Cover reveal and excerpt for epic fantasy the Gates of Fire & Earth!
A lot of fun at the Facebook party last night. It was just a quick event as life is insanely hectic right now, but this book was so behind schedule because it proved to be a challenge to write and edit. Sometimes books are like that!
But now I can officially begin sharing the cover!
Things are winding up for the official release, even if I don’t have a firm date yet. It will be in April, I know that much! Stay tuned for news of the pre-order!
But for now, I want to share the cover and blurb for Gates of Fire & Earth. Oh and why not another excerpt? 😀
Success will destroy elemental magic. Failure condemns this world and the next.
Named Guardian of the Elemental Spheres, Lavinia seeks the lost gates to the spirit realm and their ancient guardians. But some of the guardians have left their duties and those that have stayed may prove as dangerous as her enemy, whose wrath threatens the world. To end an ancient punishment inflicted on them by the Goddess for their role in a forgotten war, the Ashanti will conquer this world and that of spirit to gain power over death.
Lavinia must close the gates to stop the Ashanti, even though by doing so she risks ending all elemental powers. And the act has consequences greater than the ancient guardians imagine.
But one gate has a new guardian as well as the old, and the last time he saw Lavinia, he tried to kill her before she stole his power. And he’s been seeking revenge …
Games of Fire
Book 2: Gates of Fire and Earth
THE TEMPLE IN THE CLOUDS
Darkness ate the horizon. Lavinia would have found that less unnerving if she didn’t watch the thick blackness growing in the west as the sun moved toward midday. Memories of her previous visit to the Coast of Storms rose and the sight chilled her heart. What made it worse was that she had to face those fears alone.
For the first time since he had found her in the desert, Darag was not with her. She missed his silent presence, his laughing green eyes and russet hair, even though he had not laughed much in the last six months since the war and the death of his sister and mother. Without him, the pull to return to Lus na Sithchaine ached within her, interrupting sleep and robbing her of any fleeting peace. It compounded the worries she carried, and there were far too many of them.
“If it wasn’t for the storm, we’d be able to see the Mountains of Night from here,” Zhao said as he joined her at the ship’s rail. Every time Lavinia thought herself overwhelmed she only needed to look at Zhao to feel her burdens were manageable. She knew Darag, Niri, Khodan, Ria, and Ci’erra worked to bring her the spheres she need to close the gates to the spirit realm, while Minna and Isha sought the old gates and Guardians. No one aided Zhao and helped him through the difficulties his fluctuating power imposed on him. Yet he undertook the role of guide and protector for her.
“How are you?” she asked instead of commenting on the dark and growing clouds.
Color heightened in the golden skin of Zhao’s wind-brushed cheeks, though his eyes remained on the threatening western skies. “Fine.” The single word ended with a sigh as he leaned against the rail in a tired pose that reminded Lavinia of her brother.
Now he looked at her and the turbulent anger in his gray eyes made her shrink away. At least her brother Ty showed open hostility when he was upset. Zhao buried his until it surfaced like lightning.
“I got you from the marsh and through Rah Hahsessah. Even if I lose my control of water or fire again, I still have air. I can make us invisible if the Ashanti find us on the way to the Temple in the Clouds.”
Zhao spun as if he were a twist of air, pacing away though he couldn’t go far on the small boat u. Unless he wanted to risk using his power over Spirit and transform into a bird. Something Lavinia hoped he wouldn’t do, as losing that ability over the sea and away from the sailboat would be disastrous.
She’d watched him struggle practicing control over water or fire several times as they’d crossed the marsh, though she’d never asked how he was until today. Instead, she’d been happy Ty and Felya had come along on their hurried dash to Ty’s docked boat in Rah Hahsessah. She’d barely said goodbye to Ria, Ci’erra, and Minna before they’d sailed out of the harbor, racing the fear the Ashanti would discover where the gate to the realm of fire lay before Lavinia could reach it.
Since Ty had raised the sail, it had been Felya’s control of the wind that had filled the sails and steered them toward the storm-shrouded coast of Akypf. Felya, who had never learned control of more than one element, guided them. It was Ty’s skill at sailing and his familiarity with working with Felya that had kept the boat’s direction true despite the confused wind and sea. But the sky now grew darker and soon they would need more than control of the wind in order to reach the rocky coast of black stone and forever dark clouds. And what they needed was a power beyond Lavinia as well. So she swallowed her doubts and went after Zhao. He stood at the bow where the swelling waves splashed foam and spray as the boat heaved over a crest.
“Darag and Laireag will see your sister and her family safe to Lus na Sithchaine,” Lavinia told him, hoping to find a safe topic.
Zhao faced her, his expression contrite. “I shouldn’t have snapped. I’m sorry.” He ran his fingers through his wind-blown dark hair. “It isn’t my sister and niece that I’m worried about… or my power.” He flashed her a quick look from under his lashes. “I haven’t lost control of any element since that one time.”
Lavinia flushed, wanting to argue but biting her tongue. She knew she’d seen him struggle but, as much as she liked Zhao and had fought by his side, she didn’t really know him very well. Not like she knew Ria and Darag.
“Then what?” she asked.
“We shouldn’t go any farther.”
Lavinia stared at Zhao, too surprised to speak. She couldn’t believe he meant they should give up and turn away. So many words to describe the threat the Ashanti posed and to remind him of the battle they had just fought against them in the Marsh of Isha for the Gate of Water rose to her lips that she couldn’t manage a single one. Which was just as well. It gave Zhao the chance to explain what he planned.
“No!” Ty protested when Lavinia and Zhao told Ty and Felya what they meant to do. He paced the deck of the ship, then turned on his heel to glare at Lavinia with arms crossed.
Lavinia sighed. It didn’t seem to matter she was married and the Guardian of the Spheres; Ty was still determined to play the older brother.
“But through the storm?” Felya asked with a nervous glance toward Ty, her green eyes glinting despite the deepening gloom around them. “I know you control the wind… and more! But to fly through that?” Her gesture swept toward the approaching storm that ate the sunlight. Lightning flashed in the depths of the roiling clouds.
“It is how Ria and I left the Temple the first time,” Lavinia said. “It isn’t pleasant, but as dragons we could fly above most of the storm.”
“Lavinia can’t become a dragon,” Ty said through clenched teeth.
“I don’t have to.” Lavinia calmly met Ty’s angry glare. “I control enough elements to protect against wind and cold.”
“And lightning?” Ty demanded.
“It is an aspect of fire.”
“The danger isn’t the storm,” Zhao said, his low voice breaking into the argument between Lavinia and her brother. “It is the black marsh. Through most of it you can’t use any of your powers because it is littered with bones that block or absorb them. Such bones were used to make the stone Khodan wore and to construct the cage the Temple of Solaire used to hold Dahal. And where there are places you can call on the elements, you still shouldn’t as you’ll only attract nightmarish creatures.”
Felya shuddered, but Ty snorted. “I don’t control any elements. It won’t affect me. And Lavinia can fight with her sword.”
“But it will take days, Ty,” Lavinia argued. “Possibly weeks. I went that way with Darag to see the Sphere of Air. That is how I touched it. We were a large group, yet we were attacked several times. The journey took us a whole week; I’m not sure we can risk waiting that long to reach the Temple. And then we still need to search for the Gate of Fire.”
“Not to mention we will be exposed to the Ashanti if they find us there,” Zhao said flatly. “I’m sure they can fight without power, and being outnumbered will not help us, even if they aren’t skilled with weapons.”
“How do you think the Ashanti left the marsh so quickly?” Felya asked.
“I don’t know,” Lavinia answered. “Darag thinks they may have called Ekhaba.”
“If they can call the city from the desert to the marsh, how much farther can it travel?” Zhao asked. “They could be at the gate now, if they know where it is. And even if they can only reach the black marsh, who knows what an army of Ashanti can accomplish that a few Elementals cannot?”
Felya slumped. Overhead the empty sail flapped listlessly as Felya directed the wind around the boat. They bobbed on the rolling waves, drifting as they argued what to do.
Lavinia frowned. It did not help that there were only four of them. She was tempted to remind Ty that it was him who’d made the decision to leave his small crew in Rah Hahsessah because he had felt the journey to be so dangerous. But she kept her silence when she saw the anger fade from his blue eyes, which were so like hers. Instead, she saw worried acceptance.
“If your power fails…”
“It won’t,” Zhao assured Ty, his voice tired but strong. “I’m hoping to learn more at the Temple, if there is more to learn. But even Khodan agrees it is balance that enables abilities in all elements. I cannot be too angry or too afraid or too calm. I can see us to the Temple of Winds. Darag will meet us there with the Sphere of Fire. He’ll be able to help Lavinia find the Fire Gate.”
Lavinia blinked away her surprise. Zhao sounded like he wasn’t going to help find the gate. She’d expected him to join her and Darag. They needed him, but looking at the darkness under his eyes and the weariness in his stance she resisted the urge to press him. There would be time to debate it with him once they reached the Temple while they waited for Darag. If they flew through the storm they could have days to recover their strength and to scour the archives for any information on the gates. Then, maybe, Lavinia would be able to convince Zhao to help.
For now, Lavinia focused on the problems before her. She took her brother’s hand and squeezed it as his piercing gaze fell from Zhao’s confident face to the deck boards. “I know you are worried, Ty. But this is the best way.”
Ty swallowed hard before pulling away to pace the width of the boat before ripping his fingers through his wind-tousled hair. When he returned to face Lavinia, it felt like a wall had formed between them.
“I can’t stop you from going, but you know I want to help.”
Felya flashed Lavinia a desperate look, so Lavinia swallowed the retort that sprung to her lips. “Then go back and help Niri reach Akhetta or look for Sinika.”
Anger flared in Ty’s eyes as if she dismissed him to a secondary task. But, like it or not, he was not an Elemental, and fighting the Ashanti with only a knife was not the best choice.
Lavinia turned from her brother to Zhao. “Are you ready to go?”
Zhao glanced up at the dark clouds that reached for the midday sun. “Yes. We are close enough to the coast. It will be a long flight, but waiting longer will just waste more time.”
Lavinia sensed Ty stiffen behind her but she ignored him as she went to gather her small bundle of clothes below deck. In the quiet of the ship’s cabin, nervousness about what lay ahead weakened her knees so that she sat on her cot. Her hands twisted in the tunic she had been stuffing into a satchel. The memory of Ria being so frightened by what she had done in Mirocyne rose in her mind and made her cough a sobbed laugh.
Then she had been the one who had convinced Ria all would be well, reassuring her with foolish hopes of a simple path. They both knew better now. The journey ahead would be difficult. Lavinia was sure of it. And those she wanted by her side were scattered across Myrrah seeking spheres or gates. If Ty knew how frightened she was, he’d never let her go. If Zhao did, he would give in to his doubts of himself and they’d never make it. And she just didn’t know Felya well enough to want to confide. Lavinia brushed the tears from her eyes and joined Zhao on deck.
The rolling ocean swell dwarfed the tiny boat. Even here at the outermost edge of the dark and brooding storm its power frightened Lavinia and made her feel like a speck of foam on the sea. A new emotion rose in her breast. She was grateful that Ty would not have to sail toward a coast of black rock through a storm that was itself as black as midnight.
“Lavinia is right,” Zhao said, speaking more to Felya than the quiet Ty. “Khodan can fly, but they are heading toward the desert. If the Ashanti are not seeking the gates they may be in Ak’Ashanti. Niri and Khodan might need help.”
Felya nodded. Her green eyes shone with tears. “Thank you. Be careful, both of you. Send word through the Sphere of Air if you can. I’ll listen for you.”
Ty regarded Lavinia without offering well wishes or making a last effort to delay them. She wanted to storm away, but threw herself into her brother’s arms instead.
“Be careful, Ty,” she whispered as she kissed his cheek. “Take care of him, Felya.” She released Ty quickly before he could hold on to her.
Zhao was waiting at the rail and stepped off the boat the moment Lavinia moved away from Ty. The spray-lashed wind hid his form and she thought he’d fallen into the sea until she saw a sea tern nearly the color of the stormy waves skim above the whitecaps.
With a gasp of relief, laced with fear about what she was about to do, emphasizing how little faith she actually had in Zhao, Lavinia grabbed the two small satchels she had placed on the deck as she swept past them toward the ship’s side. As stepped up onto the rail she saw the expression on her brother’s face. His eyes brimmed with fondness and anxiety. Turning back to the sea, she paused just long enough to see that Zhao had now become a dragon and raced toward the boat through the storm-tossed foam of the heaving ocean. Then she jumped, trusting dragon instincts to catch her before she fell into the waves, trusting Zhao as she would if it were Darag flying toward her. Because it was what she needed to do.
Cold talons clasped her, sheltering her from the wind as Zhao gained altitude. Below, the boat appeared small and fragile as it bobbed on the vast, empty sea.
“They will be safe,” Zhao whispered in her mind, the thoughts bright as sunflowers.
The reassurance warmed her as the clouds wrapped around them. First, they flew through a faint as mist but then they flew through a sudden tempest. The clouds roiled as if they’d fallen into the into a storm-whipped sea. Only this was air full of water, wind, and crackling fire.
“Zhao?” Lavinia hoped he’d hear her thoughts because he’d never hear her voice amid this storm.
His answer was not comforting, but as gray and heavy as the clouds. “Wait!”
Lavinia balled herself in the cage of Zhao’s claws as if being small would protect her from the storm. To distract herself from fears of falling through the turbulent sky toward the black rocks and heaving sea far below, she hummed to herself. A barely remembered childhood lullaby slipped to one Beite had often sung in the days before the war came, before her death. With tears mingling with the rain on her cheeks, Lavinia concentrated on the memories it evoked and pulled at the little power she did control: fire for warmth, air to breathe, water held at bay, and earth so very far below.
Zhao rumbled without thoughts, the noise a comfort that shuddered his scales against her shoulder. With forceful downbeats of his wings, he knifed through the clouds. They burst into a clear afternoon sky.
“We’re through it?”
Lavinia peered at the storm writhing below them like a second ocean, only this one contained bursts of lightning. Ahead the clouds rose like distant black mountains to heights beyond flight.
“We will have to go through it again to reach the Temple,” Zhao warned.
“Worse, by the look of it.” Lavinia faced what lay ahead with bravery born of practicality. Whether they went downwards or forwards, she knew, they would have to face the tempest one more time before they found shelter.
When the clouds consumed the sky again, Lavinia was prepared. She helped Zhao keep the elements at bay and provided enough warmth and dryness that she could breathe as they flew at the uppermost height he could sustain. With no sign of the ground, the flight stretched on for what felt like days. Exhaustion pulled at Lavinia’s concentration as the gusts grew in strength.
Slammed by turbulent wind too tempestuous to control, Zhao roared into the storm as he struggled to correct his path. Sweeping wings and tail as he fought air currents, Lavinia realized Zhao knew where he was going. He was connected to the Sphere of Air. As was she.
Lavinia reached for the fragile pulse, sensing something ahead and then losing it to the need to stay warm and aid their flight. In a lull, she tried again and found a connection to the sphere that drew her ahead. It wasn’t far, but still a distance. The few times she reached for the connection, the quickly closing gap renewed her determination. They would arrive to safety beyond the black marsh and rest.
With a burst of speed, Zhao plunged downward, twisting through the storm with wings tucked. They plummeted, protected by his power, as lightning hissed around them. But barely a breeze ruffled Lavinia’s hair. However, there was no reducing the jolt when Zhao snapped open his wings to stall their descent. It knocked the breath from Lavinia. When she opened her eyes, she was looking up at the towers of the Temple in the Clouds silhouetted by the roiling mass of the storm held at bay by the Temple’s protective shield.
Zhao landed before the front gates, so tired that he crouched with wings partially spread as he remained a dragon. He lifted his head a fraction, eyes on the heaving clouds before looking at Lavinia.
“We can’t take the sphere,” Zhao thought, his words barely holding a spark in his weariness. “It is the only thing that protects the Temple.”
As the front gate opened, Zhao transformed into a man before passing out at Lavinia’s feet.