It’s less than a week away y’all! 6 days! And in celebration of the holiday weekend in which I have many things to be thankful for, I thought I’d share with you another little tidbit of my debut novel The Wheel Mages.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
(P.s., if you haven’t read the Prologue, get it here)
The Inner Sanctum was silent and dark. Walking into the room made me feel like I was walking into a cave and despite the high ceilings and openness, my chest tightened. I felt caged and though the cage was beautiful, with its tall granite pillars and fine marble floors checkered black and white like a chessboard, it was still a cage.
I shuddered and stared down the long gold-and-silver aisle runner that stretched forward into the epicenter of the room.
It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the poor light provided by a single fire pit in the center of the room. Behind the fire pit sat four intimidating figures, each perched upon a marble throne. And at the top of each throne, carved into the stone, was an emblem outlined in jewels.
I walked forward, eyes wide with fear and awe. My knees trembled and my muscles felt like wobbling plates of jelly, making it necessary for me to check my footing with every step I took. Stop, I silently scolded my knees, but they weren’t to be controlled. My stomach sank. Then, at least, please don’t let me fall. If I fall, I’ll be an embarrassment. Gods, please don’t let me embarrass Nikolai.
As I continued to move forward, I tried to distract myself from my fear by looking over the Sanctum’s Four. To my far left, sat Master Bartholomew Johnson. He was from an isle in the western region of the Trade Nations, an independent, wealthy country called Glasland. The powerful island was famous for its agriculture and navy and had helped to lead the civilized world into the industrial era. Out of the dark and into the light, the Glaslandish proclaimed.
My lashes fluttered against my cheeks while I focused on my breathing. When your emotions start to overwhelm you, focus on the little things, Nikolai had taught me.
Bartholomew wore a fine red silk vest with a pocket on the right. It was fashionable and well made if a little tight. While I honed in on the exquisite stitching of his black tailcoat, my muscles solidified.
My gaze moved from the ebony, ruby-topped walking stick propped alongside Bartholomew’s throne and up to the top hat sitting upon his sand-washed hair. Above it, emblazoned into the marble behind him, was a single lick of fire decorated by rubies—fire, my opposite.
To Bartholomew’s left sat Lady Maria Garivaldi from the southern nation of Vinostio, famed for its exotic creatures and deeply religious subjects. Maria’s light brown skin was complemented by her deep green gown. Her black hair was styled atop her head in a complicated arrangement, and within it rested a lightweight tiara made of golden grapevines set with emeralds. Her throne boasted a single ivy leaf, also bejeweled with emeralds. Earth, like my master.
To Maria’s left was Master Albin Ahlberg, an imposing man whose hair was long, straight, and white. He wore tall white socks, short leather breeches, a silk shirt, and a long blue overcoat accented with green trim. His homeland was a nation made up of frigid, secretive islands in the far west called Drifafell, and the wave and sapphires on his throne announced that he was a water mage, like me. Maybe one of the last of our kind.
I stared at the sapphire-encrusted wave on his throne. If I passed the Tests, I might one day occupy that spot. I wondered, not for the first time, if Albin was the reason why the Four had been so desperate to find me and hide me away, keeping my existence secret from all but their most loyal mages. The Four all seemed wise, but Albin was by far the oldest, and peeking through the wisdom, I saw strain and fatigue. Not even a mage could keep himself alive forever, no matter how strong his will might be.
After a thorough investigation of Albin’s stoic, gray eyes, I let my gaze fall to the final member of the Four, Master Stefan Volkov, a native of Ledenstaza, the eastern seat of the Trade Nations and the home of the Sanctum. He was so swallowed by a gray fur coat and a thick black beard and bushy eyebrows I could barely see his face, but the two diamond-accented swirls of air on his throne would have told me he was an air mage even if I didn’t already know.
When I reached the edge of the fire pit, I fell into what I hoped was a graceful court curtsey and stayed that way, my gown spread out beneath me.
I didn’t need to turn and look at Nikolai, I could feel him bow and take a knee behind me. I listened to his breathing to calm myself. It was steady, strong; he was sure of me in a way I wasn’t sure of myself. He always had been. His confidence warmed me, and my shaking knees stilled.
“Rise, Nikolai Sokolov, and present your apprentice.” The voice was lilting, feminine, and dripped with a songlike accent. Maria.
“Masters, Lady, may I present Alena Kozlov of Ledenstaza and mage of water.” Nikolai’s voice was formal, but I heard the pride in it.
I smiled at the marble floor, and a trickle of warmth touched my cheeks. All I’d wanted almost from the day I’d become Nikolai’s apprentice was to make him proud. Even when I’d shunned him, fought him, distrusted and disbelieved him, there had still been a part of me that wanted to please him. He’d saved my life and though he’d never demanded anything in return, never even seemed to expect anything, I’d always wanted to repay him. Making him proud, becoming the Sanctum Mage he’d always wanted me to be, was my way of doing it.
“And do you find her worthy?” The scathing voice was Bartholomew’s.
“I do,” Nikolai answered.
“Then rise, Miss Kozlov, and face your Tests.” At the sound of Albin’s voice, I rose. My legs were cramped from holding a lowered position for so long, but I ignored the discomfort and focused my attention on the Four.
“Master Nikolai, you’re dismissed. You may return to your chambers and await the return of Miss Kozlov.” Maria flipped her dainty wrist forward, and I heard Nikolai drop his head in an informal bow and turn. I wanted to look at him, to get one last encouraging smile, but I forced myself to keep my eyes forward. Nikolai had given me strict instructions not to watch him go. “I will leave,” he’d said, “and you might be tempted to turn around, but Lena, my sprite, you must not. You must show them only strength.”
I held my blink for a moment longer than was natural, and my stomach clenched from the effort it took to hold back the overwhelming and sudden sense of despair that had set upon me.
Nikolai’s supple leather boots barely made a sound as they brushed the marble and too soon, I heard the wooden doors of the Inner Sanctum groan as they shut behind him. I was about to face the Tests of the Sanctum’s Four. And though I’d known all along I’d have to do it alone, there was a strange finality to Nikolai’s departure. No matter what happened, when this was over, I’d no longer be his apprentice.
The Wheel Mages is available for preorder on Amazon Kindle here. Keep your eyes peeled on November 29th for iBooks and print releases!