Paerolia has been at peace for two centuries, and all is well in the land—or so it seems. Beneath the surface, a tyrant is rising to power.
A traumatic experience in Andra’s childhood has left her mute and subdued, a servant in the Chief Judge’s manor. But when an assassination team, led by the secretive and alluring Kael, infiltrates the manor and makes a quick escape, she takes her chance and flees with them.
Andra is thrust into the ranks of a secret rebellion—a group of outcasts and believers seeking to overthrow the Chief Judge and replace the corrupt government with new members, ones who will restore and preserve the land they love. Now, the girl who was once an outcast must somehow become the leader Paerolia needs. But she is stronger than she believes—and with the help of a fiercely loyal dragon, she may just be the one to lead them all to victory.
Bright Star by Erin Swan will be available on August 13, but you can read the first chapter below!
[dropcap type=”circle”]A[/dropcap]ndra closed Ledo’s bedroom door behind her, not looking back at his form asleep on the tousled bed. Her slippered feet made no sound on the stone floors as she walked through the dark corridors, wandering without purpose, her mind as numb and empty as it had been since the day her mother died—since the day she sentenced her mother to death.
She didn’t know how long she wandered before the silence of the sleeping manor was shattered. A scream echoed from another hall, then the sound of footsteps racing down the corridor. Andra froze, suddenly alert and on edge. Another scream, a crash, a door banging. A kitchen maid appeared, running at full speed down the hall, her skirts flying around her. She grabbed Andra by the arm, giving her a rough shake as she looked down at her with wild, terror-filled eyes.
“What are you doing?” she asked sharply. “Run! There are murderers in the manor!”
The kitchen maid ran on, leaving Andra behind. The girl paused briefly, her mind turning. Then she bolted, heading toward the dungeons. Those would be safe. Whoever was here, whatever their reasons, there would be no reason for them to go into the dungeons. If she could just get to the dungeons, then—With a bone-jarring crash that made her ears ring, Andra collided with a solid body.
She was thrown to the stone floor with a force that sent the air rushing from her lungs. She shook her head, trying to clear her vision, and looked up at the dark form above her. He held a shining red blade in his hand, dripping blood onto the floor. She felt the urge to scream, but couldn’t seem to make the muscles of her throat cooperate. It was as if she had forgotten how to make the sound at all. He gazed at her with narrowed eyes, as if deciding what he should do with her. Andra braced herself for the piercing pain of steel.
The shouts and metallic footsteps of approaching soldiers made the man look away from her, toward the source of the noise. He glanced back down at her frantically, then seized her by the hand and yanked her to her feet.
“If you scream,” he growled, “I will kill you.”
Of course, he couldn’t know that there was no danger of that.
Still, Andra nodded in understanding. Holding her tightly by the wrist, the man raced down another empty corridor and up a flight of stairs. Andra stumbled after him as he dragged her through an empty guest room, where a window stood open to the cool night air.
He shoved her toward it. “Go,” he ordered quietly. Andra stared at him in surprise. “Go!” he snapped. The sound of soldiers was drawing nearer.
Andra peered out the window. Thick vines grew on the wall below her, forming a natural ladder. At the base of it, two men were gazing upward, obviously waiting for their third companion. The man in the room pushed her again, and she swung her legs over the window ledge, shimmying down the ladder easily. The moment her feet touched the grass, the two men grabbed her by the arms, making sure that she didn’t run. The third man was beside them in moments, and soon they were running away from the large palace. They darted behind a building that backed up against the city wall.
“Climb,” the first man ordered her, pointing toward the roof of the house.
She paused, uncertain what to do. But the three armed men stood behind her, their shadowed forms filling her with fear. With nowhere else to go, Andra stepped onto a barrel beside the house and leapt toward the wall, using it to push off and get herself high enough to land on the roof of the house. The three men were close behind her. The other two gave her looks of surprise, but the first remained unimpressed. He grabbed her by the arm and dragged her after him as he jumped from the rooftop to the top of the wall, then down nearly twenty feet to the grass below. He released her on impact, and they both rolled into their landing—he springing back up to his feet immediately, Andra tumbling and landing on her backside.
The other men landed on the grass as well, and Andra noticed the three horses tethered to a nearby tree. The animals snorted and stamped their feet as the four figures raced toward them, Andra still being dragged along by the man with the blood-covered sword.
As they reached the animals, the man holding her wrist turned to one of his companions. “Colmen, hold on to her for a second,” he said brusquely, giving her a small push in his direction. One of the other men placed a gentle but firm hand on her shoulder as the first swung up into the saddle. “Pass her up to me.”
“Pardon me, miss,” the one called Colmen said, putting his hands on her waist and lifting her upward.
The first man received her, pulling her into the saddle so that she was sitting sideways in front of him. Despite her fear of him, her fear of falling off and being trampled by the impatient animal beneath her was greater, and she held on to the man tightly.