Award-winning fantasy authors Jeanne Allen, Jeanine Berry, Sheri L. McGathy, and Shannah Biondine reunite to bring you TWILIGHT CROSSINGS II, another extraordinary anthology born within the enchanted realms of twilight.
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Double Dragon Publishing
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Cultures clash when Arvalian warriors invade the peaceful isle of Ignatia for its legendary treasures. In THE TREASURE OF ARVALIS, which will prevail, a determined warrior, a priestess striving for peace, or will a war among the gods force them toward a common destiny?
In THE WELL OF FOREVER, enter an ancient world where desert winds part the sands to uncover a mesmerizing tale of magic and romance. In the wrong hands the wand of the legendary sorcerer Lohar could devastate the world, as it almost did once before. Caireya plans to destroy the wand before that can happen, but her plan may cost her life.
When Tanner is hired to find the mythical city of Sha-da-nay, little does she know that what she seeks is far different than what she?ll find. For buried in the darkest depths of the Hagath Forest is a truth that can set her free, if only she is willing to truly see WHERE LIES BEAUTY.
The fate of all the Known Realms hangs in the balance when a great mage is assassinated and his Umbra Amulet stolen, leaving a world frozen in perpetual twilight. Zavend Preece has one clue?a firedrake scale found at the murder scene. Can he and the enigmatic Capt. Praxis track the killers and retrieve the enchanted amulet, or will they be forced evermore to MOURN A MOONREFT SKY?
2005: Dream Realm Award finalist for Best Fantasy
THE TREASURE OF ARVALIS
By Jeanne Allen
The temple seemed an empty shell, devoid of the gentle murmurings that once thrummed a way of life into the people of Ignatia. A hollow wind moaned through it as clouds shrouded the sky above. The statue of the goddess, Solone, stood in dusky shadow before an earthen pit that, when molten and reddened, signified the goddess was alive and nearby and open to communion. But now it was hardened and black, the vapors that imparted truth and enlightenment lying dormant.
Sighær. A word from the vision flashed through Eirena's mind. But what did it mean? What did any of them mean? The murky vision heralding doom had occurred two months ago, and on that day, Solone had fallen silent. Why, when they would need her most? Eirena sighed. Deep in her heart, she knew why. The people of Ignatia had grown complacent. They had ceased to worship their goddess.
Eirena longed for Eda's advice. With the passing of the elderly priestess over a year ago, fully prepared or not, Eirena had been next to wear the robes of temple priestess. Eda had trained her to develop her gift of receiving Solone's messages from the fragrant vapors, which Eirena would then translate to a scribe. But the message of her last vision was shadowy…mysterious…revealing only that tragedy would strike with the arrival of unnatural darkness.
Sitting on the sanctified chair before the altar, Eirena raised her eyes to Solone. "Please Goddess, I beg of you, do not forsake us. We shall suffer without your guidance." She waited for a sign. A low, haunting whistle of the wind was the only answer.
No longer able to bear the emptiness, she ran from the chamber into the courtyard. The wind whipped at her hair and robes, and she relished its touch. From the island's mountainside, she searched the sea for answers, but it, too, had lost its usual shimmer of hope.
She lowered her gaze to behold a score of ships from a foreign land already anchored in the harbor. Her father, Thanos, had earlier sent word to her of their sighting on the western horizon. As senior senator, he would be leading a delegation to welcome the visitors. Foreigners often sojourned on Ignatia while resupplying their ships or while seeking information from the scrolls of knowledge housed in the temple's library.
Why did the prospect of meeting new people not fill Eirena with her usual excitement?
Fresh garlands of laurel had been hung, the sanctuary lamps lit. Except for the pit being darkened, everything was in its place for receiving guests. As Eirena nodded her approval to the handful of servants, she detected the smell of an acrid smoke. Not the sacred vapors from an awakening earth goddess, but an odor that sent a chilling panic through her. She rushed from the temple as dark gray, billowing smoke filled the sky. She swept her gaze toward the bay, where flames lashed into the air from trading ships, warehouses, and seafront homes of people she knew.
Eirena turned her face skyward. Had lightning bolted down from the firmament? But she'd heard no thunderclap.
Her stomach clenched. The foreign ships did not carry visitors seeking knowledge. The vision was becoming manifest.
Panicked shouts diverted her attention. Men bearing arms raced toward the harbor. Women clutched children to their bosoms and fled to the inner city. But none cried for refuge in the temple. In their panic, no one spared it a glance. Eirena shook her head. "My people have forgotten their faith." No wonder Solone had turned from them.
Eirena feared for them. Most had chosen not to believe that a dark and violent day loomed—one that was now, in fact, upon them. They'd made no preparations, unable to conceive the devastation that was possible should the goddess remove her mantle of protection.
An overpowering need to help defend their island compelled Eirena to follow the men to the harbor. She hurried down the temple steps, past the senate building, the amphitheater, until a crowd running toward her made her sprint from their path. As she watched them scatter, a frightening thought occurred to her. Her people were in retreat. She prayed for her father's safety.
She stopped one man. "What has happened."
His eyes were wide, as if he'd just seen a demon. "They're frightful, murdering beasts. You'd do best to run and hide. It's your only chance." He ran off before she could ask him more.
The crowd gone, Eirena felt vulnerable. Eyeing a spear lying in the middle of the street, she darted across to pick it up, then froze. She sensed a vibration through her feet, then heard the sound of a fast, heavy cadence of footsteps growing louder and louder. She turned and her eyes grew wide.
Warriors charged up the hill toward her. Giants!—easily Thanos's height and a half—each with a full beard of blond, brown, or red; and each donning helmet, fur, and mail. They rattled swords against their shields, some brandishing torches, all yelling a war cry. "Sighær!"
The vision flooded back, overwhelming her, nearly blinding her. The knowledge Solone had buried deep within her rose to the fore. Sighær! Victorious! Now she understood the language of the vision.
She dashed behind a building, then peered around it to watch the warriors in their advance. She glanced up the hill and gasped. With a burst of energy, she ran ahead of them and climbed the steps—two and three at a time. Stopping two-thirds of the way up, she swirled around and raised her spear. Her voice rang out as she spoke in the foreigners' tongue. "In the name of Solone, our goddess and protector, you will not defile our temple."
His men in formation around him, Valgard led them up the mountainside. After months on the seas, their destination was finally within their grasp. The thought filled him with renewed vigor. To be so close. "Sighær!" he shouted along with his fellow warriors.
But what's this? A slip of a woman darted ahead of them, up the pyramid of steps, to stand dauntless before the island's highest building. She possessed an impressive bravery that Valgard found lacking in most of her countrymen. She proclaimed for all to hear, "…you will not defile our temple."
He stopped some steps below her and raised his sword to halt his men. How does this woman know our language? Was she a goddess sent to strike them down with one stroke of her magic spear? He observed her guardedly, and instinctively positioned his sword and shield to counter an attack. Then he saw it. A subtle change in her face. A widening of the eyes. A glimmer of her own surprise. This was no goddess. He relaxed and lowered his sword.
He smiled inwardly. If this mere mortal thought they'd turn back now, then she was a foolish one, indeed.
Her actions now a mere curiosity, he climbed the steps and halted an arm's length from her. Though he stood three steps below her, his face was nearly level with hers. He had to admit, he'd not soon forget this moment, marked by her extraordinary appearance: her tanned skin, dusky gray eyes, and dark unruly hair being flicked about by the wind. Her white garment, trimmed with gold brocade, swirled about her in the moving air. That she held her spear in both hands, pointed determinedly toward his chest, her eyes flashing at him like the clash of long-swords, made this vision of loveliness even more firmly etched into his mind.
Valgard spoke for all to hear. "The temple is as legend says, high and white on a mountainside, containing great wealth within. Defender of this temple, step aside. We've come to collect that which our gods have claimed."
The woman shook the spear at him, her stare fierce. "The wealth within belongs to our goddess, Solone, and she has no patience for marauders of her island. He who approaches the sanctuary with ill intent will rue the day of his birth."
Valgard turned his head slowly, looking left, then right. There was no rumbling of the earth. No lightning to strike him down. Only the wind blowing around the smoky evidence of the islanders' defeat. He held back the grin that tugged at his lips. "Your goddess seems to have abandoned you."
"She is here, all around us. She speaks through me."
"I see," he said, sheathing his sword, then gesturing his empty hand toward his troops. "And we are here in the names of Bodvar, Rjana, and Forstein, gods of the Northern Realm." He stepped closer to her. "Perhaps they frightened your goddess away?" A few chortles escaped from his men.
Her eyes widened. "Never!" she declared, though her face had turned ashen. Her spear wavered slightly, seemed to grow heavy in her hands.
He leaned forward and spoke softly. "Take us to the treasures within." He snatched the spear from her hands.
She released a grunt, twirled around and climbed a few steps higher. "Only if you have come to observe and leave the treasures as you found them will the goddess allow you in."
He smiled to himself. She's a spirited one. "Sorry. But I will decide what we leave and what we take."
"And you are?"
"Valgard, of Arvalis." He handed the spear and his shield to Jayr, his second in command, and climbed the next few steps. "We've traveled the seas to reach this island and its legendary temple." The breeze blew her hair close enough for him to capture a lock. He rubbed it between his fingers and thumb. Soft, like goosedown. It would feel exquisite against his skin under a blanket of furs. He gazed into her eyes. "The riches within must be plentiful for you to guard them so."
"So true…" she whispered, "more than you could imagine." For a moment, her eyes turned misty. Then they flashed again with anger. She plucked her hair from his fingers and moved yet a few steps higher, this time reaching the courtyard. The edges of her robes flapped in the wind.
"You must be an important woman," Valgard said, "in flowing robes of gold and white."
"I am Eirena, temple priestess."
He thought of the shamans in his homeland—old women, all gnarled and sinewy like ancient oaks—and was surprised to see one so young and beautiful. Stepping from the highest step and onto the courtyard, he noticed she barely reached his chest. "Priestess Eirena, either you escort us into the temple, or we go in without you. Your choice."
The blaze in her eyes diminished as his crew of men joined them, making her appear a sapling among a forest of giant trees. But she'd made her choice and held her head high as she led them toward the entrance. Leery at her capitulation, he whispered over his shoulder. "Jayr, keep a close eye for a trap."
They entered a cavernous, round room, softly lit by the evening sun's rays filtering in through narrow vertical windows. A row of scrolls lay on a table against a wall. Concentric rows of benches surrounded a raised altar on which stood a statue of a woman. Valgard stared in wonder at the great pillars supporting the dome. The men who'd entered with him slowly circled the room, their faces rapt, the clanking of their weaponry echoing against the curving wall.
Valgard's gaze came to rest on Eirena. "A temple very much worth defending."
She responded by lifting her chin.
"Now," he said, "the gemstones."
She raised an eyebrow. "Gemstones?"
"The great treasures. The riches."
"Are before you. Within the scrolls. There are countless more in the library."
"These scrolls?" He pulled one off the table and allowed it to unfurl. "Useless." He waved it around. "Jayr, wouldn't you agree?"
She scolded Valgard. "These are to be treated with utmost care." She reached for it but he held it beyond her grasp, which brought her body against his.
He could feel her heart beating fast, like a sparrow in hand. The scent of her—sweet as it was musky—aroused him. He stared into her eyes and found he enjoyed seeing the storm flashes within them. "Why, these contain nothing but little black marks."
"Those little black marks," she said, "hold answers to—" She stepped away from him, seemed to think better of what she was about to say. She bent her arm and made an adjustment to the cuff of her sleeve. "If you find them worthless, then I'm afraid you've wasted your time in coming here."
Still watching her, he gave an order to his men. "Search the corridors."
"No!" she said, and he raised his hand to stall them.
"Then tell us where they are."
"There are no jewels here."
Valgard nodded to Jayr, who led the men on a search of the passageways. She moved to follow them but Valgard stepped in front of her. "I'm not yet through with you."
Her brow creased as she peered around him to watch the others disappear down the corridors.
Valgard took a long, hard look at her, then eyed the scroll he still held in his hand. "Hold answers to what?"
She folded her arms across her chest and fell silent.
If she only knew how easy it would be for him to make the words spill from her mouth. "The scrolls," he said calmly. "You said they hold answers."
A shrill scream sounded from a corridor. Eirena tensed, her eyes widening in terror. She lunged in that direction but Valgard grabbed her arm. She wrenched in vain against his grasp. "Barbarians! What are they doing to my people?"
He yanked her so she faced him, but the tears welling up in her eyes compelled him to loosen his hold.
She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.
Her voice was steady when she said, "If the scrolls are not what you've come for, then not only have you wasted your time…but innocent lives as well."
A lesser man might have recoiled from her hard, condemning stare. "May it comfort you to know," he said, "that many more lives would have been lost if your people hadn't run away or surrendered."
Her face seemed to brighten. Perhaps she hoped a lover had survived. If he did, Valgard thought, then he was a coward. Still holding onto her arm, he brought his face near hers. He could feel the erratic rhythm of her soft breath. "Take me to the jewels."
"Your information is incorrect." When she tried to shake her arm free, he tightened his grip. She glared at him. "This is a temple for learning. A great research center. That is the treasure for which this island is known."
"She appears to be telling the truth," Jayr interrupted as he reentered the chamber. "We've searched the corridors, threatened the servants. There are no treasures to be found."
"We've traversed the seas for this?" He released Eirena's arm as if discarding it, then shook the scroll at Jayr. "Hardly something to help us gain status in our land. We need gifts from the earth to appease our gods."
"Then go elsewhere to find them," Eirena said, "and leave us be."
A mix of rage, aggravation, and confusion churned within Valgard. He backed her against a pillar, gritting his teeth. "I will decide when we leave." He threw down the parchment. Eirena's gaze followed it to the floor. She stooped to uncrease it.
"Insolent woman," Valgard growled to no one in particular and stomped toward the temple's entrance.
Jayr inquired, "Uncle, shall we burn the place down?"
"Keep searching. They must be in there somewhere."
"And the girl?"
"Bring her to my quarters."