Home :: Science Fantasy (fantasy/magic in a modern world or tech in fantasy world) :: Wildvine Series, Book 4: Old Solar's Shoppe by Michelle Levigne (Urban Fantasy)

Wildvine Series, Book 4: Old Solar's Shoppe by Michelle Levigne (Urban Fantasy)

Wildvine Series, Book 4: Old Solar's Shoppe by Michelle Levigne (Urban Fantasy)
 
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Jori went to Willowood College because of a promise her father made years ago, when he was a student there. She only had to put in one year, and then she could go to whatever college she preferred. When she walked into Old Solar's Shoppe her first day in town, prophecies spoken in another world awakened and claimed her.

Lew had already lost one apprentice, and he wasn't happy when the dreamstone marked Jori as his new apprentice, but he knew better than to disobey the will of Waetru. They became friends and he taught her about the world called Unipuri. She thought it was just a wonderful, complicated game.

Then an ancient evil focused on the two of them, attempting to reach across multiple universes and force protective barriers wide open. Jori's game became more real than anything she had ever known, and it would stay that way--if she and Lew survived their first test as master and apprentice.

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Wildvine Series, Book 4: Old Solar's Shoppe by Michelle Levigne (Urban Fantasy)
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Sample Chapter

Chapter One

Fall 1979

Jori Lawrence arrived at Willowood College in her father's '68 Corvette with two suitcases and grateful to be alone. If she was lucky, no one would connect her with the Magda Nevratova-Lawrence Hall at the college's music conservatory, or the Andrew Lawrence Aviation Scholarship. To be honest, it would take maybe twenty percent luck and eighty percent skill, but she had that skill. She had learned how to be invisible, despite her famous, wealthy parents. They understood, and most of the time they helped her achieve her wish. Or rather, she thought they understood, until her father began his full-court press during her junior year of high school, insisting she attend Willowood, his alma mater.

"It's only for one year," she muttered as she found her assigned dormitory and turned right on the first street after it, to go behind to the parking lot between it and the football field.

Her father only wanted one year from her, and then she could go to any college or university she wanted. Even in Europe. Yeah, like she wanted to go to Europe? It was much easier to avoid people recognizing her as the daughter of the world-famous Russian concert pianist who had defected and eloped with an American businessman if she stayed in the U.S.

Why did her father only want one year from her?

"Doesn't matter," she told herself for the thousandth time since leaving Chicago, where her mother was starting her fall tour--if six metropolitan cities could be called a tour. She found the parking lot entrance and let the Corvette coast as she turned.

One nice thing about arriving the day before freshman orientation started was that she had her pick of parking spots. Jori planned on leaving the car parked for most of her stay at the college. While she loved the car, which she had restored with her father on long winter evenings, it also made invisibility difficult. The less people associated her with the 'Vette, the less memorable she would be. According to the floor plan that came with her pre-registration packet, her room was on the third floor at the far end from the main stairwell, facing the football field. According to Theresa Sloane, a college friend of her father's, now her mother's personal assistant, there should still be a big oak tree on the edge of the parking lot in a direct line of sight with her dormitory room window. It would shelter the car, and Jori would be able to check on it whenever she looked out the window. There also happened to be a light two slots over to the right from the tree, so her car would always be in the light.

"Thanks, Theresa," Jori muttered as she found the tree, the light pole, and pulled into the slot and lined up her line of sight with the dormitory window on the third floor.

One nice thing about being the daughter of a "distinguished alumnus" and benefactor of the college--she got all her registration, dorm assignment, class schedule, cafeteria pass, and parking sticker taken care of ahead of time. While all the other freshmen were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, Jori could orient herself to the campus, figure out where her classes were, get first pick of textbooks in the college bookstore, and meet her advisor.

If only the rest of her freshman year could run this smoothly, she wouldn't mind so much coming to a college that wasn't quite her choice. Granted, she had no idea what she wanted to major in or what college or university she would prefer, and she could get all her requirements out of the way before she transferred. Still, it grated on her that her father was so insistent on her coming to Willowood. Some of the things he had said, things she had overheard her parents discussing... Jori had the distinct impression that she was here because of a promise her father had made. That made no sense, but she couldn't shake the strengthening certainty--neither could she make herself confront her father about it.

"Get it over with," she told herself, after she had sat and silently grumbled about her "exile" and knew she was covering the same ground for the umpteenth time.

Besides, someone else had pulled into the parking lot, on the other end by the sidewalk leading to the main door. They would think it mighty weird if she just sat there. Jori didn't want even a hint of weird to be attached to her, because that would make her memorable. Part of the many rules of becoming and staying invisible. She got out of the car, made sure the keys were in her pocket, hauled her suitcases out of the compartment behind the seat, and locked the door.

"One down. Two hundred eighty days to go." She glanced over at the car on the far end, where a man in a blue dress uniform was climbing out of the driver's seat. No, no one had seen her talking to herself.

Jori kept an eye on the people in the car as she made the long, slow walk down the sidewalk to the far side of the dormitory. She would have to pass that car. The chances of that man in the uniform being there to look for her were small--after twenty-some years, no one but some powerless neurotics in Russia really cared about a concert pianist who had defected--but there was no reason to let down her guard until she could be sure.

A girl in jeans, hiking boots and a dark green Willowood College T-shirt climbed out of the seat behind the man in the uniform. She turned around, grinning, and spread her arms.

"Gee, honey, don't look so depressed about leaving home," the man said.

"Dad!" The girl laughed and flung her arms around him. Her gaze met Jori's over the man's shoulder. "Hi, are you a freshman too?"

"Uh, yeah." Jori felt a little shocked that she was violating her rules of invisibility already. The man in the uniform--Air Force--was here to drop off his daughter, not check on a national security problem. No reason to make herself memorable.

A car honked as it pulled into the lot and a girl with long, dark hair stuck her head out the passenger window and shouted, "Alex!"

"That's my roommate, Bree," the girl explained before turning and running partway to meet the car. It pulled into the slot on the other side of her car.

Jori nodded, smiled, and kept walking.

Alex and Bree caught up with Jori in the dorm lounge as she was getting her picture taken for her student I.D.

Alex Harris lived in Martin's Lake, and her father was the colonel in charge of the Air Force Base there. Bree Kirstan lived in Logon. From their chatter with the registration people, Bree knew a former art teacher at Willowood, several of her aunts and uncles and cousins had attended Willowood, and she had chosen to come here despite her mother dating a professor at Lyndvale State University. Alex's aunt was a research scientist at the university, in the same department as Bree's mother's--did "boyfriend" apply to people over fifty?--gentleman friend--that sounded worse--and that was how the two girls had met.

Bree's mother, aunt and uncle had all come to help move the girls into their dorm room. They already had their dorm assignment, just like Jori, because of alumni connections, and the adults had made one trip upstairs by the time the three girls got their I.D. photos and paperwork and climbed to the third floor hauling luggage. Jori somehow found herself included in the crowd. She liked Alex and Bree from the start, and wished they had an extra bed in their room. That wouldn't be kind to her roommate, Jenna, who she had talked to on the phone once, but Jori had learned to listen to her gut when it came to people. That was her first line of defense in avoiding the "users" in the international music scene, the gossip columnists, the hangers-on and others who wanted to get close to her parents as steppingstones in their own career, or their fifteen minutes of fame. Jenna sounded like she would be nice to share a dorm room with, but she was a model--how did one manage to be a model only part-time?--and Jori had visions of drooling boys following her all over campus, and hate campaigns from the girls in their dorm. Then there was the odd phone call from the housing department on campus, just before she left for Chicago, saying a third party had requested to be included in their room. Granted, half the rooms were set up to hold four students, but with the two new dormitories opening this year, there was no need to put more than two to a room. Jori hadn't had a chance to ask Jenna if she knew who the third was, but she had bad experiences with a third person being grafted into a relationship--other than with her parents, fortunately--and knew someone would be shoved to the outskirts whether they liked it or not.

She was surprised and pleased when both Alex and Bree noticed that she walked away from them, continuing down the hall to the far end, when they stopped at their dorm room, halfway between the main stairwell and the bathroom. They called to her, suggesting they meet for dinner--but not the cafeteria, not their first night on campus--and she surprised herself by agreeing.

Her roommates, Jori found when she opened the door, had already arrived. Judging by the piles of suitcases and boxes, there would be four of them in the room, not three. She sighed and looked for a bed that wasn't claimed. There were two bunk beds, four freestanding drawers/vanity/closet combinations, and four desks. She and Jenna had planned to sleep in the top bunks and use the bottom bunks for sofas, to study and a place for guests in their room to sit. One bottom bunk had already been made up. The other bottom bunk was full of luggage. That left one of the top bunks for her. She debated sleeping over a person who needed two pillows, three accent pillows, a tufted quilt that looked like it was silk, and a bed skirt--on a bunk bed?--or sleeping in the other top bunk and having to look at her when she rolled over in the morning.

"Nothing wrong with sleeping facing the wall," she muttered, and heaved her smaller suitcase, holding her linens, onto the other top bunk. Logic said the drawers/vanity/closet combinations on either end of the bunks were assigned to those bunks. She chose the one between the bunk and the window. Empty. She set about unpacking.

"Who are you, and what are you doing in my room?" an alto voice with a slight drawl demanded, when Jori was halfway unpacked.

She turned around slowly, making a mental note to learn to shut the door. She wasn't at home, after all. The sound of the key in the lock would have warned her.

Definitely not Jenna. The girl who stood in the doorway, fists jammed into her wide hips, lower lip sticking out in a growing pout, could never pass for a model. Her fancy clothes proclaimed her someone who thought she was "someone", with a long skirt and high-heeled sandals and a lacy blouse, all in coordinating shades of olive, with matching jewelry. Honestly, all dressed up like that in the late August heat?

If she dressed like that all the time, then chances were all that luggage strewn around the room was for one person. Jori wondered if she could put a curtain around her bunk, and if Miss Fashion Plate would take it as an insult, or she was so caught up in herself she wouldn't even notice?

"My name is Jori Lawrence, and this has been my assigned room since July. Since you're definitely not Jenna, then you're the third person who was assigned just last week. Technically, you're in my room."

All right, that violated the invisibility laws, but something about this overdressed self-proclaimed princess made Jori want to deck her.

"No! You should have been moved out, transferred. This is supposed to be just my and Jenna's room." She took two stomping steps in and gestured at the door. "Go downstairs and find out what your right room is. Honestly, this is just too much."

"Go downstairs yourself. Nobody notified me when I signed in and got my I.D. If there's a mistake, it's on your part, not mine." She turned her back on the princess and resumed unpacking. A shiver ran down her back and she bit her tongue to keep from asking if Jenna had agreed to this. They had only talked on the phone once, and she hadn't heard from Jenna before she left home, so she had no idea if her roommate had instigated any of this mess. Jori's impression of her was that she was nice.

To her surprise and relief, the princess only huffed several times, then stomped out the door again. How did she manage not to snap the spindly heels of her sandals?

By the time she finished unpacking and made her bed, no order to vacate had arrived. Jori knew it wouldn't--the woman at the registration table had identified herself as a friend of Theresa and said she had been looking for Jori to arrive. If there was any change, she would have made a point of saying something. Although, shouldn't she have said something about the princess joining Jori and Jenna? Jori debated leaving her room before the princess came back. What were her chances of finding all her belongings tossed out, or at the very least vandalized, when she returned? Then she thought about having to sit there and endure whining and complaining if the princess didn't get her way. Even worse, if she hung around, her new roommate might actually expect her to go to dinner with her.

Alex and Bree were chatting with their families, doing most of the unpacking while the five adults sat on the bottom bunks. They called out to Jori as she walked past their door, which was nice. Almost as if they had been looking for her. Maybe they had seen the princess fume past them and wondered if she was injured?

"Bookstore," Jori said, when they asked where she was going. She pulled her class and book list from her backpack to demonstrate.

"Smart," Alex's father said. "Wait too long, you get the most beat-up of the used books."

"Dinner?" Bree said. "We'll hit the bookstore and try to meet you there--have you looked around the student center yet? But anyway, let's go to dinner in town."

"Forget dinner," the man vaguely introduced as her uncle said. "You just want an excuse to run to Old Solar's."

Jori felt lost for a moment, and didn't like that feeling. She had come to Willowood thinking she was fully prepared for the town, the layout of the college, and many of the older faculties. She didn't like feeling that a hole had been left in her defenses. Like the time she discovered she was supposed to do some public relations work for her mother, but no one had told her until they stopped in the middle of what was supposed to just be a tourist-level tour of Sydney. How could she speak to the equivalent of tenth-grade music students without any preparation--especially when she was only in ninth grade herself? Her parents had promised that would never happen to her again.

After a few seconds, she remembered the name, but that still didn't help. Theresa had brought up the name a few times, talking about Willowood. What seemed odd now was that her father seemed unwilling to discuss the shop, and after a few attempts to reminisce about their college days there, Theresa had given up mentioning Old Solar's Shoppe. Jori knew a little about it, selling curiosities and all sorts of secondhand items and collectibles. If her father didn't want her to go to the shop, he would have said so outright. So why did he avoid the subject? If it wasn't worth the notice or time, why was Bree so eager to go?

*****

Lewis Solar's dreamstone stabbed his wrist with a jolt so strong, he almost shouted. Fortunately he was alone in the shop, working in the little side room with the jewelry display cases.

He paused in restringing the garnet necklace for Mrs. VanderThorn, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Over the years, the stone he wore on his wrist like other men wore a watch had given him warnings, but never that particular sharp tingle--like he used to feel as a child when the circus parade strolled through town.

"Please, Waetru," Lew whispered, as he put down the necklace on the counter. What was it this time? A warning of bad or good? His dreamstone had been quiet so very long, he was a little rusty in interpreting it. This wasn't anything like the warning throb he felt when his counterpart, Everon, and Everon's apprentice, Embry, came through the doorway from the Midworld.

Still, he walked across the shop, past the counter with the cash register, into the storage closet next to it. In the shadows of the square, deep closet he could barely see the ornate doorframe and the chain wrapped around the bar holding it closed. Lew stepped into the closet and tapped the shiny, half-pound padlock holding the chain in place.

Nothing changed. Nothing disturbed. No danger approaching. No intruders.

Smiling a little at his own nerves, he let his feet take him back to the jewelry room and the garnet necklace. Nothing like a warning stab from his too-quiet dreamstone to get his blood rushing again. He knew he should have expected this. The doorway and the shop had been wrapped in sleepy, comfortable quiet and rest for too long. He had taken it as a gift, ever since the death of his apprentice, David, last spring. Everon would tell him quiet pools hid deep shadows of danger.

Lew was a silver-shadowed man with a thick thatch of frosted black hair and slightly stooping shoulders, tall in spite of it. His clothes for the shop didn't vary much from day to day--like a uniform, friends said. Baggy brown pants, a white linen shirt and a charcoal gray vest. He kept his moustache short and full, though sometimes when he looked in the mirror he thought it made him look like a beaver and was tempted to shave it. He kept it to avoid taking himself too seriously. It also helped to deceive strangers and enemies into never taking him seriously enough.

Lew took off his close-work glasses as he returned to the jewelry room and stepped over to the display case on the far wall from the doorway. The warning tingle returned and grew into anticipation as he bent over to study the teardrop-shaped dreamstone on its bed of plain cotton in the clear plastic cube on the top shelf. Swirls of gold, sapphire, ruby and crystal twisted and spun within the stone. He didn't have to look at his own dreamstone, hidden under his shirtsleeve, to know it swirled as well, visibly threatening to leap free of its silver mesh band.

"My apprentice?" he whispered. "Please, Waetru, not another David."

No, that was ridiculous, he knew. David had been the perfect apprentice, quick and eager to learn, dedicated, loyal, determined--and self-sacrificing. He had been killed while protecting two defenseless, wounded young men, on whose lives the future of another world depended.

The string of copper bells on the front door jangled, and he heard the thud and shuffle of several pairs of feet entering his store. Lew stepped out into the main showroom of his curiosity and antiquities shop. Freshman orientation officially started tomorrow at Willowood College, but students were moving in today, so he assumed--from the voices, three girls--they were here just to look around. Not buy. Although, he had put a coupon in the orientation packet just like he did every year. Lew didn't mind. His regular customers kept him in business by buying rare antiques with large sums of money. What mattered now was discerning who and what had just entered his life.

"Anybody home?" a familiar young voice called.

Lew stepped around a tall bookcase and nearly came nose-to-nose with Bree Kirstan.

"Surprise." She laughed and hugged him quickly and turned to introduce him to the two other girls with her as "Uncle Lew, only he's not really my uncle, but he's a really good friend of my Abehla--I mean, my grandmother."

In the laughing and chatting, and expressing his surprise that Bree was attending Willowood despite her mother's deepening relationship with Dr. John Harland of Lyndvale State, Lew sized up the other two girls.

Alex Harris was strongly built--not model-slim, but healthy--with dark hair caught up in several braids woven with royal blue cord, and hazel eyes. She blushed slightly when Bree exclaimed over the fact she had her pilot's license and could fly the bi-plane she had rebuilt with her father, a Colonel in charge of the R&D Air Force base in Martin's Lake. Lew liked her. The daughter of a military man certainly would know discipline, and she looked like she knew how to keep fit. An apprentice Solar certainly needed to be healthy, strong, and agile, able to endure privation.

What am I thinking? he scolded himself, and turned his attention on the third girl, who didn't seem bothered about being left for last. In fact, if he could read body language correctly, she was trying to escape notice altogether. Handy talent, that. Again, he scolded himself not to make quick judgments, and studied her as best he could between Alex and Bree talking about how they had met and become friends and decided to become roommates.

She seemed a little too fascinated by the display shelves of glassware next to the door into the vintage clothing room. Jeans, blue sneakers, sleeveless black sweatshirt. Calculated casualness, but if he missed his guess--and he rarely did, because he had trained himself as an artist, and then an antiques appraiser, as well as in his duties as a Solar--everything was new and of the highest quality. She walked with slightly hunched shoulders, probably a tactic to reduce her height, with her thumbs stuck in her pockets. Tangled brown hair in a coming-into-fashion shaggy cut fell forward to nearly hide her hazel eyes. Her high cheekbones and slight tip to her eyes proclaimed her of European descent, Soviet Block perhaps. She was perhaps twenty pounds overweight. A regular exercise regimen could put her into fighting trim and she had an innate grace despite her shuffling walk. That walk might just be an act, for all he knew.

Lew muffled a chuckle, amused and dismayed to realize he had assessed the girl as if already his apprentice. He thought a silent prayer-plea and tried to focus his thoughts on Bree, who was asking his opinion of several professors at Willowood, who to avoid if at all possible, and how to handle the impossible ones.

The third girl studied the room with a challenging gaze, lips pursed. Then she saw the sign at the stairs listing what could be found on the second floor. Lew knew the moment she read "books". A delighted smile transformed her long face to bright anticipation and a liveliness that attracted him. She glanced over her shoulder at Bree and Alex, then her gaze met Lew's. He nodded to her and tipped his head slightly toward the stairs. She grinned at him and hurried up the steps. Lew was relieved to note she didn't stomp or clump, but moved lightly on her toes as she hurried.

"Oh. Rats," Bree said, turning to look, probably clued in by Lew's momentary distraction. "That was rude of me." She sighed and gestured up the stairs. "That's Jori. She's on our floor."

"Looks like she's stuck with a real pain for a roommate," Alex added. "We saw her come in and she looked just too..." She shrugged.

"Definitely too much everything."

"So I looked out and saw her go down to the end, where Jori went, and I heard her yelling about something, and a few seconds later she came stomping down the hall, blowing like a bull about to charge."

"Jori's going to have an awful year. I figured..." Bree shrugged. "This is a great place to hide, and she said she loves to read, and maybe she likes horses?" She grinned.

"All girls love horses, and you wouldn't be trying to wheedle some time riding Brayna, would you?" Lew said, holding onto his scowl for only a few seconds. When both girls laughed, he hooked his thumb over his shoulder, behind the counter and through the curtained doorway leading into his living quarters. "How about I go introduce myself to your friend, and you get a pot of tea going and pull out some cookies or something for us?"

"Crystal vein?" Bree asked, already heading for the doorway.

"I wouldn't dare serve you anything else. Khyber would have my head, at the very least."

"Who's Khyber?" Alex asked, as she followed Bree.

"I didn't tell you about Khyber? Good grief, what is wrong with me? My cousin. She is like the greatest writer in the whole world."

Lew chuckled, pleased that Bree would be looking after a girl she had just met. Then he squared his shoulders and turned to the stairs. "I hope you know what you're doing." He checked his dreamstone as he stepped to the stairs. The swirls of red, blue and gold barely moved, but he imagined smugness in the slow shift of colors.

The stairs knew him and didn't let out a squeak or sigh as he climbed. He listened for footsteps, to track where the girl went first. She was light on her feet, careful of noise. As he came around the final turn in the staircase, he saw her disappear around the bookshelves to the left. Lew smiled, anticipating her changing expressions as she discovered the treasures in the room.

He followed her down the fantasy section, to the reading nook, two sagging wingback chairs in reddish maple and faded royal blue upholstery, on either side of the cold fireplace. His stack of to-be-read books sitting next to the left-hand chair caught her attention. She leaned over to read the titles and Lew was pleased when she didn't disturb the stack. Consideration for other's property was high on his list of proper attitudes for an apprentice.

Lew sighed silently, admitting he had accepted her. She would need much training. That refusal to put herself forward, to not be hurt when she wasn't introduced right away, such humility was a good quality, but if she would become a Solar, she had to learn to stand fast, to speak up, and to know the difference between accidental neglect and slights that came from arrogance. She had to learn to stand up not just for herself, but for others--people and worlds.

The girl kept going, slowing her steps. Several times she reached out to touch a few spines of the old, cloth-bound, dusty books sitting on the shelves.

Lew knew his dreamstone was right when she started to turn left at the end of the bookshelves to follow the authors from 'M' to 'N' and paused. A narrow aisle led between the shelves on the right, and the wall. Anyone would think it was there because there wasn't a freestanding bookcase narrow enough to fit into the gap. That was only partially true. She stopped, straightened and looked back over her shoulder at the shadows. Lew moved backwards a step to keep from being seen. He imagined her frown of curiosity. This late in the afternoon, there was no direct sunlight to catch a browser's attention, but faint streaks of blue and green gleamed from the skylight of the armor room, creating a glow that shone through the shadows to tempt curiosity.

There was no such thing as coincidences Lew knew, after all this time.

After a few seconds, she moved. He stepped around the corner to see her turn right and step through the narrow gap. He hurried, anxious to see her reaction. Few people ever passed through that gap by anything other than intention and destiny. That was no coincidence.

Lew reached the gap and stepped through to see the girl stop on the threshold of the armor room. Slowly, her eyes widened and her lips parted slightly in a child's smile of wonder. She rested both hands on the darker wood of the empty doorframe and leaned a little over the threshold--but didn't step over. Lew was glad she hesitated. Only fools blundered on through into the unknown, and he had no use or time for a fool for an apprentice.

The light spilled blue and green and only lightly streaked with royal purple through the resurrected antique stained glass church windows, giving the place a cool, underwater feeling. It always reminded Lew of a swimming hole he loved at the Collegium, where willow trees and pines interlaced their branches to form a barrier around the water, cutting off the sights and sounds of the rest of the world. An otherworldly feel.

Slowly, the girl's gaze moved from the stylized fields and skies full of angels and sheep and lions to the contents of the armor room. Swords, bows, crossbows, spears, quivers full of brightly-fletched arrows, grappling hooks and quarterstaffs, breastplates, chain mail shirts, helmets and shields. All neatly stacked and ordered with care. It had been part of Lew's apprenticeship to clean, mend and organize the weaponry--and memorize the names and uses of each weapon. He remembered his days of frustration, and smiled. He would assign the same task to this girl and watch the tedium grind away the rough spots in her character, smooth out her flaws and imperfections. There was a reason, after all, why she had been chosen. A job she alone could do.

A flash of pain that he suspected would never ease lodged under his breastbone. Lew had to believe that David had been chosen for a purpose, had fulfilled his purpose, and now rested with Waetru. He missed the young man, who had been like a son to him. Maybe that resentment that still woke him sometimes at night, when he wanted to shout his questions to Waetru, was what made him hesitate to accept this new apprentice?

She leaned forward more, pressing harder against the frame. Lew stepped closer, wondering what she had seen. A new flash of light caught his eye, coming straight and bright through the skylight, from an angle impossible for this time of the day. Color fractured on the hilt of a long sword, splinters of blue, silver and green dazzling his eyes until he moved a fraction to the left. His smile faded as he saw what had caught her attention.

Please, Waetru. Not the Esta-Guerr sword. Not the king sword. Not another David, please. He took a few slow, deep breaths to fight the flash of foolish panic. The Esta-Guerr sword was a symbol of danger and change. What duty awaited him and his new apprentice, and how much time would they have to prepare to face it?

David had found the Esta-Guerr sword when he was only fifteen. Like this girl before him, the sword had been visible when it should have been hidden. He had been marked for a special duty, bound up with the Esta-Guerr.

David had died just three months ago--almost eight years, in Unipuri time--defending the wounded Esta-Guerr and Soleris heirs from a party of Malspri blood-priests who had infiltrated a healer's sanctuary. The hardest thing Lew had ever done was to bury David at the Collegium and then go home and falsify an attempted break-in at the shop. The lies he had to tell to cover up the young man's disappearance left a foul taste in his mouth and his soul. He made David the hero, driving away the intruders, then foolishly chasing after them. The shop sat on the edge of town, with few close neighbors and lots of empty fields on three sides. If no one heard the uproar, the gunshots, the squealing tires in the middle of the day, no one questioned the tale. David was searched for, many false sightings came in, and Lew had to identify several bodies in the morgue. David was reported as missing, presumed dead, killed by the would-be thieves. It was no mercy that a number of violent thefts had been reported in nearby cities. Such things didn't happen in Willowood.

The ache of the loss and the lies told to explain David's disappearance made Lew regret many of the choices he had made, even as he acknowledged that he had done what was right and honorable. He knew David would laugh, seeing the irony in the false tale of heroism to cover the even more pivotal sacrifice he had made. Lew had sworn then he never wanted another apprentice. Everon had not reminded him that they were both getting old and their duty required they take apprentices. Besides, why else would Embry visit Old Solar's Shoppe so often, learning English and the culture of Earth, except to prepare to train Lew's new apprentice, just as David had started training him before the tragedy?

Now, Lew had to face his duty. This girl was marked, by dreamstone and now by sword. He breathed another silent prayer for help, for wisdom for himself and protection for her. She would need it.

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