A single night can change your life… for the worst.
It’s been a century since the last Centennial Storm, the calamitous phenomenon that covers the world in disasters– tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, tsunamis, and dust storms– caused not by nature, but by alien creatures from another realm. The Stormkind.
Ava Reid tries not to think about that night, when she was caught in a hurricane and face to face with one of the Stormkind, the man with a dagger, and the agony she felt when he stabbed her with a crystal blade. Yet as she and the rest of Florida’s citizens begin to rebuild their lives, Ava can’t help but notice strange things happening around her. Things she seems to be causing. The gusts of wind and sudden floods that attract the attentions of a mysterious stranger leaving her clues, and the deadlier men following her.
It isn’t long before Ava is swept up into a wild conspiracy, led by a secret society that knows the truth about the Stormkind– and what their enemies have planned for the world she loves. If she wishes to protect her friends and her family, Ava must harness her strange new abilities and become part of the Stormkind society. Because if she loses control, there will be no force strong enough to stop her…
“They’re almost here,” my father said.
I watched the heavy storm front dragging over the violently churning ocean. It towered over the houses and shelters, a menacing wall of pitch black cloud. The darkness beyond it seemed endless, like the horizon was being swallowed up by a black hole.
So much for this summer’s tan, I thought to myself.
Spastic light cracked past the windows of the house. The flashes weren’t lightning, though the rain was falling heavily onto the roof of our house. Gusts of wind pummeled the streets, pushing the palm trees so hard I was certain they would bend in half.
We’d proofed it as much as we could for the Centennial, but it wouldn’t be enough. Even though we knew this was the year, that history and technology had given us the tools and warning we needed, it hadn’t made a difference.
Nothing could have prepared us for the Centennial Storm, or the things that came with it.
The flashes of light increased in frequency. With them came a low, rumbling sound from overhead. It sounded like thunder, but wasn’t. It didn’t crack in a loud burst and grumble back to the clouds. No, this went the opposite way. The thunder started in a low menacing growl, then became louder and louder until it was a roar that sent a shudder through the entire house.
My vision still had white spots from the light flashes. My father grimaced as he slammed the last of the iron hatches shut and locked the window closed. The thick metal looked like it belonged on a bank vault, but it didn’t reassure me like it should have.
We hadn’t won the Lottery, so we weren’t to be evacuated underground, and there was nowhere we could run. The Centennial didn’t just hit our unlucky little state of Florida.
The Centennial hit the entire world.
I suppose we should have been a little more grateful to the Storm Protection Union for making sure we had supplies and a thoroughly reinforced house, but honestly, I would have rather been underground with the rich and powerful, and the lucky Lottery winners. They might be trapped under five hundred feet of earth, but at least they were safe. All the rest of us could do at this point was ride it out and hope for the best.
The “thunder” that had made our house violently shudder before was now shaking it. Photo frames collapsed and shattered on the floor. Chairs skidded and toppled. Sofa legs and tables squeaked as they scraped over the floorboards. Something over our heads ripped. I clutched my father’s arm and looked up. Pieces of the ceiling were being torn away; exposing meager joists, crumbling drywall, cracked plaster, and fragments of a tumultuous grey sky.
My father grabbed my hand and dragged me to the storm-shelter in the basement. My mother and little brother were already inside, waiting for us. James was ten, and he wasn’t strong enough to reinforce the house. Especially not with his asthma. I was eighteen and used to lifting heavy things around at my job– whoever said being a waitress was for the weak had clearly never done the work before¬– so I took Mom’s place to help Dad.
We were supposed to be done ten minutes ago, but with Dad’s back problems and my stupid curiosity with the Centennial, we stayed up here longer than we should have.
I swore it would be the last time I ever stopped and stared at a hurricane with dread fascination.
Dad reached the basement door and knelt down to pry it open. The veins in his neck bulged and his face was tight with pain. I wanted to help him, but it was a set of dual metal doors with two thick iron door pulls acting as handles, both of which were only big enough for one set of hands to grip. All I could do was wait, shoving my trembling hands through my hair and try not to have a complete meltdown.
I couldn’t hear anything over the raging storm. Looking around, I could see more furniture bouncing across the floor. The tremors from the thunder rippled up my legs, sinking into my bones. My entire body felt like it was caught in an electric shock, though there was no pain.
I guess I should have been grateful. The worst injury I’d ever had was a sprained ankle, and I intended to make sure that the worst thing I ever endured.
Dad finally heaved the door open, the metal groaning heavily. I peered down, seeing the wide terrified eyes of James and my mother. He was crying; his little arms wrapped around her so tight he was all but strangling her. My mother held him close, gripping his inhaler like it was a sword. Her eyes, bright and blue like mine, were bulging from her head with fear.
I knelt down and was about to climb into the basement when I looked at my father.
Beads of sweat sheened across the line of reddish-grey hair on his forehead. His eyes were pinched shut with pain, his hands clamped over his shoulders. He must have pulled something–
The front door groaned and swung open, smashing into the wall so hard it left a dent. Beyond it, I could see the hammering rain, the ocean water flooding the streets, tumbling garbage cans and mailboxes…
And the flash of white light that streaked down from the clouds.
My heart clenched in my chest.
We were in the center of it. They were here.
Another gust of wind screamed through the door, pushing a gale of water into the front entrance. My father and I staggered back. The water snapped around our feet and poured into the basement. My mom and James both screamed. Salt water continued to flow inside. In seconds, it covered our ankles.
My Dad’s eyes flicked to the door, then locked with mine.
“Get inside, Ava!”
I hesitated, thinking about the way he was holding his shoulders, the pain he was trying– and failing– to hide. He was going to close the door, but with his back issues and pulled muscles, he wouldn’t be able to do it fast enough, if he could at all. The basement would flood, and we would all drown.
“I’ll get the front door!” I shouted at him.
“No!” he yelled back immediately. “Don’t even think about it–”
“I’m not hurt!” I roared back. “I can close the door and open the basement door again. Just hide!”
My Dad didn’t want to leave me, but he knew I was right. He was too hurt to do close both doors. I wasn’t exactly Xena, Warrior Princess, but I had enough strength to close the front door, get into the shelter, and close it behind me.
Salty ocean water whipped around my calves. It funneled into the basement where James and Mom were screaming for us to get inside. I grabbed my father’s arm and started pushing him down. He tried to fight me, tried to protest, but he grimaced when I touched his shoulder. I made sure he was able to hold the ladder, then grabbed the heavy metal door and pulled it shut. The door was watertight, so there was no chance they would drown. The water had been high, but not high enough to cause them real distress.
The water around me, on the other hand… Different story and a severely different stress level.
My eyes stung from the sea salt as the water splashed across my face. I stood up, my arms and legs now soaked and my clothes clinging to my skin. I splashed through the water and raced for the door. Well, not exactly raced. More like dragged. The torrent of ocean water crashed against me, trying to push me back into the house. I made it to the door, but had to cling to the frame to keep my balance. I gripped the edges of the heavy iron and started to pull. The metal resisted me, unwilling to move against the heavy flow of water.
A flash of light slashed through my vision. My traitorous eyes followed it.
Bits of shingle and roofing spiraled through the air like flakes of deadly ash. The trunks of palm trees splintered as they snapped in half, their big leaves ripped from their crowns. Flooded cars were carried through the flow of water barreling down the street. Trash and debris followed it. If anyone was crazy enough to still be outside, I couldn’t see them, couldn’t hear them scream.
But I wasn’t really looking at the destruction. I was looking at the center of the street, directly across from me. The way the water broke apart around the figure standing in it, as if it were Moses beginning to part the Red Sea.
I was frozen with shock. I saw it. I was looking at one. I could barely believe it, but I knew it was true.
Its body was made of water, shafts of pale blue light outlining its skeleton. The water shimmered over the light like water over stone, rippling and calm.
For a second, that’s exactly what it was– calm. It just stood there. Maybe it was looking around, though I didn’t know how it would have done so. It had no nose or mouth. Two almond-shaped eyes glowed from its face like halogen headlights. It was a disturbing, alien thing.
Nobody knew what the Stormkind really were or where they had come from, because nobody that encountered one had gotten close enough to study them, let alone stop to have a chat with one.
That single second ended, and I remembered why.
The Stormkind lifted its arms. The water around it crested in a tidal wave. The Stormkind twisted and pushed its hands toward the houses across the street. The tidal wave mimicked its movements and slammed into the houses, obliterating them like they’d been made of matchsticks.
I clamped my hand over my mouth to stifle my scream, thinking about my neighbors that lived in those houses. The Wilsons with their unbearably loud truck. Mrs. Tucker with her yappy dog. The Cortez’s with their newborn baby.
None of them had won the Lottery. All of them could be dead now.
The Stormkind bent its arm over its head in an awkward wave. A huge gust of wind crested over the street, pushing the debris and snapping more palm trees. It also pushed the water closer to the Stormkind.
That was when I saw the body.
I couldn’t really see who it was. I recognized them as being male, but that was it. They flailed and thrashed as their head bobbed up and down in the water. I wanted to help, but I was frozen at the door. I couldn’t have moved even if I wanted to.
And I wasn’t sure I did. As terrifying as all this was, I had to admit that I was amazed. Everyone who had seen a Stormkind before today was now dead.
Photographs of them were rare and accused of being fakes. But I knew what I was seeing was real. It couldn’t be anything but genuine. Morbid curiosity had dug its hooks into me, and I didn’t know how to let go.
The man drifted to the Stormkind. He tumbled out of the wave and rolled onto the concrete. The Stormkind reacted with quick, violent grace. It grabbed the man’s shoulders– my heart lurched when I recognized Mr. Cortez– and lifted him like he was a rag doll.
Then the icy blue light in its body drifted up, out of its face, and slid into Mr. Cortez’s screaming mouth. The light obscured their faces, but I saw the illumination in the Stormkind intensify. Mr. Cortez’s legs kicked and jerked helplessly.
Then they stopped. The light drew back from the Stormkind’s face.
Mr. Cortez was limp and grey.
The Stormkind dropped my neighbor’s lifeless body and scurried around the street, pushing the winds and gathering more water. It shoved the waves aside, each one battering more homes to splinters. One of the waves crashed onto my street, sending a barrage of ocean water right into my face.
I coughed it out and spat the salt from my mouth. Served me right for standing and gawking at the alien controlling the hurricane on my street.
I backed up and gripped the iron door. While I’d been gawking, the water flooding into my house reached my thighs. I panicked when I thought about how it could have drowned my family, but threw the thought aside when I remembered they were safe in the basement, locked behind a watertight door.
A door I had no chance of opening now that it was smothered in a layer of heavy water.
My heart thundered with panic. I didn’t have a way to protect myself. Even if I could close the front door– and another minute of pushing and cursing told me I couldn’t– I had no protection in the house. The roof was coming apart. The first level was totally flooded. If I weren’t hurled through the air from the wind, I would drown in the flood.
I shoved my hands through my hair again, gripping the red strands by the roots as if it would help me think.
But I couldn’t even do that. I was too damn scared. My heart was on a rampage, punching at my ribcage while my brain screamed at me to think think think!
There were procedures for this kind of thing. When the Storm Protection Union realized this would be the year of the next Centennial, they made the government pass laws that forced schools to teach us how to handle natural disasters. Dust storms, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, anything and everything. It was like being in the Spetsnaz, but without being trained how to kill.
Yet try as hard as I did– and I was two seconds away from giving myself an aneurysm due to the pressure I was putting on my brain as I scoured it for memories– I couldn’t remember anything. The information just wouldn’t come.
My best bet now was to find an SPU station. They were everywhere, especially in the oh-so-weather-lucky state of Florida. They had the best facilities for anyone who didn’t win the Lottery and couldn’t afford to modify their house. If I could find them, I could ride it out. I would be safe.
The nearest SPU station was... Oh, God, look at the tide... Park Vista, my high school! Five blocks away.
Might as well have been on the goddamn moon.
But I could get there. I would get there. I mean, how hard could it be? I liked to surf, and I was the best swimmer at my school.
I was also clinging to adrenaline, fear, and hopeless dreams, but I didn’t have time to focus on rationality.
I took a deep breath, gathered the remnants of my courage and sanity, and left my house.
The hurricane winds knocked me over. I yelped when I hit the rising water, but was able to at least turn around.
Okay. Not a great start. But at least I wasn’t upside down.
I dragged my arms through the current, turning my head to check on the Stormkind. It must have had its back to me because the houses across from me were still being destroyed. It ran back and forth, swinging its arms wildly, water and wind battering the wood to splinters. It drew the ocean water forward, then hurled it aside. Was it looking for other people to...You know what? I didn’t actually want to know. Swimming faster. That’s the secret I wanted to uncover right now.
My arms strained as I punched them into the water. It fought me the whole way, but I kicked and pushed myself. I moved through the water slowly, but I was making progress. I was almost at the end of the block, and while the ocean water and heavy rain was absolutely freezing me– warm, Florida seawater, this was not– I concentrated on the SPU station. They would have everything: strong walls, warm blankets, dry clothes, hot chocolate–
The current I was in abruptly crested. Salt water pooled in my throat and surrounded me. My body was lifted, out of control. I felt myself being pushed, but I didn’t know where I was going. Up and down were perceptions. My eyes burned as I tried to look through the murky grey water. My mouth was closed, but I could taste the salt water I’d stupidly swallowed scorching through my throat. The violent churns of the ocean pummeled my ears, becoming nightmarish. My heart was beating way too fast.
I had no idea where I was, or what was in the water with me. I was trapped, helpless to do anything if a submerged mailbox or car hit me. Oh God, why did I do this? What the hell was I thinking? Where was I, what was around me, where was the surface, I needed to breathe, I can’t breathe–
The tidal wave punched into my back. I flipped end over end until my spine crashed into slick, unforgiving concrete. I hacked and vomited water, dragging air into my parched lungs. I was shaking, though I didn’t register the cold.
What I did register were the walls of water around me, cocooning me in the single open space on the street.
Horror filled my aching body. Mr. Cortez’s corpse was no longer in this space.
But I wasn’t alone.
I flipped over, a scream hitching in my throat.
The Stormkind towered over me like some ancient ocean god, its glowing white eyes searing my own retinas. Water cascaded around its featureless body, making the beacons of light in its skeleton shiver.
It reached for me, and I raised my arm uselessly, opening my mouth to scream–
A flash of light seared my vision. It concealed a dark shape that crashed into the ground inches from my feet. I shrieked and scuttled back. My heart couldn’t take much more of this. If I didn’t pass out, I might become one of the only eighteen year olds to die of a heart attack.
The light between me and the Stormkind faded. In its place stood a man.
Not a Stormkind, but legitimate man. He was tall and broad, his hair the same silver as the long-sword in his hand. He was as drenched as I was, rainwater running across the black leather and steel plating of his armor. On the metal plate covering his back was some kind of insignia– a series of jagged waves sliced in half by an upturned sword.
I could barely comprehend what just happened, who this man was, and why he looked like he was on his way to some kind of Renaissance Fair for Badasses. But I did know that the Stormkind didn’t attack him.
It moved away from him.
Whoever this man was, the Stormkind was terrified of him.
“You have devoured already, Wild One,” the man said, his voice deep and raspy, like gravel mixing with smoke. “This one is not yours.”
The man turned on his heel and looked at me. My heart skipped another beat.
He was in his late forties, and alarmingly handsome. The shockingly silver hair was tied at the back of his neck, displaying a hawkish face of sharp angles. His skin was paler than my own, and he didn’t have so much as a single blemish or age-worn scar. The man looked perfect, in a harsh way.
Except for his eyes.
They were so dark they appeared black to me, twin voids that threatened to suck the life from me if I stared into them for too long. I saw nothing in them, no emotion that I could recognize. This man chilled me worse than any part of the storm I was trapped in.
When he spoke again, I felt my heart freeze.
“This one is mine.”
I must have heard him wrong. He couldn’t have meant me. I was nobody. A waitress struggling to pay her way through college. I didn’t have any big connections and had never gotten so much as a parking ticket.
But this man didn’t see me that way. He eyed me like I was prey.
A panicked breath strained out of my chest and I flipped around, desperate to get to my feet. The man grabbed my ankle and pulled. I landed hard on my stomach. He pulled me across the concrete. My fingers scrabbled and skidded over the road, burning and slipping away from traction I didn’t have.
He let go of my ankle and grabbed my hair instead. I yelped at the sharp pain as he pulled me back to meet his eyes.
They weren’t just dark. They were black, so deep I couldn’t even see his pupils.
I wanted to beg, fight, do anything to make him let me go. But I knew I was mercilessly trapped.
His inky eyes traced my body, scrutinizing instead of leering.
“You are not ideal,” he growled. “But I am short on time. You will have to do.”
I didn’t know what he meant, didn’t even know how to start asking, when he reached for his belt and took out a dagger with a light in the crystal blade.
I didn’t have time to admire the weapon’s beauty before the man stabbed it into my chest.
I screamed at the pain, but it wasn’t just because I’d been stabbed. I only felt that initial sharp, burning punch for a single second.
After that, I felt everything else.
Agony whipped through my body in a blistering wave. A sharp, hammering sensation pounded through my chest, spilling into my veins like a violent flood. My insides thrashed viciously, as though they were being electrocuted. Hot and cold needles stabbed into my bones and skull. It felt as if my insides were charred, broken into pieces that would never be whole again.
I couldn’t see past the white spots snapping through my vision. I couldn’t hear anything but my screams. I had never wanted to die before.
Now it was the only thought on my mind.
Just when I was certain the splinters of torture had finished destroying my very being, something dislodged from my chest, a weight lifted from my heart.
Amy is a Canadian urban fantasy and horror author. Her work revolves around monsters, magic, mythology, and mayhem. She started writing in her early teens, and never stopped. She loves building unique worlds filled with fun characters and intense action. She is the recipient of April Moon Books Editor Award for "author voice, world-building and general bad-assery," and the One Book Two Standout Award in 2015 for her Cursed trilogy. She has been featured on various author blogs and publishing websites, and is an active member of the Writing GIAM and Weekend Writing Warrior communities. When she isn't writing, she's reading, watching movies, taking photos, gaming, and struggling with chocoholism and ice cream addiction.
DAMNATION'S DOOR, the third CURSED novel (June 2016)
MIDNIGHT SKY, the second DARK SKY novel (August 2016)
AMBER SKY, the first DARK SKY prequel novella (October 2016)
ENGINEERED DECEIT, a DARK SKY short story in GHOSTS, GEARS, AND GRIMOIRES from Mocha Memoirs Press (November 2016)
SMOKE SKY, the second DARK SKY prequel novella (December 2016)