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The country of Alwyn is in the midst of a civil war between a power-hungry king and a relatively small group of rebels intent on creating a new, more equal kingdom. The result of the war would change the Alwyn and its people forever. Men and women have been willing to risk life, limb, and sanity so that their side might prevail.
One woman, however, has absolutely no intention of risking anything for either cause. As far as Amara is concerned, they can waste all the time they wanted fighting one another – just as long as they keep her out of it. Despite her best efforts, however, a miscalculation lands Amara right in the middle of the whole mess, forcing her to become a player in the bloody, dangerous game which she had so hoped to avoid.
Sneak Peek at the First Chapter
The boy whimpered pitifully, hanging limply against his chains. Blood congealed on the left side of his face, partially obscuring his youthful features. He couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, if that; a mere child. But his age was irrelevant. Obedience was the only way to keep order, even children ought to follow the rules.
King Osric peered at the prisoner without pity, eyes like chunks of obsidian. He loathed the sound of crying, particularly when it came from a youth. They grated on his ears like rough iron scrapped across a stone. Soon this boy would cry no longer, but first he would pay for his crimes.
“Has he said anything of importance?” Osric turned to the man standing next to him in the dark cell.
Captain Easton was bald, save for a handful of hair sprinkled over his head haphazardly. His face was shining, specks of blood mingling with his sweat.
Easton shook his head. “I’m sorry, Your Highness. He hasn’t said much of anything. Claims he’s never actually met anyone from the Resistance.”
Osric scowled. The boy had been caught loudly proclaiming his support for the rebels; he even had the gall to claim their leader was more worthy of the crown than Osric. Such traitorous words would not be tolerated. Osric had hoped, given the zeal with which the boy had apparently spoken, that he might actually know some information. It seemed yet again, the Resistance had proved elusive.
“Continue with your questioning,” Osric said coldly. The boy’s whimpering grew louder, becoming even more desperate after hearing the king’s command. Osric thought he was unconscious, but apparently the boy heard their conversation.
“As you wish, Your Highness.” Easton bowed, a look of grim determination on his face.
“If, by tomorrow, he remains this useless, you may dispose of him,” Osric said. “But, make it a public execution. I want the people to remember what happens to those who sympathize with the rebels.”
“Yes, My King.”
Osric turned and left, casting one more disgusted look at the lump of flesh who had wasted so much of his time. The king had no time to waste. There was still so much work to be done.
“Your Highness,” Easton spoke quickly, before Osric could leave the room, “There was one more thing I wished to discuss. If I may…?”
“Make it quick.” Osric was growing weary of listening to the prisoner snivel.
Easton hesitated only a moment before speaking carefully. “I wondered if you had reconsidered my earlier request concerning the thief.”
“You truly believe your guards are not sufficiently skilled to arrest one thief?”
“Amara is no ordinary thief,” Easton said quickly. “She has already escaped capture more than once. I am afraid she may do so again if stronger actions are not taken.”
The king clenched his fists. “I am well aware of what that woman has done. Very well. If your guards are so incompetent that you feel they are incapable of subduing her, I will allow the use of four of my Royal Guards. See to it that their time is not wasted.”
Easton bowed deeply, his face paling slightly as Osric turned his full glare on the man.
“I give you my word, Your Highness;” he said, “I will bring this woman to justice. Thank you, My King.”
She seemed to appear out of nowhere—almost as if she had materialized from the shadows.
King Osric was used to the woman’s sudden appearances. She had been paying him visits for nearly a year now. Despite all of his efforts, Osric had yet to learn anything about her—not even the woman’s name. In his mind, he had begun to call her Shadow just so he could have some title for her.
Shadow bowed her head. “Your Highness. I hope I haven’t woken you.”
Osric stood, walking out from behind his desk. “What is it? I’m assuming you have not come to pay me a social visit.”
“No, I haven’t,” she said, completely at ease. “But I believe my visit will be equally as enjoyable.”
“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I have a bit of information for you,” she explained. “Information that could change the fate of this war.”
“And what information is that?” Osric couldn’t keep the interest from his tone. Shadow’s information was always useful. GLOP
“A woman has just arrived in Erimere.” Her black cloak whispered around her as she settled herself into the chair on the other side of the desk. “A woman with some useful talents.”
“I believe I know who you are talking about.” Osric hid his smirk. Shadow always knew everything that went on in his country. It was immensely satisfying to know something before she shared with him. “Her name is Amara.”
“Yes, Your Highness, that is who I am referring to.” She inclined her head. “Your Captain Easton is quite eager for her arrest—as I am sure you are as well. But, if I were you, I would not be so quick to sentence her to death.”
Osric frowned. How did she find out about the meeting with Easton? Was the woman spying on him? The thought made him profoundly uncomfortable.
“Amara is a criminal—one who has stolen from me in the past, as you are well aware.” Osric continued sharply, “In fact, I have just given Captain Easton permission to search the city and arrest her. I will not suffer thieves. The woman should have been killed months ago.”
“Then why is she still alive?” Osric didn’t like the condescending smirk forming on her lips. He clenched his fists, wishing he could wrap his hands around the woman’s neck. But even Osric couldn’t deny Shadow’s usefulness. He still needed her alive.
“She evaded capture.” Osric’s nails dug painfully into his palms.
Despite the fact that Osric sent his best trackers after her, Amara had managed to stay hidden all this time. It was bad enough someone had been able to get away with stealing from him, but the fact that she still avoided punishment for such a crime was intolerable.
“There are very few people who could hide from your guards, Your Highness,” Shadow pointed out. “That fact alone should be enough to convince you Amara is no ordinary thief.”
“Her abilities are not in question,” Osric growled. “She stole from the Crown. Such impudence will not be tolerated.”
“I won’t debate the need for keeping order,” she said. “And I would never dare to tell you what to do, Your Highness, but if I were you, before I extracted vengeance for wrongs committed, I would make use of the gift presented to me.”
“And why is Amara a gift?”
“Because she happens to have a very valuable talent: finding information—any information,” Shadow explained. “If you want to defeat the Resistance, I suggest you utilize that talent. Clean reputations aren’t going to win this war.”
His eyebrows rose. “Are you honestly suggesting I hire a thief?”
“I am suggesting you use the resources at your disposal.” Her voice was infuriatingly calm. “So far you have defended yourself against their little attacks, but the Resistance is still a threat. With every passing day the rebels are gaining more support. Until you know more about them, you stand very little chance of defeating them.”
“And Amara can get me that information?”
“She can,” Shadow said. “Apart from myself, there is no one better at discovering pertinent bits of information than Amara.”
“Why can’t you do it?” he asked. “You know everything that happens in Alwyn. Why can’t you discover what I need? Or is this beyond your capabilities?” he added with a sneer, hoping to wipe that disgusting smirk off Shadow’s face.
“Because that is not my job.” A hint of anger entered her voice. “If you want to find out where the Resistance is, the best way of accomplishing that is to use Amara. But, as always,” Her tone lost its edge and became smooth once more, “The choice is entirely up to you. I would never presume to tell you what to do, Your Highness.”
Osric clenched his jaw. She knew full well that he would do as she suggested. The woman’s advice had been invaluable so far and he would not ignore this opportunity. If she was right and Amara could find out where the Resistance would be moving next, he might finally be able to get rid of the rebels for good.
Finally, he nodded. “I will consider your advice. Is that all you wished to share?”
“For the time being.” She smiled again and bowed her head. “I trust you will make a wise choice, Your Highness.”
The woman stood and started to leave. But, before she went more than a step, she turned back to Osric.
“When Easton told you of Amara’s presence in Erimere, did he happen to say how he came by this information?”
“Someone recognized her and informed him,” Osric said.
The infuriatingly smug smirk returned to her face. “How fortunate you are to have someone so familiar with Amara that they were able to recognize her despite her efforts to remain hidden. The gods must hold you in high regard to bless you with such great fortune. Goodnight, Your Highness.”
Before Osric could respond, the woman spun around, disappearing into the darkness. He glared after her, feeling increasingly frustrated. Osric had ordered guards search his room many times. Despite numerous thorough searched, no one had been able to figure out how Shadow slipped in and out of his private undetected. He’d considered questioning her, even going so far as to lock her in the dungeon, but her information had proved too valuable for him to risk ending their relationship.
The thought of someone being able to sneak around the castle without anyone else knowing both infuriated and disturbed Osric. As much as he hated to admit it even to himself, he was beginning to believe Shadow could easily destroy him if she put her mind to it. Which was why it was imperative he find out how she went about collecting information and slipping through shadows. But he couldn’t send guards to trail her if he still had no idea when she would come or leave—or even how she did so. Once he did, Osirc would no longer have such a need for her services. Perhaps then he could finally rid himself of her intolerable presence.