TITLE: The Shift of the Tide
(Uncharted Realms #3)
AUTHOR: Jeffe Kennedy
A QUICKSILVER HEART
Released from the grip of a tyrant, the Twelve Kingdoms have thrown all that touch them into chaos. As the borders open, new enemies emerge to vie for their hard-won power—and old deceptions crumble under the strain…
The most talented shapeshifter of her generation, Zynda has one love in her life: freedom. The open air above her, the water before her, the sun on her skin or wings or fur—their sensual glories more than make up for her loneliness. She serves the High Queen’s company well, but she can’t trust her allies with her secrets, or the secrets of her people. Best that she should keep her distance, alone.
Except wherever she escapes, Marskal, the Queen’s quiet lieutenant, seems to find her. Solid, stubborn, and disciplined, he’s no more fluid than rock. Yet he knows what she likes, what thrills and unnerves her, when she’s hiding something. His lithe warrior’s body promises pleasure she has gone too long without. But no matter how careful, how tender, how incendiary he is, only Zynda can know the sacrifice she must make for her people’s future—and the time is drawing near…
Release Date: August 29, 2017
About Jeffe Kennedy
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award.
Her award-winning fantasy romance trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms hit the shelves starting in May 2014. Book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose received a Top Pick Gold and was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books followed in this world, beginning the spin-off series The Uncharted Realms. Book one in that series, The Pages of the Mind, has also been nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2016 and is a finalist for RWA’s RITA Award. The second book, The Edge of the Blade, released December 27, 2016, and is a PRISM finalist, along with The Pages of the Mind. The next in the series, The Shift of the Tide, will be out in August, 2017. A high fantasy trilogy taking place in The Twelve Kingdoms world is forthcoming from Rebel Base books in 2018.
She also introduced a new fantasy romance series, Sorcerous Moons, which includes Lonen’s War, Oria’s Gambit, The Tides of Bàra, and The Forests of Dru. She’s begun releasing a new contemporary erotic romance series, Missed Connections, which started with Last Dance and continues in With a Prince.
In 2019, St. Martins Press will release the first book in a new fantasy romance series, Throne of Flowers.
Her other works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion; an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera; and the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, which includes Going Under, Under His Touch and Under Contract.
She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.
Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.
The Shift of the Tide
Water streamed over my skin in a rush, enveloping and responsive at once, like music following my dance.
Around me, the shapes of coral resonated with depth, shading moving beyond the visual and into other spectrums. That was one reason I loved this form, where my echolocation gave sound nuance like a rainbow of color. The crystal waters teemed with sea life of all varieties, most of them quite tasty looking, making my stomach tingle with animal anticipation.
I exercised enough conscious control, however, to refrain from sampling the living buffet. Unless pressed into it in order to survive—which had happened more often since I undertook this quest than ever before in my life—I didn’t eat as an animal. It was one of those rules taught to Tala children early, one of the tricks and habits to forestall the worst disaster imaginable for a shapeshifter: being trapped forever in a non-human form.
With the great exception of Final Form. I’d accepted taking that as my destiny, as the only way to save my people. I would do it for my sister’s dead babies, and for the ones I would never have. I’d be lonely, perhaps, but my family was dying off one by one regardless. My mother was gone along with all my siblings, but two. And if Anya kept trying to have babies, she’d soon go with them. I would live my life alone, either way, and nothing would change that.
One day, quite soon, I would become a dragon, and stay that way forever.
Though that day drew ever closer—if I succeeded in getting the invitation I sought—for the moment I savored one of my favorites of my many forms, swimming hard and working out the restlessness that plagued me. If I got a choice of what form to be stuck in forever, I’d pick the dolphin. Its large, mammalian brain contained plenty of room to retain a good portion of reasoning and higher thought. Fast, agile, being a dolphin was simply fun. I’d learned it early and returned to it often.
Learning a new form is part instinct, part observation and study, and part gift from beyond. Some say those are the gifts of the three goddesses—knowledge of the heart from the goddess of love, dawn, and twilight, Glorianna; disciplined study from the warrior goddess of high noon, Danu; and the mysterious arcane touch of Moranu.
Most Tala look to Moranu first, and that’s largely why, because we are shapeshifters—and each shift is a leap of faith in the goddess of the moon, night and shadows. But I needed more than Moranu’s guidance to take Final Form. I needed a real dragon to teach me.
Our ancestors had found a way to shift into it, becoming the great, virtually immortal dragons of old. In that form they retained full consciousness—some said greater intelligence than human minds—along with all the magical gifts the shapeshifter had possessed. Most important, being a dragon came with the additional and priceless gift of modulating magic, something we needed desperately if the Tala, the magical and shapeshifting last remnants of the great races were to survive beyond another generation. We’d preserved so much—and yet not enough. So much knowledge the ancients had taken with them, that we failed to understand.
How it would feel to be the dragon… well, no one had been able to take Final Form in generations. So, no one could tell me if taking that irreversible final step felt like being trapped in an unyielding cage. Even if it would, much as the prospect revolted me, I would do it. And, once there, I would be unable to turn back. But the reward would be worth it. I firmly believed that.
Taking Final Form was both the pinnacle of accomplishment for a shapeshifter and the ultimate sacrifice, but we’d lost the intangible path when the dragons disappeared from the world.
Now that my friend and scholar Dafne, now Queen Nakoa KauPo of Nahanau, had awakened the dragon Kiraka from hibernation beneath the volcano, I hoped to be the first Tala to take Final Form. But that required an invitation from the great dragon, and so far she’d only spoken to Dafne. I tried to be patient—after all I’d waited my entire life for this moment, and generations of Tala had lived and died without ever reaching it—but the sense of time slipping away rushed around me like the crystal warm waters.
A pod of actual dolphins sounded in the distance, their convivial feeding luring me to join them, to enjoy for a while longer the joy of freedom from responsibility. I swam in their direction. Paused when the alarm call went up.
And they had calves in the family group. No question that they should be protected at all costs. Babies are the future. Without them we die the final death.
I shot past the group encircling the calves, joining those who attacked the shark. Finding my opening, I angled exactly and rammed its gills with my beak, exulting in the crunch of soft cartilage. It should have flinched—from my blow and from the other dolphins, attacking the gills on the other side, and its soft belly—but it swam on. Almost mindlessly.
I had a bad taste in my mouth, both literally and metaphorically. Like magic gone rotten.
A limitation of the dolphin form, however, is that I can’t use my magical senses in it. Otherwise I would have probed for the source of the distasteful essence. As it was, the pod easily herded the shark away. It floundered in the water, slowing and sinking. It would be no threat to them or the precious calves.
The group sang to me, promising fish and fun. Very tempting to join them.
But I’d made promises, and I intended to keep them.
With a mental sigh, I headed back to shore. That had been enough of an exercise break to clear my mind and restore my sense of self. Mossbacks didn’t seem to understand how shifting into animal form could be a kind of recentering, as it looked to them like the exact opposite of that—going farther away from self, not more firmly into the center—but mutability anchors me in a way I can’t easily explain. Or would, even if I found the words. The Tala have a reputation for keeping secrets, and it’s well earned.
It’s also a dodgy undertaking, full of fine lines and careful obfuscation. Especially as we have no hard and fast rules—the Tala rarely do—beyond making sure no one ever again has the power to destroy what we’ve so carefully preserved.
Though that too lay in our future. I don’t have strong foresight, but the visions plagued even me. Oily shadows penetrating to soil the white cliffs of my home in Annfwn. Blood in the water. My cousin, the High Queen of the Thirteen Kingdoms thought the Temple of Deyrr, with their unholy black magic and corrupt rituals to enslave the living dead was all her problem. But that ancient and lethal arrow pointed ultimately at the Heart of Annfwn. The beginning of this conflict, and the prophesied site of the end of it.
Not for me, however. My task had been set before the priestess of Deyrr showed up at the court of Ordnung, corrupting the former high king. Others would take up that battle. Though I’d helped my companions, doing my best to make sure the powerful jewel, the Star of Annfwn stayed out of the High Priestess of Deyrr’s fetid hands, ultimately protecting the thirteen—and the other realms inside the protective magical barrier—would fall to them. My allegiance belonged to the Tala and my personal mission, first and foremost. It would do us no good to turn back Deyrr, only for the Tala to wither and die.
As the dragon, at least, I’d be well situated to fight to defend my homeland of Annfwn.
Had that been the oddly familiar flavor of the shark? It didn’t seem likely. Not here in the waters of Nahanau, a fair distance from the barrier. I’d never encountered Deyrr’s living dead at Ordnung—they’d all been burnt by the time I arrived—but I had tasted the High Priestess’s magic when she attacked Ursula. They could be the same. Though why it would be in a mindless shark, I didn’t know.
Once in the shallows, I shifted back to human form, swimming with a relaxed breast stroke until my feet found the bottom. While the Nahanauns had become more accustomed to my presence around the palace, they weren’t accustomed to shapeshifting. After a few early displays to impress them with my abilities—at my companions’ behest, mostly to demonstrate that we weren’t captives to be underestimated—I preferred to shift discreetly. I rarely cared to make a show of it, regardless. It’s a private thing. Intimate.