With King Jesper dead and Prince Wilhelm mortally wounded, Halfling prince, Nash, and the Fulfilment, Layla, assume the throne of Etherea. They must contend with a new Prophecy Candidate who asserts her position, and Layla is surprised to find her fate intertwined with this challenger. Facing a myriad of choices, Nash and Layla’s decisions affect not only their own futures but that of two kingdoms.
Unbeknownst to the Ethereals or the Vanguards, a slumbering menace stirs in the south, awakened after centuries of slumber. The mysterious Outlanders, a force shadowed in mystery, sit poised to tip the balance of power, sending ripples of fear throughout both warring kingdoms.
Elder Werrick proved a formidable foe, but Layla may yet meet her match in the monstrous Outlander queen. This mistress of the dark’s plans, rooted in revenge and ancient lore, now threaten the livelihood of all three kingdoms.
Racing against time, Layla travels to the Borderlands—home of the Voltons and Ecclesiastics—to discover as much as she can about the war, the First Ones, and the prophecy itself. Lives teeter in the balance, kingdoms sit on the cusp of ruin, and a beast, greater than any she’s ever faced before, plots a catastrophic attack.
Everything about Mia felt wrong. The girl, who looked so much like Layla, just happened to be where Samson could find her and came with him to the home of her enemy without any resistance? Whole generations of Ecclesiastics searched for entire lifetimes and never found the Fulfillment, yet Samson encountered two potentials in short succession. She couldn’t pinpoint the reason for her unease, but something tickled the back of her mind, inching toward the surface with painstaking sluggishness.
“I don’t understand why she would just come with you to Etherea.” Layla struggled to keep her voice level and calm to avoid raising Samson’s hackles.
“She didn’t have anywhere else to go. Vance killed her family in Vanguard.”
Layla made a mental note to confirm Samson’s version of the story with the information Nash managed to extract from Mia. “If she’s a Vanguard, why would she come with you to Etherea?”
“You came here,” Samson shot back, his inexplicable protectiveness for the mystery girl heightening her concern.
She treaded with care. “Well, some insane man in a black and purple robe stole my brother, so I didn’t really have a choice.”
Mia stared at the young man before her with a mixture of curiosity and weariness. She understood why others found him so handsome—rich, dark hair and those shocking green eyes. If she succeeded, he would be her…she stopped herself, determined to keep her mind clear. She had to give off an air of mystery, to lure the Ethereals into her web so they followed her plan. More than anything, she needed them to follow her plan, so much depended on it. She could not slip up. She could not make a mistake.
Taking a steadying breath, she refocused her thoughts and slid her amethyst colored eyes across the prince in front her. She wouldn’t even think his name or give any indication she already knew about him. She had to forget how much she’d been told about him…how much she’d been told about them all. Feigning ignorance factored into her plan.
“Who are you?” he asked, after spending an inordinate amount of time regarding her.
She noted how his gaze bounced from her eyes to her hair and back again. As planned, her appearance intrigued him. Though he’d asked a different question, she heard the real one layered beneath it. He wanted to know why she resembled the proclaimed Fulfillment. That question would then lead him to an inevitable one…could Mia be the Fulfillment instead of Layla? And if she were the Fulfillment, what did that mean for him? For Wil? For Layla?
“I’m Mia.” She almost grinned, pleased she’d answered his question but given him nothing more. When his lips twisted, her grin broke into a full smile at his evident irritation. “And you are?”
He hesitated. “Nash, brother of the king.”
“The injured king?” He flinched, a subtle movement most might miss, but she caught it.
“According to our friend, Samson, you’re an Outlander.”
“He found me in the Outlands.” The less Nash knew, the better.
Frustration flickered across his face, marring his otherwise handsome features. She smiled to herself, not trusting his patience should her lips turn up yet again.
“Sooo,” he dragged out the word. “Are you an Outlander?”
“No. I’m a Vanguard.”
Nash cocked his head to the right. “Why were you in the Outlands then?”
“I went to escape Vance’s oppression.” Mia stared at the wall behind him until her vision blurred. She willed tears to form. Given the pressure she’d been under, summoning them proved easier than she expected. When the familiar tight burning started near her lids, she blinked at the prince. He shifted in his seat. Mia wanted to snort at his reaction. Tears always made men uncomfortable. “Vance killed my family.” She paused and swallowed, hoping he believed she needed a moment to collect herself. “I ran as far as I could and ended up in the Outlands. Samson found me.”
Nash cleared his throat and shifted again; she increased the flow of her tears in reply. “What do you know about the Outlands?”
“Very little.” She sniffed. Looking as pathetic as she could manage, she attempted to wipe her eyes, an impossible feat given her bound hands. Nash frowned as his gaze landed on her restraints. She bid him to unbind her hands, and for a moment, she believed he might. To her disappointment, he gripped the side of his chair until his knuckles turned white and left her tied up. Mia ground her teeth.
“Do you believe you are the Fulfillment?” Nash kept his voice steady despite the turmoil she read upon his face.
Mia waited a moment to respond, both to further escalate his frustration and to collect herself. In this moment, she needed to be most convincing, to begin what she’d been tasked to set in motion. She gestured with her chin, drawing Nash’s attention to the blazing “F” upon her upper arm. The dark purple birthmark matched the shade of her eyes.
“The First Ones speak for themselves.”
Nash shook his head. “It’s too obvious.”
Mia’s head jerked back. She struggled to maintain her composure as his reaction, so unexpected, derailed her careful planning. Her mind racing, she grappled for a response.
“Yes. See, Mia—” His clear distaste tainted the sound of her own name. “I know about the First Ones.”
“Who do you think you are? An Ecclesiastic?” She smirked at him, acting like she retained complete control, but her insides knotted. She couldn’t lose her ability to direct the conversation.
To her surprise, Nash laughed, though she noted no pleasure in it. “The Prophecy states, ‘In a time of war, when the land is divided amongst the two, she, with raven black hair, purple eyes, and a special blessing from the First Ones shall bring peace.’”
“I think everyone in the three kingdoms and in the Borderlands is familiar with The Prophecy.” Mia rolled her eyes for effect. “What’s your point?”
“My point is, the special blessing wouldn’t be something as simple as a birthmark. If it were, the First Ones would have just said raven black hair, purple eyes, and an ugly purple ‘F’ on the upper arm.” He flicked his hand toward her arm. “Special blessing is vague, indicating something mysterious. There is nothing mysterious about your birthmark.”
Mia’s heart pounded as she felt the tables turn and the conversation slip away. “And there is something mysterious about her?”
The word her hung between them for a moment. Mia took another deep breath, worrying she’d pushed him too far. Beneath his shirt, she saw Nash’s muscles ripple and hoped she’d managed to touch a new nerve.
Mia clenched her teeth. She hated acting this way, so out of character, but she had to press on. No one could know the truth. She had to win this game…