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Shining Shira

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Shining Shira, the young and beautiful queen of Sunburst, inherits the Eshan power the moment her father is murdered—her blood is replaced with sunlight, allowing her to perform magic and become nearly invincible. On the night of her nineteenth birthday, Shira is abducted, and Conrad de Solis, the young, scarred, solemn captain of the queen’s guard, must fight to save her. Through his struggle, and overcome with guilt from the king’s assassination, Conrad faces the darkest moment of his life—whether he and Shira will survive or whether he’ll fail Sunburst yet again.

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Chapter 1

ePub

The Sunbursti capital, Eleora, was abuzz with excitement. It was the day of Shining Shira’s nineteenth birthday, and royals from every surrounding country swarmed into and around the palace. Fantastical clothing, ridiculous outfits, impeccable taste—everyone watching, everyone waiting. Everyone wanting the festivities to begin.

From the southernmost fishing village in the district Chamania to the hunting camps in the northern Dalmar territory, every town in Sunburst prepared for the celebration. The marketplaces and large streets were cleared; banners and ribbons were strung across the roads, coloring them in the red, orange, and gold of Sunburst’s flag. Musicians gathered, polishing their instruments and preparing to play the whole night. Children were let out from school early, and their parents dressed them in their finest clothes. Young men and women nervously and excitedly got ready; balls proved a huge opportunity for courtship.

Within the palace, fresh fish from Sunburst’s southern coastal district Chamania was unloaded by the wagon. Produce from the fertile grasslands in Sunburst’s middle district, Taran, where Eleora was located, was unpacked from the farmers’ carts by the basketful. Armed with soap and rags, servants scrubbed every panel of the floor-to-ceiling windows, covering all sides of the castle, and every skylight on the roof. The bright white stone hallways glistened with the evening sunlight, sparkling after having been scoured within an inch of their lives.

 

Chapter 2

ePub

An audible gasp rose from the crowd of nobles as Shining Shira stepped through the doors, escorted by Captain de Solis. She was dressed in a stunning gown of deep orange, red, and gold. It was fitted to her hips and gently flowed down to the ground. Her curly ebony hair was pulled back from her face in two simple braids, which wove themselves together and twisted into a bun on the back of her head. A thin band of gold graced her crown.

“Look at her,” one of the older noblemen said in a loud whisper that carried across the room. “Proud and reserved, just like her father.”

Shira and Conrad reached the floor of the banquet hall. She released his arm then turned to everyone else in the room, curtsying respectfully. The entire ballroom was silent with expectation, and she glided to the center with a brave yet nervous look on her face she could not quite manage to hide. Shira curtsied again, this time as though someone was standing right in front of her, and then she raised her arms out to an invisible partner. Perfectly on cue, a beautifully simple melody burst forth from the musicians in the far corner, and the young queen began to dance. Alone.

 

Chapter 3

ePub

When the two reached the staircase to the ballroom, Addae continued on the roof and Conrad descended. New music was playing, and Shira was dancing with a different man, this one an elderly Sunbursti ambassador whom Conrad’s father had known well. He approached the ballroom floor, and just as he reached it, the music stopped, and a different song began. Shira was only a few feet away, speaking quietly with the ambassador.

Standing very tall, Conrad approached and bowed respectfully to both of them before offering his hand to Shira. “May I have this dance, your highness?” he said softly.

She smiled slightly and grasped his hand, accepting. He led her into the center of the floor, and he very gently placed his hand on her waist as she placed hers on his shoulder. He had to bend slightly as they danced, for, like her mother, Shira was rather small. The crown of her head did not reach Conrad’s shoulder. The pair began to twirl slowly across the floor, and Conrad looked down at her, the trouble in his stomach not quite settled.

 

Chapter 4

ePub

Conrad listened as the bells struck midnight, and a flood of relief washed over him. He shook hands with a departing Sunbursti ambassador, bowed as Prince Kaelo and some of his relatives passed, and watched as carriage after carriage pulled away from the palace. The ball was finally over.

Shira had done an outstanding job, greatly impressing the other royals. All night, through the dances, the feast, the toasts and speeches in her honor, and all the conversations she had shared with the other nobles, she had brilliantly demonstrated her wisdom and kindness in a way everyone would remember for a very long time.

“Captain de Solis,” Addae said quietly. “The prisoner is ready.”

Together, the two men walked down from the balcony, through the kitchens, and into a narrow hallway with only one guard and a single, well-locked door. The soldier bowed as Conrad and Addae passed, and within moments, they were inside the prisoner’s cell.

The Cloudic man looked up when they entered.

 

Chapter 5

ePub

Before Shira could shout out a spell to light up her hands, something slammed into her and knocked her backward into the dresser. Arms wrapped around her waist and dragged her out from beneath the moonlight into the shadows, and fear rushed through Shira faster than she thought possible.

In less than a second, she was fighting as hard as she could to return to the moonlight, struggling to escape from whoever was holding onto her. She tried to cry out, tried to make any sort of noise, but her attacker, who was far stronger than she, began to overwhelm her. Her arms were suddenly pinned at her sides, and a piece of cloth pressed against her nose and mouth.

With a whiff of the fabric, horror froze Shira’s struggles. It was no ordinary cloth; it was covered in nluusonl suloun, a Cloudic sleeping potion so strong that inhaling it for even three seconds could render someone totally unconscious. Inhaling it for more than twelve seconds ensured a person would never wake up. Shira closed her eyes, and every ounce of training her father had instilled in her kicked in with a single surge.

 

Chapter 6

ePub

“Captain de Solis! Captain de Solis!”

Conrad turned at his name; he and Addae had just finished interrogating the Cloudic prisoner and were returning to the Sunbursti guard’s headquarters to finish securing the palace for the night. He was very surprised to see Shira’s young servant girl running quickly toward him.

“What is it?”

“The queen!” she gasped. “Cloudics—in her room—one chased after me when Shining—”

Conrad glanced at her arm, which she was clutching tightly. Even though she tried to hide it, he saw it was bleeding heavily.

“Tell me exactly what is going on, as fast as you can.”

“There are men in the queen’s room! I went back to ask her why Ari the guard wasn’t there because he had told me he would give me a present after I finished helping Shining Shira, but when I came out of the room, he was gone! When I knocked, she shouted at me to run, and a Cloudic in dark blue chased after me down the hallway, and he threw a knife at me and hit me, but I didn’t stop! She told me to come and get you. Something is wrong.”

 

Chapter 7

ePub

When the sun dawned early the next morning, Sunburst was in chaos. The borders had been severely restricted, and every carriage in the palace was searched, but nothing was found. Shining Shira had vanished.

“I want the names of every single guest here,” Conrad said, “from the moment the ball began. We need the time they arrived, the time they left, with whom they left, everything.”

Men swarmed his office, handing him paper filled with information and reports and telling him about so-and-so who may or may not have noticed a man or two men carrying something that looked like a person on the roof or near the castle wall. He and Addae directed men everywhere, trying to organize a situation that was completely out of control.

“Captain, many of the nobles left the palace before Shining Shira was attacked. Do we still need to check them?”

“Every single one. Talk to all the servants, everyone on the roof who could have seen something.”

“Captain, the people need to know what is going on. What do we tell them?”

 

Chapter 8

ePub

“Captain de Solis?” A soldier opened the door to the office, clearly puzzled. “I’m sorry to bother you all,” he said with a bow to Conrad, Celeste, and the commanding officers, “but I need to speak to the captain for a moment.”

Conrad stood and closed the door behind him, not bothering to hide his impatience. “What is it?”

“Zinnia Lucerne was just caught by two soldiers while trying to sneak past the doors to the headquarters.”

“And?”

“She argued with them for a solid five minutes then gave them a note she demanded be given to you as quickly as possible. She said it was urgent.”

“Do you have it?”

The soldier handed him a small piece of paper. Conrad’s lips moved silently as he read it then looked up at the soldier with unconcealed astonishment.

“Get Zinnia up here immediately.”

“Yes, sir.”

When the soldier was gone, Conrad re-entered the room and without speaking, placed the paper on the table for the other officers to see.

“You know we can’t read Galein,” Addae said dismissively while the others glanced at it. “It’s the foggy winds’ language. You can read and write it only because of your studies, but none of us can.”

 

Chapter 9

ePub

Shira’s heart pounded as she slipped her pen deep into her pocket. The voices above her and around her were very distinctly Cloudic, and a shudder of fear ran through her as voices from outside grew closer to where she lay. The board on her left slid open, and light streamed in. Rough hands grasped her arms and shoulders and dragged her out from underneath the carriage.

Someone threw a bag over her head and tossed a large piece of cloth over her body as soon as she was exposed. She struggled furiously, but she could not get free; the fabric tightened around her with every thrash. A man’s arms held her still as someone removed the cloth tying her ankles together.

Shira’s world stopped. Sunlight pulsed around her, trying to find her and enter her. She struggled unsuccessfully, trying to get one of her hands out from beneath the cloth that kept her prisoner.

Roughly, another person grabbed her by the waist and dragged her from the sunlight. Desperation kicked in when the energy from the sunlight around her suddenly died, and Shira tried to cry out as she kicked and struggled with the men holding her. It was no use. They were far larger and stronger than she was.

 

Chapter 10

ePub

“Where is she?”

The Cloudic smiled but made no reply.

“Where is she?” Conrad’s voice was low, steady, and dangerous.

“I don’t know.”

“You’re lying. Tell me the truth.”

The man’s smirk widened across his face.

“Then I will tell you where she is,” Conrad hissed, leaning forward until his face was only inches from his. “She is being held captive in Cloudrain.”

Shock registered across the man’s face, telling Conrad he had guessed correctly. A pregnant silence followed his words, and his dark eyes never left the prisoner’s. The man’s sneer had vanished, and for the first time, he dropped Conrad’s glare.

“Who sent you to abduct her?” Conrad growled.

“I wasn’t sent to harm the queen,” the man said softly, as though he did not realize he was speaking. “I was only a distract—” He stopped, and his face paled suddenly, humiliated that Conrad had gotten him to speak. Conrad nodded, his eyes cold.

“You were sent as a distraction to keep me and the lieutenant away from her bedroom. That’s why you weren’t wearing dark blue. It would have alerted our suspicions.”

 

Chapter 11

ePub

Shira had been locked in the cell for almost three hours. The silence was almost unbearable. Though she tried to sing, hum, speak, do anything to break the quiet, she eventually stopped. It was not worth wasting her energy. Hunger was already gnawing in her stomach, scraping away at her belly, but she was thankful for it. It distracted her from worrying about the lack of sunlight. Already, she had fought off three attacks of anxiety due to her separation from light, forcing herself to be still and breathe deeply until she could regain control of her body. Boredom crept into the corners of her mind, along with doubt and worry. Dangerous thoughts ran rampant as she stared at the door and sat cross-legged in the middle of the room, but she tried her hardest to avoid them. Instead, she forced herself to find little things to worry about. She spent her time solving problems that did not really matter and drawing pictures in the dirt on the floor.

She and Zinnia had written back and forth for a long while. It made her nervous that the writing covering the boards beneath her bed could be found, but Zinnia’s short snippets of dry humor helped keep her calm and prevented her from thinking about sunlight. After perhaps an hour, Shira asked Zinnia to provide a distraction.

 

Chapter 12

ePub

I can’t breathe.

Conrad’s heart stopped when Zinnia read the words aloud. Shira was reacting to the lack of sunlight. She had been in the darkness sixteen hours, only three hours away from the longest she had ever been able to stay out. This was not good.

“Zinnia, let me write to her.”

Deep breaths. In and out. Clear your mind of everything else.

I’m trying. I can’t.

Yes, you can. Lie flat on your back. Make your body as still as you can to stop shaking.

Conrad paused for a moment, racking his memory for anything else she could do.

What else?

I can’t remember! The rest is in Samnoles! I haven’t memorized the page yet!

“Heavens.” Conrad slammed the pen down, and he stared at the notebook for a fraction of a second before he turned to Zinnia. “Tell her I will be right back. I’m getting Samnoles.”

“But you can’t!” Addae said desperately. “You’re not an Eshan! If you touch it, you’ll be burned!”

“It won’t burn me.”

 

Chapter 13

ePub

Shira felt her heart stop when the footsteps paused just outside the door to her cell. She stood and ran her hands over her long curls, which she had pulled back into a simple braid after she had calmed down and shaken the dirt from the floor off of herself. With a deep breath, Shira hid her fear in the pit of her stomach and put on a calm, determined face. Whoever was coming could not know what she thought.

A key slid into the door. Shira shuddered, praying silently as the lock clicked. The door swung open, and two Cloudic men in dark blue stood in the entrance, staring at her. One of them took a step forward and threw a few dirty rags at Shira’s feet.

“Put those on.” His voice was cold. Shira glared at him stubbornly. “If you do not change, you will be deprived of the clothes you are wearing and be forced to wear nothing at all.”

Shira scowled, trying to bury her humiliation. She bent and picked up the tatters from the floor. “Get out.”

The man smiled. “Your modesty is becoming, your highness, but you will change immediately, or everything I have threatened will become true.”

 

Chapter 14

ePub

“Conrad’s home!” his youngest sister, Anna, shouted from the staircase when he opened the door to their home.

It was half-past six, less than an hour before he, the officers, and Zinnia would leave for Fort Asman, situated on the very edge of Sunburst closest to the Evron. As soon as Shira had affirmed it was Kaelo, he had arranged leaving on the next moonshimmer for the fort. With the other officers’ permission, he had also summoned a foggy wind, a creature that few knew existed and that the Sunbursti military had kept secret for decades. This particular foggy wind, named Zafrir, would meet them at Fort Asman the next morning.

“Hello, Anna,” he said, scooping her up under his left arm and spinning her around before hugging her tightly. The smile he wore had a tenderness some did not believe he possessed. “You are getting so big! I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to hold you!”

“You say that every day,” Sori said from the doorway to the kitchen. At nineteen and nearly finished with school, she was becoming more and more beautiful every day. Conrad often joked he would need to keep his sword sharp to chase away the suitors; usually, she rolled her eyes and laughed then reminded him he was not allowed to swordfight due to his damaged shoulder. When Conrad glanced at her, though, her arms were crossed, and her face was stern. His smile faded when he saw her worry.

 

Chapter 15

ePub

Shira’s heart dropped to the pit of her stomach when she heard footsteps on the stairs beneath her. She scrambled to her feet, fear flooding through her; it had been almost eighteen hours since she had last stood in sunlight. She did not know how much longer she could hold on. There were too many voices outside her room for it to be simply the two guards who had fetched her last time, she realized as she rolled the pen into her makeshift belt, pressing it against her waist. Hurriedly, she folded her pants’ fabric over the belt, and with a deep breath, she prayed it would not be discovered.

“Stay strong,” she whispered, trying to keep herself calm with even, steady breaths. “You can do this.”

The door flew open. A Cloudic in blue marched into the room, and she watched him carefully. Warily, he approached her.

“Turn around, place your hands behind your back, and don’t struggle. I am allowed to do anything I please to enforce the crown prince’s orders.”

Shira glared at him, and then she did what he demanded. For the moment, she decided, it would be better to play Kaelo’s game. Only when she understood what he intended would she be able to break his rules and escape.

 

Chapter 16

ePub

Conrad glanced around the moonshimmer’s landing ground as he tied it down. With a slight smile, he looked up at the giant’s gentle scarlet eyes; it had always seemed to him that moonshimmers could read his thoughts. It exhaled deeply, and its warm, smoky breath blew across his face. Its silver scales had a muted glow in the dusky twilight, and he gently ran a hand over the bridge of its nose after he finished the knots. With a motion to the other passengers, Conrad ran his hand over its gleaming, rough hide as he stepped around its belly.

Addae and the three corporals dismounted, leaping from the small, basketlike seats strapped to its side. Shaking his head, Conrad looked up; Zinnia’s face was white with horror.

“Come down, your highness,” he said softly. “The moonshimmer is secure. It won’t hurt you.”

Tensely, Zinnia closed her eyes and leapt from the creature’s back. As soon as she hit the ground, Conrad threw his hand over her mouth and held her still until she seemed calmer. Smirking, he then released her, and he pressed a finger to his lips before motioning the others to follow him.

 

Chapter 17

ePub

Shira sat on her bed, head bowed. Her hands were still chained, but she had scooted her torso and legs between her arms so her hands were locked in front of her body instead of behind her back. The key Kaelo had thrown at her was for something else, and it did not fit into the lock. It did not fit the door, either.

All of a sudden, the room’s temperature seemed to plummet. The sunless air of the small cell closed in around her, trying to choke her and destroy her. She made no sound, just sitting, still as death, trying to fight the panic that suddenly gripped her.

Shira forced herself to breathe, in and out, in and out, listening to air fill her and leave her. Darkness pressed against her skin, trying to push itself into her and banish the sunlight within her. In and out, in and out. She forced herself to focus on the sound of her breathing. In and out, in and out. Sweat trickled down her forehead, and her body began to shake uncontrollably.

You are going to die here, Shining Shira. You cannot survive. Give in.

 

Chapter 18

ePub

Bayo was everyone’s favorite person in the Evron. In every sense of the word, she was larger than life. She waddled around the kitchens with her grey-streaked, curly blond hair bobbing up and down, and she bossed everyone around with her big, booming voice. Her happy laugh seemed to shake the rooms as much as it did her large, round belly. Even though she had a tongue sharper than a dagger and was as mean as a hornet when someone ruined one of her delicious dishes, she was the most beloved chef in the kitchens.

Above all else, Bayo loved to cook and have people enjoy her food. When a far-too-skinny, miserable-looking Sunbursti was dragged into her kitchens, then, she nearly threw a fit.

“What is he doing here?” she shouted at the two Iniskroun.

“He is serving punishment for his crime,” one said apprehensively. Everyone knew about Bayo’s temper.

“He does not need to be serving it in my kitchens! Drag him off to the gallows if he needs to be punished, but don’t leave him here!”

 

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