Read an Excerpt
The Rising King
A Keepers of Life Novel
By Shea Berkley, Stacy Abrams, Kaleen Harding
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Shea Berkley
All rights reserved.
Tears of a Mother
The summer before my senior year in high school is turning out to be anything but boring.
Spend time with family and friends. Check.
Ridiculously hot girlfriend. Check.
Dealing with me being a magical, mythological creature from the realm of Teag. Check.
Slay monsters that just won't stay out of my grandparents' backyard. Check.
It's a crazy new world and I'm smack in the middle of it.
Ever since I was dumped at my grandparents' sheep ranch in Oregon, a place you'd think would be harmlessly boring, I've felt like I was dropped onto a mega CGI Hollywood production, and not one where kids learn a cute message about love and family, but one of the weird ones where suddenly nothing makes sense and body parts start hitting the fan.
The sky is overcast and the threat of rain is in the air. I concentrate on finding the creatures that have invaded the human realm and the air shifts. Hundreds of ribbons made up of energy slither out from the barrier and head in dozens of different directions, showing me just how weak the barrier has become.
"Nice trick," Leo, my best friend, says and leans close. The light from the ribbons makes even his dark skin glow. His cheek nearly touches a ribbon as he stares down its shimmering path. "What are they?"
Grandpa, a man more comfortable hunting down a serial killer than dealing with the supernatural, inadvertently walks through a cross section and frowns as the light splits and fades. "What in the blue blazes ...?"
"Every living thing leaves behind a trail of energy." I wave the ribbons away. "I thought using them would help, but too many who-knows-what have come this way."
It's been scary wild this past month since I'd resurrected Jason, one of the few real friends I've ever had. But he'd unexpectedly brought the magic of Teag to the human realm in a manner that caught everyone off guard and had them reeling from the sights, sounds, and smell of death. With that kind of trauma following my appearance, it's not surprising I'm the new kid no one likes.
The forest behind my grandparents' house is steeped in shadows in a way that makes a person believe in the unbelievable. It's probably why people around here didn't think it was odd when the first taste of the bizarreness that lives in Teag began to show up and mess with their lives. Having their lives messed with is why Kera and I are now in the human realm. It's my responsibility to keep not only Teag safe from attack, but the human realm as well.
For the last three days, Grandpa, who's the local law enforcer, and his neighbors have been troubled by a host of pests from Teag. Most have been caught or killed, but the crossover from Teag is concerning. I had to put the whole area on high alert after a local herding dog and a flock were found dead and bloated with poison.
"You know," Grandpa says as we trudge through the forest, "I miss the old days where I could go for a walk without worrying about getting my ass bit by something out of a Stephen King novel. I should be grateful the police academy prepared me for the unexpected, only I'm pretty sure they never imagined it would get this weird."
Leo flashes a wide smile and pushes a mess of black hair out of his eyes. "Trust me, you haven't even seen the worst Teag has to offer."
I sigh. "I wish I could close the barrier now, but even if I could, Kera wouldn't allow it." It's a conversation Grandpa and I have had more than once since the invisible barrier separating the two realms was compromised and began to deteriorate.
Grandpa adjusts the rifle riding between his shoulder blades and squints over at the barrier. "Kera loves her people. You love her. To get the girl, you have to show her you care."
"I'm trying, but every time I think I'm helping, I mess things up. I don't know what to do anymore, and Kera won't leave until Teag is stable. I don't think that's ever going to happen. Teag has way too many problems, and it'll use Kera until she has nothing left to give. She's already taken on too much."
"You're both trying to go it alone, Dylan. It won't get better until you both realize even the most powerful person needs help."
"Heads up," Leo says, and draws his incordium blade, the only thing powerful enough to cut through magic, and Leo's gotten pretty good at using it. "We've got something coming through."
He points to the telltale sign of mist swirling in an unnatural pattern up ahead. The hair on my arms prickles. Grandpa swings the rifle he has slung over his shoulder into his hands as we rush forward. I get to the spot near a small stream first and slide free my newly repaired sword. It blazes to life, heating the mist around it. The heavy pull of magic washes over me and the mist suddenly disappears, revealing a small, terrified-looking bunny all floppy-eared and tiny, twitching pink nose. Hardly the killer I was expecting to appear from Teag.
Leo comes up behind me, his body whipcord tense. "What came through?"
I sheath my sword and step back so he can get a good look at our invader.
Grandpa comes to a stop beside us, rifle raised. "Is that it?"
"Looks like it," I say.
Leo stoops, reaching out his hand toward the little guy, saying in an annoying voice, "Just a cute, itty-bitty, harmless bunny rabbit."
Grandpa doesn't relax. "How do you know it's harmless? How do you know it's not going to change into a monstrous, snaggle-toothed, flesh-eating rabbit?"
Leo jerks back and nearly lands on his butt, his eyes wide and wary.
A smile cracks my lips. I scoop up the bunny and hold it up by the scruff of its neck. It doesn't fight to be free as a normal rabbit would, but hangs loosely, trusting me. "I don't think there's a mean bone in its body."
A low grunt reveals Grandpa's skepticism. "You sure about that?"
I nod. It takes a few more seconds of staring at the innocent little bunny before Grandpa lowers his rifle and sighs. "So long as you're sure."
Leo stands and hesitantly strokes the fur behind the bunny's ears. I wait a half a second, and then act like it's attacking. Leo yelps like a scared little girl, and I bend over laughing.
"Bro," he says, glaring at me, "that is not funny."
"Sure it is." I place the bunny on the ground and it springs forward, splashing through the stream and into the underbrush as though a fox is after it.
Grandpa looks at the barrier with disgust. "It's so damned mangled even a runty little ball of fluff can slip through without much effort."
Frustration sounds in my voice even as I frown after the bunny. "I'm working on it."
Just then, the barrier rips open in the exact same place where the rabbit appeared and mist spews out over the ground. A second later, a swarm of slimy, amphibian-like millispits pour through the barrier. Their broken wings clatter as their curled tails swing back and forth, dripping venom from each sharp tip to sizzle on the ground. The click of their serrated claws against the river rocks sends shivers down my back. Their nose slits pulse continuously as they raise their heads to catch the scent of prey.
I grab the dog whistle dangling around my neck, put it to my lips, and blow. The high-pitched sound irritates the millispits, and they immediately focus on me. I back away and call on my ability to create fire. It comes easily, but unlike before, it doesn't scare me. It took some doing, and it nearly killed me, but I've managed to control my gift. Balls of bright heat appear in my hands, and the millispits pause in their advance.
The sky high above us explodes with light from one of Grandpa's flares, signaling our position to the others on patrol. The noise draws the millispits' attention to him.
They leap forward and Grandpa jerks Leo out of the way. I start hitting the nasty creatures with fire as Grandpa smashes his heavy army boot down on the nearest one, stunning it. He kicks it back into the group, where I set it ablaze.
Grandpa turns to find Leo on his hands and knees rummaging through the forest debris. "What are you doing? Get moving."
Leo continues to search the ground. "I dropped my knife when you pushed me."
The click and hum of the millispits move closer, and one lands in a slimy mess close to Leo. The stinger barely misses stabbing Leo's hand, and he jerks back.
Grandpa makes it to Leo and pulls him to his feet. "You are one lucky kid."
"You don't have to tell me twice." Leo grabs a thick fallen tree branch. With a grunt, he brings it down on a nearby millispit, cracking the wood and stunning the nasty-looking creature. He quickly kicks it back into the main group.
More and more millispits pour through the barrier. I yell at Grandpa and Leo to fall back. The millispits are too quick and too lethal for them.
From overhead, the sound of huge leathery wings beat the air. It's Blaze, a dragon I inherited from my dad's father when he died. A dragon in the human realm is an interesting dilemma. Big and smelly, he's not easy to hide, but Blaze has destroyed and kept at bay more threats from Teag than any of us. He's a pest we're all happy to endure.
The dragon tucks his wings against his body and dives, pulling up at the last minute to land with a ground-shaking boom next to me. The click of the millispits' broken wings and ugly grunts grows louder.
With Blaze at my side, we rush forward. I slam fire into the thick of the millispit swarm. The little bodies twitch and blacken. Blaze spits a hot blast and jumps into the mass of agitated amphibian-like creatures. His heavy scales keep him safe from the millispits' stings, a nice adaptation I wish I had. I move forward, throwing fireball after fireball, frying up batches that quickly disintegrate into ash.
Amid the smoke and heat, Kera appears at the edge of our ring of fire. Her thick dark hair snakes down her back in a long braid that ends at her waist. She's dressed like me, all in black. Her boots ride up past her knees, protecting her legs, and a bow and quiver of arrows fit snugly against her back. At this close range, she pulls out her incordium knife. It winks an evil blue in the light. Though I'd prefer she stay back, she dives into the fight, unafraid, and darts in and out of the millispits with a speed and grace that's lethal. Everywhere she goes she leaves behind a trail of death. She's a combination of grace and danger wrapped in a beautiful package of badass-ness. Some guys would totally dig that, but she deserves something more, something better from life, not the violent upheaval I've brought.
In the distance, a line of Grandpa's neighbors decked out like a Special Ops team ready to take down a terrorist cell push through the brush. Canisters weigh on their backs and nozzles poke out from their hands. As one, fire rushes out of the nozzles and engulfs the millispits trying to escape. Blaze bounds free of the menace and stops beside me. A quick shake and dead, sizzling black millispits fall off his body. The rest of the millispits are scurrying back toward the barrier. The guys follow them as the mist rolls out and pulls them back into Teag. I pump my fist and give a shout.
I should've known better. My victory celebration comes too soon.
I hear Kera's yell just before I feel the plop of a millispit as it leaps from beneath one of Blaze's scales and lands on my back. The sting is excruciating as the millispit digs its poisonous barb deep into my side. Another one appears from Blaze and springs onto me, stinging my left arm. I mutter a curse and swing away. Another one lands on my shoulder and jabs me in the back of my neck. Soon, there are six, seven, ten millispits stinging me.
I fall to my knees, my hands pulling at the already dying creatures. I see a dozen more crawl out of the shelter of Blaze's scales. There are too many. I think of Navar, how the hateful beasts swarmed over him, and in less than a minute, he was a bloated mass of death. I can't possibly survive this attack.
The flash of a blade slices close to me, severing an oncoming millispit in two. Another joins it in death. Kera plants herself between me and them, an avenging, beautiful angel ... one who's slowly starting to blur around the edges.
"Don't leave," I say — at least I think I say it as I sway like a frat boy on the corner of University and Greek row.
"Blaze," Kera shouts and says something I don't catch before I tip over and face-plant it.
Fire flares along the ground beside me, blackening the last of them. Kera turns, and her knees jut deeply into the earth by my side. She gently lifts my head to her lap.
I give her a lopsided smile. "Hiding under the scales. Who would've guessed they were that smart?"
Leo and Grandpa hover over me. "Can you heal him?" Grandpa says, his words slowly melding into each other.
"It's bad. I can pull some of the poison out, but we need to return to Teag. My powers are strongest there."
"Do you hear that, buddy?" Leo's face swims in front of my blurring vision. "We're moving you back to Teag. Hang on."
Kera touches my cheek, and she calls my name. I know she does because I see her lips move. My limbs grow numb as the poison spreads through my body, and soon darkness overtakes me.
I've been living in a state of fear for so long, I forgot what it feels like to be at peace. The void I'm drifting in shatters and morphs into an ugly-looking dream. I'm sitting on an old washed-out bedspread fitted around a sagging mattress in a run-down motel room. Don't ask me how I know, but whatever is going on, this dream has to do with Mom.
On the bright side, if I'm dreaming, that means I'm still alive.
I hear crying. God, I hate that sound. I peer over at the other bed. Mom, wearing one of those super-feminine sundresses she loves so much, is curled into a tight ball, punching out a text to the latest guy who's lied to her, saying she's his one and only.
"Why do you always end up crying when they leave?" It's not a nice question, but this is just a bizarre hallucination brought on by a huge influx of venom. None of it is real.
Startled, she turns, sniffling and rubbing at her nose. Her unwashed curls hang limply around her bare, gently lined face. That's new. Mom is vain. Seeing her less than completely put together isn't normal.
She clutches at the old amber necklace she always wears as if it'll ward off evil. I guess the evil in her life these days is me. "What are you doing here?" There's a wildness to her bloodshot eyes that reminds me of a caged and hurting animal. Her voice gets louder. "Who sent you?"
"Paranoid much? Nobody sent me."
"I don't believe you."
"Fine." I spring to my feet, wanting to leave, but I have nowhere to go. This is a dream and it's most likely limited to this room. "When I wake up, I'll tell my stupid subconscious brain to stay the hell away from you."
She starts crying again. Typical.
She suddenly chucks the phone at the wall and it bounces unharmed to the floor. "I don't have it."
Wow, I really haven't missed these mood swings of hers. "Have what?" I ask out of habit.
She crawls off the bed and throws open her suitcase. "See?" She tosses outfit after outfit onto the floor. "Do you see anything of value? It's not here. Tell him it's not here."
"Tell who what isn't here?"
"Don't do this to me, Dylan." She sinks to her knees and pulls her clothes into her arms. "You still blame me for leaving, don't you?"
"It's hard to blame someone you never think about."
Mom wraps her arms around her waist and says through her tears, "You've gotten so big."
Seeing as how I've been passing myself off as a twenty-one-year-old since I was sixteen, I don't follow. "Are you calling me fat?"
Maybe this is one of those dreams that messes with your insecurities? I pull up my shirt and slap my abs. Nope, I'm still rock solid. I let the fabric fall, step away, and run a hand over the dusty TV set. "Why do you always end up in dumps like this?"
"I just meant you look more like a man."
That sounded suspiciously like a compliment. This really was a dream. "It happens when moms dump their kids with strangers and leave. We tend to grow up fast, or did you expect me to die? I almost did, you know. Some dude named Navar came really close to killing me." I pull up my shirt again and point to the scar. "Death by arrow. Did you know Dylan hunting was all the rage in Teag?" I pull up my sleeve, revealing the shimmering silver brand thanks to Sardon the Torturer. "They even gave me this cool mark of death just before they planned on killing me."
Excerpted from The Rising King by Shea Berkley, Stacy Abrams, Kaleen Harding. Copyright © 2014 Shea Berkley. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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