“Thank you. Now, I’m going to try to transport there. If it works, you three follow. If it doesn’t, we’re walking.”

“Oh, goody,” Cattarix mumbled and raised his haunches. Arching his back, he stretched out his paws in front of him before standing on all fours. “Finishing breakfast would have been nice.”

Ignoring the panther, Émilien mentally pictured the valley where he had seen Sophie and Charles. A subtle breeze blew by him, caressing the fur covering his face. Closing his eyes, he focused all his energy on the location, seeing the line of trees encircling a small clearing several yards from the cliff, a sheer drop to the snaking river far below. His body felt like it was floating and, opening his eyes, he saw the familiar misty darkness every time he transported to the Shadow Lands.

He floated to the ground, landing with a softthudon a pile of dried leaves. Two more softerthudsfollowed, and he turned to see Cattarix with Delara perched on his back and Ostrik beside him. “Well, we now know we can move around this realm, at least. If only I could get a message to Hel—even Freyja might be able to figure out what’s going on, if she isn’t already aware of the problem.”

He started toward the clearing, knowing he would probably find Sophie and Merle waiting for him there. Gliding over the misty ground, he slid between two ancient tree trunks to find the young ghost looking very lost and forlorn in the clearing’s center. With one arm wrapped around her drawn knees and the other around the dog’s neck, holding him to her.


Her head whipped around, and a brilliant smile lit her face. She jumped up and ran the few feet separating them and launched herself against his chest where he held her, noticing the hard shivers coursing through her thin frame. “Shh, little one, you’re safe now.”

“I’m scared, Émilien. Merle is too.”

He glanced over the girl’s shoulder at the pup. With his tongue lolling from his mouth, he was bouncing around Cattarix and the fire demon while Delara giggled in delight when Merle licked her face and almost pushed her off the panther’s back.

“This still doesn’t help us,” Cattarix said, exasperation in his voice when the pup bumped into him, once more nearly knocking the young chick from his back.

“Umm, I forgot to tell you one thing Baldr said when he gave me back your ring. He said you have a connection to Hel and to concentrate on that. Whatever that means.”

Staring through the trees, he watched a small ball of light flitter through the trunks, bouncing from one branch to another before diving over the side of the mountain. He thought about what Baldr said, and an idea formed. “Ostrik, do you have the ring with you, or did you leave it in my cave?” The fire demon held out his hand, and the gold ring appeared in his palm. Émilien reached down and scooped up the ring with his claw, letting the circle fall until it lay snug about midway down the claw.

Holding Sophie close, she snuggled against his neck, reminding him of Shalendra when she was the same age. Memories swirled through his mind like gale-force winds, something he hadn’t let happen since the day he and his daughter had left Helheimr.

How he missed those days. If he were truthful with himself, he would admit how much he missed the time he had with Hel and Shalendra as a new family. His daughter had just turned five when they left, and it had taken her almost a full year to adjust to life without her mother. She never mentioned her mother after that year, and he hadn’t pushed her.

Letting himself remember how much they had loved one another, Hel had been his everything. No matter how hard he tried to run from his past and what they had together, he couldn’t. Damn him and everything else, he still loved her and always would. How could they make things work living in two different worlds? He couldn’t leave his post as guardian. It was an honor to serve as a protector to those who couldn’t fend for themselves. He would never give it up.

Hel’s pale face filled his mind, her silky black hair framing her beautiful narrow face with wide black eyes staring into his soul. Her nose was straight with a cute nub on the end, but it was her full lips, always red and moist, that he loved the most.


His heart fluttered and his breath caught in his throat, Hel’s voice filling every nook and cranny in his brain, chasing away the loneliness he hadn’t realized he had. Using her ring had been the right thing to do, although he had no idea why it worked.

Hel? How is this possible?

I don’t know, and right now, I also don’t care. Where are you? Shalendra and Freyja think you’re missing.

Not missing really, trapped. It seems no one can leave the Shadow Lands. We can transport from place to place, just not out.

But you are the realm’s guardian. I don’t understand.

I don’t either. Right now, though, we need to put our heads together and figure this out. Can you call Freyja? She may have an idea or two—if this is magic keeping us here or something else.

You’re in luck, she is here with me and Shalendra. Before you get angry, Shalendra knew something was wrong because you never leave without telling her when you will return, so she sent a message to Freyja. She was very worried about you, and I couldn’t do anything. I’m sorry if I’ve overstepped.

Don’t apologize. I can’t imagine how you’ve felt all these years, so I’m glad you’re there for her now.

Thank you for that. Oh, Freyja is creating a portal, so when you see it, jump in because she won’t be able to hold it. She says the magic is strong—almost too strong.

He turned to his companions, who were watching him intently. “Freyja is sending a portal, so if you want to go with me, jump in the moment it appears.”

“I’ll return to the caves and guard Madoc,” Cattarix said. “Maybe it would be safer if Ostrik and Delara stay here as well?”

Émilien nodded. “I agree—”

“There it is,” Delara yelled. “Go! It’s fading!”

Tags: Heidi Vanlandingham Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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