Read an Excerpt
The Fallen Prince
A Keepers of Life Novel
By Shea Berkley, Stacy Abrams, Kaleen Harding
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Shea Berkley
All rights reserved.
Be aware. The rumbling of lies can sound like truth.
Dinner is over, and I slouch onto the porch swing. I should be one damaged piece of flesh. Thanks to Kera and the healing power she stole from Navar, there are only a few, faint visible scars on my skin, scars that could've appeared from a skateboarding accident or a rough game of football. No one would know I've been skewered and sliced by an angry mob of mythological creatures. That I have to go back, that I have to tell Kera I have to go back ...
Outwardly, I'm normal, but something's changed within me. I keep chasing after what's different, but it stays one heartbeat ahead. If I think too long about it, my head aches.
Maybe the odd feeling is the reawakening of life. Of being out of the ICU at Mercy Hospital and back home. Back where everyone stares at me.
Today's newspaper lies abandoned on the porch swing next to me. I see the headline dashed across the front page: One dead. One missing. Where is Jason Delgato? The article asks if the two events that happened in less than a week are related. The reporter even suggests Jason had something to do with Pop's death, and that's why he ran. Guilt rips through me. I know what really happened, and Jason's family needs to know. Soon.
I angrily kick out, dragging my sneakers across the porch floor as I swing back. The night air cools my skin. I feel hotter than usual, like I've buried something that wants to come out. I'm so not me right now. I don't know what to think or how to feel. I'm lost — something I've never been before. Ignored, yes. Unloved, absolutely. But lost? Never.
The heat crawls from the pit of my stomach along my ribs and down my right bicep. I hold out my arm and rub at it. The sensation of heat continues to prickle down into my palm.
A flame bursts to life.
The swing stutters to a stop. What the ...?
The reddish-orange flame spits and bites and curls into itself. I snap my fist closed, snuffing it out.
My chest rises and falls, an erratic movement that squeezes air out more than lets it in. I can't look away from my hand, like it's suddenly not my own, like some mad scientist has interchanged my hand for some high-tech flaming one.
I'm not normal. I never have been, but this is crazy strange.
I get hold of myself and slow my breathing. The center of my palm itches. Is it burned? Scarred? Is the fire just waiting for oxygen to snap back to life? I crack my fingers open and peer beneath. Nothing. My fist tightens in panic. Did I imagine it?
No way. I'm not delusional. That's Mom's specialty. She's the one who acts like she's in some drama-laced, badly acted indie film about life on the edge. Breakdowns are her specialty. The more I think about her, and what she's done, the more the heat builds in my belly.
I unfold my fist and the fire reappears. I can feel the air heat around it.
"It can't be real," I say even as I watch the flame flicker and roil, expecting to feel the burn of pain. Nothing.
I died once ... sort of. More like, was given a time-out for being an idiot. I've been given another chance, and it seems like I'm going down the same crazy road I did last time.
If this is real, I can control it. Bend it. Shape it.
I tell the flame to crawl along my finger to the tip. It does. I stare at the dancing light. Wow, pretty freakin' awesome.
I roll it along each joint like a coin trick at a magic show. I bounce it back and forth between my palms. Sparks fly and flutter to the porch, where a few singe the wood. I call it back to my finger and burn my name into the armrest of the swing. The heat is so strong, I accidently burn through the wood. The hole smolders around the edges, the perfect beginning to a porch fire.
I stare at my hand. Glowing while I used my magic was bad enough, but being lit on fire is a whole new level of weird. I shake my hand, but instead of putting out the fire, a fireball spits toward the yard where the impact creates a basketball-sized hole. Another fireball hits the railing. Flames sputter and grow along the wood. I jump up and snuff out the flames with my bare hands. Smoke curls and slowly disappears. Grandpa's gonna be pissed when he sees that.
A flicker reappears in my palm. I sag back onto the swing and glare at my hand. Like I don't have enough problems. Why this? Why now?
The screen door bangs shut and I freeze. Kera stands outside the door, her long legs sprouting out of a pair of cut-off jean shorts, her shirt a flowing wisp of fabric that skims her hip bones. Her eyes lock on my hand and the flame dancing there. Hesitantly, she steps closer until she's within reach. I can see the fire's reflection in her horrified eyes.
"It doesn't burn," I say.
She doesn't say anything, only grasps my hand and rolls my fingers closed. The flame quietly dies.
"It's weird, I know, but that doesn't mean something's wrong."
"No, Dylan. Something is wrong." A strange look enters her eyes, like she no longer knows who I am.
I've never known Kera to be afraid. Her strength is what gave me hope when I couldn't go on. She was the only one who cared for me back then, and right now I need her to see me, not dwell on the weird shit that's going on. "It's okay. It's just a little fire."
"You can pretend all you want, but something is not right about us."
I stand and take her stiff body into my arms. She left her realm, her family and friends, her entire world and everything that's ever made sense to her, to be with me. It's something I never thought she'd do. I've got to stop thinking of me and be there for her.
"There's nothing wrong with us," I say. "We're good. It's just the power. Neither of us is used to it yet."
She struggles free and backs away. "That isn't it. In Teag, there is a sickness that can cause a first's power to surge. It lies dormant for years, but under the right circumstances, it flares to life. My father and everyone else would lock themselves away when it did. They live in fear of it because the surge is primeval. In some, it causes pain. In others, they cause pain to those around them."
"This," I say, nodding to my hand, "it doesn't hurt. I'm not in pain, Kera, and I'm not going to hurt you or anyone else."
"Everyone says that. There are stories. Bad stories ..."
"What has that got to do with us? We took this magic. It wasn't brought on by someone sneezing in our faces. We just need to get used to what we have. Instead of ignoring it, sooner or later you're going to have to accept what's been given to you."
"You're right." She rubs her forehead. "I'm not communicating this well. You say it's a blessing. I'm not so sure. There's something more going on inside us, like an infection, but we're not sick; we're changed. Really changed. I've wanted to be like everyone else for so long, and here it is finally inside me ... but I hesitate in using it. We took it. It's not ours. It's stolen magic, and stolen magic —"
She suddenly stops and focuses on my hand. Her look of horror morphs into one of fear, and it's directed straight at me. She turns and heads for the woods, a ghost of a shadow in the fading light.
"Kera," I yell, but she doesn't stop. "Damn it, Kera! Stop!"
What the hell is wrong with her? She just said she got what she's always wanted. Why is she acting like it's the worst thing ever? No, like I'm the worst thing ever.
The screen door slams again and Grandpa stops next to me. His hand falls on my shoulder. "What's all the yelling about?"
His hand feels heavy, restraining. Controlling. I'm not one of his war buddies he can boss around. I've got things under control. I shrug his hand off. "I don't know, she just left."
That she didn't stop when I called irritates me far more than it should, but I can't help it. She should listen to me. Bad stuff happens because she doesn't listen. I take off after her amid Grandpa's call to leave well enough alone. Anger bubbles up inside me, and I flip him off before I slam the back gate open and head for the woods.
I should've known using the bird was a bad idea. Grandpa's not one to let an insult lie. Being a cop, and a kick-ass war veteran, he expects to be shown some respect. And he should. He's earned it. But I'm not in the mood to humor anyone, and now I'm getting chased down by a guy who knows how to kill a man with his bare hands without the use of any magic. That scares even me.
There's only one thing to do. I speed up. If a guy has powers, he should use them, and I race away from Grandpa, following the scent of summer with an underlying aroma of burned sugar, a sure sign of Kera's sorrow and fear. That she might be afraid of me, of what I can do, doesn't sit well. It doesn't matter how fast I run, I can't seem to catch her. I pause in a clearing and reach out with my senses. Her trail has suddenly gone cold. I call, yelling her name over and over. She doesn't answer. It's like Mom all over again. One minute you're talking, the next she disappears without an explanation. Why am I always the one getting left behind?
The heat I felt on the swing swirls in my belly and crawls under my skin. My new power rockets through me so easily, driving up my frustration and anger. In no time, fire erupts, engulfing my whole body. I'm a walking torch. The ground beneath my feet sizzles and smokes. This isn't good. I know it, but I can't stop. This isn't me.
This uncontrollable monster that I've become since finding out I'm a first isn't me.
A sudden whack, and a burst of pain explodes in my head. I crumple to my knees before I pass out. When I claw my way back to consciousness, I'm bobbing upside down through the forest. The ugly work boots. The worn jeans. I know who's carrying me. Grandpa has me slung over his shoulder. I struggle to be free, but he slams his meaty palm on my backside. "Settle down. You, son, are a problem no one around here can afford to ignore."
I'm a problem? Great. I get how being dumped unexpectedly on their porch without them knowing I existed would test their hospitality. And when they found out I wasn't even human, well ... that would give anyone second thoughts. Deep down, I knew it was only a matter of time before the newness of having me around wore off and he'd want me gone, but honestly, I didn't think it would happen this soon. Did Grandma feel the same?
"What do you mean?" I say, my throat raw, my voice thick.
"Don't tell me you don't remember."
I don't. The pain in my head is killing me. I gingerly touch the back of my head and the lump that's there. "Did you hit me?"
"Damn straight, I did. You were mad as hell and burning a hole in the ground. I'm not overexaggerating when I say you could've burned down another stretch of forest with that trick. I'm putting the law down right here, right now. Fire is off-limits. Do you hear me?"
"What are you talking about?"
Grandpa stops and dumps me on my feet, steadying me so I won't fall. I spy the house through the trees. The old man has nearly carried me all the way home. I'm impressed and a little surprised. I take a good look at him.
A deep scowl digs into his face. "Your imitation of the burning man ... you don't remember doing that?"
"Kera running off. You following. Me following you because —"
"I flipped you the bird." I'm an idiot. A flaming hotheaded idiot.
"So you remember now."
"Sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm not like that. I never get mad."
"Well, you do now, and I'm not too keen on the new you."
"Trust me. Neither am I." The woods are silent and I don't like what that implies. "Did you see Kera?"
"Nope. We'll see her when she wants to be seen."
That kind of blind faith freaks me out. I've got to let go and believe he's right.
Whatever Kera was trying to tell me, I think I understand a bit of it. "Ever since I went to Teag, things are different. Inside me. And now there's this fire. It showed up out of the blue."
Grandpa grabs my arm and pulls up my T-shirt sleeve to reveal the glowing silver brand. The death mark Sidon the Torturer gave me. Grandpa's fingers brush it, and he pulls away. "Still hot. Whatever's going on, it's not natural. But that doesn't mean you give in to your emotions like a spoiled brat."
He's right, but I don't like hearing it. I push down my sleeve, disturbed to see it glowing. It's never done that before. In fact, it's glowing so brightly now, it singes the material of my sleeve. I pull the fabric back up.
Grandpa's voice turns rough. "What's going on with that?"
"I don't know." The whole thing is smoking. I rub it, and when I do, the ground beneath our feet rumbles, shaking pine needles from the nearby trees, then stops.
Grandpa assesses the nearby damage and looks back at me, at my hand hovering over the glowing mark. "Tell me you didn't do that."
"No." At least I don't think I did. I take a deep breath and let it slowly out. The glow of my silver brand is fading, and I feel calm now.
Suddenly my brand flares, and the previous rumble seems tame compared to the deep shakes that toss us off our feet. Grandpa finds his footing, grabs the back of my shirt and yanks me to my feet. "Move it!" he yells.
I barely get ten feet away when the ground opens up and a fleshy pink spike spins its way out of the ground. Covered in loose dirt and as long as a city bus, it slips its body forward. A flap near the base of the spike flips up to reveal a huge eye. Blue as the sky, the eye looks around until it falls on me. The spike cracks open and spits forth more than a dozen bloodred tongues. Grandpa lets go of me and we split apart, each diving out of the way as the tongues snap toward us.
The house is so close. If I could just make it there and get my sword, I could do some real damage to this thing. Even as I think it, I see Kera racing toward us, my sword in her hand and a look of panic on her face. Grandma, Leo, the only friend I have besides Kera, and Leo's dad, Reggie, are right behind her.
The creature's head turns my way, its tongues lashing the air and scouring deep grooves into the tree trunks as it does. Grandpa grabs a long, thin, pointed tree branch and chucks it Spartan-style at the creature's eye. A glasslike film closes over the eye at the last second and the branch bounces away. I bend fully grown trees and slam them on its wriggling back, but a thick armor lies under the dirt clinging to its body.
"Forget what I said before," Grandpa yells. "Fire up, son."
I call fire to my palm and spit a thin stream at the monster. Not even a scorch mark appears. I try several more times with the same results. What the hell is wrong with me that when I need to bring the heat, nothing happens?
Kera throws my sword, tip over hilt, and it lands in the dirt at my feet. I pick it up and it flames to life. I spin free of one of the tongues, whirl around, and sear the tongue off. The creature lets out a mournful scream. I may have hurt it, but I've also ticked it off.
Reggie reaches Grandpa and chucks him a huge pump-action shotgun that holds ten rounds and a box of slugs. They each lock their bullets in their chambers, point, and fire. The gunshots split the air, again and again as they circle the monster, trying to find a weak spot, but its armor is too thick.
One of the tongues wraps around Leo's left arm. He stabs a sturdy kitchen knife into the tough flesh of the tongue and slips free. Yet his skin is red where the tongue had been, like he's been attacked by a jellyfish, and he doubles over in pain. Reggie is beside his son in an instant. His back is to the monster, a big mistake. I speed their way, and just as a tongue is about to grab him, I slash it clean through. Reggie whips around, his shotgun primed and aimed at me. There's a flash of indecision, no thanks for saving his life, only wondering if he should end mine. I don't stay close, and I, refocus on the monster. Another tongue lashes out and lifts Grandpa into the air. He fires his shotgun and shatters the monster's eye shield.
The multi-tongued glorified worm opens its mouth wide as it brings Grandpa close. Somehow Grandpa reloads and empties his rounds into the monster. "I'm out of ammo," he yells and tomahawks the gun into the monster's gaping maw.
Grandma screams and a look of horror clouds her face. She thinks he'll die, but I won't let that happen.
A rush of anger starts to burn in my gut. I run and jump, cutting through the base of several tongues, praying one of them holds Grandpa. Another unearthly cry rips the air and Grandpa is quickly slammed to the ground and rolls, cradling his arm as if it's been broken. Grandma rushes to him and helps him hobble free of the fight.
Excerpted from The Fallen Prince by Shea Berkley, Stacy Abrams, Kaleen Harding. Copyright © 2013 Shea Berkley. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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