Publisher: Cerridwen Press
He is the king of a winged race steeped in honor and tradition. His blood runs fierce and pure with his Eagle Clan heritage.
She is the general of a clan that should not exist. Her blood is diluted, tainted by that of the reviled Vulture breed.
Now Dearn and Matte will come together, each fighting for the existence of their people and a peace that will begin in each other’s arms. But first, they must defeat not just the Vultures, but also the demented dreams of a human king and the merciless vengeance of Cinder, the demonic god he follows.
Dearn, King of the Winged Clans, stood on the balcony of his rooms and watched the display above him. Against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, the Winged Clans arrived in a blaze of color and prepared to land within the heavily fortified stone walls of the Fortress.
They flew from all directions, their huge wings catching the currents of air as they glided within the enclosed walls that housed the ruling family, a stone fortress set atop the highest mountain of the continent overlooking sheer cliffs and a boulder-strewn valley miles below. The Valley of the Gods, it was called, for it was here that Ashrad, their greatest god, and three of his children—Sorin, Dorin and Aleda—had defeated Ashrad’s black-hearted son Cinder and sent him to rule the fiery depths of the Seven Hells.
The Fortress was more than just the home of the ruling Clan, though. Rising above the top of the mountain and spearing the clouds with its upper levels as it rose majestically, its many levels housed hundreds of small aeries and individual rooms accessible only by wing or from the stairways hewn into the inside of the mountain. Below it, caverns cut from solid rock provided more personal aeries and passageways led to storehouses and caves full of goods and gold, dallion stones, weapons and clothing. In times of famine or drought, all the Clans benefited from the stores. Canned goods, dried meats, flour, meal, sugar and all manner of dried foodstuffs were stored away, used during winter storms and replenished each year.
It was a place of safety. The Fortress could house the entire population of the Clans—feed and clothe them and sustain them through crisis, famine or war. It was a symbol of all they were, and all they hoped to be. The Fortress was the heart of the Clans, and it was here they gathered when in need.
Deep in his soul Dearn knew the foresight that had established this refuge eons ago would be greatly needed in the times ahead. In his bones he felt the haunting fear that the past was returning, and the bloodshed of hundreds of years before in a conflict so savage it nearly tore the Clans apart would come once again. They were at war, and they would be fighting against haunting specters that should have been destroyed during those first bloody centuries of battle.
As the first of the new arrivals began to land, Dearn narrowed his eyes, making a mental count of those arriving and adding them to those who had come before. The numbers were coming up woefully short.
From the South came the White Lance Clan. The White Lance was the spirit Clan, a graceful, soft-spoken group with pure white wings that had produced many of the spirit men and healers that inhabited the Fortress. They were called the angels of the Clans, for it was said the spirits of their dead protected and graced the gardens of Ashrad, providing a place of peace and comfort in the eternity of the afterlife.
From the West came the Eagle Clans. Soft shades of golden brown and amber mingled with delicate auburn glowed in fiery splendor on their wings as they banked and turned in the rays of the sun. The Eagles were temperamental, territorial and the strongest warriors of all the Clans. From them the ruling families had always been drawn. Their decisiveness, arrogance and warrior training had sustained them when other Clans had fallen behind. It was this Clan that was lacking the most in numbers.
From the North came the Ravens, their black wings reflecting brilliant blue highlights as they hovered. They were smaller, quicker and fought better during the darkness of night than the Eagle warriors, though they seemed less inclined to competitiveness than their bronze-winged brothers. They excelled as trackers and scouts. They could hide easily in the darkness, and their eyes could pierce the shadows to track their prey much better than the other Clan warriors.
From the East came the Red Hawk Clans, their wings gleaming in shades of mahogany, burgundy and burnished gold. They were a fierce yet often laughing breed, quick to anger and just as quick to forgive. They fought with single-minded determination to quickly finish a battle so they could return to play. Today, however, they were sober and concerned as they landed within the courtyard, searching among the crowds for lost family members.
The Owl, Crow and Falcon Clans had yet to appear in force. This concerned Dearn. Those Clans were smaller, more spread out and less able to defend themselves on their own. Their absence worried him greatly.
The women and children landed first, watched over by the hardened warriors above them. There was an atmosphere of grief and fear. The skies were filled with patrols, extending out for miles. Families drew together; anxious voices called out one to the other, questioning and fearful for missing loved ones. Dearn knew many were confused, their gazes lifting to the sky as the lonely wail of the Call still echoed throughout the mountains. The Call was sounded only during times of great danger to the Clans. Many were unaware of the peril now stalking them.
But he knew. He had seen it firsthand. Had smelled the stench of it in his nostrils, seen the brutality of it with his own eyes. Rage ate at him, spreading like a dark, diseased shadow upon his soul as the memory replayed once again through his mind. Vengeance. His fingers clenched on the railing before him, his body braced against the wash of white-hot agony. His sword would taste the blood of his enemies, and his vengeance would rain quick and true upon their heads. It was all that sustained him now. All that would sustain him until the time of reckoning arrived.
* * * * *
Tamora watched King Dearn where he stood silently on the balcony of the upper floor of the castle, his arms crossed tightly over his broad chest, his feet planted wide apart. His wings were folded proudly on his back, the golden feathers of the Eagle Clan flowing gracefully from his shoulders to the heels of his black leather boots. His shoulder-length golden-brown hair ruffled in the wind as it blew back from his strong, proud face.
The Clans had ruled the skies of Brydon for as long as man had walked its mountainous terrain. Dearn was a good king, just as his father and grandfather before him. He was a quiet person, reflective, relying on his own instincts rather than debating decisions, as the Clan leaders preferred. His lover for the past year, Tamora read the worry and concern on his face that others may not have seen.
He had barely spoken to her since the night before and had not come to her bed. He had, in fact, not been to her bed in months now, and this worried her more than anything else. He had distanced himself, drawn away from her as well as the others.
Tamora understood why he was so distant. They had found the bodies in the neighboring valley the evening before as they flew in search of a missing family reported to have been seen earlier in the day. The carnage and brutality of the deaths had sent shock then rage through all of them, but most especially Dearn.
The four bodies had been hopelessly mangled, their wings missing. Their bodies were hacked apart, left for the scavengers of the forest to drag away. When Tamora looked at Dearn, she saw the iciness of his golden eyes and watched the flat, unemotional expression take over his face. It was as though a part of him had shut down when he saw how his people had been murdered. He had frightened her.
A further search had raised even more fear within all of them. Deserted aeries were found throughout the passes they had checked and entire families had come up missing, their homes ransacked and the evidence of violence, the scent of death, unmistakable on blood-splattered walls. But only those four bodies had been found, despite an intensive search throughout the night by all the warriors in the Fortress. They had been able to find no one else.
“Don’t just stand there.” His voice was deep, dark with suppressed fury. “What have you learned?”
Tamora took a deep breath. He had sent her out over an hour before to find the information he needed while he met with his closest advisor, Havar. What she had found would do nothing to ease the fury raging through him.
She stepped closer, desperate to touch him but sensing an invisible barrier between him and any comfort she would offer. She hated to admit that barrier had been forming even before the deaths; they had merely strengthened it.
“Most of the Clans are reporting in now. There are missing families or family members among them all. The greatest number of missing seems to be from the Eagle Clan. There are only a few families of the Owl and Crow Clans reporting in. We’ve heard nothing from the Falcon Clans at all as of yet.” She reported the bleak news, knowing the loss of those warriors would be a great handicap to the Clans.
The muscles in Dearn’s jaw bunched with the effort to control his anger. His shoulders tensed further and his body seemed to vibrate. She had never seen him like this, though she had been fully aware of his capacity for it.
“The warriors,” Dearn hissed, his eyes narrowing as he raised his head to watch the patrols still gliding over the mountain. “They hit the warriors the hardest, thinking that would weaken us.”
Tamora fought her trembling at the tone of his voice, and she remembered the suspicion he had whispered to his advisor in the early hours of the morning before she retired to her room. Her wings shuddered in fear.
“Dearn, we aren’t certain at this point.” She moved closer, touching his arm, desperate to find some way to be close to him once again, to ease a bit of the worry surrounding him. “We’ve sent several of the Raven and Red Hawk troops to see what they can learn, but they haven’t reported back yet. Until we have proof—”
“And what other answer do you think there could be? How much proof is needed, Tamora?” Dearn moved from her touch, his hands gripping the rail that ran along the balcony with knuckles that paled with his fierce hold as he stared down into the courtyard. “What other answer can you come up with? You remember the stories of the past as well as I. To prove their kills, the Vultures and Elitists cut the wings from our backs, taking the disks within them back to their human king. It was the only way to prove the deaths and receive their rewards.”
“The Vultures have been dead for centuries, Dearn.” She nearly winced at the edge of fear in her own voice. “They no longer exist.”
“There is no other answer.” Fury lent strength to the fist that cracked against the wood of the railing, nearly splitting it in half and causing Tamora to flinch. “Who else could possibly get into those aeries undetected?” He turned to her briefly, and in his eyes she saw a flame of such vengeance that her breath caught in her chest as he continued. “Only a rogue Clan could do it, and only the Vulture Clan was born so merciless. The Winged Clans do not kill their own, Tamora. Only the Vultures had such a lack of honor and mercy. Gods preserve us, but Cinder has had his revenge once again.”