Night Awakens: The Awakened Magic Saga (Soul Forge Book 1), p.1
Soul Forge Book One
Leslie Claire Walker
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THE AWAKENED MAGIC SAGA
THE SOUL FORGE
THE FAERY CHRONICLES
Faery Tales: Volume I
Faery Tales: Volume II
This book is dedicated to Kristine Kathryn Rusch,
without whom it may never have been written.
Thank you for that workshop assignment,
for the opportunity to learn so much from you,
and for your wonderful friendship.
This story wouldn’t be what it is without Michael Klaas, Miles, Brandon, CJ, Zack, and Claire. Thank you for excellent company and long, action-packed afternoons. To Jo Anne Banker and T. Thorn Coyle, thank you for reading the draft manuscript and for your always-excellent suggestions. And to J.C. Andrijeski, Dayle Dermatis, and Phaedra Weldon, thank you for inspiration, encouragement, and all-around awesomeness.
Y’all make me feel like the luckiest person on the planet.
PORTLAND, OREGON, stretched and yawned, awakening around me in the hour before dawn. I shivered as the November chill bit through the black fleece of my hoodie, and a wicked wind gusted from the west, spiraling the fine drops of mist in the air. The traffic light at the corner flipped from red to green, the hum of engines and the slick of tires on wet concrete a comfort to my wired nerves.
I stood beneath the dripping overhang in front of Justice Gym, go-cup of black coffee in hand. I listened and scanned the neighborhood for anything out of the ordinary. My life depended on it.
Twenty yards to the right, around the corner at the neighborhood stop-n-shop on Burnside, a car door slammed. Sleepy voices wafted my way. People stopping for smokes or snacks. Harmless.
To my left, the street curved and forked, parallel-parked cars huddled inches apart for warmth at the curbs. Out of the dark, the Orange Warrior materialized in his neon-orange rain suit, bike tires splashing through the puddled light of the street lamps. He caught sight of me and flashed the peace sign and called out, “Hey! Morning!”
I gave him a thumbs-up. Then he whizzed past on his way to work, the headlamp on the front of his helmet beaming like a search light, the red light on the back of his bike blinking fast enough to give somebody a seizure.
The golden halo around his body—the manifestation of the life force that moved through him—lit him up like a firework to my magical sight.
Across the street, the Stump Town Diner spoke the language of my belly, the rich aromas of dark-roasted coffee, salty, crisp bacon, and fresh-baked bread streaming from inside each time the door opened. Blond Bagel Girl, wrapped in her hooded purple raincoat, slipped inside for her usual breakfast to go. She shone with the same gold as the cyclist, though more muted, melancholy.
It was beautiful. Normal.
Normals in my neighborhood, going about their normal lives like clockwork. I’d never be one of them. I’d look over my shoulder until the day I died.
I turned the key in the lock of the gym door, same as every other day for the last three months since I’d moved to town. That my boss, Red Jennings, trusted a woman so secretive and new to the city with his life’s work said a lot about him. A woman without much money and a teenage kid in tow, no less. Most people would call him a fool, but I chose to believe he was an uncommonly good judge of character. One who backed up his judgment with thorough background checks.
He hadn’t batted an eye when I’d asked to be paid in cash, though; my existence kept off his books. When he asked the occasional personal question, I talked around it rather than answering directly, and he didn’t give me any crap about it. He’d run a check on me and found it unremarkable. Of course, it was an unremarkable lie that I’d built through illegal channels and paid for with blood money, but all Red knew was that I wasn’t a criminal, that he and I shared a hometown in Houston, Texas, and we shared a soft spot for troubled kids.
I pushed my way into the narrow front room of the gym, the electronic bell above the door chiming. I flipped the light switches with the flat of one hand and inhaled the perfume of rubber, bleach wipes, and sweat as the overhead fluorescents buzzed to life. The lights threw the entry into sharp relief: the interlocked, black rubber mats that covered the concrete floor, the triple-stacked row of black plastic cubbies and lockers that covered the long wall in front of me, and the donated, brown suede sofa on the right, its seats so deep I sometimes wondered whether it ate people as well as car keys and loose change. I keyed the code into the alarm, hung a right and then a left, bouncing down the short staircase onto the gym floor.
It shared the dimension of a good-sized basketball court. The walls had been painted white once upon a time, but had been scuffed and scratched to head-height. All the essential equipment hugged the walls: long barbells pegged into metal stands, kettlebells, weight racks, and benches for presses. Pull-up bars, medicine balls, wooden boxes for jumping. The back wall of the gym consisted of garage doors that could be opened in the summer for air flow. Two climbing ropes hung suspended from the ceiling. Also in back, a dozen rowing machines stood on end beside the water fountain, bathrooms, and small table that held the sound system.
It felt like home. First one I’d ever truly had. I had chosen it, and it had chosen me.
The first class started in thirty minutes, at 6:00 a.m. The usual suspects would file in: kids whose parents dropped them here before school trying to buy peace of mind—a little activity to help keep their progeny calm, quiet, and cooperative during a long day of sitting, obedience, and memorization. The usual suspects were anything but normal.
They didn’t seem to belong anywhere, or to anyone except each other. They had halos that spoke of magic, all of it benign. They’d adopted my kid into their group as soon as they laid eyes on her, for which I felt profoundly grateful. Like Red had with me, they trusted her right away, even knowing nothing about her. For instance, the fact that she wasn’t my daughter. She was no relation at all.
The first time I’d seen her, she’d been ten, close to the age I’d been when magic had marked me. I’d broken in to her house with orders to kill her family. To kill her. I hadn’t been able to do it.
Faith Torres, her name had been then, before we’d gone into hiding with new identities, new lives, and nightmares that plagued our dreams. Ten years old then, now fifteen. Now she was Faith Sanchez, with dark chocolate hair that swung to the middle of her back, gangly arms and legs she hadn’t quite grown into yet, and a hard-to-say-no-to million-watt smile. She also had a big, geeky love for badass super-heroines and a growing rebellious streak.
She’d sneaked out last night. First time ever, sometime between midnight and 2:00 a.m. When I’d made my nightly security round a
I fought to shake ice-cold panic that told me the people we’d run from had located us and taken Faith, that there was no safe place and would never be, that the death I’d saved Faith from waited for her just around the corner, or maybe had already been dealt.
The Order of the Blood Moon’s magical assassins were relentless. No one left the Order. They didn’t forgive, and they didn’t forget.
I shook off the panic. I calmed myself like the pro I’d been. Like the pro I still could be.
The Order had taken me in during a time I’d been desperate and vulnerable. They’d stripped me of my name, my identity, and the last shards of my childhood innocence. They helped me to marshal my magic, training me to gather information, conceal myself, kill, and elude capture. I’d given them my heart and soul because I’d had no one and nothing else to give it to. I’d allowed them to turn me into a stone cold killer. I’d done more than that—I’d embraced it. Our association had lasted fifteen years, until two months after my twenty-seventh birthday, the night I met Faith.
Looking at her empty bed, breathing through my fear, I let my training take over. I searched for a sign someone had taken her, but found no trace of foul play. After that, I’d pinged the GPS on her cell and located her at Ben’s house. He was one of her new friends. His single father traveled on business too much and left him home alone.
Ben, who would never hurt Faith.
Still, I hadn’t slept a wink the rest of the night. My girl hadn’t climbed back through the window before time for me to head out for work—and I’d had no choice but to leave—so I’d put a note on her pillow. When she came home, she’d get the message and get her ass to the gym before school to explain herself. She’d show, too. No avoiding me, because that would be dumb. No one could ever accuse her of stupidity.
I made my way toward the back of the gym, setting down my go-cup on the shelf beside the sound system, then striking up my favorite classic rock playlist. I shrugged out of my hoodie and ran my fingers through my long, black hair, tying it up into a ponytail. I could fit in a warm-up and a few rope climbs myself while I waited for the door to open, getting myself in order before working the same movement with the kids. It’d take my mind off waiting for Faith as well.
The electronic bell over the front door chimed. I turned toward the whisper of denim and the squelch of wet shoes on rubber, expecting to find Faith walking in, a cranky apology on her lips and a sheepish expression on her face.
Time slowed. I blinked, the movement seeming to take minutes rather than seconds. The air felt thick—almost too thick to breathe.
Before I even laid eyes on my visitor, the cadence of the walk struck me wrong, the footsteps belonging to someone heavier and with finer motor control of their body than my fifteen-year-old. I breathed in deep and tasted a hint of amber and vanilla in the air. None of the moms or stepmoms or girlfriends I’d met wore that scent. I’d studied each of them, remembered every quirky detail. I knew them. I couldn’t afford not to.
I knew my visitor, too. I’d just never counted on seeing her again, because I’d never counted on seeing any of my colleagues from the Order again. Especially not this one.
The woman who’d walked through the door stopped ten feet from me, a signal she intended to talk rather than attack. Really, it was unnecessary. If she’d meant to harm me, I’d never have seen or heard her coming.
She pushed back the hood of her black rain slicker. Her blond curls had grown all the way to her shoulders since the last time I’d run my fingers through them. The only makeup she wore on her porcelain face was a pale pink flush of lipstick; her dark blue eyes were sharp on me. She unzipped her jacket, letting it fall open. A black brocade vest accented her long-sleeved black T-shirt. The ensemble hugged the curves of her breasts, skimming the line of her waist. Water soaked the hems of her black jeans. She wore steel-toe black boots with rubber soles.
Sunday Sloan. Once upon a time, my salvation.
The halo around her body held a tint of rose red, life force flavored with a strong, blinding passion that she harnessed in everything she did, including her kills. One look in the eyes of her victims, and she could literally blind them if she chose. She had a touch of the traditional psychic as well, not enough to actually see the future, but enough to guess what might happen that would affect her most and allow her to act accordingly.
The same magical gifts infiltrated her personal relationships. Her faults became hard to see. And once she made up her mind about a cause or a person, she gave them her unconditional, undying—blind—loyalty. I’d been on the receiving end of that loyalty. I’d thrown it away when I’d left without saying goodbye.
Sunday Sloan was the Order’s MVP. Or MVO—most valuable operative.
If she was here, I was in deep trouble. I’d missed something important. Had I been wrong last night—had Sunday or someone who traveled with her taken Faith? Had they used their talents to make me believe Faith was safe at Ben’s? Was Faith already dead?
How had Sunday found me? My passive magic—reading halos—couldn’t be tracked by anyone. My active magic, on the other hand—using my power to influence others—could be. I’d been careful. I’d only used that active power on myself since I’d left the Order. It was the best way to unlock the secrets hidden in my own mind. And to stay sharp in case a day like this ever dawned.
I cleared my throat. “I didn’t hide well enough?”
Sunday’s voice had a liquid quality to it, like water flowing over river rocks. “You did. It’s just that I know you better than the ones who’re hunting you.”
She’d just implied she wasn’t hunting me, but that others were. If the Order had sent someone, Sunday would be it.
“I’m out, Night,” she said. “Just like you.”
She called me by my new alias rather than the name the Order had given me. It felt disorienting to hear it roll off her tongue.
“How did you get out?” I asked.
“I killed the Ghost,” she said.
The Ghost. Brown hair, middling height, average weight. No distinguishing physical characteristics. He could pass you on the street and your eyes would skip over him. It wouldn’t fool experienced bodyguards for more than a few minutes, but by the time they saw him, they’d be dead.
His mentor had named him appropriately.
He’d been our friend. One of the few people inside the Order I’d let in.
“He threaten you?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “But he was in the way. He could tell something was off with me. He wouldn’t let it go.”
I closed my eyes for a second. A bit of my old life flashed forward from memory: lying in the fine, white sand of a Mexican beach with this woman before she’d been my lover, listening to the rhythm of the waves crashing, one after the other, on the shore, watching the cloudless blue sky with a clear conscience. The memory felt a thousand years old.
The Ghost had traveled with us on that trip, teasing us about our chemistry together. Sunday had killed him. She’d killed to get out of the Order. Or so she claimed.
“We were on the job in Lima,” she said. “I waited until we took care of the target and phoned it in. We weren’t supposed to be back at HQ for another week. I didn’t think I’d get a better chance.”
I studied her. The strong lines of her body, the softness of her face, and those eyes. I knew her tells. I saw none of them. Then again, she could’ve changed since the time we’d been close. She could’ve become an entirely different person. Looking at her now, I had to choose: act as if I believed her, or not.
She hadn’t said a word yet about Faith. If she knew about me, how could she not know about Faith? She had to know.
“You want me to congratulate you on your newfound freedom?” I asked.
“I want you to say you’re glad to see me,” she said.
“Your coming here, making contact with me—you presence here blows my cover. If you still cared about me at all, you’d have stayed away.”
“Night, the Order has no idea where you are. They don’t know where I am. We’re clear.”
“I wish I could believe that,” I said. “I’ve stayed alive this long by being more careful.”
“Running and hiding,” she said. “That’s not living.”
As if I didn’t understand that. But running and hiding were all I had left. I had a responsibility to Faith, to keep her safe, to keep her alive. To make things possible for her that I’d never had. Would never have. Before Faith, I’d done what I had to do to stay alive. Survival had been my only concern. Now, Faith was my reason for living.
“Don’t you want to know why?” Sunday asked.
“Why everything,” she said.
“I do.” But only because it would help me to camouflage Faith and me better in yet another new city. God, I didn’t want to leave Portland. Not when I’d finally felt as if I could stay somewhere.
“I couldn’t live without you,” Sunday said.
I raised a skeptical brow.
The corners of her mouth curved, but the smile didn’t show in her eyes. “I wanted out of the Order because I was tired of the easy stuff. I wanted bigger challenges. I wanted to pick my own targets.”
“That, I believe.”
I understood that in the context and with the logic of my old self, my old life. My new ears listened to her words with dawning horror. She wanted to keep on killing. Not to stay alive or to have a place to belong, but for kicks. Or so she said.