Title- Lethal Inheritance
Series- Diamond Peak Series Book #1
By- Tahlia Newland
Genre- YA Fantasy
A scream pierces the night. Ariel jolts awake and watches in horror as demons drag her mother into a hidden realm. She finds help and sets off on a rescue mission. But to defeat the demons, who feed on fear and seek to enslave the human race, she must learn a secret esoteric wisdom to awaken the dormant, but potentially explosive, power of her mind.
Walnut, a quirky old wise man, guides her through treacherous inner and outer landscapes, and Nick, the powerful Warrior who travels with them, proves a dangerous attraction. Can Ariel defeat the sadistic demon lord before he kills her and enslaves her mother?
The stakes are high, death a real possibility. Fail now, and she fails humanity.
This book has been awarded the AIA Seal of Excellence in Fiction and the BRAG Medallion for Outstanding Fiction.
Nick drew his sword, sidled along the corridor wall and leapt around the corner. A startled, black-clad Magan in a purple cape—one of Kestril’s clan—drew his sword and stepped back, his eyes on the tip of Nick’s blade pointed at his throat.
Behind the olive-skinned Magan, on the other side of the open double doors, rain fell in silver sheets. Even in the dim light, Nick recognised the black-bearded man. ‘Druid,’ he said calmly, raising his voice over the sound of the rain. ‘Your magic has failed, so tell me who sent you, or this sword will prise the words from your throat.’
Druid’s eyes narrowed and his arm muscles tensed ready to strike. ‘How do you know my name?’
‘I’ll tell you that if you tell me who gives you your orders,’ Nick replied.
‘You know whose side I’m on.’
‘But you don’t see Rasama directly. He’d eat you up and spit out your bones. Lord Menhir is it?’
‘No,’ Druid spat, his face distorted with growing rage.
‘Him? Pah! Menhir’s precious son who whispers soppy words in his ear? Never.’
‘Then who? Tell me, or perhaps you’d rather be a corpse.’ Nick pressed the tip of his sword into the Magan’s throat.
Druid stepped back. ‘You wouldn’t kill me.’
Nick stepped forward. ‘Are you willing to test that hypothesis?’
Druid stood his ground. ‘Warriors don’t kill men.’
‘That’s a dangerous assumption.’
‘I’ll risk it.’ The Magan darted away from Nick’s blade and struck out with his own.
Nick took a step back, surprised at the ferocity of the Magan’s onslaught, but he parried his every blow and stood his ground. They battled solidly, swords flashing in the grey light that spilled into the entrance hall.
‘Emot is it? Nearby, is he?’ Nick sprang forward, beat down Druid’s guard and aimed a blow at his neck.
The Magan blocked the blow, parried another attack and thrust forward only to be parried in turn. ‘He’s never far away,’ Druid gloated as he thrust again. Sweat dripped from his brow.
Once again, Nick’s quick reflexes blocked Druid’s attack. ‘What does he offer you, Druid? Riches? A bounty for Ariel?’
Druid snorted. ‘Kill you and I take her for myself.’ His top lip curled in a suggestive smirk.
Disgust, fury and a powerful urge to protect Ariel fuelled Nick’s determination and he unleashed his full power, forcing Druid backward. ‘Whatever it is, he won’t pay up. He never does. He’ll keep you hoping, always wanting. That’s what he feeds on. You’re a fool if you think you’ll ever get anything he promises you.’
‘Enough words,’ Druid growled. He stood his ground, maintaining his guard but unable to take the upper hand.
Nick feinted then cut towards Druid’s chest. The Magan parried a little too late and the tip of Nick’s blade scratched his side.
‘Surrender or die,’ Nick said as his sword arced towards his opponent again.
‘And end up in a cell! I’d rather be dead,’ Druid hissed. He blocked Nick’s sword with a clang, then feinted and followed with a vicious chest cut.
Nick slammed the Magan’s sword out of the way. ‘You’re already a slave; a Rasa’s slave.’
Druid merely hissed in reply. Their swords bound and disengaged, thrust and parried. Druid slowed, struggling under the weight of Nick’s superior swordsmanship. Eventually, Nick broke the panting Magan’s defence with a well-timed thrust. He stopped with his sword held steady an inch from Druid’s throat. ‘Drop it or die.’
‘Better I die!’ Druid took advantage of Nick’s pause, mustered his failing strength and knocked the Warrior’s sword away.
Nick sprang back. Maybe he shouldn’t have given Druid a choice. The Magan probably thought Nick didn’t have the will to kill him. A bad assumption for Nick, for Druid was a skilful opponent. A positive outcome was not assured.
‘Gutless wonder!’ Druid sneered. His fight had a desperate quality now and Nick’s second sight revealed a heavy infestation of Serpentine inside him. Grown to overflowing by the Magan’s hatred, black slime dripped from the Magan’s brow, and the beginnings of a Rasa demon grew from his back. It arose, snarling and spitting, devouring what remained of Druid.
In many ways the Magan was already dead, a puppet of the Serpentine. Fully fledged and unleashed, it used the human to do what it could not do alone—kill Nick. But Nick was a Warrior and he gave the power of his Radiance full rein. He didn’t want to kill Druid, but the Magan had chosen his own fate. With the unconfined power of the Radiance racing through it, the Warrior thrust his sword into the Serpentine puppet’s heart.
Druid dropped to the floor with a thud, his sword clattering on the hard stone. ‘As you wished,’ Nick whispered. ‘And I pray it’s quick.’ The Magan’s eyes glazed over.
Ariel had just finished her last sausage and cleaned up the remains of the salad when the deep bass of a big drum resounded across the camp.
Nick’s eyes lit up. ‘Great; they brought the drums.’
‘Drums? What for?’ Ariel asked.
‘Yeah, but . . .’
‘You two go,’ Walnut cut in. ‘I’ll clean up here.’
‘Are you sure?’ Nick asked.
‘Quite sure. Go and enjoy yourselves.’
Nick grinned. ‘Thanks, Walnut.’
He jumped up, beckoned to Ariel and set off towards the sound so fast that she had to run to catch up. They wove their way through the trees past colourfully embroidered tents until they found a solidly-built Haba man sitting at the edge of a clearing, slapping out a hypnotic rhythm on a djembe drum. His tattoo-covered flesh rippled with the beat. A large fire crackled nearby, and Habas gathered around, bubbling with excitement.
Other drummers arrived and sat cross-legged on the ground beside him. One by one they added their instruments to the beat. Drums of various pitches rang out in vibrant syncopation and, called by the sound, more Habas gathered, their faces glowing. Ariel couldn’t help but share their enthusiasm.
Naked from the waist up, the firelight painted the drummers’ chests with gold and revealed the extent of the fine tattoos that spiralled across their shoulders and down their arms and backs. One of the drummers gestured Nick over and pointed to a spare drum. Nick didn’t even glance her way. He just strode over, ripped off his shirt, grabbed the drum and settled himself on the ground with the others. As if that were the cue, the pace and complexity of the music increased.
Excitement filled the crowd as the drums pounded out the Haba’s joy in victory. The drummer’s muscles rippled in the firelight, driving the power of the drums with strength and ease. Their faces glowed with pleasure and, completely immersed in the music, they played as one, the deep sounds of the big djembe skillfully accented with cross rhythms from smaller, tabla-style drums.
Ariel couldn’t keep her eyes off Nick. An energetic and skilful drummer, the music emanated from every pore of his being. His finely muscled chest glistened in the flickering firelight, and he played the way he fought—totally present, his power completely under control, firmly directed and beautiful to watch. Ariel’s breath hitched in her chest. She’d landed herself a gorgeous man. She wished she could share the news with Tamara, but her best friend remained a world away, outside the Hidden Realm, and oblivious of the demons that walked the ordinary world.
More musicians joined in, adding wind and percussion instruments, various sized wooden flutes, gongs, clap sticks, and a Haba version of a didgeridoo that produced a deep, resonating and somewhat haunting background to the other instruments.
As the tempo increased, a line of women entered the space. Their feet pounded the earth, their arms made curling pathways through the night air and their hips swayed in an energetic and alluring dance. They wore thick brocade belts around their hips and, following the lead of a lithe old woman, wove their dance in a tapestry of movement and colour.
Intoxicated by the music, Ariel’s feet picked up the beat. The line of dancers passed in front of her, and the last in the line took Ariel’s hand and swung her into the dance. The rhythm of the drums exploded inside her and the dance took over. Immersed in the shared experience, her feet pounded, torso pulsed and hips shimmied without conscious effort. The dancers, pure music in corporeal form, were as one with the drummers, synchronised to the hypnotic rhythm. The music swelled to a crescendo, then with one resounding beat, it stopped. An instant later, the crowd erupted into cheers.
Flushed and smiling, Ariel plonked herself breathlessly on the ground at the edge of the crowd. One of the musicians began to play a slow melody on a wooden flute, and the crowd settled again. A female Haba entered the space and began to sing in a clear, high-pitched voice, her hips swaying to the beat. The words of the ancient language wove its spell over the audience. The drummers began to play again, but Nick pulled on his shirt and joined Ariel. He sat beside her and slipped an arm around her shoulders.
‘Where did you learn to play like that?’ she asked.
‘These guys,’ he replied. ‘I lived with them for a year. They adopted me into the clan.’
‘That explains it.’
‘And where did you learn to dance like that?’
She shrugged. ‘Nowhere. I just can’t not dance when the beat’s so good. This music is amazing, and that woman’s voice, I’ve never heard anything like it before.’
‘It’s a love song,’ Nick whispered, his eyes twinkling.
Ariel stared at the starry-eyed singer. ‘I thought so.’
‘Actually, it sounds better if you don’t understand the language,’ Nick whispered, his breath warm against her neck. ‘The words are really corny.’
Ariel giggled. Energised by the dance and seduced by the drums, she snuggled against Nick, enjoying the sensuality of their proximity. The intensity of their energetic connection didn’t scare her anymore, instead it merely heightened her pleasure, and she stayed in his cosy embrace while a man joined the woman and the love song became a duo. Another more lively song followed, but when they called Nick back to the drums, he shook his head.
‘Let’s go,’ he whispered.
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