They met on the high hill, far above the world, beneath a sky struck with the dazzle of stars and a white, waiting moon.
Together the goddesses looked out beyond the castle shining on its own fair hill, to the dark glass of the sea.
“Two stars found, and held safe.” Luna lifted her face to the sky in joy, in thanks. “The fates that be chose well with the six. The guardians’ own hearts are strong and true.”
“Their test is not finished,” Celene reminded her. “And what they come to face will need more than true hearts.”
“They will fight. Have they not proven themselves warriors, sister?” Arianrhod demanded. “They have risked. They have bled.”
“And will risk more. I see battles to come, blood to spill. Nerezza and the evil she created want more than the stars, more than the blood of the guardians. They want annihilation.”
“It has always been so,” Luna murmured. “In her heart, it has always been so.”
“They have weakened her.” Arianrhod put a hand on the jeweled hilt of the sword at her side. “All but destroyed her. Without the human she turned, they would have destroyed her.”
“Did we not think the same,” Celene reminded her sisters, “on the night of the queen’s rise, on the night we created the stars?”
Celene stretched out her arms, and below, on the edge of the great sea, the images of what had been shimmered.
“A night of joy,” she continued, “of hope and celebration. And we three conjured three stars. For wisdom, forged in fire.”
“For compassion,” Luna added, “fluid as water.”
“For strength,” Arianrhod finished, “cold as ice.”
“Our powers, and our hopes, in a gift to the new queen. A gift Nerezza coveted.”
On the beach, white under a white moon, the three goddesses faced the dark one. As they sent their stars flying toward the moon, Nerezza lashed out, black lightning, to strike them, to curse them.
“And so we cursed her,” Celene continued, “cast her into a pit. But we did not, could not destroy her. It was not for us, this duty, this task, this war.”
“We protected the stars,” Luna reminded her. “They would fall, as Nerezza had cursed them, but we protected them. When they fell, they would fall in secret, and remain hidden.”
“Until those who came from us bound together, joined in the quest to find them, to protect them.” Now Arianrhod’s hand tightened on the hilt of her knife. “To fight, each and all, against the dark. To risk all to save the worlds.”
“Their time has come,” Celene agreed. “They pulled the Fire Star from its stone, gathered the Water Star from the sea. But the final tests of the quest wait. As will Nerezza and her army profane.”
“Whatever their powers, whatever their gifts, the six face a god.” Luna pressed a hand to her heart. “And we can only watch.”
“It is their fate,” Celene said, “and in their fates live the fate of all the worlds.”
“Their time has come.” Arianrhod reached out, took her sisters’ hands. “And with it, if they are strong and wise, if their hearts remain true, may ours.”
“The moon runs full, and so the wolf howls.” Celene gestured up to the comet streak arching through the sky. “So they fly.”
“And courage flies with them,” Arianrhod said.
“And there!” Luna pointed across the wide, dark sea where light bloomed, then fired, then quieted. “They are safe.”
“For now.” With a wave of her hand, Celene dismissed the wavery images on the beach. “Now begins the future.”
A man who couldn’t die had little to fear. An immortal who’d lived most of his long life as a soldier, waging battle, didn’t turn from a fight with a god. A soldier, though a loner by nature, understood the duty, and loyalty, to those who battled with him.
The man, the soldier, the loner who’d seen his young brother destroyed by black magick, who’d had his own life upended by it, who fought a god’s crazed greed, knew the difference between the dark and the light.
Being propelled through space by a fellow soldier, a shifter, while they were all still bloody from the battle didn’t frighten him—but he’d have preferred any other mode of transportation.
Through the whirl of wind, the blare of light, the breathless speed (and all right then, there was a bit of a thrill in the speed), he felt his companions. The sorcerer who held more power than any Doyle had known in all his years. The woman who was as much the glue who bound them together as a seer. The mermaid who was all charm and courage and heart—and a pure pleasure for the eyes. The shifter, loyal and brave, and a dead shot as well. And the female—well, wolf now, as the moon had risen just as they’d prepared to shift from the beauty and battles of Capri.
She howled—no other term for it—and in the sound of it he heard not fear, no, but the same atavistic thrill that beat in his own blood.
If a man had to align himself with others, had to throw his fate in with others, he could do a hell of a lot worse than these.
Then he smelled Ireland—the damp air, the green—and the thrill died in him. The fates, canny and cold, would drive him back here where his heart and his life had been broken.
Even as he geared himself up to deal with it, to do what must be done, they dropped like stones.
A man who couldn’t die could still feel the jolt and insult of hitting the ground hard enough to rattle bones and steal the breath.