A First Look at Bladelore

*dances*

My beta notes came back yesterday, which means I now get to start the final steps to get the final book of The Cadis Trilogy ready for publication.

If all goes according to plan – and how often do plans go awry, right? That’s why it’s a plan – ARC copies will go out at the beginning of next month (interested in getting a review copy? Email me with links to your reviews for either Bloodlore or Blightlore to get your name on the list!)

To celebrate my progress, I’m offering a sneak peek into Bladelore, the wrap-up to assassin Venn Connell’s misadventures. Enjoy it? Leave a note in the comments!

*** Note: there are a few spoilers if you haven’t read the first two books ***

Chapter One

Venn Connell ducked under the edge of a swinging sword.

The blade lodged into the trunk of a tree on the side of the road, and she swept out her leg. Her foot connected with the Margolan soldier’s ankle. He lost his balance and staggered backward, frantically tugging on his sword hilt to free the weapon from the thick bark. Using the distraction, Venn drove her knife under his arm. Blood sprayed from the slashed artery, and the soldier dropped to his knees.

She spun out of his way and launched herself onto the back of a second soldier. He’d raised his sword to strike Maggie Stanwell while the enchantress was focused on protecting the rest of their company. Venn dragged her blade through the soldier’s throat, and his blood spattered across Maggie’s white tunic.

The soldier sagged to the ground. Venn rolled off him and scanned the fight for her next target.

The Margolan soldiers had come out of nowhere. The road had been empty except for the marching Andvellian army and occasional fleeing deer or pecking bird. In the span of a blink, fifty soldiers appeared to block their way. Their armour shone with fresh polish, and none of the horses appeared road-worn. They looked as though they’d set out that morning for a leisurely ride and had endured none of the month-long journey it should have taken to reach so far west of the border.

Brannagh’s behind this. He has to be.

She scanned the crowd again for the familiar red hood that shadowed the cold, dead eyes of Margolin’s captain of the queensguard. If the man had used the Meratis incantation to transport the soldiers through the veil into Andvell, she suspected he’d want to stick around to watch the bloodshed.

But if he was close, he hid himself well.

Of the fifty soldiers who met them, only ten remained, with close to a hundred Feldall soldiers having joined the fray. Corpses in both colours scattered the ground, but Margolin had taken the hardest hit, and Venn watched three more fall under Jasmine Reed’s arrows and Jayden Feldall’s sword.

Princess Ariana fought at her husband’s right side, guarding the blind spots caused by his missing eye and arm. Behind her, Thom Foley and Frederick Larimer, a Margolan soldier and the previous captain of the Margolan queensguard, battled their own men with no lack of ferocity and determination.

Will Stanwell, Maggie’s son, and Bruce McKay, a Cordelayan enchanter, stood on the edges of the fight, both chanting the same words as Maggie to bolster the strength of Feldall’s men. The Margolans had brought no magic with them, and the disadvantage had hastened their downfall.

A stray soldier escaped Ariana’s defenses and charged towards Venn. She braced herself, pulled a second knife from the band of sheaths at her hip, and met him halfway. Maggie shouted a word behind her, and the soldier froze for a single heartbeat, long enough to delay him raising his sword. Venn took a running leap towards him and, after they crashed to the ground, thrust one of her knives under his chin. She pressed her weight onto her arms until the hilt hit his jaw, her other blade tight against his upper thigh as he thrashed beneath her.

By the time he fell still, the rest of the battle was over and the only sounds remaining on the road were the cries of Feldall’s injured troops.

Venn eased herself off the dead Margolan and jerked her knives from his flesh. Maggie stepped closer and helped her to her feet.

“You all right?” she asked.

“Peachy,” Venn replied. She stooped to wipe her blades on the dead soldier’s sleeve before sheathing them. Brushing the sweat from her forehead with the back of her arm, she stared out across the devastation they’d left behind.

Jayden and Jasmine stood talking with Ariana and Larimer in the middle of the road, and although Venn couldn’t make out the words, the frowns and determined pointing in different directions hinted at a serious debate.

Thom came up beside her and slid his sword into its scabbard. Will followed close behind him, returning a couple of unused vials of enchantments to his satchel.

“What are they bickering about over there?” she asked, with a nod in Jayden’s direction.

Thom glanced over his shoulder. “Trying to figure out how we didn’t see the soldiers coming. Lady Feldall and Prince Jayden are trying to explain the concept of the Meratis incantation to the captain, but I don’t think he’s wrapped his head around it yet. He’s ready to blast the scouts for not giving us any warning of their approach.” He frowned. “I also don’t think he’s happy we responded to the attack with force instead of calling for peace talks.”

Venn snorted. “Would they have stopped to listen?”

Thom nodded. “I know. I think he knows that as well, but I’m sure you can understand his position. Those were his men. We’ve already lost so many people in this war.”

He looked away, and Venn stared over his shoulder into the trees. She didn’t want to deal with the emotions his words evoked — the heart-clenching pain of grief that had followed her from Feldall’s Keep. She shoved the feelings to the back of her mind and forced herself not to think of what she had lost.

Larimer broke away from the circle to walk among the remains of the men who had been under his command for twenty years. He would have trained many of them as raw recruits, boys he’d watched grow up. From everything Venn had heard of Larimer before she met him, and everything she’d seen since, his career was his life. His queen and his station in her court were his greatest pride. They had been stripped away from him by forces beyond his control — namely by Guy Danos, the foreign stranger who had elbowed his way up the ranks to become the queen’s first counsellor in a matter of months — but that hadn’t stopped him from doing his best to save his country from destruction.

Staring at his fallen men, he probably believed he’d failed them.

He’s welcome to join the club, she thought. None of us feel like winners right now.

Hazel eyes and a warm smile flashed in Venn’s memory, and her heart ached.

She steeled herself against the pain and walked away from the others towards Larimer. With no idea what she would say — if she would say anything — she felt an urge to walk through the dead with him, wanting to centre herself in reality instead of losing herself in the nightmare of what was coming.

***

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