Today’s release day for my next book, Secrets Among The Tides, book 1 in the realm of the undersea series. This story set in the same time period and same world as my Andovia Chronicles. You can get the book here.
“This is the Spirit Grove.” Taliesin motioned towards the glowing forest up ahead of them. “This place will give you the answers you seek. Remember everything I’ve told you and you will be fine.” The old druid towered over her; his blue eyes fixated on the treeline. His long grey hair fell in a loose plait down his back and he wore a long blue robe.
Azura hesitated and brushed her long silvery hair off her face. She needed answers, but Taliesin had told her stories about this unusual place for the last decade. Only people with pure intentions could set foot there. What if it wouldn’t allow her entrance? What if the years she had spent as the queen’s prisoner had tainted her?
“Don’t be afraid, Azura.” Taliesin squeezed her shoulder with his bony hand. “Go on through.”
“You’re not going with me?” She gaped at him.
“I’m not permitted there. Besides, you are the one who has questions.”
“I would prefer if you came with me,” she wanted to say, but didn’t. Instead, she stepped forward. Either the spirits would let her through, or they wouldn’t.
“Have courage, child.”
“I’m not a child anymore,” she pointed out. “I’m… grown.” She didn’t know what to call herself now. A woman? A half fae, half mermaid? What? One thing she did know: for the first time since she was eleven years old, she was free. Free from the tyrannical queen who had used her as a spy for the past decade.
Evony, the former Queen of Andovia, was an immortal fae whose spirit had possessed Azura’s mother. Now the queen had been banished into the nether, leaving Azura’s mother comatose. Az had no idea how to save her.
She took a deep breath and stepped through the Grove. To her surprise, she didn’t get struck down.
The trees flashed with light. Almost as if they faded in and out of existence. Odd. She had never been to a place like this. Although she had heard stories about it from Taliesin — the man who’d raised her. Taliesin, a fellow prisoner, was the queen’s father and had taken care of all of Evony’s slaves.
Voices whispered around her.
“Azura… Child of land and sea…”
Taliesin had told her to ignore the whispers. They were just murmurs from passing spirits. The veil between the physical and spirit world was thin here so they could pass through easily.
Taliesin had said to go deeper into the Grove, then the Great Guardian would ask her why she had come there.
Azura flinched as balls of light shot past her. More orbs floated through the trees. She almost wanted to reach out and touch them, but she didn’t.
Taliesin’s warning rang through her mind. “Focus on what you seek. Touch nothing, speak to nothing but the Great Guardian.”
Azura had no idea what the Great Guardian looked like. Just that she protected this place.
Moving past the trees, the whispers grew louder.
“Born of land and sea, yet neither…”
Traitor? Traitor of what?
Azura shook her head. Keep moving and ignore them.
“Azura?” a voice called out. It echoed above the whispers. “Azura?”
Taliesin had said the Great Guardian might call for her, but hadn’t said what she should do.
Should she respond?
“Azura?” the voice came again.
She kept moving. The trees grew denser and their fluorescent light stung her eyes.
“Stick to the path,” Taliesin had said. She would do that.
“Azura?” The voice grew louder and echoed around her.
The whispers grew more intense. Was that normal? Oh, why couldn’t Taliesin have come with her? As a druid, he knew this place better than anyone.
Maybe she should respond. Taliesin had never mentioned this place would turn into madness.
“Great Guardian, is that you?”
Laughter echoed around her.
Azura covered her ears. Gods, who was that? The Great Guardian was supposed to be benevolent. It almost reminded her of how the queen used to torment her.
No, it couldn’t be…
The queen’s spirit had been banished. Evony’s daughter insisted the queen would never return. Somehow, Az doubted anything could destroy her former captor. Not even being trapped in another realm.
She stumbled and fell headlong into water. Her body shifted into her mermaid form. What the…? She hadn’t chosen to change. Her body never shifted forms unless she had been forced to. Or she chose to.
Evony was here.
“You… You’re supposed to be gone,” Azura snapped.
More laughter. The queen’s glowing form appeared. Her long ebony hair fell past her shoulders. Her blue eyes shimmered with light and enormous purple wings glistened at her back. This was the queen’s true form.
“Did you really think you could escape me so easily?” Evony demanded.
“I’m free now. We all are,” she spat. “I didn’t come here for you.”
“No. You came to ask how to save your mother.” The queen snorted. “You’ll never save her.”
“She’s still alive. That means she can be saved.” Azura gritted her teeth. “What do you want? I’m not your prisoner. You can’t force me to do anything anymore.”
“I still own you and you will do my bidding!”
Azura yelped as her body shifted between her human and mermaid forms. Gods, would she never be free of this woman?
“I have a new mission for you,” Evony snapped. “You will go to Althea and find the sea witch for me.”
“She’s just a myth.” Legends of the sea witch had been little more than fairy tales when she was a child. Every creature in the sea knew the stories.
Evony cackled. “She’s no myth. She is like me. Go to Althea. Find her and take her.”
“I’ll never help you again.” She clung to a rock and screamed as a blast of energy knocked her backwards and slammed her against some larger rocks.
“You will do as I say, or I will never release your mother’s soul.”
“You… You don’t have that. Her body —” The queen had to be lying. Her mother’s body was free, even if Azura couldn’t reach her mind.
“Her body lives because I allow it to, but her soul is mine!”
Azura clung to another rock, her shoulders slumped. “What do you want me to do?” She wanted to fight back. To never listen to the queen again. But what choice did she have? Az had spent years trying to save her mother. She had always failed.
“Take the sea witch’s power.”
“How?” She yelped as another blast of energy jolted through her.
“Use the crystal that you found near the old Althea ruins. It can harness power. Get it for me. Now.”
“And you’ll release my mother’s soul?”
“Of course.” Evony smirked.
“I want your binding word on that.” Azura wasn’t stupid. The queen always made promises she never kept. She needed something binding. “I want your word you’ll not only release her, but you’ll never possess her again.”
“You’re in no position to bargain.”
“No? If you don’t, I’ll find the sea witch and tell her your plan. You’ll get nothing.”
The queen shot towards her and sneered. “You’ll never risk Lyra’s soul.”
“I would if it meant stopping you.” Azura glared at her. “Give me your word.” Her heart pounded in her ears. Could she really bluff against this woman? Evony knew her too well.
The queen scowled. “Fine, you have my word as the Morrigan.”
Azura gasped as she found herself back in the Spirit Grove.
“You are brave to stand up to her.” A dark-haired woman with lavender eyes sat on a rock a few feet away. “But she will never keep her word.”
Azura winced as she shifted back and rose to her feet. “Who are you?”
“I’m the Great Guardian.”
“Why didn’t you do anything to stop her?”
“I cannot stop her. My daughter is beyond my powers.”
“Your daughter? Wait, you’re Taliesin’s wife? That’s why he can’t step foot here.”
“I was once.”
“Tell me how to stop her. Am I never going to be free of her?”
“Stopping Evony is not your destiny. You know that already.”
Her friend, Domnu, who was a seer, had already told her that. She had said Nyx would stop Evony. That hadn’t worked, had it?
“You must not let Evony steal the witch’s power. Go to Althea and stop the witch.”
“How can I save my mother?”
“It won’t be easy. If the sea witch loses her power, Evony will not get free.”
“But how can I save her?”
“Break Evony’s hold on her.”
“But how?” She put her hands on her hips.
Why couldn’t elder magickind give straightforward answers?
“Go.” The Great Guardian raised her hand and Azura found herself back outside the Grove.
Going back to Althea would mean facing her past. But she would do whatever it took to save her mother.