So, my most anticipated book of the year comes out in a little more than a month, so it’s probably about time we share a kickass excerpt from Cora Carmack’s Rage, don’t you think?
In case you’ve never experienced my devotion to all things Cora Carmack, this coming August, the second book in the Stormheart series, Rage hits shelves and e-readers everywhere. (And if you haven’t heard of this series, I highly suggest you go grab yourself a copy of Roar right away.) You really aren’t going to want to miss this one. Like REALLY.
Roar taught us everything we needed to know about Pavan and the surrounding countries. We also met Aurora, Roar, and the band of storm hunters that would teach our young royal everything she never knew about her country and its people. We got to step into an honest-to-goodness stormfight, and learned of the unique experience that was Aurora capturing a storm’s heart. And it was just the beginning.
Roar opened up a brilliant, vivid world that I have been dying to dive back into. And Rage is here to show us the violence of this world, to give us an idea of why this world and these people call it the rage season, and show us what all this means for our hero, Roar, and her devoted paramour, Locke.
And it’s almost time.
Take a good long look at the gorgeous cover for Rage, and then settle into read this lengthy look at chapter four of Rage. Enjoy!
Aurora could not sleep, which was why as dawn approached she was on the roof of the inn where they had taken refuge the night before. Everyone had been so weary that they had all gone straight to bed.
Aurora had tried to do the same, glad to finally have a real bed again. But no matter how she tossed, she could not stop her brain from turning over thoughts about her mother and Kiran and Cassius and the Stormlord, and how all of this was going to come tumbling down any moment.
She was staring at the slowly brightening sky, blooming with pinks and oranges and blues that brought the smallest measure of peace to her chaotic heart. Her thoughts, her emotions, her everything had been straying too often of late. She’d come to the roof for that very reason, hoping to knit herself whole before doing what had to be done today.
Then movement down the street caught her eye, and she ducked behind the roof’s ledge, a gasp lodging in her throat as a group of soldiers came into view in the dawning light. She reached for her hair on instinct, and despite finding it covered, her heart still raced uncomfortably. It did not seem to simply beat anymore, not since that night in the desert. Rather, it rolled through her like thunder, and she felt the erratic streak of skyfire all the way down to her fingers. Sometimes she felt as if she had no blood left, only skyfire sizzling in streams beneath her skin, and she wondered if she would even bleed the same. If anything would ever be the same…
A deep, emphatic voice from below cut through her thoughts, bringing her to the very real and potentially dangerous present.
The sun had barely cracked open the sky, and soldiers were patrolling in the neighborhood where she and the others happened to have found lodgings. Could it be a coincidence? Was this happening all over the city? Or were they here for her?
She rose up on her knees, peering over the roof’s ledge at the men in blue prowling below her. One tall, dark figure spoke to the rest, sending them off in pairs in various directions. They fanned out through the streets, moving at a leisurely pace, stopping to peek in windows and doorways. When the leader was left alone, he turned his head up toward the new sky, and Roar’s stomach plummeted.
She knew that face—the short, nearly shaved hair and prominent brow combined with the perpetual frown. He had been her teacher, her guard, and something very near a friend. And yet, despite being certain of the man’s identity, her brain still struggled to comprehend. Taven, the man who’d taught her how to throw a knife, was wearing Locke blue.
She took a sharp, painful breath. This did not make any sense. Out of everyone, she would have trusted Taven the most to be loyal to her and her mother. Was it possible there was something she was not understanding? Were things not as bad as they seemed?
Taven sighed and watched in apparent apathy as the last of his men disappeared down various streets and alleys. Aurora wanted to open her mouth to call out to him, but a thread of wariness held her back. And she was glad for it a moment later when his disinterest disappeared between one blink and the next. His tall frame taut with tension, Taven glanced around, then spun around and strolled quickly down the road that led back toward what remained of the Eye.
She waited one quick breath, then another. She shook her head, knowing that it was reckless even as she swung her leg over the edge of the roof.
Three floors. Too far to jump. She kicked at a metal downspout, and decided the pipe was sturdy enough to get her to one of the lower windows at least. She could have used one of Jinx’s vines right about now.
She only gave herself time for a short inhale, then she swung herself down over the roof, feet scrambling for purchase against the wall as she held tight to the downspout. Heart thundering, she began an ungainly slide down the side of the building. The pipe creaked under her weight, but held long enough for her to drop down to the ledge of a second-floor window.
A glance showed that Taven was nearly out of sight. She decided that there was no time to be cautious. She crouched on the ledge, and then leaped.
She landed with a jolt, pain shooting up her legs, but she let her momentum carry her forward into a roll, and she came up walking, her ankles tender, but otherwise unhurt.
She checked to make sure her hair was still covered by her hood, then darted down the road after Taven, only limping for the first few strides. She stuck to the shadows, and tried to ignore her warring thoughts. She could be making a grave mistake, but she was also tired of feeling hopeless. This was the first time since seeing the destroyed Eye that she saw a clear path forward. Taven could tell her everything she needed to know… if she could trust him. And this might be her only chance to catch him alone.
After a few streets, she had caught up enough that she could slow her pace. She breathed heavily, and her ankles protested, but her eyes remained on Taven. When her former guard passed the charred ruins of the Eye he did not even seem to notice the destruction. He walked past it with cold indifference.
Aurora wished she could do the same. But as she skirted by the blackened husks of the market stalls, she could not stop her imagination from turning dark and bleak. There had been dozens of people inside the market each time she had gone. Where were all those people now? Had they survived? She did not feel a stronger than normal presence of souls in this area, but that did not mean there had not been casualties. She was so focused on her imagined horrors that she nearly missed Taven’s sharp turn down an alley strewn with trash and debris and muck of questionable sources.
She stuttered to a stop moments before she would have stepped out into plain view. A quick peek around the corner revealed Taven stopped halfway down the alley. A broken, swinging sign hung over an abandoned apothecary. The windows were boarded up, and the front steps sunken in rot. Hope began to unfurl. This was not the first time she had followed someone to a seemingly abandoned location only to find a different reality. Perhaps the Eye had just moved?
Aurora leaned farther around the wall, trying to get a better glimpse of what was happening. She felt something brush against her arm, and a moment later someone whispered, “I always have your back, novie. But this seems . . . shall we say, unwise.”
Fear clutched her heart for a long moment, and the distraction made her mental shields waver briefly, sending an overload of sensation into Aurora from the spirits around her—living and dead. She turned and her eyes fixed on Jinx’s familiar grin. After a stabilizing breath Aurora asked, “How did you find me?”
“I saw you fall past my window.”
Frowning, Aurora whispered, “I did not fall.”
“The roll at the end was a nice addition. Looked almost purposeful.”
Aurora did not care to argue, not when Taven might overhear them. But she whispered, “You followed me.”
“Good thing too. Kidnapping that guy will be much easier with two of us.”
“Kidnapping?” Aurora’s eyes widened, and she shook her head fiercely. “No one is kidnapping anyone.” After all, the last kidnapping she planned had come with extreme, unforeseen consequences.
“Are you sure?” Jinx tilted her head. “His information would be incredibly valuable. Plus, if he is anything like the Locke soldiers we met before…”
“He’s not.” At least, Aurora hoped he was not. “I… know him. Knew him. When I saw him walk past the inn, I didn’t think. I just followed him.”
Jinx’s eyes narrowed, and she hummed behind closed lips. “How well did you know him? Because I have a feeling Kiran is about to get his first taste of jealousy if this soldier is the reason you’ve been so secretive.”
“It was not like that. He was . . . a friend.”
“You were friends with a Locke soldier?”
With quiet, clipped words, Aurora answered, “He did not used to be one. His name is Taven, and he’s . . .”
She glanced around the corner to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard, and her stomach sank.
Taven was gone.
Aurora cursed and entered the alley, scanning again and again for where he might have gone, but she could see no avenue for escape. She pushed her fingers into her temples, a sudden ache unfurling in her head.
“No need to look so lost, novie.”
Aurora turned around to face Jinx, and found the witch standing beside the entrance to an old storm shelter, overgrown with moss and weeds. As she watched, the witch bent down, and in one sweeping motion, tore the greenery away from the shelter door. It came up in one large sheet, like a blanket, and Jinx dropped it to the ground, her nose wrinkling.
“I didn’t even need my magic to tell those plants weren’t real. They’re little more than cloth counterfeits.”
And sure enough, now that the greenery had been removed, Aurora could tell that the shelter door had brand new hinges. She darted forward, kneeling by the door and pressing her ear down against it.
She heard the breeze whistling around them, the rumble of thunder in the distance, but no sound from within the shelter. She sat back on her heels, and looked up at Jinx.
“What do you want to do?” her friend asked.
The smart thing would be to wait and watch for Taven to leave. But a storm was rolling in, the thunder coming more frequently by the second. She could feel it. The air was humid and thick. But more than that, an uneasy feeling scraped up the back of her neck, and something dark and oppressive lurked just past her shields.
What if something happened and they lost him? Or he did not come out until the storm passed? She was not sure she could handle another day without knowing what had happened to Pavan in her absence. The uncertainty of that combined with her anxieties over revealing her secrets to Kiran were too much to contemplate.
A creak sounded, and Aurora looked over to see a grinning Jinx holding the shelter door open enough to peek inside. The witch shrugged and gestured for Aurora to join her.
Aurora quickly ducked her head near the opening. It was pitch-black inside. The sliver of light from the crack revealed the top rungs of a ladder, but it was swallowed up by the dark before they could see the bottom. Aurora could hear voices. A woman—her voice smooth and rich with an edge of command. A man’s voice echoed a moment later, but she could not discern the words, only the muted sounds.
She pressed her lips together, pondering the risk of stepping down into an unknown environment. Then she thought about Jinx calling her novie, about the fact that she’d traveled through the wildlands of Caelira, and stared into the heart of a skyfire storm, and survived to return home. Now more than ever, she needed to be brave.
Decided, she gestured for Jinx to lift the door higher, and carefully she swung her leg over the ledge and found the first rung of the ladder.
More sunlight poured in, illuminating a small, empty room with dirt floors. She caught glimpses of debris, a few wooden supply barrels, and a small darting shadow that she guessed was a rat. She moved quickly and quietly down the rungs, not wanting to draw attention. Jinx appeared to have the same thought as she lowered the door until only the barest crack of light shone through. Aurora paused to let her eyes adjust to the limited amount of light. The room smelled dank and stale, as if it had not been touched by fresh air in months. The sound of her heartbeat in her ears reminded her of a stampede, and Aurora could only hope that her descent down the ladder was quiet enough to go unnoticed.
Finally her foot hit earth, and she stepped down and turned around. The voices had stopped, and she struggled to listen for movement in case she needed to hide or run.
She began feeling her way around the wall, careful not to run into anything. Then she had an idea.
She wore a leather vest with a connected high collar, closed by a series of belt-like clasps. She undid the straps and opened the collar just enough so that the flickering light of the skyfire in her chest lit up the darkness. It worked, allowing her to see enough to explore more quickly. She moved toward the barrels first, finding them empty. She quickly scanned the rest of the room, only finding a few rotted boards and piles of degraded linens. Finally, she made her way to a wooden door. She could see the barest hint of light escaping from beneath the door. Pressing her ear against the wood, she heard the stifled murmur of voices.
She managed to make out the words weapons and storms before she heard a shout aboveground, and the shelter door dropped closed with a loud thud.
“Jinx?” she whispered as loud as she dared. Her only answer was a loud crash as something was slammed onto the door. Suddenly, she heard voices coming not from above, but from deeper in the shelter. She ran across the room, using her hand to flatten her leather collar over her chest, smothering the skyfire light, and then hurled herself behind the supply barrels moments before the door she’d been listening at flew open.
Aurora pressed her back into the wall, doing her best to slow her breathing. The silver-blue glow of a skyfire lantern cast shadows on the wall. She crouched lower, and quickly strapped her collar back into place. The thud of multiple sets of feet were drowned out by more noises overhead. Before Aurora could wrap her mind around anything but hiding, the shelter door was pulled wide, washing the room in daylight, and revealing a large brute of a man with one thick, inked arm curled threateningly around Jinx’s small throat.
Aurora slapped a hand over her mouth to stop her gasp. Jinx, on the other hand, looked nonplussed, almost bored, despite the fierce grip of the man who held her. Aurora ducked lower as the man’s eyes roved over the room, and she saw that Jinx was careful not to let her eyes wander.
“Brax!” a deep, feminine voice called out, mere feet away from Aurora. The man’s eyes snapped to attention. The woman asked, “What have you brought me?”
Aurora listened as Jinx was transferred down the ladder from the first man to another. After a series of heavy footsteps down the ladder, the room dropped into darkness once more, save for the skyfire lantern.
Aurora peeked around the barrel enough to see the woman. She was medium height, but plump, with womanly curves. Her sandy brown skin had an otherworldly gleam in the skyfire’s light.
The man called Brax cracked his knuckles and answered, “Found her lurking about outside, fiddling with the plants you use to hide this place.”
“Is that so?” Silence hung in the air after the woman’s question; a dangerous intensity weaved through the air. Her voice was layered and deep, but precise and crisp. She took one slow step forward, then another, until she was face-to-face with Jinx. Then she tilted her head to the side, her long dark hair sliding over her shoulder, and said, “Now who, exactly, are you?”
Aurora saw Jinx smile in the glow of the skyfire, utterly fearless in the face of whoever it was they had stumbled upon. Jinx shrugged casually and replied, “No one you need concern yourself with. I mean you no harm. I just . . . have a fondness for plants.”
The woman laughed, the kind of laugh that would have drawn every eye in a room, only the men around her stayed still and stiff at her side, like soldiers waiting for her command. “That’s darling,” the woman replied, circling around Jinx, surveying her like a predator. “I have a fondness for sharp things.”
At her words, Aurora heard several blades pulled by the surrounding men. Her stomach clenched with nerves. She should have been more careful. She never should have taken such a risk.
“Take these, for example.” The woman held up a hand near Jinx’s face. She wore a shiny leather glove that was more like armor, tipped with dark sharp points that she lightly trailed down the side of Jinx’s throat.
“I took these from a wildcat that made the wrong choice in prey. That’s actually her you feel at your feet. I took her claws as punishment, but let her keep her teeth as respect for one predator from another.”
Aurora hadn’t noticed before, but sure enough, a spotted cat with pointed ears wove between Jinx’s legs, tall enough to rub its cheek against her thigh.
“How intimidating,” Jinx said, an exaggerated shiver in her voice. “A cat! How ever will I keep from spilling all my secrets?” Despite the blades pointed at her, the brazen earth witch bent just enough to scratch the wildcat between the ears. She murmured something that might have been, “Sweet kitty,” then straightened and asked, “Is this the part where I should beg for mercy?”
Skies, Aurora didn’t know how Jinx did it—stayed so calm. She was a mess of nerves, and she had not even been noticed.
Brax, the man who had captured Jinx, took a menacing step forward. “Are you stupid or something?”
Jinx smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Or something.”
Then the earth buckled beneath their feet, and a chorus of shouts rang out as the room began to shake. Roots and plants of every kind burst from the dirt floor and walls. Vines twined around people’s limbs. Jinx swung her arm, landing an elbow to the face of the man holding her. Jinx shoved the woman back into a grasping web of green and yelled, “Now, Roar!”
Aurora leaped up from her hiding place. A large man turned, looming in front of her. His skin was nearly the same shade as the shadows that swathed the room. A vine caught him around the ankle at the perfect moment, and Aurora shoved him off-balance. Jinx was halfway up the ladder, calling for her. Darting after her friend, Aurora cleared the first few rungs in a leap. The plants rose ahead of them, pushing the shelter door up and up, dousing them all in bright sunlight.
Then . . . something went wrong. The plants around Aurora began to turn brown and dull. They continued moving as Jinx’s magic commanded, but they grew dry and brittle, and they snapped under the strain.
Aurora too felt strange. Her vision flashed with shadows despite the sunlight overhead. Her mouth felt as if a dust storm had rolled over her tongue then settled into a desert in her throat. A gnawing pain began at her temples and the base of her neck. The world started to wobble, the ground tipping from side to side below her. A fist curled around the belt at her waist and jerked her backward. Her fingers broke from the ladder like the brittle vines beside her. Dust flew up as she landed flat on her back, and the pain shattered the remaining control she had over her mental shields.
Sensations swamped her, foreign and overpowering, but even lost in the deluge it was the ache in her throat that bothered her most. Dizziness kept spinning her mind around as she tried to focus. A dark form came into view, and her vision cleared just enough for her to see.
The woman. The one with the claw-tipped, red glove—singular, for her other hand was bare. She was striking, and not just because Aurora felt like the air had been knocked from her lungs and refused to return. She had thick dark hair that trailed past her waist and was decorated with braids and curls. Her eyebrows were dark and straight over piercing brown-black eyes. Her cheekbones were sharply defined, and her skin a gold-touched brown. The woman wore fine clothes made of rich, draping fabrics that flowed around her shape as if at her command. She radiated power.
The dark spots in Aurora’s vision began to stretch and merge, blocking out even the sun that streamed through the open hatch above. When she dangled at the edge of consciousness, the woman bent down toward Aurora’s face, a shrewd look in her narrowed eyes.
“I can make it stop,” the woman said, her voice soft—just shy of kind. “If you tell me who sent you.”
Aurora tried to answer her, but her tongue was thick and dry and useless in her mouth. The woman reached out and pulled away the cloth covering the lower part of Aurora’s face, then tugged at the hood covering her hair. Aurora’s heart gave one heavy, panicked thump, but she was too weak to fight back.
A voice in her head shouted, “Stop!” And she tried to make the word herself.
The word surprised her, for it came not from her mouth, but from somewhere outside her narrowed vision. She heard it repeated—a deep voice, a man’s voice.
Someone grabbed the woman, dark hands on her pristine garments, shoving her back and away from Aurora. The terrible crushing pressure on her chest eased, but she was hit by another wave of nausea so extreme she rolled to the side and retched. Nothing came out despite the desperate, painful heaving of her stomach.
“Help her. Please, Zephyr.”
Someone pulled on her shoulder, rolling her back and pushing away the sweaty hair that hung across her face.
“Why should I?” Aurora heard as her vision cleared enough to make out the stern, serious face of the man who had once been her guard.
Taven’s eyes were wild and panicked like she had never seen them.
“Because she’s the rightful heir to the kingdom of Pavan.”
Used with Permission from Tor Teen, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates. Copyright (c) 2019 Cora Carmack
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