When solid ground grows soft with emerald moss and rivulets of black mud, and coffee-colored water pours slowly around the trunks of densely carpeted trees, this marks the beginning of Laod Mor: the swamp of Blossom Forest. Time itself seems to slow to a soporific crawl . . . the humid jungle air grows stagnant, thick with the scent of rich flooded earth and an abundance of green things that can be found nowhere else—except perhaps Caidir Olc. In some areas of the swamp, water rises so high the only way to cross it is to crawl across fallen logs or massive roots arching from their liquid beds; in other places a wolf might wade easily through the mire—or find a fortunate stretch of mostly dry earth. Pieces of the great river, Glaesfaet Sceawere, also slice through from time to time: small falls that feed into surprisingly clear pools, only to terminate into tar-like pits. Of course, Laod Mor’s beauty shines brightest at night. Here, fireflies gather at all times of the year . . . suffusing the shadowy place with millions of twinkling lights.

Those looking to hunt here of course find a myriad of water prey, including caiman, turtles, fish, crayfish, otters, and toads.

Refresh/Reload

behind darkness, beneath candles
IP: 140.254.77.165

❝thє shσrtєst dístαncє вєtwєєn twσ pσínts . . .❞

Murder. The ugly word struck her like a snake to the throat, fangs piercing her trachea, venom searing every vein. All at once her vision swam . . . a meaningless miasma of shadow and light where Vera’s corpse and the frightening dragonlike brute once stood. When Losa blinked, enormous tears burned their way from her celestial eyes and down either side of her muzzle. Shock. Horror so profound her facial expression froze into that of a doll’s, emotionless and eerily still. “Why . . . ?” Why would someone kill her? What had she done? Why were you the one to find her? Why are you snarling at me like this is all my fault? Losa attempted to focus. To bring her blurred gaze up toward the fearsome male, trying to find the fury of his glare past the rainy sheet erasing her world. It IS my fault. At least with Duma, she was safe. And so . . .

She did not catch the beast’s following words. She barely felt the vibration of his low growl as it shuddered through her rigid frame. At some point, the princess discovered a weight pressing gently against her stiff cobalt limbs; when she turned her head numbly to discover the source of the sensation, it took several seconds to realize that the “thing” touching her was Scamander. The poor boy cowered next to her, miserable. Unable to rip his stare away from the scale-armored soldier and the pitiful rainbow canvas he wore across his scar-striped shoulders. Reflexively, the damsel of dawn leaned down to nuzzle Scamander along the scruff of his neck, as if her caress might smooth down the prickling of his saffron hackles. As soon as she made physical contact, however, the pain the lad carried within himself launched into her awareness—resonating with her own agony—and before their shared grief could shatter them both the Arcus Irae royal masterfully shut down her heart, sealing her soul away. It was too dangerous for her to share in Scamander’s desolation until she had her inner wounds under control; otherwise, Losa risked harming him more, dragging them both down deeper to drown into this sorrowful ocean.

The act of inhalation felt like stuffing her lungs with bits of glass. But instead of breathing some croon of comfort to Scamander or the clearly anguished shadow-knight, Losa found herself blurting the name of her sister. “Z-Zawyne? Dear one, I told you to stay with Aindreas!”

Stunned into motionless ice, Losa had not thought to shield Scamander from the sickening sight of Vera’s slain body. Now the rosy dancer quickly twisted herself to stand in front of the snake-legged dragga, panic burning away some of sadness’s chill. Too late. Zawyne wavered in place, new fear flashing in her sunset lanterns, and Losa immediately understood what caused her sibling’s consternation. No . . . Losa hadn’t thought of the vampires. Perhaps, so traumatized by what she’d undergone under Duma’s watch, the bubblegum ballerina had not permitted herself to fear that possibility. But if there were Tempests, then surely their vile blood-sucking counterparts walked this land as well. She began to tremble violently, her already fragile monarch’s front cracking under pressure. “You’re right. We have to go. Sir, I know you must mourn Vera as we do, but—hah!

Another punch to the gut with brass knuckles—bruising and obliterating her entrails. Losa didn’t even have enough air left in her tattered lungs to scream. She wobbled, nearly falling into Archangel, reaching out simultaneously to Scamander to steady him when the ache hit. “Fallon.” Hollow syllables. The ex-regent could almost hear the mocking laughter of Duma chasing her through the strained ties of their bond—gloating and cruel. They were supposed to be safer here. We escaped to find new lives. And now a third of us have died. Was something hunting them? Or were the gods themselves punishing the Arcus Irae for leaving their homeland? That can’t be right—we’ve done nothing to deserve this! Nothing! Unless . . . unless Losa had brought this retribution upon them all for rejecting her supposed “soulmate.” Unless thinking to cross the portal had been a grave mistake, and the rainbow children would have been safer seeking refuge in the wilds of their homeland rather than this new, unforgiving landscape. When a young Tempest Losa had never seen before abruptly charged into the scene, arrowing protectively toward Scamander, Losa moved silently aside to allow him more room—mutely taking in what little information her fracturing mind could process. Only that spine-chilling word—vampire—provoked a real reaction from her. Losa found herself nodding frantically, hobbling over to Zawyne and gently tugging the collapsed lass up by her blue-streaked ruff. “Yes. We’ll go. We will follow you.” They didn’t have time to mistrust the Tempests—not when a bigger and more immediately fatal danger lurked close.

Adara had followed close on the heels of the party, but Losa only now saw the mist-shrouded wolfess and her loving, oceanic windows. In fact, Adara had hunched close to little Zawyne, murmuring words of comfort; Losa—unable to breathe, unable to think—blinked dumbly at the lady-Ofer, tail swishing with embarrassment upon glimpsing just how close she’d come to thoughtlessly bumping into Adara. “Yes . . . yes . . .” Pointless agreements given to a female Tempest who obviously was now struggling to control her heartbreak. Chaos. Destruction. The torment suffusing the swamp clearing was staggering and palpable. At this point, it didn’t matter where all of them went, so long as it was away from the vampires and this emotional torture. Negative energy was poison to Arcus Irae . . . and Losa felt as if she’d personally made them all swallow nightshade.

Swallowing hard and lifting her crown, Losa turned toward where she felt Aindreas and started walking.

And when she felt Fairuz’s death rupture the final piece of her heart, she only stumbled once.



❝ís thє línє frσm mє tσ чσu!❞

⦊⦊ the undercover princess | sister to Zawyne | heartbroken | without a nest | xathira ⦉⦉





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