~ CHAPTER ONE ~
Learning magic sucked.
Tears of frustration streamed down Chandrea’s face as she ran into her bedroom at the inn and slammed the door, shutting out the world.
Since re-arriving in Ri Miora five days previously, Chandrea had been working closely with Adelaide and her three sorceress friends, trying to learn how to control her newly-acquired powers. Though born on Itova, on the day of her birth, Chandrea’s home and kingdom had been attacked by forces from the rival kingdom of Svara, and her parents assassinated. To save her life, Adelaide magically sent Chandrea to Earth. There, she lived as a “normal” person, utterly unaware she was of royal blood and the crown princess of a distant world. Her growing powers had been masked during her years on Earth by Adelaide’s spells, so she’d been unaware she was also likely the most powerful sorceress alive. On her twenty-third birthday, Adelaide’s spell reversed itself, and Chandrea had suddenly found herself back on her birth world. Adelaide’s cleverly placed spells helped Chandrea to communicate with those she encountered once back on Itova.
Chandrea leaned against the cool, smooth wood and pictured the past few days of sheer misery. First thing in the morning she would travel with Adelaide and her new teachers outside the city. For her protection, Ayden had hired a number of men to travel with them and protect them from attack. The men worked in shifts, but she always had at least fifteen surrounding her at all times.
For most of his life, the world had known Ayden as the crown prince of Svara. He had been raised to believe that Chandrea was his mortal enemy and had made it his life’s work to find the missing Averill queen and kill her.
Then in a stunning moment of truth, he discovered that Leilah was not his true birth mother, and worse, that in an act of revenge she had stolen him from his real mother Reyna on the day he was born, and raised him as her own. His entire life had been one enormous lie. Upon discovering this heinous act of treachery, Ayden rescued Reyna from her imprisonment at the castle, and escaped with her, abandoning all claim to the throne and Leilah’s affections.
Unfortunately, neither he nor Chandrea could fully deny a blood relation to the Svaran queen. Though Ayden was only distantly related to Leilah, Chandrea was not so lucky. The woman bent on killing her was her maternal aunt.
In fact, Leilah was the entire reason Chandrea was here in Ri Miora, which brought her back to her original problem. From sunup to sundown they’d drilled with her, trying one spell after another, to no avail. Everything they’d asked her to do had gone horribly wrong.
When asked to create a breeze, she’d conjured a howling tornado. As everyone ran screaming for cover, it ripped apart the wagon they’d traveled in. The grazing horses spooked and ran away in fright. The group had been forced to walk the eight miles back to the inn.
When they’d tried to teach her how to turn a bucket of water into ice, she’d caused it to hail. Softball-sized balls of ice had rained down from the heavens. Everyone squeezed under the wagon, listening to the poor horses being bludgeoned to death by the massive, lethal orbs.
Another day, they took her out to a far away, deserted beach to work on fire. She’d created a fireball so massive that it melted the surrounding sand into a shining sheet of glass for a mile out.
They’d tried to get her to replicate the spell she’d used to create her viewing mirror, but instead, she’d managed to open some sort of wormhole that began to suck everything into it. It took some quick thinking and powerful counter spells by her sorceress teachers to close it back up again.
Chandrea banged her head gently on the door and groaned in irritation. No matter how hard she tried, she just created havoc and destruction. And death, if one counted the unfortunate horses. How was she ever going to learn to control her magic? The only time it seemed to work was when she was in danger and it came out instinctively. But even then it was just as unpredictable. Once, she’d transported herself hundreds of miles away from her companions while trying to escape from a Dark Fairy spell that had been cast upon them.
Unable to see much in the gloom of the evening, she shuffled through the chamber until she reached the double doors and, opening them, stepped outside onto the large balcony. Able to see a bit better in the near twilight, she made her way over to the railing and gratefully leaned against it.
She closed her eyes and let the sounds of Ri Miora surround and soothe her. Voices of people talking, laughing. Horses clip-clopping by. A baby crying. A dog barking. All such normal sounds. Made by normal people. Normal people who didn’t have the weight of the world resting on their shoulders.
She raised her face and let the cool breezes caress her flushed skin. Breathing deeply, she could smell the hint of fall in the air. She wondered for a moment what autumn would look like in this world. Would the leaves flare into vibrant colors and drop to the ground as they did back home on Earth? Or would they remain green and stay on the trees all year? For all she knew, they might just turn a different color, like pink or turquoise. She snorted softly, amused by the image that conjured. What would winter be like? Would they have snow, or would it stay too warm? Having grown up in Virginia, she’d only experienced snow a handful of times as it was too warm there for the white stuff to come most of the time.
She gave a forlorn sigh, then reached into her pocket and pulled out her viewing mirror. She unwrapped it and peered at it in the dim light. This was one of the few things her magic had done that was right. She had tried a spell and not only had it worked, but it had worked well. This little oval piece of glass would let her see anyone or anything she wanted, even if they weren’t from this world.
So, if she could do magic successfully before, why couldn’t she do it again?
She closed her eyes and pictured her friend, Ashlyn, from Earth. Ashlyn was her dearest and closest friend, and Chandrea missed her desperately. Ashlyn was the sister of her heart, and it hurt Chandrea terribly to know that Ashlyn thought something fatal had happened to her. When Adelaide’s magic had taken Chandrea from Earth, no one had been there to witness it. And as the magic left no traces or clues, no one knew where she’d gone. The first time Chandrea had viewed Ashlyn through the mirror, Ashlyn had been at the Norfolk Police Department trying to convince them to continue looking for Chandrea. But without any clues, Chandrea was sure the police had stopped looking for her long ago and moved on to other cases.
The need to see her friend again burned painfully through Chandrea. She pictured Ashlyn in her mind, all the varied nuances of her. Her voice quiet and intent, she murmured, “Show her to me.”
The little oval shimmered and sparkled to life with a soft blue light, and there within its depths, was Ashlyn. She sat at a table with a young man Chandrea had never seen before. Dressed in a pretty little mint-green sundress, her friend laughed as she ate. Seated by a window, the late afternoon sun caused her honey blonde hair to glimmer with gold highlights. The young man reached out and took her hand in his, caressing it gently with his thumb. Clearly on a date, Ashlyn looked happy and content.
It was a bittersweet moment for Chandrea. Though she truly wanted her friend to be happy, a tiny, selfish part of her was unsettled. Had her friend forgotten about her so easily?
Torn between joy at seeing her friend and fear that Ashlyn had moved on already, Chandrea stopped the flow of power to the mirror. Disturbed not only by what she had seen, but also by what she had felt, she changed her mind and searched again.
She closed her eyes and pictured her new boyfriend and traveling companion, Shawn, in her mind. Gathering her power inside her, she released it toward the mirror and whispered, “Show him to me.”
The blue light illuminated her face and hands as she peered intently into the glass. Soon, she was rewarded with the sight of a Hafaba dragon swooping and cavorting in the evening sky. Smiling, she shook her head at Shawn’s antics. Born a shapeshifter, Shawn could transform into any living thing, and dearly loved becoming a Hafaba. Covered mostly with scarlet and deep indigo feathers, its body narrowed down into a snake-like torso. Flash and drama combined with speed and power to make, in his eyes, the perfect dragon.
Plus, he needed to be far, far away from any negative emotions, and frolicking as a dragon was a great way to do this. The Shadow Leaf he’d placed on his chest was exerting powerful, dark cravings in him, and he avoided anything at all that could allow the Leaf to take control of him again—including Chandrea’s practice sessions. Though she urged him to try to find the Light Fae in an attempt to remove it, he resolutely refused. His place was by her side, he said, until this mess was over. If she ran across some Light Fae in the process, great. He’d take advantage of the situation. Until then, he was on his own, and he’d manage things as best he could.
She released her power on the mirror with a deep sigh. The image of Shawn and the blue light slowly faded until she was left looking at a simple piece of glass once more. Pursing her lips in frustrated resignation, she wrapped the mirror up and placed it back into her pocket.
She turned away from the railing and moved to sit on one of the chairs on the balcony, intent on spending some quiet time alone with her thoughts. Exhausted, she flopped into the chair and put her feet on a small nearby table. She leaned her head back, closed her eyes and let her mind wander.
Some instinct warned her she wasn’t alone anymore. The hair on her arms and neck rose up. Fear washed over her, and she felt her magic swell inside of her in response. Unsure how someone could have come out onto the balcony without her hearing it, she nonetheless knew that someone—or something—was now there. She dearly hoped that, whoever it was, it was human. As a third degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do, she was confident in her ability to protect herself physically. It was the magical aspect she was afraid of.
Swiftly opening her eyes, preparing to spring off the chair and defend herself, she instead stopped short with a gasp. Amazement and fear battled for dominance within her at the sight that greeted her.
~ CHAPTER TWO ~
“Chandrea, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” the first of the two visitors—the spirit of her dead adoptive mother—said, her eyes twinkling merrily.
“Come now, Laura, you must not tease her so,” gently scolded the other ghost, a woman that looked remarkably like Chandrea. And Leilah. “You know this is her first time seeing us in this form. More than likely, she did not even know she had the ability to communicate with the dead.”
“I know, Kelaya. I just couldn’t resist. I’ve been dying to say that,” Laura said with a sunny smile. She turned back to Chandrea and said, “I’m sorry, sweetie, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“Mom?” Chandrea breathed out, pressing back into the chair in shock. Her mother stood before her in spirit form. Chandrea could see the faint outline of the deck railing through her. She looked like a faded out picture of her former self, with all the colors and vibrancy of life bled down to a soft, indistinct hue. Chandrea jerked her head to the other spirit standing on the balcony—or rather, floating just above the wooden boards of the balcony. Her adoptive mother had called her Kelaya, Chandrea realized with astonishment. This was the spirit of her birth mother!
Was this real, Chandrea wondered frantically as unpleasant memories flooded her mind. The last time she’d seen her adoptive mother had been in the midst of a nightmarish dream spell that had been cast upon her and her friends. In the dream, she’d been forced to live through a reenactment of her parents being killed in a horrific tractor-trailer accident on a Virginia freeway. Though the power of the dream spell had been removed by the dust of the Light Fae, the memories of their shattered bodies, their blood stained faces, and their cries of terror before their deaths, would haunt her for the rest of her life.
Panicked, she scrambled out of the chair and glanced around, looking for the golden mists—the earmarks of a Dark Fairy attack. But the night was clear and cool as the city around her settled in for the evening. Feeling a bit faint, she groped for the wooden railing behind her and closed her sweaty hands over it. She held on tight to the smooth wood and squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. She’d been tricked once before, but everything had seemed so real then. The apparitions before her now were only that—apparitions.
Without opening her eyes, she whispered, “Mama…is that really you?” unconsciously reverting back to her childhood name for her mother. Her throat was tight and the words came out strangled.
Though she couldn’t see her, Chandrea sensed her mother moving toward her and heard her soft voice. “Yes, sweetie, it’s really me.”
Chandrea gathered her courage, opened her eyes, and looked at the ghost of her mother. Tentatively, she reached out a trembling hand, wanting more than anything to touch her mother once more. To feel her. To smell her. To hold her close. For a moment, she was a child again, with a child’s fears, and the need to be enveloped in her mother’s arms, to know that her world was safe and secure once more simply because her mother held her. But her hand passed right through the spirit, and deep inside, Chandrea felt her heart twist with keen disappointment.
“Mama, what are you doing here? Why did you come?” Chandrea asked thickly, and resumed her tight grip on the railing.
Kelaya glided toward her. Her long hair twisted and fluttered out behind her as though blown by a wind that did not touch the mortal plane. She stopped and stared at Chandrea for a moment, reached up a wispy hand and ran it down Chandrea’s hair, then cupped her face in her semi-translucent hands. Though she couldn’t feel her birth mother’s touch, Chandrea wondered if Kelaya could feel her skin.
Kelaya gave her a sad smile and said, “My daughter. My sweet, sweet baby. Oh, how I missed helping you grow into the woman you are now. How I missed teaching you all you needed to know to become the queen and ruler you were born to be. Please know that I love you very much and am very proud of what you have become. All that you have overcome. What knowledge I have is yours if you but ask. I know it is not much, but it is all I have to offer you now.”
Chandrea stared in wonder at the ghostly image that looked so much like her, what she might look like in later years. According to Adelaide, Kelaya had only been thirty-five when struck down by the Svaran troops that had attacked the Llireva Palace under orders of Kelaya’s twin sister, Leilah.
Overwhelmed by everything, the sensations, the emotions, Chandrea could do no more than stare. Laura tsked and gently pushed Kelaya’s hands away. Apparently, ghosts could touch one another. “She needs time, Kelaya. Time to process all of this. We’ve given her a shock,” she said.
The two women floated off a small distance, then stood facing Chandrea, and waited patiently for her to come to terms with their presence—their very existence. Chandrea opened and closed her mouth several times. There were so many questions she wanted, needed, to ask, and they all tried to pour out at the same time. Feeling foolish, she shook her head then asked the most pressing question to her at the time. “How? How is this possible?”
“Your magic, of course,” Kelaya answered.
“My magic allows me to speak to the dead? To see you standing here in front of me as clear as day?” Chandrea asked.
“Yes, my daughter,” Kelaya confirmed.
Hearing herself referred to as daughter by someone other than her adoptive parents was extremely disconcerting. It made her feel somehow disloyal to them, even though she knew it was her birth mother who was addressing her. “Why? Why are you here? Why now and not earlier? Like when I came here to this world? Or even before, back on Earth?” she stammered out.
“I have been with you your entire life, but the spell Adelaide placed upon you prevented you access to your powers. Therefore, you could neither see nor interact with me. Once you arrived here in Itova, your powers had to reach a point where they would be receptive to us,” Kelaya replied. She smiled. “All the practice you have had in the last few weeks has helped with that process.”
“Practice?” Chandrea choked out a half laugh. She released the railing and began to pace. She felt like she might explode if she didn’t get some of the anxious energy out. “Is that what you call it? Every time I try to use my magic, someone or something seems to get hurt. Or killed,” she said, her voice deepening with anger, and shame.
“Very well, my daughter. Experience,” Kelaya rephrased.
“Well, other than this,” Chandrea said, gesturing to the two apparitions, “all that experience has been for nothing as I still can’t control my magic!”
Kelaya turned her head and said to the empty air beside Chandrea, “Show yourself, Narinah. It is time. She needs you.”
Though she’d heard Kelaya’s words, Chandrea still jumped back in reaction to another spirit materializing out of thin air next to her on the balcony. She tripped on a chair and fell.
Chandrea gazed up at the new arrival. Though she too looked like a faded picture, Chandrea could see her short hair had been wavy and red. The small, stocky spirit held herself with calm assurance as she looked down at Chandrea, who was sprawled on the deck.
Confused, Chandrea glanced back at her birth mother. “Who is she?”
Kelaya’s lips quirked gently up at the corners and she replied, “Narinah is the sister of Beyota, your ancestor.”
Chandrea blinked. “Beyota? You mean the woman I’m descended from? The one that makes me an avatar? That Beyota?”
“Yes, my daughter,” Kelaya confirmed.
“But why is she here?”
“Narinah was very close to her sister and therefore knows all the trials and tribulations that Beyota went through with her magic,” Kelaya stated. “Since you obviously could not speak with Beyota herself, Narinah has graciously agreed to assist you with learning to control your powers.”
“Hello, young Averill,” Narinah said, amusement making her ghostly eyes sparkle.
Chandrea pulled herself back up, and absently rubbing her backside, hesitantly said, “Hello.”
“I hear you are having difficulty with your magic,” Narinah said, getting right to the point.
“Um, yeah,” Chandrea said, feeling decidedly strange with three spirits surrounding her. She wondered if anyone looking on would be able to see the trio, or if they would simply think Chandrea was talking to empty air. Back home on Earth, that wouldn’t have been odd, as people would assume she was speaking to someone using a wireless phone earpiece. Here, she’d be regarded as crazy.
“That is because you are thinking too hard,” Narinah said.
Chandrea blinked at her. “Thinking too hard?” she asked, feeling slow and stupid. “What do you mean? That’s what I’ve been told to do.”
“Yes, by people who perform magic differently than you do,” Narinah pointed out.
Chandrea’s head was beginning to hurt. “Um. What do you mean?” she asked.
“I think you’re going to need to be more specific, Narinah,” Laura interrupted. “She doesn’t have the experience or the background you do, you know. She comes from a different world.”
Narinah frowned over at Chandrea’s adoptive mother, annoyance plain on her ghostly face. “Don’t you think I know that?” she snapped. “If you had not interrupted, I would have already explained that,” she said.
“Hey, don’t talk to my mom that way,” Chandrea said, her protective instincts coming to the fore. She moved to place herself in front of the shade of her adoptive mother, then felt decidedly ridiculous. What could she do to harm a spirit?
“The women training you have power, but theirs is vastly different than yours, young Averill,” Narinah said. “They have taught you to think before you cast your power out, but your power works on instinct…on need. Stop thinking so hard about it and just do it,” she said simply.
“But I have so much, it all just comes pouring out,” Chandrea protested. “They tell me I’m bleeding magic.”
Narinah waved a hand dismissively. “Bah. That is because you are storing it up before you release it. Remember, your power does not work the same way as theirs. They have to store theirs up before casting. Yours is simply there, ready to be released, ready to respond to your instinct and will. The more you use your power, the more accustomed to it you will become, and the easier it will be for you to control,” she explained.
Chandrea frowned. Could it be that easy? She glanced at the shades of her adoptive mother and her birth mother, feeling this entire situation was rather surreal. Here she was talking to her dead parents and ancestor about using and controlling magic that she’d never known existed until a matter of weeks ago. Her birth world was very weird, sometimes.
She took a deep breath and shrugged. “Well, if nothing else, these past few weeks have taught me to be flexible. So, Narinah, what do I need to do?”
An impatient look passed over the shade’s features. “Just what I have told you,” she said slowly, as though speaking to a half-wit. “Stop thinking about it and just do it.”
At Chandrea’s blank expression, the spirit sighed with resignation and lifted her hand, palm up. Chandrea could see the nighttime lights of the city winking through it. “Hold out your hand,” Narinah said.
Chandrea looked at her adoptive mother. When Laura nodded encouragingly at her, Chandrea turned her attention back to Narinah and tentatively held out her hand.
“Now create a small ball of fire over your palm,” Narinah commanded.
Chandrea tried to imagine a little ball of fire. As she pictured it, she felt her power growing and swelling inside of her as if responding to her call, but nothing happened.
“No, no, no!” Narinah snapped. “Here, let me,” she said, and without further ado, she glided inside of Chandrea.
She felt the cold intrusion of the spirit as it entered, an alien, foreign, wrongness within her. Chandrea gasped at the unexpected invasion of her most private, personal space. She instinctively tried to push the infringing shade out, but found to her dismay that she was no longer in control of her own body. She felt the shade lift her hand, felt her power respond immediately to its call. And, to her utter amazement, saw a small ball of flame flicker to life above her palm.
Then Narinah’s presence faded away, and the spirit stood before her once more. “You see?” she said. “It is that simple.”
The ball of flame remained as Narinah had left it, floating and spinning above her hand. While Chandrea knew she should be burned by its heat, she felt no discomfort at all. She gazed in wonder at the tiny flame, so captivated by its existence that she forgot to scold Narinah for her intrusive behavior. She had created this. Well, sort of. With help.
Her adoptive mother’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Now put it out, Chani.”
How? How to put it out? If she was simply to act on instinct, then it stood to reason that, if she wanted it out, it should go out. Chandrea willed the flames to go away, and was delighted when they did. Excited, she grinned at Laura, who beamed happily back at her.
Narinah moved over to the railing, then to Chandrea’s shock, through the railing to float out into the open air. She glanced back at Chandrea and, with an impatient wave of her hand, snapped, “Go on, do it again.” She seemed oblivious to how bizarre she appeared to Chandrea, hovering there high above the ground.
Chandrea thought for a moment about all Narinah had told her, and came to the conclusion that if a ghost could do it, so could she. She gathered her resolve, raised her hand, and willed the fire to come. And despite Narinah’s confidence, she was still astonished when it did.
Bright little tongues of red and orange flame danced above her hand, illuminating the area around her with their warm glow.
She’d done it! She’d summoned fire all on her own, and she hadn’t hurt anyone or anything by doing it! Awe filled her at the beauty and power of such a simple thing.
“You see? It is that easy,” Narinah repeated right next to her ear. Startled, Chandrea squawked and jumped at the unexpected proximity and in doing so, dropped the fire.
It landed in one of the chairs, which was immediately set ablaze.
“Oh my God!” Chandrea breathed. Automatically, she looked around for a fire extinguisher, but realized there would be no such thing here in this world. And being high up in the air, there was no water nearby for her to use. The basin in her room was secured to the pedestal, so she couldn’t use the water in it. How did the people in this world deal with fire? Did they have the equivalent of a fire department?
The flames had quickly engulfed the chair, and now even the option of throwing it over the deck was gone. She turned to run inside and let the manager of the inn know so if worst came to worst, they could evacuate the building.
“Stop!” Narinah’s voice snapped out through the air, halting Chandra in her tracks with the command. “Call your power and bring the water,” she said.
When Chandrea looked confused, the shade glided close to her and snarled out, “Do not think about it! Simply do it! Raise your hand and call the water, young Averill!”
Chandrea spun to face the fire. She felt the heat of it now as it hungrily consumed the fabric and wood of the chair, and heard the crackling of the flames as they eagerly spread. Little embers began blowing in the wind, threatening to engulf the remaining deck furniture.
Could she do this? Could she ‘call the water’?
She raised her hand and pushed her magic out at the fire. Felt the cool power of it coursing through her veins as it moved from her belly to her arm and out of her fingers. Felt the exhilaration of it sliding, rushing from her body. Water formed from the very air as she concentrated, and with a great splash, it extinguished the fire. The acrid smell of smoke and the sizzle of hot wood filled the air, and she stared in wonderment at the sight.
“Oh, well done, honey! Well done!” Laura’s voice pulled her attention away from the blackened ruins of the poor chair. Her adoptive mother clapped her hands together, but no sound issued forth.
“Well done, indeed, young Averill,” Narinah said. “Do you now see? Do you understand how your power is different than theirs? Stop thinking about it and just do it.” Narinah gestured as if to tap her finger on Chandrea’s head in emphasis, though Chandrea felt nothing.
“What else can I do?” Chandrea asked, eager to learn more.
“Chandrea?” Shawn’s voice called from inside the inn, pulling her attention away from Narinah. “Chandrea, where are you?”
“Out here!” she called back. How would she explain the presence of three ghosts, she wondered. She turned back to Narinah, excited to continue, but to her dismay, found all three apparitions were gone.
“Mama!” she called, suddenly terrified that she’d never see her mother again. Fear washed through her, chilling her to her very bone. She couldn’t breathe, and the world blurred and darkened around the edges a bit. She couldn’t do it. Couldn’t let her go yet again. How many times could one person be expected to let go of one they loved more than life itself?
Very faintly, her adoptive mother’s voice came to her. “I’m here, sweetheart. Whenever you need me, just call.”
Chandrea’s knees buckled in relief and she dropped to the wet wooden boards beneath her. She’d found her mother. She wouldn’t lose her again. What a gift. What an amazing gift!
She felt Shawn come up behind her and drop to the floor. His strong hands turned her to face him, then wiped away the tears of joy she hadn’t even felt. She could barely see his beautiful blue eyes in the gloom of the night. With a look of concern, he opened his mouth to speak, but she grabbed his face and kissed him soundly, her joy barely containable. She grinned then, and said, “Wait until you see what I can do!”
Gently, she pushed him back, creating enough space to raise her hand between them. Then, as Narinah had taught her, she willed the fire to come. Once again, over her palm, a small ball of fire sprang to life. Its soft yellow glow illuminated their faces, creating an intimate little circle of light. Awe lit up his eyes and he grinned at her. “How?” he asked simply.
She grinned back. “You up for a ghost story?” she asked, then laughed at his bewildered expression.
~ CHAPTER THREE ~
“So you’re telling me that basically, all you have to do is wish for it, and it will happen?” Denae asked, with obvious envy. “You don’t even have to pull the energy to you?”
Since meeting Chandrea, the small La Shuran hunter had been a steadfast friend and protector. Her long, red locks hung down her back, and strands of it were being gently twirled around the fingers of her fiancé, Ian, who sat next to her. The two of them were anxiously awaiting their wedding in the spring.
They were all gathered in the main room of their suite at the inn. Adelaide sat with her sorceress friends. Denae, Ian, Ayden, Reyna, and Shawn sat across from them. Since Chandrea’s unexpected and rather jolting arrival to Itova, these six people had made it their life’s work to ensure her safety, and to help her adjust to her newfound circumstances. Having traveled with her across large expanses of Lyrunia, and saving her skin more than once, in a very short period of time they had all become very dear to her.
Chandrea stood in the center of the room with a small ball of fire over her hand in demonstration. She’d gathered them all together to tell them of her experience, and to show them her newfound ability. Three of her guards stood unobtrusively around the perimeter of the room, watching the door and the windows. The remaining twelve on shift were outside roaming the grounds.
“Yep. That’s all I have to do,” Chandrea said, and with a bit of thought, willed the ball to vanish. She watched with satisfaction as, with a gentle puff of smoke, it disappeared. She ambled over to Shawn and sat down next to him, taking his strong, callused hand in hers. She smiled softly as she felt him squeeze her hand gently, and she leaned contentedly back against his chest.
Adelaide and her friends looked stunned at her announcement and demonstration, and, though she felt a bit guilty about it, a small, selfish part of her celebrated. Frankly, it was about time others here in this world had the metaphoric rug pulled out from underneath them. She was thoroughly sick of it happening to only her.
One of her teachers pursed her lips. “So, we’ve been teaching you the wrong method the entire time, My Lady. I’m sorry,” she said, and bowed her head respectfully. The other two were quick to follow suit, murmuring their apologies.
“No apologies are necessary. None of us knew. We all were acting in the only way we knew how. I can tell you though, I’ll be really glad to not kill or maim anything else!” Chandrea said with feeling. “In fact, if you all aren’t too tired, maybe we could go out and work on practicing again. I can’t wait to see what I can really do!”
“No, we cannot risk taking you out at night,” Ayden stated matter of factly, dismissing the idea. “There are too many things that could happen in the dark of night, even with the men I hired.”
“I concur,” Adelaide said. “I know you are excited, Chandrea, but we must keep you safe. Wandering about outside the city in the dark would just invite trouble.”
“We definitely don’t want you to be captured again,” Denae said resolutely. “We’ve lost you too many times. And, we still don’t know where that Dark Fairy that attacked us is. For all we know, he’s followed us and is just waiting for the right moment to strike.”
Chandrea shuddered at the memory of the Dark Fae’s nightmare spell. Once captured by a Dark Fairy, you lived out your worst fears in a dream spell. Psychological predators, the Dark Fae fed off the anguish and despair caused by the dreams. Though she tried to fight it, the images of her parents bloody faces flashed through her mind, bringing with them fresh pain.
Against her back, she felt the Shadow Leaf writhe and pulse obscenely on Shawn’s chest in response to her pain-filled memories. Startled, she jerked away from the alien feel of it. She looked at Shawn’s face, alarmed that the negative emotions she’d just experienced had transmitted to the Leaf, giving it power over Shawn. His blue eyes were now closed, his face pale and strained, his breathing ragged as he fought for control over the pull of the dark magic rushing through him. The room became silent as all attention focused on his internal battle.
Glancing around, Chandrea noted her personal guards moving closer, hands on the grips of their swords, muscles tense, eyes hard. Her teachers had stood up and she could feel them gathering power to themselves, ready to defend her if necessary.
Keeping her voice and emotions calm and even, Chandrea held out her hand and said, “Stop. You’ll only make it worse. The Leaf can sense your emotions and use them against him. Keep your emotions in check. Try to empty your minds of violence or anger.” The men stopped, momentarily looking indecisive, then relaxed back into their watchful stances. Her teachers sat back down, and she could sense their power draining away.
“Shawn, you can fight it. I love you. Come back to me,” Chandrea whispered, scared but trying resolutely to control it. She used all her training as a martial arts expert to regulate her breathing and heartbeat, to calm herself down.
Slowly, Shawn’s breathing became even, and his skin lost its pallid appearance. He opened his eyes and she was relieved to find them clear of any malice. She leaned over and kissed him softly, then leaned her forehead against his for a moment.
“Thanks,” he breathed softly.
Ayden cleared his throat. Picking up the previous conversation, he said, “We shall take you out tomorrow, Chandrea. My men will protect you as you practice.”
Once more, Chandrea leaned back against Shawn, who in turn, placed his arm around her shoulders and drew her close. “Thank you, Ayden. I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
“You are most welcome,” he replied with a cheeky grin.
“Chandrea, I have been thinking,” Adelaide started to say, but was interrupted by a knock. All the heads in the room swiveled to the door. Her guards drew their swords and her teachers stood up. Two of the men and all three of her teachers moved to stand in front of Chandrea, while the remaining man went to the door.
Though she tried to contain it, and though she knew she was heavily protected, Chandrea felt a frisson of fear lance painfully down her spine. She felt the Shadow Leaf begin to squirm again as it responded to the sudden flush of strong emotion in the room. Defiantly, she pushed hard against the leaf, trying to lend her support to Shawn any way she could.
Through the wall of bodies surrounding her, Chandrea was able to find a small gap that allowed her to see the door. The remaining guard had opened it to discover Bartos, another of her personal guards, on the other side. The two had a brief but intense discussion, then Bartos was allowed inside, and the door was immediately shut. He made his way over to where she sat, bowed, then murmured quietly, “Excuse my intrusion, Your Majesty, but I bring urgent news.”
Chandrea cleared her throat loudly. Once she had their attention, she gestured to the wall of people surrounding her. With chagrined expressions, they moved away and resumed their former positions around the room. “What is it, Bartos?” she asked quietly.
The guard looked briefly over at Denae and Ian with a pained expression, then turned his attention back to Chandrea. “We’ve received word from the High Priestess of La Shura, My Lady. The city was attacked by Svara, and has fallen.” Chandrea heard shocked gasps from Denae and Ian. “The survivors were able to make their way to Ri Miora. The High Priestess is staying at the Mirsada Palace under the protection of the king and queen of Kester. She secretly sent a runner to us to inform you of their situation.”
Deep sorrow filled Chandrea at the thought of the beautiful La Shuran valley being laid to waste by war. She had spent several days there taking sanctuary from the Svaran scout that was hunting her and gaining the aid of the La Shuran leaders. It was there, through the wise, gentle coaching of the La Shuran High Priestess, Bria, that Chandrea finally came to terms with her birthright and learned about the history of Lyrunia, Averill, and her family. The time she spent in the La Shuran caves was one of her most treasured memories. The caves themselves had taken her completely by surprise. Fully expecting dark, dirty little holes, she had been shocked to instead discover massive caverns that were full of light and color. Decorative tiles covered the walls and floors of the caves, creating breathtaking works of art. Cleverly placed mirrors spread throughout the caverns cast bright sunlight all the way back to the rear of the caves. And, not to be outdone, the exterior of the caves was just as astonishing. An intricate system of wooden walkways and stairs covered the sheer mountain surface, allowing the residents to move quickly and easily from cave to cave. And, for those that couldn’t physically traverse the walkways, the mountains were honeycombed with inter-connecting tunnels.
But now, all of that beauty, all of that creative ingenuity was gone. Everything they’d worked so hard to create—the lovely, unique works of art, the beautiful landscaping in the grassy valley below, the statues that were scattered about under the trees, the massive specialized gardens that stood atop the plateaus of the mountains—all of that had been effortlessly crushed under the uncaring heels of battle-hardened soldiers
She turned to Denae and Ian and her heart wrenched upon seeing their horror-stricken faces. If this was hard on her, it was a hundred times worse for them. “My God, Denae. Ian. I’m so sorry. We’ll go to them. Find out what happened,” she declared and began to rise from the couch.
“No!” Ayden said rising, stopping her with the command in his voice. She looked at him, her eyes wide. “No,” he said, his voice softer. “You cannot leave. Let Denae and Ian go. They will be all right. Let them speak to the La Shurans and report back to us.”
Chandrea frowned, but though she didn’t like it, she could see the reason behind his request. When she reluctantly nodded her consent, he took a deep breath and sat back down.
“Ian, Denae, go to them. Go. Find your families. Please,” Chandrea said, her voice catching in her throat.
Denae and Ian rose quickly, their faces pale and drawn. They shot Chandrea grateful looks then hurried out the door.
Ayden turned his attention to Bartos. “Send men with them and keep them safe until they return,” he ordered briskly.
Bartos nodded then turned and left the suite.
The silence in the room was deafening. La Shura had fallen under the cruel hand of Leilah and her brutish army. Now, all that stood between Svara and total domination of Lyrunia were the unified kingdoms of Malton, Lisim, Kester, Bomar, and Umbray. These five kingdoms stood behind a large swath of high, rugged mountains extending from the north-eastern shores of Lyrunia to the far south-eastern tip. The mountains made a highly effective natural barrier, protecting the five small kingdoms nestled on the other side. The only way to get across was through a narrow mountain pass which was heavily guarded by soldiers of all five kingdoms. Or, if one was brave and experienced enough, one could go over the mountains. But, what was simple for one person, or even a small team, was nigh on to impossible for a large army. That very fact had protected the five remaining kingdoms from Leilah’s greedy grasp.
Chandrea began to speak, but stopped when Shawn lurched up from the couch next to her. He muttered a quick apology, then practically ran from the room, his thudding footsteps fading as he ran downstairs. The emotion in the room must have become too intense for him to control the pull of the Leaf. She almost ran after him, but thought better of it. With all the emotion boiling in her right now, the last thing he needed was for her to be around him. Besides, as protective as everyone was toward her, she probably wouldn’t even make it past the door.
Instead, she just stood, and after bidding everyone good night, went into her bedroom and shut the door. Woodenly, she undressed then lay in her bed. It seemed very empty and cold without Shawn. She pulled his pillow close and breathed in his scent, then sighed heavily. She knew she wouldn’t sleep much this night.