Friday, November 13, 2015

Here Be Magic - Nightgazer

Posted by: Joely Sue Burkhart

Our Here Be Magic boxed set is almost here (watch for buy links coming soon)! I'm so excited to share Nightgazer's brand-new story world with you.  A BDSM magic system, a grumpy wizard, and a cat shifter princess - what more could you want?!  Well, how about seven other fantastical stories of magic and love? We've got them all, from sweet to spicy, psychics to wizards and everything in between.

I've posted the first excerpt anywhere of Nightgazer below.

Chapter One

In a village called Willow on the Green, at the very furthest corner of Gairdín, Matilda sat on a wooden stool with her head bent over her sewing. She didn’t make much money working for the tailor in such a tiny town, but it was enough to keep a roof over her head, and she lived on her own terms. At twenty one years of age, she valued her independence above all other creature comforts. She’d sleep in a ditch and serve slop at the tavern before she’d ever depend on anyone else to help her. She certainly couldn’t ever go home.
Home would mean her death sentence.
Old man Tully was nearly blind from working such detailed handwork over the years, though he could still manage simple hems well enough. Out of all the useless frivolities well-bred young ladies were taught, at least her skill with embroidery was paying off. She stitched the sparkling threads and painstakingly sewed in beads and gems that decorated ladies’ gowns. She only made a few pennies a day, but the eternal flow of gossip through his shop was entirely free.
“Did you hear?”  The old woman everyone called Granny was even older than Tully. Where his skin was dark walnut and his tight, curly hair bore streaks of gray, she was pale silver from head to foot, even her eyes. Matilda didn’t know if she was blind, but if she was, that certainly didn’t prevent her from seeing everything that happened around her. “The Tyrant’s Fourth knocked off Second to take the lead as Heir Apparent. Assuming Queen Evys ever dies, that is.”
Living at the top of the Tyrant’s family tree had been risky business ever since he’d died eight years ago. Matilda kept her head down and stitched frantically, though she’d probably have to redo this section later. Tully had made it clear this black silk robe with silver detailing had to be perfect in every way. 
“Eh,” Tully groused.  “Fourth won’t keep it for long.”
“How many are left, do you think?” Granny asked.
“Let’s see, there’s Fourth, Sixth, and Tenth.  Is Fifteenth—”
“Dead,” she broke in.  “Caught an arrow in the chest.”
“Sixteenth and Eighteenth were both offed by poison last month.”
“So was Twentieth.”
“Probably Sixth’s work.  Heard she’s a tough bitch.  Likes to watch ‘em twitch and froth at the mouth.”
Matilda shuddered so hard she stabbed her thumb, drawing blood.  They have no idea exactly how bad Sixth really is. A drop of crimson rolled off her finger to drip onto the silk. Her heart surged with terror that she’d ruined the expensive garment, with no hope of being able to reimburse its owner. Not on her wages. But luckily she couldn’t see any hint of stain against the inky silk. She breathed out a sigh of relief and concentrated on the gossip.
“I heard something else.”  Granny paused coyly, not offering the little nugget of gossip until Tully gave her a harsh gesture with a rheumy hand.  “There’s a ransom out on the last one.  The youngest.  What number was he again?”
“She.  Twenty Third. Most everybody thought she’d be killed first since she was just a runt.”
“I guess the smart little runt fled Pálás ahead of the slaughter.”
“Ah,” Tully cackled.  “They’re afraid she’ll hole up somewhere, wait while they kill each other off and do her dirty work.  Then all she has to do is waltz into Pálás and claim the throne for herself.”
“It was a good plan.” Granny nodded solemnly. “Too bad they’ve sicced the Scréach on her.”
A loud clatter brought the gossiping to a halt and the two elderly people stared at Matilda. Her cheeks burned and she bent down to right her stool that she’d knocked over. She didn’t even remember leaping to her feet. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“It’s all right, dearie.” Tully sighed heavily. “Tales of the Scréach are enough to make us all as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room of rocking chairs.”
Granny cackled again. “Ain’t that the truth! Now all the good housewives will be washing bedding all day, because the young’uns will be too scared to go out in the middle of the night to use the latrine. We’ll all be sharing fraidy tales around the table about shadows coming to life with fiery eyes. Mark my words, some slaggin’ moron will come into town tomorrow scared silly because an owl screeched outside his window at midnight.”
Creaking as he stood, Tully gingerly made his way to the fireplace with his favorite mug in hand. Without a word, Matilda stepped closer in order to pour the heavy kettle for him. “Seems to me like we’re all missing the worst part of this news.” He patted her on the shoulder in thanks and slowly made his way back to his cushioned chair.
Granny nodded and her fingers worked a quick ward pattern over her heart.
“What?” Matilda asked.
Tully sat down heavily in his chair and closed his eyes. “Don’t they teach these young’uns anything nowadays?”
“You know they don’t,” Granny said. “Most of the people our age—who know the truth—are dead.”
“Or too smart to say it aloud.” Even that zinger didn’t crack a smile on her face. Tully took a long sip of his tea. “All right, dearie, I’ll give you a quick history lesson if you solemnly swear not to breathe a word of it to an outsider.”
Matilda carefully smoothed out the silk she’d been working on so it wouldn’t wrinkle and then stepped closer to Tully. “I swear, sir,” she said, though she wasn’t sure exactly who he meant an outsider to be. Someone not of the village? Goose bumps raced down her arms, making her shiver.
“When Greydae the Great used magic to curse and ultimately kill King Harald the Tyrant, the backlash of his spell tainted the Wellspring and killed him too. You at least know that, don’t you?”
“Of course.” Matilda’s voice sharpened. “That’s why we lost our magic.”
Tully slammed his old wrinkled hand down smartly on the table. “No, dearie. We didn’t lose magic. It’s still there, just warped and nastier than ever. After Greydae’s death, wizards kept using their magic. They had to. It’s like a compulsion they put on themselves and they can’t stop hauling up magic from the Wellspring, even if it’s rotten and foul and makes ‘em soul sick. When they started going mad from the taint, it became a very unlucky thing to be a wizard in Gairdín.”
“I know,” Matilda replied, fighting to keep the impatience out of her voice. “Most of the wizards are dead now.”
He gave another long-suffering sigh. “Or crazy.”
Matilda stared at him, horror slowly spreading across her face. “So who’s controlling the Scréach?”
“Exactly. Only magic can summon and control the Scréach. Only a wizard can use magic, which was tainted twenty years ago by Greydae’s curse.”
“There’s a wizard, still alive, and strong enough to…” Matilda didn’t finish the sentence aloud. “To send a magical construct to kill me.”
“Now she’s got it.” Granny nodded and scurried to the door. “A powerful wizard gone bloody mad.” Shaking her head, she paused at the door. “Poor Twenty Third. She ain’t got no chance at all.”

“None of us do,” Tully added with a grim jerk of his head. “Not with a mad wizard turning creatures from the blackest depths of hell on us. No chance at all.”

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