Lilo

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About Lilo Abernathy

Lilo Abernathy is a born bibliophile who stormed the Indie scene with her debut novel, The Light Who Shines, in early 2014, making it to Amazon's Top 100 list in the same year with strong support from the Indie community. Since then she's only averaged about five hours of sleep a night and that doesn't seem to be changing soon. She's clearly not an editor as evidenced by her post I Am Not an Editor. If you respond to her Oh My Liberal Bleeding Heart! posts, she asks that you please observe the Rules of Engagement. Check out her epic urban fantasy / paranormal romance novels.

The Light Who Binds: Print and Audio Release!

 

Seasons Greetings!

I have some great news to hopefully add a little extra sparkle to your holidays. Actually, I have several pieces of great news.

You may or may not have known I’ve had some struggles finding an artist for the series. All of my artist have produced fantastic work, but unfortunately there are other considerations. Is the work commercial enough? Does it grab the eye? Does it have the correct feel for the story? And there are other considerations that don’t even relate to the art. Does the artist handle the licensing promptly? Do we work well together? Is communication solid?

I Have A New Artist!

Well, I’ve found an artist who seems perfect for the series and who I work with very well. Since I’ve had so many ups and downs with artists though, I didn’t want to announce the work until we had finished a few covers together and I knew it was going well. It’s going very well. Her name is Kirsi Salonen and you can find her portfolio here. She has an amazing Dark Fantasy series that I recommend you peruse for your own enjoyment.

The Light Who Shines Gets A New Cover!

So the first task was to redo the cover for The Light Who Shines. I wanted it to speak to the romance in the story since I’ve been plagued by a certain set of readers who are unhappily surprised that the plot has a thread of romance. Believe it or not, I don’t want just anyone reading my books. I only want the right readers to read my books . . . that is to say, people who will really enjoy it.  Part of the art of getting good reviews is to market your book correctly. Every time I get a complaint that the book has too much romance, I take it to heart. I don’t think, “Oh, I should get rid of some of the romance.” Instead I think, “Oh, somehow I’m marketing to people who hate romance. How do I fix that?” There are some things I can’t control. For instance, I can’t control who sees the book on Amazon, but I can control my book cover.  I figured that if I let the first cover of the series speak to the romance that would be enough. Readers would know what to expect.

The Light Who Shines - CreateSpace

This print version is available on Amazon here.

The Light Who Binds Gets A New Cover and is Available in Print!

I know some of you dear readers are print only readers and I’m sorry you’ve had to wait. I knew I was going to change the covers and I didn’t want to make you buy one that was of the wrong style. Maybe you aren’t like me, but if I had a set that all matched, except for one or two, I’d have to rebuy those books so I had a matching set. Sadly, I’ve done this before. So, knowing I was going to quickly redo the covers, I just couldn’t do that to you. That’s why the print version for The Light Who Binds has taken so long. I needed the artist to finish the cover first. It’s done now, and it’s glorious!

BookCover6x9_BW_370.fw - Create Space Final

You can see this cover is all about the action. My intention is that the covers for the rest of the series represent a specific scene in the book, most likely one of the focal points of the story.

You can get your copy here.

A Gorgeous Inside!

It isn’t all about the cover. One of the wonderful things about being an Indie Author is that I do my own publishing work. It’s hard to find a publisher willing to devote an entire day of someone’s salary to adding special details inside a book. It seems the mass market books have become duller and duller over the years. Rarely do you even get real chapter titles. It’s even more rare to get special fonts unless it’s a special anniversary edition. Well, not so with my print books.

Each chapter has a real title and each chapter header is in a special Celtic font. I’ve also placed gorgeous initial block letters at the beginning of each chapter. Here’s an example.

2015-12-20_2100b

I don’t know about you, but my little book loving heart goes pitter-patter when I see details like that. So I wanted to give it to you all to enjoy. These details are also inside of The Light Who Shines print edition. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t allow us to use these special fonts in Kindle editions. In this one way, print really does rule.

The Audio Edition is Released!

Ohh, my dear Readers, I know many of you have been waiting for this. The audio version has just been released and it is available on both Audible and Amazon. It will soon be available on Amazon Whispersync. Now, I may have mentioned this before, but my parents are avid audio listeners. They listen to an audio book for several hours every evening together. So I want to share a tip my father shared with me. I shouldn’t share it with you because it will reduce my profits. But, I find myself compelled to anyway . . .

It is almost always cheaper for you to buy the ebook version and then pay the extra for the Whispersync version than to buy it straight on Audible. However, if you are an Audible member and you have the credit system, then you should compare the costs. It is still usually cheaper to go with the ebook version/Whispersync than to use one of your Audible credits. The Whispersync version of The Light Who Shines was going for only $1.99 last year, so it was definitely better to go that route than to buy it straight on Audible. The Whispersync version should be available any day now, but definitely within the next few weeks.

I’m telling you this because my narrator, Elizabeth Klett, is a master of voices. It’s amazing what she does with the characters. I think it’s a performance that is not to be missed. Yes, I used the same narrator for The Light Who Binds as I did for The Light Who Shines.

Book Cover for ACX

You can get the Audible version here.

You can read a five minute sample of it here. Just click on the link below the book cover.

Just a reminder: It is so helpful to me when you give my books a review. Not only do other readers use it as a guide on what to purchase, but Amazon determines which books are most well loved based on the number of reviews and that makes a big difference to the amount of exposure they are willing to give me. Even a short review really helps.

Happy Holidays!

Lilo

 

December 27th, 2015|Release Alerts|31 Comments

Book Review: MISSING LYNX (Supernatural Romance)

 

indexMissing Lynx

The Lynx Series

By Fiona Quinn
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/1Rtcqt1
#Supernatural #Psychic #Romance #Mystery #Action

Fiona’s second book of the series is as fantastic as the first and I’m still fangirling over this series. Spyder finally make an appearance, but it is a appearance surrounded by mystery. A creepy lady moves into the neighborhood, who keeps giving Lexi strange looks and her internal sense tells her the woman is bad business. Her internal knowing is correct. A series of events Lexi can’t prevent lead her into the worst mentally and physically damaging situation of her life. At the climax of the story your heart will be beating and you will be wishing with all your heart that Lexi will live.

The romance between Lexi and Striker teases us, the tension increases and their relationship deepens. I really like how Fiona takes her time with the relationship, letting it grow in a natural way. The action in this novel is still non-stop thrills, but the drama is even higher than in book one.

Bottom line: Fiona has created a world with high tension in the case, in the romance, and in physical action. This is a knock-out combination.

Excellent read!

Lilo Abernathy

Author and Book Lover

October 24th, 2015|Fan News, Reviews by Lilo|0 Comments

Book Review: CHAIN LYNX (Supernatural Romance)

 

indexChain Lynx

The Lynx Series

By Fiona Quinn
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/1NYR0X0
#Supernatural #Psychic #Romance #Mystery #Action

Another fantastic book by Fiona Quinn! The story opens with Lexi waking up in the hospital in the most severe condition imaginable. Her body has been devastated, but her mind, oh her mind, it just never stops. I love how analytical she is and I must be frank, that is one of the main reasons I’m in love with her character. Her mind is like a machine, but it certainly doesn’t mean she is lacking emotion. The other great thing about Lexi is her will. It is like steel. You can totally see her overcoming every physical adversity and how she just pulls her body along.

In this story we really get to see Lexi’s mental acuity as she begins to unwind the case and gets to the heart of who is really causing the problems.

The best news? Striker finally makes his move! Yay! Go Striker and Lexi!

Another non-stop action and thrills story that will leave you begging for more. I can’t wait for book 4!

Lilo Abernathy

Author and Book Lover

October 24th, 2015|Fan News, Reviews by Lilo|36 Comments

Democratic Debate: I’m an Angry Donkey

 

3915709145_4dbbd1caf7_zI missed the debate and went searching for a recording to watch tonight. Interestingly, I ran across an article stating there was a big conflict between who the news media thought came out on top (Clinton) and public polls (Sanders). I just watched the first 2 minute spiel that each candidate gave and I can immediately see why Sanders is appealing to the citizens and why the media might not get it.

The Citizens of the United States are getting more and more angry and Bernie Sanders seems to be the only one who is angry with us.

It reminds me of a day I was in the hospital with my daughter. She was on chemotherapy and she had a clot in her brain that the doctors hadn’t found at that point. She was projectile vomiting, her eyes were bulging out of her head, and she hadn’t eaten in 10 days. I was yelling at the doctors to stop doing nothing and find out what was wrong with her. The social workers were trying to placate me and asked if they could send a massage therapist up to help me relax. I’m like, OMG, my daughter is DYYYYYIIINNGGG IN FRONT OF MY EYES!!!!!!!! AM I SUPPOSED TO BE RELAXED RIGHT NOW? HOW WOULD THAT BE NORMAL?????

No. I didn’t want a massage therapist. I didn’t want to be relaxed. I wanted my daughter fixed. And the Citizens of the United States don’t want to remain calm anymore either. We’re angry and we’re glad there is FINALLY someone who is angry with us and for us. Our middle class is losing the battle against the wealthy, our earth is threatened, our very Democracy has turned into an Oligarchy, and the time to remain calm has passed. We want our country fixed.

I, for one, thank you Bernie Sanders. Thank you for being angry with us.

I agree with the media that Hillary came across as intelligent, confident, and most articulate, but her savvy in front of the camera, her smooth polish if you will, perhaps makes people less comfortable with her. It also doesn’t help that she is, at times, condescending. She’s slick and we’re a little leery of slick.

Bernie’s emotional blustering feels more honest and trustworthy to me. Not to mention that beneath the blustering, he clearly has a keen economic mind and the strongest sense of ethics.

I write this as someone who has long looked forward to voting Hillary, our first female President, into the White House. But I’m pretty sure I just changed camps. I think I’m a Bernie girl now.

The clot was eventually found in my daughter’s brain, but it wasn’t found while I was busy getting a massage. I kept after the doctors. I stayed in their face. I kept dragging my daughter back to the emergency room. When they couldn’t find what was wrong I took her to different emergency rooms. I wouldn’t take no for an answer until someone found out what was killing my daughter. And finally they did. And after nine months of treatment for the massive clot in her brain and three years of treatment for the cancer, she is fine now, knock on wood.

My fellow Citizens of the United States, the mess of our country isn’t going to get fixed while we get our hair done, have massages, or rake our leaves until our lawn is immaculate perfection. We’ve got to be angry. We’ve got to stay on this. We can’t let it go. I hope in 8 years I can say my country is fixed as well.

Lilo

P.S. Donkey is the symbol for Democrat.

October 18th, 2015|Bleeding Heart Liberal, Liberal Rants|25 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE BINDING OF THE WOLF by Emmi Kivimäki

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Binding of the Wolf

by Emmi Kivimäki

Absolutely loved it! Knowing that Varg is actually Fenrir it makes the perfect sense. Everyone who has read The Light Who Shines should read this! I love Varg even more now.

Link: http://bit.ly/1LAPyI2

Editorial Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by San Francisco Book Review

 

32231885_sEditorial Review of The Light Who Shines

by Ruth Duran-Chea for San Francisco Book Review

During the 1600s, the first Vampire was created, bringing about extreme chaos and the beginning of the Red Ages.

Over two thousand years later, Bluebell Kildare, homicide inspector for the Supernatural Investigation Bureau, is faced with solving the murder of a boy found naked, tortured, and beaten near a bar. She is able to examine the emotions and feelings left over in the area, as well as of those near her through the use of her sixth sense; she is Gifted, and very good at her job. By closing her other senses off, she can focus in on the many emotions that permeate the area, so as to center her attention in on evidence and clues that others may miss.

Sadly, despite Blue’s passion for her job, and the other Daylight Vampires who ensure the safety of the people around them, not everyone during this time is so understanding of sharing the world with people who have come to be so different from themselves. Extremist groups, such as the Dilectus Deo, are constantly protesting the very existence of the Gifted humans among them and the Daylight Vampires that protect them from the dangerous Dark Vampires — beings who have fallen prey to their more base natures and given up their ability to roam in daylight after killing in bloodlust. It is a dangerous world, and it takes only the best and bravest to search after criminals who would do harm to others.

“The boy is stark naked, and dried blood streaks extend from the crushed area of his forehead down to the hollows of his eyes where they pool like small, bloody twin lakes. […] I’m going to catch the person who did this. I want to tear his heart out with my bare hands and squeeze it into a bloody pulp.”

Fortunately, Blue is not only a talented investigator, but she also counts on the help of her boss, Jack Tanner – or as she prefers to think of him,

“quite possibly the sexiest man alive. He exudes danger in a quiet, stealthy sort of way. I often think I should be frightened of him – quite possibly because he’s a very old and incredibly strong Vampire. But I can’t seem to muster any fear, even when he’s in an obvious rage. That only makes me question my sanity.”

It’s a complicated and strained relationship – but the clear and palpable tension between them only makes watching them work together all the more enjoyable.

In The Light Who Shines, Lilo Abernathy has created an amazing and fantastic world in which normal humans, Gifted humans, Daylight and Dark Vampires must coexist despite the magical dangers, intolerance, and greed that run rampant on a day-to-day basis. The mystery of the tortured boy is the driving force behind this intriguing novel. As clues are discovered, witnesses questioned, and tips followed from one place to another, it becomes progressively more disturbing to get closer to the person responsible for such a heinous crime. Yet, the more we learn about Blue and her commitment to fight for those who have been victimized by this bigoted society, the more we realize she is just the investigator needed to get to the bottom of these kinds of transgressions. She proves to be not only fully dedicated to her job despite any dangers that come her way – including her own safety – and surprisingly strong-willed for someone who’s most prominent gift is the ability to sense emotions. Still, it is her imperfections and limitations that make her an even more likable character we can all relate to… especially when it comes to her weakness for Jack.

As the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly evident that there is much more at stake than meets the eye. The torture and death of this young boy leads Blue down a path of unprecedented self-discovery and a much larger role she must play not only at the Supernatural Investigation Bureau, but the world. Furthermore, it brings her and Jack much closer than they’ve ever been. The Light Who Shines is a fast-paced, extraordinary, and provocative tale of high stakes and deep losses that demands to be read!

Link: http://bit.ly/1Lf5cHA

You’re invited to All Hallows’ Reads

 

Every hour a different author takes center stage.

Each author will introduce you to their book world.

Then they’ll entertain you during the party in their own unique way.

Some of the things you can expect include:

Trivia

Games

Contests

Free Samples

Prizes

Where

On Facebook

When

Thursday, October 29, 2015
9:00 PM, EST
to
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Midnight, EST

To Join

  1. Click this link to the Facebook party: https://www.facebook.com/events/1645527649046331/
  2. Click the “Join” button in the upper right hand corner of that Facebook page.
  3. Bookmark the page.
  4. Mark your calendar and on the day of, go back to that page.

My slots will be:

Thursday, October 29
11:00 PM EST

and
Saturday, October 31
2:00 PM EST

Time Zone Converter
http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html

I’ll be providing a free short story to all who come to my time slot.

I’m also planning fun games that will have full novels awarded as the prize.

If you are a current fan of the Bluebell Kildare Series, some of the prizes that you can choose will be fan memorabilia.

This is my biggest event of the year and will be enjoyable for both current fans and new readers.
I hope you’ll join me and find some new favorite authors too!

Happy

Halloween!

Link to my books.

October 15th, 2015|Hot Deals, Where's Lilo|18 Comments

Prologue

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Mor

Winter, Year 1, Red Ages

It’s getting closer. Bolder. It’s been tracking me for three days now. I run as swiftly through the forest as my starved body can, holding wee Sorcha tightly in the sling wrapped about my torso. Low-hanging branches and brush tear into my forearms, but I pay no mind as I roughly push them aside.

I glance back and don’t see the beast. But I know it’s there. Invisible, and silent, it stalks us. My mind’s eye sees many things my real vision cannot. Flashes of images that make me shudder. Hungry eyes watching, waiting. Fangs descending.

A bird squawks at my intrusion, and I stumble in exhaustion. Fear rips through me as I remember how Shaina’s fall ensured her death. An injury to me now would do the same. But I catch myself. My years of running over the moors as a youth have served me well.

The Sea Caves must be within one day’s travel from here, perhaps less. I’m so tired, but I dare not rest. This morning I awoke to the vision of the man-creature leaning over me while I slept. His fangs were extended as he stroked my hair and stared hungrily at my neck. No, I cannot sleep again. Not tonight, for tonight he may not walk away.

With resolve, I push through branches and shrubs, following the river to the sea. I stop for a moment at the bank and scoop handfuls of water into my parched mouth. Then, tenderly, I expose Sorcha’s little mouth and dribble water onto her tongue, hoping desperately that it will keep her alive.

Her sweet, round face lolls pathetically in the crook of my arm, a pale ghost of the rosy baby she had been just a few days prior. Her eyes remain lifeless, and my heart clenches. If I don’t reach the Sea Caves soon, her chances will be ended. The sinister chill of the wind wraps around us, trying to claim her, and I have no more warmth to offer than my own body. With grim determination, I set off again at an exhausted trot.

Darkness falls, and the moon hangs high and bright atop a shield of mist. The glowing orb is ambivalent to my worry about being easier to track, but at least it gives light to walk by. The fog thickens with each passing hour as I move steadily toward the sea. Serpent-like, it twists and writhes, then billows up in alarming gusts, enveloping us in its pearly, biting embrace. Despite my chattering teeth, I take solace in the icy wind because it means we must be getting closer.

I see a nearly imperceptible movement from the corner of my eye. A dark shadow hovers on a tree limb high above, out of place in the misty forest. Then the fog shifts, and the shadow disappears in a smear of white like the rest of the world. But I know what it is.

So this is it, then. I have come so far, but the beast will get me before I reach safety. The fear and panic that have been building within me for days have finally driven me to my wit’s end. I will stop this now.

“Show yourself!” I shout. “Let me look upon the face that will end my life and the life of this innocent child.”

The shadow leaps from the trees above me, and the man—no, the beast who used to be a man—stands before me now. Tall and powerful with long fangs cutting into his lip. Dirty and ragged, the tattered remnants of clothes hanging off him. Then he speaks, and his voice is that of a man. “I have no wish to harm you. I’ve seen what happens to those who kill to ease their craving.”

His sharp eyes pierce me.

I don’t believe him, and though I tremble in fear, I bite back. “Then why do you stand over me while I sleep and gaze at my neck with longing? Why, even now, do your eyes flit to the lifeblood pulsing there?”

He turns away in shame. “Because I hunger. I have not yet eaten since I was turned. The pain is nearly unbearable.”

“Why do you stalk me, then?”

He moves in close and grips my arms, fingernails digging into my gaunt shoulder blades. I gasp at the shock of his touch.

“Because your blood calls to me,” he snarls in frustration.

“Is it my blood you want, or my flesh?”

His brow wrinkles in confusion. Then he drags his nose over my neck, inhaling the scent of my skin. Fear racks my body, but I stand frozen in place, trembling beneath his hands. He gives my jaw one long lick. The baby hangs silently between us.

“It is your blood I hunger for.”

Then, in a flash, he’s ten feet away, where the mist is thick and his features indistinguishable.

“How long?” I ask.

His voice travels softly through the silvery haze. “What do you mean?”

“How long before you give in to the hunger and slay me?”

“I don’t know. Soon, I fear.”

The stark honesty of his reply shakes me to my bones. My knees collapse beneath me and I sprawl backwards on the damp earth, clutching Sorcha to my breast. “Must you end my life? Can’t you take some blood, enough to ease your pain, but leave enough for me to live? I must get this child to the Sea Caves, to the Dragon tribe. She’s ill and starving. She hasn’t woken once today. Already, I fear it’s too late for her.”

He moves forward and regards Sorcha with concern. “You think I could stop? None of the others did.”

“Did they try?”

The question hangs heavy in the air between us while his eyes dart from my neck to the motionless baby pressed to my breast and back again.

Suddenly steel bands grasp my shoulders, sharp daggers pierce my neck, and my body arches in an instinctual scream that’s absorbed by the unsympathetic forest. His mouth undulates relentlessly, like a baby at a teat. I feel my lifeblood flowing inexorably toward his mouth, but surprisingly, the pain is minimal. Before I can struggle against his strength, I’m overcome by a profound exhaustion, heavy as a leaden blanket, which forces me against the earth. My vision grows dim as it tunnels ever narrower. Then the last prick of light blinks out.

Return to Top

Chapter 01: Three Deaths

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 7, 2022, Red Ages

Lightning streaks across the twilight sky casting a brilliant glow on the building before me. Stone gargoyles loom above me, their eyes seeming to gleam and blink, their great amphibious wings, arched for flight. A slow roll of thunder fills the air as though the bowels of the earth are opening.

I behold the formidable oak doors of the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop, wondering what mysteries lie inside. Oh, I know many spells, charms, and magic secrets reside within the artifacts, but those aren’t the unknowns I seek tonight. Tonight, I anticipate learning secrets about myself.

From behind me, the warmth of Jack’s chest radiates into my back, and Varg leans into my thigh. A measure of calm returns to me. Whatever news awaits me, at least I have friends at my side. I straighten my spine, lift my chin, and remove the remaining space between me and my future, pushing the heavy oak doors open to boldly stride in.

As I enter the shop, eddies of dust coalesce from the swish of the doors into a whirlwind at my feet. I’m instantly comforted by the familiar shelves of aged magical texts stacked on bookshelves and delighted by the glass-doored cabinet stocked with magical artifacts. I was last here just a few months ago, but I feel like an entirely different woman now.

Dragomira stands behind the counter and lifts her head with a weary expression, but a fierce glint fills her warm, brown eyes. She is not Dragomira right now. No, she is the Dragomir. Her movements, as fluid as rippling water, trace a path across the room as she quietly deadbolts the door behind us.

With a wave of her hand, she beckons us into her back room. A small fire flickers in the fireplace, casting dancing shadows across the walls. Jack and I take a seat in wing-backed chairs next to the hearth, while Dragomira, still curiously silent, pours three drinks from a beautiful decanter sitting on an ornate wooden table amidst the chairs. She places one in my hand in silent command, watching as I taste it. The shock of whiskey burns my throat and slides warmly to my belly. She sets a glass in front of Jack and keeps the last for herself.

As Dragomira takes her place, I notice again how strikingly beautiful she is. Her hair cascades in long, tumultuous brown waves against her olive skin, and her deep-set eyes gleam with life. Sitting back in her chair, she directs her scrutiny toward me. “Welcome, Illustrissima,” she begins. “I’m sure you have many questions.”

Her harmonious voice rolls through me in a soothing wave. I forget myself for a moment and tilt my ear to enjoy its song. Then I gather myself and say, “I do. Let’s start with the name Illustrissima. Why did you give this name to me?”

Dragomira blinks. Then she regards me steadily and answers, “I no more gave you the name Illustrissima than I gave you your blue eyes. It is a Latin word that has many meanings: the Shining One, the Bright One, the Lustrous One, the Famous One, the Distinguished One.” She waves her hand as though all of that is inconsequential. “You are all of these things. You simply are the Illustrissima.”

I take a slow sip of whiskey. “You can see my light.”

The Dragomir’s eyes flare with a glint of yellow in acknowledgement.

“How?”

She contemplates the fire for a moment before responding. “I am also many things. I have magic . . . gifts, you might call them, which allow me to see things that would normally pass unnoticed. However, what I have been most as of late is a scholar.” She looks at me intently again. “Tonight, your time would be better spent allowing me to share what I’ve learned about you.”

She’s right; after all, Jack and the Dragomir have kept me waiting on this information for months now. “Yes, why don’t you,” I answer curtly.

The Dragomir raises her eyebrows and Jack gives me a warning glance, but I am not so easily cowed.

She nods and settles back in her chair. “Let’s start at the beginning. I’ve told you the story of Patersuco and the inception of the Vampire race. As you know, it didn’t take long for him to kill in bloodlust and turn Dark, as corrupt as he was, but he had already started creating children. And so the curse spread.”

“What I did not tell you was that Patersuco was survived by his wife. Shaina lived in the village, and before the first winter of the Red Ages had passed, several of the townspeople had died at the hands of Patersuco and his Vampire progeny. The villagers turned on Shaina and burned her as a witch.”

I shudder at the thought of that pain, thankful I wasn’t there to feel it.

“Yes, these were rough times, Illustrissima. We have very few written accounts from that time, but from what we know, Shaina was Gifted. Like you, she was an Empath. The villagers tied her to an ash tree and used oak branches to burn her alive.”

“Both these trees have deep, old magic. Ash acts as a bridge between worlds, and oak provides strength. Somehow, the combination of the rage of the villagers, the strength of the oak, and the power of the ash all fed Shaina’s pain, creating a force strong enough to open a pathway from Shaina to the Great Demon Lilith. As she burned, Shaina was able to reach across to the Plane of Fire and lay a powerful curse upon Lilith.”

“What was the curse?”

Dragomira leans back, and her eyes glaze as her mind transports to another place and time. The firelight flickers, and shadows play artfully on the curve of her cheekbone. Then her husky whisper fills the room.

 

“Lilith, I call on you to hear me.

By my blood, you will be destroyed.

 

A light will come—

a light that shines through your evil;

a light that calls you to answer for your deeds;

a light that binds you as I am bound and burns you as I burn;

a light that rips you asunder and destroys your darkness.

 

Lilith, hear me.

I call to you.

By my blood, you will pay for what you have done.

 

Lilith, by my blood, you will be destroyed.”

 

As these words wash over me, tendrils of fear sink into my flesh and thread through my soul. The curse grabs something deep and dark inside of me, and I start to shiver. I reach out for my drink and take another burning sip.

My voice comes, breathless but laden with protest against the implications of Dragomira’s story. “And you believe I am this light? You’ve proved no connection.”

She takes another drink of whiskey, a deep pull this time. I’m not sure if it’s the fire reflecting off them, but her eyes seem to swirl with yellow in their depths.

“Three times Shaina called Lilith’s name that night. Three times she demanded that Lilith listen. Three times she said that retribution would be by her blood. This cinched the curse. But what you need to know most is that while Patersuco’s son was sacrificed, his twin sister survived. Her name was Sorcha.”

“Still, how does that relate to me?”

She raises one dark eyebrow at me. “When Shaina said ‘by my blood,’ she meant her lineage, not the blood that flowed through her veins. You are Shaina’s only remaining descendent, through Sorcha.”

I stand rapidly, knocking into the table and causing it to rock furiously, my glass of whiskey threatens to spill. The table eventually comes to a rest, but I do not. I fling myself across the room and pace as the thoughts roil around in my brain. Despite the cacophony of questions on the tip of my tongue, one thought rises urgently above the rest.

They think I’m supposed to destroy Lilith!

I spin around to see both Jack and Dragomira watching me with grave concern.

Jack sits tensely on the edge of his seat as though ready to leap to my rescue. The light glints off his cropped golden curls, and he reminds me of a fierce golden angel ready for vengeance. Every hard plane of his body speaks of coiled strength and lethal abilities. I’ve felt those enticing planes beneath my fingertips just a few times, and I’m honest enough with myself to admit I want more.

Dragomira says, “There’s more.”

Jack and Varg growl simultaneously, and I guess the more she’s talking about isn’t quite the more I want.

I swipe my drink from the table and knock back the rest. The liquid scorches my throat and traces a fiery path down to my belly, providing a momentary distraction. With a huff, I sit down again and cross my arms. “Just tell me all in one shot, please. I’d like to process this once, not five times.”

Dragomira deliberately refills my glass. I consider this a bad omen. She begins again, this time watching me intently.

“Shaina was close with a woman named Mor who had the gift of sight. She warned Shaina that the villagers were coming for her. Still, they could not escape in time. When Shaina saw that she couldn’t outrun them, she entrusted Mor with Sorcha.

“Mor watched the burning from the safety of the woods, and it is she who documented the events of that night. Afterward, she took the babe to the Dragon tribe, a clan who lived in the Sea Caves nearby. While she was there, she had a vision. That’s what brings us to you.”

Dragomira lifts her hand and a roll of parchment flies off the mantle and into her palm. She passes it to me, and I carefully unroll the aged hide. Quietly, I read aloud the ancient script that promises to reveal my fate.

 

The DARK ONE spreads her plague across the land.

Rivers run red and earth soaks black with blood.

Man will fear the Cursed and greatly decline.

When they hide like rabbits, the end is near.

The DECEIVER will dance in her triumph.

 

There is one way that Man can rise again:

trust their enemy

live as one people,

or all will perish.

 

If they succeed, the DESTROYER will rage;

mourn her loss of souls,

plot her artifice,

move forth with vengeance.

 

Beware! The PRETENDER has many ways.

Need changes to greed;

love corrupts to hate;

hope buckles to fear.

 

Foes renew and the Great Pact is broken.

When Man wrongs Man, the BEAST has all but won.

Yet one last path still remaining for Man,

Yet one last path to deliver the Cursed.

The scion of Shaina’s blood will shine BRIGHT.

 

The BRANDED ONE will thrice-fold be guarded:

blade preserves body;

bone benefacts mind;

Cursed entrenches soul.

 

The LUSTROUS ONE will thrice-fold be fitted:

light her palisade,

justice her design,

love her instrument.

 

The ONE WHO IS KNOWN will thrice-fold meet death:

once in trade for life,

once that is taken,

once that is given.

 

The LIGHT WHO SHINES will shatter the darkness.

The LIGHT WHO SHINES will deliver the Cursed.

The LIGHT WHO SHINES will assail the DARK ONE.

The ANNIHILATOR will be destroyed.

The ERODER OF SOULS will be rebirthed.

 

Be steadfast, for the end is uncertain.

 

The edges of the aged parchment nearly crumble under the force of my grip. I loosen my shaking hands, and color flows back into my knuckles. Varg, sensing my stress, leans heavily against my knee. He places his snout in my lap, raises his eyebrows and blinks his ice blue eyes. I wrap my fingers in his long fur, gaining strength from his comfort.

I turn my attention to Dragomira and Jack. They clearly knew the prophecy, as their faces are not filled with questions; instead, a great solemnity surrounds them like a thick mist. Dragomira seems weary but resolute. Jack’s eyes burn with an unnatural shine, and fear and pain wisps around him in an eerie dance. Most telling of all are the tentative vines of hope intertwined with his concern.

Once more, I fill the dark silence. “The first stanza refers to the beginning of the Red Ages. The second stanza clearly describes the creation of the Great Pact.”

An unhappy agreement with my interpretation weighs their expressions.

I study the parchment for another moment. “We have no way of knowing if the third and fourth stanzas have occurred yet. The beginning of the fifth stanza says that the Great Pact will be broken.”

My hands tremble at the thought of that. It is not an event I wish to see in my lifetime. The image of Daylight Vampires taking blood at will and Dark Vampires going unchecked by Daylight Vampires horrifies my very soul.

Dragomira prompts, “And what does the end of the fifth stanza predict?”

Suddenly, I feel older than the darkness of the sky and more burdened than the ground beneath the mountains. “It predicts my birth and says I am the last hope.”

I lay my hand on Jack’s arm. “The last hope to free the Vampires from the curse.”

His jaw clenches, and his body becomes taut. Shame wraps around him as guilt leaks from him like wine through a sieve, filling all corners of the room.

“Jack?” I ask.

He glances at me briefly, then stares straight ahead. “You should go over the rest.”

The parchment, all but forgotten in that singular moment, still remains in my hand. I wrestle my eyes away from him and examine the next set of stanzas. “I can see how the Lustrous One could refer to me, but what about the Branded One and the One Who is Known”

Dragomira responds, “Recall that Illustrissima means Famous One and Distinguished One. To say someone is known is equivalent to saying they’re famous. Remember, there was no technology in those days—no phones, cars, or news stations. People’s circles were small. If someone was widely known, they were famous.”

“But I’m not famous, and I’m certainly not branded.”

Jack grimaces further. “You are famous. When the slaves were found in Blackwater’s house, the Dilectus Deo staged protests across the land. Of course, you were missing at the time, so your name was spoken in every other broadcast. The Dilectus Deo cast aspersions on you, said that you were involved in the crime rather than a victim. You were a topic of much debate.”

“You’re also branded. Your birthmark is no ordinary mark. To be marked like that is to be distinguished. It connects you both to the name Illustrissima and to the prophecy.”

It feels as though the noose is tightening further. I can’t imagine that I’m special enough to be the savior of the breeds. Every scrap of my life has been a fight for even the smallest amount of respect, so to be cast in this light, as though I’m important . . . I just can’t grasp it. But, clearly, they believe it.

“So you really think that I’m the Illustrissima, and I’m supposed to deliver the Vampires from the curse?”

Jack replies softly, “You don’t have to do anything. I’m not sure that the entire Vampire breed is worth your life.”

“Jack, it isn’t just the Vampire breed at stake,” I point out. “According to the prophecy, the fate of all mankind hangs in the balance. That’s a large prize for destroying Lilith. If this is true, then it’s lucky that I’ve already died twice and I only have once more to go.”

Their heads snap toward me, four shocked eyes taking me in as though wings have suddenly sprouted from my back.

I narrow my gaze as I take in their befuddlement. I was sure they would have known.

“I was stillborn,” I explain, “and with a combination of my father’s healing skills and my mother calling to my soul, much the way you did, Jack, I came back to life. That’s the first death, which was in exchange for life. The second death, the death that was taken, was at Blackwater’s hands. That leaves a third death: one that must be given, though I have absolutely no idea what that means. And I’m not saying I believe the prophecy, but how does one go about giving a life and killing the Great Demon, anyway? I’m certainly not killing anyone in sacrifice.”

A wry smile slides across Dragomira’s face. “If I knew, and if it were within my power, I assure you it would already be done. I can tell you though, it’s no coincidence that the amulet found its way into your hands. This is ultimately a war between you and Lilith, and somehow the Grimoire is involved. I wouldn’t be surprised if that necklace of yours played a part as well.”

I lightly finger the Belladonna necklace, which drapes down my breasts and shoulders like a piece of archaic chainmail. “Can you remove it? Do you know how?”

Dragomira stands in obvious dismissal. “Come to me tomorrow evening, and I will see. Now, I have other things to attend.”

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Chapter 02: Seeking Wisdom

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 7, 2022, Red Ages

Fat, icy raindrops fall from the night sky, drenching my hair and clothes. I should have worn my cloak tonight. Varg and I bound up the steps to St. Michael’s Church and welcome the dry antechamber.

I hope Father O’Brennen is still up. Though I’m not religious, he’s always been there for me. When my parents died, he encouraged my grandparents to take me in, but they were too full of hate for the Gifted, so he placed me in the Green Tree Orphanage. The housemothers would bring us here for Sunday mass, and I would escape to the bell tower, happy to be alone. When I came of age, Father O’Brennen let me live rent-free in an apartment next door until I got my first job. Above all, he’s always been a counselor to me, someone to just listen when I need a sounding board. I certainly need both now.

I find him in the kitchen, standing by the beige tiled counter with a cookie in his mouth. A few crumbs fall to the gray slate floor as he chews. Father O’Brennan is of average height and build, his graying hair capped with a small bald spot. But his most stunning features are his deep-set, dark gray eyes that are so expressive, so wise, and so filled with compassion.

“Father O’Brennen,” I call from the arched doorway, leaning slightly so Varg can poke his head in next to me.

He jumps up guiltily.

“Having a midnight snack, are we?” I tease.

An abashed smile fills his gentle face. “Caught red-handed, I suppose. Come on in, Blue. I’m glad to see you looking so well. Would you like some cookies?”

“I’d love some.”

He opens the cookie jar, grabs another plate, and pours me a glass of milk.

“Mmm, chocolate chip,” I say through a mouthful of cookie. “My favorite.”

He chuckles, then pulls out another jar and hands a cookie to Varg. “That’s peanut butter for him. So, how are you, Blue?”

“Fit as a fiddle.” I peer down at my cookies and pick at the corner of one until it crumbles. “But I’ve had a bit of a shock over some things I learned today.”

His eyes soften. “Well, sometimes it is best to unload your worries. So why don’t you share the burden with me?”

I smile at his gentle kindness. “Remember how you told me I was stillborn and my mother called my soul back into my body?”

“Of course,” he says, studying my face.

I peer intently at my plate again. “Well, the same thing happened to me again in the crypt with Blackwater. Jack found me because my soul’s light was burning so brightly, he said it was shining straight past the moon. He called my soul back into my body and gave me Vampire blood to bring me back to life.”

“I see.”

I glance at Father O’Brennan. His forehead is furrowed in grave concentration.

I push forward through the rest. “Well, that isn’t nearly all of it. Today, I spoke with Jack and Dragomira. You may know her as the owner of the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop.”

Father O’Brennen gives a little murmur of acknowledgement.

“Apparently, a prophecy from the beginning of the Red Ages foretold of my birth, and somehow I’m supposed to fight the Great Demon Lilith and destroy her.” I keep going now, avoiding his gaze because otherwise I’m afraid I won’t get it out. “I’m called the Illustrissima. It means ‘the Light Who Shines.’ The prophecy says the Great Pact will be broken, and I have to destroy Lilith to save mankind and deliver the Vampires from their curse.

“It says a lot of things in threes—like I’ll be thrice guarded and have three weapons. It also says I’ll have three deaths.”

I pause now, conscious of how ridiculous it all sounds, expecting to see disbelief or scorn on his face. Instead, his solemn eyes gently hold mine as he places his hand on my shoulder. “That’s a heavy burden to bear.”

“Yes, it is. I’ll do what I can, of course. But I have no idea what I should do now.”

“If this is your calling, it will find you,” he responds. “When the time is right, I’m sure you’ll know what to do. Just trust in the Lord and follow your heart.”

“Well, you know, I’m not very happy with the way he runs things, so the Lord and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms right now.”

Father O’Brennen smiles at me gently. “I know that. I’ll pray for you, if that helps.”

“Thanks, Father. It does. So, can you tell me anything about the number three? It struck me as odd that everything in the prophecy was supposed to be in threes.”

He gets that dreamy expression that he gets during mass sometimes. “Three is a very important number in the Catholic Church. It signifies unity, completion, and perfection, and as you know, the Trinity is comprised of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In broader Christianity, Jesus was crucified and entombed for three days before he arose. It’s a strong number, significant in Pagan mythology and other religions, as well. Some mythological gods were considered to be triple-deities and were said to have three different aspects. For instance, the goddess Badb was also known as Macha and Anand. Ancient Druidism was comprised of three specialties; the Bards who were the memory of the tribe, the Ovates who were natural healers, and the Druids and Druidesses who were shamans or directors of the rituals.

“Those who believe in the Lady of Light say she came to earth once at the beginning of the Red Ages to teach Daylight Vampires to feed without killing, then a second time to usher in the Great Pact. And it’s said she’s promised to come to earth a third time at the end of the Red Ages to guide us to peace. I think it bodes well for you that things will come in threes.”

How interesting. “Do you believe these other Gods really existed?”

He smiles. “I believe in only one God. But I think you have to consider what “existed” means. If a group of people believe in a god and worship him or her, doesn’t that god exist for them? Over man’s history, many gods have been worshiped. Some people believe those gods truly did exist and when man stopped believing in them, they lost their divine powers and faded away. In my faith, I believe those were false gods and idols and whether they truly existed is not of consequence.”

“I have one more question, Father.”

“I have open ears.”

This question has confused me the most. “Why me, Father? Why do you think all this is happening to me?”

Father O’Brennen eyes droop in deep empathy. “You’ve had a hard life, Blue. No doubt. But don’t most heroes have to rise above hardship and misery?”

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Chapter 03: Double Trouble

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 8, 2022, Red Ages

Varg and I step inside the warehouse, but before I have a chance to take in my surroundings, a sharp blow to my knee has me crashing toward the mat. I hold my hands out, desperately trying to keep my face from smashing into the floor.

As I break my fall, another force slams into my back, pushing my head inexorably toward the mat. I resist. My arms strain with every bit of their strength and tremble with exertion, but I’m no match for the force behind me.

My elbows collapse and I’m knocked flat so hard that my breath is stolen away. I gasp for air as my attacker takes my weapons and yanks my arms behind my back.

Still determined to escape, I kick my legs backwards. To my delight, my aim is true. I hear a soft groan, and then a man’s voice requests, “Can you remove your beast? He’s wrapped his fangs around my neck.”

I grunt into the mat. “It depends. Will you let me up?”

The tense voice says, “Yes, I only intended to teach you a lesson about being caught unawares.”

“Seems you’ve been caught unawares, too,” I retort. “Varg, stand down.”

The heavy weight lifts off me, and I rise to face my attacker. Wang stands tall and sleek with well-defined abs and biceps. In contrast, his round face appears soft and sweet, especially when his dimples make an appearance. Right now, the corners of his soft lips rise in an impish smile.

His partner Yao appears at his side. Yao is the complete opposite of Wang. He reminds me of a Samurai in build; he’s of average height but solid all over. He wears a full beard, a sleeveless shirt, and the same style of flowing black pants that Wang does.

Wang and Yao are two world class warriors who Jack commissioned to train me. In addition to being partners in battle, they are also lovers, inseparable since they first came up against each other as undefeated champions of their regions in the annual Cathay Tournament. I was too young at the time to remember it, but it’s said they battled non-stop for over twenty-four hours before the tournament was finally called a draw.

Since the Dark Vampires wiped out most of humanity in the Bloody Era of the Red Ages, the majority of Earth is sparsely populated. The families who escaped to the New World fared better than the Old World, because the Vampires were slower to arrive here. So we recovered much more quickly after the Great Pact. However, in the Old World, the continents of Christendom in the West, Cathay in the East, and Africa to the south were all devastated. The few peoples remaining from those continents were true survivors, strong and swift in battle, who passed down a warrior culture to future generations.

Wang and Yao, having been raised to the Eastern warrior arts on Cathay, went on to compete in and win tournaments all over the world. When Yao and Wang retired, they moved to the New World. Sometimes they disappear from the public eye for months at a time, leaving the media speculating that the pair is working private assignments.

When Jack said he was going to find a trainer for me after I failed to fend off Tobias Blackwater’s assault, I thought he was going to sign me up for a boxing class at a local gym. Instead, he hired the two greatest warriors of Cathay. He arranged everything, provided this warehouse, put them up nearby, and gave them an unlimited budget for training equipment. So their sole focus is finding ways to torment me.

Wang hands me my knife and gun. Embarrassed that he was able to get them from me so easily, I take them back. He immediately goes into lecture mode.

“You have a wonderful advantage with your gift, but you must wake up!” he says. “Your five senses are dull. Your sixth sense is sleeping most of the time. We’ll be watching for when you’re not alert. Remember, if I were your enemy, you’d be dead right now—beast or no beast.”

I sheathe my knife and lift my chin in determination. “Then you have your work cut out for you, so let’s get started.”

Yao agrees a little too enthusiastically for me. “Yes, we’ll run six miles today.”

“Six miles! You’ve been adding about two blocks each day and suddenly you’re adding a mile?”

He steels his face. “It took you two months to run five miles easily. Now you have a strong base, so you’ll progress faster.”

I bow my head in acceptance and walk toward the locker to stow my weapons for the run.

Yao stops me. “This time, bring your weapons. You won’t always have my protection when you run.”

With a scowl I snap my holster back on, but I can’t fault his logic.

A minute later we’re flying down a mountain trail. Yao likes to go downhill first so I’m already exhausted by the uphill portion of the run. It’s just another cruelty he inflicts. Er, I mean, it’s just another tactic he employs to increase my stamina. But for now, this blessed beginning part is my favorite. We run down the east side of the mountain, thick with the shifting fog of early morning. The pink wash of dawn filtering through the mist is a glorious sight to behold.

“Stop,” Yao commands.

I immediately turn in a tight circle to my right and start uphill a few steps, letting my momentum fade until I come to a complete stop. Teaching me to stop while running at an ungodly pace downhill was one of the first lessons Yao taught me. Use the mountain, he always advises. It took just one good tumble to teach me that lesson.

“Run,” he commands, and I dutifully obey.

He has this thing about strengthening the heart, and supposedly stopping and starting quickly helps. He says the most valuable muscles in running are your heart and your diaphragm.

Yao yells for me to return. I grit my teeth and circle again to run back up the mountain. Three miles uphill is no easy feat, but he claims the most important strength you need is your determination. I suck it up and push my legs to continue despite their burning protests.

“Breathe through your nose! Use your diaphragm,” he yells from behind me.

You would think I’d remember that rule after swallowing goodness knows how many bugs, but my instinct is to gasp for breath. Yao says it’s inefficient breathing, and I can tell he’s right. I snap my mouth closed and breathe the crisp dawn air through my nostrils.

Varg zips past me, ducking under trees and gliding over brush, ignoring the path entirely. He loves the morning runs, the evil beast.

During the last mile my thighs feel as though they’re on fire, but Yao’s constant yammering from behind me keeps me going. “Use your arms and your sides to help pull your body along,” he commands.

When I start to slouch, Yao advises, “Keep your head up, and be aware of your surroundings.”

When I focus too much on the path, he commands, “Stop staring at the ground! Your enemy is not underfoot.” This one is difficult for me because we’re running uphill, and the ground is before me, but I get his point. You can’t see your enemy if your eyes are glued to your feet. Learning to keep my knees soft so I can take the impact of uneven ground was one of the hardest lessons.

We make it to the final stretch of the run. Varg stands on top of the ridge behind the warehouse watching us approach, as though to say, “Hah! I beat you.” Spawn of Satan.

When I reach the top of the mountain, Yao has me walk the perimeter of the warehouse three times to slow my heart rate. I don’t know why he allows me this cooling off period when he makes me stop and go so quickly during the run, but I’m grateful for the short reprieve. He handles all my basic strength and endurance training while Wang concentrates more on fighting and weapons. Naturally, that means I hate Yao more than Wang—but when Wang has me pinned to the floor, it’s hard to decide who I loathe most

Ready to turn myself over to Wang’s gentle abuse, I push through the warehouse doors again to reveal the expansive training room, but first, Yao has a few words for me. “You thought you weren’t able to do six miles,” he says. “What did you learn?”

I spit out through gritted teeth, “That I hate you, and I was wrong.”

He smiles broadly, stretching his beard to gigantic proportions. “Yes, and it’s fine to hate me as long as you learn that perceived limitations of your body can be overcome with a strong mind.”

Wang stands in front of me, eager for his chance to torment. “Today we begin a new challenge: you will complete half of your practice blindfolded.”

“Blindfolded!”

Wang grins, throwing those two gorgeous dimples into his baby-faced cheeks. “Yes, since you can sense souls, your ability to fight in the dark will be a great advantage.”

He spends the next forty-five minutes painstakingly correcting my posture and my movements as we run through a series of forms for Taekwondo and Jiu-Jitsu. After doing a set with my eyes open, he hands me a blindfold and makes me repeat it in the dark.

“In the past you’ve used your eyes to balance. Now you’ll learn to feel your center of gravity,” he advises.

At first I’m off balance, but as he corrects my posture by touch, I slowly get the feel for it, and a small feeling of pride wells up inside me.

At the end of the hour, Wang announces that I’m to wrap up my session with shooting practice. That sounds like a nice, relaxing break, but Yao wants me to spend thirty minutes rollerblading on the ramps after that to increase my balance and core body strength, followed by arm work on the obstacle course. I groan my objections, but I know I have no choice.

I take a deep breath. This is going to be a long, excruciating session. At least today’s my day off work and I can relax with a book after training. I let my mind wander, and my thoughts return briefly to yesterday’s meeting with Dragomira and this whole “destroy Lilith” business. As tired as I am, I stiffen my backbone and carry on without complaint. Well, without too many complaints.

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Chapter 04: Sweet, Obliging Woman

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 8, 2022, Red Ages

The sun shines through the windshield of my car, making me narrow my eyes against the glare. Since I’ve finished my book and there’s nothing else on my agenda until my meeting with Dragomira, I’m cruising over to Maud’s place.

I’d say that Maud is like a mother to me, but since she acts so young, I call her one of my closest friends. I met her in the orphanage where I grew up. She used to visit and read to all the children, and that hour was among the only happy memories I have of that place. When I was younger, I wanted her to adopt me, but her husband William wouldn’t allow it. He felt his job was too dangerous to allow him to be a parent. Still, Maud and I remained close and became even closer after William died. She’s my touchstone, and I need one desperately right now.

On the right side of the road, a sight outside of Paco’s Loco Tacos has me chuckling uncontrollably. Paco must be trying to drum up business because he’s twirling around on the sidewalk wearing colorful Mexican festival attire. But the best part is his sombrero. It’s made with every color in the rainbow and the brim is about five feet wide. He could fit his entire staff under there with him. I can’t help it, that get-up deserves a reward. I swing over and grab some tacos for Maud.

As I pull up to the curb in front of her house, Varg exudes an unhappy rumbling sound. It isn’t his usual ferocious growl announcing danger, but he’s clearly displeased. Worried about Maud, I throw open Varg’s door and rush to the house. By the time I hit the porch, I can tell there’s nothing to fear as Maud’s stressed voice carries at a high pitch from the backyard.

“When I’m ready to deal with this garden, I will, and it will be in my own sweet time. If you don’t like it, put up a higher fence!”

“But sweetie, I’d be happy to help you with it.” Harry’s placating voice is much quieter than Maud’s.

She cuts in. “Yes, so you keep saying. I’ll think about it, but not now when I have a pounding headache. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I hear the sliding door open and slam shut, obviously leaving Harry on the other side.

Maud opens the front door a few seconds later, two red spots on her cheeks. “Blue! Come on in.”

I hand her the bag. “Here’s some tacos for you for later. I’m not hungry myself.”

“Oh, thank you, dear.” She spins around with the bag and huffs off to the kitchen, mumbling, “Of all the insufferable . . . ”

The rest of her thought is drowned out by the blender, and I chuckle as I let myself in.

She raises her voice, “I’m making Alexanders, and you’re joining me, hungry or not.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

I sit down at the table and watch as Harry hops over the fence to his house.

Maud, with her glowing orange hair and a white-on-green polka dot dress, stomps around the kitchen. She pulls some frosty glasses out of the freezer, and with an artful grace that even her anger can’t diminish, she fills them with a flourish. She sets them on the table and sinks into her chair, clearly extremely annoyed.

“Thank you. You were a little light on the cognac today, I noticed.”

Maud blushes. “I’m watching my waist.”

“All twenty inches of it?”

She rolls her eyes.

“And you were a little heavy on the cream today.”

She throws up her hands. “Well, that man drives me crazy. I have to do something!”

I burst out laughing. “What? Did he cheat on you? Beat you? Break your crystal stemware?”

She scowls. “He wants to fix the back garden!”

“And . . . is that so bad?”

Maud quiets and traces the dew on the side of her glass as confusion spills out of her. “I’m just not ready for it.” She sighs. “Did you know that William and I had a big fight about the garden the last morning he left for work?”

I sober up quickly, at that little jewel of information. “No, I didn’t. What was the fight about?”

“The day before, I’d had a dizzy spell in the garden. I got overheated, that’s all. The sun made me dehydrated, but I was fine by the next morning. I wanted to work on it that day, to weed it. But he insisted I wait for him. I told him I’d take it easy, but he wouldn’t even hear of it. He was so overbearing sometimes. Anyway, I was so mad, that I went out and weeded the garden to spite him.”

Her eyes brim with moisture. “I was probably weeding the damn garden while he was taking his last breath.” With that, a stream of tears spill down her cheeks.

I wrap my arms around her from behind her chair and murmur into her shoulder, “He isn’t mad, Maud. He loved how spunky you are. If you had listened to him, he wouldn’t have known what to do.”

“Really?”

“Truly. When you guys fought around me, and you pretended to concede, William would roll his eyes while your back was turned.”

The corner of Maud’s mouth lifts as she blots her face with a napkin. “Really?”

“I promise. He’d expect nothing less than you weeding the garden. Do you think he would have stayed with you all those years if he really wanted a sweet, obliging woman?”

“Hey, now!” Maud laughs as she squeezes my hands tight.

I smile down at her and take my seat again.

“I think weeding the garden is fine. William wouldn’t be mad.”

Maud purses her lips in consideration. “Maybe you’re right.”

It would be so wonderful if she got over this garden issue. She’s been a prisoner to it for years.

“If you were to work in the garden, what would you plant?” I prod.

Maud’s eyes start to shine as she turns to the window, contemplating the wild jungle that makes up the back yard. “I’ve been in a mood for peonies, maybe some hydrangeas—and you don’t think it’s too late for petunias, do you?”

I can picture the finished garden in my mind. “It’s never too late for petunias in the South. They’d be lovely around the swing, wouldn’t they?”

“Yes, they would. Maybe Harry will help me till that area tomorrow.”

“I think he’s dying to be asked.”

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Chapter 05: Foreboding News

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Jack Tanner

July 9, 2022, Red Ages

As I pull in front of Blue’s apartment, she comes rounding the corner, her hair flowing behind her. The lean silhouette of her softly rounded body arrests my attention. Varg walks on the street side of the walkway with his nostrils and ears on high alert, protective as always. The neighborhood is quiet, and the firefly lampposts gleam softly on the street pavers, but still I’m glad she has him, especially after dark.

Blue lets Varg in the back seat, then slides gracefully into the front where I’m immediately assaulted by her scent: clean notes of mint and tea tree oil overlapping her earthy, womanly essence. Varg smells equally strong but far less enticing. He sniffs me a few times; then settles down for the ride, apparently no more enthralled with my scent than I am with his.

As she sets her bag on the floor and pulls the buckle closed with one hand, the other hand, absently fingers the Belladonna necklace. It peeks out from beneath her white ruffled collar shirt, an unusual departure from the casual knit tops she typically wears under her vest. “Does the necklace bother you?”

Her lovely face twists into a grimace, and her stunning blue eyes spark with annoyance. “It bothers me in the sense that it’s sitting on my neck and I have nothing to wear with it.”

I glance down at the subtle but delectable curve of her breasts at the collar opening. “What you have on seems fine to me.”

Blue’s grimace deepens and she pulls her fingers away from the necklace, tucking her hair behind her ear. Her mark, the streak of blue tinted hair, stands out in vivid contrast to her long, dark chocolate tresses. She asks, “Do you think she’ll be able to get this thing off me?”

“If she can’t, I’ll be surprised.”

As I put the car in gear and head over to the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop, she reaches over and turns the radio to soft jazz. When the track ends, a broadcaster comes on. “The dramatic and frightening increase in Dark Vampire turnings continues to plague the city of Crimson Hollow. Seven deaths were reported yesterday, and the numbers continue to climb. Be sure to stay inside when the sun goes down, and don’t forget to pick up your holy water. The city’s churches have banded together to donate up to five vials per family. Just stop by your local church for a supply.”

Blue turns to me. “Jack, you should let me help with those cases. I’ve got time now.”

The idea of her chasing after Dark Vampires turns my insides cold. Rarely do Norms or even the Gifted take on the job of exterminator, and usually it means an early grave. That job is best left to Daylight Vampires who can compete on an equal playing field. “We aren’t there yet,” I assure her. “I’m bringing in some new exterminators to help with the problem.”

“When? Because the death toll is rising, and we’re bordering on all-out panic. Plus the Dilectus Deo are using this to strengthen their platform. We can’t afford for this to continue, or all the supernatural breeds will be at risk.”

“Well, the Dilectus Deo is upset about it, no doubt. But for some reason they’re fixated on the magical community.”

Blue scrunches her eyebrows. “Maybe they’re worried about retaliation from the Vampires and think the Gifted are an easier target.”

“Perhaps.”

Blue chews her lip as she ponders the situation. “It is odd, though . . . Is this issue still limited to Crimson Hollow?”

“So far, though the Dilectus Deo are riling folks up across the continent.”

“Hmm.”

She continues to chew her lip, and erotic thoughts slip into my mind. Oh, how I would love to pull over right now and take that lip into my mouth, biting it gently until a drop of blood forms, then soothing it with my tongue. Don’t think of her that way, I scold myself.

Her damn lucky teeth . . .

Don’t think of her that way, for Christ’s sake!

“How’s your training coming?”

Blue’s entire countenance brightens, a stunning smile appearing on her face. Damn it.

“Well, besides the fact that Wang and Yao are evil incarnate, and I’m utterly exhausted from the workouts, I love it. But, seriously, four hours a day?”

“We’ve got to get you in shape quickly. What should I have them omit? Speed? Strength? Weapon use? Hand-to-hand combat?” I shake my head. “It has to be done, all of it.”

She sighs in resignation. “So where did you find Wang and Yao? I knew you were getting me a trainer, but I never expected the two great warrior lovers of the Cathay.”

I smile at that. “Who’s more suited to train the future savior of the world?”

Blue smacks my shoulder. “Shut up! I don’t believe that myself, and even if it were true, you better not go advertising it like that. Besides, if I do somehow manage to fulfill the prophecy, love is supposed to be my weapon, and I doubt that Wang and Yao will help me there.”

I chuckle at that. “No, I don’t suppose they will.” But then I sober up. “You’re too important to the future of all breeds and too vulnerable to attack from anyone who might wish to harm you. For your own safety, you have to be able to defend yourself.”

Blue frowns and starts to fidget. “Light is my palisade, so that’s my defense. Justice is my design, so that’s my motive. And love is my instrument, so that is what I should use to destroy her. But how do you destroy with love? It doesn’t even seem right. Love isn’t destructive. It builds a person up.”

“It will come to you when it’s time.”

Blue glares at me. “I guess I need to find someone to love, and since you aren’t up for the job, I should probably start dating.”

A deep pain strikes me in the depths of my chest at that thought, but thankfully at that moment we arrive at the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop. Not a moment too soon, by my estimation. I don’t care to get into that conversation.

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Chapter 06: An Awakened Soul

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 9, 2022, Red Ages

I stomp into the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop, releasing some of my irritation at the darn prophecy and Jack.

Dragomira spots my flashing eyes. “Hah!” she barks. “So the lovers quarrel.”

“We aren’t lovers,” I protest vehemently. Unfortunately.

Jack grimaces, and Varg releases a short puff of air through his nostrils that sounds suspiciously like a snort. Whose side is he on, anyway?

Dragomira throws me a patronizing glance. “So you say. Bolt the door behind you and follow me.”

We make our way to the back room. Situated in the middle of the only open floor space, surrounded by rows of shelves containing all manner of magical goodies, is a high wooden stool. I toss my bag on the floor and take the seat, nervous about what’s about to transpire.

“What are you going to do?”

Dragomira gives me a magnificent smile, clearly happily anticipating this task. “First I’ll examine it with my eyes, my fingers, and then my other senses. Now, I haven’t all day. Unbuckle your vest and unbutton your blouse a bit so I can examine it.”

I give Jack a hard glare over her shoulder as though he arranged this just for his pleasure. His lips quirk the barest hint of a smile in response, and he can’t control the telltale signs of amusement in the crinkling corners of his eyes. I glare harder.

Once I’ve arranged my collar to afford as much modesty as possible while still giving Dragomira a view of my shoulders and the tops of my breasts, she starts circling me.

Her penetrating gaze takes in every minute detail of the necklace as her excitement and determination fill the room. She’s a woman who enjoys a challenge. She fingers the interlocking links and counts the dangling strands. She even counts the number of links per strand.

After several minutes of agonizing silence, she murmurs, “This was made around the beginning of the Red Ages. It most likely originated somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, and it’s clearly very powerful.”

“How can it be when it doesn’t work on me at all? My gift has actually been more powerful since I’ve had it on.”

“Hmm.” She sounds disbelieving.

“I’ll prove it,” I insist. “Think of an emotional event in your past.”

Dragomira steps back and tightens her face into an indiscernible mask, but a distinct wave of rage billows from her body.

“Rage,” I say. “Give me something else.” After a second, I sense tremendous loss. “You’re grieving. Do I need to continue?”

Dragomira shakes her head.

I shift in my seat, and my shirt falls slightly.

Dragomira’s sharp intake of breath draws my eyes to her face. She’s staring at my birthmark, a dot twice encircled, the outer circle is wavy like a sun sign. She mutters, “So this is the birthmark. Well, that makes sense now.”

“What?”

Still gazing at my blemish, she speaks, almost as though to herself. “You don’t have a magic gift at all. Well, you do have the blue streak of hair, so you may indeed have a gift—but it certainly isn’t the power you’ve displayed while wearing this necklace. Your birthmark signifies many things, but what it most represents is that of the eternal soul.”

She peers at me intently now. “What you have, my dear Illustrissima is an awakened soul.”

My eyes lock with Jack’s from across the room as I ponder what that means, and a profound silence fills the air.

Dragomira sits down in one of the wingback chairs. I move to get down from the stool, but she stops me with a wave of her hand. “This will just take a moment. The Gifted have the ability to use magic, which is nothing more than the transferring or unlocking of energy. As I’m sure you know, the energy is always borrowed from one object and transferred to another in the magical act. The energy isn’t retained in the body, nor does it touch the soul.

“But Blue, you’re different. You don’t have to use the energy of any object. You are the energy. It’s more than that. Normally a soul is confined within the skin, and only a small amount of light escapes.”

Dragomira glances at Jack. “You can clearly see that her light fills the room,” she says. “It’s free, so to speak.”

She turns to me again. “Of course, if you allowed your soul to separate completely from your body, you would lose touch with your humanity and have a difficult time returning, so your soul must stay in residence. But you can shape it and use it at your will; it has no boundaries.”

I protest, “But my soul does have boundaries. I had to push so hard to get it out at first when I was in the crypt, and I was so tired that I had to pull energy from some source in the sky. I’m not sure, but it might have been from the Plane of Light.”

Dragomira purses her lips. “Perhaps you use your body as a reservoir or you don’t know how to fully access your power, but either way, you can perform your ‘magic,’ so to speak, with your own soul. Nevertheless, this necklace must come off. It’s pointless to speculate further until it does and we see what happens to your power.” She jumps off the chair to examine it again.

I suspect she has some interesting theories that I wish I were privy to. Even if my soul has no boundaries, my patience certainly does. I clasp my hands together, and Dragomira begins to probe the necklace with her mind. I’m surprised I can feel her energy pushing against my skin, sometimes forceful, sometimes as light as a summer breeze.

After a few minutes, she stands back, emanating a feeling of satisfaction.

“Did you unlock it?” I ask.

“Not yet, but I believe I know the way. Patience.”

Dragomira starts chanting in the same ancient language she used when I was first in her shop. Someone, whom we now assume to have been Blackwater, tried to penetrate her wards, which are the protective spells cast around her building. Just like then, her rich voice in its multitude of tones strikes a deep chord within me. She starts moving her arms in a silent language of their own in harmony with the rhythm of the chant. Her eyes seem to flicker with a golden light, and the room fills with the thrum of power, a gentle electrifying sensation. It seems as though the power is seeping through the walls and the floor. She’s pulling it into her.

The necklace grows hot on my skin, and the pressure in the room intensifies. I focus on Jack and Varg to distract myself.

Jack leans back in his chair, his eyes half closed, utterly transfixed by the situation. I like to call this his panther stare; he appears relaxed, but like silk over steel, he’s disguising his strength, lulling his victim into relaxation. And like the panther, he hides as he stalks, but is ever ready to pounce.

Varg grumbles low in his chest and bares his teeth menacingly at an unseen threat. The power of Dragomira’s ritual continues to weigh heavy in the air, but the room is still—except that strangely, Varg’s fur waves like he’s in the eye of a storm, as though unfelt wind blows on him alone. His eyes are intent on me and low rumbling noises continually emit from his throat.

Dragomira peers appraisingly at Varg, then dismisses him as she circles me, the cadence of her song quickening. She moves her hands in brief, rapid strokes, alternating between cutting sharply through the air and waving gracefully, sinuously. The crushing force of the power, the weight of the air, the electrifying tingles become almost unbearable, and Dragomira’s face breaks into a sheen of sweat as she whirls around me.

Abruptly, the air lightens and seems to evaporate from the room. A cracking sound snaps loudly from several directions at once as her cabinet doors shatter. The glass crashes to the floor, making a tinkling noise as the shards hit each other on the way down. The necklace latch bursts open and the chain slides off my neck and into my lap.

Jack and Varg rush toward us, and Dragomira collapses in the chair. I stand shakily with the Belladonna necklace grasped loosely in my hand. A strange sense of isolation strikes me, a colorless depression that I can’t name. I wave aside Jack’s unspoken offer of assistance and walk on unsteady legs to the comfort of the upholstery. I tuck the necklace into my bag, and with a deep breath, I sink into the chair.

“I feel so peculiar.”

“How so?” Dragomira prods.

“I feel somehow less, like everything is coming at me through a long tunnel,” I explain. “I think the necklace heightened my senses, and I’m back to normal now, but it doesn’t feel like normal anymore. It feels restrictive.” I sweep the three of them with my senses. “Yes, you’re all duller now.”

Jack glances at Dragomira with a question in his face, and she nods in return. I watch the exchange in frustration. “What?”

He eyes me with concern. “Your light is shining less brightly now. In fact, your aura is back to what it was before the necklace.”

Dragomira frowns. “The necklace was subduing magic that is currently at work on you. I think someone has spelled you and it’s constrained your soul. Do you know anything about this?”

I lean forward, shocked. “Constrained my soul? When would someone have done that? Blackwater wasn’t Gifted in that way.”

Jack asks, “Have you felt any unusual shifts in your senses? Was there a time when your senses were more powerful before the necklace?”

I puzzle at this and sift through my memories. “Maybe they were stronger when I was very young, at the orphanage.”

He runs his hands through his hair, enraged. “For Christ’s sake! I should have thought of that. The housemother, Anna Marie. For some reason she must have locked down your soul. Maybe that’s how she got the children to stop fearing you so much.”

My mind grapples with that, and the pieces click together. “Yes! She took me to the woods for a special picnic. She said we were going to sing songs so the kids would like me better. That’s exactly it!”

Dragomira seems skeptical. “Pull your chair over here. Let me examine this work.”

I drag the chair across the rough wooden planks until I’m directly across from her. She leans forward and applies a gentle pressure against my head. I feel a kind of light shifting feeling, like she’s sifting through some airy force-field on the surface of my skin that I never felt before. It makes me shiver.

Dragomira settles back in her chair. “This isn’t the work of a housemother. This is the work of a powerful sorceress. A finer weaving I’ve never seen from a human. She’s woven gossamer, gray magic around your soul to lock it in place.”

“Gray magic! But she wasn’t an evil sort of woman, I would swear it. She was the kindest housemother there.”

“Gray magic is not evil,” Dragomira scoffs. “That’s ridiculous superstition. It simply utilizes lower life forms that have already died of natural causes. It’s a mix of residual energy from life and the entropy that occurs with death. Gray magic is perfect for neutralizing life-force, which you have in abundance.”

“Can you undo it?”

She purses her lips. “Yes, I can undo it. It will be delicate work. But think on this. You say she had no bad intentions, yet she wove it around you. What do you think will happen to your light and your senses when we completely release your soul?”

Jack wears a contemplative expression that matches my mood. Holding his gaze steadily, I reply, “I think my light will become brighter and my senses stronger. It’ll be difficult, maybe even overwhelming at first. I’ll know more about people than I even know now, and it’ll make them uneasy. But I’m not a child who will accidently slip and tell people what I know. I won’t cause them to fear me like I did when I was young. And I’ll acclimatize over time to the stronger senses. That’s my best guess.”

Jack nods in agreement.

I turn to Dragomira. “Please do it.”

“Then come kneel in front of me.”

I do as she asks, and she lays her hands on the top of my head. I relax my mind to feel her work. This time there are no hand gestures, only a soft murmuring from the back of her throat. It sounds almost guttural but is so vibrant in tone that it reminds me of the scent of rich, dark soil just after a fresh rain.

Unexpectedly, I feel Varg’s warm, fluffy fur as he leans his head on my lap. I smile and stroke him as Dragomira combs through the surface of my mind and just under the skin of my body. It feels almost ticklish, like a feather brushing against my thoughts. She delves in and out with the lightest touch, and I can almost imagine her pulling threads loose as her low, rhythmic chanting progresses.

With Varg warm against me and Dragomira’s psychic massage, I grow sleepy after a time. With great will, I prop my eyes open to see Jack. He sits, watching closely with a tight expression on his face. He catches my gaze and smiles.

Suddenly, his pupils constrict and his eyes widen in alarm. At the same moment I feel a rush of, well, everything. Everything becomes larger, louder, and stronger. I can feel Jack’s worry with precision, and underneath I sense his affection, desire, and even reverence. I frown at the reverence part. That needs to stop.

My face must give me away because the next thing I know, Jack has controlled his emotions, and my attention shifts to Dragomira. She feels hopeful, good, and strong, but she seethes with an unquenchable, bitter rage underneath. I reel back from her, and noticing, she smiles a bitter smile.

“Don’t worry, Blue. That anger is not for anyone of this world.”

I’m tempted to open up my senses to examine her soul, but out of respect for her privacy, I refrain.

Instead, I turn to Varg. He issues a feeling of watchful concern, steadfast loyalty, and a wild, predatory magic that lies just beneath the surface.

I return to Jack. “What are you so worried about?”

He whispers, “Your soul light. It brightens this room like the sun glistening on a snow-covered landscape. It’s almost hard to see you through it.”

Dragomira scoffs. “You will survive, Jack. You’ll get accustomed to it like she will. If not, get sunglasses.”

She turns to me. “Apparently the housemother Anna Marie locked your soul light down with the gray magic to make it weaker. Whether she had good or bad intentions, we can only speculate. Then when Tobias Blackwater put the Belladonna necklace on you, he assumed it would restrain your gift—But because your gift isn’t a normal gift, but rather an awakened soul, all it did was counteract the spell that Anna Marie put on you. That’s why the Belladonna necklace served to make your senses stronger.”

The whole thing makes sense now. That explains why Blackwater thought the necklace would make it impossible to use my gift. “So the Belladonna necklace actually works?”

“Yes, it counteracted the magic that was suppressing your soul light.” She clears her throat. “One last thing, and then I’ll ask you two to leave so I can rest.”

Now I sense weariness billowing off her in gusts, as the euphoria from her accomplishment wanes.

She throws her hand up, frustrated. “Illustrissima. I gave you a knife and gave you its name. Yet when you needed it most, you didn’t call it.”

I’m perplexed. “Call the knife?”

“Yes!” she hisses. “You just need to call the knife, and it will come.”

“Are you serious?”

Her lips press firmly together and her frustration pours out of her like she’s dealing with the slow kid in class, and maybe she is. “Yes! When things have names they should be used. Call it. Now.”

Feeling silly, I do as she requests. “Guardian,” I call out. Nothing happens. I regard her curiously.

A smile plays over her lips. “Where is the knife at present?”

Jack answers, “It’s at my house. I forgot to bring it back to her. It was found at the crypt among Blackwater’s possessions.”

As he speaks, I see a flash out of the corner of my eye. Then thunk! The knife stabs the wood floor just next to my right hand. My eyes rest in amazement on my beautiful weapon with its sapphire-encrusted hilt still vibrating to and fro from the force of its landing.

A mischievous smile flits across Dragomira’s face. “Remember this, Illustrissima. Names have power.”

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Chapter 07: Circle of Fire

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 9, 2022, Red Ages

As Jack drives us home, I reflect on all I’ve learned over the past two days. I feel a fool for not calling my knife while struggling with Blackwater, but I had no idea it would come.

I lean against the window, and the cool glass presses against my forehead as I watch downtown Crimson Hollow pass us by. There are no protests to be seen, thank goodness. The Dilectus Deo are a religious hate group who believe that Norms are the true Beloved of God and are known for protesting anything to do with Gifted people or Vampires. In fact, it’s become far too commonplace to see them waving their hate signs every day of the week.

The dark streets are alight with firefly lamp posts, and glow stones illuminate the scattered benches. Banners hang across intersections, announcing the upcoming Sun Flare Celebration. A balloon vendor situated outside Comet Park packs up his truck. They’ve been handing them out to children to build excitement for the festival, I suppose.

It’s become so commercial now. When I was younger, artists, street performers, and the Gifted filled the area with mischievous tricks, dazzling spectacles, and exuberant laughter, but I don’t recall this level of build-up. It seems they’re trying to draw a large crowd to make as much money as possible.

It used to be a more relaxed affair, put on solely for the enjoyment of the residents and most of the talent was volunteered by the residents themselves. I remember street mimes, jugglers, acrobats, fire performers, and even stilt walkers. My favorite was an artist who used his gift to fashion colored smoke into the shape of different animals, making children squeal with delight. The dragon was the best; it even breathed fire. Now the whole event seems to be a money-making scheme with everything designed to make a profit for the city businesses. I must remember to check with the Internal Investigations Officer for city corruption.

My memories are interrupted by the sound of Jack’s phone ringing. He answers it quickly, never hesitating in his driving.

I hear some mumbling on the other side, but I can’t quite make it out. It seems my heightened senses don’t extend to the original five everyone is born with. The voice sounds like Ernesto, but I can’t be sure. I wish I could hear the conversation because Jack exudes so much tension and worry that my heart starts to race.

“I’ll be right there.” He clicks his phone shut, curt as always.

“Is there a problem?”

He frowns, “That was Ernesto. He’s tracking four Dark Vampires in a dense residential area, and the other exterminators are otherwise occupied. His oak stake fell down a sewer grate, and he can’t retrieve it without tearing apart the sidewalk. Do you have holy water on you?”

“Of course. Three vials.”

His frown deepens. “From now on, carry no less than ten vials, but three will have to do for today. I’m going to assist him, and you’re going to stay in the car.”

“I can certainly help, and don’t you think you should just commission a Hallowed Hazer for me if you think I need that much holy water?”

A Hallowed Hazer is a gun that shoots a mist of holy water. I cringe at the thought of carrying one around, though I know I can’t depend on the other Holy elements to kill Dark Vampires. The sun’s destructive rays are on their own schedule, and Holy ground isn’t always in close proximity—and I’m certainly not fast enough to kill them with an oak stake. Holy water is the only reliable way I have to ensure their death.

Jack tightens his jaw and commands through tight lips, “You are in no way a match for Dark Vampires. Your only defense is holy water, and it should be used as just that: defense. If you have any issues with following this order—and make no mistake, it is an order—then I won’t bring you to the scene, and Ernesto will be fighting four Dark Vampires on his own without an oak stake. So what will it be?”

Livid, both at him and the truth of my limitations, I respond through clenched teeth. “I’ll stay in the car.”

His anxiety eases, which mollifies me slightly, and I do mean slightly.

I soften a little more as he explains himself further. “There’s a reason that Ernesto is our exterminator at the Supernatural Investigation Bureau. If you recall, Norms and the Gifted were near extinction before the Great Pact was made, and Daylight Vampires agreed to exterminate Dark Vampires. Only Daylight Vampires can match a Dark Vampire’s speed and strength. If I allow you to hunt them, it would be like signing your death warrant.”

His concern is touching, but never one to let an opportunity go, I prompt, “And the Hallowed Hazer? It would be far more accurate than throwing a vial of holy water on them. If I were in a defensive situation, I mean.”

Jack’s jaw clenches. “I’ll see about getting one for you, but only if you promise to use it just as a defense weapon.” With that said, he takes a hard and fast turn. The next few blocks speed past, and then we pull over to the side of the road. We’re in a residential area adjacent to the city center, crowded by apartment buildings.

Jack’s phone rings again. “Yes,” he answers.

Relief and a sense of perplexity coils off him as he listens intently. “They just gave up the hunt and took off?”

He listens for a second. “We’re at the corner of Boss Hardy and Hog Mountain Road. Which direction did they go?”

Jack stays on the phone this time and pulls back onto the street. He turns his attention to me and explains, “They’re moving away from us. We’ll swing around west and try to intercept them from the north.”

He takes a hard left, drives a few blocks, then makes a quick right. He moves as fast as is safe in such a populated area, quickly maneuvering through downtown.

Ernesto says something again, and Jack mutters, “Shit.”

He speaks over the phone to me. “Now that we’re heading east, they’re heading east too, at a dead run.”

This puzzles me. Dark Vampires are more than a bit crazy, what with being soulless and, well, dead. For them to operate in such an organized manner is unheard of.

He speaks into his phone as he takes a hard left again. “We’ll head a few blocks, go east until we pass them, and then try to cut them off by heading south.”

He makes a quick right, turning so hard that I have to put my hand down to keep my balance. Jack’s jaw tenses and the steering wheel groans at the force of his grip. Oh! I realize I’m holding onto his thigh. I pull my arm back like I’ve been burned. But it’s a good burn.

After a minute he says to the phone, “We’ve reached Soul View Drive. Have we passed you yet?”

A pause, then he spits, “By how much?”

He jerks the wheel in frustration. “Okay, we just turned right. For Christ’s sake!”

He speaks to me again. “They just turned south.”

“Jack,” I say, “That’s three times they’ve turned when we turned. Twice might be chance, but three times? They know where we are, and they’re trying to get away from us. If you want to catch them, you have to trap them.”

Jack scowls but must agree with me as he shares my theory with Ernesto, and a string of curses sounds through the phone.

Jack says, “I’ll corral them toward Eagles Point and try to trap them at the cliff. Stick with them until the junction of Heavenly Heights and Demon’s Pass. Then take Demon’s Pass and situate yourself at the bottom of the cliff.”

A feeling of savagery grows behind me. I check Varg in the back seat. He’s sitting erect, his nostrils and ears working feverishly.

Jack whips us left again, and we move into the suburbs at an astounding speed. The odometer climbs past eighty when I finally turn away from it to save my sanity. I hold on to the safety strap so I don’t end up in Jack’s lap on the next turn. Soon the suburbs become small farms, and still we race on. While it’s entirely possible for Vampires to go this fast, they can usually only do so for short periods of time. Ernesto will be starving when he’s done.

Both Varg’s and Jack’s excitement increases. It seems Jack’s anticipation of the hunt has eclipsed his tension, but he’s keeping it under tight rein. His jaw is clenched, and his brows furrow in concentration. He keeps up an occasional monosyllabic conversation with Ernesto. I imagine it must be difficult for Ernesto to talk at this pace.

I suggest, “Slow down before we get to the cliff to give Ernesto a chance to recover a bit.”

I settle back in my seat and try to relax until he says to Ernesto, “I’ve just passed the fork of Heavenly Heights and Demon’s Pass. Why don’t we disconnect. There’s nowhere for them to go now but up.” A pause, and then he snaps his phone shut.

Jack says, “Get your vials ready. I’m driving to the lookout now.”

Good thinking, considering it’s going to be Jack against four. That’s worrying, but I know Ernesto has to stay at the bottom to finish them off. I unsnap the cover of the vial case I keep on my holster.

The road has turned to dirt, a sign that we’ve almost arrived at our destination. Suddenly I can see only what is in the path of his headlights since this road has no street lamps. Jack takes a jog in the road at top speed and the car fishtails slightly. When he gets it under control, it’s a straight shot up to the top.

I make out four Vampires, barely discernible in the darkness, heading toward the cliff. Jack slows the car and shines the headlights on the figures. I suck my breath in, they’re near the edge. Three of the Vampires stop in time, but the fourth one jumps right over.

I hope Ernesto finishes him at the bottom. Even a drop that far won’t kill a Vampire, but it may crush its bones. Vampires can regenerate limbs and even survive decapitation if they manage to find their head and place it back on their neck. They’re virtually immortal until they turn Dark. Even then it takes one of the Holy elements to destroy them.

Jack pulls the car to a stop, leaving it running, and hops out in a flash. I unroll the window so I can hear what’s happening. A wave of ferocious anger comes from the back seat, followed shortly by a fierce howl. Varg’s not at all happy with Dark Vampires being this close.

Jack takes off and I watch, breathless, as he rushes toward the edge. My fear that he’s going to fly right over the cliff drives deep into my gut. I lean forward, my knuckles turning white as I grip the dash. At the last second, Jack jumps up and dropkicks one of the Dark Vampires off the cliff. An unearthly scream shatters the peace of the mountains as the creature tumbles three hundred feet to the ground.

With a roll and a jump, Jack is on his feet again in an instant. The two remaining vile creatures come at him, one from each side, but curiously, they keep glancing back at the car and snarling. Varg snarls right back.

While one of them is fixated on the car, Jack gives it a roundhouse kick off the cliff. The Night-Crawler moans as it flies through the air, but the sounds stop abruptly as soon as it’s out of view.

The last Dark Vampire jumps on Jack’s back and sinks its fangs into Jack’s neck. Jack reaches behind his head and grabs the Night-Crawler’s chin. He squeezes it in his hand, crushing the beast’s jaw beneath his grasp and mangling its face into a bloody pulp. A shrill scream cuts the night. The creature releases its teeth, and a spout of blood shoots out of Jack’s neck.

Jack grabs the monster’s head, and with a quick jerk and a sharp crunch, he breaks its neck. Relentless, it clings to Jack like a tick on a hound. He rolls with the creature, getting dangerously close to the cliff’s edge.

“Please don’t go over. Please don’t go over,” I whisper.

They spin round and round to the very brink of the drop-off. My heart thunders in my breast. Just inches away, they come to a stop. Jack grabs its hands and pulverizes the fingers that grasp him.

The windshield fogs from my heavy breath. I wipe frantically at it to clear the view.

The head of the soulless beast lolls uselessly, but it manages to hang on to Jack with one arm and both legs. Jack clutches one of its legs and throws himself flat on the ground, slamming the beast’s knee into a rock. Jack’s soft grunt of exertion is eclipsed by the creature’s shrill whine. It now hangs by just one hand like a limp marionette. Jack twists around and releases the final hand.

The Dark Vampire, scrabbling in the dirt, still reaches for Jack, but it can’t get leverage with its broken knee and hand. Planting his foot against the Night-Crawler’s side, Jack shoves it over the brink. He turns around and starts heading back to the car, a bloody mess.

Tension leaves my body, and I collapse back in my seat. Jack pauses on the way to the car to rip off his destroyed shirt and use it to put pressure on his neck wound. The blood has already slowed. I’m entranced by the broad expanse of Jack’s chest, golden muscles rippling in rays of moonlight. It’s such a gorgeous display, and my breath catches for a different reason this time.

Then something catches my attention from beyond my hunky muscle-bound warrior, and Varg growls savagely yet again. Behind Jack, the silhouette of an arm and head appear over the edge of the cliff. Then a leg, and the Vampire that Jack had drop-kicked, stands. It starts limping toward Jack.

I jump out of the car. “Behind you!”

Jack spins around and promptly closes the distance between himself and the last Dark Vampire. With a great leap, he latches his legs around the vile creature’s waist. The Night-Crawler grasps Jack’s head as though to twist it. My heart stops in horror and I instinctively step forward.

Jack’s neck strains with the effort of keeping the Dark Vampire from twisting his head off. At the same time, he tightens his leg hold on the Night-Crawler and pushes its head backwards with one hand. The monster bends back at the waist under the force of Jack’s strength. It flails wildly, trying to keep hold of Jack’s head as Jack pushes it out of reach. The Night-Crawler’s hands eventually release their grasp. A whoosh of relief escapes my lips.

Jack grasps the creature’s head firmly. He pushes down on it with his thighs and simultaneously pulls up and twists the Dark Vampire’s head. A sickening crunch fills the air as skin and sinew shred. Jack leaps back from the Vampire with its head still in his hands. Blood gushes. He drops the head, and it lands with a soft thud and a small roll. The body teeters over on its side, squirming and reaching. The earth is drenched with scarlet.

Jack turns to me, and I stumble back, startled. I’ve never seen him like this before, fangs extended and face twisted in a murderous rage. Fear, no matter how irrational, churns in my gut. Jack must see it in my eyes because he flinches and turns his head away from me.

I smash the fear down. This is Jack, I remind myself. I won’t let myself be afraid of him.

With that, I rush forward to hand him my vial of holy water, but the Dark Vampire’s body has already started smoking. Then its flesh blisters. It blackens.

Jack steps back. He looks at me strangely and positions himself between me and the creature. “Come here, slowly.”

I creep up to Jack, and with every step forward, the Vampire’s loathsome body chars even more. Suddenly it catches fire and poofs into ash.

Jack and I stand, stunned. “You really can kill Vampires with your light.”

I shake my head. “No, the other one didn’t die in Shroud Valley until I threw holy water on it. Something else must have caused this.”

“But the spell wasn’t lifted then.” He grabs my hand and pulls me to the car. “Let’s go see if any are alive at the bottom.”

Jack floors it down to the fork, then takes a hairpin left. A few minutes later we’re at the foot of the cliff, and Jack parks the car with the headlights shining directly on Ernesto Ramos-Delgado. He sits on a boulder surrounded by three headless Vampire bodies and three small piles of ash that I can only assume are the heads.

Ernesto stands as soon as we arrive, ever the gentleman. He was turned in his fifties several hundred years ago, and he holds fast to traditional etiquette. He wears his typical hunting outfit, a loose black linen pant-suit that looks dashing with his sweeping mustache. The sprinkling of grey in his dark brown hair frames his face, accenting his light brown skin

The beheaded bodies thrash around weakly as the blood drains from their necks. I rush out of the car to hand Ernesto my vials of holy water. As I near him, these bodies also start to smoke and burn. Ernesto studies the Vampire carnage as it smolders, then catches fire. He looks at Jack, who is looking at me. I cover my mouth in dismay. The flames surge, blasting the night air with their heat. Then one after the other, the Dark Vampire bodies puff into piles of ash.

Ernesto dusts off his pants and grins, appearing quite amused by the exploding Vampires. Then with a formal bow, he says “Señor and Señorita. So good of you to come and help me clean up this mess.” His eyes drop hungrily to my neck for a brief moment, and I give a little shudder. He’s never done that before, but then again, I’ve never been near him after such an exertion.

Jack immediately places himself between Ernesto and I, remaining calm but deliberate about his intentions. His bare back in front of me ripples with tension.

Ernesto turns away, embarrassed, then says, “Perhaps you can fill me in on the way back.”

Jack replies smoothly, “Of course, my friend. But first, let me share some of the blood from the cooler in my trunk.”

Ernesto smiles gratefully and precedes Jack to the back of the car. Meanwhile, I stand awkwardly in the beam of the headlights, between the car and the Vampire dust, waiting until they’ve slaked their thirst.

A few minutes later we’re headed back to town, and Jack is trying to explain the unexplainable. “It appears Blue had a spell cast on her when she was young that subdued the effect of her light. Dragomira unraveled the enchantment today, and we seem to have found another of her gifts. Her light shines so strongly that it repels Dark Vampires, and that’s how they knew to run from us. Somehow her light acts like one of the Holy elements that will burn them.”

Ernesto is silent for a moment, then says simply, “So the circle of light that surrounds her is also a circle of fire.”

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Chapter 08: Speculative Case

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 10, 2022, Red Ages

Rubalia Devonshire raises one rigid finger at me, asking me to wait a moment while she finishes chewing out the maintenance department for not fixing the vent issue in Xavier’s office. As Special Assistant, Rubalia fills the role of research assistant, office manager, and magnificent reception commander. She rules the department with an iron fist, or a rigid finger, depending on the day. Right now, her gold-tipped, wavy brown hair bounces as her head moves in accord with her agitation.

Rubalia sits behind a reception counter in our lobby. It’s a warm space, decorated with beige carpet and flooded with natural light from the same floor to ceiling windows that line our offices. I let my eyes rove the space and they snag over the brown leather furniture in the seating area. I notice Rubalia’s brought in another bright piece of artwork, making the space even cheerier. As always, her taste is impeccable.

When she snaps the phone down, she lifts her glittering ruby cat-eyed specs off her deep brown eyes and flicks through her organizer. She finds my tab and hands me a stack of memos.

“Thank you, Rubalia.”

I’m inspired by her decorating, and when I reach my office, I give it a critical eye. It’s sparsely furnished with my comfortable office chair, two guest chairs, a sturdy oak desk, and two matching file cabinets. Besides that, there’s only the brown leather bed Rubalia made for Varg that sits by the wall of windows and my lush fern in the corner. The space really could use some personal touches and color, but that will have to wait for another day.

I sit down and rifle through my messages. One slips out of my hand and falls in the crack between my desk and my filing cabinet. With a shove, I push the file cabinet to the side and see the message lying on the carpet next to another slip of paper. I wonder what that is. I grab both memos and move the filing cabinet back in place.

The second piece of paper is a note in Rubalia’s elegant handwriting where she’s listed the name and number of the Internal Investigations Officer with the City of Crimson Hollow. I’d asked her for this contact during the Blackwater case, so the note must have slipped into that spot some time ago. It would never take Rubalia months to finish a piece of research like this. Her entire deportment screams perfectionist, which anyone can see from her sleek skirt suits and the deathly stilettos on her tiny feet, but it’s most obvious in her running of the office.

I drum my fingers on my desk as I read the name: Rita Hardgrave. Well, Rita, let’s have a chat.

Someone picks up after half a ring. “Hello, may I please speak with Rita Hardgrave?”

An assertive, professional voice answers, “This is she.”

“Rita, this is Inspector Bluebell Kildare from the Supernatural Investigation Bureau, Homicide Unit. I understand you’re in charge of Internal Investigations with the city. Is that correct?”

She says, “That’s correct. How can I help you?”

“I’d like to stop by your office tomorrow. I don’t have anything to report. I just have some questions.”

“Sure, stop on by,” she says. “I’m pretty open tomorrow.”

“Thanks, Rita. I’ll speak with you soon.”

I flip through the rest of the messages and find one that I was hoping never to see. The young man I tried to rescue outside of the Glenwood mansion had made it through surgery, but had some bleeding in his brain from a concussion. When I visited him, he was in a coma. His name was Matthew Pruit, and he was only twenty-three years old. The message says he passed away early this morning.

I lean my head on my hands and fight the tears prickling my eyes. It’s so senseless. Why are we fighting amongst ourselves? My mind drifts back to the prophecy. “When man wrongs man . . . ”

A tap on my door interrupts my grieving. Jack stands in the doorway with furrowed eyebrows. “Are you okay?”

I shake the memo at him. “Matthew Pruit. It sucks.”

Jack scans the memo briefly; then his eyes soften slightly at the corners. “It does suck. Do you need a minute?”

“No, come on in.”

Jack remains where he is, and frowns. “Actually, we have a woman here reporting her husband’s gone missing. He’s a Gifted forest ranger. I’d like you to sit in on the interview.”

The thrill of a new case rushes through me. Great, a chance to be useful! “Okay, let’s do this.”

Varg follows us into the interview room and lounges in the corner, taking up far too much of the small space, while I settle down in a chrome-wheeled chair and await our next mystery. The door pushes open and Jack is preceded by a petite brunette woman sporting a sleek angled bob. An infant clings to her hip, and a young girl clutches her skirt. Even so burdened, she stands with rigid determination.

After Jack introduces Brigid to me, he holds out a chair for her. Instead of taking it, Brigid pats it, “Becky, You sit here, right by Mama.”

Becky is all of five years old, a shy girl with long, dark hair pinned in pink plastic barrettes. With a lot of effort and wiggling, she manages to climb in the chair and sits on her knees with her elbows on the table. When she’s settled, she notices Varg in the corner. With a little squeak of surprise, she says, “That’s a big doggy!”

I answer, “Yes, he’s a protector. He protects people, so he has to be big.”

Her adorable mouth makes an O-shape in wonder.

When Brigid is seated, she shows her resourcefulness by pulling a pad of paper and crayons out of her bag. Becky starts drawing immediately with an endearingly tilted head and tiny eyebrows scrunched in concentration.

“Brigid,” Jack starts, “why don’t you tell us what happened.”

Brigid shakes her hair out of her face and bounces her baby boy on her knee gently as she starts her story. “My husband is missing. He was supposed to be home by six o’clock this morning and he never arrived. He worked third shift last night, and it isn’t like him to be late. By the time he gets home, he’s exhausted and falls asleep right away. Now it’s past four o’clock in the afternoon, and I know something must have happened to him.” Her sharp energy saturates the air; she’s tired, worried, and more than a little scared, but her resolve wins.

I ask gently, “What does your husband do for a living?”

A gleam of pride shines from her eyes. “He’s a forest ranger for the Western Blue Ridge District. He fights forest fires. I called his work and spoke to his boss, and he left work at five in the morning as usual.”

“Who did you speak with?”

“Randy. He’s the Station Supervisor.”

I jot some quick notes down as I go through my questions. “What’s your husband’s name and date of birth?”

“Joe Powers. He was born January 20th, 1992”

I puzzle a moment, bouncing the eraser off of my notepad. “That name sounds familiar. Was your husband a prominent political person?”

Brigid scowls. “No, he always kept a low profile, until yesterday that is.”

“What happened yesterday?”

I feel her irritation and fear spike. “He did an interview for the local jazz station. He’s a fire control expert.” She pinches her lips. “I told him not to do it, but he insisted it was an important public awareness piece.”

That’s where I heard the name. They must have announced his interview on the radio when Jack and I were listening to the news yesterday. “Why didn’t you want him doing the interview?”

Brigid indicates Becky. “I think my daughter may be Gifted, and with so much craziness about the Gifted lately, I don’t think it’s smart to advertise gifts in the family.”

Becky is clearly Gifted. I can feel the vibration of her magic humming far louder than I’d expect from a child her age. If it were a bit more developed, I might even be able to tell what the gift is. However, her mother seems to still be struggling with the fact that her daughter is Gifted, so I keep my curiosity to myself.

“What is your husband’s gift?”

She hesitates a moment, her reticence obvious. “He controls fires. He’s in charge of all the controlled burns in the region.”

“Exactly how does he control the fires?”

An expression of pride and admiration gleams from Brigid’s eyes. “He can start fires and regulate their consumption of energy to stop them. That’s why the Western Division of the Blue Ridge Forest Service hasn’t had any deaths in the last five years. Joe supervises all the controlled burnings and can stop any forest fire. He recently won an award at the station for saving a local family, so his department has been pressuring him to do some publicity.”

Brigid’s feelings of pride quickly transform into resentment.

“You’re angry with him about it. Did you two fight?”

Brigid stiffens in her chair as she clarifies, “We argued. We disagreed. We did not fight.”

Her baby takes this moment to pat her cheek and slip his fingers into her mouth, tugging at her lip. She takes his hand out of her mouth and gives his palm a quick kiss before turning back to me.

My heart softens at her touching display of maternal love. “Brigid, is there any chance he’s mad, and just staying at a family member or friend’s house?”

Brigid’s lips tighten. “He would never do that. I told him how I felt about it and my reasons why. He’s free to make his own decisions. I’m not a shrew.”

I sympathize, but these questions are necessary. “I have to follow every angle. I mean no offense. Is there anything else important that has happened in the last week?”

She thinks for a moment and shakes her head.

“Was anyone angry with him? Does he have any enemies? Work competitors, perhaps?”

She shakes her head vigorously this time. “No, his work buddies are practically extended family. They’re all worried about him too. This isn’t like him at all. He isn’t answering his chimerator or work phone either.” The baby starts to fuss, wiggling anxiously, obviously bored with this interview.

I give her a reassuring smile. “I believe you. But I have to ask a few other questions that are going to be uncomfortable. They’re just standard procedure, though.”

“Okay,” she consents.

Then little Becky asks in a timid voice, “Mama, can I have a red crayon?”

Brigid fishes a red one out of the bag for her, then entertains the little one by playing itsy-bitsy spider on his back as I go through my list of questions. I ask about substance abuse, mental or physical illness, financial stress, extramarital affairs, and recent insurance policies, the whole nine yards. She answers negatively to them all.

When I’m done, Jack clears his throat. “Brigid. As far as we can see there’s no clear sign of foul play. Sometimes adults just decide to leave, and by law, it’s their right. I’m not saying that’s the case with your husband. However, our laws are designed to balance an individual’s right to leave with the concern of the people who notice them missing.

“There are things we can do, like check credit card usage, cell phone records, and his phone’s GPS. But we can’t do any of those things until we can officially list him as missing. When there’s no clear sign of foul play, the law requires we wait forty-eight hours before we officially declare him missing and start invading his privacy. You’ll need to bring in your marriage certificate, financial records, and credit card numbers and sign some forms at that time.”

Panic fills Brigid’s eyes. “But he could be stranded on the side of the road somewhere, dying!”

Jack’s face fills with empathy. “If you know his regular route, we can send a car to scout it out, just to make sure there wasn’t an accident. That’s something we can do now.”

Some small measure of relief fills Brigid.

Jack straightens his papers. “Aside from that, I think you should head home and be there in case he comes back. If he doesn’t, then come here in about thirty-six hours and we’ll finish the paperwork.”

Jack turns to me. “Have Ernesto run that route ASAP.”

He turns to her again. “Ernesto is a Vampire, so he can track scent and see further than a regular agent. He’s my best man for this.”

Brigid sits stiffly, and Jack leaves me to gather the route information from her. When I’m done and she starts gathering her things together, Becky pushes her drawing across the table toward me, staring at me with worried eyes.

I pull it close and am astounded at the extraordinary detail for a five-year-old. It’s a picture of a burning church with fire shooting from the windows.

Becky asks in a small voice, “Do you like it? I made it for you.”

I smile at her. “Yes Becky. I love it. In fact, I’m going to hang it in my office.”

Becky’s face breaks into a smile, revealing one charming gap from a missing front tooth. Oh, I just want to squeeze her up. “You really are quite talented, and I hope you keep practicing.”

Becky scoots down from her chair. “I will.” Then her expression grows serious. “You’re a nice lady. Please find my daddy. He needs help.”

Oh how my heart breaks at her grave, little face. I glance at Brigid as a thick cloud of worry crowds the office.

She squeezes her daughter’s hand. “Come along, Becky. They’ll do everything they can, I’m sure.”

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Chapter 09: A Diseased Tree

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Jack Tanner

July 10, 2022, Red Ages

Determined to solve the mystery of the housemother who spelled Blue, I approach the Green Tree Orphanage, ready to use my influence here for the first time in many years. The orphanage is a sprawling three-story mansion, freshly painted in a soft green and accented with white trim. A large covered porch stretches the length of the front, and the backyard is fenced in and filled with shiny new playground equipment. Everything has been well maintained. I’m glad to see my donations are being put to good use, but that doesn’t quite pacify me. I should have been informed about the spell.

I tap the brass knocker and let the sounds of small feet pattering through the home calm my anger. A sharp click of heels precedes the opening of the door, and a tall, matronly woman with steel gray hair tied tightly in a bun assesses me.

“Jack,” she says brusquely as recognition shows in the pinched corners of her eyes.

“Good evening, Matilda. May we speak for a moment in private?”

She swings the door wide. “Of course. I’m always pleased to meet with a benefactor.”

I close the door behind me and follow her into her tidy office. She gestures toward the chair. “Have a seat, please. What can I do for you?”

I sit uncomfortably on the edge of a rose velvet armchair meant for daintier frames. “When Blue was in your charge, you caught one of the mothers performing a spell on her in the forest.”

Matilda’s eyes widen in remembrance, and then she grows cautious. I scent fear.

“Matilda, why was this not in my reports?”

She pinches her thin lips together. “I was asked to provide you with reports on anything that might affect her welfare, and in this instance it didn’t appear to be affected.”

My rage grows, but I hold it in tight control. “Regardless, I need to contact this housemother. I assume you still have her employee file?”

Matilda straightens her back. “Of course.” She stands stiffly and marches over to a wooden cabinet. Using a key that hangs around her neck, she opens the drawer and hands me the folder.

I open it and read the first page. It’s Anna Marie’s termination sheet. The reason for termination simply reads “Gifted.” It doesn’t say “cast unknown spell on Bluebell Kildare,” which would actually be a decent reason for termination. But what bothers me the most is that the word Gifted is underlined three times, heavily. The page is actually indented and torn along one of those lines, as though it was written with deep hatred.

I examine the signature and see it’s Matilda’s. My intuition tells me I’m dealing with a breedist, and more specifically, a breedist who was in charge of Blue for fifteen years.

As casually as I can, I say, “While you’re at it, Matilda, I’d like to see Blue’s file as well. Her complete file.”

Matilda’s mouth pinches again, and her lined face creases tightly. “Well, that’s confidential.”

My control slips, and my fangs descend. My senses sharpen, and the smell of this hateful woman’s blood calls to me like a vengeful dream. I breathe evenly for a few moments to curb my fury and allow her to think she’s won as she sits back down. When she taps her fingers on the desk impatiently, I slowly say, “Matilda, I expect the file to be in my hands within two minutes, or I’ll disassemble your file cabinet and take it myself.”

She huffs and quickly stands to retrieve the file.

Once I have both files in my hand, I order her, “Go tend to the children or something. I have some reading to do. I won’t touch any other files, and I’ll leave a copy of these neatly on your desk when I’m done.”

She’s obviously frightened and begins to protest.

I release a fraction of my rage in a low-pitched command. “Now!”

Matilda squeaks as she runs from the room, slamming the door behind her.

After copying the material, I start reading and easily find what I wanted in Anna Marie’s file. Her real name is Maev Dermot, but it’s her emergency contact that shocks me.

I move quickly on to Blue’s file.

After a minute, my fangs start throbbing again with the desire to sink into Matilda’s flesh. The edge of the solid oak desk crumbles to sawdust beneath my fingers as I restrain myself from hunting her. Damn it! I should have known Blue wouldn’t tell me the worst of it. After fifteen minutes of reading, I carefully place the copies on the desk, taking the originals. With a quick tug, I open the window and slip out. Right now, avoiding Matilda is the only way she’ll live.

I drive down the road until my bloodlust cools, and call Mrs. Glenwood. When her butler puts her on the phone, I say, “Valerie, I just reviewed Blue’s file at the Green Tree Orphanage. Our esteemed head housemother appears to have a hatred for the Gifted. Can you please meet with the board of directors and let them know that I’m willing to quadruple my annual donation this year? In exchange, I require Matilda’s immediate termination and a complete psychological review of every staff member currently in position and forevermore in the future. I’ll pay for the reviews by a doctor of my choosing. And I want a copy of the results.”

“Are you serious? Quadruple? Do you know how that would help us expand and improve the orphanage?”

“Yes, of course I’m serious. But I want her out of the orphanage by midnight tonight. I won’t have another Gifted child being punished the way Blue was. Call an emergency meeting and give me a call to confirm their approval.”

“I’ve no doubt they’ll approve. I’ve never cared for Matilda myself, but she’s kept things in excellent order.”

I cut in. “She’s a breedist, and a rather ill one. Whenever Blue showed signs of her gift and Matilda was the only mother there, she was punished in sickening ways: locked in closets, tied to her bed, starved, humiliated in front of the other children. She outlined the punishments in detail, as if she was trying to exorcise a demon. She’s out. If it weren’t past the statute of limitations, I’d be arresting her.”

Valerie gasps.

“And any other Gifted children who are still housed there need a psychological examination and their files reviewed as well. In fact, review all the files.”

“I understand. I’ll make sure it happens. I’ll call an emergency meeting now.”

I hang up the phone and proceed to the second, equally challenging task of the evening.

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Chapter 10: Difficult Explanations

 

01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 10, 2022, Red Ages

We trot up the zinnia-lined walk and smile a greeting to Maud and Harry who sit on the covered front porch, beverages in hand. Thank goodness the zinnias are back. The marigolds were hideous.

Maud’s hair is a beautiful frosted lilac today, pinned away from her face in sparkly gray barrettes that complement her light green eyes. Her purple and gray color scheme continues to the paisley maxi dress she wears. As I approach, she gathers her skirt and stands.

“Blue! How wonderful of you to stop by. I was hoping to see you soon. Let me introduce you to my neighbor Harry. Harry, this is my dear friend Blue.”

All six foot three of Harry unfolds from the rocking chair as he stands to greet me. He smiles widely and pumps my hand. “Good to finally meet you. I’ve heard plenty about you.”

I grin in return, taking in his multicolored striped shorts and pink polo shirt. He’s as colorful as Maud is.

“The pleasure is mine.”

“Hold on now,” Maud says, “I’ll grab you a beverage.” She slips into the house before I have a chance to protest, so I take a seat while Varg lounges in the cool grass, keeping an eye on the road.

I lean toward Harry and say in a low tone, “She made you replace the marigolds with zinnias?”

Harry chuckles. “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

I sigh, “Yeah, I don’t think she can handle all that monotone for an extended period of time.”

Harry seems to contemplate that seriously. “I hadn’t thought of that, but I suppose you’re right.”

“I recommend to go bright and varied when it comes to colors.”

He smiles in return. “A good tip. I’ll keep it in mind.”

I lean back and relax, satisfied in my Cupid machinations.

Maud comes out holding a cold, orange drink. “It’s shoo-fly punch, and it has a bit of a kick, so be careful.”

I take a taste, and it hits me hard. After sputtering and gasping, I manage to ask, “What’s in here?”

She winks and starts listing the ingredients. “Bitters, mint, orange, lemon, sugar, plus a dash of ginger liquor, ginger beer, and bourbon.”

“Ohh!”

“Small sips, dear,” she advises wisely. “It’s a beverage to be savored.”

“I see.”

I relax in the wicker rocker and as I’m about to take another sip, Jack’s car pulls up to the house.

I stand, holding onto the banister, and call out as he approaches, “Is there a work issue?”

Jack shakes his head.

I sit back down, relieved but confused.

“Good evening Maud,” he says.

Then he says apologetically. “Harry, I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, but I have something personal to discuss with Maud and Blue. Would you mind excusing us?”

How does he know Harry? Oh, right. Maud and Harry were helping search for me when I was abducted by Blackwater.

Maud seems troubled. Harry declares, “Well, Maud, then I’ll just head home and stop in to say hello in the morning. If you need me, give me a ring.”

She stands and kisses him on the cheek. “Thank you for being so understanding.” She pats his arm. “It’ll be fine.” Then she regally walks into the house before us.

What in the world could Jack have to talk to Maud about? Is he going to tell her about the prophecy? I haven’t yet, but I was going to bring it up tonight.

We settle in the living room, which seems a strangely formal place because I’m used to sitting in the kitchen.

Jack’s eyes soften toward me, his obvious compassion only deepening my concern, and then he directs his attention to Maud. “What is your maiden name?”

A huge wave of sadness flows out of Maud as she answers softly, “It’s Dermot.”

“Is Maud your real name?”

“Of course!” With that statement I feel a small strain of surprise coming from her.

“And you’re related to Maev?”

Her lips lift in a sad smile. “Yes, I am.”

I ask, “Who’s Maev?”

Maud turns and pats my hand. “She’s my sister, deary. You may remember her from the Green Tree Orphanage by the name of Anna Marie.”

I suck in my breath.

Jack asks, “Where’s Maev right now?”

Maud shakes her head. “I haven’t seen her for fifteen years. I haven’t a clue.”

She turns to me. “Maev came to me before she left and asked me to watch out for your welfare. So I started going to the orphanage and reading to the children. I couldn’t think of any other way to stay close to you.”

Confusion and pain clutches my heart. “So all this time, our relationship . . . Has it just been about you doing your sister’s bidding?”

Tears glisten in Maud’s eyes. “No, Blue! Of course not. I came to love you exactly as I would a daughter. Never doubt that.”

The relief that rushes through me is tremendous. I can tell she’s speaking the truth.

“But why didn’t you ever tell me?”

Her tears overflow, and her hands clench into small white fists. “At first you were too young. You might have given me away to the other housemothers. When you became old enough, the original request my sister made didn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to how much I care about you. It didn’t seem important.” A massive rush of fear and sadness surge from her as she speaks.

I grasp her hand. “I believe you, Maud. I wish you’d told me sooner, but I do believe you.”

When I tell her that, her fear fades away. I pull some tissues from the side table so she can mop her eyes. Meanwhile, I glare at Jack for making her cry. Unfortunately, he isn’t done yet.

“Maud, Maev put a spell on Blue, a powerful enchantment that kept her light in check. The other mothers caught her, and that’s why she was cast out. Can you tell me why she did that?”

She turns toward me, genuine concern in her still-teary eyes, “No, I didn’t know anything about that.”

Jack appears a bit skeptical. “What was Maev’s gift?”

“She was Gifted in the use of magic. She was a first-level sorceress.”

A small gasp slips out from between my lips. Very few have the gift of general magic, the heightened ability to do any spell or charm. First level is as high as you can get.

Jack asks softly, “What was such a powerful sorceress doing watching over Blue?”

I must admit that’s a good question.

Maud looks back at Jack with her chin quivering slightly. But her crisp voice carries sharply through the room. “Back at the beginning of the Red Ages, one of Blue’s ancestors gave her baby to one of my ancestors for safekeeping.”

“Mor,” I breathe.

Maud’s surprise is crystal clear on her face. “You know this story?”

“Yes, I was going to tell you about it today. There’s a prophecy . . . ”

Her eyes widen. “You know about that too?”

“Yes, Dragomira told me about it two days ago.” I scrutinize her. “But why didn’t you tell me?”

Maud shakes her head. “Try to understand; it’s been two thousand years, and we didn’t tell any of the children because they would have thought we were nuts.”

With a twinkling laugh, she covers her mouth. “Maybe we are crazy, but we believe the Bright One will emerge from your line, and Maev was sure that it was you because of your light.”

Jack looks as taken aback as I feel.

She continues, “We’re called the Watchers. Maev is, anyway; I’m not really important. In each generation, one of us is strongly Gifted, and that person takes on the task of watching over Shaina’s scion. Maev was the strongest yet. It was unheard of for her to leave you, but she said she had other urgent business she had to attend to back in our homeland.”

“Where is your homeland?” I ask.

Maud’s eyes grow wistful. “We come from the same place your ancestors do, the Isle of Erin. I wish I could visit there someday.”

“Are you Gifted too, like Maev?”

“I have a very small gift, but it seems rather more like a curse. It’s my hair,” she admits sheepishly. As she says this she absently fluffs her hair. “I really do go to the beauty parlor to get it styled, but they don’t color it. Every morning when I wake up, my hair is simply a different color.”

“How come I don’t sense your magic?”

Maud looks at me fondly. “Remember when you were a teenager and you tried to dye your blue streak brown to hide your gift? I knew it wouldn’t work, but I bought you the dye so you could see for yourself. When I was young, I tried the same thing. In the end I decided to pretend I dyed it on purpose and asked my sister to hide my gift. She did, sort of. She performed a spell so others wouldn’t guess it was my mark. I think it was a sort of diversion spell so people wouldn’t be curious about it.”

Jack interjects, “So what are the Watchers supposed to do?”

Maud turns to him. “Why, help the lineage anyway they can. It’s their job to protect the family line while we wait for the Bright One.”

Then she turns to me and squeezes my hand. “Maev nearly flipped when your parents died, and we came so close to losing you. You’re the last of the line, and you’re the first one with the gift of light, so she was sure you were the one.”

I lean forward eagerly. “You knew my parents?”

She rubs my hand. “No, dear. Maev was the Watcher, but even she didn’t really know them. She just kept an eye on them, made sure they were okay, left food by their door when they were struggling, things like that. In the old days, the Watcher could befriend the family, but it’s pretty hard in modern times. It would be weird if your good friend followed you from town to town as you moved to different places throughout your life. So she had to stay on the outskirts of your life, observing from afar. But when your parents died, she joined up with the orphanage right quick.”

Maud turns to Jack. “Did you have any more questions?”

“Yes, what do you think Maev’s been doing all this time when she was supposed to be watching Blue? You haven’t heard from her at all?”

She shakes her head sadly. “You know the wilderness Christendom has been since the Deconstruction Era. We kept in touch for a few years via chimerator, but then I stopped hearing from her. The last I heard she was preparing for the coming of the Bright One. And that was it.”

Jack stands up. “Thank you for being so forthright.”

Maud stands shakily and absently smoothes her dress. “Well, if you two would excuse me, I need to call Harry to put him at ease and get my beauty rest.”

With a tentative and frail hope in her eyes, she asks, “You’ll visit me again soon, won’t you chicky?”

I give her a hug, “Of course I will.”

Then we take our cue to leave.

Jack and I step onto the veranda of her pretty house to see the sun’s gone down. Fireflies flit merrily through the lawn, and the whip-poor-wills have begun their evening song. Jack walks me to my car and catches my arm before I slip inside. He steps in close, his body heat searing compared to the cool evening air.

His face, hidden to me in the dusky light except for the faint edges of his features, frowns deeply. He reaches out a hand and tucks a stray strand of my hair behind my ear. His voice cracks as he says, “I’m so sorry, Blue.”

He must be talking about Maud, but somehow his voice seems far more serious than the situation warrants. “It’s all right, Jack.”

Jack leans into me, and I think he’s going to kiss me. Just as I feel his breath on my lips, he curses and turns away.

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Chapter 1: An Ill Wind Blows

 

01 1.5 The Binding of the Wolf2A swift patch of darkness sweeps over the surface of the Black Sea, swooping left and whirling right. Soon, another shadow flirts with the first, appearing beneath the rays of moonlight and coyly hiding in the mist. Above the shadows, mirroring their wan cousins, two great ravens frolic beyond the reach of the sea spray. The ebony duo are known as Huginn for Thought and Muninn for Memory.

All seems well and good for the Raven brothers until a cold wind rushes in, whispering secrets in their ears that portend of coming disaster. They listen to the tale of the Wind and grow much distressed. Their caws and screams crash through the silence, dissolving the chilly peace. With fevered beating of their wings, they race up, up, hastening toward the stars, urgent to bring the news to their Master in Asgard.

On and on they fly, into the streaks of brilliant orange marking the edge of the world. The sky reddens as the great fire ball soars upward, and still they continue on, pounding the air beneath them in much haste. A cloud envelops them and soon transforms into a raging thunderstorm, ripping at their wings. The sharp bite of hailstones pummels their light bodies and rolls off the oily sleekness of their obsidian feathers, but they take heart as they’re almost home.

Out of the violent storm they fly, racing to the center of the murky waters, into the middle of the world. Jutting straight out of the sea a tall mountain peak rises so high, it’s unreachable by even the most heroic of men. This glorious place, set among the clouds, glistening in a golden haze of sunshine, is known as Asgard, the home of the Norse Gods. And on the terrace of the looming stone castle, in the middle of the rocky island, stands the most powerful Norse God of all, Odin.

Now Odin isn’t a peaceful God or even a moral God; in fact, there’s little to recommend him except his cunning. But in this wild age, cunning is most needed. Upon seeing the brother Ravens, Odin raises his arms to greet them, where they land with much relief. Muninn, being known as Memory, jumps to Odin’s shoulder to recount his secrets.

“Master,” Muninn gurgles in his ear, “Wind carries ill news.”

Odin notices the Raven brothers are jittery with fear, but then they’re a dramatic species, prone to devilish pranks and raucous arguments. Odin, who is also the Master of Wind, knows well her capricious nature. After blowing steadily South for days, she might suddenly change direction and blow North for the sheer joy of hindering seamen, making them sail into the wind. In the middle of the clearest day with azure colored skies, she relishes ushering in the rain while shrieking her laughter through tree branches and whistling her delight through rafters. Wind is indeed fickle, and news from her can never be trusted. Still, Odin listens avidly to Muninn.

“What did sister Wind tell you, my son?”

Muninn shifts his feet up and down in agitation and gurgles, “Wind says that the great wolf Fenrir is destined to bring you death.”

Huginn loudly caws his turmoil, “Death! Death!” in Odin’s ear.

Odin winces at the loud noise and turns to Muninn once again. “How did Wind say Fenrir would end my existence?”

Muninn rattles deep in his throat, “He will eat you, Master.”

Huginn screams again, “Fly away! Away!”

Odin gravely nods his head and says, “Thank you Brother Ravens, you have done well to bring me this news. I will see what can be done. Now go, and let me consider this matter.”

Muninn and Huginn feel great relief on divulging the ill news of the Wind and depart easy of heart, their duty done.

Odin strokes long fingers through his snow white beard and thinks how foolish the brothers are to listen to Wind. Still, Fenrir was born of the union between the Demigod Loki and the Giantess Angrboda and is indeed an enormous wolf.

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Chapter 2: Unsettling Conquest

 

01 1.5 The Binding of the Wolf2As time passes, Odin observes Fenrir on the island, romping and playing with all the exuberance you’d expect of a young pup. He spends his mornings catching salmon in the Don River. In the bright afternoons he silently stalks the luminous butterflies of the prairie lands, unaware of how undignified this is for a pup of his massive size. Fenrir appears innocent enough and Odin tries to persuade himself the warning was one of Winds many tricks. Still, he feels unsettled as Fenrir grows larger and more powerful day by day.

One day Odin stands on his terrace entertaining guests as they watch the sun drift over the Black Sea painting the sky in bloody red. Fenrir naps lazily far below in the long shade of a majestic oak when from the edge of the forest, a massive boar streaks after a hare. Fenrir lifts his head upon hearing the boar, and in a mighty bound takes the chase. The boar is a large beast, covered in mud, with prickles of black hair standing every which way. With his thick, curved ivory tusks bent to the ground he continues his raging pursuit, unmindful of Fenrir. The hare slips into the hollow of a log which the boar immediately pummels, rolling it over and down a slope.

Odin and the lesser Gods watch this in amusement, as the day has been rather long and the entertainment uninspiring.

Fenrir, thinking it a game, runs to the log and snatches it up in his enormous jaw, shaking the entire trunk to and fro. The boar, finally taking note of Fenrir, is less than thrilled with his new playmate. He turns to him and gives his stiff legged posture, grunting and groaning in warning. Fenrir just shakes the log all the more, attempting to entice the boar into wrestling for it. The boar, thoroughly enraged now, opens his foaming mouth and dips his head low to the ground, ready to attack. Fenrir drops the log and executes a similar bow, sticking his rump in the air and wagging his tail. Unable to handle this final indignity, the boar charges.

The boar, large as he is, is nothing compared to the size of Fenrir. The mighty wolf pup leaps over the boar in an easy bound, landing on the other side, still swishing his tail irreverently.

This display greatly amuses Odin’s guests and the merry chime of laughter surrounds him. Some of the more boisterous guests wager on the outcome of the exchange.

Meanwhile, the infuriated boar turns, and with a burst of speed lunges at Fenrir again. Fenrir leaps to the side, giving a low playful growl as if to taunt, “Catch me if you can!” By now, the boar is insane with fury. Foam pours from his mouth as he shakes his head from side to side, eyes squinting at his target. He storms Fenrir once more attempting to impale him with his deadly tusks. Fenrir leaps up this time and lands on the boar, rolling him over. He keeps his paws on the boar’s chest and not knowing his own strength, he crushes the boar’s rib cage.

The boar squeals in anguish and Fenrir, who understands the sound of pain, licks his new playmate’s face, trying to comfort him. Alas, it is just a few minutes before the boar takes his last breath and leaves the island of Asgard forever. Fenrir, much saddened at the loss of his new playmate, sits next to the boar and howls his grief at the moon.

Odin’s guests, still highly entertained, applaud loudly as though they have just watched a game of sport. They exchange notes for their wagers and settle back down for more wine and dull music. But Odin runs his fingers through his great white beard and struggles against the feeling of foreboding. A friend who doesn’t know his own strength, he thinks, is worse than an enemy who does. Something must be done.

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Prologue

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Shaina

Winter, Year 1, Red Ages

I wake to the sound of pounding on the door and Mor’s voice yelling, “Shaina. Shaina.”

Sorcha wakes up crying as I rush to open the door. A bloodcurdling scream tears through the night, destroying any illusions of a peaceful return to slumber. I swing open the door with trembling hands and see anguish in Mor’s eyes. The words that tumble from her mouth bring to the fore all the fears I’d been trying to suppress this winter.

“Shaina, Conor was found dead, killed by the bloodsuckers. Grainne and Aongus are calling you a Witch and gathering the town folks to burn you as one. Quick! We must run.”

I start gathering my things together, but Mor yells, “There is no time. Grab the bairn. We must go now!”

Sorcha is wailing now. Tears streak her little cheeks as she grips her blanket tightly in tiny fists. I grab my plaid and wrap it around us both as I follow Mor outside.

“You must quiet her,” Mor whispers.

I try to comfort Sorcha in a hushed voice. “Shh, Sorcha, you must be quiet. Shhhh.”

Sorcha pays no heed and cries all the louder as she clutches me with her little fingers.

I hear the voices of the villagers coming now, yelling and screaming, “Burn the Witch. It was her husband who brought this upon us.”

Aongus’ voice rises above the rest. “Let her die too. Why should she be spared?”

Mor leads me past the blacksmith’s shop, behind Fergus’ cottage, toward the forest. I see their torches at my cottage now. A voice yells, “They’re gone,” and the villagers continue to chant, “Burn the Witch. Burn the Witch.”

I cast through my mind wildly now, seeking a remembrance of a place to hide. My mind comes up empty, just as it did all winter when I feared a night such as this would come. I should have braved the cold and gone to the sea caves where the dragon tribe dwells despite the perilous winter journey.

Just then, Sorcha lets out a loud bawl, and I hear Grainne yell, “She’s over there.”

Mor and I run around Fergus’ cottage and make for the tree line. The throng is following us quickly with the younger men in the lead. The woods are just up ahead—if only we could lose them in the deep of the trees. If only Sorcha would stop crying.

We reach heavy brush, and I hear the thunder of feet behind me. Just at the edge of the woods, my foot catches on a tree root and I tumble to the ground. As I land on the hard dirt, I twist to protect Sorcha from being crushed by my weight, and pain shoots up my leg. Fear strikes my heart as I realize I’ve a choice to make.

“Mor,” I yell.

Mor glances over her shoulder and sees me on the ground. I try to stand, but my knee gives way. I see the torches through the dark coming swiftly closer.

“Mor, take Sorcha. It is too late. Run. Keep her safe.”

Mor stands there, petrified. She looks at me, she looks at the woods in front of her, and she looks at the torches that are almost upon us. I thrust Sorcha out while warm, wet tears stream down my cheeks and fall unheeded onto the snow. “Take the bairn! It’s me they want.”

Mor grabs Sorcha and my arms, bereft of their lovely burden, fall uselessly at my sides. I stare hungrily after Sorcha for one last moment, and just as Mor and Sorcha disappear in the dark of the woods, the torches are upon me. First the young men arrive, their faces ugly with rage. I know each of them, grew up with them, broke bread with them, bartered with them, sang with them, but it matters not. It’s fear that drives them this night, and no proclamations of innocence or fond memories will help me now.

Niall grabs my arms and drags me into the throng. I try to gain footing, but my right leg will bear no weight. Tadgh holds my other arm, and together they pull me to the center of town. The mob crowds around, cursing me, throwing sticks at me as I’m roughly tied to a large ash tree. The faces of my friends and neighbors swirl around me in angry confusion with rays of moonlight shining on a gaunt cheek here and a slashing brow there. The bindings are pulled tight, cutting into my wrists and ankles as I struggle, but I know it’s useless. It’s been useless since Torloch made his pact with the devil’s handmaiden, Lilith. It’s been useless since Torloch took my wee baby boy and returned home with his blood on his hands. It’s been useless since Torloch became a bloodsucking monster and spread his disease through the village.

I look out at the faces of the crowd, and I see anger and fear. I see despair. It’s a mercy they’ve let me live this long. I curse myself again for not leaving earlier despite the biting cold of winter. I hear one voice among the bloodthirsty yell, “Give her a Witch’s Trial.”

Another voice responds, “We’ll give her a trial of fire. If she’s innocent, let her be saved.”

Bundles of dry oak twigs and sticks are piled at my feet. Oak, the tree of strength. I wonder if the oak will give me strength in my last moments of life. I think of Sorcha, the twin of my poor baby boy. I hope only that Mor got her away safely and at least one of our family will be spared.

Grainne walks right up to me and spits in my face. “You filthy Witch,” she snarls. “Your monster husband and his kind killed my son. Shredded his neck.” Tears run down her dirt-smudged face. “We are going to watch you burn for what you’ve done.”

Una, who lost her husband to Torloch, grabs a torch and sets the wood at my feet on fire. The firelight reflects off her savage face, and I see months of grief and seething anger in the depths of her wild eyes. There is no mercy here.

I feel the heat rising, and it burns. I look at their faces, and even through my fear, I feel their sorrow and rage. I feel it in me as well. That has always been my curse: to feel others as myself. Their rage now feeds mine. The flames lick my ankles, and smoke fills my eyes.

I look up at the night sky and my fury overflows. Months of rage at Torloch, who took the life of our son to try to save himself. But most of all I rage at Lilith, who made him an empty promise and turned him into a monster for the price of our child. Tears stream down my face as I recall my own black pit of grief at losing my lovely little boy. I feel the grief and pain of everyone on this dark night.

I smell the smoke from the ash tree I am tied to mingling with the oak kindling about my body. My childhood learnings flit through my mind even in my last hour. While oak gives strength, ash is the bridge between Earth and other worlds. Good. Let it make a bridge to the Plane of Fire for me so that I might reach Lilith and pay her back in kind.

I shout to the blackness of the sky above. I call to the dark with all the rage of my soul. “Lilith, I call on you to hear me. By my blood, you will be destroyed. A light will come. A light that shines through your evil. A light that calls you to answer for your deeds. A light that binds you as I am bound and burns you as I burn. A light that rips you asunder and destroys your darkness.”

The pain is so great. The flames sear my legs. I can’t help but scream and convulse, though I know there is no escape. I writhe, trying to get away from the fire, but it just grows and grows as my calves blister and melt. A part of my mind wishes the fire were higher so this pain would end more quickly. The only escape now is death, and it fast approaches. The smoke is so heavy I cough as I scream. The fire has reached my waist now, and it envelops me in its excruciating embrace. I see the horrific faces of the mob, distorted and cast in red from the fire that consumes me.

I scream with all the strength I have, willing my voice to carry through the between spaces. “Lilith, hear me. I call to you. By my blood, you will pay for what you have done.” I cough and hack, unable to get a breath of air. I thrash my head as the tongues of fire lick ever higher, melting my flesh, binding me to the holy ash tree as though we are one. The pain is so great now that I know nothing but the feel of it engulfing me. It seems to be all that was before me and all that will ever come after. I’m being eaten alive by the ravenous fire. The agony and the rage are the whole of who I am now.

I think one last thought, unable to even catch enough breath to scream it, unable even to work my mouth to speak it as the flames lick my chin. My dying thought sears into my soul and lifts with me to the Plane of Light. “Lilith, by my blood you will be destroyed!”

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Chapter 01: Double Depravity

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 26, 2022, Red Ages

The boy is stark naked, and dried blood streaks extend from the crushed area of his forehead down to the hollows of his eyes where they pool like small, bloody twin lakes. The lines of his ribs stick out so much I could climb them like a ladder. A stark white shaft of bone sticks out from his leg, gleaming against the bloody rupture on his thigh. A pattern of crimson, crossed lines decorates his crushed left hip. His skin is dirty and he stinks like crazy, but not from death. Not yet. More like a latrine.

Under this layer of grime is a layer of bruising, both fresh and old. His feet and toes are black. How he was able to stand on them, I can’t imagine, as it looks and smells as though they are rotting. Calluses surround his ankles and wrists. He must have been tied up. Another pool of blood spills from under his head, spreading wide on the asphalt road. He looks sixteen to eighteen in age with the slightest bits of young facial hair growing about his chin. His body sprawls out on the street with his limbs twisted at awkward angles around him.

I’m going to catch the person who did this. I want to tear his heart out with my bare hands and squeeze it into a bloody pulp.

My fantasy of mushy heart muscle squeezing through my fingers as blood drips to the ground is unsatisfactorily interrupted. Dr. Nathan Perlman leans over the boy’s hand with a pair of tweezers and carefully plucks out a piece of dark red thread snagged on a fingernail. It gets tucked away safely in a clear plastic evidence bag for future analysis. Realizing my hands are still fisted from my little fantasy, I release them, trying not to look like the vengeful murderer I momentarily wish I were.

Nathan looks up at me and says, “I’m ready to move the body. Can you step back?”

“Sure.” I remove myself from the body, giving room for the Medical Examiner and his assistant to hoist it onto the gurney.

While the men are in mid-lift, I take the opportunity to examine the boy’s underside. With one hand squashing my hat to my head, I lean over until my hair drags on the asphalt. “Great Plane of Fire!”

Nathan’s assistant stumbles at my exclamation and drops the boy’s leg.

Nathan’s fury overflows. “Holy shit, Patrick! Hasn’t this boy been through enough?”

Four hands jostle the body until they manage to get it on the gurney.

Nathan’s foul mood and abuse of Patrick is unusual. His typically jovial face is soured, and his smile lines twist in the wrong direction. My chest tightens at the pained look on Patrick’s face. My heart goes out to both of them, really. I can feel the anger and pain rolling off Nathan. Patrick feels empathy for the boy and anxiety at having made a mistake on the job. I push their pains aside to focus on the matter at hand. Dealing with my own emotions is enough. Luckily I can’t feel everyone’s emotions all the time, just the stronger ones—unless I open up my sixth sense, that is. Then I feel it all.

When the body is safely enshrouded in clean white linen, I turn to Nathan. “Did you see the lacerations on his back?”

Nathan grimaces. “I hate to see shit like this.”

I agree, and my heart squeezing fantasy transforms into daydreams of watching the perpetrator’s flesh slowly disintegrate in a vat of acid. Propping my hands on jean-clad hips, I observe Nathan and Patrick load the destroyed body into the hearse.

Senior Detective Tony Gambino stands on the sidewalk next to the street where the body was found, spilling over with anger and determination. I can feel so many emotions at a murder scene where angst runs high. However, the job at hand requires I center on the victim.

“Gambino, can you give me a minute? I have questions, but I need some time here first.” Why can’t someone hanging around just feel guilty? My job would be so much easier.

Gambino nods his assent, and I admire how despite his abundant passion he looks the epitome of calm concentration.

I circle the taped off crime scene, stopping here and there, closing my eyes, feeling with my sixth sense for lingering signs of magic or strong emotion. A biting breeze blows by, sending a chill up my spine. The air, independent of the breeze, is awash with feelings. Coming directly from where the body had lain, a strong, sharp pang of pain mixed with duller threads of anguish hits me. My pulse escalates and my heart stammers as the agony and torment submerge me. I seek solace in slow, deep breaths, reminding myself this pain belongs to another.

Another emotion tickles my consciousness a few steps from the body. It’s a small sliver of sensation, which indicates that it only lasted a brief moment of time, but it’s intense. Confusion? No—it’s surprise. I walk into the cloud of surprise only to be hit by another impression. My feet are positioned exactly where the shards of glass were scattered. The fine hairs on the back of my neck rise as I’m pummeled by a blast of shock and horror in one small space. This emotion is incongruent with the first because it comes with a different signature, a different resonance left in the air. There were definitely two parties here.

My feet carry me down the street a few steps where the signature shifts back to the first. I do not own these sentiments, but I certainly enjoy them. I sense liberation and triumph. Not the usual feelings one would expect to be haunting the body of a severely tortured young man. I discern something else warring with the feelings. It’s a deep, primordial fear, the feeling of being prey. This boy was hunted or chased, or perhaps he was hiding from something terrible.

I stand still and further ratchet down my normal awareness, turning it almost completely off so I see more fully with my sixth sense, searching for any hint of magic. Emotions wash over me freely. Reaching past them, I look for something deeper and more elemental.

Something is coming from where the boy’s body had lain. It’s nothing more than a light tingling in the air, low to the ground, but I can feel its significance. Moving closer to stand outside the body outline, I crouch and fan my hands through the air close to the ground. A slight buzz zips through my hands, telling me the boy had a magical gift. The magic is clear, but its purpose vague. It’s something basic yet powerful, and the reverberations don’t speak to a specific gift. I sift my fingers through the prickly air. I can’t feel that any magic was used, but rather just that magic had been there in the boy. Damn it! It’s too elusive, and I don’t have much to go on.

I straighten and open myself up to the world again. Gambino stands well outside the perimeter of my work area wearing a quiet, thoughtful expression. His fellow officer’s face is full of wonder. Gifted sensitive work must be new to him. Well, at least it’s curiosity and not fear that radiates from his expression. I shake off the lingering emotions and collect myself as I move toward them.

Most detectives work to blend in with everyday pedestrians, but Gambino is most at home dressed in a suit and tie with gleaming dress shoes. With his suave Italian looks, he wears it well. However, it only takes drink or anger to bring out the Irish side of his heritage, causing him to turn a signature shade of cherry red. Right now bright red spots highlight his cheeks, announcing his controlled anger to those who know him well. I know him well enough, but his freckled and fresh-faced companion is new to me.

As I approach, Gambino gestures to the crime scene clean-up van. Two men unload industrial-sized power washers and vacuum equipment, obviously preparing for an inefficient bout of manual labor.

“You know, Gambino, any one of a number of magic potions, powders, or spells would do the job more effectively,” I say.

Gambino grunts. “Humph. You know the precinct isn’t ready to use magic craft like that. You can’t change the world in a day, but I’m working on them.”

A familiar exasperation washes over me. It’s the twenty-first century of the Red Ages, and the Gifted have helped keep the Norms safe from Dark Vampires since year one, but still they refuse to get over their fear and hatred of us. It’s an old, festering wound I try to ignore. I turn my mind to the situation at hand.

“Okay, I’ve gotten what I can. What do you have?”

Gambino inclines his head toward his companion. “Officer Warren was exiting the Cock and Bull Tap with some guys from the force when they heard tires squeal. They saw the body when they turned the corner.” Gambino indicates the corner where the Cock and Bull Tap makes its home.

I address Officer Warren. “Did you see anyone or a car?”

Officer Warren stands at attention, eager to divulge any detail that might be required. “No, Ma’am. We thought someone was just driving like an idiot when we heard the tires squeal. We didn’t hear anything else. We didn’t see the body right away when we turned the corner, because of those shrubs there.” His sweeping hand takes in three medium-sized bottlebrush buckeye shrubs that grow a few feet from where the body had lain, positioned between the sidewalk and the street. The dense foliage could easily have hidden a body from view.

“It couldn’t have taken more than a minute and a half for us to pass the shrubs and see him lying there. He was already dead, Ma’am. I ran to him right away and checked. No heartbeat, no breathing. The car was long gone.”

“Did anyone move the body?”

Officer Warner’s mouth tightens at the perceived slight to his professionalism. “No, Ma’am!”

I nix my next question, switching it to accommodate his pride. “Do you remember anything else?”

We seem to be on smoother ground with his next reply. “No, Ma’am. Besides that, it was quiet. No cars or pedestrians around. This is the end of the Warehouse District, and there isn’t much between here and the river except the cemetery. Most first shift workers get off at three o’clock, and either head over to the Tap for a drink or head straight home. It was approximately 3:47 when we left the tap, and we found the boy at approximately 3:49.”

My lips twitch in a smile. Officer Warren knew exactly what time it was. My guess is he’s never anything even close to approximate. “Thanks, Officer Warren. You’ve been very helpful.”

As he leaves, I see the forensic guys take down the tape and start closing up shop. I throw Gambino a look. “Did your guys find anything?”

Gambino’s eyes shift over to the team before shrugging his reply. “Some paint chips, some glass. Nothing much. We may have enough to identify the car. The boy was pretty young, I doubt even eighteen. I hope he’s on our missing persons list so we can identify him easily.”

I hope so too. “I’ll stop by tomorrow after I visit the Medical Examiner to check out his findings.”

Just then, my chimerator tightens, so I flip open the lid and see Jack’s countenance reflected in the dark, glossy surface of the black pearl. “It’s my boss,” I tell Gambino.

Gambino’s eyes flick down to my ring, but unlike most Norms, he doesn’t flinch at my use of it. A chimerator is an enchanted ring that projects the image and voice of a person contacting you. It also generally gives Norms the heebie-jeebies.

A smile ghosts over Gambino’s lips. “Well, I’m heading out. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

As I watch Gambino walk to his car, I say “Hola” into my chimerator, trying to sound casual. My boss, Jack Tanner, is quite possibly the sexiest man alive. He exudes danger in a quiet, stealthy sort of way. I often think I should be frightened of him—quite possibly because he’s a very old and incredibly strong Vampire. But I can’t seem to muster any fear, even when he’s in an obvious rage. That only makes me question my sanity. It’s a constant struggle to feel casual, so I usually settle for sounding casual.

“Hi, Blue. So what’s happening?” Jack asks.

Jack is not one for small talk, so I give him a quick rundown. “Well, an older teen boy, approximately sixteen to eighteen years old, was apparently hit by a car. Some off-duty officers were just leaving a tavern and heard tires squeal before they came upon the scene. The car was gone and the boy was dead when they reached the body two minutes later. Forensics picked up paint chips and glass at the scene, and the deceased has a large impact injury on his hip. The scene is located behind the Cock and Bull Tap at the intersection of the alley behind it and River Road. No other evidence was found, and no one else appeared on the street at the time of the incident. Unfortunately, I didn’t sense any magic used at the site in the perpetration of the crime.”

Jack asks, “So a standard hit and run?” He pauses a moment. “Wait, Blue, how did you see an impact injury on his hip?”

I scuff my boots on the sidewalk. “I wondered if you’d catch that. This is no standard hit and run. Before this boy was killed, it appears he was stripped, starved, beaten, tied up, and left to stand in his own excrement.”

“Jesus Christ,” Jack mutters.

“What’s worse is that he felt free. I got the distinct impression of a feeling of triumph before he died. He thought he’d won. And then he got hit by the damn car and his brain was bashed in.”

“For Christ’s sake,” Jack says. There seems to be an exceptional level of swearing with this case thus far.

“Although this looks like a standard hit and run and no magic was used at the death scene, the boy had a magical gift of some sort, and he was tortured, so I want this case. We’re not going to let the boys in blue keep it for themselves.” I say this last part with a level of confidence I don’t feel.

“Who’s working it from the precinct side?”

“Senior Detective Tony Gambino.”

“It will be fine then,” Jack assures me. ”Gambino doesn’t mind working with SIB. I’ll file the paperwork.”

“Thanks.” I breathe a big sigh of relief, realizing how afraid I had been of losing the case on a technicality. The Supernatural Homicide Investigation Unit has limited jurisdiction, only working cases where death is caused by a Supernatural or the motive relates to the Supernatural. Supernatural hate crimes also fall into our ballpark. Unfortunately, there are far too many of those happening lately. A standard hit and run of a magically Gifted would not get us involved. It’s regular work the police could do. But cases including torture of Gifted individuals have a statistically high chance of relating to the magical gift.

Jack voices a warning that brooks no argument: “Keep me updated on this one. I want daily reports. Whoever you’re dealing with is a real gentleman.” He practically spits that last bit of sarcasm out, and then his face fades from the surface of my chimerator.

I snap the lid closed and hook my thumb into my jean’s pocket while I take another look around. All the police are gone. The sun is lower on the horizon causing me to shield my eyes to look west. Across the street sits a beige, corrugated steel warehouse with two tall loading docks and a discreet office door. Next to it sits a plain gray stucco warehouse with three steel loading docks and bright blue awnings over the office door and windows. I look northward, and more of the same nondescript warehouses line the street. Southward lies a stretch of unused land, and past that the street ends at Red Wood Cemetery and Half Moon River.

I look down at the faint stain of blood remaining on the asphalt. The subtle remnants invite me to reexamine the area with my sixth sense. With the crime scene tape gone, I decide it’s best to work from the sidewalk; otherwise, I might end up joining the poor boy on one of Nathan’s tables. It’s never a bright idea to stand on the street while disengaging your five senses. My sixth sense is always active, but I only catch subtle impressions of strong emotions or magic until I shut off my other senses. I can also sense souls, but this boy’s soul has already passed on.

I close my eyes, pulling my awareness in and tucking it neatly away. I shift to my sixth sense, letting it grow and take the lead.

When it’s fully engaged I open my eyes and scan the area for any magic or emotions that linger. My eyesight is dimmed, and I see the world in a different way. What normally appears in vivid color dulls to muddy shades of gray. And what I normally miss stands out in stark contrast. The feelings I track seem almost like visible scents that appear as elements lingering in the air without distinct form. Magic feels like vibrations similar to ripples through a pond.

My interpretation of souls usually comes in the form of colors and more solid characteristics defining the essence of their beings. Deeper than personality, it’s more an understanding of someone’s fundamental nature, which is greater than who they are in this lifetime.

I scan the street where the body had lain, looking for something previously unseen. Proceeding at an excruciatingly slow pace, I wrap my awareness around every inch of space in the vicinity. After a few minutes, I notice a faint trill of what seems like static electricity tickling the air around the bushes behind me. Like an eagle targeting prey, I center on the depths of the greenery. A deep, thrumming magic comes from the middle of the closest bush, something extremely subtle and very old. I try to focus in, but whatever it is . . . it’s well hidden.

My full awareness springs to life again when I reengage my regular senses. Peering curiously at the bush, I wonder what secret it holds. I kneel and part the branches to view the shady center. When nothing is immediately obvious, I give the branches a good shake.

A glint of early evening light reflects off a metal object deep within the bush. With a fresh pair of gloves from my pack and an evidence bag at the ready, I push my arms into the bush up to my elbows and slowly feel around until my fingers run into something flat, hard, and circular. When I pull my hand out, a large, gold amulet is clenched between my slick latex-gloved fingers.

After carefully dropping the amulet in the bag and sealing it closed, I examine it through the clear plastic. Its face is smooth and decorated with a beveled jade triangle. The triangle has an eye-shaped cutout in the center with a circular hole that goes all the way through the pendant. A pattern of irregular ridges and grooves radiates out from the hole like rays of sunshine. Each ridge has a series of tiny, white beads dotting its edge at irregular intervals. A plain golden chain is threaded through the pendant, and it holds the greatest treasure of all: a small, dark red string caught up in the clasp—a fiber exactly the same color red as the fiber snagged on the boy’s nail. The boy was naked, so where did this thread come from—or rather whom did this thread come from?

I put the evidence bag in my pack, heft it to my shoulder over my black leather vest, and hurry toward the Cock and Bull Tap.

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Chapter 02: Slipped at the Cock and Bull Tap

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 26, 2022, Red Ages

The Cock and Bull Tap, otherwise known as The Cock and Bull Inn and Guest House by those with very long memories, sits on what used to be the main path out of Crimson Hollow. Of old, those passing over the Smoky Mountains by carriage would stay in the inn the night before their trip or seek its comforting embrace on their return. That tired path has long been paved over, and Cock and Bull’s days of being an inn all but forgotten by most Crimson Hollow residents. The distinguished stone building sits behind a deep corner yard with its back against the alley. Between two tall posts hangs a huge, gleaming white sign painted with a red rooster and a blue bull in vivid, sweeping brushstrokes to welcome patrons both new and familiar. I wrap my hand around one of the ornate iron handles and heave the door open.

Firefly lanterns cast a soft glow on the tavern’s interior. The tiny flakes of quartz set alight by magic, swirl rapidly inside the lanterns, glowing and twinkling. The gentle light reflects off the oiled and waxed oak furniture. Scanning the crowd, I see mostly hard-working men dressed in uniforms or jeans and flannels. Most are gathered in small groups at the long trestle tables, but a few lonely souls sit in isolation on stools facing the bar.

Dozens of pairs of eyes pierce my back as I move my long-limbed body toward the bar. I feel a few waves of lust flowing toward me from the bar patrons like a crimson breeze, but even more waves are filled with the dark and heavy emotions of disgust and hate and the sharpness of fear. Someone murmurs “Aberrant” under his breath, referring to my being Gifted. My back stiffens at the insult.

You can only tell when a person is Gifted if their mark shows. My mark is twofold. I have unnaturally blue eyes that could conceivably pass for simply extra vivid, but the streak of blue running through my hair is unmistakable. I don’t have time to defend my pride today, so I just keep my chin up and proceed with strong strides.

When I arrive at the empty side of the bar, I make sure my Glock is visible to any onlookers by pushing my vest back as I retrieve my ID. A low murmur rolls through the crowd, telling me the gun is noticed. Good.

The bartender approaches, and I present my ID, which reads “Supernatural Investigation Bureau (SIB), Homicide Unit, Inspector Bluebell Kildare.” He extends his large hand and introduces himself. “Hello, Inspector Kildare. I’m Steve Jamison. It’s awful, what happened to that boy. Some of the guys told me what they saw on their way in. I’m happy to help if I can.”

Well, he’s congenial enough, and fortunately he doesn’t seem to be a breedist. Steve stands medium height with a stocky physique and kind face. He’s built well enough to keep people in line and seems empathetic enough to listen to their sorrows. I take all this in while his warm hand envelops mine in a firm handshake.

“Thanks, Steve. I’d like to ask a few questions. It shouldn’t take long.”

Steve tosses his bar rag into a pail behind the counter then turns his earnest face and ready ears to me. Taking his cue, I start drilling into my list of questions. “The incident occurred at 3:47 p.m. Do you recall anyone leaving the bar shortly before then?”

Steve considers a minute and then shakes his head. “Not that I remember. The first shift ends at three o’clock. The crowd is coming in around then, and the place fills up pretty fast. Some police officers with early shifts show up around two o’clock and have a drink or two before heading home. The officers who found him were the first to leave today. We have a few lushes who come in with the early lunch crowd, but they make themselves scarce before the officers start arriving.”

My eyes skim over the room, searching for a point of reference. I spy the perfect thing on a shelf behind the bar. Pointing at a hand-carved and painted rooster, I ask, “Did you see anyone here today wearing an article of clothing matching that color red?”

Steve’s gaze finds the rooster with a surprised look. “Yeah, I sure did. There was an older guy wearing a red cloak. He left out the side door just before you came in.”

My head snaps back to Steve as his casual words register. Blast it! A potential murder suspect was inside the bar while we were processing the body outside.

I snatch up my ID and run out the side door with my pack jostling on my back. One sweeping look across the parking lot tells me none of the cars are occupied. I hope the man is still nearby. Flipping open my phone, I dial Gambino. He answers on the first ring.

Hoping he is still close by, I say, “Gambino, a man wearing a cloak that matched the thread found in the boy’s fingernail was seen leaving the Cock and Bull Tap a few minutes ago. I’m searching the vicinity right now.”

Gambino doesn’t miss a beat. “On my way.”

Holstering my phone and unholstering my Glock in one smooth motion, I step to the street. It looks still with nothing to indicate which direction I should take. I follow my gut and run to the right, set on checking the entire block. At the first intersection, I scan in all directions but see nothing. I round the corner and run down toward the end of the block with my boots clicking loudly on the sidewalk with each step. Cripes! I need rubber sole boots if I’m ever going to sneak up on someone.

When I’m almost to the second corner, I catch a flash of red disappearing behind a warehouse to my right. I cut across the lawn and run between two warehouses toward the center of the block. Just before passing beyond the shelter of the warehouses, I stop. Peering behind them, I assess my options. The building on my right has stacks of empty pallets in the shipping yard. The building on my left has an empty yard with only one large, stationary eighteen wheeler. Regardless of which side he’s on, I will be wide open and an easy target while trying to reach either the truck or the pallets. I pull out my sixth sense, looking for a trace of a soul to guide me, but feel nothing. Shoot! Where’s a little help when a girl needs it?

With my gun pointed ahead, I rush around the corner to the right. I place my back to the warehouse, feeling the rough bricks scrape my back through my thin shirt and vest. My thrashing heart is ready to burst in my chest. I strain my eyes, looking for the smallest movement. My sixth sense is still on high alert, then I feel a slight tug from the left. Turning, I notice a little spot of red under the truck. As soon as I swing my gun toward it, a loud noise blasts my eardrums. Boom! Boom! Chips of brick fly around me as two bullets narrowly miss my head.

I aim my gun at the red spot and shoot as I rush to the first stack of pallets opposite the truck. When I’m halfway there, I hear return fire. Boom! Boom! Boom! Three shots echo off the buildings. I dive through the air as the bullets fly around me. Curling into a ball, I land, rolling head over foot, but my backpack brings me to an ungainly stop. Just barely behind the pallets, I jump up sideways to take cover. Holy smokes, that was close!

Ignoring my scratches and bruises, I peek around the right side of the pallet stack. I want to get this guy so bad I can taste it. From this angle, I glimpse more of the deep red cloak behind the rear tires of the truck. I crouch, trying to identify the shooter, but all I see is the truck’s shadow and the red fabric.

I fire two more shots under the truck. One bullet ricochets off the bumper, and the other tears a hole in one tire close to the spot of red. A sharp hiss fills the air, and the truck sinks slightly.

I pull several pallets off the top of the pile I’m hiding behind and position them on their sides in front of me to afford better protection. I aim my gun under the truck and shout, “Supernatural Investigation Bureau. Come out with your hands up.”

Three shots whizz toward me, tearing up the pallets with splinters of coarse wood flying in all directions. I crouch down again, ready to aim carefully this time, but as I gaze across the space to the truck, I see Gambino coming from behind the vehicle with two officers following him. I quickly shoot two more tires on the right side of the truck, and the hisses tell me I aimed true. Unfortunately, the semi has eighteen wheels, so three flat tires lack the desired effect.

Gambino has his gun aimed at the red spot. Hoping to distract the perpetrator, I fire some shots wide into the ground to the right of the truck. The man returns one oddly wild shot back at me. It misses the pallet stack entirely. I aim for two more tires toward the rear, thinking that if I can get the back of the truck lowered, the man will be crushed or at least trapped.

Gambino yells, “Come out with your hands up.”

I watch the spot of red cloth as Gambino gets closer. Targeting through my gun sight, I aim for another tire, but all of the remaining tires are behind the ones I’ve already shot. Gambino will have to finish the job. Right now he’s even with the front set of tires, but obviously he can’t crouch down to reach the man or he might come back up with a face full of bullets. If the man wanted to, he could easily shoot Gambino’s foot.

After waiting a few tense seconds for the shooter to willingly surrender, Gambino gestures his men forward and they close in. Ignoring the wheels now, I fire two more careful shots, and I’m rewarded by the man’s scream of surprise and agony. Gambino takes the opportunity to dive under the truck, and at the same time I see the spot of red disappear.

I hear Gambino yell, “What in the Plane of Fire? He’s gone.”

His companions surround the truck from both directions. One checks inside and another checks underneath, but both apparently find the area empty. Gambino climbs up the truck between the cab and trailer to inspect the top. I don’t know how he thinks the man could have gotten up there. As he looks in the cab, another futile move, I begin to walk toward the scene, my gun still at the ready. I search the top of the warehouse and quickly sweep the entire area with my sixth sense, but I find nothing. Gambino gets out of the cab and holsters his gun.

“What happened?” I ask when I reach Gambino.

Gambino blows out a deep breath and looks at the truck. Then he shakes his head. “I know you hit him. He screamed, and I dove under the truck, but there was nothing there. It was just empty, not even a drop of blood. It’s like he was a ghost.” Gambino says this last bit while raising an eyebrow.

I sigh. Sometimes Norms just can’t handle things they can’t rationalize. “Maybe it was like a ghost,” I respond, “but ghosts can’t actually fire bullets, and I assure you those bullets were real.”

“Did you get a look at him?”

I frown. “Unfortunately not. All I saw was a glimpse of red cloak trailing behind him as he ran between the warehouses. He must have dived under the truck, but I guessed he was behind the pallets, so I went that way.” After I give Gambino the rest of the details, he and his men continue to search the neighborhood in case the man reappears. I hoof it back to the Cock and Bull Tap to finish my conversation with my friend Steve.

Still cursing to myself for being a minute too late, I reenter the bar. Steve’s frowning at my obvious disappointment. “We heard gunfire, but it doesn’t look like you got him. Did anyone get hit?”

I shake my head. “The suspect probably got one superficial wound, but he got away from us. So have you seen him here before?”

Steve absently wipes down the bar as he answers, “Nope. I’ve never seen him before. We don’t usually get his kind here. This is a working man’s bar, and he was dressed in fancy trousers and a white dress shirt with a tie. He didn’t even order a drink. I saw him snap open his phone and head into the bathroom. I assumed he was looking for a quiet place to make a call. He left out the side door, and you walked in the front door right after.” Steve pauses to frown for a moment before adding, “I don’t think he saw you coming. I think it was just poor timing.”

I put my palms on the bar. “What did he look like? Did he have any distinguishing features or marks?”

Steve puts his thumb under his chin and thinks for a minute. “He was on the tall side, about six foot. He had a full beard and mustache, neatly trimmed. His face was narrow with a long, prominent nose.”

“What color were his eyes and hair?”

Steve shifts his weight and frowns. “I can’t say about his hair. He wore the hood up on his cloak so I’m not sure I saw his hair. But his beard was very dark brown, maybe black, with some gray in it. His eyebrows were the same, real heavy, you know. His eyes were dark brown or black. I’m guessing he was fortyish or early fifties.” Steve glances at the firefly lanterns. “The lights are pretty low in here.”

I agree that the ambiance is an issue and hand Steve my card. “If you remember anything else, please give me a call.”

Steve says sincerely, “I sure will. Good luck with this.”

I turn and leave, feeling the lust, fear, and hatred of dozens of strangers follow me out the door.

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Chapter 03: The Wild Garden Grows

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 26, 2022, Red Ages

I can’t believe the perp got away twice. I adjust the heat in the car to ward off the evening chill, and my stomach grumbles. It’s been a long day, and I’m too exhausted to cook. The Paco’s Loco Tacos sign on my right lures me in. Not for the first time, I wonder if the tacos are crazy, if Paco is crazy, or if we are crazy for buying them. Well, I personally think a touch of crazy is one of the spices of life.

My car seems to have a life of its own when I pull up to Maud’s house. I hadn’t consciously decided to come here, but today just royally sucked, and Maud is my touchstone. The neighborhood is pretty with its modest, well-kept homes and old-growth trees lining the street. A covered front porch sweeps across Maud’s small yellow Cape Cod, offering cool shade and ample breeze in the warm mountain afternoons. Her backyard is contained by a whitewash picket fence. I say contained because it is a tangled, wild land with flowering shrubs overhanging the fence, and wildflowers, grasses, and weeds peeking between the pickets. Snarled, riotous, and overtaken with native species, her backyard looks about to leap the fence and merge with the rest of the great outdoors.

It used to be a wonderland back there until Maud’s husband, William, died two years ago. A glow stone foot path twined around a turtle pond, a bulb garden, and a vegetable patch, all interspersed with beautiful flowering plants and culminating in a wooden bench hanging from an arbor shaded with flowering vines. William built the swing by hand for Maud for their last anniversary. I don’t think Maud has tended the back garden once in these last two years. But the front yard is neat as a pin with a bright bed of mixed zinnia lining the walk. I love the zinnia because they match Maud’s personality—and her hair.

Maud opens the door, true to form in all her wild colored glory. Her hair is bright fuchsia today, cut shoulder length and piled in a bouffant style. It lies around her tiny face like a fluffy, pink cotton candy cloud. She’s wearing a sage green linen tunic and pant set with three long necklaces in a medley of pink crystal. Maud has large, green eyes framed in smile lines and a wide, vivacious grin. She is petite, thin but wiry and full of energy. Today she has a little blush of pink in her cheeks giving her a healthy glow.

I smile and hug her with one arm while handing her the tacos with the other. Maud is my dearest friend. We are like family to each other, now more than ever since William passed. Maud used to visit the orphanage where I grew up to read to us children. The joy her arrival at the orphanage inspired in me knew no bounds. More memories, unbidden and unwanted, take hold of my mind. Painful memories: cruel taunts, violence, unending loneliness. I force these memories away and consider Maud instead. She has always been a bright spot in my days.

Once when I was little, in my naïveté, I asked Maud if she would be my mom. She said she would love to, but she couldn’t on account of William. He believed his job was too dangerous for him to be a father. I didn’t really understand it then, and I don’t understand it now. It seems a huge waste because Maud so wanted a child and I so wanted a mother, but I guess we sort of have each other anyway. I can’t really hate William much because it was his reference letter that helped me get my job just before he passed. I let those bitter feelings slip away. Maud was there every afternoon for me while I was growing up, and now I visit her as much as I can since William is gone. Maud and me, we are quite a pair.

“Blue, come on in.” Maud ushers me into the kitchen. “Do you want some iced tea?”

“I’d love some.” I swing my pack down onto the floor by the kitchen table. This spot gives the best view of the backyard jungle through the sliding glass doors.

As Maud pours a beverage out of her curvy glass pitcher, she informs me, “It has raspberries today with a touch of lemon.”

“Mmm,” I murmur when I taste it. “It’s delicious.” Maud never offers much to eat, thank goodness. Cooking is not in her wheelhouse, but she sure knows her southern beverages.

Maud sets the table and opens up the bag of Paco’s Loco Tacos. I could just refer to them as tacos, but the name is too fun. Maud finally settles down at the table across from me and asks, “So, how has your day been?”

Telling her about the shootout will only scare her. I blow out a deep sigh. “I got a new case today, and when I entered a bar to question someone, I was called an Aberrant. Then on my drive back this way, I passed a crowd of people downtown with signs protesting ‘Aberrations’ and ‘bloodsuckers.’ What do they expect us to do? Are they trying to rile the masses to burn us as Witches like they did before the Red Ages? Have humans always been this prejudiced against the Gifted?”

Wow, I had no idea I had all that bottled up in me. Maybe I need something stronger than tea.

Maud looks sad. “Maybe you need some liquor in that tea?”

I burst out laughing while in the middle of a sip, and it turns into a graceless coughing episode. Maud slaps my back until my throat clears. “I was just thinking that. But no, I’m fine.” Maybe one day I’ll tell her that slapping someone’s back while they cough actually makes it worse. Really, I’ll probably never tell her that.

Maud looks at me with a face dressed in sadness.

“When I was a young girl, it was pretty much as it is now, only not quite so bad. The Dilectus Deo are stirring the pot for a lot of folks. Some Norms have a lot of gall. They use firefly lanterns when they need to see in the dark, and herbal potions and charms, which have long proven superior to medication, but they somehow think they are better than the Gifted. They don’t hesitate to accept a Vampire into the army, but goodness knows one will never be promoted up the ranks. It’s fear, Blue. Even after the Gifted helped protect us during the worst of the Red Ages and the Daylight Vampires saved our butts, many of us Norms are just plain old afraid of any being who is stronger than we are.”

I take another careful sip of tea and ponder this while watching the beads of condensation roll down my glass. Maud is a Norm, but William had been Gifted. They had been a mixed breed couple, so she certainly understands prejudice. The eternal wave of hate never stops.

Finally I say what’s really bothering me, choosing my words carefully. “Maud, you would not believe this poor boy’s body we found. He was Gifted. I can’t give you details, but someone did terrible things to him. I’m hoping I don’t find out this was a hate crime.”

“Ugh,” Maud grunts, throwing her hands in the air. “You are just like William, spending your days mired in the horrors of man.” She shakes her finger at me. “Keep in mind that you see only the worst. There are many good, loving people moving about their lives peacefully who you never run into.”

“I know. Those are the people I’m protecting when I find these murderous idiots. I do it with them in mind.”

“Yes,” Maud says glancing at her patio door, “and speaking of idiots, I need to tell you about my neighbor Harry Pickets.”

“Harry? Isn’t he the widower who lives right across your backyard?”

“He sure is,” Maud confirms as she stands up and stares out her sliding glass doors again. She moves about the kitchen in an agitated manner. The color on her cheeks heightens, making it obvious this is the reason for her healthy glow.

Maud alternates between opening her mouth to talk and pinching it closed, while her eyes shine vibrantly. Finally, the words start spilling out. “Yesterday, out of nowhere, I hear a knock on the door. I had just come home from the salon, you know, and I wasn’t expecting visitors.”

I interject, “Your hair looks lovely today, by the way.”

Maud absently pats her hair as she paces. “Thank you, dear. Anyway, there is this man standing on the porch smiling at me with a wheelbarrow full of gardening tools behind him. I asked him if I could help him. I figured he was a neighbor needing to borrow a tool. He said he worked for Harry. He told me Harry sent him over to see if I wanted work done in my garden.” She throws her arms up in exasperation. “Can you believe that? How insulting. As if I couldn’t manage my own garden if I’d a mind to.”

Maud is nearly rustling up a whirlwind in the kitchen with the rate of her pacing, and I am enthralled by the drama.

“So what did you say?”

Maud stops and covers her mouth as though she’s afraid to say. “I was honestly speechless for a moment. Then I told him very sweetly that I appreciated the offer, but I didn’t need his help. I asked if he could give something to Harry for me to express my gratitude. I gave him my beautician’s card and my coupon for fifty percent off the next haircut.”

I puzzle on this for a minute. “But Maud, Harry is bald, isn’t he?”

Maud smiles her wide, mischievous smile. “Exactly.”

An image rises to my mind of Harry standing at his front door, scratching his bald head with one hand and staring uncertainly at the haircut coupon he holds in the other. “Hairless Harry Pickets,” I chuckle. Maud laughs with me. She laughs so hard she snorts. Then we both laugh until our faces hurt and I’m afraid I might pee my pants.

“Oh Maud,” I say. “You are a jewel, and you shine even brighter than your hair.”

Maud beams as she fluffs her hair. Then she pats my hand before finally opening one of Paco’s Loco Tacos.

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Chapter 04: Hidden Treasures

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 26, 2022, Red Ages

I slip as quietly as I can through the bell tower door. The stone stairwell would be completely dark if not for the tall, narrow windows decorating each landing. I start the six-floor ascent to my familiar childhood hideout. The absent railing makes the winding stairway treacherous in the dim light. I trail my finger along the stone walls, enjoying the rough bumps and grooves as I move steadily upward. On the last landing, I climb a set of slim, wooden ladder rungs until my head bumps against a solid object. Shoving the hatch upward, I boost myself onto the wooden floor and stand to look around. The bell room has a stone half wall topped with four arches in keystone construction, letting in the cool air and the beautiful night sky. The roof is made of heavy oak timbers reaching up further to steeple heights. An elaborate brass bell works hangs from the timbers with the grand bell hanging in the center and extending down so passersby can see it through the arches.

I set my pack down by the south wall and plop on the floor next to it. The area is in deep shadow, so my fingers work blindly, counting the stones in the wall from the corner. One, two up from the floor and one, two, three to the right. I wedge my fingers around the stone and gently shimmy it out. It’s more difficult than I remember now that I’ve grown and my fingers are larger. I deposit the amulet in an empty crevice behind the stone to the right of the one I removed and replace the block carefully. Even if someone were to remove the loose stone, they would not immediately see the evidence bag.

I stand to heft my pack to my shoulder, then take a moment to enjoy the peace of the evening. The stars are out tonight, though somewhat faded by the light pollution of the city. The city lights are sprinkled all around, concentrating in downtown Crimson Hollow. The lights spread out and up the mountains on all sides and dip down, disappearing between Black Mountain and Thunderhead Mountain in Shroud Valley. I can see the parapet surrounding the tar and pebble roof of the building I live in next door. Lights shine from my friend Alexis’ apartment, but my windows are dark. Large, winged gargoyles decorate each corner of the roof as though standing guard against unseen enemies. I take a couple deep breaths of cool evening air, letting the stress of the day flow out, before heading back downstairs.

When I reach the bottom landing, I gingerly open the door leading back into the church. No matter, though, because Father O’Brennen catches me anyway.

“There you are, Bluebell. I thought I heard a mouse in my bell tower.”

“You could hear me?”

Father O’Brennen chuckles. “No, I saw you slip through the door on your way up.”

“Oh.” I smile. “I didn’t want to disturb you.”

I’ve known Father O’Brennen since my orphanage days. We used to come here on Sundays for church. I’ve never been very religious, so I would sneak away from the housemothers before the sermon and spend the hour in the bell tower, pretending it was my very own home.

“You’re not disturbing me at all,” Father O’Brennen says. “Why don’t you join me? I was just getting a snack in the kitchen. You can tell me how your apartment is doing.”

The building next door is a defunct school belonging to the church. It’s mostly used for storage space now, except for the top floor where the nuns’ living quarters used to be. Some renovations have been done to make it suitable for a few modern apartments. When I was of age and ready to move out of the orphanage, Father O’Brennen offered one of the apartments to me rent-free until I found my first job.

Well, I suppose, there is no polite way to get out of a conversation with Father O’Brennen, so I decide to make the most of it. I need some answers anyway. “Do you happen to have any cookies left over from the church ladies?”

Father O’Brennen chuckles again. “That’s exactly what I was after myself.”

We walk down the hall to the roomy kitchen. It has beige tile counters, dark oak cabinets, and a slate floor. It’s lit by electricity as this is holy ground, so no magic works here. Father O’Brennen pulls two glasses out of the cabinet filling them with milk from a pretty glass decanter. Then he loads two plates with fresh gingersnaps, bringing the container of cookies with him. I arrange the plates and milk on the counter island. It feels as though we’re sneaking a forbidden midnight snack.

Father O’Brennen stands medium height with deep-set, dark gray eyes. His salt and pepper hair is mostly salt now, and is crowned with a shiny spot, visible when he leans forward. He’s quick to laugh but otherwise has a quiet, wise look about him. I do like Father O’Brennen, and he’s always been particularly kind to me. I’m just not a fan of God since he has never gone out of his way to make my life easy. So I usually avoid the kind of deep conversation with Father O’Brennen I’m about to embark on. However, I’m twenty-three now, and it’s high time I get some answers about my family.

“How’s your apartment doing?” Father O’Brennen asks.

“It’s fine. It kept me warm all winter and I expect it will keep me warm all summer as well,” I say with a grin.

Father O’Brennen leans back and laughs a deep, throaty laugh. “Well, that’s what the terrace is for.”

I pause for a moment and crunch on a gingersnap, thinking of how best to approach the topic of my family with him. Then I ask, “Father, I think you told me once that you knew both my parents, didn’t you?”

“I did, certainly. They were wonderful people.”

“You were also the one who brought me to the orphanage.”

Father O’Brennen nods in confirmation.

“Well, the housemothers told me my parents were killed by Dark Vampires. Several of the children were orphaned in the same manner, so it wasn’t unusual. But none of the other children still had family alive. I know this because the mothers told them. But when I asked about my grandparents, they told me it was a story best left till I was older. Every time I tried, they shut me down. Well, I’m twenty-three now. I’ve been on my own for five years. For the last two years I’ve been capturing murderers for a living. I think I’m old enough to know now, and I’m asking you this time.”

Father O’Brennen, sober-faced now, heaves a great sigh. “I guess you are old enough.”

“Are my grandparents still alive?”

Father O’Brennen nods with a sad look and the strong feeling of empathy flowing from him. “Yes, as far as I know. They used to be parishioners of mine, but they haven’t been for quite some time now. The last I heard they were all still living, but that was many years past.”

Wincing at this news even though it’s what I expected, I look to the side to blink back the tears. It’s not that I was alone in the world; it’s that I was unwanted. The cold reality seep into me. I ask through the thickening of my throat, “Do you know why they didn’t take me in when my parents died?”

Father O’Brennen sighs again. “Your grandparents were very devout people, but . . . they were afraid of the Gifted. When your mother’s gift started to show, her parents, due to the nature of her gift, felt it was unholy, and they disowned her. Your father asked his parents to help, and in the course of doing so, he revealed that he himself was Gifted. His parents threw him out as well. I tried to counsel your grandparents that God doesn’t hate, and he loves all his children. But they saw the gifts as an unholy thing and an affront to God.”

My sadness turns to anger at the cruelty of my grandparents. “So both my parents were made homeless when they were just teenagers?”

He nods before elaborating. “Your parents clung together during this hard time, and a strong love grew between them. I married them myself as soon as they were of age. After your parents died, I approached both sets of your grandparents to ask them if they would take you in. Your grandmother on your mother’s side seemed willing to relent. She did grieve for your mother. But your grandfather, her husband, would not. When I visited your father’s parents, I knew by the way they talked about your parents, who hadn’t even been buried yet, that it would be wrong for me to allow you to stay in that house. I’m afraid you would have come to great harm.

“After that, neither set of your grandparents came to this church anymore. They knew in no uncertain terms I felt their choices were wrong. I’m sorry to say I don’t think any of your grandparents ever came to repent over their deeds, except perhaps your maternal grandmother.”

I feel a rush of rage at those faceless people for rejecting me and my parents over their antiquated beliefs. Then I think about how my parents must have felt to have known their love and then lost it.

I ask, “What were my parents’ gifts?”

Father O’Brennen pours me more milk, obviously needing the time to consider his words. “Well,” he says, “your mother was able to see ghosts, the souls of those who have died but have not yet passed on. She could see them when they were passing or if they lingered. She was a very religious woman, your mother. I was worried she would cast the Church aside because of the behavior of her parents, but even as her gift separated her from them, it strengthened her connection with God. She couldn’t deny what she saw with her own eyes. She saw souls passing to the Plane of Light and occasionally in the other direction.” Father O’Brennen looks down at the floor with that last statement.

This shocks me. “She saw souls going to the Plane of Fire?”

“Yes. She said she could, and I believe her. Now, your father was a Gifted Healer. He could direct his energy to heal the flesh. Whenever there was a patient who was particularly sick and your father thought they might not make it, your mother would go with him. She said it was so she could be sure their soul made it safely to the other side.”

The argument breedists always use is that if gifts were from God, magic would be able to exist on holy ground. Since it can’t, they believe it must be evil. “So, what do you think of Gifted people, Father? Do you think the gifts are from God or that they’re evil?”

Father O’Brennen looks at me kindly and asks, “Has anyone ever told you the story about your birth?”

I shake my head, feeling as though something momentous is about to be revealed.

Father O’Brennen takes a deep breath and looks me directly in the eyes as if to give me strength and says, “Bluebell Kildare, you were stillborn, born with the umbilical cord wrapped around your neck. You were as blue as a bluebell, so I’ve been told. The midwife pronounced you dead and handed you to your mother. Your mother cried and said she could see your soul in the room.

“Your father rejected your death. He grabbed you and performed infant CPR. He sent healing energy into you through his hands. Your mother called for you, trying to get you to come back. She said that your soul drifted back into your body just a moment before you opened your lungs on your own and wailed.”

Father O’Brennen pauses a moment, then says, “You know, even Healers are not supposed to be able to breathe life back into the dead. I don’t know if it was your mother calling for you or your father’s healing that brought you back. Perhaps it was a combination of both.”

I did know that Healers weren’t supposed to be able to bring life back to the dead. I’m flabbergasted and can’t seem to speak due to the thoughts racing through my head. I was dead and brought back to life. My parents obviously loved me to reject my death so strongly. That thought is a treasure I will always hold dearly. I fold my hands on the counter, drop my forehead to them, and close my eyes. I let that thought settle. My parents really loved me. My parents truly loved me! After a minute of letting that soak in, I lift my head again waiting for the rest of the story.

Father O’Brennen says, “Now, I wasn’t in that room, and even if I had been, I wouldn’t have seen your soul drifting toward the Plane of Light and then reverse direction. Nor would I have seen healing magic flow through your father’s hands into your body, restoring your life. But you were dead, and now you’re alive. That I would have seen. When your grandparents heard about this, they assumed it was greater evidence of the evil nature of gifts. But I don’t believe a soul would be excused from the Plane of Light without our Father’s permission. I believe all gifts are from God, and I must assume he approved of the use of your parents’ gifts on that day.”

Father O’Brennen pauses for a moment and offers more cookies. I take them, mostly to keep myself busy while my brain processes what he’s told me. It’s more information than I’d ever heard about my parents, and I treasure every word.

Then Father O’Brennen says, “That’s not the only reason why I feel gifts can be used with the blessing of God. What have you been told about the day your parents died?”

I stand up, stretch, and walk to the window. I tell him, and my words seem to echo hollowly in the kitchen as if in accord with the loneliness I feel inside. “I was told that a group of Dark Vampires came upon them in an alley when they were on their way home. I was told they were killed in bloodlust.”

“Yes, that’s true, but it’s not the whole tale.”

I lean against the window and bow my head, unable to watch Father O’Brennen tell this story anymore because the emotions I feel are already too intense. “I’d like to hear what you know.”

Father O’Brennen asks, “Did you know you were with them that day?”

“No,” I murmur. I’m almost beyond surprise at this point. I suppose I might be in shock.

He continues with his tale—my tale, really. “You were barely three years old and wrapped in a carrier on your mother’s back. It was very cold that night, so she’d thrown a blanket over your head. Your father had been caring for an elderly woman, and because of her age, your mother accompanied him. So there you all were, walking home late at night through an alley. When the Dark Vampires attacked your parents, they pushed your parents against some buildings. Your mother landed in a corner where two buildings joined, so you were protected from the impact. Your parents were dead in seconds, but the corner you were wedged in kept you out of sight for a moment. A Daylight Vampire was hunting Dark Vampires that night and came upon the alley just as the Dark Vampires were feeding on your parents. You started crying, and one of the Dark Vampires stopped feeding, pulled your mother away from the corner, and uncovered you.

“The Daylight Vampire approached and was about to intercede when the entire alley filled with a bright light. The Dark Vampires shrunk from the light, and their skin sizzled and burned black as though touched by the sun. They tried to run, but the one who had killed your mother was too close to the light and instantly turned to ash. The Daylight Vampire picked you up and brought you to me.”

Father O’Brennen pauses for a moment and then drops the real bomb. “He told me the bright light that drove the Dark Vampires off and killed one of them was emanating from inside of you.”

I am astounded. I peer at him sharply to assess his truthfulness before remembering who he is. The tale is so outrageous I can hardly believe it.

He forges on. “The light coming from you burnt the Dark Vampires like they burn when they touch holy ground or when they’re exposed to the sun. When Daylight Vampires give in to bloodlust and become Dark Vampires, Lilith calls their soul to her, and their bodies are simply unholy shells of who they were. Lilith operates them like puppets filled with the endless need for blood and death. Since all good is gone from them and only evil remains, they cannot stand the touch of that which is pure, good, and holy. Your gift forced them back and even killed one of them. So I believe your gift must be from God.”

“You think my aura holds my gift? And that’s what hurt and killed the Dark Vampires?”

“Yes, but I don’t believe an aura is some miscellaneous light wavering on the outside of your skin, Bluebell. I believe an aura is the part of your soul that extends beyond the boundaries of your skin. I believe the light from your soul hurt and killed them.”

I stand now and pace the kitchen in front of the window. So many thoughts swirl in my mind. “But what of this Daylight Vampire who saved me? He wasn’t burned. So then it follows that Daylight Vampires aren’t evil, right?”

Father O’Brennen answers as though he has pondered this very question for untold hours. “My heart tells me no. I believe Lilith has her mark on Daylight Vampires to entice them to do evil and give in to their bloodlust. I don’t think the Father allows her to truly claim them until they actually do evil. Like all creatures that still have souls, they have the will to choose. It’s more difficult for them, and it takes more willpower, certainly. They can drink blood from people in a humane way by keeping their bloodlust under control and getting consent. I don’t believe it’s a sin when the blood is freely given. After all, they require sustenance as you and I do. It’s when they give in to their bloodlust by killing during the process that they do evil. Then they choose their path, just like you could choose a path of evil.”

I respond heatedly, “Well, it’s clearly unfair that they can’t die without Lilith claiming them. They have no chance to go to the Plane of Light. Their only choices are to live here endlessly, denying their bloodlust, or give in and go to the Plane of Fire. They have to be good for so much longer than we do with so much greater temptation.”

Father O’Brennen affirms my feelings. “I know,” he says. “I don’t have all the answers, Bluebell. I wish I did. Just remember that as long as Daylight Vampires are able to walk in the sun, they’re defying Lilith’s enticement, so in my opinion, all Daylight Vampires are to be respected in that regard.”

Just when I feel good and angry at Father O’Brennen for representing a God who gives inequitable graces, he goes and says something that makes me see him as human, fallible and wise all at the same time. I feel shame for my outburst now, and think about what he said while I help him clean up our plates.

As I bid him goodnight, I swallow back the heavy emotion I feel thickening my voice and glistening in my eyes. “Thank you, Father O’Brennen. Tonight you gave me more knowledge about my parents and my own history than I’ve ever had before.” He smiles at me and grips my forearms in a warm embrace. I turn and walk the short way home.

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Chapter 05: Of Smoke and Shadow

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

I draw back the lilac shower curtain surrounding my claw foot tub and step onto yesterday’s towel. Nuns aren’t exactly big on vanity, so I’m grateful they installed a mirror when renovating the space. I use the corner of the towel I’m wearing to wipe the fog off the gold baroque mirror to brush my teeth. My teeth are smallish and straight, and I like to keep them a nice, bright white. My face is framed with dark brown hair that looks black when damp except for the one-inch wide blue lock that hangs from my forehead. It’s a pale blue, almost like a tinted white. When I was young, I tried to dye it dark brown like the rest of my hair, but the color wouldn’t take. It remained stubbornly blue. Sigh. At least it matches my eyes.

My eyes are vivid blue, the color of bluebells, or so I’ve been told. I always thought that’s why I was named Bluebell, not because I turned blue when I died at birth.

As I assess my reflection, the bathroom light flashes on and off and on again. I hear a roll of thunder and wonder if the apartment will lose power today. A good storm is brewing. I shake off my ruefulness and decide to stick with the original story of my name. I glance at the birthmark on my shoulder in the mirror and release a deep sigh as I turn away. On my way to the bedroom, I peek out at the terrace and see an ominously dark sky dropping sheets of rain. It’s going to be a dreary day.

I enter my bedroom to dress. Calling it a “room” is perhaps giving it grander airs than it deserves. It’s more of a three-walled nook or an alcove for the bed. Sheer curtains do their best to separate it from the living room. It does have a nice, long closet running the length of one wall, which I barely fill with my meager wardrobe. My apartment is small, but it’s decorated nicely in bright jewel tones, and it’s my first real home.

Sitting on the edge of the comforter, I start rubbing a mixture of coconut oil, lavender, and mint on my skin. I rarely wear make-up, so this is the whole of my beauty routine. My phone, which is still sitting on my nightstand, interrupts my calm with an annoying ring. I give it the evil eye, but it ignores me completely and keeps on ringing. I answer it begrudgingly with my oil-free left hand.

“Hello?”

“Blue? This is Jack.” His deep voice washes through me with all the richness of a fine brandy.

“Jack, I know it’s you, on account of the fact that the phone says ‘Jack’ when you call. Plus now that I’ve been working for you for two years, I can finally remember the sound of your voice,” I tease.

How nice of him to use the phone instead of the chimerator at this hour of the morning. Then again, maybe he thinks I look hideous before I’ve readied for work.

“Blue,” Jack growls in warning, his voice becoming impossibly deeper, making my insides thrill at the tone.

“Sorry,” I apologize, trying to suppress the image of his strong body from rising in my mind, “but you called me early. What can I help you with?” I suddenly notice my right hand has begun sensually massaging the oil into my thigh. I shake my hand as if to erase the action. Bad hand! Oil and the sound of Jack’s voice do not mix.

“The M.E. is ready to give his preliminary report,” Jack says.

Suddenly my mood is brighter and I’m able to concentrate. “Great. I’ll head down there first thing. Actually, I’m glad you called. After the forensics team left yesterday, I found a piece of evidence at the scene. It’s an amulet with some sort of magical capabilities. I’ll hand it over to Gambino as soon as I can. The amulet has a piece of dark red thread caught in the clasp matching a thread snagged on the boy’s fingernail. I checked with the bartender at the Cock and Bull Tap, and a guy wearing a cloak of the same color had just left as I entered.”

Jack says, “Really?”

“Really, and that is not all.” I relate to Jack the events that followed after I left the bar, and to say he is unhappy would be a gross understatement. As I finish the tale, Jack’s voice is thunderous.

“Why didn’t you send an alert to me? Why am I only finding out about this now?”

“Jack, you didn’t know any of the details of the case, and Gambino couldn’t have gotten far. He was only gone five minutes.”

Jack orders, “Next time, send an alert. Absolutely no excuses. Your safety is my responsibility, not Gambino’s.”

I give Jack the only response possible. “Yes, Jack.”

Jack is not finished yet. “Let me make this absolutely clear. Anytime, ever, you are shot at, the moment you have cover, if not before, you must push the alert on your chimerator. Is that clear?”

I swallow dryly. I know he’s right. “Yes, Jack,” I repeat.

“Okay,” Jack says gruffly. “See what the M.E. has to say, and we’ll speak when you get into the office.” He hangs up abruptly.

He really should learn how to properly end a call, but this is probably not the time to mention it.

I finish my modest beauty routine, comb my hair, and rifle through my dresser for some fresh underwear. I select a pair of bright fuchsia, French cut panties and a matching push-up bra, both decorated with tiny, black satin bows. I look at myself in the mirror and approve. My body is slim and long with modest curves, but curves enough. Maybe one day someone besides me will appreciate my lingerie. I frown at this thought as I hide my treasures with dark blue, straight leg jeans and a crew neck tee in a gray toned camouflage pattern. My outfit is finished off with boots, a black leather underbust vest, my gray pageboy cap, and, of course, my Glock and holster. My work clothes are dismally boring with the only exciting part remaining my secret.

I grab an umbrella and bolt out the door. My boot heels click down three flights of stairs, reminding me to replace them with rubber soles. As I reach the marble tiled entryway, I’m stalled by a yellow sign blocking the door. “Caution! Wet paint,” it warns. Shoot, I have no time for this. I fly down the hall and out the back alley door.

Not more than a few steps into the alley, I feel a presence behind me. As I whip my head around, I feel an iron clasp on my arm. I’m jerked backwards into the chest of a man. I catch just a glimpse of a black mask with two narrow eyeholes.

I jerk my body forward in protest with my other hand reaching in back for my gun. A man’s voice scornfully laughs “too late” as he tosses my gun on the ground in front of me.

I push violently backwards, then quickly pull forward, trying to break free from his grasp, but the cold edge of a blade at my neck stops me.

“Be very still and very quiet, or I might enjoy myself too much,” a voice hisses in my ear.

I immediately still my body, but my mind is racing. His arm tightens across my chest like an iron band, keeping my arms still at my sides. Rain pours down on us, but I hardly feel it. I glance to the left and see he’s pulled me into a corner so we can’t be seen from the street. To the right is the long alley, blocked on either side by a tall row of brick buildings. That way lies disaster. If I’m to get free, I must go left toward the street.

I quickly assess my options. With my gun lying useless on the ground and my arms restrained, I have only my mind and my gift to aid me.

I push out my sixth sense and physically flinch away as I feel the evilness of his soul, but the sharp prick of the knife slicing into the skin of my neck stops my forward movement. A small stream of blood trickles down my neck, intermingling with the rain. Lightning flashes, followed by the low rumble of thunder. I can sense the man is high with excitement, enjoying his power over me.

I whisper, “You don’t want to do this. I’m a Homicide Inspector with the Supernatural Investigation Bureau. If you harm me, trust me, you will be hunted down.”

I feel for his response, but the fear or surprise I expect to rise in him are woefully missing. He knows exactly who I am. My dread increases. This is no random attack.

He chuckles. “Oh yes, I want to do this very bad, in fact, but you know what they say: business before pleasure.” The sick, seductive tone of his voice makes me cringe. He digs his fingers into my arm and demands, “Yesterday you investigated a crime. Tell me what you found, and then I’ll let you go.”

Those are his words, but the malice I feel from him belies those words. He has no intention of letting me go.

He presses the edge of the knife in a little harder. I feel my heart stutter as visions of his gruesome work on the boy’s body rise in my mind. I know exactly what he’s capable of. I blink to flush away the vision, and out of the corner of my eye I see a flicker of movement in the shadows of the alley. Does he have a cohort? Or is it someone who might help me? Best to keep talking until the hidden is revealed.

I know the man is referring to the amulet, so I avoid giving him this information. I whisper, “We found the body of a boy who had been hit by a car and damaged severely. Was that your handiwork?”

A sneering voice responds, “Yes, you are a genius. So clever . . . ”

I see shifting in the shadows along the buildings closer to me now. Whoever is there is trying to stay hidden, and the overcast sky is helping. If the man gets distracted, I could grab his knife arm and twist it or get out of his grasp and run. I could wrench away and use my umbrella as a weapon. My hands tremble at my sides with the force of my desire to fight. It’s almost unbearable to stand here waiting at the mercy of a man who has none.

I need to discern if the third party in this alley is friend or foe. I push my senses out, trying to penetrate the gloomy alley in the direction of the flitting shadow. I feel a wild, predatory rage coming from that direction. It feels both savage and unflinching. I’m suddenly unsure of an imminent rescue and wonder if something more dangerous comes that way. I could alert my abductor to the danger and perhaps get free, or I could bide my time hoping to escape when the distraction arrives. Beads of sweat form around my hairline, blending with the rain as I war with my options.

The masked man digs his nails cruelly into my arm, and I realize I missed something he said. He repeats himself. “What of the amulet?”

I lie, “I didn’t find an amulet.”

He hisses and jerks me farther back into the corner. “I don’t believe you.”

Just then, I see the shadow separate from the side of the building and shoot into the air right at us. The masked man sees it as well, and his grip on my arms relaxes. I feel the knife blade back away from my neck just a smidge. I lift my left hand to grab on to his forearm, pushing with all my might to further the distance between my skin and the knife blade while swinging my right arm back and ramming the metal point of my umbrella into what I hope is his gut. Letting go of the umbrella, I bring my right arm up to push his knife away. I feel him recoil from the umbrella impact. I twist my body away, gripping his forearm with both hands, then let go and spin out of reach.

Time moves in slow motion, and the creature from the shadows appears suspended in the air. I see long claws and huge, gleaming fangs in a gaping, hungry mouth. The masked man brings the knife up to defend himself against the new threat. I see the glowing green eyes of the creature and hear a vicious snarl as its fangs wrap around the man’s knife arm.

I am all but forgotten, so I run toward my gun on the opposite side of the alley. When it’s safely in my hand, I pivot, turning it on the man–only he seems to have disappeared into thin air, leaving the creature to snap and snarl savagely at the empty space where he had been. Now that the creature has four clawed paws on the ground, I see he is in fact an enormous gray wolf, and blood is seeping from his side.

I can’t believe I was just saved by a wolf. He seems to sense me watching and lifts his keen eyes to me. I curse my stupidity for staying around and aim my Glock at him instead. I back up slowly toward the street, not wanting to shoot, but the wolf starts running toward me at full speed. I should shoot him, really, I should. He just ripped into a man’s arm—but he also saved my life.

My hands, aiming the gun straight ahead at the wolf, shake at the force of my indecision. Before I can make up my mind, the wolf has already reached me. He slows his pace, circling around me, sniffing and yipping quietly. Then he puts his forepaws and head down right in front of me and sticks his rump in the air, wagging his tail as though he wants to play.

Rain still pours down on us, water runs in rivulets through my hair, but I pay no attention. He is huge. And beautiful! When he stands again, I’m amazed that the top of his withers reach my waist. His coat is long and thick, fading from a charcoal color on his back and nose to silver around his flank. He has touches of brown throughout his coat and around his eyes, which have now changed from a glowing green to a pale, icy blue.

I reach out slowly with my left hand. He sniffs at the proffered hand, then puts his head under it like he wants a pet. I comply and slowly scratch him about the ears as I slide my Glock smoothly back into its holster.

The two of us are drenched in rain, standing in the alley, greeting each other. What a strange life I lead. After a moment, when I think he’s used to me, I gently feel deep down in his neck fur for a collar. His fur is so thick I can’t be sure, but I don’t think he has one. He appears to have traveled a long and difficult road and looks too dirty and skinny to be a pet anyway. I squat down to examine the gash on his side, but the blood and rain obscure the wound.

“What am I going to do with you, shadow-walker?”

He looks up at me with questioning eyes and I am lost to them.

I put my hand on my hip and say, “You had better come with me.”

He walks by my side to the car, seemingly oblivious to his wound, and waits patiently while I pop the trunk. I pull out a blanket and arrange it over the back seat. When all is set, I wave the wolf in. He immediately leaps in the back seat of my car like he’s been doing it all of his days. He takes up the entire back seat when he lies down.

I slide into the driver’s seat and wrinkle my nose at the stench of wet, dirty animal. Reaching over, I spring the latch on the glove box pulling out a granola bar to feed him. I think he eats it, though it’s really hard to tell because it disappears so quickly. He certainly didn’t taste it, and there was absolutely no chewing action going on. A bath, medical care, and food are in order. I definitely prefer my wolves well fed.

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Chapter 06: Herbal Etcetera

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

I pull my car up in front of the shop my neighbor Alexis owns. It’s located in the middle of Dunnwell Street, a thriving business community in our neighborhood. The storefronts are well kept with old quality craftsmanship in their design. Alexis Demetriou’s storefront is painted in sage green, burgundy, and cream. Whimsical stenciling on her large front windows announces “Herbal Enchantments” with smaller print below that says “Amulets, potions, charms, etcetera.” I’m here for the etcetera.

I let the wolf out and look at him closely. He looks smaller now, about the size of a large dog. I shake my head and wonder if I’m going mad. My state of panic surely played tricks on my mind.

As I walk in with the wolf pushing in front of me, the door chimes merrily announce our arrival. Alexis has her back turned toward the door as she places little bottles of potions on a shelf. She’s wearing a neatly pressed, pale blue pantsuit that makes her dark chocolate curls stand out beautifully.

The store is filled with bottles of all shapes and colors with neatly printed labels. The colored glass sparkles even in the dim light filtering through the clouds and the large storefront windows. Aside from the shelves of potions, there are walls of charms and several amulet trees. The place is in pristine and orderly condition. I don’t blame the place at all. I wouldn’t get out of line either if I were Alexis’ store.

Alexis is tall and fit, but curvy in a generous way—as opposed to me, who is curvy in a barely noticeable way. I like to think that her generous bosom reflects her generous personality. She has brown skin, large brown eyes, and beautifully thick hair. She also has a lot of sass. It seems like when she’s not pointing her finger, she’s crossing her arms, putting her hands on her hips, or raising her eyebrows. And look out if she starts shaking her head at you.

Alexis turns around and her eyes widen, showing an extraordinary amount of eyeball, but in a good way. “Great Demon of the Abyss!” she exclaims. “You have a wolf.”

She rushes forward, but a few paces away from him she seems to remember he is a wolf. She stops, offering her hand slowly. He sniffs it and gives it a perfunctory lick. Then he cases the shop, sniffing fervently at the abundance of scented goods.

I spit out in one breath, “I was attacked in an alley behind our building this morning—a man from a case I’m working on, but don’t worry, I’m fine. This wolf appeared out of nowhere and tore into him like an avenging angel. The guy disappeared and got away. I don’t think he’s dangerous unless he’s threatened.” I pause for breath.

Alexis puts her hands on her hips, clearly outraged. “What do you mean you don’t think he’s dangerous? He jumped you in the alley, and you have dried blood on your neck.”

I widen my eyes and grab my neck. “Shoot, I forgot about that. I meant I don’t think the wolf is dangerous. I’m going to keep him. The man is definitely dangerous. The wolf got cut by him, and is in far worse condition than I am.”

Alexis’ eyes flit to the wolf and then back to me. Then she immediately springs to action, her healing nature taking over.

She squats down informing the wolf, “I’m going to touch you gently by your wound, and you are going to remain calm and stay still.”

She tentatively parts the bloody hair on his left flank, and he abides her orders, standing still through her ministrations. I watch carefully for signs of aggression but see none.

Alexis looks up at me, and I feel her relief as she says, “Thankfully it is not that bad. His fur protected him a good deal, and the rain seems to have helped. It looks like the knife nicked some surface blood vessels, but the wound isn’t deep.”

Then she looks at the wolf and starts cooing, “You poor thing, you look so starved. Let’s get you something to eat and take care of that cut.”

This is not an unexpected response. Alexis does two things very well. She can cook up herbal potions like no one’s business, and she also does her best to feed everyone in sight. I personally agree feeding him before taking care of the injury is a wise idea.

Alexis leads us to a back room equipped with a small commercial kitchen decorated in a mix of stainless steel and country charm. She mixes most of her potions in this comfortable and efficient space. Alexis’ assistant, Penelope, is busy ladling some mixture into bottles with a funnel. She turns to Alexis and immediately drops the ladle back into the pot with a plop when she sees the wolf.

Alexis smiles and says, “Penelope, we have a patient today. Do you want to mind the front while I take care of him back here?”

Penelope is a pretty, young girl with rosy cheeks and curly hair, which frequently escapes her bun. She’s usually hardworking but a little silly. Right now slack-jawed most adequately describes her as she stares, mouth agape, at the wolf. The wolf, in return, is utterly ignoring her. Eventually Alexis’ words seem to penetrate Penelope’s temporarily addled brain because she wrings her apron in her hands and promptly runs up front.

I hop up on the edge of the butcher block island as Alexis pulls things down from the cabinets. She opens a purple bottle and pours a green substance on some gauze pads. Handing them to me, she instructs, “Dab this around your injury while I care for the wolf. What are you going to call him?” She turns her back to me and starts pulling things from the fridge.

I consider her question for a minute. “Well, the only real memory I have of my mother is her telling me a bedtime story about a wolf. It’s hazy, only a wisp of a memory really, but I think she called the wolf Varg. So that’s his name.”

Alexis turns around to look at me as I tell her that story. Her eyes go soft and warm. Then she turns around again and starts briskly heating things in stainless steel pots on the red porcelain stove. “Varg is the perfect name,” she says.

“So, do you have any remedies for fleas and worms handy as well? I think he’s been traveling a long way without any care. I also need a strong soap for his coat.”

Alexis looks up thoughtfully. “I usually don’t sell veterinary supplies out of the store. I do make them when I get requests. I’ll have to make some from scratch.”

“Do you mind? I’ll pay of course.”

“I don’t mind. In fact, I insist. But it’s going to take a little time.” She turns to me with narrowed eyes. “And I’m not going to let him go wandering around town when he’s full of potions. Even though they’re natural, they take a lot out of a body. He’s hurt, and he’ll need protection against viruses and diseases as well. We don’t know where he’s been, but here in the city with the dog population, he’s at risk. And good Lord!“ She sniffs. “He needs a bath.” Alexis finishes this with a nod like it’s all decided now.

She turns back to the stove and handles the long wooden spoon like a master while I hop down to rummage through her cabinets. I locate a large, green glass bowl, fill it with cold water, and set it on the brick floor. Varg laps the water up with a terrific thirst but stops when Alexis puts down another huge glass bowl filled with rice, ground beef, and garlic.

“Wow! Just wow!” I say as we watch him move over to that bowl and devour it like it’s nothing.

Alexis crosses her arms and says, “Yeah. He’d better stay with me today. I’ll get him in shape.”

I give Alexis a big smile. “Thanks so much. I’ve got a new case, so I’ll be running around all day. I’m glad he doesn’t have to wait to get fixed up.”

“Of course he shouldn’t wait with that injury. Now, don’t worry about him. I’ll see you when you get off work. If the shop is closed, you know where to find me.”

Then she wets a paper towel and leans over me to dab at my neck. “There, you’re all clean now.”

I hug her and affect a serious tone. “Now I owe you one. If anyone ever murders you, remember, I’m the one you should call.”

Alexis laughs and pushes me toward the swinging door. “Go, get, scoot.”

I start to leave with a smile on my lips. Then I remember something, so I spin around. “Hey Alexis, If you wanted to learn more about a certain magical artifact, where would you go?”

“Easy. The Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop. Make sure you speak with the owner.”

“Thanks again,” I shout, running out the door on my way to the Medical Examiner’s office.

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Chapter 07: Evidence of Anguish

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

I think to myself how ugly the new Medical Examiner’s building is as I eat up the sidewalk on the way in. It rises out of the mountainside as a cement and steel square oddity in discord with the rustic countryside. Hopefully it was gentle on the taxpayers’ pocketbooks because it certainly is no asset to our architecture.

By now the rain has stopped, and a steady, cooling breeze blows my hair across my face. I tuck it behind my ear as I enter the building.

Inside, the receptionist accepts my ID and gives her reluctant assent for me to proceed to the autopsy room. I gather by the way her mouth sours on sight of me that she doesn’t care for my kind. I don’t care for her kind either—the breedist kind.

Pushing past the steel door, I enter the heart of the operation. Dr. Nathan Perlman, with a two-day shadow on his chin and a clipboard in his hand, stands over a body. He seems tired and worn. He looks up, and forces his usual affable smile. “Good morning, Bluebell. I was expecting you.”

He covers the body with a white sheet and pushes the table through a cooler door while whistling. I think the whistling is for his benefit more than mine. He pulls out another table, maneuvering it toward the examining area. “This is our boy.”

“I’m afraid to ask what you’ve found.”

Nathan nods solemnly. “The only good thing is I know you’re going to find the person who did this. That thought has been my saving grace today.”

I say softly and firmly, meaning it from the bottom of my soul, “I promise, Nathan. I’ll do my very best.”

Nathan nods and pulls back the sheet. He picks up another clipboard then starts his report. “This is a summary of my preliminary findings. The cause of death appears to be due to blunt force head trauma caused by a vehicular collision.” Nathan points to an area on the front of the boy’s skull. “The frontal bone was crushed on impact, causing fracture contusions on his brain, massive hemorrhage, and immediate death. Fragments of glass were found in the wound area.”

Nathan points to the back of the boy’s skull. “The occipital bone was also fractured, causing brain contusions and additional hemorrhage. Abrasions on this injury site have fragments of asphalt embedded in the wound.”

Nathan pulls the sheet down further and points to the boy’s hip. “His left pelvis is crushed, and his right pelvis has multiple fractures. This pattern of contusions appears to be from a car’s grill.” He points to a crosshatch of bloody stripes on the boy’s skin extending from his left hip down over his left thigh.

Nathan pulls the sheet down further still and points to the lower left leg where the bone protrudes. “His left tibia and his left fibula both have complete fractures and several incomplete fractures. The tibia on his right leg has one incomplete fracture. Green paint chips were found embedded in his thigh.”

Nathan pauses and looks at me. “These injuries indicate his death was caused by impact with a passenger vehicle driving at moderate speed. It appears the car hit him at a slight angle from the left. His leg was immediately broken by the bumper, and his hip and thigh hit the grill at an angle. His forehead hit the windshield, causing instantaneous death. At that time, I believe the driver braked and the boy’s body was thrown onto the asphalt where the road impacted his skull again leaving asphalt in the back of his head. His back side is covered in contusions and embedded with asphalt.”

I feel nausea and tension building in my stomach. What Nathan has told and shown me so far isn’t too much. I’ve been doing this for a while. It’s that I know there is much more to come and it’s a lot to handle at once. I ask, “Can you give me a minute?”

Nathan nods. “Take as much time as you need.” He gently covers the boy’s body again with the sheet.

I turn my back on the table and walk away. I begin to pace briskly, but the sound of my heels clicking on the cold cement floor reverberates through the room and agitates me more. I halt, turn toward the opposite corner of the room, and close my eyes. Tension fills my body, and horror reels in the back of my mind, threatening to overcome me. I roll my neck and do some slow, deep breathing to contain it. When I finally restore some calm to my body, I return.

“Okay, Doc. I’m ready. What else do you have?”

Nathan mercifully keeps the sheet over the body and says, “During my internal examination, I found the body well hydrated, but the gall bladder is distended, and the stomach and intestines are empty. The total body weight is 112 pounds, with a height of five eleven, giving the deceased a BMI of 15.6. This information combined with his labs tells me this boy was dangerously undernourished.”

“Can you tell how long he was without food?” I ask.

Nathan replies, “He did not have food recently, but it’s unclear if his malnourishment came from having no food for a short period or inadequate food for a longer period. The amount of time a person can survive on little or no sustenance depends on their starting weight and basic metabolic rate. I can say the extent of his other injuries prior to the collision would’ve increased his energy requirements significantly.”

“Okay,” I say, taking that in. I cross my arms over my chest as if to shield myself from the information. “What else do you have?”

Nathan draws the sheet aside to reveal one hand and points at the boy’s wrist. “Both wrists are encircled in calluses about two inches wide. Bruising and contusions encircle the base of his hands.”

He points to the upper arm and shoulder. “Behind the shoulder, the teres major muscle is torn on both sides, and the ligament tissue connecting the long head of the triceps brachii muscle to the bone is torn. Both ankles show similar calluses and contusions. The injuries and bruising on both the ankles and the wrists show all stages of healing, which means the wounds were continuously inflicted over at least two weeks.”

Holding my hand up for a pause, I probe, “Is it possible he was tied with a rope or handcuffed?”

Nathan’s face turns into a deep scowl. “It wasn’t rope, there were no fibers embedded. The skin is clean as though it was metal encasing his hands and feet. But handcuffs are too narrow to provide the wide grooving and callusing I see here. These injuries are more consistent with having feet shackled and hands shackled over the head.”

Nathan moves to the end of the table and gently folds back the sheet that covers the boy’s feet and lower legs. A foul odor fills the air, making my stomach roil in protest. I reluctantly join Nathan at that side of the table.

Nathan points to the bottom of the boy’s feet, which are black, wrinkled, and covered in sores. “This boy had a condition commonly known as trench foot. This is evidenced by the wrinkled skin on the bottoms of his feet and the blisters and open sores on the bottoms and sides of his feet.”

He points to the black, rotting toe and says, “Fungal infection and gangrene had set in. This stage of trench foot lasts from two to six weeks. Additionally, I found evidence of human fecal matter and urine on his feet. Trench foot occurs when the foot is in damp and cold but not freezing conditions for an extended period of time.” Nathan steps back covering the feet again.

Nathan sighs. “I have one last area of injury to show you.” He gently rolls the boy over on his side and lifts the sheet to show his back. I see wounds and bruising extending from his waist to his neck. “First of all, he has a mark, a green circle on his lower back. I assume it’s a magic mark, but you are a better judge than I. As you observed at the scene, this boy had lacerations and bruising covering his entire back. They’re in various stages of healing. Because the wounds are deeper in this area,” Nathan explains as he points to the boy’s mid-back where the skin is stripped away and muscle is exposed, “I estimate this healing took place over the course of three to four weeks. The forensic report will take some time, but I found fibers in these wounds that appeared to be conditioned animal hide. Preliminarily, I believe these injuries were sustained from a leather whip.”

I step back, turn away, and clasp my shaking hands as I fill with insurmountable rage. The sound of my blood pulsing through my body fills my ears with a wild rushing noise as my head buzzes. I try to regain some control, but the image of the boy is vivid in my mind. I see him starving, chained, and shackled in some cold, dark place. I see him being whipped day after day until his flesh peels away like the skin of an onion. With great effort, I push the image into a corner of my mind. I need to carry on. My job is to find the monster who did this. I will find him.

With my back still turned, I ask, “Anything else?”

Nathan answers, “No. But I did check for sexual assault and am at least relieved that there are no signs he had to endure that indignity as well.”

“Thank goodness for small miracles. Our perpetrator is a real saint, isn’t he?” Spinning around to face Nathan and the body again, I inquire, “Did you send the preliminary report over to Detective Gambino?”

Nathan smiles wryly. “Yes, about an hour ago. I included images and measurements of the grill pattern.”

I tip my hat to Nathan, bowing slightly in gratitude. “Thank you so much, Nathan, for doing what needs to be done. Call me if you find anything else significant or when the pathology and forensic results come back.”

“Certainly. But can I ask you a personal question?”

I nod my assent and Nathan asks, “Why do you insist on coming here for the preliminary results rather than just accepting my report? Wouldn’t it be easier to take in writing? I see how much it affects you.”

I look Nathan directly in the eyes to divulge my logic. “There are two reasons. First, I’m a Sensitive. While I can’t feel anything from a body when the soul has left, by looking at it, and hearing and seeing what happened, I get a feel for the shape of the evilness that possessed the perpetrator. When I encounter a soul capable of that sort of evilness, I sometimes see a potential match. My sense can’t be conclusive, but it can tell me if a person could possibly be the perpetrator. I can also rule people out. The second reason is I need to feel the pain. That drives me to find the perpetrator. I’ll remember today countless times when I’m frustrated or at a loss, and because of today, I’ll keep on.”

Nathan looks at me with understanding dawning on his face, and I feel his empathy wafting toward me. “I can’t imagine what it is to feel the soul of a person who does things like this.”

I accept his empathy with a nod. Then I walk out, remarking over my shoulder, “In case you’re wondering, you have a good soul, Nathan.” He has a very good soul.

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Chapter 08: The Dragomir

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

I decide to swing by the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop before heading to the precinct. As I turn onto Windsor Avenue, I consider what Father O’Brennen told me last night. Is my aura the reason I’ve never encountered a Dark Vampire? Even though most people go their whole lives without running into a Night-Crawler, I work in the Supernatural Homicide Investigation Unit, so I should have by now. Ernesto is our resident Night-Crawler expert at the office and leads the hunts. Still, there has been many a time I’ve been called out for a homicide in the wee hours of the morning just to find the call was reported incorrectly and was actually a case of death by Dark Vampire.

And who was the Daylight Vampire who saved me? I didn’t think to ask Father O’Brennen. Is he still around? Is there more he can tell me about that night?

I stop my musings as the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop comes into view. It‘s a corner store made of flagstone and favored with a rare parking lot of its own. I park and walk around to the front entrance.

No merry bells announce my arrival here. Solid oak shelves covered in thick layers of dust fill the dimly lit store. The dust is so thick it seems to swirl around me, gathering in glittering pools and eddies that hang in the air.

I wave it away from my face and look at the shelves adorned with a wonderful assortment of magical items: scrying mirrors and a looking glass fountain to keep connected with loved ones, firefly lanterns to light your house, and glow stones to brighten your garden. One entire wall is devoted to glass-covered shelves stacked with aged books on every magical subject imaginable. Another case is dedicated to gorgeous parquetry safe boxes. These special boxes are made of tiny geometric shaped veneer inlaid over interlocking pieces of wood. They require a magic word to open. When you close them, their designs rearrange, disguising the opening.

As I take in my surroundings, a few rays of sunlight peek from behind the clouds shining through the windows in bright streams, lighting up the whirlpools of dust still filling the air. It makes me want to twirl around like a little girl. I immediately love this store, musty dust and all.

Behind the heavy oak counter, the clerk is studiously ignoring me as she reads a book. Her reading glasses have dropped to the tip of her nose, and a mess of wavy, brown hair has fallen about her face. I wait for her to look up, but she seems oblivious to my presence. I stand in front of her to get her attention, but still she keeps her eyes pinned down on the book. I am obviously three feet in front of her, yet she pretends I’m not here.

This is extremely vexing, and just as I’m about to say something rude, I notice a sign that says, “Please ring bell for service.” Next to it sits a large brass bell. I ring the bell, and a high pitched sound reverberates throughout the room. I resist the urge to ring it five times in a row to annoy the clerk. Then, wonder of wonders, she lifts her glasses to peer at me through the lenses. How glorious it feels to be acknowledged.

Even more astonishing than her new realization that I exist is the way her face lights up in a beatific smile transforming her into a very arresting mature woman. With her head lifted up, her hair now looks like a riot of soft waves framing a face dominated by deep-set, warm brown eyes that flicker with golden light.

“Hello,” I say a little uncertainly. She has definitely put me at sixes and sevens.

She answers with a deeply melodious voice, “Hello, what can I help you with today?” Her voice is so strange. It’s like ten voices speaking at once, or like the strumming of a harp with notes overlapping one another. It is simply musical. I tilt my head to hear it better.

I realize she is sitting there waiting expectantly for me to answer. I pull myself together, remembering I have a goal to accomplish. “I’m looking for Mr. Dragomir,” I respond.

Her smile immediately turns chilly, and her voice sounds like a dozen angry people speaking to me from different directions. “Mr. Dragomir is not in.” Then she points her eyes toward her book again.

Darn, I lost her again. Beginning to catch on, I ask, “Are you Mrs. Dragomir?”

She looks up and says with great power, “I am the Dragomir.” I feel unaccountably humbled and apologize.

“I am sorry, Dragomir, for my error. My friend Alexis from Herbal Enchantments referred me to you.”

Looking slightly mollified, but still a little snippy, she says, “Please call me Dragomira. Now, what can I help you with?”

“Excuse me for commenting on this, but your voice is the most remarkable I’ve ever heard.” Then I pull out my ID for her. “My name is Bluebell Kildare. I’m with the Supernatural Investigation Bureau. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions.”

Dragomira ignores my statement about her voice and my ID, looking unimpressed with both. “It depends on the nature of those questions.”

“I’m looking for information on a particular amulet. If you can give me a piece of paper, I’d like to make a sketch.”

Dragomira, still exuding a markedly severe demeanor, deigns to retrieve some paper and a pencil from a nearby drawer.

Undaunted, I sketch the amulet, drawing the triangle within the circle and the cutout in the shape of an eye. My sketch includes the hole in the center of the amulet and a depiction of the back including the ridging and beading.

As I sketch the amulet, Dragomira’s eyes become riveted, and I swear they start glowing amber. When I finish, she puts her hand up and her chorus of voices whispers, “One moment. This conversation requires no audience.”

She goes to the door of her shop, turns the heavy brass deadbolt, placing her “Closed” sign face out.

When she returns, I say, “I take it you know this amulet. Should I pull out my privacy charm?”

Dragomira laughs softly and says, “My dear, this shop is so well warded the Gods themselves would have trouble entering. Perhaps I know this amulet. Tell me, what it is made of?”

I look curiously around the shop, then point to the sketch and answer, “The amulet is gold. The triangle looks to be jade. The grooves on the back are gold, and the beading is some sort of white metal, perhaps white gold.”

“It’s platinum,” Dragomira says crisply. “Yes. I know this amulet.”

“What can you tell me about it? Why would someone want it?”

Dragomira leans her arms on the counter, and her warm brown eyes betray her worry. She shivers. “Ah, Illustrissima. That is the question. What would someone want with the amulet? I am afraid of the answer.”

“This amulet has two pieces. What you drew here is only one part. The triangle is made of jade, the stone of wisdom. Its significance is that it’s part of a key used to unlock a book. The missing part, the center, is in the shape of an eye. The iris of the eye, carved with the circle of life, is made of sugelite, a purple stone, which issues dire warning.”

Dragomira jabs her long, elegant finger repeatedly at the center of the eye in the drawing as she speaks. “It warns of the end of humanity. In the center of the eye is a pupil made of amber, used for its properties of attraction, to help you find that which you seek with the book. The eye fits into the hole in the center and has grooves and beads of its own. The two pieces, joined together, form the symbol for the All-Seeing Eye, which sees across planes and into the Underworld.”

When she finishes with her explanation, Dragomira assesses my reaction in a way that makes me feel somehow inadequate.

I forge ahead anyway. “What book does the key open?”

“Ah,” Dragomira says heavily. “You plunge right in, do you not? It opens the ancient Grimorium Cantionum Spiritualium—The Spell Book of the Spirit and Soul. It is a book that contains the knowledge to call demons and spirits from other planes, including the Plane of Death. It is a very powerful book, and those who have possessed its knowledge have done massive damage to those who live in this world.”

I shift uneasily as this case is much more dangerous and complex than I’d originally thought. “What sort of damage?”

Dragomira gestures toward a stool at the end of her counter. “I will tell you a story. Please sit down.”

I drag the stool over and sit, listening avidly as her hypnotic voice weaves a picture of a bygone era.

“In ancient Ireland,” she begins, “a talented sorcerer’s apprentice came to possess the Grimorium Cantionum Spiritualium. We now know this apprentice as Patersuco—‘Father of the Vampires.’ Patersuco was deathly ill from a blood sickness and desperate to save his own life. The learned now speculate he suffered from leukemia, but that matters not to this story. Patersuco was a selfish, greedy man, so he sacrificed his first-born infant son and used the knowledge of the book to summon the greatest demon of the Plane of Fire, Lilith, second only to Lucifer.

“When Lilith arrived, Patersuco tried to bargain with her for immortality. Lilith asked what he would give her in return, and Patersuco said the sacrifice of his son was his gift to her. Lilith laughed at him and said the sacrifice was nothing. She said the baby’s soul was innocent, so it went to the Plane of Light, and all she received from the sacrifice was a blood gift. She taunted him, telling him instead of killing his son, he could have simply slit his flesh and dropped some blood on the altar.”

Dragomira sees the shocked look on my face at the idea that a man had so easily sacrificed his own son. “This was just before the Red Ages, and the earth was still wild and untamed. Man also was wild and untamed. Human sacrifices were not uncommon, as wrong as they may be. But even then, sacrificing one’s own son was unheard of.”

I interject, “I think Patersuco was foolish to think that Lilith would trade a mortal life for an immortal life. Isn’t it immortal souls that are collected on the Plane of Fire?”

Dragomira raises her eyebrows at this. “Excellent observation. Indeed, a mortal life has no value to Lilith. Nonetheless, Patersuco, in his foolishness and arrogance, was enraged that she made so little of his sacrifice—but he was determined to achieve his goal. So he offered to give her his soul when he died. Lilith laughed at him again and pointed out he had killed an innocent in cold blood, his own living flesh, even, so his soul was already destined for the Plane of Fire. She also reminded him that since he was asking for immortality, she would have to wait a long time for that prize.”

“Lilith sounds highly conniving. Apparently by sacrificing his son, he had given her his own immortal soul. But Lilith didn’t recognize this as part of his payment to her.”

Dragomira says, “She is second only to the Prince of Lies, the Prince of Thieves, the Master Bargain Maker. She is indeed skilled, and instead of taking his bargain, she offered him another.”

By now I’m sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for Dragomira to spin the rest of the tale.

“She said she would cure his blood disease, but it would require he drink the blood of other humans to survive. She said to make this easier, she would make him desire blood. She would give him strength and resistance from disease, but he would always carry her mark. He’d live a long life and be difficult to kill, but the only immortality she’d grant him would be the same all mortals achieve: through creating more of their kind. He could not conceive new life; he could, however, fill others with his blood, and they would carry the same gifts she gave him. But she gave him a warning. If he killed in bloodlust, his soul would immediately belong completely to her.”

Dragomira suddenly stands up and tilts her head as though listening to the ceiling. Then closing her eyes she recites a string of words in an ancient-sounding language, painting patterns in the air with her hand. She seems to be in some sort of trance. I sit silently, unsure how to respond.

After what seems like forever, she opens her eyes. “Excuse me for that,” she says. “I felt a disturbance in our wards. Someone was trying to enter uninvited. All is well now.” Then she sits back down continuing as though nothing had happened.

“Patersuco, unwise as he was, accepted this offer. Thus, Lilith created the first Vampire. All Vampires are descendents of those turned by Patersuco. All Vampires carry Lilith’s mark. All Vampires are doomed to the Plane of Fire. Because of this bargain, Lilith ensured many more generations of souls would come to her.”

“So she pretended to give Patersuco what he wanted, and in return she got over two thousand years of an ever-increasing number of souls. Patersuco offered a very cheap price for the boon he ended up giving her in return.”

“Exactly. He was a selfish, greedy man and a lousy bargainer. Lilith gave Patersuco the ability to create new beings, each of whom has the temptation of bloodlust, and eventually when they give in to that bloodlust and kill, their souls go to her. When their souls go to the Plane of Fire, their flesh is left on Earth to continue to ravage humans, and ravage they do.

“The mark she left on Patersuco was a dark smear on his soul, and every child he created carries this mark. The mark ties the soul to Lilith, and when it’s finally released from the body, it returns to her like a homing pigeon. So, even if a Daylight Vampire never kills in bloodlust, their soul joins her in the end.”

I hold up my hand at this. “I understand how Patersuco could bargain away his soul, but how could he bargain away the souls of the people he turned? He didn’t have the right to them, and until they kill, they are still innocent.”

Dragomira raises her eyebrows. “I’d never thought to wonder. But you are correct. I’ve never heard of another story of someone giving away souls that do not belong to them. Perhaps when a person is turned into a Vampire, their soul is forfeited to their maker somehow. Not all attempted turnings work, you know, and some humans die. Perhaps those are cases in which the human will not relinquish ownership of their soul.”

I am dissatisfied by this response. If humans give up their souls at the time of turning, at least one Vampire would have mentioned it by now, but I keep my silence to let Dragomira finish the story.

She steps off her stool to stretch her back. Her entire back bends like a bow, her spine cracking fiercely as she moves. When she straightens, she glances out the windows with a flick of her eyes, then brings them back to me with solemnity.

“As you know, the birth of the Vampire brought on the Red Ages. Around 1500 R.A., Dark Vampires, those who had already killed in bloodlust and lost their sanity, almost wiped out humanity. It is said in the time before the Great Pact, the very ground wept blood and the rivers flowed red. It wasn’t until humanity was at the brink of extinction that the Daylight Vampires, who were still rational, realized once all humans were gone, they would perish as well. Without a blood supply, they would be forced to turn cannibalistic and eventually wipe out their own breed. So the Daylight Vampires made a pact with humans to hunt Dark Vampires. People agreed to give blood donations to the Daylight Vampires, and the Daylight Vampires agreed not to feed without consent and to keep their numbers under control. With this pact, people were once again able to live without the constant fear of being hunted, and a sense of balance was restored.”

I nod at this. “Yes. We learned that in our ancient history lessons in school as that was the beginning of the Reconstruction Period. But we learned nothing of the book. So basically what you’re saying is with this book, Patersuco was able to summon the demon Lilith from the Plane of Fire, and his bargain with her nearly caused the extinction of all humanity on Earth. I assume the other things this book teaches are also a double-edged sword. Do you know where the book is?”

Dragomira shakes her head emphatically. “Absolutely not. After the birth of Vampires, the leaders of each breed held council on what to do with the book. Some wanted it destroyed. Others wanted it saved. Some accounts say attempts to destroy it failed. In the end, it was decided to lock the book and make it impossible to find. They designed the key and made it so only with the key could the book be opened. The key was then separated into two pieces, and they hid all three items in separate places: the amulet, the eye, and the book.”

Ignoring my panic at the significance of what I hold in my possession, I inquire as nonchalantly as possible, “Does anyone know where the pieces of the key are?”

Dragomira looks askance at me and says, “I’ve researched the subject thoroughly and have never read an account of someone knowing where any of the three items are.”

What was the boy doing with the amulet, and where did he get it? I’m glad it’s hidden on holy ground because magic and evil can’t penetrate there. I came here for answers and ended up with more questions. So many questions swirl around in my mind, and I can’t make sense of them. Instead of asking them, I simply say, ”Thank you, Dragomira. I appreciate the information.”

Dragomira puts up her hand and says, “It is I who must thank you, Illustrissima. Thank you for listening to a favorite tale of mine. It’s rare I get an audience these days. It is so rare, in fact, that I’d like to give you a gift.”

This surprises me. When did Dragomira change from an arrogant and aloof woman to a woman giving gifts?

“That’s not necessary at all,” I assure her.

Dragomira ignores me and lifts up her arm. She says a word in that ancient language again, and a metal object flies from another room straight to her hand. She catches it deftly and stabs it down into the wooden counter in front of me. It’s a gorgeous, gleaming knife with a sapphire and diamond encrusted hilt and a double-edged blade of about seven inches long. I had no intention of accepting a gift, but I find myself entranced by this knife. My eyes slip enviously over the blade and my hands twitch, longing to wrap around the hilt.

I look up at Dragomira in awe, and she says, “Its name is Curator, or Guardian in English.”

I say softly and regrettably, “I can’t take this. It’s clearly precious.”

Dragomira insists, “You must take the knife. These are dangerous times, Inspector Kildare. Just moments ago, someone was knocking on my wards looking for you.”

My eyes go wide. The masked man from this morning must still be after me. Of course he is—he didn’t get what he wanted. How foolish of me to think otherwise. My hand flies to my neck as I think of his blade there just hours before. Dragomira’s gaze flits to my neck as well, her eyes knowing but her mouth quiet. Without saying another word, I grasp the knife in my hand and pull it out of the wood.

Dragomira laughs softly and follows me to the door. As she unbolts it, she says, “Remember, his name is Guardian. Stay true, Illustrissima.”

I’m left wondering why she keeps calling me Illustrissima as the door closes softly behind me.

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Chapter 09: Every Day Enmity

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

I enter the precinct headquarters and step into the sallyport, conscious of the knife tucked in my waistband. It’s not the knife that makes me uncomfortable, but rather how improperly sheathed it is, which I find shameful.

The officer at the front desk invites me past the sallyport and asks me to wait in the general station room while he calls Detective Gambino. The room has scuffed, stark white walls and gray linoleum floor tiles that could use repeated washings. Outdated metal desks pressed against each other give little privacy or work ambiance. A few officers writing reports and doing paperwork glance at me in mild curiosity. I stalk the open area by the doorway, anxious to finish at the precinct so I can get to my office. It’s already been a long and exhausting day.

As I wait, two officers walk in from the back. One officer, heavyset, with short, thin hair plastered in small wisps to his oily face, leers at me. Lust rolls off him, filling me with disgust. I know the other one and hold no love for him either. His name is Detective Dean Schmidt. He’s tall and broad-shouldered with coarse blond hair. He’s built like an athlete who’s gone slightly soft in the middle. His hazel eyes are a bit too wide-set for his face, and his thin lips rest in a permanent sneer when he looks at me. He’s holding a box of Ma Farina cookies in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Ma Farina is the best bakery in town. What a waste of cookies. He stops when he sees me and snarls with disgust, “What are you doing here, Aberrant?”

Internally I cringe. You would think I’d be used to insults by now, but they still sting. Instead of outwardly reacting, I use the skills I learned in the orphanage and put on a brave front. “What’s your problem, Schmidt?” I spit out Schmidt’s name like it’s a curse word.

“You’re my problem. I just arrested one of your kind, and I come here and you, another Aberrant, are in my building.”

His buddy interjects as his lascivious stare rakes me up and down. “But she sure is hot. I wish they all looked like her.”

I ignore the buddy and say to Schmidt, “Listen, Slick. Why don’t you put your little snack down and get Gambino for me. I don’t have time to listen to your prejudiced idiocy. I have a murder to solve.”

Detective Schmidt moves his hand toward me like he is going to hit me and his box of cookies falls to the ground. The lid of the box opens during the fall, and cookies roll around at his feet. One cookie rolls in circles, around and around, before spiraling to a stop.

I back up. Maybe being on the offensive was the wrong tactic.

Schmidt looks at his cookies, and his mood turns even blacker. I can’t blame him, really; those are darn good cookies. He takes a step forward with his fist raised. I look around for help, and I see two wide-eyed officers staring at us with mouths agape. No help there.

I move to a defensive fighting stance. Schmidt is well-trained and much larger than I, so I don’t stand a chance, but I am not going to take his abuse lying down. I feel comforted that I have the knife, but I won’t be the first to pull a weapon.

Gambino’s voice suddenly cuts through the room in a tone brooking no argument. “Stand down, Schmidt!” An avalanche of protective rage from Gambino warms me. It’s nice to know he feels that way.

Schmidt steps back.

Gambino says with a calm that is remarkably contrived, “Inspector Kildare does excellent work. She has solved more homicides in two years than you have in the last ten, Detective Schmidt. I expect you to treat her with respect when she comes to this office.”

Detective Schmidt’s mouth is closed in a white line of fury, and if looks could kill, I would be pierced with a million shards of glass.

Gambino looks at Schmidt’s buddy and says, “Officer Randall, she is not a piece of meat. Get your dick out of your hand and get back to work.”

Officer Randall turns bright red all the way up to his ears while I struggle to maintain a straight face.

Gambino turns to me. “Right this way, Inspector Kildare,” he says kindly but firmly.

I follow him to his office with as much dignity as I can muster. Gambino shouts over his shoulder, “And pick up those damn cookies, Schmidt.”

”I’m sorry you had to deal with them,” Gambino says once we’re safely in his office. “There are many good men on the force, but a few fall short in certain areas. We’re working on it.”

I nod in acceptance of this apology. Prejudice is rampant these days. The Gifted are human, just like Norms. The only difference is we have a gift, a magical power of some sort. Some, like Dragomira, are Gifted in spell casting. Others, like me, have a special strength in one specific area. Prior to the birth of Vampires, the Gifted were hunted down as Witches and burned. But once the Vampires were born, the Gifted often helped protect the Norms. Due to this help small pockets of humans survived until the Great Pact between Daylight Vampires and humans was made. Since then, many of the Gifted have stayed in public service positions like mine.

Unfortunately, there are still those who are subject to selfishness and greed, and a percentage of us, just like humans, do immoral things. Being Gifted allows those so inclined to take greater advantage of Norms. Even when we don’t, many Norms are fearful simply because the Gifted are mysterious and unpredictable to them.

Because they keep the Dark Vampire population down, Daylight Vampires are generally well tolerated in society, except by the more extreme hate groups. During the worst of the Red Ages, Daylight Vampires struck an agreement with humans. Each human, Gifted included, provides a pint of blood to the blood banks every three weeks, and in turn they do not hunt us. They also agreed to keep their populations down, and police this rule strictly amongst themselves. Anyone who makes too many children is using too much of the blood supply and is hunted down.

There are many hate groups, particularly among orthodox religions, who would like to see all Vampires and Gifted wiped out. The requirement to give blood every three weeks is considered by many as inconvenient, and this alone causes plenty of resentment.

Due to the nature of the prejudice that permeates our society, I am not new to hate rhetoric. Still, it hurts.

Doing my best to brush off the encounter, I ask Gambino, “What have you found out about our boy?”

Gambino opens a folder on his desk. “The boy was on our missing persons list. He was seventeen years old and was missing for twenty-eight days. The investigating officer thought he was a runaway, but the parents claimed there was no reason for him to run. We have already notified the parents, and they identified the body at the Medical Examiner’s this morning. The boy’s name was Jason O’Connell.”

I stand up and pace a little in Gambino’s tiny office. My blood is still high from the incident with Schmidt, so the office feels confining. I hardly take three strides before I have to turn. “Please don’t mind me,” I say to Gambino. “I can’t stand to sit still too long. Continue, if you would.”

Gambino nods, obliging me. “The M.E. faxed over the grill pattern they found on the boy’s skin. We’re searching for the model car it belongs to. We also have paint chips from his skin and glass from the scene at forensics. Hopefully between these three pieces of evidence we’ll get a match on a car registered in the area.”

“Have you read the preliminary report from the M.E. yet?”

Gambino taps his folder in disgust. “Yes. I’d like to nail the asshole who did that to a seventeen-year-old boy. Our perp is a real sicko.”

“You and me both. Do you have any persons of interest?”

“Well,” Gambino pauses as though reluctant to reveal what he must. “There was some trouble in the family. The parents have been estranged for about four months. The mother is Gifted, and she hid it from her husband for almost twenty years. When Jason’s gift came to light and his father rejected it under no uncertain terms, his mother revealed her gift and stood by the boy. The father left home when this happened. We’ve talked with both parents, and I don’t see any evidence pointing to either of them, but maybe the father was so ashamed he decided to off the boy.”

Gambino pauses for a moment and shakes his head. “I just don’t see a father who loved the boy for seventeen years, turning around and doing this kind of work on his own son.”

Gambino points to a photo of the boy’s back with the lash marks highlighted under a bright camera flash. It is a gory photo, not nearly as impactful as what I saw hours before, but I get his point.

“He doesn’t seem like that type of man, and has no history of violence,” Gambino continues. “But for now, that’s all we have.”

I offer, “Well, there might be something else going on.”

I reach into my pack, take out a small glass vial, and place it on the table. “This charm will prevent others hearing what I’m about to say, and I need you to stop taking notes.”

Gambino looks at it curiously. “What’s in it? Sand?”

I laugh because it does look like sand. “It’s filled with dried, ground worms as they are one of the few creatures that can’t hear.”

Gambino makes a noise, clearly expressing his distaste.

I defend myself. “It could be made of octopus or squid, but they are out of my price range. This is just as effective.”

I can see by his face that he’s unsettled but accepting, so I continue with my news. “After your forensics team left, I did another search with my sixth sense and found an amulet in the bushes. After some research, I learned it’s an ancient piece with significant powers. I have it in an evidence bag stored safely for now. What’s interesting is the piece of dark red thread caught in the clasp. Do you want us to keep it, or do you want to store it in the evidence locker?”

Gambino looks up. “That’s very interesting. The preliminary report from the M.E. said a red thread was snagged in the boy’s fingernail. I’d like to see it, so if you could bring it down, that would be excellent.”

I nod. “You can start taking notes again.”

When he lifts his pencil, I go on. “I went back to the Cock and Bull Tap to question the bartender about the man in the red cloak, and got the following description: in his forties or fifties, about six feet tall and thin with a long nose. He has a neatly trimmed, full beard and mustache. His facial hair is dark brown to black and slightly graying. Eyes are dark. Head hair could not be seen due to the cloak’s hood. He was well dressed in trousers, a white dress shirt, and tie.”

When I stop speaking, Gambino stops taking notes. That’s what I like about Gambino. He’s professional with good attention to detail.

“Does that description match anyone in the family?”

Gambino says, “It doesn’t match the father, and no other men lived in the household.”

I pause to think for a moment. “Do you know what the boy’s gift was?”

Gambino leans back in his chair, stretching his legs out. “That was one of the strange things. Neither parent seemed to know. It makes sense from the father because he wanted nothing to do with the boy after finding out he was Gifted. But the boy’s mother stuck up for him, and I would have thought she would know. All she said was the gift was kind of crazy and would interfere with other magic. That’s all she knew for sure.”

I try to give this information some context for Gambino. “Sometimes when a child has a gift, it takes a while for them to figure out how to work it. The gifts usually show themselves around puberty, so this boy may have been a late bloomer, gift-wise. I struggled to understand my gift. Since a child’s gift is often nothing like their parents’, even a Gifted parent can’t guide their child in understanding their gift.”

Gambino’s eyes reveal a new understanding when I finish. Then he asks, “Do you have anything else?”

“Yes and no.” I fiddle with my hands as I say this next part. “This morning I was disarmed and held briefly at knife point while a masked man asked me about the amulet.”

At this Gambino stands up and curses. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”

His protective streak resurfaces, and I wait patiently for him to sit down and reassume his mask of calm. When he does, I go on.

“I didn’t see anything new or helpful beyond the description the bartender gave me, but the man could have fit that description. Obviously because he was masked I can’t identify him. I was able to get away, but when I reached my gun and turned around, he was gone. He did his disappearing act again.”

Gambino raps his fingers loudly on the desk. “The disappearing man,” he muses. “Is there anything else I should know about?”

I give him a wry smile. “No, not at this time. I do want to talk to the parents myself though. Can you send their information over to my office?”

“Sure. Let me see you out, then.”

I pick up my privacy charm, and Gambino escorts me back to the sallyport.

As I walk to my car, I notice Officer Schmidt and his cohort are standing by a patrol car talking. They’re standing in profile and must see me, but make a point of ignoring me.

As I hop in my car, my chimerator pulls tight. I flip the lid and see Jack’s face reflected. I answer the call, “Hola.”

Jack growls, “Blue, I told you I wanted daily reports. Are you alright?”

“I’m just leaving the precinct. I’m on my way over.”

“Well, hurry up.” Jack disconnects.

Cripes! He really needs to learn some manners.

I turn on the ignition, and with my arm stretched over the back of the passenger seat, I slowly back up. A crackling and popping noise followed by a slow hissing sound emits from my tires. Just my luck.

Heaving a huge sigh, I slide the transmission back into park and climb out of the car. Both rear tires are as flat as pancakes. I get down on my hands and knees to carefully feel around on the pavement under my back tires. Sure enough, I pull out a handful of sharp nails, all the same size and all shiny new as though fresh from the box. I shield my eyes with my hands and look into the sun toward the direction of Officer Schmidt and his accomplice. I can see they are laughing and taking sidelong glances at me.

I kick my tire in frustration and look up at them again only to see they are still laughing. I could go over there and accuse them, but they’ll surely deny it. I could threaten to hex them. I wonder if they’d believe it. That would be funny but a bit childish. Unfortunately, I think my revenge will have to wait until an appropriate opportunity presents itself.

Leaning up against the side of the car, I flip the chimerator open and chime “Rubalia.” Rubalia is our office assistant extraordinaire. The chimerator works its magic, and a few seconds later, she answers.

“Rubalia speaking.”

“Rubalia, I’m at the precinct and I have two flat tires. Can you send a tow truck?”

Rubalia’s reflection shows her glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose as she peers over them. “Two flat tires. That’s quite a coincidence, and at the precinct too . . . ”

“It’s no coincidence, as you darn well know. Please tell Jack I’ve been held up and will be in as soon as I can.”

Rubalia purses her lips and furrows her brow. “Of course. I’ll get someone out to you right away.”

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Chapter 10: The Office

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 27, 2022, Red Ages

Two hours and too much money later, I’m on my way to the office again. As I navigate downtown, I pass yet another group of protestors wearing yellow robes outside the Mayor’s office. I press my fingers to my forehead to ward off the headache they’re about to give me. The Dilectus Deo, or Beloved of God, as it’s translated, are a cult of Norms who believe that all Vampires and Gifted should be eliminated and that ungifted and unturned humans are the true children of God. I personally think the Dilectus Deo are more frightening than Dark Vampires. They appear to be peacefully protesting, but the signs they hold are anything but peaceful. One reads, “Kill the leeches.” Another reads, “Aberrations should be put down,” as though we are animals.

What really makes me mad is the mom out there with her daughter who can’t be more than eight years old, shaking a sign that says, “Get the Aberrations out of my classroom.” It appears they start the hate training early. The kids who are taught to hate early rarely have enough strength to break away from a family culture of hatred. The girl has little chance to develop an independent mind because she can see with what vehemence alternate thinking will be treated. I sigh deeply and keep driving.

When I arrive at work, I walk toward the Supernatural Investigation Bureau building. It rises up, a sleek glass and steel structure, three stories high. This is the central office for the entire Smoky Mountain region, though our unit concentrates on the City of Crimson Hollow. Crimson Hollow is the capital of the region and spreads out over the most scenic, mountainous areas of the Smokies surrounded by smaller outlying suburbs. It’s divided by districts with each district covered by a different unit.

As I approach the building at a fast clip, I see my reflection in the shiny glass. Maud’s saying that “good posture makes the woman” flits through my head when I notice that I’m walking with a straight back and my head held high. She would be happy to see that.

The air thickens and buzzes around me as I walk through the wards just beyond the entrance. The entire building is ensconced in highly specialized wards, and only those who work here can walk straight through.

When I exit the elevator on the third floor, I follow the arrowed sign that reads “Homicides.” I am newly amused each time I read it, as it seems to invite me down the hall to be murdered.

As soon as I walk through our department door, the inviting reception area surrounds me with the comfort of home. I love this office and I’m proud to be a part of it. The room glows with the warmth of oak furniture and dark brown leather upholstery. Fresh flowers on the tables and cheerful paintings on the walls bring color to the room, while the sunlight filtering in through the floor-to-ceiling windows brings the whole setting to life.

I remember two years ago on my first day, the office seemed so professional and grown-up, and I felt like neither. I was sure that before long, my inadequacies would be revealed and Jack would send me packing. No one was more surprised than I when it turned out I was actually good at this job. It’s probably because I truly believe in what we do.

The goal of the Supernatural Investigation Bureau is to maintain interbreed peace and security. Our unit is a small but vital part of the machinery that makes that possible. We use our skills and our strengths to keep the peace and ensure the balance between the Norms, the Gifted, and the Daylight Vampires. We do this by bringing Dark Vampires to the sun, and prosecuting the Gifted and Norms who commit homicide against each other for reasons relating to the Supernatural. The regular police are simply not equipped to deal with these crimes. Our strength and special powers give us advantages.

Reigning queen over the reception area stands Rubalia, but she is far more than a receptionist. She is a brilliant research assistant, an office manager, and, I sometimes think, a goddess. Rubalia has deep brown skin and black shoulder length hair styled in big waves with flippy ends tipped in gold. She wears ruby red cat eye glasses trimmed in marcasite as her crown. Her robes are elegantly fitted skirt suits, and her weapons are dangerously sharp stilettos.

The gold tips in her hair are her magical mark, but I’m unsure of what her gift is. Some gifts are very personal or simply frivolous, so it is considered rude to ask. I could check with my sixth sense, but that’s rude as well. It would be equivalent to men comparing phallus sizes in polite society. I speculate her gift is to be creative, or to find information, or even to keep order. When my mind is being extremely wicked, I imagine our uptight reception commander is really Gifted in pleasures of the flesh and lives a secretly lurid lifestyle when she leaves the office. Go Rubalia! Sometimes imagination is more fun than reality. She would probably slice and dice me with her stilettos if she had the faintest inkling of my imagination. Some things are best kept to one’s self.

Rubalia simply will not allow anyone to be disorderly in her space or in the processes relating to the office. She allows us to be messy in our own offices as is evidenced by our office mate Xavier Ramsey. But woe be unto us if we forget to pick up our messages or don’t properly charm our papers blank when we’re done with them. If we miss an appointment, Rubalia is not shy about giving us a dressing down that we will not soon forget. This is a professional office and “by God” she is going to make sure we behave like professionals.

I now know the real reason I succeeded at being a professional when I started was simply that Rubalia wouldn’t allow me to be otherwise. One day I should thank her. That is, if she will allow me.

Right now Rubalia is speaking with Ernesto Ramos-Delgado who is asking for a map of this week’s Dark Vampire sightings and incidents. Rubalia plots the sightings, and Ernesto uses the map to target his hunts. He’s primarily responsible for eliminating Vampires who kill while feeding, thus turning from Daylight Vampires into Dark Vampires.

Not only does Ernesto keep tabs on Daylight Vampires in our vicinity, but he also watches out for Dark Vampires who matriculate in from other areas. He calls on Jack for backup in more extreme cases. Jack is very old, even by Vampire standards, and thus extremely strong. Ernesto is also relatively old, and he is a skilled fighter in martial arts and swordplay. Of course he can use a gun too, but guns are useless against Vampires. He does use a compound crossbow that shoots oak stakes as an effective means to eliminate Dark Vampires.

Essentially Ernesto is an executioner—or an exterminator, depending on your outlook. A Daylight Vampire must kill in bloodlust to turn into a Dark Vampire, so the very existence of a Dark Vampire is proclamation of guilt. Because of this, no trial is required, and they are free game to be killed. The only way a Dark Vampire can be killed is by an oak stake to the heart, Holy Water, exposure to the sun, or being thrown on holy ground. Even if you decapitate them, you had best throw Holy Water on them or hold them down until sun-up; otherwise their bodies continue crawling around searching for their heads. Finding their heads and placing them back on their necks will revive them, thus the name Night-Crawlers.

Since they are pure evil, the only thing that ends them is something purely holy. I am not sure why a wooden stake is purely holy. I must remember to ask Father O’Brennen.

When Ernesto finishes speaking to Rubalia, he lifts up his arm, waving it down again in a graceful flourish while bowing low to me. My face heats up in a blush. I’ve always wanted to respond to his bows with a curtsy of my own, but I don’t know how. It would be utterly embarrassing anyway. Right now I clutch my cumbersome backpack as an excuse.

“Good afternoon, Señorita Blue,” Ernesto says.

Ernesto must have been turned in his mid-fifties. He has light brown skin and short, dark hair with a sprinkling of gray. His elegant, swooping mustache is the perfect accent to his tall, lean form.

I smile at him and respond, “Good afternoon, Ernesto.”

I feel Ernesto’s eyes sweep over me, then keenly scan my neck for a moment. I breathe a sigh of relief when he chooses to ignore my injury, instead flashing an easy smile as he walks away.

I drag my pack up to the counter in front of Rubalia’s desk and lean over it, hoping to keep the cut out of view. “Good afternoon, Rubalia. Are there any messages for me?”

Rubalia hands me a small stack and pins me with her eyes like I’m an errant teenager. “Good afternoon, Blue. Jack has been highly agitated because you didn’t contact him today. Next time we would all appreciate a chime sooner. He’s responsible for everyone in the office, you know.”

I accept my comeuppance and apologize. “I’m sorry, Rubalia. It was a very busy day. I’ll try to do better in the future.”

Rubalia holds her mouth in a stern line and says, “Don’t try. Do.”

I nod with chagrin and walk straight back to Jack’s office, wondering what I’ll see when I arrive. I start to knock, but before my knuckles touch the wood Jack calls me to come in.

Jack sits with his arms flat on the desk, leaning forward while tapping a pencil against the wood top. I had expected anger, but I see warmth in his gaze as he takes me in. Jack is a good boss. He’s fair, and he gives good advice, but he lets each of us run our own investigations. He primarily acts as support and backup, but he does seem to pay extra attention to my work.

Realistically, I am physically the weakest of my comrades. My gender limits my physical strength. My gift isn’t helpful in a physical confrontation. I’m a non-Vampire, and I’m relatively young, and inexperienced compared to everyone else.

Thankfully, Jack doesn’t hold me back; he just keeps tighter tabs on me than he does my counterparts. Sometimes I wish it were because he had feelings for me, but there are too many practical reasons for his overprotection to conclude that.

Jack Tanner is a dichotomy of a man. He wears impeccably tailored suits and mixes with the upper echelon with charm and ease, yet when in his comfort zone his manners can be rough and quite abrupt. While his attitude is often cool and distant, his nature is protective and his actions show he’s caring. He has incredible strength and speed and can be a warrior when needed. All in all, he’s an excellent man to have on your side and would make for a fearsome enemy.

I stand in the middle of the room, simply because I prefer standing to sitting, but with Jack’s gaze on me, I feel awkward. “I’m sorry I didn’t get into the office until now. It’s been a really busy day.”

Jack’s eyes look concerned, then I see his nostrils flare. He stands, and in the blink of an eye he’s right next to me. I always find it disconcerting when he moves so fast, especially now because he’s standing in my personal space. He slowly moves all around me, circling me like a jungle cat, assessing me, close but not touching.

When he comes around to the front of me again, he asks in a low, growling voice that rolls through me, making my abdomen clench with an ache, “What happened today? Your neck is injured and you’re shaky.”

Jack is so close I have to tilt my head back to see his eyes. It’s challenging to stand this close to him and not reveal how he affects me.

“What do you mean I’m shaky?” I ask, ignoring the more obvious question. I try not to notice the strong line of his jaw close enough to my lips that I could lean in and trace it with my tongue. I try to ignore the deep, musky scent of his skin that makes me want to inhale deeply. I fail on both counts.

He reaches his hand out to my arm but pauses torturously a hairsbreadth from my skin. He drops his hand, instead saying, “Your aura is thicker today. Thicker and shaky.”

My mind wars with the urge to touch him or step away removing temptation entirely, but instead I stand immobilized within easy reach.

“How do you know what my aura looks like?” I ask.

Jack shifts on his feet, lifts his hand toward me, and then drops it again. He mercifully returns to his desk, at human speed this time, sitting down. What would he have done if I had reached out for his hand and caressed it? Too late as the moment has passed.

Jack says, “I never told you? That’s my gift. I can see auras.”

“No. I didn’t know you had a gift. I don’t see a mark. In fact, I didn’t know Vampires could even have gifts.”

I move to sit in the chair across from him. I was a little unsteady just now, and it seems safer in the chair.

Jack frowns. “We were human once, just like you, Blue. Some of us are Gifted.”

“Oh. I guess it was wrong of me not to consider that.” He’s piqued my curiosity now. “So, what does my aura look like?”

“Beau . . . ” Jack cuts himself off. I swear he was about to say “beautiful.”

He continues. “It is a white light with a faint tint of blue. The tint is the same tone as your eyes, blue with a touch of violet, only much lighter. Hardly blue at all. Usually it’s only a hazy outline, but today the margins are much thicker. It comes out almost three inches, and it’s wavering like a flame.”

“Hmm. Well, it must be because I had a challenging day.” I tilt my head and squint at Jack. “So, Jack. You must be an expert on auras, since you are one of the few people who see them.”

Jack looks a little uncomfortable when I make this declaration, but he nods. “I do know more than most.”

“Well, have you ever heard of someone having an aura strong enough to scare Dark Vampires away?”

Jack starts coughing very hard, and his color turns a little gray before he turns his head away. When the coughing subsides, he finally looks at me and asks, “Where did you hear this?”

I try to sound nonchalant. “Oh, Father O’Brennen and I were talking, and he mentioned hearing that happened once.”

Jack is my boss, so I really don’t want to get into the whole died at birth, chased Dark Vampires away by the age of three, and was rescued by a mysterious Daylight Vampire thing. It seems a little heavy. What I want is for him to think of me as a capable professional.

Jack seems to have recovered from his spontaneous coughing fit and says, “As a matter of fact, I think there was one case I recall, a long time ago. I prefer not to go into the details, though.”

Then, in an obvious attempt to change the topic, he demands, “You’re injured. You have been avoiding telling me about it. I need to know what happened.”

I retort, “Like you are avoiding telling me about auras chasing Vampires away?”

Jack smiles smugly. “Yes. Exactly like that, except you work for me. Tell me what happened.”

Jack leans back in his seat and his hair, which is full of dark gold curls, catches the sunlight from the window. He keeps it long enough so you can see the curls but not long enough for them to be ringlets. He has vivid green eyes and a disturbingly sexy five o’clock shadow. His broad shoulders look magnificent in his light gray suit. I’m not sure what make it is because I don’t shop in those stores myself, but it is very elegant. His charcoal gray tie hangs loose, and his top shirt button is undone, both uncharacteristic of him. I wonder if my late timing made him that upset or if it was something else. His eyelids droop lazily as he leans back in his chair, looking the picture of ease, but I’m not fooled. He’s watching me intently.

I take a deep breath, gathering the courage to tell him about the incident with the masked man. Since no out presents itself and I see no way to further delay, I fold my hands in my lap and say gently, “As I was leaving my apartment building today, a man grabbed me from behind in the alley, disarmed me, and held a knife to my throat.”

Jack doesn’t move a hair, but the air in the room immediately fills with a violent, thrumming energy. He, who is usually so hard to read, is pouring deathly rage into the room to such an extent it seems the very air is becoming pressurized to the point of explosion. Outwardly I see only his eyes tighten at the corners and turn into two black, bottomless pits. His mouth is fuller, a sign his fangs have extended, though he keeps his lips tightly sealed. His absolute stillness feels indubitably more dangerous than a thousand men attacking with knives. Others might not notice anything wrong if they walked in this room at this moment, but with my gift, I feel it. I’m almost overcome by it.

I lift my chin a degree and brave the threatening explosion. “The man was wearing a mask and had me from behind, so I can’t give a good description. He was about six feet tall and thin, with an obvious beard beneath the mask. That matches the description from the bartender at the Cock and Bull Tap of the man wearing the red cloak. There was no red cloak today, though. He was wearing a gray cloak and dark pants with a white top. He was asking about the amulet, but I didn’t tell him where it is.”

Jack moves his hands slightly, gripping the edge of his desk. Despite seeing his knuckles turn white and hearing the wooden desk groan beneath his fingertips, I finish the tale.

I drop my voice to a whisper, knowing full well he can hear me clearly but hoping to calm him slightly as I recount the entirety of the events. When I finish, Jack’s eyes are still black pools, but he has relaxed his hold on the desk. The intelligence has returned to his eyes, and they flicker as he internally calculates all the possibilities of what happened, what could have happened, and what might happen. I’m afraid of his conclusions, but even this is preferable to the mindless black rage I saw a few moments ago.

Jack finally leans forward and appears to regain his voice. Through clenched teeth he snarls, enunciating the key words, “You took an injured wolf that was about to kill a man . . . in your car with you?”

I’ve learned when Jack is snapping like steel to remain strong like silk.

“When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound so great. But it was really fine. I went straight for my Glock, but I didn’t need it.” I decide not to tell Jack I couldn’t make myself pull the trigger. He doesn’t seem in the mood to hear it, and I’m not above omitting teeny tiny, irrelevant facts such as that.

“And where is this wolf now?” Jack inquires.

“He’s with my friend Alexis getting cleaned up, cared for, and fed.”

This seems to settle Jack down slightly, but still he probes, “And he showed no signs of aggression toward you or Alexis?”

“None whatsoever, nor toward her assistant. I’m sure his aggression was directed solely toward the man.”

Jack settles back a bit more.

“So, as I was saying, I dropped the wolf off at Alexis’ so this put me behind. Then I went to the Medical Examiner’s office.”

Jack nods his head and says, “We’ll get back to the masked man in a moment. But tell me, what did you find out from the M.E.?”

I hand Jack a copy of the preliminary report. Jack sits quietly for a few minutes, scanning through it. He flips through the pages, and I watch his face as it goes through several degrees of disgust and rage—not quite the degree of rage I saw a few moments ago, but rage nonetheless. When he finally looks up, his mood is black.

“It was pretty bad,” I say.

Jack’s mouth presses in a tight line. “I see it was.”

“I also stopped by the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop and got a little history on the amulet.”

Jack looks curious. “Did you speak with the Dragomir herself?”

I raise my eyebrow. “Yes. Do you know her?”

Jack’s lips twitch slightly, and I can see immediately he does know her, perhaps personally. I feel more than a little angry about this and try to school my face from forming the scowl it wants to. I remind myself he’s my boss, and even if he were interested in me, it would not be wise to pursue any type of relationship. He’s goodness knows how old, so I must seem terribly immature to him. He probably has some stunning Vampiress I cannot possibly compete with keeping him company at home. This thought does not help with my scowling problem.

Jack says, “Yes. I’ve known her for some years. She’s an expert on certain topics.”

I scowl despite myself. I bet she’s an expert on certain topics.

Jack gives me an assessing glance and asks, “How did your interview with her go?” I contemplate how much to tell him. I stand and pace a little as I speak, feeling restless for some reason. “She gave me a hard time at first, but when I showed her a drawing of the amulet she was very forthcoming. She told me the amulet is part of a key. There are two parts: the amulet and an eye that fits in the center. The eye is missing from the piece I have. Both together serve as the key to the Grimorium Cantionum Spiritualium.”

Jack sits up straight. “The Spell Book of the Spirit and Soul?”

I nod slightly, watching his reaction.

Jack demands, “And where do you have it stored?”

“I have it hidden in the wall of the bell room in St. Michael’s Church. I thought it best to stash it on holy ground.”

“That was a good choice,” Jack says. “So, did Dragomira tell you the history of the book?”

“Yes. How did you know about it, though? It sounds like it was kept pretty secret.”

Jack frowns and looks out the window, obviously considering what to tell me. “Years ago I did some research on the Birth of Vampires. That’s how I met the Dragomir. I’ve never seen the book, of course; no one has. I’ve only read some of the history.”

Something has been bothering me about the story, and I bet Jack knows the answer. “How come this story isn’t well known? It was obviously pivotal in our history.”

Jack stands up and appears to be concentrating on something outside the window before he angles toward me. “The book itself is too powerful for many to know of. But remember it took some time for the Vampire population to grow and cover the globe. It wasn’t until about a third of the way through the Deconstruction Era of the Red Ages that knowledge of Vampires was widespread, and the incident with the book had long passed. People just knew that Vampires were. The further civilization deconstructed, the harder communication and learning became. Then, during the Bloody Era of the Red Ages, all humans were in hiding.”

Jack walks close to me, standing in my body space again. His eyes implore me for something. “Even though I was turned during the Bloody Era of the Red Ages, I am not proud of who we were and what we did. I know most Daylight Vampires feel the same. We are ashamed of how we treated humans and how we looked away as Dark Vampires destroyed your breeds.”

My mind reels. Jack has just dated himself to before the Reconstruction Era. That makes him over five hundred years old. Jack’s eyes search my face, and I feel he’s seeking some sort of absolution from me, a person who had not even been born at that time.

“Jack,” I say, “you are only responsible for your own actions, and what you do today speaks to who you are now, not what your people did five hundred years ago. Civilization is a thin veil over our savage selves, easily lifted by some for personal glorification. Look at the Dilectus Deo if you want an example. We fight to hold on to our moral values and maintain civility between breeds. Regardless of what your people did in the past, Daylight Vampires did make the peace pact with humans that brought on the Reconstruction Era. Today you keep us safe from Night-Crawlers, and today, that is what matters.”

I can see his eyes lighten, and he steps back, leaning against the wall of windows behind him. Then he looks sharply at me. “So someone’s trying to get the book now. It is a dangerous book, Blue. It would be an interbreed disaster if it gets into the wrong hands. It could destroy the peace we’ve fought for during the last five hundred years.”

“I know,” I say. “I also learned a few more things today, but before I get into that, I want to show you this.” I reach behind my back and pull out my knife.

Jack’s eyes light up. He holds out his hand and asks, “May I?”

I give it to him hilt forward and watch him caress it with his thumb and eyes. “It’s beautiful,” he says.

“Dragomira gave it to me. I wasn’t sure if I should take it. It’s obviously very valuable. However, after the incident this morning, I couldn’t say no.”

Jack looks up at me with a question in his eyes, then he seems to answer it for himself. “You should keep it,” Jack says. “Do you have a sheath for it?”

I shake my head.

Jack takes it to his closet and steps inside. I see some ammunition belts and swords hanging, but Jack’s broad back blocks my view. He rummages around a little, then closes the door. Turning back to me, he places the knife in a beautifully embossed black leather sheath. He hands it to me. “A weapon this special should be housed properly.”

I smile from ear to ear as I run my fingers over the exquisite craftsmanship.

Jack says, “Now, about the other things you learned. Please tell me everything.” He’s back to his feigned nonchalance again, crossing his legs gracefully as he leans against the window.

“After the M.E.’s, I went to the precinct. The boy was on the missing persons list for twenty-eight days. His name is Jason O’Connell. He had a magical gift, but it’s unclear what it was as he’d just come into power. His mother is Gifted as well, and she hid it from her husband for their entire marriage. When the boy came out, the mother came out as well, and the father split. He is obviously a person of interest, but Gambino isn’t feeling it.”

“You plan on questioning them?”

“Yes. I’ll do that first thing tomorrow. I should be in the office before noon. By the way, can I share openly with Gambino about the book?”

This must be an important question because Jack raps twice on the window behind him in his thoughtful way before answering. “I think we need to tell him a powerful and dangerous book is involved,” he says, “but I don’t think we need to give him details or the history. Furthermore, you shouldn’t tell him where the amulet is. The fewer people who know, the better.”

I nod at this and contemplate it awhile. Jack seems to understand my pause, because he says, “Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to lie. It’s sensitive information and we have a right—no, a responsibility—to keep it confidential. Tell him it falls under the category of privileged information.” I nod again, this time feeling a lot more comfortable.

Then Jack asks, “So, what are your theories on the murder so far?”

I think for a moment. Many theories have run through my head, some more viable than others. “The boy was hit by the car at an angle. It seems to me if someone was purposely running him down it would most likely have been head-on, though not necessarily.

“It’s possible the murderer is not the same person who had the amulet and tortured the boy. I doubt it was the father, because what would the father who hated magic be doing with an amulet? Could the boy have gotten the amulet on his own? I don’t know. I think the amulet is the key to finding out what really happened. I’d like to know more about it.”

Jack says with hooded eyes, “Tomorrow I’m going to the Glenwood Charity Gala. They have a silent auction of magical artifacts. Everyone who is anyone in the magical community will be there, including the most knowledgeable of collectors. Why don’t you accompany me?”

“Isn’t that Gala to support the Green Tree Orphanage?”

Jack nods imperceptibly, and I wonder if he knows I grew up at Green Tree.

“I don’t know,” I hedge, more than slightly embarrassed. “I’m not used to mixing with that crowd.”

Jack smiles warmly. “You’ll be fine. I’ll guide you in anything you need to know. The invitation is exclusive, and the timing is kept confidential, so only share this information with those you trust. Dress in evening attire, and I’ll pick you up at eight.”

“Okay,” I say, because it’s an excellent opportunity to meet a collector and gather more information on the amulet. After all, it’s never wise to collect all your information from one source.

Jack becomes serious as he gestures to his guest chair. “Now sit down. We need to discuss the masked man in detail. First of all, why did you leave through the alley entrance rather than the front door?”

I sigh. “Because the front door had a wet paint sign on it. I assume he put it there to direct me to where he lay in wait. I should have been alert, but I was in a rush. Inexcusable, I know.”

Jack ignores my self-berating and says, “A murderer obviously knows where you live, so we must keep an eye on your place. We could have a man there to try to catch him. Is there somewhere else you can stay for a while?”

I give Jack the evil eye, which I hope speaks louder than words, but just in case I vehemently insist, “No way am I going to cower down at someone else’s house. Nor are you putting a stranger in my place. If you want to have someone drive by, fine. But remember I can sense souls. The only reason I was surprised was because I was in a rush. I won’t make that mistake again.”

Jack looks dubious but says nothing further, so I excuse myself.

What does it say that the question most unsettling me as I leave is what in the world am I going to wear to the freaking Gala?

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Add Your Book Image to a Goodreads Post

 

12008901_sI know you want to put one of your gorgeous book covers on your Goodreads posts but it requires that accursed word “coding.” Despite that, it actually isn’t that complicated.

Here’s the code you can use.

<img src=”link” width=300/>

Include the arrows and everything between.

  • Replace “link” with your actual link.
  • Replace 300 with your desired width in pixels.

Link: This is the link to your image somewhere else on the internet (like your blog post!). Be sure it ends in .jpg or .gif. That is how you know you truly have the image url.

Width: You can change the size of your image by adjusting the width, The height will also change relative to the width. So with that one parameter you can control the size of your image.

Voila! Now you can post pretty pictures of your book covers in Goodreads.

Just be careful to only post on the Author sections of the Goodreads groups, because those Group Admins will go after you in seek and destroy mode. Whew. I’m not afraid of much, but I’m afraid of them.

I’d like to take a moment to publicly thank all coders for being so open about sharing /teaching code to us non-techies. I never would have figured out even that small little thing by myself, and so I pass on the love to future generations.

Lilo

October 10th, 2015|Publishing|27 Comments

Peer Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Author K.K. Allen

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Light Who Shines

by K.K. Allen

Author of the Summer Solstice Series.

I’m giddy to say I finally finished reading The Light Who Shines! This has been on my Want to Read list forever and a day but it’s one of those novels that you need to sit down and give your full attention to it. Christmas break was the perfect time to dive into this book that has me excited for more. Everything I could possibly want in a good read was here—a riveting opening scene, interesting characters, great world building, romance, and magic. Loved it.

Link: http://amzn.to/1ifZBr2

September 10th, 2015|Fan News, Peer Reviews|21 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO BINDS by Gina

 

Fan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Binds

by Gina

I was unsure that the second book in the series would be able to meet my expectations after reading the first book. There were just so many exciting possibilities for the author to take the storyline and to further develop the characters. I have a very active and creative imagination, so I am often disappointed in the final outcome of a book that I have been waiting oh-so-impatiently to be released. I have never been so happy to fall short on my expectations.

The story was even better than I could ever have imagined. The story was something that did not entirely see coming. It was as Lilo took everything that I was expecting and then turned it up a notch. I could not read the book fast enough. I hated to set it down for even a second.

This is one series that is worth the time and effort to obtain. I can not think of a negative thing to say about it at all. I wish I could give it 6 stars.

Link: http://bit.ly/1EPtvwc

Fan Spotlight of THE LIGHT WHO BINDS by Jennifer Zamboni

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Binds

by Jennifer Zamboni

After much anticipation, I got my hands on this second book in the Bluebell Kildare series. I was up with the littlest kiddo at one in the morning, day of the book release, & I just couldn’t wait, so I bought it straight off, and started reading, as soon as I was awake enough to comprehend words. I couldn’t put it down! From start to finish, I was sucked in. No slow points where I had any inclination to put the book down, & go do something else. There’s a good look a Blue’s past, who/what Varg is. I found out what the mysterious Illustrissima is. There are even hints as to what Dragomira is. The end left me a bit sad, and looking forward to book three.

Note: this series is definitely NOT for young readers. There sex is graphic, though it’s just a part of the story, & doesn’t take over the story.

I’m a huge fan of Ms. Abernathy, & will continue reading everything she publishes!

Link: http://bit.ly/1QpEhui

Peer Review of THE LIGHT WHO BINDS by Author Louise White

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Light Who Binds

by Louise White

Author of The Gateway Series

The Light Who Binds by Lilo Abernathy was an excellent follow up to her first book, The Light Who Shines. Packed with action-adventure, mystery and suspense, I was thoroughly entertained throughout, and terribly sad that I’ll have a wait a while before the next one is out.

Blue’s training serves to supplement her quiet strength which is severely tested   by a series of events and revelations that blew me away.

I loved learning more about Varg and Jack. Their loyalty and devotion knows no bounds. The characters have all been beautifully developed with Dragomira and weirdly, Shmidt – don’t judge until you read it – as particular favourites.

I believe that Crimson Hollow is real place with a sickness for which the cure is imminent. I look forward to finding out what happens with the next installment of this gripping series.

Link: http://bit.ly/1L3rFZA

September 10th, 2015|Fan News, Peer Reviews|28 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Elaine

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Shines

by Elaine

Wow, I loved this book from start to finish. It was fast paced, action packed and a little suspense thrown in.

I loved the character of Bluebell Kildare, she was such a likable character, strong, unsure of herself but always wanting to do things on her own as if to prove her self good enough.

The story basically is about Bluebell who is magically gifted investigating the gruesome death of a teenage boy and finding herself into deep while fighting her growing feelings for her boss Jack who is a daylight vampire, and who by the end of the book I was mentally shouting at silly male.

I also loved Varg the mysterious wolf who appears to save Blue and never leaves her side, always looking out for her.

The story it’s self was fast paced and started basically straight away, I liked that, no chapters of pointless getting to know the characters in this book you got to know them as the book progressed which I found made the book all that more interesting.

All the characters worked well together and I liked that there weren’t too many to keep track of.

I did have a little cry the last couple of chapters.

All in all this is a great start to what could be a good series, this book reminded me a little of the Racheal Morgan series by Kim Harrison. I loved it from start to finish and am eagerly awaiting book 2.

Link: http://bit.ly/1JXt8Pd

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO BINDS by Elaine

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Binds

by Elaine

Loved it. Bluebell, Jack and Varg are back and the stakes are getting higher.

This book more or less starts from were The Light Who Shines ended.

Bluebell is all healed after the torture she endured at the hands of Tobias Blackwater and is ready to be told the big secrets surrounding The key, Lilith and Bluebell’s role in the whole affair..

This book answered a lot of questions from the first book, while at the same time leaving new questions to be answered.

I liked the fact that in this book we also get to know a little more about Dragomira and her role in the story, as well as been introduced to the mysterious Anna Marie. There were shocks aplenty in this book and the biggest for me was the evil Dean Schimdt, I was rooting for him to be flayed alive, but he seems to be a major player maybe?

There were times when I wanted to smack Jack then he doe’s something to surprise me. He is the helpless hero, but flawed and I liked that.

This book just flowed with so much been revealed yet still kept back. So many hints I just need the next book.

Link: http://bit.ly/1JVLEFk

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Elusive

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Shines

by Elusive

A great an captivating story with an awesome heroine and just wow all the characters are just awesome I could not put this book down I just loved everything about it. This is one of those one in a million finds it is a great UF book and for anyone who like vampires demons psyhics and magic with an interesting spin on the supernatural I recommend you read this book you won’t be disappointed.

Things constanly move forward with Blue and some of it is dark but it is touching and important for us to understand Blue as a character. There is alot of revelations about Blues past that not even Blue knows about. There is also the love connection and sexual tension between her and Jack. Blue is a Gifted which means she has psychic/magic abilities, We have vampires and other Supernaturals as well, what more can you ask for?

If any of you are a fan of Kate Daniels, Jane Yellowrock, Mercy Thompson this is a book for you I can’t remember the last time I found a new book series that excited me this much. This seris has so much potential and Lilo Abernathy is using it all to make me fall in love with this amazing world she has created.

My favorite character after Blue her self: [ is Varg I just can’t help it I am so awed by Lilo Abernathy’s amazing writeing style and character development, Varg in my mind is one of the main characters in this book. Make no misstake Varg isn’t just some familiar or something like that no Varg is awesome let me tell you Varg makes up alot of what makes this book great.

Without Varg in this series it would still have been a good series but with all the elements in it together Lilo has created an amazing book series (hide spoiler)]

I must say I like Jack as well but he can be frustrating at times allthough that is part of what makes him an awesome character he really makes you feel. The character development and the unfolding of an astounding plot will have you at the edge of your seat reading this.

Fair warning once you start reading this book you won’t want to put it away untill you have finished it, this is just one those books you pick up and don’t put down again untill it is read.

Link: http://bit.ly/1UIj7Iu

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO BINDS by Elusive

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Binds

by Elusive

I have to say WOW!!!! Just WOW!!! This book just have it all I didn’t think Lilo Abernathy could possible make me love this fantastic world and characters she has created anymore than I already did, But I was wrong oh so wrong I was ignorant and now I have seen the light haha 😛

No but really Lilo Abernathy keeps writing these awesome captivating books that I just can’t escape, add to that the fact that I have finished the second book and I really really want more.

I just loved this book so much there was such incredible revelations in it. I really felt like alot of things where explained and came to light in this second installment of Bluebell Kildare. I am suprise I had to go look hard to find this series, it should be right at the top of the UF list of amazing books, along with books such as Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, Jane Yellowrock and other best selling awesome UF books.

If you are thinking about buying this book I got one thing to tell you stop thinking and buy it now!!! I promise that if you liked or like me, deligthed in the first installment of the Bluebell Kildare series. Then you will just drop everything to get a chanse too read this.

Thanks to Lilo Abernathy for another amazing and captivating book that keept me at the edge of my seat through the entire read. I can’t stress enough how very well and interesting written this series is.

Link: http://bit.ly/1ieS3EU

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO BINDS by Carol-ann Hill

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Binds

by Carol-ann Hill

This is the second book in the Bluebell Killdare series by Lilo J Abernathy. If you have not read the first one yet, the Light who Shines, do so now! I enjoyed this book immensely. Blue, her companion Varg, a gorgeous wolf, and Jack, her boss at the Investigation Agency, are off on another adventure. Blue is about to make some interesting, stunning discoveries about herself, which both scare and confuse her. We learn more about Varg as well, and Blue’s romantic feelings for Jack lead her to force him to make a decision. In this book, a mysterious firestarter is causing havoc, townsfolk are out to destroy vampires and gifted alike and it is up to Blue, Jack and the agency to solve the baffling mystery and protect the innocent. The writing in this book is lyrical, and flows like a beautiful melody throughout. The pace is scintillating and keeps you reading way past bedtime! The intricacies of the plot are carefully knitted together into a stunningly suspenseful way, and you are inexorably drawn into the characters, becoming one with them. I felt every emotion; anxiety, fear, sadness, joy, excitement, all of it. There were even parts that brought me to tears, which does not often happen when I read. At the end of the book, I felt as if my emotions had been put through a wringer, and as I came out of this dream world, I realized that I was not a character! What a shock! The Light who Binds is a MUST READ! I will be awaiting further books most eagerly, as my secret life must continue! Well done Lilo J Abernathy for an amazing book! I wish you much success with this series!

Link: http://bit.ly/1UCP6Pn

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Carol-ann Hill

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Shines

by Carol-ann Hill

First let me say that the book was awesome! I loved the characters, the side plots, the little twists and turns and red herrings. The start was a little slow, but the plot quickly picked up and kept me enthralled. I am so privileged to have read such a great debut novel and very sad that there is not another one to read immediately!!!

The characters are delightful, with interesting quirks and gifts, which makes me eager to discover more about each one and particularly find out who Blue really is. Why can’t Jack be with her? I know this will become clearer over time, but I became so engrossed in their obvious love for each other, I just need to know more.

The prejudice in the book comes across quite strongly and is so reminiscent of some of the prejudices we face today, although albeit with race, religion etc. it reminds us of how we should be more accepting of others and not judge them until we truly know their hearts well enough to make such decisions. Unfortunately we are all so prone to judging people for the wrong reasons and this comes across so clearly, especially with Blue. I hope this changes the way some people think as it is such an important lesson to learn in life. The prejudice was subtle enough not to take over the entire book, but nonetheless there, and making one feel slightly angered as this kind woman was judged more on what she was than who.

Blue is a great character, and so is Vargas. Who is he, where did he come from, why her, these questions all bounce around my mind. And Jack is awesome too!

Link: http://bit.ly/1Q2pPro

Peer Review of THE LIGHT WHO BINDS by Author Rose Montague

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Light Who Binds

by Rose Montague

Author of the Norma Jean School of Witchery Series

This book grabs you, wraps you up, and won’t let go until you’re done. I loved The Light Who Shines and have been waiting on this one with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. Blue grows in so many ways during this book, there is a lot more action and some very hot romance. My favorite character, Varg, gets a lot more attention and that mystery as well as several more left from the first book are revealed. A terrific second installment!

Link: http://amzn.to/1iycAUO

September 9th, 2015|Fan News, Peer Reviews|15 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO BINDS by Christina Hurley

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Binds

by Christina Hurley

This is the second book in her series. It’s split between Blue and Jack’s point of view, which, I think, gives the reader a better understanding of their “relationship”. Both are romantically interested, but he’s her boss, so you know, conflicts of interest.

But the main arc of the book (and series) is the animosity between the Norms (people without powers) and the Gifted (people who have some sort of supernatural power). Lilo does an excellent job creating and maintaining this; as well as taking it to the next step as things start to heat up between the two groups and Blue and Jacks job to try to help maintain the peace.

Link: http://amzn.to/1iycbBT

Peer Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Author Cary Allen Stone

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Light Who Shines

by Cary Allen Stone

Author of The Jake Roberts Series

The Light Who Shines centers around a world of dark and light vampires, a world of Gifted and Normal humans. Together they live in close proximity based on an uneasy peace forged 2000 years earlier. Highlighted are the elements of hatred and prejudice toward anyone who is not a Normal. Jack, a Light vampire is in a budding romance with Blue, a Gifted human. The sweet Maud and resourceful Alexis are Blue’s supportive friends. Blue also has the friendship of a very special wolf named Varq. Blue and Jack both work for the Supernatural Crimes Bureau. They work to solve supernatural crimes, and recently occurring hate crimes. Blue stumbles into a dangerous criminal who almost ends her life. Jack and Varq come to her rescue. Brilliantly well-written by Lilo Abernathy, the paranormal romance and mystery has a supernatural power all its own. I highly recommend it.

Link: http://amzn.to/1UCIVep

September 9th, 2015|Fan News, Peer Reviews|19 Comments

Peer Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Author Tima Maria Lacoba

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Light Who Shines

by Tima Maria Lacoba

Author of the Dantonville Legacy Series

If a gripping paranormal, suspense mystery with a deeper social message is your kind of read, then this is the book for you. In The Light Who Shines, the author has successfully combined a whodunnit with the stronger issues of prejudice and bigotry, highlighting the injustice faced by those who manifest “gifts” feared by the human community.

Bluebell Kildare, who works for the Supernatural Investigation Bureau (SIB), has the gift of being able to read souls. In other words, she can spot a lie a mile away. Her boss is a vampire. Both are on the fringes of a society which has reluctantly accepted their existence—’coming out’ was never meant to be easy—and both face human opposition in their investigations.

Underpinning all this, is the burgeoning romance between Blue and her dishy boss, Jack Tanner. The sexual tension between them is nicely maintained throughout the story, but don’t look for a quick resolution. This is a series after all.

I’m looking forward to Book 2, The Light Who Binds.

Link: http://amzn.to/1JXcJtV

September 9th, 2015|Fan News, Peer Reviews|17 Comments

Peer Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Author Rose Montague

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Light Who Shines

by  Rose Montague

Author of the Norma Jean’s School of Witchery Series

This was just an amazing book and a great read. It has everything. Wonderful characters, an element of mystery, lots of action, and just the right touch of romance. Fans of urban fantasy have a new heroine in Blubell Kildare. If you are a fan of Jane Yellowrock, Kate Daniels, or Mercy Thompson, you will love this book. If you are just starting in the urban fantasy genre, this one is a good place to begin. I can’t wait for the next book.

Link: http://amzn.to/1Q2jmwo

September 9th, 2015|Fan News, Peer Reviews|20 Comments

Excerpt: The Light Who Binds

 

Twitter Party Invite

The Light Who Binds

Bluebell Kildare Series, Book Two

 

Chapter 01 

Three Deaths

Bluebell Kildare

July 7, 2022, Red Ages

Lightning streaks across the twilight sky casting a brilliant glow on the building before me. Stone gargoyles loom above me, their eyes seeming to gleam and blink, their great amphibious wings, arched for flight. A slow roll of thunder fills the air as though the bowels of the earth are opening.

I behold the formidable oak doors of the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop, wondering what mysteries lie inside. Oh, I know many spells, charms, and magic secrets reside within the artifacts, but those aren’t the unknowns I seek tonight. Tonight, I anticipate learning secrets about myself.

From behind me, the warmth of Jack’s chest radiates into my back, and Varg leans into my thigh. A measure of calm returns to me. Whatever news awaits me, at least I have friends at my side. I straighten my spine, lift my chin, and remove the remaining space between me and my future, pushing the heavy oak doors open to boldly stride in.

As I enter the shop, eddies of dust coalesce from the swish of the doors into a whirlwind at my feet. I’m instantly comforted by the familiar shelves of aged magical texts stacked on bookshelves and delighted by the glass-doored cabinet stocked with magical artifacts. I was last here just a few months ago, but I feel like an entirely different woman now.

Dragomira stands behind the counter and lifts her head with a weary expression, but a fierce glint fills her warm, brown eyes. She is not Dragomira right now. No, she is the Dragomir. Her movements, as fluid as rippling water, trace a path across the room as she quietly deadbolts the door behind us.

With a wave of her hand, she beckons us into her back room. A small fire flickers in the fireplace, casting dancing shadows across the walls. Jack and I take a seat in wing-backed chairs next to the hearth, while Dragomira, still curiously silent, pours three drinks from a beautiful decanter sitting on an ornate wooden table amidst the chairs. She places one in my hand in silent command, watching as I taste it. The shock of whiskey burns my throat and slides warmly to my belly. She sets a glass in front of Jack and keeps the last for herself.

As Dragomira takes her place, I notice again how strikingly beautiful she is. Her hair cascades in long, tumultuous brown waves against her olive skin, and her deep-set eyes gleam with life. Sitting back in her chair, she directs her scrutiny toward me. “Welcome, Illustrissima,” she begins. “I’m sure you have many questions.”

Her harmonious voice rolls through me in a soothing wave. I forget myself for a moment and tilt my ear to enjoy its song. Then I gather myself and say, “I do. Let’s start with the name Illustrissima. Why did you give this name to me?”

Dragomira blinks. Then she regards me steadily and answers, “I no more gave you the name Illustrissima than I gave you your blue eyes. It is a Latin word that has many meanings: the Shining One, the Bright One, the Lustrous One, the Famous One, the Distinguished One.” She waves her hand as though all of that is inconsequential. “You are all of these things. You simply are the Illustrissima.”

I take a slow sip of whiskey. “You can see my light.”

The Dragomir’s eyes flare with a glint of yellow in acknowledgement.

“How?”

She contemplates the fire for a moment before responding. “I am also many things. I have magic . . . gifts, you might call them, which allow me to see things that would normally pass unnoticed. However, what I have been most as of late is a scholar.” She looks at me intently again. “Tonight, your time would be better spent allowing me to share what I’ve learned about you.”

August 29th, 2015|Fan News, Odds and Ends|Comments Off on Excerpt: The Light Who Binds

Editorial Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Reader’s Favorite

 

32231885_sEditorial Review of The Light Who Shines

by Tracy Slowiak for Readers’ Favorite

I just finished The Light Who Shines: Bluebell Kildare Series Book One by author Lilo Abernathy. I am always thrilled to find a new series that promises to be fantastic, and this book has all the elements needed to make that the case! The story starts with a witch-burning 2000 years ago, one with serious consequences for the people in our story. Bluebell Kildare, more commonly called Blue, an agent with a paranormal investigative team in the year 2022, has many gifts. With the abilities of a Sensitive, she is able to sense magic, see souls, and feel emotions, and is able to assist in solving crimes in a very unique way. When we’re first introduced to Blue, she’s at the scene of a supposed hit and run car crash that has killed a teenaged boy. It quickly becomes apparent that his death is more than a simple hit and run and, before she knows it, Blue is wrapped up in a complex and dangerous situation that could lead to her solving the mystery or coming to harm. Combine that with her growing attraction to her boss, a daytime vampire, Jack Tanner, and you’ve got an extremely intriguing story on your hands.

I loved this book! I really enjoy paranormal reads, and this book has everything the genre needs; vampires, wolves, witches and Sensitives, but so much more as well. Mystery, intrigue, action, adventure and romance also abound in The Light Who Shines, and I so appreciate author Lilo Abernathy’s ability to pull all that together in one book. This novel would appeal to any reader of paranormal fiction, mysteries, romances or action/adventure novels, or just those ready to try a creative read that is very well done. Ms. Abernathy does a great job of world-building in this novel, and sets the reader up for the next in the series. I, for one, can’t wait to read the next installment!

Link: http://bit.ly/1EPilrx

Excerpt: The Light Who Shines

 

Suspense - 1

The Light Who Shines

Book 1 of the Bluebell Kildare Series

Prologue

 

Shaina

Winter, Year 1, Red Ages

I wake to the sound of pounding on the door and Mor’s voice yelling, “Shaina. Shaina.”

Sorcha wakes up crying as I rush to open the door. A bloodcurdling scream tears through the night, destroying any illusions of a peaceful return to slumber. I swing open the door with trembling hands and see anguish in Mor’s eyes. The words that tumble from her mouth bring to the fore all the fears I’d been trying to suppress this winter.

“Shaina, Conor was found dead, killed by the bloodsuckers. Grainne and Aongus are calling you a Witch and gathering the town folks to burn you as one. Quick! We must run.”

I start gathering my things together, but Mor yells, “There is no time. Grab the bairn. We must go now!”

Sorcha is wailing now. Tears streak her little cheeks as she grips her blanket tightly in tiny fists. I grab my plaid and wrap it around us both as I follow Mor outside.

“You must quiet her,” Mor whispers.

I try to comfort Sorcha in a hushed voice. “Shh, Sorcha, you must be quiet. Shhhh.”

Sorcha pays no heed and cries all the louder as she clutches me with her little fingers.

I hear the voices of the villagers coming now, yelling and screaming, “Burn the Witch. It was her husband who brought this upon us.”

Aongus’ voice rises above the rest. “Let her die too. Why should she be spared?”

Mor leads me past the blacksmith’s shop, behind Fergus’ cottage, toward the forest. I see their torches at my cottage now. A voice yells, “They’re gone,” and the villagers continue to chant, “Burn the Witch. Burn the Witch.”

I cast through my mind wildly now, seeking a remembrance of a place to hide. My mind comes up empty, just as it did all winter when I feared a night such as this would come. I should have braved the cold and gone to the sea caves where the dragon tribe dwells despite the perilous winter journey.

Just then, Sorcha lets out a loud bawl, and I hear Grainne yell, “She’s over there.”

Mor and I run around Fergus’ cottage and make for the tree line. The throng is following us quickly with the younger men in the lead. The woods are just up ahead—if only we could lose them in the deep of the trees. If only Sorcha would stop crying.

We reach heavy brush, and I hear the thunder of feet behind me. Just at the edge of the woods, my foot catches on a tree root and I tumble to the ground. As I land on the hard dirt, I twist to protect Sorcha from being crushed by my weight, and pain shoots up my leg. Fear strikes my heart as I realize I’ve a choice to make.

“Mor,” I yell.

Mor glances over her shoulder and sees me on the ground. I try to stand, but my knee gives way. I see the torches through the dark coming swiftly closer.

“Mor, take Sorcha. It is too late. Run. Keep her safe.”

Mor stands there, petrified. She looks at me, she looks at the woods in front of her, and she looks at the torches that are almost upon us. I thrust Sorcha out while warm, wet tears stream down my cheeks and fall unheeded onto the snow. “Take the bairn! It’s me they want.”

Mor grabs Sorcha and my arms, bereft of their lovely burden, fall uselessly at my sides. I stare hungrily after Sorcha for one last moment, and just as Mor and Sorcha disappear in the dark of the woods, the torches are upon me. First the young men arrive, their faces ugly with rage. I know each of them, grew up with them, broke bread with them, bartered with them, sang with them, but it matters not. It’s fear that drives them this night, and no proclamations of innocence or fond memories will help me now.

July 30th, 2015|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE BINDING OF THE WOLF by Jennifer Zamboni

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Binding of the Wolf

by Jennifer Zamboni

I loved this fairy-tale like look at Varg’s origins. Definitely a different feel than Ms. Abernathy’s other work :). It really enhanced my enjoyment of her Bluebell Kildare series! A must read for Lilo Abernathy fans!

Link: http://bit.ly/1OLM9XF

Peer Review of THE BINDING OF THE WOLF by Author J. Kehele

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Binding of the Wolf

by Author J. Kehele

I enjoyed this short story and I really love the authors writing style. She crafts amazing and believable characters and pulls you right into the fantasy world she creates.

Link: http://bit.ly/1NhNl3x

Peer Review of THE BINDING OF THE WOLF by Timothy Bateson

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Binding of the Wolf

by Timothy Bateson

This short story is a marvelous retelling of the myth of Fenrir, and in many ways leads up to the first meeting between Varg and Bluebell, from The Light Who Shines. While some changes are made to the myth, there are none that are outside the realms of possibility for the world of Bluebell Kildare.

The style of the writing is a mix between the old Norse tales, and Lilo Abernathy’s own, making for an interesting combination of old and new.

As the author notes, this story is best read after The Light Who Shines, so that the reader may get a better appreciation of the link between the protagonists of both stories. With the new information presented in this story, I can’t wait to read The Light Who Binds.

Goodreads Link: http://bit.ly/1LVlv9Q

Cover Reveal and Release Parties Announced for: The Light Who Binds!

June 14, 2015

I am so thrilled to finally be able to make this announcement. The Light Who Binds will be released on Kindle on Saturday, June 27, 2015. On that same day, I’m hosting four online parties with games, prizes, and tons of fun. I hope you will come celebrate with me. The cover was designed b the phenomenal artist Federico Musetti. You can see the full announcement, the party schedule, the excerpt, and a large version of the cover here.

June 14th, 2015|Release Alerts|21 Comments

A Bonus Book: The Binding of the Wolf

 

The-2BBinding-2Bof-2Bthe-2BWolf-2B-2B1000-2B-2B600June 9, 2015, Tuesday

I polled my fans on Facebook about what they wanted as a prize at the release parties and the vote, by a landslide, was a short story about Varg. So, I’ve done it! It is about 3000 words and tells you his backstory. It’s written in the tone of a fairy tale because he’s actually a creature from mythology. The story will be given out free to all those who attend the release party for The Light Who Binds. Afterwards, I’ll offer it on sale on Amazon for only 99 cents.

 

June 9th, 2015|Fan News, Odds and Ends|17 Comments

The Light Who Binds, Book Two, is off to the Proofer!

 

11717359_sJune 8, 2015, Monday, 3:00 a.m.

That’s it! The Light Who Binds is off to the proofers. It’s gone through five revisions of my own, eight beta readers, a full edit, a light edit and tightening, and now on to the final proofing. I’m busy planning release parties and waiting for the final version to format and publish. The official release date will be announces as soon as I’m able to get the release party schedules set.

June 8th, 2015|Fan News, Odds and Ends|20 Comments

The Light Who Binds, Book Two is almost done!

 

14749851_sApril 26, 2015, Sunday

All the hard stuff is done. The book is written and I’ve revised it myself five times. Then I solicited my Beta Readers for their review and comments. I took a week off of my day job and made all the changes necessary from the Beta Reader comments. And last night, glory of glories, I submitted it to my editor. At this point I’m estimating it will be complete in about six weeks, give or take. This will include two rounds of editing and a proof. Be sure to sign up for the news above to get notified just before the book is released.

April 26th, 2015|Fan News, Odds and Ends|24 Comments

Amazon Kindle Daily Deals

 

Kindle Daily Deal3201799_sNovember 20, 2014, Thursday

Amazon contacted me and announced that The Light Who Shines will be the Science Fiction and Fantasy selection for Kindle Daily Deals on Thursday, November 20th. Holy Cow! I can’t wait. I’ll update this post on that day with the results. HAPPY DANCE!

Just to show you what an honor this is, the image shows the selection and out of the year, no more than 365 books are selected for the Science Fiction and Fantasy category since they only select one a day at most. I’m sure you can imagine how ecstatic I am.

Update!

I made it to the Amazon #47 slot so I am officially an Amazon Best Seller! I made it to #1 in Paranormal Romance > Psychics. I also made it to the #2 slot in 5 other categories. In all five of those categories the same product beat me out. It was a box set with like a zillion books for only 99 cents. So the competition was stiff.

A special thanks to all the people who supported me on this special day. 193 authors and book lovers attend a Facebook event to lend support and help me push toward Amazon number one. Though I didn’t quite make it, I came so darn close, I’m thrilled. But even more thrilled about the rank, my heart just swelled at the outpouring of support from the book community. 193 is just the number on Facebook. There were sooooo many Twitter folks, Linked-in Friends, Google Plus friends, and Bloggers lending support as well. I didn’t have time to check, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I trended on Twitter that day.

For as long as Facebook keeps the event, you can view it here: https://www.facebook.com/events/487144214760082/

Here are some photos of my rank and stats. After promoting for nearly 72 hours I had to rely on my international friends to help keep me posted as I finally caught some sleep after Midnight. My rank kept going up while I slept. What an amazing day!

10403730_10205640004786405_2103551722011505402_o 10406466_1491130794500321_3607791872745582055_n 10409574_1500997740183166_6907256058777186303_n 10689821_417465395068360_5767026240217721483_n 10690274_878009942232738_75888267330606215_n

10347226_1491131104500290_8919202784069190827_n

November 20th, 2014|Bragging Rights, Fan News|18 Comments

Audible Announcement

 

audibleOctober 18, 2014, Saturday

http://lilojabernathy.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-light-who-shines-on-audio-woot.html

Lilo announces that The Light Who Shines will be produced on Audio and narrated by Elizabeth Klets. ACX awards The Light Who Shines a rare stipend for production.

October 18th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|21 Comments

E.B. Hood Channel

 

10-11-2015 8-17-56 PMOctober 14, 2014, Tuesday

http://youtu.be/5x78cMeb_nk

Author E.B. Hood produces the first video review of The Light Who Shines

October 14th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|30 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Jasmine Hambrick

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Shines

by Jasmine Hambrick

Blog Owner of Pages 2 Bigscreens

The Light Who Shines by Lilo Abernathy is one of the best supernatural mysteries to date. No supernatural is off limits in this book’s debut, but the book really focuses on 3 races of people, The norms(normal human beings) The gifted(humans with magical abilities) and vampires. I like how the book betrays discrimination but not that of race but about your class in society. The norms hate The gifted, they feel like they were made of the devil, especially because there powers cannot be used on holy ground and not because they don’t want to, it’s really because they physically can’t. This book is about a gifted Detective Bluebell Kildare, her handsome, sexy, vampire boss Jack, and her trusty and loyal pet wolf Varg that seems to have some magical powers of his own,thus making him a gifted pet. Bluebell has been assigned to a murder case of a 17-yr old gifted boy, at the murder scene she finds an amulet that puts herself in the line of fire and now it’s up to her to find out what is so special about this amulet and why did this 17-yr old boy have it, all the while trying to stay alive. With her first encounter of the mystery guy behind the case, in a dangerous situation she stumbles upon a wolf who saves her life at that moment in time and she adopts him as her own(Varg). Its gets better, Bluebell’s power is to be a sensitive, she senses a person’s emotion, which comes in handy if someone is lying. She also has this crush on her boss Jack and he on her, but he is afraid to go there with her because he feels that there is no redemption for a vampire and therefore she is too good for him.

But all in all, This is a great mystery and should be made into a series. Really it was fun trying to figure out the culprit. In this book, the character development was amazing, the evidence was great, and the anticipation lead up was awesome, all the while developing a love relationship with Bluebell and Jack, which you will for sure root for. And the fact that Jack has secrets himself about Blubell’s past is very shocking and also keeps you wanting more. I really can’t wait til Lilo comes out with the 2nd book of this series. And because of the sexiness of the book, I would really recommend this be a series on HBO like Trueblood or some other channel within that same genre. I give this book a 4 thumbs up and hope everyone agrees with me on wanting to see this on TV. Because after reading this book you for sure will keep wanting more!!!!

Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/1IZ6geb

Blog Link: http://bit.ly/1Q2lMvh

Truth in Fantasy

 

10-11-2015 8-43-44 PMOctober 6, 2014, Monday

http://www.truthinfantasy.com/blog/paying-it-forward

Blogger Anne Marvin writes a post called Paying it forward, inspired by The Light Who Shines.

October 6th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|23 Comments

Truth in Fantasy

 

10-11-2015 8-43-44 PMSeptember 18, 2014, Thursday

http://www.truthinfantasy.com/blog/living-in-the-now

Blogger Anne Marvin writes a post called Living in the Now, inspired by The Light Who Shines.

September 18th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|23 Comments

Pages2BigScreens

 

10-11-2015 8-58-41 PMSeptember 13, 2014, Saturday

http://www.pages2bigscreens.com/blog/a-supernatural-mystery

Book Review: J. Alyse recommends that The Light Who Shines get screen time.

September 13th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|21 Comments

The Light Who Shines Amazon Rank Hits the 2000’s!

 

9938268_sSeptember 7, 2014, Sunday

The Light Who Shines has been hanging around on Amazon with a rank in the 4000’s and 3000’s for a while. Let’s not mention my lowly beginnings of a Rank of 1,500,000 ish. (Oops, I mentioned it.) Though my the rank has been higher at times, it has never been this high sans-promo. Today it made it to 2910. That means out of the millions of books sold on Amazon, only 2909 books are selling more copies. OMG!

Plus as a little teeny tiny side note, you may notice that it is in three best seller categories! It has been hanging out in those categories for a while. This is so exciting!

Rank

September 7th, 2014|Bragging Rights, Fan News|20 Comments

The Light Who Shines Hits Bestseller & Top Rated Status!

 

3201799_sJune 11, 2014, Wednesday

The Light Who Shines hit bestselling status again in the Psychic category:

#78 Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Paranormal > Psychics

What is most exciting about this event is I have no promotion runningBestseller-Psychics

The Light Who Shines is also in the #2 position for Top Rated in the Romance, Psychic category.Top-Rated2

September 7th, 2014|Bragging Rights, Fan News|21 Comments

Truth in Fantasy

 

10-11-2015 8-43-44 PMSeptember 1, 2014, Monday

http://www.truthinfantasy.com/blog/something-for-nothing

Blogger Anne Marvin writes a post called Something for Nothing, inspired by The Light Who Shines.

September 1st, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|24 Comments

New Video Trailer

 

August 18, 2014, Monday

After weeks of slaving away and debating clips, at the behest of my readers, I’ve produced my first book trailer. It has received tremendous support with some viewers even saying it is “the best ever!” However, the accuracy of this statement cannot be validated.

Style: Eerie / Gothic

Narrator/Producer: Me

Enjoy . . .

August 18th, 2014|Bragging Rights, Fan News|20 Comments

Renay Allen Origin

 

10-11-2015 9-09-25 PMJuly 31, 2014, Thursday

http://www.renayallen.com/community-2/author-interviews/

Author Renay Allen interviews Lilo Abernathy on blog.

July 31st, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|18 Comments

Peer Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Author Madhuri Blaylock

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Light Who Shines

by Madhuri Blaylock

Author of The Sanctum Trilogy

Lilo Abernathy is a masterful storyteller, which she proves emphatically with her debut novel, The Light Who Shines.

Set in the twenty-first century of the Red Ages, a time when Gifteds and Vampires help keep Norms safe from Dark Vampires, TLWS centers around the brutal murder of a young boy and its investigation by Bluebell “Blue” Kildaire, an investigator for The Supernatural Homicide Investigation Unit.

Blue is a Gifted, an interpreter of souls, and an excellent and empathetic detective, but there is more to her story and very early on hints are dropped that she holds a key to something very important, that she is very significant to the souls, both human and supernatural, around her.

Abernathy’s writing style, her rich, detailed world-building, and her meticulous descriptions keep you turning the pages of TLWS, wanting more of Blue’s story, her painful past, her interesting (and painful!) present and her intriguing future.

Then there is Jack.

I love Jack.

I don’t know how Ms. Abernathy feels about Jack – every writer has their favorite character, like my love affair with my own character, Darby Winthrop – but I love him. This love runs counter to my initial intention, which was to fall head over heels for Blue, since she’s a working woman in this man’s world, making her way on her own and whatnot.

But Jack entered the picture and all girl power stuff was pretty much forgotten. Pretty freaking fast.

Also, I should clarify this little love fest – I initially met Jack through Blue’s eyes and honestly, wasn’t that intrigued. He came across as a sexy, sure-of-himself vampire, a character I’d read hundreds of times over. Then I actually met him, for the story is told from his perspective as well, and that’s when I fell for him.

Yes, he’s sexy and sure of himself – you would be, too, if you were an old ass, been-around-the-block-a-few-times vampire. But Jack has layers that make him very interesting, much more than the one-dimensional character Blue introduces us to at the crime scene.

He’s vulnerable, insecure, protective, conflicted, loving, controlled and he’s hiding something huge. HUGE.

Oh. And as an added bonus, homeboy is gifted in his knowledge of a woman’s body. I mean gifted. Whoa, Lilo writes good sex. Trust me when I say, everyone, man or woman, needs a little Jack in their lives. (For the record, I fell for Jack long before I learned of his excellent bedside manner.)

But I digress.

Needless to say, if you are looking for a new fantasy author and series to follow, I highly recommend picking up Lilo Abernathy’s The Light Who Shines. The world she has created will pull you in from page one and then the characters take over and hold your attention until the very last word.

My only regret is that I cannot immediately turn my attentions to book two in the series.

Link: http://amzn.to/1EPlTtI

June 25th, 2014|Fan News, Peer Reviews|19 Comments

The Sanctum

 

10-11-2015 9-12-54 PMJune 25, 2014, Wednesday

https://madhuriblaylock.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/book-review-the-light-who-shines-by-lilo-abernathy/

Author Madhuri Blaylock reviews The Light Who Shines.

June 25th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|26 Comments

Dreams, Fantasies, Nightmares and Visions: Huge Facebook Party & Giveaway

 

10419556_529249533864761_7202491303414820974_nJune 20 – 22, 2014, Friday – Sunday

Lilo hosts a promotion spot each day.

– June 20, 2014, 8:00 PM EST, Friday

– June 21, 2014, 7:00 PM EST, Saturday

– June 22, 2014, 6:00 PM EST, Sunday

June 20th, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|27 Comments

The Bookcase Big Giveaway winners have been selected!

 

And-the-winner-is. shortJune 1, 2014, Sunday

– Theresa Davies wins the 6 x 9 print copy of The Light Who Shines.

– Shelley Phelps, Emmi Ollila, Maria Schmidt, Yvonne Roga, and Sarah Macguire win the Kindle copy of The Light Who Shines.

Congrats to all!

June 1st, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|24 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Mitsy

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Shines

by Mitsy

Wow! This book has it all!

Bluebell Kildare works for the Paranormal Investigative Bureau when she is called to the crime scene of a hit and run. Upon further investigation, she uncovers the teen boy was badly beaten before his death and a secret artifact that holds the key it all. She uses her sixth sense to help determine who is responsible. While doing so, she makes an enemy amongst the local police force, develops feelings for her boss, Jack, and becomes the owner of a wolf. Will she discover the secrets before it’s too late? Does Jack return her feelings? How does she respond to all that’s going on around her?

Blue is an incredible character. She’s one that stays with me days after finishing the novel. She’s adorable, beautiful, smart, good at her job, and caring. 🙂 Jack is a wonderful boss. The cast of characters are all very memorable.

There are Dark (bad) Vampires and Daylight (good) Vampires. There are Gifted humans, like Blue, and normal humans, like the cops who work the local police force. There’s Blue’s protective wolf, Varg. There’s science fiction, romantic suspense, two very dark scenes, and humor. Throughout the story is the message to respect each other or be prepared for the consequences if you don’t. It is a very fun novel with meaning.

The Light Who Shines is a book for everybody because it doesn’t fit into any one genre. The best books never do. 🙂

Link: http://amzn.to/1gaHhxy

Megan’s Blog

 

Lilo Abernathy - Photo - PrintMay 31, 2014, Saturday

Authors Supporting Authors: Lilo Abernathy

Lilo gets blogged.

May 31st, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|16 Comments

Editorial Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by KIRKUS

 

32231885_sEditorial Review of The Light Who Shines

May 28, 2014

by KIRKUS

Debut author Abernathy offers a supernatural detective novel set in the near future.

In 2022, society consists of more than mere humans. There are, of course, regular people (known as “Norms”), but there are also Gifted humans with a talent for magic in the mix, as are vampires who, as the name suggests, feast on blood. Bluebell Kildare, a Gifted human with blue eyes and a streak of blue hair, fights crime as a member of the Supernatural Homicide Investigation Unit. She has the ability to sense souls, and with her trusty Glock at the ready, she investigates supernatural hate crimes as well as deaths that occur “due to a motive relating to magical gifts or blood theft.” When a 17-year-old Gifted human is brutally murdered, Kildare vows to find the culprit even as the investigation compromises her personal safety. Aided by her vampire boss, Jack (“quite possibly the sexiest man alive”), who helps narrate this tale, Kildare dives deeply into a world of crime and prejudice. The book abounds with action, supernatural creatures and tinges of sexiness (“I select a pair of bright fuchsia, French cut panties and a matching push-up bra, both decorated with tiny, black satin bows,” says Kildare) and will please readers looking for a gun-toting, magical hero who’s independent yet yearning for companionship. The novel is lengthy but readable, although it’s sometimes repetitive and slowed by unnecessary dialogue (“Well, if that is it, I should head back to my men,” one character says to conclude a conversation). As much as she’s defined by her butt-kicking attitude, Kildare is complex, confident and introspective. Readers will find her a likable character as she earnestly pursues both justice and romance.

An often enjoyable delve into urban fantasy.

Link: http://bit.ly/1Q2dgwi

Venture Galleries

 

10-11-2015 9-26-47 PMMay 22, 2014, Thursday

Lilo’s Author Showcase

Lilo gets featured.

May 22nd, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|20 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Jazz

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Shines

by Jazz

I just got this glowing review of The Light Who Shines. This is by a reader named Jazz, on Amazon, who is unknown to me. The most exciting part is her comparison of my main character, Bluebell Kildare, to urban fantasy favorites: Mercy Thomson, Kate Daniels, and Harry Dresden.

“I can’t praise this book highly enough. It was absolutely riviting. I have read thousands of books in my life and this one is one of the best. The only negative comment I can make is that I now have to wait for the next one in what I hope will be a very long series. I wish I could gobble up the whole story immediately. If you like urban fantasy (or even if you don’t usually) this is a must read. Blue is up there with Mercey, Kate and Harry D. as a wonderful character already along with the rest of the cast in this delightful book. If you are looking for the next big thing in urban fantasy you have just found it.”

I am in love with this review, and YES, I actually did the Happy Dance!

Thank you Jazz, whoever you are. You’ve just made my day.

Link: http://amzn.to/1IZdpLv

Editorial Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Douglas C. Meeks

 

32231885_sEditorial Review of The Light Who Shines

May 19, 2014

by Douglas C. Meeks

(Author Note: Mr. Meeks is one of Amazon’s top 500 reviewers. He’s actually #257 if you want to be exact, and I do!)

Where do we start, the prologue gives us the history that the entire series will be based around and since it promises to bring down what amounts to a Goddess that will be a tall order but that is more of a series ender rather than this story, but it gives us a bit of insight.

Bluebell Kildare (a.k.a. Blue) is a Sensitive, basically she can feel people emotions and feelings to the extent she is almost a walking lie detector, and these skills have proven very effective in her job as an investigator for the Supernatural Investigation Bureau. Her boss Jack Tanner (A Daylight Vampire, the good guys) has feelings for her which are reciprocated by Blue but both pretty much keep their feelings to themselves for most of the book but this is a very on/off again thing with a heaping share of “I’m not worthy” thrown in for good measure, never fear, I think it will eventually work out …….. maybe.

This novel centers on finding the killer of a young boy and the search for why he had a very powerful item in his possession when he dies. The killer wants it back and is willing to torture and kill to get it, this puts Blue right in the crosshairs of the action and drives Jack a bit crazy trying to protect someone that does not want to be protected.

The mystery of the “whodunit” is pretty good but you can get a pretty good idea of the culprit about halfway through, a goodly portion of the book (as most Book #1 in a series are) is dedicated to world building and a bit of the characters history which feeds into the story very well. A big background into the overarching storyline is the racist type movement against the “Gifted” which was a bit overdone in the first few chapters but evened out and fit into the story right nicely although the “religious fanatic” moniker has been overused and a more secular sect would have been just as effective and a bit more original IMHO.

The secondary cast was excellent and I hope will be fleshed out a bit more as the series progresses, good mix of characters. The one that steals the show though is a wolf (Varg) who seems to appear from nowhere, decides he is Blue’s guardian and proceeds to do just that on several occasions, there are a lot of questions about him since he seems to understand language and displays a few not so normal wolf powers. I am sure we will see more of him in future books.

The plot was done well even interspersed with the history and world building, the ending was great and entices the reader to continue without the use of any cliffhanger (I hate cliffhangers).

Bottom Line: Excellent novel, alpha male hero/strong heroine, good reading, no scanning, loved the wolf, loved the characters almost as much, sex was in line with the story and not overdone even though mentally chaotic, violence is about as graphic what you should expect after reading about the first death (not overdone and not whitewashed in any manner). Highly recommended and will be continuing with the series, great new world. 4.5 Stars round to 5 for Amazon/Goodreads.

Link: http://amzn.to/1gaAQKO

It’s Joy’s World

 

10-11-2015 9-30-10 PMMay 19, 2014, Monday

Book Review: The Light Who Shines

Joy, you are the best!

May 19th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|15 Comments

Peer Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Author Louise White

 

Stars - RedPeer Review of The Light Who Shines

by Louise White

Author of The Gateway Series

This gritty urban fantasy by Lilo Abernathy, was an amazing read that kept me gripped from the outstanding prologue until the very end.

The characters – especially Blue, and the situations in this dark and compelling story were realistically drawn and I could easily envisage the world that has been created in The Light Who Shines.

The plot moves at a fast pace, building the suspense and entertaining throughout. It also provokes deeper thought for disturbing parallels that may be drawn to the real world.

I didn’t once want to put this book down, and I look forward to the next in what promises to be a fantastic series.

Link: http://bit.ly/1OAP8QO

May 18th, 2014|Fan News, Peer Reviews|27 Comments

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Book Fundraiser

 

10-11-2015 9-34-14 PMMay 16 – 18, 2014, Ends Sunday

Lilo donates 90% of royalties.

Totals calculated, 30 books were sold and $104 will be donated!

Update: The royalties have been received and $104 was donated on July 5, 2014.

May 16th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|26 Comments

So I Read This Book Today Blog

 

10-11-2015 9-35-56 PMMay 15, 2014, Thursday

Lilo’s Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Fundraiser

Leiah supports the fundraiser by blogging it. Thanks Leiah! You are a shining star!

May 15th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|19 Comments

Must Have Fiction

 

10-11-2015 9-45-45 PMApril 27, 2014, Sunday

Book Review The Light Who Shines

April 27th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|26 Comments

Once Upon a Book Blog

 

10-11-2015 9-39-05 PMApril 26, 2014, Saturday

Book Review: The Light Who Shines

April 26th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|28 Comments

Hero’s and Heartbreak Site Recommendation

 

10-11-2015 9-54-53 PMApril 23, 2014, Wednesday

April Recommended Reads

The Light Who Shines is listed as one of the April recommended reads.

Thanks StephanieWR @KindlesConsort for the recommendation!

April 23rd, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|20 Comments

American Humanist Association Book Fundraiser

 

10-11-2015 9-53-20 PMApril 21 – 28, Ends Monday

Lilo donates 50% of royalties.

Totals calculated, 32 books were sold and $57.52 will be donated!

Update: The royalties have been received and $57.52 was donated on July 5, 2014.

April 21st, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|27 Comments

Book Babe Blog

 

10-11-2015 9-50-19 PMApril 17, 2014, Thursday

Feature: Strong and Sexy Heroines

Watch Blue get featured as a Strong and Sexy Heroine!

April 17th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|16 Comments

LibraryThing Giveaway Winner Announcement

 

And-the-winner-is. shortApril 15, 2014, Tuesday

Donna Clark wins the LibraryThing Giveaway for The Light Who Shines.

Congratulations Donna!

April 15th, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|18 Comments

Wall of Fame is First Established!

 

Picture of The Light Who Shines book on Michelle's table, featuring the first version of the cover.April 15, 2014, Tuesday

Today is the first day of the Wall of Fame.

The Tweet That Started It

Lilo Abernathy gets a tweet from a reader with a picture of The Light Who Shines that just arrived in the mail. This is the first picture Lilo has ever gotten from a reader of her book. Lilo made a post of this on facebook and vows never EVER to delete it.

Look what amazon delivered today @Lilo_Abernathy !! Ready to read! pic.twitter.com/7bTn9Cc2Xr

— Michelle (@smwilder24) April 15, 2014
April 15th, 2014|Fan News, Odds and Ends|25 Comments

LibraryThing Giveaway Winner Announcement

 

10-11-2015 7-41-58 PMMarch 16, – April 15, 2014

Giveaway: The Light Who Shines

Congratulations Donna Clark!

April 15th, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|23 Comments

The Light Who Shines Becomes an Amazon Best Seller!

 

9938268_sApril 11, 2014, Friday

The Light Who Shines hit bestselling status in the following categories:

#15 Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Paranormal > Psychics

#36 Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Urban

#37 Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Paranormal > Witches & Wizards

April 11th, 2014|Bragging Rights, Fan News|21 Comments

Kindle Countdown Deal – The Light Who Shines – UK

 

10-11-2015 7-55-01 PM

April 11, – April 18, 2014, Friday – Friday

The Light Who Shines discounted to L0.99 on April 11.

The Light Who Shines discounted to L1.99 on April 15.

The Light Who Shines returns to normal price on April 18.

April 11th, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|21 Comments

Kindle Countdown Deal for The Light Who Shines – US

 

10-11-2015 7-55-01 PM

April 11, – April 18, 2014, Friday – Friday

The Light Who Shines discounted to $0.99 on April 11.

The Light Who Shines discounted to $1.99 on April 15.

The Light Who Shines discounted to $2.99 on April 16.

The Light Who Shines discounted to $3.99 on April 17.

The Light Who Shines returns to normal price on April 18.

April 11th, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|23 Comments

Platinum Book Review Multi-Author Facebook Party

 

534274_499685006790024_857054230_nApril 11, 2014, Friday, Evening

Multi-Author Facebook Party

Join Lilo Abernathy at the party. Lots of prize giveaways!

(This was SOOOOO much fun! I am totally doing it again!)

April 11th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|18 Comments

Pebble in Still Waters Blog

 

10-11-2015 10-01-13 PMApril 11, 2014, Friday

Author Interview

Lilo gets interviewed!

April 11th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|22 Comments

Brainy Bookshelf Blog

 

MASTER-BANNER-COPY-March 25, 2014, Tuesday

Book Review: The Light Who Shines

Blue gets blogged!

March 25th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|23 Comments

Jeanz Book Read n Reviews Blog

 

10-11-2015 10-13-28 PMMarch 23, 2014, Sunday

Author Interview & Promotion: Lilo Abernathy

Lilo gets interviewed and the Light Who Shines gets promoted.

March 23rd, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|23 Comments

Goodreads Giveaway Announcement

 

10-11-2015 7-47-36 PMMarch 19, – June 16, 2014

Giveaway: The Light Who Shines

Enter to win one free autographed copy of the 6 x 9 print novel (472 pages).

March 19th, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|23 Comments

Fantasy Book Lane

 

Fantasy Book LaneMarch 18, 2014, Tuesday

Author Interview: Lilo Abernathy

Lilo gets interviewed.

March 18th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|20 Comments

Brainy Bookshelf Blog

 

MASTER-BANNER-COPY-March 4, 2014, Tuesday

Author Post: The Gorgeous Crazy Hat Lady

Check out Lilo’s post on eccentric wild-card characters and what they add to your story.

March 4th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|14 Comments

Fan Spotlight Review of THE LIGHT WHO SHINES by Christina Hurley

 

Stars - GoldFan Spotlight Review of The Light Who Shines

by Christina Hurley

I’ve been looking for a new good author for awhile and I have found one. The Light Who Shines is a paranormal, crime investigation, romance book that had me staying up late at night reading not wanting to put it down. While set in the not so distant future, the book touches upon subjects and themes that are relevant today, such as prejudice and it’s blinding affect. I was disappointed when I finished because it was over and the next book isn’t yet published. I’m really looking forward to the next book.

Link: http://amzn.to/1EPmUBU

Guardian Earth Star Blog

 

9938268_sFebruary 17, 2014, Monday

Book Review: The Light Who Shines

Blue gets blogged.

February 17th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|21 Comments

LibraryThing Giveaway

 

10-11-2015 7-41-58 PMFebruary 15 – 22, 2014

Giveaway: The Light Who Shines

Enter to win one of 10 free ebook versions.

February 15th, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|26 Comments

Goodreads Giveaway

 

10-11-2015 7-47-36 PMFebruary 12 – 25, 2014

Giveaway: The Light Who Shines

Enter to win one of three free autographed copies of the 6 x 9 print novel (472 pages).

February 12th, 2014|Fan News, Hot Deals|24 Comments

Behind the Curtain of Reality Blog

 

10-11-2015 10-16-49 PM

Blue gets blogged at Behind the Curtain of Reality.

February 10th, 2014|Fan News, Where's Lilo|25 Comments

Book Release of Lilo’s Debut Novel, The Light Who Shines!

 

419184_sI’m posting this news retroactively. This is the day I debuted my first work of writing, The Light Who Shines. This was a quiet release as at this time I had no platform to speak of. It’s amazing how things have changed and what a wonderful first year it has been.

As a side note, when I searched my photo website for “stealth” and “quiet” it kept giving me images of owls. I have no idea why. Regardless, I picked the best one out for you!

Lilo

January 15th, 2014|Bragging Rights, Fan News|21 Comments