Emma the Petite might be small, but she is all Aasguard. An experienced warrior of over a thousand years she is confident in her abilities. She fools herself into believing the only thing she lacks is knowledge of her family history.
Mozark is a mage feeling his long years. He has traveled the land for over a millennium learning about other places and cultures. He is seeking a home but fears the urge to move on will triumph.
Soon Emma and Mozark realize they have missed a few critical things. Such as Emma has an unknown family member who needs her dead so he can be the legendary Heir. Emma and Mozark also develop feelings for each other. But an Aasguard and a mage cannot marry. Or can they?
One is not like the others.
The problem being, of course, that all three ancient tomes looked exactly alike. Mozark ran his index finger down the spine of the middle book. He repeated the process with the two on either side. Nothing happened.
The three volumes were identical. From the cracked covers, fraying along the edges, and worn on the bottom from years of sliding across a bookshelf. To the pages inside with text that read identically, although the ink faded and blobbed in different places. Due, no doubt, to the scribe who had penned the individual books.
His eyes narrowed. Of course. The scribes had not been the same. That was a difference.
Different scribes, but all the same book. The letters, numbers, and illustrations were all the same. Yet the person who had inked each tome had not been. He opened all three tomes to the first page.READ MORE
To the naked eye, the first pages were identical. Other than the handwriting and pressure each scribe had used. He could discern immediately that the scribes had been three different men. And yes, all had been men. The masculine energy might be faint but was evident.
The men had trained by the same master scribe. This was revealed in the similar handwriting style. From the same… The door opened behind him and everything inside him tightened. He didn’t need the fresh scent of spring and woman to know who walked through the library door at the school for Aasguards. And soon a healer school.
Construction on the new healer wing had already begun and the two senior healers, Eliza, a mage, and Myrtle, a lake serpent, watched the progress with glee. They were inseparable as they could be with Myrtle water based and Eliza land based, but the two female healers already worked closely together and formed a bond that warmed his heart.
Mozark turned to greet the woman who entered the large, book-lined room. A room he felt the most comfortable in. Now he watched as Emma the Petite strode across the room to his side in sure, confident strides. The blonde curls that escaped her braid to frame her face bounced. The sunlight slanting through the floor to ceiling rectangular windows highlighted the freckles scattered across her nose and lit up her sky-blue eyes.
His stomach muscles clenched. “Hello.” Greeting her seemed appropriate.
“Hello.” She took in the three books in front of him. “Did you discover anything?”
They had discovered the three tomes yesterday. In a box Ulric had sent. The master mage had returned to his home to pack and close his house before he returned here. But he had recently come across these books and felt they required study. For one was not like the others.
How Ulric knew this, Mozark did not ask, but he trusted the oldest known mage in the land.
“The scribes were different.”
His statement made Emma tilt her head as she stepped closer. Close enough for him to smell the leather and metal of all warriors. Aasguards in particular. This woman could fight better than ninety-nine percent of the population. She was elite, skilled beyond any human, and like him, she had passed from the human realm eons ago.
Perhaps eons was just him. He felt every bit of his long, long years.
She pressed a hip to the table and peered between the three open pages. Her eyes narrowed. “This scribe was more.” She touched the left volume. Her eyes shut as she ran a finger over the paper, then along the page ridge.
He gaped at her. “How do you know that?”
“Feel.” She took his hand and pressed a finger into the page. “There is a spark there.”
Mozark had to concentrate to detect what she stated. It took more concentration than he had utilized in years. He called upon his long years of discipline to focus on their task instead of the woman beside him.
A renowned warrior smaller than any of the other Aasguard warriors, male or female, but every bit as successful. One so pert and fresh he wanted to bask in her light.
Aged mages did no such thing.
At least not in his lifetime and he’d been walking the land since a few years after the Aasguard founder, Fergus the First. He and Fergus were considered contemporaries. As was Emma. Fergus trained her within a handful of years after he became Aasguard.
Two Aasguard warriors had found Fergus, thought deceased, alive. With him came his mate, Lucy the Lucky, the new leaders of the Aasguard nation. Somehow, Mozark and Ulric had been tasked with leading the mages.
Mozark did not know how he felt about that. He agreed to stay on at the school because Emma seemed eager to do so and teaching eager young students appealed to him.
Emma tapped the page. “This one was more than a scribe. I am uncertain whether he was mage…” She trailed off.
Yanking himself back to the conversation at hand, he placed his hand on the open page. Then pulsed power into the book. It crackled and he and Emma barely ducked before the book erupted in a storm of lightning, thunder, and fury. Sparks lit around the book. One splattered on the middle book and sizzled.
He doused the spark before it set them on fire. Emma gazed at the storming book and shoved her hand over it. Power surged through her. It collided with the storm and as quickly as it brewed, blew out. The lightning ceased and the room grew silent once more.
Emma’s palm glowed as she settled it on the book. Dead center, her face a study of concentration. More energy, more magic, pulsed from her as she sent it into the book.
This time, birdsong and the rustling of a breeze rose from the book. The scent of a summer meadow wafted across them.
A notion popped into his mind. “Emma, look at the earlier pages.”
She stared at the book for another heartbeat before flipping the pages to do as he requested. He leaned forward to read with her. The mark of the scribe glowed in the sunlight. The lines and whorls took on extra definition to appear three dimensional on the page.
Her sharp intake of breath told its own story.
“Do you recognize that emblem?” He kept his voice low.
Her finger reached out and traced the pattern. “This is my family crest.” Emma drew her sword, so practiced and easy it made him catch his breath. This woman was magic in motion.
She pointed to where the hilt met the shaft. There, deeply etched within the metal, was the exact same crest as glowed in the book. Her swallow was loud. Despite the twitterings of birds that arose from the book.
“This scribe was your family?”
She swallowed again. “It appears so.”
Emma struggled to make sense of the book in front of her. Of the family crest clearly etched on her sword and echoed on the page in front of them. Her thoughts swirled and shifted so badly she could not sort them into appropriate categories.
Her avid gaze took in the small crest on the scribe’s page. That crest had been with her from birth, but the only place she had seen this design in centuries was on her sword. Every day this symbol representing her family had sustained her, encouraged her, kept her on task. She might be the last of her line, never having known her father, but she continued.
She did not hope. Emma had long ago given up hope that she might be the continuation of her line.
Yet the silent man at her side beckoned to her as no other ever had. Tall, with dark hair and dark eyes, Mozark was so handsome he made her breath catch. Everything about him spoke to her. The slash of silver through his hair had been there from the time he entered puberty. Or so she had heard.
She failed to muster the courage to ask such a personal question. This man, who knew so much about so many things, did not engender nosy questions. He had spent his entire lengthy life traveling the land, learning about others, speaking to them in their own language. Encased himself in their language and their culture until he had learned all he could about peoples and places not like himself.
Emma respected that. Respected the level of intellect and discipline it took to learn all he could about so many different things. The man also had learned to be a warrior of sorts. While a mage, he understood fighting techniques. He and Fergus trained together now in the mornings so Mozark could monitor Fergus who had been paralyzed and Fergus could teach Mozark the ways of the Aasguard and learn mage fighting techniques.
Always learning, ever the scholar. That is how she viewed Mozark. A man unto himself, but more. Always seeking more.
This thought stabbed her through the heart, but she knew not why.
“I have heard that you did not know your father?” A roughened edge to his voice made her meet his dark gaze.
Fathomless eyes with depths no one had likely ever explored. Could I…?
“He died right after I was born.” She swallowed. “My brothers were all older than me. The eldest was twenty and two. The youngest eighteen. The three of them aided my mother whenever they could.”
“Did they teach you to fight?”
“They did. At least until each one fell in battle. I believe my father was also a warrior, but I have never been able to verify that.” She stared at the book that emitted a sweet breeze. “Whoever wrote this tome might have been mage.” She used the term mage rather than wizard as the sorcerers scourging the land had taken to calling themselves wizards of late.
Her statement made Mozark stir beside her. “It does seem likely he had mage traits. Your father was a warrior?”
“I believe so.”
“It is not unheard of for a man to be both warrior and mage. Uncommon, but not unheard of.”
You would know. She did not say that out loud. It leaned toward too forward.
“My family rarely spoke about him.” Emotions that had long ago been purged resurfaced. That should not be possible. Yet the feeling that her family had kept dark, terrible secrets they never revealed left her feeling like that ten-year-old from an age long forgotten.
Mozark’s dark gaze swept her face. “Why did they never speak of him?”
“I do not know. I have never known.” The same frustration and angst attempted to strangle her all over again. “I was so much younger that they seemed intent upon protecting me.”
As she tore her gaze from his mesmerizing one, Emma’s focus landed on the open book, birds tweeting from it, the soft scents of spring wafting over them.
Her thoughts coalesced. “A man who was bad or evil would not have created something like this.” She fingered the page edges. The parchment was of good quality, and the ink barely faded. It still showed crisp on the creamy parchment.
“He protected this book with his magic.” Mozark used his chin to indicate the book. “My magic produced a storm.” His deep voice rumbled through the room, and her.
“Meaning that it took someone of his lineage to produce a spring response?”
“I suspect so. I pulsed energy through it in inquiry, and it responded with a spectacular, but not dangerous storm.”
“That lightning looked real enough.”
“It was. But book sized. It would have offered a jolt but nothing serious. Nothing dangerous. It was a warning.”
Emma flipped the pages of the book. Words leapt out at her, and several of the pages revealed beautiful illustrations. Some colored, which would have taken time, and others mere ink renders.
She opened the book beside her family’s. Emma opened the book to the same page as a colored drawing in the book with her family crest.
The page showed a similar drawing, but no color. Mozark made a noise in the back of his throat. He opened the book on the right. The final book in the group. The same page looked identical to the middle book. An inked illustration of a particular plant that she had seen before. But no color.
“Why did he add color to this page?”
Mozark did not answer for several heart beats. “Are there additional drawings with color?”
An excellent question. Emma turned each page with care as they inspected the contents. Several more of the illustrations revealed color. The other two books remained inked only.
“Where did you get these books?” Emma now wondered where they had come from.
“Ulric sent them ahead and asked me to determine what was different between them.”
“He believes all three books are different or that only one book is different?”
“I did not ask him for specifics. He mentioned that one was different. Only that.”
Not a very satisfying answer. Nonetheless she did have an answer.
“This book belongs to me.” She lightly tapped the book on the left.
It burst with so much color her eyes burned.COLLAPSE