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About the author:
Ashley "Whitebread" Graybill was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas. A child of the 90's, she grew up on shows like Hercules and Xena, which fed her young imagination. These led her to learn about actual mythology from various parts of the world and brought her to a love of fantasy, starting with stories such as The Hobbit and Acorna.
Her grandmother was a major contributor to her writing. Carolyn Whitebread encouraged Ashley to write, even if some of it was fanfiction. She also purchased her the many books and comics that gave Ashley inspiration. Sadly, Carolyn passed away in 2006; however, from death life may emerge. This was a major catalyst in Ashley's life.
After Ashley met her husband through online gaming in 2008, she took a leap of faith and moved 1500 miles to be with him. She is now a mother to four beautiful children who keep her moving. She is also a gamer, an adventurous cook, a lover of sushi, and (as some describe her) extremely eccentric.
Here is a short sample from the book:
The air that night was bitter. Unnatural for the beginning of summer, even more when one considered how far south Xeviat Availon had traveled. Refusing to rub his own chest for warmth, Xeviat moved stiffly through a town that rested not far from the fortified city of Naxos. Every night felt colder since he had made his death pact with the God of Night, Betrayer of all Elves.
Xeviat, being a Moon Elf, wondered if Thaos would betray their pact.
However, he would deal with the cold for as long as it took to exact revenge upon the woman who had placed him where he was. The woman who had forced him into the cold by killing him during what he thought was a night of passion. Instead of keeping the deep, burning love he had once had for her, she had caused ice to set around his heart. Yes, he would wait until he took her life but no longer after that.
Stretching his fingers outwards, shadows flickered around his pale, gray-blue skin. A shade lined in silver danced within the hold of his magic. Thaos had lifted the dark soul from the Shadow Realm portal at the center of his capital city, Choráis. Xeviat still worked to control both the power of the shade and his freshly acquired skills. His new abilities were easier to manipulate than those he had been born with. Water constantly changed, taking its own current rather than the one he wanted it to. But the shadows, some otherworldly power, and the shade bent easily to his will.
Sighing, he continued his stride up the path of the expansive estate, boots crunching against grass and dirt. Set amidst the plains of Katharos, he had no doubt that the white stone and various trees were beautiful in the daylight. To one side, Naxos stretched above the horizon, and to the other, mountains rested beneath the moon of Ghedril. The Mount of Wings, a volcano, lay dormant but looming over all as a reminder it could kill again.
Judging by the music and the lights that played behind the blue-tinted windows, the people had little concern for that.
He gave three loud raps to the heavy door before stepping away, waiting patiently for someone to answer. He took no pain in standing still, to be without emotion. Before Thaos he would have smiled and rocked on his heels, anxiously waiting.
No, now there was nothing left of him, nothing to warm the edges of his tortured soul, which had been cut off from the gods of his birth. They had not come to his defense in his time of need; they had abandoned him to this cruel demon instead.
The door opened, and a tall woman, though admittedly shorter than he as human and elf comparisons went, stood smiling. Her cheeks were still rosy long after the look of joy had faded from her face.
“Yes, what is it?” she snapped, her jaw tightening. Whether her rudeness came from expecting him or if she were surprised to see an uninvited elf, he knew she knew the news would not be in her favor.
“Beryl,” he said, flinching at his ill-used voice. When she nodded, he held his hand out to the side. “Our master wishes that I speak with you.”
There it was. Pale blue eyes widened with the understanding that Xeviat was a dark herald. He took no pleasure in any of this, something he would never tell Thaos, and something he could not show. He had learned his lesson in keeping these things to himself.
When Beryl spoke again, her voice was hushed, making sure no one heard. “If our lord wishes to speak with me, he should do it himself.”
Xeviat leveled his leaf-colored gaze with hers, his night-touched hair falling from behind his ears to caress the sides of his face, perhaps menacing to a human who rarely saw elves.
“Thaos does not handle those who are expendable,” he whispered, giving her at least the pleasure of knowing none would hear him. “I will say this once more: our master desires that I speak with you. Whether loud, for all to hear, or in private, I do not care.”
Tension formed around her lips, and she swallowed. She looked down at her clenched hands for a passing moment before closing the door and shoving past him. Her emerald gown swept across the dirt and the short grass. He stayed a couple steps behind her until she settled a few yards away from the building.
“If this is about the men I hired, they refuse, and I refuse.” All this was said before he even came close to her. Beryl turned on her heel, anger fresh in her eyes, tiny fists held at her sides. “I’ve done my part in at least attempting to get close to King Naculo.”
Xeviat drew closer, feeling the impatient shade wrap around his neck. He raised his eyebrows. “You’ve not done enough, Beryl. You’ve not completed your end of the agreement. A pact was made. You took his hand. You are his, and now you will do as he says.” Xeviat’s mouth went dry, understanding his situation was very similar to hers. The same as all he spoke to, and he, too, was too weak to have done anything about it.
Beryl shook her head. “I was nearly found out.” Her fingers dug into her elegantly designed gown. “My reputation could be destroyed, or worse; I could be killed. He promised me eternal youth. But I find no satisfaction in it if I am ruined.”
“Did you not know of the dangers when you made your pact?” He took another step forward, pulling the shadows about his fingers, feeling them lick him, leaving an unbearable chill. “Were you so stupid to think that you could receive all he gave you yet not face someone finding you out for what he asked?”
She shook her head, visibly trembling when her eyes rested on his hand, seeing what it was he held.
His voice was tight. “It’s not done.”
Beryl inched away, obviously frightened by magic which was a rare sight in Nudomri. Her voice trembled as much as she did, surprising for one who took such a bold pact with such a dark god. “He can take the gold. He can take the slaves, the notoriety, and this youth. I no longer want this. The covenant must be broken if I cannot even enjoy what Lord Thaos has given me.” Most that Xeviat met with had cried out for the gods’ help. After finding no assistance from any other on the pantheon, they would reach out to Thaos in desperation.
Even Xeviat had.
“Is this, Beryl of Naxos, truly what you wish for me to tell Lord Thaos?” There was an ache in him; he had hoped to avoid this. He wanted her to say no; he hoped that she would agree to continue in her efforts to try to assassinate the King of Naxos.
Instead, Beryl gave her solemn nod.
Xeviat’s hand raised quickly, shadows leaving him and shooting into her eyes, searching through her innermost being. A painful warmth bloomed upon his skin as he wrenched Beryl’s soul from its mortal shell. It stung his every nerve, awakening parts of him that he would have otherwise not felt, and it caused his blue-gray skin to ripple, turning it white until, at last, the shadows captured the soft light of her soul against his arm.
Xeviat doubted it would have hurt had he fulfilled his role as an elf reaver, a soul collector that would pass souls through planes on to the gods. Chosen to sit on the council, overseeing the affairs of the elves, he was meant to die and become a guide for elven souls. But he was undead; as they would say, it was abnormal. He regretted it. Not only because had he let his people down but also because he now saw spirits that would have otherwise been shrouded by a veil unless, of course, they had wanted him to see them.
He was learning to block them from his sight.
Beryl stood still, not dead, but without light behind her eyes. Without a soul, the mortal body was nothing but an empty vessel, easily controlled, ready to have a separate entity fill the cavity.
His left hand rose, and the shade unwound itself from around his shoulders, drifting off his fingertips and through the woman’s eyes. A shade extracted from whatever hell Thaos had taken it from. With its weight gone, dark feelings and some of the chill lifted from Xeviat, resulting in great relief. This was Xeviat’s purpose now. Instead of leading souls home, he led them to a new hell for Thaos.
Beryl’s eyes turned darker than before. The once vibrant blue now shone a dull cobalt.
Xeviat could not tolerate it. Tightening his fist, the immortal soul pulling at his skin, he looked past whatever name took hold of her. He was unable to look into those depraved eyes when he spoke. “You know what you must do. Do whatever you like after you’ve done what Thaos has requested.” Xeviat did not wait for a response; he could not stand to hear the hollowed voice of pure evil. Walking back into the night towards an unbeaten path, the light of the soul playing at his arm, Xeviat felt sick.
He didn’t go much farther before a figure appeared striding alongside him. Xeviat did not stop, wanting nothing more than to put distance between himself and Beryl’s estate, but mostly between himself and that dark soul.
Thaos took hold of Xeviat’s hand as they walked, pulling the woman’s soul against him.
Xeviat stopped in the middle of a field where the grass swayed at his knees. He looked up at the God of Darkness while Thaos watched the soul dance like a flame in his hand. It could have assumed the shadow of its corporeal body, but it stayed as it was under the control of Xeviat and Thaos.
“My dear Beryl,” Thaos spoke, the twisted grin on his face making him look the demon he was. “I am letting you out of your end of our bond. But you will still serve me, only in a very different way.” At those words, Thaos closed his fingers around the light. The soul shifted into dust while he absorbed it. His face, tilted upwards, showed the euphoric state it sent him into. Xeviat watched this, unflinching. It bothered Xeviat, seeing something he was meant to protect be abused as such. But after months of witnessing Thaos absorb a soul’s power, he had become as close to numb as he was ever going to.
As with all other things in his existence.
“Smile a little, Xeviat,” Thaos cheerfully said, opening his hand again. No light remained. “You are still alive, healthy, and wealthy. Above all things, you’ve become a dear friend of mine. That alone should make you glad.”
Xeviat’s eyebrows furrowed, long-tipped ears twitching. A great ball of tension formed in his forehead when he looked away. Friends: this god had a corrupt sense of friendship.
“My resources are low,” he said instead, digging his nails into his dark wool cloak. “I will need to return to the homeland soon, pay my banker a visit. I should also not give more worry to the other council members. I think it has been too long. They may become apprehensive.”
Thaos chuckled. “It’s a good thing I need you to return then, hmm? I have business there that I need you to attend to for me. As you know, I cannot step foot on the islands.”
Xeviat did not like this news; he had been hoping for some kind of reprieve from the god. However, he knew better than to expect that much from Thaos. Xeviat looked at him; Thaos’s brightly lit, steel blue eyes caused his stomach to turn more violently than when he had exchanged the soul. “What good would it do to conduct business there when you cannot reach either island?” Thaos’s expression hardened. Overwhelming pain burst through Xeviat’s chest where the long, jagged scar of his death mark was. He dropped to his knees, gasping for breath. It tortured his whole body more than the pain of stealing a soul.
“Is that not what I have you for, Xeviat?” Thaos hissed. “I have plans, which you will know in time.” The pain eased away, leaving Xeviat gasping with his long nails sinking into the ground. Thaos crouched near him, placing a seemingly tender hand on Xeviat’s back. “I want us to be close companions, Xeviat. We have thousands of years ahead of us. You are too precious to me for me to release you. But when you make comments like that, you displease me. You make me think twice about keeping you near. Will I have to show you your place again, hmm? A confined space and all the pain you cannot handle?”
Xeviat licked dry lips, remembering the months’ long torture he had been subjected to because he had refused to steal souls, because he had wanted to seek his own path to Sinead. Thaos made it clear that he would never release him until all he wanted was fulfilled, and he would tolerate nothing less than everything specifically asked of Xeviat.
“Do you want that, Xeviat?” Thaos asked again, fingers digging into Xeviat’s back. A tinge of pain crept into his death mark.
“No, My Lord, I do not,” Xeviat whispered, gaining his breath. His scar continued to tingle. “I apologize, My Lord. I’ll try to watch my tongue better in the future.” Tightly, he shut his eyes, hating himself.
Thaos patted Xeviat on the back, his voice still hardened. “Exactly what I wanted to hear. Now,” Thaos stood, and Xeviat looked up at him from down on his knees, “journey to Elves’ Landing and leave for Ionus. When you reach your destination, you are to meet with a Sun Elf. One in which you are well acquainted with. His name and all I wish you to say will be in your cabin. I want it to be a surprise. I want you to feel the agony of waiting.” Thaos smiled at the pained elf, his charm surfacing again. “Do not disappoint me. You are bound to me. I can feel you, hear you, and cause you pain. Even in your precious homeland that I am forbidden to enter.”
At the last word “Farewell” Thaos vanished, leaving behind a fine mist that slowly faded. Xeviat beat his fists into the ground. There was no escape; there never would be.