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From Blood and Ash

By:Jennifer L. Armentrout

Acknowledgments from the Author


Laura Kaye and I were standing in the Cincinnati airport in 2016 when I told her about From Blood and Ash. She was the first person who said, I need you to write this right now. I didn’t. It was a high fantasy, something I’d never written before, and I kept telling myself that I needed time to see if I could take this crazy idea and pull it together into something that made sense. I didn’t find that time, not in 2016, 2017, or 2018. It wasn’t until I was talking with JR Ward about writing books of the heart—books that weren’t exactly what was expected from us, but needed to be written nonetheless. It was that conversation in September of 2019 that gave me the courage to finally say now is the time to write this book. So Laura Kaye and JR Ward, I owe you two a world of thanks. Without both of you, From Blood and Ash would’ve never made it from an idea to a fully fleshed novel.

There were others involved in making sure I finished this book. It was Brigid Kemmerer, whose excitement when I told her about the book, gave me the courage to continue writing something that was unfamiliar to me. It was Hawke’s Harem of Two—Wendy Higgins, who sent the most lovely and inspiring words to me after reading the book. It was Jen Fisher, who fell in love with Hawke by chapter three and provided unmeasurable feedback. It was Andrea Joan who sent me paragraph length texts about the book as she read. It was all the JLAnders who immediately hopped aboard the mystery teaser ship, willing to take this journey with me.

I’d originally planned on self-publishing this book. There were a lot of reasons, but there were two reasons that were most important to me. One was my goal to get this book out to you as soon as possible. The other was the need to write and publish this book without expectations and pressure, but then I heard about Blue Box Press, and knowing all the amazing work they do on their 1001 Dark Nights novellas, I reached out to Liz Berry. I had no idea what she would think when I told her what I was writing and how I wanted to publish it. I really thought she’d “nope” right out the discussion, but she didn’t. In one phone call, she not only wanted the book but, I swear, had a marketing plan that lined up with what I wanted before even reading the book. I knew FB&A was in amazing hands. To MJ, Liz, and Jillian (and Steve, because STEVE BERRY STORY TIME), thank you for taking this unexpected leap with me. Your excitement, love, support and feedback has been invaluable in finishing this story and in getting it into the hands of readers. To the whole team behind this book: Chelle Olson, Jenn Watson, Kim Guidroz, thank you!

Thank you to Sarah J. Maas for your support. I’ll try not to creepily pet your hair the next time I see you. Lexi Blake—without your advice I’m pretty sure we’d still be going back and forth on the back cover jacket. Thank you. And Hang Lee, you are so incredibly talented. I can tell you three things: swords, arrows, and a bloody forest, and with that scarce description, you created the most amazing cover I’ve seen in a long time. You are the bomb diggity. Thank you to Stephanie Brown for taking care of all the things and Ernesto Floofington III for sounding like a little gremlin racing around above my head while I worked. To all the JLAnders Reviewers who knew this book was coming a lot sooner than anyone else, thank you for keeping it quiet and for always giving your honest reviews. Finally, thank you to YOU, the reader who will pick this book up and read it. Without you, none of this would be possible.



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Table of Contents


Book Description

About Jennifer L. Armentrout

Also from Jennifer L. Armentrout

Acknowledgments from the Author

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Discover More Jennifer L. Armentrout

Discover 1001 Dark Nights Collection Seven

Discover the World of Blue Box Press & 1001 Dark Nights

Special Thanks





Dedication



To You, the Reader.





Chapter 1





“They found Finley this eve, just outside the Blood Forest, dead.”

I looked up from my cards and across the crimson-painted surface to the three men sitting at the table. I’d chosen this spot for a reason. I’d…felt nothing from them as I drifted between the crowded tables earlier.

No pain, physical or emotional.

Normally, I didn’t prod to see if someone was in pain. Doing so without reason felt incredibly invasive, but in crowds, it was difficult to control just how much I allowed myself to feel. There was always someone whose pain cut so deeply, was so raw, that their anguish became a palpable entity I didn’t even have to open my senses to feel—that I couldn’t ignore and walk away from. They projected their agony onto the world around them.

I was forbidden to do anything but ignore. To never speak of the gift bestowed upon me by the gods and to never, ever go beyond sensing to actually doing something about it.

Not that I always did what I was supposed to do.

Obviously.

But these men were fine when I reached out with my senses to avoid those in great pain, which was surprising, given what they did for a living. They were guards from the Rise—the mountainous wall constructed from the limestone and iron mined from the Elysium Peaks. Ever since the War of Two Kings ended four centuries ago, the Rise had enclosed all of Masadonia, and every city in the Kingdom of Solis was protected by a Rise. Smaller versions surrounded villages and training posts, the farming communities, and other sparsely populated towns.

What the guards saw on a regular basis, what they had to do, often left them in anguish, rather it be from injuries or from what went deeper than torn skin and bruised bones.

Tonight, they weren’t just absent of anguish, but also their armor and uniforms. Instead, they donned loose shirts and buckskin breeches. Still, I knew, even off duty, they were watchful for signs of the dreaded mist and the horror that came with it, and for those who worked against the future of the kingdom. They were still armed to the teeth.

As was I.

Hidden beneath the folds of the cloak and the thin gown I wore underneath, the cool hilt of a dagger that never quite warmed to my skin was sheathed against my thigh. Gifted to me on my sixteenth birthday, it wasn’t the only weapon I’d acquired or the deadliest, but it was my favorite. The handle was fashioned from the bones of a long-extinct wolven—a creature that had been neither man nor beast but both—and the blade made of bloodstone honed to fatal sharpness.

I may yet again be in the process of doing something incredibly reckless, inappropriate, and wholly forbidden, but I wasn’t foolish enough to enter a place like the Red Pearl without protection, the skill to employ it, and the wherewithal to take that weapon and skill and use them without hesitation.

“Dead?” the other guard said, a younger one with brown hair and a soft face. I thought his name might be Airrick, and he couldn’t be much older than my eighteen years. “He wasn’t just dead. Finley was drained of blood, his flesh chewed up like wild dogs had a go at him, and then torn to pieces.”

My cards blurred as tiny balls of ice formed in the pit of my stomach. Wild dogs didn’t do that. Not to mention, there weren’t any wild dogs near the Blood Forest, the only place in the world where the trees bled, staining the bark and the leaves a deep crimson. There were rumors of other animals, overly large rodents and scavengers that preyed upon the corpses of those who lingered too long in the forest.

“And you know what that means,” Airrick went on. “They must be near. An attack will—”

“Not sure this is the right conversation to be having,” an older guard cut in. I knew of him. Phillips Rathi. He’d been on the Rise for years, which was nearly unheard of. Guards didn’t have long lifespans. He nodded in my direction. “You’re in the presence of a lady.”

A lady?

Only the Ascended were called Ladies, but I also wasn’t someone anyone, especially those in this building, would expect to be inside the Red Pearl. If I was discovered, I would be in…well, more trouble than I’d ever been in before and would face severe reprimand.

The kind of punishment that Dorian Teerman, the Duke of Masadonia, would just love to deliver. And which, of course, his close confidante, Lord Brandole Mazeen, would love to be in attendance for.

Anxiety surfaced as I looked at the dark-skinned guard. There was no way Phillips could know who I was. The top half of my face was covered by the white domino mask I’d found discarded in the Queen’s Gardens ages ago, and I wore a plain robin’s egg blue cloak I’d, uh, borrowed from Britta, one of the many castle servants who I’d overheard speaking about the Red Pearl. Hopefully, Britta wouldn’t discover her missing overcoat before I returned it in the morn.

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