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The Dusklight Oath - Paperback 5x8

The Dusklight Oath - Paperback 5x8

The Fifth Accord 1

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The price of power is etched in blood.

In a world of shadowy politics and treacherous alliances, Joumina, the ambitious high matron of Ilor'Zauhune, recognizes the potential of Nothrin, a squire, as the key to restoring her waning influence.

Unbeknownst to Joumina, Nothrin's mother, Yilness, harbors an ancient vendetta and secretly works to dismantle Joumina's reign.

As Nothrin pursues his destiny as a knight of the Dark Goddess, he becomes entangled in the schemes of both Joumina and his mother, blurring the lines between friend and foe. In this captivating dark fantasy, Nothrin must navigate the treacherous path of ambition and vengeance while confronting the cost of his own desires.

Will Nothrin conquer the Dark, or will he be consumed by its alluring embrace? Witness the relentless clash between ambition and vengeance in this captivating dark epic fantasy.

The Dusklight Oath is the first book in the Fifth Accord series. Each book will focus on a one of five high houses and build on each other to an inevitable conclusion... civil war.


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Nothrin plunged fist-first into the fighting pit’s black gravel. His knuckles stung as the kith sliced his skin. He coughed through the dust cloud, spat out gray slime, and sat back on his heels. Sweat nipped at the scrapes on his face. He still gripped his training spear in his right hand. Half-buried, it snaked through the black sand.

Stand up! 

Trembling legs refused to raise him. Arms hung burning and exhausted at his sides. His gaze wandered up the crater wall to the great peaks cutting through thickening clouds.

Stand up! By the goddess!
Startling heat braced his head and tumbled through his shoulders. He shook his head to clear the fog.
Stand up!
Was that the goddess speaking to him? Or was it just his own voice?
The voice had been with him since childhood. At times, he’d thought it the goddess, and at others his own. Either way, it chided him for not pushing himself further.

Across from him, only a spear’s length away, knelt his opponent, Velin Lor’Zashtrin. He spat to his left and grinned at Nothrin through blood-lined teeth, stark white and scarlet against charcoal-gray skin. His cut lip oozed blood, and a purple bruise threatened to swell his left eye shut. Disheveled silver-black hairs crossed his face, pried loose from their bright silver rings where Nothrin’s spear had glanced his head. The sides of his head glistened with sweat. Velin wore no tunic, and he trod barefoot upon the fighting pit’s fabled gravel, just as a Mornae should. The goddess had protected him as a favored son by raising a sheath of protective shadows about him. He bore bruises and scratches thanks to Nothrin. Though only thirty, Velin looked like a Mornae warrior of old—everything Nothrin wanted to be.
Nothrin, head bowed respectfully, glanced at the row of instructors standing on the northeastern side of the pit.
Master Vesh, chief instructor, frowned at him. “When will you learn, Nothrin Ilor’Zauhune, not to fight like a brute, but with the grace of your ancestors?”
Nothrin flushed hard with embarrassment.
“Still,” Master Vesh conceded, “it was effective. You’re quite adept with the bludgeoning side of the spear. Let us hope you learn to pierce and slash just as well.”
Marks on the training spear’s head designated the sharp edge, the blunt side, and the tip, of course. Then there was the butt. Even the haft served as a weapon. Nothrin had never held a true spear, though.
Master Vesh and the other instructors turned to confer on this match’s winner as the other aspirants, all young men between twenty and forty years old, snickered. They sat on both sides of the instructors upon stepped seating under the roofed colonnade. A wall of kith ten feet tall ran along the fighting pit’s interior. It bore the wounds of a dozen cycles of fighting. The boys sitting on the wall kept their legs crossed so as not to enter the temple of war.
Priestesses had their temple with its magnificent spire grasping an enormous globe, a sign of the goddess. Boys like him had the temple of the instruction hall and its pit, where the goddess waged war in their hearts and minds. Knights had the temple of the battlefield, though the days of such battles were long gone. In his day, men fought with ledgers and accounts over the price of flax or the quality of fleece, or they competed to craft the most praiseworthy brews and vintages. 
Nothrin snarled softly. He intended to make his time in the pit count for more than that bleak future.
The drillmasters should have called a draw after three matches each, but neither boy had pulled ahead to win by two matches in a row. Master Vesh seemed determined to have a victor, though, and Nothrin agreed. He needed to show them all—especially Velin—that he belonged in Isilayne, the ancient and true academy. For three years they’d trained and fought each other, whittling down the candidates until only a quarter of them remained. There had been no logic to the fights. They randomly pitted boys against each other, sometimes more than once in a day. The instructors never explained their reasoning.
Now they turned, faces stern, and Master Vesh spoke.
“Match to Nothrin,” he said, surprising everyone. “One more time. Settle it!”
The boys in the stands sighed and whispers followed.
Anger twisted Nothrin’s gut. They disrespected the goddess with their wagers.
The harsh black sand, ground down by the ages, drinking the blood of knights for thousands of years, pricked his legs, but also warmed them—a reminder of his duty to the goddess. Devotion surged through him, reinvigorating his tired limbs.
Nothrin lurched to his feet, helped by his blunted training spear. Velin stood as well, a fierce grimace on his face as he struggled to rise. They each moved to their corners. Nothrin set his stance and held his spear up, pointing it toward the largest star of the Chalice constellation. His skin prickled, expecting ridicule from the boys in the stands, but none came this time. Master Vesh’s last warning reigned them in.
He bent backward, extending his body and spear toward the chief star of Yalen, the Fist. Then he arched around to the right, to Xel, chief star of the Crown constellation. He repeated the movement four more times. Ritual complete, he turned to his opponent and brought his spear to the starting position.
Velin’s lips trembled with amusement, but he didn’t laugh at Nothrin’s odd display. Instead, he brought his spear to the same position.
Nothrin didn’t care what the other boys thought of his devotion. If he was to fight such a Mornae as Velin, whose lineage was the most illustrious of all the candidates, he would honor the goddess first through her court of stars. He’d always felt the ritual appropriate. Knights of old performed the movement before battle, though he couldn’t recall where he’d heard it.
At the count of ten breaths, the match began. They staggered and shuffled through the thick sand. Neither wanted to strike first. Their feet dragged, spearheads bobbing over the sand. Nothrin’s legs burned. He needed to win quickly.
Velin challenged first. Their spears tapped and smacked each other in a flurry of strikes. Nothrin lunged at Velin, hoping to catch him with his longer reach, but Velin slipped away. Dust kicked up as his feet made lazy trenches in the sand. He wasn’t gliding over it like he had in the first few matches. Even a Zashtrin lost his natural grace when exhausted.
Power never lasts, Nothrin’s mother had taught him.
Sweat filled Nothrin’s right eye, and his eyelid fluttered at the sting. Velin’s spear came straight at his midriff. Nothrin twisted away, and the spearhead caught his tunic, sticking in a fold of cloth. With his own spear, Nothrin pushed as hard as he could against the haft of Velin’s spear. Velin fell forward, dragging Nothrin with him, and they both tumbled to the ground. Nothrin’s cheek slid across the cutting grit, and he puffed out a mouthful of air. Neither stirred.
“No point,” Master Vesh said, shaking his head.
Nothrin sat up, shook the sand from his hair, and checked his tunic. The thrust had ripped the weave.
Velin rolled over and lay still, breathing hard and coughing.
“That was sloppy,” Master Vesh admonished them.
“We’re exhausted, Master,” Velin said, sitting up and holding his side.
“Do you wish to yield to Nothrin Ilor’Zauhune?” Master Vesh asked, stressing Nothrin’s house name with amusement.
Nothrin rolled to his feet, spear in hand.
Velin did the same and then paced back and forth. “It would certainly be the end of the cycles if a Zashtrin yielded to a Zauhune.”
He flicked sand at Nothrin with the butt of his spear.
Vesh shot a silencing glance around the atrium. Boys stifled their laughter under the shadowed colonnade.
Nothrin nodded and glared at Velin. He paced in the black sand, kicking it up with tired steps. Velin only smiled in response. There didn’t appear to be any hatred in him for an upstart boy from the lowest tier of an inferior house. 
Velin motioned to Nothrin’s corner. 
“I’ll wait,” he said, and gazed up at the stars.
Nothrin nodded, grateful for the respect.
They shook out their limbs and returned to their corners. As he’d promised, Velin waited for Nothrin to perform his ritual of saluting the stars.
As soon as Nothrin’s spearhead reached its starting position, Velin erupted in a flash of speed and power. Nothrin raised his spear to defend himself, and cracking wood echoed in the gallery and into the sky above. Velin lunged again with a strength Nothrin had believed was exhausted. He was using the Dark. It was the only explanation Nothrin could muster.
The next strike of their spears held the distinct sound of shattering wood. They locked together, Nothrin pushing on Velin’s shorter, stouter frame with what little strength he had left. A crack ran down the haft of Nothrin’s spear. His grip shifted, and he stifled a cry as a long splinter dug into his skin and sank into his palm.
“Ironwood is better!” Velin hissed through his still bloody teeth. Red-tinged saliva sputtered from his lips with each breath. His eyes bulged at Nothrin, and the muscles of his shoulders and arms rippled and trembled. Neither boy pushed away. One of them would surely strike at the separation, and if they did, Nothrin would have to continue with a cracked spear. The boys would surely laugh, then.
“You cheated,” Nothrin said under his breath.
Velin’s face hardened. “Nothing forbids it. You could have done the same.”
He couldn’t have because he didn’t know the Dark like Velin did. That power eluded him.
“Is it a stalemate, then?” the drillmaster asked.
Both boys dug in hard, their feet sliding backward in the black sand as they descended to their knees.
“Draw, Nothrin!” Velin said through ragged breaths. “By the goddess, do not be a fool!”
Nothrin grunted with the effort. A Zashtrin wouldn’t invoke the goddess falsely. It was a truth he could not deny. If there was any honor left in Vaidolin, it lived in the fifth high house and its blood houses.
The spear’s haft continued to splinter, the fracture expanding and cutting into his other hand. A broken spear would give the match to Velin.
Nothrin reduced his pressure on the spear, but kept his gaze fixed on Velin. 
“Draw, Master,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Draw, Master,” Velin said, pushing away and sitting back on his heels. He stretched his cramped hands and looked up to the sky, gulping in air.
“Well done, Nothrin Ilor’Zauhune and Velin Lor’Zashtrin,” Master Vesh said. “An excellent lesson in tenacity.” He gazed around the pit, meeting the aspirants’ gazes. “You would all do well to model their devotion.”
The other boys tapped their spears’ butts on the stone floor of the seating area.
Master Vesh raised a hand to silence them all. 
“The trials have ended,” he said. “We will post the candidate roster in five days. Ilor’Vakayne invites the candidates to a feast in the Velkamas Commons to celebrate the goddess’s last dawning before winter.” He murmured something under his breath and then held out his hands palms up. “The goddess and the spear are one.”
The boys mimicked the drillmaster’s stance and responded, “The spear and the goddess are one.”
When the instructors departed, Nothrin pulled a thick splinter from his palm. He pressed on the puncture to stem the blood’s flow. The wound was deep, but the goddess’s power already rose from within him to mend it. His heart swelled with devotion, grateful for her favor.
His friend, Mir, coughed softly at his side. He glanced over Nothrin’s shoulder.
Velin was approaching. 
“You’ve been practicing in secret,” he said. He stood before Nothrin, hand out.
Nothrin gripped Velin’s forearm for a moment, then released him. “I needed moves you hadn’t seen already.” 
“Master Vesh rarely commends anyone.”
Nothrin lifted his chin. He’d not considered Vesh’s words a compliment.
“You think I cheated?” Velin asked.
“The trials should be pure.”
Velin chuckled. “Pure of what? The goddess?”
“They should be fair, then.”
Velin’s brow furrowed. “In what world does a Mornae fight fair? When the goddess dawns, who will deny her?” 
Nothrin had no reply. Velin had quoted a revered knight of legend and was correct. Who indeed?
“She protected you,” Velin said. “I saw it.”
“That was the common favor.”
Velin huffed. “My strikes barely succeeded.”
Again, Nothrin frowned. Was Velin ridiculing him?
They watched boys messing about in the pit, re-enacting their bout. 
“Will you go to the feast?” Velin asked.
“They have not yet posted the names.”
Velin shook his head. “You should attend.”
“I hadn’t thought of going if they named me. I’ve not the proper clothes.”
“All you need is a spear. Even a cracked one.”
Velin’s gaze narrowed as the other boys mimicked Nothrin’s salute to the stellar court.
“Take your spear to Lor’Geldryn’s shop in the Dorgist,” he said. “Lor’Zashtrin will pay for its repair. With a proper haft this time. Tell them to use ironwood.”
Velin’s brows arched as the pantomime of their bout turned crueler. Nothrin swallowed hard as his imitator pretended to drive a spear into Velin’s stand-in. 
Nothrin held his left hand to his chest, palm up, honoring the goddess. It seemed correct. 
Velin’s eyes lowered, but he gave a small nod and honored the goddess as well. He dabbed his bloody lip and winced.
“I didn't mean to strike so hard,” Nothrin said.
Velin grinned. “You always strike hard, Nothrin Ilor’Zauhune. See you at the feast—no, don’t protest. I know they’ll select you. And Mir, as well.”
“Should I shave my locks?” Mir asked with a wink. Brown locks framed his grinning face.
“Of course not,” Velin said. “The acolytes will find them charming.” Velin gave a single nod, and then left them, passing through the arch leading to Velkamas’s main gate.
Nothrin headed for the waterspout and bucket. He had choked on sand and dust the whole bout. His scratched face proved he’d met the pit’s gritty floor often. None of his fights in the latter rounds had been easy victories. He’d had his share of defeats, too.
Mir sidled over to him. “He could have beaten you.”
He was a childhood friend; lankier, but just as tall. The significant difference was the mop of shaggy silver and brown hair. It resisted braiding or coiling, and he wore the brown like a badge of honor. He was of a house related to Nothrin’s mother—distant cousins, she called them. Nothrin and Mir were the only remaining aspirants from Ilor’Zauhune, the second high house, and ruler of Zalkamas, the city occupying the crater’s northwest quarter.
 Nothrin washed his face and cupped handfuls of water into his mouth.
“I heard the crack,” Mir said. “We all did. Strange that, don’t you think? Letting a Zauhune, a nobody Zauhune like you, get a draw?”
Nothrin splashed water on him, but Mir just laughed.
“Well, I’m right,” Mir said, flashing a broad smile at him. “You are a nobody. We both are, while Velin will be the next consort of Ilor’Vakayne or Lor’Kiseyl. I can never keep straight who’s next in their line.”
“He’s not proud like that,” Nothrin said, shaking the water from his hands. He inspected the blisters and scrapes on his palms. “It was better for him to end it well than win by beating my broken spear. And he’ll consort into Vakayne. It’s Zashtrin’s turn.”
“Lucky man!” Mir boomed. His eyes gleamed with joy. “What I’d give!”
Nothrin knew little of his own house’s lines and pecking order, but he knew Ilor’Vakayne’s intimately. Vakayne and its three blood houses—Kiseyl, Lauxyn, and Zashtrin—had consorted between each other for fifteen cycles, and despite the Fall, they continued to produce fine Mornae. Silver charms representing each of the four houses hung from Velin’s cord belt. Signifying the lineages held by his blood, they were stark reminders of what the Mornae had once been. 
Nothrin’s cord held no charms. As the descendant of returning colonists, none of his bloodlines held enough importance. He felt a kinship with Vakayne and its bloodhouses more than with his own house.
“What would you give, Mir?” he asked cruelly. Mir never exerted himself in the activities that mattered most, not like Nothrin did. It was a wonder he’d survived the trials.
Mir’s joy paused, a shadow passing over his face.
“Come, let’s go home,” Nothrin said, regretting the barb. “We’ll take the North Road. We’ll see pretty acolytes.”
Mir grinned again and said, “What I wouldn’t give!” 
Nothrin shook his head, and they set out. They walked the long, sloped road leading north, downward toward the bridge leading to Zalkamas, a sprawling, dense hive of white-walled estates, a maze of streets and alleys. At the city’s heart, the ancient black spires jutted up from the white stone layers of Ilor’Zauhune Citadel, brooding over it all.


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