Several months ago, I promised to release the first chapter from the upcoming sequel Phantom’s Mask if Book I received at least 20 reviews on either Goodreads or Amazon. I’m so thrilled to announce that A Fallen Hero reached my goal of 20 reviews before 2020 on both platforms!
As promised, here is a first look at Chapter One: In Thunder’s Silence from book II of the Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series. Please note that the manuscript is currently being reviewed by the copy editor before it goes to the line editor; this is not a final version and is subject to changes based on editorial feedback prior to publication.
If you haven’t already read the prologue, you can read it HERE.
Lightning illuminated Phantom Heights in a brief washout of white.
Holly Jennings stood in the corner on the terraced stage inside City Hall, her arms folded tightly across her chest. The people around her were phantoms of their former selves. After all of her diligent work to protect them, this was what they had become—homeless refugees battling illness and infection, trapped like rats inside City Hall, surviving on intermittent supply drops from the military and meager yields from raids on the town. The entoplasm dome surrounding the building affected ghosts, not humans, and yet, it felt like a prison casting its cold green light on the gaunt faces of its skeletal inhabitants.
Holly glared sidelong at the ghost hunter standing by the boarded window. This was all Madison Tarrow’s fault. The people hailed her as a leader now; how quickly they’d forgotten that she was the one who had allowed this catastrophe to happen. Madison had let her personal loss lead to more—more families broken, more people kidnapped, more children buried or orphaned. And she’d almost repeated history by negotiating with the Alpha fugitives when they abducted her daughter.
Holly shook her head. That was a bad deal, but no one would listen to her. Wesly Cooper had entranced the survivors with wild promises of hiring mercenaries to restore their town and their freedom. He was too cunning for his own good, and his audience had been far too desperate to know any better.
Holly flinched at a sudden crack of thunder that set her teeth on edge. Her gaze wandered to the nearest boarded window leaking eerie pale light through the cracks. The entoplasm shield tinted the nighttime clouds green, broken only by the bright streaks of lightning that turned the sky into a brief puzzle. Was Cato out there shivering like a wretch in this miserable night? Or was he still safely secured underground at the AGC under Agent Kovak’s watch?
Holly registered it the instant her teeth pulled away too much fingernail, ripping it to the quick. She hadn’t even realized what she was doing. Her tongue tasted copper as she ran it along the jagged edge.
“Damn them,” Madison seethed, peering through the gaps between boards at the storm. “I told you they’d do this, Wes.”
Holly’s eyes flicked to the werewolf, who crossed his arms with indignation. “Just because we haven’t seen or heard from the Alpha ghosts in a week doesn’t mean they backed out of the deal,” he defended half-heartedly. Despite the grim circumstances, Holly had to admit that she relished seeing Cooper’s usual overconfidence reduced to an almost humble demeanor, at least for the time being.
Madison gestured toward the boarded window. “Nothing has changed! If they’re still out there—which I doubt—then they sure as hell aren’t doing anything, because there are just as many ghosts, if not more, than there were a week ago!”
“The supplies we’ve been leaving outside the shield are gone every day.”
“So?” Madison retorted. “It could be anyone out there stealing our limited supply. My bet is the Alpha ghosts fled into the Ghost Realm the second they had an opening.”
Holly bowed her head and watched a red bead swell from the thin line at the edge of her torn fingernail. The Ghost Realm. It was hell for humans. If, against all odds, Cato had managed to escape from the AGC and was now hiding in the Ghost Realm. . . . He’d be fine, she assured herself despite her churning stomach. The Ghost Realm was where he belonged now. He was probably safer there beyond Agent Kovak’s reach, and Holly didn’t have to worry anymore. Everything had worked out better than she could have hoped.
And yet, her chest seemed to tighten around her aching heart. Her throat was tight, like her body was preparing to cry even as she mentally reminded herself that she should be celebrating this victory.
Why doesn’t it feel like a victory?
Thunder crashed, and the building trembled in its throes. Wes, with no rebuttal to Madison’s claim, turned his head away. “Maybe I miscalculated,” he muttered.
The ghost hunter grumbled, “We could have caught them and claimed the reward from the Agents. . . .”
“Don’t say that,” her daughter said hollowly. Vivian gripped the paw of her childhood teddy bear and raised her head to glare defiantly at her mom.
“Madison?” Trey mumbled. “After touring the lab, I wouldn’t wish that fate on my worst enemy.”
Madison shook her head and turned away from her apprentice. Everyone in City Hall was solemn as the realization sank in that their mercenaries—their last hope—were long gone.
Holly folded her arms and bowed her head, scoffing at her own low spirits. Perhaps Cooper had managed to stir her hope just a little with his tantalizing speeches. The people of Phantom Heights had a chance at reclaiming a normal life. Why did it hurt more to have hope revived and then crushed than it did to have no hope at all to begin with?
Outside, the rain pounded, whipped in driving sheets by the ferocious wind. Holly eyed the rattling boards over the windows. A cold foreboding was taking root and spreading throughout her whole body. Was this a natural storm, or the work of a kálos Atmo with the ability to control the weather?
Lightning washed everything in white for a split second as a deafening clap of thunder plunged City Hall into blackness, something no one had witnessed in a year and a half. There was a moment of stunned silence. Somebody yelled, “The shield is down!”
People started screaming. Somewhere in the darkness, Madison was yelling, begging everyone to calm down. The crowd was engulfed in hysteria, terrified that ghosts were appearing, unseen, in the blackness. With all the screams, it was impossible to tell if anyone was actually being attacked.
“Shannon!” Holly called, her voice lost in a cacophony of screams. She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Shan! Shannon, where are you?” Bodies jostled her from every direction in the dark. Another flash of lightning gave her less than a second to scope the mayhem for her daughter. “Shannon!”
A deafening howl drowned out the screams. Holly yelped and doubled over, clapping her hands over her ears. The howl vibrated her bones, her teeth, the whole building. She squinted when the room was suddenly illuminated in red light.
Madison was standing on stage next to a giant gray wolf, a burning flare held high over her head. “Everybody calm down! This flare isn’t going to last long. I need you all to stay calm when the light goes out. All raiders, arm up and form a perimeter. If you see any glowing eyes, shoot. Don’t hesitate, and don’t ask questions. Pull the trigger.”
The townspeople cowered in the center of City Hall as the raiders pushed their way outward. “Excuse me, move, get out of my way, move,” Holly snarled, unapologetically forcing her way through the throng. The red light was burning away. She had only a few minutes, and there were too many faces in the shadows. “Shannon? Shannon, where are you?”
Holly whirled. She took a breath to call again when a hand gripped two of her fingers. Her daughter squeezed between two bodies and emerged from the mass. Holly exhaled in relief and pulled her inward for a tight embrace. “Oh, thank God.”
She rested her cheek on top of Shannon’s head. Madison was now standing before the barred doors, gripping a silver, two-barreled gun. Trey and Wes took up positions in opposite corners. The wolf was growling, hackles raised along his back. The raid team joined the werewolf and ghost hunters along the perimeter, facing the boarded windows with their backs to the townspeople.
The flare went out.
Phantom’s Mask is scheduled to be released on 07.08.20.