THE CHALLENGE ACCEPTED (Book 2 of the Gauntlet Trilogy)

A bejeweled gauntlet in a treasure chest serves as the cover art for The Challenge Accepted by Cheryl Dyson and Xina Marie UhlIf Brydon can fulfill his quest to bring the fabled Gauntlet of Ven-Kerrick back to his homeland of Falara, he will marry the princess and be crowned the next king. He had known the journey would be difficult, but he had not counted on becoming friends with the assassin whose original goal had been to murder him before his quest had begun, nor had he suspected he would fall in love with a girl along the way. And he definitely had not planned on becoming involved in the political intrigue of several countries not his own.

Will Brydon be able to save his friends and the woman he loves in order to return to his original quest?

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Looking for Book One – The Gauntlet Thrown? You can find it here for free.

Reviews

“A riveting and exciting sequel to The Gauntlet Thrown. Old friends revisited and new ones made, some are lost others are found…Highly recommend to those who like a well written tale of quests, bravery and battles between forces of evil and good.” – Anonymous (full review here)

“An excellent book! The best that I’ve read in a long time…I will always compare fantasy novels to Tolkien, Martin and Jordan. (in that order)…if this book is any indication, Dyson may soon join that esteemed list. I look forward to reading the next book and strongly recommend that every lover of fantasy fiction read this book as well!” – KenBen (full review here)

“This great fantasy adventure continues the story of Brydon Redwing and companions. It once again grabs you and never lets go!! Great magic concept, and continued character and political development. Can’t wait for book 3!” – Anonymous (full review here)

“What I liked was the different characters that played parts in the adventures and how the emotional involvement developed. Looking forward to book 3.“ – PapermakerJK (full review here)

Excerpt

Shevyn showed no sign of fear when they entered the partially rebuilt castle, but her hand gripped Brydon’s tightly. He wished, for perhaps the hundredth time, that he could touch her mind and comfort her, but her thoughts were closed to him. It was like touching a smooth, black wall. Despite his reassuring glance at Toryn, he was suddenly afraid, even more so because their weapons had not been taken from them. Who was this Dark Master that he did not even fear Toryn’s skill with a blade? Surely, he knew that Toryn had nearly slain Reed, and certainly would have but for Reed’s mental abilities.

They reached large wooden double doors that opened silently before them to reveal a darkened room, lit only by two huge braziers at either side of a large throne. Upon the throne sat a man shrouded in dark robes that covered him from head to toe.

“Do come forward,” requested a voice that was powerful, but sounded slightly bored and perhaps a trifle amused.

Tal nudged Brydon, who reluctantly stepped forward. He took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders as he tried to quell his trepidation, knowing the man could sense his fear. He walked ahead and stopped at the foot of the throne. He was disappointed that he could not see the man’s face in the folds of his black hood. A hideous red-headed vulture perched upon the man’s shoulder and seemed to regard Brydon malevolently.

“Where are Jace and Verana?” Brydon questioned. “I have done as you requested and now I wish to see them.”

“That will not be possible,” the man replied.

“Are you the ‘Dark Master’?” Brydon demanded.

“I am.” Amusement touched Brydon’s mind. “It is good that you have come, although I would have enjoyed torturing the healer and the knight-priest. Is this the princess?”

“The queen,” Brydon corrected.

Shevyn stepped forward with Toryn beside her. There was silence for a long moment. Shevyn remained still, chin held high, but Brydon could tell that she trembled. He cursed himself for bringing her here, despite her insistence.

“Interesting,” the Dark Master commented at last. He turned, almost imperceptibly, to Brydon. A sharp wave of anger blasted at him, nearly knocking him to his knees. He kept his feet through sheer willpower, and tried to block the mental force with all his ability.

//You were commanded to bring no one but her! Why is the Redolian here?// The question raked at Brydon’s mind and everything Rakyn had taught him seemed to be worthless as he tried futilely to push the Dark Master out. The pressure left suddenly, as if it had never been, and Brydon swayed, pressing a hand against his throbbing temple.

“No matter,” the Dark Master went on. “You, milady, will now tell me the whereabouts of the second gauntlet.”

Brydon’s head rose at that, shocked. A second gauntlet? He had never heard of such an item. Not even in legend.

Shevyn’s chin raised another notch.

“You are a typical foolish Kerrick,” the Dark Master said and sighed. “Therefore we will do this the hard way.” He was silent for a moment and Brydon sensed he was trying to pry into Shevyn’s mind. There was no reaction from her, so Brydon expected he had met with the same lack of success in reaching her mind.

“Interesting,” the Dark Master said finally. “Formidable walls you have there. I wonder how you got them. Reed said nothing about you having strong defenses.” He made a slight motion with one hand and Tal locked an arm around Shevyn’s neck. Toryn turned, reaching for his sword, but he froze as suddenly as did Brydon in the midst of the same movement. Brydon struggled, but his body refused to answer his will. Toryn’s unmoving stance told the same story.

//Leave her alone! She can’t answer your questions!// Brydon sent to the Dark Master. The powerful voice came back like a meat cleaver in his head.

//Why is that?//

Brydon cringed at the pain. //She cannot speak.//

The sense of presence departed, though Brydon was still unable to move.

“We shall see,” he heard the Dark Master say. Tal dragged Shevyn from their sight. Brydon found himself walking to a doorway at the right side of the room, in step with Toryn, and accompanied by a few Moraki. Brydon tried to struggle, but to no avail; his body responded perfectly to the Dark Master’s mental commands. Brydon wondered vainly how he accomplished it; nothing Rakyn had taught him was even close to it. He and Toryn continued down a flight of dank steps until they came to a dark dungeon. They proceeded calmly into a stone cell and halted, standing motionless until the door clanked shut and locked with a grating rasp. They were released as suddenly as they had been taken.

Brydon spun and rushed to hammer on the metal.

“YOU BASTARD!” he screamed and pounded on the door with the hilt of his sword. Even worse than being used like puppets was the thought of what they might be doing to Shevyn. He bellowed himself hoarse and pounded until he thought his sword would break. Only then did he collapse on the dirty straw, spent. Toryn watched him through worried green eyes. Brydon had to admit a grudging respect for the Dark Master’s methods. He had left them their weapons in mockery of their supposed strength.

Toryn knelt and put a hand on Brydon’s shoulder.

“Don’t break on us, now. She’s going to need you before this is over, I think.”

“I should never have brought her here,” Brydon said. Toryn cringed and Brydon knew his guilt must have spilled into Toryn’s mind from the link they shared. He tried to tamp down his emotion to spare him.

“He would have taken her, anyway,” Toryn replied softly.

“I could have fought him!” Brydon spat.

“With what? The two of us had enough trouble with Reed, and he did not have half the power of the Dark Master. And what did he mean by a second gauntlet?” The question nearly succeeded in pulling Brydon’s mind from his self-imposed penitence.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never heard of more than one.”

“Nor I,” Toryn admitted. “How did we get involved in this?” He blanched as though wanting to take back the question. Brydon winced and blamed himself for that, also. “Don’t worry,” Toryn said strongly with a note of apology in his voice. “We’ll get out of here, and save the others, too. I wonder where he is keeping Jace and Verana?”

“I’m not even sure he really has them,” Brydon said tonelessly.

“Let’s pray he doesn’t.”

Their wills were taken again sometime later and though Brydon fought with all his might, he still found himself meekly mounting the steps that returned him to the room with the throne.

//Your meager powers are no threat to me, Northman,// the Dark Master sent. //Best save your strength.// Brydon ignored that until he was close enough to spot Shevyn seated on the floor at the Dark Master’s feet. Brydon would have rushed to her, but his steps were controlled and he could only walk forward slowly.

“Release me!” he gritted through jaws that could barely move. Amazingly, the Dark Master did so, an action so unexpected that Brydon fell to his knees. He scrambled up and hurried to Shevyn. He knelt beside her and turned her face to look into her eyes. He saw weariness there and barely-masked fear. Her lower lip trembled slightly and she clung to him for an instant. He embraced her tightly and stiffened when she winced. Brydon shut his eyes at instantaneous rush of rage, and then he raised a cold glare to the Dark Master.

“What did you do to her?” he demanded.

“You were correct. She does not speak,” the Dark Master said in his usual tone. “I find I must use alternate methods.”

“What did you do to her?” Brydon repeated.

“It is of no import,” the Dark Master replied. “You will perform a service for me.”

“Never.”

“Then, she will die.” The Dark Master shrugged, but beneath his facade of boredom, Brydon thought he could detect a not-quite-hidden eagerness. The Dark Master would indeed kill her, and joy in it. And Brydon did not think the process would be quick and painless.

“What do you want?” Brydon asked flatly.

“I want you to find the second gauntlet,” the Dark Master said. “You will determine the location of this gauntlet and then you will report the information back to me.”

“How exactly do you expect me to do that?”

“If I knew, I would go and get it, myself,” the Dark Master replied. “I had assumed it was here, but as you can see, the Moraki have neither taken care of their cities nor their libraries.” There was contempt in his words, but the Moraki did not react. The Dark Master next spoke as though he recited a fairy tale.

“Far to the north, in the land of snow and ice, there once stood a fabulous city. It has long fallen into ruin now, hidden by the elements, and buried by centuries of snowfall. In the library of the royal palace of that city should be a record of the history of the gauntlets. It should give you some clue as to the whereabouts of the second one.”

“Far to the north?” Brydon asked dubiously. The land of snow and ice could only be north of Falara. “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Some tales are older than tribes. Your people have lived their entire lives in the shadow of greatness without even dreaming of its existence. And they would be too ignorant to value the knowledge had they the means to attain it. I have long studied the past and I know many things about many places. You know nothing of the Moraki, I take it?” He huffed at Brydon’s refusal to answer, although it was unclear if he meant it as amusement or disdain. “I thought not. Should you find word of the gauntlets, do not attempt and use the information for your own ends. Even should you locate the second gauntlet, it would do you no service. No man can touch Kerrick’s gauntlet; the second is no less deadly.”

Epiphany struck. Brydon was suddenly sure that the Dark Master had found Kerrick’s gauntlet to be frustratingly useless. It was a good wager that possessing the complete pair would endow him with the ability to put their power to use. Brydon filed the knowledge away for future study, and tried to ignore it so the Dark Master would not see it in his mind.

“Shevyn and Toryn will accompany me,” he said.

“The Redolian may do as he pleases. He is of no interest to me. The girl—” he turned his attention to Shevyn, “The girl will stay with me.”

“No!” Brydon burst out. “You already have Jace and Verana!”

“Indeed. I thought you had forgotten. Perhaps you do not care for the others as you obviously do for this girl. You will retrieve the information and you will return it to me, or you will see her again only as a corpse stretched upon an altar.” A shockingly graphic image burned itself into Brydon’s mind where it would return to haunt him for days to come. “What will it be, Falaran?” the Dark Master goaded. “Do you agree, or shall I have Tal stoke the fires for a sacrifice to Shaitan?”

He allowed Brydon to see Shevyn on a bloody altar again, her heart torn out and her face frozen forever in a scream that never came. Brydon felt perverted glee emanate from the Dark Master and knew the evil creature was almost willing Brydon to refuse. He obviously joyed in sacrifice and only his greed for the gauntlets kept him from killing them all.

“Why don’t you get it yourself?” Brydon dared to ask.

Black rage assaulted him, nearly blinding him with its power. It diminished slowly, excruciatingly.

“I do not choose to. Now answer.”

“I will go,” Brydon said, feeling nauseous. He began to fear that Jace and Verana were already dead. He wasn’t sure he would be able to leave Shevyn in the clutches of Shaitan’s horrifying henchman, but he could not see an alternative. The Dark Master’s triumph flooded his mind and he fought back with a wave of hatred that seemed to have little effect.

“Go now. I will be in contact. Tal will guide you to the desert’s edge.”

Brydon clung to Shevyn a moment longer.

“I’ll be back,” he murmured. “Do not give up hope, for surely I will kill him. Somehow.” With that, he stood and stalked to the exit, knowing that to look back would be the end of him.

Maps and other extras available HERE.

Available Now – just $2.99 USD

PDF – MOBI – EPUB

Also available through Amazon.comBarnes & Noble Nook, iTunes, and Smashwords

Looking for Book One – The Gauntlet Thrown? You can find it here for free.

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