November 12, 2019

Parting Worlds - Fourth Chapter Reveal!

🌟Happy #teasertuesday 🌟

It's time for the fourth and final Parting Worlds chapter reveal!! Less than ONE week until on sale! I can't wait for everyone to read this last installment in the Once Upon a Curse series!

If you missed the first chapter reveal, the second chapter reveal, or the third chapter reveal, just click to go read them now :) Otherwise, scroll down to read the entire fourth chapter!

In this chapter, the stakes rise exponentially! Aerewyn goes from spying on her human prince to suddenly becoming the only person who can save his life. Want to know how? Keep reading...

As a little reminder, Parting Worlds goes on sale on November 18th and it's available to pre-order!

               

Without further ado...

The fourth chapter!!

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If Priestess Sytrene hoped to muffle my curiosity, her plan backfired.
Lessons pass slower than ever, leaving me with too much time to think. While the other girls practice their magic—using it to clean ash from the air after a wildfire, to help regrow trees burned to black stubs, to set flames upon the underbrush to prevent another outbreak—Nymia and I walk uselessly behind. The priestesses want us to learn about the careful balance of Mother's world, how to maintain it, how to decide what to help live and what to let die. Yet without my magic, I'm unbalanced. I can’t focus. Lectures go in one ear and out the other, words lost to the wind. Without the physical power to ground me, my mind wanders to the phoenix on an almost constant basis. But just the phoenix. Nothing else.
Except, maybe Erick a little too…
When Priestess Ondyne leads us into the forest to teach us the power of naturally grown medicinal herbs, all I can think about is the healing power of phoenix tears.
When Priestess Meri leads us down the river on a boat, all the way to where it opens to the sea so we can learn about the creatures lurking underneath, all I see are blue eyes staring back at me from the waves.
When an injured centaur gallops into the sacred meadow, pleading for our aid, I—well, okay. That part was actually pretty cool. But after, when he agreed to teach us how to read the stars, I accidently fell asleep on the grass. Nymia nudged me awake. I didn’t tell her that she'd interrupted the most marvelous dream—one where the two of us used our magic to set the phoenix free.
Maybe it's guilt.
Maybe it's intrigue.
Maybe it's just my mind, which always meanders in directions it's not supposed to, at least according to the priestesses.
But I can't stop wondering what happened to that beautiful crimson bird made of magic. Did they lock it up? Is it in a cage? Did it manage to fly free? Is it in pain? Is it wondering why Nymia and I did nothing but watch, when we're supposed to be guarding creatures like it? Isn't that what our magic is for?
So, naturally, the first thing I do the second my magic returns is flee to the cave and kneel over the still pond at the very back edge to whisper one of my favorite spells—another that's strictly forbidden without supervision, of course.
“Nachtinn eoscu ma mhoin.”
Water, reveal my wish.
The words tickle a little as they spill from my throat, drenched in static power. The air beneath my outstretched palms begins to glitter. I close my eyes, focusing on the phoenix, picturing its wings singeing beneath sapphire flames, the deep ebony of its knowing eyes, the chick born anew from the ashes. When I open my eyes, bright flashing colors flutter across the surface of the pond. As I focus my thoughts, they slowly morph into a clear picture—one of a tiny bird framed by iron bars. It's in a cage.
My heart sinks.
Using my mind's eye to see, I urge the picture to shift to a wider view, revealing the entire scene. The priestesses use the scrying water to teach us lessons about the outside world—about magical creatures from faraway lands, about deserts and mountains and icy landscapes so different from our home, and on very rare occasions, about the human world. We've seen dried farmlands and looming castles, horses tied up, dogs held in chains, trees cut to stubs, and people begging on the streets. Everything is always dark, always dreary, so unnatural it makes me wince even as I'm lured closer. But I've never seen anything quite like this—quite so cozy.
The room is heavy, with stone walls and thick fabrics, yet made light somehow by the sun filtering through windows made of pastel glass. Vibrant weaves and plush pillows cover the floor. They look softer even than the bed of moss on which I sleep, and part of me yearns to rest my head upon them. But I'm drawn most to the wooden shelves stretched across the entire length of the room, filled with an almost staggering volume of items—a turtle shell, fish bones, dried coral, various stones, and a bird that looks alive yet is perfectly still. The man-made items are harder to place, bound things I believe they call books, rolled-up papers I know are called scrolls, a large circle painted in shades of greens and blues, and so many metal trinkets I can't imagine what they all do. The largest is long and narrow, pointed out an open window toward the sky. I'm reminded of my cave, in a way. Perhaps that's why the sight makes me feel a little bit at home.
My gaze flicks back to the phoenix, dangling from the ceiling in a gilded cage so small in a few weeks it won't be able to spread its wings. Everything else in the collection is dead and cold—this vibrant bird doesn't belong here.
"Got it!" a voice calls from somewhere outside the frame.
I recognize it regardless and my heart lurches.
Erick.
The phoenix squawks, flapping its wings, which are little more than fluff. Erick strides across the room, coming into my view as he reaches for the cage, unlatches a little door, and offers the bird his hand. The phoenix jumps onto his palm, chirping in a demanding way as Erick laughs softly and pulls something else from his pocket—a wriggling worm. He sets both on the carpet, watching with a slight smile on his lips. The serenity implodes when the bloodhound runs into view, crashing into Erick and sending him to the ground. When the dog leans down to sniff the phoenix, the little chick screeches so adamantly a flame shoots through its beak, singeing his poor nose.
The hound howls.
Erick snorts.
I giggle.
"You deserved that," he mutters. "Come here, boy."
Erick pats the spot by his side and the hound jaunts over, then circles twice before lying down to rest his head on his owner's thigh. The phoenix bounces over on unsteady claws, then jumps onto Erick's other knee. He scratches one behind the ears and rubs the other along the spine.
"As soon as you can fly," he whispers, while his gaze slips to the side toward something unseen. A frown passes over his lips. "I'll get you out. I promise."
"Aerewyn!"
"What! What?" I jump about five feet in the air and release the spell, turning to face Nymia. "I wasn't doing anything."
"Oh, sure," she drawls, pointedly dropping her gaze to the pond before lifting it back to me. "Because that's exactly how someone who wasn't doing anything reacts."
I stick out my tongue.
"I left you alone for five minutes to ask Priestess Ondyne for help on a healing elixir, and by the time I turned around, you were gone. Please don't tell me you were doing what I think you were doing."
"What do you think I was doing?"
"Spying on that human in the scrying water."
"Well," I huff, crossing my arms. I hate it when she's right. She's always right. "I guess I won't tell you then."
"Aerewyn," she whines.
"Nymia," I whine right back.
She rubs her palms over her arms as though brushing goose bumps away and sighs. "At least tell me next time? Okay? I hate not knowing where you are, wondering if you're safe."
"I'm sorry. I will. I promise." I smile hesitantly.
Nymia grins back, rolling her eyes. "So, what'd you see?"
"The phoenix." I pause to take a deep breath, then the rest comes spilling out. "And maybe that human boy, but it wasn't my fault. I was watching the phoenix and he walked in. I didn't seek him out. I didn’t go looking. He was just, sort of, there…" I trail off as the image of his face infiltrates my thoughts, the way his black hair spilled over his forehead, the slight dimple in his cheek when his lips lifted in a soft smile, the loving glimmer in his eyes. "He seems kind."
"Kind?" Nymia's face twists at the suggestion. "He's human."
"So? Why can't a human be kind?"
"Maybe to each other, but not to us, Aerewyn. It's not their way."
I shrug, thinking of how he gently cupped the phoenix in his palm. Maybe it's his way—but I don't say that, of course. Nymia wouldn’t believe me anyway.
"Come on." She keeps talking over my silence. "I came running because Priestess Sytrene was asking where you’d gone. I didn’t want her to scry for you, in case you were here, so I told her I'd go find you. If we're not back soon, she might wonder."
"We'd better go."
I groan and take her hand, then start to walk, but Nymia stays still, rooted to the ground. Worry carves deep grooves into her forehead, and there's something distant in her eyes—a charged hollowness I usually only see in those few seconds before she's fully woken from a nightmare, when reality hasn't quite cut through the terror. She blinks and meets my gaze, my sister once more.
"You should forget him," she whispers.
"I know."
We don't say anything else. We just run out of the cave and under the waterfall, letting the water pelt us as though it might be able to hammer some sense back into our minds.
It doesn't.
I don't disappear on Nymia again, but I also don't stop my spying. I can't. At first, I only focus on the phoenix, telling myself it’s the bird I'm concerned with. I'm a faerie. I'm supposed to guard the Mother's creations. I'm just doing my job. But soon, it's Erick's face that fills my thoughts as I lean over the water with magic burning against my palms.
I watch him in that cozy room, lying on the pillows with a book propped against his legs, rolling around the floor with his hound, gently prodding the phoenix to learn to fly. They grow faster than normal birds, a product of being solitary, without a mother or father to feed them when they're chicks. It's not long before those red feathers lengthen and grow, not long before it leaves a trail of smoke across the air, not long before one second of flight becomes two then three then five. When Erick's father walks in to find the phoenix zipping around the room, I watch with my fingers curled into fists as he slaps his son across the face and throws the phoenix back inside its cage. When the boy I'm guessing is his brother pokes a stick through the bars, torturing the poor bird enough to elicit a few droplets of healing tears, I yearn to dive through the waters and strike him. Erick tries to make him stop, but two men in strange metal clothes hold him back, one grasping each arm. Eventually, the phoenix gets moved to a different room, a place so dark I can hardly make any details out in the scrying water, just the smoldering outline of a bird suffering through captivity.
Erick doesn’t go to visit it anymore.
I wonder if he's not allowed.
Sometimes, when I search the scrying waters, he's in different rooms—at a table with other humans eating food, in a cavernous stone room that seems cold despite the golden chairs looming near the front, outside on the grass with his hound, riding a horse through the city streets. One time when I look he's swimming in a lake. My cheeks go red the moment he stands, and I find myself admiring the way the water rolls down the rippled muscles of his stomach, the way it makes his skin glisten in the sun, almost as though he were a faerie. Thank the Mother Nymia walks in to shake me from the trance.
She knows what I'm doing, of course, but she doesn’t say anything. She helps me sneak through the forests, helps cover my tracks. I think she hopes I'll get him out of my system, but with each day, I yearn to know more. To speak with him. To ask him questions about human life. To maybe once hold his hand.
It’s crazy, I know.
That's what makes it fun.
I'm a good little faerie in all my lessons, listening to the priestesses, practicing my magic, following all the rules. I'm not sure Priestess Sytrene entirely trusts my sudden transformation, but she's been distracted of late—all the priestesses have. We're not old enough to know what's going on, though there are still whispers in the night, of attacks, of humans testing the protection boundary, of magical creatures being hunted and chased from their homes. It's nothing new, but it must be worse than usual to have everyone so concerned. I'm not overly worried. We have magic, and the humans don't. Against the power of the priests and priestesses, there's no contest.
I may as well enjoy the extra freedom while I can.
"Are you sneaking out again tonight?" Nymia whispers.
I roll onto my side, resting my cheek against the soft, mossy pillow of my bed. Some faeries prefer to sleep in grass huts or muddy dens, but I've always preferred the fresh air. I like to count the stars before I sleep, wondering how many burning faerie souls Father safeguards in his distant realm. I like to wake to the warm kiss of Mother's sun. Nymia and I usually lie in the outskirts of the sacred meadow, where it's easier to whisper without being overheard, easier to slip away too. "Why?"
"I feel a storm in the air," Nymia murmurs and flicks her gaze to the sky. By the time her attention returns to me, her eyes are bright with mischief.
I grin.
Stormy nights are my favorite, because they're Nymia's favorite. She loves to run in the whipping winds, catch raindrops on her tongue, and cast lightning across the sky. I love to watch. It's the only time I sometimes think she might be just as wild as me.
"How soon?"
Nymia closes her eyes. Her glittering faerie skin glows brighter, like a star dropped down to earth, as she reaches out with her power, trying to taste the static in the air. Storm magic has always been her greatest gift. I'm not terrible at it, but I usually feel the water, not the wind, so I can't sense them until they're close. Right now, all I see are clear skies still colored magenta by the setting sun.
"Another three hours," she says after she opens her eyes. "Maybe four."
Everyone should be asleep by then. "Perfect."
Three and a half hours later, the first droplet falls.
I meet Nymia's expectant gaze, and we roll silently to our feet. The pitter-patter covers our footsteps as we disappear into the forest. Within minutes, it's a torrential downpour. I grab Nymia's hand as we race around trees, laughing as our feet squelch in the mud. Our faerie clothes spun of petals and leaves have a waxy coating that protects them in the rain, but every other part of me is drenched. My hair sticks to me like a second skin.
There's something freeing, though, about dancing in a storm.
We stop by the riverbed, fling our arms wide, and spin, shooting our magic into the air so the winds rush all around us. I jump in puddles, splashing water high, then catching it with my power so it dips and dives and swirls around us. Nymia shoots lightning from the sky. A few feet away, sand explodes in a cloud of dust as the bolt strikes deep. I fall to my knees and dig hastily until I feel something hard. I pull it free. We discovered a long time ago that when the heat hits the beachy bank, it fuses the sand into strange hollow tubes. The insides are polished and smooth, and they shimmer in the sunlight. I already have a whole shelf full in the cave, but there's always room for one more little piece of marvel carved by my sister's hands.
I wonder if Erick's ever seen one.
"Aerewyn, come on." Nymia interrupts my wayward thought and grabs my hands to pull me to my feet. Her smile is wide. Her features are wet and wild. Sometimes I wish the other girls could see her like this, powerful and proud. Sometimes I'm glad I get to have her to myself.
I push my magic into her palms.
She pushes hers into mine.
Fingers laced tight, we spin, round and round and round, until the world is a blur of magic and rain, flashing lightning and roaring thunder, rushing water and swaying branches. I hold my sister's gaze, meeting her step for step and grin for grin. When the power builds so that we might burst, we let our heads fall back and holler into the wind, releasing the magic, letting the Mother swallow it into her storm, so that I feel a part of it, a part of her, a part of everything. Then we snap and tumble, smacking into the sand.
Nymia's laughter echoes across the air.
Mine joins hers, and I clutch my stomach from the pain of so much joy.
Then another unruly thought intrudes.
I wonder if Erick likes storms.
My smile falters and I stare up at the sky, searching for the moon, hidden somewhere behind the clouds. I've heard humans are afraid of storms—that they're terrified of the tremendous power of nature, of Mother. I revel in her might.
"What are you doing?" Nymia asks as I roll up from the ground. I can tell by her tone she already knows—she just wants to make sure I know she doesn't approve.
I ignore her and dig a shallow hole in the sand. Pressing my palms to the saturated grains, I draw the water in, until a wide puddle forms. Then I murmur the words I know my sister definitely doesn’t want to hear.
“Nachtinn eoscu ma mhoin.”
Water, reveal my wish.
I only want to see for a second, I tell myself. A quick peek and then I'm done. But as the colors dancing across the water sharpen to a clear image, a gasp escapes my lips and fear spikes deep into my heart.
Erick lies splayed across the dirt like a fallen tree, with a broken birdcage by his side. Blood leaks from a cut on his forehead, slipping down the side of his face with the rain, so his skin is stained red. The hound whimpers by his side, nudging his ribs. He doesn't move. He doesn't blink. He's far too still.
I'm on my feet before I even realize what I'm doing, not a thought in my mind but to save him.


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Thanks for reading!

Parting Worlds goes on sale next week!! So excited! I hope you fall in love with Aerewyn and the rest of her story 😊 I know I did! 💕

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