The Shadow Wand - Laurie Forest


Fifteen years ago...

Edwin Gardner sits on the silk-cushioned chair in a haze of grief.

He watches his distraught sister, Vyvian, pace her ornate parlor, and wishes that he could wash his hands of his family’s cursed legacy of magic.

And that the news Vyvian just imparted wasn’t so completely horrific.

Incredibly, in the midst of this world-altering day, Vyvian is dressed as impeccably as ever. Her long, gleaming black hair is artfully plaited, not a strand out of place. Her formfitting, midnight-colored silk tunic and long-skirt are perfectly pressed and patterned with lush pine boughs. And there’s luxury everywhere in this cursedly opulent room—dark, polished Ironwood trees set into the walls, their obsidian branches tangling overhead. An oak-leaf-patterned rug beneath his feet. Panoramic windows edged in luminous stained-glass vines that overlook Vyvian’s expansive garden of bloodred roses.

The finest of everything, Edwin considers with bitter anguish. All this wealth secured by his mother’s cruel reign of fire. Edwin sends up a prayer that future generations will not inherit her terrible, corrupting magic.

Vyvian continues to pace, not bothering to look at the three children huddled miserably in the corner, as Edwin’s grief threatens to tear him apart.

His brother, Vale, and Vale’s fastmate, Tessla, are dead.

Edwin’s throat is tight, his breathing irregular and stifled over the loss of two of the people he loves most in all the world. He wants to rip at his hair and cry out in misery to the heavens. To shake his fist at his powerful sister, at the entire monster that is Gardneria. But he can’t fall apart. He has three children who need his protection. Vale and Tessla’s children.

Rafe, Trystan, and Elloren.

* * *

“You can’t fight the Gardnerians,” he warned Tessla just a few months ago, overcome with worry as he faced her in her Valgard home. “You don’t know what cruelty my mother is capable of. Her power has turned shadowed, Tess. It’s consuming her.”

“I have to fight,” Tessla countered, her voice rough with defiance. “They’re rounding up all the Fae, Edwin! The children too. We have to help them!”

“You can’t.”

“We have to. Don’t you see? The Gardnerians are doing the same thing that the Kelts and the Urisk did to us! Children are being seized. Whole families. Do you know what that’s like? Watching your family, your people, herded together to be killed? The children screaming?” Tessla’s cheeks were flushed, her green eyes blazing.

She was so beautiful in that moment, it was hard for Edwin to look at her.

He’d tried to reason with her. “Think of your children.” They were being left with him for longer and longer stretches as Vale and Tessla fought this unbeatable evil. “What will Rafe and Trystan and Elloren do if something happens to you?”

Tessla shook her head. “I can’t sit by and do nothing about this horror.”

“You can’t win, Tess!”

She and Vale were tempting fate, Edwin knew. Tempting the awful power of his mother and the Gardnerian military by secretly working for the Resistance. Both Vale and Tessla were involved in smuggling Fae children and families through the Spine’s Eastern Pass, the two of them in league with Beck Keeler, Fain Quillen, and Jules Kristian. And others.

The ever-present knot of dread tightened inside Edwin.

He feared it was only a matter of time before Vale and Tessla were caught and executed, then made to look like war heroes, their Resistance activities neatly covered up.

To save the reputation of the Black Witch.

* * *

Now he’s sitting here, grief burning in his chest because that’s exactly what happened—Vale and Tessla were apprehended three days ago, as they attempted to save a group of Asrai Fae children from being shipped to the Pyrran Islands. Both of them had been dragged to the nearest military base and executed at his mother’s command, the truth of their Resistance activities hidden from all but a select few.

And this morning, trailing that catastrophe like a cataclysmic cyclone, is news that’s sending shock waves through both the Western and Eastern Realms.

His mother, the Black Witch, is dead.

Slain by an Icaral who died even as he killed her with a bolt of Wyvern flame—a fitting end to a reign of fire that had threatened to enslave the entire Western and Eastern Realms. That had destroyed leagues of forest and turned the lush plains of the East and the southern Uriskan lands to scorched desert.

Foreboding curls under Edwin’s ribs, constricting his chest.

The Gardnerians will be set on vengeance. And they’re not weak anymore. Because of his mother, Gardneria is now ten times its