Teasers and Excerpts from
The Order of the Silver Sword
Would you like to get a sneak peek at The Order of the Silver Sword?
Here, you can find teasers and excerpts from upcoming books in the series, beginning with the debut novel, The Sword and the Spark.
Chapter 11: The Lab
The Lunatic was humming again. She was Subject C34. Casey had been unable to learn her actual name, but what she did know was that the prisoner’s sanity was nonexistent. She talked to people who weren’t there, sometimes in the voice of a child, sometimes like an old woman, though Stars only knew how old the prisoner was. At first, Casey had not been sure just how many people were being held in the cell next to hers. Then she’d learned that it was just one woman. A woman who had lost her damn mind.
“The air is foul; don’t breathe it in,” the crazy woman sang, “Unless you want to let death win. The bishop’s mad, the king in check. Beware the knight; he’ll break your neck. The rook now plays a dangerous game. The pawns rush in with swords aflame. But in the Starlight, I have seen the Spark, the Gift, the Sword, the queen.”
Then she started to mutter, “Casey, Casey, Casey. ’Kay, see? ’Kay, see? You do, don’t you? Yes, you do. I see it too. They hurt you today. Ripped you out of yourself, made you find a way back in. You did. Some don’t. They didn’t. The ones here. The ones gone but not gone. Always screaming. Can you hear them? They won’t be quiet. Never quiet. The blood wants what it can’t have. But change is in the air. And in the blood. ’Kay? See, Casey?”
Casey was too mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted to engage with the resident nutjob, so she just groaned, “Yeah, I see.”
“Lies,” the Lunatic spat. “Lies, Miss Casey! You see nothing! Not now. But you will. The past is full of seeing. Your future will be the same. But no, no, no, not the same. No, a different future from the storied past. A different future from all others. I will not see it then, though I have. Just as you do not see it now, but you will. Like pieces in a puzzle. Nonsense into sense. Nothingness into a powerful picture. That is how it is sometimes.” And then she cackled.
Casey rolled flat onto her back and pressed the heels of her palms against her eyes, unable to take any more.
Read More in The Sword and the Spark
© C.E. Groom 2021
Excerpt from The Sword and the Spark
The Sword and the Spark
“I didn’t take your stupid doll, witch!” shrieked mousy-faced, mousy-haired Sami from the tree branch upon which he had sought refuge within tiny Sarn Park.
Five-year-old Greta faced the large tree and said nothing, but a crack appeared at the base of the branch, and the little boy perched upon it screamed as the entire tree shuddered. Beneath him, the flames Greta had ignited grew hotter.
“I swear!” Sami cried in terror. “I didn’t take it!”
“You’re lying,” Greta said, her voice soft, her expression impassive. “Give it back.”
“I don’t have it! Swords’ honor, I don’t have it!”
Greta frowned. “Where is it?”
Sami didn’t have a chance to answer. The crack widened, the branch upon which he was perched broke free, and he screamed again, wrapping his arms around the limb as it plunged downward, as though somehow his grip could prevent both himself and the branch from falling into the fire below.
“Greta!” hollered one of the children on the other side of the wall of flame that separated them. But Greta had already stopped the boy’s fall, catching him in an invisible grip with a rush of power that stirred the air around her and whipped her bright red hair about. The branch, and the boy clinging desperately to it, hung in midair several feet above the still-roaring fire. She had never meant to hurt Sami. She had only wanted to frighten him into giving back her doll.
“Where is it?” Greta repeated.
Sami was sobbing now. “Please! I don’t want to die!”
Greta made no gesture, but the fire vanished, leaving only smoke and the stench of charred earth. The flaming wall that encircled them both, however, remained.
“Tell me where my doll is, and I’ll put you down.”
“Dani has it,” Sami blubbered, snot and tears dripping onto his arms.
Greta looked over her shoulder and heard a voice shout, “No, I don’t! He’s lying!”
She turned her attention back to Sami. “He’s telling the truth. You’re not.” She took a single step toward the hovering branch. “Don’t make me rip the truth out of your head.”
Sami’s blotchy, snot-covered face paled. “You can’t!”
“I can,” she warned.
“The lake,” Sami blurted. “I tossed it in the lake when I heard you were looking for it.”
The wall of flame went out, and Greta’s lip quivered. He was not lying anymore.
She released her invisible grip on the branch. Both it and the boy hit the ground, and Sami yelped as his arms and knees met the smoldering earth. He began to scramble away from the branch to safety, but he froze as Greta spoke.
“You’re a very mean boy, Sami,” she said. Then she turned on her heel and headed home, wiping the tears from her eyes before they could fall and ignoring the whispered voices of the other children as she passed.
When she had put enough distance between herself and the park, she broke into a run. Half-blind with tears, she sprinted down the narrow pedestrian alleys that provided the fastest route between the small park and her parents’ modest apartment, located just above her father’s small hardware shop on the shabby side of Sarn.
She bolted out of an alley and onto her street, and she skidded to a halt. Even through her tears she could see that something wasn’t right. Traffic wasn’t moving. Her neighbors were all gaping at the red Imperial flag dangling above the luxury autobus parked in front of her father’s shop. Beside the vehicle stood several people dressed all in gray and silver, their expensive-looking cloaks hanging limply in the still, humid air. Greta wiped her eyes to see that standing amid these regal strangers, appearing tiny and poor in comparison, were her parents.
Without thinking, she dashed toward them, ducking through the arms and legs of the gathered throng until she had positioned herself resolutely between her mother and father.
“And this must be little Greta,” a kind voice spoke from somewhere among the cluster of gray cloaks.
Greta did not look up. Instead, she stared straight ahead, her gaze locking upon the silver sword at the hip of the person in front of her. The scabbard was elaborately decorated, as was the pommel, and everything gleamed in monochromatic silver. Even the grip was wrapped in shimmering silver cloth and trimmed in silver cording.
Her eyes darted left. More swords on hips. To the right, there were still more, each bearing different designs. As she returned her gaze to the sword in front of her, a woman knelt to bring her face into the very center of Greta’s line of sight.
“Do you like it? The sword, I mean?” the woman asked, smiling. Her skin was brown and smooth, with a deep dimple in each rounded cheek and sparkling eyes so dark they seemed like the nighttime sky. Her hair was invisible beneath the hood of her silver cloak, but Greta imagined it was probably as dark and as pretty as her eyes. The woman’s age was impossible to guess.
Greta gripped her father’s hand.
“She’s a very quiet child,” her mother said, and Greta could hear nervousness in her voice. “Shy. She has few friends.”
“Speak plainly, Bera,” Greta’s father interrupted. “She’s bullied. Has been her whole life. The other children don’t understand why she’s,” he took a lengthy pause before finishing, “so different. So special. They call her a witch.”
The owner of the silver sword still glinting at the edge of Greta’s vision spoke, “And how old was she when the Spark first appeared?” Greta allowed her gaze to drift upward toward his face. He was old, with wrinkled pale skin and a white, neatly trimmed beard. His eyes were gray or blue; Greta could not be certain.
She liked the woman better.
“She was two,” Greta’s mother answered.
The woman, still kneeling in front of Greta, took an almost imperceptible breath of surprise. “Quite the early morning flower, aren’t you?” the woman remarked, still smiling.
“Indeed,” spoke the pale man. “Two years is remarkably young. What proof have you of the girl’s Gift appearing at such a tender age?”
“She spoke as well as she does now, and she knew things,” answered Greta’s father. “Things no toddler could have known.”
The kind woman stood and interrupted, “Perhaps you would prefer to discuss such things in private, Eyarr. My apprentice and I would be happy to spend some time with the girl while you continue this conversation with her parents.” She looked back down at Greta. “What’s up on the roof of this building, child?”
“Nothing,” Greta replied. “It’s just a roof.”
“Perfect. Summon us when you are ready, Eyarr,” the woman said. “Now, Greta, lead the way.”
Greta refused to budge until her father pried her fingers from his hand. “Go on, sweetie. You’ll be safe with the Silver Swords.”
Silver Swords. Of course. That’s who these people were. The elite guardians of the Empire. Knights. Magicians. Warriors. Those who had been Gifted with the Spark of the Celestials.
Greta allowed herself to be steered toward the door, which she pulled open. Stepping aside to allow the woman through, she was startled to see a tall boy behind her instead. He did not smile, and his freckled face seemed cocky and arrogant. His own gray hood had been pushed back to reveal a head of close-cropped black hair. He thrust out a hand to her. “I’m Mace,” he said, letting his hand hover in the space between them.
Greta did not take it.
The freckled boy, Mace, scoffed and seized Greta’s fingers, giving them a curt shake. “This is how you greet someone properly in the Capital.”
Greta yanked her fingers free from his grip and pointed up the stairs that led into the building’s main corridor. “I don’t care. There’s a lift up there that goes to the roof. At the end of the hall.”
Mace threw a look over his shoulder to the woman standing behind him before heading up the stairs. “Don’t think she likes me, Master Skye.”
The woman he had called ‘Master Skye’ had a gentle, unassuming quality, but Greta knew that it was not the elegant sword dangling at the woman’s hip that made her a member of the elite Silver Swords. That was just an outward symbol, like the silver cloak she wore.
No, what made the woman a Silver Sword was the power she wielded. It was a power that Greta could feel. She could almost hear it. It seemed to resonate, like a low hum, from deep within the woman’s core, like music. “After you,” she said. “And I won’t make you shake my hand.”
Greta turned away and climbed the stairs. Mace was waiting by the open lift door, and when the three of them had entered, he hit the button for the roof. The lift door closed, the floor beneath Greta’s feet rumbled, and moments later, the door opened onto an empty, sunbaked, asphalt terrace. “We’re here,” she said.
She watched as Mace skipped over to the cistern that stood beside the lift and gave a single, sharp rap with his knuckles against the metal side. It made only a deep, muffled sound. “Rainy season,” he said with a grin.
“You can take the boy out of the tropics,” the woman said with a chuckle, shaking her head.
The tropics? Greta wondered. Like Sarn? “Where are you from?” she demanded of the boy.
There was a moment of hesitation before he answered, “Vorra.”
She could tell that he was lying, just like Sami had. “And how old were you when the Swords showed up?”
She turned toward the woman. “What’s your name?”
“Melodie Skye,” the woman answered. Like the woman herself, the name was pretty and gentle— but strong. Greta liked it.
“And how old were you?”
“Seven,” said Melodie Skye. Unlike the boy, she was speaking the truth.
“And where are you from?” Greta pressed.
“I’m an Islander. From Tetran.”
Greta whipped her head back around to glare at the boy. “Why does she tell the truth when you lie?”
Mace whistled. “Wow! She’s powerfully perceptive, Master Skye.”
The Silver Sword chuckled. “She is, indeed, my dear Mace. And you still need a good deal of practice in deception.”
“You teach people to lie?” Greta asked in disbelief.
“The Silver Swords are taught to discern the truth in others and to keep their own secrets from being discovered,” the woman answered. “For the protection of the Empire.”
Greta frowned again. “You two were testing me.”
“Perhaps,” Melodie Skye said.
Greta’s frown deepened to a scowl. “My parents petitioned you for an Audit.”
The woman arched her dark brows, and they disappeared beneath her hood. “Did they tell you this?”
“No,” Greta answered. “They didn’t have to. You’re here.”
Mace spoke up. “Do you know why?” he asked.
“Because I know things,” Greta snapped in reply.
The boy grinned back in patronizing amusement. “And what else?”
This Mace, this apprentice, was irritating her. “Are you asking me what else I can do?”
In an obvious effort to emulate his master, he answered, “Perhaps.”
Greta flexed the fingers of her right hand. This cocky apprentice needed to be taught a lesson. Instead of a sword, a small silver dagger hung from his hip. She focused on the weapon and pulled, and it went flying into her waiting palm.
Mace gasped. “What the…”
Melodie Skye chuckled. “Young Greta has a rather impressive mastery of her Gifts!”
Greta was not to be placated by the woman’s words, and instantly the dagger’s blade ignited in white flame.
Mace took a small step backward. “She’s a Pyro, too! Amazing!”
Greta held the burning blade in front of her. “So, did I pass your tests?” she snarled.
“Put out the fire, Greta,” Melodie Skye said gently.
Greta was not about to obey. “Why?”
“Because you have already shown us all that we need to see. You have just displayed a mastery of abilities well beyond your years. So put out the fire and return Mace’s dagger.”
Hot tears stung Greta’s eyes, but like before, she was not about to let them fall in front of strangers. “And if I don’t?”
“Then you will never be a Silver Sword,” Melodie Skye answered. “You will never be among those who understand you and everything that makes you different. You will never be taught how to truly master your Gifts.” Her expression turned sad. “Instead, you will have to wear one of these.”
The woman raised her hand, displaying a simple, silver cuff with two needle-like prongs on the inner band. Greta had never seen it before, but it filled her with terror.
“This is a Silver Dampening Cuff,” said Melodie Skye.
Mace added in a grim voice, “Most of us call it a Silencer. It silences your Spark, makes it disappear, makes you just like everyone else. Normal. Forever.”
Greta shivered. “I don’t know what normal is,” she said in a whisper.
“Give back the dagger, and maybe you will never have to find out,” the woman told her.
Greta took a moment to consider the woman’s words, and then she snuffed out the flames. Tears had slipped from her eyes without her consent, leaving one dangling just under her right nostril, but she did not wipe it away as she held Mace’s dagger out to him.
The apprentice did not immediately take it, instead crouching down so that they were eye to eye. “Thanks, Greta. I’m sorry I made you shake my hand, and I’m sorry I lied,” he said with a small smile, and only then did he reach out to take the dagger from her outstretched hand. Once he had secured the weapon to his hip, he pulled out a small, gray cloth, lifting it toward her face. “May I?”
She sniffled and allowed him to dab at her damp cheeks. When he was finished, Greta held her hand out to him as he had done downstairs.
Mace’s smiled widened, and he took her hand. Then he released it and whispered, “I don’t really know what normal is either. I was five when the Swords came for my Audit, right here in Sarn, just like you. Well, maybe not exactly like you. I’m not a natural Pyro.” He shrugged his shoulders as though that didn’t matter, but Greta could tell that it did. For some reason, he wanted to be what he had called a “Pyro,” too, and it made him angry that he wasn’t. “Maybe you’d be able to help me with that?”
To her own surprise, Greta found herself returning his smile despite his arrogance.
“Well, what do you know?” he remarked. “She can smile, Master Skye.”
His master approached and crouched down beside her apprentice, looking at Greta. “And she is quite pretty when she does.”
In that moment, Greta knew she wanted nothing more than to go with these people, to leave behind the children who bullied her and the neighbors who gave her dark looks and her own parents who could not understand her no matter how hard they tried. These people—this kind woman with the dimples on her cheeks and the silver cloak and silver sword and pretty name, and her pretentious apprentice with his dark hair and dark eyes and freckled skin—these people were her people. They had tested and angered her, but they understood her, appreciated her, and wanted to help her. And she belonged with them.
A chirping noise broke the moment. Melodie Skye pulled out a small silver square. Her smile disappeared.
“I thought you said it would take a while,” Mace said.
The woman did not acknowledge his remark. Instead, she stood and held out her hand to Greta. “They want us to go downstairs.”
Read More in The Sword and the Spark
© C.E. Groom 2021