Dive on in to the epic fantasy world of Azuria! Below you’ll find the prologue for Buried Heroes!
The sharp ends of tree branches tore at Yvayne’s face and hair as she darted through the forest. Her breaths came quickly, her heart pumping adrenaline into her veins to maximize the fleeting seconds she might have before Lucien captured his prey.
Yvayne discarded the flashes of regret behind her flying footsteps. After she saved Fhaona, she could apologize for dismissing her. She only needed to ensure the survival of one more druid in the world. They were each necessary to the others.
Fhaona’s role had to be more complex than sacrifice.
A scream flickered through the trees ahead, and Yvayne groaned, pushing herself harder. What had happened? Had he caught the elf already?
She called on the latent fae energy buried deep within. Green ripples of vitality ricocheted off nearby branches and joined her magical aura. Only used as a last resort, this gathering of natural power would serve as a beacon, declaring her position to the dark forces that sought to destroy her and her allies. But in this moment, she had to see what transpired, despite the loss of anonymity.
Yvayne’s vision narrowed; her eyes burned, molten gold, as nearby spirits surrounded her. They blotted out any details she didn’t need to see, freed her focus to the two souls ahead. Ancient lines of sacred trees, rooted through centuries of upheaval elsewhere in the world, crashed into one another in the corners of her eyes as the spirits swarmed around them, dimming their visual presence. They would be there, waiting for her after the confrontation was over. Fhaona might not be.
A wing of possibility caught on the wind. Fhaona fled, and the forest grew behind her feet to protect her—perhaps Lucien might be stopped this time.
But she was already too late.
A few thousand feet ahead of Yvayne’s pounding footsteps, at the edge of her heightened senses, the attack unfolded.
Fhaona fell, exhausted, at the base of a towering silver tree. The scarlet canopy of the autumnwood above her trembled, and the leaves recoiled as evil stalked closer to the elven druid, one of their protectors against the greedy ravages of the outside world. Even from a great distance, Yvayne could feel the tree’s desire to catch Fhaona in its branches, but something held it fast.
A tall, cloaked figure glided closer to the woman’s shaking form. As Lucien’s fungus-ridden cape caressed the earth, the young grasses and freshly fallen tree petals became perfumed with the stench of death.
“Fhaona,” his voice sighed out, half from his mouth, half from his decaying throat. The elf screamed in terror as her eyes lit upon his face. “You are perhaps the most interesting of those I’ve tracked. The greatest challenge, we’ll say, if that’s of any comfort.”
The druid tried to pick herself up from the ground, but Lucien withdrew a thin, gray-green arm from beneath his robe and, with a simple twirl of his long, delicate fingers, her body grew rigid, and she collapsed back to the forest floor.
Yvayne ran faster, trying desperately to arrive before he was able to finish his task, but already, the silver-tinged glow faded from the elven woman’s face.
With a cry that originated from her very core, Fhaona arched her back against the magic holding her and clutched at the moon-shaped charm around her neck. Yvayne felt the despair as her own when the druid was unable to shape-shift, a special ability enabled by the crescent pendant. A low sob escaped from Fhaona’s throat as she grabbed on to a root with her other hand and pulled herself forward. Surely in this moment, the forest would be able to protect her.
She could sense Fhaona willing an explosion of vines into existence. Again the forest’s desire pulsed in Yvayne’s heart, but no vines appeared. Fhaona’s labored breathing pressed on her ears, urgent, and Yvayne shuddered at the heavy, wet breaths of the pursuer. Beneath each of their exhalations of life and death, the burnished oak and her fellows groaned; no matter the power of the spell or their own wishes, they could do nothing to aid Fhaona.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk, my dear.” A gray-green hand reached down toward the druid’s walnut-brown hair and selected a set of lightly curled strands. She looked up at him in horror as each breath grew more strained in her chest cavity. “You won’t be able to perform any of your tricks in my presence.” Lucien withdrew his other bony, half-decomposed hand from beneath his robes to show her the large black ring that clung to his rotting finger.
“It took quite a long while to discover these, hidden away within the Shadowlands. But I succeeded nonetheless. I have an excess of time now, as you and your kind once did.” He smiled.” But, my, how things change. Darkstones were designed to restrict other magical energies, particularly nature-based magics as”—he inhaled deeply over her head—“yours most certainly seems to be.”
Yvayne leapt over a fallen tree. She would be upon them in a moment. Spectral faery wings sprouted from her shoulders, and another breath of hope entered her lungs. Stay strong, Fhaona.
“Relax, and this will all be over soon,” Lucien purred. He twirled Fhaona’s hair in his hand. Yvayne choked on bile at the sight. If she could catch him and rescue Fhaona, they could bring an end to this particular aspect of their greater enemy. Alessandra wouldn’t expect to lose one of her servants so soon.
Fhaona’s hand darted out and struck Lucien’s throat. The elven woman was more powerful than he had reckoned, and the darkstone didn’t render her immobile as it did many of the others. The contact with his skin covered the back of Fhaona’s hand in pus and spores. She screamed as the poison began to do its work, nearly all her energy sapped by the necrotic ring.
Lucien clutched his hand to his neck and growled. His fingers dug in and reformed the injured areas in a fresh layer of fungus. “Enough. I grow tired of this.” He snapped his fingers, and the earth around Fhaona roiled. Two narrow sets of feline shoulders emerged from the soil, and warm dirt cascaded to the ground.
“No!” Yvayne shouted. If she could distract him with more promising prey, perhaps she could save Fhaona.
“Madeline, Micaela, show our guest below.” Lucien’s cold, dead eyes searched the clearing until he found Yvayne’s speeding form closing the distance between them. The corners of his mouth lifted.
Shadows continued to rise from beneath the earth and took the shape of two hulking tigers made of smoke and darkness. Their entry left open an abyss that led directly to the Shadowlands.
“I’ll send my regards to your mother then, shall I?” Lucien called out to Yvayne.
Fhaona opened her mouth to scream, but the dark maws that had emerged from the depths claimed her body and dragged her below.
“Fhaona!” Yvayne cried. Her wings, finally ready, lifted her into the air and propelled her the remaining distance to the clearing as the druid slipped beneath the surface. At the edge of the darkstone’s sphere of influence, twenty feet off the ground, the magic pulsing inside her stopped, and her wings vanished. She didn’t need her special vision to see Lucien’s smirk as she plummeted to the earth below. Her momentum dragged her along the forest floor, and she collided with the base of one of the grove’s oldest trees. Her breath burst from her body.
Lucien stood over her panting frame. “I have been expecting you, Yvayne. I am pleased you did not miss your cue. We shall meet again soon.” The lich’s foul form floated into the portal he had summoned between the planes and disappeared deep into the realm of shadow.
Yvayne lay motionless on the ground, unable to pick herself up. When her breath finally returned, she scrambled forward to where Fhaona had lain only moments before. The druid’s crescent-moon necklace rested against the leaves and scattered dirt. The gold charm was cold even though it had recently rested so close to the heart of its keeper.
Had Fhaona left it behind on purpose, knowing her successor was coming soon?
“Please, I only need a few days,” Fhaona had said after she arrived outside Yvayne’s secluded home high in the Frostmaw Mountains.
“It’s too dangerous for us to be so close together. He’ll sense it.”
“Yvayne, he already has. He’s following me.”
“So you decided to lead him here?” She shut her eyes against the memory. If Fhaona had known to come find her then, just on the edge of their waiting’s end, it would only be a matter of time before Lucien made moves of his own if he hadn’t already. She needed to act, now.
Yvayne ran her fingers over the dry leaves that had last touched the druid, their life suddenly sucked away as Fhaona’s would soon be inside Lucien’s lair. She pulled their corpses into her chest as she sobbed. There was one less soul in their conclave. Fhaona was gone. She had failed again.
A breeze of cool night air roused her from the ground. Whispers darted through the trees, vying for her attention. The spirits knew another was coming, someone returned, yet new. The ancient mountain site was only a few days’ travel to the south. She had time to prepare. Yvayne’s cheeks lifted against her dried tears as she smiled. For the first time, they would have the upper hand.