Excerpt form Sorceress Conquest
Heedless of the growing shadows as dusk grayed into night, Maddox Chadwick, sorcerer extraordinaire, paced at the top of an East Tennessee ridgeline.
A few nights ago at the end of their gathering, he and his fellow knights set out to perform their final tasks to earn their freedom, and yet a sense of restlessness, of expectation, lured Maddox back to the very spot tonight.
Anticipation bolstered his stride, as if he returned once again after a fifteen-hundred-year hiatus, to a grand stage. Long ago, Maddox left the world of thievery and thespian pursuits behind to join twelve others to protect Camelot against underworld forces.
Now, drawn to this area by the power housed within the mountains, their tenure as Dark Knights would soon to an end.
A line of mostly limestone and granite layered the ridgetop. Stunted cedar and pine trees sprouted close to the summit and blended in with oaks and other spring foliage along the steep, downward slopes. The breeze stirred through the evergreens and tickled his nostrils, and magic thrummed through the crystals in the ground beneath him.
Pale and muted, a halfmoon glowed through thickening clouds, casting long shadows and turning the trees into twisted, sinister shapes.
As stated in the ancient prophecy, he sought release from his knightly duties. Yet, he, a sorcerer of Merlin’s ilk, did not know where to look.
By the Kingdom, why am I, a magnificent wielder of magic, being denied?
While the others possessed the knowledge of their last knightly tasks, Maddox walked back and forth. Owls hooted, and crickets chirred to jeer his performance. For good reason, because like an actor without direction, he strode along rocky terrain as grit crunched under his shoe soles, in search of the unknown.
The weight of foreboding pressed on his shoulders, at odds with the growing anticipation. Maddox frowned, trying to make sense of it.
In honor of the upcoming supermoon, he manifested the image of an orb, mimicking the full globe exactly. Held within the space between his cupped hands, the glow illuminated a pit that once held a large chunk of crystal.
But even the conjuring in a world long devoid of magic failed to excite him.
Nothing much did anymore, not since the price of his sorcery featured centuries of celibacy no man should be forced to endure.
In addition, he had no idea what ancient artifact he was meant to retrieve, and no clue why he’d been drawn here to this particular place at this specific time. But whatever demanded his attention and scrutiny had everything to do with him being upon this ridge on this night.
Movement along the tree line caught his attention.
Gideon Saint-Valeri, the cur of a wolf shifter, staggered into view and dropped to his knees. No longer a handsome knight or even a noble wolf, the creature before him bore a monstrous visage of an elongated snout with sharp uneven teeth gleaming below a fur-covered forehead of a more human slant.
Back hunched, the deformed Dark Knight carried an unconscious woman cradled tight to his chest.
Tasting cedar and pine as he inhaled, Maddox quirked his upper lip. Within his leather jacket, he shrugged as if to dislodge the weight of this strange night from his shoulders.
When the second-in-command raised his face, wetness marred the disfigured cheeks. “She dies.” The werewolf shook his head and spoke in a low guttural tone. “And I have killed her.”
Maddox blinked at the sight of his tears. Never had he imagined seeing such agony and grief on the arrogant, dutybound shifter’s face.
“We cannot tarry. We must return to the woods.” A woman, with hair too light for brown and too dark for red, stumbled from the lower slope, panting as she stopped beside the afflicted knight. “Time runs out.”
At the sight of her, a strange slowness shuttered Maddox’s hearing and reactions. His fingers automatically curled toward his palm, yet he hesitated in making the gesture that would freeze the woman in place.
Could it be?
As she struggled to take in air as if she’d run along behind Saint-Valeri, her square jaw suggested a strong will, while arched eyebrows framed wide-set eyes of a gray so soft they looked silver in the moonlight. Tousled curls fell wildly around her sun-kissed face. After a lack of interest in sex and romance lasting centuries, the sight of her full lips, expressive eyes, and high cheekbones took away his need to breathe.
Yet, the vibration of an essence emanating from within the woman locked his lungs with dread.
“I know you.” A manipulator of energy, he recognized a familiar, once-strong force oozing from her and exerted his power. Using sorcery, he mentally commanded her to reveal all.
Your true name. Speak it.
“Ashlyn Bartholomew.” Her eyes, the color of fine-honed Damascus steel, widened and reflected a vulnerability that stirred a foreign sense of caring within his chest. As if the woman fought some sort of inner battle, her mouth pulled into a grimace. “Why should it matter?” Her full upper lip curled in obvious disdain. “There’s—”
“I command you.” Gusts whipped about him as a sudden storm brewed overhead. After all, a sorcerer’s mood tended to influence the weather. For the first time since the time of Arthur, Maddox refused to rein in or dampen his power. Through a boom of thunder, he yelled, “Speak your real name.” Recognition of the being housed within the human female before him burned deep in his gut. “Reveal yourself.”
In response to the power inherent in his command, she worked her mouth in rebellion until her lower jaw gaped as if the hinges locked in protest.
From beside her, the wolfman mewled.
Maddox curled his fingers into a fist and willed Ashlyn Bartholomew’s form still. With a shudder, wide eyes accusing, the woman froze, and, with her, the spirit she housed.
“In due time,” he muttered to both. How was this possible? A sinking sensation bottomed in his gut. Many times over the last millennium and a half he encountered charlatans who claimed to channel spirits, but this woman had been truly taken over by an entity from the beyond.
One of the worst.
~ from Sorcerer’s Conquest