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Slayer OF Monsters SAMPLE

Chapter 1
The Wedding

It was the perfect day for a wedding.

The mud of early spring had given way to the lush green of new grass, which covered the courtyard of Castle Dúr in a carpet of soft, spongy freshness. Leaves unfurled on trees and bushes, and spring flowers sent splashes of hopeful color against the castle’s stone walls. The fruit trees had bloomed just days before, and one of the first truly warm breezes of the season sent petals of pink and white drifting softly to the ground. In the courtyard, beneath the tall oaks, chairs were gathered around a white archway entwined with flowers and ribbons. 

Alyen gazed at it all, thinking it was the most beautiful wedding setting she had ever seen. 

Yet all she could feel was unease.

Alyen’s brow furrowed as she lifted a hand to her chest, feeling her rapid heartbeat in a body that tingled with alarm. It had been happening for months, ever since the Battle of the Second Slayer, but had intensified in the past few weeks. Today was the worst yet. It felt like the world was waiting for something just out of sight—something that made the very air quiver with trepidation. And she knew in her bones that when whatever-it-was came, disaster and darkness would come with it.

Strong arms circled her waist from behind. “Pretty, isn’t it?” Aaron said, his voice low. 

Alyen smiled despite the tightness in her chest. She turned and leaned into the kiss waiting for her, determined to push the discomfort away for a day that was supposed to hold nothing but joy and celebration.

Aaron broke off the kiss and stood back to take in the sight of her. “You look stunning,” he said appreciatively. Then his eyes met hers and his mouth thinned in understanding. “You’re worried, though.”

Alyen sighed. “I can’t help it.”

 

“About anything in particular?”

Alyen shrugged one shoulder, squinting at the stone wall that blocked the moat from view. Hundreds of morkshai had poured over that wall just months before, in a wave of terror and death. She shook her head.

“I know everyone says it’s normal to feel this way after living through a war, but I just can’t shake the feeling that something’s not right. That something else is coming. That the fight isn’t over …”

Aaron pulled her back against his chest and Alyen closed her eyes, inhaling his familiar scent. He held her for a moment, saying nothing, until Alyen was the one to pull away. She took a deep, bracing breath. “But today isn’t a day for any of that. Today is a day to be happy.”

Aaron slung an arm around Alyen’s shoulders, and for the first time she noticed his appearance. 

“You look fantastic, yourself,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you dressed up before.” Indeed, as her eyes took in the fine linen of his shirt, just open at the throat, his laced vest, and his new breeches and boots, her stomach did a flip that sent warmth rushing to her cheeks. 

Aaron grinned. “Turns out even a scruffy soldier can clean up nice.”

Alyen shouldered him playfully. “Scruffy soldier, indeed. As if you’re not the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom now that everyone knows you’re the Second Slayer.”

Aaron glanced down at her. “But I’m not.”

“Not what?”

“Eligible. I’m very much taken.” He bent his head to kiss her hair.

Alyen turned to face him and saw how his eyes grew dark as they took her in. How his lips curled as he looked at her mouth. Her own lips parted, and she was just about to tilt her head up for what promised to be a wonderful moment, when across the courtyard she saw a line of people exiting the castle doors and heading their way.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to put that on hold. Again,” Alyen said with regret. 

Aaron let out his breath with a huff and a rueful grin. “You know, with a castle this big, you’d think it’d be a little easier to find some privacy.”

“Trust me,” said Alyen wryly. “There’s no privacy in a castle. But cheer up. We have a wedding to celebrate.”

They joined the others at the archway and selected two chairs in the front, clasping each other’s hands between them. Mother Brenwyn, Lirianna, and Alyen’s parents sat nearby, and castle servants and soldiers filled the rest of the seats. Garret gave Alyen a wave as he sat a few rows back, and Alyen returned his smile before scanning the remaining guests.

“Where’s Nah’dar?” Alyen whispered, craning her neck to look over the crowd. “I thought you said he was coming.”

Aaron smirked and nodded to the front where the former assassin, clothed for the first time in the ceremonial garb of Castle Dúr’s Captain of the Guard, was taking his place under the archway opposite Alyen’s former maid, Bridget.

Alyen gaped. “He’s Brother Hugh’s witness?”

Aaron’s shoulders were quivering with silent laughter. “I know, I was as shocked as you. But Brother Hugh asked him specifically, and he said yes. Apparently, they’re kind of friends now.”

Alyen could only shake her head, trying and failing to reconcile her memory of the lethal warrior who had vehemently detested Brother Hugh with the captain now standing at attention, waiting to discharge his duty as formal witness to the former monk’s marriage vows.

A ripple of music started, and everyone twisted in their seats to see the wedding couple approach the archway, led by the high priestess of Béathan. Cook Nellie, her face pink and smiling, came arm-in-arm with Brother Hugh, who no longer looked like a monk. His robes had been traded in for a shirt, tunic, and breeches, his lightening-struck hair tamed and respectable. His expression, usually joyful in any case, glowed even more as he looked at his bride, clad in a simple gown of elegant cream linen. 

“Look how adorable they are,” Alyen whispered to Aaron as the ceremony started. “They look so happy.”

Aaron nodded and squeezed her hand, and for a moment, Alyen let herself relax into the couple’s shared joy among her family, her friends, and the beauty of spring.

But it didn’t last.

Something was wrong, and growing more so by the minute.

The unease Alyen had felt—had been feeling for weeks—surged, and she drew in a sharp breath as fear sprang into her throat. 

Aaron looked at her, frowning. “What is it?”

“I’m not sure,” Alyen whispered, eyes scanning the courtyard and the castle wall as surreptitiously as she could. “But we’re not safe.”

Brother Hugh and Cook Nellie were kissing, and everyone was clapping and rising from their seats. Aaron scanned their surroundings as they rose as well, clapping absently with the others. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. This can’t just be battle memories. Something’s wrong and it’s … coming.”

The guests were starting to mill around, all crowding forward to congratulate the happy couple. No one seemed to notice that the wind was picking up, scattering apple blossoms across the courtyard, and bending the heads of the spring blooms to the ground. 

Lirianna came to join them and frowned when she saw Alyen’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. Something’s not right. Something’s—”

Then she saw it. A massive black cloud was looming from the direction of the Royal Wood, rising over the castle walls like a towering monster. Lightning, tinged a sickly green, flashed from within and a sudden boom of thunder threw a silence over the wedding guests. Everyone turned and gaped at the colossal storm, the clouds now roiling unnaturally as the wind let out an eerie howl.

Alyen stepped away from her friends, moving toward the castle, her eyes never leaving the mass of darkness looming above it. Something about the feel of the storm—dread mixed with malice—struck a familiar chord deep in Alyen’s bones. Ice hit her stomach, and she closed her eyes, face turned upward as she sent her mind out toward the towering clouds. Tentatively, she pushed against the magic threading through the tempest, bracing herself for what she feared would come. 

Suddenly she felt what she had hoped never to feel again; magic filled with darkness slammed into her own, and she jerked her mind back quickly, eyes fluttering open in alarm. 

“Darklings,” she breathed.

Another flash and a crash of thunder jolted Alyen from her terror. “Inside!” she cried over the rising howl of the wind. “Everyone get inside! Quickly!”

There was a confused commotion as the wedding guests all started fleeing the storm in different directions. Garret raced for the stables to calm the horses. Brother Hugh clasped Cook Nellie’s hand and they bolted toward the kitchens, along with many of the servants. Nah’dar drew his scimitar, his face in a snarl, as if to take on the storm himself.

“Nah’dar, this way! Inside!” Alyen called, and the captain hurried behind Alyen’s family and friends as they fled to the front doors.

They filed into the castle, wind whipping at their clothes and hair as it moaned through the castle towers. Alyen entered last, glancing back to ensure that all had made it inside to safety before pulling the door closed.

“Bolt it,” she ordered, a tremble in her voice. “The other doors too. And send everyone to shutter the windows. Quickly!”

Pages were sent scurrying through the castle and soon Alyen heard the distant echoes of slamming shutters and the clank of bolts being shoved into place. Seconds later, rain erupted onto the castle with a vengeful fury, sounding like knives hurled at the impenetrable walls. 

“Alyen?” Queen Réanna was looking at her daughter with concern. “Are you all right?”

Alyen realized she was clutching her arms around her waist and forced them to relax as she nodded. Her fingers were trembling.

Aaron caught her gaze, his eyes knowing. “It’s not a natural storm, is it?”

“No,” Alyen shook her head. “No, it’s not.” She closed her eyes against the fear that rose along with the memories of her last encounter with darklings. Memories of the Royal Wood, of Ylvain and a flashing sword …

She opened her eyes. “It’s darklings. They’re driving the storm.”

The faces around her all fell into expressions of shock and confusion.

“Darklings?”

“But Ylvain’s gone …”

“Who’s controlling them without her?”

“Alyen?” It was Mother Brenwyn, fixing Alyen with her knowing gaze. “What does this mean?”

Alyen scanned the faces of those closest to her, all searching for answers she knew she didn’t have. The wind roared outside, and she swallowed.

“It means we aren’t done. It means … the fight’s not over.”

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