UNEDITED EXCERPT. Confidential. Unrevised and unpublished proof. Please do not quote until verified with finished book.

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A salty breeze wafted through one of the broken windowpanes. The candle in his hand sputtered and threatened to go out. Carefully the mage shielded its glow with his free hand and carried it to the desk that stood against the one windowless wall on the north side of the tower. An old candle nub stood in the bottom of a clay bowl, sunk deep into a puddle of its own wax. He pried it out and stuck the fresh candle in its place.

Books and pages and scrolls littered the floor around the desk, some stacked in baskets, others lying on the floor, tucked between the desk’s legs or lining the walls in haphazard array. Bottles of ink, quills, trimming knives—a whole assortment of mage’s implements. Only a single book waited on the desk itself: a lovely volume worked in tooled red leather, bound with straps. Gold leaf embellished the delicate petals of a rose in its center, and an aroma of crushed roses seemed to mingle with the musty scent of parchment.

The hooded man drew a long breath through his nostrils. His candle flickered gently, and the rose on the book cover seemed to dance and move in its light as though stirred by a breeze. His gut twisted painfully, and a weight of stone bowed his shoulders.

He pulled back the chair and took a seat. For a moment he could only sit there, his face immobile, his hands still. Working up the will to do what must be done.

Time to begin.

Like a soldier on the frontlines leaping suddenly into action, he flipped the front cover open. A cloud of rose perfume filled the atmosphere, clogging his nose and lungs. He choked, eyes watering. With a vicious shake of his head, he leaned in, focusing his vision through the pink-hued miasma, concentrating on that first page, on the spell written there with such painstaking precision in bold, red lettering.

He began to read. His lips moved silently, forming the shapes of the words, but he dared not speak them out loud. Sweat broke out across his brow, and his heart was racing by the time he reached the end of the first line of script. He kept going, slowly, refusing to skim or to skip over the more dangerous, more powerful words.

By the time he reached the end of the page, a pulsing throb of energy radiated up into his face, thrumming a frequency that struck the very core of his soul. He paused to catch his breath, and the energy immediately died back. But that was no good. He must maintain the spell, the entire spell. If he let it break, he would have to start over again from the beginning.