Note From Author
I’m so happy to give y’all a sneak peek at A Shift in Wings before it comes out in January! Please note that the manuscript is currently in the hands of my copy-editor, so what you read below is not the final version and likely contains some grammar errors and typos. Any existing errors will be corrected prior to the official release.
“I’m going to enjoy the taste of your blood, valkyrie.”
“At least you’ll get to enjoy something before you die.” My golden wings beat strongly as I hovered in the sky a short distance from the seraph who’s brilliant white wings were moving slightly faster than mine because of their smaller size.
He was more agile than me and could maneuver faster in short distance. I could fly longer and in a straight shot would be faster. Thanks to the bloody history between our kinds, we were both well-versed in each others strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately for the seraph, my weaknesses were few, and he was just a scout which meant he wasn’t particularly skilled in battle.
Unfortunately for me there was a battalion of very skilled seraphs camped a short distance away and if I engaged with the scout here, I risked being spotted by them.
“Whenever possible, choose the location of your battle.” That was one of the many lessons I’d been working to instill in Bryn, my apprentice, and the young valkyrie had been eager to soak up my words. I’d do well to listen to my own advice now.
Trickery and underhandedness weren’t exactly tactics valued amongst the valkyrie. But thanks to being an exile and keeping rather nefarious company these days, my methods had expanded beyond my original training. It had bothered me at first, but I found myself caring less and less about using strategies that many would find unbecoming for a valkyrie.
I let my features shift into a mask of haughty arrogance with the same taunting smile I’d seen on Nemain’s face so many times. “Let’s see how fast you can fly on those pitiful wings, vermin.”
The seraph’s face twisted in rage as he dove for me. But even in this foreign realm, the skies belonged to me. My wings beat, fast and true, as I sped away from the scout. I looked over my shoulder to make sure he was following me, instead of doing the smart thing and returning to his unit to report what he had found.
Luckily for me, bloodlust was a common weakness among the seraphim, and this one was no exception. He didn’t hesitate as he raced after me. As if one seraph would ever be a match for a valkyrie.
Further and further we flew. Sometimes I’d slow enough just to give him the false impression that he was actually catching up to me before darting away again. Joy filled me as I flew, spinning and diving through the air, wind pulling at my hair.
The sun was almost completely down and the forests stretching beneath us were already dark and treacherous.
Sigrun, Viggo whined. I’m bored and hungry. We’re far enough away, quite toying with him.
Fine, I said reluctantly. Gunnar enjoyed flying as much as I did, but Viggo found it more of a chore. Pick a spot to make camp for the night and I’ll catch up to you.
Alright. Try not to coat yourself in blood this time. There aren’t any rivers nearby to wash up in.
I whirled around and hovered in place, waiting for the seraph to catch up. My fingers itched to pull the hammer from my back, but I withdrew the dagger from the sheath on my thigh instead.
“Got tired of running?” the seraph sneered when he finally caught up to me. “Didn’t know the valkyries were such cowards.”
I eyed him where his wings kept him suspended in the air, just out of strike range. It was odd to think that the humans had once worshipped them. Thinking they were messengers of some non-existent god. There were plenty of gods that did exist, but none of them associated with the seraphim. But for some reason the humans thought the seraphim were divine. Angelic.
The one in front of me had golden blond hair and bronze skin. His features were strong and masculine, not handsome, but powerful in a way that pulled you in. Maybe if he was lounging around playing a harp, I could see why the humans had deemed them beautiful. But the twin fangs that jutted out from a mouth that seemed to be fixed in a permanent sneer made him look more monstrous than anything else. The sharp talons at the end of his fingers were still stained in blood.
The seraphim had delighted in hunting humans before they’d been banished from that realm. And instead of celebrating, the humans had mourned the loss like the foolish species they were.
“Actually,” I drawled. “I just wanted to make sure we were far enough away from your friends that they wouldn’t be able to rescue you.”
“I will tear you to shreds and feast on your flesh,” he hissed before his wings snapped, propelling him forward. I twisted in the air, letting his talons breeze by me while I jammed my dagger into his back, right at the base of his left wing. A pained snarl ripped out of him as he spun, trying to tear out my throat with his claws. But his wing faltered, making his movement clumsy and I easily dodged his attack.
“I saw you the other day,” I said lightly. He struck at me again, still fixated on my throat, but I ducked my head so that his hit went high and wide over my shoulder. My dagger struck again, this time opening a wide gash down his chest. “You grabbed one of the human slaves and pulled them into the sky.”
“So what?” He laughed. “Does the valkyrie feel bad for the humans?”
“I don’t really give a shit about humans.” Not entirely true. I bore them no ill will and just kind of accepted that they were there. And did idiotic things like worships the monsters that hunted them down. Not the ones in this realm. They had no false beliefs around the seraphim. I’d been too far away to save the one yesterday, but I could avenge him today. “But that doesn’t mean they deserve to die cruelly.”
“They are beneath us,” he spat. “They exist only to serve. Or be a meal.”
A flicker of rage broke through my calm battle state and the hammer on my back instantly seized on it. My grip tightened around my dagger as I drew in a breath to settle the anger.
“Never allow strong emotions to dictate your actions. You cannot deny what you feel, but acknowledge the feelings and then put them aside.” That was a lesson that Bryn handled quite well. Despite her young age, Bryn was always the calm in the storm.
We continued dancing around in the air, the seraph grew sloppier with each attack. He was leaking blood from at least a dozen deep cuts and his wing was close to failing completely. My playtime was coming to an end. Pity.
This time when the seraph tried to strike at my side, below the ribs, I grabbed his arm and twisted. Hard. He screamed as tendons ripped and bones snapped. Before he could recover, I struck at his back, severing the tendons completely to one of his wings and wrapped my arms around him like a lover, his back to my chest. His one good arm clung to mine, his talons sinking into my flesh as I kept us both in the air.
“What do you think that human thought when you flew them far above the earth and let them fall?” I whispered into his ear. “Do you think you’ll have similar thoughts?”
I shoved him away from me and watched as he futilely tried to beat his wings. With one so badly damaged, he quickly lost altitude and went into a fast spin. The other wing snapped from the pressure of trying to stop his fall and a howl of agony filled the sky.
Good thing I had led us so far from the seraphim camp. I dove towards the falling angel, lazily circling around him as his descent continued, only pulling up when he was close to hitting the ground. Viggo was right. We weren’t near any rivers or lakes and I didn’t want to get caught in the splatter of blood and gore from him hitting the ground.
His scream was cut off with a loud thud, punctuated by multiples bones snapping.
“I hope you find more peace than you ever found in life, human,” I offered up the prayer. “And I hope the souls of Hel torment you a little longer, seraph.”
It would be days before the scout was missed, and even then, I doubted they would send anyone out to look for him. The seraphim regularly fought with each other. A scout was a low rank. His superior would just assumed he’d pissed off the wrong seraph and move on.
I glanced at my arm, the gouges left behind from his talons had already stopped bleeding. Another hour and they’d be gone completely. I twisted my head around, cracking the joints and releasing a little tension. This side endeavor with the scout wasn’t entirely responsible of me since I needed to remain unseen to finish my mission. But when I’d seen him fly off from the campsite, I couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity.
A valkyrie could only go so long without a good fight. And if that fight ended in the death of a mortal enemy? Even better.
The smokeless fire crackled and flickered in the night. Not for the first time, I wished Bryn was here. This would have been an excellent training opportunity for her and… I missed the young valkyrie. It had been a long time since I’d enjoyed the company of another valkyrie and felt that type of kinship. Even though Bryn hadn’t been raised among her own kind, and hadn’t even known she was a valkyrie until recently, her presence was familiar and soothed an old ache in my soul.
But her coming on this mission hadn’t been an option. Bryn’s grasp on the invisibility spell that we used to hide our wings or are entire bodies was still tenuous, often flickering out in times when she was stressed or distracted. Allowing a small trickle of magic to continually feed the spell would eventually become second nature to her. But she needed more time and a place to practice where the stakes weren’t so high.
Plus with Nemain and so many of the others gone in the dragon realm, Bryn wouldn’t have wanted to leave Finn alone no matter how well protected he was in Nemain’s apartment.
I stretched my hands towards the flames to warm them up a bit. The temperature shifts in this realm were rather extreme. The days were blazingly hot but as soon as the sun set, the night time air turned cold and crisp. The seraphim had fire magic coursing through their veins, not all of them could wield it, but even then they tended to burn hot. They probably enjoyed the cooler night temps whereas I only tolerated cold temperatures if there was snow involved, and there wasn’t a hint of snow around here.
My eyes flicked into the dark woods surrounding the small clearing, but I still saw no signs of Gunnar or Viggo. Rationally I knew they’d be find, but I still worried. If it’d been an option, I would have preferred they stay behind with Bryn and help watch over Finn. But Gunnar would have refused to leave my side, and Viggo would have thrown a fit if I’d taken Gunnar and not him. So I hadn’t even brought it up and just accepted they’d be coming along. It helped having others to take watch anyways so that I could rest.
I reached back and loosened the band holding my braids in a tightly coiled bun and rubbed at my scalp. The golden beads banded around the braids clacked against each other. They weren’t entirely practical because of the noise they made, but as long as my hair was tied up it was fine. Isabeau and Finn had offered them to me the last time Magos had braided my hair and I found myself unable to deny them.
When Magos had offered to rebraid my hair months ago, I’d been surprised but grateful because it was in desperate need of attention. While I was aware that many people found my body to be attractive, I wasn’t a vain person. My body was strong and served me well in battle.
But I had always loved my hair. The black strands were thick and curly and the feeling of the weight of the braids against my back had always been a source of comfort for me despite how often my mother had complained about them being impractical. When I’d first been exiled, I’d debated cutting off my hair. I no longer had anyone to help me maintain the braids and the thought of strangers touching my hair had left me unsettled.
In a rare bout of sheer stubbornness I’d refused to do so and had just handled braiding my hair on my own. The result wasn’t particularly pretty, but it wasn’t like I was trying to impress anyone.
Then I’d met Nemain.
The shifter had taken one look at my hair, laughed for a solid ten minutes, and then retrieved Kaysea and Pele to help.
I gazed into the fire, not even really seeing the flames anymore. I was currently coated in dirt and grime after a grueling few days and I needed to think of something else besides this godsforsaken realm so I let myself sink into a recent memory.
“You should have come sooner,” Magos tutted as my braids slipped through his fingers.
“It’s been a busy couple of weeks.” I shrugged even as I enjoyed the feeling of Magos’s attention. Our friendship was completely platonic. While I found him very attractive, it was hard not to considering he was built like a mountain and was a brilliant fighter, it was very clear he was still pining for a lost love. He wasn’t ready for anything else and I respected that.
“Taking breaks and allowing yourself some reprieve is just as important as physical training,” he lectured as he sectioned off my braids and set to the work of unraveling, and rebraiding them.
“It’s strange to be on the other side of a lecture.” I smiled. Magos wasn’t nearly as old as me, but he was probably wiser, as I learned a month ago when he was helping me train Bryn. I’d rolled my eyes at him saying he’d picked up some fighting styles in the human realm and he’d promptly put me on my ass with a move he’d learned from a Taekwondo dojo.
“One is never too old to learn.”
“I’m guessing you repeat that a lot around Nemain?”
He sighed. “At least twice a day.”
I smiled. Despite the sigh, I knew Magos loved being able to teach anyone who would listen. And Nemain, despite all her complaining, absolutely loved picking up new fighting styles. When I’d expressed interested in simply entertaining the idea of visiting some martial arts dojos, Nemain had dragged me through a gateway and we’d ended up halfway around the world to a dojo in Thailand. The dojo had been run by the same family for centuries and they had some sort of history with Magos. It’d been an eye-opening experience and I had begrudgingly admitted to Magos later that perhaps he was right and the humans did have something to offer.
Although to be fair, not everyone at that dojo was entirely human. Definitely not the family that ran it.
“You should come with us next time we visit,” I said. “They say you’re long overdue for a visit.”
“I would enjoy that.” I couldn’t see his face but I could hear the smile in his voice.
A few minutes later, the door burst open and Isabeau raced in. Finn followed in her wake, closing the door behind them and picking up the cloaks she’d knocked off the wall in her haste. Not for the first time, I thought about how odd it was that Finn was the one prophesied to bring about the end of the realms when Isabeau seemed to fit that role so much better. He was so quiet and thoughtful. And she was an outright terror.
“We brought something for you!” Isabeau announced in a loud voice that was one decimal away from bursting ear drums.
“Inside voice,” Magos reminded her.
The young vampire girl rolled her eyes. She was definitely hanging out with Nemain too much. Isabeau gestured towards Finn but he carefully hung the cloaks back on their hooks before walking over to us, he was never one to be hurried.
“These match your wings,” he said, a hint of uncertainty in his voice. While Isabeau had nothing but confidence, Finn was still reserved and unsure about his place with us. His father was the exiled fae king and very possibility the most powerful fae in existence, but that wouldn’t stop me, Nemain, or anyone else in our little group from beating the fuck out of him for how he treated his own godsdamn child.
I peered into the box that Finn held out and saw beads of sparkling gold.
“They’re perfect,” I said honestly. They’d managed to find the exact same rich gold as my wings. “Thank you both.”
Finn placed the box on the table next to Magos and both the kids watched in delight as he plucked one of the beads out and slid it onto the end of a braid. The deep gold color really did looks nice against my black hair.
“You both chose very well,” Magos said, sliding another bead on.
“Yes, you did,” I agreed.
Isabeau beamed and even Finn’s eyes lit up in delight. They watched Magos work for a few more minutes before Isabeau snatched Finn’s hand and pulled him towards the door.
“Damon is sleeping and there is some pineapple pizza in the fridge. I have an idea,” she whispered conspiratorially. But given that Isabeau’s idea of whispering was basically speaking at full volume, it wasn’t really much of a secret.
“If you make a mess you clean it up,” Magos said calmly.
Isabeau just looked at him with innocent wide eyes before turning back to Finn. They stood there for a few minutes, just staring at each other before Isabeau continued pulling him out of the apartment.
“So they still talk to each other telepathically then?” A worried frown pulled on the corners of my mouth.
“Yes.” Magos reached over and snagged a bead out of the box. “Neither Jinx nor Eddie can overhear them unless Isabeau allows it, and she’s still able to walk into all of our minds without us having the faintest idea she’s in there.”
“Fuck,” I muttered.
“Yeah… fuck,” Magos agreed.
None of us had the faintest clue how or why Isabeau had this ability, but she was still years away from puberty. If she was already this powerful, what the hell would she be capable of when she fully came into her power?
The conversation had turned to lighter topics when Mikhail walked in and froze at the sight of Magos rebraiding my hair.
Mikhail was the opposite of Magos in many ways. Most days the arrogance practically dripped off him and like Nemain, he had a sharp tongue and was quick to violence. I still wasn’t entirely sure if him and Nemain were going to kill each other or fuck each other. Both seemed like the likeliest outcome.
But that day, there wasn’t a trace of arrogance on Mikhail’s beautiful face. Instead he looked mournful, like he was seeing the ghost of a loved one. Without a word, he spun on his heel and walked out.
Magos paused and I twisted around to look up at him, a question in my eyes.
“Mikhail doesn’t like to think about our home realm—Cerulle—and what life was like there.” Magos gave me a sad smile. “He’s buried almost every aspect of our culture. Even changed his name.”
I knew that Mikhail used to be able to summon a sword the way Magos could, but no longer had the ability. When I’d asked Nemain about it, she’d gotten an odd pained look on her face and had refused to talk about it.
“Braiding hair was an important part of our culture,” Magos said as he continued to braid the section he had in his hands. “Mikhail likely remembers watching his parents braid each others hair while he was growing up. He’s been very careful to not comment on the fact that I’m growing my hair out again, after keeping it shorn for centuries.”
“We can do this at my place,” I offered. Mikhail wasn’t the only one who had a complicated history with his past and culture. I didn’t want to make things harder for him even if I did find him an arrogant ass most of the time.
“Thank you.” Magos paused for a moment before resuming his work. “But it’s time my nephew stopped avoiding our history. However painful it might be.”
Abruptly I stopped reminiscing as the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I was no longer alone. With a casual ease, I leaned back, forcing my body to remain relaxed while my eyes scoured the forest. A branch creaked from somewhere above me and my gaze shot upward just in time to see a dark shape take to the sky.
I launched myself through the tight space between the trees until I was hovering above them, spinning in a slow circle with a dagger in hand.
But there had been something. Something with wings. But the seraphim had white wings that were easy to spot, day or night. This definitely hadn’t been a seraph. I continued to scour the night skies but there was nothing out of place. I wasn’t that familiar with all the wildlife in this realm, maybe it was nothing.
Sigrun? Viggo called from below. We brought food.
After one final look around, I flew back down to our camp to have some dinner. It’d been a long day, after several long weeks. I told myself I was getting tired and a little paranoid.
But no matter how much I repeated that to myself, I still couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched.