In a World Blind to Magic...

A Daring Mage. A Damaged Monster. A Deathly Mission.

CHEST OF STONE, Chap. 1

The glowing Celtic spiral tattooed on my wrist hurt like a bitch. It pulsed, too. Maybe this time. Maybe…
Plop. Plop. Plop. Dammit to hell. Blood dripped from my nose to plop into the brownie mix. That sucked. My magic sucked. Everything sucked.
All I’d wanted to do was light the burner with my fireflies. Easy peasy, right?
I’d moved a bus with my magic. Beheaded a rapist with my magic. Defeated a mage with my magic.
But for six friggin’ months, I couldn’t do shit with my magic.
That final battle with Tommy… I’d tapped out my magic! 

SCROLL DOWN to read more of Chapter 1, Chest of Stone

chest of stone - front cover-web.jpg

Chest of Stone

 
Out Nov. 14

Mage Clea Reese hunts a deadly Creature that ritually slaughtered three shifter children. In order to unearth the beast, she needs the aid of her broken lover, James Larrimer.

Together, they aim to smoke out the killer while pursuing Clea’s quest for the magical Chest of Stone and preventing the Magical and the Mundane worlds from splintering. 

Their hunt for the beast drags them from the Mundane realm to the Magic one, where a lethal sorceress seeks to destroy Clea and procure the chest for herself.

The race for the Chest is on, but time's against Clea and Larrimer when the Creature kidnaps another child and seeks Clea for its own dark purposes.

 

CHEST OF STONE, Chapter 1...

The glowing Celtic spiral tattooed on my wrist hurt like a bitch. It pulsed, too. Maybe this time. Maybe…
Plop. Plop. Plop. Dammit to hell. Blood dripped from my nose to plop into the brownie mix. That sucked. My magic sucked. Everything sucked.
All I’d wanted to do was light the burner with my fireflies. Easy peasy, right?
I’d moved a bus with my magic. Beheaded a rapist with my magic. Defeated a mage with my magic.
But for six friggin’ months, I couldn’t do shit with my magic.
That final battle with Tommy… I’d tapped out my magic!  
I tossed the brownie pan into the sink. It shattered.
Without my magic, how was I supposed to find the friggin’ Chest of Stone?
My fingers curled against the counter. Breathe. Think.
I slumped at the kitchen table. My headache spiked. I pulled off the band wrapping my dreads, curled a finger around one and twirled. Nothing was normal anymore, not even my dreadlocks, which were a shiny blonde that glistened so brightly, strangers commented. So not helpful to my staying under The Union’s radar objective.   
Dammitall, I wasn’t giving up on my magic. I would not give up.      

I entered my bedroom, pulled by the forbidden. My bare feet padded across the cool wood, the lush area rug, until I stood beside my bed before a painting. Danger and desire threaded through me, tendrils that caressed me like smoky wisps.
The Chest of Bone.
A scent tickled me, rosemary and sage.
I lifted the painting that covered the hidden safe and pressed my palm to the safe’s door keyed only to my print. The small door whooshed open. There it was, the beautiful ebony box. Deep in my bones, I felt what lay inside the box. When I drew it out, the box warmed to my touch.
On the edge of the bed, I set the plain rectangular box on my lap. So smooth, so lush, glazed by the moonlight streaming in from the window.
The box had no lid, no opening. But that was a lie. I was The Key. No other could open the box. None. Not even a Guardian. I touched the top, and the lid yawned like an awakening lotus flower.
There, inside the box—the Chest of Bone. Its curved lid beckoned me. Did I dare?
I’d first glimpsed it as a teen’s plastic jewel box, complete with twirling ballerina, not the oval bone coffer sitting before me. I bit my lip. Odd, semi-sentient thing. The five chests changed to suit their environment. Incredible pain and death could have been avoided if I’d only first touched the jewelry box with my flesh. Instead, I’d been wearing gloves, and the chest hadn’t responded. Seven months ago? It felt like centuries.
Each of the five chests contained universes, as well as slivers of souls. Each ordered the magic of a particular species, the one before me belonging to the mages, like me. Each only responded to The Key. How ironic, how amusing, how absurd.
My dark mood deepened.
When I reunited the five chests with their accompanying guardians, the magic retwining with the mundane world would synchronize, harmonize, become one, as it once was millennia ago.
Now? The replaiting was chaos—destroyed Sedona and St. Petersburg, created the flower fields in Australia, vanished the Golden Eagles. How many other events hadn’t reached my ears?  
As The Key, I mattered, a fact I found ridiculous. Because of that, The Union, my brother, others sought to possess me, control me.
But if I opened the Chest of Bone, I would be in control.
Wielding its power, I would find the Chest of Sone. The chest would solve all my problems with Lulu and Ronan, too. I would use it to find my lost lover, James Larrimer. We’d be a family, a happy one.
Except the chest wasn’t mine. I wasn’t to touch it, just keep it safe. It was a terrible and dangerous thing. Anouk said it could destroy me, but…
I set the box on the bed, brushed my fingers across the rich velvet lining. The chest’s lid glowed warm and welcoming. It knew me. Although I hadn’t touched it, pins and needles feathered up my fingers.
Outside its protective container, it would assume a new form. Camouflage. I could hide it on my dresser or in a drawer. Use it at will.
Its ancient patina glowed. It throbbed like a human heart.
My index finger atremble, I touched the chest’s lid. A thrill rolled through me. Golden runes slid across its lid and down its sides, their swooping letters, Tolkienesque, interspersed with The Orobus, The Dragon, The Eye. When the symbols covered the entire box, they stilled.
The chest hummed, the sound oscillating inside me, a half-remembered melody, beautiful and inscrutable.
All I had to do was lift the lid, and the cosmos would be mine.
Calm caressed my shoulders, my back, my mind. Delicious melodies wove inside me and coiled toward my pool of magic.
Now. Do it now!
I slid my fingers inside the ebony box to free the Chest of Bone.
“Fuck you, asswipe!” screamed my ward, Lulu. “Kids call me Bloodsuckerhead.”
“That’s a cool vamp!” Ronan shouted back.
No. Stop fighting. My fingers crept further inside the box.
“You’re not my boyfriend anymore!” she hollered back.
“News to me!” he said.
No. I savored the brush of cool velvet, the warmth of the chest.
“They call me Agent Orange, too.” A shriek.
“Your hair’s copper, a gorgeous shade.”
Tingles skating up my hands. Remembered power.
“And Burning Bush!”
“Don’t, Lulu!” Ronan hollered.
“Bite me!” Another scream. “Help!”
I snapped back to the now, stared at my hands, which were cupped around the chest.
Shit. Was I crazy? What had I been thinking?
I jerked my hands away, closed the box, shoved it into the safe. I slammed shut the door and raced from the room. “Lulu! Ronan!”
The bathroom door was open, cold light splashing into the hall. I stepped inside. Half of Lulu’s luxuriant hair pooled on the floor like a bloody stain as she struggled with Ronan, the scissors way too close to his chest.
“Stop!” I said at her bathroom entrance. “Stop it now!”
They froze, grappling statues.
Lulu, the high school girl, my mentor’s daughter—a girl I loved with my whole heart. Ronan, the huge orphaned boy we “adopted” back in New Hampshire, now a college student. Both oozed pain and sorrow, both of their lives as off-kilter as mine.
“Oh, Lulu,” I said.
Her freckled face whitened with anger. “I cut it, all right. I cut it, and I’m gonna finish cutting it until it’s gone, gone, gone.”

I lay in bed, darkness cradling me, so hot I sipped my bourbon on the rocks, rather than neat.
The bourbon was a palliative. Certainly not a cure for the emotions pinballing around inside me. Dave… Lulu’s dad, my beloved mentor, homicide victim, and former Guardian of the Chest of Bone. He would’ve said I’d experienced emotional overload, in that kind-firm way he’d possessed.
Lulu and Roman, acting out, behaving as only teens could. Gods, how could Dave think I’d be a good guardian for his daughter?
Right now, I was so screwed up I’d been drawn to again fall into the chest’s cosmos, to feel its magical infinity, to feed on the power of those souls who’d given themselves to strengthen it.
I’d imagined it would fix all our ills. It wouldn’t. Of course it wouldn’t.
No, only I could do that.
Time to cancel the pity party and get my act in gear.  

What had awakened me? My bourbon glass sat empty on the bedside table. The lights were out, and at some point, I’d fallen asleep.
I listened, eyes scratchy with exhaustion, and reached out with my empath senses.
Someone. Some thing was in the living room. I tuned my emotional senses, tried to understand. Hunger. Animus.
Grace slept at the end of the bed, her usual snores wuffling her cheeks. The thing hadn’t awakened her. Odd. My movement did just that, but I hushed her with a gesture, whispered her to stay.
My hand found the throwing knife I kept between the mattress, then I padded to the closet, eased it open. With habitual movements, I geared up with my gun, several throwing knives, and my small Bowie. I brushed the katana James has gifted me. Not to self: learn to use katana.
James. Where are you?
 Knife in my left hand, Glock in my right, I eased into the hall and again unfurled my empath senses.
Shit. Whatever was downstairs wasn’t human, its emotional signature off-the-charts strange. It was in the living room, that much I knew, but not moving.
Listening for me? Had it heard me? Damn.
I stood still as ice, doffing my emo baggage, while donning that familiar, pre-battle calm.
My bare feet schussed across the wood floor, down the hall toward the three steps that led to the living room. Faint moonlight from the picture window filtered through the stygian dark. I peered around the hall corner, felt a single bead of sweat trace its way down my temple.
Took a cleansing breath.
I slid around the corner, back pressed to the wall. Clear. I had a straight line to the living room’s three steps and moved forward.
The closer I got, the more that “otherness” clung to my skin like mucous. What the hell?
Ten steps, eight, three.
The living room’s darkness yawned. A shape, cloaked in the room’s inky black, little more than a shadow, its overriding emotions ones of hunger, desire, death. Tall, maybe seven feet. Shit. Arms, yes, long ones, outstretched, ovoid head, long, long legs, but skinny.
From a crack in the curtains, a moonlit beam brushed the creature’s head.
My brain scrambled to process. Splotchy pinkish-red shiny skin, hairless, long canid jaws—a Daliesque version—teeth overlapping, small deepset eyes, and strings of drool stretching downward. Gross. And scary as shit.
What was it doing? Smelling. I could hear its snuffles, like the dogs, only louder, scenting for something.
What would James do?  
That pierced my brain just as the creature’s head swiveled slowly in my direction, eyes now a putrid glowy lime green, staring right into mine.
It made a chittery sound, like a thousand bug legs scraping together. I hated chittery.

To Be Continued...