“To accomplish this quest, you must put the past where it properly belongs… behind you. Set your face on the road ahead. Are you willing?”
Issah- Prince of Alburnium
Are You Ready for a Challenge?
Alburnium is at war.
Eighteen-year-old Alyra’s joy of being reunited with her family fades when Prince Issah sends her beloved friends away on quests across the kingdom. Allies must be gathered to stand against the dark ruler, Lord Darnel.
The reclusive dragons happen to be necessary allies. Alyra’s friendship with the young drake, Crystal, offers a slim hope of being heard by them instead of being burned.
Alyra must travel to Drakensburg with her resentful brother, Ethan, a Messenger, who doesn’t trust her, a prankster Okbold intent on honoring his debt to her, and a unseen Guardian Instructor, who must teach her how to use the Illuminate’s gift before they reach the dragons' hold.
Ethan has the words to persuade the dragons. Alyra carries the red fruit of the white tree to present as a peace offering. Until she finds Tarek, beaten and near death. She must choose between using the fruit to save the man she loves, or the kingdom she serves.
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Here's the first chapter of the next book in The White Road Chronicles series and following the playlist for Luminosity. Enjoy!
You insolent troublemaker.
Alyra hovered between the realm of sleep and wakefulness. Her eyelids fluttered against the moon’s glare. Behind her tightly closed lids, Lord Darnel’s face scowled at her.
“You failed to do as I asked, Daughter.” His menacing voice hissed as his fingers clawed at the flesh of her arms.
She jerked away in a futile attempt to break free of his vice-like hold.
“You’re capable of much better.” Now the face changed to her History Instructor, Logorian Carv from the Academy in Aloblase. “Alyra, if you’d only apply yourself and attend lectures more regularly….”
The classrooms were stifling, and the walls threatened to close in on her. The dark stone halls reminded her of the gray castle in Racah. To escape the troubling memories of her old life as Lord Darnel’s slave, she often used any excuse to avoid classes.
A soft breeze wafted through the open bedroom window, cooling Alyra’s sweat drenched face and neck. She pushed back the twisted blankets, welcoming the chill racing over her damp body.
Her throat burned. She sat up and looked around her shadowed room. Beside the balcony windows was a small desk she hardly used. She preferred to sit on the front porch of the apartment-styled house she shared with Katrina, her only female friend, and the smartest person she’d ever known in her whole life. Of course, all Curians were smart.
A throbbing pain returned to her chest as Alyra remembered Kat was readying to leave Aloblase the day after tomorrow. Jerin’s warrior unit would travel to Denovo with her before undertaking their own quest into the northern regions of Alburnium with General Marcel. Alyra had asked to go with them, but she wasn’t a warrior, and Katrina wouldn’t agree without Issah’s consent.
Alyra wondered why Issah, the Prince of Alburnium, had remained quiet concerning what she would do when her classes at the Academy were over. She was sure he’d received the disappointing reports from her instructors on how she failed to show up to class half the time, often forgot to complete her work, and in general simply did as she pleased.
Their complaints were justified. Still, she couldn’t help it, no matter how hard she tried to listen in their boring classes.
To make matters worse, her centaur friends, Lotari and Stitch, were also preparing to venture across the country soon after the others left.
Everyone had an assignment. Except her.
Because I’m a troublemaker? Insolent? A big disappointment?
Alyra felt around for the cup of water she’d left on the small nightstand. After several long gulps to douse the burning, she straightened her blankets and tried again to get some sleep.
Please no more nightmares.
Easier said than done. Her emotions tumbled like rapids in a swift river, threatening to carry her far away and finally drown her. Prince Issah mentioned nothing to her about joining any of her friends. Matter-of-fact, she hadn’t spoken to him in over a month.
“Stop thinking and get some sleep.”
She closed her eyes only to find Tarek’s pale face staring at her. Marcel’s military unit had brought him to King Shaydon as a prisoner. Her friend from Racah, who’d helped her escape many times from the relentless Bezoar, captain of Lord Darnel’s army, was found beaten and near death. Filled with compassion, General Marcel decided to spare the young man’s life and bring him to Aloblase, the one place Tarek refused to believe even existed.
Both Tarek and Alyra grew up in Racah. He, a servant, worked the kitchens with his family. She, lacking memories of her past, had been fooled into thinking the demented Lord Darnel was her father. She clutched her Illuminate medallion, a flame surrounded by a burst of light, resting against her chest. If not for the golden disk, she may have never learned the truth.
Since escaping Darnel’s imprisonment, nearly all her memories, her real identity, and the reason behind his entrapment had been brought to light.
She tried to push aside Tarek’s probing green eyes. When he first arrived, she’d asked Issah to let her visit him.
“He’s very ill, Alyra.” Issah had answered. “No visitors until he’s released from the Healer’s house. Ask again later.”
Instead, she’d become totally wrapped up in her own pathetic life. Sometimes attending classes at the Academy, more often she escaped to explore the woods with the younger centaur Stitch. Her nights were taken up with Lotari and Katrina’s attempts to help her with homework. Oh, and the pointless hours spent in weapons training with Jerin. Alyra buried her head beneath her feathered pillow.
All she had to show for her past few months in Aloblase were a group of frustrated instructors and proof she would never wield a sword properly. Not to mention completely brushing off Tarek and his plight.
Inconsiderate. Self-serving…. Darnel’s voice rang in her mind.
“That’s it. I’m going!” Alyra kicked away the covers.
When her bare feet hit the icy stone floor, she yelped and fell back onto her bed. Groping around in the darkness, she eventually found a suitable pair of boots. After slipping them on, she rushed to the washbasin to splash cold water on her face.
“I’m going to go see Tarek. Apologize for taking so long. Then get him out of prison,” she told her shadowed reflection. The girl with the wild red hair and bloodshot amber eyes stared back as if she’d lost her mind. She quickly spun away and headed toward the door.
Why was Tarek still being kept prisoner, anyway? Issah hadn’t called a council to charge him with any crimes. She shook her head. Didn’t matter. He’d saved her countless times, and now she needed to pay him back.
In the living area, a pale yellow light poured in through the open doors and onto the cushioned couches surrounding the hearth. They’d spent many wonderful evenings together, enjoying delicious meals prepared by Katrina. Lotari and Stitch preferred to sit on the veranda now draped with wisteria and trumpet vines. The doors were always thrown open, even during the cool winter months. Jerin and Stitch often played games or practiced sword fighting in the yard. Katrina, who usually had a book in her lap, discussed deep matters with Lotari that made no sense to her.
Alyra cherished every moment they were together. Now everyone was leaving her. How would she be able to stand this big empty place all by herself? She’d simply have to beg her friends take her with them on their quest. She couldn’t believe they’d honestly leave her behind. Would they?
Her knee banged against one of Katrina’s many crates. Alyra bit her lip to hold in a whimpering yelp. Rubbing her throbbing leg, she hobbled out onto the porch.
A band of pink in the east illuminated the tall spires of the city buildings. She loved Aloblase. The Academy, where everyone came to learn to use their talents, was a breathtaking sight from the outside with its towering classrooms, some made completely of glass. But those rooms were for the more advanced students. She was stuck in the lower dungeon-like rooms. At her rate of learning, she’d never finish her basic training.
To the north, on the tallest hill, sat the entrance to King Shaydon’s throne room. Her breath caught as she felt a familiar beckoning to enter through the jade columns into the inner sanctuary. The urge hit her every time she passed the King’s dwelling place. She’d become good at ignoring the sensation, fearing what she’d see in Issah’s face if she did enter. Anger? Disappointment?
She shook the troubling vision from her thoughts. One thing at a time. First—
“Just where do you think you’re going this early in the morning?”
Alyra jumped, nearly tripping over the top step. She caught herself on a post before tumbling backward.
Hooves clomped as Lotari stood over her, hands on his waist where his human body turned into the form of a horse. “And why, in the land of Alburnium, are you sneaking out in your night clothes?”
She shushed him. “What are you doing here, Lot?”
Lotari’s gold medallion, with a needle and string emblem, rested on his chest among the many pale marks covering his torso, remnants of the arrows he received while trying to protect her and Jerin from the Racan army. Why did Shaydon choose to heal her scars, yet left his? Perhaps as a reminder to not squander his second chance at life. The grim determination to learn everything he could at the academy proved his intention to not waste another moment of his hundred-and-fifty year existence ever again.
If only she could be as diligent.
“I wished to speak with you, Alyra. Now go get dressed, foolish child. What madness has gotten into that head of yours this time?”
* * * *
Lotari paced in front of the porch while the human stormed back to her room. Of all the audacity. He sighed, knowing she wasn’t taking everyone’s impending departure as well as he’d hoped. Of course, he’d also hoped Issah would send one or two away at a time over the next few months, leaving him last.
His hopes were extinguished when Issah met him for one of his talks that generally required a strange task for Lotari to carry out. Like last year when Issah asked him to chase after this ranting, human girl who was lost in his woods. Even worse, to later ask him to break ties with his clan in Many Rivers and help Alyra safely reach Aloblase. Lotari dug his hoof in the dirt. Now, after a year of protecting and training the impish child, Issah requested he leave her and travel all the way across the Alburnium to the Wilderland forest, the most remote and dangerous place in all the land for both human and creature.
The challenge of finally aiding the wild creatures sent a ruffling excitement down to his tail. He’d been eager to do this ever since being captured in Denovo, where he met Stitch and the other young centaurs forced to fight in the evil one’s army. He wanted more than anything to see those who’d gone into hiding to return to King Shaydon and live under his protection once again.
Alyra returned a few minutes later, her hair still a rumpled mess. Despite knowing this day would eventually come, her golden eyes had pooled with restrained tears when he told her he must leave by the end of this week. Her brave pretenses ripped his heart to shreds.
“Come here, Imp.” He turned her back to him while he fashioned a braid of her red tresses. “Now, tell me why you are up before the sun.”
“There’s something I need to do, Lot.” After he tied a strip of leather to hold her hair in place, she faced him. “And I’ve decided I want to go with you and Stitch to Wilderland.”
He stroked his downy beard. Her acceptance and friendships with creatures might have provided real proof that humans were changing. Something he knew his clan members had difficulty believing. However, Issah insisted he take that impetuous Stitch with him. Of course, Stitch was a fierce fighter and he needed someone who was a master of various weapons. Plus, almost everyone loved Stitch’s playful disposition. Except Jerin who was often the butt of his pranks. Still, even the burly warrior had a soft spot for the young centaur. Lotari also needed the youngster’s ability to charm his way past a reclusive clan’s reservations.
“Please, Lot?” Alyra whispered, burying her face in his fur-covered chest. “I don’t want to be left behind. Someone must take me, too. I swear I won’t be any trouble. I can help.”
He wrapped his arms around her delicate frame, remembering how many times she’d dampened his fur with her tears during their journey together.
“I know, Alyra. Tell me, have you asked Issah? Perhaps he has another undertaking for you.” There had to be some explanation for why he refused to send the girl with any of them. “What about your family? When we arrived here, you were quite eager to find them.”
She shrugged, turning away to stare at the dark street.
“Tell me, child.”
Her fists clenched as she spoke through gritted teeth. “They’ve not written to me once.” She blinked several times, her voice became a whisper. “If they wanted to see me, don’t you think they’d been here by now?”
Lotari sighed. Issah had explicitly said Lotari needed to help train Stitch and leave the human girl in his care. He knew the prince loved her more than anyone ever would, but Lotari had spent the past year keeping her safe. Setting this obligation aside was proving quite difficult.
“Thing is,” she added. “You all are my family now. I can’t stay here … alone.”
Nothing like sinking a knife into his chest. With each plea, the blade twisted a little more and a little more.
He rested a hand on her shoulder until she met his gaze. “You are never alone, silly Imp. Have you spoken to Issah about your family?”
“What for? Like I said, if they wanted anything to do with me, they would have already come. Or Issah would have spoken about them before. But he’s said nothing. Nothing!” Her golden-brown eyes darkened as if storm clouds filled her thoughts. She pushed away from him, arms folded protectively over her stomach.
“I knew this time was coming, Lot. Knew everyone would eventually leave. I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I still haven’t received any training for my light trick—”
“Gift.” Lotari interjected. When would she learn? “You’re ability is not a trick. I’ve told you this over and over.”
She nodded, keeping her stormy gaze focused on the rising sun. “Thing is, I still don’t understand how to control it, and if the prophesy is about me, eventually I’ll have to face Darnel—”
“Stop,” He stomped his hoof, wanting to stomp out her ranting.
That prophesy had become a chain around the child’s neck, and nobody knew for sure if she was truly the one the prognostication referred to. Without a doubt, she was the light-bearer who came out of the dark lands. But whether or not she’d be the one who led the kingdom toward defeating the enemy, remained to be seen.
He grasped her arms and turned her back toward him. “You are getting ahead of yourself. Ahead of Issah.” Why was she avoiding their Prince? “Go speak to him first.”
Alyra shook her head. “No. First, I need to break Tarek out of prison. If Issah is still speaking to me, then I’ll meet with him.”
A laugh escaped Lotari’s mouth before he bit down on his bottom lip to stop himself. “Have you lost your foolhardy mind?”
“You know I owe him.”
“Tarek made his own choices. You never asked for his aid. You owe him nothing.”
Her brows furrowed. “Fine. Since you’re refusing, I’ll ask Stitch.”
Now he laughed even louder. “Go ahead. He’ll be delighted to help you break your boyfriend from jail.”
Alyra stomped her foot. “He’s not my boyfriend.”
“Well, that will be his take on such a thrilling tale of cunning risk.” They all knew how much Stitch loved embellishing his stories. Lotari patted his chest and said in a dreamy voice, “All for the sake of love.”
Her shoulders sagged as she groaned in defeat.
He had her now. She had no other recourse than to listen to him. Katrina, practical and steadfast, wouldn’t help. Jerin, the defender of all things right, would berate her for even considering such foolishness. Her pinched brows and paled face told him she knew this as well.
“You’re my best friend, Lot. Please? I need to see Tarek. I’ve put this off long enough.”
Why did she always play on his sympathies? No, he had to stay firm. He would not cave this time.
“Fine, Alyra, I think you should go, too. Do it now, before you lose your nerve again.”
She scowled at him for a moment before saying in a pathetic voice, “I don’t know where the prison is.”
“Very well.” He’d agree on his terms, not hers. “Climb on my back. We’ll arrive faster if you ride.”
However, instead of heading toward the prisons, he aimed for the place she really needed to go. Not that he had a problem with her talking to Tarek. Lotari had visited the lad himself a couple of times, finding him distant and unresponsive. When Lotari thanked him for aiding their escape from Denovo, Tarek accepted the thanks, but seemed pained by the whole discussion. Maybe seeing Alyra would improve the young man’s disposition.
He climbed up the marble stairs and stopped before the jade pillars.
“This is not the prison, Lotari.” She slid from his back, glaring up at the entrance.
What was her problem? Normally, she loved being with Issah.
She shifted on her feet, wringing her hands nervously.
“If you wish to visit your friend, ask Issah to take you.” Then he added, “Unless you have a problem seeking aid from the Prince?”
“No. I’m fine.” She folded her arms across her chest, staring at the centaur with chin lifted in defiance.
Shaking his head, he turned and started to trot off.
“Wait, Lot.” Her sad tone sent another crack though his heart.
He stopped, tail swishing, but didn’t face her.
“If Issah says I can go with you, will you really take me along?”
His head bobbed. More than anything he wished she was coming with them. Perhaps she could persuade Issah to change his mind. He doubted it though.
“In a heartbeat. Do you think I’m happy about leaving you behind?” He shuffled his hooves as he stared at the ground. “I understand completely, Alyra. My clan disowned me. I also have no family except for all of you.”
Alyra closed the distance between them until she stood in front of him. “You’re going to build them a beautiful meeting hall. I watched how you worked with the people in Many Rivers. You’re just naturally good at helping people, at helping them feel … all right.”
He bit his upper lip, his own tears threatening. “We will keep in touch. We can use messenger birds. I’ll write you long letters about what’s going on. Later, once I know you’ll be safe, then maybe … if you still want to come.”
He hated himself for making such a false promise. The creatures hid in Wilderland to avoid humans. Those who ventured into the ancient forest seldom made their way out. She would never be safe there.
The hollowness in her usually dancing eyes told him she knew this as well. Still she grasped his face and pulled him down to plant a kiss on his bearded cheek. Then she darted into the throne room, taking the remainder of his frayed heart with her.
* * * *
Refusing to look back, Alyra ran into the throne room to find the grassy shore and garden area filled with linen covered tables. Beyond the circling pillars opened a wide, golden plain where a herd of deer charged past with thunderous pounding. Above, the sun shone in a brilliant blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Every time she came the scenery was different.
Logorians moved between the tables, some setting out plates and glasses while others took armfuls of white lilies and created tiered glass centerpieces that glowed with twinkling lights. How did they manage to create such wonderful things out of practically nothing? Their voices joined in a soft, soothing song as they worked
Alyra strolled past the sparkling tables toward the water’s edge. At the center of the lake, perched on the island dais, where two ornate thrones, made of gold, silver, and bronze. Two white trees, the branches hanging low with red healing fruits, grew on each side. Behind the thrones, a curtain of glimmering light marked the passage to Everlasting where her mother, Dean the Messenger, and many others had entered.
“What’s going on?” Alyra asked the nearest Logorian. To her dismay, she recognized her history instructor, Carv. His glistening, black hair draped down his purple Academy robe. A large, golden medallion with the Instructor emblem hung around his graceful neck. On his head he wore the tri-cornered professor hat, trimmed in silver.
His brows furrowed as he scrutinized her from head to foot. Now she was glad she’d listened to Lot and dressed in one of her frocks. At least Carv wouldn’t lecture her on proper public attire.
“Well, Alyra, I’m sure you’re aware there’s to be a council meeting tonight preceding the banquet celebration.”
She snorted a laugh. “Of course.”
Raking her memories, she vaguely remembered Katrina telling her to pick out a nice dress for some fancy event. Was that tonight? “What are they celebrating this time?”
A female Logorian grinned as she laid the silverware. “A birthday.”
Professor Carv cleared his throat, narrowing his silver eyes at his friend. She moved to another table.
Slender hands folded at his waist as he faced Alyra. “If you heeded the announcement I made in class earlier this week, you would remember our city is being graced with visiting dignitaries from kingdom townships across Alburnium. Though they will be discussing important issues with Prince Issah, we wish for them to enjoy their visit as well.” His arm swept to the glowing decorations. Now strings of lighted ice-crystals hung between the pillars and the trailing vines.
His brows furrowed in thought. “Oh wait. My oversight, indeed. You would have known this if you’d been present. Unfortunately….”
“I’m sorry, sir. I really am.” She had no good excuse and didn’t try to make one up.
“Regardless,” he continued. “I’m eagerly awaiting your final report. You will reward my patience by delivering it to my office before noon the day after tomorrow?”
Alyra knew what report he spoke of. Maybe if she started writing it today, she could complete the twenty pages in time.
“Unless-” he returned to setting out plates “-you aspire to spend a second term with me. I do enjoy your presence when you elect to attend. However, I was hoping you’d move on to another instructor instead of having to repeat all my seemingly boring lessons.”
“It’ll be done.” Alyra quipped, berating herself for not working on the paper last night while she had a chance. When would she learn?
“Humph. Let’s hope.” Professor Carv touched a limp lily and it stood up straight like the others.
Alyra searched for Issah, her cheeks burning from Carv's remark. “Professor, I was hoping Issah would be here. Have you seen him?”
He nodded his head toward the thrones. “You only need to ask, Alyra.”
Issah stood on the waters, dressed in his princely attire. Alyra swallowed the nervous lump in her throat. She preferred his casual traveling outfit for some reason. His white, knee-length coat trimmed with red and gold reminded her of his power and authority. The power and authority to cast her out of his kingdom for her failures.
He grinned, motioning for her to join him. Taking his smile as a good sign that perhaps he hadn’t heard of her progress at the Academy, she neared the edge of the water. Despite knowing it would turn solid once she set her foot on the surface, her stomach churned with her first step. Last time she crossed the lake with him, instead of seeing fish below her feet, she found an aerial view of Alburnium.
“I’m so happy you’re here, Daughter.” He embraced her the moment she reached his side. “You don’t visit me enough.”
“I figure you’re too busy, Issah.” Hopefully he was too busy to hear about her classroom conduct.
He chuckled. “Never too busy to keep up with how you are doing. I did promise to always be here for you. Whenever you need me.”
She stared into the water finding a view of the city square. Maybe he did know.
He silently waited, arms folded without the least bit of irritation or disappointment in his earthy brown eyes.
After a long silence, he asked, “What do you need, Alyra? Obviously, you’re here for a reason?”
She blinked a few times, realizing he didn’t appear angry in the least. “Well? Yes Issah. There are a couple of things.”
He grinned as if she’d let him in on some wonderful news.
She sucked in a lung-full of air before blurting, “I want to see my friend, Tarek. And I want to go with Lotari and Stitch to Wilderland.”
His brows rose.
“Or maybe to Denovo with Katrina. A-a-at least until you’re ready for me to do … whatever … I’m supposed to, uh, do.”
Issah laughed, shaking his head. “As I said, you don’t come to visit me enough. However, I can grant one of your requests. Let’s go see Tarek.”
“I know parting with your friends is going to be difficult. But you will learn that true friendship endures even over long distances.”
He held out his arm for her to take. “Now, look over there.” He pointed down at the water where she saw a gray stone structure surrounded by a vast garden. “Focus on the building and keep in step with me.”
Her words were cut off as a brisk wind swept into a vortex around them. Her ears roared as if caught under a rushing waterfall. Issah’s grip on her arm tightened as he pulled her forward. She buried her face in his sleeve until the noise stopped and the wind calmed.
The next thing she knew, they stood in front of a brown stone building. The sound of flowing water now came from a spouting fountain behind them.
“You’ve traveled through your first portal. And did very well, I might add.” He led her toward the door. “I’ve found the element of surprise often helps. You have no time to try to process the experience and in turn, you slip through quite easily.”
“Portal? You travel through the waters?” Now that she thought about it, every time he’d suddenly appeared to her, they’d been near a water course.
They entered the domed building. Light filtered in through tall, stained-glass windows. Along the outer wall, a row of rooms were divided by intricate vine-like wrought iron bars. Each room was spacey and set up with a bed, desk, and comfortable chair. She’d never seen a prison such as this. There was no rust, no damp walls or smelly straw and most of all, no rats.
“Good morning, Tarek,” Issah called to the lone occupant. “I’ve brought you a visitor, son.”
Tarek sat at a desk beside a window, his blond head bent over a book he wrote in. When his green eyes fell on her, he stood and came to the bars. His color had returned and he’d filled out from his previous skeletal form. Even his silken shirt and trousers were finer than anything he ever wore in Racah.
She grinned actually glad to see him.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” Tarek sneered, scratching his head.
Her grin faltered. “Funny.”
“Funny? I’ve been here four weeks!”His voice grew increasingly louder.
Issah patted her shoulder. “You two enjoy your visit. I’ll see you tonight, Daughter. We’ll talk more concerning your other requests then.”
Before she could stop him, he left her alone with the angry prisoner. At least Tarek was behind bars. She kept back a safe distance, glad to have the barrier between them while she explained her actions.
“Four. Weeks.” His fingers gripped the swirling bars until his knuckles whitened.
“I know, Tare. I’m sorry. I was going to come sooner.”
He went to the cell door and yanked it open. To her horror, he stormed out, stopping inches from her face. “After all I’ve gone through? Being sent away from my family? The beatings and hardships of serving under Bezoar? Only then to be sent back to Racah as a traitor! Then ambushed by Alburnium warriors! And all you can tell me is you’re sorry? That you intended to come sooner? Really? Really Princess?”
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