Excerpt of the upcoming fifth book of the Thread of Souls series!
We’ve been working on the fifth book in our Thread of Souls fantasy series since early this year. We expect it to be released in spring of 2024. As we draw ever-closer to its publication, we want to give you an excerpt from an early chapter as a preview! While this has been edited, it is still not in its final form and may be edited more.
Ruuda kept her head down and hood up as she trudged through the rainy Eleste’si streets. Flanked by Jasita, Wash, and Unolé with Teshuva, the group tried to move as quickly as possible without drawing the attention of the Thornguard.
Something else has drawn their attention, anyway, she thought sourly.
Even in the dark of the night, a glow lingered in the direction of the docks, framing the graceful silhouettes of buildings. And from it, a thick cloud of smoke. Ruuda knew what it was. The remains of the ship that was set ablaze. The trap sprung to catch Taliesin, and kill her.
But she was still alive. She had Jasita to thank for that. The healing elixir the crystalmancer had brought along saved her life.
“Where are we going?” Unolé asked. The tips of her horns, adorned with gold, stuck out from her hood.
“To talk to a smuggler,” Ruuda replied. “It’s the same woman that got Taliesin and I out of the city when we first left the Deep Hollows. She’s near the southern border wall. Her name is Zayra, and she’s not friendly.”
“We don’t need her to be friendly,” Wash said, “we just need her to get us underground.”
Wash had been all-business since the attack had happened, his usual dry humor and teasing gone. While Ruuda and Taliesin had been away at the docks, the rest of the group had been attacked by assassins of the cult of Aranese. They’d survived, though Unolé had been badly injured. With Taliesin gone, Ruuda knew the burden fell on her to guide the others. They’d never been to the Deep Hollows before, they’d need her knowledge and skills to survive and find their friend.
I’d be faster on my own, Ruuda reasoned. But she knew she couldn’t leave them behind. Taliesin had asked her not to.
Once they had recovered enough from their wounds, the group had packed as lightly as possible and left the Sanguine Vestibule. Ruuda had left her barrel behind. It would only slow her down. They had quickly spoken to Hwalla privately, away from his children, explaining that Taliesin had been kidnapped and they were going to rescue him. The dark gnome had been deeply worried, and wished them all the best. Ruuda felt sorry for Hwalla. His entire life had been uprooted because of Aranese’s influence.
Damn that goddess. I hate her.
As they hurried through an open town square, they passed a large and ornate stone fountain. Built atop it was a statue of a high elf with her hand on a mirror wreathed in ivy and leaves. There was something about it that made Ruuda sad.
“What does it mean?” Unolé asked Jasita, gesturing to the statue.
Jasita’s fair, angular face peered up against the rain to take in the fountain. “It is a symbol for passage into the Wilds. It’s in mourning of what was lost when the high elves were cut off from that plane of existence.”
Unolé paused for a moment, then said, “You work for the people who did this, but you’re a high elf.”
“The people who did this are long dead.”
They continued swiftly and silently through the streets until Ruuda recognized the area where she’d first met Zayra. Tall stone walls bordered them, and the alleys ran narrow and dark. The usual design of the city, all cherry blossoms and pinks and blues, was less present here.
Ruuda turned to her companions. “Stay in this alley. I’ll go forward and talk to her privately.”
“I can help if you need me to,” Jasita offered, fingering the moonstone ring along her finger.
“I know. But I’ve got this.”
Ruuda stepped out alone and pulled back her hood. Her wild hair, dyed all the colors of fire, hung drenched past her shoulders. She knew the roots were coming in white now. It had been a very long time since she’d dyed her hair with the enchanted dyes of her people.
White just like Taliesin’s hair.
Ruuda glanced around, steeled herself, and said aloud, “Zayra! I’ve come with a job.”
A long moment passed, and then a dagger flashed through the air. It sped by Ruuda and embedded itself in the wall near Wash’s head. The soldier flinched, and Jasita squealed in surprise.
A dark shadow dropped from a rooftop before Ruuda. A lithe woman in a dark cloak. Pulling back the cloak revealed the dark elf smuggler, Zayra. She looked just as Ruuda remembered, though it had been nearly two years. She was almost six feet tall, with her white hair tied back into a bun and scars marking her gray skin.
“I count four of you,” Zayra spat with her arms crossed. “Are there any more hiding?”
Ruuda sighed in exasperation and motioned for her companions to join her. “Just the four of us.”
Wash and Unolé strode boldly out and Jasita shuffled less confidently after them. Zayra’s red eyes took them all in. Ruuda noticed a barely perceptible frown pass Zayra’s face as she noticed the stained blood on their clothes and patched-up injuries.
“What services do you need from me?” the smuggler demanded.
“We need to be taken to the Deep Hollows. Unnoticed,” Ruuda answered.
Zayra tilted her head to one side. “I understand you going back home, little dark dwarf, but why would these Surface-dwellers wish to go underground?”
Wash was quick to answer. “We’re all adventurers seeking to hunt monsters and earn some gold.”
A scoff escaped Zayra. “The Deep Hollows is a dangerous place. You won’t return alive. Especially someone as petite as you, half-fiend.”
Unolé’s purple eyes narrowed. “I’ve fought plenty of monsters in the last year. I am not afraid.”
“You should be. I’m not keen to smuggle idiots, much less Surface-dwellers, down into my home.”
Ruuda felt hot, angry tears bite at her eyes. Taliesin could be suffering at his moment, and she was here wasting her time in negotiations. But before a furious retort could fly off her tongue, Unolé stepped forward and held up a pack that jingled with gold coins.
“How does one thousand gold per person sound to you?” Unolé asked in a tone that implied she already knew the answer.
Everyone looked to Unolé in surprise.
Zayra fumbled with her words a moment before asking, “Is that your money, or did you steal it?”
“Why would it matter to you?”
“I don’t want trouble coming my way.”
Unolé’s eyes narrowed further. “And we don’t want you to bring us into any trouble. We want to get safely and quietly down to the Deep Hollows.”
Wash spoke up, his arms crossed over his chest. “Why are you arguing with us about this? Isn’t your whole job smuggling?”
“I don’t like speaking to a man,” Zayra sneered.
“Enough!” Ruuda stepped forward, holding her hands out. She turned a fiery glare to Zayra. “A dark elf male was taken by another dark elf tonight at the docks. Do you have any information about this?”
For the first time a smile crossed Zayra’s face. “I might. If you up the price to five thousand gold, I’ll tell you what I saw.”
Ruuda leaned in toward the other woman. Despite the substantial height difference, Ruuda’s strong build was imposing and her expression like a roaring wild fire. Zayra leaned slightly back, hand hovering by the dagger at her hip.
Ruuda growled, “For five thousand you tell us what you know, and you get us to the Deep Hollows without trouble. Understood?”
Zayra’s tone had lost much of its bravado as she replied. “Agreed.”
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