Despite my best efforts, the release of Finder: The Source Chronicles Book II has been slightly delayed.
There is a very good reason for this delay. My editor took longer than expected with his edits, and I have to go through them before I release my work into the wild. My goal is to offer a quality product to you, my dear readers.
I don’t want to under or over-estimate how much time I will need, but I do hope I might put Finder out before the end of the year.
In the meantime – this being the holiday season and all – you might want to acquire a copy of Seeker: The Source Chronicles Book I for the reader(s) in your life.
Not to leave you with nothing – I am offering here a special sneak preview of Finder: The Source Chronicles Book II. If you ccroll down – you can enjoy Chapter 1!
Stay tuned for the completed novel soon!
Spoilers ahead – Finder: The Source Chronicles Book II Chapter 1!
Have you finished Seeker?
Ok, you have been duly warned.
Finder: The Source Chronicles Book II
“Is there something I can do for you, m’lord?” he asked calmly, turning in his chair.
He had become acutely aware of the presence of the men from a few tables over, standing behind him now.
The burly man in the lead was huge, all chest and shoulders, over six feet tall. He had a round face, and nearly no hair atop his head. He looked hardened, was covered in grey dust from stonecutting, and wore a stupid grin on his lips. He was obviously drunk as he laughed raucously, and his friends joined him.
They took a step closer.
He continued to sit where he was, making no move at all.
“You’re a stranger to these parts, eh, friend?” asked the burly man, his speech only slightly slurred.
“That would be true enough. Just passing through.”
The man gestured to the sword belted at his side. “That’s a fancy piece of steel yer wearing, friend. Worth a pretty penny, eh?”
“It was a gift,” he remarked in an offhanded manner.
The big man laughed, and his friends joined him again. It was a wicked laugh, meant to cause discomfort.
“A fine ‘gift’ it is, friend,” remarked the burly man. “You a fighter of some sort? One of those pansy swordsmen? I bet you never knew a lick of hard work in yer life, huh?”
He reached for his tankard, affecting a complete lack of concern. “I’ve done my share of laborious work, m’lord. As pleasant as this conversation has been, why don’t you return to the table with your friends, and I’ll buy you all another round?”
With unexpected speed, the burly man knocked the tankard out of his hand. The stranger stood up quickly, turning and facing the much larger man.
“That was unnecessary, m’lord,” he stated calmly.
“And just what do you care to do about it, little man?” asked his assailant, squaring his shoulders.
He didn’t miss the man’s attempt to intimidate him.
“Burke, leave off!” interjected a woman’s voice.
Burke and his friends turned to look, as did he.
She reminded him immediately of one of his closest friends, with her bearing and commanding voice. Her hair was curly ringlets, dark brown, and pulled back into a thick pony tail that hung just below her shoulder blades. Her eyes were brown as well, and the skirt she wore was divided for riding.
He immediately thought her a bit out of place here.
“Stay out of this, Shiara, it doesn’t concern you,” remarked Burke.
She took a step forward. “I do not think you want Valdan banning you from the tavern once more, do you? Additionally, I’m sure Master Arnock does not want to hear about this sort of belligerence again, either.”
Burke growled, “If you weren’t a woman, I’d show you what for!”
“Go ahead, Burke. Care to beat me like you beat your wife, before she left?”
As Burke made to advanced on her, the stranger quickly put himself between them.
“It’s not very nice to assail a lady, m’lord Burke,” he said calmly, putting some menace in his tone.
Glancing back over his shoulder, the stranger noted that she had been preparing to grab a dagger from her belt. “Besides, I don’t think you want her gutting you in front of your friends.”
Burke glared at him. “You think I should be afraid of a woman? Do you plan to be her protector?”
The stranger turned his head and looked at the woman called Shiara, her arms crossed, head tilted just slightly to the left, looking between them. “I do not believe that any woman should be spoken to in that manner, m’lord. You should probably go now.”
“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is, stranger?”
“Do you have some sort of wager in mind?” he asked, his tone even.
Burke chuckled evilly. “No wager. Fight me.”
“You don’t approve of swords,” he remarked.
The burly man threw back his head and laughed. “Real weapons, friend. Staffs.”
“I have a walking stick I suppose will do,” the stranger said, putting a note of discomfort into his voice.
Burke gestured with his head. “Outside. Now.”
“Alright, then. If that’s the way you want it.”
Burke laughed drunkenly once again and called to his friends, who went out the door with him.
The woman, Shiara, approached the stranger. “My lord, I do not think you know what you are in for. Burke has been regional quarterstaff champion in the New Year’s Planting Games for ten years. And he is a real killer.”
He looked to her, and noted her sincere concern. “I’ll have to be careful, then.”
Lord Valdan, a short, thin man with a well trimmed beard and brown hair was the owner of the King’s Highway Tavern and Alehouse. Lord Valdan wore a scowl on his face as he passed the six foot long walking staff to the stranger.
The stranger went out the door, Shiara at his side.
It was early in the spring, a few weeks into the new year. The grass around the tavern and the rolling fields was a light green, and coming back to life. The scant trees that were visible from time to time along the roadside were just beginning to return to bloom.
Burke and his friends waited. Burke’s staff was eight feet long, as opposed to his six footer.
Burke spun his quarterstaff lazily, as the stranger leaned upon his own walking stick affecting discomfort.
“You’re up for a beating, I hope,” remarked Burke. His friends burst into laughter.
The stranger made a show of removing his scabbard and blade, and offered them to Shiara. “My lady, if you would do me the honor of holding onto my sword?”
She accepted, but wore a concerned look. “Careful, my lord. He is very drunk. He is vicious when he is drunk.”
The stranger nodded his head in response, and stepped over towards his opponent, taking up what appeared to be an unpracticed stance.
The patrons and staff of the tavern joined them, watching uneasily. Burke was laughing as though he had not a care in the world, spinning his staff, making ready to assail his opponent.
“Are you prepared to fight, stranger?” the burly man asked, mocking.
“Aye,” he replied uneasily, making it clear that he was uncomfortable.
Burke put on a serious look, and took up a stance.
It was then that the stranger decided it was time to stop playing, and altered his own stance, obviously appearing far more competent and confident.
Burke didn’t miss this, and looked uneasy, but advanced with a growl, swinging.
The stranger ducked, and in a blur of motion, butted the end of his staff into the larger man’s gut.
As Burke grunted, the stranger smacked him in the side of the head with first one end of the staff, then came around and hit the other side. Finally, he spun his staff, butting it with deliberate force into Burke’s nose.
The big man’s eyes teared, rolled up into his head, and like a mighty tree he collapsed backwards onto the ground.
The stranger spun his staff easily, then paused in a ready stance, making certain the man did not stand again.
The patrons and the employees of the tavern cheered as he planted an end of his pole into the ground, and eyed Burke’s friends.
“Anyone else?” he asked.
Burke’s companions grunted, grumbling and shifting uneasily in his gaze.
“Why don’t you take your friend here, and give him a hand? He’s going to be very sore when he comes to, his nose is certainly broken, and the hangover he will awaken with will be rather awful.”
They advanced to pick up Burke, and as they reached him, the stranger took a step closer, thumping his staff on the ground to get their attention again.
“Tell your friend he should stop assailing travelers. You never know just what you’re up against…appearances can be deceiving.”
They nodded their heads and lifted Burke, carrying him to a cart beside the tavern. The burly man was already moaning as he was jostled.
The stranger watched them go, then went over to Shiara.
She still looked surprised, as he grinned at her. “Could I have my sword back, please, my lady?”
She nodded her head, handing back his weapon to him.
“My lord, I think you taught him a much-needed lesson in humility Burke will not soon forget. You were magnificent.”
“Thank you, my lady.”
She bowed her head formally to him. “So, stranger, you’ve had quite the afternoon. You have defended my honor, but I did not catch your name.”
He bowed slightly at his waist to her, as he’d been shown. For some reason, he decided to be formal. “I am Lord Cam Murtallan, my lady. And you are?”
“Lady Shiara Bornull.”
Cam took her hand, and gently kissed it.
“A pleasure to meet you, my lady,” he said.
She smiled again, blushing slightly. Cam was pleased to note he had indeed learned a thing or two over the past several years living and working among nobles.
“I think I should like to finish my meal,” he continued. “Would you care to join me?”
“I’d be delighted,” she replied.
Remembering the manners he had been taught, Cam offered her his arm, which she took. Together, they walked back into the tavern.
“My Lord Cam, my apologies,” stated Lord Valdan, bowing his head ashamedly. “I am so sorry you had to do that. I do not approve of those ruffians behavior, and I never know from day to day…”
“It’s alright, my lord,” replied Cam, interrupting him. “The exercise has only reinvigorated my appetite. Please, bring Lady Shiara here whatever she would like, and I’ll complete my meal. Hopefully, Burke and his friends have learned a lesson, and will be less trouble during their next visit.”
Lord Valdan uttered his thanks, and took Cam’s staff. Valdan nodded his head towards Shiara before departing. Cam noted the intense respect the innkeeper had for the lady as he led her back to his table.
They talked for hours, after Irvarra, the serving girl, brought Cam a new hot plate of food, a look of awe never leaving her face. Clearly, no one had been capable of putting the bully in his place until now.
The conversation was very simple, as Cam told of the political happenings on the next continent, often omitting details that were too personal, or that he was directly involved in.
Shiara was telling him about the local Duchy, and the political system of the nation of Vilcarr.
“The Duke, hereabouts, is inactive. He and his family were exiled here, after he plotted along with his son and another Duke to embezzle moneys from the royal treasury of King Arion,” she paused and took a drink of the ale she had before her. “As punishment, he was spared his life, but banished to the countryside.”
Her narrative took on another tone. “It was a stupid plot, that would never have worked, and he was a part of it based on bad advice from another Duke, who was executed for his part in the plan. No titles were stripped, but the Duke’s family could only tithe what they needed to survive.”
“Interesting,” remarked Cam, not missing the grief in her tone. He decided to broaden the scope of the topic. “A lot of intrigue in the court of King Arion?”
She shrugged. “From what I hear, no more than in any other royal presence, and all that was over ten years ago. Nowadays, he’s got far better control. He’d only been on the throne a few years at that time. He has made a lot of changes from the rule of his predecessor, his uncle.”
Cam nodded his head, making mental notes. He looked out the nearest window, and observed that night had come as they’d supped. “It’s getting late. I should offer to arrange to put you up here for the night, or at least escort you home.”
She grimaced a moment, but it turned into a grateful smile swiftly. “My home is not too far. I would be delighted to have an escort. That’s very gentlemanly of you to offer.”
Cam laughed, his mind flashing back only a few years. He gestured the tavern keeper over.
“I’d like to settle my bill, Lord Valdan.”
The innkeeper looked at Shiara a moment, and waved Cam off. “No, my lord, ‘tis on the house. You did me a service today by dealing with Burke and his companions. It’s the least I can do.”
Cam nodded his head gratefully. “I could not let a lady be so insulted, but I thank you Lord Valdan.” He placed down several silver pieces. “For your excellent service, and that of Irvarra.”
Lord Valdan bowed to Cam, then to Shiara. Cam retrieved his staff, and followed Shiara out.
They went towards the hitching post, and she unhitched a strong looking stallion. The night air was crisp, but not chill. The stars shone brightly.
“Where is your mount, Lord Cam?”
“I have none,” he replied. “I am in no hurry, and prefer my own feet.”
“Truly? Well, I do not think Fleetfoot here will mind if we walk,” Shiara concluded, gesturing to her horse.
“Very well,” replied Cam.
They set off down the road, Cam’s staff over his shoulder. The moons were giving off enough light to make visible the road immediately before them. They were silent, for a while. Cam cleared his throat.
“So. You’ve been exiled out here ten years, eh?”
She stopped abruptly, and turned. “What makes you think I am related to the Duke?”
Cam grinned slyly. “My Lady, one of my closest friends is a Queen. You carry yourself in a way that screams nobility. Am I mistaken?”
She sighed, then laughed lightly. “No. I should not have thought I would be able to keep it from you. Besides, you would have become suspicious when we reached the estate.”
“Too late to pass yourself off as a mere servant,” Cam concurred.
“Without a doubt,” remarked Shiara crisply.
“The Inn is a part of your Duchy, then?”
Shiara sighed. “Aye. Lord Valdan is a good man. Probably our finest tenant, really. He owns the inn, we own the land. His rent is terribly low. Part of the King’s orders, along with our exile.”
“Your father was exiled…but what about you?”
She sighed again, and Cam found the tone almost musical. “My father wanted his family together. So we were sent with him. The King was sympathetic to him, because I was twelve, my brother seventeen. My mother had died a year earlier, which devastated my father. Certainly the main reason he took such bad advice. She handled the finances – she was the brains of the family. My brother…well, he is another story.”
She shook her head, silent a moment longer. “My father died two years ago. He drank himself to death. My brother, by default, became the acting Duke. But he had fallen in with a crooked merchant, made some ludicrous and repugnant choices, and has been on the run ever since. So I remain here, managing my family affairs.”
Shiara looked at Cam. “So, you know who I am. You mentioned the political situation in Sharron and Medaelia, your association with the royalty there, but not your part in it. I know you have held back. So, tell me, how did you get involved in it all?”
Cam paused, collecting his thoughts. Perhaps the most valuable lesson he’d learned over the past several years was discretion. “It’s…complicated. I need to go back a ways to explain.”
Cam began his narrative. “When I was a boy, I watched the Medaelians invade Anaria. My father was killed in his field, my mother raped and beaten. We went to the capital in search of her family, but they, too, had been killed in the invasion. My mother died soon after, and I grew up alone on the streets of Aldara. There I learned to fight with a staff, to survive.”
Shiara chimed in. “Explains why Burke did not fare well against you. He had no chance.”
Cam grinned slyly. “I wasn’t worried, no.”
“So, you grew up an orphan in a war-torn land? How did you get out?”
Cam paused a moment. “I…became fascinated with tales of ancient cities, from before the Falling. I learned to read, and studied all kinds of books. I traveled all over the continent, for years, looking for artifacts and treasures. I made a mistake when I reached Sharron, and was imprisoned for it.”
“What kind of mistake?” Shiara asked.
“That is a lengthy story, for another time.” He let that hang a moment, then continued. “Meanwhile, Princess Lyrra-Sharron, over a misunderstanding, was leading a rebellion against her father. She and her rebels, to make a statement King Varlock-Sharron could not ignore, saved me from the noose. I joined them, for a time, recovering my strength until I figured out the truth of the misunderstanding…and sought out the King.”
“After he had sentenced you to death? That is bold. If not somewhat foolish,” remarked Shiara.
Cam laughed. “Aye. But the civil war would’ve let Wilnar-Medira tear Sharron apart. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. Not after what he did to my country.”
Cam paused, then continued. “I managed to convince Varlock-Sharron that he could end Lyrra-Sharron’s rebellion without further bloodshed. I went with the King to confront the princess…as it turned out, he was able to turn her from her course, and send her to Penkira, to deal with Wilnar-Medira personally.”
“As reward for my actions in ending the rebellion without bloodshed, I was raised to the nobility of both Sharron and Medaelia. I served as an advisor to both monarchs…until they felt the need to send me here, as an ambassador. Besides, I discovered things in their libraries that have led me to believe I may find some artifacts here.”
Shiara made an indelicate sound. “Doubtful, Lord Cam. When Pallantir overtook the Nortamian continent, he looted it most thoroughly, creating quite the private collection, rumored to be somewhere on the Estarian continent…if the scholars of Afpar’s universities are to be believed. There is little here, I suspect, for you to find.”
Cam nodded his head. “Perhaps. But much was lost after The Falling. Time will tell.”
They were silent a while, as they walked over a low hill, and began to approach a large and impressive estate before them.
The architecture was slightly different from what Cam was used to in Gara-Sharron, Penkira, and the towns and villages of Medaelia and Sharron. An estate such as this would normally be two or three stories tall, and almost certainly fenced in. By-and-large, it would also be constructed of wood and stone.
Shiara’s mansion had no fence, except near the stables, and was only a single story, though it covered a large expanse of land. Cam was also not used to seeing so much brick and stone, and so little wood in the construction. He still found it to be an impressive building.
They walked to the stables, where Shiara gave her horse to a handler waiting there. They continued together to the doors at the side of the home, where light poured out.
“Well, then, my lady, I have brought you home safely,” remarked Cam. He found he was feeling strangely unsure of himself.
“Indeed, Lord Cam.” She paused a moment, before continuing. “I do hope you will not take this the wrong way, but would you accept my hospitality, and spend the night here? There are plenty of spare bedrooms, and I can have the servants prepare one forthwith.”
Cam looked up at the stars. It would be a cold night, and they had traveled nearly a mile off the main road. Still, he was feeling awkward, but did his best not to let that show. “I would be glad to accept, my lady. In fact, I’d be a cad to refuse such an offer.”
She smiled, and gestured for Cam to follow her in.
Cam decided he had made his first friend in this foreign land. His personal mission would continue once his business with the King was complete.
In a cave lit by an eerie blue light, they sat.
They were gathered in a circle, all wearing dark cloaks with hoods drawn up. Before them, a giant shimmering blue orb gave off a ghostly glow.
The twelve looked into the orb. Each had given of their power to create it. Each saw something different within the shimmering glow.
Sorcerers. Allowed to practice openly, they gathered together here, to share what knowledge they had, and to observe what they could. They lived apart from the rest of mankind. They lived, to their minds, above the rest.
Every one of these twelve felt a disturbance. Something was not right. Things across the world seemed amiss. Something unexplainable was afoot.
It all began over three years ago, when they sensed a shift in the energies that drove their powers.
Something of great consequence was at hand. Something was about to shake the very foundations of the world. And the sense of this was only growing stronger by the day.
The number assembled did not matter. Sometimes more, sometimes less, they came here. They would come to ponder, to observe, together, apart from those beneath them, who could not nor would not understand, the world around them.
They watched now, knowing something was happening. What it was, and how it would affect them, they could not be sure. But no one doubted that life on t’Thera was about to change.