The following is not the finalised edition. Chapter order and little details may change before book publication. This hasn’t been formally edited and will likely contain errors. Let me know if you spot any!
People screamed all around Kettna. The barrage of rage was so fierce even the disciplined fighters of the Calimskan guard faltered and folded. Kettna would have shielded her ears if it weren’t for the strong arms of the two thugs who dragged her into the furious mob. A hessian sack blocked most of her vision, yet it wasn’t enough to shield her from the intensity of the battle. Her hands trembled and her teeth rattled. Kettna was so incensed by the insult of her abduction she couldn’t tell if she was afraid or on the precipice of killing. Neither filled the sorceress with pride, but if there was any a time for killing, the present moment seemed more than appropriate. If only she could get her sword back from the thugs. She’d have summoned a spell to burn the mongrels who were abducting her.
The sorceress strained to get free of her abductors. She shook left and right to no avail. She kicked out and connected with a thug’s shin. In return Kettna was given a swift cuff upside her head then the thugs vice-like hand encircled her throat.
Fetid garlic breath mixed with tobacco gushed through Kettna’s hessian hood. The horrible man’s face pressed against her ear. “Walk sweet, fancy lady. Else I snap your little neck.”
Kettna couldn’t think of one measly spell to help her. Her mind raced through a score of options, but what good were spells if her magic faltered? Magic or not, Kettna refused to give in to this filthy brute. The thug pressed his body against hers, squeezing what he could while breathing his stink right in her face. Kettna took advantage of his proximity and kneed the thug in the crotch with as much force as she could muster.
The thug buckled over with a groan and Kettna took her chance, running with the bag over her head into the riot. She didn’t make it far, blindly bumping into rioters and stumbling over loose cobbles. A thick coil, slick with viscous glue lashed around Kettna’s ankles and she toppled over. The ground shook as the heavy brute leapt beside Kettna and seized her. This monster was more than strong enough to prevent her escape. The toadman’s large hands hoisted the sorceress over his shoulder and he unwound the sticky coil, lumbering deeper into the mob. The musclebound fool might have stopped her running, but he had let her arms free. Kettna ripped off the hessian sack and looked for her sword. If she could touch the bloodstone pommel, she could bring the aid of Tetula. The sorceress had no such luck. Her sword was tucked in the belt of the thug she’d just attacked.
“Looking for this?” The pig of a man was following them, hunched over a little and hiding his pain through gritted teeth. He leered at Kettna, smug with his power. He tried to draw the blade from its scabbard then recoiled as if his hand were bitten. He tried again only to have the same trauma, this time it seemed much worse. Sparks jumped from the bloodstone and sizzled his palm. “Godsakes! You’ll pay for that, witch!”
The infuriated thug cradled his burnt hand and advanced on her as she dangling upside down and defenceless. He picked up the hessian sack she’d cast off, seething with anger. This was her chance. If she could touch the bloodstone as he put it back on her face, she be free. The sorceress brought to mind the perfect spell for the situation, Leaden Step. It was an illusion of weight to slow anyone down. Well, not anyone. What was it Dean Fynze had said about it? Works best on thick heads. Given present company and the power of the sword, the sorceress could amplify the little illusion to bring the riot to a stop. Kettna’s satisfied smile disappeared when she saw the man’s meaty fists clenching with intent to pummel her dangling head for revenge.
Before the thug got to Kettna a mounted guard in shining armour burst through the mob. It was the first time Kettna was glad to see Captain Malek.
“Unhand her!” Malek swung his horse around, knocking a clutch of underfed fighters out of his way.
The thug with Kettna’s sword retreated to a safe distance and gave three shrill whistles. The mob circled the captain, but did not engage. A whistle answered from nearby, then another. The noise grew, accosting them from all angles like a plague of locusts.
Malek’s horse stamped and wheeled around, eyes wide. The Captain kept the great warlander in control with a steady hand and easy voice. He advanced on the toadman holding Kettna and slapped him on the head with the flat of his sword. “I said unhand her. I won’t say it again.”
The brute stopped in his tracks and slowly turned raised his enormous warty hands. He stared at the sword Malek levelled at him without a word. He had no death wish, but the smirk he brandished contradicted his predicament.
Kettna slid down from the toadman’s shoulder, straightened her short robe and backed away from her abductor. But what then? There was no safety in this maelstrom of chaos. If she went with Malek, he’d deliver her to an equally disastrous fate wth the Guildmaster. Damn it all if she could just think clearly for a second, the whistles were driving her insane. Captain Malek was having trouble controlling his horse too.
“What are you waiting for?” yelled Malek, offering Kettna his hand. “Get on, woman!”
“I don’t trust you.”
The toadman laughed at that, more entertained by Malek’s surprise parley than worried about losing his head to Malek’s sword.
“For all that’s holy, get on the damn horse!”
Kettna took a step toward Malek, then a rope and hook sailed over head, grappling the guard captain’s saddle. Malek turned his horse again and smartly severed the rope. A stream of curses spat from his foul mouth as a clutch of overeager young-bloods charged from the mob. Malek cut them down as easily as he had cut the rope and the whistles faltered. A wave of doubt crashed upon the mob’s enthusiasm. Malek summoned his breath only to harangue Kettna once more.
“All mages be damned! Can’t trust a single one of you. You think I’m an idiot? This ruse is pathetic!” Malek’s Warlander kicked out at the pressing mob and smashing a thug to the ground. The injured man screamed, but not for long. The warhorse wheeled around and trampled his head to pulp. “You’ve been working with Bloody Agnus all along eh? Should have left you to die in the warehouse when I had the chance. You’re no hero.”
“At least I’m not a murderer! You were going to kill me this morning. Think I’m so naive? Lure me into that damned green door. If it weren’t for the dragons attacking, you’d have pumped me with blaze and dumped me in slumper alley. I know too much, don’t I? I’m a loose end on your string of villainy.”
“You’re brain box hollow? You don’t know squat. You’ve got it all backwards.”
On came a second rope and grapple. Then another with a meat hook and another with a bent anchor. Malek wheeled around trying to shake free, but there were too many, he only tangled himself more.
Malek strained against his bonds making the veins in his arms and neck bulge. The rope held tight, inspiring another tirade of curses fit to wither a sailors ears. “All this is on you, Inspector. All of it!”
Kettna refused to accept any blame, let alone acknowledge the tantrums of a child. She turned her head away from his desperate stare. Silence was all he was worth.
Malek wasn’t done. “How many times must a man save your arse before he gets respect. The Guildmaster needs you to save the city, you stupid brat. Agnus wants it all to burn! The Guildmaster is the only one who can save us from those monsters outside the gates.”
All at once the ropes pulled taught and Malek was dragged off his horse. The mob came at him, tearing at his armour and beating him with clubs and fists till he struggled no more.
Kettna turned to run, to escape the frenzy. Instead she ran into the burly chest of the guard she had kicked in the groin. The inspector instinctively grabbed for her sword, but the thug batted her hands away then punched her in the stomach. She doubled over, gasping for breath.
The lecherous thug circled behind Kettna and grabbed a fist of her hair. “Hold still. This won’t hurt … much.” Kettna was struck on the back of the head with what felt like a bag of rocks. The world spun with stars and her legs collapsed beneath her. Darkness blotted the sun.
Kettna descended into a black mental molasses. She floated up and drifted along. Still in the background she could hear the mob. Some were jubilant, cheering and whooping their victory. Others wailed and moaned, calling the names of the dead. The bloodied face of Captain Malek faded from sight and she found herself standing atop the highest tower of Castle Roost.
The dream had returned. Could it actually be a premonition? It felt different this time.
The Guildmaster lay dying on the ground in a pool of blood. He reached for Kettna and tried to speak. Blood frothed on his lips and the words drowned in his throat. The Guildmaster gathered wisps of magic from the weave and projected his thoughts upon Kettna’s mind.
It was the only way. You brought this on yourself.
Kettna looked down and found her arms were scaled in silver. Her fingers were talons, sharp as swords, gouging at the ground. Fire and ice pierced her from head to tail. She hungered to visit such pain upon the Guildmaster.
Where was Elrin? He’d murdered the Guildmaster in her last dream hadn’t he?
Do not fear the task ahead. Do not divert. Do not tarry.
Where had that voice come from? It rushed her heart and head with both hope and terror. When she called to her memories they danced just out of her grasp. Dreamlight blinded logic and lucidity. Kettna relaxed her mind and allowed the dream to unveil itself. As soon as the sorceress relinquished control the voice returned.
You are my chosen, Kettna. You must prevail.
The voice was strong as the ancient sea. A presence she only felt in her dreams long ago.
Kettna looked down and saw tiny arms and soft hands. She was a little girl again, so small and sweet, untouched by hardship or sorrow. Kettna skipped along the shore of the lake, blissfully toying with magic in secret. She knew it was forbidden to do so without supervision, but wild magic felt as natural as breathing. How could it be dangerous if all she did was beautiful? Little Kettna cast butterflies from sunshine and summoned frogs to sing on lilies. Flowers bloomed in her footprints as she made shapes of power in the sand.
A great shock of light swept across the lake from Calimska and landed by her side, enormous wings buffeting the reeds and made waves upon the shore. Kettna’s young heart swelled with joy and she plucked a daisy for her friend.
There before her towered mighty Daniakesh, silver scales gleaming in morning light. The ancient dragon took the daisy and it wilted. So too did Daniakesh, withering to a meagre husk of her former glory. Daniakesh was still radiant with magic and wisdom, but her eyes were pained and her wings limp. The lustre was gone from her scales and her body had atrophied.
Hear me, child. Time quickens. Come to my aid and restore the balance. Fulfil your destiny. Return light to Calimska once again. The Golden Shield must fall!
Once again the dream shifted. The Guildmaster lay dying atop Castle Roost, his golden robes stained crimson with blood. He reached for Kettna, begging for mercy. She reached out to help him but her wrists were shackled. Kettna became one with Daniakesh and screamed with unbearable pain. Agony clawed at her mind and sapped her strength. Kettna fell to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks, wracked with sorrow, desperate for release. It came with the Guildmaster’s last bloody gasp.
As his life departed so too did the Golden Shield, falling away like a receding wave. Elrin wept in the shadows, cradling Minni in his arms. His bloodstone dagger was broken, as was his heart. A fortress of dark clouds loomed over the horizon and the unmistakable roar of Uindarrg shook the air. The red monster scorched through the sky and rained fire upon Calimska.