Did you hear? Smoke Thieves 2 is almost here! The Demon World is packed with all the epic adventure and intricate plot we fell in love with the first time around, and we can’t wait to see where the second installment takes us!
But you don’t have to wait too long, we have an excerpt for you to read now!
PRINCE TZSAYN stared out from the ramparts of Rossarb Castle.
The town beneath him was in darkness, the roofs a jostle of tiles and chimneys, the town walls—manned by several hundred of his best soldiers—a shadowy smudge beyond. And beyond that, to the south, the land was lit up, the invading Brigantine army, thousands strong, marching forward with flaming torches.
“What do you think?” he asked the blue-haired man at his elbow. “And don’t sugar-coat it.”
“Do I ever?” General Davyon replied, though he looked around as if searching for a positive. “The town will fall. It’s just a matter of how quickly. There’s too many of them and too few of us to stop them breaching the walls. Once they’re over the walls, the street barricades will slow them, but they’ll find ways through houses, over houses . . . The barricades could trap us as much as hold them back.”
Tzsayn grimaced. “I don’t want it sugar-coated, but neither do I want it burned and salted.”
Davyon continued, “We retreat into the castle and wait it out until Lord Farrow arrives with reinforcements. The Brigantines can’t risk being encircled. They’ll have to fall back, and then we can counter-attack.”
Tzsayn nodded. “If we can hold the castle. If Farrow is coming at all . . . And if not, I risk losing everything . . . everyone.” He rubbed his face. His eye was sore, his body aching. He’d hardly slept for days. “Have I made the right decision, Davyon?” Aloysius had demanded that his daughter, Princess Catherine, be handed back to prevent Rossarb from being sacked and all the people within its walls massacred. And, looking out now at the mass of advancing torches, Tzsayn knew the town was lost and many would die. He could prevent those deaths by sacrificing one.
The general hesitated. “Only you can know that, Your Highness. But it’s fast approaching midnight, so . . .”
“So a little late to be changing my mind,” Tzsayn finished for him. He allowed himself a few moments to think of Catherine—her smile, her laugh, her eyes looking into his . . . No, Tzsayn could never sacrifice Catherine to her father.
Davyon muttered, “They’re impatient.”
As he spoke, a thick wave of flaming arrows flew high into the night sky from the Brigantines. As they arced down over the town walls, another wave took off. There was shout- ing from the eastern wall. The attack there was beginning too.
Tzsayn stiffened at the trails of fire before turning away and saying, “Come. We’ve things to do.”
The two men hurried down to Tzsayn’s rooms. Tzsayn glanced through the letter that lay unsigned on his desk.
To Prince Thelonius, ruler of Calidor:
I write this as the battle for Rossarb begins and I must be brief. Your brother, King Aloysius of Brigant, has invaded Pitoria, killing many loyal subjects of my father, King Arell.
But this is no mere war of conquest. Your brother has a deeper purpose. Princess Catherine, your niece, is here in Rossarb with me and has confirmed that her father’s sole aim has always been to retake your principality of Calidor. All Aloysius’s actions, including my arranged marriage to Catherine and the attempted assassination of my father, have been a feint—a diversion carried out so that Aloysius could invade the Northern Plateau and secure its most valuable resource—demon smoke.
Aloysius intends to create an army of boys fueled by smoke taken from purple demons. If young people—boys or girls—inhale this purple demon smoke, they gain strength and speed beyond those of the most hardened soldier. I have seen the magic of this smoke with my own eyes, and its power is beyond imagination.
And so this letter is both a warning and a request:
I warn you that when Aloysius has secured the Northern Plateau, and prepared his boy army, he will attack Calidor.
And, to prevent that, I ask you to join us now in the fight against him.
Tzsayn signed the letter, poured on a circle of blue wax, and pressed his seal into it. On the outside, he added a further note.
This parchment is to be carried with all haste to Prince Thelonius of Calidor. Whosoever bears it is to be given all aid and free passage, at the command of Prince Tzsayn of Pitoria.
He handed it to Davyon. “Ensure your best runner takes it. If the town falls, one man might get out in the confusion.” As Davyon put the letter into his jacket, a guard burst through the door. “Your Highness, you said to tell you of any breaches. The south gate has already given way and we’ve fallen back to the second barricade. The fire has taken hold fast; many buildings are in flames.”
It was moving even quicker than Tzsayn had expected. “And the east and west gates?”
“East is still holding. West is under severe attack.” Tzsayn ran with Davyon to the west gate. It was surrounded by flaming buildings. A group of Brigantines had broken through and were being held back by Tzsayn’s blue-haired soldiers.
Tzsayn drew his sword and joined the fight. He’d sent his men to fight many times over the last weeks but had always watched from afar. He’d sparred and trained for battle with his men, but now he was in the thick of it. And this—the real thing—was like nothing else. He was full of fear and energy, his eyes on his adversary, a huge helmeted Brigantine, while also being aware of those around him. To his right, one of his guards fell screaming as he lost an arm. The huge Brigantine stumbled back over a dead body pierced with smoldering arrows. The Brigantine’s sword was momentarily held away to recover his balance, and Tzsayn thrust forward to slice the man’s stomach. The Brigantine’s guts spilled out to his feet. Tzsayn strode over his adversary and on to the next.
They were making progress, forcing the enemy back through the gate, which was itself on fire, but now more Brigantines were climbing over the walls. Tzsayn called to Davyon, “Get the fire as high as possible at the gates, then we fall back to the next barricade.” The flames were leaping in the air as Tzsayn and the small number of blue-hairs retreated to wait for the next assault. But at the makeshift street barrier another soldier ran up to him through the smoke.
“Your Highness! Brigantines have broken into the castle.
It’s overrun with them!”
“From the north. Across the river and then over the wall on ropes.”
“I thought the castle was supposed to be impregnable.” Tzsayn glared at Davyon.
Davyon for once looked shocked, and muttered, “We all did. If the castle is lost, then all is lost. There’s nowhere to retreat to.”
Tzsayn looked back at the castle and could see smoke pouring from it. “Yes, it’s lost. I’ve lost.”
He’d failed. But there was still something he could do. “Davyon, I need you to help Princess Catherine. If I know Ambrose, he’ll have got her out of the castle. Find her. Get her out of Rossarb, hide her, do whatever you need to do to keep her safe.”
Davyon shook his head. “No, Your Highness. I stay with you at all times—especially now.”
“Change of plan. I want you to ensure the princess is safe, whatever happens to me.”
“That’s not . . . I can’t. I’m sworn to protect you with my life.”
“Are you refusing my order?”
“No. But . . . Your Highness. Please. My role is to protect you, to stay with you.”
“Your role, Davyon, is to do what I command. From now on, Princess Catherine is your top priority. Do you understand? If you fail in that, you fail me.”
“I’ve failed you already, Your Highness. I should have ensured the castle was better protected.”
“Then do this for me now, Davyon. Protect Catherine as you would me. You know I care for her.”
Tzsayn forced a smile. “You know I care for you too, old friend.” He embraced Davyon, who was as stiff as a board. “Find her, Davyon, and get that message through to Thelonius, if you can.”
Davyon bowed. “It’s been an honor to serve you, sir.” “The honor is mine, Davyon. Though, shits, man, you make it sound final! I plan to get through this and meet up with you after it’s over.”
“That would be an honor too, Your Highness.” And Davyon turned and ran toward the castle, disappearing into the smoke.
Tzsayn watched him go, sure that he’d never see Davyon again. Nor Catherine, nor his father, nor anyone but the last of his soldiers—his blue-hairs.
The Brigantines were advancing up the road to the barricade. A spear hit the man next to Tzsayn, who, with a roar of fury, threw himself back into the fray. The Pitorians fell back slowly, but they had nowhere to fall back to now that the castle had fallen. They moved through smoke-filled backstreets and alleys, slowly giving way until they were in a square—the fish market, by the smell of it.
Tzsayn and his blue-haired men stood in the middle, surrounded on all sides by Brigantines and, beyond them, the town in flames. There was no way out.
And then a man whom Tzsayn recognized stepped forward from the Brigantine ranks.
Boris, Catherine’s brother.
“Prince Tzsayn. The town has fallen. The castle is ours. Surrender and we’ll spare your life.”
“You lie,” spat Tzsayn. “You Brigantines never let your prisoners live.”
“We let them live as long as we want. Hours for some, days for others. Perhaps in your case it’ll be a full month.”
“I’d rather die here and now.”
Boris sneered. “Sadly for you, that’s not an option.”
Already the Brigantines were advancing. Not fast but slowly and steadily. Tzsayn could no longer see Boris through the press of soldiers, but he heard his order, crystal clear:
“Kill the blue-hairs. Bring the prince to me.”