COMING MAY 9th!
Enjoy the first chapter of my upcoming book, Splintered Shadow.
It’s part of the multi-author series, Shattered Galaxies.
Another end to a long day.
The silence of the empty apartment greeted Sarah as dumped her bag and keys at the table next to the front door. Working at a bookstore sounded great– plenty of things to read and new stock arriving daily– and it would be if it weren’t for all the customers. They were the worst.
I want the book they talked about on the radio.
No clue about the name or even what program they heard it on.
It was on the radio, the customer repeated, like it should be obvious.
Or, a perennial favorite, I’m looking for a book. It’s blue.
Customers were the worst.
She wanted a shower and then she wanted to stuff her face with something unhealthy. The day had worn her out. Her feet hurt and her patience was gone, but the laundry demanded to be done. She wore her last clean pair of underwear and there was no chance of wearing the same work shirt tomorrow.
Sarah frowned down at the barbeque sauce stain gracing the front of her unflattering polo.
Yup. Laundry had to be done. Such a glamorous life she led.
After a quick shower, she ran the first load and finished off the left-over mac and cheese in the fridge. She caught up on the latest episodes of a baking competition while the laundry ran.
The phone chirped, reminding her of an important system update.
“They’re all important,” she grumbled and dismissed the message. She should update but the last time she tried, it demanded to be plugged into the charger and the charger was all the way in the bedroom.
Sarah imagined getting off the comfy couch and just couldn’t find it in her. “Tomorrow,” she promised.
She carried the basket into her bedroom. “No, I’m tired. I’ll fold you tomorrow,” she said.
The basket had heard that before.
She sighed and dumped the basket out on the bed. “Fine, I’ll be an adult but I’m not happy about this. Some people have those things, whatits, friends, and a life. I should get one of those.”
She had friends, but most were all partnered up and having babies. Everyone was too busy or too tired to hang out. Honestly, now that she approached her thirties, leaving the apartment after work just seemed like a waste of energy. Adulting was no joke.
She popped in her earbuds, cued up an audiobook, and set to folding. Losing herself in the narrator’s voice, she matched socks and folded shirts.
The phone vibrated.
“David has the baby. Let’s get an adult beverage!”
Sarah smiled at Trisha’s message. “Can’t,” she replied.
“OMG, that means you’re sitting at home in your underwear.”
“I’m wearing pants!” For some inexplicable reason.
“You’re so old.”
Sarah checked the time and considered. She lived on the other side of the city from Trisha. With driving time and the face that Trisha would insist on coffee and then a late night cheesesteak, she’d be out all night.
“I have to open the store tomorrow,” Sarah wrote.
The reply came instantly. “Poo. I hate that you live so far away.”
Sarah sucked in her breath. Her friends knew why she moved, even though no one talked about it.
Three bouncing dots appeared on the screen.
“Sorry. I suck. Don’t be mad. I just miss you,” Trisha wrote.
And Sarah missed Robert. Three years after her fiance’s unexpected death from an aneurysm and it still hurt. One day he had a headache, laid down for a nap, and never woke up.
The grief counselor told her not to make any big changes right away but Sarah couldn’t sleep in the same bed– their bed. Staying in the same apartment was too much. She felt stuck in molasses, drowning from the memories, and needed to break free. So she moved as far as she could and kept a reasonable commute to her job. On a good traffic day, it was an hour’s drive to the old neighborhood, her friends and her parent’s house. Close but not too close.
It was great. New grocery store. New gas station. No memories waiting to ambush her everytime she passed the bagel place they went to on Sunday mornings. No neighbors asking her how she was doing with a concerned frown on their faces.
It was also lonely.
The apartment seemed even emptier, just her and the laundry basket.
Robert wouldn’t want her holed up in her apartment, hiding behind the excuse of laundry and work to avoid people. He’d want her to go out and enjoy herself. Live.
Re-engage with the community, the grief counselor called it. They wrote the phrase down on Sarah’s action plan, like those were steps she would actually take before their next appointment.
She sighed and picked up the phone. “Give me an hour. I need to put on my face.”
Trisha replied with a series of emojis that made no sense.
Star. Peach. Exclamation point. Lightning bolt. Dog. Heart. Heart.
“See you soon,” Trisha wrote.
Her chest tightened, panicked for a brief moment at the audacity of her going out and having fun with friends.
“Dammit,” she muttered, blinking quickly to avoid crying. She tossed the phone down, swiping at her eyes. This wasn’t a big deal. This was doing things she used to enjoy with people she liked. This was part of her action plan.
Her phone buzzed and vibrated next to her on the bed.
“Trisha, not now.” She wasn’t in the mood to be guilted into a girl’s night.
The power went off in the building. The only light was the phone’s screen.
Color swirled and pulsed across the screen.
“Initiating…” The words flashed across the screen.
Light erupted from the phone, swirling above the bed. Red, blue, yellow… a rainbow colored vortex materialized. The air pressure dropped. Sarah felt it in her bones. Then a sudden woosh as the vortex sucked everything towards it.
This was not good.
Sarah scrambled backwards. Hair whipped around her face. Clothes– socks, tops, the slippers on her feet– were pulled into the swirling rainbow portal.
It caught her ankle. The force of it yanked her leg up and sent her flat to her back.
Sarah flopped over, clutching the mattress. Blankets and sheets came away, flying up to partially cover her face, and she was dragged up and through the vortex.
“An anomaly,” Vekele said.
He tilted his head to better view the information on the tablet’s screen. An anomaly could be anything from a sensor malfunction to interference from a solar flare.
Or an invading force trying to slip through Arcos’s security.
“An anomaly,” Baris agreed.
The karu perched on top of a bookshelf ruffled her inky black feathers. She did not like this. Neither did he. Baris had been assigning Vekele tasks — all meaningless– to give him purpose.
Vekele did not need his brother’s pity. He was perfectly content on the isolated country estate, away from court.
Nothing good ever happened in the palace.
“It is a malfunctioning sensor,” Vekele said, handing the tablet back to his brother.
“I’m not sending you to chase after a bit of space dust. Investigate the anomaly.” Baris spoke with an air of authority, as a male who was seldom questioned. Too many people bowed and scraped for Baris’ favor, in Vekele’s opinion. Bootlickers and worse.
Fortunately, Vekele had no difficulties questioning his brother, king of Arcos or not.
“I’m not a soldier anymore,” he said, waving a hand to crowded shelves and the table piled high with ancient books. After the attack that cost him his sight and his position as a Revenant, Vekele retreated to the country estate and surrounded himself with tomes of military history. “No one needs a half blind soldier.”
“Exactly, and they say you’re not the smart one,” Baris said.
The karu cawed and clicked, unimpressed by Baris’s wit.
His brother glanced up at the massive bird. His four eyes blinked– two in the front and then the two at the side– in apology.
This appeased the karu. Vekele felt a warm flush of appreciation for his companion. She had always been protective of him. Ancient and powerful, why she had chosen him, he never understood.
The karu– average size for an adult– on Baris’s shoulders cawed in reply. The tone sounded offended but whatever the karu felt– offense, annoyance at the lack of deference– Baris kept that to himself.
Baris pushed the tablet to Vekele. “It’s weird and it’s not space dust on a sensor. The analysts have failed to identify the energy signature and I am unable to send a ship to investigate.”
“Because of the wedding,” Vekele said.
“Because any military movement would be seen as aggressive and would put a halt to the treaty. We need this treaty,” Baris said.
Vekele had no stomach for the intricate webs spun at court. Motives. Plots within plots. Blackmail. Betrayal. Spies.
Spies were vermin, always there, sniffing after crumbs.
He much preferred a straightforward approach. No one would ever accuse the king’s brother of subtlety. Baris had a mind for political maneuvering. Vekele was better suited for the battlefield and perfectly content to follow his king’s orders.
Had been suited.
Vekele resisted the urge to flinch at his own thoughts and kept his expression blank. He loathed pity, especially his own. Pity did nothing. He said, “Sending the king’s brother off on a mission would draw as much attention.”
“Fortunately the king’s brother is known to be recovering from his injuries. No one will blink twice at a meditative retreat to the temples of Miria.”
“The anomaly is at Miria?”
Interesting. A sacred location, various myths surrounded Miria. Superstitious nonsense, in Vekele’s opinion, but now this anomaly… Perhaps the myths had a basis in reality.
“Ah, you are intrigued. It is decided.” Baris nodded at his words. “Take Kenth, my personal flyer, and as many guards as Kenth feels is needed. Yes?” Baris directed this question to the female guard lurking just outside the doorway of the library. The head of the royal guards never strayed far from Baris.
“I will handle it,” Kenth said.
Vekele found Kenth to be a very capable, if lacking in subtlety. There was no such thing as too many weapons or too many guards. “Perhaps only one or two guards,” he suggested. “I am an injured male seeking solitude, after all. Too much security will draw attention.”
Kenth nodded in agreement.
Baris clapped Vekele on the shoulder. “I need your eyes on this.”
Heat flushed over Vekele. Usually any mention of his eyes was quickly followed by an insult.
“If I find an enemy incursion?” Vekele asked.
“Do not engage. Return to the inner zone. You are too important to lose.”
“But not too important to risk on reconnaissance.” Vekele tilted his head to better look at his brother. Was this a ploy to send the family’s disgrace away on a fool’s errand? Or to eliminate a rival to the throne?
No. For all Baris’ faults– ego, hubris, a stunning lack of modesty– he had never treated Vekele as a disgrace or less than capable. And Vekele did not want the throne. He never had. Still, he had no idea what poison counselors whispered in Baris’ ear. They might convince Baris that Vekele’s continued existence was a threat to the stability of his reign.
In his darker moment, Vekele wondered if Baris ordered the attack that blinded him. A blind and ruined soldier would be unable to rally forces to his side and seize the throne. Such fighting between the royal family had happened within living memory. The fact was, Vekele had been a popular military figure with success on the battlefield. Many of the nobles only considered the king to be strong if that strength was delivered with bloodshed.
A shortsighted opinion, in Vekele’s mind.
Arcos had been torn apart for decades by a civil war. As various noble houses gambled to seize the throne, Arcos grew more and more isolated from the rest of the galaxy. Once they had a thriving trade. Now they had an abandoned station in orbit. Once Arcos Revenants were the most respected warriors in the quadrant with an extensive fleet of starships. Now the fleet had been reduced to a handful of ships that could barely break the atmosphere.
The planet needed peace and Baris had the cunning and the determination to forge peace from the broken shards of the past. Those who regarded Baris as weak were fools. Baris felt the weight of the crown. Vekele did not envy the difficult decisions his brother had to make.
Was blinding him one of those decisions?
Vekele did not want to believe it.
The karu on Baris’ shoulder clicked his beak in an agitated manner. Baris soothed the creature with a few strokes on the head.
“There are many pieces on the game board at the moment. An anomaly in the midst of treaty negotiations is suspicious. Responding in any way feels like an error but doing nothing also feels wrong,” Baris said, planting his hands on the table. Next to his fingers, a pair of children had long ago carved their initials into the wood.
Baris ran his thumb over the carving. “I do not know how you can tolerate this place. It’s a prison.”
A luxurious prison with ten bedrooms, library, study, drawing room, formal and informal dining room, a room for sitting in the morning, a room just for eating breakfast, a kitchen so enormous it required a small army to operate, extensive grounds, undisturbed hunting grounds and a stable.
“Our time here never bothered me,” Vekele said. He had been ten when their uncle took them into protective custody at the country house. To a youthful, unjaded Vekele the guards were friends and not prison wardens. He had missed his parents and his friends from the capital, but the extensive grounds offered much in the way of distraction to an energetic child. “I suppose I have you to thank for that. You always took care of me.”
“Come back to the palace,” Baris said.
“Is that a command, your majesty?”
The king placed his hand directly over the carved initials, splaying his hand wide, like he could obscure the past. “Not yet. Must it be?”
“Not yet,” Vekele replied. He scratched the back of his neck, knowing he needed to give in to his brother’s request. Baris would not cease until he had his way. He said, “Even if this anomaly is space dust on a sensor, the trip to Miria will be worthwhile.”
Miria. The location where the first karu bonded with an Arcosian, where his people’s history began.
Where their parent’s lives ended.
Baris gave a victorious shout and pulled Vekele into a powerful embrace. “Return home safely. Bring me something interesting.”
After the king and his guard left, the library felt empty.
Baris needed him.
After the attack, Vekele had retreated to his books and maps. He made himself as unthreatening as possible, a broken male studying the great battles of the past. No one particularly cared for Arcos’ distant history. His preference was to be ignored so he could get along with his studies but the king gave him a task. His brother needed him. He’d bring the same discipline and demand for perfection to this as he did to his research. He would find this anomaly, be it an incursion or an entire invading army.
The karu fluttered down from the bookshelf, landing on the table. Papers scattered.
“Those are delicate,” he said.
The karu squaked, feathers puffed up. She was unhappy. Their connection did not allow for words, but gave him impressions. Curious or furious, Vekele knew her opinion on matters.
“Yes, I agree, but we don’t have a choice,” Vekele said. If Baris saw Vekele as a threat to the stability of his reign and wanted that threat removed, there were easier ways than a convoluted mission to a sacred temple. “We must obey our king.”
If it were a trap, he’d know soon enough.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
The book will be released as a Kindle Unlimited exclusive for 90 days, before being available in the other stores.
The portals take…
So I forgot to update my phone. Big deal. Who actually does that? Only, there’s a glitch and my 69G phone opened a portal to another planet! Because that makes sense. #TechFail. Also, rude.
Now I’m stuck on an alien planet with Grumpy McGrumperson. He’s got these tattoos that move over his skin and he can shift into a giant raven. I mean, sure, he’s hot and he saved me from being eaten by a pack of monsters, but I don’t trust anything about this place, let alone a grumpy alien, and I’m going to find a way home.
The portals give…
The female belongs to the king. The stars delivered her and the royal mark is inked into her skin. She is destined for greatness. Then why did I, the blind prince, find her?
Now that I have her, I refuse to let her go. She is my fate, my mate and my destiny.