottery warehouse. As Shadyia recalled, the alley ended at the Rum Barrel Inn near the Bridge of Swans. Aaron’s Featherquill Manor, packed with the historical books he had written over his many centuries, was a short walk up a winding road past the other mansions in the Artisan Quarter. When they arrived, he had promised to treat them to an evening of relaxing and recovering. Shadyia blew a gust through her lips at the thought. After two days and a night in the dark, twisting halls of labyrinth, pits of spikes hidden under false floors and shadow beasts that drained the life from their victims, she craved a quiet evening in Deresi’s arms more than all the gold in Anderholm. I just hope Janell made it back there without trouble.
Midway through the alley, a single-horse cart, driven by two cloaked men, rolled toward them. Shadyia and the others flattened themselves against the wall. She turned her head as it passed. Some mortified soul lay wrapped in a heavy cloth in the back of the cart. Likely the men were gravediggers on their way to—The corpse! Shadyia recognized its white boots.
“Stop that cart!”
The driver snapped his reins against the horse as Aaron grabbed the air and twisted his fist. The wheels locked and dragged until the cart screeched to a halt. The driver lashed his reins again, but the horse only reared. The men, one thin and the other large, jumped back off the bench, stepped around the wrapped figure and dropped to the street. They threw open their cloaks and pulled out a pair of long knives. Shadyia drew her blacksteel sword as she and Aaron met them halfway. Aaron twisted his hands, palms outward, and the fat one was hurled against the wall by an unseen force. The other stood dumbfounded until Shadyia knocked the knife out of his hand with a downward slash and pressed the tip of her sword under his chin.
“Over there, move,” she said, urging the driver, a man with dark lines tattooed on half his face, to stand next to his fat companion. He lifted his hands in surrender and complied.
The force holding the large man released, but Shadyia moved the tip and pricked the fleshy pouch under his chin. “Drop the knife.”
The knife clattered to the street and the fat man lifted his portly arms.
“Dee, check the cart.”
Deresi snatched the thin man’s knife off the ground and leaped into the cart. Shadyia heard her cut the ropes. She glanced down the alley to make sure no others were coming, but only Benjamin stood there, ringing his hands and looking as if he were not sure what he should do.
Silence from the cart drove Shadyia to risk a glance. Deresi was sitting back on her heels, her shoulders slumped, staring down at the person she had partly exposed beneath the cloth. “Dee, who is it? Is it Janell?”
Deresi’s mouth moved but no sound came out. “I…”
What’s wrong with her? “Dee!”
“I can’t tell!” Deresi briefly covered her lips with trembling fingers. “I think it is.”
Benjamin charged, jolting Shadyia as he passed, and leaped into the cart.
A freezing wave passed over Shadyia. Deresi couldn’t tell? She glanced at Aaron, who had remained at her side, then faced the portly man and jabbed him with the tip. “What did you do to her?”
The fat man’s jaw shuddered and a drop of blood leaked down his pouch. “She asked to join us.”
Shadyia nearly stabbed him again when Benjamin’s wail echoed along the alley. “Mentor, please help!”
Aaron rushed the cart as Shadyia coiled back her sword, daring either man to move. She glanced as Aaron further pulled open the cloth, stained dark red on the inside, to reveal a naked body. Benjamin wailed anew as Aaron placed a hand on her forehead. Deresi scooted back into the corner of the cart and stared at Janell, as motionless as one posing for a sculpture.
Benjamin sobbed. “What have they done to her?”
“She’s alive,” Aaron said.
read, but could never find. Sexy, powerful, positive.
the characters don’t scratch at fleas and trug through the book
ass-deap in mud and blood and disease. I’m sure all that is
accurate, but I never wanted to read about it.
mysterious magicians with a hidden agenda, and gods that move mortals
about like pieces on a chessboard. That’s the book I wanted.
When you read one of his books, you get your money’s worth. He
won’t spend eleven chapters with this characters arguing in a
castle. The term “I could never put it down” fits a Gemmell book
perfectly, and it’s what I have striven to accomplish in the
Shadyia Ascendant series.
avid computer gamer, reader enthusiast, and teacher of English as a
foreign language. I’m American and currently reside in Poland.
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