Half-fae Sam never thought she’d live to see the day when she would work with the government running the reservation. But when the National Guard rolls in to stop an underground power struggle from erupting, she quickly becomes embroiled in a web of secrets and lies.
Lieutenant Colonel Gallagher of the National Guard needs a meeting with the elusive fae clan leaders. He has appropriated Sam, with her unique powers, to go between himself and the Clan leaders, even if it costs her her life.
Face-to-face with an actual clan leader, Sam is given an ultimatum—save his poisoned wife to get a meeting with the fae leaders.
Sam’s day just got complicated.
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Samantha closed her eyes, the gentle whisk-whisk of the scissors nearly lulling her back to sleep. She was long overdue for a haircut, but she had never expected to get the haircut from a man almost too burly to hold the delicate scissors. Basically a lumberjack with magic, Jason could turn her into a toad if he wished.
The thought of Jason’s magic brought her gift to the forefront. Every fae had a gift, some more powerful than others. Though hesitant to admit it, even after what had recently taken place, Sam was perhaps the most powerful among the fae. She had taken on a myriad of high ranking fae out to destroy the reservation’s vampire population. The band of idiots included a fae who could bend people to his will with mere spoken word. To everyone’s astonishment—including her’s—Sam walked away victorious.
All the same, the vampires and the Federal Mystics Bureau suffered severe casualties that night. Sam had not defeated the little coup quickly enough, giving the trigger-happy bureau a chance to attack and the vampires a chance do what was necessary.
Had Sam been faster, better, something…
Sam forced her train of thought to stop in its tracks and counted to ten—a trick she had been mastering since the fateful night. There were too many forbidden thoughts that crept unwanted to the forefront of her mind, as though they were alive and demanded her attention in order to sustain their existence. But Sam was determined to suffocate them.
One. Two. Three…
Her particular gift frightened the other fae, leaving her either in the care of other mystical creatures—like Jason, a mage, or the vampires—or alone entirely. Sam wasn’t sure which she preferred. No one longed for loneliness, but her gift nagged her less while in solitude.
In many ways, her gift had a mind of its own.
Unlike anyone else in the Illinois Reservation, Sam could steal the powers of another mystic and use them for herself. She had no powers of her own, but that didn’t stop her from being lethal.
Sam squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to envision the faces of the dead—both those she had killed and those she had failed to save. The longer she struggled, the more her gift prodded her, pressing against the boundaries set in place to keep it under control.
Her tattoo itched as her gift increased its struggle. The tattoo had been etched into her flesh at the ripe age of thirteen by a powerful mage within the Reservation to help her control her gift. The mage was long dead, but his magic still coursed through the swirls of the image on her chest, just below her left collar bone, blocking her gift from ranging free.
If left to its own devices, her gift would tear through the Res, taking from any and all until it was sated. Sam pushed back, working silently within herself to harness her gift and bring it back under her control.
All the while Jason’s scissors continued the soft whisk-whisk through her hair, lulling her into a false sense of comfort.
“Your gift wants to feed?” asked Jason, sounding as though he were talking about a goldfish instead of a mystical power that could nearly kill him.
Jason was an extremely powerful mage, maybe even the most powerful in the entire Illinois Reservation, despite the fact he looked like he belonged in the mountains of Montana.
Though Sam had never tried, she didn’t think she could entirely drain him of his power in one sitting. She would have to use some power first and take another helping to kill him outright. Sam swallowed moisture back into her mouth. The more she thought about taking from him, the more her gift stirred within her.
“Yes.” She sounded as though she had lost her voice from a nasty cold.
“Take some from me.”
She started to shake her head, remembering only at the last second that he held a pair of sharp scissors near her ear. “No.”
“If you don’t take some from me once in a while, how will your gift ever grow to become more powerful? Besides, you’re still healing. Power from me will help.”
“Power from a vampire would help me heal.”
Each mystical creature within the Res had their own quirks. Vampires and werewolves could heal with superhuman speed. Fae and mages could not. Sam knew from experience that Jason’s magic would not heal her.
“Your power doesn’t heal,” Sam continued, “and my gift doesn’t need to be more powerful.”
Jason stalked around to stand in front of her before slowly kneeling, bringing his face to her level. “Sam, you’re still in need of healing… and that requires taking from someone.”
Sam closed her eyes again. It was hard to control her power when she looked at the mage. He spoke the truth. She was still a long way from well.
Even after a month of rest and Jason’s healing herbs, half her face was a sickly shade of yellow from healing bruises. Her shoulder and ankle were still swathed in bandages. In fact, she could barely walk on the ankle that had been touched by a fae’s magical, acidic fog. The two broken ribs still hurt whether she was lying down or standing. A gash on her hip, caused by the same cougar—called into being by a beast conjurer—who had mauled her shoulder, was just beginning to heal. Beyond those numerous major injuries, Sam was riddled with smaller scrapes and bruises.
Though she hadn’t told him this, no matter how badly her body needed to heal, she had no intention of taking from anyone ever again. As far as she was concerned, her gift had retired. She might as well be human. Not that she could leave the Res as a result.
No. She was still trapped inside the walls of the Illinois Reservation like the rest of the mystical creatures found within the Midwest. They all resided within the small perimeter of the Res, living and working under constant armed guards—for their protection, of course.
“No,” she said again as she opened her tired eyes to stare at Jason and dragged her mind back to topic at hand. “I don’t need someone else’s power to heal. I’ll heal in time.”
He pursed his lips and returned to her haircut.
“You’re being stubborn,” he said as he continued cutting her white hair.
Just as she had no magic of her own, Sam also had no color. She had white hair and white eyes. Even her lips tended to be pale, as though her lack of magic left her colorless. Sam sighed, trying to push her depressing thoughts to the side.
“What’s new?” she asked.
She heard Jason grumble something under his breath, but couldn’t make out his words. She knew she should be listening to him. He was her master now. She cringed.
Sam had spent her entire life—more or less—alone; until Heywood came along and manipulated her into serving him. Thankfully, he was ashes—as dead as a vampire could get.
Sam just couldn’t adjust to the idea of belonging to someone, of being special to someone. She hadn’t been special to Heywood. She had been a tool. But Jason?
It wasn’t romantic; he was her master, she was his apprentice. While he cared about her, mentored her, or at least intended to once she was well, he was not interested in her in a sexual way. This brought a wave of relief to Sam.
Before the great battle, Sam had been surrounded by more than enough suitors. Considering most of the reservation’s population feared her, she was amazed two different men sought her attention. Then again, one of them lived outside the Res and the other had been forced to seek her out for the sake of a political union with her family.
Sam rolled her eyes. She might as well be a leper, but her parents were the crème of the crop among the fae.
What do people think of them now? she wondered.
“Jason,” she asked, speaking on her own accord for the first time in ages; Sam couldn’t remember the last time she had initiated a conversation.
“Yes?” he asked, sounding as surprised as she felt.
“What are the fae saying about the battle?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are they saying I initiated it?”
“I don’t think we really need to worry about that now,” he said, setting the scissors down.
Jason wasn’t the type to avoid conversations. If he didn’t want to answer, it was as bad as she feared, or worse.
“C’mon. We need to get your bandages changed.”
Sam mechanically began to unbutton the oversized flannel shirt she had borrowed from Jason. It was large enough to fit over the bandaging around her shoulder and the buttons made it easy to slip on and off for the painful changing required each day. Jason’s girlfriend, and Sam’s best friend, didn’t much care to see Sam in his shirts, but she put on a good face all the same.
Sam pushed those thoughts aside as she finished the last button. Amber is on my side and always will be, she told herself.
She got her shirt off, thankful for the thick sports bra that covered her better than some of the skanky bikinis she had seen in the magazines that filtered into the reservation.
Sam went to work prying off the bandaging before Jason could attend to it. He was still busy arranging his various bags of herbs and potions. He turned toward her and grumbled. Instead of leaving off and giving him space to work, she pulled her injured ankle up, resting it on the opposite chair so that he could work on it.
“Well?” she ask when he didn’t immediately jump into action.
“You sure you don’t want to do one at a time?”
“Let’s just get this over with as fast as possible.”
Jason rolled his eyes at her impatience and knelt beside her bandaged ankle. He went to work, and Sam found her own efforts slowing as her pain doubled. While the pain in her shoulder was normal cougar mauling-induced pain, the agony in her ankle was magic-induced. Her ankle had been grazed by fae-powered acid, and anything created by magic took longer to heal and caused more pain.
Sam stopped working on getting the layers of bandaging off and focused on her breathing as Jason unwrapped her ankle. After a month of bandage changes, he ignored her hisses of pain and continued his work. A few minutes later, he finished with her ankle and turned to her shoulder.
“That’s what I thought,” he said, his voice intoned with sarcasm.
“Last piece,” Jason announced, “then we just…”
A sudden and horrendous noise cut Jason short, followed by a gust of glacial wind. Jason and Sam turned to see a gaping hole dug into the plastic wall of Jason’s apartment.
Jason lived in a unique neighborhood made up of traditional Midwestern row houses along the side of the streets. Placed on the streets themselves sat plastic shipping crates two high and retrofitted into studio apartments. It was inside one of these crates that Jason and Sam lived.
A fae with fists made of stone stood in the hole, flanked by two other fae. Beyond them waited a mob of angry men and women.
“They here for you or me?” asked Jason.
“That depends, you pissed anyone off lately?”
Jason didn’t respond. They both knew who the mob of fae were there for. Sam had killed over eight fae barely a month ago. She had done it to stop them from achieving a truly horrific plan within the reservation—a plan to kill the entire vampire population. But they didn’t see it that way. They simply saw her as the fae who killed her own people, and she needed to be eliminated.
“This isn’t your fight, Jason,” she said softly.
“Shut up,” was all her mentor said.
The mob didn’t wait for them to think up a game plan, not that either of them were ones for plans. A cloud formed within the small space of the crate, pouring hail down on their heads. Sam dropped to her knees, grimacing in pain as it pulled on her broken ribs, and stretched the half-healed flesh on her ankle. She rolled under the kitchen table.
To her amazement, Jason stood his ground.
“Vairogu ap,” he said, speaking in the language of the mages.
Sam didn’t know what he had said but a quick peek showed that he was safe from the golf ball-sized hail. Some sort of shield encompassed him. In the time it took her to hide under the table, another fae stepped inside the hole created by Rock Fists. The hail seemed to avoid the other fae, as though it knew him to be an ally. Sam looked up at the man and froze.
She was there again, trapped in the warehouse. She saw it all, both from her own eyes and as though she was an innocent bystander hovering over the scene. She lie across the table, prone to her enemies. Carl, one of her only friends, tried to hand her over to the very people who wanted her dead. She had to do something, she had to end it before others died, before they could decimate the vampires.
And within a second she had. One minute they were standing there, talking about what they were going to do to her, the next they were all dead, little tufts of smoke rising from their corpses.
All dead. All except for Carl. He was unconscious from the mass of power she had stolen from him.
This wasn’t just a memory. She couldn’t remember anything with this much detail. This was something more.
It shifted. Suddenly the face of each person she had killed clouded her vision. Not flushed with life, but pasty, with absent eyes. They floated before her vision, blocking out her reality. Sam cowered, trying to pull away from what she saw until she bumped up against something solid. Something she couldn’t see.
Sam began to change her movements, backing around the obstacle when all of the sudden some unknown force grabbed her, dragging her forward. Sam screamed. Her flailing arms banging against something solid, though she couldn’t see beyond the images obscuring her vision. The unseen force dragged her forward and upward.
Something began pelting her from all sides, bruising her flesh. It hit her in the wounded shoulder and tore the healing flesh. Again she screamed.
The pain helped distract her from the disturbing visions, but not enough to clear the haunting faces.
Whatever had dragged her out of her hiding place held her firmly in its grasp. Sam tried to twist and turn as the flying objects continued to pelt her battered body.
A tiny piece of her mind told her to fight back, to use her only weapon, but, out of habit, she held her boundaries firmly in place. Whatever was happening, she would not release her gift on these fae. They were her people and she would not give them more reason to hate her, to want her dead.
Through the horrifying visions playing across her eyes, she heard a faint voice calling her name, but she couldn’t make out what it was saying. Occasionally, it shifted into another language, further confusing her. She tried to shake her head to dispel the images of the dead, but the invisible force holding her elevated kept her head stationary, just like the rest of her body.
Suddenly, the repeating images of the dead shifted, morphing into her friends. She stood over them, draining their gifts, taking them for her own. She radiated with power. Jason died first, and with his strength she could have done anything she wanted, but it wasn’t enough. Next, she drained Carl and lit the entire Res with his electricity. But even that was not enough to fill her tank.
It was as large as she wanted it to be. She could take all she wanted and it would never reach a limit. Sam turned on her family, draining their gifts one by one. She turned invisible like her so-called father, she healed her wounds with her brother’s power, and she cast runes with her mother’s gift as they lay dead at her feet. Finally, she turned on her best friend. Amber stood waiting, tears streaming down her cheeks and dripping off her oval face. Sam reached out and drained her, and, with Amber’s power Sam could feel it all, the emotions of everyone in the Res. She felt every ounce of pain as the entire fae population mourned for their lost loved ones.
She had done that. She had taken them from their homes. She had killed them.
Even through the pain of her body, still being pelted and still held paralyzed, she felt tears rolling down her cheeks. She had done this. She had killed everyone she loved. She needed to die. Her body hurt so badly. Why didn’t all this pain cause her to die?
“SAM!” a voice screamed, breaking into her thoughts and visions. “Sam! It’s not real! Whatever you’re seeing! It’s not real! Can you hear me?”
What is he saying? she wondered. What’s not real?
“Sam, you have to fight back!”
If I fight back, I’ll kill more fae. I can’t do that. I can’t kill more fae, she thought to herself.
“If you let them win, all those deaths will be for nothing,” the voice said.
Sam felt more tears roll down her cheeks. That felt true, but she didn’t know exactly what the voice meant. As she thought about it, she felt her gift surge to the forefront, and for once it didn’t battle her. Instead, it asked, or at least it felt as though it was asking her permission.
Sam had never felt her gift do anything like it before. Her gift filled her body, reminding her of her own strength and blocking the pain and visions. She could still see the horrors, but they didn’t affect her as they had before. She still felt the attack of the pellets, but it didn’t hurt. Her gift was taking the beating for her.
“SAM!” cried the voice again.
Sam took a deep breath and allowed her gift the freedom it needed. It slipped past her tattoo, flowing down the line of power that held her elevated in place. To her amazement, it didn’t pounce like an animal attacking, but slithered in like a snake. It wound its way around her attacker, taking half the fae’s gift before he knew what was happening.
She waited for just the right moment before turning the power around. The fae’s grip on her wavered and she dropped to ground, collapsing under her own weight.
The horrifying images continued, but she focused on her gift.
It quickly became clear she wasn’t going to live by her recent oath to never take from another mystic. She turned her gift on the power coursing through her mind, blinding her eyes. It flowed back to a fae standing near the hole in Jason’s wall. She took just enough from that fae to block his powers. Slowly, her vision returned and she was able to see her own surroundings through the visions of death and destruction.
Jason was still on his feet, protected by his mage shield. He was flinging spells around, but she could see that his one-man fight was costing him. She needed to do something and do it fast. The problem was there were far more fae in the fight than she had originally suspected. The two men who had been attacking her were still involved, plus the one causing the hail storm. Beyond them, there was the fae with the stone fists, one with super-human speed, another climbing the walls like a spider, one who had tentacles growing out of its stomach, and a few more waiting outside as back up.
Sam eyed the one with tentacles and rejected him. The idea of having tentacles of her own did not sound appealing. Instead, she drew upon the one with the ability to climb the walls, all but draining it of its powers. He fell from the ceiling, on the verge of death.
She raced toward the one standing near the hole in the wall, amazed at the way she could suddenly move despite the pain in her ankle and shoulder. She barreled into the fae, knocking him off his feet. He hit his head on the pavement and collapsed unconscious. To make sure he wasn’t dead, she pressed her fingers against his neck. A faint pulse thumped against her fingers. Sam turned and watched as the last of the hail fell to the ground.
At the same moment, Jason flung a bolt of magic at a seemingly empty corner. As if by accident, the fae with super-human speed rammed right into the bolt. It took Sam a moment to realize Jason had predicted the fae’s movement after studying his rapid pattern.
She had a lot to learn from the mage.
Before she could pick a new target, one of the backup fae stepped forward and lifted his arms. The chunks of unmelted hail lifted from the ground as a whirlwind formed within the small apartment.
Jason screamed as the hail slammed into his unprotected body.
“Vairogu ap,” he repeated from before.
His shield returned, but from what Sam could tell, it wasn’t as powerful as before. Bits of hail penetrated the shield as he struggled to strengthen his magic, but his increasing pain worked against him.
She had to take out the newest fae, and fast.
Sam released her gift again, not even worrying about how much she took, but she quickly realized her tank was too full to take more than a sip from him.
“Dammit,” she muttered, as she launched herself at the fae, using the power of the wall-climber to pivot off the wall and slam the whirlwind fae to the ground.
The fae barely managed to keep his concentration, but the slight lapse in the whirlwind gave Jason a brief respite. Sam rolled to her knees and slammed her fist into the man’s face. Her blow wasn’t impressive, but it did surprise him, and he dropped his spell completely. She punched him two more times before he blacked out.
“When in doubt…” she trailed off as she turned and scaled the exterior wall of Jason’s apartment.
Sam peeked through the hole to see how Jason was doing, feeling thoroughly ridiculous as she hung upside down.
“Why couldn’t they bring a healing fae,” she said aloud.
She suddenly heard a frightening growl coming from down the road. A snowy-white wolf pelted down the narrow sidewalk and barreled into the fae with stone fists, who had been systematically trying to beat Jason to death.
Sam didn’t even need to taste the wolf’s power to know it was Breena. Only Breena could be that swift and that clumsy all at the same time. The wolf sunk its teeth into the fae’s neck, quickly spilling the fae’s dark blood all over the kitchen floor.
Before Sam could do anything, a dark, murky fog spread out across the ground, making it hard to see one lump from the next.
Idiots, Sam thought. They didn’t realize she didn’t need her eyes to fight, nor did Breena.
“Breena, next attack,” Sam said, drawing the wolf away from her kill.
Sam stayed where she was, hanging from the exterior wall as she spread her gift out, feeling for her enemies. There was only a few left—two with some sort of fire power, the tentacles dude, and the fog-maker. But they weren’t alone. She sensed others racing down the narrow sidewalks wedged between the row houses and the plastic crates.
Humans were coming, and that meant the authorities.
“Shit,” she mumbled to herself just as she felt the two fire faes calling on their magic.
Within seconds, she realized they had two very different powers. One could only control fire already made. She spotted him flicking on a zippo and morphing the tiny flame into something much larger. The other fire fae was running around the plastic crate, setting fire traps, including one on the sidewalk where the humans would soon tread.
From her perch on the wall, she dropped to the ground, groaning as her injured ankle collapsed under her weight, and stumbled back through the hole in the wall. She was running out of the power she had taken from the wall climber and it was no longer safe to stay perched six feet above the ground.
Sam felt her own panic rise. She wasn’t afraid for herself or her friends. To her astonishment, they were holding their own. But the humans could be seriously hurt, or even killed, if the fire fae decided to let loose. She had to take them out of the fight, and fast.
Sam released her gift with as much force as she could, directing it at the youth with the zippo. He turned on her, fire in his eyes—all pun intended.
The youth lit his zippo with a quick strike on his jeans and shaped the flames in an arrow in her direction. Sam waited until the last second before using her borrowed power and redirecting the flame up into the sky. Like an un-trained moron, the fire fae, kept flinging his fire at her, giving her more chances to use up her borrowed power, giving her more space to take from him.
But it was taking too long. The humans were drawing nearer.
In the background, Sam heard Jason and Breena battling Fog-Fae and Tentacle-Man. It was up to her, and her alone, to stop the fire twins.
Sam dragged yet more power from the boy with the zippo, finally flicking a small flame back in his face. The youth dropped the lighter and collapsed on the ground, slapping his chest as he tried to put out the fire.
Idiot, Sam thought to herself as she turned to look for the other fae.
She reached out with her fully sated gift, trying to track the second fire fae. He was around on the other side of the building, setting yet another trap. He had no intention that any of them make it out alive, even if his friends went down with them.
Sam let out a long sigh as she stepped through the hole in the wall so that she could see outside of the crate. The fire fae clearly hadn’t been paying attention to the fact she had yet to kill a single one of his friends. All the same, his deadly traps could easily finish off one of the approaching humans. She turned just as the humans came into view.
“Stay back!” Sam screamed.
The tight formation of soldiers didn’t even hesitate at her words.
“Dammit,” she muttered as she focused her stolen energy at the traps lining the sidewalk. She sparked one, pouring extra energy into it in the hopes of catching their attention.
The trap erupted in a two foot geyser of fire, slowing the approaching humans. Sam poured more energy into the remaining traps as she simultaneously drained power from the last fae.
Sweat beaded on her forehead as the pain in her shoulder and ankle climbed to the surface, past the depleted adrenaline. Her body was spent and her gift exhausted.
A body plowed into her, taking her to the ground just outside the gaping hole in Jason’s apartment. A twitching tentacle draped over her shoulder. Sam grimaced, half in pain, half in disgust at the thought of having Tentacle-Man on top of her.
Breena growled near her right side as she dragged the twitching fae off Sam’s back just as the humans swarmed around them, their guns aimed at the crowd of agitators. Sam cocked her head, seeing nothing but their glossy boots.
“Don’t move,” they said needlessly.
“And just what in the hell is going on here? You there, you’re still on your feet,” the leader said to Jason. “What happened here?”
“The fae came in and attacked me and Sam… the one with the white hair. The werewolf joined in to defend us. The fae have it out for Sam. They want her dead.”
“Sam Gollet?” asked the leader. “So you’re the Void I’ve been hearing so much about?”