Don’t worry. There will be a teaser, but first. The cover reveal of the next installment of War of Nytefall:
I love how this came out. Yes, I’m a sucker for blue, especially this kind of blue. The Star of David is a nice touch as well. Obviously, something within this story will deal with gems . . . I might as well make that part of the sneak peek too. Enjoy.
Calling her bunny to her shoulder, Lost silently follows the robe-wearing elder across the barren room. She abruptly darts ahead to open the door, the gesture enough to earn her a blood candy from Gregorio. Feeling happier, she skips into the office, which is filled with cabinets surrounding a desk that is too large to fit through the doorway. Taking her usual seat, Lost places her bunny on the chair next to her and watches as it sits with its decrepit ears standing straight up. Worried that the animal is too filthy for such a meeting, the Dawn Fang grabs a mug of liquid from the table and dumps it on her pet. The aroma of coffee fills the room and the rodent starts to spin in a circle in an attempt to catch its own tail. Before it can move from its spot, Gregorio slams a tall container over the bunny and chair. Clamps at the bottom of the tube slam into the stone floor and hold strong as the hyperactive animal rattles around inside. The clanging is enough to make Lost’s ears bleed, so she thrusts her hand through the side to catch her pet by the scruff of the neck and places it on her lap.
“Bunny needs to stay away from coffee,” she explains with a smile. Stroking the animal’s knotted fur, she folds her legs beneath her and tries to rock on the creaky chair. “I wasn’t really lying. Mom wants me to live with her when I feel comfortable and we agreed that the youngest I could be is eighteen. I decided that my birthday was two weeks ago. The problem is that I don’t know if I really belong there. Maybe I should go to Nytefall first since I’ve yet to visit. Bob said I could stay with the other Vengeance Hounds and they have the best snacks. Clyde even offered to give me a cabin in the fortress, but I think he meant forest because nobody puts a cabin in the middle of a fortress. Then, there’s the boy I kissed last month, but that didn’t taste right. I’m worried about the brewing war between Serab and the Yagervan tribes, which a corrupt noble in Gods’ Voice is trying to create. The price of radishes is getting far too high in the village to the north, so they might have to find another vegetable for their afternoon salads. I keep hearing about this Vampire Queen too. Windemere has so many problems that I’m not sure if I should stay in one place or try to fix them. I can make the bad people behave, which will improve the world, right?”
“That’s a lot to consider,” Gregorio says while he leans back in his chair. Kicking off his slippers, the vampiric gnome gazes at the blackened ceiling where he has painted several constellations. “Your final concern is one that I’ve thought about at length and I’ve yet to find an answer. Dawn Fangs have great power, which means they can reshape the world. If we wished, we could conquer Windemere and become either a scourge or a blessing to the mortals. All of us have felt the temptation to leave our mark, but that inevitably comes with a price. Such actions would expose our people to the world and Clyde is right that the time hasn’t come for such a revelation.”
“But can’t we force the mortals to believe that we don’t mean them any harm?” the womb-born excitedly interrupts. Receiving a scowl, she stops rocking her chair and places her bunny on her head. “Guess using force doesn’t mix with telling them we’re harmless. Your thoughts are right that we would be undoing freewill and Gabriel might not be thankful for that. It’s not nice to anger the Destiny God even if it means we might get to see his black unicorn. Dominating others even in the name of peace is still wrong because you’re enslaving them. Still, I really want to help Windemere instead of helping my mom serve drinks, pies, and herself to customers. On the other hand, I would get to use the hot spring whenever I wanted and there’s one goblin who always sneaks me free treats.”
“Considering you have eternity, you can work your way up to changing the world.”
“But eternity is so many hours and I’m already bored!”
“Is all of this the reason that you can’t focus?”
“Well, that and the air outside smells funny.”
Lost grabs a piece of paper and quill to draw two pictures, one a set of wavy lines and the other a mess of scribbles. “Normally, things smell like this neat one, but more condensed because of all the ordered scents. For example, this would be grass and this one would be a sparrow and the third one is you when you forget to bathe. I can sort through those as long as I concentrate. Lately, the air has been more like this and it takes a lot more work to sort through the mess. One scent that I can’t recognize keeps getting tangled with the others, but it’s not always there. Although, it’s been appearing more often lately and I feel like it’s something I have to pay attention to. Could one of the students have left steaks in the oven and forgotten about? It happened that time you visited Clyde and we all swore that we wouldn’t tell you about having to rebuild the kitchen. Oh . . . Do I have your permission to wipe your memory of that last part, Grandpa Roman?”
“No, I’m going to pretend I wasn’t listening,” Gregorio replies with an amused chuckle. A rattling draws his attention to a wooden cabinet in the corner, which is shaking enough to shed thick layers of dust. “That’s strange. I’m not sure what’s in there, but something really wants to get out. If my faded memory serves me right then I think it was a gift from Clyde and Mab that they handed to me long ago. Definitely reminds me of a piece they had in their first hideout. No idea why they wouldn’t keep it, so my memory must be mixing things up. Help me move these out of the way, so we can take a look.”
Instead of doing as Gregorio asks, Lost leaps over the desk and grabs the gnome by the back of his robe. She puts him on her shoulder and whistles for her bunny to bash down the door, her mind reaching out to take control of the other students. The sound of hardening crystal can be heard over the echoing thunder of feet hurrying up the stairs to the surface. Lost has the other womb-born run faster than their bodies can handle, many of them snapping their legs. The injured limbs are ignored and they are forced to continue charging thanks to the powerful psychic. Taking up the rear, she telekinetically hurls whatever she sees behind her without turning around. It is only when she passes a mirror that she notices the crimson crystal that is devouring the walls and seeping into the adjoining rooms. Coming to the stairs, she takes them by tens and nearly barrels into the crowd that is scrambling to get away from the ravenous jewels. Growing impatient, Lost uses her powers to violently eject all of the other Dawn Fangs from the lair and sprints to safety an instant before a deadly spire bursts from the entrance. The tip of the protrusion splinters to release a collection of five gems that sail into the sky and disappear over the horizon.
“Is it safe to touch?” Lost asks as she yanks off one of her own fingers. She throws the severed digit at the crystal and watches it flop onto the grass. “That means we can smash our way back in and have our revenge on the evil pretty rock. Your Princess General orders you to attack and-”
“Everyone needs to rest and let me think,” Gregorio snaps, his eyes straining to see in the sunlight. Throwing a ball of wind at the crystal, he hits it in the exact spot he needs to shatter the spire and the first ten feet of the blockage. “This fake ruby is fragile, which might be because it came from a very old trap spell. I wonder if this was meant for someone else and my lair was too big a space for it to maintain its full strength. Either way, this has to be a bad omen that we need to examine.”
“So, do you know who did this?”
“I have no idea.”
“That’s nothing to be upset about.”
“It is when I damn well know I should recognize this.”
“Oh . . . At least the trap is pretty.”