Excerpt

Prologue

The assassination changed everything.

On the day Crown Princess Chandrea Averill was born, the entire Kingdom of Averill celebrated.  The streets of Cellia, her capital city, were overflowing with people honoring the birth of the new heir.  Food and drink were plentiful and the mood of those gathered was joyous. Songs and laughter echoed gaily off the walls of the great stone buildings.

Those in the know speculated on what powers the crown princess would eventually develop, as no female born of the queen’s lineage ever had the same powers as those who came before her. The form and strength of the magic varied from female to female, but – without fail – magic was present in some form.

The merrymaking went on for hours into the night, and all at the Llireva Palace celebrated. Wrinkled old men sat in the corners, smoking their pipes and spinning grand and fanciful tales of the Averill family. Small children gathered at their feet, listening raptly to tales of magic and bravery. Gaily dressed dancers spun and swirled as the eager audience clapped to the rhythm. Jewels glittered and gleamed in the warm candlelight as they moved, dazzling the eye.

As the night eased into the early morning hours, those who should’ve retired long ago still remained. Sleepy-eyed and yawning, they nevertheless continued with the celebration even as the moon set on the horizon and dawn approached. Drinks were handed out generously, and drunken, happy people roamed the palace. Staggering about, their laughter filled the hallways of the grand palace. Guards became lackadaisical about their duties, laughing and drinking with their friends as they came wandering by.

This made the attack on the Llireva Palace and those inside exceedingly simple.

The assault was ruthlessly calculated and seamless. Having been there for hours, posing as drunken guests, the invaders easily overtook and dispatched the inebriated guards. Thousands of the enemy swarmed over the palace, slaughtering all in sight, whether guest or staff. Swords and knives flashed in the candlelight, and terror-filled screams filled the warm night air.

Taken completely by surprise, the guests and staff were easily overcome. Some tried to fight back, but were ruthlessly cut down where they stood. Stepping carelessly over the bloodied bodies of the dead, hard-faced officers ordered their men to look for the king, queen, and the newly-born crown princess. The enemy soldiers scattered, each keen to be the one to find the royal family and draw first blood.

One loyal servant – Adelaide – was tasked with caring for the new crown princess while the queen recovered. Like the queen, Adelaide was a powerful sorceress, and served in the capacity of royal advisor and friend to the queen.

After giving birth, the queen had been exhausted and was resting peacefully in her chambers, while the king attended to her. Princess Chandrea was in the nursery, being cared for by Adelaide. So, when the assassination of the king and queen occurred, the princess was nowhere to be found.  Enemy soldiers then spread out in search of the newborn.

Unknown to the intruders, in the days prior to her birth, protective spell webs had been cast by Adelaide and the queen in the hallways of the family wing. These spells prevented unauthorized access to the nursery by causing an agonizing death. The magic also alerted the creator of the spells of anyone entering the space. Unfortunately, the queen had been too wearied and depleted from giving birth to act upon the warnings that had been sent by her spells, and thus, she and the king soon perished. But Adelaide was not at such a disadvantage. As the assailants crossed her protective spells, she was alerted immediately by their piercing screams as the magic seared the flesh from their bones.

Adelaide quickly picked up the baby, and with an urgently muttered spell, opened a hidden passageway known only by the royal family and their most trusted advisors. Slipping out of the nursery, she turned and sealed the door with a wave of her hand, eliminating any chance that any marauders lucky enough to have a sorceress strong enough to penetrate the defensive spells could follow.

Rushing down the stairs, holding the princess close to her bosom, she finally reached the bottom. There she entered the back of a large cave. Moving quickly forward to the front, she found herself looking out at the dark expanse of the Averill Bay, named after the royal family who ruled the bordering land. She turned and gently laid the baby in a small depression in the rock, sat beside her, and allowed herself to momentarily succumb to her grief and fear. Adelaide knew that for the invading soldiers to have gotten as far as her protective shields, they would have had to defeat the queen first— and she would have been in no condition to fight them off.

Sitting quietly for a few moments to collect herself and her thoughts, she was able to form a plan of action, and to gather the resolve for what she knew would be required from her.

Taking a deep breath, she stood and faced the now-orphaned crown princess lying on the rocks. Adelaide knew without a doubt that if this tiny child were killed, all hope for Averill, and the surrounding kingdoms and cities that made up Lyrunia, would be lost.  The freedom and peace they’d known under the reign of the Averill family and the Triad would make way for a dark and violent time. Above all else, Princess Chandrea must survive not only this night, but also grow safely to adulthood so that she could take her rightful place on the throne.

Raising her hands into the air, Adelaide urgently weaved them back and forth as she cast her spells. Many hours passed as she chanted through the night, knowing that in the palace above her, an intense search for the princess was being conducted, and that she and the baby could be discovered at any time. Her voice grew hoarse and her arms weary, but still she labored on, until, finally, only one more spell needed to be cast.

Sweat-soaked and exhausted, she reached down and picked up Princess Chandrea. Expecting that this would be the last time she held this dear, tiny child, Adelaide cuddled her close for a few moments. Then, looking at the precious little wrinkled face, she gazed directly into the princess’s eyes, and cast her last spell.

Bright, white light blazed forth from the infant, transforming the cave into a dazzling, glittering chamber. Princess Chandrea slowly rose from Adelaide’s hands until she hung suspended in the air. The soft blanket covering her fell unnoticed to the floor. Adelaide’s hands moved in harmony with her voice as she chanted the final spell that would transport the crown princess from Itova—the world into which she’d been born—to another one. The only place that she would truly be safe until she reached adulthood and her powers had fully manifested.

Air swirled madly about the infant and the light grew brighter and stronger.  Then, with the sound of a massive thunderclap and a final burst of brilliance, the crown princess vanished.

 

 

Chapter One

“Ladies and Gentlemen… I give you ODU’s graduating class!”

All around Chandrea, screams and whistles erupted. People jumped up and down, hugged one another, talked over each over, and, in general, created complete chaos. The large auditorium of the Ted Constant Convocation Center was packed with graduates and friends and family, and the happy noise was overwhelming.

Chandrea found herself swept up in the excitement of the group and celebrated alongside them all, handing out congratulations to all of her friends. After a while, she caught sight of her best friend and dorm roommate, Ashlyn Wiles, standing a few rows over. Chandrea worked her way through the crowd to Ashlyn’s side.

“Ashlyn, can you believe it? We did it! We graduated!” Chandrea yelled out over the noise. She grabbed Ashlyn in a fierce hug and grinned. Ashlyn returned the hug with just as much fervor.

Pulling apart, Ashlyn shouted, “Are you sure you won’t come with us to the graduation party later? It just won’t be the same without you!”

Chandrea looked at her friend, and placed a hand on her arm. “We’ve already talked about this, Ashlyn. You know I have several interviews to get ready for. These are really good opportunities for me, and I’m not gonna screw them up!” Tucking a stray strand of long brown hair behind her right ear, she said, “You go on ahead to the party. I’ll catch up with you later at the room, and we can swap stories, okay?”

Folding her arms in front of her and frowning, Ashlyn said, “I understand why you have to get ready, but I don’t know why you can’t come to the party after you get done. This is a once in a lifetime thing, and you’re gonna miss it! It’s not like you get to graduate every day, you know!”

“I know, Ashlyn, but I just have too much to do. Besides my interviews, I still have to pack up all my stuff from the room and get ready to move out.” Then, glancing around uncomfortably at the press of people around her, Chandrea said, “Besides, you know how I am around crowds. They make me nervous, and then I just sit around like a big dope waiting for an opportunity to slip out unnoticed. No thank you. I’ll just meet you back at the room when everything is done.”

Looking resigned, Ashlyn hugged her friend. “All right, all right. You win. I won’t bug you anymore.” Pulling away, she grinned and said, “Knock their socks off, Chani!”

“Thanks, Ashlyn. Oh, look! There’s Denni and Alexis! You’d better get going. I’ll see you later back at the room.”

After a final, quick hug, Chandrea watched Ashlyn make her way quickly through the now-thinning crowd. She admired her friend’s small willowy frame, long honey-blond hair, and natural grace. When Ashlyn reached the other two girls, they all started squealing and hugging.

Chandrea grinned at the sight, then made her way to the auditorium doors and through the congested building. Once outside, she breathed deeply, vastly relieved to be away from the press of people.

She worked her way back to the campus, slowly angling toward her dorm. She stopped occasionally to speak with friends and make or receive congratulations. Feeling the heat of the humid Virginia air through her graduation robe, she took it off, allowing the breeze to cool her skin through the light blouse, tan slacks, and sandals she wore. Tall and lithe, with long brown hair, dark brown eyes, and tanned skin, Chandrea drew admiring stares from the men on the campus as she made her way along the sidewalks of the university.

As she walked, she felt again the heavy sorrow that her parents weren’t here to celebrate this day with her. Her mother would’ve been in the front row, taking pictures with her new digital camera she’d been so proud of. And her father would’ve thrown a huge party afterwards, inviting all their friends over to their house. Popular and well-loved, her parents had been social butterflies. Wherever a party was being held, you could be sure to find them there. Blonde haired and blue-eyed, her adoptive mother had been petite and very athletic. And, though a scientist with the NASA Langley Research Center, her adoptive father had been far from being a nerdy science geek. Tall, dark, and dashingly handsome, he’d had black hair, green eyes, deep dimples, and a belly laugh that could shake the windows. And, not to be outdone by his athletic wife, he’d been a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwan Do. Watching him fight had been like watching a deadly dance.

Chandrea had followed in his footsteps and was up to her 2nd Degree Black Belt designation. Much to the amusement of their neighbors—or dismay, depending on how involved they became—she and her father had often sparred with one another in their back yard to stay in shape and to keep their skills sharp.

Even though she’d been adopted, Chandrea was an only child, as her adoptive mother had been infertile. Desperately wanting a baby, they’d fallen head over heels in love with Chandrea at first sight and had acted quickly to make the necessary arrangements with the orphanage to make her theirs.

The only thing the orphanage had known about Chandrea had been her name, which had been on a small piece of paper tucked inside her clothing. She’d been found lying on the front porch of the orphanage, crying in the humid night air. Not wanting her to lose the only contact she had with her past, her parents had kept her name the same by not legally changing her surname to theirs. Later, when she was old enough to understand, they explained to her that they didn’t want her to lose this connection to her blood ancestors, and promised that if she ever wanted to locate her birth family, they’d help her.

Chandrea was raised in the Hampton Roads region of Southeastern Virginia, and was as local as anyone could get. Throughout her youth, she’d watched many military friends come and go as they were stationed elsewhere. Wanting Chandrea to have roots, her parents made every effort to stay in the Hampton Roads region. They’d owned a beautiful five-bedroom, three-bath home in the rural city of Suffolk, and though it was rather large for just the three of them, the spare bedrooms were frequently used by guests.

After graduating from high school, Chandrea attended Old Dominion University to work on her Bachelors degree in Early Childhood Development. Eventually, she hoped to open her own daycare center.

To ease the financial burden of being a full-time student, her parents had allowed her to continue living at home instead of moving out and living on her own or in a dorm. She’d been grateful for that, as it had made her studies that much easier. Instead of trying to hold down a job to pay for living expenses, she could just concentrate on her studies. The three of them had been blissfully happy together.

In an instant, all of that had ended. The year before graduation, her parents had been killed in a ten-car pile-up on the I-64 interchange involving an overturned tractor trailer.

Ashlyn had organized some friends and had taken over the funeral arrangements, sparing Chandrea from that painful task. But, it had been up to Chandrea to go to the city morgue to identify the battered, bloody, and ruined bodies of her parents. Afterwards, Ashlyn took Chandrea to the oceanfront, and sat and held her as she cried her grief and anguish to the sea.

The weeks after her adoptive parents’ deaths were still a vague blur to Chandrea. Devastated, she’d dropped out of the classes she’d been enrolled in, and had rarely come out of her house. Wandering like a ghost from room to room, recalling every moment spent with her parents, the pain of their loss was almost more than she could bear.

Her parents’ will specified that everything was to be left to Chandrea. As her parents had also been only children, and her grandparents had passed when she was young, there were no aunts, uncles, or cousins involved in the inheritance process. Along with her inheritance, she’d received a sizeable life insurance policy payout that would keep her financially secure for years to come.

She continued to live at home, but after a while realized that trying to be a full-time student and maintain the house by herself was just too much for her. Plus, the memory of her parents haunted her, making it difficult for her to move on. After agonizing over her options, she decided to put the majority of the household items into storage, donate the remainder to charity, and put the house up for rent.

Again, Ashlyn stepped up to assist her in the organization and mobilization of their friends. Sorting through her parent’s bedroom had been one of the hardest things Chandrea had ever done, and though it had caused her many tears, it had also been a catharsis.

Now, a year later, she lived on campus in a dorm room with Ashlyn, and paid a company to manage the rental of her parents’ home. And, even though she was surrounded by many friends, she’d never felt more alone, especially on this day that she and her parents had been looking forward to for so long.

Feeling the suffocating anguish beginning to build again, Chandrea took a deep breath and mentally pushed back the painful memories. Now was not a good time to reminisce. Not with an important job interview coming up.

Once inside her dorm room, she shut the door on the noise and excitement beyond. She sighed and leaned gratefully against the wall, savoring the peace and quiet of her room. Opening a bottle of water, she drank deeply of its cool contents.

Placing the bottle on her small desk, she moved to her closet. There, she pulled out the suit she’d bought the day before. Deep indigo blue silk, the suit was trimmed with delicate cream lace at the neck and wrist’s. Along with an iolite necklace and bracelet set that had been her mother’s, and shiny blue shoes, the outfit was sure to make a good impression at her interviews.

Realizing that precious time had gotten away from her now, she moved quickly. Walking over to the dresser, she got out a pair of nylons and laid them on the bed with her suit. Holding the shoes she was going to wear up to the light, she checked them for smudges. Not seeing any, she laid them on a chair by the bed. Then, going over to her desk, she picked up her bag and pulled out her folder to double-check her resume and references. When she’d satisfied herself that all was as it should be, she put the folder back in the bag and made her way toward the bathroom. Walking in all that humidity called for a quick refresher before she put her suit on!

As she walked through the threshold of the bathroom, a deep, roaring noise filled the small room, echoing painfully off the hard tile walls and floor. Dazzling, vibrant light flared before her, causing her to cry out and cover her eyes in reflex. She fell to the cold, unforgiving floor in horror, certain she was about to die.

 

 

Chapter Two

A rush of hot air caused Chandrea to flinch and try to duck, but she soon discovered that she couldn’t move her body. She strained with all her might to break free of her sudden immobilization, but to no avail. Terror streaked through her. She was paralyzed! Dear God, what was happening?

She tried to scream, to alert the people out in the dorm’s hallway to her sudden plight, but her voice was locked in her throat.

She could no longer see the bathroom she’d entered just moments before. The light was so bright and the rushing air so loud that they completely engulfed her. Tears streamed down her cheeks as her fear overwhelmed her.

After what seemed an eternity, the light began to dim, and the air to subside. Slowly, she became aware of her surroundings, but they were not at all what she expected. Instead of the small dorm bathroom that should’ve been there, she found herself looking out at a large body of water. It was bright and sunny over the water, but cool and dark where she stood. Realizing that she could finally move, she glanced around. What she saw dumfounded her.

She was standing at the entrance of a cave high above sparkling water! She jerked her head around, taking in the dark walls of rock, the pitch-black of the rear tunnels, and the debris that surrounded the front of the cave.

Standing in shock, her breath coming in panting gasps, she could feel her heart pounding painfully. This was not real! This had to be a dream, or a reaction to food, or dehydration from the heat, or something! It wasn’t real. It simply couldn’t be!

Forcing herself to stand still, she closed her eyes and took deep breaths to calm herself. I’m not standing in a dark cave, she told herself. I’m in the bathroom in my dorm room. I’m getting ready to go on my interview. When I open my eyes, I’ll be in the bathroom.

Steadier now, she slowly opened her eyes, hoping desperately that she would be looking at herself in the mirror in the bathroom. But, as she opened her eyes, it became clear that it was simply wishful thinking, for she was still inside the cave.

Panic overtook her again as she realized that something was seriously wrong. Backing up with quick little steps, she slammed painfully up against the rocky wall of the cave.

Glancing around again for any sign of the reality she’d left, she only saw rocks, debris, and small bones. Hyperventilating and dizzy, she slid down the wall and to the floor. There, she huddled into a small ball, overwhelmed by her surroundings.

However, paralyzing fear can only last for so long. After what seemed like forever to Chandrea but was actually only a few minutes, her breathing calmed and her mind started functioning again.

“What’s going on here?” she asked to the cave at large.

Shakily, she attempted to rise to her feet, using the cool, rocky walls as support. The adrenaline rush hadn’t worn off, and dizziness and nausea overtook her again. Fighting for control, swallowing and breathing deeply, Chandrea fought off the feelings, until, at last, she was able to stand.

“Okay, Chandrea, there’s gotto be a logical explanation to all of this. You just have to find it,” she said to herself. She began to search for something, anything, that would lead her back to normalcy.

She walked to the front of the cave and took her first good look at the water beyond. It stretched as far as the eye could see. To her right, there were sharp, jagged cliffs towering upward, and the water crashed upon the rocks below. Directly beneath her and heading away towards her left was a long, white beach.

Moving forward as far as she dared, Chandrea craned her head and neck upward, trying to see the top of the cliff the cave was set into, but could see nothing but rocks and sky.

She frowned and moved back into the cool interior of the cave and wandered toward the back. Looking at the walls to see if there might be a hidden door or some kind of writing on them, she almost missed the small, dirty blanket lying on the floor.

She bent, and, picking it up in her hands, gently shook out the dirt and leaves that had collected on it. Turning it this way and that, she peered at it, wondering if it might somehow be of use to her. To her surprise, she saw writing on it and squinted at it, trying to determine what the letters were. However, the light was too poor where she stood and she moved to the front of the cave again. Once there, she held out the blanket to the bright sunshine and suffered her next big shock.

There, written on the blanket, in a language she’d never seen, but could nonetheless somehow read, was her name: Chandrea Sariah Averill.

“What the—” Chandrea began, but didn’t have time to finish the thought, for she heard a noise behind her. Her breath caught in her throat, her heart sped up, and panic threatened to overtake her again.

Spinning around to meet whatever threat was there, she was met instead with a startling sight. An older woman, perhaps in her sixties, was quietly standing there looking at her.

Short and plump, she had short, curly graying hair and faded blue eyes. She was dressed in a short-sleeved green top, loose tan pants, and sturdy black boots. There was an air of authority and power around her, but also, strangely enough, the look of a kindly grandmother who would, at any moment, hand out cookies and milk.

“Who are you?” Chandrea demanded. “Where am I? How did I get in this cave?” she said, gesturing agitatedly about with her hands.

The woman stared at Chandrea, appearing awestruck. “Oh. Oh, my dear— is it really you— after all this time?” breathed the woman.

The woman shook her head in wonder as she moved slowly toward Chandrea. “Look at you! You are fully grown, and the spitting image of your mother.” Upon reaching Chandrea, the woman raised her hand to gently caress her face.

“The last time I saw you, child, you were just a babe. And now, you stand before me a woman! And my queen.” Defying her age, the woman dropped to her knees and bent her body forward until she touched Chandrea’s feet. “Welcome home, Your Majesty! Welcome home,” she said reverently.

Chandrea looked down at the woman in amazement. “Your Majesty? What on earth are you talking about?” she demanded. Then, the words of the woman began to sink in: “the spitting image of your mother”, “the last time I saw you, child, you were just a babe.” This woman knew her birth family! She knew her real history!

She grabbed the woman’s arm and hauled her to her feet. “Who are you?” she asked again. “How do you know me?” she whispered harshly.

The woman took a deep breath and let out a sigh. “I have planned all these long years how to tell you what you need to know, and yet, I now I stand here speechless. How could that have happened?”

She shook her head and closed her eyes for a few moments. Then, taking Chandrea’s hand, she led her over to some large boulders at the side of the cave, and there, gestured for her to sit. Once Chandrea did so, the woman joined her.

“My name is Adelaide Dyana Lahey. I was a sorceress, and an advisor to your mother, Queen Kelaya Nia Averill. The day you were born, the palace that sits above us—your home—came under attack and your parents were assassinated. You had been placed in my care, and I was able to sneak you down into this very cave to safety. But that safety was only temporary, for there was an intense search going on for you and it could only be a matter of time before we were found. I could take no chances on the enemy finding you, so I made the hardest decision I have ever made in my life: I sent you away. Away from Itova. Your birth world. I created a portal between worlds and sent you to the world that you have been living in for the past twenty-three years.” Obviously miserable, tears rolled down Adelaide’s cheeks and dripped down upon her hands.

Absolute astonishment reflected on Chandrea’s face and her body felt numb. Her stunned mind sorted through all the things Adelaide had told her.

None of it could be true, of course. There were no such things as sorceresses or magic portals, or enemies attacking palaces and killing the king and queen. The woman was surely mad and spouting stories of fairytale happenings. Glancing around uneasily, realizing that she was alone with what appeared to be a crazy woman, Chandrea wondered how she was going to get out of there.

But that was a problem, because she still didn’t know where “there” was.

Adelaide glanced back up. Upon seeing the distrustful skepticism on Chandrea’s face, she frowned. She gently sucked her lower lip as she rubbed the material on her pants with her fingers. Then, looking more determined, she started to speak. “My Queen, you are no doubt full of questions, and I am the only source to answer them for you. So, allow me explain things in more detail, and then perhaps the picture will become more clear.”

At Chandrea’s hesitant nod, Adelaide continued. “You come from a long line of sorceresses on your mother’s side. Your mother was a strong and talented sorceress who was well loved by her people. The match between her and your father, King Braedon Ramir Gairdon Averill, started out as a politically arranged one, but evolved into one of love.

“When she discovered she was pregnant with you, her first child, she positively glowed with happiness.” Sitting quietly, with her hands folded in her lap, Adelaide’s eyes grew distant as her memories took her far away into the past. “The order was given to prepare the nursery for your upcoming birth. Bedding, clothing, toys…all the things that a baby would need were moved in and then arranged just so by the queen. When all in the nursery was ready, Queen Kelaya summoned me. Together, she and I cast protective spell webs around the nursery and all the hallways leading to it to ensure your safety. These webs were powerful spells meant to sear the flesh right off of the bones of any person who dared to enter them without royal permission. The webs were also designed to warn she and I if this were to occur.

“When the palace was taken by the enemy, your mother and father were resting in their chamber. I was in the nursery caring for you. When the webs warned me that there was danger, I grabbed you and escaped through a secret passageway leading down to this very cave. That night I cast many spells to ensure your safety during the time that you would be gone from our world, and to assist in your return.”

Chandrea broke in at this point of the story, too overwhelmed to restrain herself any longer. “Are you trying to tell me that I’m in some kind of fantasy fairy world now? There are a couple of holes in your story already that I can see. First, if I was sent to another world and grew up speaking English, then why are you speaking English to me here in this world? Wouldn’t you be speaking a language that would be foreign to me?

“And second, if I’m a sorceress, wouldn’t I know that by now? Don’t you think my ‘powers’ would’ve…manifested or something?” Frustrated, Chandrea stood, folded her arms, and started to pace.

“Your Majesty, I am not speaking English to you,” Adelaide replied.

Chandrea turned her head sharply and stared at Adelaide in disbelief. She opened her mouth to argue the point, but Adelaide held up her hand to stop her. “The reason you can speak, read, and understand this language is due to one of the spells that I placed on you the night I sent you away. I tried to think of all the transitions you would need to make once the spell brought you back, and thus tried to counter them.

“For your second question, had you grown up here, your powers would have normally manifested as you matured through your youth. You would have had training to learn how to control them. But, not knowing the world I was sending you into, I did not know if your powers would make you an outcast or not. So, I cast a spell to block them. Now that you are safely back in your own world, you have access to them. But, be warned, Your Majesty, you are a novice still and have a long way to go to learn control.”

“So, what, if I just wave my hand and say ‘Hocus Pocus,’ fire will shoot out of it?” Chandrea demanded angrily. “This is ridiculous! You expect me to actually believe this?”

Moving closer to Adelaide, almost face to face now, she said, “Enough is enough! We’re not in some magic fairy tale world; we’re not great and powerful sorceresses; I don’t have super-natural powers that will just happen to appear.

“You want to know what I think has happened? I think somehow you drugged me and brought me here to this cave out on the beach. You see the water out there? I bet that’s the Chesapeake Bay. Lady, you are one seriously messed up person, and I’m getting out of here before you really go over the deep end!”

Turning, Chandrea went to the front of the cavern. There had to be a way out of this stupid cave! Craning her neck, she discovered a cleverly made, partially hidden staircase. The steps had been carved from the face of the rock itself, and were slick from the spray of the water below.

Chandrea took a bracing breath then slowly eased herself off of the ledge and onto the stairway. With her back against the wall, she carefully made her way down step by step. Looking down at the beach below, she grimaced with anxiety, for she was several stories up. A fall from this height would not end well.

Chandrea heard Adelaide’s voice over the roar of the water – barely. She glanced up to see Adelaide’s face creased with concern. “My Lady! Please! Do not go down that way! It is too dangerous! There is another way. Please, come back up and I will show it to you.”

Aggravated, Chandrea muttered to herself, “Yeah, right. There’s another way. I’ll just bet there is. She just wants me to come back up there so she can have a captive audience to her delusions!”

Ignoring Adelaide, stair by stair, Chandrea made her way closer to the beach below. Her hands scratched painfully against the rock as she slid her way along. So much for my manicure, she thought to herself in disgust. Her clothes were now smeared with heaven only knew what and she didn’t even want to contemplate what she would smell like when she was finished with this ordeal.

As she neared the mid point of the stairway, she suddenly stopped, stunned. Adelaide was standing on the beach below!

Heaving a great sigh and laying her head back on the rock, Chandrea looked skyward. Okay, fine. There was another way down. And now she’s down there, and I’m stuck on this stupid wall, Chandrea thought. Rolling her eyes, she got back to the task at hand: getting down to the beach.

It took her another ten minutes to work her way down the stairway. When she finally made it to the sand, she sat down gratefully, panting from her exertion. Eagerly, she glanced around, looking for familiar landmarks. Would she see the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in the distance? The Boardwalk and hotels? Carriers at the Naval Base? Jets flying overhead from the Oceana Naval Air Station?

She saw none of those things. Not one. What she did see, however, brought her to her feet with a gasp.

 

 

Chapter Three

To Denae there was nothing more beautiful and pure than flying.

As she swooped and spiraled high above the treetops she felt the wind blowing strong and cool against her skin, and savored its crisp, clean bite. She gloried in the thrill of the ride as the ground rushed past at breath-taking speed. She leaned forward, pressing her body firmly against Tadia’s soft brown feathers and watched as the world flashed by beneath her.

Denae held tighter to Tadia as the bird banked sharply to the right and took them so close to the top of a giant pine tree that Denae could’ve reached out and grabbed a handful of needles if she’d wished to.

Laughing at the sheer pleasure of the flight, Denae reached down and patted Tadia’s strong neck. “That was amazing!” she shouted out against the wind. “You never cease to surprise me when you do that. I always think you’ll hit something, but you don’t!” Tadia screamed out a shrill reply and soared even higher.

As they climbed ever upward, they headed across meadows and treetops, across rolling hills, and flat plains. Neither woman nor bird had a particular destination. There was simply the flight and the pleasure that it created.

Denae felt the strength of Tadia each time the teratorn flapped her great wings, and she was humbled anew by it. It was truly a gift to ride on such a creature, and to be trusted and loved by it as well.

As Tadia banked. Denae looked back toward the valley that was their home. It was the most beautiful place in the world to her, and she was honored to call it hers.

With a grin, she wondered if her mohr cat, Amir, had been able to keep up with them on the ground far below. She scanned the terrain beneath her. There was a blur of motion, and Amir jumped across an impossibly large crevasse to land safely on the other side.

As she chuckled to herself, Amir roared out his pleasure at the chase. In the air, Tadia screamed out her challenge. No other land creature could match a mohr cat’s speed, agility, or heart. And Amir was a superior specimen. Tadia was like an arrow in the air, but Amir was a dark lightning bolt on the ground. It constantly amused and delighted Denae to observe their daily races. Both animals enjoyed the challenge of trying to outdo the other.

In the distance, across the lowlands and Cellian hunting grounds now gone to seed, lay the ruins of the Llireva Palace, former home to the Averill family. As they drew nearer, the ground beneath them gradually changed from rolling forested hills to sandy beaches with rocky cliffs and shorelines. Denae circled Tadia high above the devastated palace. Once an elegant political point of power, it was now an empty, desolate ghost of its former glory. The attack twenty-three years ago by the Svaran army left very few survivors, and those who did manage to survive grew to abhor life as they were taken prisoner by the army and brought to the palace dungeons. There, they were tortured in an attempt to determine the whereabouts of the infant un-crowned queen.

None knew. None survived.

Once the palace was secured by the attacking force, they reported that the king and queen had been located and dispatched. But the newborn was nowhere to be found.

While the prisoners were being “questioned,” the army swarmed over the palace and the grounds in an attempt to locate the missing child. Portraits, family heirlooms, historical relics…all were destroyed in the search. Nothing was sacred to those searching for valued items, for not even the dead went without notice. Bodies were searched for anything of worth and then rudely left to rot where they lay.

Though the invaders destroyed anything that would be of personal and emotional value to the people of Averill, they were more discriminating when it came to anything of monetary value. Gold, silver, jewels, furs, fine cloth, books…all were packed carefully for shipment to the Delirant Palace in Fairhaven, the capital city of Svara. Soon, all that was left of the once-great palace was bare walls and floors littered with the dead.

Once everything had been searched, packed, and cleared out, it was determined that, somehow, the infant queen had escaped.

Soldiers and scouts were assembled and dispersed across Lyrunia’s countryside looking for anyone traveling with a newborn infant. Their orders were to kill on sight. Hundreds of innocent people and infants were killed in the next few weeks, though it was never known if the queen was one of them.

After a few weeks, the soldiers cleared out of Cellia and headed back to Svara, leaving behind an empty shell of what had once been a grand and beautiful city.

Only those assigned to hunt for the infant remained behind, searching the surrounding countryside, assassinating on sight anyone who harbored a female infant. They also took advantage of any women they caught unawares. It mattered little to them if the women were alone or in groups, or if they were traveling or in their homes. Raping, brutalizing, and killing quickly became sport for the Svaran soldiers to combat the boredom of the search. The local people were terrified, and hid in their homes. Fields and crops didn’t get tended, and died. Trade between towns and cities practically shut down and crime went up as people became desperate to feed their families.

Rewards were offered by the soldiers to any who’d tell of those with a newborn female infant being harbored in their home. The unscrupulous and immoral came forward then, and caused many deaths with their greed. It was the start of a very dark time indeed.

Denae shook her head to clear it of the horrible history of the city of Cellia, and focused instead on the moment: racing with Tadia and Amir, the sunny day, and the freedom of the sky.

After circling high above the palace ruins once more, she banked Tadia away, and with a gentle pressure of her knees, had her angle down toward the Averill Bay and the beach far below. There, the three of them would rest before journeying back home. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the shadowy Amir moving between the trees as he kept up the chase.

Then, in an instant, everything went wrong. One moment they were soaring over the cliffs like arrows in flight, and the next, Tadia jerked hard and, screaming in pain, started spiraling downward out of control.

Holding on with everything she had, fighting against gravity and speed, Denae needed to discover what had happened. She knew Tadia hadn’t hit anything; there was nothing nearby for her to hit. Besides, the bird was far too careful during flight for Denae to even consider it as a possibility.

That meant that something had hit her. The question was what?

Holding tightly to Tadia’s neck feathers with her left hand, Denae reached down around the bird’s body with her right hand, hoping to find the cause of her friend’s sudden pain. This was not a simple task as they were now falling out of the sky in a dive that caused her head to spin and her heart to pound. The ground was coming up at them with incredible speed, and if Denae didn’t do something soon, they’d both be smashed upon the cliffs.

Denae bent down over Tadia’s body, grimacing with the effort…and lost her hold. Screaming in fear, panting from the exertion, Denae saw the world spinning out of control and felt for the first time in her life a true and terrifying sense of vertigo.

With the aid of the oncoming rushing air, Denae muscled herself back up onto Tadia’s back. Momentarily safe again, she realized that she would have to take matters into her own hands.

Looking around in desperation for something that she could use to rectify the situation, she took note of the sharp, jagged cliffs. No help there, she thought with a grimace, and looked toward the beach. There, at the base of the cliff beneath the old palace, she saw two women, one standing, the other sitting. But even as she took note of this, the one sitting suddenly shot to her feet, staring in her direction. Neither the women nor the sand could be of assistance to her in this, so Denae dismissed them from her mind.

Her attention then turned to the water. Could she summon enough power this quickly to save them both? She realized she had no choice in the matter. She had to try!

Closing her eyes against the spinning world around her, shutting out Tadia’s piercing screams of pain and fear, Denae concentrated as she never had before. She focused on the water below her, willing it with her all her power to move, to rise up, to form a cushion for them to land on.

Muttering under her breath, the words were torn from her lips by the rushing air even as they were formed. Denae felt the power inside of her swelling by the moment.

Taking a deep breath, she then screamed into the wind and thrust the power toward the bay. Pushing with all of her mental concentration, she visualized the water of the bay surging up out of its bed to form a large column of water beneath them.

Responding to the incredible amount of power surging from Denae, the water rose swiftly toward her. Tadia, even in her panic and pain, was trying her best to control the fall.

Breathing heavily, controlling the rising water and trying to not fall off of the bird, Denae focused with everything she had. The water rose up, up, up – and then met them with a cold splash.

Denae shifted her power to force the water to push against their falling bodies, thus slowing their fall. As the seconds sped by, she allowed the water to slowly start bringing them back down toward the bay. Feeling Tadia shake beneath her, Denae knew that the bird was in a great deal of pain and fear, but she couldn’t spare a moment to comfort her. Any lapse in her focus could end up crashing them to the rocks below.

Slowly, Denae lowered them until they finally reached the point were the sand met the water at the tip of the beach. Softly, so as not to cause too much pain to Tadia, she set them down.

When she felt Tadia relax beneath her, Denae released her hold on her power and let the water flow back out into the bay. Then, with the exertion and terror too much to take any more, she slumped forward on Tadia’s back. The world became a small, shimmering dot of light, and then even that was gone, and she was surrounded by darkness.

 ~

Chandrea let out her breath in a whoosh, not realizing she had been holding it. Feeling weak after the latest adrenaline rush as she’d watched the bird and woman fight for their lives, she almost gave in to the desire to sit back down on the sand. But, when the woman on the back of the bird didn’t sit back up, Chandrea realized she might be hurt.

The two women looked at each other in silent communication, then immediately headed toward the injured bird and woman. But, before they went very far, Adelaide halted with a sharp cry. Chandrea, a scant few steps behind her, bumped into her from behind. Peeking around Adelaide’s head, she discovered what it was that had caused Adelaide to stop short.

Directly in front of them was crouched an enormous cat, much, much bigger than any tiger she’d ever seen.

Even in its defensive crouch, the cat was as tall as Chandrea! It was pure, inky black with golden eyes, and long, wicked fangs that were currently bared in a deep-throated snarl directed at them. It stood between them and the bird and woman, and didn’t look to be moving anytime soon.

Where in the world could the creature have come from, Chandrea wondered. This gargantuan panther-type cat belonged in a forest somewhere, not on a white, sandy beach filled with sunshine!

Adelaide tried to take a step back toward the cave, but at her movement, the cat crouched even lower and snarled so fiercely that Adelaide stopped immediately.

Adelaide turned her face slightly toward Chandrea and, in hushed tones, whispered, “My Lady, you must try to put the cat to sleep.”

She tore her gaze from the horribly fascinating visage of the cat and stared in amazement at Adelaide. “And how exactly am I supposed to do that?” she hissed back at the older woman. “Do you see a tranquilizer gun on me? I don’t carry tranquilizers on a regular basis, you know! It’s not like I meet gigantic, pissed off cats running around the streets of Virginia!”

With a gentle shake of her head, Adelaide stated softly, “Your Majesty, I do not mean you must drug the cat. I mean you must put him to sleep with your powers. It is the only way we can reach the woman and the bird to assess the damage to each. I fear there is not much hope left for the bird as it may have lost too much blood already. But we may yet be able to save the woman.”

When Chandrea just blinked, Adelaide sighed in frustration and whispered more forcefully, “You cannot still be in denial as to where you are now! You have seen with your own eyes the power that a sorceress can wield when that woman raised the waters of the bay to save their lives. You are a sorceress too, and I can guide you in the steps involved to put the cat to sleep. The spell will not harm it, and we will be able to help the injured bird and woman. Will you try it?”

Chandrea glanced back and forth from Adelaide to the menacing feline, then whispered harshly, “You’ve said that you’re a sorceress too! If that’s the case, why don’t you put the cat to sleep?”

Staring intently at Chandrea, Adelaide replied in grave tones, “I cannot, for I gave my powers to you on the night I sent you through the portal. By all rights, you are now one of the most powerful sorceresses in Itova because of that.”

Closing her eyes against the madness of the situation, Chandrea tried to gather her thoughts. It was rather difficult to do, though, with the black cat from Hell standing only a few feet away, ready to eat her if she even breathed wrong.

How did she end up going from graduating from a university and preparing for job interviews, to standing on a pristine beach in the middle of nowhere trying to save the life of a bird large enough to ride on?

Quickly, she ran her choices through her mind. She could try to make a break for it and risk the cat coming after her (not her favorite choice, that’s for sure!); she could stand there until the cat gave up and went to sleep out of sheer boredom (probably wouldn’t happen, but it didn’t hurt to wish, did it?); or, she could humor Adelaide and see if the cat would eat them just because they started to— to what? Wave their hands and cast a spell? What would the cat do then?

She looked over at Adelaide, who was staring intently at the beast as it guarded the wounded bird and woman.

Growling under her breath in frustration, she said, “Fine. I don’t see as I have much of a choice but to play along and see what happens. What do you want me to do?”

A look of relief crossed her face and, breathing a sigh, Adelaide said. “First, close your eyes. You need to relax and focus on the task at hand.”

Chandrea snorted softly. “Relax. Right. It’s not like I have anything distracting me right now, do I? I guess the Demon Feline over there doesn’t count as a distraction.”

She shook her head in dismay and got a particularly nasty growl in response from the cat. Chandrea did as she was told and closed her eyes (and prayed that the cat wouldn’t pounce on her while she did whatever she was about to do).

“Your powers are a part of you,” Adelaide began. “They are expressed as a form of energy that you project from the core of your body to the physical world around you. The woman on the bird was able to focus all of those energies into one monumental surge to force the water to do something it normally would not do. In time, I shall teach you how to focus those powers so that you will have absolute control over them. For now, this spell is a simple one and should not be too difficult.

“Take some deep breaths. Focus your breaths in the center of your body. Feel the energy begin to gather there. With your mind, gather the energy together in a ball, keeping it all in your core. Feel it turning round and round. In your mind, begin to picture the cat asleep and non-threatening to you. Picture him lying on the sand, curled up in a ball, sound asleep, with the sun gleaming off of his fur. Do you see him in this way?”

Chandrea, breathing deeply, had begun to feel very strange. As she breathed and focused, she began to feel a tingling deep inside of her body. It vibrated and prickled as it grew bigger and bigger. It was like a flame growing larger and stronger, engulfing her in one amazing burst, rather like sunlight from the inside out.

It was bliss.

It was torture.

It was rapture.

Unconsciously, she started to breathe faster in response to the energies building inside of her. In her mind, she visualized the cat lying down on the sand and falling asleep. Hearing Adelaide’s question, she nodded her head and said, “Yes. I see him asleep.”

“Good. Now, allow the energies to swell until you feel you shall burst,” Adelaide said. “When you feel you can take no more, focus on the cat and push the energy from your body toward him.”

Panting now, almost in a state of euphoria, Chandrea felt exactly like what Adelaide had just described: that she would burst if she didn’t get rid of the power gathering inside of her. She couldn’t imagine ever letting go of this amazing state of mind, but at the same time couldn’t imagine allowing it to continue! With a mighty mental shove, she focused all her attention on the cat and pushed the energy inside of her toward it!

She didn’t count on the fact that once all that energy left her body, that she wouldn’t be able to stand on her own two legs anymore. She promptly collapsed backwards onto the sand.

Dully, she noted that the cat no longer looked menacing. In fact, he looked downright drowsy and almost drunk. He started to stagger comically around, shaking his head as though to wake himself up. Ultimately, though, he gave in to the spell and crumpled down onto the sand. Opening his mouth in a truly impressive yawn, he then laid his head upon his massive paws and fell asleep.

From her undignified position on the sand, Chandrea started to regain her senses as her body adjusted back to normal. Never had she thought anything like what she had just experienced could happen. But, as the saying goes, seeing is believing. She looked at the now-harmless animal sleeping peacefully on the sunny beach, and knew without a doubt that she’d been the cause of it. That she’d cast a spell to make him fall asleep. And wasn’t that a kick in the butt!

“Well done, Your Majesty! Well done!” Adelaide laid her hand on Chandrea’s shoulder and with a firm squeeze, said, “Now, come, let us go see if we can help the bird and the woman. Hopefully that poor bird is not too far gone from the loss of blood.”

Adelaide helped a shaky Chandrea to her feet, and then both women hurried over to where the wounded bird lay with the still-unconscious woman. With every step she took, Chandrea felt stronger and more in control of her body. Glancing uneasily at the cat, she asked, “How long will he be asleep?”

“It depends on the amount of energy you were able to put into the spell, My Lady. The stronger the energy burst, the stronger the spell,” Adelaide replied.

That stopped Chandrea in her tracks. The amount of energy determined how strong the spell was? Based on what she’d felt while she was casting the spell, the poor cat should be dead, not asleep! But that apparently wasn’t the case. She could hear soft snoring sounds coming from the snoozing feline.

She shook her head and figured it was what it was, and if the cat woke up before they were ready, hopefully she could do the same thing again before he decided to eat her as a snack.

Chandrea hurried to catch up with Adelaide, who’d reached the bird’s side. She watched as Adelaide moved around the bird, trying to determine the source of the blood. Chandrea wondered what exactly she could do to help, as she wasn’t trained in veterinary care, and might end up getting in the way. Not wanting to simply stand there either, she decided to try to help the woman, and quickly skirted around the other side of the bird.

 ~

 Denae woke to find a young woman with dark hair shaking her gently. With a groan, Denae raised her head from Tadia’s back.

“Who are you? Where am I?” she asked thickly. The world spun and she started to sway. She leaned heavily against Tadia’s warm body and looked around in bewilderment. “What happened?”

“My name is Chandrea Averill. Your bird was wounded while in flight,” the woman explained quietly, speaking slowly. “We would’ve reached you sooner, but we were held off by that giant cat over there until we were able to make him go to sleep and come over to you. How do you feel? Are you okay?”

In a sickening rush, the terrifying memories came rushing back to Denae: Tadia screaming in pain, spiraling down toward the cliffs, bringing the water up from the Bay. She gasped out Tadia’s name, quickly tried to dismount and almost fell. Strong hands grasped her firmly and gently lowered her down to the soft sand.

“Whoa there! Slow down. You’ve had a shock, and need to let your body get over it,” the woman stated. She pointed toward the other side of Tadia and said, “My… ah… companion, Adelaide, is trying to help your bird right now, so just relax and take some deep breaths.”

Denae knew she was of no use to her animals in this condition, so she did as instructed and placed her head between her bent knees. Her bright red, curly hair fell softly over her face and knees, acting like a curtain. She felt the woman sit down next to her. “What’s your name?” she heard her ask.

Between controlled breaths, Denae answered, “My name is Denae Rochelle Adaire, and I live in the La Shura Valley. This is my bird, Tadia, and the mohr cat over there is Amir. He’s mine also.” The world around her spun crazily again, and she held tightly onto her knees, concentrating heavily on her breathing. Fear for her animals nagged at the back of her mind, but she pushed it aside, knowing she wouldn’t be able to help them until she was better herself.

“We saw you come down from the sky and it gave us quite a fright.” the other woman said. She paused for a moment, then continued in a quiet, awe-filled voice, “I still can’t believe what you did with the water. If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes, I might never have believed it!”

“If I hadn’t done it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it either,” Denae muttered. After a few moments, she raised her head and looked around with vibrant green eyes at her surroundings. She noted that, as always, she was dwarfed when sitting next to someone else. Tiny, just under five feet, Denae had yet to come across another human female shorter than her.

Denae frowned sharply in sudden concern as her gaze settled on the sleeping feline. “Is Amir all right? He isn’t moving.” She started to get up, but the woman placed a restraining hand on her shoulder.

“Your cat’s fine. He’s just sleeping,” she said in reassuring tones.

Denae looked at her dubiously. “Amir does not just lie down and take naps in the middle of the day.” Becoming angry, Denae shifted her body toward Chandrea, grabbed her blouse in her fist and pulled her closer. “What’ve you done to him?” she demanded. “If you’ve harmed him, you’ll answer to me!”

With a gasp, the brunette flinched away and tried to pry Denae’s hands from her shirt, but that only made Denae tighten her grip. “Hey, calm down!” she said. “I told you, he’s just asleep. Check for yourself if you don’t believe me!” she pointed in the direction of the animal.

Pursing her lips, Denae stared at Amir, and realized the mohr cat was breathing normally. Taking a slow, deep breath, she gave a tiny nod of her head.

Carefully, holding onto Tadia’s feathers for balance, Denae stood up. The world spun a bit more, then settled comfortably back into place. Denae walked slowly over to where Amir lay on the sand. She leaned down and started to examine him. She ran her hands over his body looking for bumps or wounds that would explain why he was lying so still.. “Amir, wake up baby. Come on. Wake up for me now,” she said, then gently shook him.

Instead of waking, Amir gave a little snorting snore and with a grunt, settled down again.

Denae sat back on her heels and stared in consternation at the massive mohr cat. Then, glaring over at her new companion, Denae started back toward her. The young woman’s eyes grew large and, with a look of alarm on her face, she skirted around the wounded teratorn toward her hidden partner.

Denae saw her retreating and followed. She was going to find out just what was going on! But as Denae came around the side of the bird, she suddenly stopped short in consternation as the name the woman had given her in introduction—Chandrea Averill—belatedly echoed in her mind.

With a sharp intake of breath, Denae finally caught the significance of that name. No one in Lyrunia in the last twenty-three years had dared to name their child Chandrea for fear of retribution from the Svaran scouts. To come across someone who was named Chandrea was incredible. Even more astonishing, she’d stated her last name was Averill. The name of the queen and king who’d been slaughtered in their beds the night of the attack!

The implications of the woman’s name played through Denae’s mind as she stood rooted in the sand. If this woman was who she said she was, then was this the missing un-crowned queen standing before her? Where had she been all these years? Why was she just now appearing? What would happen if the Svaran scouts heard of her presence and came to “investigate?” What impact would her coming back have on the surrounding cities, towns, and villages that had already been subjected to unspeakable atrocities? Would she want to try to take her place as the rightful Queen of Averill? If so, true war would then ensue with the Svaran armies. There was no telling how long that would last or how many men, women and children would die in the endeavor. How would this affect her people in the La Shura Valley?

Overwhelmed by the questions and scenarios running through her mind, Denae was physically unable to move. Staring blindly at Chandrea and Adelaide as they tended to Tadia, Denae felt a sickening unease uncoil inside of her.

 ~

 Pausing in her care of the bird, Adelaide turned to Chandrea and asked, “My Lady? Did you by chance introduce yourself to this woman?”

Chandrea looked back and forth between Adelaide and Denae. Folding her arms tightly across her chest and hunching her shoulders a bit, she said, “Yeah, why?”

Adelaide closed her eyes and, taking a deep breath, tried to calm her racing heart. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this! No one but herself should know about the queen yet. She hadn’t had the opportunity to advise Chandrea on the dangers of telling her name to anyone! It was far too risky to allow anyone to know of her existence until she became strong enough to not only defend herself but also gather an army to reclaim her throne. Yet, in the few minutes since Chandrea had returned to her rightful world, not only did a stranger now know of her existence, but as expected was clearly dumbfounded by the implications.

Adelaide opened her eyes and gave Chandrea a hard stare. “Your Majesty, it is incredibly dangerous for you to be recognized at this time. You have far too many enemies who would like nothing more than to see you dead— in the most unpleasant and painful ways possible. It is too late now to take back your identity with this woman. Therefore, we must determine if she is to be trusted.”

Enemies? What do you mean enemies?” Chandrea demanded in a hiss. “You’re telling me there are people here who want me dead?” she asked, with a sharp sweep of her arm.

“Take another look at the face of our young companion there,” Adelaide whispered softly. Both women glanced over to Denae. “Look at the fear in her eyes, the glazed expression on her face. She is astounded by the revelation that you are standing here before her in the flesh. Likely, she is also trying to determine what the implications of your presence might be. And it does not look like those implications make her very comfortable.”

Adelaide gazed intently into Chandrea’s eyes, leaning closer to better make her point. Speaking slowly she said, “If any of your enemies discover that you are alive, word would spread like wildfire. Hunters from far and near would be dispatched immediately to determine your whereabouts, capture you, and return you to their masters. There, you would be brutally tortured, raped, and eventually killed.”

As the two women were speaking quietly to one another, Denae’s unfocused gaze sharpened and settled on them. She straightened her shoulders strode forward until she reached Chandrea and Adelaide. She stopped and, looking directly at Adelaide, posed her question. “Is she who she says she is? Is she the lost Queen of Averill?”

Risking everything, praying that she was assessing this young woman correctly, Adelaide took a deep breath and said, “Yes.”

 ~

Hidden deep in the shadows of the tree line at the edge of the beach, Broman Talfor, a lone Svaran scout, watched and listened with fascinated intensity.

He was dressed to imitate the wilderness around him, and blended seamlessly with the trees. With his superior eyesight and hearing it was a simple matter for him to follow the activities of the women.

Earlier, when he’d sat atop the cliff in the shadows of the palace, he’d seen the teratorn in the air and had taken the opportunity to rid the Svaran army of one more rebel hunter. He’d sent the arrow high into the air and had watched with intense satisfaction as it struck the bird, causing it to spiral down toward the beach.

He’d scrambled quickly down from his perch and made his way to the cliff, only to watch in disbelief as the sorceress riding the bird had brought the waters out of the bay to save them from their deadly descent.

Determined to finish the job he’d started, he’d scurried down the cliff wall. However, when he saw the two women on the beach, prudence had taken over, and he’d edged into the shadows again. There, he’d made his way down the side of the cliff, anxious to determine if the two women were alone and vulnerable.

On his way down, he’d thought of the things that he could do to the two young ones. The old one held no interest for him, and therefore would be the first to die. But the two younger ones, ah, the things he would do to them this night!

Now, settling down into the shadows on the sandy beach, the Svaran scout became aroused at the thought of the violent sexual acts he could perform on the two women. His breathing became ragged and harsh as his imagination ran away with him, and he was lost to the world around him for a few moments as he gloried in his gruesome fantasies.

Then, becoming aware of the activity on the beach, he watched as the unknown women rushed toward the fallen woman and bird, only to be blocked by a huge midnight-black mohr cat!

His dark, sexual fantasies almost overwhelmed him as glee rushed through him at the thought of watching the two meddlers getting torn limb from limb by the massive cat.

But, this was replaced by disappointment when, inexplicably, the cat lay down upon the sand and went to sleep, thus allowing the women to move in to assist the hapless bird and woman.

A slow, dangerous grin spread across his face. He readied himself to rush the group and overtake them, but just before jumping, he stopped in his tracks. The name of the missing Queen, Chandrea Averill, had just been used to identify the young woman assisting the La Shura hunter! The scout’s face reflected amazement, and then quickly took on a sly, calculated look. The bird, cat, and the hunter who owned them immediately lost their priority. He now had a much bigger catch in front of him. The biggest catch of all.

If he could capture the missing queen and bring her back to his queen, his reward would be beyond anything he could ever imagine. Riches, notoriety, women, power….anything he wanted, he would have. There was nothing stopping him from having his fun with them tonight. He would simply kill the La Shuran hunter in the morning, and then he and the Averill queen would make their way to Svara. The only real things that stood in his way were a sleeping mohr cat, a wounded teratorn, and an old woman.

He checked his pack to determine if he had the items he needed to facilitate the capture. Opening a small leather pouch, he withdrew two darts. Softly grunting in satisfaction, he laid them on the ground beside him and reached back into the small pouch, removed a small wooden box, and carefully opened the lid. Inside was a dark, thick, pasty substance. A quick glance told him that he had plenty of the drug to serve his purpose.

He quietly closed the lid, placed the box, darts, and pouch back into his pack, and put it on. Then he settled down to wait to for another moment of opportunity to present itself to him. And as he waited, he listened and watched.

 ~

End of Excerpt

Chandrea – The Return of the Avatar Queen is the first in the Averill Series

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