Let the games begin. Today is the official start of my serial…RED SKY DAWNING. It’s a project I’m doing with Jessica Jarman, who has a fantastic story planned out called… YOUR LIES. I’ll be posting her banner at the end of each chapter. Just click on it and you’ll pop on over to her post.
Since this is the first chapter, just a bit of background. While our stories are completely separate, it’s based on a common theme. Enemies to Lovers. Mine is erotic in nature. Jess is writing an NA. So please, if you find graphic language and scenes unappealing, then you might want to skip some chapters. These stories are intended for folks eighteen or older…so if you’re not, please find something else to read.
I’ll have every chapter readily available in the free read section of my website, so you don’t have to hunt around or scroll through blog posts to find them all. I’ll list the link at the start of each chapter.
Finally, both Jess and I are doing monthly giveaways. We’ll each be giving away a $20.00 Amazon gift card at the end of each month in a random draw to anyone who leaves a comment. If you comment for both posts in any month, you get entered twice. Easy peasy. So, without any more delays… chapter one…
Click to read the Prologue
This was treason. Once she broke the wards sealing the chamber and stepped inside, her life was forfeit.
Aelwyn stood in the underground passageway—flickering torchlight dancing across the damp walls as she stared at the wooden door nestled within the rock. The magical barrier surrounding the entrance thrummed in the air, the intricate weave pushing outwards as if drawing a deep breath. She took a step forward, tracing her fingers along the edge of the seal. The energy sparked, sending ripples across the surface—destroying the seamless illusion for a few precious moments before settling again.
Her magic flared in response, covering her skin with a soft, golden glow. Her energy recognized the darkness staining the strands like a festering wound. An evil that smothered the kingdom, poisoning the very air until every breath burned with malice and death. It was only a matter of time before Aldhaven fell beneath the weight of its power, leaving nothing worth saving alive.
Never. She’d give her dying breath to save her people—save Aelrik.
She calmed any unrest, focusing her magic, when footsteps sounded behind her. She spun, sword at the ready, her magic shimmering around her like a protective shield. Two men stopped at the mouth of the passageway, shoulder-to-shoulder, weapons poised in front of them. She stood her ground as they approached, finally baring their faces to the wavering firelight.
Tarn, her brother Aelrik’s personal guard, moved forward, nodding at her. “Princess Aelwyn.”
She didn’t miss his tone—equal parts reluctance and fear. Rarely did that word “princess” pass the lips of any within the castle walls. It was reserved for the rare moments her father paraded her in front of the commoners—proof that the king cared for his people…even his daughter marked as a monster.
Her father. King Aern. A man of many faces with lies to suit each one. Knowing his blood ran within her veins—that part of him would forever live inside her. It sickened her to think she’d once loved him. Trusted him. How she’d been so blind as a child—believing she was the one who’d failed him.
Aelwyn reined in her power, keeping it tightly coiled beneath her skin, extinguishing the warm glow along her flesh. She took a calculated step away, drawing her sword back but not sheathing it. “Captain Tarn.”
She glanced at the other man, noting the hint of silver around his temples. The master sorcerer had lived through two kings, his age just now starting to bleed through.
“Master Bearn.” She arched an eyebrow. “Are you two following me?”
Tarn’s gaze fell to the sword still poised in front of her chest. “I wasn’t aware you had skill with a blade.”
She gave him a mocking smile. “I wasn’t aware you knew anything about me other than your fear. Or is it revulsion?”
Tarn’s mouth pinched tight, the lines around the edges deepening. “Cane has ordered the castle grounds secured. It’s not safe for you to travel beyond your chambers until we catch the men responsible for Prince Aelrik’s disappearance.”
“Then I suggest you arrest Cane.”
Tarn’s nostrils flared as he took a step forward only to have Bearn bar the man’s way with his arm.
Bearn gave her a curt nod, sheathing his sword before crossing his arms on his chest. “Obviously recent events have upset you. It’s understandable…losing your brother like this—”
“He’s not dead.” She slid her sword into the leather strap across her back. “And I’m past being upset.” She drew herself up, allowing a tinge of her power to shimmer along her skin. She didn’t miss the way both men tensed, any hint of smiles fading. “If you’re here for my safety, I can assure you, I’m not in any danger.”
Tarn scoffed, pushing past Bearn. “We both know the sword is only for show. That you’re incapable of killing. It goes against your very nature as a…” He shuffled, the word seemingly stuck.
“Healer?” She cocked a brow. “Does it sicken you so much you’re unable to speak the word?” Her power flared, the golden shimmer dousing the corridor in light. “Am I that much of a threat to you? To Aldhaven?”
Bearn moved in front of Tarn. “Enough, Aelwyn. We’re not your enemy.”
“No. You merely serve him.” She drew a deep breath, once again coiling her magic beneath her flesh, acutely aware of how it pulsed in protest, as if sensing her unrest. Her fear.
Bearn shook his head. “Cane is your father’s—the King’s—advisor. The man has served Aldhaven for nearly three hundred years. Your father trusts him.”
“Then my father’s a fool. Cane doesn’t care about him, about the people of Aldhaven. He doesn’t worry if there’s enough food to eat or how many will die of ailments I could heal.” She tamped down her anger, knowing they’d never see Cane for what he was. That he was the real monster living within the castle walls. “He’s waiting.”
“The bloodline to end.”
Bearn sighed. “Aelwyn. Cane’s not of royal blood. He can never be king.”
“Who needs to be king in title, when you already rule the kingdom.” She rolled her shoulders, pushing out a rough breath. “Don’t you think it’s convenient that my brother disappears on the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday? The night in which he’s to be crowned king? That my father has locked himself within his chambers, allowing Cane to oversee his duties? Is none of that alarming to either of you?”
Tarn moved beside Bearn, his sword still drawn. “King Aern is overwrought with grief over losing his only son—”
“I told you. Aelrik is not lost. Not yet.”
Tarn scowled. “We’ve searched every room within the keep. I have soldiers scouring the village and the lands beyond. But other than the tower guards hearing him call out—seeing him fighting off intruders…” Tarn finally lowered his blade, turning his head away. “I don’t even know how they gained access to the grounds. He should have been safe. I’d performed a thorough sweep of the castle keep not moments before. If I’d thought he’d been at risk, I never would have let him walk alone.”
“That’s easy. Cane let them in.”
Tarn’s head snapped up, his eyes narrowing. “That’s traitorous talk, Princess.”
“Call it what you will. That doesn’t negate the fact it’s true.” She held up her hand, stopping him from answering. “I felt him remove his wards on the south gate. Why would he do that other than to allow others inside? People he didn’t want discovered.”
Bearn’s mouth gaped open before he pinned her with his gaze. “You felt what?”
Aelwyn sighed. She’d already said too much. “Enough. While I appreciate your protection, as you can see, I’m not in need of any. I’ll find my own way back to my tower. I always do.”
Tarn shook his head. “Cane’s orders were clear. You’re to be kept in your chambers until further notice.”
“A minute, please, captain.” Bearn edged forward. “What did you mean by you felt him remove his wards?”
She studied the man, noting the worried furrow of his brow. The beads of perspiration lining his upper lip. Tarn wore a similar expression. She just wasn’t sure if it was her or her statement that scared them. She weighed her options, not that she had many. She knew the men well enough to know that they wouldn’t leave—not without her. And she wasn’t going anywhere until she’d removed Cane’s protection and unsealed the door behind her. Taken the only risk that might save her brother.
Aelwyn squared her shoulders. “As you know, it takes power to unweave a spell. Ripples from that burst of energy travel outwards like undulating waves through the air. Each caster leaves a mark behind—a brand. Just like this barrier.” She turned, gently touching the invisible shield, watching as sparks crackled across the surface, bathing the corridor in red light before winking out. “It reeks of Cane—of his energy. It lurks in every shadow, in the dark corners of the woods. The very air suffocates beneath the weight of his magic. It’s a wonder anything grows within the borders of Aldhaven.”
“Feeling a barrier a few feet away isn’t what I’m talking about, Aelwyn. I can sense Cane’s wards inside this tunnel as easily as any mage.” Bearn pinned her with his gaze. “But what you’re claiming—there’s no way you could know he removed the enchantments without being there. Without being close enough to see him.” He glanced at Tarn. “No one can sense magic in the manner in which you claim—”
“I felt it, Bearn. As surely as I can feel Cane’s magic scouring the castle grounds as we speak—always searching.” She sighed. “You have no idea what I’m capable of. How strong I really am.”
Tarn cocked his head to the side, giving her body a long slow sweep. “Are you threatening us?”
She laughed. “Are you a threat? Did you come here to kill me, captain?”
“Of course not.” He huffed. “None of this matters. We came here to escort you back to your tower.” He waved at the way out. “If you’d be so kind…”
“Not until I’ve accomplished what I came here for.” She drew herself up. “I’ll give you both one chance to leave. I suggest you take it.”
“I just told you we aren’t leaving here without you, Aelwyn.”
“Then you leave me no other choice.”
She lifted her hands, allowing the energy beneath her flesh to materialize. Flashes of gold streaked through the air, a thousand threads weaving into a wall of light behind the two men. They jumped, twisting to watch the last flickers of magic lace together before slowly fading.
Tarn turned, sword once again at the ready. “What in the dark hells did you just do?”
She offered him a small smile. “I merely sealed the entrance. I need to ensure Cane won’t sense what I’ve done until it’s too late.”
His expression firmed. “And what is it you plan on doing, Princess?”
She snorted. “Do you really think I plan on killing you? Or Bearn? I didn’t have to seal the tomb if that was all I wanted.” She glanced at his blade. “I’d prefer not to have that in my face, captain.”
“Then release us, and I’ll put it away.”
“I asked you to leave.”
“And I told you I have orders.” He arched a brow. “I’d rather not fight with you.”
Aelwyn’s skin prickled a moment before Bearn struck. She released her power, shielding his attack, deflecting it against the barrier behind her. The wards hissed in response, deep reds flaring from the surface. Bearn reacted, blocking the unwanted blast from him and Tarn, sending another bolt toward her. She allowed her magic to wrap around his, altering his strands to suit her needs before pushing it into the stone walls. They shook then shot outwards, encasing both men’s hands in rock, effectively immobilizing them.
Bearn gasped, staring down at her as she slipped between them, hoping to defuse the situation without using any more power. Even with the corridor sealed, she couldn’t chance Cane might feel her magic—the man’s power nearly as great as hers. That he’d be able to send reinforcements before she’d done more than spar with her brother’s keepers.
“Enough. If I’d wanted you both dead, neither of you would be breathing.” She released a weary sigh, removing their restraints and pulling her energy back as she walked over to Cane’s barrier before glancing at them across her shoulder. “All I want is to save my brother. Return the rightful heir to the throne.”
Tarn stared at her, face pale, eyes rounded in shock. “How…”
Bearn flexed his hands, looking at them as if he’d never seen them before. “Impossible. You altered my threads…then manipulated the rock. No one can control more than one element.” He glanced up at her in horror. “No one. Not even Cane, and he’s…”
She gave him an apologetic grin. “I’m afraid the world isn’t quite as simple as you thought.”
The man scrubbed a hand down his face. “How long have you been able to do…all this?”
“Healers are born with their abilities. They don’t come into their power like others. You know that, Bearn.”
“Is it just earth you can control? What about fire? Air? Can you redirect anyone’s energy?”
She gave him a guarded smile then a nod.
“Dark hells.” He glanced at Tarn then back to her. “So you could have…revolted. Killed us all. Why haven’t you? After all you’ve suffered? Being isolated to that…tower. Being shunned as you are. Why not use what you have?”
“Because just thinking about taking your lives… It guts me. Causes pain that seeps into my bones. If I were to actually do it, the strain alone…” She bowed her head. “That’s the gift and the curse of being a healer. Immeasurable power, but an even greater conscience.”
Bearn relaxed against the wall, his strength seemingly drained. “You said you felt Cane release his wards. On the south gate. Just before your brother was attacked.”
She nodded. “I was in the north forest. By the time I was able to return…” She bit back a sob. If she’d only gotten there sooner. If she hadn’t ventured to the woods in search of solitude. Peace.
Bearn nudged Tarn, motioning to his sword. “You know what you’re suggesting?”
“Only what I’ve known for as long as I can remember. Aelrik knew it, too. Why do you think Cane got rid of him? Aelrik was going to banish him. Attempt to stop this war before it starts.”
Tarn shook his head, finally sheathing his blade. “What war? You’re not making any sense. And how do you even know Aelrik’s still alive?”
“I’m his twin. If I can feel Cane’s power, Bearn’s…is it so unbelievable that I can sense my brother? His power? Wherever he is?”
Bearn scoffed. “Prince Aelrik doesn’t posses any power. You’re the first royal to be born with any of the gifts in nearly five centuries.”
She gave him a genuine smile. “He’s my twin. Do you really think he’s barren of any magic?”
Bearn frowned. “But…”
“He controls it. Hides it.”
“I might not sense magic the way you’re suggesting you do…” He chuckled. “Who am I kidding? After what you’ve just shown us. I have no doubts you’re capable of all you claim, but…I’d know if Aelrik had abilities. He couldn’t hide that much power. Especially, when he was younger.”
She sighed. “I…shielded him. For his own safety. If Cane had discovered he had abilities…” She waved off the look he flashed her. “None of which matters. We’re wasting time. Sooner or later, Cane’s going to come searching for me. He can’t afford to leave me alive. And when he realizes I’m not in my chambers…” She nodded at the door. “He’ll know I came here.”
Tarn scowled. “How can he know when we didn’t? It was luck we saw you dart across the keep.”
“Because the key to getting my brother back lies beyond that door.”
“I hate to disappoint you, Aelwyn, but there’s nothing within that room that can save you. Or Aelrik. It houses a man, nothing more. A monster from long before you were born.” Tarn glanced at the old wood, pursing his mouth. “I’d assumed Cane had killed the prisoner years ago.”
Aelwyn raised her brow. “Is that what you think? Do you even know who’s in there?”
“A butcher, the likes of which our lands haven’t seen in over a century.”
“His name, Tarn. Do you know his name?”
“Nah. Though something tells me you do.”
She smiled, nodding her reply.
Tarn mumbled a curse. “I do know he’s a murderer. That he tried to kill your father. Kill Cane. That it took a room full of men just to capture him. That Cane cursed his wretched soul to this…tomb. Alive but not living. Suspended in time.”
“A butcher? A murder?” She eyed Tarn. “The same things could be said about you in battle.”
He glared at her. “I don’t kill for the sheer pleasure of it.”
“And are you so certain that this man does? Tell me, who made this claim against him?”
“Cane gave a full…”
Aelwyn smiled. “Tell me. If you believe me when I say that my brother is alive…where do you think Cane would hide him?”
“There’s no dark corner within our realm Cane could keep the prince and get away with it. I’m sorry, Aelwyn. Someone would know. My men would find him.”
“I agree. Nowhere…within the borders of Aldhaven.”
Tarn grimaced. “I know what you’re thinking but…” He carded a hand through his hair. “He can’t be in Ravendale.” He snorted at her continued silence. “Aelwyn. The borders of Ravendale have been impassable ever since King Roan erected that cursed barrier. No one can pass through the seals in either direction without a guide—one native to his land.” He sighed. “I’m afraid Roan has gone quite mad.”
“He thought he was protecting his people—his kingdom. After his son seemingly vanished…” She sighed. “But while the barrier guards his realm from attack, it’s slowly destroying his people. Their crops no longer flourish. Their livestock are dying. Droughts and storms plague the land. If Roan doesn’t have his priests remove the seal soon…his kingdom and all his people will die.”
“Roan can’t remove the barrier. The only reason there’s been any form of peace for the past hundred years is because of that seal. As mad as the man is, even he knows destroying the spell will result in…” Tarn’s breath hitched as he glanced at her. “War.”
“Aelrik wouldn’t go to war.” Bearn pushed in beside Tarn. “Your brother isn’t interested in conquering Ravendale. Gods know we have enough issues within our own borders to deal with. War…it’d be the death of Aldhaven, as well.”
Aelwyn bowed her head in acknowledgement.
Bearn scoffed. “Why would Cane want to go to war after all this time? What purpose would it serve to decimate his own kingdom with such an ill-conceived plot?”
“For power.” Aelwyn placed her hand on Bearn’s shoulder. “Why rule just one realm when you can have two. And once he’s in control of Ravendale, who will stop him from branching out farther? Castlegate would be within his reach. Oakwood next. Every kingdom lined up for his taking. But Cane needs access. And it all starts with getting Roan to remove that seal. With conquering them. And what better way than to have the missing heir to Aldhaven turn up within the man’s borders? Proof Roan is no longer fit to rule. And without an heir to take his place…”
“The burden would fall to Roan’s Advisor, Merek.” Bearn shook his head, pacing away before spinning to face her. “This makes no sense. Even if you’re right—if Cane had your brother abducted. If right now, riders are taking him east to Ravendale—there’d be nothing left of both our realms worth ruling over.”
“Do you think that concerns a man like Cane? One who’s spent three centuries controlling the royalty within these walls? My grandfather. My father. Aelrik was the first of my family to have the courage to stand up to him. To believe in a better future for our people. I won’t let Cane destroy that.” She stared at the door, drawing a deep breath before placing her hands over Cane’s barrier. “Either you believe me or you don’t. Decide now. Once I remove Cane’s wards—there’ll be no turning back. For any of us.”
Bearn moved in beside her. “This is Cane’s seal. I doubt even you can break it.”
Aelwyn looked over at the man. “Cane used dark sorcery to cast this spell. He thought it’d make the seal unbreakable. What he didn’t know was that, like the darkness from which he fashioned it, the wards fester. They shrivel and die, tattering the threads at the ends. And after a century of decay, they’re weak. Exposed.” She focused on the barrier, using her magic to find the frayed threads. “I suggest you and Tarn take a few steps back. Barriers don’t disintegrate without a release of energy. You might not want to be that close when it falters.”
Bearn’s eyes narrowed, his gaze running the length of her before he moved back, taking Tarn with him. Aelwyn waited until they’d gone as far as her seal before grasping onto the weakened edges, testing each one until she found the thread that held the others in place. Cane’s magic pushed in defense, bulging outwards, threatening to expand to the width of the passageway. Sparks erupted along the surface of the ward, the perfect illusion fading into a bloody red. She focused her energy, winding it through the fabric, slowly replacing his strands with hers. As each corrupted thread failed, a tendril of fire blazed from the barrier, singeing the rock an eerie black. Heat poured from within the seal as a cloud of ash swirled around them.
She kept working, blocking each withering thread as it lashed out at her, leaving raised welts along her skin. Bearn yelled at her from behind, but it was crushed beneath the hiss of fire—the scent of brimstone that wrapped around her, smothering her other senses. Sweat beaded her flesh, her muscles cramping from the strain. Time faded into the background, dimmed by the darkness clawing at the last of the threads—one final attempt to swallow her.
She closed her eyes, weaving her strands by feel alone—trusting the pulsing light to guide her. More threads bit into her skin, cutting lines across her flesh before the air stilled. A wretched howl screeched around them, the darkness funneling upwards, billowing out against the rock overhead. It churned like deadly storm clouds before exploding into a burst of fire, raining shards of flaming ash across the corridor. The last of the barrier shimmered then winked out, leaving nothing but an empty void.
Aelwyn fell to one knee, her hands braced against the cold stone as the scenery swam across her vision, nothing but a smear of gray light visible amidst the motion. Her stomach heaved in protest, her muscles shaking from fatigue. A warm palm touched her, drawing her back. She glanced over her shoulder, her gaze finally focusing on Bearn. The man’s pupils were blown wide, disbelief shadowed across his face. She glanced at his hand, certain this was the first time anyone other than her brother had displayed any form of affection toward her before turning away. A simple show of power wouldn’t change their perception of her. She’d always be a monster. An outcast.
Bearn’s grip tightened. “Aelwyn? Are you well?”
She laughed at the absurdity of his question, finding a way to push to her feet. She swayed against the slick wall, her fingers sliding down the surface as she tried to catch her balance.
Tarn lunged at her, shouldering her weight, preventing her from crashing to the ground. “Easy, Princess. If that was half as draining as it looked…”
She blinked, wondering if she’d missed the usual sarcasm in his voice—the hint of revulsion—before gathering her composure. She allowed herself one more moment of rest within his embrace before easing free. He gave her a raise of his brow but released her, stepping back.
She drew herself up. “I’m fine. That was…more difficult than I’d imagined. The strands weren’t quite as weak as I’d hoped.”
Bearn chuckled. “I’ve never witnessed that much raw power.” He sighed. “If Cane discovers the extent of your skills…”
“He’d have me sentenced to death. Though I doubt anyone other than my brother would shed a tear.”
Bearn’s smile faded as he glanced at Tarn. “It seems we owe you an apology. We just assumed—”
“That I was an abomination. Yes. I’m well aware of what is said about me.” She shifted her focus when a smear of red drew her attention. She turned back, a ripple of nausea burning her stomach as she stared at the gash on Tarn’s biceps. The ragged flesh glared at her, the steady trickle of blood like a knife to her soul.
She turned toward him, taking a firm step forward when he held up his hands, matching her movement backwards.
His gaze skipped to Bearn then over to her. “Aelwyn? What are you doing?”
She motioned to his arm. “You’re hurt.”
He glanced at the injury, waving her concerns away. “It’s nothing. I’ve received far worse merely training.”
“I can heal you.”
“With all due respect, Princess…”
“Does your hate and mistrust run so deep you’d see me suffer just to protect your wounded pride? Do you know what it does to me to feel the tear in your life force and not be able to mend it? How it burns at my soul?” She took another step forward. “Am I that frightening?”
Tarn’s eyes narrowed, his pride bleeding through. “I’m not afraid of a maiden who stands several inches shorter than me and I could easily crush with my weight.”
“Then prove it.”
He glared at her, turning to Bearn, but the sorcerer merely held up his hands.
“Don’t look at me, captain. I’ll admit I’m reasonably afraid of what she can do.”
Tarn huffed. “Fine. But so help me if you attempt to do me harm…”
She shook her head. “Just relax, captain. This won’t hurt, though you should be aware. Cane will be able to sense my magic upon you.”
“Sense what? You haven’t done anything.”
Her lips quirked at his show of obstinance as she closed the distance, placing her hands above and below the wound. The damaged threads wavered in the air, the ends dancing like fireflies around the cut. She focused on a single strand, gently weaving it to its mate, using her own power to bridge the gap. Golden light sparked through the passageway, chasing away the gathering shadows. Bearn murmured something behind her, his voice foggy. Distant. She moved from one thread to the next, stitching each one together, smiling when nothing but smooth, pale skin gleamed back at her. She gave one last push of energy then removed her hands, the last flickers of her magic swirling across Tarn’s arm.
Tarn gasped, running his fingers along his flesh, mouth gaped open. He inhaled roughly, his gaze finally finding hers. “By the gods, I…” He swallowed noisily. “And how, exactly, will Cane be able to tell that you…healed me?”
She took a few steps back. “In order to mend your flesh, I have to weave my energy through yours. To repair the broken threads. I’m afraid the invisible mark is permanent. Anyone gifted with magic will sense it, so the next time you see Cane…”
Tarn focused on her. “I have a feeling my next meeting with Cane will be my last. One way or another. So his knowing won’t matter, will it?”
“I did give you a chance to leave.”
“And I’m starting to think we should have accepted your offer.” He glanced at the welts and cuts along her skin. “Why haven’t your wounds healed?”
She offered him a genuine smile. “I can’t heal myself. It’s a gift to be shared. Not coveted.”
Tarn’s expression softened, the concern on his face somewhat unnerving. She held his gaze, unsure how to react when he shook his head.
He turned toward the door. “I still don’t understand why you broke Cane’s seal. I told you. The man inside…he won’t help you. Or Aelrik.”
She took a deep breath, moving forward, exhaling as she passed through where the barrier had been moments earlier, not stopping until her fingers wrapped around the large, metal ring. She tugged, cracking open the door. Air hissed from inside the tomb, the sudden cold sending a shiver racing down her spine. She paused, preparing herself for the upcoming battle before glancing at the men over her shoulder. “Every man has a price. You just have to know what it is.”
Tarn stepped forward. “And what is his?”
Please visit again in two weeks for Chapter Two. And jump on over to Jess’ blog to read Chapter One of her amazing story… YOUR LIES. Just click on her banner. And remember to leave a comment and be entered to win a $20.00 Amazon gift card.