Introducing Shattering Realms, the third and final full book of the Birthright Secrets. I’m hoping to have some cover art done by the time next week’s post goes live. As mentioned in the last blog post, new chapters get posted for patrons first and then here for everyone. As a heads up. I’d suggest reading Vengeance of Segennya and Darkness’s Fury to have a complete understanding of events and avoid spoilers, but it was originally written as a possible stand alone. I hope you enjoy!
A woman ran through the thick underbrush, her skin marred with cuts, some of which still oozed, and dark bruises. Her bound hands, while useless during a fight, still proved some as she batted low hanging branches away so they wouldn’t’ damage already fragile flesh. Several times she stumbled and grabbed at anything to remain upright and continue her flight. Flinging herself behind a wide, towering tree she paused. Her long, lank hair fell across her face as she lowered her head and gasped for breath. Behind her hiding place thundering footsteps caused her head to whip upwards and she pressed her body tighter against the tree, almost as though she hoped she could merge with it somehow. Her lips pressed together in a thin line as the tree bark bit into the worst of her injuries. The woman lifted her bound hands and a dagger appeared in her fists. She held it ready to strike if needed, though the grip was awkward due to her bonds.
“Come out, come out. We’re not done yet, Your Highness,” a man’s voice sang. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you it’s rude to leave before you are dismissed?”
The woman could hear the leaves crunch as the voice drew closer. Defiance filled her odd eyes, one a vivid green and the other a pupil-less gray-silver, despite the shadow of fear lurking in their depths. She slid to the left, using her elbows to guide her, and peeked around the edge of the trunk. A man’s bald head greeted her though his attention was on a bush he prodded with a sword. There was a good amount of distance between the two, but she wanted more as he resumed his search. Her eyes narrowed as she concentrated on the air behind his shoulder. A crude dagger, much like the one she held, formed. The man yelled loudly when it struck him; he raced toward where he figured it had been thrown from. The sword slashed at the plant life as he snarled, “I got you!”
The woman took the opportunity to resume her flight, racing away on her original path. Soon, the noise of his search had faded and was replaced with what few forest noises there were. She didn’t dare slow down and ran with all her might. Breaking through the underbrush, she faced a wide river. For the most part the current was calm except in the middle. Several rocks broke the surface to form stepping stones. The woman knelt by the edge and stabbed the dagger into the dirt. Cupping grubby hands, she eagerly lifted palmfuls of liquid to her cracked lips, hissing as it stung her wounds.
She whipped around at the sound of the bushes behind her rustling. A shaky hand yanked the dagger from the ground just before she started to run across the stones. Something heavy hit her in the back, throwing her to the ground. She rolled as she fell; each impact sent a wave of fresh agony from her wounds. Turning, she stared at her new burden and found herself lost in the crazed, ice blue eyes of her pursuer. He took a dagger of his own and raked it across her chest.
“Told you I find you, but you’re more trouble then you’re worth. Prepare to die, bitch,” he whispered.
“Not today,” her voice was hoarse, but strong. She kicked away despite his weight on the lower part of her body. She thought she had managed to break away, when she felt a hand grab a fistful of her hair and pull her off her feet. “Zara’s winning, so I can do this easily now.”
The woman’s hands clenched the dagger tighter as she tried to control her breathing. “Can you? Let me tell you what I think; you are scared to possibly defy them.”
He brought the dagger closer to her throat, “Try me.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed, “As I said when I left; not today.” She threw her elbows back. They connected with his gut. The shock caused him to release his grip slightly but not much. The woman raised her bound hands and used her own dagger to cut at the arm holding the blade to her neck. It fell to the ground as she kicked out again, her hair pulled painfully, but she ignored it. She turned as she kicked so she was facing him. The dagger cut in a line from his forehead to his chin, the wound wasn’t very deep but was enough to cause him to pull back. The woman pulled away and decided to take her chances with the river. Plunging in, she was quickly up to her waist when she felt a sharp pain in her side. She didn’t dare stop to examine what was causing it; Her legs propelled her to deeper water where the current threatened to pull them out from under her. Over the sound of running water she could hear splashing behind her. Turning, she saw him lunge one last time as she stepped forward. Her foot slipped on some of the rocks deep beneath the surface. She reached out to try to catch herself, but the current was too fast.
Overwhelmed, she was swept away from her pursuer. She swam to escape the current while trying to keep her head above the water. Each push of her arms seemed less effective than the last. The last sight the woman saw was water rushing overhead as she found freedom in blackness.
Eiraen, Goddess to both the humans and Eire of Segennya walked with Kakri, patron Goddess of Segennya through the jungle near her home. Several of Eiraen’s attendants flitted about, ready to see to their needs, but keeping a respectful distance. Each one blended into the plants around them, only visible due to their bright hair. As they walked in silence, Eiraen frowned and waved her hand slightly. The movement caused the attendants to withdraw enough they wouldn’t be able to overhear any delicate conversations.
“What is bothering you, sister?”
Kakri jumped. “Always straight to the point aren’t you, Eiraen?” She frowned.
“You never come down from your cloud these days without some reason.” Eiraen folded her hands in front of her.
“To be fair, my attendants have been very good in keeping me grounded as of late. I think they’re afraid that I’ll break if they let me venture too far out of their sight.”
“You were in rough shape the last time you spent an extended amount of time outside our realm.”
“It wasn’t so much rough shape, but worn out. And you remember it wasn’t entirely my doing.” Kakri sighed, “I needed to get away from them. I can’t get my head around things with them hovering around.”
“What things?” Eiraen’s golden eyebrow rose. “Out of all of us you usually are the most serene about the goings on in the world.”
“I have had some odd feelings as of late. Something is not quite right and I do not know what it is.”
“And let me guess, you were hoping I might shed some light on what it might be?”
Kakri smiled sheepishly, “You are the most gifted into seeing events clearly.”
“You are trying to flatter me, but you are right. As great as your gifts are seeing things clearly has never been a strong suit.” Eiraen smiled. “Come then, I know there is a river nearby that will suit.”
She led them off the well-worn path and into the lush foliage. Kakri walked beside her in silence, her sky-blue eyes scanning the forest around them. There were several large cats watching at a respectful distance, but they didn’t venture closer despite the pair looking like an easy meal. She suppressed a shiver; being watched like that definitely didn’t improve her mood. She had allowed this to come too far—she should have sought out Eiraen just after the feeling started. She hadn’t though and now she had to deal with its overbearing nature.
“So…” Eiraen’s voice caused her to jump. “Tell me about this “odd” feeling you are having.”
Kakri scowled. “What is it with you and Lona trying to get me to tell more before you help me out?” Eiraen smiled and turned her gaze back toward the forest. “Fine,” Kakri huffed. “I’m feeling a bit off; like I’m drained somehow and part of me isn’t there. I wouldn’t put much into it since my powers and abilities don’t seem effected, but I’ve never felt anything like it and it won’t go away. The most concerning is the feeling of something being gone; the last time that I experienced that… well… you know what happened.”
“I see,” this time it was Eiraen’s turn to frown. “I had hoped it would be slightly less significant, but at least now I know who to look in on.”
“I honestly hope I’m just overreacting. Finding out about Ahiel still rattles my nerves even to this day.”
“Mine as well. His deception and hatred ran deep and it will take all of us time to recover from how we played part.”
Kakri nodded. Part of her wanted to comment on how she had noticed some of their methods of atonement. During the worst of her weaker times, when she was confined to bed, Lona and Lepah had joined Eiraen in keeping her company and updated on what was going on in the mortal world. Even now, they would ask her opinion on if they should get involved in things or not. She was relieved she was no longer the odd one who cared in the mortal realm. It made things easier when things did go wrong there, but how sudden the change of heart happened amused her.
The sound of rushing water assaulted their ears as they broke free of the plant life. Before them was a wide river at the bottom of a towering waterfall. In many places, small rapids formed as the water rushed over rocks and other debris. “We need somewhere quieter,” Eiraen told her, leading the way downstream. “Otherwise the vision will not be clear enough and, in all honesty, will give me a headache.”
“Such a silly thing to worry about, can’t you just will it away?” Kakri teased.
Eiraen glared, “Do you wish me to do this?”
Kakri blushed and they rounded a large bend in the river; here the water flowed into a large pool before continuing downstream. “What is that?” she pointed at a mass of brown at the edge of the water.
Eiraen’s gaze followed to where she pointed. “I have no idea, come along.”
The goddesses raced over to it. “Would any creature in this area leave prey?” Kakri asked.
“No, no predator would leave that much waste,” Eiraen said. “Not to mention, it looks like no creature I have ever seen here.”
As they drew nearer they could make out human legs. “A person?” Eiraen exclaimed, looking baffled. “How can this be?”
Kakri’s speed increased and she about threw herself to the ground beside them. Their hair and clothing was dark and soaked through from the water. “At this point, sister, I am simply hoping they are still alive. With the way they are sprawled here I’m guessing the current took them.” Kakri’ reached out and gently turned the person over, “Oh… my…”
They were looking at Liz, Queen of Segennya and member of Kakri’s favored House. Small grains of sand stuck to her cheeks, but her time in the water had cleansed away the grime. The effect also meant the cuts and bruises stood out sharply against the paleness of her skin. The slight rise and fall of her chest gave them comfort that she did indeed live, but the redness around a few of her wounds gave them concern. Putting those aside for the moment they breathed a sigh of relief as they took in the rest of her.
Large pieces of her leather armor had been hacked away somehow. Through the missing pieces they could see the faint outline of bones beneath her skin. Her hands were bound tightly in front of her; Eiraen quickly reached down to rectify that situation. Free, her hands fell to her sides revealing a large, blistering burn mark on her right forearm. Kakri let out a curse in ancient Eiren at the sight, “What bastard thing in all the Underworld caused this?”
“Only she can tell us that,” Eiraen said. “I have my attendants fetching the others. Until they arrive and we can know more of her condition I do not dare move her.”
“I agree,” Kakri waved a hand and a solid looking cloud appeared. She eased it under Liz’s head before lowering both to the earth like she was a fragile jewel. “Do me a favor while we wait. Look in the mortal realms; something happened and we have been blinded.”
Eiraen nodded, throwing the rope to the ground before she to the water’s edge. Kakri watched from beside Liz as the other goddess took a deep breath and strode into the depths, ignoring how wet her gown was getting. As she gazed into the liquid she saw her gaze grow more distant by the second. “Well?” Kakri asked at last.
Eiraen turned toward her fully, shock in her gray-silver eyes. “A massive battle in the old Uranys city. Victory came, but both sides were decimated. The Segennyians march toward the Eire to aid them without the Queen, a perfect dagger a sign of their hope.”
Kakri jumped to her feet. “A battle? How did we not know of this?”
Eiraen trudged out of the water, “I do not know, but it makes me wonder what else we have missed. Or rather, what else Ahiel has not told us about as his punishment dictated?”
A sharp gasp came from Liz, both Goddesses raced to her side. The Queen’s eyes opened a sliver and looked up at Kakri. Her lips moved in an effort to speak, Eiraen ripped off part of her gown off where it had been soaked by the water, handing it to Kakri who quickly put it to her mouth for Liz to suck on. “That is all we can give her for now,” Eiraen whispered.
Kakri nodded gazing as Liz pulled her face away from the cloth and tried to speak once more. “Take it easy for now,” she encouraged. “Do not rush what does not need to be; you are safe.”
Liz’s lips continued to move as her eyes began to flutter close. “Mage… not safe… “
“What was that?” Eiraen demanded.
Kakri didn’t reply, instead her eyes bore into Liz’s face waiting, but it fell back against the cloud and she said no more. Kakri stood and motioned for Eiraen to follow her a short distance away, still clutching the drying cloth. “She said something about a mage and it wasn’t safe. Whatever happened to her I imagine she won’t feel safe until she knows she is with friends. I doubt she even realized it was me she was talking to.”
“I doubt it as well.” Noises through the bushes caused them to turn toward the noise. A ball of lightning appeared in Kakri’s hand as water appeared in Eirean’s. If what came toward the trio meant harm they would be facing too wrathful goddesses who were extremely protective of their mortal charge. Seconds passed and an attendant burst through the branches followed soon by Apoxas who immediately brought her weapon ready. She used it to hold Lona and Lepah back, who appeared just behind her. “Thank goodness,” Eiraen sighed. “She is right here.”
“Any trouble?” Apoxas asked, allowing the other two to follow Eiraen back to Liz’s side.
“No, but there might be,” Kakri replied. “I need you go to Ahiel’s territory and see why we had no information about certain events taking place in the mortal realm.”
Apoxas’ head tilted slightly. “Sure, but really they’re that major?”
Kakri’s eyes blazed with rage, “I wouldn’t ask these days if it wasn’t. We need to get started on piecing together what happened now.”
“Consider it done,” Apoxas clapped her on the arm before racing off into the wood.
Kakri walked over to the others, “How is she, Lona?”
Lona sighed and brushed her long, golden hair back. “I do not even know where to start.”
“Start with the most extreme then,” Eiraen replied.
“She has multiple broken bones, some have healed and been broken again in other places, but none have healed correctly. The worst and oldest one of these are her legs. Many of the cuts go deep, into the muscle in some locastions, and are infected.” Lona shook her head. “There are also many burns, the worst is on her arm… Correct me if I am wrong but did she not have a birthmark that designated her as part of your House?”
“Yes, she did,” Kakri said. “Are all the wounds that deliberate?”
“Yes, and they were careful to keep her alive to draw things out. Much more and…”
“What caused it though?” Lepah demanded. “How did she get to our realm if none of us pulled her through?”
“I sent Apoxas to see what, if anything, Ahiel knows,” Kakri said. “As for anything else- we won’t know until either she wakes up or Apoxas returns.”
“Can she be healed? Eiraen asked. “Your magic is potent; do we dare use it on a weak mortal?”
“It should be fine,” Lona said. “I would prefer to do what I can here before moving her.”
“Where should we move her too?” Lepah asked. “Or should we just send her home?”
“No!” shouted Eiraen and Kakri causing her to jump.
“Too much of this doesn’t make any sense, and until it does she remains here” Kakri replied. “Sending her back while not knowing if she will remain safe is a disservice to her. We will move her to my home. Down here I am afraid she will think she is still in danger, my home would be hard to get to for most who are not gods.”
“Since that is decided, I will begin,” Lona said, kneeling once more.