A fairy tale short story that takes place in the Fourth Layer of the Ren Crown world.
Back cover copy
In a world of incredible creatures, lush landscapes, and dark energy, the vestal Tender of the Garden saves the Dark Prince of the Cruel Lands—who is fated to kill her, but falls in love with her instead.
The dome stretched over her, crackling and swirling with ghostly white light. It was her sanctuary and prison; her commitment and sacrifice.
Lush vines twined lovingly around her as shabby beastlets and gloriously built creatures prowled the outermost ley circle surrounding the dome’s perimeter. The dark energy and magical promise of divine ability called them forth.
A group of macaw-emus with brilliantly bejeweled heads and necks atop large, flightless bodies brushed the edges of the magic and transformed into their hybrid antithesis—emu-macaws with small heads, large eyes, and swift, long-tailed forms. They flew gracefully up into the erythrina trees and their glorious red tail feathers glittered in the rays of filtered sunlight.
The ears of a panther-wolf twitched suddenly, its easy lope frozen as it approached the outermost circle, one paw hovering over one of the eight ley lines embedded in the earth that symmetrically converged on the Nexus at the center of the dome. The predator jerked back, stumbled, and fled, setting every animal around it in motion. The grove emptied in sudden terror as the Northeastern Ley vibrated in warning.
The vines clinging to her slid along her skin in anticipation. Soon, soon, they said in the language of the garden.
Lirah ran her hand along their spiked bodies and waited for the monster that all feared.
The purple oaks shook above him, shedding their crisp bronze leaves and leaving a soft brass sheen to the canopy as he emerged from the dense brush. Bronze fell in feathered tears from the sky, mixing with the purple, green, and rose of the felm trees and the turquoise of the fanlee bushes.
The massive creature prowled forth over the fallen foliage. Lethal claws and shifting indigo scales glinted under the rays of sunlight piercing through the trees, then darkened again in shadow.
Impenetrable wings were tucked beneath equally impenetrable scales. In this form, his ability to take down anything he wished within fighting range invalidated the use of aerial needs.
“Magnificent,” she whispered.
There was hunger in his eyes as he prowled sinuously toward her, but even though he had been lured to the dome consistently since the Trigger, not the faintest hint of recognition appeared. Prized and feared in this form—even his own kin ran from him when he was unleashed, fleeing ahead of the devastation he always left behind.
In this magically-induced and uncontrollable form, fiercer than any predator hybrid ever known, Set Tyrne, the Dark Prince of the Cruel Lands, never left survivors.
And at the completion of the current moon cycle, he would be the instrument of her death.
His predatory gaze didn’t leave hers, and his spade tale swung in a mesmerizing rhythm that she had seen countless opponents fall before. Piranha-sharp teeth, and talon edged ears created a reasonable backdrop to the copious amounts of blood striping his body.
“Do you think you will break through this time, Berserker?”
“You will not.”
He launched himself at the dome. Lightning crackled across the curvature, electrocuting him every time he touched it, but the pain never made him pause.
Lirah stepped closer and placed her left hand against the magic, trying to feel the echo of the shocks—to feel something, anything, from the outside world—then slid her gaze along the perimeter of the grove, an instinctive check to make certain no one was watching. But the action was unwarranted. No one risked being near Set Tyrne in this form.
She pressed harder, trying to feel the reverberations of magic or the touch of his skin. There were no leykeepers or kingservants to watch or berate her for her misconduct. In these moments…in these moments, she was free.
With her other hand, she stroked the plants twining around her—let them wrap her palm and the back of her hand. The rough texture on the backside of a leaf rolled and turned to caress her with its satin-smooth front. The tip of the leaf drew along her wrist, its red venom tip skating along her flesh, but not breaking the skin.
Creatures and magical beings were, to a one, terrified of the beast raging against the barrier of the dome. But she, who was surrounded by deadly things, thought him magnificent.
He clawed wildly at the magic of her enclosure. But made of creation magic at its densest levels, there was no creature in the five kingdoms—not even one such as Set Tyrne—that could penetrate it.
Until the Renewal Moon. The sacrifice. Her sacred duty.
Finally, spent, Set collapsed onto the mossy carpet between leys, his impenetrable scales glinting as he breathed heavily.
She crouched in front of the interior ley circle and placed a hand on cold metal. It warmed immediately beneath her palm and a tiny amount of the magic she was allotted each day shot out along the ley line, spreading and warming the grass outside the dome.
Her magic healed his wounds as he returned slowly to his human form.
In the moonlight, scales and silver scars glinted just beneath the surface of his skin as he covered his face with his hands.
In a moon cycle of the past, he would never have shown such vulnerability. He would not have cared. Dark Prince of the Cruel Lands—no one had earned a title more.
She touched him again with the only thing she could—the magic that ran between the inside and outside of her prison and sanctuary.
“I can’t stop it,” he said—her love, her death, her enemy mere moons ago—in the rough voice she cherished most, even after becoming reacquainted with the beautiful sounds of the outside world.
When the growing moon reached its peak fullness, the magic of the dome would cease for the few moments her death would take, and the man in front of her would not recognize her until long after she lay dead upon the garden’s floor.
“I can’t stop it,” he repeated.
Her hand stroked the ley, soothing him in the only way that she could. “I know.”
Nexus, Leys, and Tribes Map
The ley slices of the Five Kingdoms, where each of the referenced tribes live (and/or rule), surrounding the Nexus and Garden. This map is included in the Tender of the Garden novella!