However, that was after I had edited it once. I set my books aside for two months. During that time, I let beta readers go through it. Then I pick it up and go through it with a fine tooth comb. I add stuff and take away stuff. The story basically stays the same, but the quality is better, sometimes drastically. I'm posting the finalized version of chapter 1 here.
You can read both to see the difference, if you're interested. :)
“Well Sornin, I’m beginning to think that everyone in Dralin has decided to become honest today.” Pelya grinned as she leaned against a lamppost on the sidewalk. Activity bustled along the street and a breeze lazily carried the sounds of the city through the air.
Sornin responded with a snort. Brown hair framed his narrow face and he always wore a severe expression. Pelya trusted him implicitly though, especially since he had protected her back more than once, as she had his. “You shouldn’t ask for trouble, Pelya. Our shift’s only half done. There’ll be plenty to go around at some point or another.” He straightened the collar of a polished chain shirt that peeked out from underneath the standard-issue black and brown tunic of the Dralin City Guard. “And thinking that everyone stopped committing crimes is pure fantasy.”
Their squad was patrolling the Orange Sash District, named after orange sashes worn by perfume-laden prostitutes to mark their profession. Garishly painted bordellos lined the street and women called out from windows to potential clients below. At the moment, they were in the center of the district where the clientele tended towards middle-class workers. Ornate mansions catered to rich customers in the northern section of the district while run-down parlor houses were in the south.
Scantily clad male and female prostitutes on the street encouraged potential customers to enter the bordellos. Most were respectful to the Guardmembers who kept them safe, or as safe as it was possible to keep anyone in the most dangerous city on the world of Ryallon.
Pelya stood straight and tugged on her black braid. “Come now Sornin, we’re in for a long, evening, so it wouldn’t hurt to let a smile crack those lips of yours.”
He gave her a slight smile, more than most people received.
Pelya’s sapphire-blue eyes sparkled in the late afternoon sun as checked everyone’s positions. There were six people in her unit, loosely organized, ready for battle if needed. They walked the cobbled street without a specific formation to be less predictable. A month earlier, on her nineteenth birthday, Pelya had become unit leader. Sornin was her unit-buddy and second in charge. The other three units in their squad were within hearing distance of the whistle around her neck, which made a piercing signal that carried over the sounds of the busy streets.
Pelya had spent her entire life in Dralin, raised by her father in the barracks of the City Guard. She had taken to the sword as soon as she could lift it and was currently the youngest swordmaster in the Guard. It was what she had striven for, but recently she had come to regret that decision.
Everywhere Pelya looked, people suffered. Dralin had more crime than anywhere else in the world from what she had been told. Patrolling the streets had made her believe it. She couldn’t count how many murders she had helped investigate in the last year and that number didn’t compare to kidnappings and disappearances.
She looked around at the lurid buildings. What couldn’t be seen from the street was the corruption that resulted in innocent young women being conscripted by criminal predators. There were more gangs in Dralin than the City Guard could handle. The best that could be done was to hold crime at bay so that it didn’t completely overrun the citizens. It wasn’t enough for Pelya, but she didn’t know how to do more.
A group of men shouting nearby broke her out of her reverie. They were exchanging bawdry comments with a group of prostitutes on a balcony. There was nothing that needed to be done. Thus far, the shift had started more peacefully than any she could remember.
The weather was pleasant with the heat of summer gone. Rainfall the day before had washed much of the normal pollution into the gutters, leaving the smog lighter than usual. Fall colors covered the trees and the threat of winter was still far away. Pelya looked up at the puffy clouds in the sky and stretched.
“Does your father know Captain Fallamer has you stationed in the Orange Sash?” Yobi, a veteran Guardsman, asked.
“Yes. He’s mad about it too. But he needs to understand that he can’t protect me from doing my job.” Pelya remembered the yelling match they had about it the week before.
Yobi shook his head in amazement. “I wouldn’t want to cross him. I like working for Captain Fallamer, but she’s crazy for giving you this assignment.”
Joll, his unit-buddy, smacked Yobi on the shoulder with the back of her hand. “Watch what you say.” Joll was a short, young woman who was intimidated by Pelya’s six-foot frame.
“Daddy unnerves most people, although it is a bad idea to cross him.” Pelya winked, more than happy to protect her father’s reputation. She didn’t like Joll much; the woman wouldn’t look her in the eye.
A muffled scream seized their attention. Joll pointed down a side street. “A woman, taken into the alley by a group of thugs!” Before she finished speaking, they all had their swords drawn and ready. Not far down the street was a carriage with a broken wheel. The driver who was checking the wheel saw them coming and took off in the other direction.
Pelya shouted orders as they dashed toward the alley. “Leave him. Watch for surprises! Protect each other!” Pelya gave her whistle two sharp tweets and a long one to let the other units in the squad know that they were investigating trouble.
Curious bystanders scurried out of the way. The Dralin City Guard had a system for pursuit and the speed with which the well-trained warriors moved was remarkable.
A sharp turn into the trash-littered alley revealed the kidnappers dragging the struggling woman through the back door of a smog-blackened building. The door slammed shut behind them.
Pelya led the rush forward. When they reached the grimy door, two of her unit stepped to either side and prepared for entrance. Sornin tossed a runeball that would detect if there were wards on the door. It floated in front of the doorway for a moment, shining with a greenish light as it spun and did its magic. All was clear.
Sornin retrieved the ball just as Pelya blew two long tweets on her whistle followed by a short one to indicate to the rest of the squad that her unit was entering a building. She shattered the old door with a kick of her muscular leg.
Pelya let her eyes grow accustomed to the gloom as she moved inside a short hall with chipped paint on the worn walls. She headed toward a door at the end, forgoing the two on the sides. Sornin, entering behind her, signaled for the others to be ready for battle. They advanced in staggered formation.
Sornin tossed the runeball at the door. It flashed with red light as it drew in magical energy before disintegrating. Detecting and disarming the ward had used up its enchantment.
Sornin and Pelya exchanged worried glances. Red light indicated an alarm ward. Even though it was disarmed, anyone inside would know someone was at the door. Pelya felt uneasy about walking into a certain ambush, but the circumstances required instant action.
With another well-placed kick, she broke down the door. Sornin dashed in with Pelya right behind. They moved to either side of the doorway leaving a path for the rest of the unit to enter.
Ten fighters waited for them in the surprisingly large room. The sight of expensive furnishings made it clear to Pelya that this was a place for criminal operations. In contrast to the hallway outside, the walls had fresh paint, tapestries and expensive carpets.
A blonde man standing behind a desk glared at the intruders as though they were flies on his dinner. He wore a fancy purple shirt, black pants and a fine sword at the hip. Two men next to the desk held the kidnapped woman.
Sornin yelled, “Dralin City Guard! Put down your weapons!”
The fighters lifted their swords higher and crouched, ready for battle. Pelya realized they would fight, an undesirable outcome. “No one needs to get hurt! We just have questions.” Joll and Yobi came through the door and moved forward, making space for the last two in the unit.
A woman in yellow robes moved her hands in precise motions while a supernatural wind whipped her hair around her face.
Pelya and Sornin realized why the fighters were holding back. “Magic!” they both shouted. In unison, Pelya’s unit cast fast protective spells, taught as standard training in the Guard. It would complement protections already built into their uniforms. They were just in time, saving them from the effects of the woman’s spell.
Pelya drew and threw a knife made to pierce magical defenses. The wizardess had already begun another spell and wasn’t able to dodge the flying blade as it pierced her throat. The gathered energy burst and sent her lifeless body flying against the wall.
Five, Pelya thought to herself. That was how many people she had killed in her life, a number she hated. She blew two sharp bursts on her whistle, the signal that they were engaging in battle. Pelya prayed the sound would reach the rest of the squad outside.
The battle began. Their foes were not amateurs, but few people were good enough to match a member of Dralin’s Guard. Pelya had two men to deal with immediately. Her sword darted through the air faster than her opponents could parry. One fell. Six, a number she hated more than five.
She stalled the other man with rapid parries. Joll was down and would never get up again. The rest were hard pressed. Two more foes engaged Pelya. She finished off the one she had stalled, seven, and focused on the next. A quick move here and another there, the two were wounded.
Pelya reevaluated the unit’s situation and realized another of her unit was down. As she killed another attacker, eight, Albin, a third member of her unit also fell. Sornin and Yobi stood with her against the three hardened fighters that remained, their friends lying dead next to the fallen Guardmembers.
The blonde man moved forward, Albin’s blood dripping from his blade. Ruthless brown eyes took measure of the intruders. His nostrils flared as he closed the distance.
It was against policy for every member of a unit to die. At least one of them had return to the squad and report the incident. “Report, Yobi! Now!” Pelya yelled.
Yobi took the order and went through the doorway, but three fighters waiting in the hall blocked him. Sornin hastened to help clear the escape route. Pelya stood in the doorway and protected their retreat.
The stranger with the hard eyes was in front of Pelya. His sword clashed against hers. Sparks of light and color flashed, showing that both blades contained magic. He was a swordmaster and his enchanted blade effortlessly met every stroke of hers.
Her thrusts and parries became more desperate with each blow. She tumbled to the side, coming up for better position. One of the other fighters attempted to take advantage of the move. A fast dodge put her behind the man. She pushed him forward. Without blinking, the swordmaster ran the man through and shoved him to the ground.
The swordmaster’s blade met hers again with a supernatural speed. Closer and closer it came, as though the blade itself wished to drink of her blood. He focused on Pelya with intensity, never giving her an opening. There was power and experience in his arm. He had spent more time wielding a sword than she.
Pelya sensed movement behind her. She nimbly rolled out of danger. A wicked thrust missed her back. Pelya sprang from the roll just in time to see the mysterious swordmaster kill the treacherous fighter for interfering in his battle.
There is a moment after a person kills someone when they pause to take in the shock of it. The hardest killer may have it down to an instant, but it is there.
Pelya struck in that moment, a quick thrust, tight and deadly. It missed. Anyone else would have died.
Pain stung Pelya’s cheek as she jerked her head back and tumbled away. The swordmaster’s blade was sharp. Pelya ignored the blood flowing down the side of her face and attacked. The swordmaster smiled cruelly as he parried the blows.
The next slash cut her thigh. Another cut the back of her hand as she tumbled and failed to take out his hamstring with a spinning swing.
He was too fast. His blade bit into her forehead when her sword moved too slowly to counter. Blood flowed past her eyes, impairing her vision.
Pelya’s back grew warm. Time slowed.
Her blade met the man’s sword and darted forward to slash his chin.
The swordmaster was surprised, but he parried her next blow. He was more surprised when another cut through his shirt to the skin of his chest.
Time slowed even more as their blades clashed repeatedly, neither gaining the advantage. The warmth on Pelya’s back increased, spreading into her bones. Shadows watched intently.
They separated. The swordmaster rolled toward the desk while Pelya rolled toward the door. For an instant, the opponents stared with the intensity of suns, memorizing every detail about each other.
The swordmaster dashed through a secret door held open by one of his fighters. It closed behind them.
Pelya took a step forward before realizing that more Guardmembers were now in the room and that the remaining fighters had been subdued. The kidnapped woman was crying into the shoulder of a Guard.
“Pelya!” Sornin said. “Pelya!”
Everything was surreal as she turned to face him. Normalcy came rushing in, causing her to stagger. The heat on her back and in her bones lessened. The shadows slipped into themselves.
Squad Sergeant Herman Melvor appeared next to her and grabbed her arm in concern. “Pelya. Are you alright? You’re bleed . . . By the Gods . . . Your cuts are disappearing! What healing magic is that?”
Pelya’s jaw clenched shut. The dragon mark on her back prevented her from speaking. It had slowed time and improved her reflexes during the battle. Now it healed her wounds, but it also prevented her from talking about it. She and her friend Ebudae had received the marks at the age of eleven after saving the child of a dragon. Most of the time she didn’t even remember it was there, so insidious was the geas that prevented her from revealing its presence.
Squad Corporal Jecks touched fingers to Pelya’s sword in a calming motion. “I’ve never seen anyone move so fast, you or him.” Concern lit his grey eyes and filled his thick voice. His uniform was immaculate as always. He did everything by the book.
Pelya wiped and sheathed her sword. She still couldn’t respond. Sornin put a supportive hand on her shoulder while Yobi stood behind her protectively.
One of the squad wizards was trying to figure out the secret door while the other helped the squad healer look after the fallen Guardmembers. Pelya realized that Sornin and Yobi were the only ones who survived.
Squad Sergeant Melvor was average height with brown hair, unremarkable in most ways, which made him dangerous because his opponents tended to dismiss or underestimate him. Added to that, he fought dirty. He had helped Pelya’s father raise her and she normally called him Uncle Herman. His brown eyes showed that he wanted to protect her, but he was being professional. “Report, Unit Leader,”
It helped. Pelya’s jaw unlocked and she relayed the details of the incident. “The unit heard a woman scream and began pursuit of two men who were dragging that woman into an alley.” Pelya pointed at the woman who was still sobbing into the shoulder of a Guardsman. The Guardsman looked at Sergeant Melvor with pleading eyes.
The sergeant ignored the look, leaving the man to suffer. “Go on, Pelya. What happened next?”
“We saw them enter this building.” Pelya paused, still breathing hard from exertion. “After Sornin checked the door for wards, I broke it down and led my unit into the building. I whistled . . .”
Sergeant Melvor nodded. “We heard your whistles.”
“We went through the hallway to this door and discovered an alarm ward on it. The runeball deactivated it and I kicked in the door.”
“Did you check the side doors in the hallway?” Corporal Jecks asked.
“I didn’t,” Pelya said with a sinking feeling in her stomach. She remembered the fighters who had come behind them. “My instincts told me the woman was in this room and that we needed to get to her as fast as possible.”
Corporal Jecks nodded. Pelya couldn’t tell if he approved or disapproved. He was hard to read.
“There were ten armed fighters in the room, a wizard, the two kidnappers, the kidnapped woman and the man I was fighting.” Pelya stared at the secret door. The squad wizard still hadn’t figured it out.
One of the Guardsmen examining the bodies of the fighters stood and came over. “A few of these fighters were once soldiers from the Kingdom of Deller. I recognize tattoos on the base of the neck given to everyone who joins their army. Theirs have additional marks to indicate that they were discharged dishonorably.”
“Good work, Private Wibben.” Sergeant Melvor frowned. “Do you have any idea why ex-soldiers from Deller would be here, Pelya?”
“No, Sergeant. Sornin called for them to put away their weapons and I told them we just wanted to ask questions, but the wizardess cast a spell at us.” Pelya pointed at the body. “We warded ourselves, which protected us from the first spell. I didn’t know if the wards would hold up against another.”
“Nice shot,” Corporal Jecks said. “That’s your knife in her neck, right?”
“Yes. The odds were against us and the wizardess immediately began casting another spell. I believed it to be the only option.”
Corporal Jecks gave a sharp nod of approval. “Good decision.” It was the highest praise Pelya had heard him give anyone.
“What happened then?” Sergeant Melvor asked.
“The fighters attacked us and there was no time to do anything but fight back. They were skilled.” She looked at Joll’s body.
Private Wibben followed her gaze. “They were very skilled to take out three Guardspeople.”
Pelya leveled her breathing. “I ordered Yobi to run for help, but three fighters blocked him. Sornin went to help while I protected their backs.”
Sornin said, “Pelya’s the best of us. I believed she would be able to hold off the rest.”
“You made a good decision,” Sergeant Melvor said. “Getting word to the squad was priority. And I’d trust Pelya to guard my back any day.” He smiled at Pelya and squeezed her shoulder.
Pelya resisted an urge to hug him. “That swordmaster attacked me next and all my time was spent battling him. He killed two of his own men, one to get to me, the other because the fighter tried to kill me.”
“He carried himself like a duelist,” Private Wibben said. “I’ve seen the type. They’re everywhere in Deller. Although he was better than any I’ve seen.”
“Are you from Deller?” Jecks asked.
Wibben shook his head. “No. I’m from Obda to the north of Deller. Their soldiers make a nuisance of themselves and occasionally come to border towns for drinking and wenching.” He looked at Pelya. “I’ve never seen anyone move as fast as either of you. There was magic involved.”
Pelya’s jaw clenched shut again. She couldn’t talk about the dragon mark. With a deft switch of thought, she remembered the swordmaster’s weapon. Her jaw unlocked. “He had a magical blade, superior to the standard Guard issue.” She patted the sword at her side. It wasn’t standard, having been a gift from Gilron Coodmur, the Guard’s weaponmaster, but it looked like one and few knew otherwise.
“If it makes him move faster, it’s a powerful enchantment.” Jecks looked suspiciously at Pelya.
“How did you move so fast, Pelya?”
“How did you move so fast, Pelya?”
Her jaw didn’t lock, almost as though the mark trusted her not to reveal its presence. She rewarded its faith by deflecting the corporal’s question. “I don’t think his sword was just magical. I could feel it studying me, testing me. I think it may have had a name.”
The statement drew gasps. Magical weapons and other items were common, especially in Dralin, but a named item meant it had a soul. It could think and influence the person that owned it. They were incredibly powerful, priceless and dangerous.
“We need to know who he is and why he wanted this woman kidnapped,” Sergeant Melvor said.
The woman had finally gotten ahold of herself and was wiping her eyes with the sleeve of an extravagant dress. “Because I’m the daughter of Chancellor Divathia.”
“Chancellor Divathia of the High Council?” Sergeant Melvor asked in surprise. He thumped a fist to his chest in salute. “Milady.”
She gathered loose strands of her auburn hair and put them in a makeshift ponytail. “I did my best to fight them off, but they were too strong. They killed my personal guards.” She looked at a rip in the sleeve of her dress. “Mother’s going to kill me for ruining this dress.”
Pelya winked. “Blame it on the kidnappers and tell your mother they ripped it just to spite her.”
Hope lit the woman’s face. “That might actually work.” She came over and wrapped Pelya in a hug, nearly suffocating her with the heavy scent of jasmine perfume. “Thank you for saving my life. I saw your unit just before they dragged me into the alley. It took all of my strength to get the hand away from my mouth long enough to scream.” She stood back and looked up at Pelya. “I will see to it that you are rewarded. Mother will want to meet you.”
Pelya didn’t like that idea. The High Council was the ruling body of Dralin and outranked even the Grand Assembly responsible for running the country of Altordan. The twelve chancellors of the High Council were the most powerful people in the kingdom and it wasn’t wise to attract their attention, good or bad.
The woman sighed and shook her head. “Of course you don’t want to meet her. Nobody wants anything to do with her or me. What’s your name, anyway?”
“My name is Pelya Jornin.”
Surprise crossed the woman’s face. “I’m Yancy.” She turned to look at the rest of the room and shuddered. “Why am I still here? There are so many dead people.”
Pelya looked to Sergeant Melvor, who nodded. She led Yancy to the alley outside. Sornin and Yobi followed.
“Finish gathering evidence,” Sergeant Melvor ordered Corporal Jecks. “The messengers I sent should have reached Captain Fallamer. She’ll be here soon. I want everything ready to present to her.” He then followed Pelya and the others into the alley. “The captain will want to speak to you Lady Divathia. We’ll arrange to get you home just as soon as possible.”
“I want Pelya to escort me. I saw how good she is with a sword, better than any of my guards.” Yancy studied Pelya.
Sergeant Melvor looked distinctly uncomfortable with the suggestion. “I don’t have that authority, milady.”
A full squad of Guardmembers jogged into the alley, led by a female officer with short, red hair. Her thin eyebrows furrowed in a frown at seeing Pelya, but she turned to Melvor. “Report, Sergeant.”
Melvor began rattling off details about the incident.
Yancy grabbed Pelya’s arm, dragging her to a nearby wall. “You’re Pelya Jornin, the Guard Brat, aren’t you?”
Pelya suppressed the urge to punch the woman in the face.
Yancy gasped and covered her mouth with both hands. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that . . . everyone calls you that . . . I mean . . . that’s not what I mean . . .” She threw her hands up in frustration. “I’ve messed up again. I’ll never learn. Everyone hates me. I’m so stupid!”
Pelya set aside her personal feelings. “I have no idea whether or not you’re stupid, but I won’t hold it against you if you are.” She grinned at the look of shock on Yancy’s face.
“Oh . . .” Yancy laughed. “I like you, and I’m sorry I called you a Guard Brat.” She paused and put a hand on her chin. “Mother doesn’t approve of you though. That’s a problem.”
“Yes, well I’m used to people not approving of me,” Pelya said in disgust. “I don’t care, even if your mother is a member of the High Council. I don’t care what anyone thinks of me or of my father for raising me in the Guard.” It was a sore spot with her and to know that her life was discussed even within the High Council was offensive.
Yancy folded her hands in front of her and hung her head. “I’m sorry.”
Pelya rubbed her brow. She was drained now that all the energy from battle was gone.
“You’re shaking,” Yancy said. “Are you hurt?”
“No. I’m just tired and I killed . . .” Pelya stared back at the doorway, remembering the bodies of the men and the death of her unit mates.
“Please don’t talk about it. I want to be brave, but I . . . I’ve never seen anyone die until now.” Yancy was pale as a ghost and looked about ready to faint.
“Lady Yancy Divathia?” Captain Fallamer came up beside Pelya. “I’m giving you a carriage to take you home. It will be here shortly. It’s my understanding that you wish Unit Leader Jornin to escort you?”
“Yes, Captain,” said Yancy.
“Very well, but she must return as soon as you are safely home. She has a report to make.”
“Thank you, Captain. I’ll see to it.”
Captain Fallamer gave Pelya a reassuring pat on the back. “Come talk to me when you get back to the Guard District.”
“Yes, Captain.” Pelya didn’t feel reassured.If you are interested in the first two books: