Sneak Peek – Divine Series – Lathar’s POV
If you loved the Divine Series, you’ll love that book one is being redone from Lathar’s POV. Take a look:
Soul Stealer – Book One of the Divine Series by Lathar.
There could only be a few reasons that Lathar could think of for why a serpent would have their memories wiped so thoroughly. He stared at himself through the dingy warped glass of the public bathroom not recognizing the man standing before him. It was a blessing from the Moon Goddess he even remembered what he was so he didn’t get executed by the council for accidentally killing a human, which would have been a very real and likely scenario for his kind. How he knew that was nothing more than a blurry notion he but accepted as a known truth.
Apparently there was a council, he thought, rubbing his face and tugging at his blond hair. Intrinsically he knew they were a threat to his life, and it was best to remain under the radar. It was entirely possible his lack of memories about his life previous could be traced back to them, if he chose to dig up those threads. Leaving the rotten human waste facility he decided some things were best left alone.
He had to face facts, he was either a criminal punished by the council, a victim of another shifter clan, or he did this to himself. Lathar didn’t feel evil so he dismissed that theory, because he had no desire to murder humans.
The park was scattered with humans enjoying the pleasant weather of the end of summer. Lathar could tell the season by the yellow shade of the leaves, sure, but it was the pooling of the tree’s aura from the branches back down into the roots to store away for preparation of winter that told him the coming of fall. Again, he thought himself a decent enough soul that he had no desire to drain the trees of their life prematurely. He couldn’t be all that bad if he cared about oxygen he didn’t even need should the tree die from his feeding.
Everything in moderation, he mused as he wandered the park drawn by a particularly intoxicating vibration in the air. His hand reached out, and inhaling the energy lingering there he licked his lips in indescribable pleasure. The aura nearly incapacitated his senses to the point where he felt himself draining the grass, as it turned brown and ashen beneath his boots. Whatever the source he wouldn’t risk losing the trail. He steeled himself against the delectable miasma, and closed his eyes feeling his way to wherever it led.
It felt familiar to him, comforting even.
Skin tingled as he resisted taking the aura into himself like a drug.
Lathar gathered the aura around himself, keeping it close by, surrounding himself with it and accumulating more as he walked. What could produce this kind of energy and allow it to float freely about… wasted, he thought?
Sweet, he licked his lips allowing just a taste. His fangs extended, making his gums ache. He tensed his muscles, back taut anticipating some kind of trap. If the council were trying to lure one of his kind to capture this was the perfect way to do it. He couldn’t imagine many serpents could control themselves around such an aura.
Should he consume the energy and defend himself? He ducked off the trail, and sat on a log hidden by bushes. The whole park could be seen from this vantage point, if someone were coming, he’d see it… unless they were already here.
Too distracted with the energy surrounding him, he didn’t notice the wisp of a human that approached. Black hair, no, it was dark brown with hints of red and blonde highlights only seen in the right light of the sun, or by keen eyes such as his, was pulled back into a sloppy heap upon her head. A notepad in her hand, she finally glanced up with green emeralds that narrowed quizzically at him.
A soft voice reached his ears, “You seem down.”
The small thing didn’t realize what he was, a predator, a danger to her kind, and yet… he felt no desire to drain her of her life.
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Kingdom of Acatalac Sneak Peek Excerpt
Here’s a sneak peek at Kingdom of Acatalec coming 2022! Haven’t seen the Chapter One Sneak Peek:
Read here first! —> Chapter One Kingdom of Acatalac Sneak Peek
I opened my mouth for a retort, only to have the elevator doors shut. I didn’t even know what I would have said, only that I would have liked the chance to see how witty I could have been. I’m sure I would have said something epic. I mean why not, considering I was probably being fired anyway.
Careful what you wish for, was what I should have said, because she knew deep down, I could ruin her career along with mine. She was after all just as responsible. They were her reports that I keyed in for approval to send out the drones on their runs. Her signature was all over that data. I could play innocent, I mean this was supposed to be a collaborative environment, I trusted her, I would say all too sweetly. If I could trust anyone in the company it should be the second-best drone pilot in all of Seattle. I grinned to myself evilly. Both at the thought that I would probably get away with it and secretly jab at her position simultaneously. I felt my heart sink, knowing full well I wouldn’t do it. No matter how evil she was, I couldn’t blacklist her whole career like that.
I mean I wouldn’t… would I?
The elevator opened up to the top floor, and it wasn’t anything like I expected. I didn’t really know what I expected, possibly a receptionist, some corporate artwork, and some glass offices for the big honchos of the company.
That was not what I was walking into. The light between the elevator and the floor blinked green as I rolled over it and a female voice that sounded like a famous actress on that strange college humor TV series that I couldn’t remember the name of said, “Would you like a beverage while you wait?”
“Uh, sure,” I stammered. I mean, why not enjoy the high life while I was still here. And it certainly was grand. The top floor was huge, a penthouse for the rich and fabulous. It had a luxurious sitting area with a large wall screen surrounding it to make it seem like you were watching the waves at a secluded beach, but one I’d never seen before. Did he send out a drone to an unoccupied beach somewhere warm and tropical that’d never been touched by human feet just so he could 3D record the location and download it to his office? I mean, sure, if you’re rich, bored, and entitled that sounded like it could have happened.
In the middle of the sandy serene scene a pop up projected out and prompted me to connect with my contacts listing off the beverage options. My eyes grew wide at the selection. The most prominent of the options being an expensive glass of dessert wine, and why not have a sweet glass of liquid courage before being kicked in the ass out the door? At the very least I’d get a nice, delicious buzz to dull the reaction time, maybe coming out of this meeting with some of my dignity intact. Let myself wallow in misery of self-loathing when I got home.
A spout came out of a sliding compartment in the wall above the beverage counter. Wine on tap, and automatic… now that was fancy. In the distance I could hear the faint sound of a cork being popped from a bottle, giving you the impression of freshly opened wine even though every glass was probably just as fresh with it being contained in an airtight spout system, but the ambiance was not wasted on me. I let out a sigh and wheeled up to the counter and picked one of the crystal glasses. Once I placed my glass under the nozzle it sloshed out like a tasty waterfall that I imagined sticking my face under like a wild animal. I didn’t of course, but the image was enjoyable to think about, I even shook my head in the air in reverence to it, with a stupid grin plastered on my face before I heard a gruff voice clear its throat behind me.
I paused, took a deep gulp from my glass before setting it down. I spun my wheels around to face him, and gave him a big smile, hoping it hid my embarrassment. But who was I kidding, it was him, and those brown chocolate eyes were always so analytical. They saw everything. I’m pretty sure he had X-ray vision, like Superman’s evil twin.
“A Trockenbeerenauslese shouldn’t be wasted. Grab your glass and join me in my office.” Even his voice was as smooth as the aftertaste still lingering on my lips. He didn’t have to tell me twice. I grabbed that glass and held it in both my hands like a precious goblet made of the most expensive jewels that even a dragon would be envious of, because it was the last expensive thing I would probably ever touch. I had to savor every last drop, and every smooth, chilled-filled touch of the glass. While his back was turned, I even lifted it to my lips and let my tongue play with the little drone shaped ice that floated in the liquid. I mean, even his ice cubes were special.
I didn’t really know which part of this massive floor was his office since it appeared to be a living space, until I saw a chair lift up from the floor in front of us. The glass windows around us became opaque and a folder with my name on it appeared on the screen. I could imagine this file taking up more data storage than the average employee with all of my late clock ins, and even bigger file if they knew about my after-hours activities.
Good Lord, not being able to stand had my eyes straight drinking in the full view of his finely tailored pants, and that wasn’t even the after-hours activities I was thinking about previously, but now it most certainly was.
I cleared my throat to change the spiral I was heading into. I took another swig of the wine, staring into the crimson liquid when I was done. When I finally lifted my gaze slowly, determined to enjoy my glass of last-ho-rah, he was seated in the chair, his eyes intently examining me. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair and smoothed out a wrinkle on my pants. The whole wardrobe was full of wrinkles, even the one I smoothed out clung back into its original crease when I lifted my fingers.
If I’d known I was going to be coming up to the top floor with Mr. Perfect, I might have decided to at least throw my stuff into the dryer for a few minutes to dampen the whole washed-up-to-shore look I was gunning for.
But if I’d done that I would have been late, and honestly, that might have been better since Jessi would have been forced to finish the update acceptance on her own, and the drone would have gone to engineering. A late marker would have been preferable to what I assumed was coming.
I lifted my free hand, about to pull on my hair to try to tame some of my unruly mane but thought better of it. I mean, it was what it was at this point. The more I tried to make myself presentable, the more I would bring unwanted attention, and I decided I’d just own up to it. I was a mess, and shrugging I thought to myself, I preferred it that way.
Who was he, in his designer clothes, to change that? Oh yah… my boss for the next couple minutes anyways.
He finally motioned to the screen and my file opened up like it was real printed paper, but with all the papers inside having unreadable, blurry writing.
“Ms. Beryl, what do you think I’d find in this file?” he asked, but his eyes never wavered from me. Switching my attention from the screen back to him, I shouldn’t have strayed back to him, his expression was much too similar to the file… unreadable.
Was I in trouble? Did he know I manually flew his transport drone, or that I should have grounded it as soon as I found out it had a malfunction? Did he think I was just joyriding on the company credit?
They all varied in degrees of consequence, none great, but some better than the truth.
I opened my mouth, then closed it. I was about to confess everything, because that’s what being around him made me want to do. Every bone in my body ached to just unleash all of my problems to him, unburden myself.
I blinked several times to stop that stupid train of thought, how dumb did he think I was? That would be tantamount to quitting, and as much as I hated how boring this job was, I only needed to work here long enough to qualify for a private piloting license. As soon as I had that, I could leave, and actually feel the speed of a drone, fly in private airspace, do tricks, and utterly enjoy all the possibilities without as much restrictions as passenger drones.
Convincing my boss that I’m worth the risk of keeping on, despite my poor choices on which company policies I followed seemed impossible. But I could perform in the Skylark Drone Parade or even be the star in the Seattle Technology Fair to show off new features, anything, to keep my job.
“Glowing reviews?” I joked, knowing I may not be the best at customer service interactions. I could almost see a smile at the corner of his mouth before it disappeared. At the very least, if he fired me, I might be able to convince him not to say why I was fired to future employers.
Maybe I could get a job in packaging delivery services for a while? An even shittier job, for the worst of the drone pilots in the business. I mean those things pretty much ran themselves, and the companies made the drones so cheap that they could care less about one breaking down and crashing into a fiery pit of disaster. Really, all the pilots were there for was to make sure that, if they did fail, they landed somewhere it caused the least amount of damages to surrounding things, avoiding a building, or a person walking on the street. Bonus, if the package the drone was carrying landed safely enough not to be damaged, so that another drone could go pick it up and complete the delivery. Please, don’t fire me. Might as well fall to my death now.
The awkward silence building between us was making me more nervous. Like a bandage I wanted him to rip it off and tell me what I needed to explain myself out of to keep this job.
“It’s a good thing we have preprogrammed A.I. for most customer needs, though you weren’t all that unpleasant earlier today.” His silky voice made even my shortcomings seem like a compliment. I wasn’t unpleasant, and the way he said it, I found myself blushing at my almost, but not quite, pleasant nature. Tell me how not unpleasant I am again, was what I wanted to say, but of course bit the inside of my lip instead to prevent any more embarrassment.
I doubted any of that talk would help me keep my job, but if it did then I’d be screwed, because I didn’t think I could bring myself to act like a smitten dumb dumb in front of someone so annoyingly perfect, too much of a power grab. And not even one I could pull off successfully. Got to keep the little dignity I had to be able to wheel myself out of here after it was all said and done.
“I’ll try to keep that in mind next time I offer a survey. On the bright side, one less survey to give out to meet my quota.” If there was even a next time. I tried to keep my best poker face on, the same one I used when I wanted to fool my mom into thinking our communication was broken. I had enough listening to her complain about when I’d get out of the house, and meet ‘people’. If only she knew what I did when I got out of the house to make some extra credits.
“When not responding to my personal drone, feel free to utilize the automated A.I. for your survey quotas.” He paused to let that sink in. I had future surveys to complete, meaning I still had my job. He didn’t check the reports in my sector yet, I still had some time. “What are your goals at Zeiten, Ms. Beryl?”
Relieved, I turned my attention away from those chocolatey eyes of his to gulp down an obscene amount of wine to steady my nerves. I didn’t even get to enjoy the flavor, but I couldn’t keep holding the glass in my hands anymore. My hands were sweating, and I feared I’d either let the expensive crystal slip and shattered on the floor any second, or even worse, crush it between my fingers with a single nervous twitch when trying not to let it slide out of my grasp. Coughing on the sudden intake of wine, I wiped my lips, and as gently as I could set the glass down on the small table holding a house plant. I nearly shoved the thing into the plant itself, just to hide it, but he was watching me.
“Well, I would like to advance to a position that can utilize my piloting skills more regularly. Eventually, that is,” I didn’t want to sound greedy for a promotion when moments before I thought I was going to be fired, “It’s just that you know, I know those positions don’t open up regularly. So, I can wait, that is, it would be nice eventually to transition to the adventure side of the business. You know, like a maybe help out as an event pilot for tourists and thrill seekers when someone goes on vacation?” I quickly add, “No rush or anything. I don’t dislike my job,” I tried to clarify that this wasn’t a dissatisfaction of my current job, because I really couldn’t afford to lose it, but really… who would be satisfied with this job? But he didn’t need to know that, right?
I can’t believe I even told him about my dream of being an event pilot. Seconds ago, I thought I was being fired, and I had the nerve to pretty much say I wanted to be promoted. What was I thinking?
Those damned eyes kept sucking out my secrets, if he didn’t stop staring at me, I’d probably start blabbing about how attractive I found him, especially in those fitted slacks. Why couldn’t there be a desk in front of him so I didn’t just let my eyes wander all over his sleek muscles?
I mean, he wasn’t like ripped or anything, but definitely toned. Who was I kidding, he had to work out for that, I just really wanted to say something about him that wasn’t absolutely everything a girl could ask for. All I had was, maybe he could have been taller, but even that didn’t matter considering I sat in a wheelchair. He would always be way too damn tall for me.
That’s it, he was too tall.
Take that Mr. Perfect.
He merely nodded at me before letting me see one of the documents in my employee file. It had my piloting scores… and I would have felt smug about it, until he pulled up Jessi’s scores right next to mine. So, she wasn’t bad at her job, so what? I could have done better on that performance drill, but Jessi always found a way to get into my head, even during training.
“We do have a part-time opening for something a little more hands-on than your current position, though—” He then pulled up another document on the screen which showed my customer reviews, my tardiness, and all the rest of my dedicated work history statistics. And just like I feared, he also pulled up Jessi’s stats next to mine. She was much more pleasant than I was and got a lot better scores than me in her work ethic, and customer satisfaction ratings. “As you can see, you are not the only candidate for the position.”
“So, then,” feeling much too bold for my britches I responded with a sour, “What did you call me up here for then?” To rub it in my face that the only thing going for me was my piloting skills, and I was a less than pleasant person to work with?
“You’ve demonstrated much higher piloting capability than your previous scores indicate, as if you’ve been getting more manual hours logged than what your charts have recorded.” He flourished to the screen showing my pilot hours awarded, and the stats of those hours. My cheeks burned, and that heat sank deep into my belly making that glass of wine in my stomach create waves through my nerves. Was he saying what I thought he was saying?
I was getting fired.
With my mouth ajar I stared at him, unable to confirm or deny this statement. He was right, I was getting in a lot of extra piloting hours through illegal drone races, and those events were known for extreme circumstances that required a lot more maneuverability and practically a Hail Mary prayer to your intuition to remain under the radar, and in one piece. Or in my case, skill, and a lot of manual unlogged overrides every time I went to work. I mean the only life I was putting at risk was my own, and that risk went way down with all my practice.
“It was nearly seamless,” he praised, “you would have got away with it, no one the wiser if it were anyone else.”
Nearly? I pressed my lips together tight to stop myself from asking the only thing that mattered to me in that sentence, where did I go wrong? What could I have done to make sure he never knew?
He grinned at me, an amused quirk of his brow at my crossed arms and poorly masked agitation. “I’ve only seen this level of piloting where I grew up, but,” like answering my prayer I eagerly anticipated him telling me what tipped him off, I leaned in, “You could use some more practice, so I’m going to increase your allowed manual training time.”
“You’re what?” I choked, realizing what he was giving me was way better than a promotion, because a job was still a job that dictated what kind of things I could do with the drone, and this… this was free range skill training. I couldn’t be happier, unless he folded that offer into different words that didn’t include, you could use more practice. I needed to know how he noticed? And almost as important, why I wasn’t fired?
“And I’ll be changing your pass codes to only work during training hours,” he added as if he didn’t just stab me in the gut, “When you come into work, you’ll have to come grab me so I can log you into your terminal with restricted access codes.”
He might as well have fired me. This was like chopping off my left tit and feeding it to a grinder. I wouldn’t be able to manually redirect a drone or fly my own transport on the way to work. My login credentials wouldn’t work outside these walls, and even if I wanted to manually take over a passenger craft again, I wouldn’t have the access to do it even during work hours. He was suspending my access, and if anything were to happen like today again, I would be forced to get an infraction and ground the drone no matter what.
I’d have to find an upgraded chip to even think about link fixing a drone to manually fly again. That would mean more credits, that I didn’t have.
“You can’t be serious?” I said dead pan.
I checked my interface, and scrolled through my work credential settings, and they were still intact. A second later it refreshed, and an icon with a red circle and white dash appeared. I activated it and a pop up appeared saying: Restricted access to training drones during the hours of four a.m. to six a.m. and eight p.m. to nine p.m. only.
“That’s insane!” I huffed out after I read it. No sane person was going to come into work before work hours and stay after work hours to login to training.
“I’m very serious, Ms. Beryl. I can’t very well have you training during peak customer hours. These are our lowest trafficked hours.”
“But how am I supposed to work?”
“Your job is the same. I’ll log you in when you come in, and I’ll log you out when you leave. Should you require an emergency need for further access, you can transfer the drone to me by activating the call button in your interface.”
“The updated credentials shouldn’t interfere with your typical duties. I’m actually very surprised you had this much access to begin with, but it makes sense considering you were one of the original hires for this sector when it expanded.” He pushed up from his seat, like the conversation was over, and the chair receded back into the floor.
He walked towards me, and my breath hitched up as he stopped beside me. His strong hand reached out, making me nearly choke on my own spit, thinking he was going to push my hair behind my ear. My cheeks flushed like I’d just applied fresh makeup powder before his hand passed my face and picked up the empty wine glass. “I’ll log you in after you’ve had some time to let this settle.” He took the glass to the counter, and it slid out to reveal a dish washing rack. It closed, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave this spot in his office. The screens with my records and Jessi’s records blew off and faded back into a serene oasis on the glass walls.
“You’re welcome to stay up here until you’re ready,” he added while he motioned to the couches.
I dumbly brought attention to my wheelchair like he was the government expecting me to reveal my alien nature by uplifting myself from my contraption to lie all vulnerable on his couch with no way to escape. My chair wasn’t obnoxious like some peoples, it was sleek, and had see-through silicone padding with clear plastic in the most tapered down design so it was as close as possible to disappearing. I preferred to be as much like a floating magician as possible, even my wheels were actually omni-directional treads, and as unobtrusive as my budget could afford.
If it were up to me, I’d upgrade to the magnetic field chairs, or if I were getting into the crazy expensive category, I’d swing for the new AmbularGo upgrade. But, with my paralysis not being a recent accident it made the whole process of rebuilding neutrons and nerve-endings to attach to the device a pretty intense process. Hence the expensive and the crazy part, but so worth it to have my legs be connected to my own will again. Who cares if I couldn’t feel them, as long as I could make them do what I wanted with just a neural connection from my NeuralGo to my AmbularGo. Even that was still a maybe, in terms of rebuilding the neural pathway that’s deteriorated already, but a chance is a chance, and I’d take it faster than my NeuralGo could connect to a drone. And I’ve disabled my delay sequencing, so that’s faster than even my brain could interpret.
Lost in my own thoughts about walking, which was why I wanted one of the highest paying drone piloting jobs available… and why I even entered illegal races to begin with, besides the excitement of manual flying. To be able to walk again, I mean, I can’t even remember how it felt anymore. I was eight at the time. It was like he teleported in front of my eyes when I saw him again, he was kneeling in front of me.
He had misinterpreted my far-off gaze for drunkenness.
“You are a lightweight, Ms. Beryl. If I’d known this, I would have insisted you indulge in a different beverage.” Before I could protest, he bypassed my wheelchair’s security system measures and disengaged the straps that kept me secured so I didn’t have to actively adjust myself all the time. I’d never really considered myself a lightweight, and I’d never let anyone, not even my mother, help me transition anywhere.
I preferred to handle it myself, and yet for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to get angry at the fact that his toned muscles were cradling me, and I was forced to wrap my arm around his neck. My fingers grazed his soft hair, and I resisted the urge to stay there and pet it, or grab it. Partially because he was my boss, and also because yanking his head back for thinking I couldn’t do this myself if I wanted to would be detrimental should he drop me. He gently placed me on the couch, and the lights dimmed.
I found myself unable to prevent the words from coming out of my mouth, “Just because you’re handsome, doesn’t mean you can get away with pretending to be some strange prince charming swooping me up like some cave man. I’m perfectly capable of moving myself to wherever I want to go.” I knew then that the wine really had gone to my head, because I couldn’t excuse my lack of filter otherwise. “This is like slapping HR in the tit, and flexing your man muscles around like it’s okay to demoralize little old pathetic me, who had my accident before AmbularGo was invented, so I need some tall, dark, and handsome to come rescue me…” I stammered, and realized I was talking out loud, and not in my head before adding, “Well, I don’t. You know… need your help, that is. I could’ve done it, and…”
“You don’t need me,” he finished for me. His eyes grew dark, and I didn’t think that was possible given how dark brown they were to begin with, but I rationalized he did turn down the lights. He gave a short nod before adding, “You are more than capable of doing anything yourself, but the point I’ll make is that you don’t have to. I assisted not because I slap HR’s ‘tit’ as you say.” My face burned as the reflection of my words came back to haunt me in his own voice, “but because your eyes are clearly dilated with the effects of the wine, and I value the safety of my employees, and that of the passengers of our drones, more than decorum to remain distanced.” He stood then and gave a small head bow to me as his silent way of saying goodbye before he gracefully left me there, and the elevator doors chimed closed behind him.
What was the next step below getting all my credentials being controlled by my boss? I almost wished I was fired, just so I didn’t have to face him again. How was I supposed to look him in the eye after this?
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Kingdom of Acatalec Sneak Peek
How was it possible that all the local drones were with passengers already, or still returning from a drop off? It wasn’t. Any attempts at hailing one within the next five minutes would be near impossible, and the only reasonable explanation was… Jessi, the bane of my work life, thought it would be hilarious to make sure every drone nearby was redirected to other locations. Rushing out the door with a bagel hanging from my teeth, I had minutes before being late to work. I didn’t have those precious minutes to spare.
It wasn’t like she wasn’t on the boss’s good side. Second best drone pilot in our sector, she always rubbed her customer ratings in my face every chance she got.
She wasn’t a complete monster.
I knew she’d only delay my request by the few minutes I needed to avoid being tardy. To keep her off my back I resorted to desperate measures, or risk losing my job, which wasn’t necessarily illegal, but it wasn’t not illegal either. Though, if Mr. Azel knew what I was doing, I’d probably have lost my job long before now.
And that was exactly what Jesse wanted to have happen.
Quickly, I tapped into my NeuralGo, which was second nature and as easy as blinking since I’d had mine installed at the time of my accident. Most don’t get theirs so early, considering brains weren’t fully matured until twenty-five, but I was a special case, and it was probably why it was so easy to use. Because my brain grew-up with it.
Pulling up my work’s designated drone airspace, D.D.A., I found the closest drone was only one minute away heading right past my home. The NeuralGo connected to my contacts through RedTech, and I haven’t needed the keyboard on an overlay display to enter data since I was sixteen. This was easier than deciding whether I should or shouldn’t eat the last cookie in the box. No one wants only one cookie later, so it’s better to let it mingle with its friends in my stomach.
Intercepting the destination, I plugged in the new coordinates. My contacts flashed red, letting me know the authorization protocols had triggered. Entering in my password, I logged in my credentials: Pilot officer class A. Link to on-route drone connected, and rerouting to my location.
Guilt made me cringe and to ease that little demon I made sure to setup the programming so that as soon as I was dropped off it would go back to its original pickup. Adding a few upgrades to their service, and a small credit as compensation for their extra wait time. Who would complain about that? They probably wouldn’t even notice the few minutes delay, with how glued most people were to their social media. Every time I ever went out, they all looked like zombies staring off into space, but really just surfing the linked up interface in their contacts.
The drone landed in front of my apartment building and the wind drafted through my hair. If it weren’t already messy, it would’ve been then. I would have had a slower descent for a normal passenger, but I was in a hurry, and there was no time to waste. Kelly, my best friend ever since I temporarily borrowed her family’s drone without permission, would probably be clucking her tongue at me right now in disappointment with how I left the house in what she would consider rags.
Tossing out of bed last minute did have its advantages. I smirked thinking about my best friend Kelly’s reaction if she saw me disheveled like this. I’ll let her act appalled later in our video chat, when I describe what I deigned appropriate to wear to work today. Wrinkles were my new best friend today. I’d have to tell Kelly she’d been replaced.
I didn’t wait for the ramp to assist me. Before the elevating hatch even finished lifting on the transport, I popped a wheelie, which was the first thing I tried to learn how to do when I was eight, and then used the handlebar assist to pull me and my extra weighted equipment into the drone. Rapid-fire pressing the close-door function as soon as I was in helped soothe my anxiety. I knew it did nothing to really speed it up, but it was something to occupy the seconds, so it wasn’t a complete waste. Letting my fingers pound out some nervous energy was the least I could do.
Once inside, I connected to the panel in front of me and bypassed the auto function pulling out my manual joysticks. Now these suckers were off market; I had to spend a diamond worth of credits on these, all in the spirit of illegally hacking commercial passenger drones for manual flight.
Not that the joysticks themselves were what controlled the drones. It was the chip inside that held manual function code and security breaches. The joysticks housing the chip just made it easier for the link in the NeuralGo to process my intentions, plus made the whole experience a little more tactile. I never understood why everything had to be so hands off these days, but in a pinch knowing I could do it without the joysticks was comforting, even if a little less enjoyable.
Lifted back in the air, I connected my overlay to my contacts with the current drone airfields, so I could track where I was in relation to other drones, and off we went. Bypassing the speed restrictions and maneuvering around other air traffic was no picnic, when traveling at these speeds. At least, for a normal person it would be terrifying.
For me, this was heaven, and it was over all too soon. Zipping up, through, around, and into the parking lot. In minutes I arrived at work, and the clock read: 7:58 a.m. My fastest time yet. I might actually clock in for work on time for once. I was really pushing my luck on having my pilot record outweigh my work ethic, but I did my job, and I’m pretty sure that’s what counted.
Pushing the door open to speed up its slow ascent, I yanked out my joysticks shoving them into the hidden compartment under the legs of my chair, that should never see the light of day unless I had a wish to see the inside of a jail cell and snapped the panel back into place.
Preprogrammed to go back to its original destination before I commandeered it, I didn’t have to worry about things as I turned off my speed restrictions on my chair to supercharge this baby out of the drone and through the automatic doors of this over-sized office tower. I took a moment to peek over my shoulder and confirmed that the transport was already lifting off and forgetting all about our short adventure together.
As I entered work, a green light flashed over me reading my authorizations to enter the building through my NeuralGo. Before I could even wheel up to my desk, the screeching voice of my prissy co-worker could be heard behind me, probably coming from the break room already.
“Are you ever on time?” Jessi groaned. “You know the rest of us have to pick up the slack when you’re late. Eight a.m. is when the drones are supposed to be active, not when you’re supposed to be at your desk. Here,” she waved her hand at my cube with disgust, and a notification popped up on my interface, “These are the results from your sector’s drone tests this morning… Or didn’t you remember that we had an update last night.”
“Thanks,” I said reluctantly. I supposed I should have been more grateful that she came in early to run the tests on my sector, but it was hard to even smile at her. This was honestly the nicest she had ever been to me.
“These should be good to go,” she said arrogantly. “Maybe next time you should come in earlier for software updates.” It was only a matter of time before that girl got me fired, but really who was I kidding. I would be the reason why I got fired. Being on time wasn’t my strong suit, but I was the best drone pilot in the business. My boss valued my skills more than my timeliness, and even Jessi knew that, though against her nature to admit it.
Most employees at Zeiten Drone Transportation had to be here earlier, but I tended to take advantage of the disability leeway that was given to me. Extra time to get to work didn’t seem to help me much. Sleeping in seemed like a better use of that time.
The green light on my monitor scanned me before my computer turned on. A notification popped up showing that the software updates had been downloaded just like Jessi said. I really should’ve come in earlier to do the testing before the drones were swapped out and live. But, thanks to Jessi, I didn’t have to. My computer then prompted me to confirm software testing was complete. I only had to think the word, cleared. My sectors drones were now live.
Jessi sauntered back to her seat, and I could see a clear gleam in her eyes. She smiled briefly before her eyes met mine and it turned into a scowl.
If it weren’t for me, she’d be considered the best drone pilot in this sector. Her resentment was clear on her face. It wasn’t her fault that her reaction times weren’t as fast as mine. She didn’t have the history I had. Maybe if she was forced to plug into the neural networking at a young age, she’d be well past where I was in terms of integrating with the software. My brain had more time to create more pathways, it was as simply as that, and one of the reasons why I was so highly ranked within the company without actually having a title to show for it.
I brought up the traffic on my interface. Drone airspace always reminded me of the old school arcade game Frogger. All the many little dots representing the drones leaping in and out and zooming across the screens.
Being a drone pilot was pretty boring for commercial passenger drones, but the true skill and fun was in manual operation. That’s when I truly felt alive behind the manual interfacing that linked you directly to the controls. Avoiding other drones, controlling the speed, and getting to your destination faster than any flight service could ever do. There were restrictions on how fast a drone could fly, because after a certain speed it’s hard to control the airspace. But not for me. Instinct took over, and that’s all that mattered. Those extra neural pathways made me feel like I was the drone. Like lifting a finger, chewing your food, or smiling.
It was all natural to me.
My screen lit up red.
One of the passenger drones was sending a distress signal. It was rare for there to be an issue on the job. This would be the most exciting my glorified observation appointment had been since I started working here five years ago.
Quickly, I manually entered the programming and discovered that the flight simulation that controlled the sensors did not download the new software appropriately. It wasn’t reading the location signals of the other drones in the airspace, and it already picked up a passenger. It would collide with another drone if it didn’t start communicating with the other drones in the sector.
But, more likely, it would collide with a building, because it’s on-flight location was malfunctioning, and other drones still had collision avoidance. This shouldn’t be happening, the new updates were only supposed to update valid air traffic locations, and any adjusted flight courses to different destinations. It was solely used to better the passenger’s experience and make the service faster. The only way this could have happened was if there was an error in the download of new information. Maybe even a loose bit of hardware, that should have been caught during the… test run this morning.
The test run done by Jessi before I arrived. She would have seen that there was an issue with this drone before I sent it out for pickups. She may have hated me, but did she hate me enough to put a passenger in danger? There was no way. This would get me more than fired. It would put the whole company at risk. Zeiten Drone Transportation had a spotless record, and one incident like this due to human error, would defeat the whole slogan that the company was built on—safety guaranteed. No other drone service had been able to provide this level of security, and I wasn’t about to ruin that reputation because of Jessi. I may have been ethically in the gray zone, but I had my pride.
Protocol would be to ground the flight and comp the passenger as another drone comes to finish the transport, but then the passenger would know there was a problem, and one review like that would be the end of my super boring, but well-paid career. I wouldn’t get another drone pilot job anywhere, not even in the private sector, why would they hire someone with a reputation for not double checking the test flights after a download.
I wouldn’t let her have the satisfaction.
Already mapping the flight course into my contact screen, I took a quick look around to make sure no one was paying any particular attention to me. They had their own screens to focus on, but it was still a risk. I pulled out my manual override joystick from the hidden compartment in my wheelchair’s seat. This would have been considered the best part of my day, to manually drive the drones on the clock, but the whole thrill of it was short lived considering the drone wasn’t empty, my cube mate Kline could see my illegal accessory at any moment, and I had to seamlessly transition to make sure it followed its path as if it were being automated.
“Good morning, this is Tyler from Zeiten Drone Transportation. I’d like to offer you the opportunity to earn a complimentary five-minute transport by filling out one of our surveys. Do you accept?” I tapped into the passenger’s microphone feed to distract them from my manual adjustment. It would be slight, barely noticeable, since all I was doing was making small adjustments to the straight away, before the turnoff up ahead.
“Continue,” the man’s voice said in approval. It was an odd response, but I was too busy maneuvering for upcoming drones, and the pathway ahead to think too much on it. I mean, most people would say something more along the lines of a typical sure, yes, no, or something.
I eased over to adjust for an incoming drone passing by with upgraded speed, giving them the right of way on the airspace. This was normally an automated process, with all the drones communicating with one another about their locations, but not this drone, and not today. That’s why the company had pilots on staff as puffed-up watch dogs, for the very, very rare occasion that we actually had to fly one ourselves. But that was rare, if at all, hence how depressingly boring and soul sucking being a pilot for a commercial passenger service was.
“Thank you. The survey will appear on your screen before the end of your trip, and the credits will show up on your account once completed. May the spirit of travel take you safely to your destination.” I tried to be pleasant enough, saying the mandatory closing phrase after any communication with a passenger. I exited the communication before I could even hear if the person had a response, it didn’t really matter, the likelihood of the person having said anything that required my involvement was too low of a probability to warrant keeping the line open, plus it’s our policy to not eavesdrop. Privacy and all, less I’m connected to their comms the less likely I’ll have to overhear anything I can’t unhear, like that time Passenger Handy accidentally pressed the pilot assistance button while indecently indisposed. I can never unhear those noises, and I’ll never be able to even hope to have that much fun in a passenger drone. Except maybe during a manual drone race. Those always did get me a little hot under the collar, but not quite the same way.
Lucky for me, the ride for the passenger was a fairly short one. Only five minutes, and at regular passenger speed, not upgraded which would have made my manual piloting a lot more obvious at those speeds. Finally, I put the drone on descent, and sent the survey to the drone.
The man decided to complete the survey, which was also not very common, since most people decided to say screw it and exit the drone immediately. I’d look at it later to see how much I’d fooled them into thinking I’m a perfect machine of transportation piloting safety, which would undoubtedly make this whole ordeal feel worth it. If anything, maybe I should be thanking Jessi for the impromptu opportunity to log some manual piloting hours.
Before exiting the drone, the passenger pressed the pilot communication button, also a rare occurrence.
“Thank you for completing the survey. Your credits will appear on your account shortly,” I informed him, because I couldn’t think of any other reason why the comm button would be initiated, since he’d already landed at his destination.
Speaking of destinations, I was too distracted with following the on-screen flight directions and drone location overlay on my contacts. The whole thing felt like an arcade game with higher stakes distracting me from noticing the final coordinates until it was flashing in front of my sight lines. In big green bold lettering: Zeiten Drone Transportation…
They were coming here. I’d just manually transported someone who worked here. Meaning that there was a higher probability that if they were a pilot like I was… then they could, if they were good at their job and paying attention, tell the difference between automated and manual. Though, I was hoping the short duration, and the distraction of the survey was enough to make sure the later didn’t happen.
I mean, most pilots weren’t really into manual operation like I was. They wanted the paycheck, and most of the time even in instances like this they could just push the code into the drone to have it descend and send another drone out. Their piloting education was mostly just a piece of paper that meant in a pinch they could, in theory, pilot a drone.
“Ms. Beryl, will you see me in my office?” The deep voice was all of a sudden much more recognizable now that I had time to think about it. I’d heard it often enough in company memos and quarterly video conferences.
It would be my luck that the one drone having issues would be my boss doing an impromptu screen check of the services and how his drones were performing. Such an overachiever, and much too sexy of a voice to have to listen to him firing me when he made it up the elevator.
“Of course, sir. I’ll just finish up this diagnostic screening and transfer my overlays.” I tried to sound all official, like nothing was wrong, because there was still a chance. Even if it was a small one, that maybe he was too preoccupied. That was a big maybe and, given his attention to detail, highly unlikely.
“No need. I’ve already finished transferring your data.”
Shit. That was not promising.
“Please head straight there. I won’t be long.” The calming chime noises of the door closing on the drone signaled the conversation was over. And just like he said, all of my drones in my sector blinked, disappearing from my overlay viewer.
I was no longer the one in charge of monitoring them.
My heart skipped, and the pit of my stomach churned that quickly eaten bagel in my belly like a day-old burrito. Lucky for me I didn’t have to worry about keeping steady on my legs, I’m not sure they would have held me even if I had full use of them to begin with. The manual magnetized brake on my wheels clicked off, my NeuralGo seamlessly connecting.
Wheeling back and away from my desk, for me it was as simple as other people walking, but it didn’t change the stares people gave me as I passed. I could see Jessi peek out from her cube, and the way she smiled made my blood chill. If I didn’t suspect it already, that look confirmed it. She knew the testing had a drone with an invalid upload and made sure that I thought she’d already cleared the drones before I arrived.
I glared over my shoulder at her as the elevator came to greet me, and she merely shrugged as if to say, I’m not the one who didn’t check the report, I just ran it. And she was right, which made me even more infuriated. I shouldn’t have taken her word for anything. I should have scanned the report she gave me before initiating all the drones out for transport. I would have caught the error in the drone and sent it in for engineering to make sure everything was fine with the hardware. Even though she was a sneaking, conniving skank it was my fault that protocols weren’t followed, and it was also my choice not to immediately ground the drone. I didn’t have to like it though.
The doors closing behind me, I heard Jessi say, “It’s about time.”
Thank you for reading Chapter One of Kingdom of Acatalec! Want more?
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Heart of Darkness Sneak Peek
Hi My Lovelies,
Here is an unproofed, still in Beta version of Chapter One for the upcoming release of Heart of Darkness, coming 2022. Sign up for the Newsletter to make sure you don’t miss when it’s released and get a free copy of Blood Crescent!
A looming war between fae queens, humans, and the darkness. A knife-throwing strong female lead, soul mates, and a hidden prophecy that could end everything.
If you like fresh fae world building, mages, powerful queens, knife-throwing strong female leads, soul mates, and heart felt journeys of self discovery then you’ll enjoy the new Dark Hearts Series.
This isn’t your typical fae paranormal fantasy. One earlier reviewer said it, “(plays) off of traditional fantasy elements like elves, charms, and witches in unique and intriguing ways.”
A slow burn romance wrapped in a darkly enjoyable dive into the supernatural realms of Faery and its elitist politics. A secret prophecy the queens of the faery courts want to keep hidden. An impending war. And a darkness that could tear the realms apart. Can Nessa ever make her way back home, or has Faery changed her forever?
Another reviewer said, “It’s fun and lighthearted, very much a female lead Dresden Files, but with a younger protagonist.”
If you hate insta-love but enjoy world building and the gray zone of who’s good and evil then The Heart of Darkness is for you.
Read the first unedited chapter below:
Chapter One: Nessa
Control was always an illusion.
No one was in control of anything but themselves, and sometimes the choices I’m given are shit, so I’ve learned sometimes you have to know what’s coming to avoid being cornered.
“What do you need it for?” Chey was about to hand me a charm I was willing to beg for. She had enchanted the shard with her specialty, a ward to make my presence invisible. The charm wouldn’t actually make me disappear, neither of us were that powerful, but it would make us undetectable for a while. For the mischief I was up to it suited my purposes.
Chey was so talented with wards and charms that I had no doubt in the future she’d be more than capable of casting magic that was strong enough to trick the eye into thinking someone was invisible, eventually. Her magic was bad ass like that. To say I was a proud sister was an understatement.
Underplaying my investment in snooping I waved a hand flippantly. “You know dad, he never lets me in on anything that’s happening.” It was true, most of the time I found out about anything important, like why all the council members were gathering without a full moon, was because I happen to be there at the right time when he was talking to someone else. “You saw the regional council members arrive didn’t you?”
“Yah, they always get together for the full moon.” She wasn’t worried about the odd arrival, waving it off as we walked through our coven’s cozy dirt streets, guiding her closer to the town hall. It wasn’t until I pointed at the sky, the moon visible in the daylight, and so obviously not close to being full that she reconsidered.
They were up to something, and I had to find out what it was.
That was my curse. I couldn’t turn away blindly to what was happening around me. Curiosity, and determination to prove myself got me into trouble.
“What’s your point?” Chey folded her arms, still clutching the charm in her hands. She had snatched the small rock back before releasing it into my hands.
I huffed, realizing I’d have to convince her why she should let me have a charm I shouldn’t need unless I was doing something dad wouldn’t approve of. She was right to be concerned when my intention was to spy on our coven’s council meeting, but I’d done worse than that when I was seven, let alone now that I was eighteen.
It honestly wasn’t the first time I’d crashed a party not intended for me. I wouldn’t have to do it, if dad trusted me enough to talk to me. I could help, I knew I could. I had to prove myself before I turned nineteen, and the coven would be forced to either swear me in, or release me into civilian city life.
Pulling Chey aside, I pressed our backs against the closest brick wall of the dinning hall to avoid being seen by the hag coming around the communal bakery stand in the middle of the coven grounds.
Chey pressed close, following my lead. She wouldn’t admit it, but I think she enjoyed getting into trouble with me.
The old crone never wanted me here to begin with, and she didn’t keep quiet about how my dad should be focusing on training me to be ready to enter the real world outside of the coven. She was part of the council, and I didn’t necessarily need her permission to stay, but she was a vote… and I needed a majority.
Peeking around the corner I could see the hag actually smiling at Cooper as he handed her a fresh full loaf. I knew she had a deal with him, I muttered to myself. My mouth watered watching her stuff it into her bag. Everything was rationed, and being the grand magus’ daughter didn’t get me a full loaf of Cooper’s bread ever.
“Don’t you think it’s odd?” I turned away to whisper to Chey. “Dad seemed worried. Don’t you want to know what they are hiding from us?”
Sure, I was more determined than ever to prove the hag wrong about me, that I could help if only they told me what was going on. And getting an extra slice of bread every so often wouldn’t hurt either.
Chey pressed her lips together tightly trying to keep herself from admitting she was just as curious. Different from me, she always wanted to have dad’s approval, and the idea of going behind his back was her least favorite idea.
If anything, she’d be hard-pressed not to go running to tell him my plans. I didn’t mind if dad found out. I wasn’t really much for secrets. It was all about timing. Perhaps a delayed reveal would be enough.
I had to think fast before she’d dug her heels into the idea to turncoat on me. Appealing to her other instincts to protect, I had to remind her some things were better off seeking forgiveness than permission. Both of us were worried about what was going on with the coven. We wanted to be more useful than what the council were allowing us to be. That we could agree on.
The coven was a bit too secretive for my taste. And, in this day and age sequestering the coven away from the conveniences of the city was dumb. I’d seen casters and covens all over proudly showcasing their status as a witch to even the non-magical. Sure, most of the MOS, magically oppressed societies, didn’t truly believe that magic was real, but they were out there, and part of the world. Just as the fae were beyond the veil we kept warded on Saint Brigid’s Day.
Not that I minded secrets in general. I could keep one. Only I should be in on it, and I was nearly an adult now by anyone’s standards. Well, maybe not by fae’s standards, from my studies they lived so long that I’d still be considered a baby.
“He’ll never ask for our help, even if he needs it. We won’t know unless we find out on our own. We aren’t children anymore. If we can help, we should.”
That seemed to do the trick, Chey’s shoulders relaxed in resignation, and she unfolded her arms to shove the charm at my chest with a huff. I reached to grab the small crystal from her, but her grip on the tiny charm was still strong. She narrowed her eyes at me.
“But if we end up listening to something we can’t help with, and we have no business hearing then we confess to the grand magus,” she negotiated.
I never understood why she called dad Grand Magus, sure he was the leader of our coven, but he was our dad, and she had more reason to call him that than I did. I knew I wasn’t biologically his, as soon as I learned about DNA, and hereditary traits in school the differences were obvious, though he’d never said anything to confirm or deny our lack of biological sameness.
It didn’t take a scientist to tell me I didn’t look anything like my dad, or my sister. They both had blonde straight hair, heart-shaped faces, and well the obvious pale skin. I wasn’t anything like them. My hair was black as a raven’s feather, my face angular and long, and my skin was always darkly sun kissed even in the longest of winters. Both of them had hazel eyes, with a bit of gray in them, while mine were a recessive trait of bright green. Not that dad couldn’t have had green eyes in his ancestry, but there were too many differences to account for.
“Deal,” I agreed to her terms. It was either that or have her go running to dad to tell him before I had the chance to listen in on the council meeting. I’d be in a world of hurt for snooping without the benefit of getting any information, at least this way I’d know something before getting reprimanded.
Chey released the charm, and I happily stuffed the little shard in my pocket. Smiling at her I gave her a congratulatory smack on the back.
“You won’t regret this…” I let that sentiment trail off before I added she probably won’t regret this, in my mind. Maybe, I cringed at the very high likelihood that she would indeed regret helping me. I had trouble lying outright, but half-truths were convincing and surprisingly easy.
“It isn’t just the council that has me worried,” Chey admitted. “Haven’t you noticed mages from our Magic Arts lessons have been missing lately. We are the only ones that haven’t stopped going, and when they come back…” She cautiously scanned our surroundings, nervous someone would smite her for mentioning such a thing. “They’ve been avoiding us, and acting very awkward.” She shivered. They were acting strange lately, but most of the coven treated me differently so I dismissed it.
Being raised by a coven didn’t to do me any favors in the magic department. I still went to all the classes, even after most of the mages I started with graduated to specialist training, and my sister, Chey, the martyr that she was, stuck around to babysit. Though, I suspect it was our father that put her up to it. Which was comical considering I was older.
“They’ve always acted awkward around you,” I joked because it wasn’t her that made them act differently, but because she was always hanging out with me. Most of the coven wasn’t particularly fond of me, I was seen as being a troublemaker. They weren’t wrong…
“More than usual,” my sister seemed more suspicious than I would have pegged her for.
“I hadn’t noticed, I try to ignore how they look at me. I mean, I don’t have the same kind of magic that—”
Cutting me off she raised her hand, “Everyone has a specialty, it’s very rare for a mage to be a Morgan of all Casts.” She recited the phrase like our teacher Ms. Greyol always did, in a factual, serious kind of way. The way she defended me made me smile, even though I frequently doubted whether I was truly a mage or just raised by them.
“Says the girl who hasn’t had a cast misfire ever.” Her other casts weren’t as adept as her wards, but not once had any of them misfired. Chey had a specialty of casting wards on objects, but she was very talented, and highly praised in our coven for literally being a Morgan of all Casts.
“Your specialty is more exciting, so I wouldn’t dwell on your horrible casting skills too much,” she poked fun. I struggled to do much more than give her a warning stare. It wasn’t like I wasn’t grateful for what I could do, but my lack of magic always had me separated from the rest of the coven, feeling more other than part of something. Only Chey could get away with mocking me, it was endearing when she did it because I knew her intentions weren’t to belittle me.
“I wouldn’t call feeling people’s emotions as exciting. How am I supposed to use that to help the coven? You know everyone else is thinking it.” Throwing myself into combat training was my only hope of staying with the only home I knew to compensate for my lack of casting abilities. At least when I became old enough for the coven to consider whether I should stay or join ‘normal’ society, as they called it, I could protect the coven in a different capacity, prove to them I was useful.
If they decided not to initiate me, it’d be harder to stay in touch with Chey or dad, since they were considered integral parts of the coven. Both of them would be kept too busy to leave and visit me if I was forced to start a life in the city. No one would hire me as a bodyguard on looks alone, leaving job choices slim to none.
Much too tall and lanky, normal civilians wouldn’t believe in my combat skills without a demonstration, and most wouldn’t give me a chance. Even the council elders who have seen what I could do still remained skeptical. My ability, knowing what someone was feeling, was not always helpful considering I didn’t have the context of their thoughts to compare against for accuracy.
“You have other talents,” Chey insisted, but she doubted whether that would help me stay in the coven when I came of age. And that was coming up fast. I was eighteen already.
The only reason that didn’t hurt as much as it might have been because of how much Chey cared, and she didn’t have to let me feel any of it. Her wards were used for more than stealth, she could easily prevent me from sensing anything from her, if she wanted. That only made me love her more.
She let me in, trusted me.
“With our powers combined…” I started our motto from when we were kids. She saluted her fist over her heart, a big smile plastered on her face.
“Lewyn Sisters!” As long as Chey was by my side, we were tough to beat. Her wards protected me while my skills read people’s intentions, and my strength subdued anyone who tried to bully us. Our dad used to tell us about how even in darkness there is light, one can’t exist without the other. It was with our combined efforts that left our opponents in the dark when it came time to the Saint Brigid’s Day Tournament. We were yin and yang, light and dark. It was no secret that she was the light in our duo.
“Let’s go get into position before it’s too late.” I grabbed Chey’s hand and led her to the town hall, where all the coven elders gathered for meetings. The coven didn’t have to like me for me to watch their shadows, and one day they’d finally understand I was worth the extra headache. Mostly to protect Chey, screw the rest of them.
The council always locked the town hall and added a ward so no one could overhear them, but I doubted they would use extra magic to ward themselves. Casting on objects was easier than on people. As long as we made it inside the town hall, we would be able to listen in on the abnormal meeting that had dad so worked up.
Having scouted the town hall multiple times in the past, I already had an optimal location in mind to stay close enough to hear, but not be seen. There was a closet built into the wall that no one used, because it was already full of discarded, abandoned coats.
Scoping the closet out on multiple occasions, nothing was valuable. The coats smelled musty, holding a gross layer of dust that I pounded out, and wiped down a few weeks ago. Shutter style doors made the closet perfect for reconnaissance, if I carefully positioned the slats, I could see out without bringing attention to my location.
With the added help of Chey’s ward, no one would know someone else was in the room, and there would be no need to worry about one of the council guards looking for snoopers.
The plan was nearly perfect.
As soon as we made it to the office, the creak of the front door closing startled me. I shoved Chey into the closet and backed in, slowly closing the old wooded shutter. Chey groaned, and I prayed it was soft enough we weren’t heard over the other pairs of feet entering the town hall.
Holding my nose between my fingers, I tried to prevent the itch of dust from the coats puffing into the air. The sneeze was building and I couldn’t afford to have my not-so-dainty elephant roar ruin the wards. I guessed giving them a good thwacking the last time I was here wasn’t enough to rid them of the years of neglect.
Chey gripped my arm in a vice, and then sneezed so loud my heart leaped up into my throat.
It was over.
Whatever we could have found out about what was happening to the covens was lost to us. They would find us in the office closet, and that would be that.
Except, they didn’t.
I peered over at Chey who merely smiled, and gave me a look like she was sorry, but she didn’t seem worried. She patted her pocket triumphantly, and I hoped she had thought about noise ahead of time, and carried a charm temporarily muffling, if not completely negating, any sounds we made while it still held some juice. I hadn’t asked for that kind of ward, but I should have, only proving she was more prepared and less reckless than me, despite being a year younger.
Minutes ticked by in excruciating silence as I waited to see if we were found out or not. I chanced adjusting the slat of the closet to look out into the office. I was surprised to see someone silently searching through dad’s desk, and I couldn’t hear a sound. How did he get into the office without so much as a footstep to be heard, I questioned, since there were no more noises after the front door opened and closed. The council should’ve arrived soon to begin their meeting, but I didn’t recognize this man from our coven, and he was definitely too young to be one of the elders that arrived earlier.
The stranger was tall, with eyes so blue they seemed to glow. They were so distracting I almost missed the angular tipped ears poking out from his golden brown hair. He was breathtaking, like a dream, but the more I watched him search the room, the more the ethereal quality faded to see he was wearing leather armored bracers, a chest plate, leg coverings, and a crossbow hung from his back. He looked like a black-clad ninja warrior, or perhaps a super sexy ranger.
Chey pressed into me to get a peek at what I was staring at, and gasped. I was regretting taking her along with me when she couldn’t control her reactions, and made a noise with every revelation. Who was this guy, and why was he snooping through the grand magus’s offices? It was strange question considering I was also snooping, but I already knew why I was here, and wondered if he had also noticed something big was happening across the covens?
But he didn’t look human. Something otherworldly about how the magic clung to him in the air.
The strange warrior looked up from his search, surveying the room. I quickly ducked so there wasn’t a chance he would see my eyes through the one tilted slat. I felt a tingling sensation, and without meaning to I was reading the room. Feeling his feelings. He wasn’t scared, but there was a determination in him that bordered on obsessive.
Whatever he was looking for, he would find it, but not before the front door of the town hall squeaked on its old hinges. The shuffling of many feet that I had expected earlier, and the hum of busied chatter of the council gathering filled my ears.
Whoever the man was, would certainly be found by the council, but when I peeked through the slat again he was crouched down behind the half wall, below the windows of the office, as the council members settled themselves on the benches outside.
Didn’t they notice he was there?
The warrior held something at his neck, and I huffed realizing he must have had a charm as well. What was once something I was proud to have realized was a flaw in the coven’s meetings, was beginning to make me nervous, and irritated. They were too comfortable with the powerful wards on the town hall itself, they didn’t consider anyone coming in before they arrived. They were much to relaxed with their outside security, and now I was stuck with a difficult decision.
Did I jump out of this closet, revealing myself, and outing the intruder? Or did I wait it out, listen in, and then draw attention to him?
I mean, once they were done talking then they could prevent him from leaving, or make sure no coven secrets were lost, couldn’t they? They were the most powerful of the local covens, their casting abilities far beyond anything I’d ever hope to achieve, he shouldn’t be able to escape after, right? I tried to convince myself that there was no harm in staying hidden and learning what the meeting was about first.
Did I want to risk it because they were powerful, or do the right thing and make sure he doesn’t find out anything, as well as preventing me from doing the same. It should have been an easy answer, but it wasn’t. I was so torn, and my curiosity was so strong, but I didn’t get the chance to make the decision before the council quieted and started talking about something my curiosity couldn’t handle.
I was stuck.
“We’ve already discussed this, Nessa will continue her studies here until she comes of age,” my father said adamantly. It didn’t occur to me that was a reoccurring subject for him to have to defend me to the council, but my neck burned at the realization.
Entreating the rest of the coven elders and the local council for me to stay with the coven, until I was of age, was the last thing I wanted my dad to have to do. I thought I was safe until I turned nineteen, but it looked like I was constantly being pushed out even before that.
Chey squeezed my arm trying to comfort me, I had forgotten she was here, and it upset me more knowing she heard them say I wasn’t wanted. I had nearly forgotten a strange man was also listening to this very personal conversation, but obviously Chey hadn’t because she nudged her chin back in his direction. We both stared at him then. He wasn’t paying attention to what was straight in front of him, the slats of our hidey hole. His eyes were on the office entrance, the door wide open. Waiting should any of the coven council decide to enter, his crossbow still hung from his arm, and a knife was brandished.
Exposing the intruder wasn’t the only thing I wrestled with, but what would happen when I did. What was he capable of before the council could react. If I jumped out, would he hurt Chey before the council subdued him? Did he have other charms on him to help deflect magic long enough for him to escape, or hurt someone? Hurt Chey? As much as spying on the council was frowned upon, I felt a sense of pride, and fear, it would be because of my curiosity this man would get away with what ever it was he was doing.
I took a deep breath, and focused on the intruder to feel him out. He had no intention of harming anyone, yet. Irritation flowed from him, almost as if he didn’t like what the council was discussing. Maybe he was hoping for something a little more juicy than interpersonal matters? It wasn’t his purpose, so he would stay where he was until they were done, but by then he’d have discovered secrets about the coven.
They couldn’t have gathered the council and elders merely to discuss me. I wasn’t vain enough to believe that. My dad probably had a few moments to spare before the actual meeting, and was trying to secure his difficult daughter, me, a spot within the coven. I knew he’d fight for me, I just didn’t want him to have to.
“This isn’t the time for you to be soft, Corey.” One of the elders, a bitter old lady who I often saw grimacing at me in town addressed my father. Her name was Purdey, but I’d grown accustomed to called her the hag, for always haggling me. She always disliked me, but to hear it in this way still hurt. I could smell the fresh bread from her bag, and that didn’t ease the tension building in my stomach.
“This isn’t the time for us to be careless–” he began, only to be cut off again.
“There has been a surge at the gates. The fae have found a way around the wards. They will come for her,” the hag reasoned, affronted by the idea that I should stay with the coven.
What she was saying was very serious, most fae gates were closed, and the ones that remained prevented anything larger than a few people from crossing at a time, but then the covens worked hard to ward them from being used at all. That’s one of the things the covens did at the start of every spring on Saint Brigid’s Day, reinforce the wards, and that’s why Chey was so important to the coven’s future. She would be part of the next generation to protect humans from the fae.
Who were they after? Chey?
I held Chey tight, were the fae going to come for her? I wouldn’t let them.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. The pointy ears, the other-worldly eyes, the strange armor. The intruder was fae. Why didn’t I come to that conclusion sooner? Because I was too focused on how attractive he was to think deeper than the surface, I chastised myself.
I wouldn’t let him have Chey.
“We can’t jump to conclusions yet,” my father boomed, interrupting the alarmed chatter among the council members. “That is all the more reason we must keep her here with us, safe from the fae courts. Nessa doesn’t know her heritage, and it may be time that we inform her.”
Inform me of what? Why were they talking as if the fae were going to come for me? I was a nobody. A magic dud. That would be the stupidest heist in history, stealing the one girl from the coven that couldn’t even light a match.
“Whose fault is that,” the hag pointed a gnarled finger.
“She’s a child,” he said pained by the decision, and I felt myself straighten defiantly against that label. I wasn’t a child, and I deserved to know what was going on, so I could protect our coven as much as anyone else.
“She’s a teenager,” she corrected, and for once I wasn’t opposed to the grating voice of the old crone, “You’ve done more than enough to say you’ve done your best for the girl’s mother. Her visions say nothing about guarding her past coming of age, and she is nearly nineteen.”
“We should send her back to her kind,” another mage from a neighboring coven added, “or bind her so that we can focus on keeping this side of the gate warded from harm. There is no telling if the queens have decided to seek a peaceful resolution with humans, centuries for us are barely noticed by the fae.”
I only recognized this mage from the previous Brigid Day Tournament as one of the judges.
The whole coven held a show of skills to honor Brigid, who helped seal the gates across the land leading to Faery, during the first war between mortals and fae. It was how Brigid received her scar in battle against the fae, her magic was revered as saintly, and she was considered to be a goddess able to seal gateways, considerably hindering the war between Faery, and saving countless lives.
No other mage had ever been able to do what she could. To this day no one in Faery or the Mortal Realm have been able to undo her wards on the gateways to Faery. She was legendary, though most humans outside of the covens celebrated her without knowing the full story.
Magic wasn’t something humans accepted easily, and most of her legends have been lost out of fear of what they didn’t understand. But to me, Brigid was more than a myth, a legend, a saint; she was the epitome of bravery that I strived to achieve, sacrificing herself to save not only her coven, but all humans, and fae that would have killed her happily because of what they didn’t understand about her.
From some stories I’d heard, even the coven rejected her before the war. I felt a kindredness with Brigid.
Councilor Hemz, the mage wishing for me to be sent to Faery, away from the coven I’d grown up with, had seemed friendly enough, presenting me with the founder’s relic to be brought back to our coven when we won the tournament. It was a surprise that even she wanted me sent away.
This was more serious than I’d once thought, and as much as I needed to know more about what I had to do with any of this, I couldn’t let the fae leave here with any important information. I had to come out, and make sure the council knew they had a spy before they talked about any strategies they had about preventing a second war with the fae.
“This is much too short-sighted.” My dad shook his head. “There may have to be a future where the gates are monitored instead of blocked, if they have found a way around our wards then giving them Nessa could be more dangerous than protecting her. Who’s to say what they will do with her, she is my daughter…” his voice cracked.
The hag sounded more sympathetic in her next approach, “You are a fine father, to both of those children. As long as no one knows the full vision her mother saw then our people are safe, and it’s within reason to believe Nessa should be too. She hasn’t developed her mother’s gifts of sight, so it’s unlikely the queens will find any use for her, but until they know for themselves that she is not a seer she will be hunted. Understand Corey, what’s best for the coven is also what is best for your daughter.
“Send her to court, they can evaluate her, and their curiosity appeased she will be safe as long as they don’t know who her real father is.”
“I am her real father,” his voice raised, and he never yelled ever, even when there were times I thought he would have.
“Her biological father, Grand Magus Lewyn,” she softened her tone, knowing she’d crossed a line with my dad. And all thought of was, they must have been lying. I couldn’t accept that he wasn’t mine, that some deadbeat was out there that never tried to find me. A sense of abandonment returned. Both of my parents were gone… I shook my head.
No, he was my dad, and he’d always been there for me. Even now, he fought for me. After learning about hereditary traits, I knew, but I didn’t really know. It was different hearing it so black and white, so concrete, and final.
“Safe or not, we would never see her again. The fae will keep her regardless.”
Purdey nodded her agreement, undeterred by this knowledge. Chey held me possessively to tell me she wouldn’t let it happen, she wouldn’t let them take me. But all the while, I couldn’t quite process the main reveal of the conversation… I was fae.
I touched the top of my ears, and didn’t feel any different, they were round like any other human.
Ms. Greyol, our teacher, was a proponent for mastering one skill well over being adequate at many. If you can be the best at one thing, you’ll never have to worry about your future in the coven. There will always be someone who’d rather receive their magic from us versus another coven because we pride ourselves on producing mages of specialty.
But everyone knew a specialty didn’t mean a mage couldn’t perform basic casts of different natures. Ms. Greyol made all the mages practice all callings to search for what they had a talent for, all except for me.
Casting wasn’t my specialty, in any nature or category.
I was a dud when it came to magic crafting.
If I was fae, then why did I suck at magic? According to the coven all fae were dangerously magical.
Reaching down to my boots, I plucked the small blade I stored for emergencies knowing this was my time to show the council members they could rely on me. Finally, my combat training could be put to use. I would protect them.
Protect them from the fae just outside this closet.
“She doesn’t belong here, you knew when you took her into your home that she would have to go back.”
The fae warrior was still focused on the members outside of the office, and hadn’t looked towards where I hid behind an old window shutter leading to a closet. I was actually thankful the coven had been sentimental about repurposing the old town hall into the renovation years ago. The closet resembled more of a superfluous wall decoration than a closet, which was probably why most forgot about it, leaving their old coats to rot and mold.
I took a deep breath, it wasn’t clean or pleasant, but necessary. Nodding to Chey, she eased back recognizing I intended to go after the intruder. Clasping her hand, I squeezed in a silent plea for her to stay behind, safe with the dust bunnies. I couldn’t chance that the fae was also after her, it would be smart of them to take out the next generation that would secure the wards on the gateways to Faery.
Chey pressed her eyes closed summoning her magic to cast a personal ward around my body, the warmth settled on my skin like a comfortable blanket. My ability let me feel the intention was protection. Because it was so quickly cast, and on my person versus an object, I probably only had a few deferred hits, or only one caster block depending on how strong his magic was. My sister was strong, but her magic had its limits when hastily cast, and no time to prepare, she wasn’t as trained as the coven council leaders.
“Not like this,” my father paced the room, “it’s too risky, her training isn’t finished. She hasn’t aw–“
“She’s ready,” Ms. Greywal said, when I was her worst student. Magic was not my specialty, how could she say I was ready? “She just needs to remember what I’ve taught her.”
Blade in each hand, I prepared one beside my head to throw. Ryn Hesam taught me how to aim. Until it was perfect, but what I didn’t know was based on the distance whether the dagger would smack him in the neck with the pointy end or the handle. It was hard to tell, and he looked more like ten feet away, so I adjusted the dagger to hold it by the blade instead of the hilt to change the rotation. I’d done enough target practice to be fairly certain, but I usually threw more with instinct than anything else, and I was usually right. I had to be right.
Before grabbing my dagger, I tucked the crystal into Chey’s pocket while she was distracted. It was a proximity charm, so once I left the closet, she would still be hidden, and I would be revealed. I’d never been against an opponent that might not stop when the duel was won, and the way he held his large knife showed me he wasn’t a stranger to using it.
I was ready, I repeated Greywal’s words in my mind.
Shoving my nerves aside, I launched myself from the closet, and threw the blade at the warrior’s neck.
All eyes of the council switched from my father to me.
That moment of split focus had those electric blue eyes of the fae twinkling in recognition like he knew me. He didn’t seem upset at all as a weapon was flung at him, because he had lifted his own knife up in time to block the attack.
There wasn’t enough time to react, to be pleased the knife would have landed pointy end first, before I felt the warmth of magic surrounding me flicker and fade. The protection ward broke.
Flung backward, I slammed sideways into the bookshelves. My whole body ached with the impact. My skull cracked into shutter doors next to the shelves. Council members were on me so fast my limbs fell like sacks of sand heavy with disabling magic, and my second dagger fell from my fingertips to the floor in a clatter.
I watched helplessly as the fae warrior grinned down at me with sharp teeth, his work made easier by the council’s confusion. He scooped me up in his arms, and now so close to him it was more obvious how large he was compared to me. His shoulders were broad, and muscular, and he lifted me like I was the air itself, despite the added weight of casting magic making me feel like I was full of rocks. I never asked whether the casting actually made me heavier, or if it was merely a cast making the body feel like it was, but the fae warrior wasn’t deterred either way.
My head rolled back over his arm, and I watched as Chey burst from the closet screaming for the council to stop attacking. It was all the distraction the fae intruder needed to escape, quickly bounding past the council in one leap, and out the opened double doors the next. He was fast, and stealthy in his movements. Were all the fae like him? Would humans have a chance if the queens decided to continue the war from centuries ago?
I was just thankful that Chey would be safe. He wasn’t after her, and even if he was I’d gladly take her place.
I watched as my father whipped his head around towards the opened doors to see me disappear from sight. He looked devastated, and it was so potent I could feel it aching through my body. It broke my heart I had made him feel such pain, and though I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he wasn’t biologically mine, his pain was real, and so was his love.
The hag was the best among the local covens for her disabling casts, and I knew it could be a full day before I could use my limbs again, even with such hasty casting. Until then, I was at the mercy of a mysterious fae warrior, who was talented enough to block a flying dagger by surprise, and avoid the most powerful casts of our coven during their distraction to escape unharmed. The only comfort I had was in knowing he hadn’t stayed long enough to overhear anything damaging, and according to the hag, as long as I was gone from the coven… they were safe.
But, if he took me to Faery, I would never see home again, dad, or Chey. If I really was fae, then I would be bound to their laws and the wards our coven worked so hard to maintain would keep me from ever returning, even if I was able to escape the warrior, and find a gateway. There were a lot of ifs, and for being fae I was remarkably untalented at magic.
Those dazzling blue eyes stared down at me, and with a strange bit of compassion he adjusted his hold to prop my head against his chest, holding me close so my body didn’t flop around as much. It was certainly uncomfortable to have my heavy body be jostled as he quickly carried me out of town, and into the forest.
It isn’t until your muscles are useless do you truly realize what they do for you without a second thought. With his new hold on me, my body pressed into his firm chest, I could smell the forest on him. Held tight enough that everything stayed in place, while we both blurred past the trees, there was also a hint of spice that was comforting. I could almost fall asleep like this if it weren’t for the circumstances of knowing with every leap I was farther away from my home.
He was taking me towards the local ruins the coven used to celebrate spring. In the center of the ruins was an old well tourists would throw coins into to grant their wishes. Of course there weren’t any casts on the well that would grant them anything.
One of my classmates thought it was funny to cast a transfer object spell on the inside of the well to collect the coins, until he was caught, and told by the elders any cast used near the well could interfere with the protective barriers there. He got in a lot of trouble, and when I realized the fae warrior was heading straight for the well, I knew it was one of the few remaining gateways the council was talking about.
How did he come through to begin with? I’d ask him, but my tongue refused to work. Not even my lips would part, my jaw was so stiff. The most I could do was create a strange garbled choking sound to express my displeasure at where I knew he was heading. Certainly, an attractive first impression to drool on him in an effort to speak. It was stupid to think about that. First impressions for what? I wasn’t going to date the beast of a man.
He thought it was funny, not that he chuckled or anything. I just knew he did by the way his eyes sparkled in triumph at having apprehended me. It was convenient for him the hag disabling me instead of him, and I wasn’t sure if it was my noises that were humorous, or the fact that the coven made his job easier. All I knew was he had what he wanted, and I was surprised that what he wanted was me. I served myself cooked, and seasoned for him to take, and he thought it was laughable that my whole life was falling apart at the seams.
“You must be scared,” his voice was deep and silky. I found myself disgusted I’d think about that while he kidnapped me away from everything I knew if most of them didn’t want me there, the ones that mattered did.
“They’ve brainwashed you into thinking Faery is a horrible place with monstrous fae that seek to destroy mortals. You’ll find that as soon as we arrive those fears will fade, and Faery will welcome you to your real home. I will not attest to all fae, some really are monsters, but the same could be said of the ones your coven chooses to protect.”
I grumbled in response, wanting to say none of them were kidnapping me, so he didn’t have a firm footing to stand on with his claims. He was the only fae I knew, and he was already skewing the balance in a distasteful direction by spying, and taking me against my will.
Fae were known to be untrustworthy, which was saying something considering they were also known to be creatures of truth, since they are true to their words, as long as you make them swear to it. But you didn’t have to lie to say things untruthful by manipulating the conversation.
My kidnapper had yet to inform me what I should call him. There were no introductions, and I was unable to ask. All I knew about him was that he was fae, able to handle a weapon, extremely fast, able to carry me like it was nothing while bounding through the forest, and for some reason decided today was a great day to take me with him to Faery.
I can’t say I haven’t wondered what Faery was like, but this wasn’t how I intended to find out. With a final leap the uncomfortably handsome kidnapper launched us into the old well. All I could do was watch wide eyed as we fell, unable to scream, only a rush of air escaped my lips, and that was muffled into his chest as he held me close.
He chanted something under his breath and a bright light enveloped us. My whole body tingled and a warmth of something I’d never experienced before washed over me. Like the very air was welcoming me in a familiar hug.
I let out a soft sigh.
“It never gets old,” he remarked taking in a deep breath to let it sink in.
The magic of Faery.
I knew Faery existed, but it wasn’t on my radar how such a place would change my world forever. When Faery was involved, nothing was simple, and even if the coven rejected me I could have been the master of my own future in the city as a civilian, blissfully unaware of what was beyond the veil. Sipping coffee, studying whatever it was I might have been interested in learning to do with the rest of my life if I didn’t know about magic. That was… until Faery’s problems became my own.
If I wanted to have any future at all…
I’d just have to become a magician.
But that was harder said than done, because I sucked at magic. Not sweet lollipop kind of suck, the kind where facing off with a caster left me dangling limply in the arms of fae warrior kind of suck.
My specialty did nothing to save me.
And if I felt the magic of Faery that only meant one thing… I may never see Chey, my dad, or the coven again.
Chapter Two – Hudson
The retrieval was never supposed to take this long. I’d practiced making my way through the wards plenty of times, and this time was no different, if anything I was faster than I’d ever been before. Following her trail was intoxicating, and I couldn’t get to her fast enough. Then I saw her.
Blades in hand, tumbling on the ground and targeting with perfect aim. Her black hair was pulled back, and I had to be mistaken about who she was. Round petite ears, and striking green eyes that didn’t match her features if she was a fae at all. When she smiled at her progress, it was like staring at sunshine, and couldn’t possibly be like me. In training, and in battle my sharp fangs wouldn’t be able to keep themselves from betraying the monster that I was inside.
She couldn’t have been fae, no other sun or moon fae looked like her, and there were no signs of our particular nature about her. The queen was certain when she sent me, that the seers had a vision of a faeling nearing her first awakening that must be brought home immediately. The magic of faery was definitely here, I could taste it. I followed it here, to her, but this was a coven. I’d never found a fae among mages before, their magic could be messing with my tracking, and human magic was more difficult to sense.
It could be anyone here at the coven.
It couldn’t be her.
But that didn’t stop me from following her, watching her.
Snarling, I fought back my urge to yank one of the mages aside that had blatantly insulted her for something to do with her magic. That very night I had intended to pay a visit to his quarters, but she’d beaten me to it. Throwing a butter knife through his open window that had narrowly missed him, making me only momentarily disappointed before realizing that her intended target was actually the late night snack that was in his hand, now pinned to the wall. The force alone that it would take to make a butter knife stick into the wood was impressive, but the look on the man’s face was satisfactorily annoyed. Which, oddly enough, pleased me greatly.
I had intended a much more serious approach, solidly ruining my plans to remain hidden until I found the fae I was looking for. Plus, I had no way of knowing the extent of any of these mage’s abilities. I was known to be a little irrational, and headstrong in assignments, but instinct had kept me alive this long so I’d have to listen to that gut caution when it spoke to me.
Still, I watched her. Kept coming back to her. The one they called Nessa.
It was obvious after a week that the coven didn’t appreciate her warrior spirit. Every day, she’d train. And she was good. Theoretically good that was, practically, none of her practice was in true combat style. Her trainer was not preparing her for action, but skill only. All skill can be lost in the heat of a moment, and there were not enough stressors placed in her way to insure her mind remained clear when she really needed it.
I’d have to do something about that. Shaking my head to clear it, I didn’t know where that thought had come from. She wouldn’t be coming back with me. And even if she did, life with a guard was not what most women wanted. I had to get back to the assignment, find the fae, return her, and move on. How did I know it was a her? I didn’t, but I guessed I still held out hope that the reason I kept coming back to her was because she was who I came for, and not because I’d lost my mind.
There was something happening around the coven, and even Nessa was on to it. Elders from all over were gathering, and I had to find the fae before the darkness burned out the light as the forest witch would say. That batty fae never spoke straight, and it was because of her that I wouldn’t be the only one looking for the lost fae. It wouldn’t be the safest journey back home when I finally did go back. Why was it taking me so long to do this assignment? I’d have already searched their records, and scoured ever home by now. Was it because they were mages that I hesitated?
No. I knew why.
I was thinking with the wrong head, and I needed to refocus.
That’s what I would do today.
There was a particularly frequented building in the center of town, that I’d seen most of the prominent mages go in and out of. I’d start there for answers. My wards should be fine for another day or two, keeping me hidden from any sensory casts. Being only half fae had it’s advantages. At least in the field it did, at home it was a different matter.
The damned door to the building was loud enough to make me pause, it hadn’t been greased in ages. Not even a little magic here and there to keep this place from ruin. As I surveyed the building I’d surmised most of it was re-salvaged parts, and though recently put back together, still very much smelling of mildew and rot. Crinkling my nose, I wondered why they’d spend the effort to repair a building with wood clearly already on its last legs unless they planned on using magic to finish the job, which they obviously hadn’t gotten around to.
Back to business, there were a few points of entry to the building: where I’d entered, and some windows. An office in the back seemed like the best place to start to uncover information. A small desk, and an unusual amount of paperwork scattered around. There was no need to print so much paper, not that Faery really used paper to begin with, but the mortal realm had advanced considerably in the last century. Whatever the reason, they were confident in the wards around their perimeter or there was nothing of value here to leave it so exposed. There was no harm in double checking to make sure, so I sifted through the desk only to be distracted with that same familiar squeak of the front doors.
I ducked below the window of the office, knife at ready. The charm should still hide my presence, so I shouldn’t have to worry about it, but in my line of work, you could never be too careful. I’d only retrieved a few fae from the mortal realm so far, they were all happy to find a way back home so that they’d live longer. Being away from Faery had its toll to pay. Though there were a few that hadn’t wanted to return, and I’d taken longer to track another so as not to raise any suspicion. But it was the recovery of a fae called Robert that crept into my mind listening to the mages settle themselves.
Robert didn’t know what he was, young, and afraid after a local coven was sent to dispose of him. He didn’t know why, and I’d found him nearly starved to death instinctively curled upon himself in the forest. The mortal realm didn’t understand us, and the unknown breeds fear, and sometimes… war.
My ears perked up at the sound of Nessa’s name.
“…or bind her so we can focus on…”
They were talking about binding her… She was fae. Momentary relief filled me knowing she would be going home with me; registration at what they were saying hit me, it wasn’t safe here for her. I had to concentrate on not strangling that mage to snuff out the very thought of binding a fae.
A death sentence. Again the covens were seeking to harm another fae. Not just any fae. Nessa. My teeth flashed at the thought. We couldn’t stay here any longer, I had to grab her before it was too late, before they got to her first.
My nose filled with her scent, she smelled of flowers after a fresh rain, snapping my attention in front of me instead of the conversation behind the wall I pressed against. Her green eyes were determined and fiery making me smile as soon as I saw she was actually here with me. Luck was on my side, I didn’t have to search for her, but even if I had, I knew all the spots she’d likely be. On instinct my dagger came up to my throat, and the clang of metal bounced off the blade. On the recoil the blade nicked my skin, not deep enough to draw blood with how fast I healed, but enough to know that her aim was true, and no matter how fast I healed that would have been difficult to recover from if I hadn’t blocked it.
I should have been offended that she threw her weapon at me, but the joy at knowing she was alright, and that I would be taking her home with me was too strong to care. If anything, I was impressed that she was able to sneak up on me, and land a hit. Training with her weapon aside, she was still unawakened, based on the mages placing her in school with their own children, and that showed how strong she was to be able to catch me off guard.
Grabbing her dagger, I sheathed it in my belt, only to regret that momentary choice to gain her favor by offering her weapon back against the immediate need to bring her to safety.
A slight glow shimmered around her like an aura, and it flickered out instantly. Her body seized up before my eyes, making my blood pump faster to protect her. I only had a few wards on me just in case I ran into mages, meeting a whole coven of them wasn’t really in my plans. I’d have to be quick. Nessa’s body fell limp just as I reached her. Scooping her up into my arms, I braced myself to feel the impact of a few choice crafting offenses before jumping through the glass window out the back of the office. I had to weigh the benefits of jumping through back or front first, either way I’d be exposing Nessa’s body to either the sharp glass or the mages, but I didn’t feel any magic being used against me yet. So, I chanced breaking through the glass with the back of my shoulder, so that only I would take the cuts, none of them would hurt too much with my healing. The bet was effective, but I watched as I flew backwards, hearing the glass shatter, that the mages turned on one of their own. A young girl screaming, and an older man covering her. The rest of the coven watched me, not a one attempting to stop me from taking Nessa. There was one mage in particular, and older woman, that smiled at me, and then turned away.
I hit the ground, still cradling Nessa in my arms, she was unmoving, frozen and not knowing what magic was cast on her I had to get her to Faery as fast as possible. The farther she was from the mage that cast it, the weaker the magic would be, and I’d be able to protect her from the mages that cared so little for her. I’d forgotten all about the danger that awaited her in Faery, there were too many fae worried about a war, listening to bits and pieces of prophecy in the seer’s visions. Would I have still taken her if the mages hadn’t blinded me with rage at having cast magic on her? I may never know, but the next best thing I could do now was make sure she’d have the best life possible, in Faery.
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Thank you for reading the first chapter of Heart of Darkness!
BLOODY Updates what a year!
I know I’m not the only one when I say, “WHEW, what a year!” And Covid has kicked everyone’s butts. Some of those into gear, some on the ground, and others into reflection.
We’ve lost, we’ve grown, and we’ve overcome.
There is yet more still to come of all of that, but I did not waste an ounce of free time, the very little I had to make sure I was write, write, writing. Though, I must admit I was also distracted with homeowner duties, kiddo duties, and some adjustment life pains.
Without further ado, the moment you’ve been waiting for (at least if you’re here then you’ve totally been waiting for this, and I apologize for the wait.)
Blood Queen, the third installment of the Divine Series, has been completed, but still needs revisions.
To confess, the draft has been finished for a while, but I’ve set it aside not completely satisfied with something I believed was missing from the story, but I couldn’t place my finger on just what.
In the meantime I’ve been plugging away at multiple projects, and you’ll be pleasantly rewarded for the wait between publications, because I’ve finished three separate books since then, and they too will be going through editing soon. A fantasy fae lands series, a sci-fi fantasy magical alien parallel world series, and a Greek mythology reimagination untold modern gods and monsters series. I’m debating which one of these series to ship to agents versus which two I’m shipping straight to your eyeballs. Make sure you’re signed up for the newsletter on Mailchimp to keep posted on reveals, snippets and releases.
Back to my confession, Blood Queen, is scheduled to be sent to the Street Team in the next month. They will have one month to read the ARC and give any suggestions, and then… BOOM, quick double check, and then at your fingertips by end of October 2021.
Then a long overdue formatting and setup for the print versions, for all you lovers of the feel of paper and print, and the sweet sound of crisp pages being flipped, and the ever present debate over folded dogear corners, bookmarks, or spine benders. I look forward to seeing the photos of how you enjoy reading your books.
I do have paper books still, but I admit most of my reading is on my phone with a pair of blue-light glasses on. According to my Kindle Statistics, or Reading Insights. I’m at 28 books read in 2021, and a little over half way through the year I’m feeling pretty good about having a healthy balance between writing, life-ing, and reading. Though, I’m sure it might not feel that way with how long I’ve prolonged book three of the Divine Series, but I hope to make it up to you all.
I have some spots open for the Street Team, and if you want to get in on the Blood Queen ARC then be sure to sign up for the newsletter to look out for the opportunity to join while those slots are still open.
Here’s a little teaser of Blood Queen:
Her fingernail lengthened, sharpening to a point before cutting the bandage from my neck.
“You won’t be needing this… for now.” The underlying threat so thick I could choke.
My hand went to my neck, and where it was sore and healing moments before, it was smooth skin. The punctures were gone, healed over, not even a scab in its place.
“You healed me… ” I couldn’t trust her kindness, even if she was helping me now there was something in her eyes that told me none of this was for me. Everything in me said to keep my guard up. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why does anyone do anything?” She lifted a brow, and then broke eye contact with me. All of a sudden I felt like a cast around my muscles had broken. Stiff and in protest I stumbled forward into her ready arms, and back towards that wicked smile.
She was responsible. I didn’t know how, but I knew there was something powerful in her gaze. I quickly averted my eyes. “You’ve already had my blood, if I wanted you to look into my eyes again you would, and happily at that. We can do this the nice way, or I can let Luaswa deal with you himself.” I shivered at the sound of his name, all the way down to my bones chilling. She knew she had me, this place wasn’t like any place I was used to. I needed more information before I could figure out a way to get back on track.
This was only temporary, I’d remind myself.
Then why did I feel a great sense of foreboding…
Chrystal is in a completely new territory, and she isn’t alone. Trapped in the Trial Grounds, she must figure out how to release her mother from the astral plane, find the talisman to stop the Council from abusing their power, and she must accept who she is to even have a chance at surviving as more than a sacrifice for the coming prophesy.
Stay tuned for Blood Queen.
And as always, without you my world would be small, and only I would hear the stories in my head. Thank you for being part of the journey of my fantasies.
Until next time my voices,
Blood is on the Horizon!
A few updates, as well as a sneak peek at the upcoming title BLOOD QUEEN, book three. Haven’t read the previous books see their sneak peeks in previous posts. Blood Crescent and Blood Rebirth.
Voted 2019 Best Indie Book top 20. Blood Crescent made it to number 18, and Blood Rebirth was number 9! How exciting! Click the picture to go check out Amy’s website! Thank you Amy and to all those who voted for the Divine Series.
Blood Queen is on the horizon!
I’d like to apologize to everyone who has been waiting
impatiently patiently for the next book. Previously, I had planned on it being released already. However, being a new mom has delayed things more than I had anticipated. You go into it thinking, babies sleep a lot so I should have plenty of time to get things all together. Then you have a baby and realize that it’s not one lump sum of sleep, you’re on constant duty because their sleep patterns are all over the place, and they need to feed constantly. Who knew? Every parent ever, but they don’t warn you… oh no, they don’t warn you about this, because then the human race would go extinct, and there is a sick twisted part in every person that wishes the same fate on others because they too had to go through that fate.
Fast forward a few months and mom life is actually pretty great, even with the lack of sleep, but now I’m getting a rhythm down, and can squeeze in my writing time, editing time, and of course UPDATE time to chat with you all. Want to get exclusive sneak peeks, and monthly updates from me? Please sign up for my newsletter, and all the goodies are yours.
My goodies bring all the readers to the emails, and I’m like it’s got to be good. Damn right, it’s going to be good. I can show you, but you have to join! Yes, I brought back 2004 Milkshake and I swear I will have my child dancing to this song in the future too, it’s that entertaining.
Now, on to the sneak peek of BLOOD QUEEN.
Eat Your Heart Out
Brandy saw a vision of my death, I know she did. It’s why she pushed me away and treated me like an insect, didn’t want me to get close to her. Didn’t want to see me die. Or didn’t want to care when it happened. We were separated now, I knew that much, but if her diviner magic was right then I would be seeing her again soon enough. Though now I debated whether I wanted to face what horrors she saw in her visions.(more…)
Sneak Peek: Blood Rebirth Chapter 1 – 3
I’m not going to lie to you, not yet, but what’s true or not is for you to decide. Half expecting to be arrested and turned into the council, never to be seen or heard from again, still lingered in the forefront of my mind. I was labeled an anomaly the guardians were sent to dispose of.
All of this led me to where I was now, needing to find my mother before the council realized the person they’d been hunting was right next to them, shaking their hand and saying, ‘Hello, teach me all of your magical ways.’
“State of what?” I looked at the blue slime Professor Divine was pushing into my skin with her glowing hands. It felt like my insides were on fire, icy fire. The goop was being excreted from her fingertips and massaged in bubbles, my skin concave as she pressed in until suddenly the blue jelly popped and burned. (more…)