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Without A Trace

An Excerpt from Spirit Woman

To celebrate the upcoming release of Spirit Woman, the second book in the Airwoman series, I’ve got an excerpt for you…

Without A Trace

The whole village—about a hundred Premyan women in all—was crammed into the new temple by the time Jade and Axel landed and pushed through the door of the mud-brick building. Jade blinked to adjust her eyes to the relative darkness inside the temple. She heard Loraya, the leader of the village of Premyan women, bring the impromptu meeting to a close.

“Now, we pray,” Loraya said; it was more an order than an invitation.

Jade looked sideways at Axel, raising her eyebrows in a question. He shrugged and then crossed his arms across his chest, watching as the gathered Premyans took turns to shuffle towards the altar, fall to their knees, and lean forward to touch their foreheads to the dirt floor.

From the outside, the new temple was like the old one; it was a plain, squat building with a woven thatch roof. Unlike the old temple that had been burned to the ground by the invading Traveller Force a little over four months before, the interior of the new temple was also plain. The beautiful carvings and tapestries that had decorated the old walls had turned to char in the fire. The altar was the only part of the original temple that had survived—a slab of stone, raised from the floor, with three depressions carved into it. Each depression contained a bed of glowing coals and one of the Three—a red Eigot, a yellow Eigot or DivineOne, the infant Dragon-God who had hatched from the blue Eigot. Jade had only ever seen two of the depressions occupied at one time. In the ruined temple, she’d only seen the blue Dragon-God and the yellow Eigot. Now all Jade could see was a splash of red and of yellow amongst the burning coals.

Jade stepped aside for the other Premyans who were now leaving. She watched their fingers flicking in silent conversations that she didn’t understand. Though she’d spent four months with these people, she knew little more than a few greetings in the finger-speech. Even then, her fingers felt slow and heavy when she attempted it.

Across the room, a set of lopsided wings and a long blonde braid caught Jade’s attention. She raised a hand to wave to Neve, her childhood friend and the healer who had accompanied the Traveller Force to Premye on Operation Grave Insult. Neve had risked everything by leaving her post to warn Jade and the Premyan village of the imminent Traveller Force attack that had devastated the previous village. Neve didn’t see Jade as she had turned to face Terana, taking both of Terana’s hands in her own.

Jade blinked and then leaned in to whisper in Axel’s ear. “Terana’s back.”

“Doesn’t bode well,” he replied. Jade couldn’t help but agree. Terana was the leader of the last search party the Premyans had sent out. Her group had roamed the farthest and been away the longest. If she’d returned now without…Jade couldn’t help but look towards the empty space on the altar.

“Neve will fill us in,” Jade said, starting to move towards her friend.

Neve stared so intently at Terana that she didn’t even notice Jade’s approach until Jade laid a hand on her shoulder. Neve startled and dropped Terana’s hands, stepping back to put some space between the two of them. Terana gave Jade a mildly annoyed look, flicked her fingers towards Neve, and walked away.

“How did you get so good at that?” Jade asked, watching Neve’s fingers make the patterns and shapes of the Premyan language.

Neve smiled and patted Jade’s arm. “Just practice. You should try it.”

“What happened?” Axel asked as he joined their huddle on the far side of the temple. They lowered their voices to a murmur as a sign of respect for the remaining Premyans who were now deep in prayer.

Neve’s face fell. “No sign of DivineOne,” she whispered. Jade looked at the empty space on the altar. The infant Dragon-God had disappeared during the fire. The Premyan’s first priority had been to find Him. They’d sent search parties in every direction, scouring the dense forests of Premye. They sent more people than they could spare, and the effort of rebuilding their homes and their village had been hampered because of it.

Now all the search parties had returned without Him.

“Not even a clue?” Jade asked. A heavy feeling settled in her stomach as she thought of DivineOne. He was a baby Dragon-God whose magic was locked inside Him but was vulnerable to exploitation by others.

Neve shook her head.

“Are they putting together another team?” Axel asked.

“I don’t know. Terana said they went south, around the coast, and up to the mountains. There was no sign of Him crossing the mountains.”

“He can’t have just disappeared,” Jade said. “What are they going to do?”

“Pray for guidance.” Neve patted Jade’s arm, giving her a small smile. “What else?”

“That doesn’t seem very proactive,” Jade started, but she was cut off by a sharp shriek. She whirled around to see one of the Premyans, who had been prostrate in front of the altar, clutch at her thigh as her back arched. Then an invisible force appeared to pull her ankle backwards and up, pitching her body forward, as a dribble of blood ran down the length of her thigh. The woman’s face twisted in anguish as her body contorted. Then she collapsed, unconscious, onto the floor.

*Photo by Jeremy Thomas from Unsplash.com 

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