I'm pumped for the release of the newest Hundred Halls series, The Crystal Halls. The Kickstarter will launch in August and then the books will be available on all retailers starting in October.
To help you get as excited as I am, I'm previewing Kuma Santos' first chapter and the character artwork that will be available in hardback and paperback. For those of you that have read the Stone Singers, or the Order of Merlin, you will recognize the last name of Santos. Kuma is the son of Niran Santos, leader of the Undercity clan Razor.
So please enjoy this opening chapter of the book. Next week, I'll preview the other major POV character, Pandora!
The shadows moved. Not the kind of movement that the clan brothers and sisters called the flicker, which surfaced during the long watches when the mind grew restless. Kuma would have asked Carlos if he'd seen it, but he'd gone for a piss ten minutes ago and was probably nosing around the ladies at the bar in the Pale Sun.
No, this was a different type of movement. The kind with teeth and claws, or maybe a knife. Kuma reached for the curved blade in his jacket, wishing guns weren't forbidden in the Terreno. If he were a waku, it wouldn’t matter as much, as he’d be able to wield stones that would make him powerful. Even an amber stone, which would give him the capacity to see in near-darkness and hear a single drip of water from two caverns away, would be enough for him. For now, anyway. Certainly he'd wish to be like his uncle Brazio, who carried four stones. No one carried more.
Kuma leaned forward, studying the shades of darkness that permeated the caverns, looking for the glint of whiteness that he'd seen briefly at the edge of his vision. There were three kinds of shadows, all of them dangerous in their own way. The first held the quick death. Creatures born of the Undercity, or the people living on the edges that hunted in the darkness. These shadows were the easiest to avoid, or frighten away with numbers or light.
The second was at his back inside the Terreno. The shadows that flowed from great men and women like his father, or the head of the Drops. When the inhabitants of the Undercity spoke of the clans, or RZR, they were speaking of his father, Niran Santos. Since the discovery of the stones and the forging of the waku, his power had grown. So too had the power of their rivals, the Drops, and even the smaller clans that operated in the northwest regions. Now their shadows reached aboveground, where the power of the mages and the school no longer held the sway that it had before the Awakening. The people that lived above them called it the Invasion, or the Sundering. While it had brought trouble and lessening for them, it had been a boon for the clans, even if the Undercity was more dangerous now. It was the reason the clans had come together on this evening, to end the petty battles and divide the Undercity between them, so each could gather profit on their own terms.
The final shadows were the ones his father said held the greatest danger. The unknown. The shadows behind the shadows, and the reason Niran had reached out to the other clans to make a deal. The discovery of the stones had brought interest from outside the Undercity. It was these shadows that he'd said would prove to be the biggest danger. Best to bulwark their defenses while they had time and space.
But it was the first shadow that was threatening Kuma now. He kept his back to the passage, not wanting anything to sneak by him, even as he desired to creep forward to investigate the shift in the darkness. It would be a blow to his honor if he, the clan leader's son, let intruders into the Terreno during this critical night.
Keeping one hand firmly gripped around the wrapped hilt of his curved blade, Kuma used his other to cup his ear, focusing his hearing towards the shadows. He calmed his breathing, using the circular technique to slow his heart until it was one lonesome beat after another.
There. He heard the scraping of two rocks together. Barely perceptible. Whoever—or whatever—it was, was at the back of the cavern, probably fifty feet from his location. This was a back entrance near the Umbra, which was a bar loyal to the RZR clan. Kuma crouched down and picked up a small stone. He side-armed the rock into the cavern, hoping to spook any critters, if that's what it was. The rock bounced against the back wall.
As Kuma took a step forward to investigate further, the tip of a blade pressed into the tender part of his back. He made himself relax, deciding if he should spin forward and knock away the blade, or try to slip backward along the length of the intruder's arm and attempt to break their wrist against his knee. The first maneuver was safer, but would leave him facing an unknown foe with a potential intruder at his back. The second was riskier as there was a good chance he would get cut.
When the blade was pressed further into his flesh, Kuma shifted backward, the edge slicing through his shirt. He grabbed the arm at the same time as he slammed his foot down on their boot, then lifted his knee to break the wrist. The arm didn't budge. Before he could decide on another maneuver, the blade was pressed against his throat.
"Good, but not good enough, Little Bear," growled Carlos' pack-a-day voice.
He pushed Kuma away. The older clan member, a topaz waku, spun the blade in his fist before shoving it into the hilt on his hip.
"It's your topaz," said Kuma.
Carlos scoffed and knocked the wave of greasy black hair that hung over his forehead out of his eyes. He pulled a cigarette from an inside pocket, tossed it in his mouth, and fired up a lighter. The tip glowed bright orange before fading to dullness. He blew a cloud of smoke over his shoulder.
"You gave it away. I saw your shoulder lift in anticipation of the wrist break. I could have stepped away and countered with a punch to the throat, or just jammed the blade in before you could spin. Either way, you were dead." His eyes glinted in the dim light. "Why didn't you move forward? It would have been the better move, Little Bear."
"I've got twenty pounds on you, Carlos."
"You ain't waku yet, so you little to me," said his clan brother with a smirk.
Kuma turned his head towards the back of the cavern. "Thought I saw something, or someone. Didn't want to place myself between two threats."
Carlos made a fist, the clan slang for understand. In the darkness of the Undercity, the difference between living and dying could be boiled down to how much noise you made. All the clans had their hand signals, though most were similar enough to decipher.
"What took you so long? Trying to snag some skirts?" asked Kuma as he placed his back against the wall and probed the slice in his shirt. The blade had creased a line across his flesh but not drawn blood.
"The head of Drops and her fists showed up."
"What's she look like?" asked Kuma, jutting his chin out.
Carlos lifted a shoulder. "Dunno. She wore a mask. Black and gold."
"She's afraid to show her face, not like my father," said Kuma.
"May the shadows keep you safe," said Carlos with a shit-eating grin.
"I know, but this is the Undercity. If you can't show your face here, then you don't have any power."
Carlos lifted his eyebrows towards the cavern ceiling, indicating the city above.
"They say she's a big dog up top. Owns businesses and has her tendrils in all sorts of shit. Wants to stay legit in the eyes of the light."
"May the light keep her blind," said Kuma.
Carlos slapped him lightly on the shoulder. "Don't say that. This peace will be good for all sides. We don’t want things to unravel because someone ran their mouth."
"No one's here."
Carlos gestured towards the back of the cavern. "Didn't you just say you thought you saw something?"
Heat rose to Kuma's cheeks. He'd let himself get too worked up. Niran was always cautioning him that emotions were a threat to his safety. Best to understand them, but then let them pass through unheeded. Easier said than done.
"I wish I could be there."
"It's not going to be interesting," said Carlos. "All the details were worked out ahead of time. Tonight is a formality."
"It's a bad idea, getting all the heads together at the same time. What if something happened?" asked Kuma.
"That's why we're here, so nothing happens."
"Do you think they'll really keep the peace? That everyone will stay in their regions and not meddle in each other's business?" asked Kuma.
Even though Carlos was only three years older, because he was a waku, it seemed like it was a decade or more. It'd only been recently that Kuma had been allowed to be involved with clan business. Unlike the Drops, they didn't use their kids as mules or workers.
"For now? Yeah. The scraps have been bad for business, which is the only reason all sides have come together. But eventually, someone will see an advantage in breaking the peace, and then we'll be scrapping again." Carlos jammed his finger in Kuma's chest. "Which means you'd better be ready. I know you start training next week. Keep that in mind. Stay focused."
Kuma hated being reminded, as if he didn't know already. It was hard enough as the son of the clan leader. Everyone was always looking for him to screw up, which would damage his father's position. Since his father had proved to be a null—no stones would work for him—and his brother Brazio could use four, there'd been tension in the clan. Uncle Brazio was looking for an excuse to leverage his brother out of his position, another reason why Niran had proposed the truce between clans. The loss of profits was only hurting his status.
"When did you know?" he asked Carlos.
The older clan member hunched his forehead, before understanding smoothed the skin flat. He placed his hand on Kuma's shoulder and gave a firm squeeze.
"Don’t worry, Little Bear. I'm sure you'll be waku. At the least, you'll be an amber, maybe even a two-stones like me."
"And if I'm not?"
Carlos' gaze hardened. He gave a tight shake of the head as he looked away. "Focus on the training. Nothing else matters."
That's what worried Kuma. There were three kinds of shadows, and all of them wanted to kill his family.
To get these books the fastest and cheapest way possible, be sure to follow the Kickstarter campaign that launches next month!