Hi guys! We have Mason Thomas stopping by today with the awesome cover to his upcoming release The Shadow Mark, we have a great guest post and a wonderful excerpt, so check out that fantastic cover and enjoy the post! <3 ~Pixie~
The Shadow Mark
Auraq Greystone, once a military officer with a promising future, exists on the fringe of society. Accused of murder, Auraq is on the run from the ax—until two fugitives crash into his solitary life. One is a young man named Kane. The glowing marks on his arm pulse with an otherworldly power, and they have made him the target of a sinister organization called the Order of the Jackal. When the old man protecting Kane dies in an ambush, Auraq swears an oath to take his place.
But the runes are far more significant than they realize. They are a message from the shadow realm, a dark memory of the past—one holding evidence of a bloody massacre and its savage architect; one that will shake the kingdom to its foundation. Risking arrest and execution, Auraq fights to get Kane to the capital city where the cryptic marking can be unlocked. And with assassins close on their trail, Auraq might never get the chance to show Kane what’s in his heart—or the way their journey together has changed him.
The Shadow Mark is an epic tale of magic, murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and—for the two men tasked with unraveling the mystery—love and redemption.
I am so thrilled to be able to reveal the cover of the SHADOW MARK to you today, thanks to my generous hosts at MM Good Books. This is my second novel, and it’s special to me for many reasons. Although it takes place in the same world as my first, LORD MOUSE, this is a stand-alone book with an entirely new cast of characters.
What led me to this story was the idea that the shackles of the past can hold someone back. I’ve never believed that our past deeds define us. Although our past may shape who we are, every day we have a fresh opportunity to reinvent ourselves so we can become what we aspire to be. That is what I hope to have captured in THE SHADOW MARK—the journey of one man’s liberation from the chains of his misdeeds.
The story centers around Auraq Greystone, a formal officer in the king’s army, on the run, wanted for a brutal crime and desertion. He’d survived for years at the fringes of the kingdom, scraping by anyway he could. But everything changes when he shows uncharacteristic kindness to two travelers hoping to share his fire. Because no good deed goes unpunished, Auraq finds himself oath-bound to protect the life of Kane Elrus, who is wanted dead by a strange and secretive order.
I was gripped by Auraq as a character very early in the draft. He’s brooding, ill-tempered, and tormented by the memories of his mysterious past. As penance for crimes, he carries around with him the implements of his downfall—the two swords that struck down people he loved. The arc of his character is, for me, the heart of the entire novel. It is as much a story of redemption, honor and deliverance as it is a story of love and loyalty.
I sincerely hope you find it as fulfilling to read as it was for me to write.
Spirit was soon at a gallop. Auraq steered her off the road and into the high grass, bearing north. The field gleamed silver in the new moonlight, and the wind rolled the surface like ocean waves. Spirit cut through the field like a galleon. The tops of the stalks whipped against his boots and knees. Auraq knew the risks—if Spirit’s hoof hit a rut or a rock at this speed, the beast could go down and easily break a leg. But there were greater dangers out in the night.
“Auraq, what’s happening?” Kane’s torso was pressed up against his back, and Auraq could feel his rapid breaths against his neck.
A screeching howl ripped out of the darkness, loud and shrill. It was behind them, but not far. Then another came from their right—closer still. Two for certain. Likely more.
Auraq hoped he had gotten out of there fast enough, or that the smoke from the fire masked their scent. If not….
“Hang on,” Auraq told him.
Kane’s arms tightened around his waist.
They careened through the night at terrific speed and the land fell away behind them. Spirit’s head bobbed in rhythm with the pounding of her hooves. She made a sudden lurch and sailed over a shallow gully where a stream cut through the field. Spirit had spotted it and she cleared the width of it with ease before Auraq could even react. As she landed on the far side, Kane slammed against Auraq’s back and as he bounced back again, he listed perilously on the narrow back of Spirit’s flat saddle. Auraq reached behind and flattened a wide palm to Kane’s hip to keep him seated.
More shrill howls cut through the darkness. The sound sent duck flesh spreading across Auraq’s shoulders and down his arms. They were closer. The odds that they had escaped their notice seemed bleak. And it sounded as if there were three of them.
One was deadly enough.
They cut through a small grove of trees, branches smacking against them, threatening to unhorse them both. Auraq lowered himself in the saddle and allowed Spirit to keep her speed. When they broke free of the trees, Auraq’s eyes swept the dark countryside.
Up ahead, the terrain made an abrupt rise. It swooped upward like a gigantic wave. Its crest was a high ridge that ran the length of the horizon. He tracked his eyes down its length, searching.
He found what he was looking for westward, hugging the ridgeline. The structure rose up above the trees, standing out against the dense wood squeezing in around it. He pulled hard on Spirit’s rein to guide her left. Spirit’s chest and shoulders were wet, but the howling around them drove Auraq to push her onward.
Spirit took the steep rise to the top of the hillside at a canter, encouraged with small kicks of his heel against her flank and clicks of his tongue. They broke over the rocky crown and followed the ridgeline along an old pathway that wended through the old-growth trees. They broke from the wood at the heel of the old watchtower Auraq had spotted from below.
Auraq pulled back hard on Spirit’s reins. As she skidded to a halt, Kane dropped off over her rump and Auraq leaped down after. The tower was centuries old. Part of one side had crumbled away, leaving a gaping hole and a massive pile of stone around it—damage taken from some long-forgotten war.
Despite the damage, the majority of the structure seemed solid and secure.
Auraq scurried over the rock pile to enter through the wide opening. The space at the bottom of the tower was vacant except for gathered leaves and the collapsed portions of the outer wall. Whatever had taken out the wall had also destroyed the lower section of the stone staircase that would have climbed the inner wall, leaving the upper part undamaged, like a leg that’s been amputated from the knee down. The first stair leading to the second floor of the tower began about an arm’s length above Auraq’s head.
When he climbed back out of the tower, Kane was holding Spirit’s reins. His eyes were wide with concern. The horse was stamping the ground and tossing her head nervously. She could smell them.
They did not have much time.
“Help with her saddle,” he told Kane.
Kane nodded without question and immediately started to loosen the straps of her tack. Auraq dug into one of the packs, rummaging through the bottom until his fingers found the leather flask. He pulled it out and shook it. Half empty. It wouldn’t be enough.
More chilling howls ripped through the darkness around them. Not from below in the field, but up on the ridge with them.
“They’re closer,” Kane said.
Auraq helped him with the last of the straps holding Spirit’s tack, then lifted off the saddle and dropped it unceremoniously onto the ground. He gathered up one of the packs, the crossbow, and the quiver of bolts and thrust them into Kane’s arms. He slapped Spirit’s rump and whistled three high-pitched tweets. Spirit flung her head up, whinnied, and took off at a canter into the trees.
“Where is she going?” Kane asked, alarm in his voice.
“To find somewhere safe.” He took everything back from Kane and handed over the leather flask.
“Listen. Go inside the tower and rub the contents of this all over your clothes. Use all of it. Understand?”
Kane held the flask up to the moonlight. “What is it?”
“Hunter’s oil. It’ll mask your scent.”
Kane’s eyes widened. “What about you?”
“I’m going to have to improvise. Go.”
Mason Thomas began his writing journey at the age of thirteen when his personal hero, Isaac Asimov, took the time to respond to a letter he wrote him. He’s been writing stories ever since. Today he is ecstatic and grateful that there is a place at the speculative table for stories with strong gay protagonists.
Mason, by all accounts, is still a nerdy teenager, although his hairline and waistline indicate otherwise. When his fingers are not pounding furiously at a keyboard, they can usually be found holding a video-game controller, plucking away at an electric guitar, or shaking a twenty-sided die during a role-playing game. Mason will take any opportunity to play dress-up, whether through cosplay, Halloween, or a visit to a Renaissance Faire. He pays the bills by daring middle school students to actually like school and encouraging them to make a mess in his science classroom. He lives in Chicago with his endlessly patient husband, who has tolerated his geeky nonsense for nearly two decades, and two unruly cats who graciously allow Mason and his husband to share the same space with them.