Shield Maiden Snippet
Charley Case, author of the popular Dwarf King series, has a brand new book out this week! Shield Maiden is the first book in the Lone Valkyrie series. I'm so excited to see an Urban Fantasy Valkyrie series come to LMBPN. Check it out today!
Heather Resnick crouched beside the thick trunk of an old, western red cedar seeking a reprieve from the persistent nighttime rain. The boughs of the ancient sentinel, heavy with water, drooped low but held off most of the late spring shower.
She adjusted the two long daggers at her waist before pulling the hair tie from her ponytail and angrily regathered the stray hairs that had fallen into her face over the last hour and a half trek through the forest. Quickly spinning the long black hair into a tight bun, she re-secured it with the tie, and wiped the rain from her eyes.
“Why am I the one sent out into the middle of the woods every time? Victoria knows I hate the woods.” Heather mumbled, checking her watch. A vine that had wrapped its way around the base of the cedar over the last few years seemed to droop at her words. Heather sighed and stroked the young plant tenderly. “Not you, little one. I love you, I’m just grumpy is all. I know you don't understand this, but my underwear are soaked with this fucking rain, and my socks feel like sponges left in dirty dishwater. I would kill for a mission that took me to a beach somewhere. Hell, at this point I would kill for a dry pair of underwear.”
The vine seemed to be satisfied with Heather’s answer and pushed itself into her stroking finger like a cat trying to get every ounce of love it could from the simple action. Heather smiled and stroked the vine a few more times.
As a Valkyrie, Heather’s nature affinity was with vines and grasses. She had a special connection with them and was able to call for their assistance when needed. Compared to some of her sisters, like Victoria who could communicate with crows, or Mindy who had entire wolf packs at her beck and call, Heather’s nature affinity was mild. She could use it in very interesting ways, but it had taken her nearly a thousand years and twenty lives to get there.
Checking the small, full color display of her watch again, Heather zoomed the tiny map out to get her bearings. She had to zoom out again before the map showed anything with a name attached to it.
The town of Elk River was a good five miles to the south through wild forest. Ironically there was no Elk River, as in a body of water. There was an Elk Creek; anyone who’s seen a river and a creek knows the difference, but she supposed she would let the little town have a pass. It wasn't like they had much else going for them, being out in the middle of nowhere Northern Idaho.
She sighed, switching the small screen off and peering out into the dark woods around her. The constant patter of fat raindrops drowned out most of the forest sounds, but frogs and crickets trying to continue the species by attracting mates made a sort of buzzing undercurrent of noise that further confused her senses.
“How the fuck am I supposed to find some dark magic user if the forest won’t shut up for one minute.” She grumbled. “Dammit, Victoria. How about next time you give me a little more than ‘oh, we think there’s a bad person out there using dark magic. Go find them and deal with it’.” She ground her teeth. “You go deal with it, sister, if it’s such a big problem.”
“You do like to talk, don't you.” A voice, that sounded far too much like a young girl to be out in the woods alone in the middle of the night, said behind Heather.
The Valkyrie spun around, her hands instantly holding the two long, silver daggers in a defensive pose.
A slightly built, but obviously adult, woman in a hooded black robe stood not three feet away. Her face was obscured in the dark hood, but the wet robe clung to her form. Arms crossed she reminded Heather of a mean girl from high school, but otherwise completely unarmed.
The five towering half-wolf half-human forms in a semicircle around her, on the other hand, were the definition of living weapons. Their wolf-like heads had teeth bared, and ears laid back ready to pounce. Long taloned fingers flexed and their thick black tails swayed in the breeze.
Unlike werewolves, these creatures didn't seem to have intelligence behind their yellow eyes beyond that of a dog, just a powerful lust to chase Heather down and maul her to death.
The hooded woman saw heather staring up at the eight-foot-tall beasts with wide eyes. “You like my Rougarou? They were a gift from my master.” She said, a smile in her girlish voice as she reached over and pet one of their furry arms. “They’re not very smart, but they are loyal.”
Heather blinked, and stood up straight, her initial shock wearing off. She stood a good six inches taller than the black robed woman. The initial fear fell away when she saw that there were only six of them, and five were really just big dogs. This fight was going to barely warm Heather up before it was over.
Her face fell to a thin-lipped frown. “You’re the one causing all the trouble out here? I’ll have you know I’ve been traipsing through these woods looking for you for the last hour and a half, and I hate being out here. Now I’m just pissed off. Come on, you goth reject, let’s get this over with so I can get home and have a hot cup of tea, and get out of these fucking soggy clothes.”
The woman threw back her hood, revealing the face of a woman in her early thirties with wavy blonde hair. She giggled, putting a hand to her lips, that was very childlike, and creeped Heather right out.
“I’m Seline.” She said, coyly. “What’s your name?”
Heather raised her daggers and readied herself. “I am Heather Resnick, Valkyrie of the sisterhood, and the last thing you will ever see.”
Seline’s eyes went wide, and Heather saw that they were full of madness. “Oh, a Valkyrie! Master will be so pleased to have you as a pet. I’m glad you came to see us.”
“I didn’t come to see you, you idiot. I came to kill you. Now, tell me where this master is, and we can get this over with.” Heather growled, gripping her daggers tighter.
“Oh, don't worry about that. I’ll take you too him soon enough.” Seline said, in a suddenly deep and ominous voice.
The Rougarou attacked all at once, five sets of talons coming at Heather with astonishing speed.
Heather put her arm up, almost casually, and formed a protective shield that wrapped halfway around her in a bubble. The talons raked against the invisible shield sending out sparks that glowed golden in the night.
Bunching her legs, Heather sprang forward, using the shield to bat the Rougarou off their feet and onto their backs, getting within striking distance of her target. Her freehand pointing the silver dagger at the robed figures heart, as she thrust.
The smile was back on Seline’s face, as she held out a hand to intercept the incoming shield. “So strong! You’ll be a great snack!”
A black miasma poured from Seline’s fingers, slamming into the shield, and pouring over its surface like a viscous oil. Heather had anticipated something like this, but dark magic usually had a hefty tinge of red to it; this spell was blacker than the night that surrounded them.
Rougarou were regaining their feet, heads shaking in anger and frustration. One let out a howl that was quickly picked up by the other four. Then the forest filled with the sound of howling wolves. There were dozens of return calls, most close by, and all of them had a tinge of pain to their timber.
A sharp pain in Heather’s blocking arm made her suck breath in through her teeth. She saw that the miasma had eaten a hole in her shield, and was now pouring onto her arm, eating through her leather coat sleeve. She redoubled her effort, and poured her celestial magic into the shield, and the hole closed up, but to her horror she could see that the miasma was acting like acid on her magic.
“That’s not possible.” Heather said, through gritted teeth.
“It’s been a while for you, hasn't it?” Seline giggled. “You all thought infernal magic had passed from this world, didn't you? Silly Valkyries.” Her girlish features darkened as she leaned in and lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. “Your time on this ship is over.”
The infernal magic flowing from Seline doubled, then tripled. Heather struggled to keep up, channeling everything she had into her shield. With mounting dread, she realized it wouldn't be enough. Her shield was thinning despite her best efforts, and a quick glance around showed that dozens more of the Rougarou had shown up after the call had gone out; surrounding the two magic users, waiting for their opportunity to strike.
Heather knew this was going to be the last few minutes of her body’s life. She would be back, but it would be another twenty years before she remembered she was a Valkyrie. She needed to let her sisters know what was happening up here.
Dropping her dagger, Heather reached up to her watch and quickly scrolled to a button she had never used before. She hesitated, not wanting to be wrong, but when her shield suddenly formed several holes and infernal magic began to burn its way into her, she jabbed at the button.
The watch, attached to her magically enhanced phone, sent a warning out into the aether.
Two thousand miles away Victoria Gara’s phone chimed with a pre-written text that all Valkyrie issued phones had stored in them.
Sitting in her board meeting at the head of the long, wooden table Victoria picked up her phone and read the text she always dreaded to see. One of her sisters was dead.
“I’m sorry, Thomas. I need to take this. Can we reconvene in and hour?” Victoria interrupted the man speaking.
Thomas stuttered to a halt. “Of course, ma’am.”
Victoria stood, adjusting her gray pencil skirt, and walking out of the meeting, her heels cracking across the marble like angry gunfire.
To read the rest of the book, check out Shield Maiden this week on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!