Guest post – The Iron Crown by L. L. MacRae

***Today The Iron Crown ebook is only 99c/99p. – so be sure to go and grab one now ***

If you want to ‘try before you buy’, there is an excerpt at the end of this post – and there is also a giveaway to enter.

I am excited to be taking part in the Escapist Tours book tour for one of my favourite books I read last year: The Iron Crown by L. L. MacRae with a guest post from the author about worldbuilding in fantasy writing. Make sure you check out posts by the other hosts on this tour as well:

Read my review of The Iron Crown here.

Over to you, Lauren:

Something that authors are asked a lot—especially fantasy authors—is just where do we start writing? With the magic system? Character trees and relationships? History of the world? Figuring out our antagonist(s)? Food of the various regions and countries?

It’s different for everyone, of course. I would argue that many authors start with characters—their motivations and desires—to build the stakes of the story. Figuring out who will carry the plot, whose journey we readers get to experience, is of paramount importance. And the fantastical world-building is simply window dressing.

But for me, it’s the complete opposite.

I LOVE reading about world-building. Lore. Cultures. Flora and fauna. And dragons, of course. I want to know the intricate details of the weapons, of landscapes shaped by the centuries. I want to know the history of cursed palaces, details of magic and how it can be stretched or bent. I want to know types of dragons, hierarchy of griffins, colours of every scale and feather. 

For me, the characters are the window dressing! 

They are my guides through these fantastical worlds that I get to explore and discover and immerse myself in. I will happily read a book with incredible world-building and flat characters and enjoy every page—which might be a little controversial, I know.

At its core, world-building is why I LOVE the fantasy genre. It’s by far my favourite thing about writing fantasy.

The Final Fantasy video game series has been incredibly influential for me. At seven or eight years old, I learned that there could be these sweeping narratives, epic worlds, and exciting towns to explore in a glorious fantasy story. Final Fantasy VII and IX in particular left a significant mark on my early childhood, and I knew I wanted to recreate that feeling of awe with my own worlds and mythos.

They always tell you to “write what you love to read,” and I love reading about world-building, so it’s my favourite thing to write, too. And it is where the majority of my plotting begins—usually starting as notes jotted down about regions or concepts which then grow into full locations.

From multiple moons to different races, mysterious fantasy creatures and their ecological impact on the world, this is the “fun” bit of writing for me, and what I enjoy the most.

Whenever I am “inspired,” it’s almost always by some aspect of world-building. Perhaps I’ll be watching an unrelated video and a word someone says triggers an idea for a new fighting caste, or a type of creature, or even the name of a language. 

Perhaps it’s a curse that has been inflicted on a region (and then I’ll dive into the rabbit hole of the repercussions of said curse), or a new type of creature or monster that can help or hinder any soul unfortunate enough to cross its path.

It all drives ideas to create a world for the characters to play in.

Much like in The Sims video game—my favourite thing to do is build the house. I can spend hours doing this: tweaking this room or decorating that wall, or making sure the perfect piece of furniture fits. I’ll even create a narrative as I go to explain the layout or contents!

But it means once I’ve finished building the house, I am less interested in the sims themselves who are supposed to live in it!

Unfortunately, and perhaps as you’d expect, this makes certain aspects of writing more difficult for me. Once I’m done with the exciting world-building—I then need to figure out a cast of “worthy” characters. 

And creating characters that readers connect with is one of my writing weaknesses. 

In my latest book, The Iron Crown, I have a decent cast of characters (Apollo, in particular, seems to be a fan favourite—even people who don’t click with the book seem to like him!), although I still have a way to go, and I’m always looking to improve.

(Slightly embarrassing author confession: it’s always wonderful when people tell me who their favourite characters are. I just wish I knew why they liked them! Because this is something I really struggle with.)

When you write, you put your favourite things into your stories. Whatever is important to you is going to be given extra bias by default, which is why beta readers and editors help flesh out the entire product and make it more well-rounded. 

Some of my initial world-building ideas when it came to plotting what would become The Iron Crown included: what if a location (e.g. forest, ocean) had enough latent magic that it gave rise to a spirit?

And what if these spirits were dragons?

So smaller areas of magic and life, like a forest, would give rise to a smaller spirit. But something enormous like an ocean would have an incredibly powerful one.

And what if a spirit could even appear wherever there was a particular material in abundance? Say, iron? The spirit of iron would have complete control over that domain, so any iron tools, weapons, or armour would take on a magical property by default. 

And of course, anyone who allied with such a spirit would be formidable.

This led to one of the world’s queens bonding with the dragon spirit of iron, and issuing her Inquisitors (like a police force) with small iron daggers. Through her link with the dragon spirit, she could communicate with her Inquisitors using their iron daggers no matter where in the world they were.

It’s these sorts of concepts and ideas that excite and intrigue me, and what I adore about writing (and reading!) fantasy. 

However, a good story can’t just be amazing world-building and boring characters. Likewise it can’t only have amazing characters and a boring plot. You need a good balance of characters, plot, and world-building (plus other elements like prose, pacing, originality etc.), and everyone’s approach to each element will of course be different. Plus, everyone has their preferences and weaknesses, which is why they say it takes a team to finish a book!

For me, though, world-building is always where I start. It’s always where my mind goes when I daydream about future projects and new stories. When I hit a writing wall, it’s where I go to try and generate more creativity.

World-building was the thing that first opened my eyes to fantasy and inspired that child-like awe in me—and continues to inspire that awe!

Purchase here:


Signed paperbacks at The Broken Binding

Signed/personalized paperbacks from author website

About L.L. MacRae

Lauren is a fantasy author of character-driven stories and epic adventure. Her books usually contain dragons, eclectic characters, and are typically fun and hopeful. 

She lives in a tiny village in the UK, has a degree in Psychology, and was a professional copywriter before going full-time as an author—swapping corporate copy for magic and dragons!

She has previously published under the name L.L. McNeil.

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** Giveaway **

Prize: An eBook or Paperback Copy of The Iron Crown
February 21, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: February 27, 2022 at 11:59pm EST

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Excerpt from The Iron Crown

Varlot smiled and shook his head. ‘You’re a good lad, Fenn. Whatever you find out about yourself, I hope you know that.’ He put his hand on Fenn’s shoulder and squeezed gently, genuine warmth in his smile.

The moment Varlot touched him, Fenn’s vision flared into life. All at once, the half-seen shadows rushed into full focus—living, breathing people wearing armour from head to toe. Most brandished swords or axes, but there was a line of men on horses holding lances at the farthest edge of the deadlands. Hundreds of them. No. Thousands

Mouths were open in a wordless scream, lips moved to portray instructions, but Fenn couldn’t hear a thing. 

Suddenly, they were moving, a flagbearer waving his standard high and proud—The Iron Crown. It was the same insignia on the Inquisitors’ uniforms, and on the back of the gold coins Fenn had seen before. 

Dust and grass were thrown up underfoot as the waves of soldiers charged ahead, fury etched in every line on every face. Above them, the sky was a white mist which coalesced into black arrows. Countless lethal blades fell, and terror rained down. 

Fenn shivered, watching, waiting. The Myr—for they could be nothing else—appeared on the edges of the deadlands, the first of their number falling to the arrows raining down upon them. They were a solid wave of cold shadow on the horizon. Grass wilted at their every step, lightning crackled, announcing their advance with flashes of blue and white. 

Fenn’s fingers twitched with the remembered touch of ice.

They bore no weapons, wore no armour, no clothes, no boots. They had no flags, no horns announcing their arrival. They moved as one—a single entity made up of a thousand, thousand parts. Every golden eye was fixed upon the waves of Porsenthian and Bragalian soldiers.

‘Fenn? Speak to me!’ Varlot shouted in his ear.

He’d collapsed, the hard ground digging into his back. His chest burned so much it was difficult to breathe. Fenn coughed, blinking as the vision faded. Only Varlot, Selys, Calidra, and Jisyel were there. 

There was no army. There were no Myr.

Varlot offered him a hand up.

Fenn took it, grateful, only to be thrust back into the centre of the vision. Images flared outwards, bright and vibrant, their colours blurring together as if he was looking at them through water. It was later in the battle, now. The Myr had made their advance, and everything was chaos and motion. Fenn was glad he couldn’t hear them, couldn’t feel them. Blood coated the ground in deepening puddles, rivulets of crimson saturating what was left of the grass. Fire raged across the battlefield, gorging itself on the fallen.

One of the Myr approached Fenn—no, a man to Fenn’s left—its gaping jaws open wide, revealing circular rows of teeth flashing in the fires. It shuddered, clawed hands outstretched, and the man dropped to the ground like a sack. 

Fenn could see the lines of magic pouring from the Myr’s fingers like a burst water pipe. It crawled over the Porsenthian armour, piercing flesh through the cracks, driving the life from his body. It was happening all across the field. People dropped to the ground, armour ineffective against the Myrish magic.

And beyond the waves of Myr were their spirits. Hulking monstrosities swarmed the battlefield, appendages bursting from their bodies to ensnare any who were unfortunate enough to be close to them. A man was decapitated. A woman was disemboweled. Blood rained down in an eternal deluge.

He trembled. 

Another wave of Posenthians charged forward, their sheer numbers overwhelming the Myr. Blades were driven into flesh. Magic, once so effective, vanished as the Myr died. They pushed the Myr back in a surge of power, only for one of their number to eventually fall. Throwing themselves into the gap, the Myr and their spirits fought back, driving their aggressors away—splitting them up and picking off the isolated fighters.

More arrows rained down, bringing death by the hundreds. 

Fenn wasn’t sure he was breathing anymore.

Then, a darkness so complete Fenn thought he’d lost his sight, encompassed everything.

Fire blasted down in a column larger than any tree in the Spindle Woods, blindingly bright. He closed his eyes, but his vision had whited out.

If he’d been there, he was sure he’d have heard the dragon’s roar. Felt the heat of the spirit as it grew near. 

Seconds dragged past. He squinted, then gaped, at the sight of the dragon. Toriaken, Spirit of Iron, had arrived at the battle on wings so massive that Fenn couldn’t see where they ended. Every scale was solid grey, dull, save where his flames made them glow orange and red. 

Toriaken was too high up for Fenn to make out any details of the dragon’s eyes or face, but his presence alone had changed the atmosphere of the battle. His fire did the rest. 

The Myr didn’t burn so much as explode in Toriaken’s breath. Chunks of smoking flesh scattered, blasted out after impact. Many of their appendages were bladed and sharp, impaling those unlucky enough to be within the path of their death. Their spirits died in much the same way, every limb torn apart and disintegrated in the dragon’s fire. Black smoke rose from the charred corpses, filling the sky with ash and blotting out the raging fires.

‘Fenn!’ Calidra grabbed him by the shoulders, steadying him as he swayed. ‘Fenn, can you hear me? Say something!’

Dimly, he was aware of a thin line of drool trickling down his chin. Hurriedly, he wiped his face with the back of one sleeve and coughed again. ‘Calidra?’ She drifted in and out of focus, everything else outside his immediate view was dark. 

‘I’m here. Spirits take me, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but we have to get out of here.’

He tried to nod, but his headache surged back into life with such fury that he nearly blacked out. There was ice on his fingers again, slowly creeping up his forearms. Again, his chest tightened, a ball of fire driving the ice back.

Do not lose focus.

He blinked at the voice in his mind. He hadn’t heard it before. It wasn’t the Myr.

Had Varlot said something, and he’d just been too confused to understand it?

Calidra shook him roughly. ‘Fenn. Come on. I don’t want Varlot to carry you. Both times you’ve collapsed after he touched you. Spirits only know what’s going on.’

Fenn leaned on her and took a shaky step forward. Thankfully, no more visions of battle accosted him. He could hardly believe the sky was still there, so vast were Toriaken’s wings. It put Alnothen to shame, and that had only been a vision.

No. A memory.

He glanced at Varlot, who followed a few steps behind Calidra.

‘Varlot? You were…is this where…where the Battle of Marlrush was fought?’ Fenn’s voice trembled.

‘It was.’

‘I saw it. I saw the Myr. Toriaken. All the people who fought…’

‘How is that possible?’ Calidra asked, not breaking stride as they continued across the dry lands. She dragged him more than led him, but he didn’t care.

Selys paused, looking around intensely. ‘I feel the remnants of the Myr here. Their magic is so strong. It’s kind of…lingering.’

‘So the people in Spindleford were telling the truth?’ Calidra said, ‘I thought it was just superstitious nonsense.’ 

Jisyel clamped one hand over her mouth. ‘But…but the Myr aren’t here now, are they?’

Selys turned to Fenn, as if he had the answers. ‘I don’t understand your…bond with the Myr. Whatever connection you have with them goes beyond a superficial level. The sooner we reach the Nethal Mountains, the better.’ 

‘Keep going, lad. Come on. You’re stronger than you think.’ Varlot patted him on the back as he walked past.

Abruptly, Fenn was thrown back into the chaos. 

The battle was over, dead bodies piled up in a smoking ruin. Torn flags and broken shields littered what was left of the grass—most of which had dried and withered, if it wasn’t already drowned in crimson. 

Varlot—or a younger version of Varlot, his face streaked with blood—knelt beside a heavily bandaged man. Blood seeped through the linen across his abdomen, viscera spilling out. He was missing both eyes, his face torn wide open by monstrous claws, leaving little more than gore from his nose down. His teeth seemed too bright against the red. Varlot clutched his hand. His lips moved, but Fenn couldn’t hear. This, like the other visions, was absolutely silent.

Many living were doing the same—speaking to those dead or dying, clearing away the ruined corpses, setting up a perimeter in case their enemy returned. On the far side of the battleground, Toriaken had landed. His bulk was that of a mountain, and hundreds of armoured men and women had gathered by his feet, tiny against the dragon spirit.

But Fenn’s gaze was drawn back to Varlot. The man whose hand he held had passed away, his fingers going limp. Fenn’s heart ached for another loss.

Someone approached, the movement attracting Fenn’s attention as Varlot turned his head to look.

There was no mistaking the man’s face. Even without the uniform, and dressed in the same armour as Varlot, Fenn recognised Torsten.

Suddenly angry he couldn’t hear, Fenn watched as the two men exchanged words. Varlot got up from his knees to look Torsten in the face. From their body language, it was clear they were having some sort of dispute. Torsten pointed with his index finger towards Toriaken and the battle site. Varlot gestured to the dead man on the ground below him. His hands were covered in gore.

More gesticulating.

More anger.

Varlot removed his helm and drew his weapon—the same axe he wielded now, with a snarling bear carved into the handle. Fenn didn’t remember seeing that before.

Fenn expected Torsten to retaliate. To draw his rusty blade and aim it at Varlot, burn him where he stood. But he didn’t. He leaned backwards, a smirk plastered on his face. He said something under his breath, his lips barely moving, and Varlot stopped in his tracks.

Varlot’s shoulders slackened and the axe fell from his fingers. A defeated man. A broken one.

Fenn shuddered back to consciousness. It appeared that only seconds had passed—no-one was staring at him or trying to rouse him. Varlot walked ahead, now, his axe clutched tightly. The handle was different to the one Fenn had seen in his vision. Instead of dark brown, the bear carved into it, the handle was flat, black, and unadorned.

‘Come on, lad. You ain’t dead yet.’ Varlot called over his shoulder.

Fenn wondered how much death Varlot had seen and caused. 

He wondered what Torsten had said on the battlefield.

And as the final images of the vision faded into dark mist, Fenn wondered how much time he had left.

The Iron Crown Excerpt 2

He gritted his teeth at the memory of Fenn’s words and hurried onwards, squinting in the rain now blowing directly into his face, driven by the winds across the water. A long minute passed as he jogged, the cold water to his right, buildings on the edge of Ballowtown to his left. It wouldn’t be long before he’d catch up with Nadja making her sweep towards him. 

Another minute. Nothing, save the occasional slap of water as something underneath broke the surface—most probably a fish.

He came to a halt. How far could a young boy have staggered while losing blood? Suddenly feeling foolish, he sheathed his sword and shook his head. Stupid Bragalians getting themselves worked up over nothing. It was wet out with the heavy rain. Probably the boy had slipped and hit his head, and was now babbling nonsensities.

Torsten was annoyed with himself for jumping up so quickly, like an apprentice eager to impress.

There wasn’t anything worth his time in this damned—

Something shifted in the air, the rain rippling unnaturally. There was the metallic tang of magic on the back of his throat—but it wasn’t Toriaken, not any spirit he knew. It was something far deadlier.

Surayo’s decision to send him into Bragalia suddenly became clear. ‘Miroth, I might need you,’ he muttered under his breath, squeezing the hilt of his sword and drawing it again.

An enormous shadow darted towards his face.

Torsten reacted instinctively, moving backwards as swiftly as the shadow attacked, then he stepped to the side and brought his sword up in a sharp arc—more to get the thing away from him than in any sort of trained manoeuvre. 

It withdrew with a low growl, and Torsten squared himself to face it. Hunkered down against the wet path, the shadow creature was easily the width of a carriage, and twice as tall, with long arms that dragged along the ground. He’d never seen a bear—any creature—of a size to match it. Was it…? It couldn’t be… 

‘Foul spirit, why do you attack me so?’

Two small lights appeared near the creature’s swirling black and purple centre, amber pinpricks that seemed to be eyes. ‘You are faster than the others.’

Its voice echoed in his head. 

Torsten held his sword high, both hands grasping the hilt, ready to put more strength into his next blow. He had to be certain of what it was. ‘I have done nothing to you. Are you the spirit of some misbegotten river? Cursed to roam without a domain?’


Whatever the creature wanted to say, it was lost as it surged forward again, letting out a shriek so low that Torsten thought his eardrums would burst. He slipped into his training—Inquisitors were expected to have the same competency as any individual in the Porsenthian army—and rushed to meet the creature with his own sword, Tinebás.

Flesh and metal met in a shower of sparks, and Torsten fully expected to drive his blade deep into the creature’s gut, but it hit a hard, solid mass somewhere in its centre. The creature didn’t bellow in pain, simply moved forward, forcing Torsten back. 

It was stronger than he was.

Yanking Tinebás from the creature, Torsten whirled to the side, letting his enemy’s momentum carry it past, while he swiftly arced his sword downwards for another strike on its legs. The edge caught onto something, cutting into flesh and spilling dark ichor onto the waterlogged road. 

It smelled of rotten flesh, fermented fruit, and death.

Gagging, Torsten leaped backwards as the creature struck at him again, clawed appendages bursting from its body in unexpected places. He slashed at them, knocking them away or slicing a few before they reached him. More ichor fell, more stench filled the street.

He’d never fought a spirit before. Most people didn’t live if they challenged one.

The ichor. The shape. The smell of the thing… 

‘Spirits take me, what is that?’

Torsten turned to see Fenn, Varlot, and the women from the table. He spat a curse. ‘Get out of here you fools!’ 

‘Why? Looks like you could do with some help!’ Varlot said with a smirk, his axe in hand.

Torsten was about to curse, then the creature was upon him again. He could spare them no more attention as he deflected another blow, stepping to the side, his sword raised high. The way it shrieked, he wouldn’t be surprised if it brought the entire town to them.

He needed to get this mess under control, before anyone else saw the thing and jumped to their own conclusions.

Attacking with violent fury, Torsten met its every strike with one of his own, countering whenever he spotted an opening. 

The creature circled him, darting in low and leaping high, swiping with ever larger claws that left enormous gouges on the road. Mis-timing one jump, it fell against the wall of the nearest building—a florist, Torsten realised—and crashed through the walls, sending buds and vases smashing in all directions. One ceramic pot flew through the air, and though Torsten avoided it, the pot shattered on the ground beside him, one shard nicking him just below the knee. 

Gasping in pain, though adrenaline kept the worst of it at bay, he darted away from the debris.

It had been too long since he’d tasted battle, and although he’d always dismissed such tasks as grunt work, dusting off the cobwebs gave him a grim pleasure, even through the pain. He savoured the adrenaline, let it fuel his strength and desire to be victorious.

Pulling itself from the collapsed wall and shaking off several ruined bouquets, the creature let out a low, keening whine, eyes searching for its target.

Though Torsten was right in front of it, the thing decided to launch itself at Fenn and the others. The Bragalian pushed Fenn out of the way, stepping protectively in front of the Porsenthian woman. She held up a dagger to the creature in defiance. Varlot, too, stood ready to fight beside her, his axe raised.

‘Calidra!’ Fenn yelped, crouching down as the creature bore down on them.

The Bragalian, Calidra, slashed haphazardly at the creature with her long dagger—more for hunting than combat—driving it away from the other woman. Despite her poor choice of weapon, she moved confidently, every step planted as she pushed the creature back, unfazed by the slippery ground. Clearly, she was a trained fighter. 

Roaring at the new combatant, the shadow attacked Calidra, though she deftly avoided its strikes, always keeping it away from her companions. Varlot, too, stepped into the fray, shouting his own war-cry as he swung his axe as easily as Calidra thrust her dagger.

Torsten’s eyes widened in sudden realisation. The Laird of Fellwood had several children, and he knew the eldest was named Calidra. It would explain why Fenn’s papers had been supposedly signed by Vantonen. This woman, Calidra, had to be the heir to Fellwood. 

He was never usually wrong, and the thought he’d made a mistake gnawed at him more painfully than the wound on his knee. Already, blood trickled down his shin. Another mistake to cover up.

Torsten’s lip curled as the two battled fiercely. What had become of the spirit to make it act so? It was either corrupted beyond all hope or…or it was Myrish. 

That wasn’t possible. Couldn’t be possible.

This needed to stop. Now.

‘You. Spirit!’ Torsten raised his sword to the creature. Hacking at it like it was some common beast was not going to be effective. 

‘Torsten, you need help!’ Calidra called.

He snorted. ‘I do not need help from the likes of you, Bragalian.’ 

Before either of them could say anything more, the creature shot forward, sending forth multiple appendages, its claws digging into the ground, the fallen building, debris, anything it could reach. Torsten charged forward, slicing away as many of them as he could reach with devastating accuracy. Varlot appeared on the monster’s other side, his axe expertly slamming into its blind side and causing it to let out another shriek as it whirled around to face him. In the next moment, Calidra buried her dagger deep into the creature’s exposed flank. 

The shadow creature span in a circle, sending out great swipes of its claws to push its aggressors away, and let out another low bellow.

Where was Nadja? If it was Myrish, if there was even a chance it could be, he needed the creature to die before anyone else saw it. And he wasn’t sure he could manage that without another Inquisitor fighting with him.

Between the three of them, they subdued the creature—its attacks came less frequently, with less speed, and it didn’t take long before it tried to flee.

Torsten stepped in front of it, panting heavily, and blocked its path. With a violent slash, he brought Tinebás down and sank it deep into the creature’s mass. Ichor burst from the wound in a shower that coated him with the dark ooze. Wrenching his sword to the side, he tore a gaping hole in the middle of the beast, and it shrieked again, rolling onto the ground as if in submission.

Torsten took a steadying breath, doing his best to keep his hands from shaking.

‘You…filthy…’  The creature’s words came out as a wheeze, and it shuddered with the effort of speaking.

‘Get back from it! It’s not safe!’ Fenn called from several paces away. Although his eyes were wide with fear, he had an arm in front of the Porsenthian woman, blocking the creature’s way with his own body. 

Varlot spun his axe casually, as if they were in the training ring, not a life-or-death battle against an unknown spirit. ‘Nothing to worry about, lad. It’ll—’

The writhing mass of shadows leapt to its feet with a suddenness that he hadn’t seen before. With another furious bellow, it barrelled towards Torsten, its movements wild and erratic. It pounced, crashed into him, and clawed frantically. 

Torsten lost his grip on his sword and punched the creature, aiming for what he thought were its eyes. In retaliation, it bit down on his arm. Whatever teeth it had dented his vambrace, but the metal was slick, and it couldn’t grip. Torsten grabbed hold of whatever he could reach—flesh, teeth, eyes—squeezing tightly. Its teeth pierced his thick leather gloves and Torsten pulled hard—until the creature released him with a furious snarl. 

He was back on his feet in an instant, sword scooped up in the same movement. It was time for this thing to die. Before he could drive his sword into it, one claw slammed into Torsten’s head, bouncing off his iron helm. 

It whirled around again, then charged at Calidra, knocking her violently to the ground. Her back cracked on the stones and she cried out. Caught between the creature and the churning waters of the bay, she raised her hand, dagger still grasped in her trembling fingers.

It wouldn’t save her.

The others ran towards her, desperation lending them speed, but the gap was too great.

Metal ringing in his ears, Torsten thrust his sword forward, the tip aimed at the creature, already five or six feet away. ‘Miroth. I call upon your strength.’ Though the words were whispered under his breath, half-gasped more than commanded, the effect was immediate. Tinebás lit up like a torch, flames licking the metal with a blinding flash. 

The creature hesitated, as if sensing the spirit’s power. 

It was all Torsten needed.

Fire plumed from the tip of his sword, shooting forward with such speed that it lit up the shadow creature instantly. The noise emitted from the creature was like nothing Torsten had ever heard before—a wailing howl that cut through to his bones—and he watched with grim satisfaction as it burned. It stumbled over, writhing, its body jerking as the fire sank deep into its flesh. 

The other woman hauled Calidra to her feet, who had regained sense enough to push the others away, even as they struggled in the chaos. ‘Back! Get back!’ Calidra pushed them, almost violently.

With a final cry of anguish, the creature careened into the group, rolled over the edge of the road, and splashed into the churning waters of the Salt Bay. The wave it produced engulfed the docks in silt-rich, freezing water, and crashed into the bridge leading to the south of the bay. Stone and wood crumbled in the explosion, water was thrown up several feet high, then rained down in a splatter of drizzle.

If the sound of battle hadn’t attracted attention, that explosion would.

Torsten frowned, mildly annoyed he’d not managed to get a solid answer from the thing, then looked down at his hand to inspect the damage the creature had left on his armour. His fist was still closed where he’d grabbed at the thing’s face, and when he opened it, he saw one of the creature’s fangs, coated in the same ichor that covered the road.

He smiled. Whatever secrets the queen had hidden from him, he’d have his answer soon enough.

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