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The Spellbound Box Set: 8 Fantasy stories including Vampires, Werewolves, Steam Punk, Magic, Romance, Blood Feuds, Alphas, Medieval Queens, Celtic Myths, Time Travel, and More!

The Spellbound Box Set: 8 Fantasy stories including Vampires, Werewolves, Steam Punk, Magic, Romance, Blood Feuds, Alphas, Medieval Queens, Celtic Myths, Time Travel, and More!

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The Spellbound Box Set: 8 Fantasy stories including Vampires, Werewolves, Steam Punk, Magic, Romance, Blood Feuds, Alphas, Medieval Queens, Celtic Myths, Time Travel, and More!

Length:
1,192 pages
16 hours
Released:
May 5, 2015
ISBN:
9781513017112
Format:
Book

Description

8 Fantasy stories including Vampires, Chameleons, Werewolves, Steam Punk, Magic, Romance, Blood Feuds, Alphas, Medieval Queens, Celtic Myths, Time Travel, and More!

8 thrilling stories in one volume
8 sexy heroes.
8 strong heroines.

These works of fiction are from some of today's most exciting authors.
A star-studded anthology of thrilling, action-packed and totally swoon-worthy first books by your favorite fantasy authors.

The Light Keepers by Mande Matthews 
Crush by Chrissy Peebles
Seventh Mark by W.J. May
Resounding Truth by Kate Thomas
The Girl Chameleon by Karin De Havin
Betrothal by Mande Matthews
Eternal Vows by Chrissy Peebles
Courage Runs Red by W.J. May
***
As a courtesy, the authors inform you there are some stories with cliffhangers. These are the first books or prequels to individual series.

Released:
May 5, 2015
ISBN:
9781513017112
Format:
Book

About the author

A Chrissy Peebles, enfermera en activo, siempre le ha encantado leer y escribir fantasía, desde que puede recordar. Planeaba todos los giros inesperados que podía durante los cuentos que les leía a sus hijos antes de dormir. Cuando los pequeños le pidieron más aventuras, se sintió lo suficientemente segura de sí misma como para dejar que su entusiasmada imaginación se desparramase sobre su primera novela. Vive con su marido, sus dos hijos y tres gatos. Cuando no lleva a sus hijos a sus partidos de fútbol, baloncesto o béisbol, su pasatiempo favorito es la fotografía. Chrissy Peebles ha alcanzado el número 1 de las listas de fantasía y horror con su Saga del Anillo de Rubí y con la saga Apocalypse Infection Unleashed en numerosas ocasiones. Ha ocupado el número 1 de las novedades más vendidas. Chrissy ha aparecido en la lista de los 100 mejores autores en Amazon en la categoría de horror y fantasía. Eternal Destiny ha aparecido en las listas de los más vendidos 435 veces. Ha aparecido en las listas de ventas de Australia, Canadá, Alemania, Reino Unido y Estados Unidas y en las listas de Acción y Aventura y Ficción y Literatura. Su serie de fantasía paranormal, Promesas Eternas, y su serie de horror, The Zombie Chronicles, han aparecido en la lista de los 100 libros más vendidos de Amazon desde su publicación en 2012. Chrissy Peebles ha publicado 18 libros que han aparecido en las listas de los más vendidos de Australia, Canadá, Alemania, Reino Unido y Estados Unidos.

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The Spellbound Box Set - Chrissy Peebles

you!

New edition

Some stories have been previously published. Some stories are novellas and some are full length.

***All stories are part one’s to other series***

As a courtesy, the authors inform you there are some stories with cliffhangers. These are the first books or prequels to individual series.

***Click on title to be taken directly to book!***

BOOK 1 – THE LIGHT KEEPERS

By Mande Matthews 

From the #1 Bestselling Norse Fantasy Author, comes The Light Keepers, a short story prequel to the ShadowLight Saga 

Isolated because of what she is—because of the power she holds inside—Astrid longs for contact with another human being. Her well-intentioned mother locks her away from society in order to protect her from an evil that seeks to use Astrid's abilities for his own means. But the resulting loneliness drives Astrid deeper into the shadowwalk—a power she is forbidden to use, a magic that lands her directly into the arms of the Shadow. 

This short prequel to the ShadowLight Saga offers a revealing glimpse into the history of the beautiful and mysterious warrior maiden known as Swan, called Astrid in this prequel. It takes place a few moons before Bonded begins and is a self-contained novelette of approximately 10,000 words. 

***Click on title to be taken directly to book!***

BOOK 2 – Crush

By Chrissy Peebles

The Crush Saga Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/LbfIsKTsPhw

His precious touch could prove deadly...

What happens when a normal girl learns monsters actually do exist?

Vampires. Witches. Werewolves. Supernatural Creatures. Dramatic Revelations. A Ritual Sacrifice. Ancient Artifacts. A Cold-hearted Serial Killer. Spilled Blood. Secrets. A Hidden Heritage. A Love So Deep. Supernatural Bloodlust. A Dangerous Curse. An Uneasy Alliance With A Dangerous Vampire.

Legends of vampires and shape-shifters have been around for centuries, so Taylor Sparks isn’t too worried when the rumors start to fly. When Taylor learns secrets that are beyond terrifying, they threaten to destroy her entire world. She is born to die... But to defy fate is to control your own destiny.

She warns her crush to leave. But how do you forget someone who is aligned with your soul? They fight against the witches, the vampires, and the werewolves. They know the consequences. They know the risk. But they don't care. Nothing will get in the way of these two star-crossed lovers.

Taylor finds out she’s a KEY player in a dangerous game created 1,000 years ago that will give the witches and werewolves the upper hand against the vampires. Blood will be spilled and secrets will be revealed in this action-packed thrill ride and paranormal romance.

Will Taylor dive into a paranormal world she knows nothing about to be with the one her heart can’t live without? Or will her life spiral out of control when she learns her blood is needed, just the serum necessary to lift an ancient curse from a group of supernatural beings and give the witches back their magic? Werewolves will serve as her guardians and protect her until the first full moon of the new year, the night of her sacrifice...

Will she accept her destiny?

Or will she refuse to let evil swallow her up?

***Click on title to be taken directly to book!***

BOOK 3 – Seventh Mark – Part 1

By W.J. May

You never ask for the gifts you are given, you just have to learn how to use them.

Like most teenagers, Rouge is trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to be. With little knowledge about her past, she has questions but has never tried to find the answers. Everything changes when she befriends a strangely intoxicating family. Siblings Grace and Michael, appear to have secrets which seem connected to Rouge. Her hunch is confirmed when a horrible incident occurs at an outdoor party. Rouge may be the only one who can find the answer.

An ancient journal, a Sioghra necklace and a special mark force life-altering decisions for a girl who grew up unprepared to fight for her life or others.

All secrets have a cost and Rouge’s determination to find the truth can only lead to trouble...or something even more sinister.

*Warning: There are werewolves in this story... and they are not friendly.*

***Click on title to be taken directly to book!***

BOOK 4 – Resounding Truth

By Kate Thomas

Derik has been the Alpha of the Graybacks since the death of Drucilia’s father, his murder still weighing heavy upon Dru. With fierce determination and an iron fist, the new Alpha has successfully kept them alive and fed, but the threat of Hunters and Vampires creeps ever so close. With his eye on Dru as a prime candidate for his mate, he demands more than she’s willing to give and blazes a trail of rage across the pack at her denial.

They have waited for a savior, for someone to come and take power from Derik and the time draws near. Dru’s sister Karis can see deep into the future and makes it known that a white wolf will be their redeemer, but will he be too late? With the Queen of the vampires thirsty for an accord in blood and the head Huntress of the Circle of Elders seeking the white wolf with fever, things get tense and complicated far before the resounding truth is uncovered.

***Click on title to be taken directly to book!***

BOOK 5 – The Girl CHAMELEON

JEN IS A SEVENTEEN-year old girl who gets average grades and has a boring normal life except for one thing—she is a human chameleon.

She can transform herself into any inanimate object she touches. An ability she’s hidden from everyone, especially her parents. After all she is just an average girl so no one would believe she could do something so extraordinary. That is until she meets Ainsley, a handsome artist at a gallery showing. His painting are so beautiful and lifelike Jen wants to jump inside them and become one with the fantastical worlds. When they go out on a date after the gallery opening, Jen senses there is something special about Ainsley too. He has a secret just like hers. She knows for the first time in her life she has met someone who can truly understand her. Who knows her secret without her saying a word.

They’d make the perfect couple except for one thing—his secret couldn’t kill her.

***THIS EPISODE ENDS ON a cliffhanger. ***

***Click on title to be taken directly to book!***

BOOK 6 –  BETROTHAL QUEEN’S HONOR

By Mande Matthews 

Seventeen year old Lady Guinevere holds the crown to an ancient kingdom. Without brothers to ascend the throne, marriage to her will assure any man the right to rule. 

Arthur Pendragon has won his power through battle. His legions have elected him their king and protector but he seeks to legitimize his claim to High King through marrying Guinevere. 

Lancelot, a valiant knight with a broken past, is driven by his desire to protect those in need. He’s joined Arthur’s forces because he believes in Arthur’s dream of peace for a war-torn country. 

But Lancelot possesses something that Arthur can never win...Guinevere’s heart. 

QUEEN’S HONOR is told from the point of view of a young Guinevere as she is caught between the responsibility of her crown and the desires of her heart. This fantasy romance is imbued with celtic lore and magic, as Guinevere discovers she holds an ancient power—a power of the old ones, the Druids. But without any one to guide her to develop her power, she finds herself caught in a web of the ambitions of those more powerful than her. Queen's Honor puts a fresh spin on an age-old tale of love and honor. 

Betrothal is a novella (about ½ the length of a novel). Queen’s Honor will be told in episodic books meant to be read in a few hours each. What’s an episodic book? It’s formatted like your favorite television show or a miniseries where an overall story is broken down into smaller, self-contained stories. Each novella is a story by itself, yet the continuing characters will return for new stories that tie to an overall story-line. For those who don’t have time for longer books, this is a great shorter read, while those who love longer books will get the benefit of more episodes and a deepening story through multiple episodes. 

***Click on title to be taken directly to book!***

BOOK 7 – Eternal Vows

By Chrissy Peebles

Genre: Paranormal romance, fantasy adventure, and time travel romance

ORIGINAL BOOK TRAILER: http://youtu.be/n_w-eZwPJbA

CURRENT BOOK TRAILER: https://youtu.be/DOEYISF-06s

Never marry a stranger...even if he is a drop-dead gorgeous immortal king.

Never pretend to be a princess.

And most importantly...never slip on an ancient wedding ring you know nothing about.

Sarah Larker returns to a cave where her sister disappeared ten years earlier. She walks through a portal and is mistaken for a runaway princess on the run by a dangerous immortal king in medieval times. Her plan is bold as well as daring—become this princess, wed the king, and slip on an ancient wedding ring that will unlock the portal back home. Then find her sister and run as fast as she can out of Dodge. But taking on the identity of Princess Gloria comes along with dangerous consequences; and slipping on the ruby ring comes with an even higher price.

***Click on title to be taken directly to book!***

BOOK 8 – Courage Runs Red

By W.J. May

What if courage was your only option?

What if courage was your only option?

When Kallie lands a college interview with the city’s new hot-shot police officer, she has no idea everything in her life is about to change. The detective is young, handsome and seems to have an unnatural ability to stop the increasing local crime rate. Detective Liam’s particular interest in Kallie sends her heart and head stumbling over each other.

When a raging blood feud between vampires spills into her home, Kallie gets caught in the middle. Torn between love and family loyalty she must find the courage to fight what she fears the most and possibly risk everything, even if it means dying for those she loves.

This is the end of this introduction. Book one will start now. Thanks for joining and giving each series a chance.

THE LIGHT KEEPERS

THE LIGHT KEEPERS

A Short Story Prequel to the ShadowLight Saga

By

Mande Matthews

Author's Note

THIS IS A SHORT STORY PREQUEL to the SHADOWLIGHT SAGA. The following takes place a few moon cycles before Bonded begins. It is a self-contained story featuring the elusive character, Swan, called Astrid in this prequel. For anyone who has struggled, or doubted, or denied their own truth, this one's for you.

PLEASE NOTE: at the end of this short prequel, you'll also find an eight chapter preview of book one. I hope you enjoy the journey.

THE LIGHT KEEPERS

The epic begins . . .

Chapter 1

ASTRID CAREFULLY PLACED her boots over the frozen ground, hoping her footfalls would not be detected as she slunk along the edge of the creek bed. Early morning left a coating of hoarfrost on the branches that stuck up from the banks of the ice covered waters. The young woman slid around the dormant bushes so as not to disturb the delicate patterns of frost, while she hunted for enough cover to execute an ambush. Balin would come for her soon, and she needed to be prepared.

I can see your boot marks in the snow!

The thunder of Balin's voice startled Astrid. Even though she realized her mother's warrior hunted her, she did not expect him so soon. Her skin quivered underneath the layers of her mantle and tunic. She tensed, stopping in her tracks, holding herself still.

The snow betrays your path! You are easy prey to track, even in this morning's mist!

Astrid maneuvered closer to the creekside underbrush, seeking the concealment of the nearby thicket. Once positioned with adequate shelter, she crouched. She had hoped to reach higher ground for her standoff. Instead, she huddled a few paces down from the level of the field, spying over the edge of the bank into the wintry landscape above, searching for movement.

The predawn light washed the starkness of the land in a lavender hue. A blanket of mist obscured long patches of ground, settling across a meadow that extended toward her makeshift home. Vapor clung in the dip of the creek bed, providing more camouflage. Astrid hoped it would be enough to gain the advantage lost by the inferior placement in her surroundings.

Balin's bulk appeared out of the mist, a giant of a man with a battle sword drawn and ready. The sheer mass of him was enough to cow even a war hardened soldier. As tall as Astrid stood for a woman, she was, nevertheless, an ill match—in both size and experience—against her mother's chosen guardian.

A wise decision. Balin's voice boomed in the stillness. The brush of the creek bed keeps snow off the earth. You can hide your passing.

He knows where I am. A rush of blood shot into Astrid's limbs. She reached for her sword, feeling the cold, hard iron press against her palm. With a singular movement, she released the blade from its cover.

I can hear the ring of your metal! Balin pointed his massive sword in her direction, gripping the hilt with both hands; he rumbled across the ground toward her like a landslide of boulders.

I have betrayed my position.

Astrid scrambled up the bank, flattening herself against the snow laden earth, hoping the whiteness of her hair and skin would blend with the mist and hide her from the warrior's sight. She slithered on her belly away from the oncoming earthquake of Balin, making a wide circle around him. She sprang to her feet and crept to his backside, training the tip of her blade at the back of his neck.

Balin jerked around and smiled, splitting the muff of hair that covered his lower face. Your stealth is superior, but I out reach you. How will you manage when my blade beats yours in length and heft? You should have taken your lead while you had one. Every fighter knows one hesitation can be fatal. Have you just committed that deadly mistake?

The man's constant jabber rattled her. Astrid knew it was meant to, but she did not share the same advantage. Silence was her only option. Silent from birth, her voice had never once sounded—not even a hum, a sigh of happiness, or a cry for help. The words she spoke remained locked in her own mind. Those thoughts fired up from her depths and fueled her fury toward Balin.

She pressed forward, into the warrior's guard, forcing him to step backward in order to meet her blow.

This is for the time you hunted me down, dragged me home, and stole my only chance at friendship.

Astrid struck at the warrior, remembering the young villager who had wandered into a remote meadow near their encampment. The girl had befriended her and invited her back to her family’s farm on the far side of the valley. When her mother and Balin found Astrid, the brute threw her over his shoulder like a sack of grain and carried her off. They dismantled their home after her indiscretion with the outsider and moved yet again, deeper into the Scandian wilderness and away from the prying eyes of strangers.

Balin blocked her blow, and Astrid thrust again.

How could the companionship of one little girl have caused us harm?

The clang of iron against iron spoiled the morning's quietude as the two jabbed and lunged.

Do you know what it's like? Being so alone?

I sense anger in your swing. Balin said with a laugh.

Of course, you don't. You have my mother. You follow her like a dog.

Anger prolongs your fight, but you cannot outlast one with my superior strength.

As if to prove his point, Balin's next strike sent a tremor through Astrid's body. Her muscles gelled inside her skin as she struggled to meet his blow. She pushed back, but could not match him. Instead, she released, rolling to one side as the warrior's sword sliced into the snow. She continued to spin into a crouch, using the force of the momentum to thwack the blunt side of her sword against the back of Balin's knees. The warrior buckled and crashed downward, catching himself with his free hand. He scooped a mound of snow into his fist.

You've discovered my weakness. Height can be a disadvantage as well as a benefit.

At least I can enter the shadowwalk to ease my loneliness, and you cannot block me. Guilt seized her at the thought of the forbidden power, and she hesitated, losing sight of her surroundings for a moment.

A shower of snow hit her face, blinding her. She heard Balin grunt as he moved. Astrid reached up to rub the freezing wet powder from her eyes, but when her vision cleared Balin was nowhere to be seen.

She spun, but something whacked her across the middle of her back, sending her flying. The force of the blow knocked her several paces forward, plunging her into the snow. Her face met the bite of frost as she fell flat on the ground. A chill spread through her. She spat flurries from her mouth, struggling to get upright.

The frigid tip of Balin's blade pinched the side of her neck, pressing her back down. Caught, she allowed herself to be guided by his sword as she turned on her back and looked up at the bear of a man. His bulk hunkered over her as his breath joined the nip of the morning breeze. Every muscle under her skin tensed.

You let your thoughts get the best of you, and now you're a dead woman.

The warrior pulled his sword upward, as if to gain impetus for the drive through Astrid's skull. She watched the metal recede, transfixed as the sun's rays caught the iron, casting beams of light upon her.

Once you engage, you fight to kill or be killed. Nothing else should cloud your mind or cause you doubt.

Balin drove the sword downward. Astrid held still, denying the desire to flinch; she refused to acknowledge the man or his weapon. The sunbeams blurred as the warrior spiked the tip of his blade into the ground—a hair's width from Astrid's head.

Enough sword practice for today. The warrior extended his hand to help her up.

Astrid ignored his outstretched arm and sprung to her feet, dusting the whiteness from her mantle and trousers.

Balin reached for her shoulder, forcing her to engage him with her gaze. Trust yourself to be in the flow. Let instinct take you. Your ability in swiftness and stealth make you a formidable opponent. You would have defeated me had you not been battling your thoughts as well.

The familiar pang of tightness formed in Astrid's throat. She clenched her jaw and turned away.

All my complaints unheard, all my frustrations remain, and Balin tells me to forget them and focus on an imaginary fight.

The warrior gripped her shoulder.

Astrid sloughed off his touch and stalked off. The frigid air whipped around her, causing her long ice-white hair to lift from her mantle and extend into the wind as if reaching for the comfort of another human being. But none would be found. None ever were, except within the shadowwalk, which she knew was forbidden. For as long as she could remember, her mother and the warrior had been her only companions. Others were not permitted in her presence.

I do not speak lightly, Astrid, he called at her back, you would have bested me today. That is a valiant accomplishment.

She bristled at his compliment, continuing toward the huff of wood smoke smudging the horizon.

Your mother is expecting you for your lessons in song. Do not make her wait. She tires easily these days.

Astrid sheathed her sword as she marched. Their hut appeared in the distance, a vague outline in the morning's mist. The pain in her throat increased as she approached.

I'd rather wrestle a wolverine than battle through one of my mother's lessons.

Chapter 2

Concentrate.

Astrid lay on her back with her eyes closed, listening to her mother's command.  Isla's voice drifted above her.  The older woman's speech still held a melodic quality, like a fine tune sung over a summer breeze, yet the tone waned, as if her vocal chords wilted inside her throat.

You must stay completely tranquil. Empty your thoughts and feel for the Mother.

Frustrations from the morning's instruction with Balin still raged. Her pulse quickened at her mother's demand for inner stillness. Her head spun with her desires for companionship. The young woman's inability to communicate her needs clenched her muscles, like a noose tightening around her neck.

Nei, my child.

Her mother grabbed hold of Astrid's shoulder. Even Isla's touch had weakened over the seasons—still firm, but lacking the inner strength Astrid feared since childhood.

Calm yourself and listen.

The young woman drew in a breath, trying to obey. Isla's voice turned melodic and her touch sent a vibration through Astrid's shoulder. The sensation spread throughout her limbs, and her mind quieted. Astrid suspected her mother used the touch of the Mother in order to calm her. She melted at the timbre of her Isla's words and the softness of her fingers upon her, drifting, nearly to the point of sleep.

An image flashed behind her eyelids. Hallad, the boy her mother often spoke of as Astrid's future—now a man—appeared in front of her. He sat upon a plank, watching two younger men squabble across the room from him. Hallad's muscles bunched under his linen tunic as he fiddled with a green bow in his lap. His hands were broad, like his shoulders. His legs and arms overpowered the short bench, like a tree reaching for both the depth of the earth and the height of the sun at the same time. Light from the longhouse's vent holes shone down upon him, illuminating his tousled hair and skin with a golden wash. While the young man observed the others as they bantered, Astrid realized Hallad stayed apart from them—wanting to join in, but unable. When she had viewed him through the shadowwalk before, jealousy for his life full of companionship sprang up inside her, but now she understood his connection to others was merely an illusion. For whatever reason, he felt alone—like her. 

Astrid! Her mother's voice hit like a slap. The vision disappeared. You are not sleeping, are you?

Astrid shook her head.

I wandered into the shadowwalk without the ward, and with mother watching!

What is that look upon your face?

The young woman realized her lips had formed a smile. She pressed them back into a straight line.

You do not enter the shadowwalk without shielding your whereabouts! You know how important that is, Astrid. I have lectured you time and time again. You must always guard against the Shadow before you sleep, and you never willingly go into the walk. You understand this, do you not?

Astrid nodded, unable to admit her guilt. Even if she managed to control the shadowwalk, she would never purposely cut herself off from the only solace to her loneliness. Viewing others through the walk wasn't the same as seeing them in the flesh and blood, but it was the only window to life she had.

Isla huffed, drawing out her breath. I've schooled you on the dangers of the Shadow since childhood. I've warded you for your entire life to keep you safe. It is high time you learn for yourself.

Her mother firmed her grip upon Astrid's shoulder.

If she knew I went into the walk every night, after she'd sung the ward, what would she do?

Listen, my light, listen for your heart.

I've seen him, Mamma, the boy you call my destiny, and I long to go to him.

Do you hear your heart beating?

A thump resounded within Astrid's chest. She nodded. Her throat tightened another notch at the thought of slipping back into the walk. She struggled to focus on her mother's words, but a rush of images pushed at the corner of her mind.

The Mother's life blood beats along with yours. Isla patted her fingers against her daughter's collar bone, matching the rhythm of Astrid's heart. Now, set the ward by saying the word algiz.

Astrid twisted her lips, trying to form the first syllable—her mouth awkward, unruly, and unwilling to comply.

With my eyes closed it would be so easy to slip away and see him again.

Al...giz. Her mother enunciated the rune name, drawing out the vowels as if speaking to a child.

Astrid squeezed her eyelids tight, grimacing, forcing back her thoughts of the young man as she tried to speak. Her tongue thickened as she twisted it inside her mouth. She bit her lower lip in frustration, and shot upright, opening her eyes.

Isla struggled to stand from where she knelt by her daughter's side. Her frailty startled Astrid. With her eyes closed, she could imagine her mother as she had once been, a striking, towering figure, resonating with quiet power.  But now her mother's legs wobbled as she straightened, and her body wasted and thinned.

Isla's amber eyes shone with concern; the color matched the low-lights of her blonde hair. Even though her face retained a peculiar agelessness, the sickness wore through, hollowing her cheeks, as if eating her away from the inside out. 

Astrid reached out to steady her mother, but Isla backed up, unfolding her hands to reveal a stone marked with the algiz rune.

Watch me, then, but do not give up. Her mother's voice fell, heavy with effort. You must learn to fight the darkness. I will not always be here to ward the Shadow for you and my strength...

Astrid's brows knitted with worry at her mother's inference. She reached toward Isla, but once again, her mother stepped backwards.

A rumble started in the back of Isla's throat, as if clearing a pathway. Then, her song blossomed, filling their one-room hut.

Algiz, sang Isla, but the word took on multi-layered intonations as her mother weaved a melody throughout the two syllables, drawing them out. The room buzzed. The rune floated from Isla's hand. The round stone hovered above her palms, glowing white, casting beams on Isla's thin cheeks.

In an instant, a cocoon snugged around them, like a layer of invisible down-feathers. The once dead space vibrated with energy. Astrid stretched her arms outward to revel in the sensation.

Some hear her as a pulse. Others hear a hum, or a song, or a whisper within them. Isla cocked her head, studying her daughter. See? You can feel the Mother. You just need to open to her.

Astrid stared up at the gleaming figure of Isla, stunned by her power. She could not imagine anything inside her could be as beautiful. She knew darkness lingered in the corners of her being. Why else would she be so willing to risk the shadowwalk when her mother preached against its dangers? The young woman shook her head to argue

I cannot.

You must learn!

The demand struck Astrid like another blow.  A sharp note escaped her mother's lips, and the rune stone dropped back into Isla's hand. The light extinguished along with the energy that had saturated the room.

These are not games we play Astrid! You possess more power than anyone who has ever lived, save perhaps, the Mother herself. I know. I have seen it. Much rides on you. And you sit here in your stubbornness, refusing to try.

But I've tried for so long and I don't know how!

Astrid's neck constricted again, until she registered a sharp pain in her throat. She pushed down a swallow as her mother glared at her.

Then Isla wobbled, reaching for the hut's center pole to steady herself.

Astrid scrambled to her feet to help. Isla held her off by raising her hand and waving her daughter away.

I need a moment to rest.

Pressing forward, Astrid wrapped her arm around her mother, trying to guide her to a hay-filled mattress that lay atop a plank against the hut's wall. Isla weakly swatted at her daughter; her limbs seemed too heavy for her to handle.

Leave me. Send Balin to me when you depart.

Astrid hesitated, but her mother yelled, Go!

The young woman crossed to her bed and picked up her fur-lined mantle and sword as she watched her mother labor.  Isla eased herself into bed, huffing air as she slid downward to meet the blankets. Astrid considered covering her mother up, or brewing herb tea for the woman, but she knew her efforts would be met with reproach.  Instead, she swung on her mantle, fed two logs to the fire pit, and left the hut.

Balin had propped himself against the outside wall of their hovel, an unflinching sentinel dressed in chain mail. As Astrid exited, she jerked her chin toward the dwelling, signaling for the warrior to attend to her mother. Although the man wasn't her father, he shared a bed with her mother, and had done so for as long as Astrid could remember. When she was younger, their intimacy had infuriated her, but over the years she had come to accept his presence. Balin had taught her skill with the sword, and made seasonal journeys to the nearest villages for supplies. They remained isolated from society, because of her. Astrid did not fully understand the constant need to be hidden away—because of what she was, because of what she possessed inside of her—but she knew it wore her mother down. Though Balin bore a savage scar on his right cheek, and enough hair and muscle to cover a bear, the man tended to her mother with the tenderest affection. Astrid remained angry at his constant confinement of her, but she had to admit silent thanks to him for reducing the pressures her mother bore.

The warrior acknowledged her with a tight nod then entered the hut. Astrid circled the wood structure; its roof bowed from the heaviness of winter's snow. Ice crunched under her boots as she walked.  The cold bit at her lungs, but she took succor in how it enlivened her—awoke her pores and roused her senses. She understood the chill of winter—much like her, winter was also withheld from the life of spring.

Astrid drew her sword, the slick sound of metal exiting her scabbard as arresting as her mother's song. She whirled the metal in a series of figure eights—a display Balin would have called foolish.  The whir of her iron against the air soothed her, and she stopped, gripping the hilt. She fingered the fine scrollwork shaped like an ash tree on the handle and wondered if she would ever meet Hallad in the waking world.

Lower your voice or the girl will hear. Balin's gruff tone seeped through the chinks of the hut's logs.

Astrid stilled, stretching her head around to listen.

I care not if she hears, replied her mother. She risks us all with her selfish, stubborn behavior.

Her skill with the sword excels daily. She nearly bested me this morning. I am sure in time her ability with song—

I heard the Mother's song before I could even crawl! She has had seventeen summers! There is nei more time!

Per chance—

What?

Are you sure of your vision? Per chance the girl has nei touch of the Mother.

Oh, Balin, Isla's voice sunk, I wish it were so, but I know. I have seen her future...the future of our worlds...and if she does not open to the Mother, if she does not sing, the Shadow will devour us all.

Come love, you tire. You must rest your head. There will be time to try again when your strength returns.

I fear my strength all but fades.

Hush. Do not speak so. You will recover.

Nei, my separation from the heart of the Mother has wrought havoc on my body and mind. The insults of surviving in this land wear on me—fires, killing, pillaging. I can barely hear the Mother here, like a distant whisper on the wind. It is as if my blood leeches from my limbs. Perhaps Astrid's failing is my fault. She may have heard the Mother's song if I had returned to Alvenheim.

You did what you thought would keep her safe.

Maybe I should have never separated her from the boy. His presence might have given her the extra will she seems to require.

Before she managed to ward herself? You would have risked Hallad's protection as well. Settle your thoughts, my heart. You could not have done more.

I do not mean to take my ills out on you, Balin, Isla hesitated, or on Astrid.

What can I do to ease your pain, love?

The only comfort to ease me is to hear my daughter's song. 

Chapter 3

Astrid waited for her mother to sleep, and for Balin to attend his chores. She double-checked her mother's state, holding her hand above the woman's nose.

Shallow, as if she scarcely lives. Her shoulders slumped at the thought.  I keep a terrible secret from you. I'm sorry I am angry that you and Balin isolate me from the world, but I understand. You love me, Mamma.  I could not bear to lose you. You are all that I have.

The young woman resisted the urge to caress her mother's frail cheek and set about her business. She dug into a pouch that lay on the covers near her mother's feet, retrieving the algiz rune stone.

The door squeaked. Astrid hid the rune stone in the folds of her tunic and turned. Balin's bulk lumbered into their hut, his arms laden with chopped wood. He eyed Astrid suspiciously as he laid the logs next to the fire pit.

When I was young, I fought for kings and chieftains, he began in a hushed tone.

Astrid planted the stone in her palm and squeezed her fist tight around it as she crossed the room to her own mattress. She gathered her mantle, slipping the object into her pocket. She swung the cape over her shoulders, intending to exit, but Balin continued.

I murdered men for the glory and riches of rulers. I took lives to satisfy another man's greed. All of it was meaningless. Until I met your mother, and learned of you, I had nei purpose. I stumbled along performing mindless brutalities for others, but your mother gave me a reason worthy of fighting for.

Astrid started at his words.

Balin reached underneath the bed he shared with Isla and pulled out a wooden box. He opened the lid and shuffled through his belongings.

You will need this in the days to come.

The warrior retrieved a lamellar breastplate and handed it to Astrid. She didn't reach for the armor, so Balin crossed the room and pressed it into her hands.

Not to worry, I resized it to fit you. He chuckled. I realize women care about their looks, even a woman a tough as you. I would not have you fighting in armor too loose for your form.

She took the gift and fingered the leather squares, noting the breastplate was lined with intertwining iron rings joined with wire. Chain mail dangled from under the shell intended to cover her upper limbs and stomach.  The garment weighed down her arms and she wondered if she would ever manage to wear such a heavy piece.

I do not understand how the song works. I am Scandian and ignorant of the ways of Alvenheim. But you are strong, and you will learn it because you must. I have never known you to back down from a challenge.

Astrid couldn't determine how to acknowledge Balin's speech. She laid the armor on her bed and strutted toward the door.

The boy, Hallad...

Balin's mention of the young man caught her attention and she stopped, listening.

Everyone needs a champion, a guardian, someone that is devoted to the survival of the other. I am that soul for your mother. I know the boy is the one for you. But you need to be worthy of him, because as much as your mother needs me, I need her too. It will be the same way for you and him.

Astrid met Balin's gaze, his eyes heavy with warning. With that one look, she realized what she must do.

ASTRID WRAPPED HER fingers around the algiz rune stone, as she leaned her back against the trunk of an evergreen. The mighty giant's branches caught the snowfall leaving the ground bare where Astrid sat. She chose a tree situated far away from the hut that she shared with Balin and her mother, requiring solitude to complete her task.

I cannot fail...for my mother... for Balin...for Hallad...

Rolling the stone in her palm, Astrid closed her eyes. She steadied her nerves, and listened for the heart of the Mother. Branches cracked, giving way to the weight of the snow. The breeze whistled between the trees.

Astrid gripped the stone tighter, but the rock lay dead in her hand. Lifeless. Unmoving. She forced her thoughts inward, but met the fear of blackness, the fear that somewhere inside, the power she possessed was tainted by the Shadow. A barrage of thoughts attacked:  her inability putting them at risk, her mother's sickness, Balin's talk of the young man's safety, and above all, her mother's desire to hear Astrid's song.

She reached up and rubbed the heel of her hand across each eyelid, trying to clear away the jumble hiding inside her mind.

My head refuses to be silent, but I must find a way.

She thought of her mother's song—her voice like a blanket wrapping her away from the storm. Sleep, sleep, little one sleep, Isla would sing when Astrid was a child.

Nei. I cannot sleep before drawing the ward. I must focus on feeling the Mother.

But her memories pushed in on her. Astrid mouthed the lyrics along with the recollection of her mother's lullaby until she heard herself singing the song inside her head.

The sound of her own voice startled her. Her thoughts had always consisted of jumbled words and spoken phrases, but they never possessed an audible tone. She marveled in the melody, the vibration spreading throughout her skull as if her voice had awoken after years of slumber. It reverberated out in all directions—clear, high, and lilting.

When Astrid opened her eyes, a gray-shifting landscape spread before her. Her tune echoed, resounding from far away.

Where am I?

She thought the words, but they rang out into the air, each syllable chiming like a bell in the breeze. She spun in circles to catch the tone from every direction.

You are here.

The voice caught her off guard, and she swung around to find the source. A man stood before her, his onyx-colored hair slicked back from his forehead. Pale skin contrasted his dark hair. His body was thin and well-toned. He possessed a fluid quality as if his limbs flowed with liquid, while his face bore unreadable expressions as if in a constant state of change.

You heard me! 

Her voice resonated throughout the landscape again.

The man smiled, showing a row of dazzling white teeth. The grin softened his face, transforming him into a stunningly handsome man.

Of course I did.

Do I dream?

Murky smoke swirled in all directions. The man appeared closer, yet his legs had not moved.

Nei, this is real. He spread his arms in a welcoming gesture. My domain.

Do I shadowwalk?

You've walked before? He cocked his head, sounding surprised.

Ja, but always to a place—or rather a particular person, never here.

"A person? Who would that person be?"

A warning signal tapped at the back of Astrid's brain—her mother's years of schooling on the dangers of the Shadow. She shifted. Her eyes darted from space to space, seeking an exit. The scenery around her transformed as the fog rolled, creating various forms. One moment the horizon appeared as a forest, the next rolling hills, and then a village.

The man drew closer, floating through the distance to land directly in front of her. She realized his eyes shifted in shades of grays like the landscape around him. His hand extended outward as if to seek her cheek.

You are so beautiful, and your voice, he said as his gaze devoured her, I assumed it would be extraordinary, but I never imagined...

His eyes glossed. He hesitated, frozen in place. Struggling with the effort, he pulled back his hand and glanced downward, clearing his throat. When he returned his gaze to her, his expression was, once again, indecipherable.

I've waited so long, and you come to me at last.

Astrid tested her voice once more.

How do you know of me?

Her speech broke loose, escaping around her. Her body lightened as if she had found wings, as if she soared along with her words.

Everyone knows of you. His smile spread wider.

The flesh on the back of Astrid's neck pricked.

The man edged forward until his chest nearly touched her breast. His exhale heated the skin of her face.

I would love you like nei other, if you let me.

His intimacy frightened her. Her heart knocked at his proximity.

I could teach you how to sing. Release your voice to the world, he offered softly as his hand caressed her cheek. Wouldn't that feel wonderful?

The familiar twinge returned to her throat as she shuddered, unable to tell the man no. The touch of his fingers tickled like feathers as he moved across her skin to cup her chin in his hand. He tilted her face toward his, locking his smoky eyes upon her. Then he guided her head to his own, his lips parting.

Astrid strained—her throat aching to find words, her limbs fighting for the resolve to push him back.

Who are you? She managed to force the thought forward.

You do not know? he whispered as his lips brushed against hers.

She shook her head, but the action caused the plumpness of her mouth to catch his lips again, and again. His touch sent a shiver throughout her body, urging her to open up and claim that dark place lurking deep inside—the place she fought so hard to keep locked away.

I am your future, he assured her as he closed his mouth over hers.

Astrid’s eyelids sunk shut, welcoming the uprise of desire. She longed to meld into him and connect with another in a way she had never been able to do.

Wake, Astrid, now! Isla's command jarred the inside of Astrid's head, but the heat of the man's mouth upon hers begged her to ignore the demand. Her pulse quickened, but she finally obeyed, forcing her eyes open—the man and the landscape vanished.

Isla kneeled over her daughter, panic twisting her features. Balin's hands remained on Astrid’s shoulders, ready for more shaking should she require it.

What have you done?

Astrid stared back at her mother, unable to respond. Her throat clenched tighter as she remembered the warmth of the man upon her.

I spoke! He heard me!

Did you sleep without setting the ward?

The ward!

Astrid nodded her head, as she drew her legs to her chest, trying to temper the chill that spread throughout her body.

But I sang, Mamma! I sang in the shadowwalk!

Did you see the Shadow? Isla demanded with a mix of rage and dread tingeing her question.

Astrid stared back at her mother, her senses numb with realization. Her fearful expression confirmed her mother's suspicion.

Isla stood, balancing on her warrior's arm.

Ready our packs, Balin. We flee this instant!

Astrid grabbed her mother's skirts.

Isla turned to scrutinize her daughter, her voice quavering as she spoke.

I have given up my entire life to protect you. Now your foolishness has exposed us all!

Chapter 4

Balin supported Isla with his arm around her waist; the woman pulled tight to his ribs. He would have carried her like a straw doll, but she refused to allow him to bear both her and their supplies. Astrid followed in their wake, the layer of frost crackling as her boots hit ground. She wore Balin's gift under her mantle, layered over her tunic, along with a pack strapped to her back. The added weight of the armor unbalanced her, and she struggled to adjust to its mass. 

Isla slipped, but Balin caught her before she fell. The warrior whisked her along, lifting her for lengthy strides so she hung at his side, toes barely touching ground, until he announced, We rest, Isla. You cannot keep this pace.

Balin guided Isla to a rock that was tucked beneath a rowan tree.

We have not traveled far enough.

Despite her protests, Isla allowed the man to ease her downward. Air heaved in her lungs as she sat. Her breath turned into a wheeze.

We have journeyed nearly a league. The Shadow could not have dispatched slayers so quickly.

Nei, Balin. Within a heartbeat he would have sent them through the shadowwalk to ambush us. We must move fast and cover our tracks. The frozen Wettersea should obscure our crossing. Then we can gain the concealment of Kolmården forest. Perhaps we will lose them.

The sky tinged pink with the fall of the sun. The temperature plunged. A meadow, blanketed with hard-packed snow, stretched behind them. They had stayed to the riverbed where rowans and whitebeams sprung up to provide cover, but the leaf-bare branches—shriveled berries still clinging for a last bit of life—extended little shelter.

Stay here. I will check the perimeter and hide our passing.

Isla nodded. She bent over at the middle, hanging her head. She inhaled in short huffs, a hollow whistle sounding in her chest.

Astrid fought with the idea of comforting her mother, while Balin hurried out of view. Her mother had not spoken to her since they abandoned their home. The young woman feared any action on her part would further incite her mother's anger and cause her more distress.

Time has come. Isla broke their standoff, motioning for Astrid to come forward. She searched her mother's face, but Isla kept her gaze downward. Her mother slipped the algiz rune stone from her pouch—Isla had retrieved it when they found Astrid in the walk—and handed the stone to her daughter.

You must set the ward.

Astrid removed her mitten and reached for the stone. As her fingers touched it, the cool, slickness of the rock sent shivers up her arm, punctuating her skin with goose bumps. Astrid snatched her fingers back. She motioned toward her mother, imploring Isla to sing the ward first.

I will show you one last time, but then it falls on you alone.

Isla inhaled, but her chest constricted. Her mother fought back a spasm of coughs. When the attack receded, she cleared her throat and sang, but her voice rattled and the melody expired, dissolving in the chill of evening. She tried again, this time completing the tune, but the rune stone lay dormant in her palm—neither a glow nor a blanket of protection sprang forth.

She answers me nei more. Isla's voice fell. The Mother is but a whisper in my heart now, beckoning me home.

Astrid stared at the hunched figure of her mother. The chill in the air burned her eyes. She blinked to moisten them, wishing the sight before her would pass—that strength would fill her mother's limbs and a gleam would return to her skin.

When Isla did not stir, Astrid snatched the stone from her mother's hand. She squeezed the rock, forcing her mind to focus.

Algiz. I know the word, why can I not speak it?

Astrid's fist shook. The muscles in her neck strained to push out the word.

Algiz! Algiz!

Unlike the dream, her voice stayed trapped inside her head, and the knot tightened in her throat.

Please! If there is a spark of goodness inside me, please let it forth!

The rock remained lifeless—a cold dot in her palm.

Then Isla's hand wrapped over her own, guiding her fingers shut over the rune stone. Isla pulled her daughter down to kneel on the ground before her.

You are my ljos, my light. Her mother's tone rang with tenderness.

She used the old tongue, a language Astrid had forgotten because her mother had stopped speaking it when she was a babe. Isla tilted her daughter's chin up to meet her gaze.

If only you saw what I see in you. Your power. Your beauty. You are a magnificent creature filled with love and light.

I am darkness. I brought the Shadow, and a part of me wanted nothing more than to descend into him.

Astrid sought to bow her head, but her mother used what little strength she had left to keep her daughter's face upright. A speck of Isla's old spark beamed in her amber eyes.

There, deep inside, she said as she placed her hand over Astrid's chest, your song resides. As you hear the Mother's song, yours will come forth in harmony with hers.

The pound of booted feet crunched over snow. Balin appeared in the distance. The man rumbled to their side, his face red from exertion.

Six armed men on our trail. I hid our tracks as best as I could, but the snow is unforgiving. They are close on our heels. We must move.

I go nei further, Balin.

I will carry you, my heart.

The result will be the same either way. Take Astrid and go. I can detain them if they stop to question me.

Balin's eyes widened at her statement. Wetness formed in the corners.

I will not leave you!

If you love me as you say, you will keep my child safe, Isla countered as she gestured toward Astrid.

Balin hesitated then grabbed hold of Astrid's mantle, pulling her upright.

The young woman jerked out of his grasp. She violently shook her head, protesting Isla's decision.

You will learn the ward. I believe in you, my ljos. You will learn it, and you will seek the young man who holds your destiny, and you will be a glorious beacon for all who await your coming.

Astrid's insides numbed at her mother's words.

Do you remember where Hallad is? Travel austr, towards the rising sun, across the Wettersea. The lake will be frozen allowing you passage into the Kolmården forest. Once you reach the forest, use the sudr rim of the Skagg Mountains to navigate by daylight and the lode-star by night.

Astrid nodded.

I know the map you taught me Mamma, but I also know where he resides through the shadowwalk.

Good. You must learn to set the ward before you seek him, or you risk his life as well. Do you understand?

You have given me everything, and I have destroyed you.

The Mother's breast will welcome me and I can put these aches to rest within the comfort of her arms, but I will always be there, calling to you, singing to you. If you listen, you will hear me.

Her mother broke into a quiet lullaby.

Sleep, sleep, little one sleep. He rustles his wings and gruffly sings...

Isla's tune trailed from a whisper then died off into nothingness, but the melody continued to thrum inside Astrid. The young women bowed her head, turned from her mother, and strode away. Balin tried to follow, but Astrid twisted around and pushed him back, gesturing for the warrior to stay by her mother's side.

Honor your mother, and respect her will.

You will stay and protect her as she has done for me!

Astrid pushed Balin's chest, sending him backwards again. He stumbled to regain his footing.

The slick sound of metal leaving scabbard sounded as Astrid jerked her sword from her side. She whirled the weapon, settling the point directly in front of Balin's nose.

You will not leave her.

Stop this, said Isla.

Astrid lunged, forcing Balin to jump out of her way. She drove at him again, until Balin released his own blade and met her attack. Their swords clanked in the air.

Astrid, desist! Our trackers will hear you!

The young woman refused to give in. She thrust again, determined this would be a fight she would win.

Enough! Astrid! Enough! He can stay with me, child, as long as you flee without pause.

Satisfied, Astrid lowered her arm and stowed her sword.

Balin reached for her mantle, pulling her near, but words failed him.

Astrid patted the warrior on his shoulder in response, but could not bear to look at him. She turned and darted headlong down the riverbank—her heart heavy with her mother's failed song.

Chapter 5

The riverbed spilled into the edge of the Wettersea. Astrid wrangled a straight branch from a nearby rowan then proceeded to use the stick to beat the ice, testing its stability. She placed her foot on the frozen bridge, the mossy rocks of the shore visible beneath the thin layer of ice. Her blood pulsed like drums in her ears.

Within moments, the clash of metal against metal clanked in the distance. Astrid stopped, leaning over, her heart surging.

Balin stands nei chance against six.

She straightened and listened. The frantic pace of combat increased, the blows quickening.

If I go back, I risk all my mother has fought to achieve.

Balin's banter echoed through the distance as he sparred with the slayers, grunting as he returned their attacks.

Astrid's mind emptied of all reasoning; she dropped her supply pack and turned back to the battle. She grabbed the hilt of her sword as her legs propelled her forward. When the cool, slick iron met her palm, her instincts took over: her worry, her logic, her indecision, gone. All that was left was silence and action.

The sun sunk over the horizon as the soft light of twilight washed over the land. Astrid scampered down the riverbed and spotted the melee in the distance. Her mother remained on the rock, behind her warrior, bent with exhaustion. Six men, all armored, made a semi-circle around the two. Balin returned their lunges and slashes, but one broke through, catching him across his leg, tearing open his trousers, and ripping his flesh.

At the sight of Balin's blood, Astrid’s pace surged. She lightened her step and ran, her feet silent as they hit the ground. She measured her breath, making it inaudible as air filled her lungs. Sliding her sword from its sheath, she circled around the attackers and slid in behind them. With one fluid movement she slashed the back of one man’s neck and caught another's sword arm, disarming him. His steel flew a hundred paces in the air, sailing over the top of her mother’s and Balin’s heads to land in the riverbed. Two more assailants swung around at the cries of their comrades while the other two remained engaged with Balin. All six warriors possessed an otherworldly quality in both their slenderness and the tone of their skin, which was pale, but without the reddish tinge of a Scandian.

Where did she come from? yelled one.

I don't know, but she has the taint of the Mother on her, like the woman.

Nei! She carries a sword. One with the touch cannot bear a weapon, observed a third.

The unarmed man pointed at the man writhing on the ground, his neck slashed and oozing blood.

She did him a good measure of harm.

She's the one our master wants. Leave her unharmed!

Unharmed? asked the first. How do you suggest we do that?

The man on the left, said Balin as he dodged and parried, he is slow with both his block and his wits. The one on the right takes ill care of his equipment, as shown by the nicks running the length of his blade.

Astrid nodded, taking the lead. She delivered a series of lightning speed blows to the slow-witted man, unarming him within a breath. Then she whacked at the second man's blade. He returned her blows; his blade slipping through her guard, running the length of her stomach. She reeled back, momentarily, but remained unharmed. In the fury of combat she had forgotten she wore armor. Balin's gift left her untouched. She lunged, and hacked at man's blade again and again until the poorly maintained weapon snapped in half.

Shut up! yelled one of the attackers, thrusting at Balin.

Balin continued, Now this one here, he's full of anger and hatred. Number two over there steps too close into my guard for his longer sword. 

He allowed the angry man to come at him, simply blocking him until the strength in the man's arms failed. Balin delivered his sword through the man's chest, sending him to the frozen ground. The last remaining soldier dropped his sword and bolted, along with the others, dragging their injured with them.

The young woman scrambled to her mother, kneeling down in front of her. Isla placed her hand on her daughter's shoulder and smiled. Astrid's blood quickened at her mother's approval, but a frown quickly pulled her mother's lips downward.

You disobeyed me, daughter.

Astrid deflated, but her mother's grip remained on her shoulder.

"Perhaps

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