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The Shadow Princess (Paperback)

The Shadow Princess (Paperback)

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Living an idyllic life in Wyoming, Thalia Clairmont is completely unaware that her world is about to be turned upside down. Step into the next dimension with The Shadow Princess, the newest story in The Chronicles of the Stone Veil series from New York Times bestselling author Sawyer Bennett.

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My name is Thalia Clairmont and I am heir to the throne of Vyronas. A title that was unknown to me after the love of my life, Bastien Dunne, had me stripped of my memories and sent me through the veil into another dimension. He maintains it was for my protection after my parents were killed and our kingdom was overthrown, but I see it as a betrayal.

Overwhelmed by my feelings of both love and anger for Bastien, I quickly understand that things aren’t what they once were. Vyronas is at war and an evil sorceress has claimed my throne by casting her blood magic to subjugate my people. With my memories returned, I realize Bastien isn’t the man I once loved and has instead become a distant, hardened warrior whose heart is as cold as ice.

My magic alone cannot defeat the blood sorcery, so I delve into the deepest shadows to find a way to regain control of my kingdom. Can I defeat evil without succumbing to the darkness? And will Bastien and I be able to reclaim the love we once shared? I am the Shadow Princess and it’s time for me to reclaim my throne.

The Shadow Princess is a standalone second chance romance with a fantastical flourish within The Chronicles of the Stone Veil series.

Read Chapter One

Chapter 1

Bastien

The Garden of the Gods crackled with magic as Bastien Dunne entered it, leaving behind the clang of swords and the hissing of attack spells. His own powers—normally humming on a low frequency—sparked hot as he stepped foot into the circle before settling again. As innate to him as his own heartbeat, the warrior caste magic passed down through his bloodline was something he often took for granted.

It was there, and he knew how to use it for attack or defense.

Just as he knew how to gut a man ten different ways with his sword.

As he moved deeper into the garden, a sacred space meant for reflection and peace, the sounds of battle training receded. Bastien was tired after a long day and was sick of trying to mold young men into hardened soldiers just so he could send them out to die.

At the center of the park, a large pressian tree rose from the ground. Its thick trunk split at the base into several arms that grew up and outward to form a protective arch over much of the garden. Smooth of bark, the wood was the color of bleached bone, the leaves a deep purple threaded with glowing veins of misty white. The tree served as a sign of strength in the land, withstanding dry heat, humidity, or ice, depending on what region of Vyronas you traveled.

The pressian also had delicate qualities, growing fragile, five-petaled flowers that felt like silk and tore just as easily. They not only perfumed the air but were used for many healing potions and even spells that required the paradox of strength and vulnerability.

Not that Bastien had experience with that. His magic was very particular to what he was—a soldier.

No, that wasn’t quite right.

He was the commandant of an army that was being decimated, and he was out of options.

Around the perimeter of the pressian tree, but still falling under the canopy of shimmering leaves, stood five stone statues representing each of the five gods. They were life-size, each figure clothed in robes and one-shouldered cloaks that hung to the ground. Three women and two men—all referred to as gods regardless of gender—were once called the Infinites because they had always been so.

At least according to legend.

Gardens such as these were all over the realm of Vyronas, allowing respite for weary travelers who wanted to pray and seek help from their gods.

This space was built only seven years ago when the army of Kestevayne settled into the valley and built what was supposed to be a temporary village until they could defeat Ferelith.

The evil sorceress was an unknown, rising to power through murder and blood magic. She used blood oaths to garner soldiers and summon demons from the Underworld, and with her immense powers, she swept through the capital city of Kestevayne right into the palace where she killed the king and queen.

Ferelith had magics no one had seen before because it was banned in Vyronas. She gleefully bled victims to increase her power and systematically brought Vyronasians under her boot heel by conquering the other regions around the capital. It had been a long seven years of skirmishes, battles, death, and resilience. Bastien and his army made it one step forward for every two steps they were thrown back, and he had little left to offer his people.

And yes, they were his people, for now. With the rightful ruler of Vyronas in hiding for her safety, he was the one who held it all together. Some of the other royal houses were too

fearful of Ferelith and swore fealty to avoid death and destruction. Those who tried to fight her usually perished.

Some royal houses in outlying cities had held out, but that was merely because Ferelith’s forces had not ventured that far yet.

She’d eventually get to them. She wouldn’t be satisfied until every single subject of Vyronas paid sole homage to her or died in their refusal.

Bastien walked around the statues, easily identifying them by sight. The sculptor had done an exceptional job.

There was Circe, the god of Fate, which included free will and destiny. She was not someone Bastien routinely prayed to. He was of the firm opinion you made your own path in life by reasoned decision.

Veda was the god of Humanity, which included love, hate, and virtue. Rumors purported she had silver eyes, but no one knew for sure. She was as much myth as potential reality. Their likenesses had been memorialized over time in books, paintings, and statues like this, though, and thus were recognizable.

Next to Veda stood Rune, the formidable god of Life, which conversely meant he ruled death as well. He was the steward of the Underworld—and the most feared of them all.

Bastien’s favorite god, Onyx, was next. She was the god of Conflict, which included both war and peace, and the one Bastien prayed to most.

Every night, in fact, to give his men strength, cunning, and skill. He asked for protection over them and for weakness to befall his enemies. Whether Onyx listened, he didn’t know. It certainly felt like his recent prayers had not been heard if the rising death toll was any indication.

He came upon the last statue—the god of Nature, Cato. His statue stood taller than the others, as it was rumored he was seven feet tall. He could command all the elements and use

them for punishment or grace. The farmers of this world offered gifts of fruit, vegetables, and grains at the base of statues they’d erect in their fields with the hope the gods would bless them with fair weather.

Those hardworking citizens who tilled the earth had faith in Cato and the other gods.

It was something Bastien sorely lacked right now.

He sat on a bench at the base of the pressian, kicked out his long legs, and leaned back. Head tilted, he gazed up into the amethyst canopy above and considered his options. Bastien wasn’t sick at heart over the losses their side had taken, because he had no heart.

Not really.

But he was tired of talking to widows and orphans, trying to explain how their loved one died in a war that seemed never ending and hopeless.

Folding his hands over his midsection, he closed his eyes and tried to disconnect from it all.

Just for a little bit.

It was a blissful few seconds, until a sense of danger skittered up his spine, and with no thought other than trusting his gut, Bastien flew off the bench and drew his sword, pointing it at the source of peril.

Standing there, behind the bench where he had been sitting, was a man.

Reaching out with his senses—soldier honed and magical alike—he quickly realized this wasn’t a man.

At least not by conventional standards.

He pulsed with power, although he looked no different from Bastien. He was tall and muscular, with blond hair not unlike Bastien’s own, although this man’s hair was long—to his shoulders—whereas Bastien wore his cropped close to his scalp.

His clothing was odd, but a style Bastien recognized as coming directly from the First Dimension of Earth. Strange for a man—well, something obviously more than a man, for he had powers—to be dressed in the clothing of a dimension that was ironically known to lack magic.

Which never made sense to Bastien, since the First Dimension was the original source of most magic.

“Who are you?” Bastien demanded, keeping the tip of his sword aimed at the intruder’s chest. He also powered up a spell in his free hand, ready to launch if needed. It had enough punch to knock the intruder clear out of the garden if unleashed.

The stranger extended his hands, palms out—a universal sign to show lack of harmful intent. “Relax, Commandant Dunne. I’ve come to help.”

It did not reassure Bastien that this man knew his name and rank, nor that he offered help. He kept poised in defense. “Come from where? And to help with what?”

“I come directly from the gods,” he replied smoothly, and that startled Bastien so much his sword tip dropped an inch. “Namely Onyx, although Veda sends greetings as well.”

A slight wave of dizziness passed over Bastien. In all his life, the gods had never given him a sign, and his faith was never very strong, which kept him wary. This man could be an enemy, using the gods in vain. If that were the case, Bastien prayed they struck him dead for his temerity.

“My name is Maddox.” The man looked around at the statues and nodded toward the one of Rune. With a flick of his hand, the stone cracked and fell into pieces before disintegrating to dust that disappeared on a soft breeze. His gaze came back to Bastien. “Rune is no longer the god of Life which also meant he governed death. Zora is now your new deity.”

Bastien’s jaw dropped, for with another wave of his hand, the man created a new statue out of thin air. This one wasn’t of stone but rather shining gold, and the god was beautiful to

behold with long, flowing hair and jeweled eyes that sparkled with prisms of blue, green, and gold.

Maddox stared at his creation for a moment, a pleased smile curving his mouth before he turned back to Bastien.

“How did it come to be that Rune is no longer a god and there is a new one in his place?” Bastien puzzled, his curiosity now genuinely piqued, although he was more skeptical than not.

This could be nothing more than fancy magic to gain his trust.

With a sigh, Maddox glanced at the statue of Zora before bringing his forest-green eyes back to Bastien. “It’s a long story, but I basically helped prevent a world-ending apocalypse originating in the First Dimension.”

The First Dimension—sometimes referred to as the Earth realm—was the primary plane of existence on this planet. Through the use of magic, other dimensions had been created and were referred to as AltVeritas. The First Dimension (or Earth realm) was merely the original, but over millennia, hundreds of other AltVeritas had been created.

The braggadocio in the man’s tone should have made Bastien doubt him, but weirdly, it only made it seem more real. And it was a shocking reminder that Vyronas only existed if the First Dimension existed.

World ending meant if the First Dimension was destroyed, every other AltVeritas would die as well. Vyronas had been created from magic originating in the First Dimension when a meteor struck in the middle of Egypt’s Western Desert. It was so inundated with magic that just a tiny stone chipped from its mass, in the hands of the right people, could create new worlds from nothing but the imagination.

Vyronas was just such an example. It was an entirely separate entity from First Dimension—existing on its own plane and layered upon countless others created from the

stone’s magic. While Vyronas existed independently and exclusive of the Earth realm, its heartbeat came from the stone magic that created it. Vyronas’s life force was still linked to the Earth realm’s primary dimension, and if it ended, so did all dimensions.

“What happened?” Bastien asked, his warrior instincts wanting to learn all about how such an event might occur—and be thwarted.

“Kymaris tried to break through the veil into the First Dimension—”

Bastien scoffed. “Kymaris, queen of the Underworld?”

“That’s the one,” Maddox replied, snapping his fingers, then pointing at Bastien. “Her nefarious plan was to tear open the veil so that all her Dark Fae, daemons, and other nasty creatures she created in that cesspool called Hell could pour out and wreak havoc in the First Dimension.”

How in the gods’ names had original inhabitants of the First Dimension managed to repel such an invasion when they were not particularly magical as a whole, nor even aware of such evil below? Oh, they had their faiths and religions, but they had no clue.

Not really.

All their myths and legends remained just that, with faith in the fantastical bred out by generations of logic, reason, and modernization. No one needed magic as inventions sprang forth from brilliant minds, and magical practice unfortunately died out.

“The veil surrounding the Underworld is impenetrable,” Bastien said.

“But is it really?” Maddox replied, a smirk on his face.

Bastien didn’t really know. Kymaris was an original fallen angel, stripped of her wings after trying to lead a rebellion against God and cast into the Underworld. She and her brethren became known as Dark Fae but were thought to be powerless to break through the veil separating her world from the First Dimension.

But the thing with magic, as Bastien well knew, was that anything was possible.

“How was she stopped?” Bastien asked, abandoning the need to know how she did it and curious how she was defeated. Perhaps he could glean something to help against Ferelith.

“A human savior named Finley and her twin sister, Zora—”

“The same Zora who has taken Rune’s place?” Bastien interrupted.

“The one and only,” Maddox quipped. “They managed to defeat Kymaris with the help of a lot of magicals. Mostly Light Fae and daemons, a couple of demigods, and even some Dark Fae who didn’t want to be under Kymaris’s thumb any longer.”

It pleased Bastien to hear that daemons played a role in the defeat of such evil. Vyronas itself was founded three thousand years ago by druid-practicing daemons—offspring of Light and Dark Fae—as well as a multitude of humans who inhabited the early creation of Vyronas. He was descended from their combined blood.

“Anyway,” Maddox continued, gaining Bastien’s full focus again, “Zora and Finley killed Kymaris, the veil was repaired, Rune was stripped of his powers and imprisoned for interfering in a prophecy, and Zora took his place. The First Dimension was saved, and now I’m here delivering a message.”

“Quite the lowly drop in duties,” Bastien muttered, still not sure whether to believe this man.

“A request by Onyx to deliver a message is never lowly. It’s always with purpose.”

This took Bastien aback, as he’d forgotten that the stranger had said he was sent by Onyx, god of Conflict. That meant if Maddox was legitimately a messenger on behalf of the Council—the formal name given to the group of five deities—then it pertained to this never-ending war.

But if nothing convinced Bastien that Maddox was indeed sent by the gods to help, his next words did. “It’s time to retrieve your princess and put her on the throne to become queen.”

“Thalia?” Bastien asked incredulously, taking an involuntary step backward as if the notion itself was an enemy to be leery of. “It’s not safe for her.”

“No, it is not,” Maddox agreed, moving around the bench to approach Bastien. He was bothered neither by the pointed sword nor the power emanating from the commandant. “But it is time, and she can help win the war.”

Bastien waited to feel something about Thalia and her possible return, and he got almost nothing. Perhaps a faint flicker of annoyance that he’d have to change battle plans to retrieve her, but his emotions weren’t stirred otherwise.

“Time is of the essence,” Maddox announced.

Frowning, Bastien lowered his sword. He sensed Maddox wasn’t a physical threat, but he wasn’t willing to trust him with this directive yet. “I don’t know you. I don’t know the gods. This could be a trap or a misdirection.”

Maddox didn’t seem offended. “I was created by the gods to do their bidding. Sometimes it’s to fight their wars, sometimes it’s to help others fight their wars. Sometimes it’s just delivering messages such as this one.”

Bastien’s frown deepened. “Created?”

The man shrugged. “No clue how that really works. I’m a demigod and nearly as immortal as my creators. I promise I’m here at their behest. And again, time is of the essence.”

Bastien shook his head to bring his focus back to the issue at hand. The Conclave had no intention of bringing Thalia back to Vyronas until Bastien had defeated Ferelith and regained the throne. While Bastien commanded the army, the Conclave were the magical advisors to the ruling family, and they had his trust.

“If nothing else will get you going,” Maddox drawled as he opened his hand to reveal a ring resting in his palm, “then this will.”

Bastien cursed as he took in the small golden circle with a dome-shaped top set with a smooth black oval stone.

Thalia’s ring.

Bastien had no choice but to sheathe his sword, step forward, and retrieve the jewelry from Maddox. His teeth were gritted in fury when he asked the demigod, “How long ago did you take this from her?”

“Just before I arrived here,” Maddox replied with a careless shrug.

“You should have started with that,” Bastien snarled, because if that ring wasn’t on Thalia’s finger, then she was in grave danger. It was the source of protective magic that ensured her safety while in the First Dimension. It hid her existence and location in that realm as long as she wore it. She’d been bespelled with compulsion to never remove it, and gods knows how Maddox got it from her.

Regardless, without it on her finger, Bastien had no choice but to trust the demigod and all that he had said.

He turned away, prepared to bend distance to his brother so they could leave to find Thalia.

Maddox’s words stopped him. “Veda says you cannot give up on love.”

Whirling to face Maddox, Bastien frowned. “Love?”

Maddox nodded. “Love. You and Thalia.”

“There is no love,” Bastien growled. “Tell your god she’s wrong. You can’t give up on something that doesn’t exist in the first place.”

And with that, Bastien disappeared into thin air.

Not everyone could bend distance. It was a magical means of travel within Vyronas, but only those highly skilled in magic could accomplish the feat. Coming from the warrior caste in the House of Dunne, Bastien had the ability, though he rarely used it.

Only in emergencies, and this was the biggest one he’d ever faced.

The instantaneous method of travel didn’t propel the physical form through time and distance but rather pulled two separate geographical points together so one could step from one into the other. It all happened in the blink of an eye, and those experienced in it barely felt a shift in balance.

It was how Bastien was able to appear at his brother’s bedside within a second of leaving Maddox in the Garden of the Gods.

True… it was midday, and true, there was work to be done with the soldiers, but Kieran was taking a lunch break with one of the camp followers. A busty redhead who was busy on her knees before Bastien’s brother.

Always unflappable, Kieran didn’t so much as twitch a muscle at Bastien’s sudden appearance. The woman, however, squealed in fright and scrambled away, trying to cover her nakedness.

“Get out,” Bastien barked at her.

She didn’t need to be told twice. Commandant Dunne was the highest-ranking leader of the citizens of Kestevayne right now, and until the throne was restored, no one dared to disagree with him about anything.

Except maybe Kieran.

“That was rude,” his brother drawled as he tucked himself back into his pants, but he didn’t really sound put out. The redhead was nothing but a leisurely passing of time for Kieran.

“Thalia’s in trouble,” Bastien said, and Kieran instantly went on high alert. Holding the ring out, Bastien recounted his meeting with the demigod, Maddox. “I have to go to her now. You’ll stay and take over my command.”

“Fuck that,” Kieran said, ever the wordsmith. “If she’s without that ring, Ferelith has already sent someone after her. More than one someone, I’m betting. The army won’t fall apart while we’re gone.”

Bastien considered that this was probably true, but his instincts as a leader didn’t like leaving his army with no guidance. It was antithetical to everything he’d been taught growing up in the warrior caste.

“It will be a quick in and out of the veil,” Kieran pointed out, referring to that magical barrier that separated the dimensions. “We won’t be gone long.”

True enough. Travel through dimensions was too hard for most, but both Bastien and Kieran had the ability. Not only was their bloodline thick with magic, but it was strengthened by the ley lines that traversed Vyronas.

When this realm was created from a chunk of the meteor, it had been done by a sect of druid daemons who, though not overly powerful in any magics themselves, were incredibly smart. They used the stone’s power to set up a framework of magical ley lines that crossed the land with concentrated power hubs in the capital cities. Those with magic in their blood used the lines not only to charge their powers but also to cultivate and grow them with study and practice.

It was how the brothers would travel freely to the First Dimension without the Conclave’s aid. Not all dimensions were accessible, but the veil between Vyronas and the First Dimension of Earth was easy to breach.

They could get to Thalia in a matter of seconds, and get her back here where she would be better protected. Bastien had no thought to leave her there, even if he installed the ring back

on her finger. Maddox had shared enough that Bastien believed the demigod was indeed delivering a missive from the gods, and he intended to obey it. He’d probably have conflict with the Conclave later for not discussing it with them first, but there was simply no time to do so.

As it stood, Thalia was on her own in a land called Wyoming. He’d only been there once before to set up a home for her to live in peace and safety until she could be brought back to Vyronas. Seven years ago, Bastien had helped the Conclave perform a ritual against Thalia’s will, stripping her of her memories and implanting fake ones in their place. A whole lifetime of falsities she would use to remind herself she lived a placid existence in a remote region of the First Dimension. They even programmed her to never want to leave the tiny horse ranch Bastien had acquired. Thalia loved horses more than just about anything, and he’d wanted her to be happy.

When she’d realized she was being sent away against her will, oh, how she’d hated him.

But then he made her forget that too.

Bastien was now going to have to bring her out of that false reality she’d been living in and restore her to her true self.

And when he did, she was going to hate him even more.

Not that he cared.

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Product Release Date: June 7, 2022

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