Friday, June 16, 2017

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: CALL TO WAR BY ANDI O'CONNOR



Title: CALL TO WAR
Author: Andi O’Connor
Publisher: Purple Sun Press
Pages: 258
Genre: Fantasy

Blurb:

Darrak's adventure concludes with this thrilling finale of The Dragonath Chronicles!  

Following the betrayal of two of his trusted companions and a devastating battle in Mystandia, Darrak's talents are desperately needed by the citizens of both Earth and Dragonath. Torn with the decision of where his loyalty should remain, he finally decides to confide in Andillrian. Together, they craft a plan they hope will save Darrak's home planet, but their optimism is short-lived.

The Hellborn's army has begun the march to war.

With less than two weeks of preparation remaining, their weaknesses become unavoidably apparent. Planning for defeat suddenly becomes as important as planning for victory. Darrak's insecurities continue until the moment the first arrows begin to fly. He can only hope that help from a few unlikely sources will be enough.

For if they fail, Dragonath will fall.

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Chapter One:



DARRAK STARED INTO THE FIRE, SHIVERING DESPITE the intense heat radiating from the flames. Three days had passed since he'd read the entry in Mionee's journal revealing the spell to save Earth. And he had yet to tell anyone.
He'd memorized the spell that first day, bewildered that he'd been handed the very thing he'd spent weeks tormenting over. Despite everything happening here on Dragonath, he'd never lost sight of saving his home planet. He'd spent almost every waking moment obsessing over finding a way to nullify the effects of Mionee's spell.
Then suddenly, the very woman who'd caused his people so much suffering, and who had ordered the murders of his parents, provided him with all of the answers he'd needed. In an instant, she'd lifted a tremendous weight from his shoulders. He could go home. He could save his people. He could help those on Earth repair the damage that had been done to their planet.
But he hadn't. He'd stayed on Dragonath, training to fight a war by day and mulling over his predicament at night. He couldn't leave. The people here needed him as much as those on Earth. Only he stood a chance of defeating the Hellborn, and even then, he'd need the help of every single person in Krémarra.
If he left, people all over Dragonath would be forced into slavery or killed. But if he stayed, he'd send billions of people and animals on Earth to extinction. His home would be a barren planet devoid of any life.
Running his fingers through his shoulder-length hair, he groaned, suppressing the scream lingering on the edge of his tongue. For three days, he'd kept knowledge of the spell a secret. Détaldin had pointed Darrak to the last page of the journal, obviously knowing it contained the spell. But Darrak hadn't told anyone, and he knew the warrior had remained silent. It was his responsibility to inform the others, not Détaldin's.
The stress of his deceit had begun to take its toll. He barely slept, averaging less than two hours a night. He scarcely ate, and the tiny amount of food he did manage to consume was hardly sufficient for a child less than half his size. Between his intense training and lack of calories, he'd lost so much weight over the past few days that his companions had to notice soon. It wouldn't be much longer until one of them confronted him.
Until he'd have to own up to his deception.
Just the thought of telling his dearest friends that he'd kept a key piece of information hidden from them made him want to cry. Putting an end to Earth's annihilation was partly what they'd fought for. They deserved to know their efforts hadn't been in vain. They had the right to know the spell had been found.
But he couldn't bring himself to tell them.
Why?
The question had been nagging at his conscience for days, admonishing him with its candor. He knew the answer. He feared admitting to his friends that he'd been considering abandoning them, leaving them to fight the impending war on their own. They had stood by him, following him unquestioningly even when he couldn't give them any concrete reasons for doing so. They protected him, repeatedly putting his life above their own.
And he was contemplating repaying them by doing something they'd vowed never to do to him—desert them in their darkest hour. That wasn't something any decent person would do, let alone someone who claimed to be a dear friend.
Darrak lowered his gaze to his hands and stared at his bony fingers with disinterest. He recalled how angry and confused he'd been when Ipzaag and Anarra had abandoned him. They'd been completely unwilling to accept Andillrian's account of the dragons' history or welcome Wystra into the company.
Anarra's betrayal particularly stung. She'd been the first person outside of his parents that he'd ever felt comfortable opening up to. She'd seemingly cared enough to persist with her questions and break through the walls he'd built around himself. He'd felt an unexplainable connection to her. A sudden connection. At the time, he thought it was love, but he'd been mistaken. Still, they'd shared something special. Something he’d believed would never be broken. Something he'd been looking forward to cherishing for the rest of his life.
And then in a matter of seconds, it had vanished.
The pain of losing that connection was almost as bad as the pain he’d experienced when he realized his parents were dead. No, he thought, ashamed that the comparison had even popped into his mind. That wasn't quite accurate. Nothing could ever equate to the deaths of his parents.
All the same, Anarra's betrayal had left him with an overwhelming sense of loneliness. It reaffirmed part of why he had always been reluctant to befriend anyone. He'd trusted Anarra when she told him that she’d always be there for him. But he shouldn't have. Instead, he should have followed the instincts that had served him well for the first nineteen years of his life.
And now, he pondered becoming the very thing he despised. He sat on the edge of his bed, having practically convinced himself to turn his back on those he loved.
I can't leave.
The thought popped into his mind so forcefully it took him by surprise. Letting Earth fall victim to Mionee's spell was an unforgivable act. But with his parents dead, he didn't have anyone on his home planet that he cherished. Hardly anyone there knew of him, and no one was aware of his power to save them. If he turned his back on Earth, he wouldn’t betray anyone’s trust in him.
Here, that wasn't the case. Here, everyone in Krémarra knew him and expected him to lead them to victory. Here, he had friends he cared deeply for: Wystra, Iornwen, Selantia, Rorend, Thraklauz.
Andillrian.
Just thinking her name caused his heart to flutter. He honestly had no idea why. After the failure of his relationship with Anarra, he was reluctant to call any emotion love. But something definitely existed between him and Andillrian. Whatever it was, he couldn't tell her he'd decided to return to Earth. He couldn't leave her and the others here to die knowing all his words of loyalty had been utter lies.
His gaze shot up in surprise when a knock sounded at the door adjoining his room to Andillrian's.
“Come in,” he said, staring straight ahead into the fire. He was taken aback at how weary his voice sounded. The tone was almost hollow, as if he'd been drained of his soul.
The familiar squeak of the door opening resounded from behind him. Keeping his gaze fixed on the dancing flames, he listened to the sound of Andillrian's footsteps as she made her way across the stone floor. Expecting her to sit next to him like she usually did, he met her gaze in confusion when she stopped before him. Even though she was only about five feet tall, she seemed to tower over him.
“You aren't eating,” she stated pragmatically.
“You certainly don't mince your words, do you?”
“You aren't sleeping either,” she continued, ignoring his statement. “I hear you pacing around your room at all hours of the night. You can't go on like this, Darrak. You're killing yourself.”
Darrak's heart began to race, and he tried to control his breathing. This was the moment he'd been dreading. “I knew it wouldn't be much longer until you said something,” he admitted.
“Of course I said something. I noticed almost immediately and thought perhaps you'd come and talk to me. But I couldn't stay silent any longer. I'm surprised you haven't yet collapsed during your training, and I wasn't about to wait for you to do so.”
Andillrian held up her hand, and for the first time he noticed she held a yal fruit, a small, yellow fruit similar to an apple, but with a distinct bitterness that he had yet to learn to enjoy.
“Eat,” she ordered, dropping the fruit into his open palms.
Holding it up to his lips, he reluctantly took a bite. His lips puckered as the sour juice rushed into his dry mouth. Closing his eyes, he chewed, wishing away the horrid taste. It usually took two or three bites until he became accustomed to the bitterness of the fruit, but somehow, he knew this instance would take longer.
He swallowed, cringing when the fruit slid down his throat. He looked up expectantly at Andillrian, hoping that since she had seen him take a bite she'd be satisfied, but her stern expression didn't budge. It was like she'd taken on the role of his mother waiting for him to eat his peas, prepared to stand over him for the rest of the night until he'd finished the task.
Slumping his shoulders forward in defeat, Darrak braced himself and took another bite. Andillrian continued to stand over him while he begrudgingly ate the rest of the yal fruit. It seemed like hours until he finally had nothing but the core remaining. Doing his best to suppress a burp, he wrapped the remains of the fruit in a hanky and placed it on his bedside table.
His stomach felt like it was seconds away from bursting, and he had to force himself to ignore the pains beginning to ravage his abdomen. He didn't want Andillrian to see how much discomfort eating one small piece of fruit had caused him. It stood as proof that he'd been more reckless with his health than he wanted to admit, particularly to Andillrian.  He didn't want her to know exactly how delicate his situation had become in just three short days. She worried enough about him as it was. He didn't need to add to her concern.
“That seemed to prove more of a chore than it should have been,” Andillrian said, still not budging from her spot. “I've seen you eat those before. You may not be fond of them, but it's never taken you that long to finish. Your stomach can't even handle that tiny amount of food, can it? Were you planning on starving yourself to death?”
“No, I...I don't know. I just...I've had a great deal on my mind lately. It's taken away my desire to eat. I've developed an aversion. Even the thought of food makes me queasy.” He looked up at her. Her rich brown eyes overflowed with a combination of sternness and compassion. “I know that's not really an excuse,” he admitted, suddenly feeling like the most selfish prick in the universe.
The harshness in her tone didn't abate. “No,” she said, “it isn't.”
Not knowing what to say, he averted his gaze and stared at his hands in silence. No words seemed appropriate. An apology didn't make up for how self-centered he'd been acting. Nothing could take away the pain he'd caused both himself and Andillrian. Talking with her had brought everything to light and made his dilemma over leaving seem so straightforward.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity and mulling over the situation himself, he should have discussed it with her and worked to come to a logical solution. In doing so, he would've saved both of them a great deal of emotional grief, and he wouldn't have put himself in such a physically fragile position. Rather than taking the sensible course of action, he'd allowed everything to become more convoluted and stressful than it needed to be.
“I brought you another for later,” Andillrian said, breaking the silence. She tossed him a slightly larger yal fruit; he caught it, unable to keep his lips from creeping into a slight smile. “I'll sit here again and watch you eat if I have to.”
A small laugh escaped his lips. “I know you will. And I appreciate it more than you'll ever know.”
Finally letting down her guard, she sat next to him on the bed, like she'd done every night since their arrival in Krémarra. Their shoulders were less than an inch apart, and her warmth seeped through his thin linen tunic to his skin beneath. The faint vanilla scent of her hair wafted through the air. Breathing in deeply, he relished the simple yet glorious sensation with every part of his being.
He wanted to put his arm around her and hold her close, clinging on to the moment for all eternity. But instead, he sat rigidly next to her, continuing to stare at his hands resting in his lap.
“What's on your mind?”
The seriousness of Andillrian's question jerked him away from his thoughts, reminding him that until this mess was sorted he couldn't allow himself to indulge in even the simplest of pleasures. People on both planets were dying. He needed to save them.
Not answering, he reached beneath his pillow and slid out the worn leather notebook. “This belonged to Mionee,” he said in answer to Andillrian's quizzical look. “Détaldin gave it to me shortly after he arrived with Katriel. It's Mionee's personal journal and contains some extremely interesting and rather heartbreaking information. Some of what she's experienced, particularly at the hands of King Denthald, are the most horrific accounts of abuse and rape I've ever read about. Though, I don't think her experience under the Hellborn will fare any better.”
The compassion in Andillrian's voice touched his heart. “I've always known you to be an extremely empathetic person, Darrak. I can only imagine the graphic details of Mionee's entries. It's natural for something like that to affect you so deeply.
“I've spoken with Détaldin a number of times over the past few days. Despite all of the atrocities Mionee has committed, he loves her. He sees the honesty in her repentance. He saw the good in her when no one else did. Truthfully, it's appalling and rather unfortunate that most of the people throughout Dragonath will never come to see her as anything but the villain she once was.
“Mionee not only recognized her mistakes but admitted to them—not just to others but to herself. She rose above the despicable path she'd set for herself and transformed into a better person than most who will continue to judge her long after she's dead. Like Détaldin you're a truly wonderful man to recognize the person Mionee has become and sympathize with the terrors she's faced. But you can't allow the recounts of her torture to rule your life. Use it. Learn from it just like Mionee did. Use it to make our world a better place.”
Darrak shook his head. “No. You don't understand. Although what you say is true, that's not what's been consuming my mind.”
Opening the leather notebook to the last page, he handed it to Andillrian. Cocking her head in an unspoken question, she took it and began to read. Long, gut-wrenching moments passed before she closed the journal. Looking up, she met his gaze, a sense of understanding finally evident in her large eyes.
“You don't know where to go,” she said, compassion evident in her voice.
She reached for his hand but pulled it back quickly. Her eyes widened in horror.
“You don't know who to save.”
“I want to save everyone!”
He grabbed the journal from her and clutched it against his chest. Standing abruptly, he started pacing before her.
“I want to save both planets and the billions of people suffering! I want to help those on Earth rebuild their communities, and I want to do the same for those here on Dragonath. I want to make sure neither world endures the same kind of carnage again. I want to make sure Halla or any magic is never again used for such corrupt motives!”
Tears of frustration began to run down his gaunt cheeks. “How can I? How can I be on both planets at once? I can't! I can't turn my back on my people! But I also can't turn my back on my new home and those I love!”
Andillrian pulled him toward her before wrapping her arms around him and holding him tightly. He buried his face in the crook of her neck, sobbing uncontrollably. Stroking his hair, she gently rocked him back and forth. “It'll be all right, Darrak,” she whispered into his ear. “I'm here for you. We'll find a way to save both planets. I promise.”
After what seemed an eternity, his sobs slowed to short, pathetic whimpers. Grasping his shoulders, Andillrian pushed him away slightly and lifted his chin, forcing him to meet her gaze. She had such a look of determination in her eyes he couldn't help but believe her words.
“You won't need to turn your back on anyone.”



About the Author


Andi O'Connor is the award-winning author The Dragonath Chronicles, The Vaelinel Trilogy, and The Legacy of Ilvania. She’s written multiple books, including the critically acclaimed Silevethiel, which is the 2015 Best Indie Book Award winner for Science Fiction/Fantasy, and the 2015 New Apple Official Selection for Young Adult. Silevethiel was also named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2013. Andi's short story collection, Redemption, is a 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semifinalist.

You can frequently find Andi as a guest panelist at Comic Cons throughout the country including the Rhode Island Comic Con, Philcon, Conclave, WizardWorld, and Chessiecon. Andi also writes for Niume where she provides writing tips, advice, and insight on her career as an author. You can connect with Andi on
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more information, visit Andi’s website.



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