Time’s Orphan: Chapter One

I’ve officially sent Time’s Orphan off to the proofreader so it’s time for the first chapter reveal! Note: Although this is book 3 in the Odriel’s Heirs series, each book occurs after a 10+ year time gap, focuses on a different character, and the stories stand alone. If you’d like to catch up on the series, Odriel’s Heirs books 1, 1.5, 2, and 2.5 are currently 0.99 on Amazon or free on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. With that, here we go!

Speak of dragons,

And I’ll tell you of warriors

Who walked their flames.

Speak of shadows,

And I’ll tell you of heroes

Who brought the dawn.

Speak of pain,

And I’ll tell you of the Time

Who stole it away.

– The Heir’s Way, Chapter 17, Passage 9



With the bitter ash of fourteen burning towns still thick on her tongue, Emara thought she would’ve gotten used to the salty, iron tang of death. She knelt beside the whimpering soldier, gripping his rough, dirty hands in hers. As her yanaa, her Odriel-gifted energy, coursed through his body, it washed his agony away from him and into her. A fiery pain ignited in her stomach that mirrored the gaping, crimson hole through his middle. His smooth jaw could scarcely grow a beard, and yet here he lay among Faveno’s wounded defenders, breathing his last. She squeezed his hand as his eyelids fluttered one last time, the grimace of suffering at last easing to an empty stare.

As her yanaa retreated from him, the remnants of his pain faded from her own body. Drawing in a trembling breath, Emara shut his eyes with a practiced hand. “May Odriel guide you.”

“Oi! Mari!” Iree, a broad-shouldered blonde, shouted from where she helped an injured soldier into the back of the wagon. “Stop wasting time on the dead ones!”

The relentless thrum of the Rastgol’s war drums carried on the dusty air, a malignant heartbeat pounding through the frenzied city. Shrill cries of the manic residents streamed around their impromptu casualty camp in the middle of Faveno’s main square. The afternoon sun shone on the vibrant greens and blues of the stone houses ringing the plaza—the peaceful, oceanic colors standing in stark contrast to the city’s nearly palpable dread. A salty sea breeze ruffled the crude canvas canopy stretched above them, but it did nothing to relieve the nauseating stench of urine, sweat, and blood.

The reek of a losing battle.

Heavier now with another lost soul, Emara stumbled to the nearby trough and scrubbed the freshly dried blood from her brown skin until her hands stopped trembling. Straightening, she pushed her dark curls away from her face as she surveyed their makeshift camp. The other casualties lay in rows on blood-stained straw pallets—some crying out, others far too silent. Some wore the hodgepodge leather armor of Faveno’s Shields, while others bore only the simple dress of fishermen, tradesmen, and farmers.

“Odriel take me,” Iree swore, wiping the sweat from her forehead before grabbing a white-bearded soldier by his tunic and roughly hauling him up. “Where in the wretched skies are the bleeding Heirs when you need ‘em?” 

“Got their hands full keeping the Dead King’s Lost army in the south, they say.” Emara darted over to help Iree lift Whitebeard into the wagon, the bandages around his leg dark with blood. She sent a ripple of yanaa along his fevered skin, just enough to urge the bleeding to stop, but hopefully little enough to escape his notice. Still, the pain of the gash made her wince.

 “The girl’s right,” the man muttered as they shifted him deeper into the wagon bed. “Last I heard, the younger Dragon holds Gyatus while the elder Drake trains an army in Catalede, the old Shadow protects Aquilond, and the younger one stalks the throne in Austerden, waiting for her moment to assassinate the king.”

Iree spat onto the splotchy brown cobblestones as she pushed up her sleeves, chest heaving. “So you’re saying no one’s coming to save us.” She turned to the driver, a skinny boy of maybe a dozen years. “Cart’s full. Drop ‘em at the docks and come back for another load.”

Emara frowned as she turned to the wounded again, stooping to the unconscious woman next in line and shifting her onto a fresher bed of straw. “Hard to save us when we’ve already lost.”

Carriette, a younger girl with pigtail braids and a sharp chin, scowled from further down the line where she offered a ladle of water to a soldier with a full head of bandages. “Skies above, Emara, do you have to be so negative? It could still happen! The Heirs have beaten the cannibals back before.”

“And you only mentioned the Dragon and Shadow Heirs,” the bandaged soldier said with a weak smile. “Isn’t there supposed to be a third line? An Heir of healing or some such? I could use some of that right now.”

Emara glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, her skin prickling at the mention of healing. But his attention was squarely on the water, and her shoulders relaxed just a touch.

The Heirs’ legendary abilities passed down to their firstborns, but others, like Emara, could be born with random gifts like her minor healing touch. She’d heard of those with the power to make seeds sprout, change the wind’s direction, or share a thought without speaking.

Such smaller gifts of yanaa were also said to be bestowed by Odriel, the legendary spirit-guide. However, while the Time Heir of legend could heal armies, as one of Odriel’s Blessed, Emara could scarcely heal an ugly gash without getting out of breath. But with the Rastgol and the Dead King hunting down anyone with a scrap of yanaa tingling in their fingers—Heirs and Odriel’s Blessed alike—she tried to keep her abilities hidden.

But when everyone was dying around her, that was easier said than done.

“They haven’t been seen in a decade. Definitely dead.” Iree stooped and put a hand to the chest of a pale soldier lying all too still. With a tsk, she tugged his blanket up to cover his face. “And if they aren’t, I would whip their legendary hide for holing up while we’re busting our arses trying to save this place.”

Carriette slumped. At fifteen, she was only two years younger than Emara, but this was her first battle, and she hadn’t quite let go of her childish fantasies. Her eyes still glinted with the hope of Odriel’s chosen protectors endowed with godlike powers of fire, invisibility, and healing. It wouldn’t be long before she understood though—here, there were no heroes coming to their rescue, no happy endings, and no real winners. Both sides always lost in war; one just lost more than the other.

They’d been at war almost as long as she could remember. The Rastgol armies encroached further north and east into Okarrian lands every year. The necromancing Dead King’s army of undead—the Lost—crawled over the south, and the ancient, bloodthirsty man-killers his two commanders had unleashed from their Carceroc prison hunted everywhere else.

She’d lost her mother to the undead early, then from there had followed her grandmother’s merchant tribe as they scurried from town to town, searching for pockets of safety. But there were none to be had.

Still, it did no good to dwell on it.

“But who needs the Heirs when we have the mighty Iree?” Emara called to Carriette, getting a begrudging smirk out of her.

“Oh, you hush.” Iree waved her off as she rifled through a crate of bandages and filled waterskins.

Emara smiled at the image of the burly Iree taking on one of the legendary defenders of Okarria. She didn’t envy anyone who had to face her fury, yanaa or no. “I would bet on you over an Heir any day, Iree. In fact, I—”

Emara flinched as a horn blasted from one of the spires, signaling another Rastgol attack.

The three of them exchanged a tense glance before Emara lurched into action, lifting the crate of supplies. “I’ll take these to the east spire. They’ll be needing it.”

“No, let me.” Carriette’s face hardened with determination as she grabbed it from Emara.

“Wait, I—” Emara started, but Carriette was already striding away.

 “Don’t worry. I’ll get it there.” With that, she took off across the square against the flow of the crowd fleeing for the docks. Emara couldn’t help but smile. Though naïve, the girl was brave; she had to give her that.

Even from their relative safety inside the inner wall, the roar and clang of battle drifted to them on the dusty air. Although the maimed sun, ever chipped by the Dead King’s power, drew high on the fourth day of the siege, the blood-worshiping barbarians only seemed to grow stronger. They battered Faveno’s stone walls in unending waves of horror and violence. Each day, as Faveno’s defenders fell, the Rastgol’s bellowing drums grew louder, grew closer. Too close.

A pair of bony mules pulled the creaking wagon up to their camp in the middle of the square, and the skinny boy waved frantically from the driver’s bench. “This is the last trip! Load ‘em as quick as you can. The last ships are readying to sail north, and word is we’ll lose the outer wall within the hour.”

Already? Emara’s gaze flicked to the smoke curling behind the thick stone walls looming over the rooftops. “How many can you take?” She dried her hands on a stained rag, trying to measure the wagon against the rows of bodies. They’d already sent the walking wounded down to the wharf, but there were still dozens left.

Iree bent over the first in the row, a young man with his left leg missing from the knee down. Grabbing his proffered hand, she hoisted him up and helped him in. “I don’t care if we have to stack ‘em. If they fit, they’re going.”

Emara hurried over, lifting the little girl that had come in earlier with the arrow in her gut. “Hey love.” The girl’s blue eyes flicked open. “It’s okay, we’re getting you out of here.”

“Not that one, Mari,” Iree said, helping another soldier into the wagon. “I saw her this morning. We can’t waste space on lost causes.”

Emara ignored her, sending a pulse of her yanaa into the girl’s wound. The pain of it flooded back to her, and she grit her teeth, careful not to drop the girl. “It didn’t go deep. Take another look, Iree. She’ll be fine.”

Iree turned from the wagon, her gaze sliding from the girl’s face to the bandages around her middle. She lifted the bandage to peek under, and then raised a brow at Emara. “I must have misjudged. Put her in.”

Sweat gathering at her temples, Emara settled the girl in the corner of the wagon before turning to get the next. Iree bent down beside her, each grabbing an arm of a burly man. He groaned as they boosted him into the wagon bed, and Emara let her fingers linger on his wrist. She sent another pulse of yanaa into him, the rot of the infection in his leg knocking the breath from her lungs. She pushed harder, pulling it from him like a parasite. Sweat beaded on her forehead with his fever and nausea turned her stomach, but the furrows in his brow eased. Though the yanaa leached her energy, it was just as quick to return after she pulled away—all she had to do was endure.

“You need to be more careful, Mari,” Iree whispered, her gaze fierce. “There are people here that will give you to the Rastgol in a second if it means sparing their own hides.”

Iree’s counsel needled Emara’s guilty conscience, an echo of her mother’s warnings scorching through her. Though Emara tried her best to hide her gift, the sharp-eyed elder medics nearly always saw through her, but she had neither the time nor the patience to worry about it now. “We should all be careful,” she said, moving to the next patient.

They worked in silence, Emara’s hands lingering on the worst of them, until finally the cart could hold no more. Iree hopped into the front and took the reins from the boy. “Coming, Mari?”

Emara glanced at the spires again, another horn blast splitting the air. “I’ll wait for Carriette.”

A frown dug into the well-worn lines around Iree’s mouth. “It’s your choice, but if we lose the wall…” Her gaze met Emara’s, concern softening her expression. “Don’t linger.”

“Be safe, Iree,” Emara said, her hand to her chest. “And I’ll see you on a sunnier day.”

With a grim nod, Iree clicked her tongue, and the wagon rolled away, its charges dull-eyed and moaning. They were nearly packed on top of each other, but they’d almost managed to get all of their wounded aboard. The ones left here probably wouldn’t see the sunset, Rastgol or no. But perhaps she could still ease their passing.


Emara whirled at the elder medic’s familiar voice. Her gaze narrowed on his thin string of a body and receding gray curls as he limped toward her on his clubbed foot, pulling a younger man with fluttering eyelids.

“Gunther, are you okay?”

A horn bellowed from beyond the wall, followed by two more short blasts, and a bonfire crackled to life on the western spire. A chorus of wails erupted from the square as the crowds of evacuees surged toward the docks, and Emara’s heart sank. “The outer wall… It’s fallen.”

“Yes. Faveno is completely surrounded.” Sweat streaked down the wrinkles in Gunther’s swarthy countenance. “You must go now if you want to get out. The wharf is the only way.”

Emara looked over her shoulder, scanning the knots of soldiers fleeing the walls. “Did you see Carriette on the way here? She was headed for the outer wall.” Her hands immediately moved to grip the wrist of both Gunther and the man at his side. Gunther bore no wounds, but the gash above the man’s waist would need assistance. She squeezed his hand as she urged the blood to stop flowing and the skin to knit. With a gasp, she grabbed her own side, his pain becoming hers.

“Stop that, Emara. Think of yourself now,” Gunther said, grabbing her shoulder. Beside him, the man straightened, blinking with confusion. Gunther gave her a small push toward the wharf. “You must go.”

“What about Carriette? We sent her to the east spire with supplies.”

“On the outer wall?” Gunther winced. “I’m sorry, my girl. It’s too late for her now.”

Emara looked eastward to the spindly stone tower, and then to the fire that burned from the west—where the Rastgol had breached the city. “They’re not there yet. I can make it.” She snatched up her bow and quiver.

“No! There’s no time! You’ll get stuck out there.”

But Emara was already running.

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this sneak peak of Time’s Orphan. Advanced Review e-Copies should be ready when I get it back from the proofreader (hopefully by the end of November)! If you’re interested in one, just drop me a line here or on Twitter/Insta/Tiktok @hayleyreesechow. Time’s Orphan launches on 8 February 2023 and is available for preorder here.

Also keep an eye out for the title and blurb reveal for my YA Sci-fi TOMORROW! 😱 If you’re interested in being part of my street team to help post the reveals and spread the word, please let me know. I could definitely use all the help I can get! 😊 And of course, happy Halloween everyone!

Book Review – Essence of Stone

The Essence of Stone by Haley Rylander is a sweeping, epic fantasy with intricate world-building and political intrigue. The plot essentially follows a city of elves as they try find the source of the strange, destructive earthquakes attacking their city and their source of Vierstone, the magical foundation of their society and their race. Simultaneously, they must navigate an alliance with the neighboring human kingdom, which promises them another source of Vierstone in exchange for their support in battle.

The story spans a wide cast of elven characters and dives deep into the politics and history of Vierstone, their world, and their people. The characters are likable and the writing was detailed and flowed with a rich, fantastical feel. However, the romantic elements were light for me, and the pacing for this epic felt a bit on the slow side. Of course, my general preferences lean toward a hearty helping of romance at *breakneck* speed, so if you’re looking for a lush world of elves and men, political maneuvering, and an interesting magic system with a sciency, hard set of rules, I recommend you give this one a look!

Thanks to the publisher for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review. Essence of Stone launches on May 14, 2022.


Mmm. Books. Nom Nom. Tula says give me another!

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – A Bad Day for Sunshine

Holy crap, I loved this book. A Bad Day for Sunshine follows Sunshine Vicram as she starts her first day as sheriff of the strange town of Del Sol.

It’s funny, the characters are amazing, the slowburn romance might kill you, the mystery elements keep you guessing, and even the quirky town of Del Sol comes to life.

As soon as I finished this audiobook (which is also fantastically narrated), I immediately put myself on the waitlist for the sequel as well as the author’s others books. Honesty, I’m so thrilled I don’t have to think about what my next audiobook is going to be for awhile, because it’s totally going to be Darynda Jones

Six brilliant stars, and I’ll probably be recommending this one to just about everybody.


The only real problem with this book is it makes me want to stop everything else and just read!!!

Thanks for reading!

Audiobook Review – The Starless Crown

This one’s a little tough to review, because I’m sure there are a LOT of people that will love this book. It’s a well-written, expansive, multi-POV epic fantasy, with tons of detailed world-building and plenty of action to move along the 22 hours of well-narrated audiobook.

The Starless Crown follows a cast of characters as they unearth old magics and traverse their dangerous world in a bid to prevent the apocalypse amid kingdoms on the brink of war.

But I just couldn’t get into it. I had trouble connecting to any of the numerous characters. Although they were all likable enough, they all felt rather one-dimensional to me, and the relationships and dialogue between them felt a bit flat. So from that indifference, it was really hard to get invested in the plot. And in the end it just felt… long.

Honestly, if I hadn’t gotten this from Netgalley I think I would’ve DNF’d it around 25% … 22 hours is a pretty big time investment. I kept hoping to get drawn in, but this just wasn’t for me. If you’re a fan of the author and sprawling epic fantasy, then I’d definitely still recommend giving it a look though.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the free ARC


I was stuck at home with a mild case of COVID this week, so I definitely needed a book to escape into. But this one just… wasn’t the one I was looking for.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – The Canary That Sang to the World

The Canary That Sang to the World is the fourth entry in The Panagea Tales and an excellent conclusion to series. This book finishes the epic saga in an intense, high-stakes closer. The crew is back together this one, and once again, it’s lovely to see these multifaceted, lovable characters banter and take on the world. I loved seeing the legendary bamf, Kazuaki, take center stage once again, and their final battles are a fitting, satisfying conclusion to the series.

However, I will say… *possible light spoiler ahead* 

If you’re looking for a feel-good, happily ever after ending… I might beware. This book is as heavy as the third entry. Death, loss, and grief play a prominent role, and the ending is firmly in the bittersweet category.

Absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for a beautifully written steampunk epic featuring a cast of colorful characters in a dark, detailed world and heavy themes that take a bittersweet bite. I would definitely read more by McKenzie Austin in the future!


A solid end to an intense series!

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – The Serpent that Swallowed Its Tail

The third book of The Panagea Tales, The Serpent That Swallowed Its Tail, follows Kazuaki’s crew after the climactic showdown at the end of the book 2, but I’ll keep this review short to try to avoid spoilers.

With the crew spread out, one prominent character noticeably missing, and Panagea, itself, trying to rearrange in the face of new world, Book 3 definitely takes on a slower, more morose tone than the last two books. This book tackles some heavy themes head on, and builds even further on the intricate world-building of the first two entries. The characters are more spread out here, and although they eventually connect in the end, their narratives feel much more independent in this book. Still, the story retains the epic scale and beautiful prose that makes the series stand out. I will say I did miss a certain missing character in this book, and I missed some of the crew interactions and comradery I loved in the first two.

A solid entry in the Panagea Tales that I would definitely recommend to fans of the first two, and one that definitely left me curious for Book 4!


Epic, dark, and unique. Let’s see what book 4 brings!

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3)

Okay, so to review.
Book 1: I thought the first half was boring, and the second sucked me in. 4.5 stars
Book 2: Totally got me with the side characters, the enemies-to-lovers romance, and the plot. 5 stars
And now here we are at book 3.

So… I jumped right into this book from Book 2, excited and ready, and for about the first 30% I was riveted… and then we ran into some problems. First, the romance seemed to overwhelm the plot, which isn’t super problematic, but the MCs were square in the honeymoon phase for pretty much the whole book. Their relationship didn’t seem to grow, and the smut was honestly kind of repetitive. The inside jokes that were cute in book 1 and book 2 (Miss Willa’s diary and Poppy’s neverending questions) felt stale here, and the plot as a whole just seemed to stall with lots of talking and not much doing. There were also a few plot points (won’t give away without spoilers) that also didn’t really work for me.

I actually hesitated reading this book with #4 not out yet since I thought I would be dying to get my hands on it. As it is, I think I’ll read it once it comes to the library, but I’m really hoping it has more to it then this one.


There’s always hope for the next one!

Thanks for reading!

Book Review – A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire

Okay, so I had mixed thoughts on the first book (specifically I thought the first half was boring, and the second half was awesome), but it left off on a bit of cliff-hanger so I decided to give book two a try, and I was NOT disappointed.

I INHALED this book. Book two successfully intensified everything I enjoyed from book one. Although once again, I did think the start was a touch slow, I wasn’t bothered too much because I was already so invested in the characters. And the side characters really showed up here too in the best way. I absolutely loved Kieran. And this time, I loved learning about the world. The world-building definitely fleshed out and deepened here, but it was more seamlessly woven into book two.

It’s darker, it’s steamier (kind of veering into the weird, but this is a world of essentially vampires and werewolves so… you know), and in general, it’s just more awesome. Cas and Poppy are borderline dysfunctional and absolutely violent, but they seem so suited to each other, and their dynamic just totally works. If you’re unfazed by sex, violence, and language, and you enjoyed the second half of book one, then I wholeheartedly recommend. On to Book 3!


Modern day Wolven reporting for duty here.

Thanks for reading!

Burning Shadows: Chapter Ten

A Place to Rest

Intent on their quarry and blinded with bloodlust, the Rastgol flew into an ambush of raining arrows and flashing steel. But wounded and head-sore as she was, Kaia took in almost none of it. In seconds, two of Madoc’s men had her and Klaus by the arms, dragging them to the safety of the short bluff before jumping back into the slaughter. Though one-legged and bruised, Klaus still leapt to his feet with his blade drawn, ready to cut into any Rastgol that made it over their small ledge. But they didn’t have to wait long before the cheers of Madoc’s victorious soldiers echoed down the river, with no other casualties to be seen besides the battered Heirs.

At last, Klaus collapsed beside her, his bravado crumbling with an exhausted sigh. Scrapes and scratches covered his face and arms after his tumble from the horse. Still, he looked at her with a widening smile on his face. “Okay, so tell me, how did Madoc know to be waiting for you?”

Dizzy with pain and relief, Kaia squeezed her head with her hands in a vain attempt to keep it from spinning off of her shoulders. “You don’t think the huge smoke signal was enough warning?”

He chuckled and laced his fingers in hers. “Now he’s never going to let me live this down.”

“Ya got that right!” Madoc’s rough voice shouted gamely as he crested the ledge. “But at least tell me ya took care of our Lost problem while ya were on yer lil holiday.”

Kaia nodded. “They were Idriel’s Lost the Rastgol managed to shepherd together somehow.” She lifted her chin at the smoke curling in the horizon, the image of Mogens still burned into her mind. “But they’re gone now. So if you see any freshly raised, that will mean a new necromancer we’ll need to know about.”

“I must say, Dragon, I didn’t know if ya’d actually deliver on yer promise.” He gazed around the battlefield. “But torching an army of dead and cutting down the Rastgol cavalry on the same day?” He nodded approvingly. “And you even had time to drag Thane back with ya.”

Klaus picked up a pebble and threw it at Madoc, hitting him square in the chest. “I would’ve made it back if not for my busted foot.”

Madoc waved him off, swaggering in the glow of his victory. “Sure, Thane, whatever ya say. Just when ya go, be sure to leave the dragon here with us. We’ll take right good care of her.” He spread his arms. “After all, a dragon with an army atter back? Okarria could be no safer than that.”

Turning to Kaia, Klaus’ brow furrowed. “Did he ask you to stay?”

“He—” Kaia started, but a happy bark broke through her thoughts. Across the river, a red blur ran out of the castle walls, tearing down the bank.

“Oh no, Gus, wait there!” Kaia called.

But he would wait no longer. Gus hesitated for only a moment before plunging into the river, his legs beating the water furiously as he swam across. My girl! My boy!

Kaia started to stand to go after him, but Klaus put a hand on hers. “It’s okay, Firefly, he’s making it just fine.”

And sure enough, a few moments later, Gus ran up the near bank, whimpering with giddy joy. He leapt from Kaia to Klaus, wriggling and licking their faces. You’re here, you’re here, we’re here!

“There’s my Gus.” Kaia laughed as he shook off his thick red fur and sprayed them with river water. “Thanks for looking after him, Madoc.”

“We got along just fine, the pair of us. Seemed to make himself right at home,” Madoc said with a wink.

Klaus’ eyes narrowed.

“Enough, Madoc.” Kaia held up a hand, a stab of pain piercing through her skull. “Do you think you could spare a mender this time?” She glanced at Klaus with a weak smile. “My usual nurse looks a little banged up.”

“I s’pose ya’ve earned that much.” He gestured to Klaus with a dismissive hand. “And I guess we can let Thane in too.”

“Madoc, as soon as my foot heals, I want to see you in the training square,” Klaus said.

Madoc straightened. “You’re on, Thane.”

Klaus and Madoc continued their bickering while Kaia laughed and hugged Gus’ neck, soaking in the brief moment when they were safe, if only for a little while.


Kaia awoke at midday and made her way to the mess hall. Her sore muscles protested every movement, while her arm hung in a loose sling, but for the first time since they’d arrived, her feet were light and her mind was clear. The curving stairwell echoed with the boisterous shouts of the soldiers still celebrating their victory with food and music and cheer. But when she stepped into the cavernous dining hall, a wave of quiet whipped through the crowd as all eyes turned to her.

Madoc approached, his booming voice echoing across the silence. “Guardian Dashul, what ya did for us yesterday will not be forgotten. Here in Direfent we have a tradition—once ya’ve proved yerself in battle we say ya’ve earned your ale.” A boy handed him a red earthen mug already filled to the brim. “As such, yer mug will always hang over our fire, to show yer blade will always be welcome here with a hot meal and a stout drink.”

He thrust the mug into her good hand, and Kaia fingered the letters carved into the side, taking a moment to make out the word: Dragon. She chuckled softly.

Madoc raised his own mug. “To our very own Dragon, Odriel protect whatever fool dares challenge us now!” The soldiers raised their steins in a rumbling cheer, fists slamming their tables with wild abandon. “Drink up, Dragon.” With that, Madoc crashed his mug into hers, and she raised the drink to her smiling lips, trying not to spit out the foul concoction.

“You know it’s tradition to drink the whole thing,” Klaus said, leaning on a wooden crutch with a smile.

Kaia hid her grimace behind her mug. “You’ll help me right?”

“Not a chance,” he laughed.

She wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re just jealous you didn’t get a mug.”

Madoc held out a hand and took her by the elbow. “Now, my lady, I do believe there were a few things ya wanted to discuss.”

But Klaus knocked his hand away with his crutch. “You mean, my lady.”

Kaia’s eyes crinkled as she tried and failed to smother a grin.

“Oh, is that right? Last time ya tried to win a lady, I recall ya changed yer mind.” Madoc rubbed his beard with a bemused smirk. “And ya know, now that Guardian Dashul has met a room of real men, perhaps she’ll be changing her mind.”

Laughing, Kaia switched her mug to her sling hand, and looped her arm in Klaus’. “He speaks the truth, Madoc. We are a pair, the two of us.”

“So you say.” He shrugged, mischief still gleaming in his eyes. “But I haven’t seen any sparks between the two of ya, perhaps you’ll find—”

Then Klaus’ crutch was clattering to the floor, and his arms were around Kaia, his mouth on hers, and her back bending as he dipped her low in a deep kiss. Her arm wrapped around his neck as another wild cheer went up over the crowd—the whistling, banging whoops almost as loud as the first.

By the time Klaus let her up, Kaia had to hide the breathless blush of her smile against his chest. He curled his arm around her casually, pulling her tightly to him. “We are a pair,” he said, looking from Kaia back to Madoc. “So if you don’t mind, I’ll have the honor of escorting her to our table.”

Madoc threw his head back and laughed, long and deep. “Perhaps ya grew up all right after all.” Stooping, he picked up Klaus’ crutch and handed it to him.

Klaus accepted it and pressed his lips to Kaia’s forehead. “I may have had some help.”

Madoc’s grin glided to Kaia, and she smiled back.


Their food tucked away and the music faded to a dull roar, Kaia leaned on Klaus’ shoulder in a wash of contentment, her fingers stroking Gus’ long ears beside her. She looked up as Madoc slid into the chair across from them.

“Okay Dragon, this is my last deal. You can have the whole castle to yerself, and we’ll make you Cap’n—Cap’n Dragon! Doesn’t that have a ring to it?” His third stein sloshed in front of him, the other two showing themselves in the pink of his cheeks and the pitch of his voice.

Kaia laughed. “We already told you, Madoc, we’re only staying until we’re well enough to ride.”

“Bah!” Madoc waved his arms in the air. “Ya can’t say it wasn’t nice having some real muscle to back up just the two of ya.”

Klaus exchanged a glance with Kaia. “Of course it was, Madoc. But we can’t spend all of our time here. You and your soldiers protect the west. We have the rest of Okarria to cover.”

“I know it.” Madoc sighed. “You’re right of course, but sometimes I do miss the strength of a real Okarrian army, ya know?”

Kaia leaned forward in her seat, the seed of the idea that had been taking root finally flowering. “Exactly.”

Madoc and Klaus both looked at her. “Exactly?”

Kaia met their questioning gazes one at a time. “Two Heirs are all well and good, but we need more. When it comes to war, we’re lost without a real army at our backs. An army that doesn’t exist, because Okarria barely has enough soldiers as it is.”

“Right, but what do you want to do?” Klaus asked.

“I want to build a school. A place where people can train to defend Okarria should the time come. Just like when we were young, Klaus.” A wistful smile played on Kaia’s lips. “A Triennial for all, every year. Taught by you, and me, and the Dracour. We’ll teach them to fight and then send them on their way.”

Madoc let out a low whistle. “Ya think you could spare some of those swords for me?”

Kaia nodded. “If they’re looking for a place to do good, we’ll send them here, or to the Guards of the State-cities. That way, when we need warriors, we’ll know where to find them.”

“It’s a good idea.” Klaus bent his head closer to hers. “Is that what you really want?”

She squeezed his knee under the table. “We’ll still wander and aid where we can. But with a school, we’ll have a place to go back to. A place where we can rest and be safe for a time, while still helping our people.” She paused, biting her lip. “What do you think?”

“A damn good idea,” Madoc said, pounding the table with a large hand. Another soldier called to him, and he staggered to his feet, still waving a finger at Klaus. “I still have no idea how a woman like that puts up with a man like you.”

Klaus waved him off, his gaze still on Kaia’s. “I’m in.” He took her hand in his and kissed the inside of her wrist. “When do we start?”

Kaia’s eyes flashed. She could already see the stone walls of the school take shape in her mind. It would be their place of rest—their home. Nestled in the Naerami mountains, a short ride from her fierce Dracour teachers, they would attract students from the land over. They would come to learn from the Heirs, and they would leave with knowledge and strength and purpose.

She cocked her head at him. “Think we can have it ready for the next Triennial?”

“Well, you know I kind of have a standing date for the Triennial, so I might be a little distracted.” He tickled her side with a smirk.

“Oh yeah?” Kaia laughed. “Well, you better watch out, because your date might just catch you by surprise the next time around.”

“She always surprises me.” He pulled her closer. “In the best ways.”

And there, on the edge of the wild country, surrounded by steins of awful ale and the tuneless warbling of raucous soldiers, Kaia’s heart filled with the warmth and safety of love. With a love like this, they could raise mountains.

And they would.

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed Burning Shadows. If you have time to leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or your favorite book site, I would be so grateful to any words you’d be willing to leave. Even just a line or two can make a huge difference. Reviews are vital for any author, but as an indie author especially, encouragement from readers like you keeps me going and gives these stories wings. If you’re interested in reading more, you can find the first chapter of Idriel’s Children here. You can also connect with me on Twitter or Instagram @HayleyReeseChow.

Burning Shadows: Chapter Nine

Light the Match

The early dawn light crept across Nathollus’ thick red walls, lighting them in a fiery glow amidst the endless plain of brittle yellow. Kaia moved swiftly through the shoulder-high grass in the morning quiet, the cattle pen before her filled with at least a thousand of Idriel’s dead. With their armor, weapons, and the green sheen of yanaa swirling around their clean-picked skeletons, their origins were easy to identify. The dead raised by human necromancers were usually shabbier, poorly armed with their bodies still rotting. These were the progeny of the demon Idriel, the children he had meant to avenge him.

But still, the question arose, how had the Rastgol drawn them here? How were they controlling them? Even as Kaia asked the questions, she knew the answer somewhere deep inside of her. Mogens had called them. She had always thought Conrad was the only one with the power of necromancy, but perhaps she had been wrong. There had always been something deeply unnatural about Mogens… but if he had really survived her dragon fire, then it was not too far a stretch to believe he had some power of necromancy.

She shook her head. That would have to wait. She didn’t have time for guesses. If new Lost rose after they destroyed these, then that would be a new problem—provided they survived this one.

First, she needed to steal two horses while drawing as little attention to herself as possible. And the easiest way to do that was to unseat two riders. Inwardly, she cursed the buffalen that had mangled Klaus’ foot. Stealing was definitely on the Shadow Heir’s list of duties—not hers.

Her gaze skated to a nearby clay outbuilding where smoke rose from the chimneys. A giant smokehouse judging by the scent of roasting meat on the wind. She cocked an eyebrow. An easy place to accidentally catch fire.

Pulse thrumming in her ears and her ribs aching, Kaia crept toward the smokehouse with a careful eye on the Rastgol guards. Two patrolled the Lost paddocks while another was stationed at the door to a smokehouse that faced the pens. Although the building looked to be built with some kind of clay bricks, the door and the roof were both made of wood. Still, she needed to be fairly close to start the fire, or else she’d give away her position. She could send a blaze through one of the fireboxes piped into the building, but they were out in the open, in full view of the guards.

Still searching for options, Kaia gave the smokehouse a wide berth and approached from the rear to find a conveniently unguarded back door, albeit one with a heavy lock. She breathed a sigh of relief. Locks she could do. Moving to the door, she produced a hot blue flame from one of her fingers and melted the heavy iron. The blaze had to be big enough to attract attention. Setting the wooden roof on fire from the inside would be her best bet.

She opened the door, and the scent of smoke and meat flooded out. Kaia let the flame in her hand grow, ready to thrust her fire into the ceiling, when she caught sight of the meat hanging from the rafters. Nausea wrenched her stomach. Where she had been expecting legs of buffalen to be hanging from the ceiling, full human bodies dangled instead, their faces frozen in horror. Men, women, children… hung naked and hairless in the smoke like raw specters, their skin charred and red.

Kaia retched, the horror nearly paralyzing her as tears pricked her eyes. This was the worse fate that Madoc had mentioned. She tore her eyes away.

These truly were monsters.

Gagging again, Kaia sent her gush of flames into the rafters, enveloping the Rastgol’s victims with it. At least she could provide them this dignity, however small. With that, she swung the door closed, using every bit of her self-control not to slam it—not to blast this building into cinders.

She sucked in deep gasps of clean air as the image burned itself forever into her mind. Another gruesome memory that would haunt her nightmares for the rest of her life. Another one she’d never be able to erase. Breath rattling in her chest, she wiped her eyes. She had to stick to the plan. They had to get out of here.

Behind her, the smokehouse was already crackling to life. She had only a matter of seconds to find cover before the guard raised the alarm. Swallowing her revulsion, Kaia ran toward the tall grass just as the first guard shouted, “Fire in t’smokehouse!”

Kaia looked over her shoulder, trying to gauge the response… and nearly ran straight into a trio of Rastgol riders. Odriel’s teeth.

For a moment, Kaia wasn’t sure who was more surprised, she or the Rastgol. But they recovered first.

“An escaped t’slave,” said one, drawing a curved sword.

“Must be the t’one that set fire to the smokehouse,” said the other.

And that was all Kaia had time for. Now that they’d discovered her, she had no choice but to play her hand. Kaia lifted two palms and released a crackling gush of flames into the air. The horses screamed, their eyes rolling. One bolted, another reared, and the third, shockingly, snapped at her with its strong teeth. The one on Kaia’s left flailed so violently it fell onto its back, the rider beneath it. But the one on the right pawed at the ground, its rider drawing his sword.

Kaia dodged as the steel sliced down on her and grabbed the arm of the Rastgol. Wrenching her body, she threw him out of the saddle into the dirt.

He rolled to his feet in a breath, sword slashing. Kaia ducked and weaved, her fingers finding the knife at her belt. She let the Rastgol take another slash and darted inside his guard, burying the blade in his middle before ripping it to one side, just like she had practiced with Klaus so many times. Still, disgust wriggled through her bones as the blood dripped from his belly. She freed her blade and let the man crumple to the ground.

Turning quickly, she grabbed the reins of the strangely stolid horse, its ears pinned peevishly as it pulled against its halter.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Kaia said breathlessly, even as its rider lay bleeding out behind her. The other groaned on the ground while his mount shied away from him. She ran over and grabbed its reins too. “I’m not going to hurt you.” She patted her breeches for something, anything, she could use to win the horses and found the dried periapple slices she usually kept for Sunflash. “How about a treat, huh?”

The shy one took the offering immediately, but its eyes were still wide with nervousness. Still pulling at its halter, the braver one eyed her suspiciously while Kaia continued to stroke its neck. This was the one she needed. She grimaced at the spur scars gouging its flank. “I’m going to get you out of here, okay, brave girl? I just need a ride.” Kaia closed her eyes, trying to communicate with every fiber of her being that she meant no harm.

Perhaps the horse understood her, or perhaps luck was on her side, but the mare lipped the periapple from her palm. With a shaky sigh of relief, Kaia climbed into the saddle, still holding the reins of the other gelding. She tugged on them to make sure he would follow.

Shouts rang through the air in earnest now as the Rastgol tried to extinguish the burgeoning fire with shovels of dirt. Time was running out. Kaia leaned down and patted the mare’s neck. “We’ll have to be fast.”

With a sharp yell, she urged the mare into a gallop straight toward the Lost, the gelding racing along close behind. The gazes of the Rastgol turned to her, and a few arrows began to whistle down from the ramparts. The time for stealth, or her attempt at stealth anyway, was over. And strangely, the realization brought a wash of relief, rinsing the tightness from her muscles.

Now she could do what she did best. Guiding the mare as close to the pens as she dared, she coiled her yanaa within. The Lost churned toward her, whatever power that held them cracked by her presence as they overflowed the paddock, crawling out like a mass of furious mud ants. She thought of the burned village, and the Direfent soldiers, and the bodies in the smokehouse. With those images roiling behind her eyes, she balled all of her worry, anger, and sorrow, into a burning inferno of emotion. And then she unleashed it.

The blast cascaded out from her hand in an explosive tidal wave, devouring the Lost in its path. The gelding whinnied behind her, but still it ran on. Kaia screamed as she pressed even more into her flames, channeling every scrap of yanaa she could and letting it surge from her fingers as the mare charged along the fence line, all eyes on her as she set the Lost ablaze. The fire caught on the dry grass and licked up the clay walls of the fortress, incinerating the dark eyes, the gaping toothy mouths, and the last skeletal bodies crumbling in its heat. Only then did she let her hand drop.

As the mare sped her away from the crackling wildfire, Kaia chanced one last look at the carnage she had caused. The Lost burned and the Rastgol ran frantically this way and that, unsure whether to deal with the fire or the girl that had caused it, but amidst all of the smoke and flame and chaos, one figure stood stock still. Staring at her. Skin festering, eyes growing green, and mouth gaping in a lipless grin. Bile bubbled up Kaia’s throat, her mouth sour with the metallic tang of fear. Even as he shrank in the distance, Kaia knew his rotting form, fresh from her nightmares.

Not Lost. Not Rastgol.


Another volley of arrows rained down just behind Kaia, and she whipped forward, her heart pounding. She glanced back once more but Mogens was gone. Had she imagined it? Should she go back? But she couldn’t spare another thought as a handful of Rastgol riders charged across the plain toward her.

No time. She had to get Klaus and get out of there before—

Another torrent of arrows whizzed by her ear, and she held up a flat shield of protective fire. A line of riders streamed out of the main gate, scores of warriors cutting across the grass toward her.

She grimaced, trying to judge the distance between the riders and the tree where Klaus leaned against the trunk. At this rate, they would intercept her before she could reach him. Apparently, a stable full of burning dead wasn’t enough chaos for them.

She sucked in a deep lungful of burning air, sweat already pouring from her brow, and held out her heavy hand once more, the yanaa sucking the energy from her muscles. Pointing her fingers away and to the rear, she let fire gush into the dry yellow grass.

The blaze continued as she charged straight for the riders, but they did not flinch at the walls of flames that wound behind her. In fact, judging by the metal plating on the front of the mounts, it looked as though the riders were prepared to ram straight into her. They thundered closer under the rising sun, and sweat stung Kaia’s eyes as she took them in. Grins split their scarred faces and the freckled skin of their heads gleamed in the early light. Underneath the vibrations of hooves, the clacking of their bone necklaces punctuated the cacophony.

Kaia gritted her teeth. Almost… there.

“Kaia!” Klaus’ shout nearly cut through her concentration, and she turned the mare sharply across the Rastgol front lines, dragging her sheet of flames with her. As well trained as the Rastgol horses may have been, even they wouldn’t run straight into a sparking screen of fire. They pulled up short, rearing, shrieking, and snapping at the sudden heat.

Kaia allowed herself a small victorious smile. They were cut off. The blaze wouldn’t hold them forever, but it would buy them time. Though she was panting now, Kaia continued dragging her flaming barricade even as she turned toward Klaus. The more fire between them and the Rastgol, the better.

Finally, four horse-lengths from Klaus, she released her fire and slowed the horses.

“Don’t stop,” Klaus shouted, hobbling on one foot out into the grass. “There’s more behind you.”

Kaia barely had time to argue before she was upon him. Grabbing the saddle of the still running horse, his muscles tensed in his arms and shoulders as his good foot found the stirrup and he swung his bad leg over. In a breath, he was astride the beast, still racing away from the flames.

“Well, that was impressive,” Kaia gasped, her chest still heaving as she threw him the reins.

“The perks of growing up on a buffalen farm.” Klaus looked over his shoulder, worry still etching his face. “It’s nearly a half day’s ride back to Direfent, I’m not sure that’ll hold them for long. Even if we make it to the river, we won’t make it across in time.”

Kaia twisted in the saddle, her clothes damp with sweat, to ensure their buffer of flames still churned behind them. “We just need to make it to the banks. If they get too close, I still have flames to spare.”

But two hours later, Kaia could not say the same. She had driven the Rastgol back over a dozen times, her horse shook beneath her, and her body weighed like lead in the saddle.

“It’s just up ahead, Firefly,” Klaus urged. “I can see Direfent from here.”

Sweat dripped from Kaia’s hair as she followed his gaze to the stone walls in the distance. They just had to make it to the banks.

Klaus peered over his shoulder, and his gaze hardened. “But we have another two dozen riders coming in from the north.”

Kaia turned in the saddle, her throat raw from her heavy breathing. “You go on ahead. I’ll take care of it. These will be the last ones.”

“Don’t get too close,” he yelled as she peeled off toward their attackers.

Her energy fading fast, but with Direfent in the offing, she only had to buy a few more minutes. Holding out a hand, she gathered the fire within her. Thoughts of Klaus, injured and fleeing behind her, fed the flames crackling through her veins. She released the blaze in an explosive blast, the hungry roar of the dragon fire tearing through the grass and knocking the riders from their screaming horses.

The horses scattered, and Kaia quenched her flames. They had done it. Now they just had to make it the last—

A figure leapt through the wall of fire in front of the mare, and the horse collided with the man in a sickening crash of muscle and bone, vaulting Kaia from the saddle.

For a moment, the wind whistled in her ears, and then her body slammed into the ground. Air flew from her lungs as pain jolted from her head to her fingers, and black edged her vision. But the panic kept her tethered to consciousness. Ears ringing and vision still blurry, Kaia stumbled to her feet. My… horse. Where’s… the horse?

But there was only a tangled mass of bodies on the ground. The man’s sword had gone straight into the horse’s neck, but it hadn’t saved him from the crush of the beast’s momentum.

Kaia tried to lift her hands to her face, but only one moved. Her other shoulder hung at an odd angle, and pain screamed through her with every movement, scattering her thoughts. Fire snapped at her back along with the hoofbeats of horses and the yells of men. It wouldn’t be long before the Rastgol found their way around the flames.

East. She had to go east. Back to Direfent. Madoc was waiting for them.

She staggered toward the hope of Direfent, and agony shot from her shoulder through the rest of her body. At this rate, she’d never be able to cover the ground in time. Was there somewhere she could hide? How long would it take Klaus to—the sound of hoofbeats was suddenly too close. Kaia turned to meet her new opponent, fire filling her good hand.

But then Klaus’ familiar form came into focus as he slid from his saddle, and she let the fire wink out in a flash of relief. He limped toward her, his worried face filling her doubled vision. “Are you okay? I saw you fall.”

“My… shoulder,” Kaia rasped.

Klaus put his hand on it, and a rattle of pain ricocheted through her body. “Yeah, I’ll have to pop it back in.”

Kaia’s eyes widened. “You have to what?”

“Don’t move.”


But Klaus had already yanked, and Kaia screamed as her vision flashed black with pain once more. His hand steadied her as she swayed on her feet, but surprisingly, the pain had subsided to more manageable levels.

“That’ll do you for now.” With hands at once urgent and gentle, he helped her onto his blowing horse. He pulled himself into the saddle behind her just as a volley of burning arrows flew through the blaze. Klaus covered Kaia’s head with his arms, and the horse took off with a terrified scream.

More arrows fell around them as the gelding raced toward the river. The poor beast made it within sprinting distance of the banks before an arrow found the mare’s flank. The horse bucked and reared, sending Kaia rolling into the dirt once more, vision spinning, and head splitting. But this time Klaus was right there beside her, and with the Rastgol pounding across the field, the adrenaline blotted out Kaia’s pain.

“We’ll have… to run,” she said through heavy breaths, already rising to her feet.

“We should stay and fight,” Klaus countered, balancing on his good foot as he reached for his blade.

“No.” Kaia pulled his arm over her shoulders and half dragged him across the grass. “We can make it.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Klaus’ eyes gleaned the landscape, even as he hobbled along beside her. “And what if they have scouts waiting for us?”

“They won’t,” Kaia choked out, her vision swimming as she tried to focus on keeping herself and Klaus upright. “Madoc will be there.”

“I don’t see Madoc.” Klaus looked behind them. “Odriel’s Teeth. There are at least a hundred now.”

“Just keep going.” Though Kaia’s muscles screamed disobediently, pain lancing from a dozen different places, she kept on, Direfent rising taller and taller among the grass. The hush of the river tickled her ears now. Madoc had better be there.

“Kaia, they’re almost on us!” Klaus yelled over the war drum of so many hooves, the dust of it staining the air. He pulled against her, trying to get her to stop, to turn, to fight.

With one last burst of energy, Kaia threw them forward into the grass, the sharp hooves of the horses only seconds away. “NOW MADOC!” she screamed.

And in a raucous war cry, the soldiers of Direfent rose from the grass and answered.

Thanks so much for reading! New chapters posted Mondays and Thursdays! Also, if you’ve found a typo, please feel free to give a shout, and I’ll be sure to correct it. Thanks again!