The battle for sovereignty among the seven lands of Alba has ended. The prophecy of Peace appears to have come true. But appearances can be deceptive. A new battle is brewing. Its outcome is dependent on the retrieval of a sacred triad of artifacts . . .
The Reality Of Chaos
The hunt for the three precious moonstones begins. For Allegria, Fireborn lightweaver, and her Starborn lover Hallow, it means saving more than worlds. It means rescuing their friend Deo, prisoner in the shadowlands of Eris, where the secrets of the moonstones are buried. Steering Allegria and Hallow in their ocean quest is a mysterious lifebound captain. And he's setting sail with a warning: no mere mortal has ever survived the journey to Eris, let alone come back alive . . .
The Mystery Of Shadows
As the bonds of friendship are threatened and the courage of three heroes challenged, the fate of two kingdoms will be at risk as bestselling author Katie MacAlister's breathtaking Born Prophesy saga continues.
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"You do not belong here, Allegria Hopebringer. Begone before the Eidolon make you one of their own!"
A face materialized in the almost complete darkness of the crypt, the eyes appearing black and hostile as they considered me. Little tendrils of ghostly light surrounding the face evaporated just as if bits of him were turning to dust before my eyes.
"Blessings of Kiriah, my lord," I said politely, digging through my admittedly scant knowledge of history. This particular spirit had to be one of the Eidolon thanes, long-forgotten kings who had ruled the seven lands of Alba well before the coming of the modern races. It was rumored that the tunnels honeycombing the area under Kelos were home to beings who had been dead longer than the memory of man, and evidently the rumors were correct. "I mean you no harm, although I wonder how you know me."
The face seemed to fade into the blackness, only to suddenly appear again, parts of his visage drifting off into nothing as he spoke in a slow, ponderous tone. "You bear the grace of the sun goddess as well as the stink of mortals. Who else would you be?" He faded again, then materialized immediately in front of me, his ethereal face thrust into mine, his voice carrying the heavy rumble of thunder. "Your kind is not welcome to walk our paths! Begone, I say again!"
I held my swords easily, one in each hand, the runes on the blades dulled by the fact that we were deep underground, out of the reach of Bellias Starsong, goddess of the night sky. "I mean you no harm, lord thane, but pass I must. I have been charged by Hallow, the Master of Kelos to search the crypt." That was not wholly the truth, since said master, who also happened to be the man I loved, believed there was nothing in the crypt but spirits best left to them selves. But I had a bet with the captain of the guard in charge of protecting the ancient center of magic, and I wasn't going to let him best me.
"Search for what?" For a few moments, curiosity lit the black eyes of the thane.
"Three moonstones hidden by the previous Master. Do you know of them?"
The face faded, remnants of the ghostly halo around it remaining for a few seconds before dissolving. "Mortal concerns mean little to the Eidolon. Leave now." His voice echoed off the stone arches that lined the crypt.
The fact that he knew who I was made me wonder if we weren't too quick to dismiss the spirits here as being of no help to us. If he knew me, he might well know the whereabouts of Queen Dasa's moonstones, scattered after they were last used. "That's not really an answer. I don't want to be annoying, but a yes or no would be helpful," I said, mindful of the way the hairs on my arms rose, warning me of unseen movement around me. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist on an answer. A proper answer, that is, not one that is nothing but confusing."
A hissing noise followed, as if the thane was sucking in all the air of the already airless crypt. Although I'd placed a lit torch in one of the brackets on the wall, the glow of its golden light didn't penetrate very far into the cloying darkness. I could make out large rectangular shapes that I knew were sarcophagi of the arcanists who had once resided in Kelos, but beyond the tombs ... another shiver rippled down my back. The inky black beyond the pool of light cast by the torch seemed to move and shift, little flickers of shadow visible only in my peripheral vision.
"You challenge the Eidolon?" The words seemed to roll around me like the growl of a cave bear.
"I do not challenge. I simply seek information. If you won't answer my question, then I must search the crypt." I gripped my swords and sent a little query to my patron goddess Kiriah. There was no answering warmth, just a claustrophic sense of being buried deep in the earth. I held onto the panic that wanted to rise at the knowledge that somehow I'd displeased the sun goddess, and she was withholding her blessings from me, and instead reminded myself that I had fought deadlier enemies than a single spirit.
But then I'd had Hallow and our friend Deo at my side.
The rush of air behind me gave me less than a second to respond, but it was enough to send me whirling to the side, both of my swords flashing. The thane emerged from the shadows fully formed, his body encased in ghostly armor from at least two millennia in the past, and his translucent white hair flowing around him as if it had a life of its own. But it was the sword he raised that held my attention, and I barely had one of my own narrow blades up in time to block the blow that would have sundered me in twain.
I leaped to the side, clambering onto one of the sarcophagi as he swung his sword low; the visible section of his near-translucent face was frozen in a snarl, his eyes all but spitting black ire at me. I didn't attack him, using my weapons only to defend myself, but my breath came short when I spoke.
"I know you're annoyed at being disturbed —" I dove off the stone structure when he leaped up, his sword held high overhead, only to stumble backward when he lunged after me, my swords dancing in the air to parry the lightning-fast blows that seemed to rain down on me. "Goddesses above, how is it that spirits are able to move so quickly? I just want to know if you've seen the moonstones! Ow! Oh, now you're in for it!"
That last was in response to the tip of his blade scratching across my upper arm when I swung both of my swords upwards, crossed in order to stop another of his two-handed blows. He snarled something, but I hadn't survived the battle of the Fourth Age for nothing. I dove downward, my blades slashing as I rolled past him, only to leap to my feet and watch with satisfaction as one of his legs collapsed. Although I couldn't kill a spirit, I could attack the energy he used to become corporeal, and I had just weakened the stream of energy that flowed up the thane's left leg.
He collapsed with another snarl, kneeling on his good leg to glare at me.
"I'd say I'm sorry for hurting you, but we both know that you'll be fine just as soon as you rally enough energy to restore your leg," I said, panting a little. "Now, perhaps you'll answer my question — "
A faint breeze behind me stirred my hair. To my horror, the fallen thane smiled, then stood up, his damaged leg apparently whole again.
Fear gripped me good and hard then, along with the awareness that I had done something extremely foolish, and if I didn't get out of there, I might well join him in the spirit world.
"It is too late," was all he said before he melted away into nothing. I turned and gazed down a long hallway made up of graceful white stone arches, receding as far as I could see. The fact that I could see them sent another wave of fear through me, gripping my belly with a cold hand; from the light that illuminated the length of the crypt came the slowly emerging Eidolon, members of the thane's company. Men and women who had fought two thousand years before, arcanists and soldiers and wielders of magic long since lost to our kind, all formed wispy grey figures. The stone ribs of the crypt were visible through their bodies as they started forward.
"Kiriah's ten toes," I swore under my breath, and spun around to run for my life.
A war cry rose from behind me, echoing down the long hallway and catching me as I was partway up the thirty-nine steps that led to the cellar under the tower of Kelos. I didn't dare glance behind me to see how close the spirits were, having had ample proof from my brief skirmish with the thane to know that spirits can move very quickly when they choose to do so. But a cold breath seemed to touch the back of my neck when I reached the door. I sheathed my swords and yanked open the portal, then slid through the opening, slamming it shut just as the nearest spirit swung his sword.
Panting so loudly that I couldn't hear anything but the beat of my own heart, I clutched the circular iron link that served as an anchor for a chain that normally stretched across the door, holding tight in case the spirits tried to follow. The runes that had been engraved into the iron bands that crisscrossed the door flared to life with a dull white glow, then faded. I tried to catch my breath, well aware that my hands were shaking. After taking a moment to control myself, I wound the chain through the anchor, and locked it into place.
The captain of the guard was waiting when I turned around, his arms crossed, a slight smile on his lips. I relaxed at the sight of him, one part of me marveling that I had grown so comfortable with the spirits — the captain included — who resided above ground in Kelos, although they were often a trial to Hallow, they had given me no problems.
Except for the captain, who took offense over the fact that the first time we'd met I had separated his ghostly head from the rest of his body. It had taken him a good hour to generate enough power to become corporeal again; a fact that almost a year later, he still held against me, often setting me difficult challenges to overcome.
Like the Eidolon. With the memory of just how close my escape had been, I glared at the captain.
His smiled broadened.
"If Hallow wasn't busy trying to find those blasted moonstones, I'd so tell him you set me up," I informed the captain, handing him the key to the locks.
His eyebrows rose. "I take it that you had no luck?"
"No, I didn't. Why didn't you tell me that the spirits down there were Eidolon?"
His smile became even bigger. "You said you wished for more practice with your swords than my soldiers offer you. Who better to hone your skills that the most feared warriors of Alba?"
"The thane I could handle ... mostly ... but there were hundreds more of them that came pouring out of their resting places," I said, with a glance back at the door. I hesitated before climbing the second set of stairs. "Er ... you're sure that's going to hold them? They were more than a little annoyed when I fought their king."
"Oh, the door isn't scribed to protect us from the Eidolon," the captain said blithely as he preceded me up the stairs. "It's to keep other spirits from bothering them."
"It just keeps the spirits out?" I shook my head. "That makes no sense. If they wanted to remain solitary, why wouldn't the protection extend to keeping everyone out?"
He paused and cocked an eyebrow at me, a gleam of amusement in his faded eyes. "No mortal would be foolish enough to annoy an Eidolon. I assumed you knew that."
"Oh, you did not ... gah!" I said rude things under my breath as the captain marched upward, but at the same time, I felt twitchy until we emerged into the open, climbing out of the cellar of an outbuilding next to the master's tower. I turned my face up to the sun, and sent a query up to the goddess, but other than a slight warmth that was my awareness of her, Kiriah seemed to keep her blessings from me.
My heart fell. It seemed that every day since the battle that ended with my channeling Kiriah herself, I had been more and more removed from her. One day, the paranoid part of my mind whispered, one day, she will refuse you altogether. And then where will you be? "Useless. Wholly and utterly useless ..." I answered the insidious whisper.
"You think so?" The captain paused and made a show of turning back toward the stairs. "I can have the lock and chain removed from the door if you wish to confront the Eidolon again, although I can't say I recommend such an action."
"No, I wasn't talking about the Eidolon. I meant ... oh, never mind." I pushed my misery down into a small ball of worry and walked past the captain. "Although, you could have told me that the thane himself was down there. Yes, I know I said I wanted practice fighting more adept opponents, but next time, let me know that I will be fighting against a king and his entire company."
The captain shrugged and strode next to me when I went to the stable yard, where there was a pump. My throat was parched from the airless, dusty environment of the crypt. "It does little good talking when the Master won't listen to what I have to say."
"Hallow is very busy trying to locate the moonstones. The two he hasn't found, that is." I splashed my face with water from the pump, then took a long drink, washing away not just the dust, but the panic that had filled me in the crypt when faced with the knowledge that I was in over my head.
"So he repeatedly tells me, when he deigns to notice me, that is."
I frowned down at my hands holding the metal drinking cup that hung on the pump. If I'd had my lightweaving abilities in the crypt ... if Kiriah had not turned deaf ears to my pleas ... if I had been more adept with my swords, then I wouldn't have run from the Eidolon.
"Which isn't very often. 'You are naught but a spirit bound to this place,' he said to me the other day, just as if the captain of the guard of Kelos has no power of his own! I have served seven masters, and I will serve seven more before I pass into the region beyond this world."
"Mmhmm," I said absently, then filled a bucket and hauled it over to where my mule Buttercup dozed in a small paddock. She rolled an eye toward me to see if I had any treats, looking disappointed when I merely filled her water tub.
"He treats me as if I am nothing but an annoyance, and yet I have done my best to serve him." The captain's voice was filled with pique.
I was well aware that he disapproved of Hallow almost as much as he did me, but there wasn't much I could do about that even if I had the time to act as peacemaker. "I'm sure he's very grateful you keep the spirits here in order," I murmured, wondering how best to tell Hallow that my expedition to the crypt had been useless. Not that he had truly believed Exodius, the former Master of Kelos, had hidden the precious moonstones there, but still, it was one more setback. If we didn't get those stones, we couldn't rescue our friend Deo and his mother, Dasa.
And the guilt that plucked at me over Deo's plunge through the portal to the shadowland of Eris made it imperative that we find a way to save both of them.
"I do more than simply keep the denizens of Kelos in order," the captain said with a snort. "I am a guardian, protector of the knowledge of Kelos. To me, the Masters impart their most valuable secrets, knowing I would protect and keep them until such time as they are needed. And that time is now."
He followed when I headed toward the tower that was one of the few standing structures in Kelos. Once the famed center of learning for arcanists all over Alba, it had fallen into ruin; most of the buildings having collapsed into piles of rubble and stained bricks. Of the beautiful silver domes, pierced with the shapes of stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies, nothing remained but tales of glory days in the books found in Hallow's library. Now, the same grey dust that made up the ground seemed to gently envelop everything from the scrubby plants that grew through the broken walls and foundations, down to Buttercup, and Hallow's horse Penn. At least once a day I had to dust them both off.
"I wish I could have seen Kelos when it was in its prime," I said, distracted for a few moments. "Hallow says it was famed across Genora and Aryia both and was second only to Starfall City for beauty. I would love to have seen that."
"It was far more beautiful than the city of the queen," the captain said, his voice full of pride as he walked next to me. "The white stone of the towers glowed at night, and the domes shone almost as bright as Bellias Starsong herself. And of course, we had many more arcanists than those who served at Starfall. It has ever been an honor to serve the Master directly, and the arcanists who lived here were the most powerful Alba had ever seen."
"Hallow's pretty powerful in his own right," I said, feeling defensive on his behalf. I didn't mind the captain chaffing Hallow a little, but it was quite obvious to me just how learned Hallow had become since Exodius had gone into the spirit realm, leaving Hallow to wrangle the arcanists who made up their order. "Without his help, Lord Deo and I would never have been able to close the rifts that the Harborym used to invade us. I will admit that I don't know the extent of Exodius's power, but I have seen Hallow in battle, and it was awe inspiring."
The captain eyed me. "So sayeth the priest who has channeled Kiriah Sunbringer herself."
I couldn't help but glance down at my hands. Fine scars ran from my elbows to my fingertips, fanning out like flames, the result of our last battle with the Harborym. "I am ever blessed by the goddess," I murmured modestly, knowing just how much I owed to my lightweaving abilities.
If only Kiriah would grant me the full extent of my powers again, rather than the brief little sips that came with decreasing frequency ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Starborn"
Copyright © 2019 Katie MacAlister.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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