Bookcover for Divine Prey by Chris Andrews, featuring a man and a woman on a mountain topWhen Assassins attack Princess Caroline, she learns of a prophecy predicting her rise to power.

Her Gods-granted destiny comes with a price however – she cannot ascent the throne unless her father, brothers and sisters are dead.

As the war between Gods escalates, to survive she is forced to rely on the trust she places in her friends – and the curse that’s slowly destroying her humanity.

To save herself and everyone she cares about, she will have to outwit her enemies, her father, and even the Gods.

 

Chapter 1

 

Three millennia, seven centuries,
and seventy-one years after the Seism.

The Season of New Life.

Prime Year of the Divine Lady Marnier du Shae,

Mistress of Healing, Goddess of Purpose.

 

Anjara!

Princess Caroline duFandelyon gasped as divine light filled her. She stiffened, her back arching in rapture. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think beyond the divine light filling her. She wanted to die right then and become a true part of divinity, but the Goddess Marnier du Shae had only claimed her mortal body, not her soul. That she would have to earn like anyone else.

The rapture released her and she collapsed to the bed, her skin still glowing with divine light. She gasped for air, and for long moments couldn’t move. Like gold dust shaken loose, the light fell from her skin and dissipated, leaving nothing but a luminous glow on the inside of each wrist.

Laying rigid on her hard bed, she raised her bare arms above her, fighting down rising panic sight of the luminous alimoth flowers. She stared at the divine markings in growing horror, fear of the consequences quickly consuming her.

She’d come to the abbey to birth an illegitimate child under the guise of piety, and now the Goddess of Healing had marked her for her temerity. If she accepted, the outlines would fill in and bind her to the Goddess for the rest of her life.

She clenched her fists in shame. An illegitimate child herself, Anjara was the name her mother had given her at birth, and the Goddess had used it. She would have been her father’s first-born, but her illegitimate birth had relegated her to last in line for the throne, acknowledged only as a bastard child. To do otherwise would have brought shame to the throne.

A blessing to anyone else, she couldn’t imagine a worse rebuke, not even death. The luminous flowers were a punishment to last her entire life, almost as heartbreaking as the loss of her illegitimate child.

Fortunately, the King’s Guard had orders to return with her today, a perfect solution. She meant to be mounted and out the gates before a Divine Servant noticed and forced her to confront her calling.

Hands trembling, she took a deep breath and pulled her heavy covers back, the cold hardwood floor smooth under her bare feet. She quickly removed her yellow nightgown, pulled on her warm riding dress and boots and threw her royal-blue travel cloak around her shoulders.

Her clothes were tight, but there was no time to get them altered. She’d worn only the order’s pale yellow robes since last autumn and she’d grown several inches taller in that time. Wider too, thanks to her child.

Footsteps approached along the corridor as she tied her hair back. She stiffened as Bharise stopped at her open doorway, the acolyte’s olive skin and dark curly hair setting off her pale robes.

Caroline caught her breath when she noticed the shimmering alimoth flowers on the insides of the young Servant’s wrists – something she’d never been able to see before. A nightmare. It had to be.

“Everything’s prepared, Your Highness,” Bharise said, staring up at Caroline as if she noticed something different.

Caroline felt her cheeks flush. The girl knew, somehow. “Thank you, Bharise. I’ll be down in a moment.” As the acolyte’s footsteps retreated, Caroline buried her face in her spare riding dress as if she could smother her growing distress. She needed the support of her mother or sisters to comfort her.

“It’s ironic, don’t you think?”

Caroline jumped, a loose strand of her curly red hair drooping over her face. She dropped the dress on her bed as Tarine, the abbey’s High Priestess, entered her room in a swish of richly embroidered golden robes. Easily a foot shorter than Caroline and barely half her weight, Tarine’s presence nevertheless intimidated. The severely pulled back greying hair didn’t soften her image.

With her clan heritage Caroline had always been tall. Now she stood a head above almost everyone, yet still felt like a child as she confronted Tarine. “Ironic?” Caroline almost stammered as she hurriedly stuffed the heavy dress in her travel pack, making certain her sleeves didn’t slip and expose her wrists. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“How you came here under the pretext of finding your calling?” Tarine glanced pointedly at Caroline’s wrists, her expression suggesting Caroline was no more worthy of Divine Service today than she’d been half a year ago. “Did you even pray to our Goddess while you were here, guile aside?” Tarine pulled her own sleeves back. Like Bharise, a single bell-shaped alimoth flower glowed on the inside of each wrist.

Caroline kept her eyes on the swarthy woman’s face, determined not to acknowledge what she saw. If she did, she’d probably cry. Only three Servants knew why she was really here, and Tarine was one. “I’ve imposed upon you too long, High Priestess,” she said, hoping to divert the woman.

Tarine’s eyes narrowed. “You’re ready for your journey then?” The words were cold. Precise.

Caroline felt her cheeks flush again. “Thank you for your patience and the kindness you’ve shown me.” If there had been any way to leave the room without being rude, she would have.

Tarine produced a tight smile, her skin crinkling at the sides of her mouth if not her eyes. “Our Divine Lady doesn’t grant her favours lightly, Princess.”

It was another opening, a chance to acknowledge her divine marks without being called out. Caroline raised her chin slightly. “High Priestess, please understand that this abbey only holds bitter heartache for me.” Feeling humiliated, she revealed her luminous alimoth outlines. “I’m not prepared to accept these. They’re a punishment, not a blessing.”

“They’re never a punishment!” Tarine said, but quickly composed herself. “I’ll pray to our Divine Lady. Perhaps she’ll give you the time you need to come to terms with her decision.” She sounded as if the words were being forced upon her.

“I shall pray for the same,” Caroline whispered. She’d always assumed that if she were ever called to Service, it would have been one of the Elemental Gods. Haram du Heth, Lord of Fire, perhaps.

“Before you depart, you should know that Lady Rhonda duPrey also discovered the healing flowers on her wrists this morning. She has accepted her calling and expects to return to begin her training this summer. Her flowers are fully formed, no longer outlines.”

“Rhonda will make a wonderful priestess.” And she would. She had a gentle nature, as did her younger sister Kirsty. She would be well suited to the Goddess of Healing.

Tarine stared as if measuring Caroline’s words. “Rhonda’s loyalties run deep. She’s only leaving because she’s needed with you.”

“I made no request.”

“Our Goddess did.”

Our. The word felt like a slap. “But…”

“The Divine Lady speaks to all of us at the moment of our choosing. You’ll eventually have to make a choice; walk the Divine Lady’s path, or step from it forever.”

An easy decision. “High Priestess-”

Tarine grasped Caroline’s hands, squeezing painfully. “I understand your doubts, but she won’t give you another chance if you deny her.”

For a heartbeat, Caroline considered refusing anyway. “As you wish, High Priestess. May peace and health always be yours.” Her alimoth outlines flared warmly at the ritual blessing. Caroline gasped and pulled her hands free as Tarine’s eyes widened. What did that mean? Only Devoted Servants should be able to invoke the Divine Lady’s blessing.

“I must pray. Perhaps you’re being called to greater things than this abbey.”

With her wrists still tingling from the invocation she picked up her pack and swept out of the room, wishing she could leave her regrets with Tarine’s accusing stare.

Within the hour she was a mile along the road toward Fandelyon City in the company of her friends Rhonda and Kirsty duPrey, all three escorted by the King’s Guard. Her maids, a priest, and the duPrey brothers sent to chaperone them all rode behind. Overcast and gloomy for the most part, Caroline suspected it might rain despite the occasional patches of sunlight. The clouds had been getting darker.

“How are you?” asked Kirsty, the younger duPrey sister and Caroline’s best friend. Although pale-skinned like most nobles, she had dark hair like a commoner, but straight. Almost blue-black. Little Raven, her siblings called her when they wanted to tease. They hadn’t seen each other in months due to Caroline’s illness.

Caroline kept her eyes forward, uncertain how to reply without revealing her heartache over giving up her child. No doubt she’d have similar trouble keeping the secret from her sisters when she got home. The number of nights she’d woken up crying, a phantom baby in her arms… She took a calming breath, slowly releasing it. “I’m fine, Kirsty. Fully recovered. Truly.”

The baby would be long gone from these parts anyway, a month old now. For the first couple of weeks Caroline had fantasised about seeking out the child and running away with him or her, perhaps to live among the clans. She was sure to have kin there if she could find them. She stared ahead, blinking to keep tears at bay. Best not to think about it at all. Obsessing about it only led to more heartache.

“But you were sick for so long. The High Priestess said you only began to recover a month or so ago. Are you sure you’re well enough to travel?”

Lying to her friend didn’t come as easily as she wished. “She’s cautious, and probably made it seem a worse illness than it actually was.” She’d almost died, certainly, and for days afterward had muffled her sobs under her sheets, wishing she had. It shouldn’t hurt so much to lose something she’d never touched.

Wind caught Rhonda’s long honey-coloured hair, but the older girl didn’t pull her hood up to protect herself. She had a distant look as if she’d rather be somewhere else. Back at the abbey, no doubt.

“High Priestess Tarine said you plan to return,” Caroline said as a means of changing the subject. “That the Divine Lady marked you?”

Something like fear passed across Rhonda’s features, but it was gone in an instant. Rhonda held up her wrists and her sleeves fell back a little. She stared at her alimoth flowers as if she wasn’t sure she’d made the right decision. The fully formed flowers were clear to Caroline, and very lifelike.

Kirsty frowned. “I wish I’d been called,” she murmured, staring at Rhonda’s wrists as if wishing she could see the divine marks too.

Despite the wistfulness, Caroline heard the hurt in Kirsty’s voice. Rhonda was tall, graceful and confident, and now she’d been called into Divine Service. Kirsty, probably prettier except for her raven hair, was small, timid, and awkward, younger than Rhonda by more than a year.

“You’re expected to make a sacrifice when entering a Divine Lord or Lady’s service, to show your dedication. What was yours?” Caroline asked.

Rhonda paled, her posture stiffening. “Nothing I wouldn’t give a thousand times.”

Lightning flashed bright enough to hurt Caroline’s eyes before thunder pealed across the sky like a God crying out in anger.

***

 

Elias watched the valley from the edge of a cliff, turning his ears back and forth as he listened for anything out of place. The final leg of his journey had taken him into the mountainous lands between three small human kingdoms, reason enough to concern any izzat. Humans weren’t the cause of his unease, however.

Something was wrong. Something magical.

Storm winds swayed the tree tops like wind-swept grass, while his cloak whipped about his legs and threatened to push him over the edge. He backed a step as the wingbuds on his shoulder blades tightened in anticipation of a flight he couldn’t take, but not due to the wind or vertigo. Something else…

He caught movement perhaps a mile away; a group of mounted humans moving through the forest. About fifty in all, most wore chain shirts and carried lances. Soldiers meant nobility, possibly even royalty in these parts. The coincidence was intriguing. He cast a near-sight spell to make the air before him work like convex glass and picked out five nobles and a small entourage among the soldiers, including a rather hefty warrior-priest judging by his dark grey robes. Half the soldiers rode ahead, lances resting in stirrups. The rest followed the nobles.

Elias’s sense of foreboding grew as he watched, although nothing suggested the humans were responsible for it. He crouched and placed his longbow behind him, the wind blowing under his cloak. It left him cold, reflecting a chill in his spirit he’d been fighting since leaving his homeland. The very air seemed to resonate with anticipation. It was nothing obvious, nothing aggressive, but it made him restless.

Distant thunder echoed across the valley while dark clouds on the northern ranges shed heavy rain. The humans turned north again toward the lowlands of Fandelyon, but nothing in that direction pulled at him either. He reworked the spell to allow for more detail. Four of the nobles wore a standing bear embroidered in white, while one of three girls bore a crimson wyvern embroidered in golden thread.

As he watched the wind whipped her hood back, revealing the red hair of a clanswoman. His wingbuds tightened with a chill of recognition.

“Princess Caroline,” Allyn said.

Elias almost jumped. He hadn’t heard his teacher approach. “A lowland princess in the mountains?” He stood.

Allyn’s emerald eyes reflected his amusement at catching his student off guard, his thin face softening. Elias wasn’t sure how old his teacher was, but he’d heard rumours he’d been around when the first unicorn was slain. That meant at least two-hundred-thousand years. It should have bought wisdom, yet most of the time Allyn acted with the abandon of a teenager.

“She bears a royal wyvern on her cloak,” said Allyn.

“So does every soldier and both maids. She could be a noble come to marry one of Fandelyon’s princes.” His wingbuds tightened across his shoulders again. “I recognize her soul. We must have met in a previous life.”

“Perhaps she was once izzen. If so, she’s fallen a long way.”

“Allyn, my grandparents are soulmates.”

“And?”

“Did they tell you how they came to be paired?”

Allyn’s almond-shaped eyes watched the valley. “No, but their souls are ancient. They must have been bound together during a previous lifetime. This is not the first life they’ve found each other.”

“Do you think I could have a soulmate from a previous life?” He tried not to look at Princess Caroline’s retinue.

“There’s something fresh about a new soul. I doubt you have many past lives, which makes it unlikely you’d have a soulmate.”

“But-”

“When the Gods create a new soul, they create it from magic within the void. Sometimes they create twin souls. Perhaps you’ve seen your soul’s twin.”

Elias pushed hair back from his face. The Gods had a sense of irony is his soul’s twin was human. “Perhaps she’s not Princess Caroline. Maybe she’s just clan-born and on her way to marry one of the King’s sons?”

“The twins are barely fifteen. They won’t be marrying for a few years yet. That’s got to be their older sister.”

“But-”

“Most nobles this side of the Temern Straight are blonde, the descendants of the invasion three thousand years ago. The clans arrived from the same sinking continent, but they took to the mountains and stayed apart, fighting fiercely for their independence. The King married a woman of clannish descent. Queen Lynn. That has be their eldest daughter.”

“If our souls are twinned, the Gods have a wicked sense of humour. I can feel her pulling at me, even at this distance.”

“Then you should avoid her. If you bind yourself to her, you’ll die when she dies.”

Shifting forces touched him again, teasing him toward the valley. “Something’s not right.”

“Really?” Allyn asked with feigned innocence. “If you figure it out, come and tell me. I’m going to finish my meal.”

“You know? What is it?”

The wind pushed Allyn’s long pale hair back, revealing high cheekbones and a sharp jawline. He grinned, acting the teenager again. “You need the practice. Don’t forget your wards.”

“Why not just tell me?”

Allyn’s expression debated the question. “Fair question. It’s probably unwise to seek truth from Gods without understanding.”

“And?”

“I suspect the Gods are paying close attention to events here. They’re manipulating Quala Umitha to alter the course of the future. I can feel it stirring against the borders of our Realm, bending our reality under the Gods’ influence.”

“So it’s not a coincidence I’ve just found my soul’s twin?”

“Probably not. One of them wants you two together. I suspect others don’t, and so they manipulate events to gain advantage. For more insight you’ll have to seek your own answers. I don’t have any more.”

As Allyn left, Elias sent his magical senses questing so fast it made him giddy. He paused to re-orientate himself before forming a magical net over the entire area and sending his Sight into it. When his vision adjusted he saw magic, life itself, illuminating the world. Wherever it pooled it magical creatures congregated like animals around a waterhole.

Elias adjusted the net to screen out the natural magics, looking for subtler energies. Human auras glowed dully, but none stood out. Further back along the road several patches of magical energy clung to the ground like mist.

Were the faspane up to something? He and Allyn had seen far too many signs of their mortal cousins. He searched again, but each time he came close to pinpointing something out of place it slipped away as if never there.

Curious, he reworked the net to resonate against directed energy, and between one breath and the next his net illuminated with power. He stiffened with fear and cried out as sparks showered the air around him and his chest cramped. He fell gasping to his knees, the icy wind blowing his cloak over his head. He gulped air and fought down the initial power flow, but another surge tore control from his grasp.

Like mist before the wind, the barriers between this world and the Higher Realm wavered. His vision twisted in nauseating slowness until he beheld the edges of Quala Umitha, a vision of eternity only a God’s mind could fully encompass and influence. To Elias, it appeared as a revelation of infinite possibilities bound within the Fey Realm.

Billions of probabilities impacted his overextended mind, each a potential future. He tried to force the visions away, but they changed again and again until he could barely tell them apart; an unbearable wall of pain.

A single vision cut through the others and caught his attention; someone standing beside a pool of rippling silver. It had to be the Silver Well which held the Power of Ages. Whoever stood there already held a ball of liquid from the pool. Prophecy. Or potential for it if current events didn’t lay a new course. Otherwise Phoenix would gain dominance over the Silver Well. The possibility was even scarier than the faspane invading his homeland.

He had to survive the visions and get to the Silver Well before Phoenix. Drawing on all his strength, Elias desperately constructed a block between his mind and Quala Umitha. The pain eased and his senses cleared, but he could feel the power mounting on the other side.

He opened his eyes, shoulders tight with tension. He had to survive and warn Allyn. Trembling as power trickled through his block, he yelled and slashed at the link with all his remaining power, crossing his forearms as he invoked a desperate warding.

Lightning born of twisted magic struck and threw him back against a tree while energies arced about him, dissipating into the ground.

“That wasn’t too bad,” he said with a half-smile as he slumped to his side.

 

Divine Prey will be released in early 2018.