After countless battles as an Oathtaker, Katya is about to face her hardest fight—one for her mind and soul.
Katya Greenleaf has given herself over to the thrill of combat countless times during her years as an Oathtaker. Alongside her mentor Shira, she has sought out evil—pirates, slavers, dark mages and demon hordes. Occasionally, she finds comfort in the company of other females she encounters in her travels, and despite her mother’s best efforts, she has no desire to settle for a traditional elven life and family.
After decades of taking joy from the fight, no matter the odds, Katya leads a group of Oathtakers into a disastrous battle, one which costs the lives of everyone around her, including Shira. Katya survives, but with neither body nor spirit intact, haunted by her life of violence and death in the name of her Oath.
Now, the red-haired warrior will find her greatest challenge in a battle against a different sort of demon—ones that live in her mind and haunt her sleep.
As she heals, Katya is reminded that there is more to life than blood and iron by a compelling human named Lili, who not only catches Katya’s interest, but forces her to re-think her life and her mission.
With Lili at her side, her beloved falcon Fayne on her shoulder and healers encouraging her, Katya sets out to re-discover the warrior she once was and finally confront the truths of what happened the day the world collapsed around her.
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and the death of a minor character.
General Release Date: 28th February 2023
The swamp went against everything Katya had ever learned about choosing a battlefield.
She stood in freezing knee-high water surrounded by small islands of reed-covered sand. Thick mist hung in the air, limiting her vision and rendering her favoured weapon, a crossbow, useless.
The fog was freezing and damp, and despite the enchantments on the leather armour she wore, a chill was creeping into her bones. In that, Katya wasn’t alone. The other members of her party were also complaining about the wet and frosty surroundings.
The swirling mist made sounds duller and flatter, but with her better-than-human hearing, Katya could hear the clicks and whistles that made up the language of the lizard men that were closing in on them. They were savage and bloodthirsty creatures, given to torture and enslaving defeated enemies, fighting to the last with massive clubs of wood and jagged stone axes.
Today it was Katya’s job to lead the fight against this party of lizard men, sending a message from local merchants and crafters’ guilds that it was time the lizards put a halt to their destruction of trade missions and killing of travelling merchants passing through the area, and that their immediate departure from the swamp would be appreciated.
The responsibility weighed on Katya, despite her eagerness to mix it up, and because of this, she was not happy with what was going to be a horrible place for a stand-up fight.
Still, neither weather nor terrain mattered to Katya. Oathtakers didn’t just head into battle when the skies were sunny and pleasant. Dead enemies were dead no matter where their bodies ended up.
The mist beside her parted and Shira appeared, his beard caked with frost. Katya knew her own long hair looked the same, even though she wore it tied back. Function over form was the warrior’s way.
The old ranger gestured with his chin towards the swamp.
“I’ve seen worse. That garbage pit on the coast? Blah.”
Shira laughed. “I’ll never forget that smell. Nor the rats.”
Katya suppressed the shudder that rolled up her back. Gods, the rats, she remembered. Vile and voracious monsters that had wiped out all the wild animals in a huge area around the garbage dump. When they had moved on to livestock, the farmers in the area were desperate for help. The Oathtakers had answered the call.
The rats had been the same size as large dogs, with yellow eyes and even yellower teeth—one of them had bitten straight through a party member’s leather gauntlet. When all was said and done, everyone in the fray had ended up with scratches and bites from the filthy beasts that needed to be well-cleaned before infection set in.
Their foul bloodstains never had come off Katya’s armour completely, no matter how often she scrubbed them.
“I think the lizards will give them a run for their money today.”
Shira’s face took on the more serious look that Katya was accustomed to—his war-face. “They may, aye. What did our friend in the sky say?”
Katya looked up, straining to see. “I haven’t talked to her yet. Do you want me to call her in?”
“May as well. She’ll have seen all she can by now. No sense in letting her freeze.”
Katya nodded. She pursed her lips and whistled, making an odd yet pleasant musical sound, then waited.
In a few seconds, a dark shadow, one of Katya’s most valuable weapons and allies, plummeted out of the misty sky.
* * * *
Three years before Day Zero
Katya had found Fayne on a solitary trip through the woods near her village during one of her infrequent visits home. Life as an Oathtaker didn’t provide much opportunity for family life, so Katya treasured the times she was able to sneak away for a few days to visit her parents and older brother.
Still, home, or not, there was no sense in wasting a day. There were always ways to stay sharp, even improve, if she looked for them.
She had crept out of the house while everyone else still slept and walked into the woods she loved so well, planning to spend a few hours hunting for medicinal herbs and roots she was running low on.
She had observed a promising hollow log across a clearing, and while rounding a massive scarlet hemp tree, she spotted a small bird lying on the ground, barely moving. She looked overhead and noticed a nest on one of the upper branches of the hemp.
Katya knelt and examined the bird. It was a female hunting falcon with gorgeous colouring, a skilled and very dangerous predator. This one was close to death and so weak that it could barely snap at Katya’s hand when she stroked the bird’s wing.
Katya dropped her pack and scaled the tree towards the nest. As she neared it, she climbed with caution, wary of dealing with an angry mother falcon’s sharp beak and talons. Not seeing or hearing any signs of life, Katya drew her eyes even with the nest.
Empty. Nothing but a few pieces of eggshell. No baby birds, no food, no evidence of any recent use. It looked like the wee falcon had fallen from the nest and had been abandoned by her mother.
Katya swung back down the branches to the ground. She took off her cloak and wrapped the bird in it, cooing all the while. Whether it was from her gentle handling or part of her inborn elven connection with animals and nature, the small bird stopped shaking.
Bird and elf made their way home.
Katya spent the next two weeks bringing the small falcon back to life. The bird, who Katya named Fayne, first lived in a basket in her room. Being fed a steady diet of bugs, then grubs and finally chunks of stewing meat revitalised the falcon as if by magic, and she soon moved to a perch Katya built next to her bed.
In short order, Fayne had graduated to riding on Katya’s shoulder as her constant companion. It took some time, but Katya grew used to the falcon launching herself into the air to snap up a mouse or rabbit that the bird had spotted with her outstanding eyesight. She had a local blacksmith create a small iron perch that was stitched into the left shoulder of her chestplate. It was easier for the bird to hang on to and it was far better for her armour than Fayne’s sharp talons digging into the leather.
Katya also learned, much to her surprise, that she and Fayne were able to talk through a language that wasn’t quite bird and wasn’t quite elven, but some combination of both. Within a few weeks, they could carry on a conversation and, despite the growing love she felt for the little bird, Katya’s warrior mind also recognised that she had found herself a valuable ally for the battlefield. It brought the elf immense pleasure to watch the feeble bird she had found grow and mature into a beautiful bird of prey.
She had no idea how much the bird returned that love and devotion until one night when a very large and very drunk human decided that he should try his luck at compelling Katya to be his company for the evening.
The drunk and several of his friends, sitting at the next table, had grown increasingly loud and obnoxious as the night went on, to the point that Katya and her brother Elias had ended up having to almost shout to be heard.
One of the men took a shining to Katya and began directing suggestive comments her way, punctuated each time by the boisterous laughs of his companions.
The siblings, who had been trying to enjoy a drink together without the presence of their parents—whom they both dearly loved, but needed to escape from on occasion—decided the best course of action was to leave. Elias dropped a few coins on the table and brother and sister headed for the exit.
The unlucky human, whose name Katya had never bothered to learn, stepped in front of them paces from the door, the first mistake he would be making in the span of a few seconds.
“Come on, love. I only need your company for an hour or so.” He laughed at his own joke, as did the other men at the table he had staggered from.
Katya took a deep breath to slow the adrenaline that was already beginning to pump through her body. Regardless of the low-key circumstances, this was a conflict, and her body was getting ready to fight. She needed to stay calm.
“No, thank you. You’re not my type. At all. Even if you were, I don’t think you’d be much company anyways. Move.” She reached for the door handle.
The humour on the man’s face disappeared and his eyes narrowed. She had wounded his pride, and he grinned the grin of a tomcat thinking it was about to play with a cornered rat.
“I’m not asking nicely anymore.” He reached out and, making his second mistake, attempted to grab the elf’s arm.
As it happened, there were several ways Katya could have countered his clumsy grab. She was deciding between breaking his hand or spraining it when the matter was literally taken out of her hands.
With a screech that would later be compared in countless retellings to that of a demon, Fayne rocketed from Katya’s shoulder and landed talons-first on the chest of her assailant, sinking her beak deep into the human’s shoulder muscle. The man’s screams joined those of the bird as Fayne drew blood and her wings beat at the sides of his head.
The man attempted to grab the bird and was rewarded with a deep bite to the back of his hand. He sank to the floor, protecting his face as much as possible.
“Please! Make it stop!” He could barely be heard over the angry screeching of the enraged bird.
Katya was shocked but called Fayne back to her shoulder. With obvious reluctance, Fayne released the man from her grip and flew to Katya, settling back to her shoulder. The elf could feel the bird’s heart hammering away, making her realise how much it had taken out of Fayne to protect her. Still, the bird’s eyes were fixed on the man she had just pummelled, cold and black as onyx, and Katya had no doubt she would attack again if provoked.
Despite the awkwardness of the situation, she half-smiled at what her new companion was capable of.
No one in the tavern spoke, most shocked into silence. Katya turned and looked at the crowd, seeing a combination of incredulity and fear on faces. One of the man’s friends started to rise from his chair but sat down again at a sharp squawk from Fayne.
Elias put his hand on Katya’s other shoulder. “Come on, Kat. Let’s go.” They left the tavern, and by the next morning, it was a well-known fact that to cross Katya was to cross her feathered companion as well. Many people in town owned hunting birds, but no one could ever recall such quick and fierce loyalty between falcon and elf.
They had been adventuring together ever since.