The day is finally here. Raining Embers is now available in ebook! (Paperback coming soon*).
Palmer Tash always follows the path of least resistance. He has an unusual disability involving his hearing. But in theocratic Latysia, being different isn’t a good thing, so he conceals his problem.
Brier Chastain’s malady is even more debilitating, and she often must take to her bed for long periods. Her days are spent in meaningless pursuits as she awaits an arranged marriage.
When Palmer and Brier are kidnapped on the same night, they meet and discover that their so-called disabilities are actually budding powers. They are the incarnations of Order and Chaos. With their country on the brink of war, the two must step into their predestined roles and learn to take control of their own destinies.
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In the near darkness, the frightful sound of shouting people and clashing swords echoed around the wooden book chest. The battle raged on outside even as the city burned. The little girl curled up more tightly, too afraid to leave the relative safety of her hiding place. Voices rose and fell, some familiar, some with accents she’d never heard. A man cried out, but the cacophony swallowed the noise before it could finish.
Smoke began to filter into the cracks of the chest, turning the air thick, hazy. The girl swallowed, blinking too quickly as her eyes burned. Her father had been gone by the time she had made it through the havoc to the library. But he had to come back. He was always in the library. Day or night, she could always find him there. Even in all of this chaos, he would have to be somewhere.
The smoke grew thicker, the heat of it making the girl’s lungs burn with each breath. Her head swimming, she couldn’t wait anymore. She pushed the chest open with the soles of her feet, and a fresh wave of smoke rushed in at her. Mostly by feel, she climbed out, trying to find something familiar, some landmark to show her which way to go in the fiery nightmare. Spotting a patch of lighter smoke, she crawled forward, the normally cool marble of the library floor scorching.
Something creaked. A beam fell, blazing, in front of her. The air shimmered with heat. She had to stop, her mind too sluggish to find another route. The smoke attacked her, working its way inside her lungs. Her heart tried to race but couldn’t manage. After a few more inches forward, her body failed, refusing to move. Her eyes fluttered shut, firelight dancing on her eyelids.
Darkness descended. The haze turned to black, nothingness racing in on her.
And it felt… right.
Palmer’s eyes flew open as he jerked back to reality, the burning library replaced by the dark classroom under the temple. Shaking his head, he focused on the fire in the center of the ring of acolytes’ chairs. Certainly, learning this type of divination could have waited until winter. With summer at its height, they might as well have been in an oven with the entire class of acolytes packed inside the windowless room, along with a fire pit. Between the heat and the smoke, even he was going to start thinking he was having “visions,” as the Seers wanted them to believe. Fire, battle, and little girls indeed. Perhaps their classes were truly a study in mass hallucination.
“Um… a bird?” One of the other acolytes’ voices clicked somewhere in Palmer’s head, his bizarrely focused hearing jumping from the crackle of the fire to the boy’s words.
“What kind of bird?” the Master coached, standing behind Danilo Danati as they both stared into the accursed fire.
“A black one?”
Palmer rolled his eyes and looked back at the fire. A log broke, and the voices disappeared, giving way to the new sound. In any other class, Palmer might attempt to force his mind to focus, to accept that the words were what he should hear over any other sound in the room. After being forced into an oven to learn more about false prophesying, however, he was inclined to filter out whatever imagined bird Danilo and Master Franco were discussing as background noise. Since he had to live with the odd affliction of being able to hear only one sound at a time, at least he could use it to his benefit now and again.
“I think it’s the city burning,” Gianni’s voice broke in from his spot in the circle next to Palmer. “Like in Sage Chmela-Parrino’s vision.”
“That’s supposed to be an earthquake.” Luca looked up from whatever he’d been carving into the side of his stool. “‘The ground shall open, and buildings shall fall’?”
A buzz arose as more and more acolytes debated. Palmer let his mind filter it all out as he wiped at the sweat attempting to trickle down the back of his neck.
“That is enough,” Master Franco cut through the din. “As it seems we are not going to regain focus for today, we will have to pick up again next week. I expect an essay on what was learned today, in my hand before the fire is lit.”
Unhappy groans resonated around the room, but no one debated, packing up their books. Palmer couldn’t escape that sweltering room quickly enough, shoving everything into his own sack before moving out into the maze of passageways beneath the temple and toward his little cell.
Palmer couldn’t decide if the underground complex was a blessing or a curse during the summer. Generally cooler than upstairs—when the Seers didn’t light blazing fires in some weak attempt at fortune telling—the dampness in the air always soaked into the cells below the temple floor, the rooms flooding if the rains came too long or too often. He had long before put everything in his room on stilts, trying to save what meager possessions he had from rotting.
Pulling his cell’s door open, he stepped into the small space, barely looking around as he dropped his bag on the cot and pulled out his spare set of robes. They were slightly soiled but at least not soaked through with sweat.
Someone knocked, and Egidio’s voice sounded through the door. “Palm?”
“It’s open,” Palmer answered, pulling the damp brown robes off over his head before spreading them over the small desk. They wouldn’t likely dry fully in the musty cell, but at least they wouldn’t likely mold, either.
The door swung out with a creak, and Egidio stepped through only enough to let it close again, leaving Palmer enough room to maneuver in the small space. “I’m going to fail.”
Palmer sighed. This conversation again. It was that time in the semester. He pulled the new robe over his head. “You’re not going to fail.”
“Another couple bad marks, and I will.” Egidio skirted Palmer, sitting next to the bag on the cot. “My father is going to kill me.”
Releasing a breath, Palmer took a seat on the low stool in front of the desk, readying himself for the familiar exchange. After six years, Palmer could nearly do both parts. The subject always changed, of course, but it seemed Egidio Dioli had yet to find any part of being an acolyte that suited his skill set. Palmer had to imagine that if Signore Dioli, semiprosperous merchant, hadn’t managed to scrape together full room and board, his son would have long been ejected from study at the Church.
“What class now?”
“Master Agnelli’s.” Egidio rested his mousy face in his hands. “I have no talent in charts.”
“Give it here.” Palmer motioned toward Egidio and picked up his own stub of a pencil.
Egidio fished around in his bag and pulled out a slightly crumpled paper. He held it out for Palmer to take. “Did you already turn yours in?”
Palmer nodded, not feeling the need to bring up the fact that he had finished while still in class.
“It isn’t fair.” Egidio slumped forward. “You don’t even try, and you have at least betas in everything.”
“Lucky for me, or I’d be out on the street.” Palmer shot Egidio a look before scanning the chart, looking for errors.
“Oh… sorry, Palm.” Egidio stumbled over his words. “You know I didn’t mean—”
Palmer waved the apology away, rubbing out a few wrong marks with his thumb before replacing them. Even if Egidio had the tendency to end up with his foot in his mouth, he never truly had a bad thing to say about Palmer’s circumstances. Maybe that had allowed them to become friends in the first place—Egidio, the talentless son of a family who could barely afford to keep his place; and Palmer, the parentless Ward of the Church who had managed to stay on when most of his peers had aged out, through some combination of dumb luck and an innate talent at astrology. Compared to the grand—or at least wealthy—families most of their classmates came from, Palmer and Egidio were only slightly better than the beggars who wandered around the slums by the river, well outside the walled complex that was the Augarian.
After a few more corrections, Palmer handed the paper back. “Trace that over. It should be more than enough to pass now.”
Egidio mumbled some thanks, shoving the paper back into his bag as though the powers that be would know he’d cheated just because Egidio was touching the chart. He tied the bag shut then looked back at Palmer. “Did you hear about Sage Chmela-Parrino’s vision?”
Somehow, Palmer refrained from groaning. “Parts of it. Something about the world ending?”
“He said he saw the Augarian destroyed, the ground opening up, a god wreaking vengeance on us all.”
Palmer barely managed not to roll his eyes. “Gio, some Seer or another predicts the end of the world once a decade. I don’t think we need to worry about this one any more than any of the others.”
“If you say so.” Egidio rested his arms on his knees. “But I know if the sun suddenly goes dark, I’m going to be a little worried.”
“Goes dark?” Palmer frowned.
“Supposedly, that’s how it starts. The sun goes dark. Then it’s only a matter of time before the gods destroy us all.”
Palmer pressed his lips together as he recalled one of the mistakes he hadn’t corrected on Egidio’s chart, for the sake of believability. A potential solar eclipse, not that far away.
The Seers were going to have a field day.