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Excerpt: A Chorus of Fire by Brian D. Anderson

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A Chorus of Fire is the second installment of the Sorcerer’s Song fantasy adventure series from Brian D. Anderson, bestselling author of The Godling Chronicles and Dragonvein.

A shadow has moved across Lamoria. Whispers of the coming conflict are growing louder; the enemy becoming bolder. Belkar’s reach has extended far into the heart of Ralmarstad and war now seems inevitable.

Mariyah, clinging to the hope of one day being reunited with Lem, struggles to attain the power she will need to make the world safe again. But a power like this is not easily acquired and will test the limits of her mind and body. She will need to look deep inside herself to find the strength to achieve what even the Thaumas of old could not.

Lem continues his descent into darkness, serving a man he does not trust in the name of a faith which is not his own. Only Shemi keeps his heart from succumbing to despair, along with the knowledge that he has finally found Mariyah. But Lem is convinced she is being held against her will, and compelled to do the bidding of her captors. He is determined to free her, regardless the cost.

Their separate roads are leading them to the same destination. And once they arrive they will have to confront more than the power of Belkar. They will have to face themselves and what Lamoria has forced them to become.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of A Chorus of Fire, on sale 8/04.


CONFESSIONS AND PORTENTS

Forgiveness is the sustenance that feeds the soul. Even the darkest heart is not irredeemable in the eyes of Kylor.

Book of Kylor, Chapter Eight, Verse One

Lem crouched in the shadow of the low hedge. Not more than twenty feet away, yet another victim of the Blade of Kylor awaited his fate. Lord Britanius Mauldin was alone in the garden, as was his custom on cool, clear evenings. It had taken only a few simple inquiries to learn his habits. Though typically there were a few guards nearby, for some reason they had stopped coming a week prior. Not that guards would have saved him. Still, it made Lem’s job far easier. The polished red stone path was a fitting color—almost identical to fresh blood in the dancing torchlight.

The rear of the manor was set off about a hundred yards away. Like most in the smaller Malvorian towns, it was a single-story structure. Cylindrical dome-capped towers climbing twenty feet above the roof on each corner gave it the appearance of a stronghold, made more pronounced by the massive gray stone blocks of the façade.

The garden was in full bloom, and Lem took a moment to enjoy the aroma of the rose, lavender, and gardenia that dominated the area where his target took his ease. Mauldin was tearing loose small pieces of bread and tossing them into a tiny pond where the multicolored bartlefish thrashed about, jockeying for position to gobble them up the moment they struck the surface of the water.

“I know you’re there,” Mauldin said. “I’ve been waiting.” His voice was deep and commanding despite his advanced years.

Lem caught his breath. He hadn’t made a sound, and the tingle of shadow walk in his stomach told him that he had not been spotted. He remained perfectly still, hand gripped tightly around his vysix dagger.

“Please don’t make me wait. If I am to die, let it be now, while I still have the courage to face it.”

“How did you know I was here?” Lem asked, still not moving from the concealment of the hedge.

“I knew Rothmore would be sending you. I was a fool. And it’s time to pay the price.”

Lem considered using the dart in his pouch. The HighCleric had wanted a bloody kill. But he was not about to risk his life over details. “Is that why you left your guards behind?”

Mauldin continued tossing in bread as if this were any other evening, rather than it being moments before he would draw his final breath. “I would not have them killed for nothing. And as you are the Blade of Kylor, I’m sure that’s what would have happened. I’ve committed enough crimes for one lifetime.”

“So you know who I am?”

“Of course.” He turned his head slightly in Lem’s direction. “You can come out. I’m defenseless and have no intention of running. Allow me to look upon the face of my killer.”

Lem took careful stock of his immediate surroundings, listening for signs of anything out of the ordinary. He’d been sure that no one else had entered the garden with Mauldin and had arrived early enough to know if anyone were lying in wait.

Drawing his dagger, he stepped from behind the hedge and onto the path. The man looked bent and frail, shoulders sagging, and the deep lines carved into his face were more pronounced than they’d been only a few days ago when Lem had seen him sitting at this very same spot during his final preparations.

Lem stood beside the bench, hands at his side, ready to strike at the first sign of this being some sort of deception.

Mauldin shifted to face him, his languid expression turning to sorrow. “How could Rothmore place such a dark burden on the soul of one so young? How old are you?”

“Does it matter?”

He paused, shaking his head, and turned back to the pond to toss in another piece of bread. “I suppose not. Do you know why you were sent to kill me?”

“No,” Lem replied.

“Would you like to?”

“There is nothing you can say to change what will happen.”

“I know,” he said, placing the bread beside him. “You are the Blade of Kylor. I remember well the stories: The Blade cannot be reasoned with nor bribed. Once marked, death is certain. For the vengeance of Kylor has been loosed upon you.” He let slip a soft chuckle. “Of course, that is more than just a story. Am I right?”

“I cannot be bribed,” Lem affirmed. “I will carry out my instructions. As for Kylor’s vengeance, I know nothing of that. I was sent here by a man, not a god.”

Mauldin cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. “You’re not of the faith?”

“No,” he replied. “I serve the High Cleric, but I am not a follower of Kylor.” To lie to a dead man was pointless. Though this was the first time he had spoken to a victim.

“It makes sense, in a way,” Mauldin said. “When I heard a new Blade had been appointed, I felt pity for whoever had been chosen. The thought of murdering in the name of the god you love . . . repulsive.”

“Doing it in the name of a man you don’t is no better.”

He offered a mirthless smile. “No. I imagine it isn’t.” Leaning back, he regarded Lem closely. “I didn’t see it before, but I do now. The pain. The loss. It weighs on your heart.”

His voice was kind, but Lem would not be lulled into carelessness. “My pain is my own. You asked to see me. Here I am.”

“I sent my wife and daughter away when I learned you were coming. I would not want them discovering my body. You see, I had thought to make you my confessor. But seeing you now . . . perhaps I’m to be yours. Perhaps that is the way to my redemption. Tell me what troubles you. And through your confession, may we both receive Kylor’s grace.”

The words struck Lem unexpectedly, causing him to take an involuntary step back. “I . . . I told you. I don’t believe in Kylor.”

“Should that matter? I am here and about to die. And as I am willing to listen, why not unburden your heart?” He cracked an odd little grin. “Surely even the Blade of Kylor has one. Besides, who will I tell?”

Lem was dumbstruck. Before him was a man whose life he was about to end, and rather than pleading for mercy or cursing him as his killer, he offered kindness. The dagger nearly fell from his grasp. “I have taken scores of lives,” he said, before he realized he’d spoken. “All to save one person. I tell myself they are wicked; deserving of death. But I often have no idea if that’s true.”

Mauldin nodded thoughtfully. “And this one you are trying to save . . . a spouse? A lover?”

“She was my betrothed.”

“I can see why you are pained. To slay so many for the benefit of one, even one you love dearly, exacts a heavy price. And you fear she will not love you in return once she learns what you have done on her behalf?”

Lem nodded, a single tear spilling down his cheek. “How could she? Every step I take leaves behind weeping children and mourning loved ones. Is that a man deserving of love? A bringer of death and misery?” The tear that now spilled down Mauldin’s cheek shook his resolve to its foundation, and Lem felt his legs weaken.

“You are everything you described. You kill in the name of a cause in which you have no faith, at the behest of a man for whom you have no love. For these things, it is just that you suffer. If you did not, it would make you a monster. But if the love of your betrothed for you is half of what yours is for her, she will forgive your deeds, no matter how dark and terrible. I have committed dreadful crimes, and yet I know my wife would forgive me were they revealed to her. And were my life not at its end, I assure you I would. But better not to add to her sorrow, I think.”

Though not cleansed of the stain of his deeds, Lem felt as if some of the burden had been lifted. He wiped his face, the strength in his legs returning. “And what are your crimes?”

Mauldin looked away and stared down at his lap. “I betrayed my faith for the promise of immortality. Youth and power: the ultimate prize for the weak and selfish. I allowed myself to be deceived through my own lack of courage.”

“Who could promise immortality?” Lem asked. “Nothing lives forever.”

“Who indeed? A question all of Lamoria will be posing soon enough.” Reaching inside his shirt, Mauldin produced a folded parchment sealed with black wax. “I had intended on sending this to the High Cleric. But as I will not see the morning, perhaps you could give it to him.” He placed it on the bench and slid it to the opposite end.

Lem eyed it warily. There were many forms of deadly magic that could be infused into an innocent-looking parchment. “It will be checked first. So if this is an attempt at treachery, it will fail.”

Mauldin tilted his head. “I hadn’t thought of that. But then I’m not an assassin.” He picked it up and broke the seal. “Read it if you wish. There is nothing written that won’t be known to everyone soon enough.”

He replaced the parchment and then picked up the bread, tearing apart the remainder and spreading it randomly over the pond. The fish thrashed frantically, fighting for the offerings, the melee drawing a smile from the old man. “I’ll miss this almost as much as I’ll miss my family.”

“So you’re ready?”

“Is anyone?”

Lem stepped in front of Mauldin. “No. I don’t supposethey are.” He took a breath, releasing it slowly. “Hold out your hand. I promise it will be painless. Over before you know that it happened.”

Mauldin shut his eyes and muttered a prayer. “If it’s within your power, save your love soon.” He extended his hand, palm up. “Time is running out . . . for everyone.”

Lem reached out and touched the blade to Mauldin’s flesh. A moment later, the lord slumped onto the bench and fell over on his side.

A bloody kill; those were his instructions. Clearly intended to send a message. But to whom? And to what end? Lem rarely contemplated these things. Not for a while now. As he opened Mauldin’s throat, he felt glad that his family would not be there to discover the body.

Copyright © 2020 by Brian D. Anderson

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