Alexandria is unlike any Guardian before her in the warring realm of Agalrae. She alone can win the fight against evil through the most unlikely means—she’s going to be the mother of a savior.
Unfortunately, after twenty years of her life put on hold, the baby still hasn’t come. The Guardians are growing restless, and Alexandria spirals into a deep depression that only a quest from the Creator can cure.
In an era of bloodshed, one innocent child could change everything.
Broken. Forgiven. Redeemed.
Read the Guardians of Agalrae Series.
Exclusive Chapter One Preview of Alexandria: The Surrogate Guardian
I am going to be pregnant, and I don’t know when. It is a truth that follows me everywhere, even when I’m in a group that is celebrating my birthday. Chatter hums around me, oscillating between high and low. A bonfire blazes in the middle of the tree-enclosed outdoor area beside the warehouse. As long as I have been alive, we have lived here on this secluded Agalraen island, but that hasn’t protected us from the truth.
We are at war. The sight of the clear night sky twists my stomach because an aerial attack could launch at any moment. We shouldn’t be outside, ever, but today is an exception to all the rules of war. Today, nineteen years ago, I was born.
Someone in leather armor backs up into me. I yelp and tumble backward toward the bonfire. An exaggerated gasp ripples through both humans and elvar gathered to celebrate. Silence envelopes the crackling flame. I straighten and brush myself off inches from the fire.
The elf that bumped into me stares with a face that is more ashen than the usual white. “Are you hurt?”
He reaches for me, but his arm hovers without touching me. My skin tingles where he would touch me, if he did, and heat rushes to my face. His question is really asking if the baby is okay. No one really asks about me. They care more about the one the Creator will implant in my womb. I’m going to give birth to the Savior of Agalrae. But the wait has been so long that even I am beginning to doubt this will ever come to pass.
I finally manage a curt smile and an, “I’m fine.”
My mother steps between me and the elf. Her blue eyes pierce him and he steps back. In a low tone, she says, “Watch your step.”
He ducks his head into a bow and walks away. The others in family groups around us continue talking, but there are fewer smiles. Wary side glances are cast at me. A breeze bends the fire away from me and smoke parts the humans and elves standing on the other side. I wish there were Alicorns among us, too.
A voice stepping up beside me interrupts my thoughts. “Everything all right here?”
I smile at Naator as he stops next to Mother. His navy soldier robes dangle thick and heavy from his narrowed elven shoulders, his hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail, and his eyes crinkle with good humor. He stands close to Mother, but she has made it clear that he will never be my father.
Mother pushes her black hair behind her ears, even though it is braided. “Fine.”
Her shoulders are rigid and her face is darkened from years of stress. I could have been hurt when that elf backed into me. Everything is not fine.
“I’m well, see?” I brush off my dress skirt and curtsy to Naator. His whole face brightens and he bows to me. For a moment, the three of us are like a family standing here similar to everyone else. I allow myself to dwell in the warmth of the moment while it lasts.
“We should get you in soon.” Mother looks at me. “It’s getting late.”
“Rabashani, the sun has hardly set.” Naator lays a hand on Mother’s shoulder. His lavender eyes watch her, but she crosses her arms and stares at the ground. Her right foot taps and then she lifts her chin.
Naator tries again, “Allow Alexandria to enjoy her birthday party.” He winks at me.
“Mallory is here with me, Mother,” I say. Mallory is my assigned Guardian partner, although we don’t always get along. Sometimes I think she sees me as more of a burden than someone who could save her life.
“She’s busy right now.” Mom points at the bonfire, and all I see are elves.
Just then, a ball rolls out from underneath Mother’s skirts and taps into my ankle. Two elf children with pointed ears freeze in mid-pursuit and gape at me. I bend to toss the ball back to them, but when I look up, the only things left are their footprints in the grass. I hold the ball for a second longer before dropping it. My heart sinks in my chest.
Mother flattens her lips. “Things are different for you.”
“Have the Alicorns been tended to for the evening?” I ask in my sweetest voice with a grin to mask the ache inside of me. I learned a long time ago that Mother will never allow me to be a part of a family, to run and play like others. I am so thankful for Kevin, and I wish he were here right now, too. He helps me have fun and take risks that I would never have the gall to attempt alone.
Naator rubs my back. “Hang in there for a while longer, dear heart. We must tell the histories.” He stretches out his hand in front of me like I can see the vision he is casting.
I fake another smile. I am weary of telling stories I don’t believe in anymore. Exhaustion settles into my body in the form of deep loneliness. I scan the faces of the individuals around me, some with pinker human flesh and some with elven ghost-white skin. No one is looking. No one sees the real me. No one has asked how old I am or how I wanted to celebrate. It was decided for me that we will have a community bonfire. At one point, I was grateful, but now my soul is closing with bitterness.
All I really want is a hug from my mother and to hear that she’s proud of me. But she stands at a distance just like everyone else. She stares into the fire and her eyes redden around the edges.
“You do it this time, please,” she says to Naator. She fists her blue skirts. Without waiting for Naator’s agreement, she mutters to me, “Happy birthday, sweetie. Your father would be proud.” She walks away, her black braid swinging behind her.
I open my mouth to call her back, but the words don’t come. My eyes burn. She almost said the words I long for. It was almost enough. Almost.
Naator puts his arm around my shoulders. I squeeze his hand and he pecks a kiss on the top of my head. “I’m proud of you, Alexandria.”
My heart squeezes, and I beam up at him. “I will always think of you as my father.”
He shakes his head and pulls me close. “Speak not of that, little one. Your father was a good man. I could never replace him.”
I know he only says that because Mother would never allow him to do otherwise. When I was little, I tried to call him Father. He was always there, bandaging my scraped knees and drying my tears. Mother was furious. She locked herself in her room for days and wouldn’t let anyone in. She often abandons me, but I have learned to accept that about her. I remind her too much of my birth father, and I don’t even know his name.
“Go join the others,” Naator says. I back away from him and he turns to those gathered around the fire sipping juice and sharing plates of snacks. Naator spreads his arms wide and his voice booms strong like the chief commander he is.
“Friends, we have hope and a future.” The crowd quiets in response and lifts their glasses. Naator continues, “Though we have not seen the Creator, we have heard his Promise. Let it be true.” He opens his hand in my direction, and the top of my head tingles while I wish I could sink spans into the ground’s core.
Glasses clink, and everyone mumbles, “Let it be true.”
I smile when I remember Kevin joking with me this time last year and exaggerating each word in his extreme style. Let it be true. In a few more days, he will be here, and he can stay longer. His human schooling will be complete. My secret wish is to have him replace Mallory as my partner, but I would not dare suggest that to Mother.
Naator raises his right hand to the night sky. “A Guardian’s blood sacrifice will purify our land of Entioch forever. The Creator will give us a savior. This is his Promise.”
Fists pump to the stars with a unifying cheer of agreement. The wind gusts by me with a strong rustle of leaves. I turn my head to the sound, but it fades. I wait a moment longer and then let go of the breath I was holding. No one else is responding to the rustle. I’m sure it’s nothing. I’m not the only Guardian here alert to the presence of evil.
Naator turns to me. “Alexandria, today we celebrate your life and the life of the Promise Child to come within you.”
“Here, here,” the crowd roars. I am in each of their eyes. The stares overwhelm me and I want to back up, but I stand my ground. My knees quiver underneath my dress.
“Won’t you say a few words?” Naator invites me with a curl of his fingers.
I gape at him. No one has asked me to speak on my birthday before. Everyone claps and my face turns the color of autumn leaves.
“Thank you,” I say, but my voice cracks. I cough and try again. “Thank you all for being here with me. I hope you’re enjoying the food and drink.” My heart races in my chest and I lick my lips. “I’m really no good at this public speaking, so, yes… Hail the Great One.”
They echo me. “Hail the Great One.”
Just then, a wolf cry pierces the air. Scruffy dogs the size of men run bounding out of the trees with riders. My body zings, and Naator swoops in between me and the pack. Glasses and plates crash to the ground. Swords hiss from sheathes and a battle cry rises while women and children run for shelter in the warehouse.
The alpha wolf with yellow eyes steps out of the shadows. His rider is horned with red skin and black silks. The rider looks straight at me and shouts, “We will bring death to the Promise.”
The wolf pack rushes into the crowd.