So, I have been working on my YA Fantasy trilogy, The Gailean Trio. What makes this series special is that most of the magic seen throughout the books is music-based. Characters sing songs instead of casting regular spells. Musical magic is actually considered quite rare in my world, and it’s no wonder, as it’s also quite hard to master: not only does one have to know the right words and melody to a certain song, but also the right pitches, harmonies, etc. to correctly cast the spell.
I wanted to give a sneak preview by sharing one of my favorite chapters from one of the books (I won’t say which book!). I intend for the series to be completed by the end of the year, and then, hopefully, I can start releasing the books sometime in 2016.
Well, that’s it. Thanks for reading, and here is the preview!
Lorelei muttered the familiar spell over and over again, touching the amulet at her heart. Just as its protective presence fused into her skin, so she would soon fuse with the stone wall at her back—if only she could concentrate properly.
The amulet burned so vehemently she thought her heart itself must explode, but then, at last, the magic took root and she fell through the stone wall into the secret passage beyond. She might have taken the other secret path and saved herself the trouble, but her father would meet with King Samil soon—he might already be in the throne chamber—and she had no desire to miss the meeting. The king had been violent more and more recently; Lorelei’s father said some secret tried his patience, something he desired but could not attain. Lust—it drove many kings mad, her father also said.
Of course, King Samil had come to them mad. He was no native Carmennan, to be sure. Though he shared their jet black hair, his skin, white as a corpse’s, was a stark contrast to her people’s various shades of brown. He had swooped in from some other land—where from, he had kept the secret well—and stolen theirs seemingly overnight, murdering the royal family and setting himself up as king. That had been a year or so ago. Lorelei had feared how the transition would affect her family; thankfully, thus far, her father had won favor with Samil by crafting musical instruments for him. Samil seemed to possess no skill for music himself, but he adored others with any connection to musical skills. He had spent the past couple of weeks parading strangers through the throne room, making them play, sing, dance, seeming to search for something, her father said. Searching, but never finding, a fact that only served to enhance his already unstable, ill temper.
Lorelei scurried along the secret corridor till voices began to reach her on the other side of the wall. Their sound was too muffled for her to make anything out distinctly, and yet their familiarity told her to slow down—this was the spot. She crept more slowly along the wall, carefully tapping at the various stones until a certain familiar sound caught her attention. Her heart pounded as she slowly slid the loose stone from its place; she felt her heart, searching for the hidden amulet. Its warmth pulsed beneath her skin, and its song echoed faintly to her. Calmed a little by its presence, she crouched down and peered through the stone into the massive throne chamber below.
King Samil sat on the throne perched at the end of a long corridor flanked by thick pillars supporting the lofty ceiling. The entire structure was solid stone. Tall arched windows permitted starlight. This dim glow, accompanied by the orange din of torchlight, sent strange shadows spiraling across the floor. The shadows seemed to dance to the music emanating from below. Lorelei squinted, trying to decipher from where the music came.
A figure stood before the throne, facing away. In the shadows, Lorelei couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman. The person was thin and a couple heads shorter than her father and might have even been an older child. The music sounded like a stringed instrument of some sort. Samil leaned over toward the man beside him—Barro, Lorelei guessed, Samil’s right-hand man. The two were constantly connected, more so than some lovers Lorelei had known.
Samil motioned with his right hand. Another figure stepped up from behind one of the pillars—Lorelei’s father, Master Lorens. Her heart skipped a beat. Though difficult to make anything out in the throne room, she would recognize her father’s tall frame and confident gait from any distance. Master Lorens was not a proud man, but neither was he afraid in Samil’s presence as were many others. “He’s just a man,” her father always said of the false king. Lorelei thought his fearlessness was part of what had earned him such respect in Samil’s courts and had kept him alive and unharmed for as long as it had. Sometimes she wished she could give her protective amulet to her father—he was in more danger than her, being under constant watch of the king. But the protective device was fused inside her skin, to keep its secret safe, and she’d not yet deciphered how to undo its magic. That had been her mother’s cleverness…
Her father handed something to the figure playing music—another instrument, Lorelei imagined. Sure enough, moments later, the figure played, and Lorelei found herself instantly entranced by the sad yet striking melody. The amulet at her heart burned fiercely once more, as if having to work extra hard to safeguard against whatever spell the figure’s song sought to hold over her. She could feel the music aching to get inside her mind, but she sang counter-curses beneath her breath, blockading the surprisingly strong commands.
However, others in the room below did not have amulets or musical charms to protect them. Lorelei watched partly horrified, partly awed as guards marched forward from all sides of the room and knelt before the figure.
King Samil rose from his throne, walked down the steps of the dais, stopped behind the figure. He placed a hand on the figure’s shoulder, leaned down, seemed to whisper something in the figure’s ear. The figure played a series of dissonant chords. One of the guards drew his sword, raised it, and then drove it straight through his own heart—
The figure ended on a squealing chord that mingled with a horrified scream. Lorelei had to throw both hands over her mouth, choking down a shriek of her own as the guard collapsed and blood ran in all directions. The other guards, their spell broken, staggered back, seemingly dazed. They cried out, yelling and pointing at their dead comrade. Lorelei’s father stood perfectly still, not saying a word, but Lorelei could imagine the sickening horror flooding him; it filled her as well, made her want to wretch.
A loud command from the king sent everyone scattering. They had been dismissed, except for Barro and the musician who had dropped to their knees, frozen in horror. As soon as Lorelei saw her father leave the room, she darted down the secret corridor. He would seek solace in his workshop.
Lorelei wove down the series of secret passages until a sharp chill told her she had reached the castle’s lower level. She traveled a little further until finally hitting a dead end. The secret switch had been jammed lately. Too impatient to bother tinkering with it, Lorelei pushed against the wall, singing her fusion spell beneath her breath once more—
She pushed through the stones and spilled out the other side. She leaned against the wall a few moments, breathless from the effort. Then, she stood, straightened the folds of her dark red dress. Her mother had died nearly a year ago, shortly after Samil had stolen the throne, but it was custom in Carmenna to wear the colors of mourning for at least a year; for Lorelei’s father, he might wear them till he found another bride.
Lorelei hurried down the deserted hall. Hardly anyone ever came this way, as it was so close to the dungeons, but its chill made her hurry her pace. A few halls over, up a flight of stairs, and she found herself in a warmer part of the castle. Cheerier too, with its tapestries and paintings lining the walls between torches—a few heralds to the royal family’s past glory. Samil had redecorated much of the castle to match his sleek, simple tastes, but this was one of several corridors he seemed to have overlooked. Lorelei didn’t know why, but she was glad of it. She enjoyed the homier feel, seeing the things she’d grown up seeing every day. It gave her hope that someday things would be put right once more.
At last, she reached the corridor housing hers and her father’s quarters. At fifteen, she was one year away from being of age. She dreaded that day, when she would be removed from him to take up a new room in the same section of the castle where all the other noble ladies lodged. The amulet protected her, but it couldn’t give her the same reassurance and courage that being so near her father did.
She passed through her father’s room, stepped into the room beyond, and stood still, observing. Her father’s workshop was spacious, the ceiling high, the windows permitting much sunlight by day or, as now, starlight to shimmer through. Lamps were lit around the room. Furniture, musical instruments, weapons, and various other items carved from wood and stone alike were organized about the room. Started projects, finished ones. Bits of wood and stone. The sweet scent of wood shavings wafting through the room. Lorelei inhaled deeply. Her father always smelled that way, a most comfortable smell.
The smell calmed her nerves a little as she walked forward. Master Lorens stood at the far end of the room at one of his work tables, carefully whittling away at some small object. Lorelei stood nearby and watched for a moment, then glanced at the collection of similar objects lined upon the table. Tiny horses, soldiers, princesses. Lorelei frowned curiously at these new creations. Her father was such a practical man and besides had been given explicit orders to craft nothing except whatever the king himself ordered. Lorelei couldn’t imagine what use either the king or her father would have for children’s toys. Even if Samil had had a child of his own, he was more likely to teach it about warfare and dark spells, not trouble over having toys made for the child.
“Ah,” Sir Lorens hissed, dropping the knife and half-formed horse figurine on the table. A thin stream of blood trickled down from his thumb. He grabbed a cloth, held it to the wound. Then, with a frustrated sigh, he fell down onto his bench.
He glanced up. A weary smile touched his lips, but his gaze remained distracted, troubled. “Hello, daughter. Forgive me—I did not hear you enter.”
“It’s all right,” Lorelei said with a shrug. “I’m sure you’ve a lot on your mind. The king works you too hard, between all your wood-working and now all these sudden council meetings…”
Sir Lorens nodded. Then, studying his daughter carefully, he said, “You were there again. You followed me.”
It was not a question. The conversation was one that had passed between them commonly enough that Lorelei did not feel any shame, despite going against her father’s wishes. “Yes. Yes, I did. I have to make sure you’re safe.”
“That’s not your responsibility. It’s I who must watch over you.”
“You don’t have a fancy amulet like I do.”
He smiled a little. “Point well taken. Even still, there are things you don’t need to see. I tell you what goes on in the castle, as much as is necessary for your safety. You don’t need to witness such horrors.”
“What was he doing?” Lorelei ventured. “Samil with that person, the one with the musical instrument?”
“A boy,” Master Lorens muttered. “Hardly a few years younger than you. With a gift for music. His majesty doesn’t have the gift, but he has the knowledge… The poor creature had no idea the song would make the soldier mad enough to do his bidding and take his own life…” His voice trailed. He gave Lorelei a sharp look as if warning her not to say anything more on the subject; he’d already told her more than he’d have liked.
He stood up, returned to his work at the table.
“Do you want me to sing to you?” Lorelei asked. “Would that help?”
He nodded. “Yes. I would like that…”
Lorelei sang one of their mother’s favorite melodies. Lorelei had made it up herself, but her mother had helped perfect it. Her mother hadn’t possessed any musical magic, but she did have a gift for music and understanding all its subtleties.
Lorelei had also added in a part that acted as a sort of soothing charm. She sang it now, and her father began to relax, his shoulders and stance less growing less tense.
“Wait, Lorelei—no. Don’t. No magic…”
Lorelei sang on. Her father was always leery of her using magic, but she needed the song just as much right now. She needed it to wash away the vision of that poor solider sacrificing himself needlessly for his mad king.
“Lorelei, I warn you—Lorelei!”
Lorelei jumped and stared at her father, struck silent in disbelief. If he had ever used such a harsh tone with her, it must have been when she was quite a small thing, for she could not recall. Her name seemed to explode from him as if from a stranger’s lips, and she stared, frightened—not of her father, but with him. An uncommon fear masked his face, making him look suddenly old and eerily exhausted.
A sadness touched his eyes then and he walked over, took her by the shoulders, gently caressed her cheek with one hand. “Forgive me. But I cannot tell you again—no magic. This is a most imperative time. Squandering your safety for even the slightest show of skill is not an option. King Samil searches for something of value to him—I have told you this, of his frustrations. He revealed a little more today—it’s some kind of weapon. I do not know what musical magic has to do with this. What I do know is that many of the men, women, and children he has brought in to test their skills have vanished without a trace… Many others have been executed as spies, thieves, or whatever other petty crimes Samil has imagined for them. He is an unbalanced man, and that is the most dangerous sort—one never knows which way the scales will tip, or when. Thus far, they have tipped in our favor. But should he ask me to do anything against my conscience, those scales may tip in the blink of an eye… I fear this day approaches, I can almost feel it…
“But you, sweet daughter…” Lorens cupped her face in his palms. Lorelei smiled, comforted at their familiar, leathery texture. “As long as you endure, there is nothing they can do to me. And as long as you keep your secret buried, there is nothing Samil will desire to do to you. The amulet protects you from much harm—including death. But there are some things worse than death that its magic cannot safeguard against. I have seen what Samil does to those he can no longer use—and worse still, those he would use but cannot. Only keeping your magic under close, secret watch can protect you from such a fate. Do you understand?”
Lorelei nodded. Her father slipped his arms around her, and for a while they stood holding each other.
Then her father gently drew back. He again held her by the shoulders, giving her a familiar, sad smile that told her how precious she was to him—and how much that terrified him.
“I’ll be fine,” Lorelei said. “I’ll be careful. I have no reason to be careless, to reveal my magic…”
“Promise me,” Master Lorens said. “Even if I become the king’s enemy and fall under attack, you must promise me—”
The door burst open. A fleet of Samil’s guards rushed in. Lorelei stepped forward to shield her father, but with a sharp glare, he pushed her aside, shielding her in turn.
“The king requests your presence,” one of the guards declared.
“I only just returned from his chamber,” Master Lorens said. He motioned to his work spread across the table. “I have much work yet to be done for his majesty. He has requested also it be finished before night’s end. Surely this meeting can wait?”
“I’m afraid not. It is of the utmost importance—and secrecy.” The guard gave Lorelei a vicious stare, as if trying to render her frozen in place. Her heart pounded, but not with fear for herself. She didn’t like how many guards there were. She didn’t trust this abrupt summons, when her father had only just spoken with the king.
“Will you come?” the guard continued. “Or must we drag you in chains?”
“I will come, of course. Daughter…” He touched her cheek, gazed seriously into her eyes. “Stay here. Stay here—and remember.”
Her father followed the guards who quickly formed a cage around him. They filed from the room, shut the door behind them. Lorelei waited until the din of their footsteps turned to deafening silence. Then, she ran.
She raced from her father’s chambers, into the hallway beyond. Carefully, she scurried along the corridors, making certain to slow her pace in the presence of a stray guard or servant, until she reached the empty hallway. She pressed her body close, sang the fusion melody, and held her breath as she slipped quickly through the stone wall—so quickly it felt like her entire body was collapsing in on itself, crushing her heart and lungs, her very bones. Tumbling into the secret passage beyond, she ached all over, as if fiery knives stabbed her. She rested against the wall, muttering a healing charm. The amulet burned in her chest, and within moments, her strength was fully regained and she flew down the corridor, creating an orb of light to hover beside her and more easily guide her way.
At last she reached her hiding place; she had forgotten to replace the stone earlier and crouched down, peering through into the throne room below. Her father was already there, before Samil’s throne. Guards circled behind him. Samil rose from his throne, paced; his tone sounded tense, displeased, but as usual, the sound barriers masking the room made it impossible for her to clearly decipher his words.
Samil’s voice rose. He raised his arm, and Lorelei’s heart jolted as she prepared for some spell to hit her father, but instead, he threw something at Sir Lorens’ feet—many small somethings that rolled around on the floor and then fell still. Sir Lorens kept his head held high, hands folded, feet planted in a confident stance. He spoke calmly to the king.
Samil yelled. His voice thundered. Sir Lorens interrupted—
Only to be slammed back against one of the pillars. Lorelei heard the sickening crack, or perhaps imagined it. She clutched the side of her peep hole, leaning forward, praying for her father to stand. He staggered to his feet, and as a distorted song reached her ears, she knew he was singing. Singing to defend himself. The guards backed away, understanding this was their king’s fight, their king’s moment of glory and triumph.
Samil rushed forward. Sir Lorens dodged this way and that, as if avoiding invisible blows—Samil’s mental attacks, silent, spoken not with words but in his lethally powerful mind. Still, her father was keen on detecting such magic. He would be all right. He would avoid the king’s wrath until it had passed—
Her father slammed back against the floor, sliding until he hit another of the pillars. He ricocheted and slid back toward Samil who held one arm outstretched, fingers curled as if he drug Sir Lorens toward him by his heart. Even once her father lay beneath the king’s feet, the king did not stop squeezing. He twisted his hand, this way and that, jerked it back. Sir Lorens screamed, clutching at his chest, clawing the ground. Lorelei prayed that the king would stop. She had seen him do this to a man once before. The man had suffered for a good hour before he had finally fallen—never to awaken again.
No. No, her father was all she had. This king was no one. He didn’t frighten her. He couldn’t harm her. She wouldn’t let him harm her father.
She darted from the corridor, heading in the opposite direction, toward the secret stairs. Guilt flitted through her mind, as if to warn her, but she ignored it. She would not be held back. She had never made the promise, and even if she had, some promises were meant to be broken. Her father’s songs could not outmatch Samil’s mental forces. No one’s could. But she would try—she had to, she wouldn’t just let her father be slaughtered before her eyes.
Lorelei burst from the secret passages and rushed toward the throne room’s towering double doors. Guards advanced toward her, but she sang a shrill tune that rendered them stiff as stone and they tumbled to the floor like fallen chess pieces.
“Abree,” she sang, and the doors opened.
She flew inside and burst down the long blood-red carpet, her gaze locked fiercely upon Samil and her father. Anger boiled inside her, and she shouted, “Stop—leave him alone!”
Samil glared up at her. An amused grin touched his lips. “How precious, Master Lorens. Your daughter comes to beg for your pitiful life. Perhaps you’d like to tell her of your great betrayal toward your king. Maybe then we’ll see how she feels toward sparing you—or perhaps she’s just as great a traitor—”
“I said ‘let him go’!” Lorelei commanded, feeling powerful. As long as she kept her mental shields raised, the amulet would protect her mind. Samil couldn’t see a thing coming, not even with his renowned mental strengths.
Lorelei stopped mere feet away from the foot of the dais where Samil still held her father prisoner with his outstretched hand and whatever wicked spell he wove. Sir Lorens clawed at the floor, his chest, his throat. Blood trickled from gashes he’d worn in his own flesh. His face turned red, and he gasped, sputtering for breath. Tiny wooden figurines lay scattered across the black and white marble floor, their smooth golden edges gleaming like fire in the torchlight.
“Let my father go this instant, or I’ll rip you and this whole castle to pieces,” Lorelei growled, panting hard, barely keeping her magic in check. Songs flowed through her veins, begging to be released in a tidal wave of deadly harmonies.
Samil laughed, looked amused, but did not release his grasp on her father.
“Your daughter’s spirit impresses me. I do not know whether she is bold, ignorant, or some blend of the two. But she will suit for a fine replacement. Of course, the absence of your particular skills will be of great loss to me, but perhaps she can make up for them in other services…”
“Lorelei,” her father gasped, his gaze begging her.
For a moment, fear grabbed Lorelei. Did he beg her to help him or help herself?
“Silence, fool,” Samil hissed. “You have betrayed me on the lowest level. You have bowed before me, called me ‘lord,’ and yet laughed behind my back the entire time. I have dealt with such servants, those meant to be my closest allies. Those with the most power, the most freedoms, always corrupted. I won’t deal with it a moment longer. You will bow to me now with your last breath—and it’s I alone who will laugh.”
Samil twisted his wrist. Sir Lorens entire body contorted. A sickening crack announced bones being broken. He moaned in pain and began grappling at the floor again as if struggling to get away.
Samil raised his hand, and Sir Lorens shot up into the air. He hovered, clawing at his neck as he was choked.
“What’s this, Sir Lorens?” Samil sneered. “Disobedient, even at the end. How dare you stand—I command you bow to me—”
“Exploderé!” Lorelei sang the powerful chord at the top of her lungs, rushing straight toward King Samil. Her shrill soprano vibrato echoed throughout the chamber, rebounding off the pillars and walls, making the entire room quake. Samil slammed back against his throne; a large crack raced up the back of the royal chair, splitting like a large tendril of lightning. Released abruptly from his spell, Lorelei’s father collapsed to the ground. Clutching at his heart, he panted hard, his breathing ragged.
Lorelei rushed over and fell beside him. “Father…”
She reached for him but he pushed her hand away. He gasped, and she thought he was choking, but then he looked up and tears fell quietly. The hopelessness filling his face stabbed Lorelei with dread. As a shadow stretched over her, the knife dug a little deeper inside her heart, twisting as Samil said in a tone too level, too tamed for a man who’d been a wild beast moments before: “Well done, Master Lorens. You hid her secret so cleverly that even I would have never suspected. It is with some regret now that I must praise and punish you in a single breath—guards!”
Lorelei jumped as Samil’s whisper rose instantly into the harsh command. Guards rushed forward, grabbed her father by the arms and began dragging him away. Lorelei darted after, but Samil’s hand snatched out, clutching her so tightly she feared he meant to rip her arm off altogether. She wrenched away but cried out at the pain as he held firm. She sang another spell inside her mind, but he only pulled her close and snarled in her ear, “No, my pretty thing. You cannot fool me with that trick twice. This is my castle. I make a personal note of knowing every single person who is capable of besting me at my own tricks—and making certain they are incapable of doing so…”
“Father!” Lorelei screamed as they carried him further and further from her grasp. Her head spun. Her breath came in uneven gasps. Fear overwhelmed her—whether more so for her father or herself, she couldn’t be certain.
“Don’t worry, Master Lorens!” Samil thundered. “Your daughter is in good hands as my new ward—and quite possibly, I believe, as my new weapon. I thank you for your services—and for hers, in advance.”
Lorelei’s father glared at the king then cast Lorelei a desperate look. He seemed to strain against the guards but something held him in check. He was hardly able to move, unable to speak—likely by the same mental magic that kept all Lorelei’s spells at bay now and, more than that, began to probe her mind. Lorelei squirmed to get free but couldn’t. She struggled to find the counter-spells her father had taught her but couldn’t. She could almost feel Samil crawling inside her head, extracting her greatest fears and desires.
Lorelei could only fall still and stand powerless in Samil’s arms. The king held her closer still and whispered in her ear, “Don’t worry, my pretty thing. Your father has shown me a great betrayal, but his use in my court has expired. Yours is only beginning—the things I do to him will be mere child’s play to the plans I have in store for you and your magic.”
Lorelei watched numbly as her father disappeared from view. The great doors to the throne room slammed shut. A hollow echo reverberated around the room. Samil kept his arm around her, forcing her toward another door leading to another room. Lorelei did not know what would lie beyond that door—a new fate, a new life. She was about to become a new person. But it would not be a person who would join this monster. Her father had fought hard to serve King Samil without crossing any moral boundaries, and yet served he had, to keep her safe. She would not waste that. She would not betray her father’s memory. Maybe she couldn’t die, but she would spend her life fighting to keep her magic safe from this madman’s desires.