Author: Celeste Hollister
Published: April 20th, 2017
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Genre: YA Fantasy
Kex Mardugal is half human, half something… Else. With her dark skin and wild eyes, humankind considers her a soulless abomination. In the face of prejudice, Kex has carved a place for herself in human society. She earned the rank of King’s Champion, securing a position of strength within her homeland.
This attracts the attention of an inscrutable sorcerer who entreats Kex to join his party of warriors to fight against an enigmatic evil threatening to overtake their world.
But conflicts within the party undermine their ability to work together. All the while, their enemy, a strange and powerful demon, steadily gains strength, commanding deadly storms and legions of curselings to spread its blight across the land.
As an Elsekind, Kex discovers that she alone can define her code of honor in order to fight against the monsters of the world.
Excerpt:Kex and HailanKex curled her knees tight against her chest. She breathed in slow, deep breaths. Her weapon felt cold beneath her palm. Rough boards rasped against her cheek as she pressed her face to the floor. Muffled footsteps approached – barefoot, if she had to guess. She tightened her fist around the weapon and waited. The angle was wrong, but she was too small to overpower him in a close fight. She would rely on quickness and the element of surprise. He would never think to find her here.
Her pulse quickened as the footfalls paused. The door opened on a well-oiled hinge. A sphere of lamplight revealed two hairy ankles, and – just as she hoped – two naked feet. Kex drew a breath and waited.
Closer, she thought.. Come closer. I dare you
Lamplight and legs loomed nearer but still out of reach. The lamp’s handle squeaked as he set it upon the table. Then he turned and shuffled forward, giving her an unpleasant glimpse of his toenails. Inches away, then half-inches, then precisely where she wanted him.
Kex lashed out, stabbing down into the top of his foot. He howled and hopped – as she hoped – and she kicked out, her heel connecting with his ankle, knocking his other foot out from beneath him.
He scrabbled to his side, quick for his size, but by then she had used his own leg to haul herself from beneath the bed. She vaulted astride him, pressing her weapon to his freshly-shaven throat.
“Where is it?” she hissed.
Eyes wide, he glanced from her to the weapon pressed into his neck.
“Oh, by the Saints,” he moaned.
She bore down, sinking it deeper into his skin. “I asked you a question.”
He stammered, then refocused. “Is that a fork?”
“Aye.” The skin blanched around the tines as she leaned her weight into it. “I can make you bleed with a fork.”
“I think you already did,” he whined. She noted that he lay very, very still as he said, “C’mon, Kex, what’s this about?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t play around, Hailan Chase. You know well what I want.”
“Nope.” Hailan carefully shook his head. “Not me.”
“I may not kill you with this,” Kex said through her teeth. She bore down enough to make him squirm. “But I will maim you – four perfect little cuts – and everywhere you go, from this day forward, everyone will know that Lady Kex took you down with a utensil.”
“Oh, Lady, is it?” Hailan said.
“Don’t change the subject,” she said. “Where is my book?”
“The Codex, damn it. Where is it?”
Hailan raised his hands. “Xylo has it.”
“Your sister?” Kex clicked her tongue.
“She’s awful clever.”
Kex felt his weight shift. She knew this maneuver. If he thought he was going to roll her, she had to ensure he was too frightened to try. She flicked her wrist, caught the fork with her left hand, and positioned it above his eye.
His dilating pupils told her all she needed to know. He wouldn’t be moving. He might not dare to breathe.
“It is my Mother’s book,” Kex said. “I want it back.”
Hailan swallowed several gulps of air. “She’s a curious girl, my sister. You’re the only Elsekind she’s ever seen.”
Kex hissed through her teeth. Hailan cringed.
She said, “Xylo’s seen Alusians.”
“That’s different,” he said. “You’re different. I mean, not different, not like Halfkin different, but you’re not the same.” He moaned. “You know what I mean.”
Kex eased back but kept the fork pointed at his face. Yes, she knew what he meant. All too well. “With my permission, Xylo may borrow any object in my possession. But you will not take them without asking. Nod if you understand.”
Hailan nodded. He looked like he might be sick.
“Go now and fetch it back,” Kex said. She got to her feet and moved to the door. “I will meet you and Aralund on the pitch in one half hour.”
Hailan massaged his neck. As she opened the door, he said, “Kex, I was only playing.”
Though she saw his sincerity, she could not afford to soften. She said, “I know that. Which is why you I leave you unharmed.” With a smirk, she added, “Well. Mostly.”
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Celeste Hollister is a novelist, a mom, a travel writer, and willing cat minion. She writes books for people who struggle with racial identity and LGBT+ representation. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in writing, taught in urban schools for a decade, and lived in South Korea for a year. She loves wine, cookies, traveling abroad, and fanfiction. Currently, she lives in San Marcos with her lovely boyfriend and fabulous daughter.