Elemental Trials, #2
by Ronelle Antoinette
Date of Publication: July 7th 2017
Cover Artist: Mar Fandos
Publisher: Ronelle Antoinette
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Tagline: The choices of a few will ignite a realm
Scandal will shake foundations.
A night of careless passion leaves Battlemage Jex Xander and Adept Enari Alycon in a precarious position. Long-time lovers they might be, but the Imperial ambassador and the daughter of Egalion’s High Mage have rather public roles in the court—whether they wish it or not—and scandal couldn’t come at a worse time.
Treachery will tip balances.
When a hostile kingdom reluctantly agrees to parley, the fate of two-thousand years of peace is on the line. In the midst of negotiations, Enari becomes the target of one of the Greater Maelstrom. She and Jex must race against time to save her life and that of her unborn child. What happens when an earth-shattering secret, a demon bent on destruction, and a kingdom teetering on the brink of war collide is anyone’s guess.
Choices will have consequences.
The decisions of a few will determine the fate of many, and who or what will remain standing in the end is still uncertain. Hearts and lives are on the cusp of irrevocable change…and not necessarily for the better.
And secrets? Those will change everything.
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Enari Alycon and Jex Xander were the last two mages to enter the shadowed chamber.
She hesitated on the threshold, instinct making her clutch his hand as her eyes struggled to pierce the darkness. The single tapers that stood to either side of the altar were small and insufficient to dispel the thick gloom. Dizziness and nausea overcame her as the strong incense permeated her lungs. The room felt oppressive, claustrophobic, and her mind screamed at her to retreat.
Jex’s hand closed around her wrist in warning.
“Remember,” he whispered, “once we step inside, you’ll need to remain absolutely silent until the ceremony is complete. No matter what happens, do not make a sound, understand?”
His breath was warm and the soft kiss he pressed to her temple made her shiver. She nodded and hesitantly followed her Chosen inside.
He closed the door behind them. The soft boom reminded her of the latch on the door to the Hall of the Dead; solid and inexorable.
Jex led her up the aisle at a slow and measured pace, their steps muffled more than they should have been in the stone chamber. The shadows seemed to whisper words too soft to discern, a dark susurration against her senses. The sensation was like cobwebs and moth wings and the touch of a burial shroud all mixed together.
After passing the last row of benches and their silent occupants, Enari discovered that what she had originally taken for a shadow cast by the altar was instead a large, smooth-edged opening in the floor. Her Chosen’s hands guiding her with confidence as he directed her to kneel, adjusted the fall of her skirt, and placed her hands in her lap. He cupped the back of her head and tilted it forward until all she could see were the stones beneath her knees and that yawning pit. The touch withdrew and she heard the rustle of his robes as he took his place behind her.
It was only at this angle she saw the faint reflection of candlelight in dark water. A pool then, and not an empty well as she first assumed.
The realization was not as comforting as it should have been.
“Enari Alycon, daughter of Eryk Alycon and Tanith Hithaerien, today is the day of your Ascension. You have entered this chamber in a state of flux, tempered from apprenticeship but not yet forged as an adept. You are Initiate, the in-between.” The deep, strong voice of her father issued from within the dark cowl of the figure in front of her. “As those who came before were tried, so you shall be. Who among you will stand witness?”
Enari was confused. What trial? Hadn’t she passed all the tests the week before? She’d thought the Rite of Ascension a mere formality, if a secret one, but now it sounded that assumption had been incorrect.
“We will,” came the unified and ringing response from those seated behind her.
Enari shivered again, cognizant of the power behind the declaration. The touch of their voices was the only warmth in this brooding place and she was grateful for it.
“And who among you will hold the door for her?”
“I will,” Jex confirmed, his voice strong and certain.
“Then let it be.”
Her father turned to the altar and picked up the metal fragment. Motioning for Jex to step forward, he pressed the weapon into his hand.
Enari watched from beneath her lashes without raising her head, seeing the glimmer of candle-flame slide along the razor’s edge.
Her Chosen went to his knees in front of her. He raised the shard, letting her examine it for a heartbeat or two, then used the blade to cut her palm and his own. Enari winced at the line of pain that blazed across her skin, biting back a hiss just in time to keep from breaking the mandate of silence. Jex pressed their weeping palms together and laced his fingers through hers.
She could almost taste her own dread now, bitter as a mouthful of lemon rind.
“Blood to blood and gift to gift,” Jex intoned, “I lend you my strength for the test ahead. I will hold the door so you may pass and may it be with joy that I close it after your return.” There was a hint of fear in his emerald eyes as he spoke the final words.
“Initiate, it is time for you to face The Pool and The Dweller below,” her father announced.
Sweat broke out across her forehead and the back of her neck as her eyes settled on The Pool.
Jex rose to his feet, fingers still twined with hers, and she balked, not wanting to go any nearer to that still and menacing water. He reached behind her and seized her belt, forcing her up and forward. His hand remained at the small of her back to hold her in place once they stood at the very lip of The Pool.
Her stomach knotted and a slithering nausea twisted its greasy fingers around her throat. She swallowed hard and tasted bile.
Jex put his mouth against her ear and began to speak.
“We have to lower you into the water. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and don’t be afraid. It’ll be over before you know it.”
She turned to him, shaking her head. More than anything, she did not want to let that black water touch her. Blue eyes met green and she pled the only way she could.
His expression went flat and his voice hardened. “You asked me to serve as your Chosen. Let me do my duty.”
“Be silent!” the High Mage barked.
Jex gave him a dirty look, but nodded once and the two men took hold of her, each putting a hand under one of her arms and grasping her hands in theirs. With agonizing slowness, they began to lower her.
The first shock of bitter cold stole her breath.
As the velvet of her robe became wet, it dragged on her and clung to her legs. She kicked, trying to free her feet but the heavy fabric stuck fast.
Before she was half-submerged, she started to tremble. The water felt just short of freezing solid and had a slimy quality that disgusted her.
Soon, only her head remained clear and Jex was crouching at her side, still gripping her bloody hand. His other settled on her hair.
“Deep breath, now,” he directed.
And before she could even think to scream, he jerked his hand free of hers and thrust her head beneath the surface.
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Ronelle Antoinette lives in western Colorado with her husband, two cats, and one dog-who-believes-he's-a-person. While she is a mother to none, she’s an auntie to what should qualify as a small army. She is an admitted caffeine addict, chocoholic, and hopeless romantic who has carried on a passionate affair with the genre of fantasy since she was old enough to read 'chapter books'. She dabbled in creative writing for many years and even considered it as a major in college. (She ended up getting a Bachelor's degree in Counseling Psychology.) She published her first novel, Errant Spark, in July of 2016.