The Legend of the Sibyl

What even are mages? Seriously. I’m so over this—over them hunting me. What did I ever do to them? I swear, if one more Hunter chokes me, I’m gonna develop a complex.

And I already have so many of those.

~Samantha Anders

For once, just once, I’d like to be able to go out into public without watching my back. It’s already bad enough going into public with my bow and quiver of arrows slung over my shoulder. The looks Seattlites on the bus and link rail give me are priceless. I’m so far past caring, I should be given a gold star.

Whatever. It’s fine. Well, it’s not. But there’s nothing I can do about it now. I screwed myself over long before I’d known what I was doing. And that’s the catch, isn’t it?

When I was thirteen, I screwed up royally. It wasn’t my fault—at least, I don’t think it was. But that’s not the point. The point is, I’m a witch. But not just any witch; I’m so powerful, I’ve got enemies in high places.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On my thirteenth birthday, I discovered I had powers. Powers that allowed me to time travel and see auras. The auras weren’t the issue. The issue was my powers flaring and dragging me over two millennia into the past.

That’s right. Two. Millennia.

That’s where I met Chibale. Real cool dude—not that I’d been able to understand a word he’d said, but he was nice. He’d also been enslaved to guild mages. And that’s where my entire legacy begins. I’d dared to rescue him—to free him—and the mages hadn’t taken too kindly to that.

Since I used magic—I didn’t know then that I gave off a terrifyingly large and threatening magical energy, which was how I’d been found and captured in the first place—to liberate us from the guild dungeon, I’d gained a bit of a reputation. And by “a bit,” I mean they titled me the Sibyl, a fierce, evil woman with wicked powers.

That title hadn’t died with the end of the era, with the death of the century. Oh, no. The damn title carried through the ages, picking up steam and blowing out of proportion bit-by-bit with each retelling of the story. Before long, the Sibyl was myth and legend.

A myth and legend that the guilds of today still consider a threat.

But back to my story.

After I rescued Chibale, we trekked the desert of Ancient Egypt back to his home. I collapsed long before we got there, dehydration and the journey more than my frail body could endure. He carried me the rest of the way.

That’s when I met Bennu, Chibale’s son.

Bennu was kind enough to see me back to good health while his mother, Tauret, did the same for Chibale. His father had been in better condition than me, used to the harsh climate of the desert, and had recovered quickly.

Now, flash-forward to the twenty-first century—to right now, literally right this second. There’s a mage on the bus with me, and I can feel his eyes on me the way I can feel his magical energy grating along my skin. His aura is lethal. His presence is menacing. But I pretend not to see him.

I’ve dealt with stronger Hunters than him. I could take him. That is, I’d be able to take him as soon as we aren’t both crammed into a city bus with dozens of bystanders sitting between him and me. But that’s the thing; as soon as I get off the bus, so will he.

Then the chase will be on.

Which will be faster…my arrow or his knife?

***

I’m off the bus the moment the door opens—hell no, I’m not waiting a second longer than I have to. I push out, fellow Seattlites glaring but used to much stranger behavior from city-dwellers. The length of the bus, the handful of people getting off, and whatever distance I manage to run before the Hunter’s foot touches pavement is all I have for time.

My feet pound the street, lungs screaming with pain already. The Hunter is fast, but luckily not one of the faster mages I’ve encountered. As I run, I pull my bow off of the clip on my back. His knife is within grabbing range, but as opposed to using it, he prefers to pump his fists harder as he slowly closes the gap between us.

Thank the goddess he hasn’t decided to turn me into target practice by throwing his knife. That he hasn’t tells me a few things: he only has the one knife, he sucks at throwing, or he’s not confident in his magical abilities if he were to lose the knife. If the goddess favors me today, all three will prove true.

Hoping for the best, I turn down an alley and stop at the end, bow raised, arrow nocked, string taut, staring down the sight. As soon as he comes around the corner, I release. Thunk! The string vibrates, making my arm tremble under the recoil. The Hunter screams, the arrow burying to the fletching in his right shoulder. I just hope it’s his dominant one because I’ve been wrong before.

His left hand reaches across his hip to grab the knife sheathed there, and I try not to scream in frustration. Either he’s left-handed, ambidextrous, or doesn’t care if his coordination is crap. It appears to be the latter when he comes at me, his aim not terrible, but not great either. I can’t imagine the pain helps, but he’s going to kill me if I don’t get my head out of my ass and move.

The blade grazes my arm, drawing blood as I jump out of the way, diving into a pile of garbage bags stacked next to the large dumpster. I’m a little too enthusiastic with my jump because my forehead knocks the metal, the sound reverberating through my skull. I’m stunned for a moment, unsure if skinning my arms on the pavement would’ve been better than seeing stars.

Probably.

Get up, the working part of my brain screams.

I nod.

Good idea.

Still dazed, I roll to the ground, air wheezing from my lungs when I land on my quiver. It was a farther drop than I thought, but I don’t mind the pain shooting up my spine—especially when the Hunter’s knife sinks deep into one of the bags I’d just been getting acquainted with. Whatever his blade hits, it reeks. Worse than that, it’s wet, and since I’m sprawled on the pavement, still trying to get to my feet, it sprays me. I barely close my mouth in time to not have the pleasure of tasting it, but it still douses my neck and shirt. Now, I smell like rot.

Great, just great.

I’m so caught up in my misery, it takes me a moment to realize it sprayed the Hunter in the eyes.

Great, indeed.

He’s busy fumbling, trying to wipe his good arm across his face. I stumble to my feet, blinking when stars cross my vision again. There’s a good chance I gave myself a concussion, but at this range, I won’t miss.

I load another arrow, aim for the mage’s calf, and wince at his shrill scream. It rips through my throbbing skull like glass shattering in my eardrums. I cover my ears, regretting shooting him.

Then, thinking, the hell with it, I grab my bow in both hands and bring it down over the back of his head. The noise his skull makes is enough to make me gag—or maybe that’s just the stench of the garbage finally getting to me. Both, I decide, watching the now-silent man hit the ground.

He won’t be coming after me anytime soon, but most Hunters are extremely resilient. It won’t take long for him to get back up, but it will be long enough for me to get far, far away from here. Speaking of, I should haul ass before other Hunters find us. Besides, I could really, really use a shower right about now.

I turn toward the mouth of the alley and search for the closest bus stop.

***

Dad and I make our way to the cemetery for our monthly ritual of visiting Mom’s grave. I often come here alone, but he doesn’t know that. It’s comforting being there, nothing but the silence and my thoughts to ground me.

Sometimes, I worry about Dad. He’s still grieving all these years later, refusing to love again. It’s admirable, in a way, his dedication to the one and only woman he’s ever loved. He says he’s content with me and his work, and while I know it’s true, I still can’t help but worry.

“He’s a big boy,” Phoenix says directly into my mind, where he’s currently residing, allowing us to carry a conversation without freaking out Dad or the other riders on the bus. “If he was unhappy, he’d let you know.”

Phoenix is right, of course. Dad has no problem telling me exactly how it is. As a longstanding businessman, he’s constantly working with difficult clients who try to twist his words around. He’s adopted a no-nonsense attitude and a direct communication style. If he was was upset or unhappy, he’d tell me…

Kinda like how he freaks out at me every time a guild Hunter finds me. It’s why I haven’t told him about the other day’s run-in. I’m safe and alive—a little bruised but breathing—and that’s all that matters. Why needlessly worry him when he’s already got so much on his plate?

“Sam, you should at least tell him something happened,” Phoenix chides in my mind. “I’m still worried about how hard you said you hit your head.”

“No,” I think back at him. “Then he’ll freak out and go on a tirade about my safety for at least an hour and a half.”

“That’s what parents do! They worry!”

I scowl, choosing to ignore him in favor of staring out the window.

“Sorry I’ve been so busy, Sammy Girl,” Dad says, and I look over at him. “Ricky’s been counting on me to help while he’s away on business…I just didn’t realize how many accounts he manages.”

“It’s cool,” I tell him. “You’ve got your own thing going. I’ve got mine.”

“Working weekends at my sister’s club isn’t a thing, pumpkin. I’m worried that I leave you alone too much since you graduated high school.”

“Nah. I just catch up on reading and stuff.” I shrug. “I’m at the range often, too.”

“Your mother would be so proud of your progress. You’re getting really good.”

I beam at him, remembering the last time we had a father-daughter day, he came to the archery range with me and I showed him my badass skills. It’s a tradition in my mother’s family for the women to learn how to shoot with a bow. Mom and I used to practice together before the diagnosis…then cancer took her.

When we reach our stop, Dad and I get off the bus and walk arm-in-arm, his foot and hip pressed up against the side of mine, moving in-sync and wobbling like a three-footed goober monster into the graveyard. Entering the grounds used to be the hardest part of coming here, but now that I’ve come to accept the reality of Mom’s passing, it’s not so bad. Being here is soothing for Dad and me, spending our visits remembering her life, not dwelling on her death. I miss her with a fierceness that could break my heart to pieces, but I let it hold me together instead.

I think Dad does the same thing.

When we get there, I lay on her grave like I normally do, and Dad settles down beside me. We lay with her, staring up at the clouds passing overhead. It’s a nice day out, which is rare in Seattle. Normally, it’s gray skies and even darker clouds, but today, they are fluffy and white, the sky a soft baby blue. A gentle breeze blows the grass, and it tickles my skin.

“So,” I drawl, arms folded behind my head, “what story are we going to tell today?”

Dad purses his lips, linking his fingers over his stomach as he thinks. “Well, we could tell her about how you tripped on stage at graduation—we haven’t shared that one yet.”

“You can tell them you hit your head on a dumpster,” Phoenix offers offhandedly, still merged with my mind.

“You’re not funny!” I snap at them both. In my mind, I think the middle finger at Phoenix, and his chill amps up, letting me know he’s displeased. He’s nearly giving me a brain freeze.

Dad laughs. “Too late now. She’s heard me say it.”

“You’re so mean to me,” I whine. “Why am I cursed with such a bratty father?”

Phoenix snorts. “Says the biggest brat I know.”

“Me? A brat? No, no, no.” Dad grins. “I like to consider myself educated in the fine art of Fatherhood.”

“Mhm,” I hum, but I’m fighting a smile.

“So, shall we give her the details?”

“Might as well.”

As Dad launches into the story about how I stepped on my too-long robe when crossing the stage, my heels slipping on the slick surface, bringing me crashing to my knees in front of my entire graduating class and their families, I close my eyes and let his voice lull me into a false sense of security.

***

Dad and I are still at the graveyard, but he started lightly snoring a handful of minutes ago. That he can sleep on the hard ground in a graveyard is a testament to just how overworked he is while his boss is abroad, settling their newest partnership for their firm. I really do worry about him. He already has a habit of getting sucked into his work, but now that he’s managing twice the number of accounts, I’m worried he’ll get sick or drop from exhaustion.

“You’re one to talk,” Phoenix says when he emerges from my mind.

“Can it,” I whisper-hiss, getting up and walking a little ways away from where Dad is resting. The sun is still high in the sky, and no one else appears to be here with us.

“Just saying.”

“Well, go say it somewhere else.” I walk deeper into the graveyard, admiring the headstones as I go. “I’m so not in the mood for a lecture today.”

“Fine, fine. I can tell when I’m not wanted,” he mutters, disappearing into the ether.

I frown, feeling like an ass. I didn’t mean for him to leave. I just didn’t want to have one of our explosive arguments today, not with Dad within hearing range.

Heaving a sigh, I continue walking until I reach the farthest tombstone, a weatherworn, beat-up thing. It’s so old, I can’t even read the inscription. A cloud passes under the sun, bathing me in shade and sudden darkness. I shiver, the hair on the back of my neck rising.

Feeling uneasy, I turn to head back toward Dad…and freeze. Soft whispers come from behind me, so many at once, I can’t tell what they’re saying. I hear a man’s and a woman’s voice, a boy’s and a girl’s. They all seem to speak at once, a static noise that makes my skin prickle and a bead of sweat drip down my spine despite the sudden chill.

Gulping, I force myself to face the forest’s edge again and stare in. I don’t see anyone, ghosts or otherwise. It’s just the blackness under the canopy of the trees, their leaves howling in the sudden wind. Lightning cracks across the sky and rain pours down, but I can’t seem to tear my gaze from the abyss just beyond the trees.

As if in a trance, I take one step forward, followed by another and another. I reach the first tree, my wet hair slapping my face as the wind continues to rage. Soon, all I hear is the cry of the wind…and the whispers, the insistent voices, getting louder and louder as I get closer. Twigs snap under my feet, and I stumble, shivering as I go deeper into the darkness. I know it’s midday, but it looks like night has fallen.

“Closer, closer, come closer,” the whispers seem to hiss.

I obey.

“Samantha!” Dad calls, but I can scarcely hear him over the pouring rain, the wailing wind, and the loud, frantic whispering.

The whispering…that suddenly stops.

I stop too, blinking as if coming out of a dream.

Confused, I look around the small clearing. It’s dark as pitch, the shapes of the trees barely discernible in the faint lighting. There’s nothing but dirt and weeds at my feet, but it’s—

I stumble back, tripping over my own feet and falling on my ass. It’s not dark here, the ground itself is giving off a grim miasma…an aura. And as I stare at the blackest point, something rises up from the ground. My lip trembles and I whimper.

It’s head snaps around, it’s milky eye and cavernous socket staring at me, the rotten flesh peeling and oozing down its sunken and grotesque face. Faster than I can blink, it’s directly in front of me, the smell of musk and rot filling my nose. I can scarcely breathe, a scream lodged in my throat. It pulls its ragged lips back to grin, and my heart leaps in my chest when its hand reaches for me.

Right as it’s about to touch my face, it goes hurtling backward, the brightest light I’ve ever seen ramming through it. It’s so intense, I have to turn my head away and shield my eyes. A wail pierces the air, and I clamp my hands over my ears, a sob tearing its way from my lips. Whatever that thing is, I can sense its pain, can feel its fear…its anger, rage, and anguish.

It’s ravenous for revenge.

And when I stop sensing it, I finally turn my head back and open my eyes. I have to blink to adjust to the blinding light directly in front of me. No, not a light…a man. No again—not a man, a ghost. I’ve never seen one shine before.

He smiles at me, his amber eyes twinkling, and for a minute, I can’t breathe. Then he attempts to wipe away my tears, his incorporeal hands unable to help me. I hadn’t even known I’d been crying.

“Thank you,” I finally manage to say, wiping my face.

“Samantha!” Dad calls again, and my head whips around. “Samantha, where are you?”

When I turn my head back to the ghost…he’s gone. Him, and the malevolent spirit…and I realize that that was what the creature had been because, if it had been anything else, my mystery savior wouldn’t have been able to touch it, let alone hurt it. But the fact that it had anything akin to an aura when it was dead—that I could sense its feelings and smell its flesh—is beyond concerning. Whatever it was, I don’t want to be anywhere near this place any longer.

“Coming, Dad,” I shout, getting to my feet and running back the way I’d come.

I force myself not to look over my shoulder as I leave the forest behind.

Escape to Chaos

Escape.

Escape is the first word I think of when I think of reading. When I think of writing. Escape. Avoid. Deflect. Evade. But when I take a closer look, I think of learning, exploring, uncovering, adventuring, and experiencing. 

Reading and writing is a journey.

When I’m asked, “Why do you write?” There is this pressure in my heart—a warmth in my chest. There is a beating inside of me, and it screams and begs to be unleashed—to be uncaged.

It is my story. It is my life. It is me.

I’m begging to be set free.

I write because I need to. Because I have to. Because if I don’t, the pressure threatens to swallow me whole. And it can—and it will. It’s not a desire; it’s a visceral need. It’s a calling—my calling.

I write because I am. I am, because I breathe. Because I live. Because I experience. My life is a journey. My writing is a catalyst. My thoughts are a muse.

Writing is a form of expression. Of feeling, of being, of exploring. It is a door to a new reality, one much different—and completely similar—to your own. Writing is self-telling. Reading is self-discovery. I am like you, and you are like me. We are different, but we are the same.

We are human.

Writing breaks boundaries. It crosses lines and explores thoughts. It expresses what spoken word alone cannot say. I will say the things you cannot speak, the truth needing to be heard.

I write because someone will hear me. Someone who has suffered as I have, has felt as I have. Has lost, loved, or been crushed as I have. And for those who haven’t, they will see but a glimpse of the darkness. Perhaps, they will remember me. Remember my burden, my shame, my humiliation, my heartache.

My truth.

There is a void in my heart, as there very well may exist one in yours. Without writing, it is hollow. Without reading, it is a chasm. Without creativity, imagination, and thought, it is darkness.

I have seen the dark, and it is fathomless. It is empty, broken—it is despair. Writing allows me to shed light on the dark. With it, I can vanquish evil. Not the evil you think I mean, either. I mean the pain in heart, mind, body, and soul. Longing. Yearning. Desiring. Needing escape. Freedom. Peace, above all else.

Words can alleviate those sorrows.

I write because I am alive. Because I am still alive, when many times, I have wished I was not. I write to make you laugh when I could not do the same for myself. To make you smile. To ease your stress and your burdens.

Because you are important, you are real, and because you matter.

My writing is not an escape—it is a path to enlightenment. Experience the truth, the horror, the reality of this world. There is more darkness than you think, more light than you know. You are a beacon of hope—a star—in your own world. Grab hold of that light, and never let go.

King’s Chaos – Chapter 1

I lounged on top of my mother’s grave, staring up at the graying sky. The dew from the grass clung to my hoodie and jeans, one hand resting on my bow. Its metal length felt like the comfort of a blanket, draped across my stomach and ribs. I twirled an arrow between my fingers, contemplating my pending demise, and crossed my legs at the ankles, one foot shaking lazily. My toe tap-tap-tapped against her headstone.

“Winter’s almost over,” I told her, watching the clouds pass by overhead. “My birthday’s next month…the big one-eight.”

Well, I’m already eighteen, but time travel just has that effect on a girl. I heaved a sigh. It’s amazing I’ve lasted this long.

I stopped tapping my foot to stare at the headstone.

Sarah Samantha Anders
U-we-tsi-a-ge-yv
u-ni-tsi
u-s-da-yv-hv-s-gi

“I know, I know,” I murmured, settling back onto the grass. “Your little girl grew up so fast these last ten years. You probably wouldn’t recognize me now. Although, dad says I’m the spitting image of you.” I smiled, moving my hand from my bow to finger the feathers braided into my hair. “You know him—always with the flattery.”

“Getta loada this,” a man drawled from atop the tall angel tombstone nearby. “She at it again.”

“Even in death, we can’t git no peace,” the other ghost, a woman this time, muttered. “Goin’ t’ talk t’ herself ’til my ears’re bleedin’.”

“Yer ears can’t bleed, Doreen. Yer dead!”

“Hush-up, Earl! Nobody ask ya.”

Ignoring the magnificently whiny duo, I forged on. “Dad’s fine. Still working hard and all that. I know he worries about me, but I’m okay. I haven’t told him how easily they’ve been tracking me down lately. I don’t want him to worry, y’know? I can handle myself.”

“I pity the poor chil’,” Earl said. “Her mom ain’t listenin’.”

I’m listenin’—not that I damn want ta. Dronin’ on an’ on ’bout nonsense again an’ again—ridiculous!

My jaw clenched. I was careful to stare vacantly through the two unwanted onlookers when their heads appeared above mine, obscuring my view of the late afternoon sky. It would be more of a hassle if they knew I could see and hear them; I’d learned that one the hard way. Not all ghosts were friendly. Even if they were, a lot of them were drama queens. I should know—I live with one.

I wasn’t sure how long ago Doreen and Earl died, but their southern drawls and old-era clothing told me they weren’t native to contemporary Seattle. Why ghosts traveled the globe, I’d never know. I knew why my resident ghost had, but I’d avoided speaking to others after that one time…I shuddered at the memory.

“She chatty as ever,” the dead man said. “At least she not ramblin’ about magic ’n mages.”

Yet, ya mean,” Doreen scoffed. “As if such thins exist!”

Norms, I thought cynically. Only a non-magical being wouldn’t believe magic existed, even as she was a damn ghost floating on the astral plane.

I heaved a sigh, sitting up and getting to my feet. Daylight was burning. If I didn’t want to miss the bus back into the city, I needed to get moving.

Or, something devilish inside of me piped up, you could use your magic.

I frowned at myself.

No, I told it. The mages will find me if I do that.

Ignoring the two squabbling ghosts, I slung my quiver over my shoulder and touched my fingers to my lips before placing them against the top of my mom’s tombstone.

“Daughter, mother, wife,” I read aloud in the familiar Cherokee. Mom excelled at all three roles and so much more. “I love you,” I murmured, smiling sadly.

I weaved through the headstones, moving toward the gate that would lead to the road. Few people bothered to visit the graveyard this time of day; they were either at work or bustling home for dinner. City life was busy and the dead easily forgotten. Just not for me.

When I was halfway through the graveyard, my step faltered. Every hair on the back of my neck rose and every nerve prickled. A menacing tingle slithered up my arms, feeling the presence of five—no, six—mages nearby.

Really? Do we have to do this today?

I gripped my bow, fingers hovering over and brushing the feathers of my arrows. Their soft tickle helped ground me, even as my heart raced in my chest. I lengthened my strides toward the exit, hoping to get some distance from the latest batch of executioners sent to find me. Eyes darting left and right, I scanned the grounds for threats. My eyes landed on the black-cloaked man staring at me from across the cemetery. The overlapping sun and moon insignia on his chest told me he was a mage of the Bronze Eclipse guild.

I began to jog, picking up speed, but before I could slow my momentum, I collided into a large, hulking man when he stepped out from behind one of the tall crypts. His magical energy stung my arms on impact.

“Watch where you’re walking!” I snapped.

The hulk wasn’t amused. Faster than my eye could track, he grabbed me by the throat and slammed me against the tomb. I wheezed.

Ugh! Why do they always go for the throat?

He was too close to shoot, so I settled for a lovely knee to the groin. Once the mage doubled over, cupping himself, I put an elbow into the back of his neck. He slumped to the ground, and I nocked an arrow, pulled back, and let it fly. As my bow string thunked and vibrated, I winced at the carnage I’d wrought. Blood sprayed as the arrow unwound his calf muscle, mangling it with its power.

Running again, I sensed the other pursuers.

Dammit! I didn’t even use magic today! So much for that tactic.

I accessed the power coiling in my core, the vast center of magical energy raging inside of me like a volcanic inferno. It shivered through me, and I reached for the metaphysical plane between this world and the void, ready to get the hell out of here. Before I could flee, someone crashed into me, disrupting my concentration and my connection to my magic. My back hit the ground, knocking the air from my lungs. The weight of my bow smacked my hand painfully against the earth, but I squeezed it tighter, unwilling to lose my only means of defense.

A fireball shot past my head, the heat enough to make my skin tighten uncomfortably as the moisture was sucked from the air. I wheezed under the mage’s crushing weight as he pushed himself up. Intentional or not, this new assailant had managed to land on top of me right as his friend had tried to go for the crispy-Samantha approach.

That would’ve been a horrible way to die.

I muttered, “Thanks, buddy,” to the man now straddling me.

With him hovering above me, it was all too easy to bring up my knee, fast and hard. When the air hissed from his lungs, I shoved him off me, rolled over, and drew another arrow while he writhed in agony, holding himself. Adding insult to injury, I pulled the string back, and thwack! I popped an arrow into yet another victim’s leg.

“Catch ya later!” I waved cheerily, smiling as I sprinted away. “Sucker.

Two down, four to go.

Panting, I wove in and out of gravestones, dodging fireballs until I had no choice but to duck behind someone’s headstone. I winced, knowing there would be scorch marks marring the stone. The second I could leave the safety it provided, I leapt into a sprint, weaving through the graveyard. My lungs burned, my throat throbbed, and my legs protested as I dodged more fire, blinking sweat out of my eyes.

I clamped my jaw shut until it hurt and tightened my fist around my bow. He’s going to destroy my sanctuary!

Even from a distance, I felt the heat on my back, almost roasting my neck and drying the feathers in my hair. The coolness of the wet, winter air stung my face but couldn’t chase the heat away. I yelped when one of the fire elemental’s flames flew a little too close for comfort.

The smell of singed hair had me glaring over my shoulder. Mother. Trucker. My hair was frizzy enough in the humidity as it was; I didn’t need Flame-On making it worse. I whirled, only stopping long enough to return fire. He incinerated my arrow with a well-aimed fireball before it could reach him, the smell of burning plastic permeating the air between us.

If it wasn’t such bad news for me, I would’ve been impressed.

I pivoted toward the tree line, hoping Flame-On would be wary of causing a large city fire. There were waist-high shrubs just a few feet from me. I jumped the hedge—more like dove—ducking into a crouch and rolling. I grunted, my spine grinding into my quiver, tree roots, and fallen branches.

I sprang to my feet and sprinted deeper into the brush. Crisp leaves crunched under my heavy footsteps, and twigs snapped as my feet pounded the uneven ground. A root hidden underneath the foliage tripped me up, and I barely managed to stay on my feet as the pull of gravity gave me momentary vertigo. Rocks, dew-slick leaves, and other nuisances hindered my escape.

I pumped my arms and ran harder, my shallow pants puffing in the cold air. My nose and fingers were going numb, and snot dribbled down my lip. I wiped my sleeve across my face, licking my lips and tasting salt from the sweat permeating my skin.

One thought filled my mind like a driving force. Run, run, run, run!

I’d lost sight of my assailants, but they’d also lost sight of me. I weaved around greenery, being sure to stay hidden as I left the mages in the dust. Climbing a sturdy tree near me, I perched, bow at the ready.

Flame-On sauntered into the woods, his remaining three friends flanking him. He wasn’t close enough for me to line up my shot, so I waited, breath lodged in my throat as he got closer. I noticed—now that I was looking—just how young he was. He and his companions couldn’t have been any older than me. In fact, Flame-On looked like the youngest of the group, and it made my disgust with the guilds that much greater.

At the same time, it was their young age and inexperience that had kept me alive so far. Maybe they were a new squad. Maybe they didn’t work well together. Whatever the case, it had worked in my favor. If they’d been a squad from the Crimson Sun guild, I would’ve been dead ten times over by now.

They came into range, so I took aim and let loose, catching Flame-On in the thigh. I tried to feel bad about hitting my mark, but I didn’t. He’d destroyed something precious to me, had taken away the last thing I held dear. After this, I’d never be able to come back here again. Rumors of this battle would reach the ears of those in the Magical Community, and the graveyard would be yet another haunt I couldn’t visit.

I’d never be able to speak to my mother’s grave ever again.

These guys should be glad I wasn’t taking kill shots. Unlike the Hunters chasing me, I wasn’t a murderer. I planned to keep it that way, but it didn’t mean I would let them return to their guild, boasting like I was some sort of coward. If they were stupid enough to take on the “dangerous”—who decided that nonsense, anyway?—Sibyl, then they would just have to return to their guild, tails between their legs. A little street cred never hurt a girl anyway.

I snorted because street cred actually was my problem.

I hopped from tree branch to tree branch, numb fingers slipping and catching pitch with each grab of my free hand. My boots thudded against the branches, the sound of the bark cracking under my feet making my heart lurch in my chest. I was making too much noise but staying put after my last shot was too dangerous. They’d locate me soon.

I bit back a curse, teeth grinding when I slipped on a branch that had had the bark peeled back by some forest critter. My boot glided over the surface, and my torso crashed into the trunk, the metal of my bow clanking against it. I wheezed, fingers digging painfully into the bark while my heart raced. Squeezing my eyes shut, I slowly uncurled my death-grip from the Evergreen.

Trying to get a different angle, I squatted on the branch before the other three Hunters could find me. I could sense that two of the remaining mages were fairly weak, but I wouldn’t count myself victorious yet. The third was packing some serious magical energy. They clustered just close enough together that I couldn’t tell if the strongest energy was coming from the guy in the middle of the two flanking him.

Come on, show me your power, I silently pleaded.

If I knew who the threat was, then I could take him down, shoot the other two without much struggle, and be home before “curfew.” Considering I worked later tonight, it was less of a curfew and more like, “If you’re not home before dark, so help me, Samantha Anders, I’ll haunt you in your afterlife!” I pursed my lips, knowing Phoenix was going to rip me a new one because the sun was setting already.

Russian roulette it is, I decided and took aim.

Something curled and snaked around my ankle, magic tingling along my skin on contact.

Take the shot!

My arrow hit just as I was pulled airborne. Crap! It was an earth elemental, and whichever mage he was, it wasn’t the guy I’d just knocked on his ass. I dangled upside-down from my ankle, feeling the branch twining up my calf.

You got this, Sam; only two left, I told myself.

Psh! With your luck, you’ll manage to get yourself killed.

If Phoenix could hear my mind-babble right now, he’d kill me.

At least we’d be dead together.

I briefly wondered if I would chill on this plane like Phoenix or move to the next—if there even was a next plane. I couldn’t be sure; he sure as hell hadn’t moved on or whatever.

I plucked an arrow from my bow. Thank the goddess for clip-on quivers. I was down to back up arrows now that my large quiver’s contents lay scattered on the ground. Three arrows. Two Hunters.

More than enough.

I scanned the brush, looking for Mr. Mother-Nature and Mr. Unknown-Entity. Leaves rustled to my left and I whipped my bow into position, took aim, and fired.

Direct hit!

Feeling particularly cocky, I smirked, taunting, “Come out, come out, wherever you are, Mr. Mother-Nature. It’s just you and me now.”

“Wow,” a man’s voice came from my right, his tone dry. “So original.”

I shrugged, feeling the twining branches crawl along my hip and up my waist. “What am I supposed to call you when you haven’t introduced yourself?”

“Right, like I’m going to stop to greet my enemy? ‘Hi, my name’s Lucas; what’s yours?’” He mocked in falsetto.

“Captain Shoot-Your-Ass, at your service.” I gave a firm, two-finger salute, paired with a wink and a click of my tongue.

“Clearly.” Flat. Deadpan. Mr. Mother-Nature wasn’t impressed.

“Well, this has been fun, Mr. Mother-Nature”—I got a sick thrill out of watching his aura flare with irritation—“but I think I’m about overdue for my curfew. I’m gonna have hell to pay when I get home. Thanks for that.”

I let loose an arrow, but the jerk had the audacity to dodge it. I mean, how rude! Grabbing my last arrow, I sent a prayer to Hecate. My arrow sailed toward my target, burying deep into his shoulder. I immediately regretted my decision. After knocking out newly dubbed Mr. Fainty-McFainterson, his control over the earth magic dissipated.

Frickin’ figures, I thought to myself, careening toward the Earth. At the last moment, I wrapped my magic around me and shifted into Chaos, the void swallowing me whole.

***

Excerpt originally from “King’s Chaos,” book 1 in the Light of Chaos series, free on KindleUnlimited. Preorder “Hunter’s Mark,” book 2, available March 20, 2020.

Mischief With Jeph – Pt 4

Panting, Evander and I lay sprawled on the sparring mat, drenched in sweat and covered in bruises and blood. Neither of us held back during our match, and it dragged on for what had to of been an hour or more. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to push myself this hard, and quite frankly, I’m exhausted. Not that I would ever tell him that.

I sit up, barely withholding a grunt. Evander hasn’t opened his eyes yet and laying there must be suffocating with the blood draining down his throat. I might have broken his nose. That’s fine; he broke one of my ribs.

I nudge his clave with the side of my foot. “Sit up before you drown.”

Shakily, he lifts his hand, flipping me the bird.

The corner of my lips twitch up, and I reach for him, hissing because I forget about my damn rib. That makes his eyes snap open, my right arm hovering in the air between us, my left hand wrapped around my rib cage to cradle my injury. His eyes roll from mine to my outstretched hand, to the arm wrapped around me. He blinks lazily, looking pretty out of it, and I finish reaching for him, grabbing his wrist and pulling him to a sitting position.

“What’s wrong with your ribs?” he asks, the words garbled from his busted face.

“Broken,” I admit, grinning.

His eyes go wide before his expression settles into a smirk. “Good.”

I’d roll my eyes at his obvious contempt, but it’s not as if I haven’t earned it. Besides, this is the side of him that I like best—the side that has a backbone; I still remember the tiny-tot he used to be. Ah, such naivety. Now, he’s just as bitter as the rest of us.

“Take care of that”—I jut out my chin, indicating his nose—“before you permanently mar your face. Wouldn’t want to disappoint all your fangirls.”

Evander blushes bright red. “I don’t have fangirls.”

“That’s not what I heard.” I grin. “You forget, your buddies liked to run their mouths.”

We fall silent.

I’ve scratched old wounds. Working for the guild is dangerous, to say the least.

Shakily, I get to my feet and go to the counter where I’d deposited my mages’ belt. I flip open the pocket holding my healing potions and grab three—two for him, one for me. Then I carry them back over to the mat where he’s staring into space, looking like I kicked his puppy. That would’ve been nicer than mentioning his fallen teammates.

Blowing out a breath, I squat down in front of him, shaking the vials in front of his face.

He blinks, his watery gaze adjusting to take in the sight of the sloshing, green liquid. His lips curl down as his gaze meets mine.

“Peace offering,” I say, wiggling them again.

He continues glowering as he reaches to take them. Once he does, I sit on the mat across from him, knee propped up, pressing my arm against it and balancing my weight. My rib is throbbing now, and it’s getting difficult to breathe. I uncork the potion and throw it back, the awful flavor like rotting meat sliding over my tongue.

I cough, pounding my fist against my sternum to encourage my lungs to overcome the shock of the taste. “You would think these geniuses could figure out how to make it taste better,” I mutter, flicking the glass vial across the mat. It clinks onto the cement floor.

“Don’t be a dick,” he wheezes, but I know he agrees.

“Can’t help it,” I retort, laying down on the mat and closing my eyes. “Just who I am.”

When the healing magic kicks in, I grit my teeth against the burn. My rib reattaches itself, the jarring sensation of bone growing and fusing together enough to make me see white for a minute. That sensation is so powerful I hardly feel the sting of my bruised skin healing itself.

Evander gasps, loud and harsh, and I grimace. My ribs hurt like a bitch, but at least it wasn’t my face. I really shouldn’t haven’t broken his nose…but it had been an accident. I hadn’t expected him to duck when I’d turned, and…well…he took the full impact of my knee to the face. I would apologize, but he wouldn’t believe me.

“Wuss,” I mutter.

“Screw you.”

“Awe, Evander. I’m flattered,” I joke, opening an eye to peek at him. “I didn’t know you felt that way.”

His ears turn red and he gets to his feet, kicking me in my freshly healed rib on his way out.

I can’t help but laugh.

Go to: Archives

Guild Mages 101 – Pt 4

Today, we were going to go over some of the equipment in the guild’s training room, but I made the mistake of failing to sense Jeph’s presence. When I rounded the corner, I bumped into him. And now, here we are, standing on this mat, my fist throbbing from clocking him in the jaw. I don’t think I’ve felt something this satisfying in a long, long time.

The dick had it coming.

As always, he used his magic to keep himself on his feet, standing in front of me, his dark, brown eyes twinkling with his joy. One thing I can say about him: that dude is one cracked nut. He didn’t let me hit him because he was giving me a cheap shot, he did it because the sick S.O.B. likes pain.

“Good one,” he says, cracking his knuckles. “Let the games begin.”

My heart drops into my ass.

Why did I agree to this?

It’s too late now; I should’ve hit him and run. It’s what he would’ve done if he was me, but he isn’t me. I’m me…and I’m about to hate that I am.

Jeph never holds back in a fight.

His fist lands in my gut and I fall forward with the impact, wheezing. It hurts like a bitch, but I throw my head up, the back of my skull cracking against his jaw. His teeth click together, and my vision momentarily goes black from impact. We stumble away from each other, but it takes mere seconds before we’re flying at each other again, magery making our muscles move faster than humanly possible.

My fist sails past his head, but I spin out of the way when he tries the same. He grabs my shirt, pulling me forward. I duck at the last second, his fist flying over my head as he goes off balance. I ram my shoulder into his ribs and I think I hear something crack. I don’t have time to think about it. His foot crashes against my knee and I fall to the floor.

We stare at each other, chests heaving.

“Nice counter,” he breathes.

“Didn’t do…much good,” I return.

He grins, blood coating his teeth and a crazy gleam in his dark eyes.

I jump to my feet, barely getting my footing and my arms crossed in front of me before his fist makes contact. He pulls back and, thinking he’s gonna strike again, I duck, intending to sweep his feet. Instead, his knee comes up. Not only do I not knock him down, I hear my nose crunch long before I feel it.

My vision goes white, my body responding faster than my nerves. Then the agony of it sets in, and my eyes feel like they are about to pop. Blood drains down my throat, choking me.

“Jesus!” Jeph hisses, squatting down in front of me and grabbing my face. He tilts it from side to side as he examines the damage. It must be bad if he’s stopping. This is far from the worst injury he’s ever given me.

“Iam figne,” I attempt to say, pulling his hands away. He’s probably worried about the paperwork he’ll have to do to report my injury.

He raises an imperious brow. “Not sure I caught that. Did you say, ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m nine?’”

I glare, but it’s wasted on him. Irritated, I call on my element, blasting him away with air. Rather, I try to blast him away. All I seem to do is startle him. Besides magery, we’re not supposed to use magic in battle.

Tsk, tsk.” He wags his finger at me. “Evander’s being naughty, breaking the rules.”

Scowling, I pull more magic to me, feeling it tingle along my arm and hand. It’s like pins and needles, like sparks dancing over my flesh. It’s like reaching into a raging storm and wrapping my hand around a bolt of lightning. I grin when air caresses my palm, eagerly begging to be guided, directed, unleashed. I have no qualms giving air what it wants.

I blast Jeph again, and this time, he stumbles backward, but he’d been expecting it, having felt me gathering magical energy. Now he’s gathering his energy. It’s going to be a real fight. No pins to win. This is a battle. I just hope we don’t bring the guild down on our heads.

With a twinkle in his eyes, Jeph lobs a dense, black ball of magic at me. I dive for the ground, smacking my battered nose against the mat. Moron! my mind hisses as I choke on blood, pain, and air. I struggle to rise to my feet, white-hot agony blinding me. While I’m rising, Jeph’s foot catches me in the gut, and I flip, end over end, along the mat. I’d been short of breath before, but now I am actively channeling my element into my lungs. I’d be dying right now if I wasn’t an elemental.

Jeph helps me to my feet…my shirt firmly gripped in one first, the other aimed at my face. If he wants my nose to stay broken that bad, he’s going to have to work for it. Before he can land the blow, I use magery and my element to push my speed past the point of possibility, ducking and dodging around him, putting a roundhouse kick in the back of his head, catching his jaw ’cause the dumbass had been turning his head to track me. He flies forward, and it’s satisfying to watch his palms touch down on the mat.

He pushes himself to his feet and turns to face me, spitting and wiping his thumb along the blood dribbling down his lip. “That’s twice you’ve made me bleed.”

I don’t like the gleam in his eye; it’s menacing.

I’m about to regret my whole life.

Go to: Archives

A Ghost of a Tale – Pt 4

After the excitement of Sam lighting her shirt on fire, she hops back up on the counter, sitting, yet again, in front of the candles. “Okay. Don’t think you’re done telling me what happens.”

I purse my lips, taking my spot across from her. “Not until you put out the candles.”

“I’ll be careful this time.”

“Why do they have to be lit at all?”

“Cuz, Phoenix, they’re magical,” she says whimsically.

“What are you, twelve?”

She glares. “You’re such a jerk.”

“The candles?”

“Nope.”

“Then I’m not finishing the story.”

“Phoenix!” Sam shrieks, miming strangulation.

I raise a brow, looking at her curled fingers. “What are you gonna do? Kill me again?”

“Now who’s twelve?”

I roll my eyes. We could be here all day if she doesn’t get her way. While I could just disappear into the ether and leave her here by herself, her uncanny ability to find trouble keeps me from going. If I did, she’d likely take off in a huff, and with her luck, that means finding Hunters on her way to her destination.

“Sit there, shut your yap, and listen this time,” I tell her. “First peep you make, story time is over.”

Sam presses her lips together, but I know she won’t be able to resist. The first thing that excites her will have her asking me questions. I try to scowl to show I’m serious, but it’s difficult with her looking like the perfect picture of youth and innocence.

Yeah, right.

“Let’s see,” I mumble. “Where was I?”

“Snake just left the oasis!” Sam answers, and I put my hand over my eyes, slowly dragging it down my face. “Sorry…”

Shaking my head, I pick up the story where I left off. “Days passed where Falcon would train at his oasis, always quick to startle at the slightest breeze or rustle of the palm trees. Each time, there was no one there. His heart would sink, his desire to see Snake’s grinning face again more distracting than he cared to admit. His sisters had even begun to notice his aloofness, having confronted him several times. Even his father had summoned him to his chambers a time or two to ask if Falcon was ill.

‘No, Father. I am worried about the possibility of war,’ he lied, although it was also true.

‘It is wise to fear, son, but do not let it cloud your mind so.’

‘Yes, Father,’ Falcon replied, doing his best to appear more alert when he walked the palace.”

“What about Snake?” Sam asked, finally unable to keep her bubbling questions to herself. “Was she thinking about Falcon, too?”

I glare, but I can’t help but smile. “She was.”

“Tell me!”

“Shh. Don’t rush me.”

She chews her lip, nodding. She’s rolling the amber stone between her fingers again, and I’m not sure when she picked it back up. Every time she turns it, the rose quartz on the counter in front of me seems to pulse. If I could get goosebumps, I’d be shivering. I wonder if Sam is aware of the effect she’s having on the gems.

“Weeks passed, and Falcon finally stopped jumping at every small disturbance while at the oasis,” I continue. “For all his troublesome worries, Falcon’s father had even gifted him with a terrifying and deadly blade, a spear with a blade like a scorpion’s claw. He cherished it, and his sisters helped train him to wield it. The gift was enough to distract him from his wandering mind, and he sank back into his normal routine.

“On a day hotter than any other, Falcon visited his oasis for a swim. It was while he was swimming that Snake had finally caved to her own traitorous whims and had sought him again. She’d imagined watching him spar, seeing his beautiful grace and skill. She was curious about him, too, not that she would admit to herself why.

“Neither of them did.”

“But…but if Falcon is swimming…” Sam’s cheeks burn red. “Did he have swim trunks?”

I can’t help but grin at her. “Swim clothing is a modern invention, Sam.”

Her cheeks turn a brighter shade of red.

“No,” I tell her, chuckling now. “He did not.”

“Ohmigoddess.” She puts her face in her hands. “So?”

“So, when Snake arrived at the oasis, she was disappointed to find Falcon’s training spot abandoned. Heart sinking, she was about to return home, lecturing her own foolishness, when the shine of something golden caught her eye. Mischievous that she was, Snake weaved through the palm trees, not leaving the protection of their shade until she was next to the flat boulder that Falcon often meditated on.

“When she reached the boulder, her lips parted in wonder, appreciating the beauty of Falcon’s incredible weapon. Unable to help herself, she slowly reached a hand toward it, wanting to see if it soared through the air like she believed it would, but she was startled, fingers just shy of grazing its surface.

‘Stop!’ Falcon shouted, his head surfacing from the oasis, eyes wide in alarm, hand outstretched toward her as if he could ward her off. ‘Do not touch that, fair princess. It will harm you.’

“Believing him a liar, Snake snatched it in her hand, grinning at him…until a pain unlike anything she’d ever felt attacked her, a fire searing her flesh. She tried to drop the spear, but the weapon held fast to her, and she wailed as the heat of it threatened to consume her.”

“Oh no!” Sam gasps.

“Falcon reached the shore, leaping from the water and tearing the enchanted weapon from Snake’s hand. The burning finally ended its assault. But she’d collapsed to the ground, the agony shredding her nerves from her fingertips to her shoulder, and Falcon kneeled over her, trying to catch her attention. Her eyes wouldn’t focus, you see, because the pain was more than she could endure.

“Understanding the shock might stop her heart, Falcon carried her into the healing waters, blessed by his sister’s healing touch, just as the lush trees were a gift from his nephew. He pulled her deep into the pond, submerging them both beneath its surface and holding them there, his mouth pressed against hers to breathe air into her.”

“But they’re enemies!” Sam shouts although she looks pleased.

“That they are,” I say, my gaze a million miles away. “But he owed her his life, for she could’ve taken his on their last meeting, but she’d chosen to spare him.”

“But she invaded his land!”

“Boundaries were more…flexible back in those days.”

“Still…”

“So,” I continued, “because she spared his life, he saved hers. But if Falcon was being honest with himself, just as Snake hadn’t been honest with herself, his desire to save her was selfish. The truth was, the two had fallen into a reckless kind of love in those brief moments they had stared each other down, playing with their words, even as they played with each other’s hearts.”

“But they barely knew each other!” Sam protests, interrupting me yet again.

I meet her gaze, unsure how to explain the magnetism that comes with meeting someone your heart deems you can’t be without. The skepticism in her wide, jade eyes tells me she’s never met someone who draws her in that way.

“Someday…” I hesitate, not sure this is a conversation I want to be having. “Someday, you’ll…understand.”

“I’m not just gonna, bam, fall in love with a complete stranger.” Then she purses her lips. “Wait. You said I would understand. Does that mean you’ve been in love?”

I grimace. How did the conversation steer to this death trap? My ancient love life is the last thing I want to talk about.

“We’re not talking about me right now,” I say sternly. “And if you don’t stop interrupting, I’ll never tell you what happens to Snake and Falcon.”

“Okay, okay!” she concedes. “What happens?”

“It took a minute for the water to have an effect on Snake, but when it did, she awakened, sputtering, flailing, and choking on the water she’d now inhaled. Falcon took the abuse of her rampaging arms, dragging her up to the surface where she spat water in his face, gasping for air and clinging to him.”

“So romantic,” Sam mutters.

“Anyway,” I say really loudly, overtop her commentary, “when Snake calmed down enough to realize what happened, she locked gazes with Falcon and…” I grimace.

“And?”

“And-they-consummated-their-love-under-the-watchful-eye-of-the-sun—the end!”

“They what?”

“Okay, gotta go!” I shout, disappearing into the ether, hearing Sam’s shriek of horror when she finally realizes what I said.

Go to: Archives

The Legend of the Sibyl – Pt 4

Dad and I are still at the graveyard, but he started lightly snoring a handful of minutes ago. That he can sleep on the hard ground in a graveyard is a testament to just how overworked he is while his boss is abroad, settling their newest partnership for their firm. I really do worry about him. He already has a habit of getting sucked into his work, but now that he’s managing twice the number of accounts, I’m worried he’ll get sick or drop from exhaustion.

“You’re one to talk,” Phoenix says when he emerges from my mind.

“Can it,” I whisper-hiss, getting up and walking a little ways away from where Dad is resting. The sun is still high in the sky, and no one else appears to be here with us.

“Just saying.”

“Well, go say it somewhere else.” I walk deeper into the graveyard, admiring the headstones as I go. “I’m so not in the mood for a lecture today.”

“Fine, fine. I can tell when I’m not wanted,” he mutters, disappearing into the ether.

I frown, feeling like an ass. I didn’t mean for him to leave. I just didn’t want to have one of our explosive arguments today, not with Dad within hearing range.

Heaving a sigh, I continue walking until I reach the farthest tombstone, a weatherworn, beat-up thing. It’s so old, I can’t even read the inscription. A cloud passes under the sun, bathing me in shade and sudden darkness. I shiver, the hair on the back of my neck rising.

Feeling uneasy, I turn to head back toward Dad…and freeze. Soft whispers come from behind me, so many at once, I can’t tell what they’re saying. I hear a man’s and a woman’s voice, a boy’s and a girl’s. They all seem to speak at once, a static noise that makes my skin prickle and a bead of sweat drip down my spine despite the sudden chill.

Gulping, I force myself to face the forest’s edge again and stare in. I don’t see anyone, ghosts or otherwise. It’s just the blackness under the canopy of the trees, their leaves howling in the sudden wind. Lightning cracks across the sky and rain pours down, but I can’t seem to tear my gaze from the abyss just beyond the trees.

As if in a trance, I take one step forward, followed by another and another. I reach the first tree, my wet hair slapping my face as the wind continues to rage. Soon, all I hear is the cry of the wind…and the whispers, the insistent voices, getting louder and louder as I get closer. Twigs snap under my feet, and I stumble, shivering as I go deeper into the darkness. I know it’s midday, but it looks like night has fallen.

“Closer, closer, come closer,” the whispers seem to hiss.

I obey.

“Samantha!” Dad calls, but I can scarcely hear him over the pouring rain, the wailing wind, and the loud, frantic whispering.

The whispering…that suddenly stops.

I stop too, blinking as if coming out of a dream.

Confused, I look around the small clearing. It’s dark as pitch, the shapes of the trees barely discernible in the faint lighting. There’s nothing but dirt and weeds at my feet, but it’s—

I stumble back, tripping over my own feet and falling on my ass. It’s not dark here, the ground itself is giving off a grim miasma…an aura. And as I stare at the blackest point, something rises up from the ground. My lip trembles and I whimper.

It’s head snaps around, it’s milky eye and cavernous socket staring at me, the rotten flesh peeling and oozing down its sunken and grotesque face. Faster than I can blink, it’s directly in front of me, the smell of musk and rot filling my nose. I can scarcely breathe, a scream lodged in my throat. It pulls its ragged lips back to grin, and my heart leaps in my chest when its hand reaches for me.

Right as it’s about to touch my face, it goes hurtling backward, the brightest light I’ve ever seen ramming through it. It’s so intense, I have to turn my head away and shield my eyes. A wail pierces the air, and I clamp my hands over my ears, a sob tearing its way from my lips. Whatever that thing is, I can sense its pain, can feel its fear…its anger, rage, and anguish.

It’s ravenous for revenge.

And when I stop sensing it, I finally turn my head back and open my eyes. I have to blink to adjust to the blinding light directly in front of me. No, not a light…a man. No again—not a man, a ghost. I’ve never seen one shine before.

He smiles at me, his amber eyes twinkling, and for a minute, I can’t breathe. Then he attempts to wipe away my tears, his incorporeal hands unable to help me. I hadn’t even known I’d been crying.

“Thank you,” I finally manage to say, wiping my face.

“Samantha!” Dad calls again, and my head whips around. “Samantha, where are you?”

When I turn my head back to the ghost…he’s gone. Him, and the malevolent spirit…and I realize that that was what the creature had been because, if it had been anything else, my mystery savior wouldn’t have been able to touch it, let alone hurt it. But the fact that it had anything akin to an aura when it was dead—that I could sense its feelings and smell its flesh—is beyond concerning. Whatever it was, I don’t want to be anywhere near this place any longer.

“Coming, Dad,” I shout, getting to my feet and running back the way I’d come.

I force myself not to look over my shoulder as I leave the forest behind.

Go to: Archives

Mischief With Jeph – Pt 3

I’m in the arena-sized gym at the guild, bored to tears. I’ve spent all afternoon working with various equipment, trying to kill time and burn energy, but neither seems to be happening. I hate when I don’t have an active assignment because I’m stuck at the guild, but there’s nothing to do. My mind is so restless, I had to leave the archives a while ago. I couldn’t focus on anything I read. Now, I’m sitting on this damn bench press, contemplating hanging myself from the ceiling by my toes, just to scare the piss out of the next poor sap unfortunate enough to come in here.

It would be funny for all of ten seconds…hardly worth the effort.

Heaving a sigh, I get up and grab my towel, dabbing at my sweat-slick forehead on my way to the door. I smell like a gym bag and need a shower. After that, I think I might be able to focus if I try the archives again. There’s a dark-magic spellbook calling my name…not that I would ever use any of those spells or rituals…I just like knowing how to counteract things since, in my line of work, it could mean the difference between life or death.

Rogue Casters don’t fight fair—but that’s okay; neither do I.

Before I can make it out the door, Evander nearly collides with me on his way in. He stops to apologize before he realizes he’s talking to me. Then his apology dies on his lips, his whole face falling.

I press my lips together to hide my smile. It pleases my dark little heart that I bother him so much. I should be ashamed.

He turns on his heel to walk away, but I grab the back of his shirt before he can speed away—and I mean that literally. Evander is crazy-fast…

“Where are you running off to?” I ask, his shirt straining against my grip. If he doesn’t stop, it’s going to rip. I’m almost curious to see if he’s really that desperate to not talk to me.

He stops, taking a deep breath before letting it out and turning to me. “Errands,” he mumbles, looking everywhere but at me.

Instead of calling him on the lie, I grin. “Well, while you’re here…” I glance at the vacant sparring mat in the far corner of the room. “It’s been a while since we’ve worked on your form.”

“No, thanks,” he says, looking ready to bolt.

“You mean…you don’t want a chance to slug me in the face?”

He purses his lips, looking from me to the mat, from the mat to the door, and then back at me again.

Caught your attention, did I? I muse to myself. We both know he wants to hit me.

“I’ve got a few minutes,” he says casually, shrugging.

Truth be told, Evander’s a skilled fighter. I taught him everything he knows, after all. He’s never actually taken me in a fight, but he’s gotten close. It’s been a while since we’ve sparred…I wonder if he’ll win.

Nah!

“That’s a good little Hunter,” I say, patting him on the back hard enough that he stumbles.

Evander catches his footing as I wrap an arm around his shoulders, giving him a noogie and messing up his perfect sandy-brown hair. He grits his teeth so loudly, I can hear them grinding together.

Before we step on the mat, we take off our shoes. Sparring is all fun and games…until someone takes the hard sole of a combat boot to the face. In a battle, that’s an asset; at the guild, it’s just cruelty. While I may enjoy terrorizing the poor kid, I don’t actually enjoy hurting him.

Once we reach the center of the mat, Evander asks, “What rules are we using today?”

“Three-second pin, no tap-outs.”

“Obviously.” He rolls his eyes. “Three seconds, though? You’re making this too easy.”

I like his attitude, but three seconds is a lot more time than he’s pretending it is. When magery allows us the ability to move two to three times our normal speed, three seconds is a lifetime to keep someone on the mat. Especially when they’re as fast as Evander. Especially when they’re as strong and as cunning as I am.

I lock eyes with his hazel ones. “Cocky today, are we?”

For the first time in a while, he grins at me. It’s feral, but it’s something. “Even if I don’t win, I still win. You did invite me to punch you in the face.”

I return his smile. “I’m so nice, I’ll even let you have the first hit.”

“You? Nice?” He snorts. “Hardly. But I won’t turn down the offer.”

“No crotch-shots.”

“What?”

“No crotch-shots.” I shrug. “I figure I might as well set limits.”

He nods and, without any warning, comes at me so fast, he’s practically a blur, his fist cracking against my jaw.

I fly backward, barely catching myself with my magic before my head smacks the mat. Damn, that boy’s right hook has only gotten better. Impressed, I get to my feet, rubbing my throbbing jaw, the taste of blood filling my mouth.

“Good one,” I say, cracking my knuckles. “Let the games begin.”

Next: Mischief With Jeph – Pt 4

Guild Mages 101 – Pt 3

It’s that time again—time to sit down, shut up, and listen. Or don’t. Whatever. It’s not like I care. I’m just here.

Anyway…

Last time, we covered the guild structure. Today, we’ll look at magic, spells, and rituals. As a bonus, I might even tell you about curses, hexes, potions, and wards—if I feel like it.

So the basic of all basics is that, in order to use any of the above, one must have magical energy. That’s right, genius, you would need to be a Caster to use magic. What’s magical energy? Come on guys, were you raised in a back alley in Seattle?

Let me break it down:

Magical Energy

Magical energy is the magical essence that Casters possess. Some believe magical ability depends on age, gender, and/or affinities held. Since no two humans are alike and elementals are created at random, we really haven’t been able to verify the legitimacy of those theories. Regardless, every Caster emits a distinct magical energy signature that is able to be sensed by other Casters.

Magic

Magic isn’t magical energy itself. The energy is the stored basis of magic. Magic happens when someone calls on that energy to either perform a spell or ritual—or any disbursement of magical energy outside the body. So gathering magical energy into one’s palm is one use of magic, even if it’s not used for anything. On a side note, mages will oftentimes do this and throw it at an assailant to blast or stun them—it really, really doesn’t feel good, in case you’re wondering.

Spells & Rituals

The key difference between spells and rituals is that a spell may or may not require an incantation but a ritual absolutely does. In addition to requiring an incantation, a ritual requires invocation tools, such as charms, crystals, candles, moonlight, sunlight, athame, or herbs, to name a few.

Spellwork is willing your magical energy to do a task, such as picking a lock or changing the size of an item to be larger or smaller. At first, you’ll need to speak an incantation to tell your magic what to do, but with practice, you’ll be able to speak the words in your mind instead of out loud. Silence and efficiency are important in a Hunter’s line of work.

For rituals, you serve as the magical energy source to power the tools, herbs, and materials gathered. Because rituals rely on your intention to carry out your spellwork, the incantation is important. The simplest thought, “I want to beat my opponent,” is so ambiguous, there’s no telling what mischief the magic might cause while completing the task. The less focused your intentions and directions, the more magical energy the ritual could steal from you—if it takes too much, you’ll die.

If you couldn’t tell, rituals are much bigger than daily spellwork and require more attention to detail on the Spellcaster’s part. Regardless, all magic should be taken seriously—it’s all dangerous if not used properly. Not just dangerous…a lack in focus or an inability to direct your intention could take an innocent spell or ritual and turn it into a dark, insidious disaster.

Curse vs Hex

Speaking of insidious, that brings us to rogue magical practices. Curses are jinx magic that requires either a spell or ritual but no dark magic. A hex is dark magic itself and requires the Caster to acquire dark objects and/or wield dark magic. Jinxes are wishing physical pain or emotional distress to ail someone. They’re considered torture magic and are forbidden by the guilds. There are other minor jinxes, such as wishing general misfortune on others, but they are still considered illegal and will be punished. Hexes are anything and everything that interferes either with a person’s free will or leads to chronic illness…or death. Oftentimes, hexes require blood rituals or sacrifices.

There are no trials for those practicing dark magic. Elite Hunters, like myself, are sent in to capture or kill on sight. In cases of capture, it’s in order to gain intel on their illegal practices—especially those working in cults. Because dark rogues are dangerous, we’re allowed to defend ourselves to the full extent of guild law. It’s rare that an Elite Hunter is able to retrieve a captive alive, although it does happen from time to time…

Potions

Potions are crafted out of everything from herbs to crystal dust and are imbued with magical essence, making them effective with or without a spell. Depending on what type of potion you’re using, they are effective without magical energy. In other words, a Norm could use something as mundane as a healing potion or as dangerous as an explosion potion. Even without magic, these potions are effective, but adding an incantation—or even just having magical energy—will make them even more powerful.

What’s a Ward?

While we’re on the subject of what magic can do, let’s review wards. Wards are magically created objects that serve a single purpose. We have everything from shielding wards to protection wards. They are, in essence, a charm-piece but on a grander scale. They can be as small as a pebble or as big as a mountain depending on their purpose. For example, my home is covered with protection wards to keep unregistered people from entering without my permission.

Wards are created using alchemy, a subset of magical ability that allows someone to build wards using chemistry, magic, and other components. I can’t say I fully understand it since I don’t have an aptitude for alchemy. We have several incredible alchemists at the guild, though, which has made the Cardinal Sun the leading guild in Washington State.

But you know what they say about power…it comes with a giant ego and a need to subjugate the opposition.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for you today.

See ya next time…

Next: Guild Mages 101 – Pt 4

A Ghost of a Tale – Pt 3

“Hey, Phoenix?” Sam says, staring into the far distance. She’s sitting on the kitchen counter, legs crossed, her altar of candles lit. She must be done with her daily prayer.

“Hmm?” I hum, floating lazily on my back, watching her out of the corner of my eye.

She picks up one of her crystals—amber, I notice—twirling it between her fingers. “Remember when we met?”

How could I forget?

“What about it?” I ask.

“You told me a story that one time—when you drew in the sand. What was it about?” She looks at me then, her lips pursed to the side.

“It was the tale of the snake and the falcon.”

She cocks her head to the side. “Is that what those squiggles were?”

I scowl. “I’m sorry my drawing skills weren’t up to your standards.”

She waves a hand airily. “Tell me the story again.”

“Why? You’ve never asked before.”

“I dunno.” She shrugs, still playing with the piece of amber. “I just…I wanna hear it now that I’ll understand.”

“Okay,” I say, staring at the gemstone. It catches the light of the candle flames, sparking and glinting with each turn, reminding me of the sun. “But no interruptions this time.”

Sam’s gaze locks on mine, the start of a retort on her lips, but she catches herself, nodding.

I take a deep breath I don’t need, floating over to sit across from her on the other side of the candles. The silly girl had fussed over their alignment when she’d first placed them after she moved in, agonizing over the compass app on her phone and the cardinal directions, making sure they were “Perfect, Phoenix! They have to align perfectly!” Her yellow air candle is positioned to the east, red fire to the south, blue water to the west, green earth to the north, and silver spirit in the center. She uses them to invoke a spiritual connection to the goddess, but I’m not sure if Hecate ever hears Sam’s prayers.

I mirror her position, hovering just above the counter, my ghostly ass trying to sink through the laminate, and meet her eyes through the light plumes of smoke wafting off the candles. Like the dancing smog, I weave my tale.

“In the days of old,” I begin, recalling my father’s first telling of the story, “the days before we forgot the gods, forgot magic and wonders, in the days when the very gods roamed the earth, there were two kingdoms long at odds with each other.” I smile, seeing my home as I stared into the willowy candle flames. “It was on the outskirts of the desert where they met, hidden beneath the palm trees of Falcon’s private oasis. He was a warrior of his god, honing his skill with his weapon in order to defend his mighty sovereign from his enemies.

“Snake was an adventurer but no less a warrior for her goddess. On that fateful day, she came upon Falcon while he practiced with his spear. Snake couldn’t help but watch, enthralled by his grace. And when he paused to drink from the oasis’ waterhole, she revealed herself.

“Falcon, startled by the newcomer, attacked with all the deadly prowess he possessed. Before he could land a blow, Snake ducked beneath his arm, twirling in time with his movement, her hands easily transferring his weapon from his grasp to hers. She held the point to his throat, an excited grin on her face.

‘You have bested me,’ Falcon admitted in defeat. ‘Take my life, for it is rightfully yours.’

“Ohmigoddess!” Sam shouts, snapping me back into reality.

I blink, the images I’d seen in the candles vanishing as I’m brought to awareness. “What did I say about interrupting me?”

“Sorry…” She chews her lip. “What did Snake say?”

I glower at her before continuing. “Snake replied, ‘It is not your life I seek, young warrior, but your name.’

Sam’s lips part in excited-wonder, and I can’t help but smile and shake my head.

‘My name?’ Falcon asked, his gaze narrowing on Snake,” I continue. “‘Your name,’ Snake agreed, pulling the blade from his neck. She curtsied deep, looking up at Falcon from under lashes that he would remember as the longest and prettiest he’d ever seen, her dusty-rose irises holding his own amber gaze.”

“What odd colors,” Sam says.

“What did I just say?”

She mimes zipping her lips, but even I don’t know why I’ve picked those colors. The story I’m telling now is nothing like the one my father told me before. In his story, Snake and Falcon were the animals their names stood for, but in my mind, I always envisioned a heart-stoppingly beautiful woman and an incredibly muscular man, his looks equally as impressive as hers. I enjoy telling tall tales so that must be why.

“Snake smiled up at him,” I pick up where I left off, “and Falcon relented, telling the young woman his name.

‘Falcon?’ she demanded, rising to her feet in front of the warrior. ‘Son of he who rules these lands?’

‘Y-yes,’ Falcon stammered, surprised. There were few who knew his parentage. ‘I am he.’

‘Then I fear you are my bitterest enemy,’ she said, sorrow in her eyes. ‘For I am the daughter of she who poses a threat to your rule and reign, Highness.’

“No way!” Sam exclaims, leaning a little too close to the dancing flames. The window isn’t open, so I’m disturbed by their rampant flickering. “Keep going!”

I look from the candles to her shining, green eyes, and her excitement makes me forget all about the candles. “‘Are you Snake of the Land Beyond?’ Falcon asked, heart pounding with adrenaline.

‘I am she,’ Snake echoed, holding out Falcon’s weapon in peaceful offering. ‘I have spared your life this day, so may you spare mine as I leave your kingdom, Highness.’

“Falcon felt a pang in his heart at her formal words, accepting his weapon from her. He clenched it in both his fists, staring at it like it was the true threat. When he looked up again, Snake was already outside the safety of the oasis.

‘Wait!’ he called, and she stopped, keeping her back turned to him. Falcon walked to the edge of the trees that shielded him from the all-seeing sun. ‘Will I…will I see you again, princess of the Land Beyond?’

“Snake didn’t turn to face him, but her words were sad when she spoke. ‘It is on fields of death that you and I shall meet again. War is coming, Highness.’

“Before Falcon could protest, Snake vanished into the swirling sands.”

“Do they meet again?” Sam asks.

It takes me a minute to pull myself from the vision of Snake’s back, her long, dark tresses swinging with her steps, the sands devouring her in a ferocious gale. My eyes sting in a way they haven’t since I was alive, and I blink rapidly, the feeling fading into a distant memory, like the smell of hot sand and the sound of trickling pond water filling my senses.

“Well?” Sam prompts. “Do they?”

“They…” My chest aches and I smile sadly. “They do.”

“And?” She leans closer to the wild flames. “Do they fight or what?”

As I stare into Sam’s eyes, the flames dancing in the depths of her jade irises, they almost shine a dusty color, like rose petals in spring. But it’s a trick of the candlelight, which finally catches on her shirt when she leans too close. She screams, I shout, and we both start panicking as she rushes to the sink, dousing her sleeve. If I had a beating heart, it would’ve just given out at the fear assaulting my mind. The girl is clumsier than a rhino in a china shop, and one of these days, she’s going to get herself killed.

Next: A Ghost of a Tale – Pt 4