The Crown of Stones Book 1
by C.L. Schneider
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Descended from a long line of soldiers, Ian is conscripted into the Rellan army and made to fight in their longstanding conflict against the ruthless Langorian invaders. The downfall of Rella imminent, Ian goes against orders and turns to the Crown of Stones, an ancient Shinree relic of untold power. Ignorant of its true purpose, Ian uses the crown to end the war, and pays a terrible price.
A decade later, still tortured by the aftermath of that day, Ian lives as a bounty hunter in self-imposed exile. Having renounced his magical heritage, he curbs his obsession with a steady stream of wine and regret. He struggles to put it all behind him, until a fateful encounter with a pretty assassin brings Ian’s past crashing into the present.
Targeted by a rogue Shinree, and a ruthless old enemy, Ian is forced to use magic again. His deadly addiction is rekindled and his life of isolation is brought to a swift end. With the land he gave up everything to protect once more in jeopardy, and his people’s future at stake, Ian becomes embroiled in a violent race for control of the Crown of Stones. To save the realms and those he cares for, Ian must embrace the thing he fears most: his own power.
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There was always a next. The Langorians were a swarm…an inexhaustible, savage, mindless swarm. And we had no choice but to become like them to survive. To become animals, going at each other, mechanically pushing against the tide, battering whatever stood in our way with whatever we had; clubs, axes, swords, knives—our bruised, bleeding bare hands. Fighting for days, months, years, striving to hold out against an enemy that knew nothing of mercy, an enemy stronger, and far more brutal than us, we’d become something less than we were.
And we were still losing.
I grabbed the Queen’s arm and steered her out of the fray. “We can’t take much more of this.” Needing to be heard, I drew her closer. “We should pull back.”
“Pull back?” Queen Aylagar Arcana yanked herself free. She gave me a wild, defiant look. Full of passion and reckless resolve, it made her exotic features come alive. “My order stands. We press on, Troy. As always.”
I shook my head. “Our numbers are dwindling too fast. We can’t win this.”
“We can and we will.” Aylagar raised a hand. She touched my face and the sound of metal clashing and men screaming seemed to fade away. Brushing back the blood-splattered, white strands that had come loose from my braid, she ran a finger down the strong line of my jaw. “Trust me, Love. The Langorians will not have Rella.”
“How can you still believe that?”
“Because I must. Because I have faith.”
“Ayla…” I stopped myself. Then I started again. “I saw the messenger arrive from Kabri. I know he carried orders from the King. You can’t keep ignoring them.”
She dropped her hand and backed up. “My husband is a fool. I don’t care how many messengers he dispatches from his throne, he is not out here. The blood of these men bathes my skin, not his. This is my war, Troy. Mine!” she cried. “We fight. We die. We go on until we prevail—by my command. I will not surrender. That is the way of it. That is the only way.”
My throat went dry at the fire in her. The way she stood, outlined by the backdrop of chaos, flanked by the crackling flames that consumed our camp, with sweat beading on her dark skin and battle-lust glazing her stare, I wanted to pull her into my arms. I wanted to go back to this morning, on the furs of her tent, when Aylagar’s flawless ebony skin was on me. Where status and race didn’t matter and death felt far away. Mostly, I wanted to believe her, as I had so many times, that every battle brought us closer to victory. That persistence was our greatest strength, and it would carry us through.
But this was it. King Draken of Langor was throwing everything he had at us, making one final push to wipe us all out. To once and for all lay claim to the land his forefathers had sought, and failed, to conquer. Surrendering was unacceptable; she was right in that. Yet, Aylagar had lost her way. Somewhere along the line, the outcome had stopped mattering to her as much as the fight, and my affection, my awe of her, had blinded me for far too long.
“Give me the order,” I demanded. “Let me shift the odds.”
Her dismissal was quick. “No.”
“We can’t keep going like this, sword for sword, day after day, until there’s none of us left. Let me cast hell down on these black-hearted bastards.”
“I have given you my answer. And it is no different than the last hundred times.”
I moved closer. “You know what I can do. My magic can give us an advantage the Langorians can’t match. We can stop this fucking, never-ending war, Ayla. We can stop it together, with steel and magic. If you’ll just—”
“You are Shinree,” she hissed. “Your kind are meant to do as they are told. Yet, after six years in the ranks you still push for something that I will never bend to.”
“Then you’re as big a fool as the King.”
Her hand that only a moment ago had caressed me, struck my face. “My husband forced your service in this army upon us both. And from day one, when you stood in my tent, a young man, eager to please, drooling with the urge to cast, I made it plain that this conflict would not be solved with magic. It’s dishonorable. I don’t trust it. I forbid it. You are my best soldier, Troy. I have given you free reign in my bed, but not out here. Not in battle. Ever. Is that clear?”
Staring at her, my heart went cold. “I don’t think I can do this anymore. Fighting as half a man. Ashamed of what I am because you say it’s wrong. I’m not just a soldier.” I held up the sword in my hand. I called to the stones embedded in the leather-wrapped handle and they began to glow. Their vibrations pressed in through my skin, down into my veins, and the uncertainty washed away. “I’m a Shinree soldier.”
“Put that magic away,” she scolded. “Do you want to kill us all?”
“I can control it.”
“Can you?” Her eyes were harsh. “Can you promise that when your spell steals the strength it needs to be born, that it won’t steal from one of my men? That it won’t steal from me? Your magic is a disease, Ian. Your need for it, your addiction, clouds your judgment. It threatens us all and undermines my orders.”
“Your orders,” I roared, “contradict my duty to keep Rella safe. I’ve tried to pretend they didn’t. I’ve tried to be what you wanted. But I can’t. I’m Shinree, Ayla. I am magic. And if you don’t untie my hands, we will all die here today.”
Stunned, Aylagar gaped at me. For a moment, there was a rare vulnerability in her eyes, a kind of resigned sadness. Then she raised her sword, turned, and re-joined the battle. She left me standing alone on the rim of the conflict, watching with a crushing sense of finality as the men I’d fought beside for years were being slaughtered.
I can save them, I thought, though they wouldn’t do the same for me. A magic user, granted exemption from the slavery that kept my kind in check; I was tolerated at best. But lately, I’d seen it in their eyes, next to the pain, the hunger and exhaustion. They no longer hated me because I might use magic and bring them harm. They hated me for not using it, for continuing to let them die.
Frustration pushed a scream from my lungs. A pang of rage and resentment sped through me, so sharp, I pulled my second sword, pushed into the mayhem and started swinging. I sliced through bodies, one after the other, trying to lose myself in the rhythm. I pressed forward, deeper into the madness; wrath blazing in my white eyes as I strived for an answer to the conflict that burned inside me.
My magic knew nothing of sides. My spells fed without discrimination. They were selfish, heartless. They didn’t care who was right or wrong, who was strong or weak. To create themselves, they would drain friend as easily as foe.
In the villages they called me a champion, but I wasn’t. I was a weapon.
Somehow, I’d forgotten that.
The Crown of Stones Book 2
The story of Ian Troy continues in Magic-Scars, the second installment in C. L. Schneider’s riveting epic fantasy trilogy, The Crown of Stones.
Captured by his old enemy, King Draken of Langor, Shinree magic user Ian Troy was sentenced to prison. Tortured and drugged, robbed of his will, his memories, and his magic, Ian was made to do unspeakable things. Rescued, as his body slowly rids itself of the drug, Ian realizes he has returned to an unfamiliar world gripped with fear. In the wake of his fall, those he cared for were left to their own grim fates. Draken has seized control of the realms and named himself High King. His brutal rein has sparked a desperate rebellion that Ian now finds himself a part of. His one task: recover and repair the Crown of Stones, in hopes it will tip the balance in the revolution that is brewing. In pursuit of the reason behind the artifact’s strange loss of magic, Ian is driven to release an explosion of retribution and power that leaves him irrevocably scarred.
Struggling to reconcile the man he has become with the man he once was, Ian strives to understand the growing number of magic-scars adorning his body. He searches for the truth behind his link to the Crown of Stones and uncovers shocking secrets buried for generations beneath the sand. To become the weapon the resistance needs, he must assume responsibility for his magical inheritance. But can he curb the destructive appetite that comes with it?
The price of Ian’s magic and his addiction have never been higher.
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The wreckage seemed to go on forever. Dense bands of smoke swirled in and around the chipped, jagged blocks of stone. There was no clear path. Splintered wood and broken glass cluttered the majority of the ground. Smoldering fires covered the rest. Occasional moans and whimpering cries trickled out from beneath the fallen slabs. Bloody hands reached for me. Weak fingers grabbed my legs. I shook them all off. Someone else would tend their wounds. Or they would die. Either way, their lives didn’t concern me. The one that did was in Langor, sitting on his throne.
Finally reaching the edge of the rubble, I came out in an empty field. Behind me, the fires were spreading. Screams blew with the dust and smoke on the wind. Tall, smoldering orange-black plumes loomed high, choking out the light. Lower, a darkening haze had rolled in to hinder my vision and clog my throat. I could scarcely see ahead of me.
I stumbled on. A small building came into view, outlined against the murk. About the shape and size of a guard post, I thought I might find a horse there. Maybe some water to wash the dusty layer of gore from my skin and the sting from my eyes.
Hopeful, I headed toward the structure. Men ran past me through the cloud. They were dressed in uniforms, so my theory of a guard post was looking sound.
I was almost there. I could see the road. But my footprints were made of blood, and my lungs were burning with the hot, acrid air. My head throbbed like it would split. I was suddenly so tired.
I only meant to slow down, but my legs gave out. And in that brief instant, in the time it took for me to fall to the ground, it happened. All that I was, all that I had ever done, seen, felt, thought, or heard—all the moments and the nuances of my life that two years on Kayn’l had taken away—every single bit of me came rushing back at the same time.
I’d struggled to remember for weeks. The missing pieces had eaten at me day and night since those first moments when I opened my eyes on the ship. Then, all I’d wanted was to get my life back. Now, it was crashing into me with such perfect, brutal clarity, I would have given anything to make it stop.
The Crown of Stones Book 3
The fate of Ian Troy is revealed in the final installment of C. L. Schneider's epic fantasy trilogy, The Crown of Stones.
In one fell swoop, the resistance was shattered. Lives were taken. Hope was lost. Peace slipped like grains of sand through his fingers. So did the Crown of Stones. Now, forced into hiding, Ian Troy grapples for a way to save the realm—and free its people—from the sadistic clutches of Jem Reth; Mirra’kelan’s new self-appointed emperor. Plagued with the knowledge of a tragic future, he strives to influence events and save those he cares for. But his magic has betrayed him, and Fate has other plans.
Marked by the crown, hindered by the transformation spell contained within, each cast brings Ian one step closer to becoming more beast than man. Each move brings the death and destruction foretold in his vision inexplicably nearer. With Langor on the brink of war, and King Malaq’s plan for peace hanging in the balance, Ian returns to the ancient past; seeking an end to the eldring spell and a means to thwart Jem’s growing domination. What he finds there sets off a chain of revelations that leads Ian places he never thought to go.
Entrusted with the future of his race, Ian becomes the linchpin for lasting change. But how much weight can one man carry? And how much is he willing to sacrifice in the name of peace?
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As the edge of the wave poured into the cave mouth, I shut my link to Jarryd, and pulled in all I had. My sense of the eldring vanished. There was merely the frigid fire in my veins and the pain of too much pleasure nipping at my nerves. Color swirled in my eyes and bled up through my skin. Auras fused and whipped, rotating and blossoming like a building storm. They begged for dominion and I gave it. I released my grip on the reins for the first time since the raid on our camp, and I did so eagerly. Bowing to magic’s might, forfeiting my discipline and control. Surrendering to the swirling upsurge of vibrant energy; I languished in its embrace, trying to recall when I’d last channeled freely. When I’d last permitted myself such relief, letting the pangs of hunger and restraint drown beneath the hot, wet kiss of magic snaking over my skin.
The sensation flicked at my thoughts, brushing them away, making it hard to remember anything, let alone how long I’d been living in my prison of deprivation.
It felt like forever.
The notion of my reward, of my impending satisfaction, quickened my breath as I stared up at the ridge. Eldring had already made it inside. I had no idea how many.
With a prayer that I wasn’t too late, I made my wishes clear as I expelled the crown’s magic. It left me in a long, sensual rush. Color burst from my skin and claimed my eyes. Rapture seized my body. Gratification drove me to my knees. A swell of auras remained behind, rippling over me, healing the damage my body had sustained in the fight. My existing scars prickled with heat as a fresh set scored into the flesh of my back and left leg. I cried out as they curled and burned, snaking their way across my skin.
My sight resumed. Weakness kept me down, winded and kneeling on the sand, watching the auras I’d released spin over the eldring in a tempest of throbbing, misty hues. As the magical whirlwind dissipated, like smoke thinned by a stiff breeze, it took fur and hide with it, stripping the eldring down to meat. Muscles, veins, and organs wilted. Bones weakened, separated, and dissolved into ash. One by one, those dead on the beach, those scaling the mountainside—all the invading eldring on Kabri, living and dead—returned to the land, reverting to the forms from which they’d been so selfishly resurrected.
Their dust blew serenely around me in the breeze. It was likely the closest thing to peace many of them had ever known.
Though she has been writing all of her life, Magic-Price (the first installment in The Crown of Stones Trilogy) was Schneider's first published novel. With the trilogy complete, she is excited to be embarking on a new path with her urban fantasy series, Nite Fire.
Learn more about C.L. Schneider and her work at clschneiderauthor.com, where you can read reviews, excerpts, sneak peeks and teasers, subscribe to her newsletter, and join her Street Team. Look for book reviews and guest posts, and follow her journey as an indie author, on her blog, "Heading Down The Yellow Brick Road". An active part of the online indie author community, you can connect with C.L. Schneider on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+, where she chats about books, zombies, coffee, and the wonderful roller coaster of a writer's life.
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