QSFer Matthew S. Cox has a new FF Sword and sorcery fantasy out, Eldritch Heart Book 3: “The Sapphire Soul.”
Monarchs often face the consequences of a predecessor’s actions—but death is asking too much.
Kitlyn and Oona never wanted power, only to love each other… a potentially deadly desire in a kingdom obsessed with a twisted notion of purity. After years hiding the truth, even from themselves, they sit on the throne together as queens. It only took bringing an end to a horrible war—and the direct intervention of a goddess—for the citizens to accept a marriage between two young women.
Earning the respect of two kingdoms affords them the opportunity of learning how to lead, but goodwill won’t last forever in the face of complacency. Their resolve is tested as beasts long thought mythical are spotted around the kingdom, threatening the citizens. The sightings take an ominous turn when a stranger wielding unknown powers strolls into the throne room.
Worse, the ancient curse still stalks Kitlyn. A cryptic message from a ghost offers her only chance to survive… if she dares risk the safety of the kingdom to spare her own life.
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A loud, high-pitched squeal came from the garden.
Kitlyn twisted to look. She couldn’t tell if the cry came from Evie or Pim, or if it had been excitement, fear, or one of them stepped barefoot on a thorn.
“Evie? Pim?” called Oona.
“Did that sound like a squeal of delight or a scream of fear to you?” asked Kitlyn.
“Evie? Pim?” yelled Oona, taking a step onto the trail. “I… could be either.”
Kitlyn called their names louder.
When they didn’t respond, Oona bolted up to a run. Kitlyn scrambled to her feet and chased.
They ran along the arbor path the kids followed away from the pond, weaving among trees, bushes, and old ivy-shrouded statues. Every few seconds, they repeated calling for them while hurrying back and forth, searching. In a few minutes, their shouting attracted three castle guards.
“Highness?” asked a soldier by the name of Peranor. He wore the somewhat heavier armor of a soldier assigned to guard the outside areas. “Is something amiss?”
“Evie and Pim are missing.” Kitlyn stopped by the guards while Oona kept jogging into the garden. “I don’t know if they’re misbehaving or if something happened. One of them screamed, then they stopped answering when we called for them. Help us search the garden and alert the outer guards. Make sure no one leaves the castle.”
“Yes, highness.” Peranor motioned for the other two to go with Kitlyn, then ran for the garden walk and the door into the castle.
Kitlyn raced around the garden, continuing to shout for the children while searching under every bush. She only half paid attention to high branches, as she didn’t believe the kids would knowingly climb a tree and keep quiet when she and Oona sounded so worried.
More guards arrived to help locate the children. Shouts spread over the entire castle grounds.
Within forty minutes, she’d personally searched the entire garden except for the southwest corner opposite the pond containing the dense tangle of old, petrified growth. Kitlyn couldn’t even see the ancient tree beyond the brambles despite it being less than fifty feet away from the start of the dense, dead growth. Evie and Pim had been drawn to this area before. Again, she flattened herself out on the ground and tried to look in. Even at their small size, the kids would have had great difficulty dragging themselves in under the brambles on their stomachs. Evie’s fancy dress would certainly have left a ribbon or two stuck on thorns, yet she saw none—and no sign of the children in the small open patch between the gnarled roots of the ancient tree.
Still, she called their names a few times, receiving no response.
Oona’s continued tearful pleas for the children to come to her echoed over the garden, twisting a knife in Kitlyn’s guts. Hearing her wife’s anguish aloud changed her worry into fury. She doubted the kids would’ve run into the castle on their own. Annabelle, Evie’s governess and teacher, might have collected them, but not this late in the day, especially when they’d been with Kitlyn and Oona. Annabelle watched her when they couldn’t, unlike how Aodh left Oona in the care of Miss Harper and rarely spent time with her aside from occasional ‘visits.’
Made sense now, considering he hadn’t really been her father.
The more Kitlyn stood there thinking, the angrier she became. Everything pointed to the children being abducted. Apprehension changed her memory of the shriek from ambiguous to a scream of fear.
Kitlyn stormed toward the castle. Obviously, the children were not in the garden. She could do nothing productive outside. Had the nobles finally decided to make a move? How could they be so brazen as to abduct Evie and Pim right off the castle grounds while she and Oona sat not far away?
Twenty paces from the garden walk, Kitlyn caught herself letting anger cloud her thoughts. She stopped, crouched, and pressed her hand through the grass to the dirt below. Soon after focusing on her magic, her mind filled with numerous individual prodding sensations, the weight of everyone walking around. Each time someone stepped, she felt their weight as though she’d become the earth. Nothing moving seemed small or light enough to be a child. Stationary people and animals proved much more difficult to detect, but given enough concentration, she could sometimes notice them from the motion of breathing.
Especially children who couldn’t stand perfectly still.
She poured energy into the ground, straining to feel out every tiny detail. For an instant, she gasped in surprise at detecting a faerie running along the ground—until she realized it had four legs.
Merely a squirrel.
Confident the children absolutely did not remain in the garden, she opened her eyes, swallowed the urge to cry, and stood. Oona’s ragged calls for Evie and Pim sent a ripple of rage down her back. She would not be cruel, but would absolutely make an example of whoever took the children.
I swear on my life if the children are found alive, I will not order anyone be executed.
The kitchen door swung open, revealing Elsbeth, the first maid, who promptly stopped short and stared at her in fear.
Kitlyn walked the rest of the way across the grass to the garden walk, slipping through the gap in the arches onto the paved path under the overhanging roof of the castle’s second story.
Like a mouse frozen in terror while a cat stalked toward it, Elsbeth cringed, seeming ready to run away.
“Elsbeth,” said Kitlyn.
“You do not need to be afraid of me. I have more important things to take up my time than wasting an ounce of thought on anything you said or did to me in the past.”
Elsbeth swallowed. “Highness, you look ready to… I mean… King Aodh, whenever he…”
“I am not him.” Kitlyn closed her eyes, searching for calm.
Originally from South Amboy NJ, Matthew has been creating science fiction and fantasy worlds for most of his reasoning life. It took a while, but he eventually decided to take writing seriously. His first published novel, Division Zero, released in 2014.
His books span adult, young-adult, and middle-grade fiction in multiple genres, predominantly science fiction, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic, and fantasy.
Matthew is an avid gamer, a recovered WoW addict, developer of various homebrew tabletop RPG systems, and a fan of anime, British humour, and intellectual science fiction that questions the nature of humanity, reality, life, and what might happen after it.
He is also fond of cats, presently living with two: Loki and Dorian.