The release of The Island of Kvorga, book two in The Blessed of the Dragon, is set for April 21, 2020! I thought it might be time for a few sneak peeks of what is in store for you. I’d like to preface this post with what I hope is obvious: there are spoilers in this post and those that follow. So, if you haven’t read The Path of the Synthesizer, please return once you have. 😁
In the lead up to the release of The Path of the Synthesizer, I shared the prologue and first chapter here on my website. If you haven’t read The Path of the Synthesizer yet and want to check it out, you can read the prologue here and the first chapter here. You can also download a preview on your favorite e-reader (Kindle, Apple, Kobo, & Nook) to get a taste of it before purchasing it. If you’re interested in reading the prologue to The Island of Kvorga, it can be found in the back of The Path of Synthesizer. 😉
I thought I’d do something slightly different for my sneak peeks of The Island of Kvorga.
The Path of the Synthesizer featured several point-of-view (POV) characters. However, the plot focused mainly on two of them: Yolken and Javen. The Island of Kvorga also features several different POVs but a third character wriggled their way into becoming a primary POV character. That character is Hadie.
When it comes to Hadie’s role in the story going forward, I’d like to borrow a thought from Javen that appears in his opening chapter of The Island of Kvorga: “though he hadn’t originally planned on seeing Hadie for any longer than the time she stayed in Lonely Oak, he had grown attached to her.”
This thought of Javen’s reflects my own feelings toward Hadie. She was originally meant to just be a distraction for Javen the night of the festival in Lonely Oak when he found Yolken and Kaylan together. But Hadie refused to be written out of the story. If that doesn’t make her a strong female character, I don’t know what does.
I am not a huge outliner of my stories. Except for establishing a few goalposts along the way–one at the beginning, a couple in the middle, and where the story ends–I’m more of what you call a pantser. Keeping my eyes on the goalposts, I let the story take me where it may. In other words, I write by the seat of my pants. So, since I didn’t originally have much in mind for Hadie, and she refused to exit stage left when she was supposed to, she sort of gets credit for writing her own story. I basically knew where Yolken and Javen’s storylines were going, but Hadie wasn’t supposed to be there. Her story evolved as it went. I won’t spoil it for you–Hadie should get to tell her own story, don’t you think? But I will say she employs rather… unsavory… techniques to accomplish her goals.
So the next few posts will be the opening chapters (or enough of a chapter to hopefully pique your interests) for my–now–three primary character POVs: Yolken, Hadie, and Javen. They will probably appear in that order because that is the order in which they occur in the book.
So, without further ado…
First up to bat: the former proprietor of the Thornhill Tavern, gifted brewer of ales, who in book one chose to take the path of the Synthesizer… Yolken Thornhill.
While the vast northern plains were still shrouded in the vestiges of night, the snow-covered peaks to the north began to shine. That light slowly crept down the mountains, revealing their grotesque, rocky, shadow-hidden sides. As the light worked its way down, the barren slopes eventually gave way to an abundance of life. To the south, just before it reached the valley floor, the light revealed leagues of cliffs. Their starkness was offset by the cascading water of the Mindon Falls, sparkling like a river of diamonds. Smoke from a growing fire billowed behind the falls.
When the sun finally crested the horizon and its light stretched across the grassy plains, the backs of the two weary travelers quickly began to warm. Yolken and Jax drew that warmth in, feeling it melt away their weariness. They took off running, sprinting through open fields at unnatural speed. They raced each other—Jax trying to prove his one hundred seventeen years of life hadn’t slowed him any, and Yolken not wanting to be beaten by, as Jax had taunted, an old man. The fun eventually ended—even those benefiting from the endurance-enhancing effects of Synthesis couldn’t sprint forever—and they settled into a more sustainable pace.
Yolken’s cloak flew out behind him as he ran. His mind raced as fast as his feet, shifting from thought to thought. He thought mostly about Kaylan. Ever since the night of the festival in Lonely Oak—even with everything that had happened—it had been hard to think of anything else. But he also thought a lot about Javen, and what it was going to take to free him from the Regency.
He had grown up believing the Regency were the Blessed of the Dragon. They were the Blessed of the Dragon. He’d stopped short of worshipping them like many of the residents of Lonely Oak did and had foregone the weekly visits to the Dragon Shrine that many made, but he respected them. They ruled Dradonia; all of it. The gift that the emperor, chancellors, and regents possessed set them apart from the rest of the world. Their rule was absolute, and uncontested because nobody could possibly hope to overpower them. And he was one Synthesizer—largely untrained—whose bloodline was nowhere near as pure as the Blessed’s. But he couldn’t abandon Javen to them—not after everything he’d learned. It was possible that everything Jax and Deborah had told him were the actual lies, but Kaylan believed them, so he would too. And if he was going to do anything to help his brother, he knew he needed their help.
His mind shifted to his forthcoming meeting with the Council. Jax had said very little about the Order of the Dragon and the Order’s leaders, the Council. All he’d really said was that Yolken would need their help. He knew almost nothing about the Order, and even less about the Council. But he did know that his father had been an integral part of the Order.
Yolken itched to stop Jax and ask him to tell him more about the Order and the Council, but didn’t want to slow their pace. Now that they were going somewhere, he felt as though he was making progress—even if only a little bit—in his effort to rescue Javen. Hopefully, Jax didn’t expect him to go to the Council unprepared.
As they drew closer to Croff, the epicenter of trade in the Northern Realm, they avoided the growing number of farms. Eventually, it became unpractical and unsafe to continue, so Jax finally stopped. They stood on a small cart path leading south toward a distant farm.
“We’ll follow this to the highway,” Jax said as he set off walking. “And keep the sword out of sight.”
A grin grew on Yolken’s face when he saw Jax unscrew the cap of his water flask and use Yolken’s trick of gathering water out of the air to fill it. Yolken’s flask was running low as well, so he did the same.
“This close to the city, Synthesizing is much riskier,” Jax said, “so keep your Energy flows close to the ground. The higher you reach with your flows, the easier it’ll be for a Watcher to see you.”
Yolken heeded Jax’s warning, keeping his flows of Energy close to the ground as he reached for water. It made the process slower, but it wasn’t as though he was in a hurry. When his flask was full, he began channeling the Energy he was absorbing into the Harachin sword. He charged the sword slowly, remembering from his lessons that absorbing Energy from the sun distorts Energy’s natural flow. That, too, would be visible to Watchers. As he charged the sword, he realized how hot he was getting now that they weren’t running anymore. When he finished filling the sword, he unclasped his cloak from around his neck and took it off.
“What are you doing?” Jax said.
“It’s too hot.” Yolken laid the cloak on the ground, then unbuckled the sword from his belt. He wrapped the cloak around the sword, tying it into a neat bundle with the cloak’s chords. Then he threaded the sword belt through the cords, slung the belt over his shoulder, and put the pack in place on his back. “You should do the same.”
Jax ignored him and started down the path again.
After about half a league, they reached the highway. It was nestled alongside the Croff River.
“If we went that way,” Jax said, gesturing off to the right, “the highway would follow the river all the way to Mindon, where the Croff River joins the Mindon River. It’s a beautiful city.”
When they joined the highway, Yolken marveled at the steady stream of merchant wagons moving in the opposite direction. In just a matter of minutes, they passed as many wagons as visited Lonely Oak in any given week. And they kept streaming by.
Yolken couldn’t see the city yet, even when he peeked around the large wagon in front of him, hauling bales of barley. That didn’t stop his excitement from growing, however. And as the farms surrounding them grew closer together, the road became more crowded. He knew that they were getting very close. All thoughts of the Order and the Council evaporated from his mind, replaced by Kaylan. They had only been apart for a couple of weeks, but it felt like an eternity. He resisted the urge to run around and between the traffic. He was past ready to hold and kiss her again.
“I can tell you’re getting antsy,” Jax said, “but when in the open we must remain hidden. That is how the Order operates. That is how we survive.”
“We’d be there so much faster if we could just run,” Yolken said.
“But two men running when everyone else is walking would draw attention.”
“I know,” Yolken said. The fact didn’t stop him from wanting to run, though.
Two young girls popped out from behind a barley bale in the wagon in front of him and started waving at him. When he waved back, they giggled and ducked out of sight. As soon as they peeked back around the bale—one over the top and one on the side—he waved again. They shrieked and disappeared just as fast as they had appeared. The next time they peeked he pretended he didn’t see them, and they waved frantically to get his attention. When he eventually acknowledged them, they again shrieked, giggled, and ducked behind the bale. This went on for a while, proving to be the perfect distraction. Given the contents of the wagon, he guessed that they were sisters riding into the city with their pa to sell their crop. For all he knew, he could have bought grain grown by this farmer; a lot of the grain he had used for brewing came from Croff.
“Only a few more leagues,” Jax said.
They passed three more small villages nestled against the road. After the third one, Yolken stepped off the side of the road to get a look around the wagon. Sprawling buildings in the distance greeted him.
They had arrived at Croff.
The dusty road broadened as the buildings drew closer. Yolken and Jax passed through an arched gate, which Yolken found oddly out of place because there wasn’t an accompanying wall. At the gate, the dirt road became cobbled. The buildings at first resembled the one- to two-story brick buildings of Lonely Oak, but before they had walked very far into the sprawling city, the buildings had grown to several stories tall. Packed tightly together, they towered over the road, making Yolken feel small.
As they made their way into the city, they passed crossroad after crossroad. Lonely Oak only had one road; the rest of the town had been erected haphazardly around that road and the buildings that lined it. But Croff was definitely no Lonely Oak. It was the seat of the Croff Province, of which Lonely Oak was a part. It was also where Dalia, the provincial regent, lived. He wondered if he would see her mansion. It was somewhere in the city, he knew, visible behind its protective walls.
Jax walked deeper into the sea of buildings, then turned from the wide, cobbled road onto a crossroad paved with brick. The girls in the cart ahead of them waved frantically. Yolken waved back and blew them a kiss. Both girls screeched and collapsed onto bales. Yolken smiled as he followed Jax. He wondered if they would spend the rest of the morning arguing about which of them was going to marry him. At least he didn’t have to let them down by telling them that his heart was already set on someone else.
The thought of Kaylan quickened Yolken’s pulse. He had been thinking about her all morning, but now that they were in the same city, his anticipation grew. He continued following Jax as they made their way through the city, growing more excited with every step. And with every turn, he wondered how much further they had to go.
The deeper they moved into the city, the busier the streets became. Yolken had to work to not get separated from Jax. At the same time, he wanted to take in his surroundings, and he looked around as much as he could without taking his eyes off Jax for too long. The buildings were tall, and in most places there wasn’t room to pass between them. Many of them were completely connected. The different building materials were the only indication that they weren’t one large, long building.
Most of the people who crowded the streets didn’t seem any different from those in Lonely Oak. They ranged from the poor and decrepit to the finely dressed. As they walked, though, Yolken began noticing people wearing styles he didn’t recognize. They also passed a few soldiers wearing gray armor. Yolken looked at them with a new understanding. A large, rough-textured, oval piece covered their torsos, and the rest of the armor—arms, shoulders, backs, and leggings—were smaller oval-shaped plates. All of the plates, large and small, were dragon scales. Growing up he had always wondered about the armor worn by soldiers, guards, and the Blessed, never thinking it might actually be made from dragons slaughtered during Drakonias’ war. The idea that dragons were actually real, not just fabled creatures derived from the Great Dragon, still amazed him. Dragon scales protected dragons from Energy, so Yolken now understood why everyone associated with the Regency wore the armor.
Jax made another turn and they walked down a narrow street lined on both sides by skinny, two-story buildings. Each building had steps leading up to a small landing with a door. Except for variations in color, the buildings looked identical. Jax eventually climbed the steps of a brown building on the right, and Yolken followed him up. Jax attempted to open the door, but it was locked, so he knocked.
The door opened a crack and familiar green eyes peeked through. The door closed momentarily then flew open. Jax turned sideways when Kaylan burst out, letting her around him. She crashed into Yolken’s arms and he hugged her tightly, burying his face in her hair. He inhaled, breathing deeply of lilac.
“I’ve missed you so much!” Kaylan said into Yolken’s chest.
When she eventually looked at him, Yolken cupped her cheeks with his hands and kissed her.
Jax smirked at them, then stepped into the building.
When their kiss ended, Kaylan took Yolken by the hand and followed Jax through the open door.
Deborah was standing just inside. “Greetings! We weren’t expecting you so soon.”
“A Watcher found us,” Jax said crossly.
“Oh? That’s a shame.” Deborah’s tone was wry. “I know how much you prided yourself on that little retreat of yours.”
“I wouldn’t bring that up,” Yolken said with a grin. Drenan’s son had tracked them to the ravine where the safehouse was, forcing them to flee. Jax had been cross because of how much effort it took to build and supply—which involved a very unhappy mule—only to be discovered so quickly. “He’s still sore about it.”
“Please sit.” Deborah gestured to the couch and chairs. “I’m sure you’re tired. Give me just a moment and I’ll make tea and get you something to eat.”
Yolken followed Kaylan, who still led him by the hand, to the couch along the wall. He dropped his rolled-up cloak on the floor and sat wearily beside her. He wrapped one arm around her and held her hand with the other. She leaned her head against his shoulder.
Jax followed Deborah to the kitchen at the back end of the narrow house. Yolken heard him ask, “Were my plans well received?”
“Mostly,” Deborah said. “There are a few that will need some convincing but…”
As they moved through the long narrow house, Deborah’s voice trailed off until Yolken couldn’t hear her any longer. He was sure there would be plenty of time for them to discuss things, so he turned his attention to the only thing that mattered at the moment.
He let go of Kaylan’s hand and gently cupped her chin. He turned her face up toward his and kissed her again. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Me too,” Kaylan said. “I couldn’t believe it when I opened the door and saw Jax standing there. We weren’t expecting you for at least another month. In fact, we were just getting ready to go to the market when you knocked.”
“It’s been a crazy few days for sure,” Yolken said. He didn’t really want to discuss the details, have to verbalize his fight with Drenan’s son at the Mindon Falls or what happened to him, so he said, “This city is amazing, isn’t it?”
“Growing up in Lonely Oak, I never really thought about how big Croff actually is. I mean, I never thought of it as more than a dot on a map. Mammy says over a hundred thousand people live here!”
“A hundred thousand?” Yolken said. “Incredible.”
“And Mammy says Croff is nothing compared to Tieger or Kyinth.”
“That’s hard to believe. It didn’t take long before I got turned around. I don’t think I’d be able to find my way back out of the city if my life depended on it.”
“It’s pretty easy to find your way once you get used to it. Mammy says the center of the city is full of twists and turns, but out here in the newer parts, the streets are laid out where it’s pretty easy to find your way around. I hope I get the chance to show you around some.”
“Me too, but I’m hoping Jax will take me to the Council as soon as possible.”
“Well, if we do get the chance, you’ll love it. It’s so different here.”
Deborah carried a tray of tea into the room, set it down on the small table in the middle of the room, then returned to the kitchen.
“You want any?” Yolken asked Kaylan.
“No, thanks. I had some just before you arrived.”
Yolken leaned forward to reach the teapot. He poured himself a cup then sat back. He took a sip, anticipating the welcome relief the tea would provide from his tiredness. Deborah and Jax returned to the room, each carrying a plate with a bowl and a hunk of bread. Jax sat down and dug into his. Deborah waited for Yolken to set his tea down before handing him the plate she was holding. He inhaled the aroma of the bread, which was cool, but still fresh. Then he dipped it into the bowl of thick soup.
“So,” Deborah said after Jax and Yolken finished eating, “tell us what happened.”
“First, we need proper beverages,” Jax said. He stood and made his way back toward the kitchen.
“Are you implying that my tea isn’t good enough?” Deborah called after him.
Jax returned with a large jug and four round glasses. He set the glasses down on the table, then filled one with the contents of the jug and handed it to Yolken.
Ale was exactly what he needed, so Yolken happily accepted the glass. His eyes lit up when he took a drink. “Are you serious? You have my ale? Here?”
Jax smiled. “One must prepare for all possibilities.”
“You couldn’t possibly have known we would end up here,” Yolken protested, picking up one of the round glasses.
“No,” Jax said, “but I spend a lot of time in Croff. Might as well have decent ale while I’m here.”
“Seems like a lot of effort to me,” Yolken said.
“You have a gift, Yolken.”
“Speaking of the Regency…” Deborah interjected.
“Right,” Jax said, taking one of the glasses and sitting in a padded chair. “Seven days ago, a Watcher found us in the ravine. Well, found me. Yolken was working in the shed.”
Jax spent the next hour catching Deborah and Kaylan up on the events that had transpired at the cabin.
When Jax arrived at Yolken’s confrontation with the Watcher, Yolken said, “Can we not talk about that?” He was trying to think about the fight, which ended with the Watcher’s death, as little as possible. Kaylan comforted him with a hug.
“I’m sorry you had to experience that, dear,” Deborah said. “Things are progressing well, then?”
“They are,” Jax said. “I just wish we’d had more time to prepare before going before the Council. However, I think Yolken’s progress should be sufficient to convince them to accept our plan.”
“I still don’t get it,” Yolken said.
“Why should my abilities determine whether or not the Council helps me?”
“It might be hard to understand, I know, but the Order has a very specific purpose, and freeing prisoners is not one of them. The Regency does horrible things—we know that—but the Order simply does not have the ability to prevent it from happening, or to do anything about it when it does.”
“So you’re saying the Order will help me only because I might be of use to them?”
“You and Javen both,” Jax said. “I know it sounds harsh, but that’s the fact of the matter.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I understand how this sounds to you, Yolken,” Deborah said. “However, if you want to help your brother, this is truly the only way. There’s no one other than the Order who can stand up against the Regency. Unfortunately, the Order operates according to specific rules, and sometimes those rules prevent us from doing what’s right, or what we might want to do. This is not because we’re bad people, or indifferent—rather, the Order operates the way it does because we care.”
The conversation lulled and in the quiet that ensued, Yolken slowly wrapped his mind around the reality of the situation. He sipped his ale and Kaylan gently rubbed his arm and back. “What do I need to do to convince them to help?”
“They will only authorize help if they think you and Javen are of value to the Order,” Jax said. “So you must convince them that you are.”
“And if I don’t?”
“If you don’t, then you’ll likely never see your brother again.”