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Excerpt: Sorcery of a Queen by Brian Naslund

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Sorcery of a Queen by Brian Naslund is a fast-paced adventure perfect for comic readers and fans of heroic fantasy.

They called her the Witch Queen…

Driven from her kingdom, the would-be queen now seeks haven in the land of her mother, but Ashlyn will not stop until justice has been done. Determined to unlock the secret of powers long thought impossible, Ashlyn bends her will and intelligence to mastering the one thing people always accused her of, sorcery.

Meanwhile, having learned the truth of his mutation, Bershad is a man on borrowed time. Never knowing when his healing powers will drive him to a self-destruction, he is determined to see Ashlyn restored to her throne and the creatures they both love safe.

Please enjoy this excerpt of Sorcery of a Queen, available 08/11/20.


1

BERSHAD

Realm of  Terra,  the Soul Sea

After the goatfuck at Floodhaven, Bershad, Ashlyn, and Felgor sailed north to Papyria.

A good sailor with decent wind could have made the journey inside of a fortnight, but their wind was shit and the weather was all sharp rain and heaving gusts that blasted their sails to tatters. After twenty-seven days at sea, they’d barely made it to the Broken Peninsula, which marked the halfway point between Almira and Papyria.

But on the twenty-eighth day, the skies cleared and they finally started making good progress. For the first time in almost a moon’s turn, it seemed like luck was tipping over to their side of things.

Everyone on the ship relaxed. Bershad sat with Ashlyn at the stern of the frigate, watching the sky above, where a thinning line of dragons winged eastward. Blackjacks. Needle-Throated Verduns. Thundertails. Red Skulls. Greezels. A few Gray-Winged Nomads, soaring at a much higher altitude than the other breeds. These were the final stragglers of the Great Migration. There was a victory in watching them and knowing they’d find a safe place on the far side of the Soul Sea. A place that he and Ashlyn had created for them.

So there Bershad was—basking in his achievements, sipping rice wine, and thinking about breakfast—when five Red Skulls broke off from the swarm and hurtled toward their ship in a hunting formation.

“Oh, shit.”

Bershad leapt up from his spot by Ashlyn’s side and started tearing through the gear on deck, looking for a weapon. The dragons encircled their lonesome ship, screeching aggressively and snapping their jaws in hungry anticipation.

“I need a spear.”

“None aboard,” growled the ship’s captain, Jaku. He and his crew had rescued Bershad and Ashlyn from the battle of Floodhaven. He waved at the pile of fishing tack. “Got a few orca harpoons over there.”

All around him, the crew was cursing in Papyrian. Cranking and cocking crossbows.

“Forget the crossbows, they’ll just piss the bastards off,” Bershad called, sifting through the gear. He picked up a harpoon with shit balance, but a point that was sharp enough to cut glass.

“You going to kill five Red Skulls by yourself, Almiran?” Jaku asked. “You only got the one fucking harpoon.”

“No,”  Bershad said. “Not by myself.”

He turned to Ashlyn. She was already unwinding the dragon thread on her wrist. In the back of his head, there was an idiot-brained warden telling him to rush her belowdecks before the dragons attacked, but Ashlyn had toasted two armies with that scrap of Ghost Moth spinal tissue. She was going to be the main factor in their survival, not him and his.

“Silas and I will deal with the dragons,” she said. “Everyone else get belowdecks.”

The Papyrian sailors didn’t need to be asked twice. Even Jaku retreated down the hatch without a fuss. But Felgor, Hayden, and the rest of the Papyrian widows remained on deck. They were sworn to protect Ashlyn from any danger, dragons included.

“You can’t help,” Ashlyn said to Hayden. “But you can hurt by being in the way. Go.”

Hayden’s body tensed with uncertainty, but widows were nothing if not pragmatic, and Ashlyn had spoken the truth. Hayden gave a curt nod, then followed the sailors below, taking her sisters with her.

Felgor shrugged. “Well, fuck me if I’m gonna stick around trying to look brave when even the widows have run for shelter.” He scrambled over to the hatch. “Try not to die!”

Bershad scanned the sky. The Red Skulls were increasing speed and drawing closer with each rotation around the ship. It was a hunting pattern unique to their breed, and it always preceded the same behavior.

“Two of them are going to break off and attack together from opposite sides,” Bershad said.

“I know,” Ashlyn responded. “Which side do you want?”

“Whichever one comes with the smaller dragon, witch queen,” Bershad said.

“Don’t call me that,” Ashlyn said, then ripped her hand down the length of the thread, sparking a crackle of lightning that she cupped in her hand as if it was a perfectly sized river stone she was preparing to throw at an easy target.

Bershad took the final scrapings of Gods Moss that remained from Floodhaven and ate them. His stomach turned hot, and a familiar, unnatural strength coursed through his muscles.

Two of the dragons careened from the gyre. Both females. Both enormous.

“Perfect,” Bershad muttered, moving starboard. Ashlyn went in the opposite direction, raising her lightning-wreathed fist.

Bershad lined up with his Red Skull. She was twice the size of the one he’d killed outside of Argel—massive wingspan heaving, tail lashing through the air. Eyes burning down and focused on him. He focused right back. Gripped the harpoon tight. Waited until she was one hundred strides away and closing fast.

“Now!” he yelled.

Bershad threw the harpoon. Ashlyn threw her lightning. His spear connected but he couldn’t tell exactly where. The dragon whooshed over his head in a blur of scales and a rush of wind. He heard a high screech and a thundering snap, then something hard bashed him in the back of the head, knocking him face-first into the deck and turning his vision white.

The fall broke his jaw and nose. His skull was cracked, too, judging from the searing pain. But there was enough Gods Moss  in his system to repair the injuries. He popped his jaw back into position with a hard jerk before the bone healed crooked. His vi- sion began to return, so he struggled to his feet. Ashlyn was standing. Unharmed. Looking around. The mast of the ship was sheared off at the middle and both dragons were in the water. The one that Bershad harpooned had a blooming cloud of red water around her head. Ashlyn’s was belly-up and floating like a dead fish.

“Huh.” Bershad dabbed at his skull wound, which was almost gone. “That went well.”

“Sure. If you subtract the broken mast and the fact that those three are still circling.” Ashlyn pointed at the dragons with smoking fingers. They all lilted to the left in unison, their crimson skulls flashing in the bright afternoon sun.

“They’re about to attack,” Ashlyn said.

“Yeah.”

Bershad grabbed another harpoon from the wreckage of the deck. There wasn’t anything to do but hope they got lucky a second time.

The problem with Red Skulls was that they were just as smart as they were vicious. They saw what happened to their fellow huntresses and switched up the pattern—breaking in three different directions, each one approaching with as much distance between themselves as possible.

“This isn’t good,” Bershad said, trying to decide when and where to throw his spear.

“Just try to get one of them,” Ashlyn said, ripping her hand down the thread to create another crackling charge. “I can bifurcate the lightning and get the other two. Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“It’s theoretically possible, I just need to manipulate the balance and . . . wait . . . fuck!” The hiss and snap went quiet.

“Ashlyn?” Bershad turned around. There was smoke  around her arm, but nothing else. Ashlyn ripped her hand down the cord again, sparks spitting and flying, but she couldn’t rekindle the lightning.

Bershad looked back at the closest dragon, cutting through the sky toward them. After all the intentional dragon encounters he’d survived, getting killed in a random lizard attack at sea seemed about right. Bershad just wished Ashlyn wasn’t coming down the river with him.

The closest Red Skull dropped her claws. Opened her horrifying mouth.

Bershad moved closer to Ashlyn. Took her hand. “I love you, Ashe. Always have.”

A shadow fell. Something slammed the Red Skull into the sea. It took Bershad a moment to register the smoke-colored hide and hulking creature for what it was: an enormous Gray-Winged

Nomad.

The Nomad roared—loud and booming—then tore the dragon apart in her claws, blasting a spray of blood and organs across the waves. Her wingspan was as wide as a castle wall—so large she made the Red Skull look like a swamp lizard. The two remaining Red Skulls pulled up from their attack and scattered, their aggression replaced with a rabbit’s terror.

Bershad kept his harpoon raised, thinking the Nomad might attack the ship next. But she ignored them, and instead scooped the front half of the divided Red Skull into her claws and carried it to the nearest island, which was only a few hundred strides away. Then she buried her snout deep and came up chewing. Maw covered in gore. Ashlyn watched, too. Enthralled and silent. The others came up from belowdecks while the Nomad was enjoying her kill.

“What happened?” Felgor asked.

Bershad shrugged. “The Nomad killed the Red Skull.”

“What, that dragon owe you a favor or something?” Felgor asked.

“Don’t think it works that way.”

They all watched the dragon eat. When she’d had her fill, the Nomad turned back to their ship for a  moment—glowing  blue eyes sharp and aware. Then she heaved up her wings and snapped into the air with a few quick beats—salt water and blood dripping off her smoke-colored wings. Once she was a few hundred strides up, the dragon caught an ocean thermal and rode it in a wide gyre until she was a coin in the sky, shifting in and out of sight between the clouds.

“That is the biggest fucking dragon I have ever seen,” Jaku said, shielding his eyes from the sun.

“Yeah,” Bershad said, watching her. She was the largest he’d seen, too. And Bershad had seen more than most. Their ship meandered northeast in the sea’s current. The Nomad’s gyre followed their movement. “And it looks like she’s planning on sticking around awhile.”

“Um, what’re you gonna do about that?” Felgor asked.

“Long as she stays up there, not a fucking thing,” Bershad said.

“Don’t worry about that dragon,” Ashlyn said. “We need to get moving again.”

“Bit of a problem there,” Jaku said, pointing at the broken mast. “Gonna need to cut ourselves a replacement.”

Ashlyn pointed to the island where the Nomad had eaten the Red Skull. Along with the dragon carcass, it was pocked with tall cedar trees. “There.”

“Aye,” Jaku agreed, then called to his men. “Looks like we got some carpentry in our future, boys. Get the saws out of storage.”


For eleven days, they sailed north through the Broken Peninsula.

The weather had remained clear, but their journey was still slowed by the time it took to replace the mast, and—now that the skies were devoid of storms and dragons—the new and constant threat of being discovered by Linkon Pommol’s navy had emerged. Three times, they’d spotted a Papyrian frigate—now flying Linkon’s turtle banner—patrolling the Almiran coastline. As far they knew, Linkon Pommol believed Ashlyn was dead, and was simply flexing the strength of his navy to ensure the small lords of the Atlas Coast behaved. But they couldn’t risk a confrontation, so they’d been forced to sail into the chaotic interior of the Broken Peninsula for cover. The peninsula was all tiny islands and surging currents that threatened to beach them on sharpened shoals. Every time they went inland for cover, they got lost in the mess of islands and it took days to get back out to the open sea.

The Nomad had circled them the entire time. Never landed. Never strayed course.

“Doesn’t it need to rest at some point?” Felgor asked, squinting up at the gray dragon.

“I’ve told you before, that dragon is a she, not an it,” Ashlyn said from her spot on the stern, where she was sketching the dragon using a piece of charcoal and a scrap of storm-ruined sail. “And Nomads have the longest range of any dragon in Terra. They can remain airborne for a moon’s turn before exhausting themselves.”

“Doesn’t it, uh, she get hungry though?” Felgor asked.

“Not soon,” Bershad said. “She ate half that Red Skull.”

Bershad couldn’t explain it, but he could feel her full belly, somehow. A pressure that hung in the sky, but was tied to his guts, too.

“So, you’re saying it’s normal to have a dragon follow you all the way across the Broken Peninsula nonstop like a street urchin tracking a sausage cart and hoping for scraps?” Felgor asked.

Ashlyn stopped drawing. Rolled her bare shoulders in small circles, which caught the attention of a few Papyrian sailors. The battle at Floodhaven had left a jagged series of blue scars on her skin that started on her right wrist and ran up the flesh of her arm and across her chest, mapping her veins with sawtooth lines.

“No. It’s unusual,” she said.

Bershad looked up at the dragon, too. Raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sun. She was riding the western wind—wings fully expanded, the webbing aglow in the midday sun.

“Normal events are in short supply these days,” he said.

Truth was, the Nomad’s relentless focus on them wasn’t the strangest thing about her, it was the fact that he didn’t feel the bone tremor that usually came with a proximity to dragons. Instead, there was a gentle pull that was twisted up in both their pulses. The connection was intimate and tight—he could feel a surge in his balance and bloodstream anytime she rose or dipped, lilted closer or farther away.

Bershad didn’t understand it. But he was used to things happening to him that didn’t make any sense. He’d learned to ignore the deeper implications.

“Unusual or not, she is screwing with our fishing,” Captain Jaku said, locking the ship’s wheel into place with a worn loop of leather and coming over. “Generally, we’d be pulling marlin and tuna outta these waters easier than a heron pulling frogs from a clear pond. But that Nomad’s spooking everything with gills for leagues. This rate, it’s gonna be hardtack all the way home.”

“How much longer’s that gonna take?” Felgor said, scratching his ear. “Because those biscuits are detrimental to the normal routine of a man’s bowels. My last proper shit is a distant memory at this point.”

Jaku spat over the gunwale. “We keep getting the turtle lord’s ships pulling on our ass hairs and sending us into the Shattered Shithole, it’ll be a month, best case.”

“A month,” Felgor muttered. “By Aeternita, I may never shit again. You know, it’s not healthy getting all backed up like this. I knew I guy back in Burz-al-dun who stole a massive crate of persimmons off the docks, then proceeded to eat them for damn near every meal until they were gone. Afterward, he went three weeks without a shit and wound up—”

“Gods, Felgor. I will get you a fucking fish if you just stop talking,” Bershad said. He looked up at the dragon. She’d scare away the fish during the day—even the creatures that lived beneath the waves knew to watch the skies of Terra—but under the cover of darkness, things would be different. “I’ll do it tonight.”


“Has a dragon ever followed you like this before?” Ashlyn asked when they were in the privacy of their own cabin.

“Well, I missed my pass on a Blackjack a few summers ago and got chased through about fifteen leagues of swamp before the thing lost interest. Had to wait until its blood calmed down the next day before I could settle things.”

“Don’t be cute. I’m not talking about a dragonslaying gone wrong.”

Bershad sighed. “No,” he admitted. “It’s new.”

Ashlyn chewed on that for a moment.

“The way your body heals. That dragon overhead. There has to be an explanation for it all.”

“Sure. I’m a fucking demon.”

“Very funny. Osyrus Ward didn’t say anything about dragons following you?”

He shook his head. “No. But that crazy old man was pretty light on specifics.”

After they’d escaped Floodhaven, Bershad had told Ashlyn about Osyrus Ward and the dungeon amputations he’d endured. But he hadn’t told her what Osyrus Ward had said: that the strength in his blood would eventually kill him. And he didn’t plan to. He was used to death sentences. Throwing another one across his shoulders didn’t move him much.

“What are you holding on to, Silas?”

She was studying him with her careful, scrutinizing eyes.

“Nothing.”

“Liar.”

He shrugged. Knew he was keeping the secret because of stupid, stubborn instinct, but he also knew Ashlyn. If he told her he was doomed, she’d go chasing after answers, no matter where they took her. He didn’t care if a dragon was following him, so long as she stayed in the sky above, which he had a feeling she’d do. He wanted whatever time he had left to be quiet and peaceful. Lived out on some empty Papyrian island where nobody could bother them. So little of his life had been like that. A week. A month. A year. He didn’t care how much he got, so long as shared it with Ashlyn.

“You know I’ll figure it out eventually,” Ashlyn added when he stayed silent.

“Maybe. Or maybe some things are truly unknowable, witch queen.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Make me.”

Ashlyn scoffed. “Very well.”

She crossed the cabin and grabbed him by throat and jaw. Then slowly pushed him down onto his knees.

Copyright © Brian Naslund 2020

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