Evil is slipping through the cracks of its prison, and all Soleden trembles in its wake. Yet some would harness that evil to their own ends, and first among them is Idla, the sorceress queen bent on distorting the world.
Only one can stand in her way: Jayden. Upon realizing her mark as the prophesied Deliverer, Jayden conceals herself from her enemies and her Feravolk countrymen. But after the harm the Feravolk caused to her family, she s loath to rescue the not-so-innocent.
Hiding her mark was never easy, but now that Jayden knows both Queen Idla and the Feravolk are after her, hiding her gift of the Blood Moon will be impossible.
About the Author
S. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult speculative fiction—everything from urban fantasy to superheroes. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog. You can learn more about her and her upcoming books at www.sdgrimm.com.
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SHADOWS OF MEN
Jayden tightened her grip on the dagger's hilt and focused on the apple instead of Geoffrey's head. Her sweat slicked the weapon's handle. Sunshine spilled through the tree branches and caused leaves to cast moving shadows on her target, which only played tricks on her eyes. The tattered edge of Geoffrey's tunic fluttered in the summer breeze, breaking her concentration. This was madness. What if she missed? The dagger tip quivered as a shiver raced through her body.
She swallowed, her throat dry. "I don't think I can do this."
"Concentrate, Jae. It's all muscle memory." Daniel's voice was steady, calming.
Fear still gripped her. Made her freeze. The only way she knew to overcome the fear was to let another emotion take over. She focused on one of her many Blood Moon talents: the ability to feel other people's emotions. Daniel was near enough that she could sense his feelings, so she made eye contact with him, and, like an open window ushers in a breeze, her brother's emotions swept over her, knocked on the door of her being, and begged to be let in.
She searched his most prominent feelings. As always, Daniel exuded confidence. Jayden reached with her talent for that feeling and latched on. Confidence seeped into her like rainfall on thirsty ground. Became hers.
Filled with her brother's calm strength, she turned her attention back to the apple on Geoffrey's head. Her muscles relaxed. The heavy weight on her chest lifted. She could breathe.
"Atta girl." Daniel's praise warmed her.
The confidence in her swelled, mirroring Daniel's. With renewed determination, she gripped the dagger's hilt. Aimed. Her gaze slipped, and she looked right into Geoffrey's eyes. His permanent smile never wavered even as he faced her, tied to the trunk of a slim apple tree to keep him from falling over or moving. Somehow he managed to keep the fruit on his head. Her heart pounded. Everything started to spin. Blood. She saw blood. Felt it between her fingers. She squeezed her eyes shut. It wasn't real.
"Jayden, stay with me. You have to get over this." Daniel's calm voice cut through the fear.
She clung to his emotions. He didn't know what she'd seen behind the smithy with their father, and she didn't want him to find out.
He leaned closer and whispered, "Come on. I've got two silver coins riding on this shot."
What? She tore her gaze from Geoffrey and the fear vanished. She glanced left where her other three brothers leaned against trees in the cool shade. "Who bet against me?"
Kyle rolled the piece of straw he was chewing to the corner of his mouth. "I did. You choke every time you have to throw a knife at something with ... eyes." He motioned to Geoffrey. "It's a scarecrow, Jae. And you're hesitating like we're asking you to kill the neighbor's cat."
Luc and Nic chuckled. Their emotions flooded her and made her want to laugh, too. She turned off her talent so she wouldn't be burdened with more than she could handle. Like a candle being snuffed, their feelings left her.
Kyle pushed off the tree and walked toward the scarecrow. "You're too much of a healer to harm anything. Living or otherwise." He patted the scarecrow's shoulder. Then his expression grew serious. "But we won't always be there to protect you."
"He's right." Nic sheathed the knife he'd been sharpening. "In two weeks it'll just be you and Ryan. It's crazy really — you can somehow stick that knife into an apple core as it spins through the air, but asking you to take out a rabbit —"
"Enough." Daniel's strong voice quieted Nic. He gripped Jayden's shoulders and turned her back toward the tree and Geoffrey. "If it's a wolf after your sheep or a fox after your chickens, it won't stop until you take care of it. And with Ryan working at the smithy all day, well, Kyle's right — you've got learn to kill something. Something with eyes."
They were right. And lately the wolves had been braver.
"So ..." Kyle plucked the apple off of Geoffrey's head, took a bite, and placed it back. "Prove me wrong. Hit the mark."
"You can do this, Jayden. Remember, the dagger is an extension of your hand." Daniel's smooth voice willed her to concentrate.
Feel the weight of the dagger.
Let it become a part of her.
Geoffrey's eyes, two black circles, stared back at her. He wasn't alive, yet the thought of throwing a knife at him brought the fear. Why? It couldn't be his fear that flooded her — he wasn't real. It didn't make sense. She sighed. If only a storm were coming. Sensing one always calmed her.
"You won't miss if you just concentrate." Daniel squeezed her shoulder.
Kyle stuck out his hand and shot Jayden a devious grin. "You might as well pay up, Daniel. She doesn't have the guts."
Heat flared in her chest and she glared at Kyle. "No guts?"
His smile showed off his white teeth. "That's right. You're a —"
"Don't say it."
"— chicken. A gutless chicken."
She gripped the weapon tighter. Kyle certainly knew how to fan her temper. No guts? She had plenty of guts. "And I suppose everyone has forgotten who beat you in the sparring match every morning this week? Or who bested the champion swordsman yesterday? He was twice my size, and I delivered the fatal blow."
Nic's eyebrows shot up. "False fatal blow. It was a sporting match, Jayden."
"Yes." Daniel steered her to face Geoffrey. "Pretend this is a sparring match, sister. You know we Jorah boys and our sister, Hidden Dagger, never lose." He patted her shoulder. "This time, it's all up to you, and there's a lot of money at stake."
Sparring match. Her emotions never got in the way while she was sparring because she never meant real harm. The only time fear suffocated her was while hunting. And now with poor Geoff. She stared at the scarecrow and his stupid smile.
"If Geoffrey was alive, he'd be laughing at you." Kyle's voice taunted.
He was right. Jayden gripped her dagger tighter and glanced over her shoulder at Daniel's encouraging expression. Then she opened her talent. Confidence welled up inside Daniel and poured into her. Banished the fear. A smile tugged the corner of Jayden's mouth as she faced the lifeless scarecrow. Kyle had bet wrong.
She let the dagger fly. It sailed toward the tree, end over end, and pierced the apple's center. Then she reached up her sleeve and pulled out one of her knives. The worn handle felt familiar in her hands. She stepped forward two paces. Her eyes locked with Geoffrey's and then she let the knife fly. The scarecrow's head snapped back as the blade nailed him to the trunk. The handle quivered between its eyes.
Cheers struck up around her and her brothers' hands slapped her back. Jayden's heart beat fast. Had she really done that?
Kyle nudged her arm. "Now it's Geoffrey who has no guts. You burst his head open."
Hay spilled out from the hole her knife had made. It turned red. Blood oozed down the scarecrow's face. Gushed between her fingers, hot and sticky. She'd hurt him. Another person. Fear flooded her. No. She squeezed her eyes shut. This wasn't real. He wasn't alive.
Daniel patted her shoulder, and Nic and Luc appeared in front of her, clapping. She thought they were clapping, but their hands blurred. All of her brothers' voices slurred. She sank to her knees. Why was she so dizzy?
She was six again behind the smithy with her father. He'd just treated a sick horse and they were headed home.
A smile formed on his mouth. "You did wonderful today, calming that horse. I don't know anyone who can calm injured animals like you can."
As quickly as it had sprouted, her father's smile melted, and he pushed her behind him. He took three steps forward, blocking her view. She looked around his tall form and saw two young men. One lay on the ground, and the other held a knife. Blood dripped off its blade and fell onto the dirt.
The drip always echoed in her memory, like a heavy raindrop pelting dry soil.
Her father yelled something, and the young man dropped his knife and bolted. Then Jayden's father rushed to the young man on the ground. His side was sliced open, blood gushed from the deep wound.
Jayden pressed her hands to her mouth. Her stomach roiled.
Her father's face blocked her view. "I have to try and help him, Jayden. Can you be strong?"
Her father knelt next to the fallen man. "Jayden, come here."
She rushed to her father's side and looked into the man's eyes. They were wide, the whites around them clearly visible, like a frightened horse's.
Her father's hands engulfed hers. "Jayden, look at me."
She met his gaze, choked back tears, and opened her talent. Her father's emotions filled her. Calm. Peace. Confidence. These she grasped on to. They made her tears subside.
Her father's eyebrows pulled together, as if he was about to ask her a hard question. "He needs your help. Can you do this?"
She knelt near the injured man. "Yes."
"That's my girl. Now, press here. Hard as you can." He placed her hands on the wound. The man cried out. Jayden pulled back, but her father's hands, on top of hers, showed her what she needed to do, kept her steady. "You can do this."
She bit her lip and pushed. Warm liquid gushed through her fingers. Stained them red. So much red. Her stomach lurched. Fear started to push away the confidence she tried to hang on to — the injured man's fear. Jayden breathed in. Her father was talking to the young man, but she tuned it out. Instead, she stared at her father's calm features and embraced his emotions just like she did when she helped him tend an injured animal. She let her father's emotions fill her while she willed the young man to calm down. Beneath her hands, the young man relaxed.
Jayden's father pulled out his supplies, and then he cleaned the area and stitched the wound. At last, he moved her hands. "Thank you, Jayden. You did beautifully."
A sudden lightness flooded her. It matched her father's relief. She knelt back with her legs folded beneath her and noticed the bloodstained knife lying on the ground a few paces away. Dark liquid on the blade glistened in the setting sun's orange light. She picked it up.
Her ears tingled. That was a strange sensation. Then fear jolted her heart and leaked into her very being. She looked up. The man stared at her, terror clutching his heart, squeezing hers along with it. She realized her talent was latching onto his emotions and she turned it off. Still the man stared at the knife with his eyes wide. The skin behind her ears tingled again, and fear blossomed in her heart. It wasn't her fear — it was his. How was that possible?
The tingling sensation behind her ears intensified, and her talent began to open like a thief trying to pry open a locked door. No. She squeezed her eyes shut and pushed against the unwanted fear. She was losing control. Her heart thudded and her palms broke out in sweat. Everything in her willed the door of her talent to remain closed, but it opened, almost like the door handle slipped through her fingers. The man's fear burst into her, made her want to scream. How had someone else controlled her talent?
"Jayden! No!" Her father stole the weapon from her grasp, wrapped it in a cloth, and put it behind his bag. "Those are dangerous."
Her talent turned off like a door slamming shut. Her ears stopped tingling. She sat on the ground, dazed, while the blacksmith helped her father load the young man into the back of the wagon to take him to the town physician. Then her father returned to her.
While he washed off her hands with one of his clean cloths, his kind eyes searched her face. "You were brave today, daughter."
A smile warmed her for the first time since the man's fear had chilled her. "Thank you."
"You will make a fine wise woman." His eyes crinkled in the corners. "Many people would not be able to do what you did today."
She nodded. Tending a wounded human had been a little different than tending an injured animal, but she'd been able to calm him too. Until the knife.
A shudder rocked her body. "Why would someone hurt him, Father?"
He nodded toward the reddened cloth that held the knife inside. "Robbers. They carry weapons like that. They hurt people because of their greed. Blades can do more than harm, though. They can kill. You'll understand that after today, won't you?"
Yes. She understood. The blade had evoked fear in that man. He thought she was going to hurt him, and that was how afraid it had made him. She'd never hurt so much as a grasshopper.
Her father sighed and his shoulders sagged. "I'm sorry you had to witness that."
She touched his hand. "I'm not. I'm going to become a wise woman someday and tend to the sick."
A smile tugged her father's lips. But he stared at his empty hands. The blade had obviously scared him too. Why? Were they so powerful? Jayden straightened her back. Blades would not cripple her with fear. And she'd learn to defend herself if anyone ever came after her with one.
"You okay, Jayden?" Luc's voice brought her out of her memory.
She put on a smile and nodded. Sure, she could defend herself unless she meant to do harm. Then fear flooded her and she lost control of her talent. The only reason any of her hunts had been successful was because she'd channeled the calm emotions from her father or Daniel. What would happen when they weren't there? Could Ryan's emotions steady her? Not if he wasn't there. Her brothers were right. She'd have to get over this — before the wedding. With the betrothal ceremony in two days, and the following twelve dedicated to every pre-wedding custom under the sun, that didn't leave much time.
"I want to try again."
Daniel squeezed her shoulder. "You did great, okay? We'll try again tomorrow. Right now we'd better head back before Mother and Father get home from town. I'll go ahead and hide our weapons." Daniel walked over to the tree, pulled Jayden's knife from Geoffrey's head and dagger from the apple, and cut the scarecrow's bindings. "Kyle, you might want stitch him up and get him back in the field."
Nic gently smacked Kyle's arm. "Because you're the one that made her mad enough to kill him."
Jayden sighed as she sank to the ground with an apple tree at her back. The weight in her pocket tapped her leg, took her thoughts from one worry to another. She reached in and pulled out the small object that reminded her how her life was about to change.
The smooth stone, black and red like a smoldering ember, rested in her palm. She traced the surface with her finger, searching for rough spots — anything that could catch on Ryan's clothes or scrape his skin. Hard to believe he'd wear this stone close to his heart in just two days. Jayden breathed deep as jitters scurried through her chest — again.
Was she really ready for this? To leave her family?
Kyle joined her with his back against the same tree. He took another bite out of the apple she'd skewered. How he could eat the under-ripe, misshapen fruit she had no idea. But it wasn't like the apples would likely be any better this year. Better get used to it. All the crops seemed to be suffering from drought or pests. She'd even overheard Norm Grotter say he'd spotted a black leather vine choking the life out of a cherry tree with its poisonous sap. Then again, Norm knew how to tell a story. Why not embellish details with an extinct vine known for disappearing back into the ground after it killed a plant?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Scarlet Moon"
Copyright © 2016 S.D. Grimm.
Excerpted by permission of Gilead Publishing.
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
Chapter 1: Shadows of Men,
Chapter 2: Stone Wolf,
Chapter 3: Reluctant Trust,
Chapter 4: Not Alone,
Chapter 5: Secret Exit,
Chapter 6: Similar Scars,
Chapter 7: Whispers in the Wind,
Chapter 8: Broken Promises,
Chapter 9: Shred of Hope,
Chapter 10: Cat or Mouse,
Chapter 11: Unwanted Weapons,
Chapter 12: Miracle Blood,
Chapter 13: Tangible Proof,
Chapter 14: Guard Dog in the Woods,
Chapter 15: Keep Fighting,
Chapter 16: Unwritten Destiny,
Chapter 17: Worth Keeping,
Chapter 18: Taste of Power,
Chapter 19: A New Sword,
Chapter 20: Hidden Weakness,
Chapter 21: Dark Blood,
Chapter 22: Sticks and Stones,
Chapter 23: The Way a Storm Feels,
Chapter 24: Pulled Together,
Chapter 25: Hold On,
Chapter 26: Fated Twice,
Chapter 27: Clouded Judgment,
Chapter 28: Trusting Instincts,
Chapter 29: Three Sisters,
Chapter 30: Thick, Black Poison,
Chapter 31: Unanswered Questions,
Chapter 32: Hidden Dagger,
Chapter 33: Forgotten Answers,
Chapter 34: Color of Blood,
Chapter 35: A New Beginning,
Chapter 36: A Fitting Departure,
Chapter 37: The Creator's Song,
Chapter 38: Casualties of Revenge,
Chapter 39: Secret Things,
Chapter 40: Almost Too Quiet,
Chapter 41: A Brave Face,
Chapter 42: Unexpected Consequences,
Chapter 43: Sharp Tongue,
Chapter 44: Eye of the Beholder,
Chapter 45: The Weight of a Sword,
Chapter 46: Mistakes,
Chapter 47: Power in Pain,
Chapter 48: Very Good Friends,
Chapter 49: Yellow Moon,
Chapter 50: Uneven Ground,
Chapter 51: Tainted,
Chapter 52: Weakness,
Chapter 53: No More,
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