In Truth and Ashes

In Truth and Ashes

by Nicole Luiken

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Overview

What she can’t remember could ruin her life.

The Mirror Worlds are but dull reflections of the True World, where magic and technology blend together...

On the True World, Belinda Loring has known from childhood that she must Bond with the son of another noble First Family. Uniting the families ensures hers will hold onto its powerful position, and so she’s always pushed down the tender feelings she has for her best friend—gorgeous, steadfast Demian, who isn’t noble.

But when the ceremonial magic goes disastrously wrong, Belinda becomes a national disgrace. Scorned as Broken, she turns to Demian for help getting revenge on the man who ruined her: the radical Malachi.

But the seeds of Malachi’s murderous planslie buried in Belinda’s past, in the dark days of her kidnapping—a period of which she has no memory. And Demian may hold the key to recovering all that she’s lost—and saving the worlds.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781682813881
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Publication date: 12/26/2016
Pages: 410
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.91(d)

Read an Excerpt

In Truth & Ashes

Otherselves Series


By Nicole Luiken, Tracy Montoya

Entangled Publishing, LLC

Copyright © 2017 Nicole Luiken Humphrey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63375-545-1


CHAPTER 1

Broken

True World

"... Broken."

The word made Belinda Loring's spine go rigid, and she paused just outside the small Hall of Records waiting room from which Warren's voice emanated. She'd volunteered to fetch Warren because she was eager to see him again, but now her throat tightened, and nausea churned in her stomach. Was he talking about her? Belinda Broken.

The childhood taunt shouldn't have still had the power to hurt her, but oh, it did. Hearing it was like picking a scab off a never-healed wound. It made her bleed inside and brought back bad memories of hiding out in the school restroom, bawling. She pressed her back against the stone corridor. Her nails dug into the flesh of her palms. Stop it. You're not that scared little girl anymore.

"She's not Broken." That voice belonged to Violet, and Belinda sagged against the wall in relief at her best friend's defense, until Violet continued, "She's just messed up."

Gee, thanks. And, hey, why was Violet — who'd messaged Belinda that she was going to be late — sneaking around with Warren — Belinda's soon-to-be Bonded — anyway?

"She was only six when she was kidnapped," Violet said. "That would have messed up anyone."

"I suppose it was too much to hope that she'd disqualify herself," Warren said.

Any lingering childhood fantasy Belinda had had that tomorrow's Bonding ceremony might be the beginning of something more than a political alliance shattered into a hundred pieces.

She didn't want to hear any more; she felt sick, her stomach twisting — but she still needed to tell Warren it was time for the Mirror of Truth test. If she walked in now, they'd know she'd heard them. Maybe she should tiptoe backward, then make more noise?

"If you don't want to be Bonded with her, why don't you back out?" Violet asked.

Warren snorted. "You must be joking. My father would kill me. He's salivating at the thought of linking the Scott family to the prestigious Loring name."

Belinda took a deep breath and pushed back her hurt. So Warren was a jerk. So he was a good-looking jerk. So she might have had a teeny-tiny crush on him. So what? It wasn't like she'd been in love with him or anything. And better to know now before she made a fool of herself.

It didn't change anything. Tomorrow's ceremony would still go forward.

It's just a Binding Ceremony, Belinda reminded herself. Not a marriage. At seventeen, they were too young for marriage. Instead, she and Warren would stand in a circle and magically Bind their otherselves' bloodlines, make a Binding vow to have at least two children themselves — one heir for each Family — sometime in the future, and that would be it.

No longer caring if they knew she'd been eavesdropping, she marched into the room — and immediately wished she hadn't. Her mouth fell open. Her feet rooted themselves to the ground.

The waiting rooms were designed for mothers with young children. The walls were programmed to display a soft, dove gray, and the room contained a diaper-change table, a padded bench with a U-shaped nursing pillow, and a bin of toys for older siblings. It was not in any way romantic.

But Violet and Warren were smooching — her best friend and the boy she would Bond with tomorrow. It didn't look like a tentative first kiss either. It was definitely a clinch: Violet's curvy body was pressed against Warren's taller one, her brown hands woven into his golden hair, their lips locked together. His hand caressed the skin underneath the back of Violet's pink shirt.

After the first moment of shock, betrayal stabbed deep. Warren didn't owe her anything — they'd only spoken to each other a handful of times; their Binding was just a political alliance, and anything else had been in her head — but Violet was her best friend. She knew Belinda had always dreamed about marrying her Bonded. How could Violet do this to her?

Belinda must have made some noise, an exhalation or a scuff of shoe on stone, because Warren and Violet jumped apart.

Violet's brown eyes rounded in horror, and she cringed, unable to meet Belinda's gaze. Her pink lipstick was smudged, but her vivid flower-petal eye makeup remained intact, accenting her long eyelashes. As always, her friend looked gorgeous and stylish, beautiful where Belinda was only average.

Hot anger roared through Belinda's veins like a forest fire. Unable to bear looking at her so-called friend, she turned to Warren. "It's time for the test." Her voice sounded harsh to her own ears.

Warren's fair skin flushed. His golden hair was feathered back from his face, and his curls just touched the collar of his dark-brown lace-up shirt. An elaborate genie covered his left cheekbone and swept up to his temple. The genie looked more like a chainmail crescent than what it was — a neural implant used to communicate over long distances and access the World Information Net. He'd probably chosen the genie's sapphire power gem inset at his temple to match his eyes.

Warren recovered quickly. "Hey, Belinda," he said without a trace of guilt. "Have they cleared the backlog then?"

Belinda ignored Violet and directed her words at Warren. "One more couple with a baby, and it'll be our turn. Come on." Without waiting for a response, she left the room and walked briskly back down the hallway.

"Wait up," Warren called.

She didn't slow. She didn't want to speak to him or Violet.

The gray hallway ended in an archway. Belinda swept through, her wide-legged pants brushing the marble, and entered the large chamber containing the Mirror of Truth.

The ten-foot-tall mirror stood on a small dais. Five rows of seating surrounded it. The mirror dominated the chamber and dwarfed the couple with the baby. At least they were still there. Ellona would have given her a stern lecture if she'd been late.

Belinda hesitated. She'd intended to rejoin her grandmother, First Councillor Ellona Loring, in the second row, but she feared Ellona's sharp blue eyes might note her discomposure. Instead, Belinda took up a waiting position at the back of the room, just off to the side, where the recordkeeper could clearly see her.

The size of the Mirror of Truth alone made it impressive. Like all Four Worlds mirrors, it was made up of four different mirrors melded together, and each submirror was four feet square by itself. The submirrors represented the four Mirror Worlds: obsidian for Fire World, ice for Water World, gold for Stone World, and clear glass for Air World. The four mirrors together represented the True World.

Belinda lived on the True World, the original world created by the god Aesok. The Mirror Worlds were imperfect copies made by Aesok's brother god, Besok. Besok had populated his worlds by making exact copies of the animals and humans on the True World. Over centuries the identical populations of the five worlds had diverged, but rare people still had otherselves — genetically identical mirror twins — on some or all of the Mirror Worlds.

The mirror was a modern wonder. It could discern if one had otherselves and on which world the otherselves lived. Well, actually, a regular Four Worlds Mirror could do that, too, to a lesser degree. What made the Mirror of Truth unique was the power gem inset into each individual mirror. The energy-infused gems would amplify her Call so that if one of her otherselves was unable to reach a mirror, the gem would still glow. It even worked for newborns, unable to speak, though the passive process took much longer. Hence the backlog.

Having four otherselves, one per Mirror World, was a rare and elite thing seldom found outside the First Families. Ah, but within the First Families, it was expected. And if you didn't have them, or if they died before having kids, people gossiped behind your back and called you "broken."

"So are you nervous?" Warren whispered, joining her against the back wall. Apparently, he was just going to pretend he hadn't been kissing Violet. Jerk.

"No." She bit the word out.

He raised his hands. Why hadn't she noticed before how smarmy his smile was? "Oh, really? You sound pretty nervous to me."

I'm not nervous, I'm angry. There's a difference.

"Well, don't worry about it," Warren said. Now there was an edge to his voice. "Even if it turns out you've lost an otherself, the ceremony will still go through."

She stopped and stared at him. "What?" She had difficulty keeping her voice low. Fortunately, the chamber's acoustics were designed to amplify sound from the front of the room, not the back.

He shot her a disbelieving look. "Oh, come on. Don't act like your grandmother wouldn't bribe the recordkeeper. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time a First Family has had a Broken generation. There are ways to fix it."

Ethically questionable ways. Not that it mattered. "I'm not Broken," she whispered coldly. "I'll prove it in a minute."

Back rigid, she faced the front again and saw that Violet had joined Ellona on the second bench.

On the dais, the red-and-black uniformed recordkeeper ushered out the couple with the baby. The middle-aged woman then beckoned to Belinda.

Belinda walked down the aisle and climbed the two steps of the platform to the Mirror of Truth. A skylight sent sunshine slanting down onto the giant mirror. Though she'd visited here before, the hair on her arms lifted in awe. This close she could also see that the mirror was bordered in silver. Silver mirrors could magically capture images, and it would store a permanent image of her test for the Hall of Records.

Belinda placed her hand on the oily black obsidian mirror that represented Fire World. She set her jaw with determination. Half an hour ago she'd been nervous about this, fearing some accident might've befallen one of her otherselves since she'd last checked on them. Now she was ready to prove herself.

Time to show everyone that her kidnapping hadn't tainted her, and put Belinda Broken to rest for good. Fierce anger blew through her like a gale, and she Called, "Look into the mirror!" At the same time, she reached out mentally, trying to find her Fire World otherself, slide into her thoughts, and implant the suggestion that her otherself should seek out a mirror and look into it.

Within seconds, the emerald power gem in the center of the obsidian panel flashed to life. Bathed in its green glow, Leah appeared in the black mirror, peering at Belinda with dull eyes. Leah looked gaunt and dirty, her dark hair unkempt. Belinda cringed at her appearance. Her Fire otherself had never been impressive. As a bastard, Leah had few opportunities and worked as a mere servant.

Fire World's recent disaster made it the most dangerous for otherselves. Ellona let out a soft exhale of relief, though her expression remained cold and proud.

"Fire World witnessed!" Violet said. At least she was doing her job as Witness.

(what is it?) Leah asked, reaching out.

Belinda didn't bother to answer. She stepped sideways, bringing her reflection with her and severing the connection to Leah.

Air World next ... Belinda raised her hand to the pane of clear glass and, with growing confidence, Called Audrey. The gem lit at once. Audrey was the most respectable of her otherselves, a member of the nobility, and should make up for Leah's poor showing.

Instead, a titter went through the small crowd. Embarrassment burned over Belinda; someone was embracing Audrey from behind and kissing her neck. A nearly invisible boy, his features blurred by wind. It looked very odd. And since when did Audrey have a boyfriend? And short hair? Maybe it was a good thing the Binding ceremony was tomorrow, before her otherself married someone who wasn't Warren's otherself.

Warren's Witness, a boy named Zach, wolf-whistled. "Better rein that one in soon!"

Warren smirked.

Her back stiffened. It wasn't like she had any control over who her otherselves kissed. Warren, on the other hand, had control over his own lips.

"Air World witnessed!"

Fortunately, Holly, her Water World otherself, was alone and not doing anything embarrassing. Her hair had a pink streak, but that was typical of Water World fashion.

So far, all her otherselves had answered her Call within moments, and she hadn't needed the Mirror of Truth's power gems to seek them out, but when she Called Stone World, Dorotea didn't answer. Stone World had suffered an ecological collapse three generations before, and almost everyone now lived in underground caverns. There weren't many mirrors there, so it wasn't surprising Dorotea hadn't responded, but Belinda kept Calling, disappointed. She'd hoped to catch a glimpse of Dorotea's younger sister, Marta. Belinda had helped get her medical aid a few weeks ago and had liked the sweet-natured girl. But once the sapphire gem in the golden mirror flashed to life, Violet called out, "Stone World witnessed!"

The recordkeeper stepped forward. "Let the record show that Belinda Loring is confirmed to have four otherselves," she announced.

There. Belinda had passed the test. She lifted her chin and shot a look of challenge at Warren. His turn. She stepped off the platform.

Rather to her disappointment, Warren lit all four gems, too. He wasn't Broken either. And his otherselves made a better showing — only his Water otherself was poorly dressed in ripped blue pants.

Violet caught Belinda before they left the Hall of Records, while Ellona was deep in some political talk with Warren's parents. Warren had excused himself to the restroom.

"Come talk to me."

Belinda follow Violet a short distance down the hall, then stopped and crossed her arms. "Well? What did you want to say?"

"Please, don't be mad." Violet reached for her arm, then hesitated and withdrew.

"Mad?" Belinda repeated, voice and temper rising. "Why would I be mad just because you kissed my Bonded?"

Violet rolled her eyes. "It's not like you're in love with him."

And that was so typical. If Violet had one fault, it was not being able to admit when she'd done something wrong. "And do you?" Belinda asked pointedly. "Love him, I mean?"

"No! Look, don't make this into a big deal. We were just fooling around," Violet said.

Belinda thought the top of her head might explode, but she gritted her teeth and kept her voice low so that the adults didn't hear. "It is a big deal. And if you were just fooling around, that makes it worse."

Violet's brow crinkled. "What? How can fooling around be worse?"

Still steaming, Belinda spelled it out. "If the kiss didn't mean anything, then you should have resisted doing it out of respect for our friendship. Now if you were actually in love, I might excuse you getting carried away."

Silence. "What if it is more?" Violet asked, her voice growing softer. "What if I am in love with Warren? Would you call off the ceremony?"

Unbelievable. "No, I wouldn't."

Violet's nostrils flared. "Now who's the bad friend?" she demanded. As if that vindicated her actions. As if anything could.

You betrayed our friendship. "If he's in love with you, he should be the one to call it off," Belinda said sharply. "Since he hasn't, his feelings probably aren't strong enough."

For a moment, hurt flashed in Violet's eyes, then she spun and left without another word.

Belinda returned to her grandmother and arrived just in time to hear Ellona invite Warren and his parents to Loring House for a "pre-celebratory" dinner. Which meant instead of getting a chance to unwind, she was going to be stuck with his company all evening

Sweet Aesok, kill her now.


In the small salon, Belinda picked up another gift and pulled the string that unraveled the silk floss wrapping. Inside was an antique silver bracelet with a timekeeper. She sighed and set it aside. Yet another gift aimed more at impressing Ellona than herself — Belinda didn't wear a timekeeper. If she wanted to know the time, she just asked her genie.

"I'm bored," Warren complained. "You're supposed to entertain me. Remember, I'm your guest." His words parroted Ellona's dismissive after-dinner command: Belinda, go entertain your guest. What Ellona had meant, of course, was Go away while the adults talk about important adult things.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from In Truth & Ashes by Nicole Luiken, Tracy Montoya. Copyright © 2017 Nicole Luiken Humphrey. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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