With exactly one month until the release of The Snow Queen’s Shadow [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], I figured I’d share an alternate opening scene. I decided the tone was a bit too silly for this book, and I needed to switch to Snow’s point of view. That said, between the “villain” and the reference to a certain musical, this scene still makes me smile.
Talia ran through the city streets, leather boots splashing through slush and snow. Twice since leaving the palace she had nearly slipped on the cobblestones. The ice was all but invisible in the fading sunlight. Even fairy-blessed grace was barely a match for the early winter snow of Lorindar. Give her the hot sand of the Arathean desert over this frozen muck any day.
The snow didn’t seem to be slowing her prey. The spy had put almost a full block between them. He veered east, cutting through an alley between Butcher Row and Alder Lane. If he made it out the city gates, they would never stop him. “He’s making his way toward Holy Crossroads.”
Snow White’s voice replied cheerfully from a small mirror on Talia’s wrist. “You said he was running toward the western gates!”
“He changed direction!” Talia leapt over a broken rain barrel that had frozen and split. “The little bastard is quick.”
“He’s a golem.” Snow’s breath came faster as she ran to intercept their spy. “It’s not that he’s fast, it’s that he’ll never tire. I should have caught on before, but who makes a golem out of gingerbread?”
People jumped aside, their cries giving Talia as clear a trail as the tiny rectangular footprints in the snow. “We’ll have to thank Prince Jakob. This thing could have stayed hidden for weeks if he hadn’t snuck away for a snack.”
Talia didn’t bother trying to shove people from her way. She wove between them as easily as any dancer, twisting and jumping as she tried to keep up with her gingerbread spy. She ignored the shouts of the preachers, each trying to outshout the rest as they fought to lure people inside for evening services.
“Where are you, Snow?” Talia could barely see the doll-sized cookie running through the street. Talia doubted she could hit him with a knife from this distance, even without the crowds to worry about. The damn thing was just too quick. “Danielle, are you listening to this?”
Danielle had stayed at the palace, coordinating the search to make sure no other golems had infiltrated the walls. “I’m here. Everything looks clear so far. We’ve arrested Derrick and burned all the gingerbread from the bakehouse.”
A priest of the Fairy Church stepped in front of her, shouting for her to confess her sins. Talia smiled and lowered her shoulders.
“What was that shout?” Danielle asked.
Talia glanced back at the priest, now sprawled in the slush. “Nothing. Can you get word to the guards at the southern gate?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Talia moved to the side of the road, stooping long enough to grab a handful of snow. She packed it tight and threw. Her makeshift missile struck the road just ahead of the gingerbread spy. He jumped, easily avoiding the snow.
“Nimble little thing,” Talia muttered. She raised her voice. “Somebody stop that cookie!”
Her cries only earned her strange looks, though at least the people were quicker to move out of the way.
“I’m at the gate,” Snow panted. “I have an idea.”
Talia could see the gate up ahead. Snow was doubled over, trying to catch her breath. The choker around her neck shone, the individual mirrors burning like tiny suns. The snow at her feet had already melted. The drifts by the wall sagged and shrank. Puddles spread, merging into a single pool that spread across the road.
The gingerbread golem slid to a halt. “I’ll run away from you both! Your magic can’t stop me.”
Talia yanked a knife from her sleeve and threw. The golem ducked, and the knife splashed into the puddle.
Before he could flee, a shadow swooped from atop the wall. The golem’s taunts changed to squeals as the talons of a horned owl pierced the golem’s body.
Talia glanced at the mirror on her bracelet. “I assume the owl was your doing, princess?”
“Oh, good,” said Danielle. “I wasn’t sure he would reach the gates in time.”
The poor guards appeared completely bewildered at this point, though Snow was doing her best to explain it all away. Snow smiled, finished whatever story she had decided to give them, and splashed through the puddle toward Talia.
“What did you tell them?” Talia asked.
“Baking accident.” She grinned. “I used a touch of magic. By the time they think to question, we should be long gone.”
“A baking accident?” Talia repeated.
Snow blinked, her expression pure innocence. “Don’t laugh. I knew a man who lost his parents to a baking accident. They lived in the woods back in Allesandria. Tragic story.” She wiped her face on the sleeve of her cloak. “Can we stop at a bakery on the way back? I’m hungry.”