"Cloudswept" is book three of the Wyvern Trilogy. This is the first draft of the first chapter. Please keep in mind that it will be edited numerous times before being published. That said, I'm actually very happy with it. It's somewhat exciting, introduces the main character like it needs to, and it has the playfulness that I lacked in my previous book.
I hope this preview keeps you excited for the coming of the book.
I'm including an updated map of Nulanea, a northern continent in the world of Ryallon.
Year 1393, Fifth Age
Being seven months after the events of Liquid.
The complex lock was taking longer to pick than Pelya liked. Sweat-soaked strands of hair cascading around her face blocked her vision. She refused to cut it or put it in a braid as she had done in the past. It was irrelevant, as was the flickering light of enchanted torchlight from the hallway behind. She needed the sense of touch, not sight in this instance. Pelya steadied her breathing to calm anxiety that threatened to scatter her focus.
Four enchanted picks pressed against tumblers through the keyhole. She needed a fifth, but there was no room for it. Their magic kept them steady when Pelya’s gloved hand twitched from concentrated effort. The uppermost pick had three prongs on it. It should work if she could just manage to press . . . The lock finally gave a satisfying click of success.
Pelya took the oft-used picks out to put them back in their worn leather pouch. After rolling it up, she put it back into the secret pocket inside her form-fitting black tunic. Mystic silver thread covered both the tunic and her dark-blue pants, providing powerful protections against physical and magical threats. They would probably be needed considering she was breaking into a treasure room below a wizard’s tower.
A quick scan showed the hallway behind her to be empty other than the pit trap in the center of the floor. Pelya stretched her legs, shook her feet, and adjusted the chain-reinforced leather sword belt around her waist. Pouches hung from it with items to help her in her mission. She was a master with the pair of enchanted swords that rested in sheaths at her hips. Hopefully, those wouldn’t be necessary since her contract required she not kill the wizard whose tower she was breaking into.
Even though she was the one picking locks and evading traps, Pelya wasn’t a thief. The wizard had stolen a shipment of powerful wizards’ staffs headed from Dralin to Juragdat in the Kingdom of Inizor. The Cloudswept Bank provided insurance to the merchant shipping them. If the staffs weren’t recovered, the bank would have to pay out a large sum in compensation. They already owed a portion of money for the delivery being late.
That was where Pelya and agents like her came in. For a fee, they recovered stolen goods, saving the bank a great deal of money. An agent like Pelya cost a great deal though. She was one of the best and her fee would negate any profit the bank might have made off the insurance. Paying her was better than covering the entire cost of the shipment though. It was in everyone’s best interest if the shipment arrived as it was supposed to.
What worried Pelya was that the lone survivor of the theft had mentioned the wizard controlled a golem made of stone. Of course, the golem wasn’t the only thing that worried Pelya. She peered into the bottom of the spiked pit where the remains of the previous agent of the bank rested uncomfortably. Judging by the wounds, it had taken him a while to die. She wondered if the wizard had stripped his gear before or after the man had succumbed to the end.
A small pile of dust at her feet was all that was left of the runeball that had enabled her to see it and the two traps on the door she had disarmed before picking it. That had been her last trap-finding runeball. Ebudae, her best friend growing up in Dralin, had made it along with a number of others Pelya had at her disposal. Pelya had a request with the bank to either replace them or find her a new device that would do the same job. Her expenses were part of the fee she charged.
The blood flowed normally through her legs again. She couldn’t waste any more time. After drawing her secondary sword, she hunched low, cracked the door open, and looked into the room.
No lights shone from inside. The crack allowed light from the hall to enter, which wasn’t enough to see anything, but would allow anything inside to see her.
This was when her job was most dangerous. Every option available to her had risks that could get her killed. At least she was alone and wouldn’t be the cause of anyone else’s death.
Pelya flung open the door and darted inside to the left. Her first thought was gratitude that the floor didn’t open into another pit trap.
Torches in brackets on the walls of the circular treasure room sprang to life, sputtering with enchanted flame. Long crates made to hold staffs were stacked on the right side of the room. There should be eighteen of them. Other crates lined the walls along with a full bookshelf, numerous bags and assorted items on shelves.
Pelya’s next thought was consternation at the golem standing in the middle of the treasure room. To her dismay, it noticed her.
A voice like rolling boulders emitted from it. “Password.” Crystalline black gems glowed with enchantment from a head made up of rock pieces molded together.
Pelya hated passwords. She guessed. “Carnivorous fairy.”
“Not password. Intruder die.” It came after her.
Pelya drew her primary sword as she dashed to the side. “Intruder die is a terrible password.”
Its body consisted of two large stones for the torso and two for each limb. Rocks for the hands and feet mimicked a human’s shape. Joints glowed with red light when it moved. Each thudding step the golem took shook dust from the mortar. It moved faster than Pelya anticipated. It also showed intelligence in the course it took to intercept.
She reversed direction just before it reached her. “Shall we dance?”
The golem skidded to a halt and swung its fist where she had been. Had it connected, it likely would have crushed Pelya’s skull.
Pelya slashed at its arm with her primary sword. It took a chunk out of the rock with a clang, but did no real damage. That was a worrisome outcome considering the level of enchantment in the blade. Runes flashed on the golem’s arm, proving mystical protection in addition to the fact that it was made out of stone.
It attempted to backhand her with the arm.
Pelya rolled backward, jumped to her feet, and dashed to the other side of the circular room. “You don’t laugh at my jokes, you don’t want to dance. You’re a very rude host.” She shoved home her primary sword and grabbed a statuette from a shelf. With a twirl, she tossed it in an attempt to distract the golem before dashing the other way.
The golem altered his chase to snatch the statuette out of the air. It put it back on the shelf with gentleness belying its size and make.
It was a better distraction than Pelya had hoped for. She pulled a runeball out of one of her pouches. There was only one more of its type after this, another one she needed to replace.
The golem stomped toward her.
Pelya tossed the runeball at it and said the activation word. Then she said, “Catch!”
The golem snatched the runeball out of the air. It skidded to a halt and opened its hand to look at it.
The runeball had already begun its magic. Pelya watched with the fascination she always felt while observing one work.
It disintegrated into liquid that melted the golem’s hand. From there, it traveled up the arm. The runes carved into the stone popped and sizzled as it streamed through the shoulder to the upper stone of its torso. The effects slowed significantly. Drops of melted stone splatted to the floor.
The golem stared at its melting body. The effects were beyond its instructions on how to react.
Pelya slid her secondary sword into its sheath. “You’re falling to pieces, golem boy.”
It looked at her. Slurred words emitted from it. “Passwerrll . . . intrugg.” The enchantments holding it together gave out. The remaining stones fell with a racket. The runeball continued to liquidate them at a slower and slower pace.
“Tsk. I’d hate to be the one who has to mop up that mess.” Pelya raked her hair back and dashed to the door. She was alone. The pit was an issue though. She had to carry out eighteen crates. “Maybe being alone wasn’t such a good idea.” There was still the issue of the wizard. Most constructs like the golem had a focus that would alert its maker. If that was the case, then she wouldn’t be alone for long.
Carefully avoiding the puddled golem, Pelya went to the crates and counted. There were eighteen, just as reported. Pelya took a scroll out of a protective pouch. On it was a list of the stamps on each end of the crates. Different wizards had made each staff to sell. A broker had arranged the sale to a merchant in Juragdat. Pelya took the time to make certain each mark matched. A wizard’s staff was a valuable device only the wealthy could afford and only an archmage could afford one. Her fee for the recovery wouldn’t cover the cost of one.
“What did you do to the master’s servant?!”
“I gave it a bath.” Pelya mentally cursed herself for the lapse in awareness. In an instant, she was on her feet with both swords drawn. The scroll fell to the ground. “Who knew stone melted when you washed it?”
There was only one man, a bodyguard by the looks of him. “You’re a thief!”
“I am not. What an appalling accusation.”
A wizard in his night robe burst into the room, shoving the bodyguard aside. “A thief?! In my vault?”
“I just explained that I’m not a thief.” Pelya held her chin up high. “Weren’t you listening?
The wizard’s face was ruddy with outrage. “Just who are you and how did you get in here? He gestured at the grey puddle on the ground. The spell had run its course. Pieces of stone stuck up from it, including the top of the head with the crystal black eyes staring up at its maker as though confused by what had just happened. “And what did you do to my pet?”
“My name is Jerald, I came in through a hole in the wall and I gave your pet a bath.” Pelya indicated the puddle with her sword. “I think it’s allergic to water. You might want to look into that.
The wizard’s finger shook in rage as he pointed it at Pelya. “Kill him!”
The bodyguard frowned. “I thought she . . . he was a girl, boss.”
The wizard leaned forward and held his arms out in disbelief. “I don’t care. Girl, boy, just kill whoever it is.”
“Right.” The bodyguard drew his sword.
Pelya met it with her secondary before he could bring it into position. With the flat of her primary, she slapped him in the face. At the same time, she tripped him.
The bodyguard hit the ground hard, bounced once and fell unconscious. His sword clattered to the ground.
Pelya looked down at him. “Wow. I would think a wizard’s bodyguard would have more skill.”
The wizard shrieked in outraged, “You killed him!”
“No I didn’t.” Pelya rested her primary sword over her shoulder and put the other fist on her hip with the sword still in it, but pointed back. “You’re making a lot of unfounded accusations. I don’t appreciate it. It’s very rude.”
“Rude?” The wizard sputtered, his face redder than before.
“Yes, rude.” She shook her head. “I’m just not feeling very welcome here.”
“You . . . I . . . Of course you’re not welcome here!”
Pelya slammed her swords into their sheaths. “Oh, well just come right out and say it. Now I know how you really feel!”
He pointed accusingly at her. “There is something wrong with you . . . you . . . whatever your name is.”
Pelya crossed her arms. “Name’s Gilbert. Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to point?”
“I thought you said your name was Jerald.” The wizard frowned suspiciously.
“Well if you know my name, why did you ask?” Pelya threw a hand up in exasperation. She reached into a pouch with the other.
The wizard noticed her hand going to the pouch. He stepped back to begin casting a spell.
Pelya acted fast. If he gathered much energy, she could kill them all with backlash by interrupting the spell. She yanked the runeball out of the pouch and threw it at him, saying the activation word at the same time.
It hit him in the face and exploded into powder. Fear widened his eyes as he inhaled while beginning his incantation. The powder put him to sleep instantly.
Pelya dropped to the floor and curled in a ball.
The energy of the unfinished spell crackled and hissed, but it hadn’t been formed enough to create an explosion. The wizard fell limply, his head bouncing once. The sleep spell in the runeball would keep him asleep for five or six hours. The concussion might add a few to that along with a headache.
Pelya sprang to her feet. She checked the bodyguard. He had a concussion and possibly a broken cheek. At least he was alive. She reached into another pouch and pulled out a tiny sachet of sleeping powder. Carefully, she dabbed some on her finger and placed it on his mustache. The small amounts he breathed would keep him asleep for about as long as the wizard. She then dragged him away from the door and made him as comfortable as possible. She wiped the rest of the dust off her gloved finger onto his pant leg.
Her contract imposed a severe penalty for killing anyone. The bank wished to acquire a respectable reputation in its dealings. It made it easier to gain contracts and to deal with kingdoms that frowned on murder and vigilantism.
The pit in the hallway needed to be covered so she could move the staffs out. There didn’t appear to be anything in the treasure room that could help her. She went to the door only to discover that a plank was already placed across it. That solved that problem, though it irritated her that she hadn’t heard them do so.
Pelya went back to the crates to recover her inventory scroll. On the back of it were enchantments to open two of the crates. The makers of the others hadn’t given access to the bank.
It took her a few minutes to get those crates out of the stack. Carefully performing the enchantments, she opened each to verify that the staffs were there. To her relief, they were. One was made of entwined wood with gems and crystals bracketed to store and channel magic. Even without the enchantments in the staff, it was valuable. The other was a metal shaft with three orbs of power at the top in semi-circle brackets. It looked powerful. She closed and resealed them. It was sufficient evidence that all the staffs were likely still within the crates barring any obvious visible physical damage.
Pelya checked over the wizard and bodyguard again. They were both sound asleep. The wizard snored peacefully.
There was no time to waste. They would wake up eventually. She wanted to put as much ground between her and the tower as possible before they did.
She grabbed the first crate and carried it down the hall and up a set of stairs. Once at the top, she traveled along another hallway to a door she had come through. Beyond it was a room with a hole of melted stone in the outside wall, the result of another of the runeballs that had destroyed the golem.
Pelya took the crate out into the night air to the road leading to the tower. Both moons were out, shining brightly between wispy brushes of clouds. Siahray was half-full in its waning cycle while Piohray was half-full in its waxing. Together, they cast a lavender glow over the landscape. Pelya put her fingers in her mouth and whistled loudly. Then she went back to get another crate.
By the time she got back with the second, she heard and saw two horses and a cart coming up the road in the moonlight. She put the crate on top of the first and looked around. The tower was situated on the side of a hill in the rolling plains of Obda. The wizard had no neighbors. The road was little traveled and rough, but wouldn’t be hard to travel in the night.
Honey, her beautiful chestnut warhorse with blonde mane, glared at her. Tied to a rope behind her was a sturdy mare pulling a skinny cart on two wheels.
“Yes, I know you don’t pull carts and that you don’t even like pulling horses that do.” Pelya put the crate in the back of the cart.
Honey snorted. She flicked her tail and hit Pelya as she walked by.
“Hey! Don’t be like that. You know I love you.” Pelya tried to hug her neck, but Honey turned her head away and stepped aside.
“Wow. I’m feeling very unappreciated today.” Pelya pulled an apple out of a pouch and held it up.
Honey kept her head turned to the side, though she did eye the apple as if considering.
Pelya set it on the ground. “Well, if you change your mind, it’ll be right here.” She got the mare a bag of feed to keep her docile, though Honey seemed to have matters in hand . . . or hoof. “I have to get the rest of those crates.” She patted Honey’s rump.
It took two hours to get the wagon loaded and the crates tied down. In that time, Honey ate the apple and stopped glaring at Pelya.
Pelya wiped sweat from her forehead with the sleeve of her arm and then took her gloves off and put them in her swordbelt. She unhooked the mare’s lead from Honey’s pommel. “There, all done.”
Honey was unimpressed.
Pelya climbed into the wagon’s seat and attached Honey’s lead to the side of it.
Honey was less impressed.
“I know. You’re a warhorse and I should be riding you. We just need to get this wagon to the Cloudswept Bank in Anukarda. They can take it where it goes after that. She released the brake and flipped the reins.
The steady mare pulled the cart down the road with no complaint.
Honey refused to discuss the matter further.