The Proving

THE PROVING is book one of The Proving Trilogy, which introduces a mystical land where magic is considered myth and truth is hidden in song. Book two, THE COUNCIL OF LORDS, and the trilogy’s finale THE LAST PEACE will be completed soon.

Here is a little about THE PROVING, followed by a sneak peak of chapter one!!

In the Land of Pasaron, there is no such thing as magic except within fanciful Bard’s Tales. So when teens begin exhibiting incredible powers followed by murderous insanity, terror grips once peaceful kingdoms.

When rebellious Crown Princess Kir’Ana Touran begins manifesting magic abilities, she knows she must run away or risk political catastrophe. Similarly, brash young adventurer Annix Mastoro dreams of knighthood but must keep his powers secret or be imprisoned like other teens.

As Kir’Ana and Annix’ paths collide, they join a small group of similarly powerful teens who discover that they are not destined for madness. They are the elect of the mythical Silver Phoenix, chosen to represent the side of good in a dangerous competition called THE PROVING with the fate of all Lands in the balance. Facing nearly impossible odds, the teens must use their new skills to triumph over their evil opponents and save Pasaron from generations of darkness.

THE PROVING

Chapter 1

I awoke with a start, wind whipping through my hair and garments as I plummeted through darkness. Below, and getting closer by the second, loomed the castle’s moonlit courtyard.

A long, hopeless scream leapt from my constricting throat. Instinctively, I threw my hands before my face as if to somehow block the approach of death. As I closed my eyes for the last time, a surprisingly clear view of the castle’s courtyard remained in my mind’s eye. Weren’t scenes from my life – all sixteen Summers of it – supposed to flash before me while facing such a brutal end.

I crashed into the ground with an explosive roar. Bright crimson filled my vision. Dizziness struck, the Land spinning madly around me for a long few moments. Cold numbness spread over me; I sensed neither the stones below me nor my surroundings. My heart raced as I fought to orient myself.

I steadied my breathing and looked around at the sloping walls of the shallow hole in which I lay, its sides shattered flagstone and dark soil. A strange, warm, pulsing sensation crawled across my back, like sheets of rain if clouds produced tepid downpours. I scrambled out of the depression on all fours. My long, brunette curls hung before my eyes, matted with moist soil and pieces of rock. Silvery light from the half-moon above filled the deserted courtyard. The ever-present sea breeze carried the pungent smell of the bay. A wave of vertigo washed over me, forcing me to clutch the earth as if I might fall from it at any moment.

The dizziness faded, and my mind snapped into order. Patting my face and torso rapidly, I took stock of the obvious truth. I was alive, and uninjured.

Behind me loomed Coradine castle’s towering walls, dark and windowless on this its east-facing side. To my left sat the crater from which I had just emerged.

But from where did I fall? The roof? Was I pushed, or thrown, from the heights of the castle’s roof?

That meant assassins could still be in the castle. With one loud shout I could call scores of Royal Guards, and within moments any invaders would be located and seized. But calling the guards would mean drawing attention to myself, the princess who had just survived a hundred-foot fall unhurt.

I didn’t die. It’s another symptom. I can’t call for help and risk revealing the truth.

I stumbled to my bare feet, remembering Sir Jason’s favorite phrase. Stay in rhythm Kir’Ana… Stay in rhythm. The old knight drilled that phrase into me since I was old enough to walk; stay in rhythm… focus on the immediate, reject distractions of any kind. Keep your mind and body immersed in the rhythm of the moment, he would say, whether during combat or the delivery of a speech. Stay in rhythm.

“I have to get back inside,” I whispered as I crossed to the castle’s stone face. “I have to stay out of sight in case there really are assassins… and I must not get caught!”

Staying low, I jogged towards the Steward’s Foyer about thirty yards away. It was the only entrance that might be open at this hour. Late night deliveries of food or beverages to the royal kitchens were rare, but not unheard of. But the door might be locked. Then what?

Stay in rhythm, Kir’Ana! Sir Jason’s words again rose to the surface of my mind. One thing at a time. Live in the moment.

The pulsing sensation was distracting, now registering in my feet and legs. It was as if the cool flagstones were pouring warmth upward into my frame. I frowned deeply as I dropped to a squat behind one of the half-dozen stacks of crates arrayed around the Steward’s Foyer entrance.

“Ashes!” I cursed under my breath, creeping under the narrow awning. The massive foyer door was closed.

A group of three guards ran into view from across the courtyard. I dove back behind the crates. My heart pounded in rhythm with the strange pulses in my legs. I barely breathed, silently cursing my cream-colored nightgown which nearly glowed in the moonlight.

The guards stopped on the other side of my hiding place.

“I don’t see anything,” a gravelly-voiced guard said. “What exactly did they say?”

“A woman’s scream,” said a second, younger sounding man, “and what sounded like a small explosion. Just a few minutes ago.”

“Maybe it was beyond the wall?” said a woman, walking further away as she spoke. “Wait. What in the Land is that? Tull, stay here!”

Boots echoed across the courtyard.

“It’s a… sink hole?” the gravelly voice exclaimed from afar.

“That’s no sink hole,” the woman replied. “Tull! Sound a general alarm! This is some sort of crater, possible made by a marsh oil bomb.”

“Yes ma’am!” Tull shouted, then ran.

My eyes went wide as my fists clenched. The courtyard would be flooded with guards and Royal Knights moments after the general alarm rang, and I would be caught. There was nowhere to run that wouldn’t put me directly in view of a guard post. I peered around the crates at where the two guards stood, alternately staring down at my impact crater and scanning the courtyard for clues.

A glint of silvery light caught the corner of my eye. Across the courtyard in the shadows of the outer wall something moved, then stopped.

The clanging of a Royal Guard general alarm bell split the night’s silence, quickly joined by another, then another, as every guard post sprang into action. The sound of scores of guards and soldiers followed. I formulated my alibi; at least they hadn’t found me inside the crater… I would just claim that I snuck out to roam the castle grounds. Barefoot. In nothing but my nightgown. Having somehow evaded all notice by the guards. At least there was some precedent for the sneaking around part, but the rest?

I was doomed.

The Steward’s Gate door burst open. Four burly men and one tall, muscular woman – all Royal Knights whom I knew – ran into the courtyard followed by at least two dozen blue-and-white clad guardsmen. The last guard slammed the door closed.

In their haste, the entire group ran right past without so much as a glance in my direction as I crouched in full view next to the wooden boxes.

“Apprentices!” someone yelled. “Move those crates! I want a clear view of that doorway!”

“Yes sir!” shouted several men.

My heart leapt. There were grunts and the sound of scraping wood as guards hauled away the first few crates.

A thunderclap shook the earth as a brilliant flash of fiery orange lit the air. I peeked around a crate; from just outside the courtyard wall streaks of flame burst upward in a semicircle of angry red. Guards screamed, some dropping to their knees, others running for cover. Another explosion rocked the night, again appearing to be targeting the outside of the courtyard.

“Veriants! It’s a veriant attack!” I heard someone yell.

“Where?!” came a panicked reply from near the outer wall. “Do you see them?”

“Negative, no sign of teenagers, but the outer wall is burning!”

More guards appeared from around the castle’s corner. The apprentices abandoned my crates and ran toward the danger.

“By the Kestral,” I breathed, my chest tightening. “Veriants attacking Coradine Castle!?”

I swallowed my shock and embraced the distraction the attack provided. I crawled to the closed Steward’s Foyer door, hoping that perhaps it wasn’t locked. Placing one hand on the cold wood, I tried the latch. It didn’t budge. 

Another burst of fire lit the night sky. Bowstrings twanged, swords were drawn with steely rings. Soldiers bellowed orders.

I heaved against the door, putting all my fear into a desperate shove. I must get inside!

With a deep breath, I stopped my futile pushing and rested my head on the cool wooden door.

I feel forward fast, flailing my arms, then landed with a thud on the stone floor inside the Steward’s Foyer.

I stifled a scream, laying on the inside of the still-sealed door. My feet were not completely through; my legs simply ended at the surface of the door’s planks as if sliced off. The night breeze chilled my toes.

With a yelp I yanked both knees toward my chin and rolled to a crouch. My feet and legs looked fine, as if nothing happened. Trembling, I stared at the door as if somehow it were to blame. A tentative touch to the dark wood revealed that it was, in fact, solid. But I just passed through it as if it were no more substantial than smoke.

No, no, no! Another veriant power? Like something straight out of a Bard’s Tale! I’m getting worse.

Long minutes passed before I regained my composure. The sounds of commotion outside died away, hopefully meaning the attack was thwarted. I slowly stood, pulled my eyes away from the door, and focused on the task at hand. I sped across the foyer, through the empty kitchens, and into the castle proper.

If I can just make it to the east rear stairs, I’m home free. I can talk my way past my room guards easily enough.

“Kir’Ana, is that you?” came a whisper from the shadows.

I froze, but the voice was familiar. “Jerine?”

The tall, redheaded Jerine crept out of the darkness across the hall and into a shaft of moonlight let in by the narrow staircase windows. She wore a long, dark nightgown and slippers, and her hair lay in a thick braid down her back.

“What are you doing out here?” I said as I grabbed her hand and guided her away from the silvery light. “That’s a general alarm! You’re not supposed to be roaming the halls!”

“You’re one to talk,” Jerine replied, grinning. “How did you get down here so fast? I went to your rooms first. I figured we’d investigate together. Did you see the flashes? I think there were veriants out there!”

“There were,” I said without thinking. “Attacking us right here, where we’re supposed to be safe! I can’t believe it. I heard the guards, saw the explosions, and something weird in the shadows–,” I blinked hard, cringing. But it was too late.

“You saw what? And what were you doing outside?!”

“I can’t explain right now. I… I shouldn’t have said that. Nevermind.”

Something clicked in my thoughts. I just passed through the huge Stewards Foyer door. My rooms were along the high, windowless castle wall directly above the courtyard where I had crash landed. Maybe I passed through my bedroom wall and fell into the courtyard without any assassin involvement whatsoever? Besides, why would an assassin throw me from the roof instead of just cutting my throat? But if I fell through my wall, why couldn’t I remember anything? My shoulders slumped.

“When we sneak around for fun, that’s one thing,” Jerine said, unaware of my revelation. “But nowadays with these veriants about? We really need to stay indoors. But since you were out there, you need to report whatever you saw.”

“No!” I hissed. “I can’t.”

Jerine stepped even closer.

“What is going on with you? I heard what you did last night at your mother’s dinner. Embarrassing Huntmaster Kalion’s son in front of all those people? And Tira is never going to forgive you after last week. She’s ashamed to show her face in class now! None of this is like you. You hate nothing more than being considered the spoiled-brat princess.”

I said nothing, staring at the moonlight on the floor.

“You know you can talk to me! Come on… tell me what’s really happening.”

I heaved a sigh. Jerine always seemed to know what was happening in my head. I had little choice but to level with her. With my multiple new symptoms, I needed to accelerate my plan, and I might need help.

“You must promise to tell no one,” I said. “Especially my mother or any member of the royal guard. Swear to secrecy, right now, and… I’ll tell you everything.”

Silence. While I couldn’t see Jerine’s face in the darkness, her growing fright was palpable. I was about to put her in a terrible position. But did I have a choice?

Stay in rhythm!

“Swear it, Jerine Masterson!”

“I swear it,” she blurted. “I will tell no one.”

A quick glance up and down the broad hallway confirmed that we were still alone. I drew closer to my oldest friend. “I leave for Pallas in just a few days,” I murmured.

“For your apprenticeship with the Grey Shields. Is there a problem? I know it took you forever to convince your mother to let you go.”

“I’m not going to the apprenticeship. While on the way, I’m going to disappear. I’m leaving and not coming back. Ever.”

Jerine stood quietly as if waiting for the punch-line. When none came, she lashed out. “Stop it, Kir’Ana. Just stop it. That makes no sense at all. What do you mean you’re not coming back? Where would you go? Why would you want to? Your mother–,”

“Keep your voice down!” I interrupted. “I am doing this for my mother. And for the good of the Protectorates. I have to go.”

“Why?”

“Because I am a veriant. Because the Crown Princess of Touran is going insane. I have symptoms, Jerine. Lots of them. You know what they do to kids with symptoms these days! There’s no way I’m letting that happen.”

“But Kir’Ana…,”

“And worse,” I continued, “if my mother finds out, she will move the foundations of Pasaron to try to help me, putting the kingdom at risk. I can’t let that happen.”

The truth of those words stung as I uttered them aloud for the first time. If a Touran monarch’s only child died or went missing, by law they must produce a new heir or adopt. I would soon go violently mad; all veriant teens did. My mother was well past childbearing years, and it would kill her to replace me if I still lived. But if she did not choose a new heir, everyone would soon learn that a veriant was in line for the throne. With all the other problems plaguing the Protectorates, both foreign and domestic, a leadership crisis would be disastrous.

So I would vanish, allowing everyone in Touran to consider me dead and freeing my mother to do what she must.

The sound of distant horns echoed through the dim corridor. Three short tones in a row, then a long, mournful final blow; the all-clear signal.

“Whatever happened out there is over,” I said, and grabbed Jerine’s hand. “Come on, we need to get back upstairs. I’ll tell you my plan and answer every question you have.”

***

Stay tuned! There’s more to come…

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