Happy Chinese New Year from Hawaii! Sadly, I’m on my netbook and it doesn’t have the umph to scale my images down to size–not without a bit of tinkering, at least–but I thought I’d post the first chapter of Tempest along with its cover! If you haven’t read Sylphide yet, beware that there are spoilers ahead.
Tempest picks up where we left off in Sylphide. Allish is recovering from her injury and coming to terms with being an “anchor” for the Sylph–a balancing act that she’s starting to struggle with as the Sylph becomes more active and less passive in her role as Allish’s element. Plus, the people responsible for the mage deaths hinted at in Sylphide seem to also be taking a more active role in things, threatening the peace Ivern has worked hard to maintain as Council Head, and there’s ample trouble brewing under Mersetzdeitz’s clouds.
Curious? Read on!
“So I won’t see you tonight?”
Rain pattered onto the studio’s glass, filling the open floor with a kind of drizzly, gray light that Allish had long grown used to. It was the same type of rain that always fell in Mersetzdeitz. Strong, but gentle. Firm.
Allish leaned into the barre. Her muscles shook, a tired ache weighing them down as her body cooled. Ivern’s call had interrupted her workout, which meant that her bad leg throbbed more than usual. It should have been fully healed by now, but the pain remained constant.
She wondered if it would ever return to normal.
On the other end of the line, Ivern paused. She heard paper shuffle near him—was he at his desk? He’d spent so much time there lately, dealing with the blips in his political radar. She hadn’t seen him for more than a week. Their apartment was beginning to feel as empty as her dance studio.
“No,” he said. “Something’s come up. Sorry.”
His voice sounded rougher than usual. Had he been sleeping well? She held her breath, craning to listen for other clues.
“Another death?” she asked. There’d been a loose string of them over the last year, punctuating the months like a broken necklace. Some seemingly accidental or suicides, others not so much. In a big city like Mersetzdeitz, they might have gone unnoticed.
But these were mage deaths, and some of those mages had not gone quietly.
“Thankfully, no. We sent out an alert after the last one, but it’s been a few months. People lose vigilance over time. An assassin will know that.”
Assassin. The word filled Allish with an icy chill. A month ago, she’d have found it hard to believe that an assassin could be active in her city. But a lot of things had changed in that month, and the city wasn’t as well-lit as she’d once believed.
“Is there anything I can do?”
She doubted it. She was a dancer, not a politician. Her magical abilities might make her a part of his world—but that’s all she was. A part. A very strong part, granted—especially since she’d linked herself with a wind spirit last month—but still a part.
And his world was made of nothing but magical people. He headed the Council that oversaw all of Mersetzdeitz’s mages, and the city-state had a lot of mages. More than any other place in the world.
This was where they’d evacuated to when their old world had collapsed.
Something brushed the microphone on his end, causing a rustle of static over the line.
“No,” he said finally. “Sorry.”
That was his second “sorry” of the conversation. It wasn’t like him—he knew her too well for that.
“Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault. Things will sort themselves out—” At least, she hoped they will. There were redundancies in place for things like this, right? “Hey, I’ve got an appointment with Cris in an hour. Maybe I’ll see you then?”
Another pause. “Maybe.”
By his tone, she suspected it would be unlikely. Whatever the political upheaval was, it certainly packed his schedule tight.
“Even mages need breaks,” she said.
“Someone tell that to kjaran.” Ivern’s voice drifting away from the phone on the last word. She heard footsteps, a second person’s voice delivering a short, direct message. His secretary? One of the mageguard? Again, something scraped his mouthpiece, muffling the conversation.
When he returned to her, she heard the wheels of his chair click across the floor. Clothing rustled.
“I have to go. Something’s come up. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” she said.
Then, he was gone.
The phone fell silent in her hand, its screen jet-black and dormant. The studio was quiet around her, and the air had a kind of sacrosanct feeling she got from temples and churches, from forests when the wind blows like rain through the canopy. Rain slid down the window in slow sheets, making the cloud-covered light fluctuate over the dance floor’s bare wood.
Sweat chilled her back and forehead, and open air pressed against the back of her knees and her bare thighs. The studio’s barre poked into her back as she leaned against it. Her muscles had cooled during the call, but there was still a modicum of warmth in them. If she hurried, she could still finish the workout, change, and make it to her appointment on time.
Allish plunked the phone back on top of her towel, then took position back at the barre, evening herself in the mirrors. Her reflection, monochromatic in her black leotard, charcoal leg warmers, and black hair, stared back at her in the mirror, surrounded by the shadows and grayscale light of the studio. It angled over her skin, putting definition to muscles that, despite her long absence from the studio, appeared much more efficient than they felt. Her face was a cold, hard mask.
She looked menacing. Lethal.
Watching herself carefully, Allish did a demi plie, bending her knees and ignoring the slight throb of her recovering shin. According to her therapist, it would hurt for a while. But dancers were accustomed to pushing past pain, and Allish had danced through far worse in her career.
She repeated the gesture twice, keeping time in her head, focusing on her balance and the movement.
On the third demi, a door opened and clicked shut in the downstairs corridor. Footsteps sounded on the stairs.
Allish frowned. No one should be here. Unless Rene had cut his day job and come in early?—No, those were heels clicking up the stairs.
The air thickened as she turned to the door, one hand gripping the bar. Whoever they were, they better not stomp those heels onto Rene’s floor.
A shadow moved in the doorway to the studio. Plastic rustled, and something—clothes?—thumped softly to the floor.
A second later, a woman walked into the studio, bent over the bags she had hooked around her wrist. Her stockinged feet were nearly silent against the finished wood.
She was a middling height, taller than Allish, but shorter than the Rene, the studio’s owner, with soft waves of lightened brown hair that caught the light as she walked. A pastel-green blouse hung lightly from her shoulders, its airy translucence contrasting sharply with the thick, bold lines of a houndstooth skirt that dropped just below her knees. The thin material of her nylons gave her calves and ankles an oblique, airbrushed look.
Busy rummaging through one of the large shopping bags—full of clothes or costumes and other pieces of fabric, from what Allish saw silhouetted through the thin plastic—the woman made it halfway across the studio before she noticed Allish.
She stopped with a start, nyloned feet thumping softly on the floor as she backtracked a step.
“H-hi.” Plastic crinkled as the woman shifted her grip, freeing a hand to give Allish a small wave. Thin lips, which had formed a surprised ‘o’ a second ago, faltered into a belated, uncertain smile.
Allish remembered the formidable form she’d made in the mirror. She made an effort to soften her face, and took her hand away from where it held the barre in a death grip.
Why was she so tense? A holdover from the last month’s adventures? Abductions were a bit hard to overcome.
But no. This felt deeper. Like some preternatural sense viewed the stranger as an enemy.
Eesh. Time to find her social skills.
“Hi,” she said, mimicking the woman’s small wave, forcing her mouth to turn up at the corners. Her eyes dropped to the bag, where a fold of red cloth peaked out of the side, then returned to the woman’s face. She seemed familiar, somehow. Like Allish had seen her before. “Who are you?”
Okay, that had been blunt. She was still on edge, searching for whatever had put her there.
“Joanne Walker. Rene’s niece. God—” The woman—Joanne—had turned to her fully, shoulders squared, back stiff, but she visible deflated as she stuck out her hand to Allish. “—I’m sorry. You must be Allish. Rene did mention you’d be here, but I forgot like an idiot. I didn’t think anyone would be up here.”
At Rene’s name, Allish let out a breath. Her bare feet stuck to the floor as she crossed the distance, leaving traces of foggy footprints on the cold, finished wood. “No, I’m sorry. I was just standing here, in the dark, like some creep.” She made a vague gesture behind her, encompassing the barre, the mirrors, and the shadowy corners of the room with an undisciplined flick of her wrist.
“After what you went through, I don’t blame you,” Joanne said quietly.
Ah. Right. After last month’s showdown with a dragon in Windermere Park, it hadn’t taken the news outlets long to dig up her history. There wasn’t a damn person left in Mersetzdeitz who wouldn’t know her story. A largely edited story. CCTV had caught the kidnapping on tape, though. In the eyes of the media, she was an abused victim.
An abused victim with magical wind powers who just so happened to defeat a marauding dragon on live TV.
“Sorry,” Joanne said. “I didn’t mean—shit, I’m such an idiot.”
“No, no, it’s okay,” Allish said. “I’ve come to terms with it. Are those costumes?” She pointed to the bag.
Plastic crinkled as Joanne looked down. “Close. Fabric sale stuff. Rene’s working on some sort of tapestry.” She lowered her hand into the bag, the tips of her fingers fondling the corner of fabric that poked out of the top. A smile quirked her lips as she looked back at Allish. “Wanna see?”
Intrigued, Allish walked closer. Rene was known for his fabric artistry, especially when it came to pageantry—he’d designed the costumes for Allish’s last performance, his skillful hands co-creating the character of the Sylph in La Sylphide, wrapping her personality in a package of artfully tattered, wild blacks and whites.
She still had the dress, somewhere.
They bent over the bag as Joanne lifted the materials out. The red she’d seen before belonged to a lush cotton-rayon that appeared to tint purple when the light shifted. Underneath, an equally rich blue-purple leapt out at her from the bottom of the bag, startlingly brilliant.
For a moment, silence took the studio. Then, abruptly, she was aware of how close they were.
She took a step back.
“Tapestry, you said? Is he planning to embroider?”
Joanne shrugged. “He called it a tapestry, but I get the feeling he meant quilt.” She gathered the bag up and continued to a door on the other side of the studio, the light catching like pale green gossamer in her blouse. “Perhaps ‘tapestry’ sounded more elegant than ‘hanging quilt’—you know how he is.”
Allish knew. A slip of air brushed across her bare neck, but she did not shiver. Tension returned to her shoulders as Joanne fumbled for the office keys. The Sylph’s spirit brushed the edge of her awareness, her feral mood locking into Allish’s stiff spine like a sword. The air stretched and thickened around them.
The lock scraped, and Allish almost felt the sound scratch against her skin.
She turned away and tried to shake the mood from her limbs. What was wrong with her? Joanne wasn’t a threat, she was Rene’s niece—yet the Sylph’s wildness pushed through her skin like the claws of a feral cat. She wanted to strike out, to hit something, to scrape her nails into Joanne’s face and draw blood.
Allish stopped, rooted to the floor in the center of the studio. Her fingers tensed beside her, and the air pressed into her palms as sharp as switchblades.
She closed her eyes and forced one ragged breath in.
One, two, three.
She breathed out.
Four, Five, Six.
Seven, Eight, Nine.
Slowly, the tension eased from her tendons. Her muscles slackened, fingers falling limp at her side. Her spine relaxed, each vertebra shifting into the supple bend her dancing career had trained into her.
The Sylph left, dissipating from her thoughts like a kite lost to the wind.
Behind her, Joanne had returned. The lock scraped as she left the office. Allish heard the soft brush of her stockings on the wood floor as she walked back across the studio. She didn’t flinch as Rene’s niece drew level with her.
“Are you okay?”
Allish opened her eyes. Joanne had paused, head turned as she’d passed. The gray light softened the gold from her hair, but didn’t steal its lightness. It framed her face, turning to waves towards the bottom. By the frizz, they looked rain-induced rather than caused by any kind of styling iron.
She drew a sharp, heady breath, forced a smile to cover her teeth. “Yes, I’m fine. Just felt dizzy for a sec.”
Joanne gave her a worried look. “You’re just coming back, right? Don’t push yourself—I know how competitive dance can be.”
Allish’s smile cemented in place. Rene’s niece or not, she doubted Joanne had any idea. Only outsiders gave that kind of advice. “I’ll try.”
She pulled herself together and took a step away, intending to finish her routine, but Joanne wasn’t done yet. The woman bent over her skirt, slipping a hand in a hidden pocket Allish hadn’t noticed before.
Joanne produced was a business card.
“Here,” she said, pressing it into Allish’s palm. “If you ever need help—or need to talk. I’ll see you around.”
Joanne turned away before Allish could respond. By the time Allish had flipped the card around to face her, she’d vanished down the hallway. Allish listened to her heels click down the stairs. The front door opened, then shut.
The card’s corner pricked her thumb. She tilted it to catch the light, and an eyebrow rose as she deciphered the fine text on the paper:
Joanne Walker, Senior Reporter
Capitol City Times
Allish pursed her lips. She’d met a lot of reporters in the last month, and few had left a good impression. Had Joanne’s visit been mere coincidence, or had she seen opportunity in Rene’s friendship with Allish? Few knew the details of Allish’s kidnapping, and even fewer knew the details of her magic. She hadn’t triggered any of Allish’s warning bells, but the Sylph sure as hell hadn’t liked her.
Her lip curled, and she fingered the card in her hand, absently flicking a nail across its edge. That was a problem. That rage she’d felt—the Sylph couldn’t just barge right in and take over her thoughts like that.
Allish tucked the card into her palm, shook the tension from her neck, and strode over to the towel she’d folded beneath the barre in the corner of the room.
She didn’t have time to finish her routine. She had a date with an earth mage.
Loved it? Looking for more? If you haven’t read it already, Sylphide is available on Amazon for only 99 cents! Click here, or on the picture below, to check it out!