Sara Ella masterfully takes readers to new worlds in the jaw-dropping finale to the Unblemished trilogy. With the fate of the Reflections at stake, Eliyana must destroy the Void . . . but at what cost?
Eliyana Ember is a reluctant queen. As vessel of the Verity—the purest of souls—only she can lead the fight against the wicked magnetism of the Void. If she fails, the paths between Reflections will cease to exist, and those she loves will remain plagued by darkness.
After falling through a draining Threshold and suffering near-death, Eliyana awakens to a Shadowalker-ridden Venice, Italy. From there, she must learn to navigate mysteries of time and space. Traveling across the seven Reflections, Eliyana seeks one thing: the demise of the Void.
But something else is at stake—the fate of her heart. Kyaphus Rhyen and Joshua David, brothers in arms, duel to win her hand. Ky remains ensnared and tortured by the Void. Joshua, though well-meaning, harbors dark secrets. Meanwhile, Eliyana finds herself torn, her mind and memories leading her in one direction, but her heart pulling her toward a man she knows she shouldn’t trust.
How can she discern whom to believe when she cannot even depend on her own fragmented memories?
Traversing the realms of fantasy and reality through a labyrinth of plot twists, Unbreakable delivers a thrilling conclusion to Sara Ella’s Unblemished Trilogy.
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Meek as a Mouse
What is that wretched odor? Am I dead? Because I smell dead or death or something close to it. I can't open my eyes. Not yet. Opening my eyes makes it real. I just need a minute to collect myself. My thoughts. My memories ...
I squeeze my eyelids, rummaging my brain, digging and sorting.
Compartmentalizing. Retrace your steps. That's what the proverbial they say, isn't it? That's how to get back to what you've forgotten?
The sound of trickling water plays a part in the symphony of recollections trumpeting through my mind. Except this performance is broken, missing instruments, clusters of notes omitted here and there. A sad rehearsal not quite living up to what the full experience is intended to be.
It's winter. Feb — Second
Month. I was in the Fifth Reflection.
Mom is there, and Evan, my new baby bro.
And Kyaphus, the Void's vessel. In fact, he's the last thing I remember before falling into the draining Threshold behind the cottage. Did he push me? The idea fits. Darkness and light are at war. But the former won't win.
I simply refuse.
So I open my eyes.
The sky is shrouded in grays. I'm lying on my back, legs and arms sprawled, and what's above dominates my vision. The only color filters in, and I can almost imagine I landed on the set of Pleasantville or The Giver. Worlds bathed in drab hues with only a twinkling of pigment ushered in by the odd man out. Or odd woman in my case. The lack of vibrancy mirrors my mind. The things I do remember are livelier than ever, standing out among the other faded, hazy memories.
Oh, fine. I might as well admit it — I want to cry. And not just cry. I mean a full-on ugly sob. Like snot everywhere, red-rimmed eyes shedding unstoppable tears. Bring on the tissues because the waterworks are about to commence. And why not? No one's here to see me lose it. Not a single recognizable soul to witness the vessel of the purest light identify as a mama's girl.
Yeah. I want Mom.
Sitting up, I swipe at my eyes and nose. Could things get any worse? I'm in the gutter, literally, which explains the smell. Water streams, rushing down the grate beneath me. The sidewalk a step up is paved in unevenly cut gray stones. I scoot onto the curb and ring out my drenched mocha hair, combing through the tangles with my fingers. My bangs are no more, having at last grown long enough to tuck behind my ears. The purple ends have faded to gray. And not the pretty, "hip" gray everyone's wearing nowadays. I'm talking the kind of gray that looks as if it were stripped off a dead sewer rat. Which totally fits right about now.
Straight across the street sits a vintage baby-blue car, its tires flat. Since I know nothing about cars, all I can think is how it reminds me of that scene from Back to the Future Part II when Marty is sneaking around the 1950s wearing a fedora.
I could sure use Doc Brown. And not because he's a genius. Truth is, I'm pretty sure I'm in a foreign country with no ID and zero cash, minus a phone. A flying car would be great. I'm sure Harry Potter and Ron Weasley would agree.
Mixing film references? Wow. Lack of sleep plus wormhole suction really makes a person insane.
I rise and shove my hands into my hoodie pockets, playing eeny meeny miny moe in my head before deciding to head upstream from the sewer grate. More tears threaten to expose themselves and I sniff them back, though the effort is halfhearted. I'm not the naive and fragile girl from what seems like a lifetime ago. I mean, I can walk through a flipping mirror, for Verity's sake.
But crying doesn't make me weak either. It makes me human. A human who is — I touch my throbbing face, then lower my hand — bleeding and disoriented without the slightest clue where the nearest US embassy might be. Why didn't I pay better attention in my foreign language class? Not that speaking Latin would help me now anyway — nor anyone in this century, for that matter.
I'm not even sure what language actually would help me. Italian? My surroundings feel very Little Italy to me, though much more authentic, and there are no buildings painted in the colors of the Italian flag.
Why does such a trivial detail from my life in the Third Reflection stand out, yet I can't recall major events from the past twenty-four hours?
All the more reason to keep moving.
A café with an outdoor patio waits ahead, naked rosebushes lining the sill of the shop's front window. I pause beside it, straining to make out the chatter between two cappuccino-sipping women. They whisper beneath their breaths, talking too fast and ... hmm ... buongiorno is definitely Italian. Score one for the queen of the Second.
Hurrying past, I continue up the street. Daylight recedes with each step, twilight pronouncing its grand entrance through tufts of cloud cover. Passersby are few and far between. Each person I cross unsettles my gut further. A heavyset man with shoulders hunched, a cigar hanging from his mustached mouth. An elderly woman speed walking, practically dragging along a little girl who can't be older than five. A couple with heads bent together, tones hushed, the man with one arm around his sweetheart.
No one notices me, and the realization injects an all-too-familiar feeling into my center. I shove it deep and walk faster. Why do I get the feeling these people are afraid? And not afraid of me or the mark I bear, because no one has even made eye contact. No, these people carry a tangible anxiety that's impossible to ignore. Even the air feels ominous, like the deadly fog rising after an epic battle scene in The Patriot or Wonder Woman.
Right arm cradled against my soaked middle, I cut across a main road. Eerie quiet settles in, sets me on edge. What time does the embassy close? Is it like a twenty-four-hour thing? Doubtful. Darkness will blanket the area soon, and then what?
Asking for help it is.
I choose the next person I near and touch a bony, pin-curled young woman on the arm.
Her pointy shoulders peak, then she glances over one with narrowed eyes. It's the exact look I'd expect her to bestow, especially considering the handful of anxious people I've witnessed thus far.
She's early twenties, dressed in a suit that would probably cost me a kidney, and the perfume wafting from her person makes me think of what liquid gold must smell like.
And me? I appear as if I just washed up from the sewer. Which is, ugh, accurate. I cringe inwardly, waiting for her to turn her probably plastic nose up at me.
But then her expression softens and her maroon-painted lips curve into a smile. "Oh my! Signorina, what on earth has happened to you?" English! Sigh. Her accent is thick and undeniably Italian. Familiar. In many ways like home.
A cringe dominates my insides again, but this time it's from my own stupid bias. By now I should've learned not to judge people based on appearances. My disheveled mien doesn't seem to faze her, let alone the mirrormark spiraling up the right side of my face like fraying scarlet threads. She sees me as human, equal. A rarity in this Reflection or the next.
I swallow and clear my throat, force myself to hold eye contact. She may not realize who she's speaking to — vessel of the Verity, queen of the Second — but I know who I am. Or I mostly know. "I was in an accident." That's a fairly true statement, right? Unless it ... wasn't an accident. "Can you tell me where —"
"Certainly, but first you come with me." She wraps an arm around my soggy shoulders as if it won't ruin her outfit. As if it's nothing.
Maybe there is some kindness left in the Third after all. At least, my intuition tells me it's the Third. Then again, this could be the Sixth or Seventh. For all I know I've died and gone to the First.
The woman ushers me down the stone-paved walkway, her lace-up ankle boots clack, clack, clacking in contrast to the squeaky shuffle of my Converse. We turn one corner, then another, heading deeper into what seems to be a residential area. Up one hill, then down the next. Level streets and curved streets and streets that end nowhere. How very New York. Not a stand-alone house in sight, but what the city lacks it makes up for in an overflow of historical architecture.
Some of the structures are built from old brick, while others are coated with peeling paint or yellowed stucco, all topped with Spanish tile roofing. Curving iron cages cover white-framed windows. Clotheslines droop between windows across the alley. An old woman with a kerchief swathing her hair beats a rug on a mini balcony. A wisp of gray looses and she tucks it back. Instantly I'm reminded of Reggie and my heart leaps. I've only known the old cook who helped raise Mom a short while. Surely my memory loss can't be as serious as it seems if I've retained even an ounce of my short-term recollections.
When we round another corner, my rescuer makes a sharp right and enters a building with a green door. My breath catches and something inside cracks. The Void's vessel has one brown eye and one green. The color of envy, jealousy, money, and any other corrupt thing you can think of.
I peek back at the door as it snaps closed. Anger rises with each step up the steep stairwell. Man, I hate that. I hate him. That much I remember. My reaction to the green door rings true to this, at least.
The woman withdraws a single key from her handbag. It's an old key, large and brass and artistic looking, a tattered red ribbon looped through its end. Like something you'd find in a souvenir shop but not intended for actual use. Reggie mentioned Mom found a key once, in the Second's castle.
"Never did learn which door it opened." Reggie shook her head and the story was forgotten.
Unimportant. Trivial, but also not. Because with each random detail that triggers a new memory, I'm one piece closer to a renewed mind.
My chaperone inserts the key into the lock. Jiggle, quarter turn, click. The door opens inwardly. A quaint one-room loft rests undisturbed across the threshold. It's full and bright and not at all what I'd expect to see on the inside of such a dilapidated old building. Everything is the color of eggshells, not white enough to be actual white, you know? Eggshell rafters, eggshell cabinets, eggshell gossamer curtains, eggshell bedposts. A window on the far end of the space allows a small breeze, the curtains billowing like an elegant gown on royalty.
"Sit, sit!" The woman gestures to a chair, which is of course also eggshell, and I obey. The familiar ping in the back of my mind, a.k.a. Mom's voice, doesn't call a warning, reminding me to proceed with caution, let alone not to go home with a stranger. The Verity settles cozily, grounding my trust. This woman is genuine. There's just something about her that assures me she means no harm.
She bustles about the loft, switching on antique lamps at every corner. Then she moves to the kitchen, pulling an eggshell teacup and saucer from a high cupboard. An eggshell teapot and tea tin from another. The tea tin is silver, standing out as a diamond in a quarry. A closer look informs me it's white tea, the words White Earl Grey engraved onto one side in fancy lettering. My cheeks perk. It's a sign, has to be. Earl Grey is Mom's favorite. The Verity warms my core, further infusing me with calm. I may be lost and confused, but I'm safe.
I smile and yawn, relaxing a smidge as the woman, who remains unnamed, prepares tea in silence. A folded newspaper rests on the round eggshell table before me. I pull the paper near and examine the front page. And that's when the first twinge of uncertainty rises. I glimpse my rescuer from beneath my eyelashes, take her in again. Noticing the distinct Agent Carter hairstyle sweeping the wavy strawberry locks off her face. The classic red of her lips. The style of her jacket and skirt. Even the laces of her vintage ankle boots stand out now.
I look down at the paper again. At the date printed there. The timeless voices of Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Bing Crosby bombard my brain all at once, their refrains meshing into unsettling noise rather than soothing ballads. This is much more complicated than I first realized. When I was transported through the wormhole, I knew I had no idea where I'd end up, which Reflection it would spit me into. I was not prepared, however, for this. I may not know exactly where I am, but I know when. And when is not then. I've been sent to a completely different decade. A different century, for that matter.
Even if I could find the US embassy or another Threshold and make my way back to the Second or Fourth or Fifth, what good would it do me?
Because it's February 7, 1945. And I have no clue how to get back.
Again!" I heave. "Don't go soft on me now." My weapon arm supports my middle. Every muscle and bone aches. My head pounds, and if I had a shirt on it'd be drenched with sweat. It's been twenty-four hours since Em disappeared through the wormhole. Since then the pain hasn't stopped. Without her it won't. Without her love it's up to me to keep my mind about me — and my heart. My goals rush through my thoughts, racing to keep up with my raging adrenaline.
Find Em. Take her to the Fountain of Time in the Seventh. Change the past. Fix the present. Restore hope for the future.
It all seems too simple. My blade swipes the air. We're missing something, but what? I wipe my seeping brow with my forearm. Dahlia's been around longer than any of us. I trust her when she says we must go back in time if we're to destroy the Void and set things right in the here and now. My opponent grits his teeth but makes no move to charge again. Still, I've been around long enough to know this isn't a game ...
"I think we've had enough for one night, boy." Saul Preacher lowers his battle-ax and heads for the back door of Dahlia Moon's cottage. Over one shoulder he adds, "You know I enjoy a good sparring match, but I'm beat." He scratches his jaw where gray whiskers grow over claw-shaped scars. "We'll pick up where we left off next chance we get."
I straighten my spent body and narrow my dry eyes. The moonlight is hardly enough to illuminate my target, but I'm no amateur. "Think again," I call. Then I flick my mirrorglass blade directly at his shadowed back.
He whirls, all two hundred–plus pounds of him. He may be short and stout, but Preacher's not a man to be trifled with. Swift as a clipper ship he blocks my throw with the flat side of his ax. My knife pings the metal and clatters to the dirt.
Preacher snorts, then scratches his trimmed beard. "You'll have to do better than that, Kyaphus."
"One more hour." My skin itches so much it's maddening, the Void-filled veins pulsing against the surface. But I pin my arms to my sides. I will not let it change me. And that includes acknowledging the torture and agitation. "I need to stay strong if I'm going to keep the darkness at bay." He doesn't know there won't be a next time. No one does.
His right eye twitches. Do I detect a smirk fluffing his whiskers? "Fine. But be warned I'll not go easy on you. You may be bleeding before we're done." He snatches my knife and slides it across the sand toward me.
I grab it and wipe off the dust on my pant leg. "No problem." I flip the knife in my hand and crouch into a defensive stance. "I've always said blood is more a luxury than a necessity anyway."
He laughs at that, ax raised once more. Then he charges.
* * *
One hour quickly turns into two, then three. I won't relent and Preacher accommodates me nicely. A Guardian without a Calling, he's always had to compensate with the tough-guy act. At least that's what I've sensed. People try to hide from me, but I read them. I see them.
Just like I saw Em. And, eventually, she saw me too.
When I'm so out of breath I can't catch it, I finally agree to call it a night, or morning as the case may be. We head inside and Preacher commences snoring the second his head hits the cot, boots on and ax in hand. I roll my eyes and cross to the bedroom window, holding my blade up to reflect the waning moonlight. I'll never forget the day I obtained my mirrorglass blade. For some, a weapon is a trophy. For me, it's a hefty reminder of who I am and where I come from, of the person I will always aim to be.
But it isn't the light on the blue-silver knife that gains my attention. Instead, it's my own altered image. I haven't looked at myself since she left, couldn't bear to see what she saw that caused her such terror. But there it is. There I am. Blackened veins everywhere, clawing at my torso and creeping up my neck. Even my honey-colored hair has darkened, my eyes displaying subdued shades of their original colors. The gold flecks in my green eye have vanished, leaving a scum-like circle of puke in their place.
I smirk and roll my shoulders. What's the outside? The shell I'm stuck in? This doesn't define me. Never has, never will. As long as I serve the Verity, as long as I cling to love, nothing, not even the Void itself, can take me.
Excerpted from "unbreakable"
Copyright © 2018 Sara E. Carrington.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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