ethereus the BALLAD trilogygenre: dark epic fantasystyle: trilogy - book one A devout human priestess. A ferocious Asmahani warlord.After a catastrophic turn of events, Maeve and Feruza are forced to put their biases aside and team up to survive the pursuit of a malicious syndicate that seeks their power and a dragon army that wants them dead—all while mutual resentment begins to bloom into a dark romance. Maeve took the granite stairs curling down the outside of the Temple’s dormitory tower with a ginger foot. They, like everything on this edge of town, wore a constant sheen of moisture, a gift from the sea below and beyond. She hadn’t yet changed her bloody shift, nor washed her hands, face, or hair. That would have to be done later with a bath and a harsh scrubbing that removed a layer of skin along with the filth. For now, though she needed air. The tightness in her chest was beginning to subside, but her heart still hammered against her ribs. She needed a dose of the particular peace only nature could provide. She was thankful to have found a spare woolen blanket to shield herself against the worst of the morning cold. She pulled it closer over her bare shoulders and descended onto the slick, rocky precipice on which the Temple perched. This was her home. The sun shone in silver streams through boughs of wind-beaten pines, made milky by gray clouds and drizzling rain. The grass underfoot was slick, loamy, with emerald moss where mud should be. The air was fragrant, the breeze crisp but not biting, not to her. The way it whipped her hair was a feeling she never ceased to adore; in fact, the amount of time she spent out here on the sheer ledge, exposed to the wind and salt spray, gave her hair its characteristic wave. From way up here, Maeve could smell the sea, hear the violent waves crashing against the columnar stacks of basalt that lined the cliffs, dotted the shore, and rose, stoic and lonely, from the water. The mournful cooing of doves and lazy chatter of gulls echoed through the sounds of rain and sea, though the birds themselves were obscured by the lingering fog, reduced to blurry gray shadows milling above and beyond. She sat down on a boulder. Her boulder. It overlooked the endless ocean, planted precipitously near the lip of the cliff that plummeted to the battered shore below. She breathed deep. This was her home, and the incessant prick of pain on the skin of her belly told her without doubt that this was the last time she would see it. Maeve didn’t have to lift the hem of her robe to know the mark was there, but she did anyway, with shaking fingers. A red X glared up at her from just below her navel, its edges of cut flesh caked with dried blood. She dropped her hands. She clenched her eyes shut. To any onlooker, she seemed to be just fine. Wet, perhaps a bit cold and, of course, dirty, but fine. She wasn’t. The scar borne on the wings of a dragon carried a clear message. In a week’s time, she'd face death. She was only twenty-three. Maeve breathed deep. She exhaled, shaky and slow. How could this have happened?