Monday, June 15, 2015

Excerpt: THE LIGHT WHO BINDS

Dear Readers,

For those who cajoled me, here's an excerpt of The Light Who Binds . . . Enjoy!



The Light Who Binds

Bluebell Kildare Series, Book Two


Chapter 01 

Three Deaths


Bluebell Kildare
July 7, 2022, Red Ages

Lightning streaks across the twilight sky casting a brilliant glow on the building before me. Stone gargoyles loom above me, their eyes seeming to gleam and blink, their great amphibious wings, arched for flight. A slow roll of thunder fills the air as though the bowels of the earth are opening.

I behold the formidable oak doors of the Dragomir Magical Artifact Shop, wondering what mysteries lie inside. Oh, I know many spells, charms, and magic secrets reside within the artifacts, but those aren’t the unknowns I seek tonight. Tonight, I anticipate learning secrets about myself.

From behind me, the warmth of Jack’s chest radiates into my back, and Varg leans into my thigh. A measure of calm returns to me. Whatever news awaits me, at least I have friends at my side. I straighten my spine, lift my chin, and remove the remaining space between me and my future, pushing the heavy oak doors open to boldly stride in.

As I enter the shop, eddies of dust coalesce from the swish of the doors into a whirlwind at my feet. I’m instantly comforted by the familiar shelves of aged magical texts stacked on bookshelves and delighted by the glass-doored cabinet stocked with magical artifacts. I was last here just a few months ago, but I feel like an entirely different woman now.

Dragomira stands behind the counter and lifts her head with a weary expression, but a fierce glint fills her warm, brown eyes. She is not Dragomira right now. No, she is the Dragomir. Her movements, as fluid as rippling water, trace a path across the room as she quietly deadbolts the door behind us.

With a wave of her hand, she beckons us into her back room. A small fire flickers in the fireplace, casting dancing shadows across the walls. Jack and I take a seat in wing-backed chairs next to the hearth, while Dragomira, still curiously silent, pours three drinks from a beautiful decanter sitting on an ornate wooden table amidst the chairs. She places one in my hand in silent command, watching as I taste it. The shock of whiskey burns my throat and slides warmly to my belly. She sets a glass in front of Jack and keeps the last for herself.

As Dragomira takes her place, I notice again how strikingly beautiful she is. Her hair cascades in long, tumultuous brown waves against her olive skin, and her deep-set eyes gleam with life. Sitting back in her chair, she directs her scrutiny toward me. “Welcome, Illustrissima,” she begins. “I’m sure you have many questions.”

Her harmonious voice rolls through me in a soothing wave. I forget myself for a moment and tilt my ear to enjoy its song. Then I gather myself and say, “I do. Let’s start with the name Illustrissima. Why did you give this name to me?”

Dragomira blinks. Then she regards me steadily and answers, “I no more gave you the name Illustrissima than I gave you your blue eyes. It is a Latin word that has many meanings: the Shining One, the Bright One, the Lustrous One, the Famous One, the Distinguished One.” She waves her hand as though all of that is inconsequential. “You are all of these things. You simply are the Illustrissima.”

I take a slow sip of whiskey. “You can see my light.”

The Dragomir’s eyes flare with a glint of yellow in acknowledgement.

“How?”

She contemplates the fire for a moment before responding. “I am also many things. I have magic . . . gifts, you might call them, which allow me to see things that would normally pass unnoticed. However, what I have been most as of late is a scholar.” She looks at me intently again. “Tonight, your time would be better spent allowing me to share what I’ve learned about you.”

She’s right; after all, Jack and the Dragomir have kept me waiting on this information for months now. “Yes, why don’t you,” I answer curtly.

The Dragomir raises her eyebrows and Jack gives me a warning glance, but I am not so easily cowed.

She nods and settles back in her chair. “Let’s start at the beginning. I’ve told you the story of Patersuco and the inception of the Vampire race. As you know, it didn’t take long for him to kill in bloodlust and turn Dark, as corrupt as he was, but he had already started creating children. And so the curse spread.”

“What I did not tell you was that Patersuco was survived by his wife. Shaina lived in the village, and before the first winter of the Red Ages had passed, several of the townspeople had died at the hands of Patersuco and his Vampire progeny. The villagers turned on Shaina and burned her as a witch.”

I shudder at the thought of that pain, thankful I wasn’t there to feel it.

“Yes, these were rough times, Illustrissima. We have very few written accounts from that time, but from what we know, Shaina was Gifted. Like you, she was an Empath. The villagers tied her to an ash tree and used oak branches to burn her alive.”

“Both these trees have deep, old magic. Ash acts as a bridge between worlds, and oak provides strength. Somehow, the combination of the rage of the villagers, the strength of the oak, and the power of the ash all fed Shaina’s pain, creating a force strong enough to open a pathway from Shaina to the Great Demon Lilith. As she burned, Shaina was able to reach across to the Plane of Fire and lay a powerful curse upon Lilith.”

“What was the curse?”

Dragomira leans back, and her eyes glaze as her mind transports to another place and time. The firelight flickers, and shadows play artfully on the curve of her cheekbone. Then her husky whisper fills the room.
“Lilith, I call on you to hear me.
By my blood, you will be destroyed.
A light will come—
a light that shines through your evil;
a light that calls you to answer for your deeds;
a light that binds you as I am bound and burns you as I burn;
a light that rips you asunder and destroys your darkness. 
Lilith, hear me.
I call to you.
By my blood, you will pay for what you have done.
Lilith, by my blood, you will be destroyed.”
As these words wash over me, tendrils of fear sink into my flesh and thread through my soul. The curse grabs something deep and dark inside of me, and I start to shiver. I reach out for my drink and take another burning sip.

My voice comes, breathless but laden with protest against the implications of Dragomira’s story. “And you believe I am this light? You’ve proved no connection.”

She takes another drink of whiskey, a deep pull this time. I’m not sure if it’s the fire reflecting off them, but her eyes seem to swirl with yellow in their depths.

“Three times Shaina called Lilith’s name that night. Three times she demanded that Lilith listen. Three times she said that retribution would be by her blood. This cinched the curse. But what you need to know most is that while Patersuco’s son was sacrificed, his twin sister survived. Her name was Sorcha.”

“Still, how does that relate to me?”

She raises one dark eyebrow at me. “When Shaina said ‘by my blood,’ she meant her lineage, not the blood that flowed through her veins. You are Shaina’s only remaining descendent, through Sorcha.”

I stand rapidly, knocking into the table and causing it to rock furiously, my glass of whiskey threatens to spill. The table eventually comes to a rest, but I do not. I fling myself across the room and pace as the thoughts roil around in my brain. Despite the cacophony of questions on the tip of my tongue, one thought rises urgently above the rest.

They think I’m supposed to destroy Lilith!

I spin around to see both Jack and Dragomira watching me with grave concern.

Jack sits tensely on the edge of his seat as though ready to leap to my rescue. The light glints off his cropped golden curls, and he reminds me of a fierce golden angel ready for vengeance. Every hard plane of his body speaks of coiled strength and lethal abilities. I’ve felt those enticing planes beneath my fingertips just a few times, and I’m honest enough with myself to admit I want more.

Dragomira says, “There’s more.”

Jack and Varg growl simultaneously, and I guess the more she’s talking about isn’t quite the more I want.

I swipe my drink from the table and knock back the rest. The liquid scorches my throat and traces a fiery path down to my belly, providing a momentary distraction. With a huff, I sit down again and cross my arms. “Just tell me all in one shot, please. I’d like to process this once, not five times.”

Dragomira deliberately refills my glass. I consider this a bad omen. She begins again, this time watching me intently.

“Shaina was close with a woman named Mor who had the gift of sight. She warned Shaina that the villagers were coming for her. Still, they could not escape in time. When Shaina saw that she couldn’t outrun them, she entrusted Mor with Sorcha.

“Mor watched the burning from the safety of the woods, and it is she who documented the events of that night. Afterward, she took the babe to the Dragon tribe, a clan who lived in the Sea Caves nearby. While she was there, she had a vision. That’s what brings us to you.”

Dragomira lifts her hand and a roll of parchment flies off the mantle and into her palm. She passes it to me, and I carefully unroll the aged hide. Quietly, I read aloud the ancient script that promises to reveal my fate.

The DARK ONE spreads her plague across the land.
Rivers run red and earth soaks black with blood.
Man will fear the Cursed and greatly decline.
When they hide like rabbits, the end is near.
The DECEIVER will dance in her triumph.
There is one way that Man can rise again:
trust their enemy
live as one people,
or all will perish.
If they succeed, the DESTROYER will rage;
mourn her loss of souls,
plot her artifice,
move forth with vengeance.
Beware! The PRETENDER has many ways.
Need changes to greed;
love corrupts to hate;
hope buckles to fear.
Foes renew and the Great Pact is broken.
When Man wrongs Man, the BEAST has all but won.
Yet one last path still remaining for Man,
Yet one last path to deliver the Cursed.
The scion of Shaina’s blood will shine BRIGHT.
The BRANDED ONE will thrice-fold be guarded:
blade preserves body;
bone benefacts mind;
Cursed entrenches soul.
The LUSTROUS ONE will thrice-fold be fitted:
light her palisade,
justice her design,
love her instrument.
The ONE WHO IS KNOWN will thrice-fold meet death:
once in trade for life,
once that is taken,
once that is given.
The LIGHT WHO SHINES will shatter the darkness.
The LIGHT WHO SHINES will deliver the Cursed.
The LIGHT WHO SHINES will assail the DARK ONE.
The ANNIHILATOR will be destroyed.
The ERODER OF SOULS will be rebirthed.
Be steadfast, for the end is uncertain.
The edges of the aged parchment nearly crumble under the force of my grip. I loosen my shaking hands, and color flows back into my knuckles. Varg, sensing my stress, leans heavily against my knee. He places his snout in my lap, raises his eyebrows and blinks his ice blue eyes. I wrap my fingers in his long fur, gaining strength from his comfort.

I turn my attention to Dragomira and Jack. They clearly knew the prophecy, as their faces are not filled with questions; instead, a great solemnity surrounds them like a thick mist. Dragomira seems weary but resolute. Jack’s eyes burn with an unnatural shine, and fear and pain wisps around him in an eerie dance. Most telling of all are the tentative vines of hope intertwined with his concern.

Once more, I fill the dark silence. “The first stanza refers to the beginning of the Red Ages. The second stanza clearly describes the creation of the Great Pact.”

An unhappy agreement with my interpretation weighs their expressions.

I study the parchment for another moment. “We have no way of knowing if the third and fourth stanzas have occurred yet. The beginning of the fifth stanza says that the Great Pact will be broken.”

My hands tremble at the thought of that. It is not an event I wish to see in my lifetime. The image of Daylight Vampires taking blood at will and Dark Vampires going unchecked by Daylight Vampires horrifies my very soul.

Dragomira prompts, “And what does the end of the fifth stanza predict?”

Suddenly, I feel older than the darkness of the sky and more burdened than the ground beneath the mountains. “It predicts my birth and says I am the last hope.”

I lay my hand on Jack’s arm. “The last hope to free the Vampires from the curse.”

His jaw clenches, and his body becomes taut. Shame wraps around him as guilt leaks from him like wine through a sieve, filling all corners of the room.

“Jack?” I ask.

He glances at me briefly, then stares straight ahead. “You should go over the rest.”

The parchment, all but forgotten in that singular moment, still remains in my hand. I wrestle my eyes away from him and examine the next set of stanzas. “I can see how the Lustrous One could refer to me, but what about the Branded One and the One Who is Known”

Dragomira responds, “Recall that Illustrissima means Famous One and Distinguished One. To say someone is known is equivalent to saying they’re famous. Remember, there was no technology in those days—no phones, cars, or news stations. People’s circles were small. If someone was widely known, they were famous.”

“But I’m not famous, and I’m certainly not branded.”

Jack grimaces further. “You are famous. When the slaves were found in Blackwater’s house, the Dilectus Deo staged protests across the land. Of course, you were missing at the time, so your name was spoken in every other broadcast. The Dilectus Deo cast aspersions on you, said that you were involved in the crime rather than a victim. You were a topic of much debate.”

“You’re also branded. Your birthmark is no ordinary mark. To be marked like that is to be distinguished. It connects you both to the name Illustrissima and to the prophecy.”

It feels as though the noose is tightening further. I can’t imagine that I’m special enough to be the savior of the breeds. Every scrap of my life has been a fight for even the smallest amount of respect, so to be cast in this light, as though I’m important . . . I just can’t grasp it. But, clearly, they believe it.

“So you really think that I’m the Illustrissima, and I’m supposed to deliver the Vampires from the curse?”

Jack replies softly, “You don’t have to do anything. I’m not sure that the entire Vampire breed is worth your life.”

“Jack, it isn’t just the Vampire breed at stake,” I point out. “According to the prophecy, the fate of all mankind hangs in the balance. That’s a large prize for destroying Lilith. If this is true, then it’s lucky that I’ve already died twice and I only have once more to go.”

Their heads snap toward me, four shocked eyes taking me in as though wings have suddenly sprouted from my back.

I narrow my gaze as I take in their befuddlement. I was sure they would have known.

“I was stillborn,” I explain, “and with a combination of my father’s healing skills and my mother calling to my soul, much the way you did, Jack, I came back to life. That’s the first death, which was in exchange for life. The second death, the death that was taken, was at Blackwater’s hands. That leaves a third death: one that must be given, though I have absolutely no idea what that means. And I’m not saying I believe the prophecy, but how does one go about giving a life and killing the Great Demon, anyway? I’m certainly not killing anyone in sacrifice.”

A wry smile slides across Dragomira’s face. “If I knew, and if it were within my power, I assure you it would already be done. I can tell you though, it’s no coincidence that the amulet found its way into your hands. This is ultimately a war between you and Lilith, and somehow the Grimoire is involved. I wouldn’t be surprised if that necklace of yours played a part as well.”

I lightly finger the Belladonna necklace, which drapes down my breasts and shoulders like a piece of archaic chainmail. “Can you remove it? Do you know how?”

Dragomira stands in obvious dismissal. “Come to me tomorrow evening, and I will see. Now, I have other things to attend.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Available Now!


Recommended reading order for the Bluebell Kildare Series:
The Light Who Shines
The Binding of the Wolf
The Light Who Binds

Now, did you enjoy it or was it too much of a tease?

Lilo

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