I wanted to take a different approach to the cover than my other two books. For this cover, I envisioned something that fit more of the fantasy elements that are found within the text while still inspiring a sense of trepidation as Whisper faces her most perilous quest yet. Plus, this book takes place in a world never known to any culture or people, and so I wanted to have a little fun and find the dangerous landscape that tells readers something intense is about to happen.
And now, the cover and teaser!
Cover Art by Stephanie Mooney (Website)
Destiny. Adventure. Redemption. Legend.
She destroyed the Raven-Eater and declared war on the Great Spirit. Now, Whisper must embrace her dark destiny yet again, traveling deep into the shadow world to right the wrongs committed by her own hand. In a place where strength and hope do not exist, her every power and belief will be tested, reminding her of the lover she left behind – and the child she abandoned.
In her absence, her enemies thrive. Sun Woman seeks revenge on the living realm. Creator's servant seeks to destroy the heir to the Land of the Dead. And the third rises from the dead while luring Whisper closer to her own destruction.
Into the Shadow Realm takes readers on Whisper’s final quest through the shadows to reveal her path – and the sacrifices she must make to save the ones she loves. In Book Three of The Whisper Legacy, author Kristina Circelli weaves figures of Whisper’s past into stories that tell her future, completing her journey of warfare, power, and self-discovery.
Teaser, Chapter One:
The air was silent, trees rising tall without a single sway, not even the birds daring to chatter as the hunt began. Mother Sun shone down warmly, glittering upon a river clouded with churned-up muck that hid all creatures lurking beneath the waters.
Upon the surface of that river was a raft, one made of carefully carved and sanded wood tied together by thick vines and interwoven with bits of bark. A figure stood on the raft, her hands clutching a second vine tied into a loop at the end and loosely wrapped around both wrists. That warrior, known to her land as Whisper, as Kanegv, as the half-breed, stood perfectly still, her black eyes scanning the water, waiting for a ripple. Her hands were tense, ready and waiting as she took in a deep breath, positioning herself for the attack when she saw the slightest movement in front of her raft.
The long-established leader of the Land of the Dead leapt high into the air as a roar sounded and a scaled beast hurled itself out of the water, aiming for her legs. It sailed across the raft, the spikes on its long back glinting beneath the sun and its razor-edged teeth snapping for flesh. But Whisper held no fear for the creature; she was the half-breed, indestructible by man or beast or spirit.
Whisper spun mid-air as her hands released the looped end of the vine, catching the being by the top jaw as it splashed back into the water. She landed on the raft with a heavy thud, quickly wrapping the vine around her wrists a second time and pulling tight. Her face was a portrait of steadiness and determination as the vine went taut and the raft was dragged across the water. She locked her feet in the small wraps she had secured on the raft, continuing to tug on the vine as the creature pulled her further down the river.
Suddenly, the vine went slack and the raft floated gently among small lapping waves. Whisper paused, searching to her sides for any sign of the creature. She barely breathed as she peered over the edges of the wood, listening to the whispered voices traveling up from the deepest depths of the river. Somewhere within her souls she felt a light resonation, a recognition, a unity with the spirits of the water as they helped her catch her prey. But then those voices went silent, and so she pulled her feet from their straps and stepped to the edge of the raft, half-expecting to see jagged teeth snap up at her from the darkness.
Before realizing why her ears were met with such silence, before she could react to the sudden flash of silver, Whisper was yanked from the raft. She splashed into the water, her wrists wrapped in the vines as she glared through the water to the creature in front of her. All she could see was the end of its long, fur-coated tail and flashes of scales glinting in rays of sunlight, and she knew it would be a long chase unless she went for the kill.
The river pushed against her as she surfaced long enough to gather her bearings. She slammed herself back beneath the water, her long, dark, braided hair flowing past her shoulders as she crawled up the vine, making her way closer to the creature.
Flashes of gold nearly blinded her, colors bouncing off the sun and threatening to consume her. But Whisper knew these waters, and she knew this beast. This was Ukenta, and they had fought this battle many times.
She reached the end of the vine then, just behind the long, curled horns atop Ukenta’s head. Whisper grabbed hold of that horn with one hand, and lifted her prized bone-handled knife with the other.
The beast roared in pain when the knife came down, rising from the water and slamming back down with a force that nearly shook Whisper from her stance. Lean muscle rippled in her arms as she fought to keep her hold, digging deeper with the blade. It was a wound that would not kill, only injure and slow the creature down as she fought to win the heart that her own so greatly desired. Crimson blood surrounded them both, thickening the water.
But then, just when she thought Ukenta was relenting, she felt the change in its body a second too late and was thrust away, her hand slipping from the knife handle. Whisper was launched high out of the water, landing solidly in the river on her back. Before she could regain her senses, the beast whipped around, its spiked tail lashing out and connecting with her thigh. Despite herself, Whisper released an angry, guttural scream of pain and channeled the power within her throughout the water. The pulse of power radiated from her core, water rising high and splashing about the shore, but it was too late.
Ukenta was gone.
Beaten but not defeated, Whisper returned home to the Fire Tower atop Eagle, one of her few trusted companions. As directed, Eagle brought his leader to the rooftop, where she leapt from his back and landed clumsily, her injured leg buckling.
Strong hands caught her before she could fall to the hard stone rooftop. Whisper knew those hands, knew the feel of them against her flesh, and allowed herself to be pulled close and inspected. Already the wound was starting to heal, flesh folding over itself and blood scabbing around the edges, but that wouldn’t stop her mate from fussing over her.
“He cut deeper this time,” Hunting Hawk stated as he inspected the injury. “How many more wounds must you endure before calling off this hunt?”
“As many as it takes.” Whisper pushed herself off him and limped for the stone stairwell leading to their chambers. It was a long walk, blood trailing behind as the wound pulsed with each step. Only when she was secure in her room did she let Hunting Hawk cut off the material surrounding the gash and clean away the blood and bits of ragged flesh. “I touched Ukenta this time, Hunting Hawk. I felt his horns, his scales. My blade is buried in his neck. He is injured.”
“And it only took how many years?” His deep, commanding voice was full of scorn, a tone that had Whisper scowling and yanking her leg from his grasp. Before she could give an answer, one that she was not happy to provide, the door to their chambers opened and a third figure stepped through the threshold.
“You are injured?” the small voice asked, timid yet strong.
Whisper held out a hand and the child, a girl nearly on the brink of maturity, crept into the room and over to her guardians. The girl placed her hand in Whisper’s, eyes wide when her fingers touched the edge of the wound. “It is already healing, Anya. Do you feel it?”
The child called Anya marveled over the touch, the sensation of power pulsing through flesh. She did feel it, something she had never known herself and that no other being would know either, a magic that healed itself with heat and fire.
Whisper watched the girl observe the lesion, which was slowly closing in on itself. In her native world, Anya would have seen seven changes of the seasons, but that was a world she had known for but a single moment in time before she was taken from her true mother’s arms and brought to The Land of the Dead. It had taken Whisper many battles, and cost her many sacrifices, to call the child her own. The Great War between the half-breed and Creator was fought over the child, sparked by the Great Spirit’s choice to take the Elder Smoke Speaker into his own realm and ended with Whisper’s decision to give up her claim on her grandfather. In doing so, she secured the child for herself, and that decision, even including the resulting deaths of Anya’s true parents, was not one she ever regretted.
Anya had grown up in the Fire Tower, nurtured by Whisper and Hunting Hawk, taught the ways of their people. She was shown all parts of the kingdom that would one day be her own. She aged faster in the spirit realms than in the Land of the Living, perhaps by a great magic bestowed upon her by Creator, to age quicker and, in turn, rise to the throne sooner. She now had the maturity of a girl nearly thirteen, and Whisper had stayed true to word with the Great Spirit, together forming a future leader who would be just, intelligent, and strong. The girl was not a Speaker, as was Whisper and her grandfather, the Elder Smoke Speaker, but she had the potential to be a strong Dreamer, and to bring great things to their land.
But Whisper saw something else in the girl, something she hoped would develop with each passing season in the Land of the Dead. Many, many moons ago she had told Creator that a child of the Spirit World could never lead the Land of the Dead, and she’d meant it. What she hadn’t told him, though, was that no matter what child he chose, no matter where the child came from, the Land of the Dead was too powerful a place to allow the light to reign.
When Anya reached maturity, and when the spell Whisper had formed took hold to keep her youthful for the duration of her reign, the girl would be a ruler worthy of the darkness. Already her eyes were taking on that hint of deep, haunting unknowingness, tucked away behind the child-like innocence Anya still fought to hold on to. Already her voice had the air of authority, able to sound menacing yet sweet, honest yet deceitful.
Whisper was training her well, in more ways than one.