About the Author

S.M. Beiko

Books by this Author
Scion of the Fox

Scion of the Fox

The Realms of Ancient, Book 1
also available: Hardcover Paperback
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The Brilliant Dark

The Brilliant Dark

The Realms of Ancient, Book 3
also available: Hardcover Paperback
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“What happened?” I asked the silent gathering, turning momentarily away from the Opal. They all seemed to be waiting. “Where’s Deon?”


“You tell us,” said a Fox nearby. I couldn’t tell which; they were all indistinguishable. And it was less an invitation to tell them anything and more a punishing quip.


“Chaos. Harm. Silence,” answered another for him. “You were a stonebearer. You broke your sacred trust with Deon. You broke her trust with all of us.”


Their voices were strange and harsh — it was difficult to keep track of them. “I didn’t do it on purpose!” I shouted over them. “We were trying to wake Ancient, to open the way to the Brilliant Dark — ”


“Naïve pup,” said another. For a second my heart leapt, and I thought it was Sil. Could she actually be down here? But again, I couldn’t tell who had spoken. They all looked the same.


“The Darklings have slipped their prisons,” volleyed another Fox-voice. “They’re loose in the Uplands. Meanwhile, Deon is gone, the Opal is ruined, and the realms are connected now. Connected as they were never meant to be.”


That one was more than a criticism, pure blame. I glanced up over my shoulder, noticed then that there was a wild split through the Calamity Stone, and that it didn’t shine at all.


I turned back. “Look, Deon herself was behind me on this. On stopping the Darklings. We had done it. We’d won.” Now I was bordering on hysterical, begging myself, as much as them, for it to be true when I knew better.


“Don’t you understand?” This was the Fox closest to my feet; this voice was full of despair. “You cut us off. All of us. The Matriarchs are missing. Not even the Moth Queen can ferry the Denizen dead to their promised homelands. You did this.”


“Lost.” The word echoed around the chamber, barked in uneven, angry, miserable tones. “All is lost.”


The Opal above me made the hairs on my neck bristle, as if it was watching me. I didn’t turn around that time. What the hell were they all expecting me to do now?


“You must finish what you started.”


I froze. The Fox was sitting directly in front of me, surveying me with its burnt-hole eyes. I had definitely recognized that voice.


The shade hadn’t moved but for a step, and in that step the small fox body rose, shifted, grew. It was the shadow of a man, the outlines faint. The other Foxes changed all around me, too, all at once, taking the shapes of the people they’d once been. Details in faces were difficult to discern; they were still just spirit shadows. Their hollow pinprick eyes were still the same, boring into me like they were diamond-studded. But in these forms, they were like insubstantial pillars of smoke.


But this close, I could see the features of this fox shift; the outline of a beard, of a mouth twisted in aggravation. It was the voice I recognized first. Jacob Reinhardt, one of the Foxes from the Conclave of Fire, the one who’d challenged me at every turn — who’d nearly killed me, once. It looked like he hadn’t been so lucky in the intervening weeks since I’d seen him last.


I backed up, tripped, and landed hard beneath the Opal. I looked up in time to see something volleyed at me, and I opened my arms to catch it.


A sword hilt. Bladeless, but heavy all the same.


“Finish what you started,” Reinhardt’s shade repeated.


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