Talk about your midlife crisis. How was I supposed to know when I bought a pretty country church in a city named Rome that I was acting like a guardian deity? Lares Schmares. Anybody who deifies me needs serious therapy.
I went very still. Thirteen gongs? No. That wasn’t right.
Monty suddenly whipped around and ran back into the shadows. “Monty, come back here.” I hurried after him. The belfry was giving me the creeps and I’d decided I’d wait until morning to fix the bell. If I had to, I’d put earplugs in my ears to get through the rest of the night.
My little dog watched me approach with my light. He stood on his back legs, his front paws resting on the short belfry wall. Whining, he danced excitedly as I reached him, begging to be lifted.
“You can’t go up there,” I told him, eyeing the narrow ledge around the top of the short wall. Rising from the wall on all four sides were open archways so the bell’s music could travel across the countryside.
I looked out on the cemetery in the back, shivering at the sight of the fog roiling over the ground. It looked like a scene from a Halloween horror flick. Shivering violently, I pulled the robe closer as I stared out over the fog-shrouded tombstones.
The cemetery was old. Really old. With tombstones that were broken and falling over. The grass and weeds had grown up all around the stones, in some cases obscuring them entirely.
Maintenance on the little plot had been neglected for years. I was going to change that. The ground below me was sacred. The lives within it were important. Giving them back the resting spot they deserved was at the top of the list of things I planned to take care of as soon as I got settled.
In the distance, lightning spiked from the sky in a jagged spear of light and energy. A moment later, a soft boom told me thunder was hot on its heels. A cool breeze washed over me as Monty started to bark again.
Lightning stabbed downward again, significantly closer to my little piece of heaven. We needed to get out of there. “Come on, Monty. We’ll come back in the morning. With relief, I watched him bolt across the belfry and bound happily down the steps.
I started to follow him. But something caught my eye in the cemetery. I turned to look and felt a jolt of fear.
Someone was standing out there among the broken stones. I went very still, my eyes locked on the tall form. He…and I was pretty sure it was a man…stared back at me, though I couldn’t make out any features, just the gentle tilt of his head, but I could feel his gaze like a brand against my skin. With a sudden, inexplicable certainty, I knew he was looking directly at me.
We stared at each other for a beat as the fog swirled around his long legs, and then he slowly lifted a hand as if in a wave.
All the hair rose on my arms again.
The world exploded in light−detonated in a cacophonous boom. And the world turned charcoal gray beneath it.
“Say what?” I asked. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t hear you right.”
Shane’s gaze landed on the two men standing before the hut. “You heard me right. The Brothers aren’t fond of travelers. Let’s just say they’ve been burned a time or two.”
“And yet this is where you brought us to spend the night?” Alina said. Despite her lowered brows, there was a suspicious twitch in her lips that made me think she was amused by our situation.
I wished I felt the same.
“I’ll agree it’s not perfect,” Shane said.
Hawk barked out a laugh. In a blink, several of the brothers had weapons in their hands.
We went very still, eyeing their weapons.
Alina’s slender fingers caressed the handles of her guns. “Blades made of stone. Interesting choice of weapon.”
“Don’t underestimate those blades,” Shane said, absently rubbing a shoulder. “They hone them until they’re impossibly sharp. And they can split a mosquito from forty yards with one of those things.”
“Let’s take a vote. Everybody who wants to move on,” I said, raising a hand.
Alina raised her hand too. When she saw Hawk hadn’t raised his, she lifted her other one. “I’m voting for two.”
I snorted out a laugh. A man stepped from the shadow of a smaller black hut. He held his blade low at his side, balanced between two fingertips. His expression didn’t show any emotion, but even from a distance of fifteen feet, I could tell he was tensed to throw the knife.
“Shane,” I murmured, pulling energy from the air. I gasped as the magic rushed to fill my core, thick and rich and vibrant with expectant power. I absorbed so much and so quickly that it shot to my hands, swirling in thick rust-colored clouds that filled the air around us with static electricity.
Every hair on my body stood at attention. Beside me, Alina sucked air and laughed with genuine humor. I turned to find her touching the ends of her hair that were floating around her head.
“What the…?” Shane rubbed the hair on his arms back into place, only to have it rise again.
I looked at Hawk. He looked back, his dark blond hair drifting around his face like an aura. He arched a single brow, making no attempt to tame his flyaway locks. That made me smile.
“I guess now we know why they all shave their heads,” Alina said.
“Um…look alive,” Shane mumbled, moving away from us and extending his hands as if preparing to fight.
That was when I realized every Brother in the camp was holding at least one blade. Several of them held a weapon in each hand.
And the air around us had become so saturated with magic it was almost impossible to draw breath.
We were going to die.
Belle’s door creaked as something shoved it open.
We didn’t dare turn to look at Nicht as he dropped lightly to the ground. A beat later, I heard him yawn, a long, theatrical affair that usually involved exposing a lot of big white teeth.
I risked a look and almost laughed. He looked like a giant black puffball. All of his fur stood at attention from the static.
Like a cold summer rain, the hellhound’s appearance doused the building hostility in the camp.
Blades slipped out of sight without any apparent movement. Backs went ramrod straight.
And before I knew what was happening, every single Brother had dropped to his knees and lowered his forehead to the ground.
We all looked at Shane. He shook his head. “I have no idea. But the dog seems to have caused a break in the hostilities, so I say we go for it.”
His comment was met with a low, extended growl, followed by another doggy yawn.
A portal protector and her baby gargoyle, a guardian daemon, a hellhound, and a witch. Together, they must survive in a strange land filled with unknown monsters. Combined they must be strong enough to defy an elite group of magical terrorists. They are Auctus, augmenting the magic flowing through her world…but will they be enough?
A Taste of Auctus…
The land that stretched out in front of me was a patchwork of different types of plants, all sown in perfect rectangular gardens with strange rock formations on every corner. In the farthest field, an enormous horse pulled a metal contraption through the gray soil. A tall man rode the back of it, standing on a small metal platform as the horse furrowed the fields.
I lay on my belly beneath the soft, overarching branches of a bush, a pair of special field glasses pressed to my eyes. With those glasses, I could see the small patch of white hairs on the horse’s back, probably regrowth after an old injury. I could also see the determined set of her taskmaster’s jaw and the hard glint in his pale eyes.
A bird trilled several yards from where I lay, and my gaze jerked in that direction. Tiny pieces of a nearby sandstone tree fluttered down around my head. I sneezed as the granular wisps of bark that gave the tree its name got sucked into my nostrils.
The man on the plow tensed and a hostile gaze slid unerringly in my direction. I hunkered down with a mumbled swear.
“Don’t swear, Glynnie,” said a soft, chastising voice. “It’th not nithe.”
Setting down the field glasses, I rolled onto my back and looked up at the baby gargoyle. “If somebody didn’t keep throwing bark dust at my face, I wouldn’t be worried about getting caught, and I wouldn’t accidentally say an admittedly unfriendly word.”
Boyle tsked me clumsily, his tongue not accustomed to the gymnastics needed for the sound. “Don’t make ’scuses for your bad behavior, Glynnie.”
I frowned, but there was nothing behind it. He was just too darn cute. Even if he was becoming a bossy boy since his Aunt Sissy had decided we were barbarians and started teaching us both manners. “We have to stay really quiet, baby boy. I told you that. If the man over there saw us spying on him…”
“He’d be really angry,” said a deep, rusty voice from a few feet away.
Boyle’s head shot up, his turquoise gaze went wide, and he covered his mouth with a long-fingered hand.
I rolled and leaped to my feet in a single move, the knife I kept in a sheath on my thigh hitting my palm before my mind even had time to register that I’d gone for it.
The man standing on the gray-green grass five feet away from me crossed tanned, muscular arms over his chest and lifted shaggy silver brows skyward. “First, you trespass on my land and now you’re going to stab me with a knife?”
I moved to stand between him and the baby, who was climbing down the tree with the ease of a monkey or a…well…a gargoyle. “When you put it that way,” I said. “It sounds unfriendly.”
I couldn’t be sure, but I thought his lips twitched slightly at that.
His gaze slid to Boyle as the baby clasped my hand in his warm grip. “Don’t be mean to Glynnie. She’s not treespassin’. She only mostly passed bushes ta come here. Not trees.”
I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling.
The man in front of me cleared his throat. He looked down at his muddy boots. “Well, if you’re sure she’s good people, I won’t yell.”
Boyle’s little face lit up in a smile. He bounced up and down, jerking me along with the energy of his jumps. “See Glynnie, he nice. We don’t have ta be quiet no more.” Boyle kept bouncing like he had an invisible jump rope, his energy off the charts from too many recent days stuck inside Victoria. Apparently, we’d landed in Outvald just before the rainy season. And, so far it had been a doozy.
The man’s eyes sparkled, his steel-gray eyes warming. “He sure is a springy little thing.”
I nodded, sliding the knife back into its sheath. “He’s been cooped up too much lately.”
The man looked out over his fields, grimacing. “It’s all I can do to plow this year. The mud’s just about to do old Bessie in.”
As if responding to his statement. The enormous horse blew through its nostrils and dipped its head. The short tail swished at a bug and her head whipped around, big teeth snapping at something that pestered her. I’d noticed the bugs in Outvald were downright scary. At least twice as big as anything I’d ever seen at home.
The man extended a work-roughened hand. He looked at it and grimaced, pulling it back. “Name’s Shane. You have to be Belle’s granddaughter, Glynn.”
Belle was a nickname Grams had used, a name from her past. “I am. How’d you guess?”
“She had long brown hair just the same color as yours, with the sun glinting copper off the strands. And you have her eyes. A brown as dark as night.” He tilted his head. “You’re taller than Belle though, what are you about five-ten?”
“Five eleven,” I told him, feeling self-conscious about my size. I wasn’t only taller than most women, but I wasn’t small-boned either. I was a big woman, not meaty, but strong. Not a woman who men felt like they had to tuck away and protect.
“Belle was a strong woman too. She always gave as good as she got.” He stared toward my land, his expression seeming to reflect good memories rather than bad.
Hearing him call Grams Belle was a little disconcerting. I knew Grams had been called different names by different people. She’d liked to compartmentalize the segments of her world. But to me, she’d always just been Grams.
Belle had been a special name. She’d told me a little bit about the time when she’d used it. And I’d seen the fond memories dance across her face as she had. It was a name from her youth. So, it made sense she would have gotten the name on Outvald. She’d spent her youth there. “I haven’t heard that name for a while,” I told him, laughing. “Except as it pertained to that stupid car.”
It was his turn to look surprised. “She still has that old Chevy? Goddess, that thing has to be as old as I am.”
“We still have it, yes.” I gave him a searching look. “You knew Grams passed, right?”
His gaze slid to the horizon toward Victoria, and sadness filled his expression. “I didn’t know for sure. But I thought she had.” He stared hard at the rolling hills and oddly shaped trees in the distance as if he could picture Victoria’s weathered peaks and chipped paint from there. “I’ll tell you a little secret, Glynn, your Grams was never far from Outvald, even when she went through the portal that last time.” He thumped his chest with his fist. “She stayed here. In the hearts of all the people she touched.” His eyes glistened and he blinked, looking away with embarrassment. Sniffing, he turned to Boyle with a forced smile. “And who is this handsome young man?”
“I’m Boyle,” the baby said proudly. He drew himself up to his full height of twenty-eight inches and a smidge, as Sissy liked to say to make him giggle.
“Boyle’s my son,” I told Shane. My gaze held his for a beat, looking for any kind of judgment that would make it impossible for us to be friends.
But he only inclined his head in a quick nod and crouched down to speak to Boyle. “I’ll bet you’ve never ridden a horse.”
Boyle’s eyes almost popped out of his head. He started bouncing again, his fingers clutching at my shirt as his eyes went wide. “Can I, Glynnie? Can I? Can I?”
I grabbed his hands to keep him from ripping my shirt and looked at Shane. “Are you sure it’ll be okay?” I nodded toward Bessie, who was contentedly ripping gray-green grass out of the ground with her powerful teeth.
“Absolutely. Old Bessie loves kids, don’t ya girl?”
The horse lifted her head and nickered softly, her ears twitching toward Boyle and then swiveling away, unconcerned.
“Then, I’m sure he’d love it. Thank you,” I told him warmly.
He held my gaze a beat and I saw the truth in his words when he said, “It’s my pleasure, Glynn. It truly is.”
I’m Glynn Forester and I’m Magis. More. I enhance and strengthen magical energy. My power augments rather than creates.But sometimes More is not enough.
My world is fractured between magic and non-magic. The magical elite rule. And they are ruthless and corrupt. They want what I protect. But protecting it has been my family’s job for time before time. So I hide. I hide from those who would attempt to use my abilities for unscrupulous purposes. I hide to save innocents from their venom.
But something’s changing. The world around me is pulsing with malevolent magic, I realize I no longer have the luxury of anonymity. It’s hard to give up my old ways. But I may not have a choice. Others will need my help. And if I deny them I’ll be no better than those who threaten my world.
Will my magic make a difference in this new reality? I can offer Magis. More. But will it be enough? And will there be anything left of me when it’s done?
“Buy this book! Open up the pages and step inside the world of magic and monsters, even monsters who look like you and me. This is one adventure you don’t want to miss!!!!”
A light fog had settled into the zone. A cool mist that fell over my clothes and turned my chin-length brown bob stringy and limp. The miasma encapsulated the gently awful smell that always pervaded the street, invigorating it, turning it into something almost alive.
I grimaced as I shifted against the still-warm scratchiness of the roof. My boot stuck for a beat, clinging to the tar where a piece of the shingle had broken away.
Behind me, the soft glow of a lamp bathed the sharp slope of roof. Like a siren’s melodious notes sifting through the fog of a storm-tossed sea, the light called to me.
I sighed, shifting again.
My stomach growled. I winced at the sound, despite the fact that it fell into the fog and was lost. Nobody heard it but me. It was a stark reminder that it had been a long night, and I was ready for it to be over.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Not until I found him.
Not until I confronted him.
A soft scuff had me straightening from my crouch, the sharp, wavy blade of my knife held at my side in a firm grip. The grip of the weapon was warm, as if I’d been holding it for a while. But it had been safe in its sheath against my thigh.
The shadows behind the mist swirled and gained density. I tensed, staring into the moving fog. “Who is it?”
My voice was soft enough to barely nudge the mist aside. But the creature that moved in an uneven shuffle in my direction heard me. He heard me just fine.
Perfectly round eyes glowed briefly in the light from my window. A small face, gray and leathery, grimaced as he took in my stance ─ the charcoal heft of my knife. “Sorry, Glynnie,” the little gargoyle said. “I didn’t try to sneak.” Boyle ducked his head, his pointed ears shifting with guilt. A soft scraping sound preceded the sliding of his long tail across the roof, and his claws scritched softly as he sat.
“It’s okay,” I told the baby. I gave him a smile because he had a tender psyche and was generally unsure of himself. That was what happened when you were dumped with a stranger as an infant. “I should have been paying attention.”
He shifted again, the scritch, scritch, scritch of his strong black claws a soft song in the night. “Is da man there?” he asked in a whisper so loud it couldn’t help carrying across the street.
I hid a grin. “No.” I turned back to the street below, watching the moonlit surface of the rough asphalt for signs of the creature who’d invaded my life and yanked what peace I’d managed to scrounge brutally away. “Not tonight.”
My stomach growled again. A soft huff of amusement spilled between Boyle and me. I grinned, spreading my palm over my belly. “I’m hungry,” I told him. “How about you?”
His round eyes, so dark in the night but a bright turquoise blue in the sun, sparkled with excitement. “Yeth!”
I grinned at the soft lisp. He’d almost grown out of the tendency with the arrival of his adult teeth. But every once in a while, one would slip through again. I loved the sound. It reminded me of the first years of his life. “Come on, then,” I told him, moving toward the window. “I made stew.”
The baby ’goyle gave a gentle huff of pleasure. He jumped through the window when I opened it, landing with a soft thump and then waddling across the room and flinging himself onto my bed.
Boyle loved my bed. He rolled happily, pulling the covers over his small body with another huff of pleasure.
I climbed inside and turned, my gaze sliding across the street below for just one more minute. My heart pounded hard with expectation or worry. I was never sure which anymore.
He was out there. I knew he was. I just had to keep watch. Eventually, I’d catch him in the act of invading both my mental and defensive space.
It was only a matter of time. And then I’d ask him why he was there. Because his presence felt wrong. It felt dangerous. Like an omen of bad things to come.