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Book 3 Excerpts 


chapter 1

"The Kukuulun Way"

    The Trollbasher, he thought.

 The foresails were lateen-rigged. Same color. Same devices. Ogres were milling around, carrying crates and casks. Some were arguing, others wrestling, all of them stinking like hogs at a slough, or a midden. Nets filled with skulls were slung over the gunwale and slapped against the hull, which had rusted chains crisscrossing it. It was a heavy ship, but manned by ogres who were at least fivefold the strength of men. Bloodstains, bird droppings, hair, and smears of tar besmirched the deck and the crude thwarts, which could each fit one ogre on either side of the boat. Rusted oarlocks hosted long oars that dropped to the sea.

    A great ogre was barking orders as the ship clove through the sea, passing the Island of Mysteries’ mountains, strewn with mossy heads hewn from the stone. James recognized the great ogre. He was Catoblepas—one of the beasts who’d kidnapped him from his uncle’s castle in the Cades Isles.

“Here,” the ogre beside him said, then swabbed the stinking salve on his aching forehead. 

   James looked at him. He was an aging, seven-foot ogre with gray skin, long white hair, and a white beard that reached his hips.

He was sinewy, with wise, gray eyes, and tattoos of moons. He smelled of sweat and body odor, was missing his left ear, and wore a twine of large dead beetles around his neck.

    “Where’s Cat?” James asked.

The ogre was squatting and dipping his finger back into one of the copper bowls of greenish-black grease. He smeared it on James’s forehead again. “Uhuuuuuuh,” he grunted uninterestedly.

    “Who’re you?”

  “Runskar,” the ogre replied. “You lucky you live. Shangoola hit hard your face.”

 “Tell him thanks,” James said sarcastically, who could still feel his right cheek tingling. “Where’s Cat?”

    “No cat,” Runskar said.

  He tried to sit up, but the ogre pushed him back. He felt dizzy, and his lips were parched. “Need water.”

Runskar reached over and lifted a skin that sloshed with liquid. “Open.”

James opened his mouth and drank. It was piss-warm, and tasted pungent and slimy, but he drank greedily, hardly noticing. When Runskar pulled it away, he said again, “Where’s Cat?”

“No cat,” Runskar replied again, as he wiped James’s forehead with a dirty cloth that smelled of sweat and blood.

    “Where are you taking me?”

  Just then, he heard footsteps, and looked up to see another massive, hairy ogre approaching.

   “Speak true, now,” Runskar advised. “He Lieutenant Kal-Gro. He interrogate muulas. Once rip out muula’s tongue and swallow.”

    “Sounds sweet,” James said.

 Kal-Gro was strong, with wide shoulders and the back strength of two rhinos. He had a purplish skin pigment and wore a splash of brown freckles across his face, punctuated by star constellation tattoos. There was also a spiked chain that ran down his face and neck, then coiled around his shoulder. He wore silver rings in his

nose, and he was bald, but had a russet beard beneath piercing gray eyes that smoldered. “Oi, this the muula been sleepin’ on us?” he asked in a strong, cruel voice, accompanied by breath that smelled like an animal had crawled inside his mouth and taken a crap. “Lemme speak to ’im.” His eyes penetrated James with a cunning, sadistic intelligence that complemented the slow smirk on his cheeks. He hunkered down until the haft of his ax touched the deck, staring James over.


chapter 10

"Poetic Spies"

He came up to the enormous chair and slid some of the jars aside to sit in it; Godstrong lumbered over to the bed and stood by the window, arms folded.

  “I’m busy,” she said, her tone betraying her impatience. “Is there a reason you’re here?”

    “How long have you been practicing medicine?” James asked, leaning forward to watch her mash roots in a bowl.

    She tapped the pestle on the side before continuing to mush. “Where I grew up, each highblood household had a mosshag. I grew up learning the twelve restorative elements and their origins, and the basics of breaking down lapidifical compounds found both naturally and unnaturally.” She turned to look at him.

    “What’s a mosshag?”

    “What do you want?”

    “You’re a healer, right?” James said. “What do you have for someone with an upset stomach?”

She returned to her work, pouring something into a smaller bowl while consulting a booklet. “Fever?”


    “Stomach cramps?”



    “I...” Truthfully, he wasn’t prepared to give a list of symptoms for a problem he’d just invented. He glanced at Godstrong, still standing over them with an impatient sneer, his arms folded.

  “What you look at?” the ogre growled, noticing him. “I not constipated.”

    “No...” James said quickly, looking back at Qadira and feeling his cheeks turn warm, “’s not for me. It’s for—C-Cat, my friend.” Quickly, he pulled the piece of crumpled paper from his pocket and shoved it forward.

    “What’s this?” she said. “A list?”

James stammered, “It’’s—” 

   She took the note almost indignantly, but suddenly Godstrong lurched

forward and snatched it from her hand before she could uncrumple it. “What this?” he demanded, looking at James.

Qadira lashed out as quick as a striking adder and ripped it from the ogre’s fingers. “Don’t snatch, brute! It’s a list of symptoms. And what were you going to do, read it?”

    The paper had disappeared from the ogre’s fingers so quickly he looked baffled, his forehead crumpling like a dried prune.

    She opened the note and read it carefully. After a moment, she giggled.

    “What is it?” James asked.

   “What he write?” the ogre growled reaching for the paper again.

    “Oh, this isn’t a list of symptoms,” she said, trying not to break out in laughter.

    “It’s not?” James said.

    “It not?” the ogre echoed.

 “Oh, you’ve got to hear this, Godstrong,” she said.

  James panicked. Was she really going to read his blackmailing note to the ogre? What was she playing at?        “Stop—” he said, reaching for the note.


chapter 13

"Midnight Mischief"

    “But can you?” Cat asked.

    “Can I what?”

    “Do it?”

  That was what was causing the snakes in his stomach. He didn’t stop to debate it with Cat, he just went up to the window and looked out. Despite his reluctance, his gaze gravitated towards the rocks below. The tower window stood nine feet away, but the drop spanned over forty feet. While he had honed his jumping skills and knew he could cover the distance, it was the element of control that concerned him.                                                “James.”

  He turned around to look at his friend. Cat was clearly worried.

  “I know you’ve practiced and planned this,” Cat said, “but...I don’t like it.”           

    “The challenge is to grab and hold onto the window without falling,” James said. He’d conscientiously planned it with Cat for three days, going over every little detail he could think of. “It’s like rock-climbing, only I have to concentrate my ruun to keep from hitting too hard and falling off. I’ll have one second to get a good grip before I lose my balance. It’s a

small time frame, but not really. One second is all I need to grip the window. One second is all I need to use my magic to pull myself up onto the sill.” He knew he was trying to convince himself, but it was the only way he could drum up enough confidence.

    “I don’t like it,” Cat said again.

    But James knew he could do it. He’d trained himself for this moment. The moment he hit the wall, he’d focus his ruun and cling to the window. But of course, there was the whole deal about securing his fingers in the right spot in the short time he had. It was all in the timing, and...and...

    I can do it.

    He wished he didn’t have to wait till midnight. Waiting made it worse for him. He didn’t think he could maintain his confidence while he waited. He’d begin to wonder if he’d miscalculated.

    Am I missing something?

    No, I can do it.

   Cat sat on the windowsill, listening for the distant bell’s knoll in the city that would indicate it was midnight.

    I can do it.           

  He was going to chicken out. He knew

it. He could feel his hands getting sweaty, his fingers jittery. His muscles turned weak, his legs loose. The stones along the tower’s window did not look as grippable as he’d thought before, and the drop seemed a hundred feet now.

   Think about your mother, he thought. She was courageous. You can be too.

   It was hard trying to channel her strength because he’d never known her. He couldn’t picture her leaping to the tower either.

     But he could picture his father.

   Your father was your strength, Drool had said. It’s just a matter of perspective.

    He didn’t want his mind to go there, but it did. And the more he thought about him, the stronger he felt.

    Jack Dreadful.

    Jack Dreadful would not be afraid to make the leap. He would not be afraid of death. He would not let Qadira laugh at him.

    The bell tolled. He crouched on the windowsill next to Cat, looked across to the tower, and took a deep breath. For the first time, he felt at peace.

   Cat put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t do it.” He was looking at him now, sober faced. “Forget it.”

    James returned his gaze. Then he smiled. He didn’t respond, he just turned...

    ...and leaped.

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