Hello, readers! It has been a hot second since I’ve blogged anything, but with exciting news to share, I’ve got a blog post for you today! I haven’t updated this blog since the release of my second poetry collection The Blue Gabled House in March. The feedback, reviews, and overall excitement and encouragement over my little collection have left me feeling very awed and loved by the community of readers, writers, poets, and artists around me.
I have been beta-reading and editing a lot for clients who are aspiring authors. (I can do your book, as well, if you’d like. My services are described here.) Additionally, I’ve been working with a fellow Instagram poet and friend Jen McGraw (@jenn_mcgraw) to create a collaborative poetry collection featuring mostly black authors to write about Black Lives Matter and allyship. We hope to collect enough poetry to publish a collection in which all proceeds will be donated to BLM movements and associations. We’re very excited to be able to use our talents to stand up with the people who matter but haven’t been shown that enough.
The project I have been most invested in and passionate about this past couple of months has been the third novel in my fantasy series Instruments of Sacrifice. This third novel, Time Passers, is a prequel to the novels already released. So! You don’t have to read Spirit Followers and Keepers of the Crown to enjoy this story (although it is highly recommended that you do.) The book is in its final editing stages, and I’ve ordered arcs so that I can send them out to early readers!
I’ve talked in a few posts before about Time Passers which you can find here on my blog. Today’s post will feature the official synopsis, book cover, the official map, a mood board, AND the first chapter! For those who are interested in receiving an arc copy, you can contact me through the contact form on this website. I’d love to send you a copy before its release in September!
YEAR 800, THE SECOND AGE
THE seemingly never-ending sand swelled into a city, and the glimmering waters of the Scarlet Sea were left behind.
Ilea Sukarno clutched her thin shawl tighter around her head so she might shield her eyes from the wind which was now spinning the sand into a torrent. She had experienced sandstorms at least a dozen times since they had left the encampment. And now, as the sand was lifting enough to block the city from view, she knew exactly what to do.
Masking her face was her first priority. She wrapped the shawl around her mouth and nose. Next, get to higher ground to wait out the storm.
Well, there is a city ahead and plenty of high ground there, she thought. But that thought brought her no sense of relief. The prospect only allowed dread to curl in the pit of her stomach. And those with her, those following the men and women leading them into the city, must be feeling the same.
Ilea glanced ahead at what she could see of those leading them. The slave traders of Perez had endured many sandstorms in order to trek into the desert lands to find victims they would gift to their rulers. This was nothing to them.
But the ropes burning against Ilea’s flesh meant everything. They were the symbol of the stories she had heard of the Perezian slave traders who often implemented such a title for a more...cutting one. Assassin. Or Jarhira, as they were officially known. The word meant black, or knife, or both. At least, that is what Ilea surmised by the markings of such an object they left in the homes they stole their victims from.
Ilea glanced to her right. Or was it her left? Her head was light, her stomach roiling. She could barely feel her legs anymore. She looked toward the figure trudging closest to her. The man’s graying beard shuddered in the wind. She knew his bright blue eyes to be intent, his features contorted into focus.
At the sight of him, she felt the sharp and bitter pang of betrayal. He was a man she thought of as a friend in a world she had had few she could call so. She knew betrayal well. It had walked beside her like a shadow for the past hundred or so years.
The Jarhira came into the desert to steal people and make them slaves, but this was the first time that the slave had summoned the captor.
Moaz never sent letters. None of them did, not where they had dwelled in the desert far from any towns or markets. Still, Ilea had not questioned much when he had sent a roll of parchment with a passing caravan headed toward an outpost on the sea bordering Perez.
And that wasn’t all. The memories chafed Ilea’s mind as the ropes did to her wrists and ankles. She recalled then, as she had this entire trek across the desert, what this man called Moaz had seen only three days before.
Ilea had seen strange things before. Hell, she had seen the first rain. But still, her awe had been kindled when Moaz had told her of a tree that had blossomed where no water could be found and that it had gone up in flames. The tree had not burned. Rather, it had spoken. No, the tree did not speak, Ilea reminded herself. It had been an instrument through which Elyon had spoken.
“Go back, Moaz,” He had said.
When Moaz had repeated these words to Ilea, his gaze had gone distant. Ilea knew, then, that he had known this place called Perez in such a way that she was glad she did not.
“You came from there, didn’t you?” Ilea had asked. The answer had been yes. And so, when the slave traders came, Moaz had not hidden. The days leading up to their discovery had been days he had spent hiding his wife and two sons. Ilea prickled at the thought. He had preserved his family but not her, not even after he had called her family too.
Why the hell did I have to come too?
Rage swelled in Ilea’s chest and cascaded through her arms and into her fingers. She squeezed against the rope, and the small mark of a slithering snake pulsed on her neck. Suppress it. She ripped her gaze from Moaz.
The other twenty or so could not be seen, but Ilea knew them to be near.
Every once in a while, a rough tug on the rope chafed her skin, drawing more blood. She winced as the roughest tug yet sent her stumbling forward. Right into the warm form of another body.
It wasn’t one of the Jarhira, as Ilea came to realize when the figure turned its head. A young woman looking no older than twenty also clutched a shawl around her face. Ilea reached to rest her hand on the woman’s shoulder. Best not to walk alone, she thought.
Just as her fingers brushed the bare, brown skin of the woman, the latter released a shrill scream of surprise and stumbled headfirst into the sand.
Ilea’s heart hammered in her chest. She could barely see what was before her now, but she could hear. A thumping of boots; good boots unlike the dilapidated sandals binding her feet. Then a smacking sound. Boot against jaw. Another cry crumpled from the victim’s mouth. Apparently, the woman had been walking too slowly.
Ilea stumbled forward and felt something warm and wet squeeze between her toes. Her mouth dropped open in horror. Fresh blood leaked into her sandals. She heard coughing and took a step or two forward. She hit something with her feet and stumbled.
“Ilea,” a hoarse voice spoke. She bent over the woman. A voice hissed a short, clipped sentence she could not understand. She turned and recognized the lean, refined features of one of the Jarhira before a fist collided with her jaw. Ilea’s mouth hung open, her head spinning.
A long string of words spoken by a second voice. A skitter of laughs and nods. While the first voice had been rough, this one was smooth like oil fresh from the jar. Ilea could barely hear them over the blood rushing in her own ears, but she did hear the first figure speak again. He burst out in rough, abusive laughter. His following words were loud and raucous.
Get up, Ilea said to herself. But everything else told her to crawl toward the fallen woman to tell her to get up. Ilea reached, her fingers just brushing the shawl of the woman before another thought blinked in her brain.
She knows how to survive a sandstorm. When it’s lifted, she can go back. She won’t be enslaved… And another part of her whispered, But she is hurt. Conflict simmered within Ilea even as she felt a calloused hand at her neck. She was jerked up. Gritting her teeth against a cry that would be counted as uncooperative, she curled her fingers into fists.
This Jarhira hissed into her ear. Ilea stiffened at one word, the only word in his sentence she knew. Whore. Ilea moved because she knew that being left in the sand far from their encampment meant imminent death. And then remembered.
She remembered that she could not die.
But entering the kingdom of Perez might be worse, she told herself.
THE sun was relentless.
Ilea could feel it laughing down at her. But the real laughter was all around her.
She squinted. There was no longer sand in her eyes, but with the glaring sun and the splitting sensation in her skull, she still couldn’t see very well. The sounds pounded Ilea’s temples and ears. The heat pressed into her every pore, and she could no longer sweat. They hadn’t had water since…
Well, who was to know?
The noise and the heat. It smelled and felt and sounded like…an instrument of death. One proclaiming the way down to the depths of the Realm of Shadows itself.
No, Ilea thought. That realm isn’t as alive.
This place was very alive. It was buzzing and brimming with the chaos of bartering and bribery; the trading of goods and bodies alike. Ilea could not distinguish the words they were using, but she had experienced many different forms of marketplaces long enough to know the signs.
With eyes still closed, Ilea stumbled forward, for her rope had been jerked again. Her first instinct was to find her footing, but when her body was suddenly sheathed in cool air and the sounds grew muffled, she stumbled a bit more.
In here, there was no glowering sun, only filters of it through the doorway she had fallen through. Blinking, she was able to notice her surroundings. She was in a tent of some sort. Wooden poles lifted a heavy canopy of deep purple fabric above her.
Ilea turned. Were those…? Yes, they were. Baths. Or rather, enormous wooden buckets bound with rope in which shimmered fresh, clean water. Though Ilea avoided looking at them closely, she noticed that some were already occupied.
One of the Jarhira within the tent reached for the ropes at her wrists and instead of cutting her free, tore them from her. She cried out as her skin burned and screamed. A thin plate was shoved in her equally blistered hands upon which was something that looked more like clay found at the bottom of a river than food.
“Eat,” the Jarhira said. Ilea looked up for a brief instant, surprised to hear the word in her own tongue. And for that instant, she fully observed his appearance. They all looked similar. Golden-brown skin, black eyes, strong jaws and lean features. Delicately drawn eyebrows and fully-shaved heads. Strong arms and lean chests. Their clothing was simple but laden with various forms of lethal weaponry. Blades as long as Ilea’s arm were strapped to the Jarhira’s chest.
The man, or woman, she could not tell, turned away from her to shove a similar plate of slop into her companion’s hands. Ilea ate. It wouldn’t kill her, and she couldn’t imagine feeling any worse. She thought about the baths instead of what it took to swallow and about clean skin instead of throwing up.
Finally, finally, a cool, tin cup was placed in her hands. The roughness of the gesture sent most of the water sloshing over the side, but the rest was soon soothing her lips, tongue, and throat. “I-” she started just to see if her voice could be found. Barely. Her cup was refilled. She drank. Her cup was taken away.
And now, she turned to the baths and did not even think of objecting as the hands of a Jarhira roamed her body to strip her of her clothing. She didn’t think that everyone around her could see her naked as she was pushed into the bath.
Hands were on her arms and legs now, scraping the dirt and dust. Fingers probing her scalp. And then a knife was near her neck. Ilea winced as it sliced through her hair. Even though it was jagged, it was above her shoulders now, making it so her hair would not stick to her neck and back.
She began to smell the odor of the bodies around her in the discarded clothes as everyone began to become clean. She leaned back into the bath, hands still roughly scrubbing her body, and greeted the darkness filling her vision.
And then came up, her chest burning. Air rushed into her lungs, and she focused on beginning to breathe properly again. A hand was gripping her arm to pull her from the tub. A pile of cloth was plopped into her arms as she stood dripping and naked by the bath. Her companions seemed to have already been dragged out and had already begun dressing. She looked down at the garment. It was simple enough. Thin, durable fabric in a light tan color and long enough to hang to her knees.
Ilea slipped the garment over her head and shook her hair enough to send droplets down her back. Next, her hands were grabbed and turned, palms up so that the most chaffed part of her wrists were exposed. A jar of oil was then poised over her skin. “Rub in,” the Jarhira said after a few drops had fallen.
Ilea started, recognizing that the Jahira spoke two more words in her own tongue. She rubbed the oil in. It was smooth and cool against her wounds.
And finally, feeling more awake, Ilea looked at her companions. She counted quickly. Twenty-three. Which meant that they had lost another.
Who? she wondered. Her eyes scanned each of them. The women who were clutching at their children, and the men, most of them older, looking warily at the Jarhira.
And Moaz, who wasn’t looking at any of them. He was staring straight through the fold in the tent at the open street.
One of the Jarhira called out to his own companions, helping Ilea realize that he was the leader and that they were about to leave.
Where? she wondered, but she already knew. Either they would be taken to the slums and farms, or worse, to the palace itself. That is what Moaz had said when he had spoken of his time in Perez.
“Why were you there?” Ilea had asked.
“I was raised there,” was the only answer he had ever given.
Ilea had forced herself to accept it. She wasn’t willing to give up details of her own past quite yet and hadn’t for the past hundred or so years.
Ilea soon stood seventh in the single-file line, a woman now smelling remarkably better than she had before stood before her with a child of no more than four years clutched in her arms.
The ropes were not retied to their wrists, but Jarhira stood on either side of them.
Forty of them, Ilea realized. And then, with a surge of alarm, she realized: They only have forty Jarhira altogether. The Forty Assassins of Perez. Which means…they sent every last Jarhira this kingdom has. Why? She had heard of there being no more than a dozen sent out at one time. Usually, it was a caravan of six or less.
Ilea had no more time to consider this, however, for they were being pushed into the street. The sun had slackened in its laughter by now and burned beyond rising spires of the palace. The spires, at least ten of them, rose high above the marketplace, gleaming gold and red in this hour before dusk.
They formed the palace of Perez. Built by slaves.
And that was when Ilea realized that she had not yet seen a single slave here. Only them, soon to become so.
They began to move, and Ilea allowed herself to stare at her surroundings. No one stared back, thankfully. No doubt the people here were used to seeing slaves marched in by the Jarhira. Perhaps it was a daily occurrence. Everything inside of Ilea clenched at the thought.
She continued to take stock of her surroundings and had the chilling feeling that she had been here before. No, she thought with a shake of her head. It just looks the same as all the others. Vendors, stalls, and tents both opened and closed flanked the dusty streets.
Men and women of lean features and cool expressions haggled in clusters or pressed themselves into tents. Laughter and breathy words mingled in the air, but presently it all turned to muffled sound in her ears.
Because now, the palace was directly in front of them.
They halted, and Ilea could not tear her eyes from the structure before her. It must have taken an entire age to build. Or a short amount of time with thousands of slaves, she thought.
One of the Jarhira jerked his head toward their company. No, to someone in particular. Ilea glanced down the line to the one he indicated.
The Jarhira muttered one word in Moaz’s direction. Ilea took it to mean that they were singling him out. The Jarhira to which the first was addressing raised an eyebrow, curious.
Ilea’s heart-rate accelerated. Why?
The first Jarhira jerked his head again. Toward her.
No, she thought with alarm.
But it was too late. So, only she and Moaz were to enter the palace? And where would the rest of their friends be taken?
The second Jarhira looked questioningly at his commander once again. The first smirked as he eyed Ilea. The first Jarhira seemed to be answering his companion’s questioning look when he smiled wickedly and uttered a lengthy sentence. Ilea knew one word.
Fear gripped her in a cold, iron clutch, and her heart accelerated maddeningly in her chest.
Ilea froze, everything within her seizing in panic.
It was no longer with her. They must have taken it, and in her delirious state, she hadn’t even noticed.
The Crown of Caelae, the one thing she had carried with her these hundreds of years, was gone.
Thank you for reading.
I can’t wait to get this book into your hands.
As always, with love,