Betrayal has come to Shadowhaven, and a power mad wizard has overthrown the kingdom, bent on capturing their store of magic hidden beneath the castle. The royal guard have been sent off on a mysterious mission. Without their trusted warriors to protect them, the kingdom falls overnight. The queen is dead, and the king and princess have fled for their lives. Now only terror reigns over this once peaceful land. But the royal guard are coming back, and there are rumors that the king and princess aren’t dead, just merely in hiding. Can the captain of the guard find the king and restore the royal family to their place? Can a princess living in secret truly rise up and grab hold of her destiny, or will she hide from who she is if it means the destruction of countless lives? How are the royal family connected to this land, and to the well of power hidden deep beneath Illuminata Castle?
The night around Mylena and Fionn was never quite the same after they began their flight toward the east. The forest took on a cloak of menace when the sun set, and Fionn had the feeling that it wasn’t just their imaginations keeping pace with them as they ran. The first few days were alright, went along without much happening. But even during the nights when they made camp and Mylena appeared out of the brush with fruits and mushrooms to cook for a meal, Fionn hadn’t exactly felt able to relax. Who knew what was lurking in the bushes around them? He hadn’t spent much time in the deep forest, but he could guess that there was a contingent of nasty monsters eager for eating unsuspecting travelers when they let their guard down.
It was for that reason that he slept in short shifts, and always with his sword in his hand. This particular night the moon had set behind the trees many hours before, and Mylena was already curled in her cloak by the fire. Fionn stoked the fire with the heel of his boot, thinking about the events in his life that had led to this moment. He had been trained as a warrior, yet was left at home when his mother went off to join the Queen’s Guard. Why did she leave him at home? Fionn had been told that he was too young, but he was certain that wasn’t it, because there were warriors taken for combat much younger than him. No, it had to be something else.
Perhaps it was his mother’s insistence that he protect Chiave. The foundling child was human, and, as a human, was victim to his weaknesses. For one thing, he aged incredibly quickly in comparison to an elven child. Fionn himself had taken many years more to mature when compared to the brief childhood Chiave experienced. And Chiave was never able to understand the basics of swordplay. Fionn’s mother had long ago given up attempting to teach Chiave how to defend himself, which, in itself, was strange, when connected to the fact that Fionn was charged with protecting the boy. Hopefully, Chiave had gotten away safe with the rest of the village. Whatever had done those horrible things to that priest was still out there somewhere, and Fionn hoped fervently that it wouldn’t find his brother.
As if he had conjured the nightmare by just thinking about it, the night around Fionn began to hiss. Instinctively he drew his sword and crouched low beside the fire to silently wake Mylena. She stirred slowly, and then when she saw him holding a hand over her mouth, she jolted awake. Her golden eyes flew open wide with fear as he gestured around him, cocking his head to listen. The hissing rose in pitch around them as Fionn removed his hand from Mylena’s mouth, and together they rose to their feet back to back, still without speaking. Try as he might, he was unable to pinpoint the direction the voices where coming from, so had to conclude they were surrounded. Silently, he cursed himself for allowing the fire to burn throughout the night. They had created a beacon for the monsters to follow, and now they were trapped.
The first of them appeared to the south, hissing and snapping its jaws just on the edge of the firelight. Mylena cried out as another three appeared to her left. Fionn guessed there were half a dozen in total, perhaps a few more staying out of sight. A tiny hunting party compared to the enormous army that had overwhelmed Laud’El, but still enough to ensure that the two of them would not make it through the night alive. As smoothly as he could, he crouched down to the earth, attempting to hum some water from the ground, but there seemed to be no aquifer beneath them. Besides his sword, he had his bow and a full quiver of arrows, but in such close quarters, they would be useless. They were going to die.
The creatures seemed to realize this as well, so they braved exposure in the light to taunt their prey. As they stepped into the firelight, Fionn could see that they were humanoid, although they did not stand as men did. Hunched over, they hung their heads and swayed a bit like snakes might. In fact everything about these monsters was reptilian, even the green-black shimmer of their skin. Yes, it was skin, not shadows he saw, which explained how they could be fought.
No matter what he thought of, it wouldn’t be enough to stop these creatures. What did he have besides a sword and his bow? Only a scared girl who quivered behind him. She wouldn’t be any use. His magic was gone, his ability locked away with the spirits of the water that was too far for him to reach. Fionn racked his brain for something, anything that would keep them alive long enough to get away from these monsters. Would the fire do it? He kicked coals and fiery logs at the nearest creature. Although he ducked and backed away, it looked more surprised than hurt by the flames. Damn.
“I can’t do anything,” Fionn said, finally breaking the silence. “I’m sorry, Muirinn. This is not the way I wanted us to spend our last moments together. Forgive me.” He closed his eyes and prepared for the end to come.
“You are an elven warrior. You do NOT simply curl up and die! We have come so far, too far to simply give up after everything.” Muirinn’s voice was surprisingly strong despite the way she trembled. Fionn wanted to think that something might happen, that he would think of something that would be their salvation, but, instead, he just stood there.
The creatures evidently decided they had had enough of taunting their prey and began to lunge toward them, their teeth gnashing. Muirinn cried out as one began to scratch at her, slashing with one clawed hand and then watching her wriggle away. It seemed to be enjoying itself, and if it could have laughed, Fionn imagined it would have.
Suddenly out of nowhere he heard a song burst forth behind him. He couldn’t tell exactly where it was coming from, but it sounded like a variation of the spell songs he had been working with. The sounds were indistinct and difficult to understand, as if he had never learned them, but from behind him, a white light began to glow so bright it hurt his eyes. He turned to see Muirinn radiating light from within her. It was she who was singing, her eyes closed and her mouth thrown open with her head thrown back, as if she were calling out into the night. The light flowed from her face and hands, radiating from her fingertips. It burst forth, growing in intensity the more she sang. The light seemed to be seeking something, and, as Fionn watched entranced, he realized exactly what it searched for. The light was looking for the creatures.
The creatures, repulsed by the light, shrank back and then began to run away, completely retreating. The light didn’t stop at the edge of the clearing, though, but followed them into the forest, seeking them as a hound would seek a fox. The light burst through the trees, through the bushes, and as it reached the first of the creatures, the monster exploded into a ball of light. All six were eventually found, and destroyed in small explosions that looked like tiny suns. And then the light was gone, switched off as one might snuff out a candle.
Muirinn collapsed into a heap on the ground, her hands shaking and her eyes glowing with residual light. “What happened?” she asked as Fionn went to her, holding her as she shivered against his shoulder. She looked up at him with her glowing eyes. “What happened?” she repeated and then passed out.
Born in Fountain Valley, CA, raised in a small town called Montrose, CA, Amanda Orneck has never stayed in one place for long — until now. She currently calls Huntsville, AL home, where she spends her days writing, gaming, and loving her family to pieces. Amanda received her Creative Writing degree from the University of Southern California, learning her craft at the feet of David St. John, Aimee Bender and Carol Muske-Dukes. While at USC, she received the Middleton Creative Writing Fellowship for excellence in poetry. For seven years she honed her writing craft as a video game journalist, writing for GamePro, WoW Insider, GameGeex, and handful of other outlets. In 2014 Amanda left the world of blogging behind to focus on her first love, fiction. Shadow of the Owl is her first novel, and she is currently working on a sequel.
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