By day, Tansy McCoy is a florist making charmed bouquets for the citizens of Junonia, capital of the Kingdom of Terranmar. By night, she’s an assassin and the keeper of the Dangerous Garden where deadly blooms grow. Together with the town tailor, butcher, baker, and metalsmith (just don’t call her a candlestick maker), she is part of the Guild, a secret group of spell-wielding thieves and mercenaries. Their task: consolidate all that remains of the realm’s fading magic under the ruthless King Zeno’s control.
Impetuous loner Tansy chafes under her Guild demands. She longs to quit her town and trade and head for the hills. Unfortunately, King Zeno has other plans. He wants to marry off his daughter to Terranmar’s famously reclusive wizard, Rune Hallows, and he’s willing to have the Guild kidnap him to make it happen. Fail to deliver the wizard and the consequences will be swift and deadly.
Reluctant but determined, Tansy sets out on the long journey to faraway Wentletrap and Rune’s desolate tower by the sea. To get there she must cross a swamp full of sinister surprises, battle a werewolf, and outrace a bloodthirsty band of revenants, while she wrestles with her own magical powers that seem to be expanding in unpredictable ways.
But reaching Rune’s tower is only the beginning. When Tansy learns the real reason behind the king’s contest, she’ll need to decide whether to give in to the growing forces of magic ready to reclaim Terranmar or embrace her newfound powers to save the kingdom.
“Tansy. Tansy, wake up.”
It was Hem. The edge to his voice snapped Tansy out of sleep. She rolled onto her elbow. A glance at the sky told her she’d been dreaming for the better part of two hours. Cava was crouched down in the grass nearby, her damaged arm resting in its makeshift sling against her knees, her other clutching a cutlass that gleamed in the moonlight. Hem was next to her, a double-headed axe in his hand.
“What is it?” she asked as she sidled up to them.
Cava turned her head slightly and put a finger to her lips. For a moment, Tansy heard nothing. Then a howl shattered the quiet of the Farn. Tansy shivered, and a trail of goose bumps ran up her arms and neck. She was about to ask again when an answering howl rent the air, rumbling with dread and hopelessness, before the lingering echo of it was replaced by growling and what sounded like the cracking of enormous jaws.
She ignored Hem’s firm hand on her shoulder and dared to raise her head above the tharrow. There, in the silver light of the moon, so close she could feel the vibrations of their brutal blows, two creatures were locked in mortal combat.
At first it was difficult to tell them apart, but when they stumbled away from each other after a particularly ferocious exchange, Tansy saw them clearly for the first time and her breath caught in her throat.
They were men and yet not men. They stood on two feet, but their knees bent the wrong way. They had two arms, but their hands ended in long claws. It was the mouths, though, that made Tansy’s heart race. Their jaws were distorted, pulled into long snouts. Ridges of fangs glistened around blood-red tongues that lolled from their mouths.
“What are those things?” breathed Tansy.
“The smaller one’s a werewolf,” whispered Cava. “Although I didn’t think werewolves were anything other than legends passed down from the days of Grand Magic.”
“And the larger one?” Tansy swallowed hard. The smaller of the two, the werewolf, was a knot of teeth and grey-white fur, and glistening claws. The larger Tansy hardly dared to look at.
“I–I can’t be sure,” said Cava, and the rare break in her voice made Tansy’s heart skip a beat. “But, just like the legends of werewolves, the elders used to tell us tales around the fire, ghost stories we thought, about a beast that roamed the Farn. A hellhound they called it. It’s appearance always meant death.”
Tansy stared at the smooth, night-dark skin of the creature as it stretched and flexed over ripples of muscles. It lunged at the werewolf, and as it hung suspended in midair, for a moment the moon shone on its brilliant ruby eyes, and Tansy’s mind was filled with midnight and heat.
The werewolf tried to roll to the side out of the path of the hellhound’s graceful arc, but it moved too slowly, impeded by a deep gash on one of its legs. The hellhound was on top of the werewolf in a flash of teeth and fury. The latter managed to get two clawed hands up just in time, keeping the hound’s snapping jaws from sinking into its neck by mere inches.
“What should we do?” asked Hem, the moon and the proximity of monsters making him appear paler than usual.
“Nothing,” said Cava. “It’s not our fight. If they see us, they might decide that two people and a dwarf are easier choices for their midnight snack. But just in case, take this.” She half-turned to Tansy and handed her a mace. It was large but light and covered in spikes. Tansy hefted it in her hands.
“Thanks,” she said, “I just hope I don’t have to–”
At that moment, the werewolf gave a mighty shove, catching the hellhound just right to send it up and out of the circle of crushed tharrow. It sailed through the air, hit the ground hard, but rolled back onto its feet just in front of Tansy.
The creature’s eyes took Tansy in as its chest heaved. Tansy froze, mesmerized by their crimson depths. Her grip tightened on the mace, but she remained still.
It spoke the word with surprising tenderness, and Tansy’s breath caught in her throat. Her entire being seemed to resonate to the sound of it. Time slowed then stopped. Makaria. It echoed through her, and when it found the burning emptiness inside, it filled every shattered edge and sharp corner before fading away.
Tansy wanted to hear it again. No. She needed to hear it again. But before she could speak a word to the beast, she saw a flash of curved blade and then another. It was Cava. She’d taken advantage of the strange moment of connection that had passed between the beast and Tansy to make her attack, slashing at it with her good arm. The hellhound stumbled back and then roared, swinging its massive hand forward and smashing it into Cava’s face.