LESSER EVILS CUT SCENE #1: “One Night in Akanul.”

In honor of the Lesser Evils Giveaway reaching 120 entries, here is the first cut scene as promised.

Why isn’t this in the book: If you’ve read the sample chapter of Lesser Evils, you have seen that Farideh is suffering from some bad dreams these days. The germ of these dreams is the memory of her learning a spell from Lorcan (a spell she uses to great effect in Brimstone Angels). My editor felt that having the flashback in addition to the dreams was more confusing than additive in the context of the book–not to mention Farideh’s not the only one plagued by old memories. To make your reading experience smoother, she suggested cutting it. But she agrees, as a separate scene, it’s a nice little addition to the story.

***

Farideh jerked out of sleep to the cool air of the cavern-library, her skin chill and damp with sweat. Panting, she surveyed the little courtyard that they’d established their camp in—the circle of shelves, the stillness of the library, not a wasp or a ghost or a ruined wall to be seen.

Only Dahl, perched on a camp stool, holding a mug of something hot and watching her with one raised brow.

“Sleep well?” he said dryly. His gray eyes were softly bloodshot, as if he’d been up most of the night as well.

Farideh didn’t answer, but straightened her clothes and rebuckled her jacks. Her head ached and her hands were shaking, and she did not have the reserves to deal with Dahl’s surly mood. Not when her brain still trembled with the images of Lorcan being torn apart.

She pressed her hands to her eyes. Lorcan. Gods.

What was it about that night in Akanul that kept surging up, twining itself into the trauma of Neverwinter? They’d been scarcely a tenday out of Arush Vayem—the village she’d grown up in, the village that had cast her aside when she took the pact—and come down far enough from the mountains that winter had all but lost its teeth, and only the night air had a bite to it. They’d made camp in the midst of a ruined village, the fire enough to keep the frost that layered the grassy plain at bay.

As she’d sat her watch, wondering what had left the scorch marks that marred the broken cobbles and bricks beneath the glittering frost, her arm suddenly burned as if she were being branded all over again. She managed not to cry out that time.

Lorcan’s portal opened, in the heart of the campfire. The noise, the smell of burning brimstone, or the fluctuation in the air as one plane intruded on the next—she heard Mehen stir as the devil stepped toward her

“You shouldn’t be here,” she’d blurted, coming to her feet. “He’ll wake.”

Lorcan didn’t stop, but caught her around the waist and steered her between the ruined buildings to a roughly flat field that had once been a road. “First it’s that I can’t come around while he can see me,” he said. “Now it’s not while he might wake. Honestly, darling, I’m going to have to insist you give me more options. Or give yourself a little more space.”

“You should stay away,” she said.

He moved around her, his hand slipping around her waist, over her hip, and he smiled with that wicked way he had. “You don’t want that.”

Her chest squeezed tight, but she knew better than to deny it. He was right. “Do you want me to show you what I’ve done?”

“Depends,” he said. “Is it interesting?”

“I mean, I’ve been practicing,” she said. “That blast that you showed me.”

“Whatever for?” he asked. “The spell all but casts itself.”

“Aiming,” she said. “In case I have to do it quickly. Or while I move. I hardly need to look to do it now.”

Lorcan crouched a distance away and scratched a rune into the layer of frost and dead moss: a sinuous thing of angled strokes that seemed to suggest a much more complex symbol, as if there were lines to it that Farideh couldn’t perceive.

“You still think like a soldier,” he said, coming to stand beside her. “We’ll have to work on that.”

“I think how I think,” Farideh said.

“That’s a very limited way to view the world,” he said. The chill didn’t matter when he stood so close, burning like a bonfire. “Are you ready for another?”

She thought of the rush of power that came from casting the blast he’d shown her first, or the rain of flaming brimstone that came second. The shock and thrill of stepping through the slit in the world. The fact that she still wasn’t sure what she was trading for all of this.

“I don’t know that I should,” she said.

“Of course you should.” His hand encircled her wrist and drew her arm up. “You wanted this, remember?”

And what could she say? She had. She did. He molded her hands—smaller two tucked at the knuckle, longer two extended, thumb bent—and drew her hand down to point directly at the rune he had drawn in the frost and lichen that coated the street.

“Trace the rune,” he’d whispered in her ear. “Say laesurach.”

She blinked up at the ceiling, as if she were waking from a second dream, and cursed under her breath. It was the spell she was remembering, she told herself firmly. Everything else was just her being silly. She was through with that. They were . . . comrades. And she owed Lorcan her life.

 

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