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Excerpt for Dien-Vek by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Dien-Vek

An Ashelon Novella

Carolyn Kay

Ashelon Publishing 2017

To my parents, Barb and Steve. Without your unwavering support and patience, I wouldn’t be who I am today. You filled my life with love, open discourse, science, books, and the freedom to explore my passions. You are two of the most amazing people I know, and I’m very proud to be your daughter.



PS – I blame my warped sense of humor on Dad.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Acknowledgements

About the Author

About the Artist

Dien Vek Copyright © 2017 by Carolyn Kay.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

All characters, their distinctive likenesses and related elements featured in this publication are trademarked and copyrighted by the author and illustrator.

An Ashelon Publishing Book / published by arrangement with the author and illustrator.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents either are the product of the author’s and illustrator’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locations is entirely fictional, or are purely coincidental.

Cover art, design, and interior illustrations Copyright © 2017 by Chaz Kemp.

Interior design by Carolyn Kay and Angie Hodapp. Editor: Aimee Heckel

ISBN 13: 978-0-9987071-2-9

1. Fantasy 2. Steampunk

First Edition: 2017

Printed in the United States of America www.worldofashelon.com

This book is available in print at most online retailers.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



Chapter 1

Galessel looked over the rail at the clouds passing below, her stomach fluttering. Sunlight passing through the airship’s fish-shaped balloon cast purple shadows on the deck. She toyed with one of her ear charms, a small amethyst hung from a thin platinum ring that marked her as a diplomat.

“Worried about your visit to Arturia?” asked the airship’s sylph captain, N’hena Nikia.

Galessel started, so focused she hadn’t heard the diminutive fae approach. Then she sighed. Apparently she wasn’t hiding her nervousness well. Adjusting her goggles, she replied to the airship captain, “A little.”

She’d never been to Arturia, Ashelon’s capital city, and the prospect of taking her sister’s place as ambassador to the human queen filled her with a heady mix of anticipation and dread. A skilled diplomat herself, it wasn’t the duties that had Galessel’s stomach in knots. It was the idea of walking among mortals without glamour. The magic all fae used to blend in with mortals had disappeared after a god-sent comet exploded over Zorrovia nearly fifty years ago—an event now called the Great Unveiling. Galessel hadn’t been to the mortal realm since. Her duties instead took her across the Hidden Lands in an attempt to calm the various races of the fae in the face of an uncertain future. Humanity could now see them for what they were. Nothing would ever be the same.

“Are you at least enjoying the trip, ambassador?” N’hena asked.

“Delightful as always, captain. Of all of the airships that serve the Hidden Lands, I most look forward to those trips when I book passage on the Intrepid.”

She caught a pleased pink shimmer pass along the captain’s diaphanous wings. Galessel felt like she towered over N’hena, but she was of average height for an elf—as tall as most humans. In her experience, sylph didn’t mind the height difference, finding superiority in their ability to fly. And if anyone ever thought N’hena’s diminutive stature meant she was a sweet and passive creature, a closer look would make them think twice. The sylph boasted a fearsome array of weapons on her person; her prize twin pistols strapped to her hips, a wicked long knife handle protruded above her head from a sheath on her back, and small knives were secreted in the leather bracers on her wrists.

“I’m honored to have you aboard, even if the destination has you feeling wary,” N’hena said.

“Quite. I have never met the Queen of Ashelon, and I’m being asked to negotiate for our people at a critical juncture.” Galessel put her hand back on the deck rail, her motion deliberate. “My sister spent weeks with me, going over every detail. She says I’ll do just fine, but I still wish the lateness of her pregnancy wasn’t preventing her from finishing this.”

N’hena set her hand on Galessel’s elbow. “I’ve heard stories of the time you talked down an angry troll at the Crossroads Bridge. Surely talking to a group of humans will be easier.”

The purple-haired sylph had a point. It was just a trade negotiation. She’d been in more tense situations by far. “You’re right, of course. It should be a simple negotiation. The queen’s minister of trade is asking my people to expand our coffee exports. He’s gone so far as to demand we triple them. I’m afraid we cannot agree to that.” She toyed with her thick ebony braid for a moment before continuing. “And, if you will believe this, he had the audacity to ask for five hundred tons of wood suitable for ship building!”

N’hena narrowed her eyes, her wings changing to an angry red, and waited for Galessel to continue.

“This puts truth to the rumors that the queen wants to expand her air and sea fleets, but with so much of the forests in the mortal realm cut down for firewood by the low-borns, there is no wood for building.”

“And what does Ashelon offer in return?” N’hena’s wings faded slightly, but stayed red. Her hands strayed to her pistol-grips.

“Gold and chocolate, and Ashelon’s good will.” Galessel turned back to the rail, her fingers playing with her thick braid.

“That’s not much, considering what they’re asking for.” N’hena shook her head. “The human queen has gotten bold with the backing of her new god.”

“Aye, that she has. While the comet diminished our magic in the mortal realm, it strengthened the humans’. Queen Victoria aches to regain the lands she lost when the natives used their magic to rebel.” Galessel sighed. “At least the Hidden Lands are safe.”

“For now. Although she could sure use our resources to gain back Freedonia and Aryadi.” N’hena’s wings turned yellow at the thought. “Damn the comet and Asher to the Dark!” Red pulsed through her wings, making them shimmer like fire, as she cursed the god of chaos. “Victoria continues to spread strife and chaos throughout the mortal realm, which only serves to make Asher more powerful. I wish I knew how he convinced her to become his high priestess.”

Galessel shrugged. “Power? Humans seem obsessed with it.”

The Intrepids first mate, a brute of a man—Galessel suspected he was actually part giant—thumped toward them, stopping in front of N’hena.

“Cap’n, there’s a ship to starboard. It’s not approaching, but I think you should come have a look.”

N’hena nodded, her wings transitioning to a pale, creamy yellow. “If you’ll excuse me, Princess.” She tugged on her leather vest and looked behind Galessel to the large, twin elven guards standing a discreet distance away. “You might want to return to your cabin. I’m sure it’s nothing, but better to be safe.”

A chill ran over Galessel, causing her to clutch her shawl around her more closely. “Of course, captain.”

N’hena bowed, then motioned for her first mate to lead the way. His long legs took him down the deck quickly. As her wings came up to speed, the small sylph lifted from the deck and flew after him, catching up within moments.

Turning to her guards, Galessel found them watching the captain’s progress. Rare for elves, they were identical twins, but she could tell them apart easily. Daylor, the older of the two, kept his facial hair trimmed to a crisp mustache and goatee, while his brother preferred modest mutton chops. “Daylor, follow the captain and find out what’s of concern.”

“Yes, m’lady.” Daylor looked pointedly at his brother Garrik, who nodded.

“We should take the captain’s advice, m’lady,” Garrik said, pointing the way down the port side to her cabin as Daylor walked briskly, his armor chiming, in the opposite direction.

Curious, but not willing to fight her guards, she headed to her cabin.

“… black ship … maybe pirates … Svellvega.”

That last, the name of her people’s long-time enemy, snapped Galessel fully awake. Her book lay open on the same page she’d opened it to earlier. She must have dozed off. Looking up, she found her guards whispering in the far corner of her cabin. Both now held their silver helms under an arm. What was going on?

“Was I dreaming? I thought I heard you say something about the Svellvega?”

Both elves turned to her, their faces concerned. “It’s nothing m’lady. Just idle speculation,” Daylor said.

Galessel pushed herself into a more comfortable sitting position on the bed and rubbed at a sore spot in her neck. “There’s nothing idle about the Svellvega, Daylor. What did you see?”

“Nothing specific, m’lady. Just another airship, several leagues distant, but paralleling our course. We lost it in the clouds before anyone could discern its flag,” Daylor said, running his free hand through his curly blonde hair.

Daylor had been her guard since she was forty— more than thirty years. She could tell he was holding something back. Annoyance and concern were beginning to make her stomach sour. “Out with it, Daylor. What aren’t you telling me?”

Daylor looked at his twin, Garrik, who just shrugged. Galessel slammed her book shut. Daylor had the good sense to look chastised. “It may be nothing, Your Highness. The clouds were creating shadows—”

“And?”

“The ship may have been black.”

Black? A chill ran along Galessel’s arms. Reports of raids on villages at the far edges of the Hidden Lands often contained descriptions of black airships. The raids only ever left one or two survivors, whose sole purpose was to tell others who was responsible: the Svellvega. “How far are we from Arturia?”

“We’ll be there in a few hours.” Daylor looked at her, shrugging a single shoulder. “I’m sure it was nothing to be concerned about, Princess.”

The Svellvega had never been reported this close to a large human city. Maybe the shadows were playing tricks. That rationale did little to calm Galessel’s stomach, but it was the most logical explanation, and it would have to do.

“I’m sure not, but regardless, I have no doubt that N’hena will keep her crew on high alert until we land.” The room suddenly seemed claustrophobic with the two large guards taking up one wall. “I think I’ll try to take a proper nap, so I’m refreshed when we land. Why don’t you two help keep watch outside?”

Both elves seemed more than happy to comply and left without a word. Setting her book on the bedside table, Galessel laid down, but sleep eluded her.



Chapter 2

Galessel smoothed out her pale green silk gown and checked her image in the mirror to make sure her braid was tidy and her ear charms were hanging straight. She ran a finger up the edge of her right ear. A silver hoop for gaining the rank of scholar; silver ring and opal bead for Services to Those in Need; obsidian, emerald, and sapphire rings marking her as the chosen liaison to the fire fae, lake sprites, and ravela, respectively.

Her finger lingered on her newest charm. Though she’d had an earring denoting her status as an ambassador for nearly twenty years, she’d just changed out the plain gold ring for one with an amethyst jewel suspended from it, marking her as an ambassador to the human realm. Her pride swelled, before quickly getting quenched by nervous acid. She’d only been to the human realm a few times, and never as the representative of her people. Her sister, Miniel, had assured her that the nobles and the queen would recognize in her charms the nobility and status she held, but she wondered still.

The youngest of three girls, Galessel would never sit on the Anisbarii throne, and thus would never have a platinum ring in her left ear tip. The only time the rings on her left ear would change would be when she married and gained a gold ring with gems in the colors of her house and that of her husband.

A polite cough behind her snapped her out of her thoughts.

“Your Highness? We’re about to land,” Garrik’s bass voice announced from the cabin’s doorway.

Embarrassed at being caught mirror-gazing, Galessel turned, keeping her hot cheeks from Garrik’s eyes. “Thank you, Garrik. I’ll be along shortly.” She knew without looking that he bowed to her before leaving, his soft boots whispering against the deck planks as he retreated a few steps down the hall.

Anticipation fluttered in her stomach. Her friend Clove had told her stories of Ashelon, and her sister had briefed her, of course, but they offered vastly different views of the city. Miniel talked mostly of court intrigue and the who’s who of the nobility. She knew who was having affairs with whom, and what subplots were important to the Hidden Lands’ interests.

Clove’s tales, by contrast, were gritty and often dark. Her official occupation was as messenger between the courts of Ashelon and the Hidden Lands, but she also used her access to report on dealings Miniel would never see as a princess and ambassador. Galessel knew the true nature of the city would lie somewhere in between, but wondered if she’d actually see it, or just the pageantry of the court. With Clove as her official guide during her stay, she hoped they’d be able to sneak off to visit with the commoners. Reports on the condition of many fae living in Ashelon was troubling. Her parents didn’t appear to be concerned, but Clove confided during her last visit to court that human-fae interactions were becoming increasingly volatile.

The floor beneath Galessel tipped, causing her to step backward and collide with the bed, on which she sat down rather ungracefully. She stayed on the bed until the ship leveled out with a second, more gentle bump. As if the sudden commotion outside her cabin hadn’t indicated that they’d landed, the knock on her door from Garrik seemed redundant.

“Coming!” she sang before he could say anything. Grabbing her cloak off the back of the chair, she joined her guards in the hall.

Walking out on the deck, Galessel immediately noted the grey pall that hung over the landing platform. The sun was a sickly orange spot in the sky above. She took a deep breath, hoping to rid her lungs of the stale cabin air, and immediately regretted it as she started coughing. The air tasted like charcoal and smelled worse than the fire-fields of the salamander kin. How could the humans stand to breathe? N’hena appeared at her elbow, a scented kerchief in her outstretched hand.


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