Friday, May 3, 2019

Free Books, Dragon Excerpts and Chocolate Custard! πŸ˜‹

How has your week been? Happy National Chocolate Custard Day! One of my favorite things to eat. I make this keto custard at least three times per week. 
 

To be fair, I 1) often make it paleo by using honey or agave to sweeten it. It's SO good with honey. And 2) I know the recipe says it's a drink. For some reason, when I make it, it turns out thick like pudding, and I prefer it that way. But if you want it to be thinner, you could just add some water to thin it out. But it's super healthy, what with all the healthy fats from the avocado and coconut milk. So I was super excited when I saw that today was National Chocolate custard day! Yum!

Make sure to check out the free book links and the excerpt below! And have a great week! 


Excerpt:

From Dragon Magic, Book 1 (Title Forthcoming)
This excerpt starts right after last week's ended.

***As always, keep in mind this excerpt is from a work-in-progress and should be filed under ARC, which means there might be some mistakes in it and there will be more editing before the final product is published.***


When Tamilla awoke with the sun to make ready for her Spark of Knowledge test, she realized she'd avoided thinking about this particular Ordeal. Well, not the Ordeal itself, but the fact that it centered around books.
In truth, the Knowledge test held the greatest potential for her. People who proved to have the Spark of Knowledge joined the librarians in the Great Dragon Roost Library. They were required to help with cataloging the great Library—a project the Roost had worked tirelessly on for over a decade now. Beyond that, they studied nearly any subject they chose. This branch of the Dragon Vigil held more members—all doing separate things with their lives—than any other branch. So Tamilla figured her chances of success with this Ordeal were better than with most of the other branches.
And yet, the incident that took place right after her seventh name day, the incident that made her feel separate and heavily judged by the other villagers, centered around a book.
When she walked outside her tidy room to the stone amphitheater, she found Bertome waiting to escort her as usual. He held out his skinny arm—still nearly as big around as her waist, yet thin compared to the rest of his bulky frame—and Tamilla curtsied before reaching out to touch him so they could communicate. "Good morning Bertome," she said politely.
Good morning, Little Tamilla. Do you feel ready for your knowledge test?
"Ready as I'll ever be, I suppose,” Tamilla sighed.
Dual sensations of mirth and soothing calm emanated from the dragon. Tamilla gave him a grateful smile, knowing he was trying to make her feel better.
Is something the matter, Little One? Bertome asked. You seem more anxious than usual. Anything I can help with?
Tamilla shrugged uncomfortably, wondering if she should confide in the dragon. She felt foolish doing so, and yet almost more comfortable talking to him than to most other people. She vaguely wondered why that was.
“I’m nervous to be around the books,” she finally admitted. “I suppose you could say I’m a bit superstitious about them.”
You don’t like books? Bertome asked.
Tamilla shook her head. “No, that’s not it at all. I’ve always loved them. The couple who raised me was very poor and couldn’t afford them.” She nearly launched into an explanation, but hesitated again.
And something happened that made you superstitious about them. It wasn’t a question. Bertome settled back on his haunches, looking as interested as his boxy, dragon features could look.
“Won’t we be late for the test?” Tamilla asked.
The test will wait on you, Little One.
Tamilla heaved a deep breath. “One night, Master Raylin’s roof needed mending. The man who raised me is the village thatcher. I went with him to Master Raylin’s home. Master Raylin is the head of the Village Council, and lives in a grand, two-story home. He showed us around and showed me his personal library. The notion of a room in a house used for something other than sleeping astounded me at the time. We all slept three or four to a room.”
Realizing she’d gotten off topic, she glanced sheepishly up at Bertome. He merely blinked at her with interest.
“Even though they only filled one room in a village house, every wall held shelves packed full of books. I’d never seen so many in one place in my life. I remember feeling utterly mesmerized. I couldn’t imagine Master Raylin used all his books or would miss one, so I smuggled a small one out with me under my smock.”
Realizing she just admitted to thievery, her eyes snapped to Bertome. She detected no trace of judgment or negativity in his features or emanating from him through their touch.
What book did you take?
Tamilla thought a moment. “I believe it was a study on the interactions between butterflies and baby dragons. I could read well enough to understand the words, but I really loved the colorful pictures.”
Tamilla felt mirth and affection coming from Bertome. The sensations urged her on.
“I am no thief. I always planned to return the book, and I did. Over the next several weeks, I jumped at every chance to visit Master Raylin’s house. I volunteered for every message or errand so I could return the book I currently had and secretly take another. Of course, being a child—only about seven years old—I wasn’t clever enough to keep up the ruse for long. One day, I mistakenly thought I could smuggle a larger tome out under my skirts. Elder Raylin’s wife caught me and screamed at me for being a thief. I panicked and ran from the house, clutching the book in my arms.”
Tamilla hesitated, sadness and shame washing over her. “If you don’t mind,” she looked up at Bertome, “I’d rather not go into the details of what happened next. There was an accident. What happened that day changed my life. It made me feel forever alienated from the rest of the villagers. I always felt they were judging me. In fact,” she added, making connections even as she spoke, “that incident led me here. That alienation spurred me to leave my village and attempt the Ordeals.”
She studied Bertome’s face. “It all centered around a book. Around my own greed for knowledge. Do you think that’s a bad omen? Will it mean ill luck for my Spark of Knowledge test?”
Once again, Tamilla felt only gentleness and positive thoughts from Bertome. I suppose you’re about to find out.

XXX

The entrance to the Dragon Roost’s Great Library sat directly beside the stone labyrinth. A large hole, open to the air, had been carved into the hillside. It stretched wide enough for three wagons abreast to fit inside, though the journey would have proven bumpy for them. A massive stone staircase descended out of sight, disappearing underground.
The individual stairs were so large that while Bertome merely stepped down from one step to the next—they may have even been annoyingly small for him—the steps stood each half as high as Tamilla was tall. Bertome once again held out one taloned finger for Tamilla to grasp as she jumped down from step to step.
After twenty-two giant steps—Tamilla counted—the passageway turned sharply to the left. Three more steps of the same height led to the ground floor, and a massive, towering underground chamber.
Tamilla’s eyes widened almost painfully. She couldn’t squeeze them back to their normal size, though. In truth, she didn’t want to. Much like the Coin Room, dozens of towering shelves were built into every wall or stood in freestanding rows spanning the room. Instead of coins, these held books, both rolled up parchments as well as actual, bound books. Spines of every color, texture, and material peered out from the shelves, begging to be read.
Yet, Tamilla knew the books within her line of sight represented only a fraction of what the library held. Rumor said it had a dozen levels, each one descending farther in the earth, and each with as many volumes again. At the distant side of the room, Tamilla noticed a railing running along the back wall. She wondered if it led to the lower levels somehow.
Despite being underground, bright light illuminated the room. Sconces holding small, merry flames flickered on the walls every few feet. Most sat high up, near the ceiling. A few sat in empty wall space down lower. All flames burnt far away from the nearest books or parchment. Still, the room felt both bright and cozy.
Hard stone stretched beneath Tamilla’s shoes, worn smooth by generations of feet seeking knowledge.
A few patrons wandered among the stacks or sat at small wooden tables positioned haphazardly about the room. The smell of parchment and dust mites tickled Tamilla’s nose, and the entire room held an air of quiet reverence.
"You’re gaping, child. Not a tremendously lady-like quality," a small, elderly voice said from Tamilla’s right.
Tamilla snapped her mouth shut. She didn’t realize it had opened wide along with her eyes. Turning, she found a tiny old woman—smallerin statured than Tamilla—shuffling toward her. One of the great Librarians, no doubt, a lifetime of wisdom peered out from the woman’s ancient, beady eyes. Yet, the round cheeks and deeply lined face made her look kind. Grandmotherly, in truth.
The woman approached with a smile. “I’m Llasnala. I’ll be administering your test.”
Tamilla dropped a low curtsy. "Nice to meet you, my lady.”
Llasnala turned and swept a proud gaze over the books. “It’s something to behold, isn’t it?”
“It is, my lady,” Tamilla breathed. "I’ve never seen so many books in all my life."
The woman gave a knowing nod. "So say most who see it for the first time." Her gaze held the pride of ownership.
Tamilla supposed if Llasnala had worked in this library for most of her life—very likely, as members of the Dragon Vigil generally stayed at their work until death took them—then in a way, she did kind of own the knowledge here.
“How does one find the book they want?” Tamilla asked, following the woman’s gaze with awe.
"No human has all the knowledge in this library in their heads,” the old woman said. “It's not possible to read so many books in a lifetime. The dragons keep it all for us. We have only to ask them for books on a particular subject, and they can point us to the right ones, and even translate them for us if need be."
Tamilla glanced sideways at the woman. "You’re cataloging them, aren’t you? Trying to create a record of the books and what's in them?"
Llasnala nodded. “We began nearly ten years ago, when the Boundary started to fail. It may take many lifetimes to finish, but we have the time. We might as well preserve the knowledge in a more convenient form for our children."
"Did you begin the project because the Dragon Council fears the dragons are dying out?"
Llasnala immediately shook her head. “Not something for you to worry about child. The dragons are many and long-lived. Even if their species is fading, it may be thousands of years before it disappears altogether. As I say, we have plenty of time." She gave Tamilla a reassuring, grandmotherly smile.
“Did a record of the books ever exist?” Tamilla asked. “Did anyone ever keep a catalog of the knowledge in the past?"
Llasnala nodded. “You are a curious one, aren't you?" She didn't look displeased. If anything, the twinkle in her eye reminded Tamilla of a proud teacher. "There used to be an extensive catalog. Books referenced by subject, title, author, year, they were written, and the materials they were written on."
"Materials?" Tamilla asked. "Aren’t they all written on parchment?"
Llasnala shook her head. "No, indeed. The majority are. Some are etched in ancient materials from before mankind knew how to create fine parchment from animal skins. That skill didn't develop until around the time the Fire Covenant was first created."
"So what are the earlier books written on?" Tamilla asked, genuinely curious.
"Various things," Llasnala said. "Some are carved into wood or etched in metal. There are a few carved into dragon scales."
Tamilla turned toward Llasnala in surprise. "How does one carve something into a dragon scale?" She asked, her voice sounding shocked to her own ears. "They're harder than diamond."
Llasnala chuckled. "That is the question, isn't it? We don't know. It's a lost skill. A lost art."
“And what happened to the previous catalogues?” Tamilla asked.
“Bazmal destroyed most of the records,” Llasnala answered. “No one has attempted to reconstruct them until now.”
Tamilla nodded. The evil sorcerer Bazmal lived and died a thousand years ago. He’d done a great deal of damage to the world during his short, terrifying attempt at world domination. All children still learned stories of him in their youth.
Llasnala turned fully to Tamilla and waved a hand dismissively. “Much as I would love to keep discussing history with someone who obviously loves it as much as I, we must begin your test. Your name is Tamilla, correct?”
Tamilla nodded, embarrassed to realize she’d never introduced herself. Worms wriggled in her stomach. She suppressed them.
"I'm told you already completed your Coin Test. Is this correct?" Llasnala asked.
"It is, lady Llasnala," Tamilla ducked her head respectfully.
"Good," Llasnala nodded. "The structure of the Spark of Knowledge test is similar to the Coin, but the way you discern the spark will be different."
Tamilla frowned. "What you mean?"
"Just as with the Coin Test, in this test, you must find a particular book. It will call to you. You can wander anywhere you want in the library, all the way down to the catacombs, if you so desire. What I meant is, when the Spark of Knowledge calls to you, it will feel different than what the Spark of Coin felt like.
Tamilla turned the information over in her head. The Spark of Coin felt like a pulsing energy. And yet, she failed the test. So perhaps what she felt had been wrong anyway.
“Can you tell me what the sensation will be when the Spark of Knowledge calls to me?" Tamilla asked.
Llasnala shook her head. "I cannot. It is something you must discern on your own."
Tamilla nodded. She hadn't truly believed Llasnala would be able to tell her. After three tests, she’d begun to get a feel for how they worked.
"Like the Coin Test," Llasnala continued, “you'll be given one hour to search for the book. If you bring me the correct volume before the hour is up, you pass the test. If not, you fail." She gave Tamilla another grandmotherly smile. "Your hour begins now.”
Tamilla immediately moved forward, striding through between the shelves of books in front of her.
During the Coin Test, she acted extremely hesitant. She wondered afterward if it contributed to her failure. Today, she decided to be aggressive, searching actively and anxiously for the book that would help her pass the test and join the Order of the Dragon Vigil.
She walked up and down the aisles, sweeping her eyes over the endless tomes of knowledge. Minutes later, she felt something
It truly did feel different than the Coin Test. Where that had felt like pulsing energy, this felt more like heat. A small, intense ball of heat. It felt like it came from beneath her shoes. It must be on one of the lower levels. Llasnala specifically mentioned the lower levels, after all. Perhaps she meant it as a hint.
Tamilla ran to the far end of the room, opposite the place she entered, where earlier she’d seen the wooden railing. As it turned out, a passage sloped downward along the far side of the room. A ramp, leading downward and invisible from the entrance as it sank swiftly below ground level. Sconces decorated the walls periodically along the ramp, but it didn’t feel nearly as light or cheery as the main room of the library.
Still, Tamilla didn't hesitate. She glanced around to make certain she didn’t stand directly in Llasnala’s line of sight, and none of the other patrons glanced her way either. Then she abandoned propriety and ran down the ramp toward the second level. After all, with three tests down and only two more after this, she was running out of tests to fail.
When she reached the second level, the ramp forked. The left branch took her onto a level path leading into the second level of the Library. The path to the right descended deeply again, down toward the third level, she assumed. Tamilla turned left. The second level, much like the ramp, looked both dimmer and emptier than the first level. Fewer sconces lit the walls here, and she didn’t see any patrons at all. Still, the second level, directly below the first, appeared to hold the same number of volumes. Vast and stuffed full of knowledge, the ceilings loomed slightly lower here, but still sat far above Tamilla’s head.
As she ventured between rows of shelves, she even noticed areas where thin lines of dust had gathered from misuse.
Tamilla focused on the heat she felt earlier on the upper level. It took her a moment to locate it again. When she did, she realized it still lay below her shoes. This wasn’t the correct level. Silently berating herself for not realizing it earlier, she made her way back to the ramp and took the path to the right, heading down to the next level.
The third level proved much like the second, except with fewer sconces and more dust. The air felt ever staler as she descended. This time, she waited on the ramp until she located the heat. It still felt like it came from below. Tamilla descended, level by level. Each level grew dimmer, as the number of lit sconces diminished. The air grew closer, the smell of mothballs and dust mites stronger, and the layer of dust on the floor deepened.
She finally reached a fork where the left branch led, as the others had, into this level of the Library. The one to the right reached into utter blackness. Someone tied a thick, dusty rope across the path, as though it were off limits. Directly in front of the rope sat a small, wooden table with two candles atop it. A single, tiny, lit sconce hung on the wall above the table. The guttering light from that sconce didn’t penetrate the darkness beyond.
Tamilla searched for the heat she’d felt before, praying she’d now feel it out in front of her, on this level, rather than down below. To her dismay, it still felt like it came from lower in the earth. She studied the roped-off passage and, for the first time, felt unsure. She assumed descending through the levels of the library was part of the test, but did they mean her to go down this far, and into an area obviously blocked off?
Tamilla hesitated, her head swiveling between the dark passage and back the way she’d come, undecided. She couldn’t be certain what level she’d reached. Eight? Ten? She’d lost count.
If she didn’t find that book, she would ultimately fail the test. Perhaps this was part of it too: finding the courage to venture into the darkness after needed knowledge. Perhaps they never lit the level below this one because no one went down there. It would be a waste of resources. Or, perhaps they purposely put the lights out to be part of her Ordeal.
Tamilla decided to be bold with this test. No reason to change her strategy now.
Picking up one of the candles—a tall, slender pillar of wax jammed into a candle saucer—Tamilla lit it from the guttering sconce and carefully ducked under the rope.

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