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Welcome and thank you!

This special sneak peek is designed to give you a taste of the story, characters, and world that I’ve lovingly crafted. I hope you find it intriguing and captivating. Your interest and curiosity mean the world to me, and I’m excited to share In The Shadows with you. Happy Reading!

Copyright Notice: This sample is provided for personal use only. Unauthorized sharing, copying, or distribution is prohibited. Copyright owned by Ink of Fate Publishing, LLC, and L.B. August.

Prologue: The Threads of Amari—A Children’s Story

Long ago, before life walked the land,

Four gods created a realm they could command.

The all-seeing fates wove threads of golden light,

To bind the mortals’ hearts; their destinies to unite.

Simple beings the gods had chosen,

Blessed them with powers that made them emboldened.

Threads of fate bound hearts together.

Souls linked as one, entwined forever.

A gentle pull, a hum low and sweet,

Awakened hearts to a love so deep.

Two new souls, tightly tethered,

Only in death could the bonds be severed.

But the gods asked for the fates to decree,

For the threads to bind an Amari of three.

Cords pulling one to heart, one to soul,

But the gods hid their deceitful goal.

To create a union of greatest power

And bring on the darkest hour.

Destroying the realm to start anew,

Only for the chosen few.

The fates, betrayed as lovers scorned,

Severed from the gods, forever torn.

In the gods, the fates could no longer trust:

The gods’ games and schemes so cruel and unjust.

So, wary of gods with motives sly,

The fates kept track, always nearby.

Controlling the threads of the gods’ creations,

Weaving tales of love through all generations.

Chapter 1: Theo, 10 years ago

    The harsh sunlight beams down, illuminating her pale skin. She looks like a beacon from the gods calling me to worship. The threads of fate wrapped tightly around my heart hum at her close proximity, seeming to rejoice.

    Sweet jade-green eyes lock with mine, and my racing heart freezes. Lily looks away quickly and fidgets with a strand of her long, curly red hair.

    “Theo, are you even listening to me?” Juniper’s teasing voice calls from beside Lily on their shared boulder.

I rub the back of my neck, trying to recall her question but failing. Junie glares at me with a knowing smirk. Her bright-blue eyes are even more striking with her stark-blonde hair twisted back.

    “Um, what was your question again?” I reply, sheepishly.

    “I asked if there were any girls you had a crush on?” she asks with an arched eyebrow. Her eyes flick between Lily and me.

    Lily. She’s the only one who has ever made my heart sing—the only person who makes me feel happy and whole. For years, I’ve longed to tell her how I feel, but the fear of rejection stops me.

    For a moment, the only sound between us is the water lapping against the rocky shore of the river. I swallow hard as my cheeks heat with embarrassment. I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out.

    Junie leans into Lily, whispering into her ear. Lily shifts uncomfortably on the rock as her cheeks turn a soft shade of pink.

    Boots click on stones behind me, and I turn to see Breton taking long strides toward us. I let out a huff of irritation as I cross my arms on my chest.

    “Princess Juniper and Theodore, your fathers have summoned you both to the throne room for monthly court. They will start shortly, so we need to be on our way,” the captain of Lux announces.

    Junie simply nods. She takes her role and duty as princess of Lux with the grace of a stoic future queen. She pulls Lily into a tight hug before bringing their hands together on her lap.

    “I’m sorry I can’t spend your birthday with you, Lil. I tried talking to my father about not going this one time, but you know how he is. After dinner, we’ll eat dessert under the stars. Just the three of us, like we always do for our birthdays.” Junie brushes her thumb lightly over the back of Lily’s hand.

    “Your birthday will be different this year, though. Won’t it, Juju? Your sixteenth is going to be a huge celebration. I doubt King Leopold will let you spend time with us.” Lily’s voice is soft, as if she’s holding something back.

    She’s right. Divinus, or the god-blessed, descend into their powers on the day of their sixteenth birthday. King Leopold has waited patiently for his only heir to show a glimmer of our goddess Astra’s lightning power. He likely won’t let Junie out of his sight until she shows that she wields his same power.

    “It will be, but afterward, everything will go back to how it is now,” Junie assures gently.

    “Except you will throw lightning bolts out of your hands whenever you feel like it,” I reply sarcastically.

    “Maybe then I’ll get you to listen to me, Theodore,” Junie replies playfully.

    I laugh, shaking my head.

    Junie’s smile falters as she releases Lily’s hands. “I’m ready for it. I can feel my power pulsating within me, but it feels locked behind a door, waiting to be released.”

    A look of uncertainty flashes on Lily’s face, and a knot forms in my stomach, but I can’t place why. Divinus powers are just part of being a royal in Omnia.

    Junie rises to stand. Her elegant dress is a stark contrast to the green forest, deep-blue water, and gray stones around us. She strides toward me, patting my arm as she passes.

    She joins Breton, ready to head into the Lux castle, Brightwick. I can feel Breton’s eyes burning into the back of my head.

    “Tell him I’m not in the guard so he can’t summon me, Breton.” My words are harsh, but the tone is meant for my father, not the messenger.

    As general of the guard, my father has been pushing me to enlist for as long as I can remember. Claiming I need to “follow in his footsteps,” when what I wish to be is a scholar. I dream of days filled with learning and teaching, not combat and training.

    Breton lets out an exhausted sigh, and I turn to look at him. His long, black hair is pulled into a tight bun, allowing the streaks of white to show distinctly. His indigo and silver formal uniform complements Junie’s dress perfectly.

    “I told him that would be your answer, but he ordered me to ask. He should know by now you’re too smart for his antics—being a future scholar and all.” Breton gives me a wink before extending an arm for Junie. I smile as the two of them head back up the gravel hill to the castle.

    As I turn back around, a dark shadow skirts the ground between Lily and me. Above, an all-black bird circles us. I squint, trying to get a better look. As if catching my gaze, the bird quickly darts toward the forest on the other side of the riverbank, out of view.

    “What kind of bird was that?” Lily asks, obviously as confused as I am.

    “I’m not sure, but it’s not a bird of Lux. I’ll see what I can find out about it in the library tomorrow.” I try to sound reassuring, but the perplexing knot in my stomach grows.

    My gaze falls to Lily—like it always seems to do. I often catch myself staring helplessly at her beautiful face, wishing she would see me as more than a friend. I wonder if she has ever thought we could be Amari, like in the stories our mothers told us as children. Two souls bound together through this lifetime and, if I’m lucky, all that comes after.

    Her eyes meet mine and my breath hitches. My gaze trails down to her soft, pink lips, desperately wishing she would be my first and only kiss.

    “Theo.” Lily’s voice is breathy, and I close my eyes at the way my name sounds on her lips. It makes my heart flutter in ways I’ve never felt before.

    “Hmmm,” is the only response I can muster. When I open my eyes, a smile curls one side of her lips, and I swear it’s the most perfect one in all the realm.

    “You never answered Junie’s question,” her voice is low as she chews on the inside of her cheek, her eyes cast down again, staring at the ground. She looks as nervous as I feel.

    Does her heart reach for mine, too? A wave of hope rushes through me at the thought. I step toward her, taking a deep breath to ease my anxiety.

    “I might like someone.”

    I take another step closer as the stones click under my boots.

    “Do you?” I ask, unable to disguise the hope in my voice.

    Her breaths are rapid as I close the distance between us. My heart nearly bursts from my chest. Her eyes slowly rise from the ground as I stand before her. When her gaze finally reaches mine, it feels as if the realm around us falls away, leaving only us in this moment.

    “You,” is all she says.

    One word and I’m falling to my knees, kneeling in front of where she still sits on the boulder. The smooth stones on the ground dig into my skin. I cup her face and pull her into me. When our mouths finally meet, I find that her lips are softer than I had dreamed they would be. She melts in my hands as a sigh escapes from deep in her chest.

    Releasing her lips, I press my forehead to hers. Our breaths are short and ragged. Her delicate hands wrap around my wrists. As I lean back, Lily’s eyebrows pinch together as she searches my face for any uncertainty.

    “Lily, I’ve wanted you to be my girl for as long as I can remember. It has always been you and me, and for me, it will always be you,” I say, hoping she feels the same.

    Her lips curl into a smile. Gods, I would do anything to see that smile all day, every day. She gives me a slow nod of reassurance. I kiss her again, cherishing the feeling of her soft mouth.

    Before my growing desire overtakes the moment, I pull out of the kiss and stand.

    “Are you ready to go swimming?” Taking a step back, I pull my shirt over my head and step out of my trousers. Lily’s eyes roam over me as she bites her bottom lip.

    “Enjoying the view?” I say, mustering every bit of confidence I have.

    Her eyes freeze and pink colors her cheeks. I walk to her and offer a hand to help her rise from the boulder. She slides her smooth hand into mine. Tingles erupt across my palm as our skin touches.

    She pulls her dress over her head, dropping it on the boulder. I stare, transfixed by her beauty. Her delicate frame matches the soft flower her mother named her after. My flower.

    Taking both her hands in mine, I walk backward into the river, pulling her along with me. The chilly water nips at my ankles as we enter. Since it flows down from the snow-capped mountain range that skirts the edge of the Lux kingdom, it’s always chilly regardless of the time of year.

    Passing the small rock blockage near the shoreline, I wade into the deep-blue water until I can barely touch the bottom. I release Lily’s hand and duck under the crisp water, allowing it to cool my heated skin.

    As I break the surface, Lily drops under to do the same. I watch as the black bird from earlier drops from the sharp cliff face high above where Brightwick sits. It flaps silently through the air, circling above us before darting into the thick forest on the other side of the river without ever making a sound.

    Lily treads water beside me and I can’t help but smile. Her long, red hair is slicked back and cascades down her shoulders. The freckles along her cheeks and nose accent her sweet face.

    She notices me watching and turns toward me. Her lips pinch into a thin line.

    “Do you think we’re Amari?” she asks hesitantly, watching for my reaction.

    My soulmate.

    “Yes,” I answer as the cords that link our hearts vibrate, confirming the deep bond we share.

    Growing up, our mothers would tell us stories about Amari and the threads that bind two destined mortals, always leading them to one another, no matter the distance.

    “And since we’re Amari, I get to kiss you as much as I want for the rest of our lives.” I swim to her and bring my lips to hers again, but she doesn’t kiss me back this time.

    As I draw back, I notice Lily’s furrowed brow and that knot in my stomach twists. “What is it?” I ask, hoping she can’t hear the disappointment in my voice.

    “I don’t know. Something feels off. Maybe we should head back to shore,” she answers, her breathing becoming rapid.

    I rub a hand along her back. Her body trembles under my touch. Lily’s mother, Eleanor, says the gods will warn you of danger and to follow their intuition when they give it to you. Whatever has Lily’s instincts flaring can’t be good. We need to get moving.

    I grab her hands in mine and start leading her back to shore.

    “Theo, what’s that?” Lily’s voice quivers as her eyes lock on something in the distance.

    Following her line of sight, my heart stops when I see glowing, white pupil-less eyes staring at us from just above the waterline.

    “What is a nobu doing in Lux?” I ask, more of the gods than of her.

    The scaly, gray skin on the nobu’s massive head barely crests the surface of the water. Only its long snout; large, high-set eyes; and small, rounded ears are visible.

    The nobu are monsters of Umbra, a dark shadow kingdom filled with cruel and evil beings. I’ve only ever read about their beasts in books. I never expected to see one with my own eyes. The nobu hide in the rivers of Umbra and eat unsuspecting fools who dare to step foot on their land.

    Why in the realm is it here?

    “We need to go. Now.” I say quietly, but forcefully, as I cautiously retreat toward the safety of the shore, avoiding any sudden movements.

    I walk backward, dragging Lily with me, while ensuring I don’t break eye contact with the nobu.

    As if sensing its meal getting away, the nobu charges. It glides effortlessly as it rushes toward us, barely disturbing the water.

    “Run!” I shout, turning forward and quickening our pace.

    Using the rocky bottom as leverage, I push us hard to the shore. Lily frantically kicks her legs under the water behind her. My heart hammers in my chest as I gasp for air.

    Small ripples churn in the water, seeming to vibrate around us. Lily squeezes her face into a pained expression.

    “Theo,” her voice wobbles with uncertainty.

    I don’t stop. I need to get us to shore as fast as possible. When I glance back, the empty, glowing eyes of the nobu are still on us.

    We finally make it where Lily can touch bottom, and we both use it to thrust further away, trying to gain as much distance as possible. The monster is only a few feet away now.

    My eyes find Lily’s for a moment, and my realm slows as her panic-filled eyes slash through me. I know what I must do.

    The water splashes at my hips as we race toward the shore, and I debate if I have enough leverage to get her out of harm’s way.

    Taking one more glance over my shoulder, I see the nobu is quickly gaining on us. It’s now or never. If I hesitate any longer, I may not be able to save her.

    Looking down, I take in Lily’s beautiful face one last time, trying to memorize everything about her: those freckles that look like stars, the jade-green eyes that cause my heart to flutter every time they land on me, and her curly, red hair the color of leaves in autumn.

    “I love you, Lily,” I scream into the air for all to hear.

    Her mouth opens to speak, but I’m too fast. I grip her sides and throw her with all my might as far as she’ll go. She lands near the shore with a loud thump.

    I steady myself and spin to face the nobu. I continue to walk backward into shallower water as it splashes along my thighs. The monster slows its pursuit as it nears. Its round, scaly body takes powerful steps toward me. Its mouth opens wide, revealing its sharp teeth, ready to shred me to pieces.

    I drag a foot on the bottom, looking for a large rock or anything I can use to defend myself, but come up empty. Dropping into a fighting stance, I prepare to take on the nobu with my fists. I won’t survive, but I won’t make this easy on the beast. It will give Lily time to get away.

    The nobu snaps its jaw closed with a crack. It stalks toward me, slow and menacing. Its iridescent scales glow brightly in the sunlight. The monstrous beast towers over me. Its gray snout wiggles as if tracking me by my scent. I suck in a breath, preparing myself for impact, as the nobu crouches into a charging position.

    “No!” Lily’s scream pierces the air right before darkness descends.

    A swirling black mass encircles me, blocking the nobu. My chest tightens as my skin tingles. I find myself staring at a wall of shadows.

    Thalos? Why would Thalos shield me from certain death? The dark god of Umbra has no reason to be watching over a mortal in Lux.

    “Theo!” Lily’s pained and broken voice halts my spiraling thoughts. I spin, frantic to find her.

    “Lily!” My voice strains in the shadowed space.

    Water splashes, and I chase after the sound, desperate to get to her. Choked sobs grow louder as a shadowed form runs toward me. I reach out and grab it.


    I slam her into my chest. She gasps before wrapping her arms around me, crying on my shoulder. I hold her tight, never wanting there to be any distance between us again.

    “Are you ok?” I ask as I softly kiss her wet hair.

    She trembles in my arms as the shadows continue to dance around us in agitated motions.

    “I thought I lost you,” she answers through tears.

    Leaning back, I place my hands on her cheeks and pull her in for a hard kiss. I need to feel her. Make sure she’s ok. That we’re both alive. She kisses back with the same intensity.

    I break our kiss and place my forehead on hers, noticing how cold her skin feels against mine. I pull back to look at her and see her skin is ashen.

    She weakly lifts her arm, pointing at the dark mass surrounding us. “What is all of this?”

    “I don’t know,” I answer, staring at the shadows. “The gods, maybe? These are Thalos’ shadows.”

    I reach out tentatively and place a gentle hand on the darkness, expecting it to hurt, but it’s warm and sends sparks like lightning along my skin.

    Lily flinches in my arms. “I felt that,” she whispers.

    “What do you mean?” I ask hesitantly, the knot in my stomach twisting again.

    She points at the blackness enveloping us. “I felt your touch when you brushed the shadows.”

    As she speaks, I reach out and run a hand down the wall again. Lily’s entire body shivers in my arms as her paler-than-normal cheeks turn pink. She swallows hard.

    “Please stop, Theo. I can feel you everywhere on and in my body,” she says, her eyes not leaving my chest.

    My mouth falls open in silent realization of what this means.

    “Well, it looks like Thalos has chosen his new divinus line,” I say, looking at her in pure wonder.

     My Amari is a divinus. How could this be? Could the god of shadow and light have finally picked someone who’s good, kind, and worthy?

    The gods are free to choose a family line to receive their blessing at any time. From the beginning, the divinus have become the royals of each kingdom and ruled over the people with their power. The current divinus line of Umbra consists of only King Oren Griffin. He is a power-hungry, bloodthirsty man out to destroy anyone who crosses his path—no different than all the Umbra kings before him. But it seems that he has lost Thalos’ favor because instead of waiting for him to sire an heir, Thalos bestowed the shadow powers to Lily. A simple servant’s daughter.

    Lily’s nails dig into my skin. I look down to see that her eyes have filled with renewed terror.

    “No. Thalos and his divinus are pure evil. They’re death and malice. I ... I can’t be one of them.” Her shaky voice pleads.

    The air grows tense as the shadows deepen the dark abyss around us.

    I hook a finger under Lily’s chin and force her to hold my gaze. Her eyes are wet with unshed tears. The fear of this new power seems to be overwhelming her.

    “Listen to me, Lily. You may share the same god-given power as those monsters, but you’re not them. You’re sweet and caring. No matter how much darkness you carry within, you’ll never be like them. I know your soul. It’s pure and brilliant. Thalos’ gift doesn’t change that.” I stroke my thumb along her jawline, and she relaxes into my arms.

    The shadows lighten as tension leaves her body. They slowly spiral through the air, dancing along Lily’s skin and fading away. I watch in amazement at the sight of the darkness receding into my beautiful, delicate flower.

With the black wall gone, we can see what happened to the nobu. Its dead body floats in the water, bobbing in the small waves. Its eyes now resemble chunks of coal, black and empty.

    Lily gasps and buries her face in my chest. I pull her in close before turning us toward shore. I can’t wait to get us out of the river. She takes one step and collapses in my arms. All the color in her face is gone.

    “I’m not sure I can make it back, Theo. I’m so tired.” She can barely get the words out as she clings weakly to me.

    Reaching down, I lift and cradle her limp body in my arms. “Being a shadow goddess must take a lot out of you. Let me get you back to your mother. She’ll know what to do.”

    Lily’s nod of agreement is almost imperceptible.

    I trudge through the water and back onto shore. Before my feet even crunch on the gravel walkway back to Brightwick, Lily is asleep in my arms. I hold her tight as I climb the steep path, up the cliff, back home.

    My feet pad softly on the gray stone floor of Brightwick. A chorus of voices from the throne room floats through the halls. I turn the last corner, and the door to Lily’s chambers comes into view. The faint etching along the trim sets her door apart from the others.

     I place a gentle kiss on Lily’s forehead. “My flower, we’re back at your chambers. It’s time to wake up.”

    She stirs in my arms, and I smile as she yawns loudly and opens her eyes. I lower her feet to the ground, keeping one arm around her waist for support.

    We walk inside, and I help her sit in one of the worn chairs around a small table. I pull a blanket off the back of the chair and wrap it around her.

    “Nata, is that you?” Eleanor’s soft voice calls for her daughter from their small bathing chamber. She enters the common space with the same beauty and grace as Lily. Her long, auburn hair hangs in light waves along her shoulders.

    Eleanor’s smile falls when she sees Lily’s soaked and fragile state. Her face pales as she rushes toward us and bends to cup Lily’s face in her hands.

     “Nata, are you ok? Tell me what happened. Now, Theo!” Her voice is harsh and demanding.

     I’ve never heard her use that tone before, and it has me fumbling for words.

     “There was an incident at the river,” I reply quickly.

     Eleanor’s deep-green eyes flash to me. They’re the same shade as the evergreens in the forest near the mountains. They burn into me, and I swallow hard and rub my neck, trying to figure out a way to explain what happened.

    “Theo and I went swimming in the river where a nobu tried to attack us. But shadows poured out of me and protected us. We think Thalos has chosen me as his new divinus,” Lily spits out the whole ordeal. She straightens in the chair, looking to her mother for answers.

    Eleanor’s face drains of all its color as she rapidly shakes her head. “No,” she whispers as her hands fall from Lily’s face to rest on the chair.

    Suddenly, Eleanor’s eyes widen, and her breathing quickens.

    “Lily, where’s your necklace? Did you have it on during the attack?” panic laces Eleanor’s voice as she scans Lily’s body.

    “No, I left it on the shore so it wouldn’t get ruined. But I don’t need it anymore. My divinus power will protect me now,” Lily replies reassuringly.

    Eleanor grabs Lily’s arms, hard, causing Lily’s face to twist in pain. I step closer, wanting to protect her like she did me.

    “You must never use your power ever again. Do you understand me, Lily?” Eleanor’s voice is harsh.

    Lily doesn’t respond, and she shakes in her mother’s grasp.

    “You must never let them out again, Lilith. Tuck them deep into the darkest hole inside of you and never let them see the light of day. Do you understand?” Eleanor’s words echo in the sparsely decorated space.

    Lily’s palpable panic causes my own heartrate to increase in response.

    “Yes, I understand. But I don’t know how I use or control them. They just came out of me,” Lily replies weakly.

    Eleanor finally releases her, and I place a hand on Lily’s shoulder, trying to comfort her. Eleanor leans back on her feet and looks up at me. Those dark-green eyes look directly at my soul.

    “You were protecting Theo, weren’t you?” Eleanor asks both of us.

    Lily and I glance at each other before she nods.

    She was protecting me, and I her.

    Eleanor nods in understanding before her eyes fall to the floor for a moment, as if deep in thought.

    “Divinus powers protect those connected to them—their Amari—and even the ones they hold dear. Your power felt your fear and protected both of you. Your heart, body, and soul control your power. The shadows are yours to wield and control, but they can also act on your will if needed,” Eleanor imparts this knowledge as if reading from a book.

    I look down at Lily as she fidgets with her damp hair. My flower. My goddess. I’m helplessly in love with her and my heart hums at the sight. I’m hers, utterly and completely.

    Lily’s hands fall from her hair as she stares at her mother.

    “Where do you think the power came from? Could it have been from my father?” Lily asks innocently.

    Eleanor stiffens at the question, jaw clenching tight.

    “No,” she answers as her eyes turn cold as stone, and she speaks through clenched teeth.

    Just as quickly, Eleanor’s eyes soften again, and a small smile curls her lips as she leans forward, picking up a strand of Lily’s hair.

    “No, I think the legends of red hair being the gods’ favorite are true, and the shadow god has blessed you. I always knew you were special, and it seems the gods agree,” Eleanor preens.

    She drops the strand of hair as her eyes study Lily.

   “But we know how angry the kings can get if someone new shows any sign of being a divinus. King Leopold would be upset to learn a servant’s daughter descended into her god-given power before his own daughter. He can’t find out,” Eleanor says gently.

    Both Lily and I nod our heads, letting her know we understand the dangers of anyone outside these chambers finding out about Lily’s power. I make a silent vow to never speak of it unless we’re truly alone.

    Eleanor stands abruptly, dusting off her legs. “I need to go run an errand,” she says, walking to her quarters.

    Lily and I glance at each other with furrowed brows. A drawer clicks closed on the other side of the doorway, then Eleanor steps back into the common space. She shoves a crystal into the pocket of her dress as she walks back toward us. A glimmer of purple catches the light before it’s put away.

    “I will be back before dinner tonight to celebrate your birthday, Lily. You’re going to be hungry, so grab a few things out of the cabinet to tide you over until we eat this evening,” she instructs.

    We nod our heads but remain silent, still confused by her abrupt departure.

    Eleanor gives Lily a kiss on the forehead, and me a pat on my arm before walking out the door. The latch clicks shut and neither of us move.

    “Where do you think she is going?” I ask, turning to Lily, who’s still staring at the door.

    “I don’t know. How did she know I was hungry?” She looks up at me questioningly.

    “You need to eat something, and we both need to change out of these damp clothes,” I say, offering her a hand to rise, and she accepts it. She’s much more stable, having gained some of her strength back.

    I lean forward and give her a soft kiss. “I’ll be right back,” I say and take in her sweet smile one more time before leaving to race to my own chambers to change into dry clothes.

    When I return, she’s sitting at the table in a simple light-blue dress eating a handful of crackers. The lack of crunch tells me they are likely stale.

    “Has your mother returned?” I ask, scanning the quarters.

    Lily shakes her head and takes a sip of water from her mug. I kiss her on the cheek before taking a seat in the chair beside her.

    “If you’re feeling up for it, I thought we could go pick some flowers from the meadow. A fresh bouquet would look beautiful on your table for our celebration tonight,” I say to Lily, hoping she has the strength to go. I want nothing more but to bring back the lightness and joy we felt for a brief moment when we finally revealed our feelings for one another.

    Her face lights up with the idea, and I’m happy to see she is feeling like herself again.

    “We also need to stop at the shore to get our things. Mainly, we need to get my necklace before my mother returns. And never let me take it off again, Theo,” she demands.

    I smile and give her a simple nod. “It’s a date. Shall we?” I say, standing and offering my arm to her.

    Lily rises to join me. We interlace our fingers and then head out the door.

    We wind through Brightwick, making our way to the other side of the castle where the meadow sits along the hillside. We follow the gray stone wall along the pathway leading up the hill to the meadow.

    Flowers of all colors stretch out before us, their strong fragrances almost overwhelming our senses. Lily runs her fingertips along the velvet-soft petals as we enter the meadow.

    Thunder booms loudly overhead, and we both look up at the ominous sky.

    “Astra is angry.” Lily’s voice is low.

    Gray clouds hang thick above us as large streaks of lightning flash in vibrant blue. Our goddess often expresses her frustration with mortals through violent storms across the realm. By the look of the clouds, Astra’s furious, and I say a silent prayer, hoping it isn’t because of us.

    Warm tingles along my wrist force me to look down. Faint wisps of black shadows wind around our joined hands, and I smile as they appear to knit us together, locking us in their black cords.

    “Oh, no,” Lily whispers beside me.

    I bring my gaze to her to see her eyebrows raised in panic as she stares at her shadows dancing along our arms.

    I grab the back of her neck and pull her to me, so her forehead presses into mine.

    “Take a deep breath for me,” I command.

    I watch her eyes close, and her chest rise.

    “That’s it. One more,” I say again, and I watch as her shadows slowly coil back into her skin as if they were never there.

    “That’s my powerful goddess,” I say, filled with admiration and adoration. This beautiful, kind, and strong woman is all mine. I’ll thank the gods and the fates every day for this honor. My flower. I’ll cherish every moment we share for the rest of our lives.

     We set to picking beautiful, vibrant-yellow sunflowers, deep-red roses, and light-pink primroses to make a lovely bouquet.

    “I feel like it’s missing something,” Lily says. She is standing with her hands on her hips, scanning the meadow. I continue to pick purple pansies as I watch her.

    “Daisies! It’s missing daisies. I’m going to head over there and pick some while you finish up,” Lily says with glee while pointing across the meadow.

    Far in the distance, there’s a grouping of delicate little flowers with white petals and a stunning yellow center.

    “Ok, I’ll be over in a moment,” I reply hesitantly, not wanting her to leave my side.

   She bends down and gives me a kiss that nearly knocks me to the ground. Lily makes quick work of the distance, switching between frolicking and jogging.

    The clouds darken and a boom of thunder echoes in the distance. The hairs on my arms rise as the charge in the air increases with the storm.

    A loud croaking sound comes from above, and I stand to see what animal could have made it.

    “Theo!” Lily’s panicked scream comes from across the meadow.

    I turn my head to see a black-haired man walking out of a red-rimmed mist. Dark tendrils of shadows swirl around him. He strides toward her as she backs away from him. A malicious smile curls his lips as he stalks Lily.

    I can’t move. I’m frozen, rooted to the ground like the flowers. All I can do is watch as the man pulls a dagger from his hip and buries it to the hilt in Lily’s chest. She claws at him at first but stops moving as he pushes the blade into her body.

    I hear screaming, only to realize it’s me. I scramble and sprint toward the shocking scene unfolding before me.

    “Lily!” my voice cracks as I yell for her, hoping she knows I’m coming.

    I watch as her blue dress stains crimson.

    The man yanks the dagger from Lily’s chest. The light-purple blade glints in a flash of lightning. Then he plunges it deep into her stomach.

    And again.

    And again.

    And again.

    He’s killing her. I couldn’t protect her. I just need to get to her. If I get to her, I can save her.

    The man finally steps back from Lily. He turns and walks back through the mist he appeared from before it vanishes entirely, taking him with it.

    Lily collapses to the ground. I push myself harder to get to her, my muscles burning, my eyes fixated on her lifeless body, surrounded by wildflowers.

    It feels like an eternity before I finally reach her. I slam to the ground beside her, pulling her limp body into me.


    There is too much blood. Red dots splatter the once pristine white daisies scattered around Lily. Thin wisps of black shadows seep from the holes in her chest.

    Tears stream down our faces. This can’t be happening. I need to get her back to the castle. They’ll know what to do.

    Suddenly, she moves in my arms, raising a shaky hand to feel the shadows leaving her.

    She’s alive.

    “Theo,” Lily tries to speak. Blood splatters from her wounds, soaking my shirt.

    “Shh. It’s ok, Lily. I’ll get help,” I say, my voice trembling.

    “I love you, Theo. It’s always been you and will always be you,” Lily whispers as if she’s saying goodbye.

    I brush the blood-coated hair from her face and rub my thumb along her cheek. “I’m sorry, my flower. If I were faster or stronger, I could have stopped him. I love you. Please don’t leave me. Please.” I beg through sobs.

    Lily’s breathing becomes ragged, and her body goes limp in my arms. Her shadows disappear. My heart shatters into tiny pieces. A tug on the threads of fate makes it feel like a sliver of my heart is being carried off to the Underrealm along with my Amari. All my hopes and dreams for us drown with my screams as Astra’s storm finally breaks.

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