Sunday, April 23, 2017

Author Spotlight on Shakyra Dunn




Shakyra Dunn can't stray away from the impression that there is always an adventure around every corner! She is the author of the fantasy series "The One Left Behind," and the upcoming fantasy novel "The Final Lesson!" When she isn’t playing the role of the Creator, she is marching through the worlds of her favorite video game characters or taking drives around her city to see the sights. Born in Chicago, Illinois, she currently resides in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, striving to experience more than the little town.

Synopsis of "The Final Lesson":

Apprentice Arcana Leilana Erovina has the chance to rise to power when she is granted a final test to gain the title of Warlord that she has craved for the last five years. She is assigned to travel about the land of Adrylis and learn one spell from every magical being. However, there's a catch--she is not to learn from the ancestors of wizardry before her. Instead, she is assigned to learn something more from the souls that she encounters in the world of Adrylis: humbleness, passion, understanding, laughter, friendship and love. Adrylis is in crisis, war at the doorstep of the kingdom of Linmus. Prince Remiel Vesarus is forced into hiding, racked with vengeance towards the terrorists that have destroyed all that he has ever known. With his loyal attendant Solus Brenner at his side, together they seek to restore their kingdom to its former glory and end the conflict of previous generations. When fate pulls them down similar paths, they will discover that the magic budding in their crumbling world certainly comes with a price.




Book Excerpt: 
CHAPTER ONE

The cinders crackled over the singed wood, rising through midnight’s earthy air. Gusts of wind drifted
through the dry oak trees, the shades of early autumn teeming from the branches in the form of cracked leaves. The stars were absent from the sky, yet a faint glimmer hovered above.
The still night of a new moon; such times were hard to fall upon. That made things even more
brilliant for such an announcement.
“You feel it, don’t you?” A gravelly voice cut through the silence, catching the attention of the group that surrounded him. “This air is thick. The stigma of the wind such as this besieges any and every
lost soul, carrying them beyond the boundaries of time.”
Master Hinju, you always make things more dramatic.”
Any means of a rebuttal were replaced by extended humming in a straight tone before finally,
“Now is not the time for remarks.” Copper eyes opened to the sound of distant laughter caught in the
indistinct gales, and a single glance at the source drew bitter silence. A stern expression coated his
features as he gazed upon the group of fourteen seated around the open fire; no disturbances occurred, and he once more cleared his throat, running his fingers through the curly brown mop on his head.
“I have summoned you here today for your final examination.” For a moment, chatter progressed among the group, some questioning what he meant by a ‘final examination,’ and after a second glance, silence took over again. “Moving on… The fourteen of you have advanced through your courses with ease, rising through the ranks of your respective classes. You were hand-chosen by your mentors to reach this stage in your lives.”
“Master Hinju, what is this final examination?” One student piped up, a stalwart expression coating her pale features. “We’ve had plenty of tests, but this is the first that I’ve heard of this…”
“Curious as always, Leilana,” Hinju replied with a nod. “That is correct—you have had many of these examinations, using your time to study magic and overcome obstacles placed before you.” The man cocked his head to the right and smirked. “But how often have you been sought out by the Headmaster himself for one of them?” Leilana grew silent, tucking a loose strand of her shoulder-length dark hair behind her ear.
“He’s not wrong…” one of the students mumbled.
“I guess this is the first time we’ve had someone like Master Hinju try to teach us…”
“Your examination on the night of emptiness will be a test of your overall skill level and valor.”
Hinju rose to a stand, extending his hand up towards the evening sky. “As Maesters and Arcana, under
the blessing of an innovative and invisible moon, you will be guided by none other than yourself. I chose this night specifically for you to give your all.” The students turned to one another in silence before continuing to listen to their Headmaster’s words. “Two by two, you will duel one another. The winners of each respective battle will progress towards the title that you each so crave—a chance to grow closer to becoming a Warlord.”
Leilana’s eyes widened at the statement, and she clutched the golden-encrusted grimoire in her arms closer to her chest, the metal vines lining the book pricking her fingers. So, that was the prize for
winning a duel. Seemed simple enough.
“Would anyone like to volunteer for the first battle?”
From the group of fourteen, a boy with neck-length dark brown hair tipped his beret and rose to a stand, confidence clear in his amber eyes. “I will.”
“Ah, so the mighty Lancett Lune is our first up for battle.” Hinju nodded in approval. “I expected no less. Do you wish to choose an opponent, or shall I have the stars choose for you?” Lancet briefly turned any signs of contempt on Leilana after looking over all his possible choices at least once, and the girl met his gaze before returning a small smirk. Lancet turned to Hinju once more, a hand on his hip.
“I leave my fate in your hands, Master.”
“Very well.” Hinju closed his eyes and ran his fingers along the silver crystal at the tip of his wooden staff, the jewel illuminating a smoky gloom. The students never averted their eyes from the man, watching as the crystal’s haze began to flow over another boy seated on a log. Once he had caught
notice of the beam above him, a grin upturned on his face and he shot up from his spot, his blonde hair
bouncing along with him.
“Yes!” he exclaimed gleefully before brandishing what appeared to be a rapier from the sheath at his side, twirling the hilt between his fingers. “I’ve always wanted to try my hand at fighting you, Lancelot! The day has come!”
“Lancelot?” Lancett laughed at the comment before he took hold of the sword at his side, pointing it at his opponent. “Take it easy there, Kindall. I’m not some knight. One day, I’ll be a Warlord. But right now, we’re both just knaves in the field of magic.”
“Begin!” Hinju commenced.
The two boys charged for one another at the call to battle, rapier and sword interlocking, the clashing metal harmoniously in sync. Lancett shoved Kindall back with his hand, causing him to stumble
before regaining his stance in time to block an oncoming strike. Kindall thrust his hand out, minuscule
shards of ice rushing through his palm, cutting into Lancett’s skin before melting. Lancett’s body became shrouded in flames faster than Kindall could process, the heat and cinders hazing his vision.
Kindall leaped from the line of fire and swung his rapier, sharper icicles accelerating from the tip of the blade. Lancett cut through the shards with his sword as he boosted himself forward off his right foot, ducking under another shard before slamming his sword onto the ground. Kindall barely had the time to react when a cataclysm of earth sent him off his feet and up into the air. He gripped to a tree branch and pulled himself up, bouncing on his feet in an anxious manner.
“The hell is he doing?” one of the male students exhaled. Leilana’s eyes narrowed as she kept her focus on the noble battle before her. Something about the method that the boys seemed to be taking was a little profound. It was as though they were slowly beginning to seep into a fractured state of bloodlust.
Kindall held up his rapier with both hands and cast down a streak of lightning at Lancett. Lancett cringed, the narrow impact sending quivers down his back. Once he had found an opportunity to strike, Kindall swung from the branch and pierced through Lancett’s defenses, knocking him to the ground. He quickly regained his footing afterward and extended his sword forward as Kindall was rushing to him again, a swell of dark energy ensnaring the boy and locking him in place, hovering above the ground in a magenta-shaded bubble.
“Hey!” Kindall tried to slice through the bubble, to no avail. When that failed, he attempted to kick and punch it, and when his efforts came to nothing, he groaned and decided to just take a seat inside of his solitary confinement, arms crossed in a huff. “Damn! I was so close!”
Lancett sighed of relief, falling to the ground, hand over his pounding heart. “That was close… I was afraid I was gonna run out of stamina…”
“Excellent work, Maester Lune. Victory is yours,” Hinju stated, laying a hand on Lancett’s shoulder. Within seconds, the torn flesh on his face and body began to mend and close once more, as if the marks were never there.
“Thank you, Master,” Lancett replied, grinning.
“That was awesome, Lance!” One of the girls piped up, now on her feet, both hands curled into confident fists. “You’re so strong!”
“That was impressive,” Leilana agreed.
Kindall grit his teeth, anxiously rocking his right leg up and down. “There he goes again, winning the hearts of all the girls… why can’t I ever get that lucky…? I’m handsome enough, I’m strong, and I’m
fun and I’m confident too, just like him… maybe I should just dye my hair or something…”
Hinju stepped up towards Kindall’s little prison and patted it a few times with his staff, the bubble bursting and causing the boy to hit the ground face-first. Kindall sat up, nearly glaring at the man before tapping his finger against the dirt, his free hand still pressed against the ground.
“Vanity does not win hearts. Nor does it appeal to those that you do seek out for guidance—it shows that you have some weakness in yourself.” He rested a hand atop the boy’s head, and a warm
light washed over Kindall’s body, healing the wounds that he sustained during his duel. “But those flaws
about yourself do improve your perception on what you want to improve on.” Hinju extended a hand to
the boy and once Kindall had a solid grip, he pulled him to his feet. “You did admirably yourself, Mr.
Mandrison. Do not take this as a loss, rather as an experience.”
“T-Thank you, Master. I will, definitely.”
“That goes for all of you,” Master Hinju continued, “When in battle, or throughout your lives, certain obstacles that you must face are not to be taken with a heavy heart. Every step forward is something that you are meant to grow from. Now, who would like to go next?”
One by one, the remaining students began to pair up with others or allowed themselves to be
paired with someone based on the guidance of the fates drawn forth by Master Hinju’s high prowess.
Leilana felt satisfied watching the excitement of her classmates, knowing that the duel between Lancett
and Kindall fueled their momentum. She wasn’t much different in her emotions—seeing the strength and determination in every student that came before her only made her more anxious on who among them could stand as a Warlord. She flipped through the pages of her grimoire, resting a hand on a page.
Warlords, hand-picked by another Maester or Arcana of the same level, destined to rule as a protector. Few of them existed today, but many that were gifted with the power of magic strived to become one. Anyone with magical prowess had a chance to be granted such a title.
Any of them standing in this forest could be one right now and not even know it yet.
“U-Um, Leilana?” Leilana glanced up, finding a girl with lavender hair reaching the middle of her back, her bangs covering her forehead, nearly reaching her cerulean eyes. Her cheeks were coated pink, rivaling the shade of her knee-length dress. “There aren’t, um… there’s only a few of us left… do you want to pair up?”
“Sure thing, uh…” Leilana glanced up at the sky in thought before holding up a finger in realization. “It’s Amelia, right?”
“Amiria,” she corrected sharply, her face reddening more at the affliction of her voice. Sure, the pronunciation had its similarities, but the syllables differed. And that passion of wanting her name to
stick was working its wonders in Leilana’s mind. “Amiria Farone.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Leilana interjected, waving a hand in dismissal. “Didn’t mean to upset you.”
“O-Oh!” Amiria held up both hands and took a step back from Leilana, her body trembling a bit.
“It’s fine, you didn’t! I-I’m sorry if I made it seem like I was angry, I’m really not, I promise-”
“Hey now, Amiria, no need to be so scared.” Kindall wrapped an arm around the girl’s shoulders, smirking. “Lei doesn’t bite, not usually.” Amiria held her arms behind her back and turned her head to keep from looking him in the eye.
“It’s Leilana,” Leilana said abruptly, “Not Lei, not Leila, it is Leilana. Live it, learn it, love it.”
Kindall raised an eyebrow at her words as he set Amiria free and allowed her to run off towards Hinju to prepare for her own duel. “Geez, no need to be so crabby. It was just a little fun with friends.”
“We aren’t friends, Kindall.” He jumped back at the proclamation. “We’re students at the same school fighting for the same goal. That doesn’t make us friends, does it?”
“Well, I, uh… I guess not…? But don’t you think it’s better for everyone that we tried to get along and be friends? You’re right, we’re all fighting for the same goal. Some of us are going to be Warlords
someday, and we can all support each other until we get there. Right?” Leilana pondered his words
before she cleared her throat.
“…I’m sorry. I’ve got a match.” She stepped past him, and Kindall stared at her back a moment longer before sighing, reclaiming his spot on one of the logs.
“You really are just a kid after all…”
Leilana stood opposite Amiria, holding up her grimoire for her opponent to view. Amiria clutched the silver flute in her hands for dear life, but kept her attention on the girl and even managed to narrow her eyes to try and stir some intimidation up.
“Come to think of it,” Lancett whispered to Kindall, “I’ve never seen Amiria fight anyone before. She doesn’t seem like she’d hurt a fly.”
“No, she doesn’t,” Kindall replied, retaining focus on the two. “But Amiria has skills that a lot of
people don’t understand.”
“Begin!”
Leilana rapidly flipped through the pages of her grimoire and an array of fireballs shot out at the girl. Amiria put the flute up to her lips and closed her eyes, playing out a small melody on the instrument
before reflecting the magic back in Leilana’s direction. Leilana side-stepped out of the way, her eyes
darting between the singed grass and Amiria herself, who was starting up another melody on her flute.
She scoffed before flipping through the grimoire, stopping on a page, mumbling a scripture.
From the book, a pair of teeming hands cloaked in shadows emerged, grabbing the flute from
Amiria’s grasp and snapping it in half before her very eyes. Amiria blinked away the tears starting up as
she stared at her destroyed instrument, collecting the fractured pieces. With each passing second, her
eyes grew dark and clouded. Leilana outstretched her right palm, sending the hands propelling towards
her. Before they could reach her, Amiria inhaled deeply and closed her eyes, belting out a single high
note in a pitch of middle C.
The single note, prolonged over several seconds, caused the hands to shatter away. Leilana froze as the note progressed, the ground around her beginning to tremble before giving way under her.
She let out a shriek as the chasm opened, reaching out a hand as she fell. Amiria gasped when she
realized what was occurring, covering her mouth with both hands.
“Leilana!” Lancett raced forward, sliding on his side as he ran, grabbing her by the arm. Several other students rushed to his aide, helping the girl out of the chasm. Leilana laid a hand on her chest, finding it difficult to regain herself, her frame quivering from shock. Lancett gently placed both hands on her shoulders, forcing her to face him. “Are you all right?”
“Y-Yeah, just… just a little shaken up…”
He bowed his head, hands still on her shoulders, sighing heavily. “Good… I’m glad…” Hinju was still in a bit of shock himself, his gaze reflected on Amiria now, who continued to try and put the pieces together in her mind about what she had done. After coming to his senses, he held up his staff, moving stalagmites of the earth back into place to mend the open crater, sealing it shut.
“I-I… I am so sorry, Leilana!” she choked out, taking one step back after another. “I-I don’t… I don’t know what happened, I just…! I’m sorry!”
“It’s okay,” Leilana replied softly, “I’m not dead or anything.”
“B-But- ”
“Hey, don’t beat yourself up over it,” she interjected, “Don’t worry. I’m fine. I promise.” Then Leilana heaved a sigh. “…Okay, maybe not completely true, I’m a little bummed that I lost so terribly, and so fast. After all that work I put into learning the different concepts of the Lasette…”
“Remember what Master said,” Lancett told her, smirking. “It’s all a learning experience. You can definitely do better next time.” She averted her gaze from him.
Hinju cleared his throat, catching the attention of the fourteen. “…Without any more trauma running into our lessons… I’d like you all to return to your seats. I have another announcement that I would like to make.” Lancett stood up and held out a hand to Leilana. Shakily, she managed to grasp it and be pulled to her feet, being led back to the logs.
Amiria found herself clinging to Kindall after the boy had managed to get her to sit near him to calm her antsy nerves, burying her face in her sleeve. She didn’t want to acknowledge the faces that weren’t even directed towards her. Kindall could only let her have her moment of solitude, patting her head occasionally to quell her further.
“I am proud of you all,” Hinju spoke, “You all managed to achieve feats that I never imagined young Maesters and Arcana could, in many ways. Some of you are more proficient and honed to your skills than others, but now there is more that you are to learn.”
“I thought this was supposed to be our final examination?” Kindall piped up.
“Recall what I said: this was the final examination on your skill level. But to truly advance to the title and responsibilities of Warlord… there is something else that you are to acquire. And to seek it out…” He extended a finger behind him, past the trees, beyond any of their eyes. “You must take your first steps through Adrylis. The world outside of this school.”
“You want us to go to Adrylis, all by ourselves?” One of the students exclaimed, “That’s nuts!”
“Not by yourselves, unless you so wish.”
“What are we supposed to find out there?” Leilana asked.
“Warlords have the trouble of connecting humanity and magic as one. It is easy to lose yourself in your lust for power and understanding.” Amiria covered her ears to block out the words, stifling a sob.
“I wanted to evaluate where you stand in terms of this. And I must say, if what I saw during your duels
was of any evidence, many of you are far from prepared to become Warlords.”
“You’re kidding…” Lancett breathed.
“Therefore, I have your true final lesson in mind. The fourteen of you will be taking a pilgrimage throughout Adrylis. In the world, you will be seeking out totems that can be gathered from those that you encounter on your journey.” He held up a chess piece, marked as the pawn. “These totems represent the elements of humbleness, passion, understanding, laughter, friendship and love. They can take any form, be any material item that you can think of, but it must be an item of importance to whomever you feel represents these totems you uncover.”
“If we’re supposed to be gathering elements in that fashion, why do we need the totems?” A female student asked, “Do they siphon magic from the person that owns the totem?”
“Not necessarily. The strength of the person that owns the totem grants it to you of your own will, certainly, but it does not mean that they themselves possess magic in the manners that you do. In the end, the purpose of the totem is to grant you an understanding of others, their perspectives, how they live, and how they use magic in their own way. But you must choose your pawns wisely, for they will be the strength that carries you further, and it will be what gives you the opportunity to advance towards becoming a Warlord.”
Hinju set the chess piece down in front of the stump he sat on, a smile glinting over his features as he folded his arms. “Travel anywhere that you’d like during your pilgrimage, then return to the school to inform me of your success. Ah, one more detail! Once you have five totems, the last totem that you
possess must be your strongest element of the six. You cannot wield two of the same qualities in your
hands—there is something in each of you that is more powerful than the people that you encounter.
You also cannot find two of the same passions in the same person. Only you can decipher which element rules the heart of your chosen totem. If you cannot find where your true strength lies, then you will never truly become a Warlord. Remember this well.”
“There are so many rules,” Kindall whined, “How are we supposed to remember all of that?”
“Oh, believe me, I planned well in advance for this.” Hinju waved a hand before a notebook appeared in his grasp. “I’ve taken down notes for you all and left them in your rooms, detailing each element for you and providing more information on the rules and regulations that I’ve just explained. You can interpret them however you’d like.”
Kindall beamed. “You are amazing, Master.”
“I know.” Hinju winked at the group before venturing through the forest ahead of the group of fourteen. “I will let you all rest and prepare for your journey in the morning. Remember yourselves in this pilgrimage, my pupils.”
“We’re really going to leave the school for our final lesson, huh…?” Lancett mumbled, tugging on his front bangs with his index finger and thumb. “Never thought I’d be leaving this soon.”
“I guess that’s fine!” Kindall slapped him on the back, causing Lancett to flinch. “We’re earning our freedom, and we get to become Warlords once we’re done with it all! When are we ever going to
get another chance like this again?” He stepped back, extending his arms, chuckling. “Come on, feel excited! Pep up, all of you!”
“Kindall, I’m convinced now that you’re on something, and I want some,” Lancett joked.
Kindall slumped before crossing his arms, smirking. “I’m squeaky clean. You believe me, right,
Amiria?” Amiria remained silent, clutching his arm. “…Never mind, this probably isn’t the time to joke.”
“Forget it. I’m gonna head back and get some sleep,” Lancett stated, waving a hand of dismissal.
“See you guys tomorrow.” Leilana gazed up at the empty sky, her mind wandering. Tomorrow was going to be a new day. The first day of what could become the first steps towards becoming a Warlord.
“You should join us,” Kindall told Leilana, snapping her out of her thoughts. “Lancett and I are going to be traveling together. We always talked about going off to see the world together once we graduate, and I guess we get the chance early.”
“…I have some things I want to study in the journal.” Without another word, Leilana made her way through the depths of trees to return to the vast building.
“Man, I find it hard to believe that girl is fourteen sometimes, the way that she comes off.”
“But I’m fourteen…” Amiria mumbled.
“Yes, Mimi, but you’re a young and sweet fourteen. You can tell that by the way that you dress, and the way that you talk. You still get intimidated by little things, and you’re a bit high strung.”
“I’m not high strung!” she exclaimed, gripping to her dress.
“Whatever you say, kiddo.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, lightly shoving her ahead.
“Whatever you say. Come on, off to the dorms, time for bed.” She blushed at the gesture before glancing at the remains of the crater left in the middle of the ground.
Maybe this pilgrimage could be good for them all.

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