This is my last post of the New Year, New Book 2016 Blog Tour. If you’d like to recap and check out every author, click here.
Today I’m featuring Christie V Powell, and her novel The Spectra UNEARTHED
Want to know what it’s about?
Read on to read the first chapter 🙂
Chapter 1: In the Dark
Most girls would be afraid to wander dark tunnels, but Keita Sage did her best to seem fearless. The soldiers who had dragged her into the underground maze were far behind. She could avoid the remainder with ease. Now she just needed to find an exit and she’d never have to feel the damp, oppressive air again.
This was turning out more difficult than expected.
A soldier’s steady footfalls echoed through the stone passageways. His surety must come from experience, not sight—no clan could see in the dark.
On the way in she had caught a glimpse of a concrete building, a squat toad at the mouth of his burrow. Surely the soldiers spent their nights, or their mealtimes, in the open air. This one would eventually lead her to the surface.
Her skin was tingling, a sign she’d been without light for too long. She was in no danger, not yet, but the worry lurked. Without either light or food, she would starve. If she felt the end coming, if she had no other option, would she let them find her? They didn’t mean to kill her. The soldiers had passed up countless opportunities for that on the long trek here. If she gave up, they’d provide light, or at least food. But the thought of trading freedom for life was repulsive.
Keita sensed a knot of men approaching her soldier. She growled, a sound that never left her throat, and edged back into the lonely darkness. Dodging one or two would be easy when she could feel their presence, down to the least motion of impatient, twitching fingers, but a large group was too unpredictable.
The darkness pressed against her eyes until she could no longer tell if they were open or shut. Even the chill in the air had a dreamlike quality, and the thought tickled in her brain. Maybe this was a dream. Last winter, the whole complicated season, was nothing but a bad dream. Any minute now she would wake up and walk out into the dappled sunshine and soft piney smell of the Inner Vale. Father—alive and well—would be bustling around the courtyard, and her biggest concern would be avoiding the escorts he insisted accompany her everywhere.
She was almost crazy enough to believe it.
Keita squatted on the cold stone floor, still feeling the men gathered further up the tunnel. A group of soldiers might mean that they were guarding something—like the exit. If the door was right there, just a few feet away, she might risk making herself smaller to get past.
A boot bumped a piece of gravel. A tiny noise, and yet Keita whirled around. She had sensed nothing behind her—no man, not even a rat or a toad. Sprite sensing was not easily fooled, and yet the feeling of being watched crept down her spine and tingled in her bare feet.
“You’re safe. I’m here.”
Keita almost screamed. Jasper Smelt, leader of her captors, was the last person she wanted to meet in a place like this. She jumped so badly that her head slammed into the rock ceiling.
A hand grasped her shoulder. “You all right?”
She jerked away, even as her mind, sticky as spring mud, registered that he wasn’t groping in the dark, that he had seen her jump. Somehow, impossibly, he could see through the blackness.
He could see her now.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” Jasper said. “I rescued you.”
To remain silent would prove her fear. Keita snorted. “You call that a rescue? To have soldiers drag me across the kingdoms?”
“I had to. I needed to get you before the other Stygians did.”
She grimaced. Competing to catch their prey sounded exactly like something a Stygian would do.
They’d murdered most of the royal families, and conquered all six Spectra kingdoms with no thought for the inhabitants there. Little more would surprise her. “I’ve got things under control,” Jasper went on.
“Come on. I’ll get you food.”
Keita blinked. “You want me alive?” “Of course. You can trust me.”
“Trust you?” She tried a derisive laugh, but it came out shaky. “I know what you’ve done. You joined the Stygians so you could take your father’s throne. Why would I trust you?”
“Because we were friends.”
It wasn’t quite true. They’d met during the four days of the annual Summit Council meeting, and she hadn’t seen him since. She could still remember the worst moment, standing alone except for the snowtipped mountains peering over the great stone wall. Their fathers were closeted together, deciding her future, and she could do nothing but wait. In her worry she did not hear the footsteps or sense his presence. The whisper in her ear came from nowhere: “It isn’t my fault.” By the time she’d turned to look, she saw only his back, clad in the bright colors of royalty, ducking behind a hut. Two months later, all six rulers were dead.
He was waiting for a reply. “You were closer to my brother,” she said. “If this was really about saving old friends, why didn’t you track him down?”
“He’s too…” Jasper hesitated, and then went on,
“Glen is too well protected. Stygians can’t enter the Summit after we take our oaths. You know that.”
She did, but she hadn’t realized he knew her brother’s whereabouts.
His hand returned to her shoulder, and his grip was stronger this time. He pulled, steering her back into the darkness, away from the soldiers still milling a few feet in front of them. For a second she considered breaking free, charging through those men with everything she had… but she didn’t. How could she fight people she couldn’t see?
She turned to Jasper again. “If I can trust you, will you tell me where we are?” she challenged.
“Sure. We’re in Nomelands, under the Scissor Point Outpost.”
She stiffened. Unless she was mistaken—which was entirely possible, curse her useless tutor—they were deep in the Nome kingdom, over a hundred miles from the city where she’d been captured. She’d known they’d been travelling for days—every time she regained consciousness, the scenery had become browner and drier—but she’d had no idea they’d gone so far.
As if reading her thoughts, Jasper added, “You’re safer this way. The others won’t look for you out here.” “I was avoiding them fine on my own. You don’t need to…”
“Donovan entered the search.” She stopped.
“He’s coming in person. Even you can’t hide from him.”
Keita wasn’t sure about that, but she did know that the mention of Donovan’s name caused panic among the royals who had met him. “So you’re betraying your leader?”
Jasper said nothing. “Look, you’re a Stygian. You work for Donovan. You aren’t supposed to help royals like me.” “I’m royal too,” he pointed out.
“But why did you join him in the first place?”
Jasper stopped walking. She turned in his direction, eyebrows uplifted—maybe the expression wasn’t useless, despite the darkness—and waited. At last he spoke. “Donovan didn’t tell us everything. He made a lot of promises. And he kept them too, just not… not like we expected. He doesn’t care about us. He’d turn on any of us in a second if he weren’t so busy chasing the remains of the royal families.”
Keita turned before her expression could reveal her thoughts. That must be why he’d captured her. He didn’t care about old friends. He was after a royal, any royal, so that Donovan would never stop hunting. She’d just been the unlucky one the soldiers had found first.
Jasper took her shoulder again and directed her onward. “You’ll be all right here,” he went on. “I know you don’t like the dark, but Donovan wouldn’t look for you here. And sometime, he’ll have to return to his own kingdom. You can come out then. We’re up in the mountains, just like where you live.”
Mountains? She remembered seeing tiny purple blobs on the horizon, but nothing that looked like proper mountains.
“You’ll see,” Jasper said, as though he could feel her doubt. “Glen told me all about your home. We’ve got pine trees, climbing rocks, everything. You can grow all the plants you want. I know you like that kind of thing.”
Telling Jasper all of those details did sound like something Glen would do. He never did know when to keep his mouth shut. “It sounds nice,” she admitted, “but I can’t stay shut up here. I can’t…”
“Don’t you want to be safe?”
She stopped walking. What would that be like, to be safe? To stop looking over her shoulder for the soldiers that always seemed to be chasing her, no matter how many times she dodged them? To leave the cluttered city behind, with its human gangs and sharp debris waiting to stab at her feet? Could it be possible to leave all the worry, all the fear behind? Would imprisonment be worth it?
Jasper’s hand slipped from her shoulder to her hand. His grip was stronger than she’d expected. “You’ll be safe here,” he said. “I promise.”
Keita had to remind herself that he was just looking for a hostage. “If being safe was so important, I wouldn’t have left the Summit. I left to help my friends, and they still need me. You can let me go free—Donovan will never find all of us.”
“He’d find you.”
“Maybe, but he can’t reach the Summit. Glen and the others are safe there.”
She felt his shrug through his fingers. “For now.”
“Not just for now! You said yourself, the walls repel Stygians. And they’ve got defenses—the traps and things—and he doesn’t even know where it is.”
“He’s not royal. Only the royals ever knew…”
“I told him.”
For a moment she couldn’t speak. Then she leapt back, yanking her hand from his grasp. “You betrayed us!”
His hand guided her a few steps further, and then retreated. “I had to. The other royals wouldn’t let me forget what I did. If Donovan doesn’t stop them, they’ll come after me! They’re dangerous!”
“Well, they’ll be even more dangerous if you don’t let me go! I bet they’re coming after you right now.”
His pregnant pause drained her show of bravado. “I didn’t think of that,” he admitted. A strange jangling noise filled the empty tunnel. He was shuffling around in front of her, boots scuffing the stone floor. Keita took a step back. Whatever he was doing, she wanted nothing to do with it.
“I can handle it,” Jasper decided. “I’m stronger than those girls you were with. Donovan wouldn’t suspect I’ve got you, if I get rid of them. Or maybe I could barter with him, trade them for letting me keep you…”
Keita leapt. Her outstretched hand hit an unseen wall seconds before her body crashed into it. Metal jangled as wire links dug into her skin. Then she bounced back, landing hard on the rough floor. Shaking, she reached for the barrier. Jasper must have been hanging it while he was talking. The wire mesh seemed to grow straight from the rock, woven so finely that not even a mouse could squeeze through.
This changed everything. Nomes like Jasper could break through stone. Those who could not would be held in by a simpler door. No, this barrier was designed for a Sprite. He didn’t grab the first royal he could find. He was after her.
Jasper was breathing fast. “You tried to hurt me.” “I won’t let you harm them.” She shouldn’t be surprised he’d treated her that way. Her heart had no reason to be squeezing as though the feet of stone overhead were falling on it.
“You shouldn’t try to hurt me. I’m protecting you.”
Something sparked in the darkness. Then a face appeared, glowing sickly yellow. Keita had to edge closer to the glinting copper chains to see, but then wished she hadn’t. The flickering light made his face leaner, his eyes more menacing.
“You can’t fight a Stygian,” he growled. “We defeated the kings. We’re picking off the heirs one by one. Your friends are cowering at the Summit. They don’t dare stick their noses beyond the walls.”
He opened his hand. Flames danced on his palm. The flickering light captured her gaze, pointing upward with no fuel to feed it. He shouldn’t be able to do that. “Stygians have the abilities of all six clans. You can’t hurt me. You can’t even hide. We know your weaknesses. We know how to use them. Sprites are afraid of fire, aren’t you?”
Keita stepped back into a solid rock wall. She shouldn’t be showing weakness… but she couldn’t help it. Her memories were dancing in those flames. Grand trees, burning, toppling, dead. Sprites running, screaming, panicking before the blaze. And Father’s face, and what the fire had done to him…
“Don’t you see?” Jasper asked. “This is the only safe place for you. But you can’t try to hurt me. Then you’re no better than they are.”
Keita took a deep, shuddering breath, and forced herself to stand. Her trembling legs barely held her.
“What do you want from me?” she asked.
“I told you. I want to keep you safe.”
A door opened. In the rectangle of bluish light, Keita saw a dark form. Without the glinting eyes, his silhouette was familiar. For a second, she saw the quiet, reserved boy she thought she had known. Then the door shut, and the light was gone.
Nomes and Sprites? I’m in!
If you’d like to know more about Christie’s work, or give her a shout, here’s ways you can find her:
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