The dazzling second book in S.M. Beiko’s Realms of Ancient series
Three months after the battle of Zabor, the five friends that came together to defeat her have been separated. Burdened with the Calamity Stone she acquired in Scion of the Fox, Roan has gone to Scotland to retrace her grandmother’s steps in an attempt to stop further evil from entering the world.
Meanwhile, a wicked monster called Seela has risen from the ashy Bloodlands and is wreaking havoc on the world while children in Edinburgh are afflicted by a strange plague; Eli travels to Seoul to face judgment and is nearly murdered; Natti endures a taxing journey with two polar bears; Phae tries desperately to obtain the key to the Underworld; and Barton joins a Family-wide coalition as the last defense against an enemy that will stop at nothing to undo Ancient’s influence on Earth before there is no longer an Earth to fight for.
Darkness, death, and the ancient powers that shape the world will collide as our heroes discover that some children collapse under their dark inheritance, and those who don’t are haunted by blood.
About the Author
S.M. Beiko is an eclectic writer and artist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She also works as a freelance editor, illustrator, graphic designer, and consultant in the trade book and comic publishing industries in Canada and the U.S. Her first novel, The Lake and the Library, was nominated for the Manitoba Book Award for Best First Book as well as the 2014 Aurora Award. Her fantasy trilogy, The Realms of Ancient, began with Scion of the Fox, followed by Children of the Bloodlands, and will be concluded with The Brilliant Dark (2019).
Read an Excerpt
A Burning Shade
August 9, 1996
I always write these letters with the intention of sending them to you, but they have turned into a kind of diary instead. A place where I can put so much down, even when it seems there isn't enough paper in the world. I always feel more compelled to share things with you than the people who are closest to me. My partner. My own daughter. But you are distant, still almost like a dream. And now more distant still.
You have been marked.
I had to put the pen down after writing it. Because now it's been made true. The Moth Queen picked you — you — after everything I've given to this gods-damned Family. I've been in this world long enough to see unfairness. I've given my life to correcting some of it. And yet still fate, the gods — call them what you will — they still come for my blood. No one is safe.
I didn't want this stone. I didn't want the responsibility. After a while, though, it seemed like I was the only person who could handle it. I enjoyed being the hero. But it's been thirty long years of it. If I can't save my own family, then what good am I to this world?
I'm about to do something. I don't know if I'll succeed. It's something I have to do alone — not as though I'm not used to that road. But I can't stand by any longer. The Narrative, the balance. It isn't real. The rules I lived by are broken.
You've been marked. I will come back for you. I've told Ravenna to wait. But she's my daughter, after all. She may do something rash. And I won't be here to stop her.
Roan ... I don't know you yet. I saw you only the one time, and you were so small and fragile, Ravenna let me hold you for just a few minutes. I knew that what Deon said was true, all those years ago. You will do great things. You are meant to be in this world. And I will see to it that Zabor doesn't pluck you from it.
I'm going away to a place I can't describe. Ruo said she'd send you some postcards, to make it seem like I've gone on a globetrotting adventure. If I do succeed, you'll grow up knowing the truth. Or, if I fail, you won't be around long enough to feel the sting of being abandoned by a grandmother you never knew.
I suppose the last place I'll see with these waking eyes is Edinburgh. I've been everywhere, lived and passed through ancient cities and bustling metropolises and vacant spaces that are empty on the map. The house in Winnipeg ... I thought, maybe, I could really live there, be near Ravenna, rebuild what broke between us. I kept the house and all the things I collected over the years in it, shipping them there like a tithe to be paid, preparing a den I'd never inhabit. Wishful thinking. Maybe one day it can be yours. Maybe one day you can have the life that slipped away from me.
But we had a life here, too, in Scotland. Ruo, Ravenna, and me. The window boxes have been empty for a long time. I've told Ruo that it isn't worth it, keeping vigil over me as I journey to do the impossible. Time might be different there; I could come back tomorrow, or a hundred years could go by and everyone I love could be gone and it will all be too late. But Ruo has already given up so much for me. She said she might as well give up the rest.
Someday maybe we will come back here together. Someday maybe I will let go of all those possibilities of peace. Today is not that day.
Dear Roan. I'll see you soon.
I folded the letter up, carefully. I'd taken it out and reread it, along with the others, so many times that I could recite it by heart. This was her last letter. Something shifted in me when I read it, the stone itself reacting. Edinburgh. I knew I still had to be here, knew that I would find answers here for the journey Cecelia had sent me on before I lost her. I tucked the letter in my jacket, which I hung on the hook inside my locker at the back of the restaurant. I turned away from the change room door, fastening my work shirt's buttons over the heavy, burning burden lodged in my skin.
The Dragon Opal.
Cecelia had managed to separate herself from it, hide the stone beneath her summoning chamber, and come back to the world as a fox named Sil. To guide me. To save me. She really had given everything up for me. But why' So I could carry this mysterious rock that kept me up at night, that made me think I was going crazy? To what end?
I sighed. Three months of nothing. She'd used a name in the letter — Ruo, a name she'd never mentioned before as Sil or in any of the other letters. Whoever that person was, they'd been with Cecelia before she went on a quest that lasted more than fourteen years in order to save me from death itself. And maybe that person had some answers for me.
But I wouldn't get them tonight. I fastened my pocketed apron around my waist, tucking in my order pad and pen as I passed the kitchen. Tonight I was on the dinner rush.
I had been dead — twice — and this was infinitely worse.
Stepping out onto the dining floor always made my chest clench as though I was pulling away from a blow. I usually started the night surveying the chaos from the host booth, where other servers girded their loins for dealing with complaints or customers? thoughtless barbs. Or grappled with the heavy reality that this is where your choices had led you.
But I didn't have time for an existential crisis. Not right now. Table Five was leering at me over a watered-down Jim Beam. A full-scale inappropriate jaw-tightening look that, especially because he was probably twenty years older than me, spoke volumes: You are meat. Bring it here.
I rolled my eyes and turned away. It wasn't worth indulging the fantasy of "accidentally" burning the place to the ground. I needed the money.
Nabbing a job on the Royal Mile seemed easy at the time, three months ago. Following the bare trail of Cecelia's past here, I figured the Dragon Opal would steer me in the right direction the minute my red-eye touched down. I didn't think I'd still be here, with little to nothing to show for it, except a worryingly-close-to-expiring youth visa and barely a pound to scratch together for French fries — er, chips.
I didn't think the stone would have its own agenda. But I should've known better.
The night droned on. Drink order, appetizers, mains, dessert. Clear the tables, wipe them down. Rinse and repeat. There wasn't anything wrong with serving; it was actually a nice break from being hunted and fighting bad guys. But I wasn't a patient person at the best of times. I was trying to lie low, trying to figure out where Cecelia had lived, if she'd had any friends. But fourteen years was a long time to be gone. A lot could have changed.
I blinked and found I'd arrived at the kitchen staff access counter on autopilot, pulling orders for tables six through seven. Couples taking up whole booths in the rush, ordering the cheapest fare. Despite the virtually revolving door of starving tourists coming in, looking to cram burgers and chips and guzzle beer after their castle and brewery tours, I could read the crowd easily: I'd be lucky if I got tipped more than ten percent tonight.
My chest tightened again. I resisted the urge to scratch at the skin under my standard-issue uniform, to pay it any notice. It wasn't long ago I was doing the same with a bad eye, which got too much attention as it was.
Today had been an okay day, though. I was going to keep it that way.
I had to admit, I still loved seeing people's faces light up as their food arrived, but I usually didn't linger. I was tired, bone-tired — that never changed — but I was mostly tired of people asking the same goddamn —
"Oh wow! Your eyes are different colours!" the blond at seven squealed. "Are those contacts?"
Tonight, I decided to play coy. "Yep! Thought I'd mix things up a bit. Can I get you folks anything else?"
"Are you from America, then?" the blond's beefy date sputtered around widely cut chips, the house special. His accent suggested England. Manchester, as rough as it came.
"Canada," I said through a fleeting smile, before retreating stiffly with their empty pint glasses.
And the night went on. My feet ached. There were no moments to myself, not really. Not even in the bathroom, with female co-workers hammering on the stall door that Roan oh my god Six is having a meltdown about her scallops because I seemed to be the only one capable of handling these things with a level head. If only they knew that this was small potatoes to what I'd faced.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
The hair on the back of my neck prickled, and I felt my throat flush. I turned and saw Table Five raise his empty glass. He was still here? Hadn't I seen him two hours ago? I didn't move, and another server swept in to take his order. Five didn't seem to mind, and I turned away before I could get a proper look at him with my good eye.
No time for any of that.
I held onto this job with a death grip. No matter how banal it was, or how being here meant I wasn't out there, doing the investigating I'd come here to do, I'd do it. I'd keep quiet and keep my head down as long as I could. I wanted to do this the right way. There would be answers in Edinburgh. There had to be. And it kept an ocean between me and the home I couldn't go back to. At least, not now.
I sneezed. "Bless," Athika said, though it came out as more of a sigh as she scratched in the depths of her massive afro-hawk with a pen.
"Thanks," I grunted back. A bitter exchange of service-industry exhaustion.
"So do you know that creep, or what?" Athika squinted, tapping an order into the touch screen till. "He's been undressing you with his eyes all night."
I felt hot despite the high-powered AC. Hotter than usual, I mean. I whipped around and sure enough, there was Table Five, except now he had downgraded to the bar. To a better seat in the house.
The flames were close under my skin, but my words were cold. "No," I replied to Athika, trying for indifference, but I could feel the menace rising. Feel it straining out of control. I didn't want to do this, but I knew I had to.
I left the till station and went around to the other side of the restaurant to the dining lounge, which still allowed me a clear view of the bar through a decorative glass wall. I let my vision fall in and out of focus like a flexing lens, and then — click. My amber eye lit up the restaurant around me.
I tested it on the crowd. Mostly Mundanes tonight, but there were Denizens all the same. I hadn't noticed my heart rate ratcheting up, but seeing them — the gauzy impressions of Rabbits, Foxes, and the odd Owl hovering over their human visages — loosened the tension in my fists. My gaze lingered on the Foxes. My own Family, my tribe, and I thought of Sil, as I always did in these situations. Her voice was clear: Focus, pup, or you'll get burned.
I straightened. Focus. I swung my spirit eye onto Table Five, hunched over the bar. His leathery, pockmarked face. His twitchy, bony hands on his glass. He was scanning the restaurant, too, wriggling in his seat, maybe trying to see where I had gone. He actually wasn't as old as I'd first thought — maybe in his twenties' — but he was in rough shape, hair thinning, skin bad. Sick. He was turned away from me, and I couldn't get a clear impression ... but then his eyes met mine. Black. Red rimmed, but the edges were glowing.
I staggered, grabbing my chest and coming down hard on one knee. No, not now. I crouched behind a recently vacated table that was still covered in abandoned plates and half-eaten food, and I tried to focus on the patterns in the hardwood planks underneath me. I shut my eyes, both the spirit and the human one, and mutter under my breath to try to find purchase for calm — the Veil. The Den. The Warren. The Glen. The Roost. The Abyss. The Bloodlands ...
What had been like a prayer suddenly felt like a hex. I wanted to pull my hand away from the stone, embedded in my skin and bones and exposed like a geode, but I couldn't. Usually when I named the realms of Ancient, it brought me some clarity. Some ice to the rising heat inside me. But I hadn't added the Bloodlands to that list, not ever. I had avoided all thought of it except when I walked there in my nightmares ...
"You okay?" came Ben's concerned voice, as he hovered over me. I scrambled to my feet, afraid he'd try to help me and get burned for his generosity.
"Fine, fine," I muttered, adjusting my shirt, which was damp with sweat where I'd bunched it in my fist. I didn't bother offering an explanation — just willed my legs to walk and wove back to the other side of the restaurant.
I wasn't afraid when I looked at Five again. I should have been but, probably to my detriment, my first impulse was anger. Anger that this thing had the nerve to come after me in public, with innocent people around. Anger that I couldn't escape my enemies no matter how far I ran or how much I gave up. I poured that fury into sharpening my gaze, turning the power on my spirit eye up to eleven. Five followed me with his black eyes. The din of the diners and boozers and wailing tourists fell.
He wasn't a Denizen. I didn't know what he was, but it wasn't human. It couldn't be. Not with how he seemed to look inside me, seemed to know what my jolly name tag hid behind it. But maybe this was it. Maybe this was my break in the Mysterious Case of Cecelia's Extremely Vague and Overly Threatening Prophecy. All this time I'd refused to ask the stone for help, had done everything I could not to let it get inside my head like Eli's stone had.
I didn't think. I should have tried to lure him outside, behind the restaurant, to some dark place. I should have played the weak, unassuming teenager role. But I couldn't. Not after all this time.
I was being reckless. I could hear a whisper reminding me to focus, but it hissed and died in the simmering coals of my heart as I came around the bar.
"Have you been served tonight?" I asked Five casually, noticing his now- empty glass. His black eyes shimmered in the bar lights, which cast his face in ghoulish shadows.
"Not nearly as well as you could serve me." He grinned back. His teeth were yellow. His hair was wiry like a terrier's. A rough twenties, he was all skin and bone. He wore a corduroy vest and worn shoes. His voice was sandpaper.
"Allow me." I was definitely not a bartender. I was also not legally allowed to serve alcohol on this continent. But I doled out a generous glass of whisky and slid it to him. "On the house."
Five was still smiling. I still didn't know his name, but it didn't seem to matter. That he was at table five was telling enough and probably some kind of ironic destiny.
He didn't touch the drink.
"Can I get you anything else? Or is it just me you want?"
The smile deepened. Widened. Like an open sore. "The mongrel is perceptive."
My ear twitched, as if it were trying to swivel to pick out a familiar sound, as a real fox's ear might.
This was my opening. "Do you want to take this outside?"
"Oh no," said Five, as though grateful for the gesture. "No, this is just fine." He surveyed the room full of witnesses and potential victims, though the dinner rush had since ended. Still enough people and servers left behind to get hurt all the same.
So I did as a Fox would — I talked and waited.
"Well, I'll be outside," I said, hands flat on the glass bar counter. "And what happens there is up to you." I turned. The bladeless hilt of my garnet sword was strapped to my ankle, though I hadn't been able to use it since fighting Zabor. That didn't matter. I was aching for this. The fight was cinematic in my head despite the mounting number of holes in my plan.
But I didn't get farther than a step before a hand snapped out and wrenched me back by the forearm. It held fast. The stench of burning flesh flooded my already keyed-up senses. His burning flesh.
And yet he still smiled.
Only a few people turned — probably the Denizens. The rest went about their eating and drinking. I looked around wildly, and I tried to thrash away, the man's skin blackening steadily from his fingertips up along his arm.
"Troublesome mongrel," he said again in his terribly familiar voice. "I have come to give you a warning, targe stealer. Fox traitor. I have left the garden to bring you good tidings."
I watched his arm cook between us. I wanted to throw up. "Urka?"
"My masters are eager. They tire of our beloved ashes. They wish to make this a world for their own children. They extend gratitude for helping them."
I pulled, but the grip was iron. No one was moving to rescue me. I felt myself getting hotter. I knew I could burn him alive if he didn't let go, but I had to know. "Helping them with what?"
Urka's human face shimmered as his clothes caught fire, the synthetics fusing and melting to its skin. "For helping them send their beloved child past the Veil and into your realm. For it could not have happened without you."
The black eyes were earnest. I remembered Urka's stone axe hands, the furnace in its belly. I stopped resisting.
"The children are coming," Urka said. "They are coming for you."
My chest tightened, and in my moment of terror, the stone perceived its chance. The fire inside me escalated into an inferno, left my skin, and poured out like hot gas. Urka's gaping yellowed grin peeled away as its very human body stretched, blackened, hardened. Then the grip seized, throwing me backward into the ten-foot-high decorative shelf of alcohol behind me.
I didn't have time to stop myself. The Dragon Opal wouldn't let me. I was a powder keg, and the minute I connected and the glass and liquid rained down, I knew the inferno was no longer just inside me. The restaurant lit up like Hogmanay.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Children of the Bloodlands"
Copyright © 2018 S.M. Beiko.
Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The One True Child,
The One True Child,
Part I: Tremor,
A Burning Shade,
Tribunal by Air,
Ashes to Ashes,
Far from Sea,
The Stonebearer's Burden,
Part II: Quake,
The Ice and the Inua,
The Conclave of Fire,
The Scars Beneath,
A Chosen Daughter,
Part III: Fissure,
She Wakes in Flames,
Come to Roost,
An Empty Sky,
The Cold Road,
Son of the Wind,
Part IV: Rupture,
The Devil You Know,
The Cost of Freedom,
Enemy of Ancient,
Part V: Calamity,
A Shattered Sea,
The Horned Quartz,
The End of the Narrative,
Sneak Peek: The Brilliant Dark (The Realms of Ancient, Book III),
About the Author,