Prologue for Hadvarian Heist: Book Two in the Age of Azuria epic fantasy series
Below, you’ll find the prologue for Hadvarian Heist, book two in the Age of Azuria series.
Yvayne pulled aside the mists that separated the planes of life from one another. Disturbed spirits swirled through the ether. More than a century had passed since her last visit to the Shadowlands. But as the ancient conflict rekindled and the war began anew, they would need allies.
Besides, Apollo owed her a favor.
The guardian turned slowly at her approach through the dark corridors of his dwelling. His black wings hissed as they trailed across the stone floor. “The one who travels through mist has come to see me at last.”
Yvayne stared into Apollo’s golden eyes. “Certainly you know why I am here.”
Darkness swirled around the borders of the circular stone courtyard. The pathway she’d traversed to stand before the guardian had disappeared the moment she stepped into the chamber. Flashes of light danced through the murky shadows around them. Apollo’s servant spirits, the vulpine, whispered. They were surprised by her return.
“I had expected you to come sooner.” Apollo’s voice rumbled out across the courtyard, unimpeded by the black leather mask that concealed the entirety of his face, save the glowing eyes.
“I have many pressing matters to attend to in Azuria. You are well aware of this.” Yvayne stretched her fingers, willing herself to be patient. He would agree to help her, eventually. It was only a matter of how long it might take. And of what he decided he wanted from her in return.
Apollo’s boots clicked on granite stones as he approached her. The sides of his eyes crinkled as he smiled from behind the mask. “I hear your thoughts while you are in my realm, Yvayne. You fear what I will ask of you.”
“Your requests have been unreasonable in the past.”
The spirits hissed all around her but stopped as the guardian raised his fist for silence. “Mistress Yvayne comes to us for aid,” he said to the darkness, cupping the bottom of her chin in his hand, “and we are here to help, are we not?” Yvayne’s eyes flashed, and the guardian chuckled. He released her and stepped back. “How is your new pet? The garnet-haired druid? Is she indeed one who has returned?”
She scowled in reply. “We shall see.” There was no need for the guardian to be informed of the entirety of the situation. He needed only to know enough to be prepared to intervene should the tide turn early. “Lucien’s spirit has been sent back to this realm. At the very least, I need to know when he leaves.”
“And at the very most, dear Yvayne?”
Her teeth ground together in irritation. It had been foolish to expect a more reasoned response from the self-assured guardian, insulated in his dim domain.
She could turn that to her favor though. Yvayne raised an eyebrow, her eyes flickering over the powerful being before her. Apollo rolled his shoulders back beneath her gaze, sending ripples down the thick onyx feathers of his wings. “You could actually exert yourself and try to stop him.”
Laughter echoed up from behind her, cascading around the room as it grew in volume. A trick of the chamber’s acoustics. Apollo shook his head, his unseen smile brightening his eyes. “What an intriguing idea, but I think not. I won’t be swayed so easily this time around.”
“Do you find this a change from your actions before?” Yvayne crossed her arms, scolding herself for traveling here first. She still had allies among the Brightlands fae. Even reasoning with the angels would have been less tedious than this.
“No need to bring them into it.” Apollo’s eyes narrowed.
So he truly was observing her thoughts. “Name your price, and I’ll be on my way.”
“I’m surprised you think so little of me, Yvayne.” The guardian tucked long arms behind his back, pacing in a circle around her along the borders of the room. “You see, I have already begun to play.”
“Play?” A rush of cold flooded Yvayne’s senses. What had he done?
Apollo chuckled again, the heels of his boots grating across the floor. Yvayne pressed her shoulders down, steeling herself against the hair that rose down the length of her neck. “One of your flock is of great interest to me. A certain saudad with hazel eyes.”
A torrent of violet flame erupted from Yvayne and streaked across the room at the guardian. Apollo waved his hand and brushed it aside, sending the fire to sizzle harmlessly in the surrounding shadows.
Green and copper eyes reflected the light of the flames back to her. Apollo’s fox-servants tilted their heads in interest.
He knew interfering with the saudad was forbidden.
“She is only half saudad,” Apollo whispered, reading her thoughts.
A growl flickered in the back of Yvayne’s throat. “Persephonie is no concern of yours.” She turned to go, but a powerful hand reached out and seized her shoulder. Her body went rigid at his touch, and he leaned down, the sides of his jaw grazing her pointed ear as he spoke.
“You forget with whom you are dealing,” Apollo whispered. “I wish her no harm. Why are you so quick to assume we must all follow Lucien’s cursed path?” The guardian slid in front of her, his wings outstretched to block her path.
Lucien had destroyed more than the two of them could ever express. But he was right. Not all guardians were doomed to the lich’s corrupted fate.
Apollo, intrigued by her thoughts, raised his eyebrows, his black-gloved fingers drumming against one another. “I have my own promises to maintain, Mistress Yvayne.” He sighed and lowered his head. Yvayne struggled against his spell’s hold. The guardian waited for her mind and limbs to calm before lifting his eyes to hers. “Allow me to offer the girl a measure of protection.”
His spell loosened to allow Yvayne to speak. “Protection?” She frowned. “So that you can do what?”
He swept a gloved hand to the side as though his proposal were as simple as an acorn stretching limbs out through air and earth to become an oak. “I might please Cassandra, for starters.” A flash of golden eyes once more. “And I think you’ll agree it would be nice to have the fates on our side.”
Yvayne pursed her lips. There was more he neglected to say.
Apollo raised a gloved finger. “But if that’s not enough for you, I have an active interest in the fate of the city.” He leaned his masked face against his glove. “The outlaws specifically.”
Yvayne stepped back, breaking the last vestige of his holding spell. Why would he have allied himself with the few remaining natural casters in Andel-ce Hevra? “You cannot be serious.”
His golden eyes glittered.
Yvayne frowned. “Why?” How was she going to tell Persephonie’s father of the guardian’s plans? This news would devastate Cassian. But the saudad would not easily allow his daughter to part from his side. He knew as well as any the severity of the stakes taking shape around them.
“I made a promise to help the band of outlaws in the city for my own reasons that are”—the guardian squinted up at the shadow ceiling—“mostly benevolent. What do they call themselves? The Untamed?”
Yvayne stepped closer to the guardian. “Help them how?”
Apollo shrugged and retracted his wings to resume his pacing. “I promised survival, what else?”
Yvayne herself up to her full height, her eyes even with Apollo’s covered lips. “Survival is not enough.” A circle of purple flame erupted around the two of them, locking them together and keeping the vulpine beyond the guardian’s grasp. “Are you going to actively help them against the entrenched powers of the city? The Council of Andel-ce Hevra is powerful enough to send a werewolf pack to destroy an entire druid conclave. Do they have any idea of Lucien’s involvement, of his twisted forces strengthening the council’s foul roots? What they’re truly up against?”
The guardian chuckled as he glanced down at Yvayne. “No, they do not. But I do.” He reached toward one of her dark blue braids, and she fought back the urge to smack his hand away. Apollo was too used to his charm allowing him free reign with the denizens of Azuria. She had a longer memory than they.
But she’d also seen his grief when they failed to prevent Alessandra and her minions before. How to remind him of that and convince him this time would be different?
“That’s not good enough, and you know it,” Yvayne said. She’d start with an appeal to his pride. “Your followers in the city think of you as a guiding spirit. Someone to help them.” She narrowed her gaze. “And here you are, playing tricks.”
Apollo flinched. She had hit a nerve. Good.
Yvayne crossed her arms over her chest. “Why are you intervening, then? And tell me, exactly, what your intentions are for Persephonie and how you’re going to help her in the city.”
The flames stretched higher, turning from violet to black. They wrapped around the stone columns that stretched into the shadow space around his sanctum.
The smirk fell from the guardian’s expression. “I’ve no desire to allow Lucien free reign in Andel-ce Hevra. He deserves a challenge at the very least which, I surmise by your presence here, you are not prepared to pose, or at least not yet.”
She lowered the tongues of flame slightly. “And what of Persephonie?”
Apollo lifted his chin. “I’ll send a vulpine to protect her.”
Yvayne nodded. “And . . .”
The guardian ground his teeth together. “And I’ll make sure that she and her mother do more than survive.”
“Hmm.” Yvayne scowled, considering. How long ago had their last conversation of this sort been? Apollo had been more pliable in the earlier rounds of the cyclical war, less inured to the separateness of life as a guardian.
He had come to stand by her side as the last war’s final cadences reverberated through her chest, when she reached her hand forward to close Rowan’s bright green eyes. Yvayne’s tears had fallen as beads of ice as she draped the elf’s hands over her heart space and removed the shepherd’s amulet from her chest—the amulet Iellieth now bore. “Now you know what it is to live as we do,” he had said. “Though your path is different, Yvayne, it too is one you must walk alone.” His half-smile had tugged against his dark lips. “But those who walk as we do, from one age into another, we cannot help but hope for what we can never have.”
For now, she would set the terms of his interference. Perhaps he might be drawn in to the larger conflict from there. “You’re not to speak to Persephonie.”
He inclined his head.
“Or to appear to her in dreams.”
One eye shrunk as he grinned. “As you wish.”
“And tell whichever vulpine you’re sending that she’ll have her hands full.”
Apollo laughed, his eyes brightening. “Of that, I have no doubt.” He caught her hand in his, giving her fingers a gentle squeeze. It always amazed her how quickly the guardians’ emotions could change. “Thank you,” he said softly.
“There’s one other thing.”
Apollo peered down at her, curiosity flickering behind his gaze.
“If there comes a time when she needs to leave the city, or be returned to her people, you’ll take her if I cannot.”
Apollo folded and unfolded his wings, maintaining his stare. A cool breeze ricocheted across the circular chamber.
“Lucien has returned to his full strength.” Yvayne’s voice was clipped and cold. “The girl could be a target if he grows desperate enough. If you won’t stand up to him, or at the very least watch his movements, I’ll have little choice in the matter. And that leaves her and the others vulnerable.”
The guardian’s arms crossed. “I can sense him, but—”
“No.” Yvayne shook her head. “This is not a game, Apollo. We do not know that this opportunity will present itself again.”
Apollo shook off Yvayne’s reprimand and his own hatred of their old enemy to affect overconfidence once more. “I’ll keep a sharp eye.”
“See that you do.” He nearly destroyed us before. Who’s to say he won’t succeed if he tries again. There was no need to voice the warning aloud.“I will be watching you as you watch her.” It was Yvayne’s turn to smile. “Perhaps she’ll pull you in deeper as I cannot.”
Apollo’s jaw stretched the bottom of his mask but clamped back closed.
“And in the meantime, I have more allies in mind.” Yvayne brushed aside the black and violet flames, striding toward the swirling smoke where she knew a door would appear.
Apollo’s voice caught her shoulder, asking her to wait before crossing the threshold. “Which ones?”
She glanced back, her own eyes flashing. “Who do you think?”
The guardian threw his arms into the air. “The Brightlands fae? You cannot be serious! They’re not going to intervene.”
Yvayne grinned. “You did.” Her foot stepped through shadow onto the stone pathway beyond. Spirit guardians and the Brightlands fae had a long-standing rivalry. Apollo would do what was required if it prevented one of them from interfering in what he considered his own territory. She could stop and warn Cassian on the way.
The guardian had been right in what he told her before. Near-immortals couldn’t help but fall for the vibrancy of those they watched, however unwise it was to do so, however much pain they would live with from that moment forward.
It seemed that he had forgotten, but it was something she knew better than most.
New to the world of Azuria? Start your adventure with Buried Heroes, book one in the Age of Azuria series!