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Raven Corinn Carluk

RCC Tales

Vancouver WA MMXVIII

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Books by Raven Corinn Carluk

All Hallows Blood

Saint Valentine’s Clash

Midsummer’s Unveiling



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This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person,

please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright 2018 by Raven Corinn Carluk

All rights reserved

Designed by Raven Corinn Carluk

Table of Contents





















Twenty One

Twenty Two

Twenty Three

Twenty Four

Twenty Five

Twenty Six

Twenty Seven

Twenty Eight

Twenty Nine


Thirty One

Thirty Two

Thirty Three

Thirty Four


Author's Note

Chapter One

I gritted my teeth, eyes narrowed, holding up the ward against another pack of ghouls. My bodyguard Thade and his men swung swords, hewing down our enemy, protected by my magic. The ghouls gibbered as they attacked, screamed and hissed as they bounced off my ward, and were silent as they fell. The handful of soldiers made no noise, conserving their energy for the fight.

A sentiment I shared with them. After the third attack in twenty-four hours, I was beginning to feel the strain. I needed a good night’s sleep and a good meal, neither of which were available on the road. I forced myself to make due; I wasn’t at my limits yet, and could easily go another day under these conditions.

Hopefully I wouldn’t have to.

With the undead finished off, the soldiers began cleaning up. I dropped the ward, drawing a deep breath. The effort had been entirely mental, using my own ki and energy from our surrounds, but it left me physically trembling. Practice in a peaceful mountain monastery was one thing; actively holding up wards against an attack was a new sensation.

Thade sheathed his short sword, coming to stand by my horse’s halter. “You all right, Cyryna?” His thick brows were drawn together, face splattered with ichor. Middle-aged and graying at the temples, Thade had been my personal guard since I was five. A former captain in the King's Guard, he'd taken surprisingly well to a life of peace as I trained away from the capital. Muscles covered his tall frame, creating an imposing figure that I trusted with my life.

A bead of sweat trailed down my cheek, and I realized I must look as worn out as the men Thade commanded. I spent a moment watching them pile the corpses for a hasty pyre, collecting myself. “No amount of training prepares one for this.” No princess of Brezlyn had ever been expected to actually use her skills on the battlefield, but here I was, summoned home as a horde of monsters ravaged the countryside.

“It’ll give you a better edge than no training.” He kept one hand near the hilt of his sword as he looked up at the sun. The thin canopy of the forest blocked it from sight, leaving only a vague impression in the western sky. “If we keep our pace, we should make Hayston by dark.”

“And if there are more Valhamians on the plains?” I flexed my fingers, nerves tingling as my ki replenished itself. I may have been intended for a throne and not a monastery, but seven years of study and meditation had proven my strength and skill with magic. Few could ward stronger than I, and my masters had praised the quickness with which I'd learned to heal.

“Then we’ll be there after dark.” Thade turned to remount, a fire roaring to life on the corpse pile. The summer had been dry, but my guard had deemed it more of a risk to leave bodies for the necromancers to reuse. Dark magics were nothing to underestimate.

We’d lost no one so far. On our first night, we’d gathered men from the way station at the foot of the mountain. It was hardly worth calling a garrison, with only six young men and one seasoned fighter there, but Thade had enlisted them as my royal escort.

Ghouls had set upon us at camp the next night, and were swiftly dealt with. Another had found us in the early hours before dawn, and we’d been riding since. It was hard going, and we were all on edge, waiting for the next attack.

How many more would we face once we reached the plains around Hayston? The forest provided more cover for the undead, but the plains also meant larger Valhamians could approach. Our little band would have problems with a construct or one of the reptilian tergu, no matter how strong my wards.

I chewed my lip, guiding my mare along the worn path. Thade had surely already thought of this. Instead of worrying and plotting, I should keep my power up, just be ready for another attack. Closing my eyes, I slipped into a partial trance, drawing in as much as energy as necessary.

We reached the edge of the trees without further incident. Thade called a halt, and I swayed in the saddle as he spoke with the veteran. I didn’t listen to what they said, and instead observed the land around us.

The forest was too quiet; even our horses behaved subdued. The sun was warm, the air crisp with the last days of summer, but something dreadful loomed. It felt like the entire world held its breath, attempting to hide from the blackness that crept from Valdis’s swamp.

Contemplation came easy in this state, and I was unable to prevent it. The minions of darkness spread death and destruction wherever they went, but life without death was stagnation. Without shadow, there would be no light. Over and over this thought had come to me. My first tutor had chastised me for thinking like that, and I’d kept it to myself for the last fifteen years.

But it never left. Always I felt out of place because I felt some horror needed to balance Shelva’s light and grace. Then I felt such guilt for thinking the monsters in Valham had just as much right to live as Brezlyns. For them to exist, my people needed to die. I didn’t want my people to die, but how did I protect them and the darklings?

Thade brought his horse over to mine, and I slipped from my trance. Dizziness threatened to topple me from my mare, but I kept myself in control. This was nothing new to me, and I would survive.

“Sarne can’t see ghoul sign. We should be able to make it across with good time.”

“But?” I prompted, hearing the pause in his voice.

“The army is gathered, and there’s a line of people entering the city.”

My blood chilled. “It is bad, then.” My mouth was too dry to continue speaking. Even the battles that had taken my father’s life hadn’t caused the population to hide in Hayston. I needed to know what was wrong, right now. Lifting my head proudly, I nodded. Thade lowered his eyes, then gave the order to move out.

The forest gave way to grassland, the path gave way to wide road, and only two and a half leagues kept us from home. On level ground, Thade pushed our horses, nearly galloping. I didn’t think they were in any shape to finish our trek this way, yet I also wanted to get home. The horses could rest when we did.

Our pace meant I couldn’t keep my ward at the ready. Too much jostling broke my concentration, scattered every drop of energy I gathered. An experienced cleric should have been able to ward under any conditions, but I’d never had call to practice combat casting. On the open plain, we should have warning of attack, giving me a chance to protect my men.

What had armies done without warding and healing spells?

Mangled and dead bodies were unappealing, yet the devastation of the countryside kept my thoughts morbid. Autumn grass was long and golden, except where it was trampled and torn, or burnt in long swaths. Crows rode thermals, and a few farm houses smoldered in the distance.

Even keeping my eyes on Hayston’s walls couldn’t dispel my negativity and dread. The sun was sinking behind the city, though it still glowed dark amber. Memories rose from childhood, and were ruined by the damage done. Smoke stained the crenelations, and I spotted cracks even from here. Blood turned to ice as I recognized what had to be signs of a siege.

The next hour passed in a daze. I doubted I’d have noticed an attack, I was so lost. Soldiers hailed us, but I ignored them, wanting to speak with my mother. As we rode past the short line of refugees and entered the gates, Thade drew rein. I didn’t want to stop, and he reached for my horse’s halter.

“Don’t rush to this, Highness.” His voice was pitched for me alone. “They’re ready to break. If you panic, they will too. Be strong.”

He was right. All eyes were on us, noticing me. It was doubtful they recognized their princess, but anyone riding into the city would make a scene. I tried to look proud, calm, to act like everything was going to be all right. I hadn’t been here, attacked by Valdis’s armies, and had no idea what these citizens had been going through. I would do my best to not add to their fear.

Whatever had assaulted the walls hadn’t reached inside the city. The people were frightened, but looked well-fed, and I saw no wounded amongst them. No fire had scarred the buildings, and none of the stones were cracked. People were accepting strangers into their homes, everyone grim. The refugees numbered in the low hundred, most likely from the scattered hamlets in the surrounding forest and farms. Even they didn’t look to bad.

If the ride across the plains had been long, the short ride to the castle was interminable. Guards nodded, citizens stared, and I tried not to worry. Mother would have answers soon enough.

I’d never felt so helpless.

We entered the courtyard, and Thade immediately accosted a page for the queen’s location. Nervousness grew in me, and I shook as I dismounted to follow Thade to the royal audience chamber. The city had been calm, even under the influx of citizens, but the castle was a hive of activity. Seven years in the monastery had made me forget how crowded my home was. My nerves only became worse.

Thade forced a way through the bustle, taking as direct a course as possible. There wasn’t time to really look, but I hadn’t seen anyone I recognized yet. I was well and truly lost, alone in a crisis. A tiny doubt warned me that I’d be no use to the queen.

I stifled that doubt as we stepped into the audience chamber. Queen Janine stood by a table strewn with maps and documents, generals and lords at her side, pages waiting for her commands. Chaos filled the castle, fear filled the streets, but my mother was a center of calm. Her snowy hair was in a perfect braid, not a hair out of place, and her face was as smooth as ever. She hadn’t changed in the time I’d been gone.

“Scouts report Valhamians are following the decoys. Remaining refugees should get the head start they need.” I vaguely remembered the general whom was speaking, but he hadn’t been a general at the time. I drew a breath, telling myself to stop making a big deal that things had changed. Hayston and the rest of the kingdom could not have waited for me, and did only what came natural.

“And there is room for all of them?” Janine’s voice was neutral, and she might have been inquiring about the weather. She shuffled through some of the papers, signed one, and handed it to a scribe, all without looking up. I fidgeted, wanting to make my presence known, but not wanting to interrupt.

“Many have offered their homes, and merchants are converting warehouses for dorm use.” This from the head of the merchant’s guild. I wondered how much they stood to profit off this disaster.

“Superb. Now, my lords, finish your preparations. I must speak with my daughter.” Janine looked up, smiling, her light brown eyes serene. The gathered men bowed, murmured something, and took their leaves.

Faced with my mother, doubts and worries slipped away. Her days as a high priestess were still with her; Janine radiated grace and calm, her face always beatific. The queen was petite, with refined features, and I towered over her.

Yet she wasn’t frail, and had a strength I’d always wanted to gain. I was as tall as a man, slender and graceful, but not like her. I shared no feature with her or my father, my hair platinum blond and eyes tourmaline green, and I’d been bothered by that as a child. An adult now, I wasn’t intimidated, but was envious of her inner strength.

“You made excellent time, my daughter.” She reached for me, and I rounded the table to take her tiny hand. I’d grown a lot over the years; I was nearly a foot taller than her now.

“You’re missive seemed urgent. Though, we are surprised to find so many in the city.”

Janine sighed, frowning as she glanced at the table and a map. Markers stood on it, black swarms from the swamp in the north, plaguing the countryside around the capital. “Events have escalated rather swiftly.” A single marker stood outside the city, facing west toward the Graniteheart mountains.

Shaking herself, my mother stepped away from the table, pulling me toward a sidetable of food. “Eat. Rest. In the morning, you and Thade head forth to reclaim a powerful relic.”

I frowned, taken aback. “You summoned me to retrieve a relic? Why not send a handful of soldiers and a messenger for it?”

She said nothing, building a plate of fruit and vegetables. Her calm bordered onto apathy. “A full platoon shall attend Thade and yourself. It should still allow you to make your way to the Blyrn shrine.”

My voice dropped to a whisper. “There’s nothing there.”

A servant began making me a plate at Janine’s gesture. “Incorrect. Blyrn is the home of our people’s greatest relic. We need it to drive back Valdis’s fiends, and only a member of royal blood may touch it.”

Resolution stiffened my spine. I didn’t know what was going on, but my people needed me. “Why does this incursion require the relic?”

Janine’s eyes were worried when she turned to me. “Valdis herself marches.”

Chapter Two

The fire crackled in the covered brazier, the slits giving just enough light to make the camp navigable. Not that there was much I wanted to do. One of the clerics coached me through mental exercises, but that didn’t keep my mind occupied.

A day’s fast ride had brought our platoon far west of Hayston, into the lowest foothills of the Granitehearts. Thade had taken charge, had insisted on the closed fire and low tents. He wanted as little to mark our passage as possible. At our mid-day break, he confessed he’d rather we were a smaller group. Thirty men and two clerics was too large for him.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about a smaller group yet. Cleric-mages in Hayston had set forth illusions to distract Valdis’s troops, and at last report that ploy had been working. Refugees could move unmolested, and we could approach the fearsome western mountains without being attacked. We had yet to see a Valhamian patrol, let alone the great host that Valdis had sent forth.

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