Publisher: Branch Publishing
Date of Publication: 03/02/2017
Number of pages: 403
Word Count: 82,331
Cover Artist: T.K. Chapin
Her destiny will change the world forever.
Belstrom—an ancient and mystical land where the Curo Wizards rule and life is cheap.
Tizrah—a lowly armory brat who dreams of one day becoming a warrior but fate has other plans.
Korlin—a recent graduate of the High Wizard’s School of Curogath is tasked with an assignment to eradicate a lost magic system that threatens the very stability of Belstrom. Mark of Destiny weaves together the threads of a captivating fantasy adventure, while remaining epic in scope, and modern in its originality.
HOLDING HER EYESTEADY UPON the massive wolvike, Tizrah silently slid the longbow from herback. The care with which she moved came naturally to her.
The way sheslipped unseen and stalked her prey might have even impressed the elite rangersof Ravenwood Forest, had they been there to see. Alas, they were not, andTizrah was truly and utterly alone as she crept closer to the herd of colossalbeasts feasting merely ten yards away. Flies buzzed loudly, and the odor offresh blood hung thick in the air.
Tizrah’s hearthammered against her chest. She tried to calm herself using the measuredbreathing she’d been taught. It wasn’t helping. Sweat poured from her likerain, rolling down her face in droplets that stung her eyes. When she drew as close as she dared, she quietly climbed an ekenwood tree in hopes of finding abetter vantage point from which to view the pack.
Breathing a sighof relief now that she was off the ground, she waited. The branch Tizrahstraddled offered a measure of safety, as well as a clear shot, and she sentout a prayer of thanks to Oshawa, who had given her the perfect perch fromwhich to bring down one of the legendary beasts.
This kill wouldprove her worth before the men of New Hayden. It would change the direction ofher life, and that was what Tizrah desired with all her burning heart.
Desperation haddrawn her away from her home and directed her feet to the heart of the LabbyForest. When she had caught sight of the wolvike, Tizrah knew that this was tobe her chance.
She had onlyread about the beasts in her worn school books, and the penciled drawings paledin comparison to the frightful creatures which stood less than a stone’s throwaway. Nearly seven feet tall, paws to shoulders, the wolvike were imposing tolook upon. Their fur resembled freshly fallen snow, and catching sight of thewolvike’s sickle- like, razor sharp teeth, Tizrah was reminded of the fineblades of the Knights of Eldor.
She knew fromher studies that one bite would be enough to bleed a full-grown man out in amatter of minutes. Six—that’s how many of the beasts she counted. They gruntedand growled below her as they tore a spotted deer to pieces.
Now, for one tostray from the pack.
Tizrah waspatient. She wouldn’t let her arrow fly until victory was assured.
Releasing a long, controlled breath, she relaxed her muscles. Anticipating movement fromthe pack, she raised the bow to eye level. The largest of the beasts, havinghad its fill, began to traipse toward the nearby stream.
The moment hadarrived.
Drawing herbowstring back with wiry arms, Tizrah followed the wolvike with hersteel-tipped arrow.
Stopping dead inits tracks, the beast lifted its head.
Tizrah’s arrowshot across the clearing, impaling the artery running down the side of thebeast’s neck. The wolvike toppled, its rapid blood loss dragging it down intothe sleep of death.
The rest of thepack bolted, leaving their fallen alpha to Tizrah and her blade.
Dropping fromthe branch, she took a steadying breath, then strode to the trophy. She wouldneed proof of her kill, as she wasn’t strong enough to drag the beast throughthe forest. I’ll take its eyes, she thought, nearing with her blade poised.
The eyes of awolvike were unlike any other known mammal within the Four Kingdoms. Used tomake costly medicines for the virility of the wealthy, wolvike eyes wereextremely valuable. At the grisly sound of her knife cutting into the eyesocket, Tizrah blanched. Having completed the unsavory task, she rolled them inan eken leaf and placed them in the leather pouch on the outer side of her mainpack for safe keeping.
Bending over theprone form, Tizrah offered a whispered prayer. “Oshawa, Life- Giver, I praythat this death will not go in vain. I pray that it might bring sustenance tothe beasts of the forest and afterward enrich the ground upon which it lies.”
Finishing herheartfelt plea, Tizrah stood and took stock of the situation. Three days, thetime it would take her to reach home. The Warrior Trials were scheduled to takeplace five days hence. Perhaps, with proof of her kill, she would be able toconvince Jax at the arena to add her name to the list. Dreams danced before hermind’s eye. Picturing herself crowned victor at the completion of the WarriorTrials set her feet in motion.
Tizrah wasn’tworried about the competition. Her only worry was whether Jax would concede toher request when she offered him the eyes. Years of working with her father inthe armory had honed her muscles into steel beneath her skin, and she hadhunted and trained in the fighting arts since she was small. Many thought herdedication odd, preferring girls to keep to their traditional roles. Girls weretaught to cook, clean, and sew. They were also expected to birth offspring andtake care of the men. Tizrah viewed the societal limitations placed upon herwith hatred—not that it was wrong for others, but she wanted something more inlife than hiding behind a stove and raising brats for some man.
Shaking her headto clear it of the endless stream of thought, she left the clearing andreentered the forest. Ekenwood trees towered above the various shades of greenflora covering the forest floor. The chattering of wild poka birds echoed backand forth beneath the canopy of branches. How had they ever been trained asmessenger birds?
While growingup, she had seen them flying overhead often enough, and she had been curious toknow what important messages they might be carrying each time one passed over.
A single shaftof amber light pierced through the tree barrier, distracting from her musings.Tizrah entered the dazzling luminescence and reveled in its life-giving rays. She loved the forest above all other places; in the depths of its silence andsolitude, she found peace.
Peace with hermother’s death, for Tizrah had wanted her mother to live and had been unable tosave her. Disease rarely paid heed to the cries of children.
Peace with theway her father had hidden his broken heart at the bottom of tumblers of alefrom the local tavern, instead of comforting his only child.
Tizrah even feltpeace in the fact that no matter the trophy she brought with her, her chancesof entering the Warrior Trials were slimmer than the dirty beggars who satpleading for crusts of bread on the outskirts of Silvermeere. If Jax changedhis mind, then she might be able to work her way up to fighting on thebattlefield of Echo Flats, or even serve a stint in the Fireblade Mountains,where rumor had it the dragon still lived.
Pulling herselffrom her musings, Tizrah continued onward. As much as she would have liked tostay soaking up the rays of sunlight and marveling at the beauty of Oshawa’sgreatness, Tizrah knew that for her dreams to be realized, she must trudgeforward, allowing the old moment its death while a new moment was born.
After two daysof hiking, Tizrah reached the southwest corner of the Labby Forest. She wasalmost home. Leaving the ancient ekenwood groves, she entered the forest’s areaof newer growth that was still recovering from being logged off before the dawnof the Magi Wars.
When the warsended two centuries past, people had found that the ashenwood tree was farsuperior in strength to all others. The newly founded Council of Nine hadissued a mandate for the loggers to focus their efforts on gathering thestronger wood located in the ironwood and ashenwood forests that lined thesouthern end of Belstrom. According to the history of New Hayden, Tizrah’s homehad once been a booming hub for logging, but the mandate had dropped itspopulation by half, and afterward, the town had assumed a much slower rate of growth over the centuries.
Running lightlydown the dirt path toward home, Tizrah nearly bubbled over with excitement. Sheimagined her father, Eldim, crafting an exquisite set of armor for her to wearduring the Warrior Trials. He would choose fine ossen metal, for it wasincredibly strong and lightweight and would reflect sunlight to the blinding ofone’s enemies.
Nearing the westernexit of the forest, Tizrah reached a stretch of the path that was open andstraight, set between two groves. Halfway across the stretch, she caughtmovement in the sky. Diving down swiftly and alighting directly in her path wasa large, gray and white-speckled gryphon. The beautiful and fearsome creatureheld Tizrah with its nerve-rattling gaze. Gryphons were considered themessengers of Oshawa, and to see one so close was considered either a very goodomen or an ominous one.
What couldOshawa’s creature want with her, a lowly armory brat? Nevertheless, she waited,returning its gaze. She had nothing to fear; her heart was right before theOne-God.
Seconds passedlike centuries until Tizrah noticed a burning sensation sear her right arm. Ina flash of radiance, the landscape surrounding her disappeared as she lostconsciousness, falling to the ground like a crumpled doll.
The gryphonwatched over her as she slept.
About the Author:
AZRAEL JAMES fell in love with Tolkien at the age of twelve leading to a life-long loveof fantasy fiction. Writing stories that capture the imagination, James invites readers into a worldwhere magic rules and ordinary life is forgotten. When not spinning tales, James teaches guitar tounderprivileged fairy folk. He believes music and love are what binds all life together.
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