(Excerpt #1 from Withered, the bridge novella between The Kings and Monsters)…
“How much longer until they get here?” asked Evie. The twenty-six Sovereigns of the Thirteen sat around the enormous table, discussing current situations in hushed tones. Evelynne D’Angelo turned to her husband Roman, who sat at the head of the long table. “And how many wardens are coming?”
“Five will be arriving,” he told her. “And we’ve just a few minutes until they show up. Long enough to prepare.”
“For their sentinels too?” Sentinels were enigmatic beings, human in appearance but otherwise completely supernatural. They possessed the ability to transport anywhere at any point in time, even past magical warding. They also had the power to heal. Both of these gifts were said to have been given to them by the Storyteller because a sentinel’s one and only job was to protect his or her given warden. The Storyteller was this dimension’s version of a god or overseer or – whatever you wanted to call it. In that respect, sentinels were a little like guardian angels.
Evie watched her husband go still. He raised a brow in interest. “Do you know, I hadn’t even thought of that? Leave it to you to do so.” His pupils dilated a little, his gaze darkening on her the way it did sometimes. Usually before he held her up against a wall, slid his teeth into her neck, and made crazy-good love to her for hours on end.
Evie tried not to show him how turned-on the sudden thought made her. She held her emotions in check like a queen was supposed to and said, “The sentinels will be able to make it past the wards. They can go anywhere their wardens are,” she told him. “So I hope you planned on extra possible visitors.”
There had been five extra empty chairs placed at the end of the table for the wardens, but she wondered whether they might need more.
Roman thought for a moment, his eyes dropping to her lips before he finally smiled slowly and looked away. “Hopefully they won’t deem it necessary. The wardens are meeting with their sovereigns, nothing more. Sentinels arrive when their charges are in danger and even then, only when they are called.”
Roman stood slowly, and the talking at the table stopped, all eyes turning to him. “As you all know, a new force has entered our world. His name is Vicium Mehemii, or Vicium if you don’t feel like the mouthful.”
Smiles around the table, but everyone was aware of the gravity of the situation.
“With Vicium comes chaos, and no one knows exactly what form this chaos will take or what effect it will have on the planet. We only know that our very dear friend and mentor, Katrielle, is terrified of him. I know that I speak for all of us when I say that’s enough for me.”
Nods of agreement all around. Some eyes flashed protectively. Katrielle – or Lalura Chantelle – had been there for each and every one of them in their time of need.
“Katrielle is not present tonight because I feel it’s crucial to avoid involving her any more than absolutely necessary. If experience has taught us all anything, it’s that Vicium will target her above all others. Even his greatest enemy, Bantariax.”
No one could disagree with that. The Table of the Thirteen was well acquainted with mortal enemies going after loved ones, particularly beautiful mates. It was something Evie sometimes felt guilty for writing about in her paranormal romance novels. After all, if this new world was truly watched over by someone called the Storyteller, what if everything Evie wrote actually happened in some alternate dimension too? How much pain was she causing innocent people?
“I’m not even sure how comfortable I am with you being here, Evangeline,” Roman said, turning to the Dragon Queen.
“But you’re also well aware you can’t keep me away,” said Eva with a slight smile.
Evie grinned. “Yep, basically.”
Roman’s eyes sparkled as he went on. “And on the subject of loved ones, it’s also important to note that when Vicium entered our world, so did Bantariax the Great Black. As you know, he is Katrielle’s first and greatest love. Unfortunately, in the struggle with Vicium, Bantariax was viciously dismantled,” continued Roman.
He waited a moment for this to sink in before continuing. But they were all aware of the situation anyway, so he didn’t wait long.
“Now Katrielle is not even certain he is alive. According to her latest report, his locations were snuffed out on her map. It’s possible he’s dead. It’s also possible he’s simply too weak to emit magic. Whatever the case, his location or locations must be ascertained. And more importantly – so must Vicium’s.”
“We are unfortunately new to this dimension and are not as acquainted with its slightly different nuances as I would like us to be for the magnitude of this situation. Which is why I’ve brought in outside help.”
“The wardens,” said Caliban the Unseelie King.
Roman nodded once. “As you’re now aware, the wardens in essence work for us in this world. However, they are still divided into groups – clans, they’re called. And each clan is tended to by its own leader. I made the warden leaders across the globe aware of the dangerous state of affairs. I then chose the five most successful warden clans, and asked that representatives from each be sent here tonight. They were given devices to allow them past our warding, and they will arrive any minute.”
It seemed kismet that he stopped talking just then, as in that very moment, five separate lights began to form in the empty space at the end of the long room. It would have been nice to believe that wardens were just extra punctual, but the truth was the items they’d been given were charmed to transport them at that precise point in time. Ready or not.
The five lights brightened, condensed, and hardened into five people. There were no open portals or swirling pathways; the items they’d been given were transport charms, usable only once, and capable of taking someone directly from one place in time to another in a single blink. The transport charms took forever to make and a lot of magic. But they were the only items capable of containing the magic necessary to carry their passengers past the wards around any meeting of the Table of the Thirteen.
“Welcome,” greeted Roman, addressing the five new guests. “Thank you for coming.”
The newcomers had barely finished coalescing fully into solid form when Roman spoke, so he had their attention at once. But these were wardens, cautious by nature, so it was only a matter of seconds before they were looking around the room.
Evie studied the five figures. As quickly as she could with her vampire attention to detail, she allotted their appearances to memory.
There were two women and three men. They were all dressed similarly in practical clothing such as jeans, boots, and either military-styled canvas or leather jackets. Weapons were not generally allowed at meetings of political leaders, but the sovereigns in that room were more than capable of taking care of themselves, especially against human weapons, so no such rule had been extended to the wardens. Hence, despite the fact that they all hid their weapons with experienced acuity, it was clear they were all armed. To the teeth.
According to Roman’s intel they hailed from the Sirius, Rigel, Draco, Vega – and Monsters – clans. By general rule, the warden clans acquired their names from the stars in the sky, or celestial bodies in general. All clans followed this rule but one of them. The Monsters MC clan was different. It was nomadic. It lacked any specific geographic jurisdiction. And most importantly, it was composed completely of monsters. At least, that was how they saw themselves. The motto on their black leather jackets was evidence enough to that end. The scrawled white lettering read: The good, the bad, the cursed.
There were thirteen Monsters clan members, twelve brothers and one leader. Evie had no idea who the leader of the Monsters clan was; he went unnamed, and no amount of magic researching seemed capable of divulging the information. For Roman to contact him, he’d had to go through one of his men.
But according to record, so far the clan had been successful in every single job the sovereigns had sent them on. They always got their man or woman, always did what needed to be done. Always. Evie saw no reason to deny the clan their privacy by insisting on any meetings with their leader. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Evie’s gaze fell on one of the women first as if drawn to her. She wore a thick braid of long honey blonde hair streaked nearly white in places with sun, and had light greenish-gray eyes so intense, they made Evie feel the woman was older than her appearance of perhaps early- to mid-thirties. She was tall and slim. Evie recognized the cording of plenty of muscle underneath her practical clothing. Her fingernails were short, and there were cuts and scrapes across both sides of her hands. The wounds were common for a warden and did nothing to detract from the woman’s exceptional beauty. There was honestly something about her… something un-nameable or place-able, that bewildered Evie.
The woman looked warily at the lot of them from where she stood, those eyes taking in every single detail of the room. Their light gray-green color was severe and lovely, but their keenness was frankly unnerving. Based on the general description Evie had been given before the meeting, this was apparently Genevieve Rayne, from the Sirius clan.
The other woman had a similar build and bore similar marks of battle. But she was a brunette with a mass of shining dark brown hair pulled into a ponytail behind her. Wisps of it had escaped the elastic to frame a lovely face with big brown eyes, thick lashes, and full lips. One of those lips had been busted open recently, and a fading bruise marked her left cheek. Somehow despite the trauma, she was still quite beautiful. This was Angela Clemens, “Angel” to her friends, and she was sent by the Vega clan.
Interesting, Evie thought. Are all female wardens gorgeous?
She moved on to the men. All three were tall, and because they were wardens they were not surprisingly built strong. But that was where their similarities ended. The first she studied was a man somewhere in his mid-fifties with short-cropped gray hair and skin hardened by the sun. He had eyes the same color as his hair, slate and hard as the rest of him. There was something commanding about him, calm and capable. He met her gaze as if he could tell she was sizing him up – and he did the same to her. She felt herself blush a little, which was strange. His gray eyes glinted, and his lips curled just the tiniest bit. Okay, she thought, her heart rate increasing. Again, based on the descriptions of the wardens she’d been given prior to the meeting, she figured this one was Graham Campbell from the Rigel clan.
The second guy had light brown hair, shoulder-length. He was young, probably no more than somewhere in his mid-twenties, but already bore the brutal evidence of his difficult job in the form of a scar across his forearm. It ran through a tribal tattoo of a dragon. Ah, she thought as the young man studied the room with eyes the color of sapphires. This was Elijah Crestfall from the Draco clan. He was a little famous in warden circles, as he was apparently quite the expert with swords. Particularly katanas. Particularly in taking off people’s heads with katanas.
Evie swiveled her gaze to the fifth and final clan member.
At once, she straightened in her seat, her muscles clenching instinctively, her predatory senses prickling. She watched her vision go all-pupil, and the colors in the room changed.
The Monster, she thought as her fingers and toes tingled. This was Jacob Crow.