The Brumal Star is available in the Kindle store on Amazon, but here’s a free preview of the first chapter!
Jamison Undrand awaited his death. A binding curse flowed through his bloodstream like hot poison. Every beat of his heart pulled and thickened its dark magic inside of him as he swayed within the circle of his old comrades, the Ablete Calare of Reathe.
The Calare had found him guilty of murdering his wife. His joke of a trial had been a month ago. The Lawgivers had used his words against him, then threw him into a prison cell until they were ready for him to face his doom. That was today.
His accusers dragged him like a disobedient dog to carry out the most severe punishment of magic users’ society: the Darkening Ritual, where they would put a convicted magic user through torments of the mind and body to purge them of their magic.
The Calare stayed bowed in deference to their leader, Broderick Cordale, as he finished preparing the ritual. He gave the signal to Durriken, a thuggish young man he’d chosen to tie Jamison’s blindfold.
A razor wire of alarm stung Durriken’s gut as his reptilian eyes locked with Jamison’s, catching a desperate flash of anger and fear in them.
He grasped Jamison’s shoulders and shoved him into position, slipping the black cloth over his eyes and yanking it with expert savageness.
Jamison’s sight blotted to darkness. The rough sackcloth fabric of the ceremonial death robes scratched and stung his infected skin sores. He sweated under them in spite of the late autumn chill. The back of his head began to ache from the blindfold’s knot pressing into it.
What are those bastards waiting for? Why can’t they just get this over with?
“The Ablete Calare of Reathe is gathered on this day to carry out punishment as decided by our Lawgivers. If anyone wishes to speak on behalf of the condemned, he’ll do it now.”
No words would save Jamison. His breath had been wasted during the trial, and his strength was gone from the journey here. He could only guess what was to come.
Somebody say something! They won’t. No, they won’t. They could, but they wouldn’t dare. Bunch of cowards, every single one of them.
“To undergo the Darkening Ritual is a fate worse than death. A magus without magic is nothing. Let it begin,” Broderick said.
The Calare raised their arms above them like conductors of a malevolent orchestra. Streams of gray light emanated from their fingers and formed a gelatinous, writhing mass. It was alive, animated by their magic. They aimed it above Jamison.
The blood pulse in his ears muted their chanted words and jumbled them together in his mind. Heaviness closed out his thoughts. He teetered and sunk on the flat, dead grass.
Cold slime spattered onto his neck. It smelled like something fetid they had dredged up from a sewer. Sticky tendrils stretched from the orb and trailed, fingerlike, along his exposed skin. They left a burn like frostbite across his cheek. He tried to shrink away from their touch, but his body would not obey.
His bowels clenched as it crawled over his lips and slipped inside his mouth. He tried to spit it back out, but every part of his physical body had been made docile by their enchantments.
The blindfold was a small mercy; it blocked the sight of it, but it allowed the rest of his senses to become engorged with overmastering fear.
It bubbled in a thickened glob and inched down his throat. His coughing and retching spread it further inside of him. He struggled to breathe through his nose in short, stifling breaths that didn’t fill his lungs up all the way while the nameless horror slid all the way down and pooled at the bottom of his stomach.
A watery churning spread through his guts, along with searing jolts of pain. It stung him now from within, hot and sharp.
More oozed under his robes and wrapped around his skin like a freezing wet sheet.
A memory flitted across his mind: a moonless night one winter when his army battalion was forced to bivouac without enough equipment during a military exercise. That cold had been bone deep, but it was nothing compared to this. This cold sank into every cell and nerve and went beyond physical. It invaded his mind and soul.
Chattering teeth rattled his skull like machinery, making him bite his tongue. Blood and drool leaked out the side of his mouth.
Gods, make it end. Make it end. I don’t care who answers.
The gods, if they existed, had forgotten to concern themselves with the day-to-day happenings on Ransara and were unmoved by his pleas.
The sorcerers’ chanting swelled. A pressure settled on his chest, as if someone was sitting on him.
Conjured-up images of his wife filled his mind. They seemed even more vivid than reality.
Her light fingers stroked his hair and whispered his name.
“Taryn!” he went to say, but his mouth would not form the words.
“Speak to me through your thoughts,” she said.
In his mind, he saw her kneeling in front of him, her golden hair cascading over her shoulders.
Taryn, help me. Help me!
“I can’t,” she said.
Oh gods, please help. Make it stop.
The stink of decay surrounded her. “You never believed in any of the gods. What makes you think they would deliver you from this?”
No, no, don’t do this—
He gagged on the stench and tried to pull away, but he was still immobilized by their magic.
No Taryn, not you. It’s a lie!
“I thought we’d grow old together.” Her nails dug into his wrists, her hands sticky and clammy against his skin. “This is for your own good, Jamison. It’s your purification.”
She vanished, but she appeared again and again as a tainted version of herself, as indifferent to his agony as everyone else.
Jamison couldn’t guess how long it went on for. It might have been minutes or hours—a waking dream of grotesque imagery and pain until he vomited up the globby mass, now marbled with black. It spurted out of him onto the ground, where it twisted and coiled into thick, ropey strands and crumbled away to soot.
Broderick’s hands sliced the air in a quick slashing movement. The chanting stopped.
Jamison lay upon the frost-heaved ground, his broken body mended and free from the enchantments.
Broderick towered over him. “This was less than you deserved, swine!” He slammed his boot into Jamison’s ribs and strode away.
A gust of wind blew the sooty dust across the field.
The sorcerers slunk back to the forest. Unknown to them, a silent watcher bore witness from within the safety of the pines along the edge of the field.