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READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Queen of Nod (The Balance, #2), by C.W. Snyder

“Well I came upon a man at the top of a hill,
called himself the savior of the human race.
Said he come to save the world from destruction and pain,
but I said, “How can you save the world from itself?”

Shawn James, Through the Valley


In a spellbinding followup to C.W. Snyder's March 2020 release, Child of Nod, Alice embarks on a journey of self-discovery and survival through the world of Fae... Join her and Zee this Tuesday!


Queen of Nod (The Balance, #2), by C.W. Snyder

Alice hoped to find peace after the death of the Red Queen. Instead, she faces a new foe: a plague of madness that threatens to bring Nod to its knees, shaking the foundations of the afterlife. Forced to flee from her home and abandon her throne, she is led on a journey that has the potential to remake or break her.


From the forest world of the Fae to the expanse of the multiverse, Alice and Zee search desperately for a cure before it's too late. Along the way, they meet new companions and enemies - the powerful and deadly Magi, the changeling princess Maggie, and the Triad, a sinister trio of brothers who would stop at nothing to subjugate all they see.


The fate of Nod hangs in the balance, and the key might just lie in the one place Alice has never dared to go - the depths of her own mind.



PROLOGUE

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was dead. She was different now: a little older—though, in this place, you could not tell—a little wiser, a little tougher. She had seen the world consume those who needed protection and deliver those who deserved punishment. In it, she knew there was a balance to maintain. She often thought of her friends and, further away, like a star through clouds, her family. She thought of lives lost and kingdoms won, and the great wheel at the center of it all, bringing each thing around again, like painted spokes.

Now, she stood on a balcony overlooking the sea and watched the waves come in, silver and cold, white fingers of spray reaching between the rocks of the coast for the tan sands of the shore. In the distance, above the dancing whitecaps, steel-gray clouds lowered over the water and sparked with an angry light. She thought the storm would miss the Crown and the Reach, and while she was thankful, she knew the land needed the rain.

She found truth in struggle—in what lay between want and need, she saw the Balance. Though she held the seat of the White, and calm permeated the land, things would have to change. She knew the storm would have to come because without rain, there was no life, and without life, there was no meaning. She only hoped those who relied on her rule held fast through what trouble might come.

Someone called her name from within the Crown, and she turned to go. Behind her, the distant sound of thunder dogged her footsteps.


CHAPTER ONE

They’d always maintained the Balance. The proof was there—in black and white, chiseled into stone, etched onto steel discs, and in tomes long forgotten. The Balance and the Blood went hand in hand. A multitude of worlds whirled in their own cosmos, each different from the last, sparks from a fire. There were constants, though—Nod, for one. That ancient land, that other place was the lynchpin. Mr. Black and the Blood, they were the caretakers. Theirs was a position to envy.

It’s bullshit, Poe thought and slammed the Codex shut. Thankless work for ungrateful souls. You see them—their arguments, their wars, their petty squabbles. One day it’s compassion for the homeless children, the next, they’re ready to lynch the man whose views don’t match their own. They quote Buddha and Gandhi while squabbling about lines drawn in the sand. Sociopaths and schizoids run the world, and it’s all bullshit.

He re-shelved the book and stood, yanking the string on the light hung over the small desk. He left, closing the door behind him, and strode purposefully down the austere halls. The quiet and simple surroundings rankled him. He hated the look, the feel, even the smell of the place. The airs they put on were all so much…bullshit. The world needed a guiding hand, a fist at the till, not a playground monitor. In the hall, he passed a tapestry depicting a mouse pulling a thorn from a lion’s paw. He snorted. Such simplistic thinking had dragged mankind down.

He pushed through the door from the cloisters and into the foyer. Others milled around, the murmur of their voices a low susurration. There was a hematurge—a blood mage—from Nairobi and a chromatist from Detroit. The latter was an artist of some sort. Appropriate enough, he supposed, but useless in the bigger picture. He was more interested in her ability to manipulate others’ emotions—something she was doing now, drawing a young dancer closer to her circle of influence. He watched their body language for a moment, then cleared his throat.

“Naomi,” he said, gesturing for her to join him. After a moment’s thought, he waved to the hematurge as well. “Joseph.”

He scanned the crowd and found his third—Tomas, the sigilite—a rune mage. He called him over, and the other man approached in a half-shuffle, a wooden case clutched in his hand. Poe led them to a secluded alcove, the runes cut into the stone of the room muffling their voices.

“You know your parts?” He looked at each.

They looked uncomfortable but, to their credit, nodded without argument.

“Good then. Follow.”

He led them to the back of the room where a plain wood door was set in the wall. He gestured, and Joseph pricked his finger with a needle hidden inside his suit, then placed the bleeding tip in a hollow beside the door. It clicked open and they passed into a long hallway, glass doors leading to study rooms on either side. At the end of the hall, they came to another, smaller room cut from the living rock, its door—now open—thick oak, reinforced with iron bands etched with runes. Poe entered and stripped to the waist. He held his arms out.

“Tomas.”

Tomas opened the case he carried, removing a small knife. With a steady hand, he carved sigils into Poe’s flesh in painstaking detail. After each, he daubed the wound with a cream he also carried to staunch the bleeding. The carving took a while, and while Joseph watched unaffected, Naomi looked as though she might be sick. She turned away. Poe thought he would have to deal with her at some point. He hadn’t seen it before, but now, the woman reeked of the possibility of betrayal. He put the concern in the back of his mind. That would come later. He needed her now.

Tomas leaned back and inspected his work. He gave a curt nod, ignoring the beads of perspiration rolling down Poe’s head, and exited the room. Joseph’s turn came next. He stepped into the room, past Poe, and cut his palm with a quick slash from a hidden blade. Joseph’s blood sprayed the wall before them, marking a ragged pattern…a doorway limned by the blood cracked and swung open, leading into a dim room with a high ceiling. Content that the portal was open, Joseph stepped out of the small room, to join Tomas, and put a hand on Naomi’s shoulder. She looked up and entered.

The last of the keystones, Poe thought.

Naomi touched the black scarf around her neck, and a rainbow effect rippled across the fabric. The pattern and color grabbed Poe’s attention, and he suddenly felt himself adrift, untethered from reality. The sensation of a sudden stop met his mind, like a drifting boat striking a hidden rock in an otherwise placid river. His thoughts flooded, invaded by dark and wretched things crawling over one another seeking freedom.

Poe saw the gaping maw of the universe, cold and unfeeling. He saw the clockwork behind the stars and the things that slipped between the gears. One—the Lurker—reached for him, and its vast mind barged into his. Whispered words licked at the edges of his mind like cold fire, and he screamed. He turned to reach for Naomi, to make her end the thing she’d begun, but instead stumbled backward into the portal they’d opened.

The world receded from view and the temperature dropped, the smell of the place slipping from antiseptic to cold mildew. He could still hear the gibbering voice in his ear and he thought his mind would wither. He opened his mouth to scream again but a sudden impact cut him off. His world went black.



He came to in a vast room, a cold stone throne high on a dais. Cobwebs festooned the high vaulted ceiling and walls, and black shapes skittered here and there on hard feet. The fall had knocked him back to his senses, though he could feel the poison working through his mind and veins. Something moved behind the throne, black and massive. Moonlight filtered through a hole in one wall, catching the eye of the beast lurking there. Poe stood straighter as the crow addressed him.

“Interloper,” it croaked.

“Who are you?”

“Corvax. Who are you?”

Poe considered. Who was he? What was he?

“Well?”

“I am Corvax,” Poe answered, knowing it to be true.

The great bird cocked its head, fastening a glittering eye on him. “How is this possible? Explain.”

“Let me approach, sire.”

The bird inclined its head, and Corvax stepped up the dais, kneeling on the throne so he could reach the crow’s head. He leaned in and spoke into its ear in a whisper, the words infectious. They flowed from his mind and out of his lips, an insidious virus. The great bird struggled, but too late—the words had taken root. Its eyes glowed a baleful green and it shrieked once, a harsh cawing that made Corvax’s ear bleed. Then the great beast fell silent, watching with glittering eyes. Satisfied, Corvax sank into the throne.

“Call them,” he ordered.

The crow opened its beak and let out a harsh call. The sound echoed in the cold stone halls, resounding and bounding off the granite, at last fading away into shattered reflections of itself. Corvax waited and listened. For a time, there was silence. Then, the sound of wings.

About the Author:

Clayton Snyder lives in North Dakota with his wife, two dogs, and a cat. He is the author of The Balance series, as well as the upcoming Godsfall and The Infernal Machine. In addition, he's had several short stories published, the most recent in Helios Quarterly. In his day job, he works as a systems admin, and in his off time, he games, tries to play guitar, and sometimes paints. When he's not doing those things, he maintains a passion for humanitarian causes, involving himself in local charity works including fundraising for cancer research and animal rescue.


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