Prelude to War The Animus

Prelude to War: Short Story #2

Is it silly to admit that my main character, Charlotte, isn’t my favorite character? If you’ve read Desperation, you might know who is. Then again, this short story will give her away. Please allow me to introduce to you a much younger version of Vera, back when she was still the Princess of the Blazing Throne.

This short story takes place roughly 50 years before Desperation.

The Pheonix Meets the Vlk




Every time I thought of those words, they played through my head in my mother’s voice. To her, they were qualities that made up the daughter my father wanted. The daughter she’d intended to have. Once upon a time, it was the daughter I gave them. When I was just Daeva, just someone of potential but still insignificant, I had no choice but to be that. You couldn’t argue with someone who possessed a lesser god. You just did as you were commanded and screamed on the inside.

I refused to be that now.

“You are plotting something,” Gregor, my brother, commented. He sat across from me in the carriage, lounging across the seat as though he lacked a single care for the state of his attire. Which he did.

I picked at the skirts of my gown, threatening to remove one of the many sunstone plates from the fabric. Layered with other red and orange gemstone plates, they resembled feathers in shape and texture. They spanned from my shoulders, down the bodice of my dress, all the way through to the floor of the carriage. Ruby stitching secured them to the vermilion fabric beneath, while charms silenced any sound they could make. Even as I dropped a plate against the others, no sound came.


Part of me wanted to rip the charm off, but even I would grow tired of being a walking jingle cart.

“What led you to that belief?”

Ember eyes met mine, glimmering with an internal heat. Gregor and I were twins. Looking into his eyes was like looking into my own, only his were under thicker, masculine brows. His hair held the same glow, though where his eyes reflected molten earth, his hair was shades of blue, the seed of any hearty fire. The color was natural, but the vertically styled locks were the doing of the royal stylists. Having hair that stood upwards, resembling the fires we relished so much, was the epitome of what the Blazing Throne represented. He hated it, but not as much as he hated the suit.

Sometimes it seemed like we were nesting dolls, perfect little replicas of our father. Except I was a woman. Gregor was not. Gregor was built like a man who could carry the country on his shoulders. Literally. He was broader than the carriage door. But, he was also the heir to the throne, the first child to gain the title of Prince through taking on our grandfather’s Animus. Not that it mattered. He was a man. A gentlemen’s gentlemen. I was a woman. I would never compare.

At least, not in my father’s eyes.

Fire, our element, had many aspects. When it came to the embodiment of those aspects, there were ideal ones for men and women. As a woman, I was the living representation of the feminine aspects of our element. Where fire could be destructive, intense, and inspiring, like my brother, I personified purity, sensuality, and creation.

“You have pulled back. You only do that when you are preparing.”

I sighed. He was right. I had pulled my element back, like hiding my intentions behind a shield. Inside my chest, lava roiled. It almost seemed like verdian spice singeing my stomach, mixed with the pleasing hum of honeyed mead. It was a sensation I’d grown to love in the last few years.

I adjusted the position of my glove in a seemingly idle gesture. “Can I not prepare myself for an evening of forced platitudes and dancing with unacceptable suitors?”

“You are certainly doing that, as am I. Neither of us want to be here.” His tone said he knew there was more. Of course, there was more. My twin knew me so well.

“Father is trying to set us both up tonight,” I said, pointing out what we both knew. “He may not have given us names, but it is always his motive when these events are mandatory. I refuse to allow him to treat us like currency.”

“And what do you intend to do tonight to thwart his efforts?”

I narrowed my eyes at him. It was a look I’d perfected only recently: the withering stare. While Gregor remained unaffected, the experience satisfied my sense of ire.

“Instead of expecting me to come up with all the ways to keep us happily untied to someone we hate, you could offer up some ideas.”

He snorted. He’d never do that around anyone but me.

“The last time we did something I suggested, we ended up killing a duke. I prefer to acquiesce to your ideas. They are effective and rarely see us sentenced to consequences.”

I preened internally. Having an ego was something I wasn’t allowed for most of my life. Now that I could — that I couldn’t be told to behave – Gregor had done his best to encourage me to show it. Still, it was foreign to me.

“I was pondering our usual tactics. As you said, they are effective and subtle.”

“And boring.” The cover of the carriage window to the drivers slid aside, and Aribel poked her head in, her unruly hair frothing about in the wind. “What happened to your sense of fun?”

I tried not to smile at her. If I indulged her mischievous influence, she would never let me live it down. Aribel was my personal guard, assigned to me when I was a child. She, my brother, and his personal guard Nassor, were the bright spots in my life. I couldn’t be more grateful for them.

“Fun is for informal events, where our father and mother will not hear about my behavior,” I reminded. She didn’t need the reminder. She knew.

“Fun is for every occasion. Even a funeral. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.”

“Funerals aren’t meant to be fun,” I chastised.

“Then they aren’t doing them right.”

That made me smile despite myself. Our parents would torch their caskets if they knew we had a party on their passing.

“How far out are we?” I asked.

Aribel glanced to the front of the carriage. “We are pulling through the gates now.”

“Thank you,” I murmured demurely.

“You’re not welcome,” she sassed back at me. The window slid shut. I smiled a little more. She only got sassy like that when I wasn’t brutally honest with her. It wasn’t like I could let out how I felt about this event with any real heat behind it. As soon as I let myself speak like that, I wouldn’t stop.

“Relax, schwesterherz,” Gregor said, the affection in his tone clear with the endearment. “Tonight will go as all the others have.”

“I don’t think I will let it.”

“Do I at least get a clue as to what you are planning?”

“Why must I be planning something?”

He huffed as the carriage came to stop. Rolling forward, he knelt between us and scooped my hands into his. With the low seats, our eyes were nearly level.

“You possess the phoenix of our family. Though you have held him in your heart for years, I cannot help but to see you as you were.” Lifting my thumb, he slid a silvery cuff to my second knuckle. On it, boldly engraved flames were colored in vibrant layers of brass, copper and bronze. It was a hand crafted piece, forged together with four other rings. The Blazing Throne’s Magus Suprema spelled the set, enabling the wearer to communicate through a controlled burst of heat with the other wearers of the rings. They were reserved for the members of Royalty and their assigned personal guard, not for a brother and sister.

“Nassor should be wearing this.”

“And for tonight, you are.” He spun the ring as though he could screw it into place. “If you need me, you know how to call me.”

I watched his fingers for several moments, comparing the ring to the one I wore on my other thumb. His set was thicker and bolder than my own, but both were equally intricate. Upon the death of our grandparents and our inheritance of their Animus, of the lesser gods who ruled our people, we had inherited them. They were what made us Royalty, what made me more than a pretty piece of obedient currency.

The door to the carriage opened, washing us in the exterior lights of Keep Schwentzen. Gregor didn’t show he cared. His attention remained on me, just as I knew it would.

“You do remember that I am older than you, yes?”

He flashed a grin. “By three minutes.”

Gregor rose and stepped from the carriage. I followed, taking his hand when he turned to help me down the precarious steps.

Keep Schewentzen was a fortress that House Crane refused to accept. Their First, Fredrik Crane, had done everything possible to disguise the balustrades and arrow slits behind decorative vines and sprawling flowers. Banners shrouded the lifted portcullis in obscure darkness, turning the entrance into a flowing work of fabric. It was a pompous display of wealth, and it wasn’t flattering.

“If he went to this much trouble to dress the place up, his sister must be a wolpertinger,” Aribel commented as she closed the carriage door behind us.

I had to hide a smile. I’d never met the First’s sister, but I was betting Aribel was not far off.

Curling a hand over Gregor’s forearm, we left the carriage and our guard behind.

The front entrance buzzed with Daeva and Magi as they exited their carriages and stopped to palaver. My brother and I did not, and no one dared to initiate a conversation before we entered the party. At events such as this one, there was an unspoken structure. Royalty, like my brother and I, were at the top, even above the hosts. Below us, our gracious hosts resided in the rankings, then the visiting nobility based on their influence and power. Then, there was everyone else.

Sometimes I wished I was part of the latter.

Everyone else – they were merchants, prominent business owners, and influential figures from local towns. They lived comfortable, if not lavish, lives and suffered none of the restrictions my brother and I were bound by. It seemed impossible.

Despite arriving at the ball in the middle of everyone arriving, there was no waiting to enter the main room. Murmurs of our titles flowed before us, causing people to glance and part when they recognized us, then to dip into formal greetings. Our faces may not have been familiar to so many people, but our features and attire were. Hair like ours, the uniquely deep to vibrant blue ombre, was a symbol of power. Our attire, the sunstone and carnelian gemstones embedded in the fabric of my gown and accenting the buttons of Gregor’s dress coat, were symbols of wealth. And our eyes—they glowed with the inner fire of our Animus. No one beside our parents, my brother and me, had eyes like ours. Even charms couldn’t compare, especially when our power flared and our eyes became more than just glowing embers.

A man stepped forward as we approached the entrance to the main ball room. In a voice that boomed over the music, he announced, “Prince Gregor Hauschild, heir to the Blazing Throne, and Princess Vera Hauschild.”

There was no added second heir to the throne. Unlike my brother, I wasn’t an heir. It was something I envied about other cultures. Under the Blazing Throne’s rule, women were subservient to men.

If we had been born to another family, another element, maybe Gregor and I could have stood on equal ground. Air wouldn’t have been so bad. I’d even be willing to be a Vlk. Sure, I would miss my element, but instead I could become something completely new. Something… better.

The music was the only sound in the room, as the dancers and conversation stopped. Eyes landed on us, like a hundred beams of sun focusing on a single point. It was nothing new, or unexpected. Every time we attended a party, there was an unspoken requirement for the attendees to stop and gawk. It didn’t matter if it was at the time we entered, or if it happened when we were spotted later in the evening.

The crowd dipped in a wave, men and women sinking into bows and curtsies. A man broke from the lowered crowds to rush around the groupings of attendees. “Welcome, your royal highness. It is so pleasing that you could attend our summer ball.”

The greeting was for my brother. Gregor didn’t show his irritation, but I knew the exclusionary greeting had called his ire. Despite the way our country thought, my brother was nothing so simple. He saw me as his equal and took every opportunity to remind others that I wasn’t just a woman. I was the vessel of a god.

The man stopped before us. If Marshall Crane wasn’t the host of the party, I wouldn’t have recognized the man. He was unremarkable aside from the black backed House crest of House Crane hanging on a silver chain around his neck. Older, with a slight gut and shorter than my brother and I by several inches, he would have been insignificant if not for his status of Marshall. He may not have had the power to rule, but he was at least wise enough to be appointed leader.

“Marshall Crane,” Gregor intoned. “I am not the only member of Royalty present. It would serve your House well to acknowledge us both with the same respect. The last time Princess Vera was snubbed, her Animus saw fit to raise the main dining hall of House Hoffman.”

I grinned unabashedly with Flint’s amusement, my eyes flaring with the presence of my Animus. Both Flint and I were fond of that memory.

The Marshall’s face paled. He turned to me, bowing too deeply to be a proper formality. “Of course, Princess Vera. Your presence honors us.”

The back of my tongue tingled, a hint of bitterness. His words weren’t entirely a lie. I could guess why. He was honored by the presence of my Animus, but not my presence. Of course.

The me of a decade ago would have let the slight pass.


That wasn’t me now.

“I am just as honored, Marshall.”

The chain of Marshall Crane’s insignia heated. I sensed it, an awareness I’d gained with my Animus taking me as his vessel. A Magi spelled his chain to detect and warn of lies. It was something only weaker Daeva needed, for those of a certain level of power could taste lies, like the bitterness still tainting my tongue.

When my grin deepened, becoming something smug, his neck gained a nice pink tint. He was flustered and probably embarrassed. Good.

Unfortunately, he recovered quickly.

“I hope your journey here was smooth. We recently had the road from Bärenbrunn resurfaced.”

“It was pleasant enough,” my brother answered.

The pleasantries continued between my brother and Marshall Crane as we moved further into the room. Each step gave way to the resuming conversations and movement as dancers returned to their affairs. By the time we reached a tall table to gather around, the room had returned to the state we found it in.

“Good evening, Princess Vera.”

I did not turn at the voice of the man I’d been avoiding for years. Third Malcom Ausmond of House Ausmond had been vying for my hand since I came of age. Decades of rejection seemed to only make him try harder. If my grandmother’s Animus had not chosen me, my father might have given me to him out of desperation. Now that I was Royalty, and not just of the royal family, I was worth more to my father. Third Ausmond was not worthy of being my consort.

“Princess Vera,” he tried again. His voice was a combination of a whining horse and yippie dog. It was fitting knowing he was several inches shorter than me, and that was without the heels I currently wore.

My brother’s gaze flicked to me, paused to take in my expression, then returned to Marshal Crane. I had this, and he knew I’d enjoy it.

Turning to face the man, I was expectedly unimpressed. Shorter than a man of power should be, he’d taken to wearing charms to compensate during the even. They made his hair rise much like my brother’s, and had the orange glimmering like it was alive. Under those charms, I knew his hair was still orange, but it was not because he was powerful. It was a dull, lifeless color that exposed his true lack of outstanding qualities. Perhaps if he were a pleasant gentleman, I could have ignored his weakness. I had more than enough power to ensure that any offspring of mine would be exceptional. But he was not. He was sycophantic, and it vexed me to no end.


“Good evening, Third Ausmond.”

“Princess Vera,” he said, bowing. He enjoyed saying my name far too much. “May I have the honor of the next dance?”

“I thank you for your kind offer, Third Ausmond, but I must decline,” I replied, ensuring my tone stayed even and polite.

“Of course, Your Highness. I understand you have many suitors vying for your hand,” Third Ausmond said, still smiling. Deep inside me, my Animus took notice. Flint did not enjoy my agitation. Neither did I.

“Indeed, Third Ausmond, and you have been among them for some time,” I replied, raising an eyebrow. “Yet, I have rejected you time and time again. It is a wonder that you keep trying.”

“Yes, Your Highness, and I shall continue to be until you see fit to accept my proposal,” Third Ausmond said eagerly.

Was it a male trait to never accept no for an answer? Did he believe something would change my mind after decades of denial?

“I appreciate your persistence, Third Ausmond, but your efforts are in vain,” I replied, dismissing him. I started to turn back to the conversation between my brother and Marshal Crane, only to be stopped. Pretentious little prick.

“Your Highness, I implore you to reconsider. I am a man of means, my House has great standing within the Blazing Throne, and I would make a devoted husband,” Third Ausmond pleaded.

“I have no doubt of your devotion, Third Ausmond, but such considerations are not the only ones that guide my decisions,” I replied coolly.

“What are these other considerations? Perhaps if I knew what you were looking for, I could assure–” Third Ausmond cut himself off as the air around me sparked and heated.

Flint stretched, his power flexing apart from my own. The air around me wavered, the gemstones of my dress gaining a luminescent glow as they warmed against my body. When I spoke, a darker undertone shadowed my words.

“I suggested you find another woman to pursue, Third Ausmond. I will not have you.”

Fingers traced the back of my hand. I glanced back to find Gregor standing closer to me, our hands nearly twined. He was not looking at me, but he was still with me. Supporting.

I loved my twin.

Flint settled, allowing the air and my dress to cool. I gave my brother a grateful nudge and returned my attention to the insistent Third.

“Excuse me, Third Ausmond, I see that I need refreshment. Good evening,” I said politely, gracefully exiting the conversation and walking around him to find something to drink.

Moving about a party as a royal was an art I had learned early in life. One of royal birth never had the option of melting into a crowd, and a royal stood out like a bonfire in a field of torches. We were always noticed, always watched, and always had to be ‘on’.

The drink display was a matter of carefully constructed fountains spilling wine in red streams into a basin at the bottom. It was a main attraction for the party guests, drawing conversation close as guests examined the artful display of mechanics and stonework. Every year they added something new to it, keeping interests fresh, and slowly turning something from art to obscene.

I had no taste for the wine being served. Perhaps it was a privilege of royalty to flag down a member of the staff and have a discrete glass of Ostriv Honey, a bourbon from one of the main cities in Vlk territory, delivered to my hands. It was as expensive as sin and more delicious than anything to ever come out of their empire. Any House in the Blazing Throne’s empire knew to have it on hand if Gregor attended their events. He didn’t prefer the beverage like I did, but claimed he was, because he knew I enjoyed it.

Moments after receiving my glass, I smiled and nodded in greeting at First Hoffman and the group he was with. His foundry was one of three our father had entrusted with dragons. In return, he supplied armor to the Royal Guard and special units. Even my armor was crafted in Hoffman armories.

Conversations came and went. Invitations to dance drifted my way and were politely rejected. My glass was filled and drained three times. The fourth time I found it full, I stared down into the golden liquid. Tonight was… boring. So utterly boring. If something was not fun, it was not worthy of doing. So why was I bothering?

My thumb warmed, the ring glowing against my skin. My head lifted, searching for my brother. I found him leaning on the second floor rails. Two women cornered him against the railing. I did not need more than a glance to tell what they wanted. Our father’s trap had been sprung.

Excusing myself from the group I was with, I made my way to the second floor.

Approaching from behind the two women, I paused a moment to listen in on their conversation.

“—I would love to visit the gardens at Sonnenburg. I hear they are filled with varieties of flora from the Talmhainn lands. Is it true?” one of the women inquired.

She was begging to be courted. How forward of her.

“Yes, they are.”

Gregor did not look at me, but the ring around my finger flared. My poor brother. He would let the conversation steal his sense and invite them to view the gardens if I did not step in. And he knew it.

“Ah, Gregor.” Pushing my way between the women and separating them, I stepped into my brother and carefully stretched up to kiss his cheek. “I have had dreadful proposals to dance tonight. Will you spare my toes and take a turn with me?”

Gregor’s demeanor shifted from pleasant Royal, to sinfully interested. It was a look inappropriate for a party, let alone for his sister. “A dance. Is that all?”

“For now. Perhaps we can renegotiate when the evening is over.” Running a hand down his chest, I adjusted the lapels of his coat.


Ignoring the women completely, Gregor and I moved arm in arm to the stairs, heading for the main floor.

There was no waiting for the next song when we approached the floor. The music simply changed, leaving the dancers already on the floor to look around for the cause of the interruption. We did not wait for them to figure it out. We took to the center of the floor, the crowds clearing before us until the entire room was watching.

The song changed, delicate and dynamic. We faced each other.

“Proper, or…” My brother left the suggestion to hang. I gave him an answering, devilish smile.


The dance was intended to be a choreographed thing with measured steps and precise movements. Our hands were never intended to touch. Charms could be passed too easily from one person to another by touch, but that wasn’t a concern for us, and we intended to put on a show. We executed the dance flawlessly, and then more. Every touch was sensual. Every glance, full intention. Every step, a promise for more. When I glanced away, I found the onlookers were absolutely riveted.

Just as planned.

Until I spun and found another man guiding my turn. If I had been any less trained in dance, I might have stumbled.

Gliding as though I were swirling over ice, I let the stranger finish the twirl. When he pulled me to a stop, his large hands catching my fingers and waist, I opened my mouth to crush the soul of this interrupter.

And stopped.

I had expected a member of a House who’d been too eager to court to me. I did not expect to find a stranger with incredible, mahogany eyes under thick, arching brows, and framed by cheek bones I could cut my lips on. Or, perhaps it was the trimmed beard that made them seem so sharp. It was full, thick, and perfectly accented his lips.

I’d been trained my entire life to find power attractive. Power for our element meant a certain hair color, a burning gaze, and the body of a warrior. This man had the later down, but the rest was so far from my expectations, that I did not understand why my heart did a flip. His hair was dark and luxurious, like black brocade just before it was woven. It was nothing like an embodiment of fire. 

If I had seen anything else, anyone else, I would have stopped the dance right there. At minimum, I would have pulled back, stealing my hand from his. But I didn’t. I allowed him to lead us in a twirl away from my brother and around the edge of the dance floor, his hand touching mine. And more.  

“It is highly audacious to disrupt a sibling’s dance,” I remarked.

“Perhaps.” The single word was loaded with intention. “And perhaps I thought your grace was wasted on your brother.”

“And it is not wasted on you?”

“Quite the opposite, I assure you.”

Who was this man? I wanted to look down, to search his attire for a family crest or some other hint. Or, to admire the size of him. His shoulders were broad with muscle under my hands. And the suit – it was not a style of our throne. The collar was too high, and too tight around his neck. It had to be suffocating.

“And who is it that I am not wasting my grace on?”

“That would ruin the mood.”

His hands gripped my waist and lifted. I expected it, it was in the choreography that my brother and I would have executed, but I was not ready to go so high. He lifted me like my dress did not triple my weight, my skirts did not make me awkward to balance, and all with the grace of an experienced dancer.

When my feet hit the ground, there was something different between us. Perhaps I’d been dragging my steps before, or more interested in conversing than dancing. I did not care about it now. I let him whisk me across the floor, not caring that couples had begun to join us, and that my brother had vanished in the throng. I let him lead, and gleefully followed.

Joy was not something I experienced often. I reserved those special moments for the safety of privacy, when I could be myself, and Aribel unleashed her terror on the world. I felt it now, like a wave of euphoria as I smiled with genuine joy. Dancing had always been enjoyable, but this was more. This was what I imagined Daeva of Air felt when they glided through clouds. Like my feet barely touched the ground, and I had no care for where we were going.

I did not even realize we’d stopped until the applause for the musicians roared. Just as he had led our steps, I waited for Sir Dancer’s hands to fall before mine dropped to my sides.

“What is your name?” I asked, demanding an answer.

His lips, full and curved just right, pulled into a delightfully lopsided grin.

He turned to leave. A hand rested on his shoulder, the ring that matched the bold ring on my thumb telling me it was my brother even before I saw the rest of him.

“It would behoove you to adhere to my sister’s request,” Gregor rumbled, leaning in close to my mystery dance partner.

“Oh?” He seemed to coo. Turning to my brother, he gave the obligatory bow, but no more. “And what behooves me to do so, your highness?”

“Do you not wish to have my favor?” I asked, sidling closer to my brother so I could see his every reaction.

His eyes flicked down to mine, capturing me like a sphinx snaring a scholar. “Do I not already have it?”

He did not wait for an answer. He just slipped away, dipping his considerable height into the crowd, and vanishing in seconds.

I stared in the direction he had left, waiting to catch a hint of him. I found nothing.

“Brother,” I murmured, my arm pressing into his side. “Do you know who that was?”

“No,” he answered slowly, his words dragging with his thoughts. “But, he is not of our empire.”

“Oh? You could tell that?”

“He is Vlk.”

That gave me pause. I had met Vlk before. They were one of two species-based Daeva. Unlike Mao-Ren, who had a feline form, Vlk were more aligned with wolves. Their true forms loomed over Daeva, with vicious claws and teeth longer than my fingers. I had met several before, but never had I seen one in their Daeva body. They usually wore their fur when in mixed company. It was safer for them, as their hides were nearly impervious to elemental assaults and all but the sharpest of blades.

“How could you tell?” I asked, fighting the urge to turn and search the room with my eyes.

“The eyes. They were not just Daeva.”

“Oh. I had not noticed.”

But I had, and my brother knew it. 

Dancing was ruined for me the rest of the evening. I did not mind, but I did mind that my dance partner had vanished. Something about Sir Dancer intrigued me. He was confident, but so unlike anyone else. No one could have gotten away with breaking up my brother and I when we were dancing. Not only would I have maimed them, but Gregor would also have dealt with them with brutal efficiency. 

But, Gregor had not. And I had not. There was something about him, a charisma, which called to me. Gregor had recognized it even before I had. 

“My father is the Prime Minister to Atlantea,” a child of a girl bragged to my brother. I had been ignoring her presence for some time as my gaze trailed across the crowds. I was not searching for Sir Dancer, but if I happened to see him…

“What did your father do?” My brother asked, humoring her for some unknown reason. “Being sent to Atlantea is a punishment.” 

Ah, an insult. That was better. 

I glanced at the girl to find her cheeks flushing, the color spreading down her neck in a heated wave. “Your highness, it is an honor for our family to represent our nation in a foreign empire.” 

“Atlantea does not allow us to use our element. It is a prison where our people are restricted to experiencing life like a political slave.” 

The girl’s mouth opened and closed, gaping like an overheated salamander. 

“Go,” I said, my face passive. “Before you degrade the name of your House any further.” 

The girl blinked at me, her eyes glimmering with the start of tears. She was gone a moment later, vanishing into the ball. 

“Did you even catch the name of her House?”


My brother cracked a grin and shook his head. “That was a conversation I did not need your aid in.” 

“You had it anyway.” Shrugging, I turned back to the dancing below. “It seems our father’s attempts to marry us off have been lacking tonight.” 


I gave Gregor a sharp glance. “Perhaps?” 

“Someone caught your eye.” 


“The Vlk.”

I scoffed. “He was merely different.” 

“Apparently, that was enough.” 

I did not retort. My brother was right about him being different, but he was wrong about our father. He would never choose to tie us to the Vlk. Being tied to another element, and a species based one no less, would only weaken our blood line. 

Then again, I was not the heir. Even with an Animus, I could be sacrificed for political gain.

“Is that him?” 

I perked up at Gregor’s words, my gaze searching the people below. “Where?” 

When Gregor did not immediately answer, I looked to him. He was grinning unabashedly. “Not enough?”

I leveled him with a scowl that had him laughing. 

“He’s there,” he said, gesturing toward the far side of the room. I scanned the people and found the tallest man among them. It was him. He was moving through people, pausing for moments as he was called, before moving on. The people knew who he was. I had refrained from asking anyone for his name, and no one had approached to offer information. 

How annoying. 

I could not ask about him. It would give away my interest, and I did not need to draw attention to it. If it got back to our father that it was more than just a wayward dance, consequences would follow. If this mystery Vlk was of a high enough rank, I could find myself promised to him. If he were not, he could be punished. Unfortunately, our father was concerningly creative. 

Sir Dancer turned, and his gaze flicked up, finding mine without searching. His eyes widened a little in surprise. He knew where I’d been standing and hadn’t thought I’d spotted him. Or, he thought I’d lost interest? 

I did not react to his gaze. Or, not on the outside. Inside, my stomach flipped and my heart beat faster. 

He did not know how I felt. How could he? But it seemed like he knew more than I was giving away when the corner of his mouth lifted. His head jerked slightly to his right. I glanced in that direction, finding the door leading out into the gardens open and neglected. 

He turned and started walking. I watched him, locked stock still, as he vanished into the dim outdoor lighting. 

The invitation was clear. 

Should I take it? 

Gregor’s hand slid into mine, drawing my attention to him as he lifted our hands between us. He’d taken the hand with his companion ring on it, which he pointed out by spinning it with a stroke of his finger.

“Do you want to go?”

“I shouldn’t.”

“Do you want to?”

“We know better than to be lured in.”

“We do,” he confirmed. Despite his words, he still spun his ring round and round my thumb.

“You know I would stop you if this was your situation.”

“Would you?”

I sighed and let my gaze trail across his chest. “Perhaps. At least, I would stalk you.”

He adjusted the ring again. “Consider this me stalking you.”

I huffed. “You and I both know if I shouldn’t.”

“If our father sent him, kill him. Your Animus is unpredictable enough that no one would question it.”

It was true. Despite the name my Animus had given me, Flint was far more than just a way to start fires. The effort it took to set him off was minuscule, requiring me to always have a tight hold over my own body. It even took me two dozen beds before I could sleep an entire night without igniting and burning a room to the ground around me. 

“And if I kill him, will you come save me?” I teased. 

“Always, sister mine.” 

“Brother mine.” 

I squeezed his hand, then turned for the stairs. 

Moving through the ballroom was harder than before. People were obviously liberated from their restraints through the consumption of wine, and they used their freedom from social norms to approach me. I entertained it briefly, but frustration was not something I was good at hiding.

“Princess Vera,” the First of some House cooed at me, his wine sloshing inside his glass. “You should visit our estate when you have freedom from your duties. We have the most delightful vineyard. It is like an escape into Talmhainn gardens, and something you must see.”

Disgust slicked my skin. I had no interest in going to anyone’s home on a personal invitation. “I think my brother might enjoy that more. Shall I bring him? He loves joining me on these invitations.”

The First did not hesitate. “Of course. Your entire family is welcome, Princess.”

The way he said my title was like a snake. Disgusting.

My hand landed on the fountain of wine, and an idea sparked. I had not yet caused any mischief. It was time I did so.

My fingers traced across the piece I touched, and subtly, a charm wove into the art.

“Will you have tea cakes? I do so enjoy them.”

“We will have whatever you want. Name it.”

“Tea cakes, Ostriv Honey, and smoked pork.” I released the charm, letting its effects sink in and spread.

A small cracking sound met my ears. I only heard it because I was listening for it.

“What was that?” I asked, startling away from the elegant feature. The First, thinking I was some sort of damsel, stepped forward, putting himself between me and whatever I was stumbling away from. It was hard not to grin.

I stepped back several steps, seconds before another crack loud enough for everyone to hear signaled a stream of wine bursting from one of the fountains. It arched up, and doused the First in red.

He stumbled back, shocked at the red stain covering his white dress shirt.

I slipped away into the onlooking crowd before I could be drawn into the drama. In a minute, everyone would bathe in wine. I would not be one of them.

Passing through the doorway leading into the gardens was like exiting summer and basking in fall. The urge to heat the world to meet my preference rolled through me, and the air around me warmed before I could catch myself. Flint cooed seductively, his influence making my skin feel uncomfortably tight, and his markings illuminate across my back, shoulders, and face.

“I did not know royalty glowed. Your radiance as we danced seemed like a trick, too good to be true.”

He was here, to my left. And he was looking at me.

I did not entertain my unspoken wishes to look him up and down. Instead, I took a languorous step toward the carved stairs leading down into the gardens.

“I would think it odd if I did not glow. A fire that does not give off light has lost some of its usefulness.”

Footsteps followed, slow like my own, yet somehow closing distance. It was not just his steps I could sense. It was him. Being of fire gave me a sense for heat, or a lack of it. Much like Arctic Daeva, we could pinpoint a fox in a tundra purely because their body temperature contrasted so drastically from the world around them. Sir Dancer was no different. Vlk naturally ran hotter than another Daeva. It made him easier to sense in the cool night air, and to know he was just steps behind me.

“I would think just the opposite, for a fire that isn’t seen in the night can do all sorts of terrible, wonderful things without anyone knowing.”

The garden was vibrant, filled with flowers in full, voluptuous bloom. It seemed overgrown, with blossoms cascading into the paths and dangling from the few trees shading the courtyard. The paved paths leading through the green expanse were lined with lit lanterns, highlighting the pavers and flora in halos of golden light. House Crane had invested far more money than reasonable in this garden, and it had been worth every piece of gold.

“For a Vlk attending a ball hosted by a House of the Blazing Throne, you seem to know very little about what it means to of Fire.”

I turned down one of the paths, my destination in mind.

Something crashed in the distance, and a roar of surprise, fear and outrage erupted from the ballroom. Satisfaction warmed my belly, a smug smile hiding under my skin.

Sir Dancer paused, presumably to glance back at the ruckus. Guards emerged from their stations in the garden to rush toward the noise, passing me as I continued walking. Sir Dancer lingering a second after the guards passed him before he closed the distance between us a moment later.

“That was incredibly convenient timing.”

I turned down a split in the path, weaving my way to the center seating area I’d found during the last ball.

“Year after year, that fountain has grown. Thirty years ago, it was an opulent display of artistic superiority. Today’s display was the tipping point to grotesque. It is good they will be starting over.” 

“Are you someone who finds joy in the simple things?” 

“No. As you are not.” 

“You seem to think you know me so well after only a few words.” 

“I think you would find me too threatening if you enjoyed simple. Royalty are anything but simple. The gods that live inside us assure that.” 

“I have met other royalty. I would not say they were complex. Primal seems an accurate word.” 

Primal indeed. The Animus that ruled us existed before Daeva ever did. They were beyond ancient. Though, something about Sir Dancer’s words had Flint perking up irritably.

We entered the central seating area, finding it better lit than the paths we traversed. Strolling to the center, I stopped and let my senses expand, identifying and focusing on the lights throughout the gardens. Sir Dancer paused behind me, waiting for me to turn. 

The lights snuffed out, dousing us in darkness, and causing surprised exclamations to rise in the distance from the ball goers fleeing the chaos inside. The darkness was absolute, leaving only the stars and the barest sliver of the moon to light the night. And my glowing skin. Flint’s presence weighed on me like a cloak, brightening my markings and urging me to do something explosive. 

I didn’t. Flint was a god, but I was his vessel. The balance between us agreed upon, and this was nothing that would give him cause to exert his will over me. 

Slowly, I turned, knowing Sir Dancer was seeing the phoenix glowing across my skin, rather than the woman who wore it. The only thing that was me he would see were my eyes as they glowed with an inner fire. 

“Is this the primal you expect?” 

In the darkness, with only my glow to illuminate him, Sir Dancer seemed awe struck. His mahogany eyes were wide, his lips parted, and his brows raised. Being slightly shorter than him, the shadows favored the angles of his face, making him seem softer but no less masculine. He was still beautiful, facial hair and all. 

“No,” he breathed. “You are… Radiant. I have never seen something as stunning as you.” 

My head tilted slightly as Flint’s influence. It was an interesting and flattering answer. It mollified Flint enough to retreat back into my core, dimming the glow of my skin ever so slightly. 

“Thank you.” 

His mouth closed, and the corner tugging up in a mild grin. “You are welcome, Princess.”

My gaze flicked down his body, taking in the suit that fit him so well. It was delicious, and I did not think that often about people. To me, my brother was the most attractive person in my life, and I had absolutely no interest in him sexually. I was not accustomed to finding more than pleasant intrigued in a man. Sir Dancer was… Intriguing.

“I have rarely seen a Vlk in their Daeva skin outside their homeland. How is it you feel comfortable enough to be in such a state at this event?”

“You haven’t seen many Vlk, have you?”

“No. I have not.”

“Lesser Vlk can take minutes to transform, and must wholly transform. For a Prime, this is not a concern.”

He was a Prime? If this night ended without me having his name, I would be able to find him by that alone. Primes were thoroughly documented because of their potential to be chosen by an Animus. There would certainly be several portraits of him in the Vlk archives, along with a complete documentation of his heritage.

“So, Primes galivant around parties in other nations, while lesser loom and flash their fangs?”

“Is that so different from those of Fire?”

“I would not know. I have never been less, and I am rarely around by them.”

“That sounds like a rather isolated life.”

Did he know, or was it speculation?

Still sensing the smoking wicked of the torches I’d smothered, I relighted them, washing the world in light. My markings faded until I was just Vera again.

Sir Dancer’s pupils contracted, his attention focused completely on me. I liked it. Despite so many distractions, he was all mine in this moment.

“Who are you?”

“A simple Vlk.”

“A simple Prime Vlk,” I corrected.

He chuckled. Verily, I was funny.

“Perhaps I understate myself. My apologies, Princess.” Bowing his head, he lifted his right hand and pressed it to his left collar bone. “I am Dominik, Second of House Černý.”


I knew that name, because I knew all the names of Royalty, their spouses, and their family. “You are King Consort Yaris Černý’s brother.”


King Consort Yaris, though not Royalty in the sense that I was, was the male ruler of the Vlk. Vlk had two Animus to their element, and both possessed women in every generation. King Yaris never stood a chance of possessing one, but he held the hearts of both Queens, and was the strongest Vlk to ever challenge the throne. He’d have to be to take it, and to keep it long enough for the Queens to choose him as their mate.

“Did my father send you here? Or my mother?”


He didn’t even flinch at the question. And his answer – I had expected to hear a lie, or at least hesitation. There was absolutely none. Even if I were not strong enough to taste lies, I would know he spoke the truth, and I had every intention of taking advantage of it. “Who sent you?”

“I did. I am here on House business.”

“You are attending a ball as part of House business?”

“Yes. I am building relationships. It’s what any good businessman does to secure advantageous deals.”


“Dragon forged steel tools. My house owns several vandium mines. The rocks they are found in are incredibly hard. We go through steel pickaxes like they are made of wishes. I am seeking a direct supplier rather than entertaining a middleman with the hopes that it will benefit both a House of Fire and my own.” 

Vandium was a gemstone unlike most others. When attuned by a Magi, they could hold power as well as a Daeva’s core. They were rare, incredibly expensive, and House Černý nearly had a monopoly on them.”

“Am I done being questioned?” he asked when I paused for too long. 

“No,” I said thoughtfully. “Are you serving anyone’s interest besides your own?” 

“Yes.” One of his elegant brows rose, questioning me without words. “This is for my House, and for my family. I am merely the instrument.” 

“But the deal is all you are after?” 

“I could be inspired to divert my attention elsewhere, were the reward fitting enough.” 

Was he flirting with me?

“Is it all you are after?” I reiterated, needing a direct answer. 

His gaze grew somber, a serious dullness taking over his features. “Yes.” 

I wasn’t sure why relief cooled my blood. Or, I did. He wasn’t sent here to woo me into some farce marriage. He was just someone who happened to be here, and who happened to catch my eye. It seemed ridiculous, and uncanny. How could this happen after hundreds of balls, hundreds of chance encounters, and even more intersecting paths? 

Unless, it was an act of Dauna. Fate was unpredictable, despite what the seers claimed. 

“And, what are you after, Princess?” 

The question was leading, and dangerous. “Freedom.” 

His head tilted ever so slightly. It was an incredibly canine gesture. “What does a Princess seek freedom from?” 

I expected the question to be mocking. It wasn’t. He was genuinely curious. Still, a thousand half-truths came to the tip of my tongue. Somehow, by the will of the gods, the real answer whispered from my lips. “The weight of my crown.” 

The weight of the silence was a terrible thing. 

He did not let it linger.

His hand lifted and long, elegant fingers stretched above my head. My crown shifted ever so slightly, recentering it on my hair.

“As heavy as it must be, you wear it with a grace that outshines the brightest star in the sky.” 

Gooseflesh pebbled my skin. The sensation of him moving my crown was something I would never forget. Even now, my hair tingled like excitement had manifested in my follicles. 

“Thank you.” 

“Vera,” my brother’s voice broke the sense of solidarity. Dominik’s gaze lingered on mine, even as he turned, admitting my brother to join us in the central garden. 

Gregor glanced between us, his keen gaze noticing everything while he commented on nothing. “The ball is over. It is fitting for us to go before questions arise.” 

If I had not been trained to court standards since I was old enough to wear steel soled shoes, I would have given away the disappointment that statement inspired. “Are we exiting through the ball room, or another way?” 

“We can take the battlements, unless you wish your dress smelling like cheap wine.” 

I wrinkled my nose and nodded. “The battlements.”

I turned to Dominik, meeting his mahogany eyes, and losing myself. It lasted only a second before he bowed, folding over so formally I automatically responded with a curtsy. “Second Černý.” 

“Princess Vera,” he returned, rising. “If we should meet again, I would appreciate another moment like this.” 

I bowed my head, and risked a proposal I had no control over. “As Dauna wills.” 

“As Dauna wills,” he echoed, sending our unspoken promise to the god of fate to decide. 

I turned, my hand finding the loop of my brother’s arm. He led me back down the path I’d taken, deviating once a path to stone steps crossed our path. 

I left House Crane’s fortress without looking back. If Dominik and I met again, it would be a blessing I would embrace without hesitation. If we did not, I would resign to whatever fate Dauna chose. 

Little did I know, Dauna had chosen a path for me, and it led directly to Dominik. That path would send me on a journey to embrace everything I was meant to be. 




Prelude to War

Prelude to War: Short Story #1

When creating characters who have a history together, there’s a certain level of back story that goes into building their relationship. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll be sharing with you short stories that capture the lives of the characters in Desperation, before Maelstrom’s war began tearing lives apart.

Charlotte and Aurek

Unrequited Letters

The wooden soles of my shoes clacked on marble as I drudged across the southern bridge connecting the housing wing to the rest of the palace, and Salon Séraphique where I was expected. The sound wasn’t alone. Beside me, my personal guard strolled, escorting me. He was here to ensure I didn’t wander off, as I had a habit of doing. Well, wandering was a mild description of what I usually did, but that was how he’d phrased my actions when he’d met me at the entrance of my chambers.

If Mohar hadn’t come for me, I could have slipped away like I’d intended. I did not enjoy formal events. Especially not ones where I was expected to do things. Like being the center of attention. Of his attention. After months of waiting for letters that never came.

“Princess,” Mohar murmured in our native tongue. “You will wear a hole in your lip if you continue to chew on it.”

My mouth opened, releasing my lip from between my teeth.

“Are you nervous?”

“No,” I muttered. I was something else entirely.

“If you intend to slip away, you should know the Queen will be very displeased.”

I scowled at the hallway ahead. Mother was always displeased when I evaded my duties. It never stopped me, even if it did make me hesitate occasionally. 

“Is he here already?” I asked, both wanting to know and dreading his answer.

“Yes,” Mohar answered. “He entered the city some time ago. He should be at the palace anytime now.”

Anytime. He had yet to enter the grounds. I would have felt him like I felt every person now, like tiny fairy bells, tinkling in the space of my mind that knew my home so very well. I was always aware, always knowing who was in my space. It was one of the gifts the Elementals had bestowed upon me. There were very few people who could surprise me. He was one of the few who could slip my notice, but only when my attention was preoccupied.

It wasn’t now.

Knowing he was here, and that he hadn’t come straight to the palace, irked that tight ball of anger in my chest, churning it until it glimmered hot and biting. No word for months, and now he didn’t bother to come to me and remedy his neglect. He was a prince. He had priorities, many of which I was unaware of, and the thought that I wasn’t high on that list did not sit well. Not even a little.

He and I were betrothed when I was born. For him, that time had only occupied a small fraction of his life, but it had been my entire life. I’d always known I would marry him, even if I’d only actually met him the year before. He was my indelible eventuality, and everything I had to look forward to. Yet, he couldn’t be bothered to respond to a few letters. I’d spent days working on each of those letters. I hated writing formal letters. I’d done it because I wanted to hear from him, to know how he was, and if he was alright.

Well, the letters hadn’t been purely out of concern for his wellbeing. I’d wanted to tell him about myself. We knew so little of each other despite the stories my mother and father shared. Tales of his heroism, his skills with commanding armies, and his exceptional power. He was made something exceptional in my eyes, until he couldn’t bother to answer even one of a dozen letters.

I huffed and looked out to gardens lining the side of the palace. The spring foliage had everything in gleaming in vibrant blooms. Dazzling yellow daffodils, pungent lilacs of powdery purple, irises so blue it was a wonder they weren’t painted, and hundreds of other flowers made the garden glow with health. The sight made me want to dawdle into the greenery and forget my mother’s summons.

“Feet on the ground,” Mohar’s stern reminder shattered the hold I had on the air beneath my feet. I stumbled when the several inch drop had me tripping over my own toes. I hadn’t realized I was doing it, which was surprisingly normal for someone my age. No other child in the palace could use their element, but I’d always been special in that sense. Just like my sense for power, the ability to use my element, my Air, was also a gift from the Elementals.

Soon my view of the garden was cut off by walls as we entered the Southwestern building. Unlike the housing quarters, these were opulent with creamy marble walls and floors with smatterings of gold and black. The paintings on the walls were bright and full of life, reflecting the nature that resided both within and just beyond the palace. They and a few pieces of glassware were the only real sparks of color in the hall. The furniture was all woods stained black or bleached nearly white, the doors and molding even matched.

The decor matched our lands perfectly. Our element was colorless—unseen, actually. But air allowed the colors of the world to flourish. So while we, as Daeva of Air, lost the color to our hair and eyes as our power grew, the world around us gained color and vibrancy.

Salon Séraphique stood open, welcoming. I felt anything but. Apprehension had my body taut with tension. I didn’t want to see him, and I especially didn’t want to see him while surrounded by other people. In front of them, I would be pressured to act as they wished. I didn’t want to be calm and proper and everything they wanted. I wanted to be angry, hurt and lonely, because I was, and I didn’t want to pretend otherwise. Pretending was lying, and we didn’t do that. Not even to ourselves.

“I need a minute.” I spun on my heel to go back the way we came. Mohar caught me by the back of my collar like a kitten, turning me back to face the room.

“The Queen knows we’re here. There’s no turning back.”

I could if I wanted to, which I did. Unfortunately, I felt my mother’s wind a moment later, her words summoning me.

“Charlotte, enter.”

Wishing I’d fled on the bridge where walls were no objection, I adjusted my skirts and stepped around the doorway. The room matched the hallways with its white and gold floors, bountiful colored paintings and artfully distanced furnishings. I paid them not an ounce of attention, choosing to focus on my mother and father.

They stood near the open patio doors, sunlight streaming in from the world beyond. Their attire was formal, their clothing shimmering finery that complimented the crowns adorning their heads. The crowns weren’t the glamorous things they would wear for a formal dinner, but my mother’s still rose several inches above her head, and my father’s thick braid of white gold, diamonds and other precious stone set in the weaves.

There were other people in the room. Courtiers and delegates from other nations. Knowing eyes were on me, judging, I ensured my posture was perfect and my gait silent. I stopped just meters away and dipped, curtsying as I’d been taught years ago.

Me’re, Pe’re,” I murmured. As their only daughter and heir, I was the only one allowed to not use their titles in formal events. It wasn’t the proper thing to do, but the way my father smiled at me indulgently told me he welcomed the familiar greeting.

Mohn cur,” my father said, affection warming his voice. He held his hand out to me, drawing me close when my fingers fit in his grip. “I am sorry for not coming to see you this morning. How were your lessons with Master Chulp?”

He meant he was sorry for not giving me a break from my charms lessons. Something he knew I actually enjoyed and needed no distraction from. Unlike algebra.

“They were great,” I beamed. Pulling my hand from his, I clasped mine together. With only a thought to guide my magic, I pulled my palms apart. Between them, a sparrow in flight emerged. It hovered between my palms, perfectly still. Until I wiggled my fingers. Like a marionette, the wings moved and the body bobbed as if flying through the sky. “We went over making illusions move naturally today. I can only do it when I use my own movement to guide them, but he thinks I can do it with just intentions in a few weeks, if I keep practicing.”

My mother’s hand, pale and elegant, passed under the illusions. She lifted her palm, and I moved the illusion to keep the sparrow flying above her skin. My gaze narrowed, attention focusing as I worked to keep the illusion realized and moving. 

“Good.” Her voice was an approving hum, as she brought the illusion closer to her eyes. Her palm rotated. I tried to keep the illusion with her movements, but my hold over it fizzled and broke. I sighed with the release of magic. She smiled and took my hands in her, squeezing warmly. “You are years ahead of your time, Mohn ange. Perhaps tomorrow you can sit with Prince Aurek and learn from him instead of Master Chulp.”

My face soured, nose and lips scrunching up in distaste. There were no secrets between my parents and me. They knew how I felt about my intended and the letters that had gone unanswered. Despite their best assurances that he would return them if he could have, I was still angry. He was still a Prince of his empire until we wed. The position came with responsibilities and dedications I had yet to feel for myself. He could not be at my beck and call at all times.

But not even a single letter?

“Perhaps.” The single word was not hopeful.

My mother’s smile was knowing and soothing. Her hand left mine to fuss with my own tiara, adjusting it among my pinned up silver curls. “You will see. All will be well by this evening.”

“Yes, Me’re.”

I knew better than to argue with my mother, but that didn’t make her right. Even if she usually was.

Minutes dragged by as courtiers approached us, or called my mother or father over to conversations. Children weren’t typically invited to these occasions, leaving me with no one my own age to join in conversation. It suited me to be alone in a room full of people. Even the eyes that watched me when I entered drifted away, leaving me to be own thoughts and allowing my attention to focus on my senses.

I felt the instant Prince Aurek stepped into the palace. The bell of his power was cool and soft, like icicles cracking under sunlight. He was suppressing himself, something most Daeva did when in the presence of Daeva of other elements. Two more joined his shortly after, equally as cool but louder and humming with mirth. His father, King Aiden, and another member of his family. It felt male, as if tones had genders. His brother, maybe? They weren’t bothering to keep their power as tamped down as Aurek was. Was he trying to keep me from noticing him?

The thought sent a heated tremble through me. My skirts moved around my legs, a strong breeze sweeping through the room. My eyes slid closed, my attention passing to the air around us, feeling movement throughout the palace. I ignored most of what I felt, seeking him.

Massive hooves beat against the cobblestone entrance. The mounts huffed and snorted, coming to a stop at the entrance to Espoir Palace. Three people dismounted, followed by a dozen more, their riding leathers settling around them. Bodies moved toward them, staff members offering them greetings. Words passed between them like vibrations on the wind. I wanted to pull them to me, to have even a hint at Prince Aurek’s reaction to finally entering the palace grounds. 

“Charlotte.” My mother’s warning tone drew my attention from the wind. I closed my element down as soon as I realized she felt what I’d been doing. The breeze moving my skirts dropped to something subtle and natural, bringing with it only the scent of the lilacs blooming beyond the patio, and not the voice I longed to hear.

My cheeks heated, making me glad my back was to the room.

He was here. Finally.

The urge to storm to the massive entry doors came and went. If I were alone and had no worry about proper greetings, I would have. But, my mother and father were here, along with the courtiers and delegates from other nations.

Foot steps approached behind me. Mohar’s words were soft when he informed me of Prince Aurek’s arrival. I nodded my thanks. When he didn’t return to the room, I knew he was staying close to deter me from slipping onto the patio and into the forest.

My hands were folded before me in a practiced placement. My fingers barely twitched, something that would have given away my impatience had I been facing the room. Especially when the formal announcement of the Royals arriving finally came.

“King Aiden Romanov of the Arctic Empire and his two sons, Prince Flynn and Prince Aurek.”

I felt eyes on me before the Master of Ceremonies finished. I knew without looking to who those eyes belonged to. Or, I hoped I did. Had he looked for me the moment he entered, or was it someone else? Paela, I didn’t want to look. What if it wasn’t him?

Clutching my hands into fists, resolve steeling my will, I turned. Aurek stood to the left of his father and brother. Though they all had similar features, there was no mistaking him. Not to me. He may have been the only clean shaven one of the three, but his hair was just as crimson as his family’s. The carmine color wasn’t because of his element, like my fading silver locks were. It was simply his family’s heritage that sported the color. Anyone with the color was of the Romanov line in some way. Those eyes, though, piercing glacier blue, were all his. I met them, feeling the impact like his spear, pinning me in place.

I broke the connection of our eyes to take him in. The worry that had built in me during his absence eased. Two arms with all their fingers, two legs that held him proudly. If he’d been hurt, nothing had been permanent. The relief was so strong, my shoulders dropped and my hands slipped apart, falling to my sides. I’d worried he’d lost the ability to write, and thanked the Elementals he hadn’t. Instead of being incapable of writing, he just hadn’t.

The anger that had been doused by my relief roiled back, a hundred times hotter than it had been. He really just hadn’t bothered to write.

Aurek took a step into the room, those glacier eyes still locked on me.

I couldn’t face him like this, not in front of so many people. All the words I’d pent up for months would fall from me, and I would embarrass my parents.

I was on the patio, my body dipping under Mohar’s reaching arm, before my mind caught up with my element. The stairs were merely a guide to my path that I glided down, my feet never touching the steps. My formal skirts fell from their clasps behind a massive rhododendron, leaving me in loose fitting trousers to dart over the blooming garden and into the forest beyond.

I could feel him approaching on the forest floor from my perch in the trees. Beside me, a falcon in her nest gave an appreciative coo, as I held out several varieties of grass and moss to add to her home. Beneath me, occupying several branches, a family of squirrels chattered. They all quieted at his approach, though I was certain they were only reacting to my stiffness.

I’d left the party only a short while ago. He must have followed as soon as I left to make it out here so quickly.

Despite his approach, I made no move to acknowledge him. He’d made me wait for months. I could make him wait too. Though, when I thought he wasn’t looking, I’d glance down, finding him leaning against a tree or lounging across a log. Every now and again, he held something flat in his hands. It looked like parchment.

If I thought time would chase him off, it didn’t. The afternoon cooled and darkened to dusk, yet he remained near by, following when I changed trees, maintaining the distance between us by remaining where he couldn’t get to me. He was of the Arctic, not of Air. I was sure he could climb a tree if he wanted to, but not fast enough to prevent me from hopping to another before he got to me.

Staring up into the canopy filtered sunset, I debated whether he would stay well into the night. The thought came and went as easily as smoke. My parents would send the Royal Guard after me, if I stayed too long, then I would need to actively hide. I was fairly certain the only reason they hadn’t was because Prince Aurek had followed me.

Sighing, I stepped off the branch I’d stood on and dropped. The wind caught me near the ground, bursting upwards to slow my fall until I touched the ground as if stepping down a single step. My trousers fluttered against my legs, making me glad I’d removed my skirts or they’d be in my face.

“Prince Aurek,” I said in High Speech. The words were unfamiliar to my tongue, leaving them so heavily accented it nearly didn’t sound like high speech at all.

I turned to where the bell of his power told me he was. He pushed off a tree he’d been leaning against to stride toward me. He stopped an arm length away. Despite my earlier check to ensure he was in one piece, his clothing had eluded me. He still wore his sharovary and fur trimmed kaftan, the outfit appearing completely foreign and luxurious at once. When he was here, he usually adorned styles like our own, but this was an outfit entirely from his homeland.

“Hello, Princess Charlotte.”

His voice was deep, calm and disarming. I’d wanted to hear it for months, had imagined hearing it, had conversations with it in my mind. Finally, getting something I wanted too desperately snipped the wick on the bomb of my anger, leaving the sparks to spit and fizzle.

“You are—not hurt?” I asked, the words finding the path out of my mouth difficult.

“I am well. You seem to have become more skilled at flying during my absence.”

My cheeks warmed at the compliment. I tapped my bodice, just above my diaphragm. “She guides me.”

By she, he knew I meant my element. She, my Air, was the guiding hand who taught me everything I needed to know. Her presence was like a second instinct within me, overwhelming my own when my element was afoot.

“My letters—are received?”

“They were received, yes.” His hand slipped under the edge of his jacket, pulling out the parchment I had seen him holding from up in the trees. It was a small stack of folded papers, the bottom pieces darker with water stains, the top appearing pristine. “Your stories brought me peace in a place where such things were hard to find. Thank you for writing and sending them to me.”

“Where I was, it was not a place where we could send letters. Incoming communications were of no issue, for the power bringing such things came from a distance. Sending would have put us in more danger than we already were. I only had the opportunity to send letters a week ago, when we returned to sanctuary. I thought instead of getting letters a day before I arrived, you would appreciate me delivering them myself.”

He held the stack out to me. On the top most envelope, scrawled in his tight, precise script, my name was written. It was bound neatly with ruddy twine. I took them, turning the stack on its end to see each folded envelope. There were eight letters, four short of the dozen I’d sent, but eight more than I expected this morning, and seven more than I needed to utterly dispel any memory of anger.

“Thank you,” I murmured, holding them against my bodice, fighting the urge to tear into them and read the words I’d longed for.

“They are written in the high speech. I am not yet fluent enough in French to write with any skill. Though, if you cannot yet read it, I will gladly read them to you.“

“No, I am learning. I will read them.” It may take me days to understand them, but I would do it on my own. A realization had me looking up to him. “My letters are French.”

“Yes, I have a trinket that translates written word into high speech. It is not always accurate, but your letters were written perfectly.”

A smile turned my lips, and I snuggled the letters closer. “I am angry, but now—thank you.”

He took a step toward me and knelt, one knee pressing into the leaf litter. Frost formed where his knee rested, slowly thickening into ice until his pants were separated from the ground by a clear sheen. Fingers touched my chin, lifting until my eyes met his. “Are you angry now?”

I shook my head. “I thought you did not write letters back.”

“Were you angry, or did you feel pain?” He dropped my chin to tap my sternum. “Pain here.”

A responding tightness grew inside me, beneath his tapping fingers. I nodded, because in that moment, I didn’t have words to say that I knew he would understand.

“That feeling, it is hurt, and perhaps disappointment. I am sorry for causing you to feel such things. It was not my intention.”

My bottom lip trembled. “I am worry.”

“You are not worried now, are you?”

“No. You are here.”

“Then you were worried. Or, I was worried,” he said, emphasized the difference in his words and mine.

I nodded, fighting to keep my lip still and losing. “I was worried?”

“Yes, was. Was is for things in the past.”

I tried to smile, but it vanished as soon as it came. “I was—disappoint—ed?”

His features softened, and a small smile, one only I ever got to see, lightened his features. “You are not any more though, yes?”

If we’d still been in the palace, I’d never have gotten closer to him. I’d have excused myself, finding privacy until I could control my expressions. We weren’t in the palace though. We were in the woods, where no one else watched. No one who would scold me for being inappropriate. So, I didn’t care how many rules I broke when I shuffled forward, using one arm to hug him close while clutching his letters tightly between us.

“You cannot stay always, but will you stay longer?”

 “Of course.” His arms closed around me, hugging me just as tightly. “Your birthday is in a few weeks. I will remain until then, and perhaps a few weeks more.”

I nodded, snuggling closer. “Me’re said I should ask. Will you teach me more about charms?”

“If you wish it, yes. Though I will warn you, if you do not like my lessons, you will not slip away as you do with your other tutors. I will come after you and we will continue wherever I find you.”

I laughed, delighted and excited. Pulling back from our embrace, I took his hand and pulled up, urging him to his feet. “We return and start.”

He did as my hand beckoned, rising to his feet. “I believe your mother and father would want any lessons to wait until tomorrow. Dinner should be underway now.”

I shook my head and kicked one foot up, drawing his attention to my pants. “No dress, no dinner. We start tonight.”

“Demanding little thing,” he murmured, affection clear in his tone. I smiled at his words and started back to the palace, his hand held firmly in mine.

Desperation The Animus

Diving into Desperation

Some of you might be wondering, why should I bother reading this random book by this random author? It’s the famous WIIFM (What’s in it for me?).

Well, let me give you a taste. I promise it’s good.

I’d imagined this moment a thousand times. I’d run, he’d knock me down and break my spine so I couldn’t get away. If I fought, he’d break my arms and fingers, one by one. If I stood my ground, he’d break me like he’d broken my father. If I surrendered, he’d use me like a puppet, forcing me to submit to him and taking everything from me, including my life. I’d imagined every scenario and every outcome was my death. I was going to die. Right here. Right now. There was no alternative.

One of my favorite paragraphs to write was right there. Imagining your own death isn’t something slow. It’s violent, and the panic seizing you is more vicious than a honey badger. When you’ve had years to engrain the terror into your marrow, it’s worse. It festers inside you, and no matter what you try, you can never completely remove the rot.

Desperation isn’t just about Charlotte’s bid to save her sister and herself. It’s about the situation of every character in the book. Everyone has something they desperately want.

Aurek is desperate to find his betrothed.

Allison is desperate to know why she is so different from everyone around her.

Elaine is desperate to escape the pain of her injuries, both physical and emotional.

Gregor is desperate for an escape from the reality that is his father.

Vera is desperate for a little entertainment, perferrably in the form of someone else’s misery.

And for me, it’s that last piece of brownie I’ve been eyeing all night. Damn you chocolatey goodness…

But Desperation isn’t all about the dark moments in someone’s life. It’s about pulling someone from the darkness and anchoring them, settling the turbulence of their despair and giving them hope.

“I am not judging, Charlotte. I am saying, I understand. I have been where you are, and I am here to be whatever you need me to be.”

I almost snapped at Hunter, but instead, a heavy breath dragged through me.

I almost accused him of not being able to understand because he wasn’t a fool like me.

I almost swore at him, called him untrue names, and made vague threats to make him leave me.

I almost lashed out, my fingers itching to curl into a fist and knock him back into the wall.

Almost. Almost. Almost.

Instead of all the things I almost did, I took in deep breaths and did the one thing I had never done before. I looked into Hunter’s calm, steady, eyes and didn’t look away, facing a fear I hadn’t realized I had until that moment. The fear of being judged and found inadequate.

If you’ve found this someone in your life, that someone who is your anchor, you know what this moment is like. If you haven’t found them yet, I hope you do. To allow someone in enough to trust them with the real you — it’s something special.

This is what Desperation, what The Animus series, is about. Finding that someone who is your anchor, that perfect balance to the shit storm your inner thoughts can become, and the one you maybe think you aren’t good enough for.

Purchase Desperation today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or from your local book store. Though it’s currently available in paperback, the eBook is coming!


(Paper back only!!! Gotta love that Amazon engine playing games)


Desperation: Now Available!

Desperation is now readily available on all platforms! Or, at least some of the biggest ones. Enjoy free delivery through Amazon or Barnes & Noble? Want to support local book stores? You can have it all and eat it too (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Amazon: Desperation (Paperback only! Gotta love Amazon engine goofs)

Barnes & Noble: Desperation

Support a Local Book Shop:


Writing Roots

For every good story, there’s an amazing beginning.

Writing a book isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time, dedication and creativity. Getting started is a hurdle all on its own. Getting past the first chapter is a battle of wills. And outlining? Don’t even get me started on outlining. Even mostly done with the second novel in the series, I have yet to even feign mastery.

While high school is technically how far back my writing roots go, I’d like to focus on the more recent efforts that got me to where I could write my novels.

Growing up, I was what you might call a nerd. I spent my days watching anime, spending money on manga, and gossiping with my best friend about what happened in the latest episodes. My fascination wasn’t with how crazy or cute something was, it was how someone could translate the crazy in their head into something so fantastic. Take my favorite anime of all time, Bleach. This show’s entire focus is on an entire world with which normal humans don’t have the ability to interact. I loved to dream about the what if. What if it were real? If it was real, what else could be real?

Take a big ol’ leap in time forward to 2016. I was a full-time student, and an INFP (Myers Briggs). For my fellow Percievers out there, you know what it’s like to procrastinate. I love to procrastinate. It’s like, my favorite thing of all time and I’m exceptional at it. So, what do I do when I’m putting off studying or doing homework? I went back and read the book I wrote in high school.


That’s the best word to describe that book. I wrote it for my Senior Project. Arts and crafts and writing that book were the only things in my life that I hadn’t procrastinated about. I worked day and night on that thing, and it was awful. If I put an excerpt from it in here, you’d never bother reading my novels now. It was that bad.

Having been years between the me that wrote that book and the me reading that book, I got a crazy idea.

What if I rewrote it?

It seemed like a great idea, but I was a bit of a realist. If I took that book and rewrote it, would it be any better? Probably not. How could it be better? What did I need to do to make this book awesome?

I needed practice.

And this is where everything comes full circle.

Have you heard of fanfiction? No? Well, you’re in for a treat. Ever watched a movie and went, what if this happened instead? That’s the root of all fanfiction. They’re stories written by fans, set in the world of the thing they’re fans of. For some people, it’s Harry Potter and writing a steamy romance with Malfoy and an original character they’ve inserted into the world. For others, it’s adding an extra dwarf to the Lord of the Rings and wreaking havoc. For me, it was adding my own characters into the world of Bleach.

For me, this was great practice. It allowed me to play with a world, to figure out how the heck English grammar works again, how to develop characters and how to make something that had plot (its way harder than it seems).

This was also the encouragement I needed to tackle writing an entire book. Part of it was the reviews and getting constant feedback on my work. The other, more impactful part was completing three entire stories without ever seeing them on paper. When I finished the first, I was giddy and had learned so much it was almost overwhelming. When the second came to a close, it was more than a sense of accomplishment. And the third? I knew I was ready for my book.

If you’re interested in peeking in at these earlier (very lightly edited) works, they’re posted on


Pre-Order: Desperation

Four years. You wouldn’t think it takes that long to write, edit, edit, edit, and publish a book. Where some journeys to book shelves take six months, mine took four years, or fifteen if you count the very first version I wrote years ago. This book is my proof that if you keep at something, you can make it happen.

One day…


Once upon a time.

And that’s exactly what this book is. It’s my fairy tale, though it’s far darker than anything you’d find in a Disney movie, but also more real.

Do you love the dynamic between Cinderella and Prince Charming, the drama of Belle and Beast and the sex appeal of Damon and Elena?

Do you fantasize about the Fae, dream of Demigods and Demons, and wish there were more than Humans in this world?

I’ve got you covered, assuming you answered yes to any of those. Which, really, you should have.

Charlotte grew up being in love with the man she was promised to marry. Aurek was a warrior, a Daeva Prince to equal her Daeva Princess, and meant to protect their people when they took the throne. Where she was spoiled and young, he was patient and understanding. When she had outbursts, he was there to sooth her naive woes. It was a perfect match, just like her parents intended.

Until he murdered them.

Hiding was something she never thought she would achieve. It was only a matter of time. But hours became days, and days became years. The thought of being found slipped away, becoming nothing but nightmares and memories. Her and her sister made a life in a world filled with technology, hiding amongst Humankind despite being nothing so simple. They were safe, and it was all that mattered.

Until he found them.