The unknown figure’s back was to them as he connected the wires to the detonator. Will shoved Tom. Only minutes remained.
They located the last connection point where the blasting caps were wired to two sticks of dynamite. The wires to the plunger snaked up the hill. The connecting strands were twisted, tightly, as with pliers. Tom snatched a rock, but Will grabbed his hand and pointed up the hill. Tom understood. The man would hear the pounding. They each took a twisted connection and tried to pry it apart with their fingers. They would need to break only one.
The wires resisted. Tom gritted his teeth, then remembered his pocket knife. He pulled it out, flipped the blade open, and wedged the tip between two strands. He twisted and the blade snapped. The sound startled the man. He whirled around and stared directly at the boys. Tom forced the broken blade into the gap in the wires. Will put his finger on top of one and pulled as Tom twisted. Blood ran down Will’s hand as the metal bit into his finger. They strained, and watched the man. His eyes darted in all directions. Then he made his decision. He pulled the plunger up, hesitated a moment, and slammed it down.
The unknown figure’s back was to them as he connected the wires to the detonator. Will shoved Tom. Only minutes remained.
Ashra pushed past the blackness at the start of his memories, expecting deeper darkness. Instead, the colors shifted into shades of ochre and gray. Memories, older than his body, resided in his soul; memories of an Earth long since lost to them—a planet surrounded and nourished by water; images of tall buildings glistening beneath a benevolent sun, and of thriving cities filled with the bustle of humans; memories of quiet and intimate conversations beneath a silver moon, the same silver moon that now graced Malum Turris with its light, though a thousand years older and viewed only from beneath the protection of the dome.
She saw herself as he must have seen her, a much-younger icrathari, still hopeful for the future, never realizing that the Earth they had all known and loved was irretrievably lost. Had she ever looked that vulnerable? Had her smile ever been so beautiful, so filled with love as she looked upon—
“Rohkeus?” Oh, blessed Creator, was that stricken whisper her voice?
Ashra pulled back and stared at the human. Her mouth dropped open. Her heart pounded in her chest, its beat erratic. It couldn’t be. It simply couldn’t be—
She looked up at Tera. The other icrathari nodded.
Rohkeus’s soul reborn…in a human.
Ashra threw her head back and laughed, a despairing sound.
Elsker stepped forward. The sole male icrathari was slightly taller than the female icrathari, and dressed in a black silk shirt and linen pants. His silver hair was cropped short, and his light blue eyes were wide. “Rohkeus reborn? That’s impossible.”
Siri shrugged, her red gown shifting around her curvaceous frame. Her silver hair, cut short, framed her face. “Stranger things have happened.” Her pale violet gaze raked over the human. “At least he had the good sense to choose a pretty body.”
Ashra shook her head, the movement jolting her out of her daze. Her prince, her love, reduced to a human? Her slender fingers coiled into fists. Her golden eyes glittering, she pushed away from him, though her body trembled from the loss of his warmth. No, the human was not Rohkeus; he could never be Rohkeus.
Steeling herself against the gasp of pain that escaped from his lips as the anesthetizing effect of her kiss faded, Ashra rose to her feet with sinuous grace. “He is not one of us. Not anymore.” Nothing had been more devastating than losing Rohkeus to a human assassin. To see his soul reborn in that contemptible and weak race was an insult to the person Rohkeus had been.
“Should we turn him into a vampire?” Tera asked.
“Kill him. Set Rohkeus’s soul free.”
Siri seized Ashra’s hand before she could turn away. Siri’s lips, painted the same provocative color as her dress, shaped an O. “You’re not serious. How many people are offered a second chance at the love of a lifetime?”
A second chance? Her traitorous pulse raced even as her lips curled with disgust. “He’s human.”
“We can make him immortal—a vampire.”
Ashra swallowed hard. “But not an icrathari.”
Siri’s gaze fell. “No, of course not.”
“You can’t.” Siri stepped forward, placing herself between Ashra and the barely conscious human.
“This is amazing. It’s never happened before—a soul reborn.”
“Rohkeus is dead, and I rule Aeternae Noctis.” She turned to Tera. “I told you to kill him.”
Tera hesitated for a fraction of a second, and then she shook her head. “I won’t do it, and neither will Siri or Elsker. If you want him dead, you’ll have to do it yourself.”
E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Smashwords
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jade Kerrion developed a loyal reader base with her fan fiction series based on the MMORPG Guild Wars. She was accused of keeping her readers up at night, distracting them from work, housework, homework, and (far worse), from actually playing Guild Wars. And then she wondered why just screw up the time management skills of gamers? Why not aspire to screw everyone else up too?
So here she is, writing books that aspire to keep you from doing anything else useful with your time.
Her debut novel, Perfection Unleashed, spawned the Double Helix series which has won a total of seven science fiction awards, including first place in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2012 and the gold medal in Readers Favorites Awards 2013. She is also the author of Earth-Sim and When the Silence Ends, which placed first and second respectively in the 2013 Royal Palm Literary Awards, Young Adults category.
She lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her wonderfully supportive husband and her two young sons, Saint and Angel, (no, those aren’t their real names, but they are like saints and angels, except when they’re not.)
Connect with Jade: Website / Facebook / Twitter
Chiku couldn’t help stare at the large bulge that was Rebecca’s baby-to-be. It made her reflect upon the gynecological exam Dr. Kessel had just given her. At sixteen, she couldn’t imagine being anyone’s mother, except maybe a chimpanzee’s. Rebecca was only fourteen, an eighth grader back home, a middle schooler. How could she be a mother? Yet even in wealthy well-educated America girls in their mid-teens were getting knocked up all the time, having their babies, and changing their lives in ways unpredictable and permanent. Not Chiku. Boys could go to hell.
“When was the last time you saw him?” Chiku asked.
“Two week. Three week. He ask me how my baby doing. I tell him, fine. He give me twenty francs. He always give me money.”
“And that was it?” Chiku gazed at Tim who was still holding all of the things she had given him from her buried stash. “What about Dr. Fisher? Do you know why he’d be in my dad’s house?”
Rebecca dipped her head in thought then gave out with a startled grunt as the baby inside her gave a hefty kick. “Soon,” she said, “Any day my Abasi.” Then she staggered against Chiku.
“You okay? Maybe she’s coming out now.” Chiku was aghast.
“No. No. He. Not yet. No water.”
“Well, you can’t stand here. You have to sit, Rebecca. In the shade.”
Chiku pulled the pregnant girl into the cooler cover of the banana tree. “You want water? Something to drink?”
Rebecca leaned against the tree rather than risk getting herself into a position from which she couldn’t rise. She panted, holding a hand against her belly, Chiku watching that hand move not of its own volition but due to the child inside raring to get going with life.
Not for me, Chiku thought.
Rebecca said, “I okay.”
“When the water break, then we know.”
“Know what?” Chiku asked.
“That the baby is coming,” Tim said. He placed his hands on his friend’s shoulders. They were trembling as if she were the one about to go into labor. “Honestly, Chiku, what do they teach you in Brookline, Massachusetts?”
“How to avoid reality.”
Chiku took Rebecca’s hand. It was cool and sweaty and on her ring finger she was wearing something that looked awfully familiar to Chiku. “Nice,” she said. “Amethyst. My color. My ring, actually. How’d you get it?”
“Your father give me.”
“Cool. It matches your dress.”
Chiku didn’t care that it was an old ring, one that she had either lost or forgotten some distant time in the past and that probably couldn’t even fit her fingers anymore. She just wondered why her father would have given this particular girl this particular ring.
“I think they kill him,” she said.
“What?” Chiku’s eyes darted from the purple colored ring to the black face of the Hutu teenager.
“They were mad mad.”
“Fisher. Your father. Dr. Kessel. They all mad. And the others.”
“What others?” Chiku asked. “Does Colonel Fundanga know?”
“Colonel Fundanga one of them,” Rebecca said. “I keep quiet. Bad enough in the camp. I don’t want to die.”
Rebecca let out a long breath, took in a deep mouthful of air, and let out her discomfort once again. Then she smiled at Chiku before saying, “They come for you next. You his daughter.”
Visit to a Blue Amber Mine
As Tara alighted from the vehicle, she found herself facing a ghostly white haze of wispy, low-lying clouds that hung as if suspended in time above the undulating hilltops. The peaks rose from the variegated emerald and olive valley below and stretched into the distance amid a virginal mixture of lush equatorial undergrowth. She drew a deep, involuntary breath.
‘Wow!’ There were no other words to describe the feeling of awe-inspired privilege that washed over her. The vista was about as far removed from Central Park as a New York city skyscraper was from the little pastel coloured huts lining the Carretera Turística.
Aurelio smiled. Intuitively, he seemed to understand that the most appropriate response to this magnificent sight was silence. It was a full two minutes before Tara gathered her thoughts.
‘Let’s get going,’ she said.
They made their way carefully—gingerly climbing over dead logs, negotiating their way around rocky outcrops, and grabbing onto available plant life to steady themselves as they walked and stumbled their way towards the valley below. On either side of the track, a mixture of tall, fronded plants grew in an array of shapes and sizes beside stunted and gnarled old trees with deep green foliage. Tara thought of the trees like friendly bystanders, their leafy branches protectively shading Aurelio and her from much of the glaring sunshine above. They came across a trickling stream, which they followed for a while; Tara ever mindful and vigilant, watching for any sign of wildlife in the undergrowth. Except for the background humming of insects, the occasional noisy squawking of a flock of parrots flying past overhead and, once, the silent imprint of a shoe sole on the muddy banks of the stream, they seemed to be alone.
Then, in a clearing, they came across a group of young men standing seemingly relaxed and chatting. A few feet away, under a lean-to made of branches and palm fronds, one of them squatted while cooking something on a small paraffin or gas stove. Aurelio and Tara had arrived at the mine.
Again, there was a short conversation in Spanish. Again, there was a wrinkling of noses followed by broad smiles of understanding and agreement. There were also some side comments and laughter amongst the men. The word ‘gringa’—foreigner from America—came up a couple of times. Tara thought she also heard the words ‘bonita’, and ‘sexual’, but she couldn’t be sure. She decided to keep a slight distance for the time being. They were in the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest civilization.
Aurelio walked back towards her. ‘They will be happy to show you around, but we should remember our time limitations. We cannot spend more that half an hour here if we are to return to Santo Domingo before dark.’
‘Are you trying to protect me from these guys?’ she asked with a smile. Aurelio looked embarrassed.
‘What’s he cooking?’ she asked to change the subject. ‘It smells great.’
‘That is called arroz con abichuelas, a mixture of rice and beans. He is probably cooking some small pieces of beef with it, but it could be any meat.’
‘Can one buy that in a restaurant in Santo Domingo?’
‘Of course, but not exactly the same. This is a local dish for locals. To sell food like this to tourists would be like offering leftovers to your guests. It would not be right. In the restaurants it is much more carefully presented and is usually served with salads.’
The word ‘dignity’ popped into Tara’s mind. Aurelio seemed to have it, and that was what she had seen on the faces of the fruit vendor and the amber polisher and, now, even the miners as she approached them. Other than their initial jocularity, they seemed to consider her as their guest and themselves as hosts who happily welcomed visitors into their world. The men were just being men.
As they approached the entrance to the mine, a happy looking miner wearing a backward facing baseball cap sat with a short-handled pick in one hand, a lump of soft rock in the other.
‘Hola, señorita,’ he said, grinning broadly.
She smiled back at him, lifted her hand in greeting, but continued to follow Aurelio to the mine entrance. It was like standing at the entrance to the burrow of a large animal.
The brass doors opened behind her bringing with it an unexpected guest.
“I knew you’d come home.”
Onyx’ heart sank hearing him speak in that gentle voice. He always used that voice when he knew he was wrong; when he was trying to make her forgive him. It felt repulsively sweet now.
“She was just leaving,” Jade said in a firm tone as she turned to face him.
“Nicky, you brought a bodyguard with you? That hurts,” he sounded genuinely insulted.
“Goodbye, Philip.” Onyx said softly, suddenly lacking the confidence she just had.
Philip reached out for her arm, but Jade intercepted the action, grabbing him by the wrist and twisting it until he let out an almost inaudible yelp.
“You will not lay a hand on her. Not now, not ever again. If you so much as brush against her in a way I don’t like, I will break every bone in your body, starting with your pinky toe and ending with your skull.” She twisted just a little further.
But he didn’t lose his composure. He looked Onyx dead in the eye, “Quite a lot of bark for your little Chihuahua of a friend here, huh? Nicky, we don’t need all of this. This running away, the muscle, the hiding out, we are better than this. You know I love you more than anything in the world. Just come home, baby. I need you. It’ll be different, I promise. I’ll start going to therapy like you always wanted. You can even hang out with that crayon haired one. No questions asked. Just come home. What do you say? Come on, I need you.”
“Onyx, don’t you listen to him. Put the bags in the elevator, we’re leaving.”
Onyx hesitated, switching her gaze back and forth between the two. He looked so hurt, so broken up, she just wanted to leap into his arms and console him. For a moment, she could feel her heart ripping in her chest; she believed him. She believed he meant he would change and things would be different. She believed it and she hated herself for it.
Onyx rolled her bags into the elevator before she lost her nerve.
“Goodbye, Philip.” She said again.
“If you love her even half as much as you say, you’ll let us leave here. You’ll leave her alone and move on with your life. But keep the therapy bit, you need it.” Jade winked at him before joining Onyx.
As Jade released his wrist, he noticed a small green marking on her arm; a very familiar mark that he knew all too well.
The girls disappeared down to the ground floor, leaving Philip alone in his flower filled living room. He pulled out his phone and hit speed dial.
“She’s with the Order of Earth. Find out what family, find out who their Protector is, and find out now.”
NEW ORLEANS SEP 4, 2009The Assassin’s voice boomed through the closed double doors to the study for the fifth time since he’d entered the room with Morgan’s Blood Sons, almost five hours before. Marcus cringed as the doors were flung open, and Nicholas strode out, rage radiating from every inch of his six–foot, four–inch frame. Storm–gray eyes landed on Marcus, narrowed to slits, and he stalked past, commanding him to follow with an imperious wave of his right hand. Not wanting to piss the Assassin off more, Marcus bit back a snide comment, and followed him up the sweeping staircase to the mansion’s upper floors.
“Damn it all to hell, Old Man!” Nicholas roared as he began pacing the landing at the top of the stairs. He wanted Marcus to throw himself against his temper to take the edge off.
Ye Gods, Marcus thought, we’ve done this more times than I’d care to count in the centuries we’ve known one another, but this is different. Well, something other than the fact that we’ve barely spoken a civil word to one another in almost two hundred years.
“I take it the boys couldn’t add anything to what we already knew. In spite of the almost five hour interrogation?” Marcus asked, fighting to rein in his own temper, leaning against the banister at the top of the stairs.
“Five hours?” Nicholas stopped moving. He turned to Marcus, meeting his eyes. The other vampire nodded. “It was really that long?”
“Yes. What’s next, Assassin?” Marcus asked, letting some of the frustration he felt give his voice a hard edge. The last thing they needed right now was for Nicholas to go soft.
“We can’t do anything before the sun sets,” he said, after giving Marcus a long, appraising look.
He’s assessed my well–being and decided I’m not fit for the field. I’ve seen that look too many times before and know better than to argue with him, Marcus thought, trying to work out a logical counter argument.
“I haven’t slept.” Nicholas sighed. “You look like death warmed over and those two are rattled.” He nodded toward the room where he’d left the younger vampires.
“Fine.” Marcus nodded. “I took the liberty of having my staff get us some SUVs. If Morgan’s alive, she’s going to need fresh blood. We’re going to need the extra room.” Marcus was almost certain that he didn’t have to mention that, but the desperate look in Nicholas’s eyes led him to believe that there was no such thing as being too careful in this situation.
“She has to be alive, Marcus.”
“We’ll find her.” Marcus answered, feeling like an ass for lying. We both know that the odds suck. This could be nothing more than trying to find her body. Gods, whoever did this is going to pay.
“I have a very bad feeling about this,” the Assassin muttered, looking through Marcus. Nicholas’s mind was turning over what he knew, making connections and searching for others.
“How so?” Marcus asked, prompting Nicholas to think aloud, knowing it helped him make connections he otherwise missed, and it gave Marcus the opportunity to make a few as well.
“The security footage Danny sent over from the club’s parking lot shows Morgan and her attackers, but never their faces.”
“The club has cameras outside?”
“Apparently one of the human staff had some trouble right after the club opened. Morgan had them installed after that.”
“They could have scoped out the cameras. Not too difficult when you know what to look for,” Marcus muttered, his brows drawn together. “Why didn’t anyone see her being attacked, if it was caught on camera? Why are we just learning about this now? Just because she somehow jacked my mind and knocked me flat on my ever–loving ass.” Marcus’s words sped up as he continued, agitation given voice.
“The footage is stored on massive hard drives but not reviewed unless an incident is reported. Since no one reported her disappearance…” Nicholas’s voice trailed off.
“I have a feeling Morgan will be revising that policy when she returns.”
“If she returns.”
The Majestic rose up out of the water in its Liverpool dock with all the glory of its name. Amelia held one hand to her hat and stared at its iron sides, its two dun-colored funnels and three tall masts. The ship was a strange thing to her, a mixture of old and new, progress with hints of the past. It had sails that could be unfurled in a pinch, but with its powerful new engines, the ship could cross the ocean in a week.
Seven days to a new world. It was an exact description of everything her life had become. It was every bit as daunting.
“What am I doing?” Amelia whispered, staring at the hopeful monstrosity in front of her. It was one thing to accept an offer for a new life. It was another thing entirely to go through with it.
She turned away from the ship, swallowing the nausea that had plagued her since she’d left her mother’s house. This time it wasn’t morning sickness. That was long past. At the moment, the baby was the least of her worries. Her stomach rolled over the idea that she was about to board a ship heading for a new life at the mercy of a stranger, a man, no less. The last time she had trusted her life and her future to a man had been a disaster.
She paced, purse clutched to her chest, scanning the busy dock in search of her American savior. Men, women, and children crowded the gangplanks, eager to start their journeys, excited and hopeful. Many of the third-class passengers carried bundles that indicated theirs was a one-way trip as much as hers was. Eric had left her there to go buy her ticket, but there was nothing stopping him from running off and leaving her stranded. Like her father. Like Nick. She was a fool to agree to this. She pivoted and marched away from the ship.
No, she stopped herself after a handful of steps, this was the best decision she could have made. She may have felt small and lonely standing by herself, waiting, heart and stomach fluttering, but she was as much a part of the intrepid adventurers seeking a new life in America as any of her fellow passengers. This was right.
“Well, we got a minor problem on our hands.”
The twang of Eric’s accent shocked Amelia from her worries. She spun to face him as he approached her with wide strides, scratching his head and looking as guilty as a schoolboy.
“A problem?” she asked, voice fluttering.
“Yeah. I went to buy you a ticket, but they’re plumb sold out.”
Amelia’s chest tightened and her tender stomach lurched. “Oh. Oh dear. Well I suppose….”
She lowered her eyes, heart aquiver. As quickly as it started, her chance for a new life was over. All that worrying for nothing.
She squared her shoulders to face her fate. “I … I thank you for your efforts on my behalf regardless, Mr. Quinlan.”
Eric’s brow crinkled into a curious frown. “Regardless?”
“I suppose I could find work here in Liverpool,” she explained. “Surely there must be a shop somewhere that would look the other way from….” She lowered her hand to the mound of her stomach.
Eric’s lips twitched. The morning sunlight caught in his eyes. “I didn’t want to have to put you in third-class, so I told them you were my wife.”
Amelia blinked. “You what?”
“I told them we’re newlyweds. I reserved my stateroom in first class last year when I came over. Good thing I paid for it then too, ‘cuz after this fiasco of a trip I’ll never ride first-class again. Anyhow, when they said they didn’t have any more rooms, I told them you were my wife and that we would be staying in the same stateroom. They sold me a ticket for that.” He handed her a fresh, clean ticket with her name written as ‘Mrs. Amelia Quinlan’. “Sorry.”
Amelia held perfectly still on the outside, but on the inside her heart pounded and her stomach rolled with guilt for questioning him. He wasn’t abandoning her. He had gone out of his way to help her. Her heart squeezed as it never had before. She took the ticket from him with a trembling hand, hardly noticing when her fingers brushed his. She was rescued after all.
“Thank you, Mr. Quinlan. You have no idea how much this kindness means to me.” She had to concentrate on breathing, standing straight, and looking up into his handsome eyes with a smile to keep her tears at bay.
“You don’t mind sharing then?” he asked her.
Kem dives to the ground in desperation, covering his head and neck from the rocks raining down. I didn’t see that coming. I thought I was quiet, he thinks.
The announcement of Cadmus’ elimination booms over the intercom. Well, at least I don’t have to worry about a vengeful brother.
The dust and debris settle from the crumbled wall. Find Kesi. Kem trots towards the end of the path. Before he gets there, he sees a shadow along the wall.
Dio turns the corner and spots him. She’s already throwing blue spheres before he knows what happened.
Kem hits the floor hard, dodging the first two. Dio hurls more at him.
His heart beats like a jackhammer in his chest. He is covered in dirt and sand. Kem swerves left, then right, ducking from a shot aimed at his head. He looks back at Dio, who walks with determination, shooting at him. Will she not let up a little? Got to slow her down.
Marcy can’t wait to see the new exhibit at the Tallulah Falls museum on antique tapestries and textiles, including beautiful kilim rugs. But her enthusiasm quickly turns to terror when, the day after the exhibition opens, she discovers a dead body behind her store, the Seven-Year Stitch, wrapped up in a most unusual fashion.
The victim appears to be a visiting art professor in town for the exhibit. Did someone decide to teach the professor a lesson, then attempt to sweep the evidence under the rug? Along with her boyfriend, Detective Ted Nash, Marcy must unravel an intricate tapestry of deception to find a desperate killer.