The epic conclusion to the Tree of Ages series!
The heartbeat of the land thrums louder, faster, like soldiers charging into war. Finn drew a line in the sand when she used the faie to attack her enemy. There is no going back from what she has become.
And she’s done running. The final battle will commence, and true villains will be revealed. Can an anomaly like Finn survive with the forces of creation against her? Can Ealasaid’s mages weather the greatest storm they’ve ever faced?
Or will everything they’ve built crumble into ruin?
Release date: February 21, 2021
Publisher: Vulture's Eye Publications
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Dawn of Magic: City of Ashes
Sara C. Roethle
Àed tossed in his bed, deep asleep. He had pushed rest off for so long, and now that he had finally succumbed, there was no escaping the dreams. He’d had them since the night a dark specter came and healed him.
While he’d known some form of prophecy in his youth, it had never been a strong gift.
It was strong now. He saw fires, unstoppable fires. He saw his daughter standing in darkness, trying to step into the light. He saw tall forms looming over the land, playing with their unsuspecting victims like they were toys.
Tonight it was fire. The flames licked his skin. His body was drenched in sweat. He struggled to wake, to warn someone, but the dream held him in its clutches and would not let go. He couldn’t breathe past the smoke. He saw his daughter standing with the Snow Queen, watching the fires, then turning away. Leaving him to burn.
As the fires died, a mighty oak grew from the ash. His heart hurt, and still, he could not wake.
* * *
Ealasaid paced the hall outside her chambers, debating which way to go. She was supposed to meet Sage at midday, but it was only just past dawn. Sage might not even be awake yet. She dusted off her pristine lilac dress, a nervous tic she only let out when she was alone. Something felt off today, more than any other day prior.
Her boots echoed slowly up the hall, then back down, her form casting brief shadows as she walked past open windows with sunlight cutting sharply inward. She knew of Síoda’s plan . . . she knew without a doubt Belenus planned to overthrow the burgh. He had planned—still planned, as far as she knew—to start a revolt from within.
Her mages had doubled their efforts to expand and fortify Garenoch, all while keeping a watchful eye on the non-magical humans. For it was within their hearts that rebellion might lie. Many had lived in Garenoch before the mages claimed the main estate, and since that time had been attacked by An Fiach, dragons, and the Aos Sí. Some might believe that without the mages, they would be safe. They might even be right.
She reached the end of the hall, then turned, walking back the way she’d come. Then, there were the reivers to consider. She’d sheltered the female and child reivers within the estate as promised. While food stores were low, they were surviving . . . and waiting.
But waiting for what? Would Finn attack Belenus again, or would she wait for him to come to her? The surrounding forests bustled with faie. Finn claimed they would protect the burgh, but once again, many were wary. Perhaps they’d all be safer without the mages, or the faie.
She reached the end of the hall and the stairs leading downward, turned, and walked back again. She should check on Elias. A healer watched him while he was down for his nap, but he’d wake soon, and he’d want his mother.
She passed the first window on her way back, hesitating at distant shouting. She stopped and peered outward, beyond the estate walls and out toward the burgh.
Her eyes widened. Smoke. Too much smoke for a cookfire, or even a bonfire. She turned to run down the stairs, but only made it a few steps before Maarav came barreling upward.
He reached her, sharing a stone step as he grasped her arms. “Someone set fire to the inn,” he panted. “I was out in the burgh when it went up.” He tossed a lock of black hair from in front of his eyes, his gaze going distant as they both listened for ongoing commotion.
They both jumped at the sound of deep rumbling, followed by screams.
Their eyes locked for a heartbeat.
“Go to Elias,” Ealasaid urged. “Keep him safe.”
Maarav hesitated. “Eala—”
Steps padded up the stairs behind him. Anna hardly slowed as she squeezed past them in the stairwell. “Quit dawdling! Eywen is rousing the mages. I’ll watch the boy.”
Maarav reacted first, taking Ealasaid’s hand to guide her down the stairs as Anna disappeared at the top.
Ealasaid clung to her husband’s hand as they reached the landing and were enveloped by the sound of confused voices.
“What’s happening!” she gasped to the echo of more distant screams.
The scent of smoke crept into the room. Maarav pulled her close. “I don’t know. The inn went up so suddenly, not a natural fire. I fear any within are by this time reduced to ash.”
Her stomach lurched. She’d known something had felt off. She didn’t know how, but she’d known.
More mages filled the hall below, some coming out of the kitchens, and others heading in from outside. They muttered amongst themselves, wondering at the distant smoke and screams.
“Prepare yourselves!” Ealasaid shouted. “Something is coming!”
If she was wrong, she could feel silly later, but she didn’t think she was wrong. This wasn’t just a fire. The burgh was under attack.
Hand-in-hand, she and Maarav passed the kitchens, then went outside.
She braced herself against the sudden chill in the air. “Do we go to the burgh, or do we find Finn? If this is Belenus . . . ”
“The stables, then we’ll ride into the burgh,” Maarav said, already tugging her toward the front wall surrounding the estate. “If there’s trouble, you can rest assured Finn will already be on her way, if not at the very center of it.”
They broke into a run, circling the estate toward the stables near the gates. Smoke crested the estate walls, scenting the cool air. The screams in the burgh intensified. Ealasaid gaped at the smoke for a moment, then a deafening series of blasts rumbled outside the gates. Light and flames blinded her. Maarav shoved her to the ground as heat washed over them.
His body was heavy upon hers. She couldn’t see nor hear, and with Maarav’s weight, she couldn’t move.
She couldn’t even tell if he was still breathing.
* * *
Finn and Iseult had been outside the gates when it happened. She’d felt uneasy all day, and had wanted to walk through the woods, checking in with the trow to make sure nothing was amiss.
Now they stood frozen, watching in awe as flames swept across the burgh. Something had shaken the ground, toppling buildings with bright flashes of light. She recalled her distant dreams, realizing too late that she’d known this was coming.
Iseult gripped her arm, but did not speak. Particles of ash wafted down to mingle with his dark hair.
“What do we do?” Finn gasped, lifting her free hand to her heart.
Steps behind them signaled Naoki’s return from hunting deep in the forest. She clacked her maw, a sign of wordless confusion. Her wings were tucked in tightly to fit through the trees.
Iseult squeezed Finn’s arm. “Naoki can quench the flames.”
She nodded too quickly, realizing she’d stopped breathing, for this moment seemed like a dream. This couldn’t be real.
Iseult shook her arm gently, bringing her back to reality.
She nodded again, then hurried toward Naoki, knowing they’d be too late. The destruction had been wrought, and everyone she cared about—save Iseult and Naoki—were within the burgh.
Together they climbed atop Naoki’s back, Finn near the dragon’s neck, leaning low with her legs tucked close to Naoki’s shoulders. Once they were secure, Naoki ran, for there was little clearance to take off within the trees. She took them south toward the back end of the estate where she could carry them over the tall walls.
Finn couldn’t seem to gather her thoughts. All she knew was that she must reach the estate, and Naoki could fight back the fires from there.
They reached the wall and Finn leaned further forward, clinging tight as Naoki launched herself upward. Iseult pressed against her back. It took but a single wing beat to reach the top, then they were descending over the wall into the chaos below.
Mages and black-clad fighters rushed across the inner courtyard, some heading in the direction of the burning burgh, and others carrying the injured toward the back buildings of the estate. The smoke was almost unbearable.
Naoki’s talons sunk into the dead grass, then she bounded toward the estate wall where flames licked up over the stones. The gates were little more than warped iron, hanging wide open, showing a clear view of fire and thick smoke. Mages stood atop the wall, working water magic to little avail.
Spotting Ealasaid, Finn willed Naoki to slow. She and Iseult slid down from the dragon’s back. Finn watched as Naoki leapt forward and bounded atop the estate wall, spewing ice onto the flames below.
Iseult took Finn’s hand and tugged her toward Ealasaid, who whirled at their approach. Her wide gray eyes stood out starkly against the black soot smudging her face. “The wall will soon crumble!” she shouted.
Finn grasped Ealasaid’s trembling hands. “How did the fires start?”
She shook her head too quickly, panic dancing in her red-rimmed eyes. “I don’t know. The inn went up first, but it soon spread across the burgh. A final blast took out the gates, Maarav threw me to the ground just in time.” Seeming to realize her husband was not near her, she glanced around.
Iseult pressed in close to Finn’s back. “There.” He pointed over her shoulder.
Finn and Ealasaid both turned to find Maarav heading toward them, carrying someone in his arms. A long, gray braid draped across the bend of his elbow.
“Slàine!” Ealasaid gasped, seeming to forget Finn and Iseult for the time being.
Finn watched her go. “We have to do something.”
Still close to her back, Iseult gripped her shoulder. “We have no way to fight the fire. The mages are doing all that they can.”
She felt numb and helpless, staring at the flames as they roared above the walls of the estate. How many had died within those flames? The wall rumbled, then began to collapse.
Iseult tugged her back. Screams. Screams as mages fell from the wall, and more were trapped beneath the toppling stones.
Maarav and Ealasaid had made way toward the back of the estate with Slàine, but turned to watch as the wall fell. Anguish was clear in Ealasaid’s frantic expression.
Finn’s body trembled. This was her fault. This was Belenus coming for her. Punishing her for standing against him.
She tore herself away from Iseult, her eyes scanning what remained of the wall further down for Naoki. She had to do something. Naoki could carry her over the burgh, raining down ice while she searched for survivors.
“Finn!” Iseult cried out, but she couldn’t let him stop her.
She ran past a fleeing mage, coming so close they bumped shoulders. Something sharp lanced through her side.
She staggered, gripping her abdomen. Her trembling hands came away coated in fresh blood. She stared up at the man who’d stabbed her, his piercing green eyes sparkling. His golden hair beneath his hood framed tanned skin, and a cruel smile.
Sugn, her one-time consort, and father of her lost child. The man she’d not so long ago turned into a tree.
“You brought this upon yourself, you know,” he chuckled, then fled.
Iseult reached her a moment later, shoving his way through frantic mages.
Finn was on her knees, her head hung as Iseult knelt beside her.
Something strange was happening inside her body. Strange, but somehow familiar. She fought it, but could not stop its advance. Her limbs stretched, her body twisted, and then her mind went still.
* * *
Iseult sat in the grass where he’d landed. He shook his head, unable to accept what stood before him. It had been Finn just a moment ago, and now . . . it was a tree. And not a simple oak or pine, but a mighty tree the likes of which he’d never seen. White bark swirled upward across thick branches reaching toward the smoke-obscured sun. The leaves were vibrant red like blood. The uppermost boughs disappeared into the haze.
While the burgh burned at his back, and mages hurried frantically around him, all he could do was stare up at that tree. He didn’t even realize how many stared with him, for such a sight was difficult to miss even in the chaos. He didn’t notice the dragon crouched not far behind him, her round eyes wide, trying to comprehend what had happened.
He’d caught a glimpse of a man fleeing Finn’s side, and couldn’t cast off the familiarity tugging at his mind. If he didn’t know any better . . .
He shook his head. It couldn’t have been Sugn. It couldn’t—
Iseult stared up at the tree. His life, love, and future, stolen from him in a heartbeat.
Smoke clogged his airways and clouded his vision as the flames in the burgh reduced everything to ash.
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