A Russian Night Witch on a path of self-discovery. A dark elf fighting for justice. Can they stop the rampaging evil before they are all destroyed?
Raisa Sorokin is a Russian Night Witch who grew up dreaming of her grandmother’s Norse tales of valor and glory, never realizing they were true. When her plane crashes, she must come to terms with her new life and the man who saved her.
Ailuin Vakas is a dark elf forced to fuel Hitler’s war for the Norse god, Óðinn, but when he shares his life force to save a beautiful Russian pilot, everything unravels as their journey of discovery is wrought with more evil than they bargained for.
As the Nazi war machine continues a worldwide path of destruction, an ancient evil infiltrates its ranks, and Raisa and Ailuin must decide which path to take, stopping Hilter and his Third Reich or saving those they love—and themselves.
Freyja quietly closed the tunnel door and leaned against the doorjamb of her living quarters, watching the small group of people she had collected over the past year as they talked in front of the fireplace. Her gaze landed on Natalya's pretty face, radiant as she laughed at something Aleksandra said. The two men sitting beside her chosen warriors were opposites in temperament and personality, but they both adored their women.
Mikhail's arm rested on the back of the sofa, casually draping Natalya's shoulders. The looseness with which he held his wife showed Freyja more than words ever could just how relaxed and comfortable he was with her. After all, the two had practically grown up together.READ MORE
The couple sitting opposite was another story. Their relationship, although strong, was still new. Jakob held Aleksandra close, his grip tight on her shoulder. He seemed relaxed here in the goddess’s private quarters, but she felt the tension vibrating off him from across the room. His unease, though, would lessen in time. When one lost everything held dear, time was the only healer. Well, she amended, time and love. She would choose love over time any day.
Her gaze moved to the God's Glass, her window to see into other worlds, hanging on its black chains over the fireplace mantel. The scene in the large bronze-framed mirror flickered, and she caught site of three familiar Russian biplanes flying over the battleground between the German Wehrmacht and Russia's Red Army. From the daring aerial maneuvers, she recognized the 588th Squadron. Out of fear, German soldiers had given the female pilots’ a new name—Night Witches.
She frowned as the last PO2 went into a nosedive. Holding her breath, she slowly let it out as the aircraft readjusted, the pilot expertly pulling the nose back up and leveling out the aircraft as the pilot flew a foot or so above the tree line.
A funny sensation buzzed in her head. Goosebumps appeared on her arms and the hair on her neck rose. “Something isn't quite right,” she whispered.
From across the room, her best friend’s head rose. Idunn’s gaze automatically homed in on Freyja where she stood at the back of the room. Idunn pushed away from the carved marble column she leaned against and moved toward her. Like a dancer, her best friend's movements were graceful.
“Freyja? You seem a bit out of sorts. What is it you sense that I haven't?”
Freyja shook her head, her purple gaze never leaving the mirror's surface, the images inside moving steadily, yet quickly, as the battle progressed. “I'm not sure...”
“Is it the same feeling you described when you choose Natalya and Aleksandra?”
“No, this is different. Much different.” She met Idunn's worried gaze. “More like a foreboding, almost as if someone or something is threatening all we've done. I can't get a lock on whatever it is. That alone is a bit unnerving. I've always been able to pinpoint any change or interference in Midgard's timeline.”
Hearing Freyja mention Midgard, the old Norse name for Earth, Natalya jumped up from her comfortable position and hurried toward them, stopping in front of Freyja. “Send us in, Freya—we'll find the problem.” Her face shone with excitement.
“No, little one. My intuition is telling me this is something more than just a change in the war's timeline. I don't know what I am sensing, but I will not sacrifice any of you.” She cupped Natalya's cheek. “You are all too important to me and our cause. I will figure it out.”
A slight frown touched Natalya's brow line, her head tilting a bit to one side. “Then why did you offer us a new life? Isn't this what you want us to do? We go in and fix things. We are fantastic at what we do.”
Natalya, you have proven your worth to me time and again, but I will not sacrifice you like Óðinn does his followers. You and the others are too important to me.”
Freyja turned and glanced at her assistant standing in the corridor behind her, the girl’s hand clutching the brass knob of the door. “What is it, Alva?”
The pretty Huldra bowed her head, her long white braid falling to her waist. A quick flicker of movement near Alva's feet drew Freyja's gaze as she caught the tip of the Huldra's tail before it disappeared underneath her ankle-length leather skirt. “My lady, there has been a development on the Russian front. Lamruil took the few prisoners he managed to steal from under Himmler's control and moved them to a ruin named Eski-Kermen. He said to tell you the location is east of Sevastopol in Crimea, a little more than four hours walking distance from the city, should you need them.”
Freyja scowled at the girl, who took a single step back into the tunnel and ducked her head. “Why ever would he go there? The Germans surround the entire area. It's quite a risk.”
A tiny grin played on Alva's pink lips. “He said you would question his motives and to simply say, ‘What better place to hide than right under the enemy's nose?’”
Idunn chuckled. “He's right.” Pointing an elegant finger toward the Glass, the image momentarily blurred as it changed locations. Instead of the battle-scarred port town of Sevastopol, it now showed an ancient stone citadel perched on top of a high cliff. “If memory serves, those are the ruins of Mangup-Kale, which housed many garrisons of Goths, Khazars, and Ottomans. Even the Nazis used it back in ’42. It is a spectacular place and affords perfect views to observe the entire battle from the tower.”
“And where Lamruil is camped? How fortified is that location?” Freyja asked. The scene blurred again. When its crisp focus returned, she saw a long, white expanse of rock traveling through a deep river of green on top and below. As the Glass moved in, her eyes widened. “There are caves on the side of the plateau.”
Alva stepped up to stand beside her. “Yes, my lady. See the largest opening...there.” She pointed. “Look to the eastern edge of the plateau. Lamruil and the werewolves are camped behind the siege wall. Hidden staircases go down to tunnels deep inside the rock that lead to storage pits and smaller hand-carved rooms. There, Lamruil set up his headquarters in the ten-meter long underground gallery. We also found a well with fresh water from a natural spring that feeds the entire valley. It is the perfect encampment.”
Freyja chewed on her bottom lip, her eyebrows furrowed in thought. She nodded, her frown disappearing as she made her decision. “It is a good place. Lamruil chose well.” The uneasy feeling returned, sitting like a rock in her stomach. Pressing a hand to her abdomen, she glanced at Idunn. “The sensation is back, stronger than before. Idunn, I am very worried. Did we miss something?”
Her friend shook her head. “You are certain it isn't another Night Witch?”
“How many of us are you planning on collecting?” Aleksandra asked. Freyja's eyes widened in surprise. She had been so absorbed in her own thoughts, she hadn't noticed the rest of the group moved to face her, the men resting their hands over their women's shoulders. To not notice something right in front of her was troubling in and of itself, and the niggling worry she had overlooked something even more so.
“Only three, and the third won't join us until closer to the end of the war.” Freyja's gaze moved back to the mirror, which had returned to the battle. Night had fallen over the port town. Constant flashes of yellow-orange to red bursts of light appeared, covering the entire city as both Germans and Russians dropped aerial bombs and fired their cannons. If the God’s Glass had sound, the rat-a-tat-tat of rifles and loud booms from the tanks would fill the room. She was grateful there was no sound, though. The men's constant screams of agony as the wounded fell or lay dying would haunt her for eternity.
The scene zoomed in, showing them several biplanes as they flew in formation toward Sevastopol.
“Look!” Natalya said in a tremulous voice. She threw a quick glance to Aleksandra then turned her gaze back to the unfolding battle. “Can you tell who it is?”
Aleksandra squinted, studying each motion of the aircraft. “See the way the right wing slightly tips downward on the bank? I think that's Katia!” It was Natalya's turn to squint as she stared at the mirror.
Sure enough, when the plane turned, heading back to regroup with the other two aircraft in the three-plane unit, the right side dipped down. The movement was barely noticeable but there all the same.
“It is Katia!” Natalya smiled. “She never could turn without dipping. I wonder who the other two pilots are?”
Aleksandra shrugged. “No clue. Who knows how many of our original group are still alive. With both of us gone, everyone could have been shifted around and reassigned to new units.”
“Makes sense.” Natalya met Freyja's gaze. “Lilyann isn't there, is she?”
“No, little one, your sister is nowhere near Sevastopol. She accepted a new role in the war against Germany.”
Natalya's eyes closed for a moment only before popping open again, a resigned fear in their bi-colored depths. “Tell me, please.”
Idunn laid her hand on Freyja's arm and gave it a small squeeze. “Don't worry, Natalya. Freyja and I won't let anything happen to your sister. Her part in this war is an important one.”
“Doing what, exactly?” Mikhail asked. “Lilyann doesn't always think about the end results of her actions and can be...well, she can be reckless.”
Natalya shrugged. “Unfortunately, he's right. I love my sister and don't want anything to happen to her.”
“I know, little one.” Freyja gave Idunn a quick smile before turning back to the amazing leader of her new army. “Your sister is actually the liaison between several partisan groups. She is helping Bernard, Mikhail and Jakob's friend, gather information. They, in turn, pass the credible intel on to the partisans who then contact the local armies. Without this coordinated effort, I'm afraid the war would take longer.”
Natalya's eyes widened in surprise. “Lilyann is a spy?”
Freyja nodded. “A very good one, I might add.” She turned to Alva. “Return to Lamruil and the others. Tell him if the Nazis discover his current location, he needs to make his way to Inkerman where he will find an ancient monastery cave, which should serve quite nicely for his unconventional group. The Red Army currently is housed in the upper caves as they fight for Sevastopol. There is a deeper section farther back where your new friends can stay hidden until the time is right for them to make an appearance. Natalya and Mikhail, along with Aleksandra and Jakob, will meet you shortly. The Russians cannot lose this battle. If Hitler gets his hands on the oil from the Caucasus, everything we have fought for will have been for nothing.”
Alva bowed. “Thank you, my lady. If anything changes, I will report back.” As quick as a blink, the Huldra disappeared in a tiny shower of golden sparks.
“She seems happier at her new post, don't you think?” Idunn asked. “And she's holding herself straighter.”
“She is. I believe the change is two-fold. Firstly, she is not being bullied by her sisters for being different. Secondly, she has friends who need her.” Freyja's gaze turned back to the mirror as another sensation stole over her, her skin prickling under the silent assault. “Familiarity,” she whispered.
“What did you say?” Idunn stared at her.
“That's what I'm feeling—familiarity, as if someone I know is there.” Freyja focused her entire being toward the battle, trying to ferret out where the sensation was coming from. Suddenly, she knew. “It's Freyr,” she frowned. “But not.”
Idunn groaned. “You're killing me. What does your twin brother have to do with any of this? He doesn't take orders from Óðinn and hasn't been interested in anything outside of the Vanir for the last millennia, at least.”
“I have no idea. I'm getting the impression of him—a twin sense, if you will but a bit different, and nothing I have ever felt before. Since birth, I have always known where Freyr is and if he is in trouble or not. I don't understand any of this, but what you say is true. He has been focused on trying to rebuild our home on Vanaheimr and taking care of the elves—what's left of them. There is an obvious absence of balance now that most of the black elves are gone. Lamruil and Ailuin are their last hope.”
“Don't forget about Cyran Daralei. He is quite handsome, don't you think?”
Freyja scowled at her friends' nonsense. “I haven't noticed. He is a pain though and is constantly throwing kinks into the Lamruil’s and Ailuin’s plans.”
“Really, Freyja. Cyran is only trying to help. He is a good strategist. Not as good as the brothers, but he's younger and still learning. Ease up a bit. Cyran isn't as dark as the other two and still sees the good in life.”
“Humph.” Her attention turned back to the mirror once again. Her gaze narrowed, pinpointing on the lead biplane. “I wonder...”
Even though the hallway was in almost total darkness, Raisa Sorokin didn't have to see the woman's face to know it was her flight commander, Yevgeniya Zhigulenko, hurrying toward her. She smiled at the distinctive clipped pronunciation of her name, Ry-suh instead of Ry-ee-suh. Like Stalin, they both hailed from Georgia, but because of her commander's thick accent, Yevgeniya would never be able to pronounce her name right. It didn't bother Raisa. It almost sounded like a nickname.
She placed the book she had been reading on her bedside table and rose, standing at attention. “What is it, Commander Zhigulenko? What's happened?” Dread filled Raisa's stomach as she waited for the answer. The commander stopped in front of her, a frown furrowing her thick brows.
“Zhigulenko? Really, Raisa. We've known each other for more than two years now. I may be your flight commander, but I am still your friend. When we're alone, just call me Yevgeniya. Some days I miss hearing my first name. Anyway, two more pilots went down—Katia and Valeria.” She raised her hand, stopping the question ready to roll off Raisa's lips, prompting her to close her mouth. “They will live, but both took bullets. Katia's injury is the more severe, but she will fully recover. The FlaK fire hit them as the planes turned to head back this way. Thankfully, the PO2s only sustained a few bullet holes and are still air worthy. I know you haven't been cleared to return to your position, but your injuries are healing?”
Raisa nodded, her hand moving to cover the hip wound she suffered three days before. The physician told her she had been lucky. One inch closer, and the bullet would have shattered her hipbone. “My injury is as good as healed, enough at least for me to fly.”
“Good, I need one more pilot to go up as the second of the lead planes for the last two sorties of the night. You won't even need a navigator, not that Tatyana could go with you. The physician won't let her leave the infirmary yet.”
Raisa bit back her smile. “She will be furious when she learns you sent me up without her. Tatyana is very territorial and protective.”
Yevgeniya nodded. “She is a good person to have at your back.” She took a step back, her eyes dropping to Raisa's thick robe. “You have five minutes to change and get to the hanger.”
Raisa gave her friend a mock salute. “Yes, Commander.”
Yevgeniya turned to go but stopped and glanced back at her. “And Raisa, be careful. The next injury might be your last and I... Everyone would miss you.”
Surprised, Raisa stared at Yevgeniya's back as she stiffly walked down the long hall toward the main door that led to the hanger area. “Hmm. A bit of emotion suits you, my friend.” On that last thought, she turned on her heel and hurried over to the trunk at the end of her bed and pulled out her uniform. In less than three minutes, she was tucking her long red braid into her flight hat and fastening the leather strap under her chin as she rushed toward the readying biplane.
The mechanic was a young girl, new to their portable base, but she seemed pleasant enough and always had a smile for the other women. “How much longer?” Raisa asked as she climbed into the front seat of the canvas-and-plywood craft.
“You are ready, Lieutenant Sorokin.”
Raisa hesitated, one hand resting on the starter switch as she finished her pre-flight check. She smiled down at a member of the ground crew, noting her rosy cheeks and the short wisps of blond hair that had escaped from her hat. “Please, call me Raisa.” The young woman’s head fell forward as she stepped away from the plane, but not before Raisa caught her small grin.
The girl moved to the front of the biplane and pulled on the propeller to prime the engine. Raisa adjusted the starter switch, and the engine sputtered a few times then smoothed out as much as it was able. She maneuvered the craft into position behind the lead plane.
Taking off was always her favorite moment. To her, it was a new chance to achieve great things. Those things, namely, killing German soldiers and putting as many tanks and cannons out of commission as she could. She loved flying at night, even when her cheeks turned to a brilliant pink shade from the freezing temperatures.
The only annoying part, the bitter night wind made her eyes water, which was a bit difficult to handle underneath goggles and made it hard to see, but she didn't mind too much. She pulled in a deep breath and almost coughed. The acrid air was glutted with the bitter odor of gunpowder and something burning. Turning her head, she leaned forward and swiped at her fogged goggles. In the distance, hundreds of orange fires glowing in the night. What had her flight sisters managed to damage? Would it be enough to stop the German advance? She stifled a bark of laughter. She already knew the answer. No. Other than outright annihilation, nothing stopped the deadly German war machine.
She kept pace with the lead plane, mimicking its every motion as they descended closer to their target. Even with the gentle lowering of her aircraft, her stomach clenched. She would never get used to that sensation but loved it all the same. Lying in bed at night, she often wondered why she did what she did. Why she loved flying so much, more so in battle. There was only one conclusion. The excitement.
Her life could be described as boring. As a young child she had traveled between her mother's house in Soviet Georgia and her grandmother's house in Norway, but nothing ever changed. Her grandmother made life fun with impromptu plays and treasure hunts in the forest near her small cottage. Her mother? She got up at the same time every day, had breakfast ready—always the same thing. Plain kasha. The tasteless rice porridge was her least favorite food, but living with her mother, that's what she got. Her grandmother always made her two favorites—oat kasha with jam or semolina sweetened with milk and sugar.
Her mother worked during the day and returned home exhausted. Raisa understood. What perturbed her, though, was the sameness. She believed her mother had no imagination. She served the same two meals, rotating them. Evenings dragged along without family time. Raisa read books but never experienced playtime with her parents. How many children looked forward to bedtime? With a single kiss on the forehead, once the door closed behind her mother, it almost felt as if she was shutting Raisa out—closing off her heart to her own daughter. Her father was no better. She couldn’t remember speaking to him more than a few times in her life.
No, Raisa decided, she loved what she did most definitely for the excitement.
The lead biplane banked hard, moving off to the right as it swerved back and forth to draw off the searchlight and pull away the heavy barrage of enemy fire from the third airplane. Following suit, Raisa turned the control stick to the left, dividing the enemy's firepower. She could almost hear the gunners' thoughts, Which Night Witch should I shoot at? Which one was the deadliest?
She felt, rather than heard, the pfutt, pfutt, pfutt of what seemed to be a thousand tracer rounds piercing the canvas-covered plywood behind her. Breathing a sigh of thanks, she was grateful Tatyana hadn't flown with her on this trip. Those bullets would have ripped her in two, and she loved her navigator like a sister. Hell, she loved all the women in her unit and missed the ones who'd never returned, especially Natalya and Aleksandra.
Natalya's ability to get them through any situation had always astounded her, but it was Aleksandra's calmness and gentle tone that helped pull them all together. Her vision blurred as her memories of them flowed through her mind, and she had to mentally shake herself to stay on the task at hand. It would do no one any good if she got herself killed tonight. She still had too much to do in life.
Another round of bullets spit at her, one coming dangerously close as it clipped the sparse instrument panel in front of her. She pulled back on her control stick and eased the PO2 higher. Several loud explosions rent the air, and with a quick glance behind her, noticed the third plane gaining altitude. When the other pilot banked hard to the left, she veered a bit closer to Raisa's aircraft than she would have liked but understood the desperate need to get away before the German tracer rounds took the PO2 down.
The searchlight swung around, the wide yellow swath cutting through the night sky as it highlighted the two biplanes. Flying as fast as the old aircrafts allowed, they raced through the air side by side. Raisa motioned with her hand to the other pilot to drop lower, just above the tree line in case the Luftwaffe had its planes hiding in the inky clouds, waiting to pounce.
They made it to the edge of the wide valley the Night Witches had flown over on their way in. Just ahead, she made out a tall shadow and realized the land rose in front of them. She pulled the control stick back, forcing the aircraft to rise. Without warning, her biplane shuddered. With a brilliant flash of light, a searing blast of flames cascaded over the wood and canvas body, and she dropped from the sky. Whether the fire ate through her harness or the plane hit the ground with enough force to break her free, she was ejected from the crumpled wreckage.
Lying at the bottom of the valley, her body gratefully numb, she prayed for a quick death and stared into the night sky. She was too scared to move for fear she was just as mangled as her nearby plane. Tentatively, she wiggled her fingers and toes. All worked on command. Just as she raised her arm, a growl rumbled through the darkness. Her movement stopped in midair, and she gasped in a shallow breath. The growl came again, but this time on her other side.
Oh, this isn't good. She pulled in another shallow breath and, uncaring how broken her body may have been, tensed her muscles as she waited for whatever was out there to show itself. She prayed there was only one something moving around as it tried to figure out what she was, but instinct warned her there were more.
A horrible stench hit her nostrils, the only warning she needed. Rolling away from the odor, she felt the ground shake. Scrambling to her feet, she turned, her eyes widening in horror. Two red-eyed beasts glared at her. Both were covered in matted fur, and their tattered uniforms had dark brown stains splattered on them that looked suspiciously like dried blood. Her gaze moved back to their tooth-filled mouths, open and snarling, and their ears, flat and low on the sides of their heads.
“This is so very, very bad,” she whispered, unbelievably staring at the two volkodlak. Werewolves.
Long strings of saliva dripped from the left beast's sharp teeth, his dagger-like claws hanging at his sides. The monster to her right took a step toward her. She matched it with a step back. The monster's growl filled the air, growing louder as its anger exploded, lowering its massive body into a fighting stance.
Taking another step back, her boot heel hit something. She dropped her gaze to see an almost three-foot long two-by-four from her plane lying behind her. One end was jagged from where it had been ripped away and the surface charred, blackened from the fire. Knowing she had little chance of surviving, she dropped into a squat and wrapped her hand around the piece of wood. Slightly spreading apart her feet, she held the makeshift weapon in front of her and focused her darkest glare on the beasts.
“I will not die without a fight, so do your best,” she threatened and raised her makeshift weapon.
There was no warning as a dark streak came toward her as the werewolf charged. She only had time to raise the stick, the sharp end managing to slice open the volkodlak's side. A second of euphoria filled her chest before an agonizing sensation spread through her. Glancing down, she saw the tattered remains of her flight jacket and four red lines spreading across her abdomen.
With a strangled cry, she dropped to her knees and pitched forward, her world turning black.COLLAPSE
mauireader on Amazon wrote:
A truly compelling fantasy romance!
The Warrior Queen is a thrilling fantasy romance I couldn't put down. I love a strong, independent heroine and Raisa is that and so much more. I connected with her right away. I also found Ailuin fascinating. As a die-hard fantasy reader, Ailuin is a dichotomy, and his conflicting desires make for a compelling read. Heidi Vanlandingham again blends historical fiction with fantasy romance brilliantly. She weaves a world so believable, you'll be sucked into the story. The romance itself was perfectly paced and didn't overtake the other parts of the story. I applaud Heidi Vanlandingham for a creepy antagonist and ancient evil subplot. It captured my attention and I enjoyed trying to figure it out before Raisa did. What makes this a must-read in my opinion is the 'duty versus love' theme. It's subtle but potent and makes for an incredible reading experience. I can't wait to read the final book in the series to see how it all wraps up. Highly recommend!
Fred Jones on Goodreads wrote:
Wonderful historical paranormal romance
Norse mythology is one of my favorites. I loved the perfect mix in this story of the paranormal aspects combined with the history of WWII. I got to visit a lot of different European cities throughout the book as the characters are trying to change a bit of history and stop the war. There is a great variety of magic and tactics flowing in this constantly evolving plot, I never knew where things were going to go. Raisa was struggling to figure out the magical creatures who had powers beyond her comprehension. A nice slow build romance with Raisa and Ailuin and the strong ties of family were important features to this story. A wonderful and enjoyable read. Highly recommend. I also liked the glossary provided so I could understand a name or word I wondered about.
Five out of five-star reviews
Excellent, a great story with a strong pair of lead characters, the night witch pilot and the dark elf. The third in the series works as a standalone but even better if you read the previous ones. The story combines several threads that interest me, the night witches, Norse mythology and world war 2. Looking forward to the next one. Highly recommended.