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Daughter of Skye
By Thérèse Pilon
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Thérèse Pilon
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLeah crouched in the shadows, her senses tingling, her breathing ragged. The storm had come out of nowhere, the thunder and lightning hitting so fast that she had not had time to seek shelter. She blinked against the rain that swirled about her, blinding her as the dampness crept upward while her body, numbed by the intense cold, reacted instinctively to the need to survive as she crept forward; out from beneath the copse of red pine trees into the open. Shocked at what she saw, she could only stand there, her eyes seeing what her heart denied—chaos all about her. Slowly she moved forward. Cautiously, trying to make no sound, she skirted the edge of the clearing, the knowledge layered deep within that her world, as she knew it, had changed yet again.
Gone were the towering forests, lush and emerald green with their flowing rivers set against the backdrop of mist-shrouded mountains. Gone were the caverns with their long, winding tunnels and stale musty air. Gone were the small ones, those of the earth diggers, the clans who lived beneath, they who listened in the darkened places so they could warn the clans who walked above.
Leah covered her face and sank to her knees upon the sodden earth, while the tears mingled with the cold rain.
* * *
Not sparing a backward glance for the figure huddled in the driving rain, the Other moved forward, his long strides taking him away. Away from the destruction his coming had brought. Away from the young woman who had not been there but mere moments before. Somehow, she had followed him when the cavern had collapsed inward upon itself from that other place, where the Clans of the earth and sky warred with those like and unlike himself.
Looking up into the cool grey of the morning's sky where even darker clouds swirled—shadows within that churned endlessly upon themselves, the man breathed a sigh of relief. Good. His world had not changed in the short interval he had been gone. Sparing a backward glance toward the female who still huddled on the ground a short distance away, he dismissed her presence with the knowledge that his sentries would do what was necessary.
* * *
Leah tensed as the sensations washed over her. "Danger," the voices whispered as she knelt in the mud, the chill creeping upward, not from the dampness but from something else. She remained where she was, her body language not betraying what she saw within her mind as dark eyes swept the wooded area in front of her for a place to hide from the unseen ones who watched. She knew she was unprotected, here, in this place. She also knew she was no longer in Skye, that place where winged warriors guarded from distant realms—
Drawing in a deep breath, she let it out slowly, centering herself, turning inward to that other place that she and her brother, Nickolous, sometimes shared when one needed the other. Thoughts, guarded, reached out ... seeking.
Leah pulled back, her mind reeling at what she sensed rather than saw. Darkness, so total, so complete ... she drew in her breath sharply as the realization hit her that the connection to her brother—to that other place—was gone. She glanced around, the knowing within that she was in danger and defenseless nearly overwhelming. Carefully, she started to rise, to stand. Her attention drawn to the heavily forested area in front of her, she did not see the nearly indistinguishable form that stood just slightly within the shadows, watching her from beneath the overhanging branches of the hemlock tree. Nor, did she notice the low-lying clouds that were centered slightly above her, their shape ever-changing as the air about her became electrified, the grey, almost translucent tendrils curling down to embrace her tightly within their grasp.
Something hit her from behind, knocking her to the ground as the air above her filled with unearthly sounds. Winded from the blow, but otherwise unhurt, all Leah could do was try to draw the air back into her lungs—to breath. As the darkness closed over her, she was vaguely aware of strong arms and a man's voice. Then, there was nothing.
It was nighttime before she awakened. She opened her eyes slowly; her first awareness was of warmth, the soft glow of the fire comforting as she listened to the sounds of the night filtering through her numbed mind. Suddenly she was sitting bolt upright as the memories came flooding back, while at the same time she hit her head against something hard. Leah threw up her arm instinctively to guard herself.
The soft sound of male laughter nearby caused her to flinch as she peered into the semi-darkness; she was about to say something, then thought better of it. Leaning back, she folded her arms across her chest and waited.
Leah nodded her head in reply; her senses tingling as she moved gingerly out of the lean-to while at the same time trying to center herself, to control the slight trembling that rippled through her body as she moved cautiously toward the small fire set in the clearing that beckoned with welcoming warmth. She waited for the owner of the voice to move into the flickering light.
And found herself looking up.
He had to be nearly six and a half feet tall, Leah thought to herself as she turned her head to look up into a darkly handsome face. Eyes the color of obsidian looked back. The man scrunched down so he was eye level with her; his blue-black hair was tied back in a queue, still, it fell past his waist in long dark waves. Leah suddenly found herself at a loss for words as the man studied her curiously from beneath long smoky-grey lashes. Even in the fires flickering light, his skin was dark.
Leah looked away, uncomfortable, as her mind fumbled with a memory of another time, another place. Memories, too many, crowded her, overwhelming her senses as she pushed them back. She turned her attention back to the man as something inside her stirred, awakening other instincts. She shook her head to clear it, her instinct for survival rising from deep within as she calmed herself. The knowledge that she was in a foreign place and did not know friend from foe made her stiffen apprehensively.
The man's gaze sharpened and she looked away quickly, guarding herself, her emotions, but it was too late.
"Everything is not as it seems." The voice, carried upon the unseen wind that whipped around her, rippled over her and through her as she closed her eyes against the memories and the emotions the remembering evoked.
"Are you hurt."
Leah opened her eyes, not realizing she had shut them, hoping to shut out the memories. It was not working.
"Are you all right?" This time it was a question. She spared a quick glance toward the man, his voice held a tinge of concern to it, yet it was also edged with steel. He leaned back on his haunches, studying her surreptitiously, his face shadowed by the waves of light cast by the flickering flames that licked their way upward against the dry wood. She closed her eyes, opened them. "No." The voice whispered in her head. Impossible—she shook her head to clear it, and when she looked again it was gone. But for a moment, it had been there within the black eyes of the giant who regarded her with what was now open curiosity.
Leah breathed a sigh of relief. Whoever he was, he was not her enemy. The brief glimpse into his eyes had shown her that.
"It's not often another comes through with that 'One.'" The man had risen to his full height and was now standing, looking down at her, his gaze searching. "—and lives." The words drifted off into the awkward silence.
"Where am I? What is this place?" Leah had dared to pull her gaze away from this incredibly tall man, her attention now on her surroundings. Her breath caught in her throat as the night suddenly gave way to the dawning. It happened so fast she could hardly believe it. One moment there had been stars, a full moon and the next ...
Two suns in a brilliant blue sky tinged with the lesser blue-grey hues, and below them the rose colors much like she was used to when the sun set on a brilliant day of warmth. However, there the resemblance ended, for it was not the soft kiss of the sunset upon the earth but the beginning of a new dawning, the greeting of another day. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the man in the full light of day, and stifled the gasp of disbelief that ended in a soft expulsion of air as she sucked in her breath before letting it out in a soft sigh.
* * *
His name, translated by the people, was The Hunter. Born to the Clans of the two-legged, his ascension by the order of his birth named him leader. Better known as the clan of the Mukwa, or bear, hidden from the unseen ones, he had grown into manhood. Trained by the elders in diplomacy, guided by senior warriors who had lived for countless turnings, the seasons had come and gone, and the warrior had become what Leah now saw as she swung her gaze back to the man, waiting for an answer.
Black brows drew together in a frown as The Hunter studied this strange she creature who had suddenly been thrust through the hidden doorway. He and others like him had guarded the gates, doing their best to prevent ones such as that One from entering. Yet somehow, he always managed to find a weakness somewhere enabling him access. This time, however, it had been at great cost to themselves and little cost to him. On top of it, somehow, this tiny creature had been pushed through behind him. The only reason she had been spared was that at the last moment he had sensed her thoughts and had caught a glimpse of the place she had been torn from, to land unceremoniously in his world. He was fascinated.
He looked down at her, his expression thoughtful.
"Well?" Leah held his gaze with her own despite the unnatural chill that crept upward from her feet, wrapping around her body and she shivered despite the morning's sun, which was illuminating the valley set out before her.
"You are where you are supposed to be."
"And that would be?" She held her breath.
"Why, you are here, with me." The Hunter looked puzzled at Leah's reaction. His knowledge of the otherworld places was vague to say the least, but he had taken the small female's presence as an acceptance of something that was to be. The reasoning as to why she had been thrust through to him, alive, was something that would have to be reasoned with later. He turned his head, his gaze appraising as he moved closer.
Leah took a step back.
Surprised, The Hunter stayed his advance. The realization that she was afraid of him or what she could not understand caused a strange unease where before there had been none. Shrugging broad shoulders, he remained where he was, letting her appraise him, her dark eyes unfathomable.
Leah looked up. And up. Her gaze taking in the width and breadth of the man, he was incredibly tall, his hair the color of dark ebony against golden honeyed skin, eyes as black as ... She blinked, then brushed at the wetness that rolled unheeded down her cheek as memories spilled out, rolling over her in waves as she saw them within her mind.
Chera. Gabriel. Jerome. Old One. The vision overwhelmed her as she remembered. Remembered her brother, remembered their mother—the shadows of winged warriors mixing with jumbled images. She breathed in deeply of the air; the scent of honeyed flowers pervaded her senses as she blinked the wetness away. From somewhere deep within she searched and found that small place, centered deep within her memories, that she and her brother, Nickolous, often went to in times of stress. Calmer now, she gazed up at the man.
"Warrior." The word was whispered. Heard.
The Hunter nodded, acknowledging the spoken word as he looked down at her, his eyes searching hers, trying to understand her distress as well as the unfamiliar sensations that were inexplicably coursing through him.
Confused by what had just happened, Leah remained where she was, unmoving, staring down at her hands that hung limply at her sides, her mind registering the fact that she had just spoken her thought aloud. Or had she? She stood like that for a few moments longer, and then forced her gaze upward, traveling the length of him until she was looking into his eyes.
Black eyes that were fathomless gazed back.
She shook her head as if by doing so it would clear her mind, erase the vision that danced before her, wavered—she looked once more into eyes that were no longer black but emerald green. So like—
The vision of that other place and those she had left behind crowded her thoughts as she pulled her gaze away from that of the warrior's. The emotions washing over her in waves as she tried to block them, but it was too late. She felt a big hand closing over hers while the other hand cupped her chin, forcing her to look up.
Into eyes that were once more the color of obsidian.
"Who are you." It was not a question. It was a demand.
* * *
The day had deepened, casting long shadows against the sunlit places as Leah sat across from the one known as The Hunter. From time to time she had dared to glance into the shadows and wondered at the fact that they seemed to be always moving, shifting place; then she would move her gaze back to the man who seemed so at ease. Still—she moved closer to the fire.
She had told her story, and the warrior had listened quietly, his brows furrowed as he thought upon the words she had spoken. Behind him, he knew the watchers listened; their keen senses alert for anything untoward, their presence assurance the Dark Lord was not close. As she had spoken of the realm of the four—legged and winged—clans of earth and sky, something within him had stirred. Something primordial. His own ancestry spoke of such things, but they had been the imaginings of old women and even older men, or so he had thought.
The Hunter turned inward, his mind taking him to another place, and he saw what Leah had seen when she gazed into his eyes.
Forest Warriors. Once it had been whispered that his kind were descended from that mythical race. In dreams, he had seen such things ... The Hunter shook his head to clear it. Rising, he cast more wood upon the fire. The offering of cedar, wild sage, and tobacco to appease the unseen ones was something he had always done. He straightened his back, looking out over the vast expanse of valleys rimmed in the far distances by white-tipped peaks. A no-man's land to those like him. He shifted his gaze back to the woman for a moment longer before turning away, feeling the need to be alone, to think on what he had heard this day, something he could not explain even to himself.
"Stay here." The words were tossed over his shoulder, their meaning clear. A little confused and unsure of her place, Leah decided to obey the man, but it did not mean that she had to like it.
She stood, staring into the shadows long after he had disappeared from view, her thoughts far away, and as the afternoon shadows deepened into early twilight, she began to wonder at the wisdom of having told him about the others. About Skye.
It was as she was leaning down to grab another piece of firewood that she heard it. A faint scuffling sound off to her left. She squinted in the half-light wishing Chera were here. The silver-white wolf, with her strength and wisdom, would be a welcome ally. Her breathing quickened as the noise grew louder; the knowledge that she was weaponless in a strange place did little to calm her already frayed senses as she stood there, unprepared and frightened half out of her wits as the tangled foliage gave way beneath a cumbersome weight.
What came through was not what she expected.
* * *
The Hunter picked his way warily, his senses heightened by the day's events. He had not expected the female, and her arrival at first had surprised him. It had been as he was about to loose his arrow that he had caught the scent of her, that, and the residual memories that she brought through with her.
That was the thought that prevented him from the killing shot-that and what he saw draped within the misty blood memories she carried with her. He doubted even she knew the gifts she possessed.
So now what to do? Long sleek eyebrows drew together in a frown as he thought upon what he had heard this day, his warrior's training allowing him to look at what was logic and what was not. Black eyes narrowed as he pushed away the thought that most of what he had heard was not logical. While another part of him wished that some of the Old Ones had remained here, closer to the center of the battle. Bits of the old wisdom still lingered, but it had been too long. That One had taken care of that.
Excerpted from Daughter of Skye by Thérèse Pilon Copyright © 2012 by Thérèse Pilon. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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