Authors: Lily Blake
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Universal Studios
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
Who will you be
when faced with the end?
The end of a kingdom,
The end of good men,
Will you run?
Will you hide?
Or will you hunt down evil
with a venomous pride?
Rise to the ashes,
Rise to the winter sky,
Rise to the calling,
Make heard the battle cry.
Let it scream from the mountains
From the forest to the chapel,
Because death is a hungry mouth
And you are the apple.
So who will you be
when faced with the end?
When the vultures are circling
And the shadows descend.
Will you cower?
Or will you fight?
Is your heart made of glass?
Or a pure Snow White?
t was the coldest winter the kingdom had ever known. Frost covered the gravestones. The rosebushes in the castle garden were nearly bare, their leaves shriveled and brown. King Magnus stood on the edge of the forest with Duke Hammond, waiting for the other army to arrive. The king could see his own breath. The slow, steady clouds expanded in front of his face, then disappeared into the cold morning air. His hands were numb. He didn’t feel the weight of the armor on his back, or the way the chain mail pressed against his neck with metal so cold it stung his skin. He didn’t worry about the enemies on the other side of the battlefield, and he wasn’t afraid.
Inside, he was already dead.
Yet his army stood behind him. One of the horses whinnied through the fog.
It has been nearly a year
, he thought.
She died almost a year ago.
He had held her head in his hands, watched as the life left her eyes. What was he to do?
Who was he without her? He sat in his chambers, his young daughter perched on his knee, but the cloud of grief was too thick. He couldn’t hear a word she uttered. “Yes, Snow White,” he’d say, his mind somewhere else as she peppered him with questions. “Right, my darling, I know.”
Far across the field, he could see the enemy army. They were shadow warriors, a dark clan gathered by some inexplicable, magical force. They stood in the morning mist as ghostly silhouettes—nameless and faceless. Their armor was a dull black. At times it was hard to tell where the forest ended and they began.
Duke Hammond turned to him, his brows knitted together in worry. “From what hell comes this army?” he asked.
King Magnus set his jaw. He shook his head, trying to pull himself out of the stupor that had lingered for months. He had a kingdom to protect, now and always.
“A hell they’ll soon revisit!” he yelled. Then he raised his sword, leading his troops to charge.
They raced toward the enemy army, their swords aimed at the figures’ throats. Soon the shadows were upon them. The warriors’ armor was similar to theirs, but beneath it were black shadows that shifted and swirled like smoke. A faceless warrior ran toward King Magnus, his weapon drawn. The king swung his sword, and the figure shattered like glass, thousands of black shards flying out in every direction. The king looked up, stunned. All around him, his men were attacking the shadows, and one by one, each
warrior exploded into the morning mist. The sparkling shards fell to the ground and disappeared into the hard, frost-covered soil. Within minutes, the field was empty. The king’s troops stood there, alone, the sounds of their breaths the only thing left hanging in the air. It was as though the enemy army had never been there at all.
The king and Duke Hammond shared a confused look. Through the fog, the king could make out a small wooden structure standing between the trees. He started toward it. When he was twenty feet away, he could see it was a prison wagon. He dismounted his horse and peered inside, noticing a woman cowering in a corner. Wavy blond hair cascaded down her back. A veil hid her face.
She’d been taken captive by the army—who knows what they had done to her? The dark forces were said to have killed and maimed hundreds of prisoners, even some children. He swiftly brought his sword down on the lock, smashing it.
“You are free now. You have nothing to fear from me,” he spoke to her, reaching out his hand for the young woman to take. “What is your name, my lady?”
Slowly, the woman turned toward him, her small frame becoming visible in the light. She rested her thin hand in his and lifted her veil. King Magnus stared into the woman’s beautiful, heart-shaped face. She had full lips and heavy-lidded blue eyes, and two thin gold braids pulled her hair away from her high cheekbones. She couldn’t have been more than twenty years old.
“My name is Ravenna, sire,” she said softly.
The king was silent. Everything about her—her nose, her fingers, her lips—was beautiful and delicate. In that moment, he felt the warmth of her hand. He could smell the fresh pine trees around them. He remembered clearly the day he’d met his wife, the only other woman who had ever made him feel this way. It had been summer, with dappled sunlight playing over the leaves of the apple trees.
But in this moment, the sorrow finally lifted. As he stood there before Ravenna, his heart wild in his chest, he suddenly felt alive again.
The king returned to the castle with the young beauty. The seasons changed. That initial joy only grew. King Magnus asked Ravenna to marry him. Each day he fell a little more in love with her, this young woman who had been taken from her home and kept by the enemy army. He was like a teenager in her presence—his cheeks flushed while she told him stories of her life before meeting him, how she’d lived on the edges of the kingdom with her brother, Finn, and her late mother.