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The Vanishing Sculptor
Donita K. Paul is
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Today I’m giving away:
Ted Dekker and Kaci Hill
New York Times best-selling author Ted Dekker revisits the universe of his half-million selling Circle Trilogy with the continuation of this popular YA series--and brings along a member of "The Circle" as his coauthor.
Darsal is trying to love the Horde as Elyon asked her to, but she's torn between this new mission and her original one . . . especially now that Johnis and Silvie no longer seem to be on her side.
The Chosen Ones are facing their greatest threat--extinction--and only by Elyon's grace will they survive to tell the tale.
Excerpt of chapter one:
Marak of Southern, Qurong's general over all the Horde army, paced inside one of the bunk rooms reserved for the officers. Two narrow beds stacked on top of each other jutted out of each wall. No windows. Just a torch stand and the candles on his desk. Behind him was a narrow shelf of books.
His captain and best friend, Cassak, was taking too long to bring in the prisoners. He had said he would be here by now. Marak's patience was running out.
"Where is he?" Marak grumbled to himself, storming over to the two open books on the desk. One had once belonged to the long-gone general Martyn, who'd trained him; and the other, to his dead betrothed, Rona.
How, in Teeleh's name, had everything gone wrong in a week? He was a general, for goodness' sake, respected and trusted and feared. He'd been a good man with a loyal brother and a soon-to-be wife.
And now ...
General Marak had sequestered himself in the officers' hall at the north end of Middle, with fifty warriors standing guard. For two days they had roasted in the hot sun, choosing loyalty to their general over the orders of the Dark Priest. And for two days all of Middle remained tense, caught in the battle lines drawn between High Priest Sucrow and Marak.
Marak took along swig of his drink and continued his trek around the room. The meal his slave had brought him earlier sat untouched on the table. He couldn't eat; his stomach felt as if it were full of knives.
He went to the door and swung it open. "Is Darsal here yet?"
"No, sir," the warrior replied, falling into his salute. "We've not yet seen-"
"Find her!" Marak shut the door and went back to his inner tirade. This was a mistake. All of it. He'd had everything under control a week ago. At least, as much as the mess left by his predecessor allowed.
In less than a week, the priest had undone everything Marak had built, all in a bizarre sense of revenge and power play. Marak hadn't wanted to defy Qurong-and technically he hadn't. He had no reason to. But a series of events had led him to defy the Dark Priest and sequester himself in the officers' quarters. Now Qurong, the supreme commander, must hear him out on the absurd notion of a general taking orders from a priest. He had to.
Knotting his fist and glowering at the cold plate of food, he reviewed this plunge into dishonor.
First, upon gaining rank over Marak, Sucrow had ordered him to execute his own family-all albinos. Marak had stalled as long as possible, but Sucrow was powermongering.
Marak's jaw tensed at that thought. It'd been some time since he'd given the order and stood by as Cassak administered the hideous potion-Marak's albino-killing concoction called the Desecration-to his family. His brother.
He whirled around to the door and thrust his head out again. "Why are you still standing there?" he barked at the guard. "Did you find her?"
"The albino is still out on your previous orders, General," the guard replied cautiously. "I've sent a scout for her."
"Good." Again Marak turned back to his predicament. Where was he ...? Oh, right. His second problem. Sucrow had struck a deal with this Josef character from the backside of the desert, who claimed to have a better, faster way of killing off the albinos: a magic amulet made of Leedhan magic-whatever that was-that would give control over the mythical Shataiki and command them to wipe out the blight that is the albinos.
Marak had dismissed the idea. Sucrow had not.
Which led him to his third problem: Sucrow had taken Josef and Arya and had gone after the amulet without him. Immediately upon learning this, Marak sent his captain, Cassak, after them. If Sucrow was so convinced and so willing to risk his life for this amulet, there had to be some merit to its power.
Acting upon Marak's order, Cassak had captured Josef and Arya and taken the amulet from them. The move had infuriated Sucrow, so Marak had moved into the officers' quarters, barred the windows, and set guards around the sundial for his and his prisoners' protection.
So here he was. For two days Sucrow had made no move, but that would not last.
So be it. Marak had the amulet and the two prisoners, Josef and Arya, in his custody. His slave, Darsal, knew them as Johnis of Middle and Silvie of Southern, but he did not. Whatever their reasons were, he would not yet let them know he had that information. A knock at the door snapped him out of his silent rant.
"Who is it?" he growled.
"Darsal. Let me in."
Darsal, his albino slave, had been in the cells the same night his family was executed and had spoken with them before their deaths. She wore his brother's Circle pendant around her neck, his gift to her. Marak wasn't sure why he'd spared her, but he had. Twice. Once that night, when she vowed to be his slave. The second time in a glen, shortly after Sucrow had ordered him to kill her and, to his horror, he found he could not.
This at least partly explained his rationale to sequester himself here in the officers' quarters. Qurong might not yet know Darsal was still alive despite Sucrow's orders. And Sucrow couldn't use her in his sadistic rites-or worse yet, kill her-if Marak still had her.
"Marak, are you going to let me in?" The knob was rattling. He quickly crossed the room to unhook the latch and swing the door open.
There she was. This albino slave, this woman ... Darsal of the Far Northern Forest, who claimed to have crossed time and space through worn leather portals called the Books of History. She stood before him, arms crossed. Morst covered her exposed skin, and a blue veil wrapped around her head, covering her nose and mouth. Rich brown eyes watched him, noticeably frustrated.
"Thank you," she said. "You summoned me?" Their eyes met.
If he wasn't mistaken, he was falling in love with her. With an albino. This was most definitely a mistake.
He forgot what he'd summoned her for. He released a breath and worked the knot of frustration and anxiety back down into his belly.
"General." Darsal spoke softly, pulling him out of his thoughts. The citrus scent she wore drifted through the room.
Oh. Right. He was a general with a thousand problems to take care of. Unwilling to be caught in her warm gaze again, Marak stormed down the dark hall to the war room.
"Has Cassak arrived yet?" he asked her as he shoved the door open, not missing a step.
"Not yet," Darsal said, straightening the blue veil. She watched his irritated pacing, characteristic of the last several hours. He circled around the eight-foot oval table made of cherrywood. A green runner draped the width of the table, laid squarely beneath three copper candelabra. White pillars of wax flickered as curls of smoke drifted through the war room.
"He'll be here," Darsal said.
He tugged at the collar of his rust-colored tunic, sweaty and itchy, and turned toward the east-facing window he'd had Cassak's men bar and cover with a heavy crimson drape so no one could see in. Every window in the building had received the same treatment. The room was dark, but he couldn't very well light the torches without suffocating them all. Why Darsal would unnecessarily coat herself in morst, then drape a veil over her head in here, was beyond him.
Her fruity scent mingled with that of the candles.
"Relax, Marak. He'll be here."
"He's certainly taking his time about it. Read the message again," he ordered, turning back to her.
"It hasn't changed, my general." Darsal quirked a brow, completely exasperated with him. Her veil slipped, revealing dark brown braids. "He'll be here with your amulet and your prisoners."
"Just read it. I don't have the patience for your obstinacy. Not today. Not when we're at the brink of a civil war and Sucrow is halfway to Qurong by now. If your so-called friends hadn't been so stupid-"
"It was the Throaters' fault, and you know it. Cassak said so himself."
"They were only out there because they're a bunch of superstitious religious idiots who convinced the priest one of his own myths might be true," he argued.
"Jordan believed Shataiki exist," Darsal pushed. Marak tensed. "And the Roush. And Elyon. Was your brother a fool, Marak?"
Marak scowled at her. "Jordan was mistaken on many things. That didn't make him a fool."
"Yet you call drowning foolish."
"Your persistence is aggravating."
She studied him. "You're missing the point of all of this, my general."
"What's that?" He almost regretted the question. He knew her answer.
"This is about-"
"Elyon. You keep saying that."
"More than that, Marak. I mean, yes. But you're still missing it. Elyon doesn't just love the Circle. He loves the Horde too. You. This is all about you and Elyon. That's why I'm here." She opened her arms wide, indicating the room. "All of this."
Marak started to protest but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Secretly he appreciated the diversion from her nonsense about being Elyon's emissary. "We don't have time for this. Who is it?" he growled, unwilling to open the door on a whim.
"A messenger from the captain, General!" a familiar voice called through the door. Cassak's favored scout.
Marak nodded at Darsal, who let the scout in. She'd taken to staying by the door, even so far as to sleep in front of the threshold at night. A curious thing.
The small warrior saluted and went to one knee. Marak bid him stand, then bellowed, "He's late."
"He was avoiding the Throaters," the scout explained. "He's bringing the prisoners from the southeast to avoid further confrontation with the rebels."
Marak queried him on Eram, the half-breed rebel, then came to his real question. "When will Cassak be here?"
"Shortly, sir. He's making sure the prisoners and the amulet are secure. He's already sent messages to the commanders so they can respond to the rebels accordingly."
"Tell me something," he asked the scout. "Were you there?"
"Exactly what did you see?"
"Well, sir, it was just like the captain's report said."
"And no one would obey the captain?"
"Oh, we did, sir. We didn't kill any of them. Warryn and his men did the killing."
Marak bit back a comment. "What else? Cassak kept talking about black trees and clouds."
The scout didn't answer. He kept looking at Darsal. Staring. What was this scout looking at Darsal for?
"You have a problem, soldier?" Marak growled. He resisted the urge to jump between Darsal and the stupid scout and slice his head off.
The scout backed up. "No sir."
"Then answer the question." From what Marak had already gleaned from his scouts and an irritating message from Cassak, Josef wanted Sucrow's assistance-which meant Marak needed information. There was no way he was letting the priest race off with Marak's prisoners, much less in secrecy, with delusions of glory and self-aggrandizement in his head.
"Well, sir, it's just that no one's really sure what we saw."
Marak threw Darsal an over-the-shoulder glance.
"Were they furry?" Darsal interrupted, startling both Marak and the scout. She appeared beside him, so close he was drowning in her scent. A flash of heat shot up his arm where hers brushed his. "Black fur, leathery wings, red eyes. Do you remember that?"
"Albino," Marak warned, snapping his head around. But that was his mistake. Their eyes met ...
He broke the gaze first.
"Bring some water." Marak kept his voice even. Tried to calm it just a little.
She raised a brow. "It's ... water you want?"
What business did she have bringing up the red lakes with Cassak's scout in the room? He answered slowly. "Not that water."
Darsal left without answering. Marak finished business with the scout and dismissed him. For the next few minutes he was alone. "Jordan," he muttered. "What I wouldn't give to fight this out with you right now."
"Marak." Darsal's voice startled him. He turned, and she offered him a bottle of water and a small scroll with Qurong's seal on it. "This just came."
"Read it." He drank greedily as she opened the message and scanned it.
"It's a summons to the palace. Qurong wants to know what happened out there."
"He should ask his bloody priest. My hands are tied."
"So get them untied."
Marak eyed Darsal as she took a swig of water.
"I'm just saying," she explained, "in less than a week, Sucrow started what you've spent a year and a half preventing." She read on, her voice suddenly tense. "It's about the expedition."
Marak didn't answer.
"I'm not Jordan, but I'll fight it out with you."
"You weren't supposed to hear that."
Darsal raised her gaze to him. Sighed. "Follow your heart, Marak."
His eyes narrowed. Now, that was a strange thing to say. "My heart?"
"That's what Thomas always said. Elyon speaks through the heart. Love." She touched his chest.
Marak frowned. Bit his tongue. Would his heart have killed his family or saved them? His heart was a black-riddled coward.
"Elyon's who got us into this mess."
A short commotion caught his attention. The pair listened, both reaching for blades on instinct, even though Darsal didn't have one. He then realized she had reached for one of his.
"Must be Cassak, finally," Marak growled.
"Try making an ally rather than an enemy of him," Darsal said. Marak eyed her. "Johnis, I mean."
Great. Now Darsal was playing games too.
"Why? Planning on drowning them as well?"
"I might be."
"I think not. You'll wait in the hall."
Sucrow sat in the shadows, masked by curling smoke. Incense filled his nostrils. He knelt down on a silk cushion before the winged-serpent image of Teeleh and prayed for the success of the coming expedition, that their destruction of the albinos would find favor with him and be a fragrant offering to the Great One.
At last he lifted his forehead from the ground and sat straight on his knees, gazing up at the icon.
"My lord," one of his servants spoke from behind. Sucrow scowled. "Qurong sends for you and the general."
He paused. "Very well. Be gone."
Footsteps carried the informer away. Sucrow turned back to Teeleh and repeated his petition. Breathing deeply, he entered his trance and embraced the vision that came to him. He stood before the altar and drank in the depths of what he knew to be his master's lair. As the room chilled, a low growl and acidic breath came over his shoulder. Sucrow didn't turn. A taloned claw traced his throat, cold and hard. Sinewy fingers touched his skin.
His master. The Great One. Teeleh.
"I do not care to be petitioned so that my servants might complain of their own failures, priest," his master warned. "And now this is what you will do: bring me the blood of the one long ago chosen, and ensure the medallion falls into your hands. I will not tolerate the vampiress any longer. The Leedhan must face penalty for her insolence."
Sucrow lifted his face, further exposing his throat to his master. "Lord?"
"Do not allow them to cross the river."
Confusion overtook him. But before he could ask, the chill seeped from the room, along with the presence.
"My lord ... Warryn has returned."
Warryn, the foolish chieftain who had embarrassed him. A pebble in the shoe to be dealt with.
"Bring him in."
Warryn soon stood before Sucrow, who looked his wayward chieftain over, scrutinizing him. The chief serpent warrior had been tainted. Penalties were required. "An eye for an eye," wasn't that how the saying went? Sucrow would give Warryn's position to another, but he would also take Warryn's eye. A more formidable ally with a sense of duty and honor. If Marak could not be persuaded ... his captain likely could.
The thought of an entire army of serpent warriors, all led by a chieftain and general who served the Great One with faithfulness ...
"My lord ..."
"Summon the officers," Sucrow ordered. "And you, Warryn, will at last be humiliated before your favorite captain." He sneered.
Warryn remained stoic. He bowed and left to retrieve the officers.
Sucrow looked through his library, seeking his book of incantations. Relighting the incense, he spoke a prayer to his master and bowed prostrate before Teeleh's image six times.
Excerpted from ELYON by TED DEKkER KACI HILL Copyright © 2009 by Ted Dekker.
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Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Out now is her humorous contemporary romance novel, Single Sashimi, and her romantic suspense, Deadly Intent. She also runs the Story Sensei critique service. In her spare time, she is a staff worker for her church youth group, and she leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveways!