Kings of Kal’brath Boxed Set: Books 1-3

Book Cover: Kings of Kal'brath Boxed Set: Books 1-3
Editions:Kindle: $ 5.99
Pages: 960
ePub: $ 5.99
Pages: 960

Over 275,000 words (960+ Pages) of Fast Paced Fantasy Romance!
When three worlds collide, magic happens.

Kings of Kal’brath takes the world as you know it, adds two parallel dimensions, and fast-forwards time a few centuries, to a few millennia. It features fun, intense fantasy romance with tons of adventure, soul-bond romance, gorgeous elves, and strong, capable women.

Readers of light fantasy romps from bygone years rejoice as these books bring those back with a far future, three-dimensional twist and exciting, unforgettable characters. Check it out:

Race Against the Dark
All her twenty short years, Ka’lei thought she was human. But when she’s kidnapped by elves, all she thought she knew ran away on the back of a giant black horse. An elf come home, she must fight for the right to love the man she’s fallen for while trying to save the world she’s stuck in. Can she protect those she loves and still hold on to the only place she ever felt sane?

Healing Wounds: Mother Book One
Mother is angry, and Elan is the only one who can hear the sentient planet that houses the three worlds. After she razes the human world, Elan fights to save what’s left of their endangered race. But the sudden soul-bond to a human woman throws everything into disarray as his adopted children go missing. Will he choose humanity over his missing children?

Twilight's Children: Mother Book Two
As the spell keeping half the world in Twilight wanes, Cyranti must help her friends to recreate it. But on her way to meet them the Architect slits her throat and leaves her to the mercy of the vampir hunting him. Rather than eat her as she fears, they make her one of them, and their leader’s son steals her heart. If she can’t get her new hunger under control, the devastation caused by the Twilight’s fading will last centuries, and the elves will forever hunt her new family.

Reviews:K.M.M.88 on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

This box set contains the first three novels in the Kings of Kal'brath series: Race Against the Dark, Healing Wounds, and Twilight's Children. These novels are all set on the same worlds, but time gets a bit wibbily wobbly, so the reader is taken on an adventure through the different worlds throughout their history. These books contain some real kickass ladies, complicated racial politics, and save the world adventures. I really enjoyed all the books, but I had to knock off a star for the many time jumps. You would get attached to a character or their story and suddenly they're gone. However, these books are an absolute must-read for fantasy fans, with enough magic, elves, vampires, and romantic intrigue to satisfy anyone. Highly recommended.

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy.

Bonnie Mitchell on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

This box set was amazing it had all three of Jennifer's books, Race against the Darkness, Healing Wounds, and Twilight's Children. All three books are fantastic. If you like magic, elves, vampires, magical creatures, other dimensions then these books are right up your alley. I loved every second of these books. I was so not wanting them to end. I love how she brings back characters into new stories so you get to see them again. To see what they have been up to what they are doing how they can help. It's just all fabulous the way she ties it all together. Trust me, you'll love this set.


Twilight’s Children: Mother Book Two

Kings of Kal'brath Book 3

Book Cover: Twilight's Children: Mother Book Two
Editions:Kindle: $ 2.99
Size: 5.00x8.00 in
Pages: 336
ePub: $ 2.99
Size: 5.00x8.00 in
Pages: 336
Paperback: $ 13.99
ISBN: 978-1537471426
Size: 5.00x8.00 in
Pages: 336

Which is Worse: Blood Magic, Vampires, or a Seemingly Sentient Evil Estate?
One of these things is intent on killing everything Morough and his friends hold dear.

Seven years ago, an evil mage destroyed the spell keeping half the world in Twilight. Now, the spell’s effects are coming undone, and the results are devastating the ecosystem of the lower realms. Representatives meet at the Divide Estate to fix the problem, but Twilight Princess Cyranti Lorinar never shows.

On her way to the estate, an attack on Cyranti leaves her dying in the grass. But when a vampir and his gorgeous son, Danatarius, appear, they change everything. Turned into a vampir, her saviors whisk her to their Fold to complete her change. However, her second chance means she can never go home.

Trapped within the Fold, Cyranti becomes the catalyst for an ancient hatred. Proven it’s possible, the colony is determined to turn elves into vampir as revenge for being hunted. If she can’t warn her father and send the vampir to help her trapped friends, the Twilight will disappear and a war between vampir and elves will devastate Kal’brath. Can she overcome her new hunger for elven blood to avoid global disaster?

Reading Order

  • Race Against the Dark
  • Healing Wounds
  • Twilight's Children

The Second Book in the Mother Duology.

The Kings of Kal'brath series is a string of stand alone novels and duologies set in the same universe where Mother, the sentient planet, cradles the races of three parallel worlds: Adradis of the elves and other magical races where the continent of Kal'brath resides, Earth of the magicless humans, and Morka of the magic-negating bashkai. Each book brings back favorite characters for more fun, romance, and gripping adventure.

These light fantasy romps are sure to be favorites you will want to read again and again.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

We should hit the gate soon, Liria murmured in Cyranti’s mind. The sun will sting. Be wary.

It will be fine, Liri, Cyranti cooed back. All will be well.

I have not seen the sun since I was born, her mount said. So long in the Twilight.

You will see it soon, my beloved, Cyranti said, patting her mount’s neck as they rode through the barely lit fields. We will both see it very soon.

Liria shuddered between Cyranti’s legs. The horse’s gait lengthened into a thundering gallop. The wind whipped through Cyranti’s hair, washing it back from her face. She was free. It was odd for her father to allow her to go anywhere without supervision, but she would be protected. Morough would be there, as would his wife and son. A part of elf history would be unearthed for all.

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Yorin will be proud of you, Princess, Liria said softly. You are doing what he is too busy to accomplish himself.

He is always proud of me, but yes, Cyranti sighed. Hope and excitement had her heart beating faster. It almost out-beat Liria’s hooves. Father… I wish he could be there. This is bigger than our realm.

It will be—Ah!

Liria’s gait faltered. She went down hard, tumbling to the earth. Cyranti was just barely able to jump from the saddle in time to miss being crushed under her horse’s weight.

Liria! She cried for her soul-mount. The horse, her best friend, twitched where she came to rest. Sharp pains seared Cyranti’s neck. Liria!

My… My Lady… Liria’s mind-voice came weak and rough. My… Lady…

Cyranti hurt everywhere. Her neck burned hotter than fire. She had rolled several feet on the ground. She struggled to get up. Her legs wouldn’t work. On her hands and knees, she crawled to Liria and stroked her mane away from her long face. Liria…

A blade stuck out from her neck. Blood flowed. Cyranti went to remove it, but that might kill her horse. It might… Liria’s breaths were shallow. She shivered.

I’m sorry… Liria murmured. So… sorry…

Liria’s breathing faltered and with one last wheeze, stopped altogether. Cyranti jolted. Her chest caught fire with soul-searing heat, and then it was gone. She was left dazed. The electric spark she’d endured when she bonded with her mount was gone. It was gone. There was nothing left.

“Liria…” She whimpered and stroked her mount's face. “Liria, no.”

With a shaking hand, Cyranti removed the offending blade from her dead mount’s neck. The tip was blackened with a rancid gel that made her nostrils burn. Even the scent of the blood didn’t dampen the stench.

“You are more agile than I had anticipated,” a male voice said from her right.

Cyranti gripped the end of the throwing blade in her fingers. With a flick of her wrist, she sent it flying toward the voice. The cloaked elf dodged it easily with a throaty laugh.

“Why?” she demanded. “WHY?”

“The dead need no answers,” he murmured.

Fear shot through her. Scrambling to stand, Cyranti stumbled a few feet. Pain seared her back and spread. It wasn’t a knife. Cyranti knew the burn of magic. It knocked her flat. She rolled over and arched her back. Agony surged through her from that spot, drawing a low cry from her.

The cloaked man stood over her then. Silver eyes glinted in the low light. His pupils were wide from the dim of the Twilight. The flash of metal caught her attention. He flicked another throwing blade and caught it. This one wasn’t coated in poison. The shine of the metal streaked from end to tip in a fluid, unbroken line.

She tried to crawl away. Her hands and feet slipped in the dewy grass. He followed her easily. Straddling her waist, he grinned down at her and pressed his booted foot into her abdomen. He twisted his foot painfully into her gut.

Cyranti struggled against him. She couldn’t breathe. Her fists were useless as they beat against his ankle and calf. He laughed at her as he stooped to get a closer look. His hands caught her wrists as she aimed punches to his face. It was like he knew her every move before she thought of making them.

“Feisty little girl,” he rumbled. “You should fight harder.”

“What do you want?” she screeched. “What?”

“I want you to be angry.” He chuckled and dug his heel into her stomach. “I want you to be terrified.”

It hurt to breathe. Her lungs couldn’t expand under the weight of his foot. Cyranti tried to scream in pain, but he put more weight on her. It shoved all the air from her lungs in a single wheezed groan.

“I can’t have you leaving here, Princess,” he murmured. “That would be unwise for me. To suffocate you as I am, or to slit your throat? I could always use your blood. Horse blood lacks a certain appeal for my use.”

Cyranti’s already bulged eyes widened. He was a blood mage? There were no blood magi. They all died or gave up the practice. She struggled harder, but he was like stone. He rode her thrashes easily. Cyranti’s heart pounded in her chest like a blacksmith’s hammer to an anvil. The flow of her blood roared in her ears, blocking out his voice.

The moment he released her wrists, heat seared her neck. A jolt of what felt like lightning zipped from the heat upward to her head and down through her shoulder. Waves of hot liquid coated her. Her eyes closed. The weight lifted. She opened her eyes, and the man was gone.

Cyranti blinked, and another face hovered before her. He hissed. His canines elongated with the sound. He placed his hand over the wound on her neck and looked around. His eyes were dark. They lit up with night shine when he looked at her.

He was a predator, not a hunter. She was his prey. He didn’t attack, though. He trembled violently and lifted his head. He yelled something she couldn’t make out. Was he saving her for something else? Was he going to keep her alive to kill her later?

He looked into Cyranti’s dazed eyes. “Remain, girl,” he murmured, his accent thick, even in the human language. “Remain with me.”

“Fangs…” she rasped. “You’re

“A vampir, yes,” he whispered. “Remain. Remain with me. Be still.”

She closed her eyes and tried to relax. Everything hurt. Everything burned. It was all starting to go numb. With every beat of her heart, she felt the heat in her neck ebb. The vampire hissed again.

“You bleed out too quickly,” he said. Looking up, he yelled again in another language. Another glance down, and his handsome face grew pained. “Try… I must try.”

“Try,” Cyranti whispered.

His brows furrowed until there were deep wrinkles between them. His fangs resembled needles as he used them to slash two deep gouges into his own wrist. Angling his hand down, he let the blood flow to his fingertips and painted it across her forehead in symbols and marks. He did the same to the naked part of her chest. When he was finished, he pressed his wrist to her lips hard until she was forced to open her mouth from pain.

When she tried to thrash her head, he dug his fingers into her neck until she squealed. Magic flared from his hand, and everywhere he painted her with his blood lit up brightly in a dark red glow.

“Drink,” he growled. “It won’t work if you do not drink.”

She barely shook her head. Her eyes were blurry with tears. She didn’t want to drink. She gagged from the taste. It filled her mouth. Cyranti tried to breathe through her nose, but he moved his wrist to block her nostrils.

“Drink!”

His eyes were wild. He focused on her so intently that she wanted to squirm. It was too painful. She couldn’t breathe. Swallowing, she gagged. The red glow burst and dulled. She was forced to swallow again, and again the magic flared.

“Good,” he murmured. “Drink. It will work. It has to work.”

She swallowed again. The blood was foul. It coated her tongue thickly. Her stomach rolled. Bloody bile rose in her throat, but was washed back down with another mouthful of the vampire’s blood.

He pulled his hand away from her mouth. The slashes to his wrist closed before Cyranti's eyes. The blood that coated his hand absorbed back into his skin. He pressed both hands to her chest, and the magic warmed her to the core. The markings on her flared to life again, brighter than they had been before.

Another deep shadow crossed over them.

“Father,” the other said. “She is an elf, what are you doing?”

“Trying to keep her alive,” the vampire said. “Get into place.”

“This is foolish,” the other said, and knelt at Cyranti’s head. She looked up, and the most beautiful set of clear gray eyes looked into hers. “So foolish,” he whispered.

He placed his hands on either side of her head. They were warm and gentle. The magic flared brighter than before, lighting up the area in a pool of crimson. Pain flared through her. It started at her stomach and coiled outward to her limbs. The painted bloody markings burned, searing into her skin.

“How is she awake?” the son asked in awe. “She’s lost so much.”

“Her neck has healed,” the father murmured. “Adrenaline fuels her, Danatarius. Be mindful not to soak up what has spilled. She will need it back.”

“Only if it works,” Danatarius whispered. His voice was like a prayer. “Only if it works.”

The burning worsened. Her back arched into the elder’s hands. She reached out, her fingers grasped the elder’s robes at his side in an iron grip. A chain dug into her fingers. He pressed her back down and gave her a gentle look.

“It will pain you, Miss, but you mustn’t fight,” he said. “If this works, it will heal you.”

Heal? She cooked. Her muscles contracted violently. Her body tried to curl in on itself, but the vampire held her down. Her hands drew back to her core. The chain, whatever it was, fell from her fingertips as her hands flexed involuntarily. She let out a long wail.

“I cannot bear it, father,” Danatarius said, his tone pleading. He stroked his thumbs along her temples. “She must sleep!”

“No, my son,” the elder hissed. “If she sleeps, we may lose her.”

“Look!” Danatarius nodded to the area beside him. “It recedes… Her blood recedes!” Wonder tinged his voice. His eyes widened. His lips parted, and he licked the lower. “It works.”

“Do not get excited, Danatarius,” the elder murmured. “It may take days for her to complete the change, if it works at all.”

Cyranti whimpered and Danatarius stroked her cheeks. “Hush, sweet thing, all will be well.”

“Let us get her to the Fold,” the father murmured. He patted Cyranti’s chest and ran his hand down the length of her arm. “She must be tended. Tonight will be the worst.”

“I will tend her,” Danatarius offered. “You have duties. I have none for the day.”

“Get her back, then,” the father agreed. He stood and brushed the grass from his leather pants around his knees and from the long tails of his robes. “I will meet you at the Fold.”

Danatarius carefully lifted Cyranti into his arms and stood. He cradled her as if she were a beloved child. When he had her nestled against his chest, he turned and the world blurred. Wind whipped her hair back. It was hard to breathe until she turned her face into his chest. He ran so fast that it felt like her skin was peeling off. They ran so fast for so long that she wondered if they would ever stop. Then, she worried they would stop.

She feared that when he stopped, she’d catapult from his arms. However, he slowed and came to a halt as gently as he had began. She barely jarred from his movements. When she looked away from his chest, her jaw dropped.

“Where are we?” Her voice didn’t sound like her own. It was hoarse and deep. Cyranti licked her cracked lips. Her tongue was so dry.

“This is the Fold,” Danatarius said. “This is our home, your home.”

It was unlike anything Cyranti had ever seen before. There were no spires or towers. The place had an earthy look to it. There were seven stories that she could count. It sprawled to either side for what seemed like leagues. How had she never come across this in her travels?

“My homeNO! I must get back to my father,” she croaked. “He will worry!”

“Calm yourself,” he murmured as he carried her toward the manse. “You are in no shape for such outbursts.”

Tears burned her eyes and she fought to blink them away. “I can’t stay here. I have to go! Let me go!”

She was too weak. She wanted to kick and scream and punch her way out of his arms, but her limbs wouldn’t obey her. He clutched her tighter against his chest as he stood before the doors. They opened without his aid and once he passed through, closed the same way.

He walked her through endless hallways. Everyone Cyranti saw all had the look of humans, but different. Subtly different. She had only seen humans in pictures or when she had visited the Sun King in the Summerlands and viewed through his scrying bowl. But here, there was something different about them. Their eyes all shone with night shine when the light hit them just right. They were calmer, more collected. Each watched her intently, their lips parting as she passed.

Predators. They were all predators. Every one of them reminded her of a bird perched atop a high limb to watch her in her weakened state. Cyranti shrank further against Danatarius’ chest.

He shushed her with a gentle word before continuing, “No harm will come to you here. If you survive, you will be one of us.”

They entered a room, and the door shut behind them. Danatarius’ scent wrapped more heavily around her. She tried to focus, but things were blurring.

“We’re in your room,” she mumbled. “Why?”

“Yes, this is my room. One will be prepared for you if you survive the transition. Until then, you will reside with me,” he said. With care, he placed her on his bed and smoothed a hand over her hair. “What is your name?”

“Cyranti,” she whispered. “Cyranti Lorinar, House Mer’di, Princess of the Twilight.”

“Mother’s bones,” he breathed, “No… no, no, no…”

“I must get home,” Cyranti stressed. “I must get back to my father.”

Danatarius gave her a sorrowful look and sat on the edge of the bed. His hands folded in his lap, but they twitched.

“You are in a state of calm,” he said as he stared down at his fidgeting hands. “Soon, you will begin the transition. It will be… painful. So very painful. The burning will return, far worse than you had felt it during the spell. Your normal canines will be pushed out in favor of fangs that can recede into your jaw and sharpen to a needle’s point at your whim. Your eyes will itch and burn for days as they acclimate further into the night vision. The clothes you are in will feel rough and irritate you. Everything will be agony for days.”

“I’m dying,” she said, closing her eyes.

His hand rested on her stomach. “I hope not. Soon, you will be Vampir. We are not dead things, Princess. We are alive.”

“You cannot be alive,” she hissed. “You are lying!”

Danatarius frowned and scooted closer. He snatched up her hand and placed it over his heart and narrowed his eyes on her. “It beats, does it not? I am warm, am I not? I eat. I breathe. I love. I hate. I live.”

His heart thumped against her palm. His skin radiated warmth from under his soft shirt. With every word, his heart sped up a step. He was agitated. She made him agitated.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

He squeezed her hand and patted it. “Do not be sorry. Just know that if you live through the transition, you will not be undead. You will be alive. You will still be Cyranti, just… physically changed.”

“Why did your father do this?” she asked. Her throat felt like it was full of sand, her mouth with cotton. “How did you find me?”

Danatarius dropped her hand and went to the table in the corner of the room. He spoke as he poured a goblet of water. “We have been hunting the Architect for eras. Our arrival was no accident. You cost us time, but now we have a lead and that is not something we have had in a very long time. My father, Kordan, is our King… of sorts.”

“Of sorts?” she asked as Danatarius helped her sit up to drink.

“He is our leader for all he is worth. He is the Eldest Elder, the oldest of our kind, the first turned.” As she finished the water, he set the goblet aside and helped Cyranti to lie back down. “I am one of the lucky few who was born this way.”

Cyranti closed her eyes again. Her lids were weighted down, or so it felt. She still couldn’t move her limbs. Breathing was easier, but it was still painful. Her father’s face flashed before her mind. He would be devastated if she didn’t go home. Morough and Ka’lei would be worried when she didn’t arrive at the estate as expected.

“Few?” she asked. It was hard to think, let alone speak. With all her mental strength, she tried to focus on the conversation.

“It is hard for us to produce children,” he said, “perhaps harder than it is for elves.”

Cyranti shivered and in the next moment she was covered with a warm blanket. Danatarius tucked it around her and stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers.

“Sleep, Cyranti,” he murmured. “Sleep, now. The transition will wake you soon enough.”

“I’m afraid,” she whimpered. Her teeth chattered.

The bed dipped and released as he stood. It dipped on the other side and moved as he crawled across the bed. Soon, the blankets were lifted and his warm body was pressed to her side. The blanket came down again and Danatarius wrapped her up against him.

“It will be frightening,” he said against her ear. “It will be excruciating if you make it that far, but know that you will not be alone. I will not leave you to fight this battle alone.”

CHAPTER TWO

 “Any sign of her, Sol’kyr?” Morough asked.

“Not a sign, brother,” Sol’kyr sighed. “Velithor continues the search.”

Morough hissed and closed his eyes. It had been hours since Cyranti was to arrive. Her father would be furious, both at Morough and at himself if the Princess went missing.

“I told him not to send her alone,” Morough grumbled. “She has never traveled alone before.”

“Calm down,” Sol soothed. “She might have just gotten lost. You three go inside and the rest of us will search for her.”

When Morough opened his eyes again, Lin’ra stood next to Sol’kyr and she nodded. “Veli is the best scout in all four realms combined. Sol and I will take another route. We will all meet you inside with any findings.”

Morough sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Agreed. Meet here by moonrise unless you find her sooner.”

Sol squeezed Morough’s shoulder with brotherly affection and turned to mount Kormir. Lin’ra gave him a sympathetic smile. She knew all too well how protective Morough was of women, let alone those so far younger than he.

When they were off, Morough turned back to his wife and son. Ka’lei gave him a lopsided grin and held out her hand for him.

“C’mon, Momo,” she said in that beautiful drawl of hers, “we’ve got stuff to do, and you need to get your mind off that poor girl before you worry yourself into an ulcer or worse.”

Morough chuckled and took her hand, pulling her near. He dotted a kiss to the tip of her nose. “Elves do not get ulcers, as I keep reminding you.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Doesn’t mean that worrying is good for elves. It’s bad, and it makes you feel bad, so quit it.”

Laughing, Morough pulled her into a tight hug and nuzzled his face into her soft auburn hair. “I shall do my best, my one.”

She giggled and tucked up against him. “You’d better,” she said. “Any word on Sam?”

“Sam should be here shortly,” Morough murmured against her ear. “At least he is being escorted and in daylight. I feel safer for him.”

“He comes, father,” Tovran said. He pointed out past the trees. “He will be here momentarily.”

Morough looked out past the dense trees. They were thick, but Morough could see the glitter of movement from between a few of the trunks. Something in his chest eased and the tension in his shoulders fell lax. A moment later, and the trees parted for Sam. Elan was with him, as was Rynhon. They stopped a few feet short of Morough and his family.

“Glad to see you made it,” Morough said as he inclined his head in greeting. “We await another.”

“Cyranti hasn’t arrived yet?” Elan frowned.

Morough shook his head. “No, my brothers search for her.”

Rynhon nudged his mount closer. “Shall I join in the search?”

Morough took in a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he was centered, he opened them again and nodded. “I would appreciate it, Rynhon. Thank you.”

Elan stared off into the distance. His eyes were unseeing and flitted from one point to the next. He shuddered. “Mother says she is lost to us. Cyranti and her mount rode one moment, and then were gone the next. She tasted blood, and then it was gone.”

“Can she show me where she was last sighted?” Rynhon asked.

Elan nodded and held out his hand. Rynhon moved into it so Elan’s fingertips brushed across his temple. A moment later, he urged his horse forward and they were off like a lightning strike. The trees parted for him, and closed back around to conceal his departure.

Sam and Elan dismounted. Their horses milled around with their muzzles in the grass as the two elves wandered over. Morough pulled them both into hugs, dotting a kiss to the top of Sam’s head.

“It is good to see you both,” Morough said. “I am glad you could come, Elan.”

Elan nodded, wrapping his arm around his son’s shoulders. “While I trust Sam to do this on his own, I’m still leery of parting from him for such things. This place has left a bad taste even in my mouth.”

“Agreed,” Morough murmured.

“It’s not that bad,” Sam said. “Really. The scary thing about this place was Linolde, not the estate.”

“And she can harm no one in her current state,” Elan assured. “My father and I made certain of that.”

“Yeah, but crazy lady is still there,” Ka’lei pointed out. “We need to see if we can make that permanent so no one else can screw it up like Linolde did.” She grinned and folded her arms across her chest. “I wonder how she’s doing after seven years in the dark…”

“Be prepared for stink,” Sam said, wrinkling his nose. “I can only imagine the smell.”

“Indeed,” Morough grinned at him, “however, she would have stopped excreting after the first few spans, I’d imagine, so the smell may have dissipated.”

“Unless she has open sores,” Ka’lei said with a moue of disgust.

“That may not factor in,” Elan said. “The spell seems to preserve its components.”

Ka’lei nodded and looked back to the estate. The spell that turned it visibly into ruins had been lifted so that the estate was visible from the outside in its full glory. “We should go in. The boys and Lin’ra know to come in when they find Cyranti.”

Morough wrinkled his nose. He didn’t enjoy the thought of going inside, but it was a necessary thing. The doors were unlocked as he depressed the latch and pushed it open. Inside was immaculate. The building was timeless with the magic that surrounded it still. Light stones still glowed. Fire stones in the hearth still cast a comfortable warmth into the room. Not a single mote of dust marred the polished marble, fabric, or teak floors.

He sighed and took a look at his surroundings. Everything needed to be searched, but that was for another time. Now, they had a specific mission, and that was to make the Twilight a permanence.

“I wanna show you guys something,” Sam said at Morough’s elbow. “It’s this way.”

He nudged Morough with a hand at his back, then slipped past him to lead the way. They headed through the maze of carpeted halls to a simple study with an apothecary chest. When they stopped at a bare patch of wall, he pointed to the wooden paneling.

“It’s there,” Sam said. “A mage needs to touch it to make it into a door.”

Ka’lei perked a brow, but went over to touch the wall where Sam indicated. The moment her finger contacted the wood, the paneling warped and expanded to become a framed door. Morough blinked and frowned. Why would anyone need such a chamber?

Sam headed inside, and Morough followed closely after.

“This is the Well of Souls,” Sam said as he went to a bowl of water. He then pointed to the opposite side of the room. “Over there is a secret passage to a bunch of spell things that whoever used to live here collected. It’s where I found the vaciroth heart for Linolde’s love spell for dad.”

Ka’lei grinned and raced for the secret room. She was ever the curious woman. Such exploration made her absolutely giddy, and she giggled as she figured out the locking mechanism and raced down the steps that appeared.

Morough and Elan headed for the Well of Souls. Sam touched the water with the pad of his finger and looked into the bowl. His eyes were wide and unblinking.

“Grampa?” he asked.

The water swirled and turned black as pitch.

“No, child,” a man’s voice came, his tone mournful. “No, child, he rests with Mother now. He is at peace and happy.”

Sam blinked rapidly and frowned. His shoulders drooped. Elan rubbed his back and pulled him into a tight hug.

“Oh, Sam,” he breathed. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s” Sam let out a shaky sigh. “It’s okay. If he’s happy, I don’t need to take him away from that.”

“You are a good grandson,” Morough said. “I am sure Kennan’s soul swells with pride of you.”

“Thanks,” Sam said, giving him a watery smile.

“Now, the question is, who is in the well?” Elan asked, peering into the black water.

“My name is Kirith Kortim,” the disembodied voice spoke. “Sam was unfortunate enough to see me in my final moments and watched me die at Linolde’s hands.”

“You are my ancestor, then,” Morough said. He crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes. “House Cul’na.”

“That is correct,” he replied. “I am your great-great-grandfather. I was incarcerated in the bowels of this estate before my son was old enough to speak. My wife died in the Dividing War, as I recently learned.”

“How am I not a Kortim, then?” Morough asked.

“The second generation adopted a new dialect, and thus many changed their names to fit with their growing language,” he explained. “It was a way of making certain that blood magic was completely abolished. If the younger generations could not find the books, that was a blessing. If they could not read the books if they found them, that was even better.”

“Then how did Linolde read them?” Sam asked. “It took her a while to figure them out, but she was able to read the book that gave her the love spell she used against dad.”

“The old language could have still been passed down, Sam,” Elan pointed out. “Some of the families did not enjoy the thought of losing their heritage, though most did through forgetfulness, anyway.”

Sam shuddered. In truth, Morough wanted to, as well. Moving back, he leaned against the wall. There was much to process. So much. Closing his eyes, he sighed. “Is there a way to make the spell permanent to keep the Twilight from rising to the sun again?”

“I do not know,” Kirith murmured. “I was an unwilling participant. I was one who fought against the Divide. The Architect captured me and created the Twilight to end the war. He is the only one I know of who could complete the spell to make it permanent. He was the creator of blood magic, and as far as I am aware, he is the only true master of it.”

“What’s his name?” Ka’lei asked from the stairwell. “The Architect must have a name. I read in some books in the human world that names have power, and can be used against someone in magic spells. If elves got into human folklore and stuff, maybe that’s true, too.”

Kirith went quiet. After a long moment, he sighed. “Arlindal, though I know not his birth name. That name has been lost to the ages. However, I believe you may encounter him soon.”

“What makes you say this?” Morough asked. He opened his eyes to study the bowl of water.

“The disruption of the spell, I believe, was his entire design,” Kirith explained. “I cannot be certain, but he may wish to keep you from making things permanent.”

“Then he knows,” Morough sighed.

“I do not know,” Kirith stressed. “I do not know his mind. I can only make educated guesses. However, he built this estate. He is the one who caused the Twilight. Proper reasoning would state that he would know all that transpires within these walls.”

“Makes sense,” Ka’lei said as she leaned against Morough. He wrapped an arm about her. “Is there a way we can keep Mr. Architect out while we look for stuff?”

“I do not know,” Kirith murmured again. “Your magic differs from what I know so greatly, and I do not know the books in this library.”

“Is there anything you do know?” Sam asked.

“I know that you are all wasting valuable time,” Kirith said. “Get to the library and see what you can find.”

“I will work on keeping out unwanted persons,” Tovran said from the doorway. “Mother can look through the books.”

“That’s my little bookworm,” Ka’lei teased. “Right. Get on it, Tovran. I’ll snag Elan to help me with the books.”

Morough nodded. “I will go down to check on Linolde.”

Sam looked from one elf to the next and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “The library would be boring. I can’t help Tovran, so I guess I’ll go with Morough, if that’s okay.”

“You are perfectly welcome to come with me, as always, Sam,” Morough said. “Lead the way to the library, and then we shall see what there is to see with Linolde.”

Sam sighed and nodded. He led the group through the halls to the library, and when Elan and Ka’lei began looking through books, he backtracked to take another route. On a seemingly plain bit of decorated wall, Sam opened a door that masterfully hid a tunnel.

“The catacombs are creepy,” he muttered. “Linolde made me look through crypts. I don’t ever want to see another dead person’s feet again.”

Morough chuckled and squeezed Sam’s shoulder. “I shall not make you search the crypts, then. Let us head down and see how Linolde is doing.”

Sam relaxed at the squeeze and nodded. He led the way down through the near endless stairwell. When it emptied out into the vaults chamber the boy shuddered. Morough pressed against his back and hugged him.

“I’m with you,” Morough murmured next to his ear. “It’s all right.”

“It smells worse than I remember,” Sam whispered with another shiver.

“You were human when you were here last,” Morough explained. He squeezed the young man again. “Your senses have heightened with Mother’s gift.”

“Yeah, I just wish I could turn my nose off like a light stone.”

Morough chuckled and gave Sam another squeeze. “Let us get this over with for now, and we will go get some fresh air.”

Sam turned in Morough’s arms and pressed his face into his chest. He took in a deep lungful of air and shuddered one last time before he broke away. Without a word, he turned and headed through the central passage and unerringly found the row that led to the sarcophagus entrance.

“Someone put the lid back together,” Sam breathed.

Morough squeezed the boy again. “That was probably your father. No dark thoughts. They serve no purpose here. Not yet.”

Sam nodded and with Morough’s help, got the lid hefted to the floor. The stairs lit up under the glow of the light stones that lined the walls. Morough got up and in first, then helped Sam in. The fright in the young man’s eyes was saddening.

“You do not have to go with me, Sam,” Morough reminded him. “I am not forcing you to come.”

Sam’s eyes went wild a moment, and then turned to crystalline blue stone. “I gotta see for myself that the bitch is still there. I gotta know she won’t hurt dad again.”

“You are a brave man, Sam,” Morough said. Reaching out, he took Sam’s hand and started down the stairs. “She will never see the light of day again. We will make certain of it.”

The stairs went on for so long that Morough wondered how close to the Highdark they were. When they finally made the landing, he paused and took in the sight. Sam pressed tight against his back and shook.

Before them, Linolde laid in the center of the bloody ring. The blood had long since turned almost black. Her head lolled to the side to look at him. She grinned. Her cheeks were sunken in. All of the fat had melted away long ago. She resembled a skeleton with the skin stretched too tight over her. Muscle tone was a thing of the past. She was so emaciated that her toes no longer pointed to the sky, but hung limply toward the stone floor.

“So long since I had a visitor,” she rasped. Yellowed eyes skated over Morough and closed. Her dry tongue flicked out to lick across cracked lips. “Come to save me, my King?”

Morough let out a humorless chuckle. “Hardly.” Sam peeked around his shoulder from the bare gap between him and the wall. Morough stepped aside so that Sam could stand beside him. “We have come to make sure no one has lifted your sentence.”

“You’ve come,” she snapped. “You have seen. Now leave.”

Sam snorted and leaned against the wall. “Are you ever not a bitch?”

Linolde let out a loud, harsh laugh that crackled and wheezed. “Are you ever not a petulant child?”

“Point taken,” Sam replied. “I think we can go now. You, uh, head up. I want to talk to Linolde for a moment.”

“Don’t you dare!” Linolde growled. “Take the child with you.”

Morough nodded to Sam and glared at Linolde. “I will be waiting for you at the sarcophagus, Sam.”

With that, he squeezed Sam’s shoulder and ascended the stairs. When he was out of sight, he heard Sam’s low voice.

“I figured you’d be insane by now,” he murmured. “Then again, I guess you were insane from the get-go. Mother tells me even if you do one day die, your soul will never be welcomed to her.”

Linolde barked a laugh that sounded painful. “You say these things as if I care! Mother never cared for me. She gave my love to a human.”

“Yeah, and now we’re all elves,” Sam retorted. “She cared for you. She loved you. She hoped you would stop being dumb, but

“Silence,” she hissed.

Morough sighed and ascended the stairs. He didn’t need to hear more. He did not want to. When he reached the top, he climbed out of the sarcophagus and stretched. The stairwell had made him feel cramped. The catacombs were oppressive as well, but not quite as much.

He peered out into the velvety blackness of the catacombs. He didn’t bother with a light orb. There was nothing to see. Resting against the wall, Morough closed his eyes. The sound of moving stone got his attention.

Clapping his hands, a ball of light appeared above his head. “Sam?” The lid to the sarcophagus slid across the base. “SAM!”

He rushed over and tried to push the lid back. It resisted and continued on its course. With a resounding boom, it shut. A hiss sounded as it sealed. Morough’s heart thundered in his chest. He pried at the lid with all his strength. It wouldn’t budge.

Looking around, he sought something, anything to break the lid, but there was nothing. He reached to his side and drew out his dagger. With deceptively steady hands, he tried to work the blade into the seal. It slid inside a finger’s width. The lid slammed down, and the blade shattered. It shattered.

Morough looked at the ruined blade as if it were a broken toy. He turned it around in his hand and hammered at the lid with enough bone-jarring force to crush the jewel that adorned it, but the sarcophagus didn’t even chip.

“SAM!” he screamed. “Sam!”

“Morough?” Sam’s voice was barely there, like a dream. “Morough! Lemme out!”

“I will get help, Sam,” Morough yelled near the lid. “Do not panic. I will get help!”

“Get me out!” Sam cried. “Please, get me out!”

“The lid closed on its own, Sam. I cannot move it. I will come back with help. Rest easy. I will get you out as soon as I am able.”

“Okay. Quit talking and go! It’s creepy down here without light! The light stones all went out when the lid shut!”

“Your father taught you the light wisp spell, correct?”

“Oh, yeah!” Sam crowed. “Okay, it’s on. I’m okay for now. Go get dad and get me out, please!”

Morough rested his head on the stone lid and closed his eyes. His heart pounded so hard within him that he grew dizzy. Fighting to keep control of his breathing, he focused on trying to calm down. Sam needed him. A child needed him. His friend’s son needed him.

With that last thought, he gathered his strength and righted himself. The ball of light preceded him as he ran through the catacombs and up the next winding set of stairs. Each step felt like slow motion as he raced through the halls. When he reached the library, he stopped and rubbed his face to calm himself.

“Elan…” he murmured. “I need your help.”

Elan turned around, as did Ka’lei. Both gasped and stared.

“Morough, you are pale as milk,” Elan fussed.

“Sam is trapped in Linolde’s chamber,” Morough began. “He wanted a moment alone to speak with her, so I headed upstairs. The moment I was out, the lid closed. I cannot remove it.”

“Calm, my friend,” Elan said. His face was drawn, a frown creased his mouth. “Let’s go to him.”

Ka’lei put the book down that she was reading and headed for the door behind Elan. “No way in hell you boys are leaving me behind. This place is creepy.”

“Agreed,” Morough said. “If this place will trap a child, I would further lose my mind if you were trapped as well.”

Once the two were at his side, Morough led them through the estate to the sarcophagus. Elan frowned deeply.

“It was near shattered when I last saw the lid,” he muttered.

“Sam commented on that,” Morough groaned. “I thought you had repaired it.”

“No, not I,” Elan said.

“Dad?” Sam’s voice came from under the lid, muffled and barely audible. “Dad!”

“I am here, Sam,” Elan shouted. “Stay calm, my son. Back away from the entrance.”

Elan’s hands glowed a vibrant gold. Morough suddenly felt helpless. Being magically defunct meant he was less than useless at that moment. He watched from the entrance of the alcove as Elan surrounded the lid with his magic and tried to force it off.

No matter how Elan strained himself, the lid would not budge. Sweat beaded on the Sun King’s brow and upper lip. His muscles strained with tension, rather than physical exhaustion. His hands trembled.

Ka’lei helped from the other side. Her soft blue magic swirled with Elan’s bright gold to create a vision of a cloudless sunrise. Both of them worked tirelessly for a few moments, but neither could move the lid.

“There has to be a spell on it,” Morough murmured. “Do not exhaust yourselves. Ka’lei, see if you can find the threads of magic that keep the stone sealed.”

They both ceased. Ka’lei went to the lid, her hand still aglow. Feeling around the lid, she closed her eyes and worked. A frown creased her brow and turned her lips down at the corners. Morough shifted his stance against the wall. The last time she had to do such a thing, she yanked his father’s soul into her own body. Over a thousand years had passed since that day. He had to believe in her progress now.

Elan stood to the side and watched Ka’lei work. His hands clenched into fists at his side. His jaw was set, teeth clenched so hard Morough wondered how they did not break.

“I can feel something,” Ka’lei sighed. “It’s resisting me hardcore. There’s something about it that my magic isn’t able to hold onto it. It’s like trying to grab a greased pig with a rocket strapped to its back. It’s faster than I am and slippery.”

Elan trembled until Morough gripped his shoulder. “We will find a way to get him out, Elan. We will find a way.”

CHAPTER THREE

Pain woke Cyranti from a restless sleep. It started as a dull throb in her face and stomach. Her eyes opened. Everything was blurred. She closed her eyes again and groaned. Arms tightened around her and she stiffened. She couldn’t remember where she was. Who was holding her?

“Shh,” a familiar voice shushed her, “I am here, Cyranti.”

The pain radiated from her face down through her body. It built in her belly and flared. She let out a low whine. She squirmed, but ceased that immediately. Every move she made shot fire through her muscles. It crept up on her. Every breath brought pain. Every twitch of her fingers burned.

The man hugged her again. Danatarius. His name was Danatarius. He rubbed her arm. Her traveling leathers burned her skin. Everywhere he touched sizzled. The leather rubbed against her side, making her scream. Her back arched. Her hands came up and clawed at the bodice.

Her frantic clawing was stopped with hands on her wrists. She fought to free them. Screeching, Cyranti writhed on the bed. Danatarius straddled her waist. He pinned her down, shoving her hands to either side of her head.

Where the elder had painted her skin pulsed with searing heat. Every pulse sent a wave of torment through her. She screamed so hard that she tasted blood. It was everywhere. All around her. Flecks coated her tongue. She smelled it in the air.

Cyranti’s back arched off the bed. Her legs kicked. She bucked, but Danatarius rode her easily. He cooed soft words of encouragement, remorse and apologies to her.

Her mouth ached. Pain shot through her upper jaw. It radiated up into her sinuses and behind her eyes. Stars shot across her vision, painting the backs of her eyelids with white.

The pain in her jaw worsened. Her teeth ached. She opened her mouth for another scream. Her jaw locked. Her canines throbbed. The pressure built until her entire head felt like an open wound.

When she thought her face would explode, two hard objects fell into her mouth. Gagging, her jaw unlocked and she spat them out. Blood trickled into her throat. She frantically licked her teeth. Her canines were gone. There were gaping holes where they used to be.

Panic welled in her chest, worse than before. Danatarius held her wrists and torso down with an iron grip. No matter how hard she bucked or twisted, she couldn’t dislodge him.

Danatarius continued to murmur soft words to her. She didn’t want soft words. She wanted the pain to end. Every bloody scream that left her begged for it. Death. She wanted to die. The dead couldn’t feel pain.

The throbbing turned to piercing agony. She licked her teeth again, and cut her tongue on sharp needles.

“Your fangs are coming in,” Danatarius murmured. “A little longer. Just a little longer…”

The pain in her gut flared brighter. It was as if someone stabbed her over and over again. She curled her body. Her knees connected hard with Danatarius’ back. He groaned and leaned forward. His weight pressed Cyranti’s wrists further into the mattress.

Cyranti’s face slowly stopped throbbing. Her teeth dulled from their sharp points. The ache ceased. Now it was just her body on fire. With her head no longer feeling raw and bursting, the rest of the pain was almost bearable.

Tears streamed down the sides of her face. Her breath hitched with sobs. Her body shuddered and trembled. Danatarius released her hands and moved to the side. He gathered her up against his chest and rocked with her. He smoothed a hand over her hair.

“It’s almost over,” he whispered against her forehead. “You’ve done well.”

“I want my father,” she wailed.

“Shh, I know,” Danatarius murmured. “He cannot help you now, though. The pain will soon fade.”

Cyranti didn’t believe him. She swallowed the blood that lined her mouth. Her throat felt like glass shards were stuck in it. Pain coursed through her body in waves. Danatarius held her tighter.

The pressure started to comfort. The gentle rocking had her closing her eyes. He pressed a kiss into her hair. He rubbed her back. Her traveling leathers no longer felt as abrasive. Her bodice no longer constricted her breathing. Her gasping sobs sent fewer and fewer waves of irritating tingles through her skin.

Danatarius stroked the hair back from her face and peered down at her. He smiled. There were tears in his eyes. Relief shined in them like stars. Tension lines slowly eased in his handsome face. Color came back to his skin, lending a golden glow where he had gone pale. How could he care so deeply for someone he had only known a few hours?

“You survived,” he whispered. “You survived.”

Cyranti’s stomach growled and she whimpered, “I’m hungry.”

“I know,” he replied. “Give your body a few more moments to adjust, and we will get you something to eat. Right now, you’re still too volatile and anything you eat might come back up.”

She shuddered and nodded. Vomiting did not sound like a good idea. Not with how raw her throat felt. Lifting a hand, she rubbed her neck.

“That will heal soon,” Danatarius said as he tapped her rubbing hand. “Give it a few moments. You screamed so hard that blood vessels in your throat ruptured.”

“It feels like I swallowed glass and sand,” she croaked. Her voice was hoarse and raw. “So thirsty.”

“We will quench your thirst in a moment,” he said. “We should go over a few things while you heal.”

She looked up at him with a frown. The tone of his voice made her nervous. “What things?”

“You can never go into sunlight,” he began. “It will burn you to death.”

Cyranti frowned and sighed. “That’s not so different than what I am used to.”

“I can imagine.”

“What about… blood?” she asked. “II don’t

“Shh,” Danatarius shushed. “It is necessary, but not all the time. It sustains us and fuels our magic. We eat normal food as well, drink what we like. Blood, however, you will crave soon enough, and it will taste sweeter than the finest elven wine.”

“Everything else?” She searched his face for answers, but all she saw was relief and compassion.

Danatarius chuckled and stroked her face. “Everything else you can learn as you go. If anyone treats you badly, you tell me.”

“How will I find you?” she asked.

“You know my scent,” he said and lightly tapped her nose. “You will be able to find me no matter where I am in this manor. It may take some practice, but your senses are so heightened now, that you are

“A predator,” she whimpered.

“Yes,” he agreed, “that is one of the many things that we are.”

“I want to go home,” she whispered. “When can I go home?”

“Try not to think about that now, Cyranti,” he soothed. “How are you feeling? …Other than hungry and thirsty.”

“The pain is going away. I just feel… weak,” she admitted. “And tired.”

“Ah, yes. Both are to be expected.” Danatarius shifted her on his lap and sat up. He crawled across the bed with her and easily moved off the edge to his feet. “I think it might be good for you to walk some of the weakness off. We can walk to the dining room so you can fill your belly.”

With care, he set her on her feet and steadied her as she teetered. When she was stable on her own legs, he kept a protective arm about her waist and led her to the door.

“Our people will look at you strangely,” he said. “Do not allow it to bother you. You… are the first elf in existence to ever turn into one of us. The others never survived the change.”

“You did this to other elves?” Cyranti glared at him, and he shrank back from her.

“I did not personally, no. However, if we find someone dying, and that is the only way to help them, we try,” he explained. “As humans are now endangered on earth, turning them has become forbidden unless they are dying and there is no other course. It surprised me greatly when I saw Kordan turning you. No one has tried to turn an elf in thousands of years.”

“I have to get to the Summerlands,” she said as they headed down the halls. “My friends are in danger. The man who killed my…” she paused.

Liria was dead. Her best friend was dead. Danatarius stopped. Her distress must have shown because he wrapped her up against his chest.

“The man who attacked me,” she went on when she was able to speak again, “I have a feeling he will try to hurt my friends.”

He hugged her warmly and urged her to keep walking. Again, his arm wrapped protectively about her waist. “Kordan follows him. He will do all he can to protect your friends, so long as he can stay out of the sun’s light.”

“You mentioned the Architect,” she murmured. “Elan, the Sun King, was able to help right a spell that was set by the Architect. They go to see if they can make it permanent so that the Twilight never fades again. It was powerful blood magic.”

Danatarius hissed and held her closer to him as they walked. “So that is why the moon graced us. Several of our people were severely injured in that time.”

“Just be glad the Sun King and his children were so quick to get it righted before the sun rose,” she pointed out. “Now, I fear that the Architect may harm them. Both the Sun King and the Black King are there with their sons and the Black Queen. I was to be there, as well.”

“You will go nowhere near the light,” he growled. “Nowhere near. You are a newborn.”

She let out a bitter, pained laugh. “No, I’m a prisoner.”

“I keep you for your safety!”

“You and your father turned me without my permission!” she screamed. “I did not want this!”

“You would rather have died?” he asked, his voice low, eyes narrowed.

“Than be unable to ever see my father or friends again? To never see the light again? To never see my soul-mount again?” her voice cracked with the last. “YES! I would rather have died than become this. To be forced into this.”

“Ungrateful bitch,” a woman snorted. “Dana, surely you know how to choose your children better.”

“Quiet, Zita,” Danatarius warned. “You will be civil, and you will apologize.”

Cyranti glared at the woman. “I am not his child!”

“No, you are not,” Danatarius confirmed. “You are Kordan’s child.”

No! I am not!” she yelled, beating his chest with every word. He wouldn’t let her go. “I am Yorin Lorinar’s child, Princess of the Twilight!”

“Ha! Not anymore, you are not.” Zita laughed. “Listen to your brother, girl. Here, you are nothing but a child, a newborn. You will learn your place.”

“That is enough, Zita,” Danatarius barked. “Apologize. Now.”

“Hardly,” Zita spat, rolling her eyes. “She is spoiled. I will not tolerate her hissy fits. Nor should you.”

“What I will not tolerate, Zita, is one of my own children verbally abusing my new sister,” he growled.

Cyranti looked up at him then. The color of Danatarius’ eyes had gone from clear gray to a violent red. Zita shrank back and bowed her head. Her shoulders curled inward.

“You have my apologies, Miss,” she murmured.

“I am Cyranti,” she replied, her voice wavering. “You apology… is accepted.”

Danatarius hugged her to him in a gentle squeeze. “Thank you for upholding my wishes, Zita. Cyranti will need friends here beside Kordan and I. I wish you to be one of them—not because I ask you to, but because I know you are kinder than you have shown yourself to be this day.”

Zita’s shoulders sagged more and she nodded. “Of course.”

Cyranti wrinkled her nose. “She does not have to if she does not wish to. I don’t enjoy having people forced upon me, either.”

Zita looked up and gave her a devilish grin. Her eyes flickered to Danatarius and back. “We will see what can become of the two of us.”

“She has undergone the worst of the change,” Danatarius informed her. “She may still go through residual changes.”

“Of course. It took me a fortnight to fully complete my change,” Zita said, straightening her posture again to its regal state. “However, an elf is an unknown… an anomaly. We shall see just how quickly she takes to the Fold.”

“At this moment, I would like to see just how quickly my belly can be filled,” Cyranti said nervously. “My throat and mouth feel full of sand and wool.”

Danatarius chuckled and kissed Cyranti’s temple. “Yes, of course. Zita, would you do me the favor of setting up a room for Cyranti, please. I highly doubt she would want to sleep with me more than she has had to.”

Blood rushed to Cyranti’s cheeks at that thought. It took all of her strength of will not to hide her face. Zita giggled softly and nodded.

“As you wish. Is there any preferred color, Cyranti?” Zita asked.

“In my experience,” Cyranti said cautiously, “I have been happiest with the results when I allow people to make such decisions for themselves. If they gain joy from it, it shows.”

“You truly have no preference, then?” Zita asked, her eyes wide.

“Anything you do, if I am to stay here for large amounts of time, will be adorned with my own personal touches anyway,” Cyranti replied. “I would like to see what you come up with, with me in mind.”

Zita’s smile grew and she inclined her head. “I will try not to disappoint you, Princess.”

Danatarius tightened his hold on Cyranti briefly. “You did not even flinch calling her that. There is something wrong…”

Laughter bubbled from Zita and she shrugged. “This is the Twilight, Dana. She cannot be consumed by the sun’s rays between here and her birth home.”

Hope bloomed within Cyranti and she looked up at Danatarius. “I can see my father again?”

Sighing, Danatarius pinched the bridge of his nose. “I would advise against it, Cyranti. Truly. You remember the reaction you had to me. Imagine your father’s reaction to you when he sees your change. It will not be pleasant.”

“I do not care!” Cyranti cried. “I at least want him to know that I live!”

“Hush now, child,” Zita said, far more gently than she had spoken before. “Such things can be discussed when you are fed and Kordan returns home.”

“I agree,” Danatarius said, his tone final. “Thank you, Zita.”

With a nod of her head, Zita continued on her way in the opposite direction. The tension in Danatarius’ arm eased and he led the way toward the dining room. His whole demeanor changed. The red drained from his eyes to leave them their normal crystal gray. The muscles in his jaw no longer twitched and jumped. His shoulders eased.

“Why were you afraid?” she asked him.

“Afraid?” He perked his brow at her and offered a lopsided smile. “What do you mean?”

“You were tense as a drawn bow and slightly terrifying,” she said with a nervous chuckle. “You are just now starting to relax.”

“Zita is one of my more… interesting children,” he said. “She is not fond of elves.”

“Why?”

“Jealousy,” he said simply. “Elves are born with eternal life. She was once human, and her eternal life came at the price you just paid.”

“And elves get to frolic in the sun for eternity if they are born in the right realm.” She let out a heavy sigh. “I have only seen the sun four times in my life. I envy her for having lived beneath its rays as a human.”

“Perhaps, then, that is something you two can discuss when you are found alone,” Danatarius suggested.

“Perhaps,” Cyranti agreed.

As they neared, heavy double doors opened and the smell of fresh food washed over them. Cyranti’s stomach growled loudly. Many tables were strewn about the room, each with chairs circled around them. She stared, her mouth open.

“Where is the dining table?” she asked. “You eat separated?”

“We find it is more intimate this way,” he said, grinning. “This is a trick we learned from the humans. It helps to foster a community and enables us to sit with a close group of friends, while politely avoiding those we do not get along with.”

“But you said you are a family…”

“We are all from human roots, Cyranti,” he said softly. “Not every human gets along with everyone else, and it is sometimes the same with family. Instead of forcing tense relationships that can explode into violence, we allow simple freedoms to foster friendships and other relations where we are able. The main thing we elders demand from the Fold is respect for everyone, whether that person is liked or not.”

“Which is why you became frightening with Zita,” Cyranti said as the realization dawned on her.

“Correct. She showed blatant disrespect, and that is not tolerated.”

They seated at a table near the far corner where the smell of food was the strongest. The door opened and a menu was placed before them. Danatarius slid it across the table to Cyranti.

“What is this?” Cyranti asked.

“It is a menu,” Danatarius replied. “Pick what you would like from the choices, and it will be made for you. The menu changes daily.”

“But, there is already food prepared! I will be happy with whatever is put before me.”

“Ah, but humans are fond of choices,” Danatarius chuckled. “That is something that the turning does not stamp out. However, trust me in that nothing ever goes to waste here.”

She looked over the menu. Curiosity piqued, she read each word slowly as it wasn’t her usual written language, and her stomach grumbled again. Each choice sounded more delicious than the last. Finally, she whimpered and dropped the menu.

“Anything… I will take anything!”

The cook let out a rumbling laugh and patted her shoulder. “You will get over this,” he said in a deep, accented bass. “I bring you something tasty.”

When he left, Danatarius smiled like a contented cat.

“What is that look for?” she asked. “That is a suspicious look if I ever saw one.”

“I think you just made Aleksei’s day,” he mused. “Not many people give him the choice other than planning the menu.”

“It seems I am giving many people choices today,” she said, looking down at the cloth covered table.

“That is a good thing,” Danatarius said softly. He reached across the table and took her hand in his. “Why do you seem so sad about it.”

“I give others what I want for myself.”

He squeezed her hand and sighed. “And that shows your incredible courage. It will also be rewarded. Soon, I think.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Life of a Crazy Mom on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

Great 3rd book!!!

This book starts off with Princess Cyranti heading towards the Divide Estate (the same estate where Sam and Alyssa were held captive by Linholde in book 2) to fix when Linholde did when she was holding Sam and Alyssa captive….fix and restore the spell that keeps half of their world in Twilight. The spell had been unraveling in the lower realms and it was destroying the ecosystems of those who reside in the Twilight.

Only she doesn’t make it. She is attacked by an unknown person who kills her soul mount, Liria, and who slits her throat with a poisoned dagger. She is found by Kordan, the leader of the vampir, and his son, Danatarius, right as she was on the brink of death and they save her. Well, they turn her into a vampir and she is the first of her kind to be turned…if she survives the change.

Sol’kyr, Velithor, Morough, Lin’ra, Ka’lei, Tovran, Rynhon, Sam and Elan are at the estate waiting for Cyranti. When she doesn’t show up, Sol’kyr, Velithor and Lin’ra set off to find out what happened to her while the rest stay behind and enter the estate to prepare the spell. But it doesn’t go to plan, when they are suddenly trapped inside the estate with an insane elf who is called the Architect. They are made to play brutal games with him and he slowly knocks them all out until only Morough and Sam are left basically uninjured.

Cyranti survives the change and learns more about her new people. They are considered blood mages….which the elves consider evil. Dana, a natural-born vampire, goes to tell his people that she is the first elf ever turned and it doesn’t go so well. The people basically go nuts and try to attack Cyranti when she is found eavesdropping in on Dana’s speech. She escapes and hides in Dana’s room. While she is in there, she overhears that the people of the Fold are going to attack her father. She takes off, with Dana, to warn her father of the impending attack.

I will not go into the book from here on but it was really good. There is plenty of action and lots of blood. But giving that the bad guy and two of the good guys are blood mages, I really wasn’t expecting anything less.

This was a pretty clean book, sexwise. Dana and Cyranti do soul bond BUT they do not consummate it. There was too much going on (like saving their world….lol).

The ending was what I expected and I loved it!!!

**I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it**

Bonnie Mitchell on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

Elves, blood magic, vampires oh my!

This was the best yet. I love how this book brought all the old characters back and tied them in with many new characters. This book was fabulous even a new twist on vampires. How amazing. There's mystery, love, fear, sadness, joy, anything you could hope for in this story bravo Jennifer. Thank you for such a Wonder book.


Healing Wounds: Mother Book One

Kings of Kal'brath Book 2

Book Cover: Healing Wounds: Mother Book One
Editions:Kindle: $ 2.99
Size: 5.00x8.00 in
Pages: 350
ePub: $ 2.99
Size: 5.00x8.00 in
Pages: 350
Paperback: $ 13.99
ISBN: 978-1535176873
Size: 5.00x8.00 in
Pages: 312

Mother is angry.
Humanity will pay for their tresspasses, but only Elan can save them from complete extinction.

Fifty years after Mother's awakening and the resulting cataclysm, humans have become an endangered species. Continents changed, islands were lost while others rose from the sea, and landscapes were changed forever.

The Summerland's Elves were called forth by Mother's will to clean her wounds, rid her of the filth that humans left behind, and somehow save those who had survived the world-wide catastrophe.

Elan, however, has more on his plate than just saving humanity from extinction. The Nymph population has sent assassins to hunt humans to finish what Mother had started. Their true goals unknown, Elan is fighting a war that he doesn't truly understand.

Amid the hidden war, Elan struggles against his desires and his duties. His true love, Jenna is may not survive the soul-bond that most elves only hope for. However, Linolde, who wishes to marry him, is arrogant, abrasive and only wishes to mate for his power.

Reading Order

  • Race Against the Dark
  • Healing Wounds
  • Twilight's Children

The First Book in the Mother Duology.

The Kings of Kal'brath series is a string of stand alone novels and duologies set in the same universe where Mother, the sentient planet, cradles the races of three parallel worlds: Adradis of the elves and other magical races where the continent of Kal'brath resides, Earth of the magicless humans, and Morka of the magic-negating bashkai. Each book brings back favorite characters for more fun, romance, and gripping adventure.

These light fantasy romps are sure to be favorites you will want to read again and again.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Elan was one of the first to hear the plea. Mother was awake, and she was angry. He felt her tremors as she rose from her deep slumber. A ripple, as through water, riddled the land. A call from the Elite demanded all elves within the world herd the beasts through the gates, from predators to the helpless.

Mother’s words rang in his ears. “My children, flee to the Summerlands. Take what you can of my beasts. Save my children.”

Her words came punctuated with ground tremors. She coughed on the smog that polluted her air. She choked on the oil, garbage and toxic waste that polluted her water. Her temper flared in volcanic bursts and wouldn’t be held off for long.

READ MORE

Elves raced against time, going to every remote corner of the earth to open the veils. With great care, they herded every beast through these portals to the Summerlands. And when the last elf was through, and the gates closed, Mother’s temper exploded.

The most dormant of volcanoes blew their tops along with those most active. Ash and fiery rain spewed onto the earth in all directions. Lava flowed and coated the land in a thick crust of dead black scabs and living red blood. This was only the beginning.

Watching through the scrying bowl, Elan witnessed every detail. Earthquakes shattered the land. Mountains leveled to nothing and others formed anew as the world’s armor shifted and collided into buckles of scarred earth. Buildings fell, broken and twisted into unrecognizable forms. Fires spread and humans tried to flee to safer places. The highways clogged with traffic. Accidents littered every street and thoroughfare. As most tried to get to higher ground, some found this an opportunity to loot deserted buildings for their treasures and money.

The earthquakes lasted for three years, hitting all the world, from below the seas, to the highest mountain, changing the entire landscape. Each time the land settled, great waves washed over the land. Every country was already without power and running water. Water lines had burst. Oil refineries and gas stations exploded into gulfs of fire. Every pause, water came in to clean the land and extinguish the flames.

The world was dark, and each new sunrise brought with it new death tolls. Those still lucky enough to be alive tried to hide their mounting terror as they searched in vain for their lost loved ones and prayed they hadn’t suffered the fates of their neighbors. There was no building left standing. Children had died in their schools. Entire families perished in the safe houses meant to keep them alive through such a catastrophe. Military and private bunkers lay in caved-in ruins. Firetrucks that had tried to respond to the distress of the people laid crushed under the weight of fallen trees and buildings.

Elan’s heart hurt. Tears flowed down his face as he witnessed women searching in vain for their children and husbands. Children’s agonized wails pierced his heart as he watched them rock over their dead parents as they failed to wake them up. Husbands and fathers carried their deceased families, trying to find a bare patch of land to bury their losses. He couldn’t watch anymore and turned away from the scrying bowl. It was too much to bear.

He ran to his father and begged for days to be allowed to help the humans, but each time Kennan turned him away. Forced to watch once more from the scrying bowl, Elan mourned the fact he was powerless, no matter how much magic he could wield. He couldn’t go against Mother’s will. She was angry, and her punishment was absolute.

In just three years, the earth was little more than rubble and shards of glass. Rivers of lava divided the land into segments. Roots had come up from underground and wrapped around vehicles, roads, highways and anything else they could surround, and squeezed. What stores of gasoline and oil remained had ignited, setting everything left ablaze.

More earthquakes split the world’s largest landmasses into chunks, separating them forever. Deserts were now harbors. Forests were growing at exponential rates. New mountains had formed and reformed through the continuous land upheaval. What few humans prevailed against Mother’s wrath hid where they could. Most didn’t know what to do, some lived with their battery powered camping gear that perhaps lasted a week, some prayed in frantic whispers and desperate shouts to their gods to save them, others cursed their gods for the hell they were in.

Elan begged to accompany his people back through the gates. The surveyors took great surveys of each landmass. Kennan led the first expedition, sending Elan with the surveyors to help chart the new landscape of Earth. King of the Summerlands and an Elder, Kennan was Overseer of Earth. As the land’s most powerful magi scanned the land, Kennan sat on a convergence of ley lines and listened.

Mother was fully awake, and in her first conscious thought after her purge of the land, she was in agony. She couldn’t breathe. As Kennan communed with her, even Elan could hear her voice, soft as a spring breeze, gentle as a mother’s coos to a child, pained as a woman in labor.

“Return me to when I was young, my Children. Take these abominations that have scarred me and return them to whence they came. Get the refuse out of my veins. What has happened?”

“You have slept, Mother,” Kennan’s voice rang through every elf’s mind. “The humans chased us off into the Summerlands with their machines and their lust for war. Their bombs and cars choked us. We didn’t know what to do, but leave them to their destruction and hope they killed themselves off or created their own peace.”

“You left me, Child. It is up to you now. That which has been erected by humans, destroy. That which has been destroyed by humans, rebuild. That which has been humans’ greatest blessings unto me, strengthen. Hide from them no more. You are their elders. They are but short-lived children. You were born to care for me and protect me. You have failed. Make sure this never happens again.”

“As you will it, Mother, so it shall be.” Kennan’s voice was shaky, unlike anything Elan had ever heard from him.

With new purpose, Kennan formed the deconstructors—magi who were the most powerful in controlling and reshaping the elements. These elves came from all over the elf world of Adradis, and under Kennan’s direction, banded together in groups. Kennan sent them to all the corners of earth in the human plane in a combined effort to renew Mother’s body on the realm of Earth. Where they could create, they could also destroy with their magic. It was the destruction they sought. Anything the humans had made, from buildings to cars, highways to sidewalks, they reduced these and more to base atoms.

The process had taken fifty-three years. Elves still found the earth inhospitable. The air was too hard to breathe. The deconstructors worked with magical filters over their noses and mouths. They urged mother to grow dormitories for them to dwell in during their work and begged for more trees to filter the smog from the air.

With most of the rubble gone, water magi pulled water from oceans, rivers, lakes and streams to wash away the dust left from their work. Still, they sought hidden garbage sites that lay hidden and filled over with dirt. For the surface, these were the last remnants of the toxicity humans had left. Aquatic elves, called mermaids by the humans, worked in the seas to rid the ocean of sunken ships, submarines and other underwater hazards—similar to the ends the deconstructors above still pursued—while salvaging what lost beauty they could find.

Through all the deconstruction, Kennan allowed only a few things to be saved and preserved. Sites such as the great sphinx of Egypt and the pyramids to the Stonehenge in what used to be England—these wonders he ordered left untouched, and they remained surprisingly whole from Mother’s razing. Such ruins had been made before the world went to such terrible chaos. Paintings and sculptures they salvaged and brought through the gates to the Summerlands. The sculptures in the sea they left to become reefs as the human sculptors meant them to be. They kept their promise, saving the beauty that the humans had made, while wiping the ugliness from the world.

While the deconstructors worked on the last reserves of human filth, the Elders worked on reconstructing Mother’s veil. Her atmosphere had reached dangerous levels and needed mending. This feat would take centuries.

With the mass reforestation that Mother nurtured into full bloom in such a short time, the air became clearer. It became easier to breathe the air every day. Any human found, the elves rounded up into colonies built for them. They cataloged and governed them. Elan watched with dismay as his brethren quashed revolts with magic that the humans just could not fathom. Something had to be done.

CHAPTER TWO

“It has been fifty-three cycles since Mother has taken her children back to a new beginning, my Lord.”

“I know this, Elan.” Kennan sighed as he met Elan’s eyes. “I know your plea all too well and have heard it dozens of times this cycle alone.”

“Then why do you still refuse? Kennan, the humans are lost. They don’t know Mother like we do. They can’t hear her. They still think she is just a planet, they don’t know she is sentient. They don’t know how to care for her. They’ve lost this base instinct. Just because she punished them doesn’t mean we should let them all die off.”

“And what then, Elan? Let them regroup? Let them regain their electronics, machines and factories so they can kill her off again and fill her with their precious garbage, smog and acid rain?”

Elan rolled his eyes. “Teach them! Teach them how to live, Kennan. Teach them instead of fleeing to our realm every time they piss you off.”

“Such eloquence, Child. You will do well to know when to hold that tongue of yours.”

“I am not a child. The humans, Kennan, the humans are children. They will not know any better unless we take the time to teach them, and guide them. Would you have killed me fifty three cycles ago if I had missed my mark in archery?”

“You are my child, Elan, lest you forget that fact. You are barely an adult. We took fifty cycles to render their machines, cities and refineries to atoms. The landfills are still being managed. Mother’s wrath and the deconstructors laid their homes to waste. I am quite surprised they are still alive. It was Mother who demanded this, Elan. Who are we… who are you to go against Her will?”

Elan frowned and folded his arms across his chest. “I am an Elf. Mother said that the humans should be punished, and razed her surface on her own. Who are YOU to tell her that wasn’t enough? Who are YOU to tell her that the entire race should be eradicated because YOU are afraid they will make her do it again?”

“Enough.” Kennan’s voice went hard. “I will hear no more of this. You are done.”

“I am nowhere near done, Kennan. Not even close.”

“Why do you hold these humans in such high regard, Elan? Answer me that.”

“They are alive. You taught me from a babe to respect and love life, from the smallest ant, to the largest tree. Or, did you forget teaching me that, Father?”

“I also taught you to respect your elders, and to hold criminals accountable for their actions.”

A smirk spread onto Elan’s face, and he closed his eyes, tilting his head down. “So, even though we have no euthanizing laws for most criminals, and since no single human did the damage on purpose, you are damning an entire race to death for something their forefathers started centuries ago in the name of progress. I’m not even sure I want to be an elf anymore. Not with bigotry like this in the ruling force.”

Kennan stared at Elan for a long moment, his eyes narrowed. He stepped across the room, his crimson and gold robes floating about his ankles and bare feet. With a sigh, he stopped over an onyx bowl and poured water into it from a crystal pitcher.

“Come, Elan. Gaze with me.”

“No, I—”

His voice was firm. “Come here. Now.”

Elan felt power in those words. It was raw and even though Kennan’s voice never rose above a soft conversational tone in all the years Elan had been alive, he knew the Elder was cross. Finding his feet disobeying him, he stopped just in front of the scrying bowl and looked down into it.

Kennan touched the center of the water with the pad of his right hand’s middle finger while his left hand held the sleeve of his robe out of the way.

“What do you see?”

The water swirled with images. Humans screaming and then vaporized as an atomic bomb went off. Nuclear weapons exploded. Bodies flitted by in grotesque poses from the numerous ways they were murdered and maimed. Homeless men and women begged for food and clothing from the rich who ignored them. Parents beat children to death. Husbands beat wives. Wives beat husbands. Children killed their parents. Rowdy men and women forced animals to fight each other to the death for sport. Wealthy owners beat their horses for not performing well in races. Puppies drowned, tied in burlap sacks. Bound kittens lay mangled after being run over multiple times with a tractor. Laughing boys buried cats in a yard and mowed over their heads. By the end of it Elan shook with quiet sobs and hugged himself.

Kennan didn’t stop the images, but skirted around the bowl to hug Elan from behind. He pressed a kiss to the back of his neck and rested his forehead there.

“Are you sure you want to save people capable of these atrocities? This… this is their nature. This is what they have evolved into. In a few cycles, they will remember that they were a race of engineers, scientists and geniuses. They will find more ways of rebelling against us. What then, Elan? What do we do then? Do we fight back harder and risk them hurting Mother again? Do we hide and let them reclaim this land so that Mother is forced to eliminate the ones left? What do you suggest we do?”

His breath hitched in his throat, and for the first time in a century, Elan turned and pressed his face into his father’s hard chest and cried. “I don’t know.”

Gasping, Kennan hugged Elan hard and guided him over to a chair. Without a word, he pulled his grown son onto his lap as he sat and held him like he had so many epochs before. They sat in silence for a while, the only sound being Elan’s soft sobs. A messenger came in, but Kennan waved him away. It wasn’t until Elan relaxed a little that Kennan stroked his hair and spoke, gentler than before.

“My son, your heart is bigger than your body. I understand your concerns. I do. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have asked our deconstructors to set up colonies for them. The humans ignored them, used the wood for building and kindling. They do not want to learn. They reject change and call us tyrants.”

Elan clutched to Kennan’s robes, his body shuddering as he whispered, “I don’t know what to do.”

With a sigh, Kennan hugged Elan tighter and leaned his forehead against his son’s. “I want you to go with the deconstructors. Find the waste pits the mortals call landfills and help with the cleaning. Render bodies to Mother as I taught you. Plant a seed for every human you find and take them to the colonies.”

Nodding, Elan coughed and tucked his face in the curve of his father’s neck. This earned him another tight hug and stroke of his hair.

“When you return, we will talk of this further. Hopefully we will both be less emotional.”

Frowning, Elan pulled away just in time for a tear to drop from his father’s cheek to his own. Lifting a hand, Elan caught another of his father’s tears and stared at it, fascinated.

“I’ve never seen you cry before…”

A musical chuckle rumbled in his father’s chest, and he kissed Elan’s forehead. “As much as you’d like to think I am, my son, I am not made of stone.”

“I know.” Wrapping his arms around Kennan’s neck, Elan hugged him properly and sighed. “Thank you.”

His father was only too happy to hug back, his hands rubbing along his spine. “I love you, Elan. Never forget that.”

“I won’t. Not ever.”

CHAPTER THREE

Elan stood before the gate. Foregoing the robes of his station for more rugged attire, he wore form fitted leather breeches, well-made leather boots with thick soles, and a green and gold embroidered vest, leaving his arms bare for the late spring heat. The deconstructors wore similar fashion, though the head of the expedition kept her robes to be more easily distinguished from the rest of the elves.

The head, Linolde, was a beautiful woman, and one whom Elan greatly respected. She was one of his first teachers in the magical arts. He stood next to her now, and even though he was not her equal in talent, he was tentatively her equal in power.

“Open the gates.” Linolde’s words held similar power to his father’s, though her voice was a little more abrasive. Two deconstructors stepped up to the gates and held out their hands. Magic glowed within their skin and focused in arcs onto the gates. The gates themselves looked like ordinary trees, but with the magic of the deconstructors, they came alive to become doorways from the Summerlands of the elves to Earth—two of the three known planes of Mother’s existence.

With the gates now open, the deconstructors filed through. The trees rippled with each body that passed through it as if they walked through a screen of water. Elan was the last to go through, his heart racing in his chest. The last time he had enjoyed the Earth side of the gates, the world had been filled with the roar of motor vehicles, the stench of exhaust, and the scorching heat from asphalt under foot.

As he emerged on the other side, a smile came to his face. No more black-top wound through the landscape in heat-trapping ribbons. Birds sang a chorus in the trees. The air wasn’t quite clean yet, but it was crisper and smelled much better than he remembered. Looking around, he chuckled softly.

“It’s beautiful. Such a remarkable difference.”

Linolde turned a toothy grin on him. “Better than scrying, isn’t it? You can’t really appreciate what we’ve done here through a bowl of water. You have to be here—feel it. We’ve made a spectacular difference in a very short amount of time.”

Elan nodded and headed to a tree, placed his palm on the bark and closed his eyes. The forest was alive—living, breathing and feeling. Elan could feel the love in the forest pulling him in like his father’s hug until his forehead rested against the bark. With a sigh, he chuckled and shook his head.

“It never gets old.”

“What doesn’t?” Linolde rested a hand on his shoulder.

“No matter where the seeds come from, whether from here or the Summerlands, the resulting trees on this side of the gates are always… so glad to see me. Does it feel the same way to you?”

She giggled and looked at him as if he’d just told her he grew another set of genitals. “You definitely are your father’s child, Elan. There is no mistaking it.”

His grin turned sad as he pulled away from the doting tree. “It is unfortunate for you that you can’t feel such joy from the forest you help to cultivate. I couldn’t imagine not feeling such things.”

Linolde giggled again and with a light touch, flicked the tip of his tapered ear. “Come on, Lover Boy. Stop flirting with the lovely trees and let’s get some work done.”

“Where are we going first?” Elan stepped away from the tree and flipped his braid back over his shoulder.

“To the East. We’re currently in what used to be Pennsylvania in the North American continent.”

“Ah, I remember that place. It was one of the prettiest places I had been before the razing.”

“Yes, I remember as well. Though, much has changed, Elan. Stay close. The landscape has transformed dramatically since you were last here. It is almost a completely different world to what you knew.”

Elan nodded and let Linolde lead the way. As she had said, there was nothing he recognized, and he had traveled the entire state more than once in his youth. Humans were never one of his main interests, but exploring was high on his scale of things to do. Every time his father had gone through the gates, Elan had begged to go with him. He was rarely denied.

Lost in his own thoughts, he mentally cataloged what he saw. A map formed in his mind, and when they stopped to take scans, Elan pulled out a ledger his father had given him and drew the map his mind created along the way. When he finished, writing appeared under it, his father’s elegant script was unmistakable.

“Ah, good. I have copied this to our records. It will be verified when the cartographer goes to make her scans. This should help greatly. When you next have a few spare moments, Elan, I would very much like you to give me readings from the forest.”

Elan laughed and scrawled a few words. “My first reading… I was laughed at. Why do so few elves not understand our bond with the forest?”

“That will be a lengthy discussion, my son. For now, suffice it to say, that you and I are gifted.”

Linolde called the scans to a halt. They had found a dump site nearby, and it would be an arduous trek through some steep paths up the mountain and down into an uncharted valley. Closing the ledger, Elan stuffed it back into his satchel and marched on.

“Kennan keeping tabs on you?” Rynhon murmured next to Elan’s ear.

Rubbing it, Elan laughed and swatted his face away. “Not keeping tabs as much as I am giving him information as I come across it.”

The deconstructor cuffed him on his shoulder and smirked as he fell into step at Elan’s side. The elf was beautiful for a man with broad shoulders and a small waist, wavy black hair that flowed to his thighs and piercing green eyes that twinkled with amusement more often than not. He was nearly the same age as Elan, if a few cycles older.

“They told me you were coming on this trip, and I thought you were just here for the sight-seeing tour.”

Elan laughed and bumped Rynhon’s shoulder with his own. “Kennan does not approve of such things, Rynhon. You know this as well as anyone.”

“Then why are you here? Surely you aren’t here to actually get your hands dirty.”

“That’s a particularly snide remark coming from my closest friend. May I ask what brought that on?”

Rynhon wrinkled his nose. The amusement had left his eyes. “It’s nothing. I’m sorry, Elan.”

Frowning, Elan circled Rynhon’s waist with his arm and pulled him closer. “It’s something, or you’d not have said it.”

“Mmm, I don’t know. It’s just that Kennan has been keeping you to himself these last few ages. You being here makes it seem like there’s something of importance going on that no one else is privy to.”

Grinning, Elan gave him a squeeze and let go. “I have my orders, Rynhon. But, it isn’t as grandiose as you make it seem. I’m here to catalog what I see, plant a seed for every human we come across, and help out where I can.”

“He seriously sent you here to plant seeds and document humans?”

“I suppose you could put it that way, yes. Is there a problem with that?”

Rynhon wrinkled his nose again and glanced down the sheer drop that was the side of the mountain they were crossing. “No. I’m just concerned. It’s treacherous out here for such a quest. But, it isn’t my place to question your orders. It’s just good to have someone to talk to on trips like these.”

“Oh, and I suppose dodging cars while riding horses was safe as babes in bassinets.”

“Not quite, but this has its own dangers.”

Elan nodded. He’d heard of some of those dangers. Humans still having guns and ammunition with them, traps laid out for elves, or even traps laid out for animals that elves get caught in. There were many things to watch for.

His thoughts were pierced by a woman’s scream on the other side of the ridge. Every elf in the company surrounding him, even Rynhon, took an offensive stance. Elan frowned and bolted, running as fast as his legs could take him. Hearing footsteps behind him told Elan that the rest were at least following him, whether to help, or to catch him and make him calm down, he didn’t care.

The scream was one of pain. He knew that scream. Looking down the side of the ridge, he saw the fresh jags of rocks and jumped. Skidding down the side of the ridge was one thing, avoiding the jagged rocks was another. Holding his hands out at his sides, palms down, he concentrated his magic to his feet. Soon, he was standing on a glowing blue disk that moved away from the mountain and shot him down toward the dense canopy of trees that banked the slope.

When he found solid ground again, the disk disappeared with a thought and he broke into a swift run. The scream echoed against the rocks again, giving him a new direction. When he broke through the underbrush to a small clearing, his heart pitched into his throat.

The clearing couldn’t be over ten feet in diameter. In the center, a woman was lying on her back, writhing in pain, her leg caught in a rusted bear trap. Her children hid behind trees, the youngest, a girl who barely came up past Elan’s hip, looked at him with wide, tear-filled blue eyes and shrieked.

“Mommy, get up! It’s a long-ear!”

Elan frowned and lifted both hands. “I won’t hurt your mommy, child. Be brave.”

Taking a few tentative steps toward the woman, he paused as she crawled away from him. The chain that anchored the trap, however, kept her from going far.

“Miss, stop. You are hurting yourself more than is needed.”

She buckled and sobbed. The little girl darted for her, but her elder brother caught her by the hand and hauled her back behind the tree again. Elan sighed and made his way to the mother’s side, placing a hand on her stomach after gently rolling her over.

“My name is Elan. I will help you, but I need you to cooperate. What is your name?”

“Jenna.” She kept her eyes closed, and her lips pressed into a thin line that wobbled with her sobs.

“Jenna. My friends are on their way down the slope. They…” He looked at the little girl again and smiled. “They are also long-ears. I need you to take slow deep breaths. I’m going to grab your knees and drag you closer to the tether so there is less strain on the trap.”

She nodded and pulled her arms to her chest. Elan tried to be gentle, but she screamed in agony as he bumped her leg on accident. Just then the deconstructors came into the clearing with Linolde leading, gray eyes flared with that inner fire of magic.

“Elan, are you mad?”

“She’s hurt, Linolde. Watch your tongue. Rynhon, can you mend her leg once we get this trap off her?”

Rynhon jogged over and looked along her leg, feeling in a few places. “It’s broken. I won’t know the extent of the damage until we get it off. Bina, can you get this trap off her without taking her leg with it?”

Bina, a young-looking elf woman, short in stature, grinned at him and bounced over. She looked and acted young, but she was almost an era older than Elan, and three times as powerful. “Get your paws out of the way, Rynhon.”

“Bina, try to be a little more professional. These people are frightened enough.”

“Oh, yes, sorry Elan. Move aside so I have less to work with.” When the two were out of the way, she flashed her pretty grin at the woman. “Right, Jenna, was it? I need you to lay very, very still. Breathe slow and deep and keep your leg still, no matter how much it hurts. Can you do this for me?”

Jenna nodded, and Bina held out her hands. A soft glow started in the center of her palms and radiated to her fingertips. After a long moment of the magic gathering, it focused out from her fingertips to the bear trap. The red light slowly engulfed the rusted metal, and once encased, the light’s intensity grew until the metal was no longer visible. Too bright to look at, Elan averted his eyes to the woman’s face, and once the light ebbed, he looked down and the trap and tether were gone.

Jenna’s leg looked like a hunk of raw meat on a snapped drumstick. Elan’s attention was once again on the children as the young boy fought to keep the small girl behind the tree. Holding out a hand to them, Elan smiled. “Come, children. I’m sure your mother would be comforted with your presence. She’ll be fine soon.”

Suddenly, they weren’t fighting anymore, and the little girl did her best to climb her big brother like a monkey on a tree. Chuckling, Elan smirked. “Or not. Watch from over there.”

Jenna started to relax until Rynhon prodded her leg. Taking the woman’s hand in his own, Elan smiled down at her. “Let him work, Jenna. Everything will be fine.”

Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she looked up at him. “Why are you doing this?”

Sighing, Elan gave her hand a squeeze and thought on that. “My father taught me to love life, from the smallest ant to the tallest tree, Jenna. No matter what your kind might think, we are not your enemies.”

“Elan…” Rynhon’s voice was abnormally soft.

“What is it?”

“There’s so much damage I can’t heal her properly here. It will take time… hours, maybe a few days. She needs to be transported to a colony so I can work on her where we’re all in a bit more comfort.”

Elan sighed and gave Jenna’s hand a squeeze. “Rynhon has bound your leg to stop the bleeding. I need you to tell your children to obey us so they don’t hurt themselves or get lost. We’ll get you cared for, but it is a good distance to the nearest colony.”

“Elan…” It was Linolde this time.

“Linolde, Rynhon and I will take Bina with us, and go on our own. Meet us at Claxis at nightfall with your reports.”

“This isn’t your call, Elan.” Something wasn’t right. Elan turned to her, his eyes narrowed.

“And it is yours, Linolde? Or did you forget your place?”

“Don’t use that tone with me, Child. I taught you.” Her voice was dangerous.

“Do not forget that this Child is also three classes above you in the caste, Linolde. You will do as I say, or I will have you removed from the team and send you back through the gate. Now, you have a mission to accomplish. Do what you can toward it, and at nightfall, I expect to see you and the deconstructors at the colony. Do I make myself clear?”

Her eyes bored into him, and it took two deconstructors to bow to Elan before she even blinked. Snorting, she whirled around and headed off, barking orders to the deconstructors behind her to follow.

With her gone, Elan laughed and covered his face. He took a moment to sober, but when he did, he smiled down at Jenna. “I do apologize for you having to see such a display. Come, call your children and we will be under way.”

Looking confused, Jenna furrowed her brows and looked over at her hiding children. Voice raspy with pain and a need for water, she tried to call them over. Without realizing it, she moved her leg and erupted in another hoarse scream of agony that made Elan’s stomach pit.

“Land’s breath, Elan… knock her out before she goes into shock.”

Nodding, Elan rested a hand on her forehead and stroked his thumb along the bridge of her nose. “Sleep, Jenna. When you wake, we will be in another place.”

She was powerless against the spell, and as it took hold, her entire body went limp in one instant. Both her children darted from their hiding places, the girl screaming like a wild child.

“You killed my mommy! Get away from her!”

Bina caught the girl and Rynhon rounded up the boy. Both wrangled the children over to their mother so Elan could explain. “Look at her chest. She is breathing. I put her in a deep sleep so she doesn’t feel the pain. I promise you, we will get her safe, and get her help, but we need to be able to count on you both to stay close so we don’t lose you. Can I get your names?”

The boy frowned and stared at his mother, then turned a hard gaze on Elan. For as young as he was, his eyes spoke of maturity beyond his years. “I’m Sam, this is Alyssa. Mom’s gonna die, isn’t she?”

Elan flashed him a cocky grin. “Not if Rynhon has anything to do with it. Keep hold of your sister and try to keep up. If she needs to rest, Rynhon or Bina can carry her.”

Reaching down, Elan got an arm under Jenna’s shoulders and one under her knees and with gentle care, lifted her up as he stood. It took him a moment of gentle shifting before he had a good hold on her, but he managed. While they had been talking, Rynhon had splinted her leg for the journey, and now made a few adjustments to the makeshift bandages.

“Let’s make this quick, Elan. The rust on that trap could give her what they call tetanus. It’s nasty from what I have seen, so we need to hurry.”

Bina grinned. “We could always gate there.”

Elan frowned. “I’m willing to risk my father’s wrath on a great many things, Bina, but the sanctity of the gates is not one of them… for now. Let’s move.”

Starting a quick pace, Elan deftly moved through the trees due west for the Allegheny Colony, Claxis. Sam and Alyssa were good about keeping up and proved to be almost as deft at forest travel as the elves were. For a child as young as Alyssa was, he half expected her to complain every few hundred feet, but she kept silent and watchful as if walking long distances were the norm.

When they neared a river, Elan looked back to Rynhon who nodded and jogged ahead of the group. By the time they made it to the bank, a glowing translucent bridge crossed the expanse. Elan walked across with calm assurance while Bina tried to herd both frightened children over it.

“It is safe, Sam. The longer you take, the more energy Rynhon needs to maintain the spell. Come along,” Bina urged.

Sam nodded and took hold of Alyssa’s hand and half dragged the wailing girl over the bridge. When all were across, it vanished and Elan continued walking.

“Thank you, Sam,” Elan began. “We need Rynhon’s energy and magical strength at its best so he can work on your mother when we get to the colony.”

Sam fell into step with Elan on the side supporting Jenna’s head. Alyssa tagged along behind him, a hand gripping the back of his shirt. They walked along in silence for nearly half a mile before Sam looked up and started asking questions.

“Why aren’t all long-ears like you, Elan?”

Taken aback, Elan laughed and glanced down at him. “Are you like your grandfather was? Is your sister like your mother?”

His face scrunched up at that and he went silent again, but the silence didn’t last. “Why have the other long-ears—”

“Elves, Sam.”

“Sorry. Why have the other elves been so mean to us?”

“Mean? What do you mean, ‘mean’?” Elan furrowed his brows, but kept his eyes on where he was going.

“Well, every time we came across a lon—an elf, they treated us like we were animals, like we were dumb.”

“Ah, I see.” Thinking on that, Elan stepped over a fallen log and sighed. “How old are you, Sam?”

“Fourteen cycles.”

“Fourteen cycles… Fifty three cycles ago, Sam, long before you were born, Mother awoke. The earth beneath your feet is alive. She thinks, she feels, she suffers. Your kind had scarred her badly in the last few epochs, and when she awoke, she was angry and razed her surface, killing many. My kind, however, have forgotten that if Mother wished for humans to be eradicated from her, she wouldn’t have left survivors. They view you wrongly as criminals for what your forefathers have done.”

“But you don’t.” Land’s breath that boy sounded so old.

“No, I do not. We are old, Sam. I turned fifteen hundred and four this cycle, and I am barely out of my puberty. Rynhon is eleven cycles older than I. Bina is one thousand and four cycles older than I. Your race… has to grow up so fast, and then you are gone. Such short lives, but you think of it almost as an eternity. Time moves in different ways—or we perceive it so—for our races in some aspects, Sam. I view your race… as children. You need to be taught how not to hurt Mother, how to care for her, and how to listen to her. Only with this base understanding will our races ever truly get along.”

“Then why hasn’t any elves taught us?”

“I don’t yet have an answer to that, Sam. Not yet. When I have it, I will let you know.”

Sam grinned and looked up at him. “For an old man, I’d thought you’d have all the answers.”

Laughing, Elan shook his head. “With age comes wisdom, not omniscience.”

“Uh… what’s that mean?”

“Omniscience means you know everything, all the time.”

“Oh. Okay.” He looked up and tangled his fingers in his mother’s short hair. “Isn’t mom heavy?”

“Would you like to carry her and find out?” Elan smirked and glanced over at him.

“Uh, no thanks.”

Chuckling, he shook his head. “No, she is not heavy. In truth, she feels too light. How long have you lived outside of the colonies?”

Sam went silent for a long while. When he spoke again, his voice was quiet and held a hint of fear. “We came from a colony to the south, when Alyssa was still tiny. Dad called mom a horn because Alyssa didn’t look like him like I did, and beat her. We left not long after, because the colony leaders said he wasn’t doing nothing wrong, and mom shouldn’t have been a horn.”

Elan frowned, a brow perked. “Hor—oh. Oh dear. How old is your sister?”

“She’s almost eight, will be in the winter.”

“Seven cycles in the forest alone? I’d not be surprised if you told me the three of you were half elf.”

Bina laughed at that. “It doesn’t take a human to be half elf to overcome adversity when it’s forced on them, Elan. You should know that by now.”

“Yeah… what she said.” Sam’s grin was lopsided and warmed his entire face. It looked better on him than the frightened scowl.

“Look, through the trees.” Elan motioned ahead with a jut of his chin. “The colony is just ahead. We’re almost there.”

Sam grinned again and looked behind him. “Good, maybe then Alyssa can sleep in a bed instead of on Rynhon’s head.”

Looking back, Elan chuckled. Alyssa sat on Rynhon’s shoulders. The elf’s long hair lay braided about his neck like a scarf, and the girl was bent over his head and out cold.

“She looks good on you, Rynhon. You need children,” Elan teased.

“Shush, you. Just because I’m good with them doesn’t mean I want any.”

“Pity.” Smirking, he turned to Bina. “Would you run ahead and let them know to get a bed ready in the infirmary and some food for the children?”

Nodding, Bina took off through the forest and disappeared through the trees. It took the rest of them another fair few long moments to breech the edge of the forest. The gates to the colony were open for them, and as they made their way inside, the people watched them with poorly disguised contempt. One man came over and tried to take Jenna out of Elan’s hands, but Bina caught him across the chest with her staff.

“You touch either of them, Mister, and I’ll take your hands off.”

“She belongs with her own kind.” He was gruff and almost mountain-like. His arms were large from hard labor, his skin weathered and leathery. His eyes were hard and impassive.

“Well, my Lord… if you, by chance, have a capable surgeon who is willing and able to tend her leg without amputation, then be my guest. Otherwise, kindly get out of my way and lead us to the infirmary so that my friend can heal her wounds. You will better spend your aggression on getting these dear children some food.”

The mountain man narrowed his eyes and looked at Jenna’s leg for a moment, then stepped aside. “Get her fixed and get out.”

Alyssa was awake by then, still sat on Rynhon’s shoulders. Sitting up straight, she put her little hands on her hips and frowned at the man. “Mister, you got a stick up your butt, or did someone pee in your porridge this morning? You sure are ornery.”

Bina burst into a fit of giggles, and Rynhon followed suit in a merry cackle. Elan couldn’t help but chuckle, but bit his lips together to keep from making quite as much fuss as his two companions. “Alyssa, that wasn’t very nice, but I thank you for sticking up for us. Bina, lead the way, please, since this gentleman refuses to cooperate.”

Bina picked her way through the throng of people and once she found the infirmary, Elan was finally able to lay Jenna down on a clean cot. Rolling his shoulders, he allowed himself a moment to stretch, and took Alyssa from Rynhon so he could get to work.

“Sam, why don’t you come with me. Bina will make sure Rynhon and your mother are protected while he works on her leg. Right now, I bet you two are hungry.”

Alyssa nodded and tucked up close to him, still sleepy from her nap. “Is mommy gonna be okay?”

“If Rynhon has anything to do with it, darling, she will be fine.” Elan rubbed her back and once they were in a cafeteria, he sat down with her and settled her onto his lap. “What would you like?”

“I dunno, what they got?”

A worker came over and stared Elan down. “The kids can eat. We don’t got food for the likes of you.”

“Your kindness knows no bounds, my Lady. I am fine for the moment. The children will get what they desire.”

Alyssa wasn’t having any of it, though. “Lady, why you gotta be so mean? This nice elf ain’t done nothing to you. He saved my mommy, and his friends are healing her all better.”

Sam sat closer to his sister on the wooden bench. “Shut it, Lyssa… you’re going to get us into trouble.”

“I don’t like it here. People don’t have any manners,” Alyssa groused.

Snorting, Elan buried his face into Alyssa’s auburn curls and laughed. He took a moment to compose himself, but with a clear of his throat, he sat up straight again and took a deep breath. “All right, settle down, sweetheart.”

“You’ll do well to teach them kids when to shut up, long-ear.” The woman scowled and went to the back without their orders. When she came back, she had two plates of broiled fish and roasted vegetables on a tray, and a large bowl of fruit and nuts. Setting them on the table, she flipped the tray up under her arm and frowned at them. “I hope you can pay for that.”

“Pay? You mean you have currency here? That has been outlawed.” Elan started to dislike this place just as much as Alyssa did.

“Yeah, you been away a long time, long-ear. Things have changed. We ain’t listening to your ‘laws’ no more.”

“And what exactly is your currency, Madam?”

“Agnes, go back to your kitchen,” an elderly man spoke up and came to the table. The woman frowned and bustled off in a huff. When she was gone, the man gave a rueful grin. “I apologize for her. She tries to swindle bartering things from any elf she sees. I’m Alfred, the colony’s current leader.”

Elan nodded, still wary. “I am Elan, and these children are under my sole care until their mother is healed and healthy enough to care for them herself.”

“Ah, I heard of her. What happened?”

“Bear trap,” Sam spoke up through his mouthful of fish. “Kind of silly, since game meat’s outlawed.”

“So is fish, Sam,” Elan reminded.

“Oh yeah…” He set the fish down and frowned at it. Elan patted his shoulder and pointed at the fish. “Don’t let its sacrifice go to waste. Finish eating.”

“We are humans, Elan. We need meat. We don’t get enough nutrition from plants and what the elves so sparingly give us.” Something in Alfred’s tone didn’t sit right.

“Yet, other colonies are getting along just fine with the meat we provide from animals that are not endangered. Somehow yours is different?”

“Damn right this colony is different. Our men and women work. We need more than just your table scraps.”

Elan perked a brow. “However, you produce only for yourselves. Other colonies produce for everyone, including neighboring colonies. So, your point is invalid. Would you care to try again, Alfred?”

Alfred purpled with rage. In a huff, he turned and hustled out as he muttered something about ‘business’ he had to tend to. When he rounded the corner out the door, Alyssa puffed out her cheeks and frowned.

“I don’t like him,” she said, hands on her hips. “He’s hiding something, Elan.”

“Ah, from the mouths of babes.” He chuckled and ruffled her curls. “I get that feeling too.”

“I’m not a violent person,” Sam admitted, “but that man made me want to punch him in the face.”

“Well, aggression does come with your stage in life, Sam,” Elan said with a grin. “If you need to haul off and hit someone, just make sure it is me… and that I am not holding your sister at the time.”

“Why would I ever want to hit you,” Sam asked incredulously.

“I quite like sparring,” he replied. “I find it fun, as well as relaxing.”

“Meh… It might be good to learn how to protect mom and ‘Lyssa, but I got no real interest in it.”

“Perhaps something else to cool your steam, then,” Elan offered with a tilt of his head. “I may have a few options, but we will visit those later this evening. You and Alyssa will most likely be in my care for a few days while Rynhon works on your mother.”

“I can live with that,” Sam agreed. “Doubt there are any open units, though. This place looks pretty packed.”

“Yes. Yes, it does.” Elan sighed and looked around. “We will erect our own unit, then.”

Sam’s eyes widened as his brows tried to find his hairline. “Build one before nightfall? Are you insane?”

Elan grinned and shook his head. “No. I’m magical.”

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Life of a Crazy Mom on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Good Fantasy

This book takes place generations, 53 years, since Mother (the Earth) decided to purge mankind from her. She was furious that humankind had desecrated her while she was asleep and her temper snapped. There were natural disasters, continents were reshaped, oceans were reshaped and humankind was just about wiped out. The elves were charged with reconstructing the earth and restoring Mother to full health. Any humans who survived the purge were rounded up by the elves and kept in colonies.

Elan is the Prince of the Summerland, son of Kennan, the King and Kennan was the elf who was at the forefront of the healing (ie reconstruction) efforts. Elan and Kennan didn’t see eye to eye on how the humans were being treated and what happened to them. Elan actually didn’t speak to his father for 53 years because of that. They reconciled when Kennan showed Elan exactly WHY the humans needed to be kept under a firm hand and kept under watch. Because they would do the same thing and the Mother would have to take drastic measures.

The story truly begins when Elan goes through a gate to what used to be Pennsylvania. Kennan wants him to plant seeds and document the humans. Almost immediately, he hears a scream and when he goes to investigate, he finds a human woman caught in a bear trap….with her children hovering near her. A fear of the elves (the little girl called him long ear) is present in the children and in the young woman but the elves are allowed to help her out of the trap. They learn that her name is Jenna and her children’s names are Sam and Alyssa. One of the elves, Linolde, objects greatly to Elan helping Jenna but she is put in her place by Elan.

They take her to the Allegheny Colony to be healed and Elan bonds with her children and learns that Jenna has been living on the outskirts of the colony. They fled her husband and the colony that she came from because her husband believed that Alyssa wasn’t his (because she didn’t look like Sam). She was beaten and stoned but managed to escape. Certain people in the colony (I believe it was her ex husband) followed her colony to colony and would stone her. Finally, she started living in the woods and moving as soon as she found out they were at the colony she was near. So, to be honest, life sucked for her until she met Elan.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for them once they get Jenna situated into the colony. Sam is attacked by a wood nymph, Linolde is acting up and, when Jenna’s leg is healed, Elan is told by the Mother that she needs his seed to make a baby with him and that she was his mother (which was a huge ewwww moment for me) and Elan and Jenna soul bonded (which means that they are basically married in the Summerlands). They were unsure if she would survive the bonding….seeing that this is the first time that it has happened. But she does.

They (and the children) go back to tell Kennan what happened. He is overjoyed and he dotes on the children. Elan has to go back to the colony and while he is there, Kennan and Jenna are attacked. While they are being attacked, Sam and Alyssa are taken to some ruins and then they are trapped inside a magical house where they can’t get out.

The rest, well you have to read the book to find out what happens. The wood nymphs are featured heavily in the last part of the book. Lugh, the King of the wood nymphs, did remind me of a tantruming 3 year old….lol.

The ending was perfect. All of the storylines were wrapped up in a satisfactory way and I loved seeing a certain elf getting her just dues!!!

**I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it**

Bonnie Mitchell on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

Wonderful, absolutely wonderful.

I loved this story it was almost as good as the first in the box set. I love elves and magic and love and the bonds and helping humans and there is so much going on but it turns in so well. You would think with all that is involved it would be chaotic, but on the contrary it is so smooth and seamlessly written. I refer this to anyone who loves fantasy and elves and magic. It's a Wonder!


Race Against the Dark

Kings of Kal'brath Book 1

Book Cover: Race Against the Dark
Editions:Kindle: $ 0.99
Pages: 361
ePub: $ 0.99
Size: 5.00x8.00 in
Pages: 361
Paperback: $ 13.99
ISBN: 978-1530302055
Size: 5.00x8.00 in
Pages: 314

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Sanity is overrated.
Rethink what you think you know.

Plagued by visions of poison green eyes, the name Ka’lei, and strange singing, Haylie knows she’s crazy. When she finds herself in the elf world, everything she thinks she knows gets blown away. Now, she’s a changeling come home, and her name really is Ka’lei.

Thrust into a battle of wills, Ka’lei struggles against the elfin Council to prove her adulthood and fight for the right to love whoever she chooses. Her birth mother’s attempt to kill her during the Council meeting then throws her straight into her ancestor’s ancient plot to destroy everything.

Looking exactly like her psycho ancestor, Ka’lei must get past her friends’ fears and somehow rally dubious allies for a race against the Dark. She battles not just to save two worlds. She fights to protect those she loves, and somehow hold onto the only place where she ever felt sane.

Reading Order

  • Race Against the Dark
  • Healing Wounds
  • Twilight's Children

The Kings of Kal'brath Pilot Book.

The Kings of Kal'brath series is a string of stand alone novels and duologies set in the same universe where Mother, the sentient planet, cradles the races of three parallel worlds: Adradis of the elves and other magical races where the continent of Kal'brath resides, Earth of the magicless humans, and Morka of the magic-negating bashkai. Each book brings back favorite characters for more fun, romance, and gripping adventure.

These light fantasy romps are sure to be favorites you will want to read again and again.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

The singing began again. A beautiful woman’s voice undulated with the words. Haylie knew it was all in her mind. Doctor Rosenthal did his best to medicate her so that the auditory hallucinations would go away, but this singing remained persistent. It was beautiful in an odd way as Haylie could never understand the words. The song was always different. The melodies were never the same. If she knew how to write music, Haylie often wondered if she would make millions off the songs in her head.

Though, as the song progressed, Haylie focused on the road. Tired, hungry, and angry at Doctor Rosenthal, she made her way home to eat and relax. The drive, though, was gorgeous and quick to divert her attention.

READ MORE

For being early spring, the day was hotter than normal. With the passenger and two back windows of the ancient Chrysler Concorde rolled down all the way, Haylie drove down the narrow two lane highway through the verdant forest fifteen miles past the outskirts of Shadetree. Tall evergreens and still-bare skeletons of trees lined both sides of the road, and would canopy the drive in luscious shade in the coming months. The air was sweet with the scent of fresh cut grass and pure mountain air though passing through the random fielded area brought with it the odor of fresh cow manure. The smell, to Haylie, was more earthy than disgusting. It brought with it the dreams she had all her childhood of working on farms and tending to livestock and horses.

The visual was still as vivid in her mind as the singing, and it painted a pretty picture of her astride a tall black draft horse with flowing mane and tail. That image kept her company in the lone drive and kept her fingers from itching to roll down the broken driver’s side window. She’d need to get her father to replace that whole door one day. It was his car after all.

As she rounded a bend, her thoughts followed the trees. The sprouts on the branches were lush here. The clean scent of the woods became stronger. The sky seemed bluer than it had ever been. The evergreens that stood tall and proud seemed to shiver.

And as the bend in the road smoothed out, she squealed and slammed on the brakes. A silver horse darted in front of her and stopped in its tracks. It was a good thing nothing was coming toward her because she hit the brakes hard. The rear end fishtailed. As she fought to regain control and steer around the horse, she imagined herself as an expert race car driver. The car careened into the oncoming lane as the rear end scooted around. When she finally came to a stop, she was on the shoulder of the road, facing the wrong way, with a horse staring her down. Its saddle and bridle still clung to the beast. The saddle had carefully placed silver and gold filigree along the sides in intricate knot-work designs. The stirrups seemed ornate from what she could see. His coat gleamed in the hot sun.

Once she shut the ignition off, she pulled the key out and stuffed it into her pocket as she got out. Locking it was idiotic, as all one needed to do to gain access to the car was push down on the driver’s side window with minimal force, the tracks and gears long since broken beyond repair.

With careful, slow steps, she approached the horse, taking its beauty in. A glance told her he was male and not gelded. His eyes were dark and intelligent. So pretty, just like in the movies. I wonder where his rider is.

The horse stamped his hoof in warning as she got close, and Haylie stopped where she was. “Whoa, boy. I won’t hurt you.” She smiled. “My name’s Haylie. Where’s your rider, pretty boy?”

The horse looked at her for a long moment as if looking deep into her soul. Her chest clenched, and when he looked away and craned his neck toward the forest behind him, she let out a breath she hadn’t realize she held.

“Back there, huh? Is he hurt? I have medical training. If he’s hurt, maybe I can help him, but I need your help to get me there.”

As if the horse understood every word, he neighed and tossed his mane. She giggled and shook her head. “Look at you preening! Don’t you flirt with me, I might wanna keep you!” Calming down, Haylie sighed and looked back at her car. “You wait here, and I’ll get things that may help when we find him, okay?”

Without waiting for an answer, she went back to the car, grabbed her purse and popped the trunk. Inside, she had a road kit and a first aid kit. From the road kit, she pulled out an orange cone and let it pop up, then got a piece of wood to weigh it down so the wind wouldn’t blow it off. The first aid kit came out in its entirety, and with those two items, she dropped the trunk with a loud bang and slung her purse over her shoulder as she headed back around to the front of the car. After she placed the cone, she went over to the waiting horse.

“There we go. All ready. I don’t want to scare you anymore than I have to, so I can just follow you, okay?”

Again, intelligence flickered in the beast’s eyes and he canted his head. A gentle whinny rang in the air like music. She walked toward the woods, but soon found a soft muzzle pressed to the small of her back. Puffs of hot breath from his flared nostrils penetrated her t-shirt. She reached back, rubbed one of his attentive ears, and chuckled.

“Come on. Let’s find your rider.”

Pretty Boy, as she called him, came around to her side and knelt down, one foreleg stretching out gracefully before him, while the other tucked beneath him. His neck craned so his face was parallel to the ground. Haylie stopped and stared, her mouth open. Is this horse a film prop or something? Show horse? I mean, I know all animals can be trained to take verbal and visual cues, but this is... weird.

When she stood and stared, the horse’s face turned toward her and he snorted. Startled from her thoughts, she jumped and nearly dropped her first aid kit. I haven’t ridden a horse in years. What if he decides I’m not worthy or something and goes crashing toward the lowest possible branches to get me back off?

Another derisive snort, and she jumped again, this time in the stallion’s direction. He seemed pleased with this as his head went back to its proper position in wait. It took her a moment, but she tucked her foot into the stirrup and hopped awkwardly into the saddle. She gripped it as Pretty Boy smoothly rose and started walking. The walk soon turned into a loping canter as he steered himself between the dense brush. It almost seemed like the forest created a path for them where there hadn’t been one.

“I hope you know where you’re going, Pretty Boy. I’m lost already.” Pretty Boy nickered. It almost sounded like he was chuckling at her. “Hey now, no laughing at the green horn. Just because I don’t know where we are doesn’t mean I couldn’t get back out on my own. I’m not totally useless in the woods, thank you very much.”

She couldn’t help but rub his neck affectionately. At least he was good company. He even “laughed” at her jokes. After a while of going back and forth, Haylie idly watched the reins drag along the ground. Since she didn’t know where they were going, she’d not even thought to pick them up. Now, though, she realized the inherent dangers of the forest floor and reached down to her left. “Hey, Pretty Boy, toss your head this way so I can get the reins so they don’t catch on anything, okay?”

Pretty Boy turned his head far to the right for a moment, then whipped his head around to the left so that both reins flew back toward her. She almost missed them, but after a little scramble, she got them situated. Since the long strips of shiny leather hung loose and unconnected, she tucked them loosely under her legs. No sense guiding a horse when you don’t know where you’re going, Haylie. Don’t be dumb.

Time seemed to stand still as they loped easily through the woods. As they went, the surrounding trees became denser. The leaves here were thick and lush on the limbs where nearer the road they were still bare from winter’s grasp. The scent on the air was cleaner, somehow, and laden with a hint of summer. A cool breeze drifted through the boughs, rustling the leaves in a dizzying lilt of what sounded like whispers.

I’m going crazy. I must be going crazy. Leaves don’t do that. They either grow on all trees, or none... they don’t just grow faster the deeper into the woods you go. Right?

Soon, her thoughts dashed away as they entered a clearing. In the center was a prone form. It looked to be covered with a green blanket. It laid so still, Haylie was afraid whoever it was wasn’t breathing anymore.

“Hello?” Pretty Boy came to a stop a few feet away from the figure and bowed again to let her off. Haylie grabbed her first aid kit, jogged to the person’s side, and knelt to draw the green blanket away. The cloth was velvet soft, and when she pulled, she found it anchored to the man’s neck with an emerald and silver chained clasp. His long dark hair covered his face and hands, but his body was definitely male. Even through the roleplay gear he wore, the masculinity of his body was unmistakable. “Hello? Sir, are you okay?”

As she pushed his hair away from his face, she gasped. His bronze face had paled almost to the color of cream, made all the more stark with the trail of caked blood that ran from his temple down the side of his face. She carefully slid his hair back away from the line of gore until she found the source of the flow. It was above his temple, and not too deep, but with a look around, she couldn’t see any rocks he could have fallen onto.

“Pretty Boy, how’d this happen?” As if the horse could tell her. I ask the dumbest things of animals. I really do. No wonder everyone thinks I’m batshit.

In the next moment, her head felt light. Images flitted through her mind like a movie playing at a high speed. It took a moment for things to clear, but then she saw it all as if it were Technicolor. Pretty Boy galloped through the woods. She could feel the strong thighs around her sides, pressing and guiding her along as if she were the stallion. The forest again seemed to part for them, the path opening just as fast as Pretty Boy could run. From the side, a rock hurtled toward them. Then another, and another. Horse and rider ran toward the clearing where they’d have a better vantage. Master! I must save us! The rider’s legs twitched against her sides as a well-aimed rock struck him, and Haylie felt a throb pulse in the side of her head, a phantom pain that mirrored the rider’s.

Once they broke through the clearing, the rider’s legs went limp and his body slid out of the saddle to lie lifeless on the forest’s carpet of soft grass. Pretty Boy whirled around and reared up, pumping at the air with his powerful hooves. From the forest, little red eyes peered through the foliage and another volley of rocks heaved at them.

Master! Get up! Imps... I’ve never seen them in such numbers. Where did they all come from? This isn’t right. Master! Sol’kyr! Please! Get up!

But Sol’kyr wasn’t answering his mental pleas. Anger, fear and murder welled up in Haylie’s chest. It burned into a seething hatred that made the world drown in red. She ran into the brush, chasing down the imps, and only after a handful died under thundering hooves did the storm of rocks stop as they fled in fear.

Haylie’s mind became her own again, and she found that she was lying atop Sol’kyr. How did... what... just happened? Panting, she pushed herself upright. The world swam in a sudden vertigo. Pretty Boy’s muzzle came to rest at her side as she tipped over, and he brought her back up and remained there until she stopped teetering. With a sigh she reached out and rested a grateful hand on his face and gave him a fond rub.

“Batshit. I’m definitely batshit. Yup.” Pretty Boy snorted and nudged her a little more roughly than he had before. “Offended by bad words, too? Man, you’re more high class than I thought.” He nickered and went to chomp grass near her.

Getting all that black hair out of the man’s face was a chore. He had so much of it! Before doing much else, she checked for his pulse. He was breathing, but that meant little more than that he was alive. His pulse, though, was strong and steady. “I wish I had a back board and neck brace, but I’m not ambulance equipped.”

Another nicker came from beside her, and she shook her head. “Quit giggling, nag.” An indignant snort was his reply.

“Well, Sol’kyr... this would be easier for me if you’d landed on your back.” Remembering saddlebags, she stood, walked over to Pretty Boy, and rifled through them. Her search got her a water skin with its cork dangling from a string, a few sugar cubes, one of which she gave to Pretty Boy for being such a sweetheart, and a few wrapped packages that smelled like food. The last made her stomach grumble. She’d had fasting blood work done that day and still hadn’t eaten.

She shook the water skin, grimaced, and looked around. “It’s almost empty. Are there any streams around here to fill it with?” The horse tossed his head and walked toward her. Without another sound, he snatched the skin from her hands and galloped off into the woods, leaving her there by herself, confused, and with an unconscious Sol’kyr.

“Great. Just great.” Frowning, she wrinkled her nose and called after the horse. “I hope you know that I have abandonment issues!”

Would that make Pretty Boy hurry? He already galloped like the devil was at his heels, so who knew? “I’m too afraid to move you. If your neck or back are broken, I could do permanent damage, or even kill you. So... what do I do?”

The obvious answer still oozed down his face. Haylie opened a few pads of gauze from the first aid kit, along with the small bottle of alcohol, and dabbed the blood away, cleaning up his handsome face. As she pushed his hair behind his ear to get at his wound better, her breath hitched. His ears were delicate and tapered to a very distinct point that angled toward the crown of his head.

Her thoughts stilled. Whatever might have been going through her mind suddenly disappeared. With a gentle touch, she fingered the whorls and lines. There wasn’t even a faint scar anywhere telling her they’d been surgically altered. They felt whole, warm, and, most of all, real. “That, my friend, is one awesome birth defect. Or, I’m crazier than I thought when I woke up this morning.”

Her continued attentions to his ear made his breathing stutter. Another touch and he moaned and shifted. Haylie snatched her hand away and looked down at him wide-eyed.

“Whoa. Okay, waking up is good. Hey, Sol’kyr? Is that your name? I’m Haylie. I’m here to help. Please, don’t move yet.”

His eyes fluttered open and closed again. His breathing rose to a more wakeful rhythm as he flexed his hands. “Where... where is Kormir?” His accent was rich and thick, but for all Haylie’s worldly knowledge, she couldn’t place where it was from.

“Kormir? You mean Pretty Boy? I think he went to go get water. He snatched the water skin from my hands and ran.”

Sol’kyr chuckled and sighed. “He is like that.”

“Does anything hurt, sweetheart? ...Besides the nasty gash on your head?” She rested a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Not that I can feel, no. It feels like I had the wind knocked out of me, however.”

“Yeah, falling from a horse while unconscious could have that effect. Can you move your feet for me?” She put her fingers in his hand and smiled. “And squeeze my fingers as hard as you can, please.”

Haylie looked down at his booted feet and watched him roll his ankles. Though, she felt no squeeze on her fingers. Her breath hitched. “Um, I told you to squeeze my fingers, sweetie. Please do.”

He looked up at her then. His eyes were a stunning amber color that turned gold when the sun caught them. Her lower lip went between her teeth and she worried it a moment as he regarded her. “I do not wish to hurt you.”

“Uh... then squeeze gently. Just squeeze, please.” When he did, she sighed and sat back on her heels. His grip was gentle, but at least it felt strong. “Well, that’s about as far as my emergency medical training goes. I’m more trained for the operating room than field work.”

She smiled down at him. “Try things at your own pace, but I’d like to see your eyes soon. I only saw the one.”

He gave her a strange look, but nodded and sat up. His perfect hair stuck up everywhere with grass and twigs clinging to it. The side of his face he had lain on was red and bore the indents of his fingers. Haylie scooted close as she took a pen light from her first aid kit and quickly shined it in each eye a couple times. “Good pupil response, both are the same size. Congratulations, you made it out of an imp attack without a concussion.”

Just then, Haylie heard the thundering of hooves, and sure enough, Kormir erupted from the forest with a whinny and toss of his head that sloshed water out of the skin that hung from his teeth. “There’s my Pretty Boy! I worried about you. Abandonment issues, if you recall,” she teased.

Kormir snorted and trotted over, lowering the water skin into her waiting hands. “Such a smart boy. Oh, I wish I could just keep you forever!” He nickered at her in a way that sounded like a chuckle, then went to Sol’kyr with a soft neigh of recognition and nuzzled into his shoulder. “Fine. Be that way, then. One man horse, yeah?” Another soft nicker and she chuckled.

“Does he always act as if he understands everything we say?”

Sol’kyr perked a brow at her as he stroked his horse’s face. “He does. It is no act.”

“What?” She blinked. “You’re not serious.”

“I am quite serious, Miss. For instance, how did you know my name?”

She blinked again and slouched as she tried to think of it. And the movie scene in her mind came back to light. “Uh, I heard it in my mind?”

“Are you asking me?”

“Maybe?”

Sol’kyr tipped his head back and laughed. The sound was deep, rich and lusty. She could listen to that laugh all day, but it ended too soon. “He shared a mental link with you, then. It is rare for any horse to do so with anyone other than their riders and capable handlers.”

“So, um, the imps from the little dream thing are real, too? And your ears? Aren’t surgically altered?” She gave him a disbelieving look. His brows shot toward his hairline, though, and his hands rose to both ears. He spat a word she didn’t recognize and looked a little ill.

“I am guessing I wasn’t supposed to see those. Well, your secret is safe with me! No one would believe me, anyway.”

He gave her another one of his strange looks, but there was a soft smile this time that accompanied it. “Oh?”

“Everyone knows I’m ba—” Kormir snorted and Haylie got a face full of lush horse tail and changed her wording a little. “Insane. Everyone knows it. I just got back from my brain doctor, who, like every month before, confirms it.”

Sol’kyr chuckled, took a sip from the water skin that Haylie handed him and shook his head. “You have the touch of a healer. Healers are often not quite all there, but I doubt very much that you are insane.”

“I won’t argue with that!” She grinned. “So, you’re okay, I need to get back to my car and get it back to my parents before they have coronaries.”

He frowned a little. “Where are you from?”

“Do you want my entire life story as a traveler, or do you just want to know where I live now?”

He laughed in that deep, rumbling way of his again and stared at her with twinkling golden eyes. “I think I would like to hear the former, but I would like there to be enough time for the tale. For now, I will settle for where you live at this moment.”

“Well, I live about...” She looked around for the nearest tree, found the moss, and pointed northwest. “A twenty minute drive that way... or, I would if I remembered to count how many minutes it took to get here from my car.”

“Ah, I see.” Something passed across his face that Haylie didn’t catch, and he went on. “In any case, I think we should escort you before it is too late.”

Haylie jumped to her feet. Panic gripped her chest, and she looked around frantically. “Too late for what?”

Before she could say another word, he pressed her against his powerful chest. Sol’kyr’s arms wound around her, holding her securely to him. Her face pressed against his shoulder, and she turned it, tucking her head under his chin. It felt so strange. She took in a deep lungful of his scent and wrinkled her nose. He smelled of grass and blood from his tumble, but beneath that, his clothes and skin exuded pine and mountain air mixed with an exotic spice she couldn’t put a name or memory to. Trembling, she tried to pull away, but he held fast. Sol’kyr placed a kiss atop her head. His warm breath puffed against her ear as he spoke in deep, rumbled murmurs.

“Nothing will harm you with me near.”

“Yeah, says the man who was lying unconscious from an imp’s stone attack in the middle of a clearing,” she said in a flat tone.

He chuckled and sighed. “I will give you that, Haylie. But, I am not so useless as that has made me seem.”

She smirked and shook her head. “I feel so much better now... And you still haven’t answered me. Too late for what?”

“The veil between my world and yours will close soon, disrupting your way back. We must away now. Are you calmer?”

She nodded, but tried to get away again. When he resisted, tears pricked her eyes.

“You are crying. Why?”

Haylie wiped at her eyes and pulled away. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry. I’m fine. Let’s go.”

Sol’kyr frowned and looked like he was about to say something else, but nodded and took another long pull from the water skin. He capped it and expertly tied it to the saddle bag as it would no longer fit inside. As he packed it, he regarded the first aid kit with interest, but it was clear time was of the essence. That got stuffed inside the saddlebags in place of the water skin and secured. Then, he lifted her onto the saddle, took up the reins and vaulted up behind her with as much grace as a ballet dancer leaping through the air. When he settled, he held the reins with one hand, and held to Haylie with the other. Feeling his broad chest against her back brought a wave of panic, but she made no mention.

CHAPTER TWO

As they headed through the path that opened for them, they were quiet for a long time. Haylie watched the trees go by, counting them idly. It seemed like time went on forever. Kormir loped at the same pace as he had to bring her to the clearing, but it felt like they had been traveling twice as long from the clearing back toward the car. And still, the trees were in full bloom. Not a bare branch in sight.

“Are you sure we’re going in the right direction, Sol’kyr?”

“You may call me ‘Sol’ if you prefer. And I do not know the direction toward your... car. Kormir is the one leading, so I assume that is where he is taking us.”

She frowned and craned to look up into his face. “I’m not going home, am I?”

“Why would you say that?” He gave her a thoughtful expression.

“Because we would have hit the spring trees by now. These are in bloom like it’s late spring to early summer. Where I came in, the trees were still trying to wake up from winter.”

“Ah, I see. That is very observant of you.”

“You’re not letting me go home, are you?” she repeated.

“That is not for me to decide, young one. You have caught me at a disadvantage with my glamor down. I must take this to the council.” At least he sounded apologetic.

“What about that thing with the veil? When will it open again? I have to get home!”

He hugged her again and rested his chin atop her head. “I am uncertain. I am not used to abiding by time according to human standards. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say a month.” He went quiet at that, then nodded. “Yes, I believe that is correct.”

“I can’t go home for a month?! What about my home? I have to pay rent! What about my cat? She needs food and water! Can’t I even call someone so she’ll be cared for?”

Sol sighed and hugged her tight against him again. “I am sorry, Haylie. For now, I do not make the rules. But I promise you I will do what I can to make this bearable for you.”

Tears burned their way to the surface, and she covered her face with both hands. Panic once again welled in her chest, tightening it with a ferocity she hadn’t felt since her psychiatrist diagnosed her with chronic anxiety. She tried not to, but the tears made her nose watery and forced her to sniffle. This earned her another, warmer hug. Sol sighed and wrapped the reins around his wrist and used both arms to hold her against his chest. That closeness forced everything out. Where before she had only a few tears streaming down her face, now she flat out bawled in a stranger’s arms.

“I have to get home! You can’t keep me here!” She hated how small, childish and terrified she sounded. “Let me go!”

“Where would you go, Haylie?” His voice was warm, soothing with a tinge of sorrow. “The way is already closed. We could not have made it in time if we tried. Am I such bad company?”

“I don’t know you!”

“How can you know someone if you do not give them a chance to be known?”

He had a point. She couldn’t deny that. All her life, people proved over and over again that no one in her life could be trusted except her animals. His arms were warm around her. A hand lifted to stroke her short, wavy auburn hair. The petting only relaxed her somewhat. When she sagged against his chest, he guided her right leg over so she sat sidesaddle and pulled her closer.

“How old are you, Haylie?” Curiosity tinged his conversational tone.

“I’ll be twenty next month.” A yawn escaped her. Her mind was clouded, and it made it hard to think. The singing returned, a soft cadence that relaxed her further.

“So very young.” He sighed and petted her hair.

“I feel so old...” Haylie turned and buried her face in his chest. If he had to hold her, she might as well be comfortable. Sol shifted them so he was in the saddle and she sat on his lap. That felt odd. The last time she sat in anyone’s lap, she was a toddler, and she wasn’t sure she liked it. As old as she was, he moved her with the grace and ease of a parent to a child. Suddenly, she felt quite childlike.

“What do you think makes you feel so old?” She couldn’t tell if he was interested, or if he was just making conversation to pass the time. That sounded like something her therapist would ask. She wanted to ask “why do you care?” but that seemed a little too mean to say to someone who was holding her like she was a treasure... or a possession.

“I’ve always felt old. Even when I was a toddler. I’d have tantrums because it pissed me off that I had to go through childhood all over again. It didn’t seem fair. As I grew up, it felt like I was growing too fast, but not fast enough. I kept having dreams I was someone or something else. During history lessons, I remembered things. It felt like I grew too fast, and the more it felt like that, the more I became obsessed with it until I’d lose whole days in the library, or watching history movies. That’s when people called me crazy, because I’d sit there and argue with my teachers. And when they’d ask how I knew, I’d go blood red and say that’s how I remembered it.”

“What if they actually were memories?”

“Now that’s just silly, Sol.”

“Is it? Kormir asserts that my ears did not startle you. Would memories of a past life be as silly as meeting an elf?”

Haylie frowned and thumped her forehead against his chest. “You have a point. But why does it matter?”

Sol went quiet for a long moment, but when he spoke again, his voice was soft and thick like warm honey. “We will see on that. For now, however, let us speak on another matter.”

She looked up then and gasped. Her hand reached up to touch the side of his face. “You’re bleeding again. Keep hold of me.”

Seeing blood instantly brought out the medical professional in her, even if she hadn’t worked in the field for half a year. Without warning, she bent so she could reach the saddlebag and fished out the first aid kit. Sol almost lost his grip, but he kept her on his lap as best he could. When she righted herself, he shifted her into a more comfortable position. Haylie opened the first aid kit on her lap and fished out more gauze. She opened and pressed it to his gash with one hand while the other tried to keep the contents of the first aid kit from being bounced out with Kormir’s movements.

“I might need to stitch that closed unless speedy healing comes with those ears.”

He gave her an amused look. “I believe we heal at the same rate as you would. Perhaps a little faster, but only marginally.”

As she applied more pressure she wrinkled her nose. Sol hissed through his teeth and closed his eyes, but Haylie wasn’t letting up. Part of her believed that he deserved a little pain for keeping her from going home. “If pressure doesn’t stop the bleeding in a few moments, we need to pull over and you need stitches. I have a suture kit in here, but I’m not about to stick you with needles while on a cantering horse, no matter how smooth he moves.”

“Yes, that would be wise. We should meet up with my camp soon, and you may do as you wish there.”

Sol’kyr trembled from the pain. It turned his normally bronze skin a dull, ashen color. The way they sat, she studied his face. He reminded her of a Native American with his hair and skin coloring. Sol had high cheekbones and full lips. His skin was flawless and held a natural tan. He almost resembled the airbrushed models she’d seen on magazines at the checkout counters in grocery stores. His eyes were that rich amber color, but she remembered how vivid a gold they changed in the sun. Thin lashes fringed the almond shapes. Sol had an angular face with a straight nose and powerful jaw. His thin brows looked sculpted by an experienced salon artist and framed his eyes elegantly. There were features that some might call feminine, but he exuded masculinity in such a way that even insinuating such things seemed wrong.

His eyes looked into hers then. For the briefest moment, they hooded, his chest seized, but the moment passed as fast as it came on. Recognition passed over his face before he turned his eyes back to their path.

“You are not what you seem, little one.”

Haylie’s mouth dropped open, then worked as if she would say something, but she clamped it shut with a snap of teeth to try again. “What do you mean by that?” Where did that tone come from? I’ve never been that acidic.

“Forgive me. I will explain when my head is no longer pounding.”

At that, Haylie pulled the gauze back to check on the wound. She could see the gash more clearly now that the pad lifted away the clots. It was deep and raw looking. The jagged edges would give her fits when stitching him up. “You’ll have a nasty scar, but your hair will hide most of it when it isn’t gross with dried blood.”

He laughed at that and peered down at her; something twinkled in his eyes and she couldn’t tell if it was amusement or mischief. “We do not scar. At least, the marks do not stay long. They fade rather fast.”

Sol glanced over at her and pursed his lips in thought. “Nor do I see a scar on you, Haylie. Either you do not scar, or you have lived a very sheltered life.”

Blood rushed to her cheeks, setting them on fire, and she ducked her head. Taking a deep breath, she sighed and closed her eyes. Haylie hated the way she felt around him. Her arms and legs were free of scars though she didn’t understand how. She wasn’t graceful and often ended up with cuts, bruises and abrasions, despite the blue jeans she always wore.

The way he said that made her wonder what he was getting at. “Not so sheltered. I’m clumsy as a newborn colt.”

He grinned at that. “Children are often clumsy, yes.”

She pursed her lips, but suddenly his breathing changed. His eyes grew more alert. His pupils expanded and contracted as he scanned an area. Haylie turned her head to see a clearing near though she couldn’t see much through the trees other than a few shaded figures on the opposite side. Sol let out a low bird call whistle, and someone responded with a similar sound.

They entered the clearing and soon Sol set Haylie on her feet. Her legs wobbled, and she promptly fell onto her backside when she tried to walk. She hadn’t realized how numb her legs and butt had become during the ride.

The first aid kit went tumbling, and she sighed, glad she closed it during their conversation. Sol leapt out of the saddle, scooped her into his arms and carried her across the clearing. Voices from the other side came to them. The language was unfamiliar to her, yet familiar in a strange way at the same time. It sounded vaguely like what she’d heard once in a dream, and somewhat like the ever constant singing.

Sol responded to them in the same language, but when he looked down at her, a knowing smile crept across his features and he changed to English. “Come brothers, we have a friend who does not speak our language. We must not be rude.”

The other three stared at her for a moment, then nodded almost in unison. “Who is your friend, Sol?” The voice sounded like it came from a woman. All three had long hair, but with the shadows clinging to them, she couldn’t tell which she was.

“My name is Haylie. I’m, uh... human. Sorry to be an inconvenience,” she groused, but Sol’s lips met her forehead, and he spoke loud enough for the others to hear, yet his voice was tender.

“You are not an inconvenience, little one. Do not think such things. If anything, I have inconvenienced you.”

The woman came closer. Her hair that shone copper in the sun, hung in loose ringlets around her face. Her eyes sparkled like emeralds, vivid, almost faceted. “Ah, it is a pleasure to meet you Hay—my word...”

Her eyes widened as she stared at Haylie. Her lower lip quivered a moment, but then she seemed to recover, clearing her throat. “My apologies. It is a pleasure to meet you, Haylie. I am Lin’ra, and these quiet brutes are Velithor and Morough.”

The two shadowed men bowed their heads in greeting. Strange. They both stayed in the shadows as if they had something against the sun. However, Velithor ventured out after a slight hesitation. He held a warm smile and was more lithe than the other two males. He had leaner muscle, a bow at his back and a quiver of arrows slung over a shoulder. His hair hung down past his rump in thick waves of silvery white. Morough reached out and tugged on his hair as he followed. Like Sol, he had the sculpted muscle of a hardened warrior, his chest was bare and his hair wet and slick, tied back in a tight braid, obscuring its color.

“You should not take in strays, brother. She has seen us, so she cannot go back, yet she is human, and cannot enter Y’lon Stral. What do you intend to do with her, Sol’kyr?”

Velithor turned a frown on Morough and walked closer to Sol. “Watch your tongue, Morough. Just because you haven’t any feelings doesn’t mean she doesn’t.” He turned to Haylie with an apologetic smile that lit up his electric blue eyes. “Don’t mind him, Haylie. We will figure something out. Lin, we should stay here tonight. I think this poor dear has spent enough time in the saddle for the day.”

Haylie lifted a hand like she was in class asking questions. “Uh, I was sitting sidesaddle most of the trip. I’m fine. Just a little weak from being hungry. I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon.”

Lin’ra’s eyes went wide again, and she rushed over to a pile of packs. “Veli, get the stones. Morough... just try not to hurt her feelings again. Sol, get that poor child comfortable. I’ll get the stew warmed up as soon as the stones are hot.”

Veli grinned and stroked a comforting hand over Haylie’s hair, then turned to get “the stones”, whatever that meant. She watched him as Sol carried her over to a fallen log and sat down with her in his lap. She wondered if he was keeping her this close due to caring for her safety, or worrying she might run.

Once Velithor finished rummaging through a few sacks, he brought over three flat stones about the size of odd-shaped dinner plates and set them close to the log. When he finished, they glowed a fiery gold that reminded Haylie of Sol’kyr’s eyes. Soon the warmth of them washed over her. The heat of the day seemed gone when she had entered the summery forest. It wasn’t as muggy; a cool breeze blew. As the sun made its slow descent, blessed chill air breathed in. The relief of those glowing stones was welcome, and her body relaxed against Sol’s form.

The contented sensation caused her to close her eyes, but noise near the stones brought her attention back to the present. She watched as Lin placed a large stone dish over them to heat, and soon the scent of something meaty filled her nostrils, making her stomach rumble loudly. Her cheeks flushed, and three of the four elves chuckled at her.

“It will be ready soon, little one,” Sol reassured her. Then he winced, and Haylie peered at him. Her eyes trailed up to above his temple, and she wrinkled her nose.

“I need water, clean cloth, and my kit.”

He sighed and motioned for Velithor to fetch the white box over by Kormir who lazily mowed the sweet grass. When the white-haired elf brought it over, and she had the other necessities, she busied herself tending to Sol’kyr’s gash.

With everything within her reach, she pulled his head down with both her hands, and sucked on his hair, which received a groan of disgust from Sol. She stopped and made a face. “Oh, quit that. The easiest way to un-clot blood for cleaning is with saliva. You’ll get over it if you want to keep your hair from infecting your stitches. I have to get it as sterile as I can without full medical supplies.”

He sighed, but nodded. When she finished drooling in his hair, she worked the mats with her fingers until the moistened clots separated. It took a good few minutes, but Haylie got his hair clean enough to her standards and sterilized the strands and area around the gash with alcohol. As she treated him, she grinned. “Your blood is sweet. It isn’t the dull metallic taste of human blood.”

“You taste blood often?” The disgust was back in his tone.

“I used to work with a lot of kids. Kissing boo-boos is part of the job. That means blood. I found that it’s better to kiss near the bloody boo-boo so the blood can run the bacteria from the kiss away than it is to kiss near a cleaned wound, because the bacteria stays put longer. Either that, or I have magic kisses. Who knows?”

He chuckled at that and shook his head. “Perhaps you should just kiss my... ‘boo-boo’ and avoid the stitches?”

She wrinkled her nose. “I think you’re a little too old for that, don’t you?”

Something sparkled in his golden eyes, seeming more like mischief this time, and he smiled. “Humor me?”

She sighed and sat up. His hair and skin reeked of alcohol, and it stung her nose as she inhaled. When her lips met his skin, though, she felt something flower deep inside her belly and flow like water through her body and into her lips. It left her breathless. Her eyes closed, and she found Sol holding onto her tightly, as if begging her not to stop.

When he relaxed his grip, she slumped against him and trembled. “What... was that?”

He lifted a hand to the faint scar above his temple and smirked. “I think your kisses are magic.”

Lin overheard them and wandered over. She peered at the small bald area of his head and then down at Haylie. “Sol? I think we need to speak alone for a moment.”

Sol gave her a look of displeasure. “Whatever you have to say, Lin, you will say it in front of her. This must frighten her.”

Haylie looked up at Lin for a moment and noticed the worry in her face. She patted his chest and shook her head. “No, it’s all right, Sol. My butt hurts from sitting for so long, so I’ll go bug the other two while I stretch my legs, okay?”

He continued to hold her for a moment as different thoughts raced across his eyes, but ultimately nodded. “Very well. Just give Morough some space. He isn’t very personable to humans.”

Haylie nodded and got off his lap. Relief flooded her that he actually let her go. “Fair enough.”

Her legs felt like jelly, but she could walk now. She waddled the first few steps, but went over to the silver haired one. She grinned up at him as she approached. “Sorry for barging in on you two, but the others wanted privacy.”

Morough gave her a hard stare and turned away, glancing at Velithor. “I will scout the camp. I will return when the food is ready.”

Veli nodded, and when Morough left, his eyes turned sad. “Don’t mind him, Haylie. He’s been through some trying times of late. He shouldn’t be so rude.”

Haylie shrugged. “He’s fine. People deal with their crap in their own ways. I can’t fault him for that.”

“Thank you for your understanding.” He glanced back to Sol and Lin for a moment. “What happened? I have not seen Lin so animated since we were children.”

“I kissed Sol’s wound and something happened, and now the gash isn’t there anymore.”

Veli’s eyes widened, and a slow grin crept across his face. “I see. Interesting.”

“Uh-huh. What’s so interesting that people keep looking at me like that?” These people are weird. Why the hell won’t anyone tell me what’s going on?

Velithor must have seen something cross her face, as he gave her shoulder a squeeze. “I think we should get closer to our home before we go into that. No one knows for sure, and there is no reason to give you false information when we can get definitive answers soon enough.”

There was a finality in his voice that told Haylie the discussion was closed, so she sighed and looked down as she scuffed her feet across the grass. “I don’t like being kept in the dark.”

“Nor do I. I also dislike being misled, which is why I refrain from speaking what three out of four of us seem to think. All will be well, Haylie. You will see.”

Haylie nodded and then squeaked as he pulled her into a warm hug. At first, her muscles tensed, but within moments, she relaxed into it. She liked hugs, and somehow Velithor’s touch didn’t send her into a panic. A sudden realization seized her. Before today, she couldn’t remember the last time anyone had hugged her. And she thought no one at all had hugged her like these people had. It brought tears to her eyes again, and as if he smelled them, he kissed the top of her head. “Why are you crying?”

With a deep sigh, she pressed her forehead against his chest. “Nothing. I’m all right. I have weird emotional patterns or emotional whiplash, and today’s been stressful.”

He nodded against the side of her head and slowly let her go. “They seem to have finished their discussion. Come, the food is ready.”

Morough showed up as if out of nowhere and brushed past them as he strode toward the fire stones. It was strange to see flames and warmth without smoke in a campground, but she liked that she didn’t have to smell burning things. The cooking food smelled too good to taint it with smoldering wood.

Once everyone settled down in front of the fire and they passed around the food, Haylie stared into her stoneware bowl and poked at everything. Despite the delicious scent and her ravenous hunger, she recognized nothing in it, not even the meat. Sol rested a hand on her shoulder. Neither he nor Lin would say anything to her about their talk but she expected that. It felt odd to have his hand on her now. Somehow, she’d suspected that talk would make him act different with her.

She looked up at him, and he smiled at her. “Do you not like it?”

“What’s in it?”

He tilted his head. “Root vegetables from our home, meat you might be best not asking where it comes from, cream, and spices.”

She wrinkled her nose, but tried a spoonful against her better judgment. The meat melted in her mouth as if it had cooked for hours. The vegetables were soft but still had a bite to them. The broth was thick and creamy. It tasted better than anything she had ever eaten, and before she knew it, the bowl was empty, and she had to stop herself from licking it clean.

Sol stared at her for a moment as he paused his own eating, trying in vain to keep his mirth reined in, and filled her bowl again. “Eat your fill, little one.”

Looking at him shyly, Haylie thanked him and tucked into that bowl slower. Halfway through eating, her mind worked again. Her earlier daydream of becoming Kormir flashed through her mind. The imps came back to her memory, and she shuddered.

“Sol? What happens if the imps come back?”

Lin sat up straighter and furrowed her brows. “Imps?” She turned to Sol, and her face went stoic. “So that is how you received your wound.”

He nodded. “I have never seen them assembled like that. It was almost like an ambush. I had not thought they could be that organized.”

Velithor frowned and set his empty bowl aside. “I’ve noticed the hishkir being unusually mobile as well.”

Haylie grimaced. “What’s a hishkir?”

Sol frowned and looked into his bowl as he spoke. “They are vicious creatures that resemble large house cats in your realm, but feed on children. They prefer elven blood, but will go after any bipedal child if they are hungry enough.”

That made her stomach squirm. Haylie’s thoughts went to her cat, Punkin, at home. Was she all right? Would someone notice Haylie went missing and take care of her while she was gone? No one cares. No one would even check for me. My parents would just call the police thinking I’d run off with their car. But, when they found the car without me in it, would they think to take care of Punkin then?

She felt ill and set the rest of her stew aside and curled into a ball. Sol’s hand rested on her back, gently rubbing. “Are you all right?”

“No. But, I’ll be fine.” I can’t go home for a month, anyway. No sense getting them upset. “It made me miss my cat, is all.”

He nodded and squeezed her shoulder. “I am sorry to have taken you away from it.”

You should be. “It’s all right.”

CHAPTER THREE

Haylie didn’t go back to her meal. She ate a little too much, her stomach fitfully full. She couldn’t fight the drowsiness any longer. Haylie closed her eyes and leaned against Sol’kyr’s side. It felt like she was falling. She heard the conversation between the four elves like she was underwater. Nothing sounded right. The surrounding forest loomed closer. Haylie couldn’t open her eyes. Her breathing became hitched and labored, almost like one of her panic attacks.

Footsteps neared, rustling the undergrowth from behind them. Muscles tensed, but she couldn’t make her body respond to turn around. She tried to speak, but her mouth wouldn’t open. Something putrid filled her nostrils, the rot like a mangled corpse that had been festering in the sun for two days.

Haylie, wake up. Wake up!

Who’re you? Haylie didn’t recognize the voice.

Don’t worry who I am yet. You must wake up!

I can’t! I can’t feel anything. I can’t control my body!

The voice sighed. You are stronger than this! You remember how you felt when you kissed Sol’kyr. Try to draw that feeling again. Force it outward and make it fill you.

Haylie tried. It took a moment, but she imagined kissing Sol’s forehead again, and reached for that tingle inside her. She drew on it, still with that image in her mind, and pushed it through her limbs and core.

Sol roughly stroked Haylie’s face when she woke. Her body jerked, and her eyes flew open, looking about as she tried to calm her frantic breathing. The four elves stood around her in a circle, worry shining in even Morough’s eyes.

“What happened?” she squeaked.

Sol frowned and rubbed her cheeks more affectionately. “I hoped you could tell us.”

“I don’t know. I was listening to you four talking, and suddenly I couldn’t move or anything. It was hard to breathe, and I smelled something gross and decaying.”

Lin’ra hissed. “Skels.”

“Do I want to know?” Haylie asked. Sol shook his head. “I’m asking anyway.”

Morough kept his eyes on the tree line. “They can take on any form by magic. They almost never come this close to the fire stones. Lin, a little help?”

She walked over to him and placed her hands around his forehead from behind. A moment later, his dark eyes glowed a soft blue. He grabbed his sword and crossbow from their place against the fallen log and disappeared into the forest.

Lin frowned and sat down on the other side of Haylie while Velithor watched with his bow in hand and an arrow at the ready.

“They also rarely attack this early. Most often they wait until nightfall. It is still daylight.” Lin’s voice wavered. “Sol, what is going on?”

“I do not know yet. I—” He looked down at Haylie and his eyes softened. “Morough is skilled, Haylie.”

“I didn’t say he wasn’t.”

“No, but your eyes are larger than a frightened doe’s, and you are shaking.” He wrapped her up a little tighter against him.

“Well, yeah, but it isn’t the thing out there that’s got me freaked out.”

Lin frowned, running her fingers through Haylie’s hair. “Someone here is making you upset?”

“Only if one of you four is talking in my head all of a sudden...”

Snatching her hand back, Lin’s frown deepened, and she looked hard into Haylie’s eyes. “What do you mean?”

Haylie shrank as much as she could against Sol’s chest and pressed her lips together. “It’s nothing. It’s just my crazy showing. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

Sol poked her in the side. “Answer her, Haylie.”

No, Haylie. They cannot know about me. Not yet. The voice was almost pleading, but stern at the same time.

But why? Who are you, and what are you doing in my head? She wasn’t all that sure she wanted to know.

Just trust me for now.

Not when you won’t tell me who you are or why you want me to trust you.

The masculine voice sighed, and it was then she heard Sol’s voice. “Haylie? Haylie... Are you all right?”

Blinking, Haylie looked from Sol’s worried gaze to Lin’s and back. “Oh, uh, sorry. I think I’m more tired than I thought. I need some... water, and to rest for a moment.”

Good call.

I’m not through with you yet. She shivered and accepted the water Veli gave her. You’ll tell me. Now. Or I’ll tell them about you and see just what they can do to get you out.

Or, the voice chided, they will just reassure you how batshit you are. Or did you suddenly forget that when the handsome elves came to whisk you away from your doldrum life?

Haylie’s heart stopped, and she looked between the two faces near her. She could feel Velithor staring at her from behind. Haylie swallowed hard to get the water past the lump in her throat, cleared her airway with a small cough, and shivered.

“It just unnerved me really bad.”

Both nodded and seemed a little relieved though Sol didn’t seem convinced. He looked about to speak when a loud squeal issued from behind them. A few long moments later, Morough came out from the shadows. His eyes weren’t glowing any longer. Morough had a strange beast that looked like a toddler with claws, horns and razor-like teeth set in a mean, thin mouth impaled on the end of his sword, though it wasn’t dead. He forced it to get closer to the fire stones, and the closer it got, the worse the reek stunk up the camp. None of the others seemed able to smell it, but when Morough shoved it right next to the fire stones, it burst into flames with a shrill squeal. As it twitched and writhed in its death throes, Haylie lurched over to the side and retched her stomach’s contents into the grass behind Lin’ra.

Sol held her so she didn’t go face first in it. Lin rubbed her back. Velithor’s feet were in front of her face. She’d gotten sick on his boot. When she finished vomiting, she realized what she’d done. It hit her like a ton of bricks and she sat up, horrified. “Oh God, I’m so sorry, Veli!” She cringed as her voice came as a gravelly whine. “I’m so, so sorry!”

Veli smoothed back her hair and handed her a few leaves. “I’ve had worse on my boots, Haylie. Chew these. It is mint. It will help ease your stomach’s distress.”

She shuddered, and Sol tucked her back onto his lap as she stuck the leaves into her mouth and chewed. They tasted wonderful after what had just left her. They filled her nostrils with sweet minty air as she exhaled and helped to get rid of some of the ick from the whatever-it-was.

“You guys didn’t smell that? How could you stomach it?”

The four elves looked between each other with perplexed expressions, and then all four sets of eyes landed on her again. “What do you mean?” Morough asked.

“I mean, the closer that thing got to the fire, the worse it smelled. That’s what made me sick.”

Careful, Haylie. The voice warned.

Do you know why I smelled it and they didn’t?

I can’t tell you that yet.

Why not?

Because I don’t want you blurting it out to them until we get closer to the city.

Now I really don’t trust you.

“Haylie? You drifted off again.” Sol hugged her and smoothed her hair away from her face.

“Uh, yeah. Sorry. Rough day.”

Lin leaned over and sniffed her. “Haylie, what did you smell? Only those sucked into the skels’ dream vise can smell them, and only during the dream state...”

Nothing. You smelled nothing.

Are you kidding? It smelled like decaying flesh. I spent a few weeks in a morgue. I know what rotting flesh smells like. That was rotting flesh. She wailed in disgust at the voice.

Yes, well, I can’t argue with you there, but don’t tell them that. It could get you into trouble.

T—trouble?

“I’m not sure. I’ve smelled nothing like it before.” Haylie could see the disbelief in Lin’s eyes, but the woman let it go for now.

Sol reached up and unclasped his cloak. He brought it around over his shoulders and wrapped it around Haylie’s. It smelled more like him than his shirt. He must only wash it when it’s gross. Why is his scent so calming now?

You will know that soon, child. When we get to Y’lon Stral, you will know.

How long will that be? The voice annoyed Haylie. Can you even tell me your name? I’d like to know what to call the thing I’m about to curse out.

The voice sighed. You may call me Taryn.

Taryn? Sounds like an elf name. How did an elf get inside my head?

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Now, pay attention!

At that moment, she realized Morough was knelt at her side, speaking. “You really do go off into your own little world often, young one. It is good that Sol keeps you so tightly wrapped, else you might float away.”

Haylie gave him a small, rueful smile as she tucked the cloak around her throat a little more. “I find I’m usually my own best company. Please forgive me.”

A spark of amusement lingered in Morough’s soft violet eyes. “Spoken like a warrior.”

“I’ve never seen you take to anyone this fast, Morough.” Lin gave him an amused grin. “Especially a human.”

“I have never been pitted against someone who was more interesting than myself before, Lin.” The grin vanished into a soft pout. He grinned and turned back to Haylie. “Sleep now. I will keep watch to make sure those creatures leave you to your own dreams.”

It was like Morough had given her mind a command. As he stood, she felt her eyelids droop and then close. Her body felt heavy. Sol held her a little closer.

Her dreams were more vivid than she’d ever had. She sat in a meadow, the colors rich and vibrant, with flowers in her hand as she braided them into a circlet. Someone came up behind her and covered her eyes with his hands. She recognized his scent, heard his voice, but couldn’t understand what he was saying. When he took his hands away, the meadow disappeared.

Now, Haylie stood on a battlefield. Creatures she had never seen, nor imagined, surged toward a beautiful city of silver. The purple and gold glow from the city dimmed more the closer the hordes came to it. Her heart thundered in her chest as she watched elves fall like autumn leaves.

“Is it not wondrous, Ka’lei? The city falls to ruin.”

A few feet to her left, Haylie saw a cloaked figure. His hood covered his entire face except for his chin and the tip of his nose. He looked to Haylie, spoke to her. Her heart felt heavy, and hands trembled as she clenched them at her sides. Haylie tried to scream at him to stop, but she couldn’t utter a word.

She glanced up. They were in an enormous cave, the ceiling too far up to see. A storm brewed, and a black blob with thousands of eyes tried to drip out of a black hole.

Fierce violet eyes flashed behind the figure. An ornate and battle-scarred faceplate covered the lower half of his face and wrapped around the back of his neck. Dents marred his gilded armor. Blood dripped from a gouge in his brow. Golden hair streamed behind him in a high ponytail. A crossbow glinted in the dim light, and a silver bolt shot toward the cloaked figure’s head.

The bolt bounced off without connecting to the figure, and a golden bubble shimmered around him. As the bolt fell harmlessly to the ground, a surge of energy shot from the bubble, following the bolt’s backward trajectory, and hit the warrior square in the chest, knocking him flat. A hiss of surprise preceded a low incantation as the cloaked figure’s hands limned in yellow light. Balls of fire filled his hands, and he laughed with sinister glee. “Ah, the Black Prince!” He sneered and motioned for the warrior to stand. “On your feet.”

The warrior struggled to his feet. Haylie could feel the hatred rolling off him. His hand curled around the stock of his crossbow, but a bolt of golden light knocked it out of his hands, and it skittered off the edge of the cliff on which they stood.

“What do you think, Ka’lei? Kill him, or use him as false ransom to finish the ruined city?”

Haylie tried her hardest to scream, to move, to do anything. Those violet eyes looked at her, betrayal and confusion hardening them. She tried to cry, but her body wasn’t her own. The cloaked elf’s hands grew brighter, and as the warrior lunged forward to knock the other off his feet, those deadly hands exploded and sent the warrior off the edge. His battle roar echoed upward. It cut short as the bested warrior met the jagged rocks at the bottom of the chasm.

Haylie watched in slow motion as he tumbled over the edge, the front of his armor torn asunder by the intense magical blast. She filled her lungs and screamed.

“Morough!”

Her eyes flew open as she woke up. Morough skidded to a stop in front of her. Sol’s strong arm tightened around her, pressing her back to his chest. Haylie and Sol laid curled up on the ground, her head supported by Sol’s arm. Morough’s worried violet eyes stared down at her.

“Haylie, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Tears slid down her cheeks, and she gasped for breath. Sobbing, she reached out and groped for his hand until he gave it to her and she curled around it, pulling away from Sol. She felt up along his arm and found his chest. Her fingers explored the swells and valleys of naked muscle until satisfied he was whole, and she collapsed again. Several long minutes passed before the gentle petting and soft murmurs calmed her down to where her sobs came as hiccupped sighs. Morough tried again.

“Haylie? What’s wrong?”

“A dream... creatures were attacking an underground city. Their darkness was dimming the lights. Someone was standing with me, but I couldn’t talk or move. You tried to kill him, but he blew you off a cliff’s ledge!”

With a heavy sigh, he sat on the ground with a thump and gathered her up, kissing her palm once he pried it off his arm. “Such vivid dreams. I’m fine, as you can see.”

She shook her head. “He—”

Haylie, no! The rest is best kept to yourself! Taryn shouted. You mustn’t!

She sighed. She wasn’t awake enough to argue and thudded her head against Morough’s chest. “He was scary. It felt so real and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.”

Lin stood behind Morough and gave her a look that Haylie didn’t understand. She knelt next to them and laid a hand on Haylie’s head. Where she touched her felt too warm, and the warmth soon spread into Haylie’s head and down her neck. It choked her, and she tried to jerk away, but Lin held her head still. When she finished, she tilted her head, her facial expression showing her confusion and displeasure.

“I can’t access her mind.”

Haylie blinked up at her. “Why would you want to? Also, asking permission before doing something like that would be nice, you know. My mind is mine, is the only thing that has ever truly been mine, and it should stay mine.”

Morough covered his mouth and snorted a chuckle. Lin kicked his leg as she stood. Haylie looked between them, confused and still trying to wake up. It was Sol who piped up. “Morough said that to her not long ago. You two think too much alike, I think.”

“This isn’t amusing, Sol. She was absorbing my magic.”

Sol stared at her, then glanced at Haylie. “That’s impossible. Not even an elf can do that.”

Morough snatched her into a fierce hug and narrowed his eyes at them. “You said yourselves that we need to get her back to the Council. Let us not go making judgments on the journey there.”

Sol relaxed and scrubbed his face with a hand. “You curl up with her. It is my turn to take watch. Rest well.”

He got up and stretched, fixed his cloak about his shoulders and grabbed his own crossbow. Before Haylie could think of anything to say, he disappeared into the trees. Morough sighed, set Haylie down on the grass, and went to get his own cloak. It was so black it seemed to absorb the light. When Morough spread it onto the grass, he laid on his side facing her and held out his arm. She grabbed her purse. She needed her meds. Maybe with the meds, she’d not dream again.

Once she fished them out, she looked into the bottle. It was empty. All the bottles were empty. Why didn’t she remember that she’d taken the last dose the night before? How could she not notice they didn’t rattle when the phlebotomist asked her for the bottles?

Her mouth went dry, but she dumped the empty bottles back into her purse with a disgruntled sigh. She went to Morough without a word and curled up facing him. His arm settled around her as she laid her head on the other. He didn’t even ask about the pill bottles.

“Morough?”

He shivered once and pulled the cloak about them to block out the night’s chill. “Hm?”

“Why are you so protective of me now?” Her voice sounded small to her own ears. It made her sound vulnerable, and she hated it.

“I’m unsure, to be honest. The others might put it to the fact I’m a ‘sucker for a beautiful lady’, as they say in your world, but I’m not even sure it is that.”

“You think I’m beautiful?” Her stomach fluttered.

“I have never seen another like you. Eyes the color of peridot shards, hair the color of a cloudless sunset, skin as pale as heavy cream with cheeks tinted the barest rose. You are a sight to behold, Haylie.”

The more he spoke, the hotter her face got. She was sure she could use her cheeks to start a campfire. As embarrassed as she was, she had trouble tearing her gaze away from his eyes. His pupils expanded so there was only a small ring of vivid purple of his iris visible. They hooded and his fingers played hypnotic patterns on her back. Her heart pounded in her chest, and the butterflies in her stomach grew more active with each heartbeat.

“Oh... thanks?”

He laughed, throaty and deep. It made his whole face change. The way it lit up made him seem more striking and handsome than normal. Haylie couldn’t help but grin. She wanted to see and hear him do that often. As often as she could make him.

“Come, little one. We should sleep while the stars are still out. We have a long day ahead of us in the morning.” He kissed her forehead, settled his head beside hers on his arm, and closed his eyes. Haylie’s cheeks were still aflame, but she closed her eyes and at least tried.

COLLAPSE
Reviews:Life of a Crazy Mom on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Good Fantasy

Haylie/Ka’lei (btw…LOVE that name) always knew she was different. She had visions of poisonous green eyes, memories of being called Ka’lei and of strange singing. When she tried to tell her parents and other people this, she was dubbed strange and eventually she was declared insane and put on heavy medications.

So it was no wonder that she thought she was losing it when she almost hit a horse who seemed to understand her, who wanted her to ride him (he bowed down) and takes her to an injured man in the forest. Even when he basically kidnapped her and brought her to his friends, she still thought she was going nuts. It wasn’t until she got sick and was pushed into remembering who she was….Ka’lei. An elf who was sent as a baby into the human world to protect her against an evil mother and something more sinister.

I absolutely loved that the elves could not only soul bond with their mates (bit of a spoiler but Morough and Ka’lei soul bonded) but with their mounts. And of course, Ka’lei bonds with what was probably scariest mount out there….a darksire called Culthar. See darksires are a man killing horses who eyes glow with a blue inner fire and who is magic neutral…which means that he can absorb magic. Their female counterparts are nightmares (which made me giggle a bit….lol) .

She got summoned to the Council and gets a surprise. Her mother, Lillias, was the current Queen of the Summerlands (Morough was the Prince of the Netherdark). When she was exposed, she tried to attack Ka’lei and ended up hitting the current King of the Netherdark….Iliastaire Lo’lorien. In an attempt to try to heal the King, Ka’Lei accidentally pulled his soul into her head. Whoopsie.

The love story between Morough and Ka’lei was fantastic. The sex scene was great….until it was pointed out that they had sex with the windows open so everyone could hear them. Then I got a little creeped out….as did Ka’lei. It was pointed out that royal newlyweds did that as custom to bless their people but still….ewwww. But before they had sex, they fell in love and their love story was so sweet. They had to be my favorite fictional couple????.

The subplot of Lillias and her crazy psycho ancestor that was trying to come back from the dead (she of the green eyes) was pretty good too. See Lillias, and Ka’lei, is a direct descendant of Syr’del….an evil elf who was killed ions ago by Morough but who’s spirit is still around and she wants someone to restore her body so she can unleash hell on the Summerland and take it over.

Not going to go much into the book after that. Put it this way, there are deaths and births. Some of the deaths were tragic and one death….well that person really had it coming to them.

**I received a free copy of this book and volunteered to review it*

Tonya Collier on GoodReads ★★★★★ wrote:

Very well written. Has love, family, and magic all things I love reading about. Jennifer will keep you on the edge of your seat and begging for more.

Cass on GoodReads ★★★☆☆ wrote:

(No text review)

Sandra Monse on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

great read

Bonnie Mitchell on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

Give it a try if you love fantasy!

I thought this was a fascinating story. I love elves, evil, magic, and the unfamiliar. This has all that and more. I could not stop reading it. I read the entire book in two sittings. I hated when it was over. I loved the characters, the story line, and twists and turns the plot took. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for something different, freeing, fun, something that will make you laugh , cry and get mad all within moments. Very good read.

M. Pars on Smashwords ★★★★★ wrote:

A roller coaster ride from beginning to end. The few spelling/grammar errors do not detract from enjoying this adventure. Well done!

Danielle L. on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Not cool..

Thanks for uploading the missing chapter 8. The story was very engaging and well written - I really enjoyed it. I could have done without the graphic sex scenes, however. They were very descriptive and the author used words most women do not like to hear. Some things are best left to the imagination. But still, an exciting story.

Kymberly on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Surprisingly Good

I had very mixed feelings about this book when I read the Synopsis and then the first few chapters. At first I had chatter thoughts of yeah right, uh huh, I'm sure etc. Then all of a sudden I was sucked into the story and knew nothing more than the words on the pages for the next 4 hours. I drove the kids out trick or treating and every time I parked, I opened this book on my Phone in the Kindle App. I managed to read the whole thing over a few hours and was pretty happy with the Book!

Its not Nora Roberts quality but I highly enjoyed it! There were some Cliches and forced situations and that's why I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. But give it a shot. Its worth it.

Navajo74 on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Amazing plot

This story has an amazing plot, good strong characters,and a female hero that stumbles everyone around her. Chapter 8 is missing so it did lose me for a bit but I could still follow the story pretty well. That's why only 4 stars. If 8 would have been there I would have given it a 5 star.

Amazon Customer on Amazon AU ★★★★★ wrote:

Freaking Loved It!

I really truly love this book. Only one moment was slightly predictable but not enough so to upset. Some points were hard to keep up with but OMG it was bookgasmic (I mean the tale not what the characters may or may not get up too). Download it and have a read, what have you got to loose?

Kindle Customer on Amazon ★★★★★ wrote:

Be prepared for adventure, love and lots of magic.

Ms. Amriss has opened a whole new world for me. She went into so more, she brought to life some amazing, and nightmarish creature's.

Haylie, our super, amazing and very magical heroin, was taken at birth to be raised with the humans. Twenty years later, she is led to the land of the Elves. She meets her mate Morough. She has so much to learn, voices in her head, she can talk to horses, and no, she is not crazy. Ms. Amriss takes us on an amazing journey, I was spell bound and could not turn the pages fast enough. There is so much I want to write, but it would just give it all away, and spoilers are no fun.

I love an author that has an imagination, and is bold in creating the fantasy world in her books. Ms. Amriss is blessed with that gift. There was not a dull moment in this book for me, I loved going on the wild journey. I truly can not wait to read part two. Thank you Ms. Amriss for an exciting journey, a sweet love story, and meeting some exceptional Elves.

I freely volunteered to read this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

alias11 on Amazon ★★★★☆ wrote:

Good read

Good Read, although I was confused for most of the book. Almost everything came together in the last 20-25% of the book. I was really sad about the death at the end (name withheld to avoid spoilers!) I really thought magic would be able to bring them back. I enjoyed the book overall, although the interlude with Sol'kyr seemed an unnecessary red herring that served no real purpose, and it never was explained how Ka'lei got the dark into her in the first place or if it was or wasn't truly dark and what happens now. Despite those weaknesses, it was an enjoyable read if you like fantasy stories, with characters that you really come to care about. It's not Tolkien, but I would definitely recommend it to others.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. This is my honest review.