by Jen Lawrence
Every Guardian was born a warrior with powerful magic and a soulmate to complete her. All except for Luna, it seemed, who despite having mastered her craft, continued her fight in solitude.
She was an enigma in their society—alone for far longer than any Guardian before her. Still, Luna remained hopeful that one day her soulmate would find her, and all the tender yearning would have been worth it.
Then Gia stumbles into her life. Gia—who lives a Human life, in Human glamour, with a Human fiancé.
Now Luna finds herself questioning everything that she—and the Guardians—have believed in for millennia.
“Love isn’t always enough.” Luna had always understood the words, but she had never actually believed them.
|Publication Date||August 12, 2021|
|Cover Designer||Heather Honeywell|
A dull clattering sounded as another piece of pitch-black armour fell onto the mahogany floor. Dirtied sabatons were pulled off, followed by a chest plate splattered with dark red. Exhausted, muscles stiff and sore, Luna pressed a hand over the torn silver skin on her upper arm, gold blood seeping through slender fingers while she applied pressure. Dressed in a black doublet and a matching pair of tights, she lightly limped down the hall and into her spacious bathroom.
The white marble tiles were soothingly cool on her bare feet and she headed for the medicine cabinet, removing a glass vial of healing potion. Popping the cork with her thumb, she quickly downed the thick liquid and ran her tongue across her teeth in an attempt to rid herself of the saccharine taste.
Discarding the flask in the waste bin, Luna opened the golden faucet on the side of the claw-foot porcelain tub, a strong stream of crystal-clear water running out. After depositing a few drops of bath oil, she finished undressing and turned to the full-length mirror, examining her willowy frame for further injury.
She tentatively ran her fingers over her silver skin, gently tracing the dark yellow bruises that had bloomed on her side and thigh. Three raw gashes crossed her upper arm but would disappear entirely within the following three days. She gathered her mass of wavy obsidian hair, tying it into a messy bun, and tilted her face to the side to get a better view of the red blood smears that covered her cheek and neck, right below a long pointy ear.
Her eyelids narrowed over inky black irises.
Chimeras had the head of a lion, a goat torso growing from their side, and a tail embodying a venomous snake, with a head able to strike just as fast. There had been two of them in the earlier battle. An enthralled mother whose juvenile offspring had joined the altercation later. Luna had just managed to save the mother when the juvenile pounced, wild and reckless, impaling itself on her sword.
She shuddered and inhaled the soothing floral scent emanating from the bathtub, loosening her tight shoulders. Another deep breath, and she walked over to the glass encased shower in the corner, opened the doors, and quickly washed the dirt and grime from her hair and body. Once done, she twisted the gold-plated taps shut, exited the stall, and gracefully climbed into the filled tub.
Nearly nine feet tall, Luna submerged into the warm water with a contented sigh and absently traced the cool faucet with the pads of her fingertips, blunt obsidian nails occasionally tapping against the metal. Her wound dully ached but, thanks to the potion, it had become more of a light irritation. She closed her eyes and attempted to clear her mind to help her battered body rest and recover.
The chimera mother’s mournful cry echoed in her mind and Luna swallowed the thick lump in her throat, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. One heart and three heads. The lion’s maw had been ready to sever her head. It had been instinct on her part to move into a defensive stance, a century of training turned to effortless precision.
The worst part was that the chimeras hadn’t meant to attack her. The mother couldn’t help it and the juvenile had been trying to protect his mother. Pushing back the image of the chimera desperately nudging the unmoving body of her child, Luna inhaled a steadying breath and purposely relaxed the muscles in her face. Another deep breath and she focused on the buzz of magic in her veins to help heal her faster.
Inhale and exhale… Inhale and exhale…until her mind cleared and her body unspooled.
Not long into her deep meditation, a soft familiar tug in her chest had her eyes fly open.
In fear of losing the feeling, she remained as still as a statue, only her heart frantically thumped against her ribs when the tug gradually grew stronger and her tight grip on the edge of the tub increased with it.
She hadn’t ever felt the Call that clearly before.
Over two hours later, neck stiff with tension, water cold and silver skin wrinkly, the feeling had grown so intense, Luna threw herself out of the tub, water splashing everywhere. She grabbed a white fluffy towel, drying off while she walked down the hall and entered her bedroom.
The large bed was covered in handmade black and white bedding and flanked by two black side tables that mimicked the colour scheme of the entire space. Across from it, an intricately carved wardrobe stood near the door. On the other side of the room a menagerie of white pillows decorated a window seat next to the corner where her armour display stand stood mounted atop a chest of drawers.
She pulled on a silky black dress that flowed down her body to her ankles, starkly contrasting against her skin. Thin straps covered her shoulders, revealing prominent collarbones and a long elegant neck. Loosening her hair, Luna glanced in the mirror on her dresser, at the damp obsidian waves that fell all the way to the centre of her back. She shakily tucked some behind the pointy tip of an ear, making sure she’d washed off all the blood, and for the first time in her life, second-guessed her appearance.
The uncertainty couldn’t keep the wide smile from her face, though, and her dark eyes sparkled in anticipation. Her heart hadn’t ceased its frantic rhythm and the Call had settled in her chest, warm and buzzing, making her feel slightly dizzy. There was hardly time for deliberation on looks, though, and Luna’s heart excitedly skipped a beat. Barefoot, she padded down the hall, past the black marble floors and dark granite countertops of her white kitchen, and the wooden floors, soft cream carpets and warm brown leather of her living room.
She exited the front door, went down the three wooden steps that led up her wraparound porch, crossing a lush green lawn, but stopped in the centre of it. The colourful flowers that lined the edges of the grass and sat in pots on the porch, some ranking up the thin white pillars, trellises and railings, went unnoticed. Instead, Luna’s attention was drawn toward the edge of the forest that cupped the back and sides of her cottage.
Each species of tree and shrubbery varied in a stunning array of pastel-coloured leaves. Light pinks, blues, and lilacs mixed in with whites were thickly cropped together. And in the shadows they cast, an unfamiliar white pegasus stomped its hoof and shook its head. Its long mane whipped across its muscular neck and flickered the same light pink flames that tipped its wings, made up its tail, and licked at its hooves.
Luna’s toes curled into the grass in delight and she had to remind herself to breathe. The pegasus was exquisite, because of course it would be. Even from that distance Luna could sense familiarity in the magic it emanated. Its appearance only solidified the realness of what she was feeling.
The pegasus nickered, shook its fiery mane and impatiently trotted in place.
Luna looked up into the pale orange sky, the late afternoon sun shining bright red on its way to set behind a magenta ocean. It looked like an ordinary day, almost too ordinary for such a life-altering event.
She closed her eyes and listened to the tug on her frantically beating heart and frowned when the location of the Call became clearer. Every Guardian she knew only went to that awful world when absolutely necessary.
Opening her eyes, she inhaled a deep breath and focused until the air in front of her grew thick, rippling like the surface of a puddle of water, before the particles seemed to separate, creating a vertical tear, edges burning with cerulean blue flames and revealing a dark murky void.
Luna stepped into it on trembling legs and the air curled like thick liquid around her, swallowing her up. When she walked out on the other side of the portal, she squinted at the sharpness of a yellow sun set against a light blue sky.
It was second nature to cloak herself the moment her feet touched the grass in front of a suburban home in Lur Tristea. A loud crash had her gaze snap to the spilt contents of a cardboard box. Broken pieces of ceramic plates littered the paved pathway that led from a moving truck in the street to a quaint two-story home. A Human-looking woman stood beside the carnage. She had golden brown skin, and long dark braids decorated with pretty silver pieces cascaded down her shoulders. The cloak rendered Luna invisible and yet wide hazel eyes stared directly at her, a trembling fist pressed to the woman’s heaving chest.
“Ree, are you okay out there?” a deep voice called from the house in that Tristean language that grated in Luna’s ears.
“Yes!” Ree cleared her throat, eyes trained on where Luna stood. “Tell Vanessa I said hi!”
“Wait for me to help you unload! Mom wants to talk to you too!”
“Be right there!” she called, but instead of going inside the house, she walked past Luna, both gasping when they nearly touched, and rounded the corner of the house.
Luna wordlessly trailed after her, completely confused.
Ree only stopped when they both stood hidden in the tight space between the brick wall and a concrete slab fence. “You can’t be here,” she whispered.
Their language fell from Ree’s lips in a stilted foreign way. Dumbstruck, Luna took in the garish green sundress she wore and scanned the Human face. Reaching out, she stopped herself inches from a pink-tinted cheek.
Ree shuddered and pushed her face closer to the invisible touch. “Show yourself…” she shakily said, her head level to Luna’s chest.
Luna immediately dropped the cloaking spell, her back straightening when Ree gasped, neck craning and gaze lingering on the wound on her arm, then dragging up to Luna’s face where it seemed to get stuck.
“I want to see you too,” Luna rasped, heart furiously pumping and ears burning hot.
“You need to leave.”
Bending at the waist, she searched those eyes that weren’t quite right, took in the oddness of the silver pieces of jewellery that decorated the side of Ree’s button nose and pierced her eyebrow. “Let me see you.”
“You know what I must look like.”
“I need to see.”
“I can’t. You need to leave.”
“What a strange thing to tell me.” Luna straightened again and tilted her head, utterly baffled. “Have you been in Tristea all this time?”
“Yes. Please, go…”
“Tell me your name.”
“Tell me your real name.”
A pink tongue licked over a full bottom lip, before a delicate jaw jutted out. “Argia Erretzea.”
“Argia Erretzea…” Luna murmured, smiling at how right the name sounded from her mouth. Guardians had existed for millennia, names were passed on like precious heirlooms. Argias were almost always either a Gia or an Ari. “Gia?”
Gia nodded, pressed up against the wall of the house despite them not being nearly as close as Luna would have liked.
“May I call you by that name?”
Another shaky nod and Luna grinned in pure happiness.
“My name is Gerlari Iluna,” she breathlessly offered, “though my Arima may call me Luna.”