About the Author
Her Debut novel Immortal: A Varcolac novel, followed a month later by Hinder: A Benders Novel, will be the first two novels in a saga called The Guardian of Monsters. There's a total of nine novels in the working, following witches, vampires, werewolves, djinns and shifters.
You can find out more about Kristin's work at www.kristinpingbooks.com
Read an Excerpt
Awe filled me as I watched Ethan playing in the garden. Though only ten years old and scrawny, he was ... a wonder.
The farm was the safest place for him. A few miles from the city and its prying eyes. Less danger here.
His hands lightly stroked the rosebushes as he walked past them. It wasn't time for them to bloom yet, but at Ethan's tender touch, pink and white rosebuds opened and expanded into the most beautiful roses I'd ever seen.
"Ethan," I called from the porch, a warning in my tone.
His blond head snapped toward me. He pulled his hand to his chest. "Sorry, Dad."
"Be careful." I spoke as if he was pulling the cat's tail — not lending nature a hand.
With one flutter of the newspaper, I pretended to return to reading. After a few seconds scowling at the small black letters, I peeked over the top of the page and stared back at Ethan.
Natalie, his mother, never let him explore. She worried about the others. That they would see.
Ethan walked over to the willow sapling Natalie had planted a few weeks ago. It wasn't tall; the top barely reached Ethan's waistline. He stumbled and fell with hands first — diving right into the willow.
It started to grow ... and grow. In a matter of seconds, it was a full-grown tree. Slender, silvery green leaves swayed in the lazy breeze.
The newspaper fluttered as I set it aside and stood, mouth agape. Not many could do that at his age.
Surprise galloped on the heels of awe, followed by a dash of fear — okay, more than a dash — as Ethan stood and brushed himself off.
So this was what Natalie felt most of the time
My eyes darted this way and that. What if anyone saw?
Everything was exactly as it had been a few moments ago, except for the mature willow in the middle of the yard, its graceful branches lazily stroking the earth. A few cows grazed serenely in the green pasture. The chickens clucked in their pen. The ginger tomcat lay on the opposite chair to mine.
Behind me, the door opened. Natalie gasped. She smacked my shoulder with a dish cloth — hard. I scrambled back from her wrath.
"I told you to watch him!" she hissed. She ran down the steps with huge eyes and long strides. She reached him and crouched down in front of him, almost pulling the boy down with her, scowling.
Rubbing my shoulder, I watched the expression on my son's face. He hadn't meant to do it. It was an accident. Ethan never asked to be born into our family of Benders.
Ever since he got a taste of his element, well, he'd just been so damn curious.
He would need to find his match: an earth Wielder.
Earth Wielders rarely reached their fifteenth birthdays. And because of what Ethan would become one day, his life was in mortal danger.
Benders were born to protect Wielders. The payoff was being able to manipulate the Wielder's element. To use it to their advantage. To, well, bend it into whatever they wanted the element to do. Whether it was to make a tree grow or a fire burn or the wind blow ... Wielders could start the process, but the Benders performed the magic. They told the flame how to crackle, the earth how to quake, the gale how to waft.
Without a Bender, Wielders would cause chaos. If a water Wielder or an earth Wielder had no Bender, then a tsunami was inevitable.
Wielders and Benders were a mechanism, an interdependent team that functioned as one. They benefited mutually from one another and kept each other safe.
It had always been this way since Wielders were labeled as Witches. Now they had plenty of names — Alchemists, spellbinders, and shifters, to name a few.
On Ethan's tenth birthday, exactly at the stroke of midnight, he had received his earth element. The connection between the earth and Ethan was so powerful, it had triggered an earthquake for a full three seconds.
Benders always received the full dose of their Wielders' ability. For the next few years, Ethan would be able to wield the earth Element as well as bend it. For the next four years, we not only needed to find his Wielder, but also to keep him safe from the others.
Earth Wielders were a force of balance. They were the true leaders of all supernaturals. They had to stay pure. They carried within them the power for immense good ... or if they fell, immense evil. If they lost their sense of balance, they could become Necrocretors. Necrocretors didn't play by the rules. They broke and bent them as they pleased.
Everything Natalie and I did aimed toward keeping Ethan balanced and on the side of good.
The hardest test Ethan would face in his entire life would be if his Wielder turned out to be female. The Resistance. Wielders and Benders could never be involved as a couple. And yet, the pull is addictive. Strong. Even though it was against the law, many Wielders and Benders failed. I knew; I was one of them ... a long time ago.
The rest of the supernaturals consisted of what humans called monsters, myths, and paranormal beings that made great characters of most fictional tales. Ever since the jinns lost the chalice, they were no longer part of the race. When they lost the chalice about three hundred years ago, the earth Wielders took over completely. In the wake of the jinns' collapse, there were ten who controlled everything, but one by one, they started to perish, and nobody knew why.
Lowest on the totem pole were the shifters. Once a shifter went rogue and became a Necrocretor, there was no turning back. Shifters were vicious and could turn into anyone with the same anatomy as theirs. Necrocretors loved gaining shifters.
It was why earth Wielders never reached that age, the age where their magic matures and stabilizes. The phase where their magic was powerful enough to reset the balance, to wipe the earth clean from all the evil inside the Necrocretors, from all the ugly, and to start upholding the law of not just the elements, but of all the supernaturals.
There hadn't been someone like that in the past four hundred years.
It was why the Guardians, a supernatural human race, started with the Sentinels.
A group of five that would jump in when things got out of hand.
Sometimes I think they were a myth, as they haven't jumped in yet.
Before Sentinels it was just earth Wielders. That was how powerful they were, and Ethan was the lucky boy that was going to be part of that. He was going to become the next earth Wielder's protector in every way possible.
Tears formed in Ethan's eyes, but he refused to let them roll down his cheek. He tried so hard to live up to his element, to be strong and special. It was sad that the boy didn't know how strong or special he already was. Maybe it was my fault as a father, as a parent.
I wanted to tell Natalie that she should stop making him feel so terrible. He was just exploring. But what good would that do? We would just end up fighting again. I was so tired of our fights. Shoulders slumped, I turned to go inside. That was when I heard the roar of engines.
The hair on my arms and neck stood straight. Adrenaline poured into my blood like jet fuel and my heartbeat skyrocketed as I turned to see Natalie running toward me across the yard, jerking little Ethan along by the hand. "Get rid of them. Now." She shouldered past me into the house.
No one had seen what Ethan had done, right? No, it wasn't possible. Was it?
Three black Jeeps and a silver one careened into the driveway, spitting gravel behind their shiny black tires. I leaped off the steps but then composed myself. With great effort, I slowed to a sedate walk. I had to try to make this farmhouse seem like any other sleepy home on this continent — even though it was far from it.
Who are these people? What are they doing here?
They weren't Necrocretors. Necrocretors didn't use Jeeps or SUVs to make their entrances. Whoever they were, they were driving fast. Too fast.
As they pulled closer, the sun glinted off the tinted windows and blinded me. Then when they turned an angle, I saw it. The outline of a barrel.
I dove for the willow. Bullets shredded bark above my head. Splinters and sawdust flew everywhere.
My back was firmly against the tree, safe from the bullets, or so I hoped. Thank goodness he grew a fully mature tree, I marveled. Otherwise I'd be dead.
I recited words that hadn't touched my tongue in years. I carried them in my skin on my tattoo, across my chest, close to my heart. A phrase scribbled in Latin that I learned at a very young age: Estque vel me vel.
Its meaning was simple: It is either them or me.
If someone had to die, it wasn't going to be me.
I took out the Zippo in my back pocket, closed my eyes, and used my diaphragmatic breathing exercises to calm my heart.
More gunshots sizzled overhead. Bits of the porch railing and the willow bar exploded. The air filled with the scent of sulfur and singed wood.
I took a deep breath.
Then I flicked the flint.
Without my Wielder, I was jack shit. But I could manipulate. I could bend a flame if there was one to begin with.
The seductive odor of butane filled my nostrils as I bent the flame that burst from my lighter.
I expertly tossed two fireballs and felt the warmth of satisfaction when they rolled right where I wanted them — directly underneath two of the Jeeps. They exploded. A concussion of pure sound preceded the greasy cloud of black smoke and metal debris.
The other Jeeps squealed to a stop, spinning out of control in the gravel. For the next few minutes, fireballs and gunshots flew through the air. The gunmen used the cars as shields. They started firing relentlessly. I hunched behind my puny tree. They didn't give me a second to throw another fireball.
One man stopped firing for three seconds. I took the opportunity and whirled out to hurl another attack. He released his empty magazine; it clattered to the ground. He whipped up a new one — a sleek, black metal box — and clicked it in so fast, I might not have noticed it if I hadn't been facing him to throw a fireball. Tactical reload. They had plenty more where that came from. He was shooting again before I even formed my next attack.
It was raining gunshots.
This tree couldn't shield me much longer. Pieces of bark shaved off by bullets showered down on me.
The door to the farmhouse opened. Natalie walked out with a shotgun in her hand. Her hair was wild and her eyes wilder.
She aimed her gun at the two men approaching the house. It went off. Boom, boom. Two shots echoed in the air. One of them hit its mark. One of our attackers screamed in pain. Still, bullets showered the porch as Natalie dove for cover.
She yelped and grabbed her stomach. A slim copper cartridge connected with her body at twenty-five hundred feet per second, but it might as well have been slow motion for me. She let out a yelp of surprise — then an involuntary groan of pain. She toppled to the ground behind the porch railing. Out of sight.
I cried out and flicked on my zippo again. Blindly, I threw six fireballs into the direction of the Jeeps. Natalie. One after the other, I hurled flame and destruction.
The earth started to rumble through the soles of my feet. Horror crept into my rage. "Ethan!"
He was crouched down by the porch steps. Tears streamed down his face, but the emotion was hard. Not delicate grief but anger. He was livid and the world would know it soon.
Both of his fists hammered down on the ground.
I shut my eyes as the current of it rushed deep underground. His power. I realized that this would be the only window to get to my son and up to that porch where there was a half a wall to hide behind.
I got up and didn't look back; I had a mental picture of what I would find. The earth making a wave out of dirt and rock and grass. A terrifying wall rose and rolled toward the two Jeeps left standing.
I darted from the cover of the willow tree toward the house as fast as I could. Shots still whizzed past me.
I grabbed Ethan as I passed and pulled him toward the porch.
He grunted and growled. Feral. Furious.
We had to get to safety from whatever he conjured. I lost my balance as the earth wave crashed. A stray bullet in the shoulder. A spasm of agony traced its patch across muscle and sinew. I ignored it.
I dove with Ethan behind the porch railing. My gaze skittered across the porch floor, looking for her. A trail of crimson liquid led inside.
Still the bastards didn't let up. Bullets flew over our heads. I shoved Ethan ahead of me and crawled in behind him as glasses shattered overhead.
Natalie lay a few paces away. We both crawled to her.
Her eyes were still open. A tear rolled down her cheek. A sticky red bloom marred her t-shirt. Blood seeped out of her and pooled onto the floor.
"Babe, I'm ..." Tears welled up in my eyes.
"Shh," she said softly. "It's going to be okay."
How? I wanted to say. She wasn't looking so good. She wasn't even in the same universe as okay.
I peeked over the railing. Grass, rock, and dirt were strewn everywhere. A gaping chasm yawned in the earth. One of the Jeeps had fallen into it; only the top of the roof stuck out. Another teetered half in, half out. They had nowhere to go. They couldn't escape. Then one of the men stirred. I ducked back down as a scream left his mouth.
Can't they just die?
Fingers of wind started teased my hair.
"Finally," Natalie whispered. "Jeff."
I opened my eyes. A part of me knew what she was going to say, and I didn't want to hear it. "What is it?" I asked anyway.
"Take Ethan and go."
"I'm not leaving you here."
"You have no choice. You need to go. I'll deal with this."
"How?" It slipped out as tears rolled over my cheeks.
"Just do as I ask for once," she begged. A beatific smile spread over her face. "Promise me that you will find his Wielder, that you will make sure that he fulfills his destiny and becomes the man I wanted to raise."
I nodded. Tears blurred my vision. I kissed her knuckles in succession, one through ten and ten through one. Salty sweat and coppery blood mingled on my lips. Ethan huddled next to his mother. Crying. She touched his face softly. "Ethan, be a good boy for your dad. I love you." She looked at me. Her eyes nailed me to the wall. "You too," she mouthed.
"I love you more."
She smiled, then her face froze. "Now go."
I got up and yanked Ethan up behind me. The boy screamed, not wanting to leave his mother's side. But we had no choice. I had to protect him.
Bullets missed us by inches as we ran deeper into the house.
Bullets still followed us. A potted plant exploded, spilling black soil onto the coffee table a few feet from me. An arc of violent holes peppered the drywall of the hallway beside Ethan. I pulled him into the sitting room around the corner a millisecond before the carved crown molding shredded away as if bitten into by a vicious giant with tiny missile fangs. I came to a halt.
Bullets hit part of the opposite wall. My shoulder was soaked in my own blood. I had the shakes. Bad.
Ethan was behind me. His face was covered with snot and tears. He was still bawling, but he knew his mother's fate.
The gunfire ceased.
I peeked around the corner and saw Natalie getting up. I knew she'd told me to run, but I couldn't leave her.
One of her arms clutched her stomach wound; the other was starting to spin around in a circular motion. Like a lopsided windmill. Ethan sobbed for her. "Shush," I ordered. I heard magazines sliding into rifles, several all at once. Not a reprieve. Just a reload. She wasn't going to make it.
The movement of her hand finally caught the wind. It was blowing now. Stronger and stronger.
Objects moved in the air, debris from the exploded cars or the damage from the gunfire or the loose earth and rocks from the earth wave. I heard the groan of something that wasn't ... natural.
We had to get out of here.
My wounded wife was busy bending the wind to form a tornado.
I grabbed Ethan and shielded his body underneath mine. Natalie's tornado picked up momentum. It was a funnel now. Wind and earth and sheer destruction. It marched toward the gunmen like a sentient being. The screams of our attackers mixed with the howling of the wind. Trees, the shed, and even the teetering Jeep groaned and squealed as the wind tore them apart. The remaining shooters screamed as it took them. Their voices were drowned out in the gale.
But it started to come back in the direction from which it had come. Like a demented boomerang, the tornado was headed right for us.
"No!" I yelled. I covered Ethan's head but my eyes remained glued to the scene.
Natalie flung her hands back and I watched in horror as she levitated and blew away.
Excerpted from "Hinder"
Copyright © 2016 Kristen Ping.
Excerpted by permission of Fire Quill Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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