Friday, October 30, 2015

Guest Blog: Season Of The Witch by L.J.K. Oliva

UFI welcomes Author L.J.K. Oliva. Thanks for Joining us!!

Shades Below Setting Notes: The Columbarium

The stern neoclassical building looked distinctly out of place in the pastel-hued residential neighborhood.

It sat in all its somber glory at the end of a small cul-de-sac, surrounded by neatly-trimmed hedges and small, geometric patches of grass.  Purple-leaved trees shaded a small parking area just inside the wrought-iron gate.

Georgia eased Dolores into an open space, and turned off the engine.  The Valk's final throaty rumble echoed off the surrounding houses.  She dismounted, carefully rearranged her skirt and tugged off her helmet.  She cast a quick eye around the neighborhood, then laid it on the seat.  "All right.  We're here."

Darius dismounted, too.  She could feel his suspicion growing as they walked up the sidewalk to the building's pillared entrance.  Georgia glanced at his face.  His forehead tightened with each step they took.  The line of his mouth drew steadily thinner.

His senses had to be on high alert by now, even if he still didn't realize where they were.  Georgia cleared her throat.  "How do you feel?"

The glare he gave her confirmed her suspicions.  "I don't suppose you're going to tell me what this is about." 

"You'll see."  If she told him her plan now, she'd never get him inside.

They came to the doors.  Darius reached out to open one for her.  Georgia beat him to it.  She ignored his disgruntled expression and motioned him inside.  Darius gave her a hard look, then stepped over the threshold.

Georgia scarcely had time to join him before he doubled over.

She caught him and helped him to the wall.  He sagged against it, pinched the bridge of his nose so hard his fingertips turned white.  "What the fuck is this place?"

"It's called The Columbarium."  Her fingers were still curled around his arm.  Georgia forced them to unclench, and stepped back.  "San Franciscans have been interring the ashes of their loves ones here for over one hundred years."

Darius dropped his hand and gave her an incredulous glare.  "Are you serious right now?  You brought me to a goddamn charnel house?"  He shook his head, winced.  "Where do you take guys on the second date, the city morgue?"

Georgia tipped up her nose.  "Don't be silly.  Morgue is the third date."  She took in the look on his face, and sighed.  "Look, if we're going to work together, we can't have a repeat of the other day.  I need to know you're not going to lose your shit if there are spirits around."

- Season Of The Witch (Shades Below, #1.5)

My Notes

One of my favorite things about San Francisco is that just about anywhere you go, there exists the possibility you'll stumble across something fantastic.

The Neptune Society Columbarium is something fantastic.
Turn down a nearly invisible little street in The Richmond District, and you'll find yourself in a comfortable, tree-lined residential cul-de-sac.  At the end of the cul-de-sac is a set of heavy, wrought-iron gates, behind which lie a building wholly out-of-step with the rest of the neighborhood: The Building That Time Forgot.
The Columbarium was built in 1898 by cartographer and architect Bernard J.S. Cahill, in the ornate neoclassical style that was all the rage in San Francisco at the time.  Originally part of the 167-acre Odd Fellows Cemetery, it is the oldest of the five columbaria that currently exist in the City of San Francisco.  It's also the only one that is nondenominational.

San Francisco has a somewhat wonky history when it comes to the care and keeping of its dead.  In the early 1900s, real estate demand prodded the city to ban further burials within city limits.  In the 1930s, it did away with all its cemeteries entirely, and evicted the vast majority of its graves to the nearby city of Colma (which is now known far and wide as "The City of the Dead").
The Odd Fellows cemetery surrounding the Columbarium was exhumed, its residents shuttled off to Colma.  Many of the headstones were used to build a seawall at Aquatic Park (not kidding), and while the Columbarium building itself survived, it fell into severe disrepair.

Forgotten by most, it was allegedly used by bootleggers during Prohibition.  From approximately 1934-1979, it was looted and vandalized repeatedly.  Even so, when The Neptune Society of Northern California finally took stewardship in 1980, they discovered to their astonishment that many of the niches still contained the ashes and effects of their original occupants.

You can still see these niches.  Today, the Columbarium is fully restored and open to the public, and let me tell you, it is glorious.  Step inside, and its unique combination of baroque and neoclassical features is on prominent display.  The building doesn't look particularly large from the outside, but inside, its impeccable design makes the entire space expand.    Soaring balconies ring a light-filled atrium, capped with a stained-glass dome you have to see to believe.
The ground floor rooms are named for each of the mythological winds of classical mythology, and six of those rooms feature gorgeous stained glass windows.  There are four stories total of passageways, each lined with niches that chronicle the history of San Francisco back to the 1890s.

The Columbarium contains more than 8,000 inurnment spaces altogether.  People are still being interred here, proof that in a city like San Francisco, history never truly dies.

L.J.K. Oliva is the devil-may-care alter-ego of noir romance novelist Laura Oliva. She likes her whiskey strong, her chocolate dark, and her steak bloody. L.J.K. likes monsters… and knows the darkest ones don’t live in closets.

Find L.J.K. Oliva and her books

Season of The Witch 
Shades Below #1.5

Something wicked this way comes...well, more wicked than usual.

Georgia Clare needs help, and fast. As the lone survivor of—and witness to—her coven's brutal massacre, she's felt the killer hunting her. There's just one problem: the rest of San Francisco's witching community wants nothing to do with her, and the one man she can turn to doesn't do witches.

Darius deCompostela has done his best to steer clear of subversive affairs. A private investigator and reluctant medium, the last thing he wants is to advertise his existence to the things that go bump in the night. But then Georgia knocks on his door, and try as he might, he can't turn her away.

It's just one case, after all. It's not like it's going to change his life…
Excerpt #1

It was her third night in a row of frozen pasta for dinner.  Not that she was counting.
Georgia popped the top off yet another bottle of Corona and took a long draw.  She leaned back against the counter.  The microwave hummed behind her.  She glanced over her shoulder at the digital clock on the unused stove.  Sighed.
Nearly six o'clock, and still no sign of deCompostela.  The pang of disappointment in her chest chafed at her pride.  She should have known better than to believe he would stop by.  He'd already made it abundantly clear he thought she was out of her mind.
Truth be told, the possibility had occurred to her.  It had been a week since the new moon, and she hadn't seen hide nor hair  Whatever it was.  If not for the lingering scent of blood in her nostrils, she could almost believe she'd hallucinated the whole thing.
The microwave beeped.  Georgia took one last drag of beer, then set her bottle down next to the two that had preceded it and opened the door.  Fragrant steam rushed out; a heady blend of tomato, basil, and MSG.
Georgia reached in and grabbed the microwaveable plastic bowl, hissed and yanked her hand back again.  She scanned the kitchen for something she could use as a potholder.  Finally, she settled on a bunched-up paper towel.
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled as she pulled out the pasta bowl.  Georgia tensed, turned...
...Just in time to see her living room window explode inward in a hail of glass.  She let out a startled shriek.  A massive, dark creature suddenly occupied the space where her coffee table used to sit.
Everything else seemed to happen in slow-motion.  The creature straightened, shaking shards of glass off its dull black fur.  Its ears twitched towards her.  Its lips peeled back from its razor-sharp teeth.
Georgia's chest seized.  Recognition slammed through her.  The creature snarled.  Any lingering doubts she'd been harboring instantly evaporated.
It was here.
Georgia blindly hurled her steaming pasta bowl in the direction of the living room and bolted from the kitchen.  She looked over in time to see it connect with a loud splat squarely between the intruder's eyes.  The creature howled and clawed desperately at its face.
Georgia didn't wait for it to recover.  Her altar.  If she could just get to her altar, she could banish the ugly fucker and buy herself some time.
The creature was planted in the dead center of the straightest path across the living room.  Georgia veered wide.  She had almost cleared the front door when it flew open in a barrage of splinters.  Someone barreled into her.  They both sprawled to the ground.
The new intruder landed on top.  Georgia hissed, bucked, clawed at anything she could reach.  Her mystery assailant scrambled off her.
"Jesus Christ, would you calm down, you crazy—what the f*ck?"
deCompostela.  Georgia didn't let herself pause to feel relief.  She rolled to her feet, grabbed his hand and dragged him after her.  They dove behind her sagging couch just as the creature regained its bearings.  It threw back its head and let out a roar that shook her remaining windows.
Darius sniffed.  "Is that tomato sauce?"
Georgia didn't answer.  Her focus was squarely on her altar again.  It was still too far away.  "Wait here."
She leaped to her feet.  The creature's eyes locked on her.  Georgia swallowed the terror that welled in her chest and sprinted for the altar.  She skidded to the floor in front of it like a baseball player sliding into home, yanked open one of the drawers and fumbled for the first items that came to mind.
The creature roared again.  A blast of superheated air hit the back of her neck.  Georgia braced for the feel of teeth around her throat.
"Right here, ugly!"
She turned in time to see Darius' massive fist catch the creature square in the nose.  The creature yelped, then retaliated with a swipe of an even-more-massive paw.  The blow swept Darius clear off his feet.  He flew backwards and hit the wall with a dull crunch, then sagged to the ground with a wheeze.  Flecks of paint and drywall fluttered to the floor around him.
But he'd bought her the time she needed.  Georgia held up her black candle and flicked her Bic lighter to life.  She touched the flame to the wick.  The creature's eyes widened.
"Black, the color of protection.  Black, the color of night."
The creature snarled.  Darius heaved himself to his feet and surged forward.  He wrapped his arms around the creature's hind legs and held tight.
"Black, the color of silence.  Black, the color of stillness."
The creature swiped at Darius again.  Its paw caught empty air where his head had been just seconds earlier.  It tried to move.  Darius' arms visibly tightened.  Muscles bunched under his suit jacket.
"With black I banish thee.  With will I banish thee." Georgia poured intent into her words.  Her voice grew heavier, fuller.  "Return to the night.  Return to the silence.  Return to the stillness.  Be gone from this place."
The creature let out a strange yelp-hiss as invisible forces compelled it to obey.  Darius released it and scrambled backwards.
Georgia lifted her chin.  Magic crackled through her veins, tinged her vision black.  "Be gone from this place," she repeated.  "With black and with will, by my power and by the power of the Lady, I banish thee.  So mote it be."  She blew out the candle.
The creature vanished in a swirl of acrid black smoke.  Its final, infuriated roar echoed through the small apartment.
Georgia finally allowed herself to breathe again.  For the first time, she realized she was coated in a fine film of glass and wood slivers.  She reached up to dust herself off, at the last minute thought better of it.
Instead, she turned to Darius.  He had hauled himself onto her sad excuse of a sofa.  His hands were planted on his knees.  He stared at the spot where the creature had last stood.
Georgia crossed her arms and cleared her throat.  She waited until he looked up at her, then arched an eyebrow.  "So.  Do you believe me now?"


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Guest Blog + Giveaway: Dead of Night by Carlyle Labuschagne

UFI welcomes Author Carlyle Labuschagne. Thanks for Joining us!!

Humbled by Writing
I had written from the age of twelve, secretively to myself in the form of poems, song writing, keeping a diary. I had always been that girl who wanted to be liked, who needed approval from the world. I had changed myself to become popular, altered my whole being to conform to the ideals of others.
I might have been a little too good at it and in turn it cost me my YA years.
Being popular consumed me. I tried my hand with great success at many things, from figure-skating, gymnastics, ballet, art, drama; TV presenting…the list goes on. But all those things never really touched me, moved me. The passion was lacking. So, many years later–many wrong turns later–the bad girl had to change.
The only thing ever keeping me solid and grounded was my writing…being by myself, to not have my thoughts corrupted by others. (Of course I allowed it to happen). But it wasn’t until 2009 that I felt compelled to shut the world out and indulge in my imagination without caring what anyone thought of me. I had always been ruled by that element. Self-consciousness. I felt that unexplainable sense of belonging almost instantly when I embarked on my first Novel The Broken Destiny. And in many Ava’s story reflects my own. To embrace a destiny of greatness you have to find the greatness in yourself!
At first it was all about getting all the emotion out there, and through writing my first novel, I came to terms with who I was. I finally started dealing with all my baggage I had always run away from. Writing saved me from becoming what I hated in myself.
I knew from the moment I thought about writing The Broken Destiny that I’d be published, I’d make it happen. It was not to prove anything to all those who did me wrong (okay, maybe a little). It was to be okay with me, self-approval above all approval of the untrue world out there – to set away all those false needs of belonging. It was like someone chimed a magic wand over me and I became me again.
The journey has been amazing–life changing. I have really been accepted with great encouragement by the most amazing people. And it is because of all of those who did me wrong , all those wrong turns, mistakes and bad decisions that I am able to inspire and help others feel better about themselves. My insecurities melted away the more I wrote. It is amazing to find something that is utterly and truly satisfying. For me, my novels are my soul, my journey though the dark to find the light. So yes, I am very nervous about people reading my work, as that is my soul-baring experience set in a tale of difficult and trying times created by one ’s self.
I hope to inspire, change and motivate you to follow your dreams and stray true to yourself. The only person that can hurt you is you. By being truly you, you can achieve anything you so dearly desire. I had never worked for anything in my life, one of those spoiled kids who grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth (that is how you say it in English, isn’t it?). I have overcome my language barrier with such ease; I have surprised myself and have grown because of it. I have never worked so hard and so passionately for something ever before. Having great friends along the way has helped me hang on through difficult, frustrating times. My deepest gratitude to all who have touched my life during this time (you know who you are – yes, you reading this!)
My friends still find it strange that I don’t wear high heels everywhere I go. I find myself not relying on makeup and things. Writing is my feel-good med. I am humbled by the magic it has brought to my life. I am at peace. My first novel is all about overcoming those insecurities, believing and loving one’s self. I not only changed myself through writing – I hope to change all those who read my work.
~ Don’t let fear cripple your dreams. Let love and passion give you wings ~
Happy writing all,
 Carlyle Labuschagne”

Carlyle is a South African award wining author, with a flair for mixing genres and adding loads of drama to every story she creates. For now she is happy to take over the world and convert non Sci-fi believers.

Her goal as an author is to touch people's lives, and help others love their differences and one another by delivering strong messages of faith, love and hope within every outrageous world she writes about.

"I love to swim, fight for the trees, and am a food lover who is driven by my passion for life. I dream that one day my stories will change the lives of countless teenagers and have them obsess over the world literacy can offer them instead of worrying about fitting in. Never sacrifice who you are, its in the dark times that the light comes to life."

Carlyle used writing as a healing tool and that is why she started her very own writers support event - SAIR bookfestival.

"To be a helping hand for those who strive to become full times writers, editors, bloggers, readers and cover artists – it’s a crazy world out there you dont have to go it alone!"

Find Carlyle and her books

Dead of Night
Aftershock #1
In a dark and desolated After Earth, love still does exist, but the cost of bearing such a flaw is death.World War III has left Earth in utter turmoil. People’s beliefs are said to be the cause of the worldwide destruction. After The Clearing new laws are set about – to show certitude in anything besides the law is weak and chargeable as mutiny. To be illogical and have faith in religion is illegal, to be limitless is dangerous. And Illness is seen as a defect – all flaws that are inexcusable.

But to love is the greatest betrayal of all man kind. It is a fault the world has long forgotten and punishable by death, a fatal risk Aecker and Opel are fully prepared to take – because in love there is freedom. But how far can they push back before it claims their lives and of those they care about?



HIS VOICE ECHOES THROUGHOUT THE VAST room. It’s a voice I feel I could know, one that is as familiar to me as his handsome face. When he moves, the bunk’s springs squeak like a little rodent that is desperate to scurry away. I don’t mean to stare—but those soft gorgeous lips and strong jaw, the warm smile that brings sparkle to his honey-colored eyes, carries forth a loud voice in my head, telling me this boy can be trusted.
Lingering beneath his gentle stare I can see something else, the embers of concern. They drown out the spark in his stare as he waits for my answer.
Why would he show me this consideration? I don’t know who this beautiful stranger is.
I look around, realizing that I don’t even know who I am. Or, if the blue cotton uniform I am wearing is even mine. I glance back down at the green tin cup I hold in my hands, and the sweet and salty aroma of corn soup fills my nostrils.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” His voice is calm, but the quickening thump of his pulse and the tight set in his jaw relays something else entirely.
He inches closer, beads of sweat darkening his dusty blond hair, giving away the secret he is trying so hard to hide. He is upset. Nervous. Maybe both.
Is he withholding something?
Unknowingly, my head tilts to the side, trying to figure out what happened to me, and who this perfect stranger might be. And why I think I might know him. The stabbing sensation in my head throbs with each breath I take, making it hard for me to think clearly. I feel wrapped up in a thick fog, and just beyond it lives some useable memory.
From across the room, I stare at dirty clothes disregarded near the burn shoot. They reek of vomit and old blood. Staring at the clothes, I can immediately tell they belong to a female. The material is new, stretchy, and cut for a slim, short figure. Quickly glancing down at my body, I assume they could be mine―those clothes most definitely hold clues as to who I really am.
My familiar stranger sits across from me on the bunk bed, his body turned slightly toward mine. My hand creeps up to my head wound, making me wince at the feel of the raw, painful flesh. At my obvious discomfort, he immediately moves closer, his breath warm and sweet as he leans in. His gentle fingers lift the hair from my forehead as he inspects the injury. “We need to get you to a doctor.” His voice comes out shaky, uncertainty tainting his beautiful tone.
“No.” I jerk away. The dregs of my warm soup spill over the rim of the cup, splashing onto my raw fingers and wrists.
He watches me carefully as I stare forcefully into his eyes. His hand suddenly moves away and then I feel it―pain. I pull back farther, even though I crave his touch.
“Sorry,” he mumbles, moving one seat over, his back resting on the gray, concrete wall beside the bunk.
“It hurts,” I say, confused as to what hurts more, the wound or the fact that I have no idea what is going on. “How long have I been out?” I ask him.
He shrugs. “Not more than two days.”
I sigh at his answer, one that comes from somewhere deep and mournful inside me. As the feeling of loss wraps around me, it’s like a vice, squeezing tighter and tighter until I can’t breathe anymore. I close my eyes, attempting to block out whatever memory is making me feel so utterly terrified.
“It’s okay. He can’t hurt you anymore.”
I shake my head. “It’s not that.”
But, I must ask myself, who is ‘he’? Who is this brutal attacker I do not even remember?
Standing slowly, I place the soup cup on the wooden bench situated beside the metal-framed bed. As he looks up at me, I feel the sudden need to run far and fast and never look back.
“Thank you for your hospitality, but I-I must go.” I stumble over my words.
Moving too quickly, my head meets with the source of light above me. The light ebbs out for a second, and I pull in a sharp breath as pain shoots through me once again. Suddenly, I am terrified of the dark and feel myself reaching out for him. His forearm is soft, warm, strong, and alluring all at the same time. The fear that makes my pulse race alters slightly. I suddenly fear being trapped by an emotion I do not understand. Ruled by a feeling that is strong and fatal. I lose control of my thoughts.
He chuckles. “Where are you going to go in this storm?”
The light flickers back on. I look up as it continues to sway back and forth above us, searching the room for something, anything, yet I’m not sure what it might be. A feeling of anxiety washes over me. It’s so intense it spreads and enters my chest, as if a bald eagle has flown down to take my heart on gilded wings. The feeling to run tugs at me again. But when I look down, I notice I’m still gripping his arm. Instinct tells me that what I’m doing is wrong, that I should never be so close to a human.
“Sorry,” I apologize. When I release his forearm the golden color immediately returns to his flesh.
“It’s okay.” He smiles, invitingly. “Quite a grip you have there.” He keeps the grin, shaking out his hand as if I have stopped the blood from flowing through his veins.
I look away. “I can’t stay,” I announce, staring at the glimmer of light bouncing off the silver armlet wrapped tightly around my wrist―that shine, that glow, the entire piece is trying to remind me of something.
As he moves, the light brings out the blond streaks in his hair, and his shirt pulls tight around muscular pecks as he crosses his arms over his chest. He grins mockingly, and ever so slightly his feet shift toward me.
Nevertheless, I am aware of every single move he makes, like the way his eyelashes touch the top of his cheeks when he blinks, and how the corners of his eyes crease with the revelation of his gorgeous smile. His impeccable chest moves slowly as he breathes. His eyes hover on my face, making me shift uncomfortably. I don’t like the way he looks at me, it’s wrong. But I don’t know why I feel this way. All I know is that I don’t want to feel weak.
“What?” I ask sheepishly, suddenly feeling as if my dark, blue pantsuit has become transparent. Heat rushes to my face―an unexpected and unpleasant moment.
“You’ve been stalking me for weeks, and that’s all you have to say? You’re not even going to ask me my name? Or thank me for saving your life?”
It’s like an anchor falls, dropping me back to the depths of the uneven mattress. The squeak fades away as shock kicks me in the gut and allows me only one long, shuddering breath.
“I-I,” I falter. I have no recollection of my assault, or anything else that came before.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” he whispers, his charming voice now peppered with unease. “It’s me, you can tell me anything. You know that, right?” Sitting down, he keeps his distance, as if making sure that I do not feel I am prey to his predator.
“I’m not sure…I know anything.” My brows furrow, as my fingers tremble over the soft skin of my lips. The frigid cold forms goose bumps on my skin as I stare into the thick, dark, naked concrete walls of the bunker. I am just that. I am colorless and empty. I have no present. And the past has vanished. I am back in that tunnel in the dead of night, with no sense of anything other than the blackness and the loneliness reaching out for me, attempting to make my soul crumble into dust.
“I don’t remember,” I finally admit, the words bitter and brief on my tongue.
I wait for a while in the silence of the moment, hoping my inner animosity will dissolve, and that the fear will leave me alone so I can figure things out. What thought might trigger a memory?
Gingerly, he grabs my hand and turns it, flattening my palm against his hard chest. “Aecker. My name is Aecker. You don’t remember me at all?”
I shake my head.
His eyes are gentle, digging up unsettled feelings within me. But he is not really sad or bothered by my sudden memory loss. In fact, he seems almost relieved.
I stare at his long fingers as they wrap around my tiny wrist. The contrast between his tanned skin and my pale hand is strikingly beautiful. But the shiny, silver bracelet that takes up most of my forearm is what bothers me. I wish I knew what it meant. I feel my pulse ticking beneath his fingers, sense the beating of his heart through my palm. It’s slow and steady at first, but as time passes and as the silence mounts, the heat of our touch grows into a black hole, sucking me in to his endless gravity. I feel attached to him, as if my hand is melting right into his chest. I want to grab hold of his human heart and become one with it. I wish to wrap my hand around it and try to translate the language that’s making it move. We are suddenly tethered to each other in ways I cannot begin to fathom.
With my gaze shamefully glued to his chest, his heart rate increases. Strangely, this effect rubs off on me and I can feel the beat of my own heart increase to match his, causing a perfect symmetry between us. In slow motion, I watch his Adam’s apple move up and then down as he swallows nervously. My eyes affix to his luminous, ochre gems as they grow wider―the darkness of his pupils swallowing up the magic of his irises.
Abruptly, it all disappears, and I am aware of another presence in the room. Jerking my hand away, the feeling I now own is awkwardness, almost as if I have somehow been caught trespassing.
“Aecker, what are you doing?” a deep voice calls out.
“I can explain.” Aecker stands, the bed springs moaning at the release of his weight.
I stare up at yet another beautiful man, with similar eyes and square jaw. He places a device on the center table, and then his gaze falls on me. This tall man’s eyes widen.
“What happened?” He moves closer, lifting my hair from my face, his other hand―fingers unbelievably icy―grips my chin, raising my face to the light.
“I couldn’t leave her…” Aecker begins.
“Who did this to you?” the man asks, sitting me down beside him, allowing the creaks and groans of the mattress to once again spring to life.
“She has no idea,” Aecker replies. It’s almost like his words filter right through me, and I feel like I am falling into a downward spiral, face first, swirling into the void where the forgotten stray.
It’s all sitting wrong with me; my sudden memory loss, and the fact that this boy known as Aecker called me a stalker. But the most disturbing, are the feelings I just experienced between him and me. It felt sinful, but I couldn’t stop myself. So perhaps it was just as well the stranger interrupted when he did, or who knows what would have happened.
The tall man stands, clears his throat and asks me my name. From the corner of my eye, I see Aecker shaking his head.
“Do you have a name? Or shall I just call you ‘girl’?”
“No, sir.” I shake my head, too.
“Sir?” His head jerks in Aecker’s direction then back to me, as a look of confusion appears in his eyes. He takes a few steps back, like I’m infected with some horrific disease that he will do anything to protect himself from. “Do you remember anything at all?”
I continue to shake my head as if I were made of nothing but wires and conduits―something completely mechanical that is unable to think or feel, just follow orders.
“She must be a City Dweller.” His words are said with distaste, sounding like he wants nothing more than to spit on the floor at the mere thought of something as hideous as me infiltrating his life.
When he notices the bracelet around my wrist, his shoulders slump dramatically. Closing his eyes and pressing his long, dark lashes against tanned skin, he looks as if he is trying desperately to hold back something, yet impatience appears in his voice.
“She’s a Tracker. She must leave right now,” he states with finality, making me feel like I have successfully drowned in that black void where my forgotten memories live, where I will be washed away and swallowed up, never to be seen again.
“She does not look anything like a Tracker!” Aecker’s words are defensive.
“There are whispers of the new generation.”
“It doesn’t matter, Dyllian!” Aecker says passionately, moving closer and pushing the older boy away so that he is now standing between us.
“You know it does. You have to get rid of her. If they find her, if Cupola even catches one scent of this intruder and your involvement with her, you will be killed and I can’t do anything to stop it. Trackers bring nothing but death. You know that!”
Aecker moves even closer to me, his hands come to rest on my shoulders as he stares into my eyes. “She’s nothing like them.”
“What is a Tracker?” My thoughts are finally voiced.
Dyllian steps back, resting an elbow against the wall. With the other hand, he pulls out a dirty old rag and wipes his face. “Trackers are soldiers, spies, assassins. They are here to kill any Inborns and infiltrate their hideouts. To bring violent death to Believers and make examples of their flaws.”
“Believers of what?” I interrupt again.
Dyllian’s eyes pin mine so strongly, I feel like a deer staring down an eager hunter’s arrow.
“Of anything.”
Aecker notices my distress, and I grip my hands together so they don’t see me shaking. Fear is a weakness.
“Like I said,” Aecker strokes my cheek with the back of his fingers, “You are not one of them.”
Despite his tender eyes holding mine, trying to offer comfort, his words still burn a hole through my chest. A deep and intense heat causes my heart to beat erratically, because I realize that he is looking at me like I am his only possession; his to protect until his very last breath. And this time, I don’t mind the way it makes me feel.
As Dyllian turns to study me, something alerts my brain that my small, dark world is about to be buried by this revelation, and the flicker of hope I saw in Aecker’s eyes just moments ago is about to be extinguished. I know why my heart feels as if it is on fire; I want to be his hope, but I don’t know how I possibly can be. If I am a Tracker, it will mean the death of something that is being born between us. I might not know who or what I am, but I know unequivocally that I don’t want to live without the promise of a future and a life beaming in Aecker’s eyes.
I like the way it makes me feel.
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