Tuesday, September 15, 2015

CURSED - Book 8 - Sneak Preview


Book 8 in

The Crush Saga


Chrissy Peebles

Copyright © 2015 by Chrissy Peebles

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

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 Chapter 1

The sunlight faded fast, casting a purple haze on the jagged black mountains that surrounded the troops.
I shrugged my shoulders under the light metal battle armor; the king had insisted that I wear it. I chewed my lip nervously, wondering how it was all going to play out. Alexios knew the enemy well, but he’d shared little with me. Beyond what Dylan had shown me at The Sapphire Academy of Magic, and what I’d already seen in Big Bear Lake, I had no idea what the fey even looked like, at least not the ones we’d be fighting. I had no idea what we were up against, and that only made it all the more frightening.
“How do we kill them?” a servant girl next to me asked.
“I know a few ways,” I said.
The guard next to me shook his head. “You won’t be fighting, Taylor. You’re just here for show, to give the people something to believe in.”
“If I’m here, I’m fighting. I have amazing powers.”
“Yes, I heard what you did in France,” another hunter said.
“Then you know I can be a great asset to this cause.”
“Races from all over the world have joined us. It isn’t necessary to risk our queen’s life.”
“But I can do so much more,” I said. “Please let me join the fight.”
“It’s time for our queen to speak,” another said, touching my arm softly and gently leading me away.
I stopped. “What’s going on?”
“We need you to speak to the people, and then I have orders to escort you back to the castle before the battle starts.”
 As we walked up the mountain, I turned to look at the soldier. “This is crazy.”
“I suppose it does seem odd,” he said.
“What happened to the girl who was sunbathing on the beach at Big Bear Lake, talking about her upcoming school year? That naïve girl who jumped from the cliffs, listened to music, and swam at the swimming hole?”
“I believe that ship has long sailed, Highness,” my escort said.
“So much has happened. I’ve…lost my innocence.”
“You’ve gained experience, and now you can encourage our troops,” he said.
I was led up a large hill. At the top, I glanced down upon thousands of vampires, werewolves, and witches, hordes of them stretching as far as my eye could see. My hands began to tremble, as I wasn’t used to being in front of such a large crowd, particularly when a great majority of the eyes looking back at me weren’t even human. I had spoken at charity events and parties and a few lectures Alexios had planned, but this was different. There were thousands upon thousands, a sea of beings, all waiting for me to say something.
“And now, here is our queen!” Alexios announced, guiding me over and kissing me on the cheek.
My nerves began to get the best of me, and a kiss from him certainly didn’t help. Instantly, I froze, and it was as if I’d swallowed an entire cantaloupe and couldn’t possibly squeeze a single word out around it.
“Just speak from your heart, the way you always do,” Alexios said. “Tell them that you’re on their side and that we will conquer our enemies. Leave them with no doubts.”
I looked out at the crowd before me, an odd mixture of vampires, wolves, and witches, united as one because of all the hard work Alexios and I had put into trying to bring everyone together against the threat. They all listened to me because I was a hybrid, and I harbored within me a little piece of them all. Maybe being a mutt has some purpose after all, I mused as I mustered up the courage to speak to them.
“Hello, everyone,” I nervously began, my half-chewed bottom lip trembling ferociously. “For so long, our races have been divided, and now the fey have stormed in to try to take over, but we mustn’t let that happen. You stand before me now, a supernatural army, united and strong. As your queen, I am part of all of you. I am werewolf, vampire, and witch. You are all special, and I am honored to carry a part of that within me. We are supernatural beings, all fighting for one sole purpose, and that is to win, to survive. We cannot stand by and idly tolerate injustice. I say we show ‘em what happens when a bunch of supernatural beings unite and band together!”
A cheer began to ripple through the crowd, coupled with howls and even a few disturbing whistles that sounded more like hisses. For a moment, I thought I even heard a few barks.
“We must set aside our differences, our grudges. Save your anger for those freaks who want to destroy us and take over our world. It’s our destiny to live and to make the most of our lives. Let’s work together and take back our world! United we stand! As separate tribes, we will never defeat them, but if we combine into one brilliant military force, we can come out victorious over our common enemy. Let’s not live in enmity for one more day, even one more hour, one more minute. Right now, turn to your neighbor and tell that person, ‘I’m here for a reason, and I will fight for what I believe in. If there has been a rift between us, I forgive you, and I hope you’ll forgive me. We must unite and work together, and we will fight and take our world back!’ Life is short, people, and no one has the right to tell us how to live it. We will fight and give it all we’ve got in every battle, and we will ultimately win the war!”
Suddenly, the whole meadow was alive with applause and cheering, and creatures and people of every kind began shaking hands and embracing one another.
“Thanks for listening to me today,” I said. “I consider you my brothers and sisters in this world, and I want you to know that I’ll never, ever give up until justice is served and we get our world back! You have my word on that, and I hope I have your word as well.”
More clapping, screaming, whistling, cheering, barking, snarling, and growling ensued, and I basked in the uplifting inspiration of one of the most glorious moments in all my life.
“You did it,” Alexios said, lifting my arm high in the air and smiling at me, as if I’d just won some world-champion boxing match. Everyone cheered even louder when he enthusiastically shouted, “United we stand!”
I was then led away, but as I gazed up at my so-called husband, I wanted nothing more than to fight. “Alexios,” I begged, trying to free myself from the grip of my escort, “please let me join this cause. You must let me fight.”
“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen,” he said.
I looked around and saw that he’d tasked an entire legion of soldiers to accompany me, surrounding me like the Secret Service would shield a hated President. I knew I could never take on so many. “I can’t let our people fight without me,” I muttered, shaking my head.
A hunter overheard me and shook his head. “You will not fight today, Highness. You are a queen, not a warrior, and my instructions are to get you safely back to the castle.”
A blonde woman rushed through the crowd. When she screamed my name, I immediately recognized her voice, and I commanded the guards to let me see her.
“Taylor!” she shouted, pushing through the soldiers to reach me.
“Oh my gosh! You’re here.”
“Since the fey are here and attacking, Alexios let every supernatural being into his kingdom so we can all stand united and fight.”
“Good. I’m so glad you’re here. Alexios has been awful to me.”
“And you stayed here?”
“I had too. I was the spokesperson for the war. People came together because of me and my hybrid status. If the supernatural races had remained divided, we wouldn’t stand a chance of winning this war.”
“You’re selfless, Taylor.”
“We can’t let the fey take over this world.”
“Of course not.”  
 “What kind of a fashion statement is that?” I asked, looking at her chainmail. I knew the armor was more symbolic, since she was part witch and werewolf.
“Alexios made us wear it. Do I look ridiculous?”
“Um…a little.”
She hugged me. “We’re all here to back you up. When we found out the fey are here, we all dropped what we were doing and came right away.”
“Where’s the rest of the gang?”
“Grant’s with Jesse and Tabby. Dylan’s running around here somewhere, in tiger form. I saw Violet, and Cindy and Fred took off with Drake and Ivan.”
“They won’t let me fight,” I said.
“Why not?”
“I guess they think their good queen might break a nail.” I looked around at my entourage. “I can’t stand it, but I’ve got an idea.”
“Hmm. That’s usually scary.”
I grinned and concentrated, ready to try that trick Dylan taught me in the woods, hoping I could summon the orb that would lift me high in the air. I pulled my friend into another embrace. I wasn’t sure if it would work with me holding Julie, but I didn’t really have much to lose. Electricity flooded over both of us. It didn’t hurt; it just felt like a small electric shock. Together, we turned into a ball of light and darted into the sky, hovering above the small army that had been guarding me.  
“Come back!” one of the hunters shouted.
We glided high over the towering tree line, stunning the guards with our getaway. Furious, and probably worried that Alexios would have their heads for letting me slip away, they chased us until we were out of sight.
We floated for a while and found a seemingly safe place to touch down. Unfortunately, landings weren’t my specialty, and as we started to descend, I began to lose control. At an insane speed, we lost altitude, hurtling toward the grass.  
“Are you okay?” Julie asked, noticing that I was rubbing my head.  
I massaged my pounding temples. “Yeah, I’ll live. How about you?”
She brushed herself off. “Hey, I’m breathing. The important thing is that we got you away."
“Sorry. I guess I need more flying lessons.”
“It’s fine, but how did you manage, carrying me?” Julie asked.
“I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I figured it was worth a try.”
“I couldn’t talk up there, but I could see everything. It was freaking amazing, Taylor!”
“I know. In time, I hope to master it…including the landing.”
“So? Are you ready to fight?” Julie asked.
“Yup. I say we show the fey who’s the boss around here.”
Ready to fight, we walked into the army and prepared ourselves.
“Won’t Alexios send more guards to find you?” Julie asked. “He seems to be on quite the power trip.”
“They’ll never find us,” I said. “We blend in like everyone else. Besides, they’ll be too busy trying to save their own butts.”
About an hour later, Julie was beginning to grow impatient. “How much longer?” she whispered, yawning.
“I’ve got no idea, Julie,” I said and then immediately grimaced. I knew I was being too sassy and snippy with my best friend, especially after being apart from her for so long. It was the building pressure of the battle ahead, especially with all those unanswered questions. What will the fey look like? How will they fight? I wished we knew more, because I didn’t like going into combat so blind. I wasn’t even sure if I should be in the fight at all, since I hadn’t been properly trained, but I knew that mine and Julie’s powers would come in handy. “We’ve just gotta wait it out,” I said. “If the fey take over this world, ours will be next.”  
“I wonder where the king is.” Julie stretched her neck and gripped the hilt of the small dagger at her side.
“Somewhere on the other side maybe. I really couldn’t care less,” I snapped. “I just want him to stay out of my way.”
“Not exactly wedded bliss, huh?” Julie asked.
“More like a nuptial nightmare. That slime-ball tried to keep me caged in his castle like some kind of porcelain doll. I want to fight for our people, to take out this threat before they destroy both our worlds. We can’t let the fey gain a foothold. If they do, nothing in either world will ever be the same again.”
“But Alexios wants to destroy the fey too, Taylor.”
“Yes, I know, but he’s got other problems, starting with the fact that he’s a royal pain in my royal—”
“Hey, now!” Julie said, smirking and cutting me off. “No disrespect to his Royal Highness,” she said, giggling.
Suddenly, a young man with brawny shoulders stopped in front of us and saluted. The look of brute strength said he was a werewolf, though he definitely wasn’t part of the pack from Big Bear Lake. A few seconds later, a warlock brought some horses to us. We talked for a few minutes about the impending battle, then hopped on; fortunately, they didn’t seem to recognize us in our armor or by our voices, so they didn’t tattle to Alexios.
I grabbed the reins and led my horse closer to the action, with Julie in tow.  
“My queen?” a soldier began.
I gritted my teeth at the title and said nothing.
“Aren’t you supposed to be safe inside the castle?”
“I’m here to fight, just like you.”
“A true warrior,” he said, smiling appreciatively. “We can use all those we can get, Highness.”
I wasn’t expecting that; I was sure he’d try to haul me off to the castle. I let out a long breath. “Thank you. Can you tell me what’s going on?”
 “The scouts have spotted the first of the enemy. They’re about five minutes away.”
“Five minutes?” I repeated, then swallowed hard. “Thank you,” I said, but the werewolf was already gone.
“Queen,” Julie commented, shaking her head. “I still have to get used to that.”
“Don’t start, Jules,” I replied, giving her a playful roll of my eyes.
I couldn’t keep the nerves at bay any longer, and thoughts of Jesse clouded my mind as well. I studied the field between the massive black mountains, hoping to put my mind at ease. I didn’t have to actively command any troops, but I was sure knowing the layout of the land would help me in battle anyway. We had to use every advantage, even know the terrain, for the existence of all immortals hung in the balance.
Witches stood in rows at the back of the massive force, waiting patiently, with their arms folded and engaging in leisurely discussions about what was to come. They were our most powerful close-range fighters, so keeping them safe was the main priority. I grinned at the thought: Get close enough to a witch, you nasty fey, and they’ll incinerate you on the spot as soon as look at you.
Beyond that were battalions of vampires, pale and regal in their black, form-fitting armor. They came from every coven in the country, tall and silent, their eyes blazing with focus, and they breathed power and looked as menacing as they were.  
Amongst them were small battalions of werewolves, not transformed yet. The fighters were ready, flexing their muscles and baring their teeth, but they didn’t bother with armor, as they didn’t need it. All they had to do was turn, and they would be a force to be reckoned with, with all the fury of nature at their beck and call.  
“Two minutes,” Julie commented, shifting her chainmail to stretch her legs and arms.
“Are you ready?” I asked, staring out across the shifting mass of fighters.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Julie said with a growl, raising her hand and twiddling her fingers. A flame sparked between them, and she made it dance from one fingertip to the other, until it reached her thumb. When she clicked her fingers, it disappeared.
A glint of metal caught my eye amidst the torches some of the troops were holding. I searched for it, then frowned hard when I realized its source.
Alexios sat atop a silvery white horse. The helmet on his head was glistening in the sun, the top of it shaped like a crown. So arrogant, even in battle, I thought. He was flanked by special fighters, strange creatures masked by their armor. A few were hunched over; I assumed they might be very ancient vampires, but I couldn’t be sure. I couldn’t believe the man atop that mighty steed was my husband, and I couldn’t wait for the marriage to be over.
“Here they come,” Julie murmured.
A slow roar spread through the ranks, rippling backward. Even the witches were noisy, and I joined in, yelling in defiance. The fey spread out over the cliffs, and I squinted up at them, using my advanced eyesight to pick them out. They had wings; that much I could tell, but their other features were masked in the fading light.
“They’re so creepy,” Julie shouted over the racket, “with wings and everything!”
“Charge!” I roared, raising my hands into the sky, hoping my special petal witch heritage would not fail me.
A lightning bolt shot out of me, and the first line of creatures burst into flames. The troops screamed for victory, and even though they hadn’t transformed yet, the werewolves howled at the sky.  
“Show off,” Julie said, then threw her own lightning bolt, a powerful one that took out the next two lines of creatures flying in our direction.
Alexios glared at me from across the battlefield, but I ignored it. He didn’t look happy about me being out there, but he didn’t try to have me put on house arrest either. The battle was on, well underway, and his selfish expectations weren’t my problem.
I paced from side to side, and my horse, Clara Belle, whinnied nearby. She wasn’t a fan of the werewolf in me, but I pushed her forward anyway.
The fey roiled on the hill, and the humming of beating wings filled the air in the silence between the army’s might roars.
“What are they waiting for?” I mumbled.
“Maybe they’re looking for a gap in our defenses,” Julie wisely surmised.
The last sliver of orange sunlight disappeared over the top of the mountain, and like a million bats leaving their cave for the night, the fey swept down the hillside. The flying creatures looked different from the ones Julie and I had just torched with our volts, and the fact that they had waited till sunset to come at us was not lost on me.  
“They don’t like the light!” I screamed. “Light the torches, everything you have! Make a bonfire if you can.”
The order was relayed to the back line of the witches, and they immediately shot handfuls of flames into the air. Unfortunately, they fizzled out quickly, casting only a quick flare of light on the approaching troops.
Julie created a massive, swirling ball of yellow energy. “Let’s see how they like a fake sun,” she said, fixing the giant sphere of light above the flying creatures.
The fey didn’t shriek or retreat, but they slowed before they reached the penumbra on the ground, then landed on the grass in a great scuffle.
“Darn. I guess the light doesn’t bother them,” I said.
“It was a good try,” Julie said.
I ducked as energy volts and arrows sped past me. A fey held up its hand, and the weapons stopped in midair. A single creature stepped forward from the bunch.
“Hold your fire!” Alexios boomed across the distance.
The troops fell silent.
“What does it want?” I whispered in the sudden quiet.
The creature stopped just outside the circle of light, then pushed her face in close and pressed it to the nearest vampire’s. She was horrific to behold: a gaping maw of a mouth, with two rows of sharp teeth, pointed ears, and long brown hair parted past them. I shuddered at the sight of her; she was like some horrific monster out of a twisted fairytale, with black claws and drool dripping from her chin. Black wings unfurled at her shoulders, and she flapped them languidly, gazing at the vampire before her.
“I am Dierdru,” the fey said, speaking in a high whine that made me wince. “Do you lead?”
The question was asked of the tall male vampire, but he didn’t reply.
As menacing as she looked, the fey was small, the size of a child, and she hovered in the air for a moment, then landed and punched the silent vampire in the stomach.
Still, the vampire didn’t move, didn’t even flinch.  
“I am Dierdru,” the fey repeated. “Do you lead this rabble?” The creature poked the vampire again, and one of the werewolves released a growl from deep within his throat. The fey cocked her head like and eagle and focused on the werewolf instead. “Or is it you?” Then, before the werewolf could answer, the fey took to the air and climbed slowly into the light. “I am Dierdru!”
The shriek pierced the night, and a few of the witches began to stir nervously. Clara Belle whinnied and reared up on her hind legs.
The creature looked down on the troops again. “Who leads this army?” Dierdru’s voice echoed off the sharp rocks, rebounding and growing in intensity.
I started to step forward, but Julie caught my arm and shook her head. “No, Taylor. Don’t.”
“I’m gonna tell her where to go, back to the Hell she came from.”
“Watch instead,” she whispered.
Frustration built up inside me, spreading to my extremities. Why should I watch and do nothing? Am I not the queen of the immortals? It wasn’t that I particularly enjoyed the title, but it wasn’t with in me to stand idly by.
“Who leads this army?” the creature asked.
“I am king of the immortals,” Alexios boomed, directing his own horse to move forward.
The hunched-over guards walked with him, vigilantly keeping watch over their master.
“I lead this army.”
Dierdru glared at my husband for a long while, as if considering what she should say. Finally, she screeched out, “I am the leader of the fey. Surrender now, or you all will be destroyed. We will paint every blade of grass with your blood!”
“We will fight you, cursed ones!” Alexios shouted. “You will not so easily defeat us and take our world. We are all prepared to fight to the death.”
“Then so be it!” the fey scowled. She turned and flitted back to her frightening companions. “If you fight, it will be to the death!” she screamed, but then she began uttering words in some garbled language that none of us could possibly understand.
The noise of her incoherent babbling increased as the other fey joined her, becoming an unbearable litany. They had a ground army and a flying one, and I could smell their foul stench from a mile away. They were fearless, soulless, emotionless, and ominous, and I gulped hard as the two armies grew closer.
“Attack!” Alexios yelled.
With a loud bam, the two armies collided. The old-timer vampires swung hammers and axes, while modern-day ones acted like snipers, cleverly hidden high in the cliffs and raining down their assault from above. The witches thrust their arms in the air, and light burst from their fingertips, hitting the ground and some of the adversaries in a series of violent explosions. Enemy fey flew everywhere, in a burst of green flames. The werewolves tore into battle, and Alexios’s hunters bravely charged forward.
Fey fell, some hit by fire or electricity and others pierced by arrows.
The witches shot fireballs into the ranks of tittering fey. When the fireballs found their marks, the fey seemed to erupt, sending chunks of flesh in every direction and spreading the stench of burnt meat through the air. I choked and moved with Julie, seeking higher ground. The fey swept forward, howling revenge for the fresh deaths.
Fire, ice, lightning, and all kinds of magical energy flew across the battlefield in a glorious display of colors as the witches united to take down the fey.
 The battle raged on as razor-sharp fangs and claws ripped into the skin of the enemy, but the fey were not quick to give up. Rather than retreating, they called in reinforcements.
I gasped as enormous shadows darkened everything around us and flapping, mighty wings came into view. “Dragons!” I screamed. “They’ve got dragons!”  
The creatures roared through the shrieks and cries of battle, striking with sharp talons and long teeth. They dived and twisted through the sky like stealth bombers, looking to score a mark, hoping to slam their huge bodies into groups of vamps or wolves. Their eyes burned red with scorn and hatred and violence as they rained down like terror from the skies.
One slammed into a group of vampires to my left, throwing the vampires violently into the air like shrapnel. The dragon let out an ear-splitting shriek and attacked, turning its massive body toward anyone who ran and instantly destroying them with streams of flesh-melting fire.
Finally, one brave vampire took a stand, slashing away at the vile creature’s monstrous wings. When I saw that it was Drake, I was surprised at how valiantly he fought.
The fey fighting on the ground began to part and thin as we took them down. I invoked lightning from the heavens. Julie held my hand and we merged our power, and pure white light flashed in the night sky. Visible flashes of distant bolts started to appear, and massive flashes of yellow lightning grew stronger. The wind blew our hair around as streaks of lightning illuminated the black sky in pale blue and yellow flashes, followed by red ones. Our power grew stronger, almost out of control. It was something stronger than petal magic; I knew that much. It flooded through me, and I seemed powerless to stop it. Bolts of lightning struck the great beasts, and as they fell, their shrieks and death cries made me jump. I let go of Julie’s hand and broke the connection, and the lightning disappeared. When our enemies pinpointed where the fatal lightning was coming from, they set their sights on us and launched an attack.  
Like a torrential downpour, a hail of arrows flew at us. I extended my force-field to protect as many as I could. Javelins and spears kept bouncing off it with loud bangs. More arrows whizzed past, swords flashed, fires blazed from the dragons, and a horse reared up next to me. The dragon creatures spewed more blazing flames, and we fought hard against our flying opponents. A barrage of arrows was launched, but the angry beasts retaliated by blowing out long streams of fire that incinerated the arrows like marshmallows on a campfire.
Shrieking, others dived through the clouds, making a quick descent to pounce on their foes, ripping into them with sharp claws and teeth. In seconds, they demolished rows of vampires. A stream of fire barely missed me, but with my quick reflexes, I jumped out of the way, leaving only grass, dirt, and rocks to be scorched where I’d just stood. Plumes of smoke billowed into the air, and fire sizzled in small patches in the grass. The entire scene was chaos.
When a group of snapping fey flew too close, Violet lifted her hands, and a flash of blue light enveloped her. When she blinked, the light spread out and surrounded the fey, suddenly paralyzing them; with their wings frozen, they dropped to the ground. Violet began a fireworks show of her own, shooting all kinds of dazzling colors and explosions with her hands as the next group came to assault us.
When a fey approached Dylan in his human form, his hands suddenly turned into giant claws, and he made quick work of tearing into the foe. I was amazed that he could remain human but still summon up his tiger claws when he needed them. Truly, as immortal as I was, the supernatural world still never ceased to amaze me.  
When Violet was slashed by the claw of a fey flying by her, she held her bleeding neck, then passed out.
“Violet!” I shouted, running over to her.
A vampire frantically looked up at me. “We need to generate heat somehow, cauterize her wound to stop the bleeding. Can you do that?”
“I can heal her,” I said.
“Witches can’t heal.”
“Petal witches can.” I placed my hands on her neck, and a light began to glow. I concentrated, trying to do it the way Tabby had shown me so I wouldn’t sap all my strength.
Violet’s eyes fluttered open, and she looked up at me.  
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” she said, scrambling to her feet. “Thank you, Taylor!”

“More incoming fey!” another werewolf shouted.

End of sample. 

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