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Shadowcast Excerpt

Crystal D. Grant has a novel publishing this month through Quill and Flame Publishers. Check out an excerpt from her novel!

Captain Braylee Wright dodged a Darkman’s blade and took advantage of his opponent’s unguarded side to thrust his sword. When the man fell, Braylee braced himself against a partially burnt wall and pulled his helmet off to brush the damp hair from his eyes. Dirt and blood streaked his crimson armor and sweat trickled down the sides of his face.

He chanced another look out into the street. It was calm for the moment, though the night echoed with a cacophony of hooves, cries, and steel. Fire consumed much of the village and Rackson’s civilians were nowhere to be seen, hiding in fear. Smoke hid the clouded night sky and death filled the air.

Acrid smoke stung Braylee’s nose and windpipe. Hungry flames licked at what was left of homes and businesses. The terrorized citizens’ only hope of survival lay with the Stewards and faded with every minute.

At the sound of approaching shouts, Braylee ducked behind the wall and peered over. Darkmen stormed every direction, most of them on horseback.

Mere hours before, Braylee had ridden into Rackson behind Uralis, heads and swords held high. The carnage had already begun, but the Stewards plunged through the streets, their sights set on the black helmets and crests of the Darkmen. They had quickly gained the upper hand and drove the Dark Army out of the ransacked little town.

But a fresh troop ambushed them right outside of Rackson, forcing them into swift retreat. Outnumbered four to one, Uralis’ battalion was overwhelmed and the marshal was nowhere to be seen. Braylee feared the worst.

He risked another look, though he could barely see anything; the moon remained hidden behind thick clouds and smoke. One Darkman threw a fireball into a nearby house. Another lifted a heavy wooden beam with his bare hands and flung it, nearly crushing Braylee where he hid. His stomach soured to see Darkmen abusing their Gifts of the Moon for their operation of destruction. They were searching—not for him alone, but for any Steward who dared shine the light of the Lambient.

He ground his teeth. His faithful mount of many years was slain, his last arrow spent, and his company dwindling and scattered, but he would fight until he had nothing left in him. The people of Rackson deserved that.

Gripping his sword, Braylee shifted to the balls of his feet and prepared for one last effort. He would take down as many Darkmen as he could before he fell. At the least, his stand could give someone else a chance to escape.

Reaching for the Beacon on his belt, Braylee watched the clear glass rod light up in his fist. Such a small weapon, but so pure and powerful. He pressed it against his forehead. This is how it ends. He committed these last moments to the Lambient he had served for so many years. There were no regrets, but how he wished for another moment with his family. His sweet, supportive wife and two beautiful daughters waited for his return home, but it was not to be.

Tightening his jaw, Braylee took hold of his helmet and calculated this final assault. The rod sparked and burned brighter, the whole length of it turning white. His body stiffened. What was happening?

The thunder of hooves shook the ground. Braylee raised his head, though afraid to look. Through the fog, the Prince of Paladin plunged into view astride his magnificent gray steed, his father’s famed sword raised high. Behind him rode Captain Dudley and a throng of Stewards and militia.

It must be Braylee’s exhaustion, creating fragmented visions of optimism.

The thick smoke lifted and disappeared with a wave of the prince’s hand. Eric stretched his hand and lifted a barrage of debris—stones, wood, glass—flinging it at the enemy. Braylee stood to his feet.

The Darkmen were not the only ones utilizing their Gifts.

Eric’s gelding carried him to the center of the village as Darkmen shielded themselves from the debris, giving the Stewards room to pass farther into the town. His riders filled the main street.

At the sound of an approaching rider, Braylee turned. A burly soldier rode straight for the prince. Braylee stepped out and grabbed him by the arm and leg, pulling him off the saddle. The Darkman hit the ground hard, but sprang to his feet, sword ready. A few strikes later, he lay dead at Braylee’s feet. Grabbing the reins of the man’s horse, Braylee swung up, drawing the prince’s gaze.

“Captain, where is the marshal?”

Braylee shook his head. “I know not.” His concern was reflected in the shadow that fell over Eric’s face. But there was no time to reply, for the Darkmen had regathered at the end of the street and, with a blood-chilling war cry, charged.

Eric froze for a heartbeat as it became clear that, in the marshal’s absence, he would be expected to command. Braylee gripped the reins. Would the prince resume the position he had once claimed?

But Eric’s face hardened and he reached down for the light rod hanging on his belt. “Now, Stewards!” He raised the brilliant light over his head. Oakley reared beneath him. “For the Code!”

The men behind him lifted their rods, and light filled the street. Braylee joined in as other knights emerged, battered and bloody, but still standing.

The combined light grew until Rackson was awash with radiance, blinding every man and beast of the Dark Army. Dazed and bewildered, the enemy scattered. Chaos ensued as new strength filled Uralis’ company.

“Spread out!” Eric directed the fresh horsemen behind him. “Vanguard and midguard ride with me. Rearguard, purge the village and drive them out!”

Captain Dudley turned to the right, his company fanning out behind him as they infiltrated the dark streets with men and light.

Many of the Darkmen ran for the opposite end of Rackson, toward the dark woods. Eric’s Beacon threw a path of light before his gelding. A growl started low in his throat and grew into a roar as he kicked Oakley’s sides and charged after the enemy, not waiting to see if his men would follow.

For the first time in hours, despite his exhaustion and worry, a half-smile broke through Braylee’s dry, cracked lips as he spurred his mount to join him. Victory blossomed in his chest.

The prince of Paladin had taken the lead.

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