Long ago the gods chose a great hero to act as their agent in the mortal world and to stand against the demonic spawn of Chaos. The gods gifted their champion, Daemron, with three magical Talismans: a sword, a ring, and a crown. But the awesome power at his command corrupted Daemron, turning him from savior to destroyer. Filled with pride, he dared to challenge the gods themselves. Siding with the Chaos spawn, Daemron waged a titanic battle against the Immortals. In the end, Daemron was defeated, the Talismans were lost, and Chaos was sealed off behind the Legacy—a magical barrier the gods sacrificed themselves to create.
Now the Legacy is fading. On the other side, the banished Daemron stirs. And across the scattered corners of the land, four children are born of suffering and strife, each touched by one aspect of Daemron himself—wizard, warrior, prophet, king.
Bound by a connection deeper than blood, the Children of Fire will either restore the Legacy or bring it crashing down, freeing Daemron to wreak his vengeance upon the mortal world.
Praise for Children of Fire
“This intricately layered adventure breathes realism and overshadowing menace into ancient mythic archetypes, exposing the pain and wonder inherent in magic and the mingled hope and cynicism of modern fantasy.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A rousing quest fantasy . . . a fast-paced action-packed good and evil thriller.”—SF Revu
“From the first page of Children of Fire, Karpyshyn captures the reader’s attention with his excellent, intricate storyline.”—RT Book Reviews
“Children of Fire stands on its own as a thoroughly entertaining tale. The book strikes a perfect balance between character driven storytelling and rich world building.”—Roqoo Depot
“[Karpyshyn] is truly a master of world building. . . . I would recommend this title to any fan of the genre.”—Among the Wreckage
“Compulsively readable, wildly entertaining.”—A Girl, A Boy and A Blog
“Children of Fire is engrossing, and full of characters that are modern. . . . I thoroughly enjoyed Children of Fire and look forward for the next two books.”—FANgirl Blog
“Drew Karpyshyn weaves a rich, contrasting tapestry of epic story and doom. Gripping and compelling from first page to last, Children of Fire is a dark-chocolate fantasy; delightfully biting and delectable at once. Four ill-fated children born under a sign of chaos and flame carried me on a journey into an intriguing world of shadowy wonder. It is a spellbinding epic told with masterful craft. Well done, Drew!”—Tracy Hickman, New York Times bestselling co-author of the Dragonlance and Death Gate series
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AN UNSEEN BRANCH snaked through the darkness of the night to snag Nyra’s ankle with dry wooden fingers. She toppled forward, her swollen belly making her awkward and clumsy. The heavy shawl wrapped about her shoulders tumbled to the ground as she thrust her hands out in front to break her fall.
She felt a sudden pain in her left wrist as her hands hit the unyielding frozen earth—sharp, but not severe. She struggled to her knees, her hands cradling her midsection, trying to comfort and console the unborn child in her womb. She whispered words of reassurance as she caressed her girth through the heavy wool of her winter dress, praying to the Old Gods and the New to feel the baby kick or squirm in protest at the unexpected fall.
Nothing. She stayed there on the cold earth, refusing to accept her child’s lack of response. The chill of the night seeped up from the ground through her knees and into her weary thighs. The bite of the winter wind blew harsh against her cheeks and shoulders. But she wouldn’t cry. Not yet. Not while she still had hope for her unborn child.
Slowly, she turned and reached back for the shawl she had brought to shield her from the night’s cold. The Southlands rarely saw snow, but her village was no more than a few days’ ride from the steppes of the Frozen East. Winter here had a sting the deep Southlands never felt.
She hefted the shawl and twirled it up and over her shoulders, noting a twinge in her left wrist as she did so. The unexpected pain made her grit her teeth. As best she could in the night’s blackness she examined her injury.
Sprained, she decided at last. Only sprained.
With great effort she clambered to her feet, her hand instinctively dropping to her belly yet again. The child within remained still. Ignoring the cramping protest of her calves and thighs, the constant ache running through her back, and the knots in her neck and shoulders, she continued on her way.
She moved with greater care now. The crescent moon was obscured by the tangle of stark, bare branches overhead, and the forest cast disorienting shadows along the overgrown path she followed. But she knew it was more than that.
During the day the path would be easy to follow, worn flat by constant traffic from the nearby villages; kept clear by the constant passing of men and women coming to present their pleas. In the light of the sun, the path was simple enough for a rider on a sure-footed mount to safely traverse.
But the hag did not like visitors at night; her enchantments made the way more difficult than it should be. Chaos changed the route beneath the mantle of darkness. The earth became rough and uneven, the roots and limbs of the trees themselves grasped out to impede her progress.
Nyra had left her pony tied to a tree more than a mile back, knowing she would have to make the passage on foot. She pressed on; time was running short. She had no choice but to come under the cover of night, while her husband slept. In the twenty years since the Purge had ended, most of the laws against practicing magic had been repealed. But Gerrit still frowned upon those who possessed the Gift.
She didn’t blame him. He was older than she was, old enough to remember the Purge. As a child he had watched the Order’s public executions; his earliest memories were of witches and heretics crying out as they burned at the stake. Times were different now. Chaos magic was tolerated, though the Order still officially spoke out against its dangers. And like most who lived in the Southlands, Gerrit had no wish to do anything that might displease the Order. He would have tried to talk her out of this.
“The baby has been healthy,” he would argue. “We felt it kicking and squirming inside you, eager to be born and full of life. The times before it wasn’t like this.”
True, for a while. But shortly after the eighth moon of her pregnancy, the baby had grown still. Like the others. Gerrit didn’t know. She hadn’t told him—and the Gods willing, she would never have to.
Nyra stumbled along, falling often. Her knees bruised and stiffened, her hands became red and raw from scraping over the frozen, jagged ground with every tumble. Once she struck her jaw on a jutting branch as she fell, splitting her lip and biting her tongue. The taste of blood scared her; it reminded her of the blood of birth. Too much blood, in her case. But she didn’t spit it out. And she didn’t cry. She wouldn’t let herself, not yet. Not while there was still hope. Unconsciously, she passed a gentle hand over the swell of her pregnancy.
After another mile she glimpsed the flicker of a small fire, just beyond the crest of a knoll jutting up in the path. The way suddenly seemed to clear: The tripping roots melted into the now smooth earth; the clutching branches retreated to a distance. The icy air around her thawed with the warmth of the tempting fire, carried forward on a whispering zephyr. Nyra crawled to the top of the small but steep knoll, using her hands as much as her feet to get her heavy, swollen form up and over the crest.
The other side was a gentle slope into a small clearing. In the corner was a cramped cottage, little more than a wood-and-grass hut. A campfire burned in the center of the clearing, well away from the surrounding trees and the dry thatch of the tiny home. The flames flickered blue and purple, then red and orange. Green and yellow sparks popped and crackled within the unnatural blaze.
An old woman knelt by the fire, stirring the coals with a thin, crooked stick. She wore simple dark garments, heavy layers warding off whatever winter chill the fire could not keep at bay. Her hair was gray, her skin sallow. Beside her was a pile of small animal bones. Nyra hesitated, uncertain, until the witch looked up.
“Have you come all this way only to turn back now?” Gretchen the Hag asked. Her voice was a dry, raspy whisper.
Nyra slowly approached the strange flames until she stood across the fire, facing her withered host.
“Sit,” the old woman instructed.
With great effort, Nyra lowered her bulk to the ground. She shifted her legs to try to get comfortable on the hard earth, but the effort was wasted.
“Speak,” Gretchen ordered, oblivious to the pregnant woman’s obvious physical discomfort. She poked the fire once more with the gnarled stick.
“I … I have come for my child,” Nyra began.
“Another, or this one?” the old woman asked, jabbing her stick in the direction of Nyra’s swollen belly.
“This one. There is no other. Twice my husband and I have tried, but both times the baby has been stillborn.”
Gretchen snorted. “Stillborn. You mean dead. I cannot raise the dead.”
It had been over a year since her last pregnancy, but still the hag’s words stung. But she refused to let herself cry. Not for this child. Not yet.
“This baby is not dead. I felt it kicking on the night of the last full moon. The other pregnancies were different. I felt nothing but the weight of the child, like a cold stone in my belly.”
Gretchen set her stick down and picked up a small bone from the pile at her side. Cracking it open with thin, twisted fingers she sucked the marrow out. She chewed and gnawed the two splintered ends with decayed stumps of teeth, making a squishing sound that twisted Nyra’s face up in revulsion.
The witch picked up her stick and jabbed the fire with the tip, then spit into the flames. There was a tiny shower of sparks in response, and a foul, rotting odor wafted up in a thin cloud of yellow smoke.
“That was a fortnight ago,” the hag declared, seeing the truth in the flames. “The child is already dead within you. There is nothing I can do. It will be born like the others: lifeless and cold.”
Nyra wanted to scream her protest to this foul, bitter woman. But hysterics would accomplish nothing. She took a deep breath before speaking. “The child still lives within me. I know it.”
“How?” Gretchen demanded. “Have you felt it move?”
A lie would be pointless here in the light of the enchanted fire.
“The child lives. I just know.”
The hag nodded and laid her stick to the side to pick up another tiny bone. As she cracked and chewed it, Nyra noticed that the stick used to stir the embers was itself a long, thin animal bone, blackened by years of smoke from the hag’s fire.
Once more Gretchen spit into the fire. Again a shower of sparks, but this time the rising smoke was blue. It smelled faintly of the rich, pungent manure her husband used to spread on the fields.
“What have you brought me?”
Nyra reached down to the deep pocket at the front of her dress and felt for the small leather pouch she had stuffed inside before beginning her journey. It was awkward, fumbling around her stomach’s girth to explore the pocket while sitting on the ground. For a brief second she could not locate the pouch, and she feared it had been lost during her stumbling journey up the path. Then her fingers closed around the loop of drawstring. She pulled it out and held it up for the hag to see.
Gretchen reached across the fire with eager hands to seize the offering, undaunted by the heat rising up from the flames. She snatched it from Nyra’s grasp and poured the contents into her wrinkled palm.