ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2020
Sometimes the biggest villains we fight are the ones we create within ourselves.
Not saying that was always true. Sharra was the big bad for sure but I was suffering from a serious lack of confidence. Maybe it was because of all I’d done. Making a wish to take away my wings as well as other things. There were consequences for my choices. Big ones. Including the darkness swallowing realms and the akuma.
Could I defeat Sharra and save everyone?
The question was on a continuous loop in my mind. It had been weeks since I met Laeddin and made my first wish. Days since Laeddin left and I fell in love with a half-dragon. Troy. It seemed like a lifetime ago since he proposed and I accepted. Part of me didn’t believe that moment was real, but a figment of my imagination.
Only a few hours ago, I left Pops and Joanna in the fifteenth century. There I got to know Joanna and my grandfather a little more. There I also drained the vampire Arthur before Christopher took him and imprisoned him in the Athwana Meyana—the supernatural prison in the realm of Sharra.
It was a lot and I still had so much to do.
I forced my thoughts back to the present as my former nursemaid Ciana and I used our vampire speed to rush from my family’s castle in the realm of Sharra to the base of Athwana Meyana. Arthur was no longer inside the prison. Sharra had wakened him after she took my wings.
The grand mountainous tomb stood majestically in the distance. Covered in trees, shrubs, and plants in every shade of green, Athwana Meyana gave off a deceptively welcoming vibe. The closer I got, the more tangled the greenery until Ciana slid to a stop at an unassuming wooden door nestled in the mountain’s base.
I thought again of Arthur, out in the world, ready and eager to do something horrible if he wasn’t already.
As Ciana faced me, I debated what to do with her. Obviously, she was helping me find the final piece of the elven crown because Sharra told her to. But once I found it, what then?
“The last fragment is inside. Good luck, young one,” Ciana said and moved to run away.
“You’re just going to leave?” I was irritated with the vampire, but grateful too. She didn’t intend to try to force me to go to Sharra. I guess she figured she didn’t have to. I would go to the original vampire when I had the entire crown because she had my parents and Troy.
Still, now that I knew what Ciana had done, her treachery, pain lanced my heart. Ciana had been my nanny for years and was practically family. “I can’t believe you betrayed me for her,” I added in a whisper. Sharra had been around for thousands of years. If anything, her evil had grown over time. The original vampire was awful and deserved to be extinguished. For good. It made no sense to me that anyone chose to follow her, especially not Ciana. When I was young, she had been kind and fun and such a good caregiver.
“I loved you, Jasmine,” Ciana said quietly. “You were like my own child, but I made my choice a long time ago and can’t go back on it.” Her shoulders slumped before she ran off with a whoosh.
Wind brushed against the wispy hairs clinging to my face and I sighed, rolling back my shoulders. It hurt watching her go, but I couldn’t focus on that. There was work to do. Determined, I stepped to the door. The gems embedded in my forehead warmed, causing some pain. At least Ciana told the truth about the location. With little effort, I pushed aside the vines covering the door and turned the handle. Before I was able to pull it open, a rustling sounded from the direction where Ciana had gone. Hope filled my chest. Had Ciana changed her mind?
It wasn’t my nanny, but an enormous female troll. Her nose flared and she lumbered toward me like a charging bull. She was infected by the akuma pestilence. Her eyes were empty. She bared her teeth, sending spittle out of her mouth.
I dodged at the last moment, using my speed. Stopped and whipped around. I didn’t want to kill her, but I would knock her out.
No more death, I thought darkly.
But before my thought had time to filter, a blade sliced through the troll’s neck, severing her head from her body. She teetered for a moment then dropped to her knees, her head rolling down her chest before hitting the ground and progressing forward.
Shocked, I covered my mouth and looked up to see who had slain the troll. The culprit was dressed in a brown tunic and trousers. Her flaming red hair blew out around her like a raging fire while vivid blue eyes sparkled against her freckled face.
“Joanna?” I said her name, but thought I must be imagining things. “Is that you?” I clutched at my chest.
“Bonjour, Jasmine. It’s been a long time.” She gave a small curtsy as she wiped the troll’s icky blood off her sword and onto one pantleg before sheathing the blade.
I was in shock, to say the least. I knew how history recorded Joan of Arc’s death. Burned to death by fire. Not once, but three times, just to make sure she was dead-dead. “I thought you were…” I didn’t finish but continued to stare. “How can this be?” I finally tried again, the need to retrieve the final section of crown momentarily forgotten.
She came around the fallen troll and pulled me into a hug. “As I’m sure you read, the Cardinal of Winchester ordered me to be burned at the stake.” She squeezed me tightly. “But as you know, I was a revenant and could not easily die.” She pushed me away, kissing each of my cheeks before hugging me again. “After I lived through the fires not once but twice, I escaped. To save face, the Cardinal burned a wild cat and revealed the ash to his people, telling them it was me.” She released me and shook her head as long ago memories surfaced before she steeled her face. “But that is no matter.” She smiled. “It is so good to see you again. Five hundred years is too long to go without talking to you.” Her smile grew.
My mouth opened and closed as I tried to think of what to say. For me, it didn’t feel like five centuries. I’d only just left her. “I— But Pops, I mean Adam Henry, does he know you’re still alive?” Joanna was the love of his life. To my knowledge, he’d never loved anyone since.
Her features dimmed. “Non, it was better that he believe me dead.”
I wanted to ask, “better for whom”, but simply nodded. “Why reveal yourself now?” I hoped that didn’t sound rude, but I was curious. She had to know I would tell Pops when I got the chance.
Joanna clucked her tongue and glanced back toward the trees. “I am here to help you, Jasmine. This darkness is affecting everyone. Once we knew…” she paused, as though debating how to finish.
Something was different about Joanna. I wasn’t sure what, but I felt the need to be on my guard around her.
Joanna indicated the door at the base of the mountain. “The final piece of the elven crown is inside, I gather?” Her gaze traveled up the wall as far as one could see before she returned her focus to me.
I didn’t ask how she knew about the crown. Having been around more than half a millennium, she probably knew a lot. “That’s right. I must find it and then find Sharra and hopefully restore light to the world.” Just another crazy day, I thought darkly.
Joanna clasped my hand between both of hers and her face softened. “This is your destiny, Jasmine. From the moment I met you, I knew our paths were intertwined and that we would meet again one day. Much has changed since our last encounter.” A shadow crossed her features before it vanished and she placed a fisted hand over her heart. “I am here to assist you in any way.”
I was glad to see her, but I didn’t know what help she could be. “It might be dangerous,” was all I said. Last I knew, Joanna was a revenant because she refused to drink from her true love. Unless… I studied her more intently and drew in a breath. Her scent revealed the truth. She’d become a full-fledged vampire. “Joanna?” What had she done? The person I’d watched defy Sharra to her face was no more, replaced by the woman in front of me. Somehow I knew she was a vampire, but she was also more than that. What, I didn’t know, but she was filled with something like light.
She waved her hand, dismissive, and glanced over her shoulder. Obviously, she knew that I knew what she was, but she didn’t want to discuss it. “I’ve waited for this moment for hundreds of years. If I die, then I die. I’m ready. But not until you have succeeded in defeating Sharra. Understand?” While she spoke, others dropped from trees and came out from behind enormous boulders until there were a dozen people spread out behind her, all of them carrying multiple weapons. None of them looked friendly.
They were the reason Joanna was being vague.
Immediately on high alert, I bared my fangs.
“It’s okay, Jasmine,” she said. “These are my warriors. We call ourselves the League of Huntsmen.”
I’d heard that name once before and recently. In the dream with Laeddin where the Unknowns spoke about me. The Unknowns made it seem like the League of Huntsmen would work against me. And if the League was real, then it stood to reason the Unknowns really were holding Laeddin captive. I swallowed down my anxieties. “Hello,” I said, my voice hoarse, and clenched my hands into fists. The Unknowns loved to lie and to play tricks. Creatures of Earth, specifically supernatural creatures, were just playthings to the strange beings. Regardless, I would be on my guard with these warriors.
“You needn’t fear them,” Joanna added. “They are here to help, same as me, and I trust them with my life.” She grasped the forearm of the lead warrior then turned. “This is Elkin. He is my second.”
Elkin put out his arm and I grabbed hold the way Joanna had done. “Good to meet you,” I said. His scent revealed he wasn’t a vampire, but a… chayot. How odd that he would team up with a vampire. Chayot were created solely to defend humans. That meant they mostly dwelled in the human realm. Except for one, the chayot I met didn’t like other supernaturals, especially vampires. A quick glance at the other warriors verified they were a mix of vampires and chayot.
Such an unlikely combination.
“And you,” Elkin replied, glancing at Joanna. “Joan has told us stories of your visit to France and your friendship with the great dragon, Abernathy.”
“That was quite the experience.” I thought of Joanna watching as I drained Arthur and cleared my throat. “Thank you for coming, but this next part I must do alone.” My gaze flicked to each of them, curious about whether I could escape so many if they weren’t on my side.
The answer was no. Still, I forced down my worries and went over to the door, yanking it open with all my strength. “Do not follow,” I said, hoping I sounded confident enough.
Joanna put a hand on my shoulder. “Whatever your apprehension toward us, you needn’t fear. We will remain outside until you return. Our task is to guard the door until you finish.”
“I appreciate that,” I said, lifting my chin and going inside.
The door clicked shut behind me and I sighed. Hot air filtered along my skin and brought with it the stench of decay. The gems on my forehead burned hotter, giving the room an eerie glow. All around me were thousands of honeycomb-shaped coffins, home to supernatural prisoners required to serve out their eternal existence within.
I walked across the room, my boots striking the dirt floor with a rhythmic dull thud. Once I reached the other side, I noticed my head hurt less. For the next several minutes, I played a not very fun game of Hot and Cold, except my version was more like Pain and Less Pain.
If the final piece of the crown was buried with one of the undead, it could take me months or years to find it. An overwhelming sense of foreboding filled my chest as I thought about Sharra and Arthur and…
“Arthur.” I searched the cavern for his crypt. “Is it possible?” My voice echoed around the room, but I didn’t pay it any attention.
Was that another reason Abernathy sent me back in time? Not only to meet Arthur but also as a clue as to where I would find the final fragment of the crown. Inside Arthur’s crypt? It was as good a place to start as any.
Closing my eyes, I thought back to all those days ago when Sharra took my wings. I’d flown with her inside this very mountain. She opened Arthur’s coffin, and— My eyes flashed open. I knew where to go and started to climb.
Arthur’s resting place was way up. As I traversed over the cells, I thought about the time I’d spent in the vampire’s presence. He had no qualms about killing. Humans were food, like ants to the anteater.
According to the lore Laeddin shared about the elven crown, the pieces were buried a thousand years ago. Had someone moved the piece to Arthur’s coffin? If so, I could guess who.
Dirt and grime covered my hands and got onto my shirt and pants as I climbed, but I kept going. The farther up I went, the harsher the gems on my forehead burned until my eyes started to water.
When a sharp pain stabbed between my eyes, I knew I had arrived.
Rolling my shoulders, I opened the cell. The metal bars screeched with a cacophony that could wake the dead. I hoped not literally.
The vampire’s coffin was already open. Gingerly I lifted the folds of black fabric that lined the inside, searching for the crown with my hands. When I didn’t find it right away, I ripped away the cloth and panels, but still it wasn’t there. Which meant it must be under the coffin.
Frustrated by the pain burning between my eyes, I growled and shoved the coffin out of the cell, sending it sailing down to the damp earth where it splintered into thousands of wooden pieces. Wiping my hair off my face, I squatted and took a deep breath. The hexagonal cell smelled of ancient soil and strong magic. As my fingers grappled with the ground, the magic stung me and I flinched. Each time I clawed away the dirt, it would move, but only for a second before resettling in its original place, like I hadn’t dug into it at all.
After several tries, anger creeped along my back. The magic from the soil seemed to be leeching my strength and a cold chill moved up my hand to my wrist and into my arm. Tears blurred my eyes. I screamed with fear as black dots filtered along my vision. Dizziness overwhelmed me and I fell back, landing on my butt while my head smacked against one of the prison walls.
Was this how the final assassin would fight to stop me? It made sense that the last assassin would be the strongest. If I got the final piece, the power of the crown would be mine. The assassins were created specifically to stop that from happening.
Or was this the magic of the cave fighting against me?
Nauseous, I rolled onto my knees and wretched. Nothing came up. The dizziness grew so strong, I felt my body roll until I was on my back, staring up at the ceiling as it spun. That just made me sicker and I closed my eyes.
“Jasmine,” a voice called, but it sounded so far away.
I worked to sit, to search for the voice, but couldn’t manage the position. Peeling my eyes open, I recognized the voice. She sounded like Silindra. “Where are you?” At one point, I’d gone back in time and spent seven days with her, just as my mom had. When that experience was over, I had believed Silindra was gone, but perhaps I was mistaken.
“I didn’t leave your mind, Jasmine, just quieted myself,” Silindra whispered. “See, once I was allowed inside your mind, I kept part of myself with you and part with your mother.” She paused and I let that sink in. “Now relax and allow your subconscious to find me. As we’re original vampires, we’re connected.”
She’d said that before. “Okay.” I unclenched my hands, letting them fall to my sides as I worked to calm my nerves and reach out for her.
“That’s it,” she encouraged.
Resolute, I urged the tension from my shoulders, arms, and thighs. My spirit separated from my body. And like the lock on a treasure box, I heard a click. Opening my eyes, I saw I was no longer in Arthur’s cell, but in a garden. One I recognized. It was one of my favorite spots, especially when the flowers bloomed, filling the air with the sweet scent of vanilla and honeysuckle.
I glanced around, knowing I was behind our family castle in Sharra.
Silindra stepped into view, walking slowly, a lovely smile on her bewitching face. Her teal blue hair was loose and long, and her wings—her glorious teal wings extended behind her. “I hope it’s alright we meet here. Once upon a time, long ago, this was my favorite garden in all of Sharra.”
“Mine, too,” I said, and swallowed as an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia rushed through me. My parents had brought me out here when I was a child. I missed them terribly.
Around Silindra’s neck hung a pendant. It dazzled red and pulsed as though in possession of its own heartbeat.
She noticed my eyes on it and grabbed it in one hand, yanking it from her neck and holding it out to me. “This is the final piece of the crown. The gem contains all of the seven magics. It is the same pendant used by your mother to destroy Sharra eighteen years ago. Obviously, Sharra didn’t die, but that’s because your mother isn’t an original.” She pressed the gem into my hand. “Combine this piece with the other pieces of the crown and it will work for you, dearest Jasmine.”
Even in my spirit form, I felt the power of the gem pulse against my palm. The magic traveled the length of my arm, into my shoulder, up my neck and face where it stopped on my forehead. I couldn’t see it but I knew it was next to the others, a portion of it buried into my skin. “You’re the final assassin?” I asked, confused.
“Not necessarily, no. When the elves created the assassins, they were something different. Entities filled with magic that would demand those who touched the crown piece fight them.”
“And you fought the final assassin already?” The words left my mouth, but something began happening with the gems. My forehead started to blister, the pain excruciating. Grabbing hold of my head, I bent over, breathing heavily.
Arms came around my shoulders. “Jasmine?” Silindra spoke my name and I sensed her worry.
I tried to respond, to stand, but found myself on my knees. It was impossible to keep my eyes open. Dizziness and nausea made it impossible to see or hear, as though I’d been tossed into a vortex of pure pain.
“Get away from her,” Silindra said, her voice steely.
I didn’t know who she was speaking to, but I felt Silindra’s arms tense around me.
“You cannot be here. She already has the final crown piece. It’s over, assassin.” Silindra’s spirit moved to block the assassin from reaching me.
“I must complete my duty, Original,” the assassin said.
With strength I didn’t know I possessed, I pressed my hands against my head and forced myself to stand. The assassin’s dark form was menacing, both swords drawn and at the ready.
“I can do this,” I said to Silindra through clenched teeth. My fangs were out and I felt them bite into my skin. “I must.” As I stepped from Silindra’s grasp, twin blades formed in my hands. They shimmered as red lightning flicked along the edges. Rolling back my shoulders, I widened my stance, preparing for the assassin’s attack.
He came at me. I darted out of the way but couldn’t focus. The pain in my forehead and the lightning around my sword had me seeing reds and blues and yellows until all the colors of the gems sparked around my weapons and surged through my veins. Or maybe it was the other way around.
“You cannot defeat me, assassin,” I said, my voice not sounding like my own.
“Of course not, but I must obey and die.” He leaped into the air, both sword tips aimed at me. As he came down, I blocked his swords with my own, sending sparks and the smell of melting metal into the air. His sword shattered into thousands of pieces, like glass from a broken windshield. The assassin looked at his hands, then looked at me and fell to his knees. “Finish it, Jasmine.” He lifted his chin, exposing his neck.
I didn’t hesitate, but crossed my swords and pulled, severing his head.
There was a gasp from behind me. Silindra was still there, clearly surprised by what I had done. I faced her as the gems on my head settled slightly. In my mind’s eye, I watched a crown begin to form and take shape. When it was finished, I touched it.
Silindra smiled, her shock giving way to happiness. “Now you can go to my sister and save the world.” Her form swirled into nothingness and dark spots formed in my vision once more. I was no longer in the garden in Sharra, but also nowhere else either.
Inky darkness was all around me. I searched for a light—for something to tell me where I was and where I needed to go, but there was nothing to see.
“She did it,” a female voice said from somewhere in the distance. Which direction was impossible to tell. Without knowing how, I knew the female voice was one of the Unknowns.
“With help,” the male added. “Silindra is becoming quite the nuisance.”
I thought about responding to the two of them, but I knew doing so was a waste of my time. My opinion wouldn’t matter to them. I was their toy and nothing more.
“There is still much Jasmine has to do and I’m still betting on Sharra. After what Jasmine’s mother did, the former vampire queen’s desire for revenge burns more brightly than this one’s need to defeat her,” the female said.
“Jasmine has the elven crown. She has her memories back. With those two things, there is nothing that can stop her, not even Sharra, and you know it,” the male said, his voice only slightly harsh.
“I know that and you know that, but Jasmine doesn’t. She still believes herself a child. In her heart of hearts, she’s still the victim, not the champion the world needs.” The female giggled.
It surprised me the Unknowns weren’t aware I could hear them. Maybe they couldn’t see me, either. I glanced down at my hands. There was nothing. I was nothing. A wave of relief washed over me. If I became nothing then those I loved would be safe.
But no. I thought of my mom and dad and Troy. They needed me. If I didn’t save them, no one would.
“Once Jasmine loses and she dies, we can give magic its rebirth and this time do it right. As of now, there is too much out of our control and that needs to end,” the male said.
“Yes, my darling. Jasmine is the key. The only thing holding all magics together. She must lose.” She let out a slow growl. “That Snow White and her mate created Jasmine in the first place still burns me up,” she added and I heard the bite in her words.
“Agreed. We must make certain Jasmine does not gain the confidence she needs to use the magic she possesses. She must die and when she does, so will all magic. Right now, there is too much out of our control and that needs to end,” the male said.
I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live and to love and to make the world a better place. Somehow, I wanted to make a difference for good. A memory or a vision of a time I didn’t remember filled my mind.
My parents were surrounded by shadows that were whispering to my dad. My dad had a look of horror on his face and he took hold of my mom’s hand. “The shadows say if Jasmine dies, then so will all magic. We have to protect her at all costs.”
My mom leaned against his chest and said, “We will keep her safe.”
In that moment I understood exactly why my parents had asked Cindy to hide away my power when I was young. I’d been too flamboyant with my magic and too confident in my use of it. Their worry for me led them to lock away most of my magic and all of my memories of using it. They did it to protect me. And even though their plan didn’t work, I felt their love and understood their reasons.
Despite what the Unknowns said, I would somehow stop Sharra and I would live.
PREORDER HERE. Available May 15, 2020.
Be sure to read the first four books in Jasmine's story by clicking the titles below, including: