Home > The Shadow Princess (Chronicles of the Stone Veil #6)

The Shadow Princess (Chronicles of the Stone Veil #6)
Author: Sawyer Bennett

 


CHAPTER 1

 


Bastien


The Garden of the Gods crackled with magic as Bastien Dunne entered it, leaving behind the clang of swords and the hissing of attack spells. His own powers—normally humming on a low frequency—sparked hot as he stepped foot into the circle before settling again. As innate to him as his own heartbeat, the warrior caste magic passed down through his bloodline was something he often took for granted.

It was there, and he knew how to use it for attack or defense.

Just as he knew how to gut a man ten different ways with his sword.

As he moved deeper into the garden, a sacred space meant for reflection and peace, the sounds of battle training receded. Bastien was tired after a long day and was sick of trying to mold young men into hardened soldiers just so he could send them out to die.

At the center of the park, a large pressian tree rose from the ground. Its thick trunk split at the base into several arms that grew up and outward to form a protective arch over much of the garden. Smooth of bark, the wood was the color of bleached bone, the leaves a deep purple threaded with glowing veins of misty white. The tree served as a sign of strength in the land, withstanding dry heat, humidity, or ice, depending on what region of Vyronas you traveled.

The pressian also had delicate qualities, growing fragile, five-petaled flowers that felt like silk and tore just as easily. They not only perfumed the air but were used for many healing potions and even spells that required the paradox of strength and vulnerability.

Not that Bastien had experience with that. His magic was very particular to what he was—a soldier.

No, that wasn’t quite right.

He was the commandant of an army that was being decimated, and he was out of options.

Around the perimeter of the pressian tree, but still falling under the canopy of shimmering leaves, stood five stone statues representing each of the five gods. They were life-size, each figure clothed in robes and one-shouldered cloaks that hung to the ground. Three women and two men—all referred to as gods regardless of gender—were once called the Infinites because they had always been so.

At least according to legend.

Gardens such as these were all over the realm of Vyronas, allowing respite for weary travelers who wanted to pray and seek help from their gods.

This space was built only seven years ago when the army of Kestevayne settled into the valley and built what was supposed to be a temporary village until they could defeat Ferelith.

The evil sorceress was an unknown, rising to power through murder and blood magic. She used blood oaths to garner soldiers and summon demons from the Underworld, and with her immense powers, she swept through the capital city of Kestevayne right into the palace where she killed the king and queen.

Ferelith had magics no one had seen before because it was banned in Vyronas. She gleefully bled victims to increase her power and systematically brought Vyronasians under her boot heel by conquering the other regions around the capital. It had been a long seven years of skirmishes, battles, death, and resilience. Bastien and his army made it one step forward for every two steps they were thrown back, and he had little left to offer his people.

And yes, they were his people, for now. With the rightful ruler of Vyronas in hiding for her safety, he was the one who held it all together. Some of the other royal houses were too fearful of Ferelith and swore fealty to avoid death and destruction. Those who tried to fight her usually perished.

Some royal houses in outlying cities had held out, but that was merely because Ferelith’s forces had not ventured that far yet.

She’d eventually get to them. She wouldn’t be satisfied until every single subject of Vyronas paid sole homage to her or died in their refusal.

Bastien walked around the statues, easily identifying them by sight. The sculptor had done an exceptional job.

There was Circe, the god of Fate, which included free will and destiny. She was not someone Bastien routinely prayed to. He was of the firm opinion you made your own path in life by reasoned decision.

Veda was the god of Humanity, which included love, hate, and virtue. Rumors purported she had silver eyes, but no one knew for sure. She was as much myth as potential reality. Their likenesses had been memorialized over time in books, paintings, and statues like this, though, and thus were recognizable.

Next to Veda stood Rune, the formidable god of Life, which conversely meant he ruled death as well. He was the steward of the Underworld—and the most feared of them all.

Bastien’s favorite god, Onyx, was next. She was the god of Conflict, which included both war and peace, and the one Bastien prayed to most.

Every night, in fact, to give his men strength, cunning, and skill. He asked for protection over them and for weakness to befall his enemies. Whether Onyx listened, he didn’t know. It certainly felt like his recent prayers had not been heard if the rising death toll was any indication.

He came upon the last statue—the god of Nature, Cato. His statue stood taller than the others, as it was rumored he was seven feet tall. He could command all the elements and use them for punishment or grace. The farmers of this world offered gifts of fruit, vegetables, and grains at the base of statues they’d erect in their fields with the hope the gods would bless them with fair weather.

Those hardworking citizens who tilled the earth had faith in Cato and the other gods.

It was something Bastien sorely lacked right now.

He sat on a bench at the base of the pressian, kicked out his long legs, and leaned back. Head tilted, he gazed up into the amethyst canopy above and considered his options. Bastien wasn’t sick at heart over the losses their side had taken, because he had no heart.

Not really.

But he was tired of talking to widows and orphans, trying to explain how their loved one died in a war that seemed never ending and hopeless.

Folding his hands over his midsection, he closed his eyes and tried to disconnect from it all.

Just for a little bit.

It was a blissful few seconds, until a sense of danger skittered up his spine, and with no thought other than trusting his gut, Bastien flew off the bench and drew his sword, pointing it at the source of peril.

Standing there, behind the bench where he had been sitting, was a man.

Reaching out with his senses—soldier honed and magical alike—he quickly realized this wasn’t a man.

At least not by conventional standards.

He pulsed with power, although he looked no different from Bastien. He was tall and muscular, with blond hair not unlike Bastien’s own, although this man’s hair was long—to his shoulders—whereas Bastien wore his cropped close to his scalp.

His clothing was odd, but a style Bastien recognized as coming directly from the First Dimension of Earth. Strange for a man—well, something obviously more than a man, for he had powers—to be dressed in the clothing of a dimension that was ironically known to lack magic.

Which never made sense to Bastien, since the First Dimension was the original source of most magic.

“Who are you?” Bastien demanded, keeping the tip of his sword aimed at the intruder’s chest. He also powered up a spell in his free hand, ready to launch if needed. It had enough punch to knock the intruder clear out of the garden if unleashed.

The stranger extended his hands, palms out—a universal sign to show lack of harmful intent. “Relax, Commandant Dunne. I’ve come to help.”

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