First Read Of King Of Bones
King Of Bones is the first book in the new Bonebreaker Trilogy, which is the second trilogy in the Battleborn Series. You can start the series here, but it's best to start with the first book of the series, Fireborn.
Hey, dark epic fantasy fanatics! Just like I've done over the past three months, each time I release a new book, it's time to share the first chapter.
On August 1st, King Of Bones will be released. It's the first book in the Bonebreaker Trilogy, what happens after the events in the Battleborn Trilogy.
Without further adieu, let's get into the full first chapter of the new book.
Thanks for reading!
King Of Bones, Chapter 1
1 - Gaeron
“It’s not as high as the last time she sent us here,” Drulf said, shading his eyes with a free hand and looking skyward.
“True. But it will still be a miserable day for the Bound Boys.” Gaeron slapped his leg with the twitch, used to control sadeons. He held the device for the young boy assigned the duty of driving the small sadeon pulling a cart of tools to the planting field. Chit, the Bound Boy, had grown bored, and the animal, still in training itself, was distracted without the lead of its human master. Gaeron had taken the twitch and the lead to get the animal back under control.
“The heat toughens them,” Chali Danos said from Gaeron’s other side.
Gaeron squinted with a playful sneer at the Chaos Bender, the most powerful mage in Olma-Ka. “Again, why are you accompanying us? I know we haven’t been Freed for long, but considering the task, I think we can accomplish it without the help of a Freed woman.”
“Your Mark is still healing,” Chali said, her lips crooking in a smile she failed to suppress. “So, does anyone really consider you Freed yet? It’s barely scabbed, isn’t that the truth?”
Chali enjoyed teasing both him and Drulf even now that both had joined the ranks of Olmarian Freed men.
When he didn’t bite, she puffed out her cheeks, allowing her thick lips to flap. “Fine. Gaeron One-Mark Andel, have it your way.” A devilish expression flashed across her smooth features. “The truth is, the Paramount doesn’t trust your abilities.”
Gaeron waited, but nothing more followed. “Didn’t trust our abilities to do what?”
Drulf stumbled. “Seriously, Chali?”
“Do I look like I’m in the joking mood, Drulf Bural? I’m quite serious.”
Drulf’s lips extended as if he was whistling, just without sound. “But… we… where did we go wrong? Was it that time we tied Onvir to the waypole? That was a joke, I swear. Mostly Gaeron’s idea.”
“Wow,” Gaeron said. “You gave me up before she even asked for a name.”
“She would have, and probably would have tortured us to get the information.”
“What makes you think I would ever lower myself to use torture?” Chali no longer bothered to hide her humor. “Plus, that’s an insult to my skills with bending Chaos.”
“No one is questioning your ability or need to torture,” Gaeron said, giving the empty air an idle snap of his twitch. “For as long as I remember, you’ve been torturing me. But no, why are you supervising us? Were you being serious? The Paramount truly doesn’t trust us to watch over a handful of Bound Boys harvesting?”
“Why would she?”
“Have we ever disappointed her?”
The twinkle of trouble sparkled in Chali’s eyes. “When have you not, Bonebreaker?”
Drulf said, “You’re just messing around with us. I’m sure of it.”
Chali spread her arms. “Yet, here I stand. Come on, Drulf. Don’t tell me hanging around Gaeron has wiped away the brains the gods gave you.”
A hesitant silence passed. They’d excelled in the moon cycles since playing an important part in liberating the village from Gaeron’s brother after he conquered it and named himself its first male Paramount. Even before, they had succeeded in each of their missions. Missions into the Dark Sands. Missions to the Bay of Bones. Missions in the city of the Walled Ones. They had never not done exactly what the Paramount wanted or the Olmarian people needed.
As a result, the Paramount declared they would be Freed. The entire village, still shocked by Nevilan’s crimes against them, witnessed his Freeing. Alongside Drulf, the pair shed the metal band restricting their cocks and their previous status as Bound Boys. They were Freed men.
But since then, the missions stopped. Not just for the two, but for all. The Paramount invested all resources in accelerating the trench and stockade project encircling Olma-Ka. No more raids on the Steelborn caravans. No more missions into cities beyond the desert. Even the patrols to ensure bands of Scorpion Riders weren’t lurking in the desert, searching for victims to rob, had stopped. Every ounce of Olmarian effort, every drop of their communal sweat, went to expanding the trench so they could begin work on the stockade wall. The Paramount excused no one from the mundane duties of ensuring the village was never again susceptible to what Nevilan had put them through.
Gaeron understood all that. Even though he wasn’t excited about supervising agricultural tasks when he could lug around half a wall section by himself, he would do whatever Nydera Alethero needed of him. He was blood in the sand, the type of person who dedicated themself to sacrificing for others before their own interests, and would always follow his Paramount.
Determined that Chali was screwing with them, he tapped Drulf on the arm and said, “She misses us, since she’s always busy with the old hags.”
“Old hags, are they?” Chali put her hands on her slender hips. “Should I tell them this, or are you brave enough to tell them yourself now that you’re Freed? I wonder what those who have been Freed since your mother was wiping your ass would say about your opinion. What do you think, Drulf?”
“I’m staying out of it… well, as long as you were just joking about the Paramount.”
Her hands slipped from her waist, slapping against her legs. “Drulf, you have got to get better at reading women or no one will ever take you to the Bed of Petals.”
“Pffft, I’ve got plenty of interested women.”
“Who?” Gaeron said at the same time as Chali.
“I’m not telling. But I will say this, some of them are even warriors.”
“Well, if being Olma-Ka’s only paladin doesn’t work for you, think about becoming a bard. You’re a magnificent storyteller.” Chali nudged Gaeron with an elbow. When he didn’t respond, she said, “Hey?”
Chali’s words hung on the periphery. Something moved in the distance. He didn’t have to ask if they were armed. That was a given. Olmarians, especially the Freed, bore arms at all times.
“Skinless,” he whispered.
Chali’s hand slapped against her side. As a Chaos Bender, she couldn’t draw an edged weapon. Even if she could, weapons weren’t her greatest threat. Her magic was. Still, far from the village and with only the three of them in the entire detail being experienced fighters, she might have to call on her whip.
Drulf wore his shortsword.
“Where?” Chali asked, stepping beside him.
The big Buk Toh was there too. “I don’t see anything, Gaeron.”
Gaeron pointed west, beyond the planting fields, off where the desert rolled, rose and sank, toward the Sweet Waters River.
Drulf craned his neck forward. “Nope. Still nothing.”
“We need to call in the Bound Boys,” Chali said, her voice flat, free of the levity of moments before.
“Chit,” Gaeron called out, waving the boy over.
At fifteen, Chit should be closer to becoming Freed, but he was too lazy. Gaeron doubted he ever would become Freed. A true shame, considering how gifted the boy was. That laziness showed on his face as he approached, taking too long to do so.
Gaeron’s knuckles cracked as he balled his fist. “Gather the Bound Boys and take them back into the village.”
“Do it,” Chali said, stepping forward.
Chit glanced at the Freed woman, nodded slowly, and turned.
Before he called to the crew, Gaeron grabbed his shoulder more roughly than required, but enough to knock the boy’s attitude down. “And do so quietly. Unless this field is where you want to die. Skinless come. Tell the Paramount.”
The shocked face he wore was enough to tell Gaeron he’d gotten the Bound Boy’s attention. Gaeron pushed past him, striding into the field. Chali and Drulf flanked him as they moved through the mature crop.
“How many did you see?” Chali asked.
“Couldn’t tell. More than one, less than a squad,” Gaeron said.
“Ah, so, there’s no guarantee we’ll die before the midday meal,” Drulf said with forced joviality.
“I’ve seen you fight. You still might.” Gaeron pulled his sword free, ready in case the Skinless he’d spotted were an advance party for a larger force hidden in the tall wheat.
West of the fields, exposed in the open desert, the three approached warily. Gaeron glanced back toward Olma-Ka. No one sprinting from tent to tent. No shouts from the southwest watchtower, carrying to the other towers encircling the village. It was another normal day in the lives of nearly half a thousand Olmarians.
“He’ll do what he’s supposed to,” Chali said, not unkindly. “Chit’s lazy but not stupid.”
“We’ll see.” They paused below the crest of a dune. Gaeron looked south to the grazing fields. A small flock of sheep formed a tight circle on the far edge. Whoever tended them was out of sight, probably asleep in the grass, oblivious to the threat not too far away. Looking at Chali, he asked, “They should be on the other side of this rise. Do you want to hang back?”
“You only saw a handful, right?”
“Yes. But I could be wrong.”
“I’m not taking chances.”
“Why are they here again?” Drulf said, not really asking. “We haven’t seen them since…”
“Since the Dark Sands,” Chali finished.
Gaeron squeezed the grip of his sword. “I had hoped to never see them again.”
“Aye, Bonebreaker. Me too.” Chali closed her eyes as if sensing something in the air. “But we all knew our business with them didn’t end the day they stopped chasing us. It didn’t stop when Nydera took an army of our people into the Black Palace, only to come home with a handful of survivors.” Her shoulders slumped. “We may never finish this business with the Skinless.”
Gaeron hefted his sword. “Let’s put an end to this party, then. What do you say?”
Chali already held her whip, coiled and ready to unleash. “I’ve been wondering if Chit’s laziness has been rubbing off on you. Let’s go. Carefully.”
“Shouldn’t you prepare something?” Drulf asked her.
“A spell of some sort.”
Chali cocked her head. “You doubt me so, Buk Toh. What makes you think I haven’t?”
He looked away, toward the crest of the dune and the unseen enemy beyond. “Sorry, Chali. I’m just nervous. I don’t like being this far away from the village if there really are more of them. Just us and some Skinless. Not an enticing prospect.”
“We went into the Dark Sands and fought them three times. Fought a golem. Got chased by an army of Skinless. I’m sure we can handle a lost party of bones.” Gaeron crouched and moved up the dune. He stopped when he sensed neither of the pair following. “Are you coming?”
“We thought the bloodlust filled you. I wanted to see how that was going to end,” Chali said with a quiet laugh that somehow still sounded like a bird’s song.
“Likely with him on the wrong end of a bone spear,” Drulf snorted and crept up the dune beside Gaeron.
Chali joined, and the three peeked over the crest.
Below, five Skinless advanced to the two dunes, half a mile apart. Two of the five remained in the middle of the shallow valley, acting as runners. Bone jaws fell open and snapped shut as if the skeletons were talking to one another. Over the distance, any messages the skeletons shared failed to reach the human’s ears.
One of the pair of central skeletons gestured to the dune to the south, a bony finger extended, bent as if it had been broken in life. The skeleton on that dune waved with crossed daggers in the air, a clear signal. The skeleton on the northern dune copied the gesture. The two on the periphery slunk down the dunes, toward Olma-Ka.
Gaeron started to come out of his crouch, ready to take the one to the north. Chali’s firm hand stopped him. “No. Wait.”
“They’re just scouts.”
“How do you know?” Drulf asked.
Chali tipped the handle of her whip toward the one directing the group. “Would you leave your leader as an easy target, like they’re doing? There are no reinforcements. We kill that one and the party will scramble.”
“Others could be hiding behind that.” Gaeron tipped the flat of his hand at the rolling dunes further west, hiding the slope of desert slanting toward the Sweet Waters River.
“And we’ll have killed him by the time they reach us. The distance is too great. No.” Chali tipped the whip again. “That’s a scouting party. No doubt.”
“Then we need to make sure they don’t return word of our defenses to whoever sent them,” Gaeron said.
“We know where they came from.” Drulf pushed the tip of his blade into the sand, lifting a knee, readying to charge at Chali’s command.
“Let’s see if we can make quick work of them, and then get back to the village to inform Nydera.” Chali bounced on her toes. “Let’s move to the northern dune and push them south. Worst case, we’ll have to chase them as far toward the Bay of Bones as we can before we have to return.”
“Well then, let’s destroy them before we have to worry about that,” Gaeron said.
Chali tipped her head and moved down the dune, using it for cover. They could make it most of the way to the northern dune behind this obstacle. As long as the skeletons hadn’t pushed too far forward, the three would remain out of sight.
When they reached the channel between dunes, Chali dropped to her stomach, waving around her back with a sharp swatting motion. Gaeron and Drulf collapsed. The sand was warm under the rays of the sun.
“What is it?” Gaeron asked.
“The bastard is standing atop the dune,” Chali said, rolling over. Bloodlust heated her usually smooth, calming tone. “With the high sun, that thing will see us coming.”
“We could attempt to backtrack and come at it from its back,” Drulf said.
She shook her head. “That’ll take too long and they could move by the time we got into position. We can’t wait. We’ll have to come at it from here.”
“Best to split up,” Gaeron said.
“Agreed.” Chali nodded. “We come at it from three sides, but stay within each other’s line of sight.”
“I’ll take the center, draw its attention,” Gaeron said, starting to stand.
“And get all the glory again? No need to get yourself killed for the hope of gaining more glory.” Chali spoke every word of the taunt with the flavor of a sharp-but-friendly tongue. She had a way of teasing that kept Gaeron cognizant of his behaviors. Masked as it was, she had a reason for the way she spoke. Women were mysterious.
“I’ll worry about glory when the Marks on my forehead look like yours,” he teased in return, tilting his blade at her scarred forehead, where her otherwise flawless brown skin was separated from her thick hairline by eleven raised scars of the Mark. Eleven times, the Paramount had carved those two thin lines, crossed at their apexes, into Chali’s skin. Eleven times, the Chaos Bender had been recognized for killing an important enemy of the Olmarian people. All deserved.
Her grin fled from her face. “Gaeron, you’re a Freed man. One-Mark or Fifteen-Marks like your mother, it matters not. You’re highly regarded by everyone in Olma-Ka.”
Gaeron looked away. She wouldn’t understand. Nevilan wasn’t her brother. His actions hadn’t brought shame to Chali’s family name. As long as Nevilan lived, so did Gaeron’s shame. Being One-Marked couldn’t wash that away. Nothing would remove the stain on the Andel legacy until he bore a Mark signifying his brother’s death.
Drulf seemed to sense the awkward turn in the tone. He slapped Gaeron on the shoulder. “Let me take the center. I’m fat and out of shape. No way I’m running all the way around the dune to distract it from the side.”
“And if it injures you?” Chali asked.
“What if it injures you?” Drulf said, his pale skin, Buk Toh skin, flushed at his own brashness. “I mean, what if you fall, Chali? At some point, that thing is going to warn the others, and I imagine we’ll need your Chaos magic to hold them off until Gaeron and I… well, until Gaeron can take care of the rest.”
“If you fall, who will heal us?” she countered.
“She has a point,” Gaeron said, itching to race up the dune and take the isolated skeleton out before these two made up their minds. “So I’ll take the center. You go left, Drulf, it’s shorter and it’ll put you in between that one and the others. Chali, go right. Take it out if you have the chance while I’ve got it distracted. Drulf, watch your back.”
Chali’s thick lips pulled toward her nose in a snarl.
Signals given, Gaeron waited until his best friend and the Chaos Bender were far enough along the base of the dune before making his ascent.
He charged. The move would annoy Drulf and anger Chali, but he wanted the skeleton to focus on him. Maybe it was only a scouting party, but until they could be sure it wasn’t much more, he refused to waste Drulf’s energy or Chali’s ability to cast if more waited in hiding.
The skeleton, its empty sockets cast toward Olma-Ka, didn’t react.
Glancing around, Gaeron looked for something to throw at the skeleton, hoping to draw its attention. But the dune provided nothing.
He grumbled as he plowed his way up the slope, his breaths coming heavier with each step that sank into the loose sand. Each footfall pushed sand away, caving under his muscular weight. “You’re going to pay for making me hike this cursed hill.”
The skeleton scout finally noticed him. Its jaw fell open, and it raised a rattle of a cry into the hot day.
“Dammit.” Gaeron lengthened his stride, panting now. The sand continued giving way underneath him. Glancing to the valley between the dunes, the cry had drawn the scout leader’s attention.
The skeleton charged down the slope. Gaeron was relieved. The others would join the fighting shortly, but at least this one hadn’t noticed Drulf or Chali.
Drulf moved laterally across the dune to meet up with him. Gaeron focused on the foe charging at him.
Lifting and rotating his sword, Gaeron warmed his shoulders and arms. This was not his preferred battleax, but that weapon was too heavy to bring out to the fields to supervise Bound Boys. With the Skinless party collapsing on him, he wished he had his battleax.
The skeleton clattered as it ran at break-neck speed, kicking up puffs of sand with each bony footfall. The creatures were awkward. Even in the flats of the Dark Sands, whenever they ran, they looked like they were on the verge of throwing themselves off-balance, ready to tumble to the ground with a simple misstep.
Gaeron let it come to him, maintaining the advantage of control. The skeleton might not even be able to stop itself.
Chali shouted something, coming into view on his right. Gaeron only had eyes for the Skinless, now almost within reach. Drulf neared. The skeleton’s jaw clacked open and shut. Half its teeth were missing, but there was still enough bone in that skull to give Gaeron an idea of what the thing would do if it got any part of him in its mouth.
The skeleton leaped, raising both arms above its head. Gaeron hadn’t expected the move, but adjusted. Whipping up his sword, he held it horizontally above his head, catching both of the skeleton’s arms as they descended to drive daggers into his skull.
A cracking filled Gaeron’s ears as the creature’s wrists snapped on his blade. The daggers fell into the sand, the white bony claws still grasping them.
Lifting his blade, Gaeron severed the skeleton’s skull from its shoulders before whacking its legs free from its torso.
Spitting on the fiend, he bent, picking up the legs and throwing them in different directions down the dune. He did the same for its skull.
“Nice work,” Drulf said.
“Congratulate me after we have killed all of them.”
Drulf glanced over his shoulder at the approaching Skinless. “Ugh.”
“This will be fun, Buk Toh,” Chali said, joining them. “Where’s your warrior spirit?”
“I left it at the Circle of Fire at one of the meal tables,” he answered. “Exactly where I plan to sit my ass as soon as we get home.”
“Well then,” she said as she uncoiled her whip, “let’s make quick work of them and get you on your way.”
“Sounds good to me,” Gaeron said.
“Let’s keep hold of the advantage of the slope,” Drulf called after the pair, who were already jogging down the dune to meet the first two skeletons. The southern scout was still making its way to the fight. “We have an advantage if we make them fight uphi—”
Gaeron didn’t hear the rest of his best friend’s strategic thoughts as the wind rushing past his ears cut off Drulf’s voice.
The pair of skeletons were at the foot of the dune. He grinned, tasting his rising bloodlust. This was going to be a quick task.
“Wait for me!” Chali said behind him as he raised his sword, ready to strike the first invader.
The skeleton, armed with a bone broadsword, clacked its teeth together as it kicked up sand.
Gaeron didn’t want to imagine the size of the creature that bone had been pulled from to make such a thick weapon. The Dark Sands held many mysteries, and that was one he’d gladly leave to remain unknown. He fought immense beasts too many times, and it was never enjoyable. Except the killing. The killing always was.
The hill didn’t slow the skeleton. It sped at him. The spell that kept it alive long after the cycle of death had stripped it of its skin, muscles, and tendons powered it up the slope.
The hot wind whipping across the valley swallowed the sharp clack of steel-on-bone. He swatted away the skeleton’s strike. The fiend lunged forward, clacking its teeth together as if it planned to rip his skin from his arm. Gaeron punched it in the empty socket where its nose should have been, rocking its head backward. The creature stumbled down the slope. Gaeron was on it before it regained its balance.
The second skeleton was the only thing stopping him from killing the beast with his next strike. As his blade cut through the air, about to take the arm off his foe, the Skinless leader took a wild lateral swing at Gaeron’s head. He was forced to pull out of his own attack and duck. The skeleton’s curved blade came so close it shifted the pillar of thick braided hair atop Gaeron’s head.
He spun to take the leader across its exposed spine when Drulf launched his body into the skeleton’s side, taking it down in a brutal tackle. Buk Toh and Skinless tumbled down the dune, over and around one another.
The third skeleton approached as Drulf fell toward it, still entangled with the scouting party leader.
Chali raced past. “You two still fight with the brains of Bound Boys.”
He doubted she was joking this time.
She pulled up to a stop, maneuvering her hands in a horizontal circle. Drulf was on his feet, facing the scouting leader. The third skeleton scurried toward him. Two-on-one wasn’t beyond the Buk Toh’s abilities, but there was no reason to take chances.
The scout was getting up from its knees, ready to pounce on Chali’s back. Before it sprang, Gaeron charged, shouldering it and knocking it back into the sand. The skeleton’s arms and legs flailed as it tried to get upright. Bringing his sword down across the thick bone of its spine, Gaeron didn’t give it a chance. Its teeth clicked twice; its magic fled.
At least until the sun sleeps.
Chali’s column of sand rose from the desert floor between where the Buk Toh fought the scout leader and the last skeleton. The creature didn’t recognize the threat of Chali’s spell. Maybe driven by its desire to kill, it ran straight into the column of spinning air. As soon as the spell ensnared the creature, Chali’s hands rotated rapidly, still in that horizontal pattern. The column rotated faster, sucking in more of the surrounding sand and lifting the skeleton higher. Above, the magical storm ripped it apart.
Drulf dealt with the scout leader, parrying blow after blow until the creature over-extended. Its side exposed, he cut it down with a cross strike. The skeleton’s legs tumbled down the dune while its upper torso fell at the Buk Toh’s feet.
He turned to face his friends and smiled, his pale cheeks flushed with exertion and probably a little pride. “Does that earn me a Mark?”
“Hardly,” Chali said with a chuckle. “Your forehead is free of sweat. You’re lucky I don’t rub the Mark you do have off your skin.”
The three grouped together over the skeleton party leader.
“That looks to be the last of them,” Gaeron said, kicking the skeleton’s skull. The beast’s jaw snapped closed, breaking off an ancient tooth.
“For now,” Chali said, looking toward the west and shielding her eyes against the sun. “But when these four don’t return to the Dark Sands, more will come.”
“The Desert King,” Drulf said, sheathing his blade.
“Could be. Or someone else.”
An interesting comment, Gaeron thought. “Like who?”
The Chaos Bender shrugged. “Who knows? Magic is mysterious, even to those of us who use it.”
Drulf grunted, nodding.
“This just feels… like fresh magic.”
“Fresh?” Gaeron pointed at the wreckage of bones. “That doesn’t look fresh.”
Chali sighed. “I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit right with me. Like there’s more we don’t know. I have a hard time believing the Desert King’s spirit bothers with minor details like scouting Olma-Ka. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t. For all we know, he uses someone else to handle this type of business. Magic is exhausting. To keep so many of these things alive, to reanimate when the sun sleeps? That type of magic is ancient and needs to be fed. Constantly. Imagine a warrior needing to swing their sword all day, every day. Exhausting. I’m afraid we don’t know enough about the Skinless to do anything but speculate.”
“And without Leonaime to ask…” Drulf’s words faded away.
Leonaime Nynar had been an elder in Olma-Ka, one of the most respected Freed women Gaeron had ever known. She knew much about Oltari, and she was dead. Killed by Nevilan’s Bound Boys after his brother used mercenaries from Hastelle to gain control of the village during the Paramount’s absence. She was a substantial loss that would be felt for sun cycles to come.
“We need to get back to the village and tell the Paramount,” he said darkly.
“I have a feeling a journey into the Dark Sands is in our future,” Chali said, her tone matching his.
Though this concludes chapter one of King Of Bones, you can continue now by ordering your paperback and getting it before the book is released on August 1st. The book is also available in ebook and in Kindle Unlimited.