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Well, despite my best efforts, I ended up not having a post ready for November. Things have been hectic lately with trying to get my new book published. One thing with a story, it’s like a kid you have to take care of constantly that demands most (if not all) your attention. Since I missed posting last month, I shall try to make up for it with a second post for December. I actually wasn’t sure what to put up for today, so I decided I’d let all of you have a sneak look at my upcoming book, Crown of Ravens, the exciting sequel to The Dark Wolf. Hopefully some of you will leave a comment or two. 😉 Enjoy!

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CROWN OF RAVENS

Chapter One

Dark clouds covered the sky, and the distant echo of thunder rumbled ominously. A cold wind blew, its icy fingers trailing over the heads of ancient sculptures carved in the figures of crowned men and women in flowing robes, each standing over a sepulcher of stone, and bending the tall green grass that sprouted through the cracked, weathered cobblestones which dotted the small courtyard.

Alec shivered as he rode on a grey stallion, and he pulled his cloak tighter around him. The wounds he’d received from the battle at Tartha were aching from the cold, and he knew they would start paining him even worse the longer he sat there. The chill in the air was almost unnatural for this time of the year, making it feel more like the beginning of fall instead of summer.

As though anything has been natural lately, he thought as he watched the line of soldiers before him carrying the caskets containing the bodies of Annette and Gerald.

Alec heaved an inward sigh at the memories it brought. Once before he had made this journey when Hadrian had died, dutifully trailing behind Annette, who she rode at the head of the company with Elaine on her left and Gerald at her right, as they made their way to the tombs of the Romarian kings and queens.

It was a much different procession this time. There was no crowd of onlookers, no ostentatious ceremony, no courtiers, and only one priest in front of the procession. Whereas Hadrian had been taken to his resting place with much pomp and ceremony, Annette and Gerald were led without any fanfare, almost as though they were just mere commoners instead of royalty.

Elaine rode beside him, the wind tossing her auburn locks and causing her cheeks to redden. Although she looked composed, Alec could read the pain in her gaze. She had gone through much lately. From being kidnapped and held captive somewhere in the Southern Territory, to having to trek through it alone with the very one responsible for her disappearance, only to find her home under attack by an enemy beyond what any could have imagined. Now both her home and family were gone, as well as the one she had lost her heart to.

The procession soon stopped at the entrance to a sepulcher. No statue of the deceased lined the entrance, and Alec doubted any would soon be made in the future. For right now, both Annette and Gerald would lie together without any marker to bear remembrance to their existence.

He pulled his horse to a stop and watched as the men carried the bodies inside while the priest uttered the blessing of the dead. When the priest was done, he waved his hand and the soldiers pulled shut the great bronze doors, which the priest then locked. Once the priest and the men were seated on their horses, Elaine turned her steed around and led the procession back in the direction of Tartha.

As if on cue, the heavens opened and the rain that had held off suddenly poured down upon them. Alec pulled up his hood to shield his head from the downpour and looked at Elaine sorrowfully as she rode slightly ahead of them. She made no move to try to protect herself from the rain and rode through the shower without pause.

Alec released a heavy stream of white vapor from his lips. How long ago was it since he had been at that point? How many times had he been close to falling over the edge of the pit of utter despair and grief, and yet had to pull himself back up? When his wife and son died, part of him had died with them, and for a long time he had been perilously close to letting it all go and joining them.

But he had not. Somehow, he had gotten the strength to go on, although not without much inward pain and sadness that never left. He wondered if Elaine was that strong and it scared him to think of what might happen if she was not.

And there is nothing I can do. That was the hardest part. Watching the little girl he had known and loved suffer so and being helpless to bring her out of it pained him deeply. In a way, he wished Darvir was here right now.

It was hard not to be suspicious of the man’s sudden disappearance, despite Elaine’s explanation of him being forced into a portal by the one called Ruval, who had orchestrated the attack on Tartha. She had not said much, and Alec had refrained from asking more. While Alec didn’t trust Darvir fully, he had seen the love and adoration in Elaine’s eyes when she looked at him, and he would have gladly put aside his reservations if having him here would have helped made things easier for Elaine.

It had been two days since the horrific battle fought at Tartha. Two long, miserable days of hunting down the last of the beasts called grorgs, searching for any survivors, sorting through the wreckage, dragging out the burnt and mutilated bodies of the townsfolk and soldiers for burial, and burning the ones of the grorgs. It was an enormous task and partly why it had taken so long to attend to the burying of Annette and Gerald.

A bleak and dour mood seemed to hang over everyone. Even Alec couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed and depressed when he saw all the destruction and death around them, and with talk now about this Zar’ul being real and preparing to attack all of Elser, it only added to the weight. He couldn’t remember there ever being a time in Romar’s history as dark as this.

The rain eventually began to slack off as they reached the city and entered the remains of what had once been the most envied and beautiful city in the world.

Alec stared at the burned wrecks around them. Several buildings had collapsed completely, while others leaned hap-hazardly on their foundations, their roofs caved in and the once polished white stone now blackened beyond recognition.

The streets were stained with blood and strewn with rubble, and several times they had to lead their horses around large piles of fallen stone which lay in the middle of the road. It broke Alec’s heart to see such grandeur and life gone from a city that once had been the glory of all of Elser.

Is this what awaits us all? To see everything laid waste before we ourselves lie among the ruin? Normally, Alec was not one given to such gloomy ruminations, but this devastation had shaken him to the core, challenging everything he thought he knew and rocking his foundation. The things he had taken for legends were unfolding before his very eyes, and monsters once thought to be old wives’ tales lived and breathed.

Alec had always prided himself on being a man not given to superstition or fables. He had believed only in the world around him and the physical things it held. Nothing existed beyond that, or so he’d thought. Sorcery, portals, daemonolves—these were now the new reality, and he didn’t know how to reconcile himself to it.

Alec and the rest rode up the path to the entrance of the palace. When they entered, he glanced at the host of men and elves patrolling the area and clearing away the wreckage in their search for bodies.

Of the legion of elves Lord Arthorr had sent with them, nearly a quarter were dead or injured. Fortunately, Romarian troops, six thousand strong already en-route for the invasion of Draidin Wood, had received word of the attack and arrived to help, albeit too late to do anything more than help with the finding of the dead and survivors and searching for what few grorgs had fled the battle.

It was strange to see the two races together after centuries of warfare and mistrust, and while both had put aside the old hatreds and prejudices for now, occasionally it still flared up, causing more than a few fights to break out. Such occurrences were troublesome, but on a whole, both sides were doing better together than Alec would have thought possible.

A multitude of tents dotted the outer courtyard of the palace that had been mostly cleared of debris. With the main residence completely ransacked and in a state of ruin like the rest of the place, they were left with no other choice but to camp outside, while the majority of the Romarian soldiers were stationed near the outskirts of the city.

Alec was surprised when Elaine abruptly broke away and rode off in the direction of the main residence. He stopped for a moment and watched her go before motioning to some of the men behind him.

As they followed after her, Alec dismissed the priest and the rest of his men before continuing on alone into the camp. He sighed regretfully. Although he knew what Elaine was feeling and hated intrusions on her privacy, with Annette and Gerald dead she was the last of the royal line, and he could not afford to take any chances with her safety, regardless of the circumstances.

He pulled his horse to a stop when he heard voices arguing heatedly. Alec frowned when he spotted two soldiers, one a man and the other an elf, open anger painting their features as they faced each other, looking nearly ready to come to blows.

What is it now? No doubt it was some imagined slight or insult that had started the whole thing, and, as usual, everyone nearby turned a blind eye to the whole matter.

Alec urged his horse towards them before halting and swinging down from the saddle. He suppressed a grimace at the stab of pain that shot up his injured leg and called out authoritatively. “What seems to be the problem?”

His voice cut short their squabbling. The man, seeing him, immediately straightened and saluted sharply. The elf did nothing else except fold his arms and look at Alec with a look bordering on disdain.

It’s nothing, sir,” the man said stiffly. “It was simply a misunderstanding, is all.”

A misunderstanding. There had been a lot of that lately, and Alec was growing more than exasperated with it. There were enough things to deal with without having to add more fuel to the fire.

I see. Let there be no more ‘misunderstandings’ then,” Alec said sharply. “I understand we have not always been friends with the elves, but we are now allies with them, so I would suggest that both of you learn to get along with each other. Understood?”

Yes, sir,” the man replied grudgingly.

Alec looked at the elf. The elf met his stare defiantly and said in a harsh voice, “I take no orders from humans.”

Alec’s eyes narrowed, his anger now beginning to rise at the elf’s insolence. “You may not be under my command, but as your rank is still below mine, you will show some proper respect or I will thrash you myself,” he growled.

The elf’s eyes widened for a moment in surprise before anger darkened them, and his hand crept to the hilt of his sword. “You are welcome to try if you have the strength, old man.”

The Romarian soldier next to the elf stared at him in shock for a moment before raising his hand angrily. “You stinking elf! That’s the last insult you’ll make!”

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