Some things should just stay lost. When they don’t, it’s Zoya’s job to put them down for good.
But that’s easier said than done when that thing is a magical relic. Too bad that relic is in the hands of a young mage who possesses a power he can barely control. And this particular relic doesn’t need much to kick start a process that just might open a portal to hell—if Zoya doesn’t find and contain it first.
Who will prevail—the relic hunters or the relic they came to contain?
That may depend on who controls the boy who accidentally activated it. Get Relic Hunters today!
If you’re looking for:
√ badass heroines (and villains) with brains, blades, and humor
√ a fantasy adventure filled with side switching, doublecrossing and magical mayhem
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Relic Hunters is the first book of a sword & sorcery series starring two knights with disabilities who frequently sort out magical problems, engage in sword fights and wrangle the occasional demon while keeping their wits sharp and their sense of humor sharper. It’s all in a day’s work when you live in a quasi-intelligent enchanted forest.
*Relic Hunter features a younger version of Sarn from the Curse Breaker series. It’s set eight years before Curse Breaker: Enchanted. It can be read as a stand-alone or as part of the Curse Breaker series. No prior knowledge is needed to enjoy this adventure. Let Zoya and her cousin take you on an adventure you won’t soon forget.
*Relic Hunters is the expanded version of a novella entitled Divergent Heroes: Errant Knights, which was part of an anthology called A Different Kind of Hero. Relic Hunters contains 3x more action, mayhem, and magic than the original, and is 3x as long.
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The Moment It All Went Wrong
[Eight Years Ago]
“Which way?” Yan gestured to the sun-dappled fork in the trail, but he was asking about more than their direction of travel.
To the right led eventually back to their order, and the left required a map check because the enchanted forest shifted the paths that ran through it on a whim. But said forest never bothered to inform any of the hapless riders using that path of the course change. Usually, they left the terminus the same, but those enchanted behemoths loved to mess with the middle bits of the paths by weaving them into figure eights and adding unnecessary zigzags.
And that’s where they were now, somewhere in the middle of a giant, quasi-intelligent forest full of enchantments and plenty of mischief. Why me? Zoya glanced around to ensure none of the trees she rode between had taken offense at her errant thoughts. She never knew what to expect from them. Nor would she be surprised if they started reading her mind.
“Well?” Yan drummed his fingers on his thigh a hand-span above the soiled bandage wrapped around his still-healing stump. One of his legs ended at the knee thanks to a hungry demon, but his other leg was whole and just a little scratched up. “Are we facing reality or wandering some more?”
Zoya scratched her nose and considered his question as she studied her cousin for a hint of his true feelings on the matter. Are you eager to return to the order, cuz? She couldn’t tell. Yan’s open expression gave nothing away. He could be willing her to choose another destination, or hoping she’d elect to take the quickest route back to their comrades. Was she eager to return? Hell no.
“Why am I making all the decisions? This is a partnership,” Zoya snapped.
“Because you’re the Knight-Quester, cuz, not me. I’m just your humorous sidekick and cousin.”
Yan threw her a wan smile. He should still be abed in a well-stocked infirmary not strapped to a half-deaf mare who’d go anywhere if they kept the carrots coming. But not even humor could hide the hurt of not being chosen. It was right there in his eyes. Everyone wanted to be named Knight-Quester, but there were only so many questers the order could support at any given time.
“Still sore about that, eh. I thought you got over that ages ago.”
Yan avoided her gaze. “I did.”
“Sure, you did.”
“You still haven’t picked a direction. Are you having second thoughts about going back?”
Yan looked at an enchanted tree to his right giving her a good view of the healing wound on his neck thanks to the gold light shafting through the dense canopy above. A line of neat stitches closed that finger-long cut, but he should still cover it.
Did they even have any clean bandages left? Zoya wasn’t sure. She shifted her weight on the saddle then let that concern go for now. Until they found a stream, she couldn’t exactly boil any of the soiled bandages to clean them. But thinking about that was preferable to answering the question hanging over her head. It was an ax waiting to fall. When it did, would it sever her connection to the order she’d given her life to? She just didn’t know. And that was the heart of Zoya’s problem.
Am I stalling? Yan’s sharp glance said she was. Zoya gripped the reins until her hand complained and her mount, a chestnut gelding, flicked an ear in her direction. His wind-tangled mane needed brushing, and so did the rest of him. But it was no good. Her gaze strayed to the spot where her arm ought to be. It ended at a bandaged lump two hand-spans below her elbow. At least I still have one fully working arm left.
Down that path madness lay. Stop thinking about loss and think about gain. You defeated a minor demon and recaptured a dangerous artifact with only one hand. If that wasn’t the definition of ‘single-handed,’ then it should be. Though Yan had helped too. Zoya hadn’t defeated the demon all by herself. It had too many henchmen for that.
But it was a hollow victory. Said artifact was sealed inside a lead-lined box, which she’d wrapped in a magic-eating cloth before shoving it into the shielded leather bag strapped behind her saddle. Zoya smiled. There was one less magical object floating around out there. Chalk one more up for the good side. And it was all thanks to her and Yan as usual.
Birds twittered from their perches high above them, announcing that at last, spring was coming. Zoya frowned at that. She and Yan had set off in late summer from the order after that stupid ceremony. What had happened to autumn and winter? The last four or five months were more than a little hazy.
Oh well, that last relic must have had a time-warping component. Zoya shrugged off the lost time. Their loss was a worthy sacrifice to get such a dangerous artifact out of the wrong hands. Besides, she’d lost time during a relic hunt before, and she would again. Such was the life of a Knight-Quester, and Zoya wouldn’t have it any other way.
Leaves crunched as their bored mounts searched for something to nibble. They picked their way over and around the massive roots that, here and there, broke through the leaf mold as the rest of the forest shook off its winter slumber.
Look bub, if you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you. Zoya thought at the bark-covered behemoths twitching their roots nearby. But she had no mind magic, so her thoughts stayed inside her head and didn’t convey themselves to the nearby trees.
The enchanted forest was always densely carpeted in leaves in varying degrees of decay. They were as dry as tinder since the spring rains hadn’t dropped by for a visit yet, and they made a too loud crackling sound every time their mounts shifted their hooves. It announced their passage to the whole forest in case it hadn’t noticed them.
The sound grated on Zoya’s nerves until her mount stepped onto a patch of still-melting snow and nibbled at it. Silence fell, but Zoya still wasn’t ready to make a decision. If spring really was springing up all around them, then they had to return to the order for that damned quarterly check-in.
“I guess you’re onto third and fourth thoughts by now, huh?” Yan said, breaking the sudden quiet that had fallen when their mounts had stopped.
“What makes you think that?” Zoya transferred her gaze from the restive tree to her left to her cousin’s face.
“Because everything’s different now.” He gave her a rueful smile.
“Is it? We’re still us. We didn’t end up possessed or insane.” At least Zoya didn’t think she had, but would she know if she were? Not a question she wanted to ponder out here in the enchanted forest where anything was possible.
“Ahem, speak for yourself.” Yan dropped his gaze to his truncated leg.
“Quiet you. I’m pontificating here. It’s been a while since I gave a rousing speech.”
In fact, Zoya wasn’t sure when she’d given the last one, but she brushed that thought aside. Time only mattered to the bureaucratic side of her order, not to a knight on a quest to rid the country of dangerous artifacts.
“By all means then, do continue.” Yan gestured for her to go on, and Zoya caught a glimpse of his old self.
“Anyway, what was I saying? We’re still good at our jobs, and we still make a great team.”
Take that, you limb-munching demon. You didn’t win. We did. But his teeth had been quite sharp, and she could live without becoming a snack for a hungry horde of demons again. Just the thought sent a shudder through Zoya even though shock blurred that whole bloody episode.
“But you can’t be a Knight-Quester anymore,” Yan was saying as she plugged back into the conversation at hand. “They’ll put you out to pasture with the old, broken-down nags.”
Would they? Zoya was one of the few women in the militant branch of their order and the only one who held any kind of rank. They can’t take this away from me. I won’t let them.
Zoya focused on Ricter’s caramel locks. It was Ricter she was riding, wasn’t it? Everything had gotten more than a bit muddled during their last job. She thought her horse had gotten a little chewed up, but he must have escaped being eaten since she was riding him, and he looked undamaged.
Zoya wound the reins around the saddlebow and ran a gloved hand over the pouch containing the relic-finder. It was still there right where it should be, and it chose that moment to vibrate against her palm ending the conversation. Thank the Holy Balance, because this wasn’t a discussion she ever wanted to have.
Zoya whipped out the knobby, arrow-shaped stone and wasn’t surprised when it showered them in a strobing, rainbow glow. It ran through the whole gamut of colors, tasting them. Each time it pulsed, it narrowed in on the magical vibration it had sensed. Every color-shift brought it closer to a positive identification until finally, the stone turned black with red streaks. It spun on her palm until it pointed left, and Zoya felt like cheering. Here, at last, was something constructive to do.
“I guess we go left then.” Yan shook his head. “Saved by a stone. I can’t believe the timing.” He nudged his steed with his knee, but his mare stayed put, waiting for her treat. “Oh, for the love of trees, I just fed you.”
“Here, I still have one.” Zoya nodded to one of her saddlebags, and Yan reached across her to search for a carrot. “Are you sure she’s not part donkey?”
“I’m convinced she is.”
The instant Yan pulled a carrot from Zoya’s saddlebag, his mount craned her neck until she could grab it, but he held it out of reach and urged her on through the melting snow and the wet leaf mold.
“Oh no, you don’t get anything until you move. Don’t make me put this carrot on a string. Lead on, cuz, before she mutinies again.”
Zoya squeezed a tad too hard through her legs to stay upright and accidentally sent her mount into a canter instead of a walk. Since no one was screaming for help, there was no reason to hurry. Most people who had magically-imbued thingamabobs wanted to keep them right where they were. Finding such items took cunning and skull-cracking.
“Any idea what we’ll find?”
Yan didn’t say it, but his eyes did—please, no more demons.
Zoya shook her head. “No clue. I’ve never seen the relic-finder turn that color before.”
She wanted to squeeze her cousin’s shoulder to comfort him but with only one working hand, Zoya had to hold onto the relic-finder. Otherwise, it couldn’t guide them to the magical item in need of containment.
Ricter was trained to respond to signals from her legs, but she wasn’t sure she was astride Ricter. Or if her current mount had been similarly trained. In fact, everything since the demon incident was more than a little fuzzy, and she wasn’t sure exactly when they’d finished that or how. Why was she noticing these holes in her memory now?
It had something to do with the stone in her hand. The relic-finder did more than what its name implied. Were they just traveling under some sort of beguilement? If so, they’d have to sort that out later. Duty called, and Zoya was keen to answer it. Later, she’d return to that village armed with enchantment-fighters and get the truth. Because a spell that strong could only be cast by a powerful artifact or a magical creature. Either one spelled trouble, but it was her job to rectify that ASAP.
The relic-finder pulsed against her palm reminding Zoya she had a more immediate claim on her. It urged her to hurry, hurry, hurry—lives might be in danger.
“Where are you leading us and what will we find when we get there?” Zoya wondered aloud.
The stone didn’t answer in words. Back and forth it flipped between an effulgent green and a swirling black slashed through with angry red lines, and each time the latter appeared, it sent a bolt of fear through Zoya. But it wasn’t her fear, it was the stone’s. How can a rock fear something?
“We got this. You and I are well-trained,” Zoya said because Yan looked like he needed to hear it.
Instead of replying, he shot her a concerned look. As if I’d ever be a liability in a fight, oh please. If running and throwing things were an option, she could still win. But there was no army to bail them out, just the two of them and whatever they could cobble together or draft into service.
Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea after all. Before Zoya could get too mired in doubt, the ground shook with an unnatural vengeance. The stone in her hand emitted a blinding green light and an ear-piercing wail of ultimate agony. Okay maybe she’d made up that ‘ultimate agony’ bit, so she had a reason not to chuck the relic-finder into the nearest hole. It was sawing away at her last nerve.
Yan winced. “What is that awful racket?”
“I didn’t know stones could scream. Don’t you need lungs for that?” Zoya pressed her thumb into the relic-finder to quiet it, and the scream cut off.
“I think it’s all inside our heads, so why am I hearing it? You’re holding the thing. I’m just your sidekick.” Yan shot her a sour look.
Zoya shrugged. “It’s a magical item, so normal rules don’t apply.”
“That’s why we find and contain them.”
“Too true, cuz, too true.”
But Zoya had a bad feeling they were riding toward more than one relic from the ancient-magical world. And we don’t have any backup. That gave Zoya pause for a nanosecond because they usually didn’t have any backup unless they were near a chapterhouse, and trouble rarely ever popped up within shouting distance of the order.
Instead of fleeing, Zoya signaled her mount with her legs, and they charged into possible danger. Maybe he was Ricter after all. He’d always been the gung-ho type but then again, so was she. That was probably why the order had elevated her to the rank of Knight-Quester.
Thank Fate, she was still wearing her breastplate. At least if they ran into any other nasty surprises, her heart and other important organs were protected. But what had happened to the rest of her suit of half-plate armor?
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— Cover created by Daniĕl Priègo.
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