Half-fae Sam Gollet is no stranger to solitary confinement—being a half-fae working as a vampire enforcer will do that to you. She is also accustomed to solving the crimes within the supernatural community inside the Illinois Mystical Reservation when the feds refuse to lift a finger.
After being released from Solitary, she finds herself quickly embroiled in the mysterious deaths of leading members of the fae community. Despite having been ostracized by the fae community, Sam agrees to solve the murders at the risk of her own safety.
As the body count rises, she’ll be forced to show her allegiance to the fae and prove that she’s not in league with Heywood’s vampire gang, all the while trying to rebuild her crumbling friendships, avoid rejection from her family, and dissuade the unwanted attentions of a mage living outside the reservation. It seems like no matter what she does, all they can see is her allegiance to the vampires, leaving her wondering if she is stuck with misguided allies.
Subscribe to my monthly newsletter here.
As she had for the last week, Samantha sat in the pitch-black cubical, feeling the seconds and minutes tick by. No light or sound penetrated her prison cell except when the guard came to feed her twice a day. She was left with her brain and all its wonders. Only her thoughts hadn’t felt very wonderful lately.
They were more like jagged cliffs, sharp enough to cut the most callused skin. Or flighty butterflies flitting from one… or rather, morose pools of molten liquid…
Sam let out a gusty sigh through her nose before pounding her first against the plastic wall of her narrow cell. She couldn’t even come up with a good simile for her confused and unsympathetic thoughts. She didn’t want to be left alone with them. They weren’t good company. They spent too much time telling her what a mess she had made of her life.
This wasn’t her first stint in solitary confinement. It wasn’t even her first stint since coming under the employ of Thomas Heywood—the most powerful vampire in the Illinois Reservation.
Theirs was an unconventional relationship, her being half fae, him being a vampire, but it worked because it had to. He knew secrets about her friend, and she had to keep them secret. Sam working for Heywood was the cost, something she was willing to pay.
Sam ran her hands through her greasy hair. How had she gotten to this point? Only a few months ago she had been a mostly law-abiding citizen of the Res, living with her parents, and best friends to Amber and Carl. Now she was slugging illegal goods across the Res, and while she technically lived with her parents, she spent most of her nights at the vampire’s house, using the room he had given her. As for Amber and Carl, they barely talked to her.
It’s better this way, she thought as she struggled to find a more comfortable position on the bed slab. If her friends were close to her they would be in Solitary too. The distance protected them.
Originally it hadn’t been this way. When Heywood’s flunky had approached her with the threat of revealing Carl’s secrets, she had gone to Amber and told her everything, but a few weeks into working for Heywood, he had learned about it. Through his connections with other magic users in the Res, he had altered Amber’s memories and insisted Sam keep the secret.
It left her even lonelier than normal, and the loneliness was eating away at her. Each day was another bite gnawed away from her, another ounce of strength and resolve never to return. She needed to stay strong to keep the feds from knowing about Carl’s illegal technology, and yet the longer she worked for Heywood, the less inclined she was to protect her friend.
And this growing weakness continued to peck at her, making it even harder to stand firm in what she had chosen to do for Carl. Sam felt as though she was caught in a vicious cycle. Heywood asked her to work and she questioned her choices, and the more she questioned her choices, the more she doubted. The more she doubted, the weaker she felt.
Sam jumped as she heard the sound of the bolt being thrown back on her cell door. A second later, the thick plastic door creaked open, a ray of light shining down on her. Sam flinched as she squeezed her eyes shut, the light hurting after so much time spent in the dark. Slowly, she cracked them open and blinked furiously.
“Get up,” barked a voice from beyond the glaring whiteness of the corridor.
Sam recognized the voice and winced. Of all the guards, it just had to be Captain Reynolds. She grabbed her jacket from the foot of the bed slab.
“Reynolds,” she said as she scooted off the slab and lifted her arm to block the worst of the light.
She reached the threshold and allowed him to grab her arm and drag her out. The truth was she couldn’t see the threshold. Everything was glowing whiteness. Sam blinked again, tears springing to her eyes as they ached with the brightness. The captain led her down the hallway, past the ten other solitary confinement cells.
Solitary confinement was the only punishment used by the Federal Mystics Bureau within the Reservations dotted around the United States—except for the rare occasions when executions were required. Most transgressions earned two to three days within the boxes, and the subsequent loss of pay. Rumor had it one of the boxes had held the same person for over ten years. After spending so much time in the underground detention center, Sam didn’t give the rumors much credence.
“Going back to the prick Heywood?” the captain asked as they neared the door leading out of the cellblock.
“Don’t have much of a choice,” she mumbled as she blinked the last of the tears away.
Sam’s head began to ache. It always hurt when she was released from Solitary. It might not have been that bad if she didn’t spend a week at a time in the black box. The thing was, Solitary was the only place where she could truly rest. Not just from Heywood’s demands, but from the tug of her gift.
All fae, even half fae, held a gift of some sort, depending on the clan they were born into. Of course, as the fae continued to struggle to reproduce, the lines between the clans grew ever hazier.
Sam possessed a rather unusual gift. In fact, it was downright rare. Sam was a Void. She had no powers of her own, like those who could bend the wind to their will or create fire. Instead, she could drain their powers, even to the point of killing them. Not that she did that, much.
All the same, the call of their powers was a deafening clamor against her senses. While within the thick walls of Solitary, she could rest from the constant urging of her gift. It wanted to take from the others. It liked the feeling of power coursing through her veins and, if she was honest, so did she.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Reynolds demanded before opening the door, his hand resting on the handle.
Sam let out a sigh. How was she supposed to explain her life to this human FMB—Federal Mystics Bureau—agent? She couldn’t tell him that Carl had illegal technology that Heywood knew about and used to blackmail her.
“With all due respect, Captain Reynolds,”—of which she felt none—“you don’t understand the lives of us mystics. You watch us, you keep the laws, but you don’t know what it’s like to live within these walls. I work for Heywood because I have no choice, and that, Sir, is something you can’t understand.”
The captain stared at her for a moment, as though he was actually mulling over her words, before bursting into a raucous laugh. Sam flinched as spittle struck her face.
“You almost had me convinced, Sam,” he chortled. “Now get outta here and don’t get in trouble again!”
It was always the same parting words, no matter who the officer on detention duty was.
Sam shrugged into her leather jacket, ignoring the man watching her from the glassed-in foyer of the building. She was in no mood to talk to Roman, the handsome assistant to some plastics tycoon. Last she had heard, the Michigan Plastics company was coming into the Reservation to exchange some of the iron works with industrial-strength plastics. Evidently a recent discovery had allowed them to harden plastic in such a way that it could be used in place of iron.
Thanks to the work of some rather vocal human activists, it had risen to the attention of the masses that the iron in the buildings and walls was poisoning more than a fourth of the Reservation inhabitants on a daily basis. Now, Michigan Plastics worked from within the Administration to distribute plastic throughout the Reservation, starting with the port where the most iron was used.
Even now, standing on the steps of the admin building, Sam could feel the drain of the iron in the Res’ walls and in the enormous semi-truck parked just within the gate of the Res.
She paused for a second, eying the vampires working to unload the supplies. Usually the supplies for the Res and the results of their manufacturing were shipped in and out through a river port stationed on the south end of the Reservation, but with the port currently demolished for the new plastic-made structures, the supplies were coming in by truck.
She didn’t stop long to watch them work under the bright street lamps. It was simply too cold.
Despite her efforts to ignore him, Sam glanced over her shoulder to see if Roman was still staring at her. He was.
She forced herself to walk down the steps, despite the trembling in her limbs and the twisting of her guts. She didn’t want anything to do with the mage, who somehow had hidden his abilities and continued to live outside the Reservation. It wasn’t just that she was jealous of his freedom. She was also deeply attracted to him. When she had a boyfriend, this had been an obvious conflict. Now that she and her boyfriend were separated, the issue was less well-defined. All the same, she wasn’t up to any form of temptation.
Her gift granted her enough of that.
Sam glanced up at the night sky. The stars were out and the winter Illinois wind cut into her flesh. She might as well have been naked for what little assistance her leather jacket provided. She trudged forward, intending to check in on Heywood. Appearing at his home would not bother him, while showing up at her parents’ apartment at this hour would irritate her father to no end.
Captain Reynolds always liked to release her in the middle of the night, considering it more annoying than it really was. What he had failed to realize was that while she worked for a vampire she was awake more during the night than she was the day. The heedless fed hadn’t put two and two together, and she doubted he ever would.
Sam trudged past the workers and headed east toward the little neighborhood where Heywood resided. Originally it had been a circular street with a number of row houses. Since the population increase, the houses had been divided up into apartments and plastic shipping crates had been placed in the one-way street and retrofitted to be studio apartments. Now the neighborhood was as run down as the rest of the Res.
The walled-in city had been built for a certain number of inhabitants. But in the forty-two years since it’s opening, the numbers had sky-rocketed. Now even the old parking garage had been retro-fitted into an apartment building, and it was there that her family resided.
Sam continued past her building until she reached the next street to head north-south. The Reservation consisted of only six streets large enough to carry a car—not that cars were allowed—two long ones running north-south and four short ones running east-west to connect the two long ones. There were plenty of foot paths and alleyways winding between the buildings. Sam was just about to head into the little neighborhood where Heywood lived when she heard a loud crash. She paused, hearing a grunt followed by a muffled, low-pitched scream.
Though in retrospect she should have stopped to consider her actions, she didn’t. Sam bolted in the direction of the scream, using muscles that had been left dormant in her prison cell for a week. Her legs strained as she pushed herself to move faster. Sam ducked down an alleyway running between a warehouse used by Fae Manufacturing—a company that made fairy statues supposedly imbued with real fae magic—and the Res’ orphanage.
At the end of the alleyway she saw the outlines of people crouching over a body.
“Hey,” she called, wincing as she realized how dumb she was being.
The attackers looked up before turning and barging into the backdoor of the warehouse. Sam ran after them, pausing only long enough to ascertain that the victim was in fact dead. She pushed through the door and squinted. It was pitch black within the warehouse. At least outside there was ambient light from the glowing moon and the occasional dim street lamp.
Sam wanted to pursue the attackers, but she knew it would be futile and dangerous to do so blind. She reached out with her gift, letting it snake out in the warehouse and grope among the machines, but she couldn’t sense anyone, mystic or human. Slowly, with her teeth clenched, she called her gift back to her, trapping it under the boundaries of the tattoo on her chest.
The tattoo had been etched by a mage of considerable power. He had done it more to protect himself, and the other mages, from her than for her own good. Mages hated Voids simply because mage power was what her gift craved the most. Mage power was the most malleable, or so the rumors said. No one had bothered to train her, leaving her unsure what any of the rumors meant. What little mage power she had tasted had left her wanting more, that was true, but she wasn’t sure why exactly.
Sam tried to shift her train of thought. She couldn’t control her gift if she was thinking about how much she desired the power of a mage.
Slowly, she turned back to the doorway and crouched over the body. The light within the recesses of the alleyway were minimal at best. She touched the still form, and though she felt the warmth of recent life, her skin burned with the ever-present coldness of the Víz—a clan dealing exclusively with water and ice. They could make ice, mold ice, create storms, etc.
This fae, she suspected, was a necromancer. As she touched him, the taste and smell of rotting flesh filled her senses. Sam suddenly felt cold—much colder than the winter wind had managed.
“Check down here,” she suddenly heard someone call.
Sam glanced down the alleyway and spotted the bobbing glow of flashlights. Only the feds had flashlights. As quickly and silently as she could, she ducked back into the warehouse and eased the door shut. Sam leaned against the wall, pressing her ear to the slit of the door.
“Dead all right,” said a baritone.
“Vampire by the looks of it,” said a tenor.
The baritone grunted an agreement.
“I’ll call it in. They can get this mess cleaned up before sunup,” stated the tenor before Sam heard the click-crunch of the walkie-talkie. “Clean-up crew to location…”
Sam stopped listening and began to crawl away from door, feeling her way in the general direction of the door at the other end of the enormous room. Her mother worked in this warehouse and she had a pretty good mental image of the layout. All the same, she hoped the attackers had left. She didn’t want them to sneak up behind her in the inky darkness.
Sam groped forward, stopping to lean against something solid in the hopes of slowing her frantic heartbeat. Evidently her jacket had creeped up. Her bare back pressed against something iron and Sam hissed as she flung herself forward, barely keeping her mouth clamped over a scream. She collapsed on the ground, working to slow her gasping breath.
It hurt worse than any iron burn she had ever received, and she had no idea why.
Sam didn’t know how long she stayed on the dirty ground, but eventually a crick in her neck made it imperative to move. Slowly she climbed to her hands and knees and continued her cautious crawl toward the far door. It felt like an eternity before she found it and pushed the release bar. The door swung open and a flood of cold air and lamp light poured over her. As she had intended, she emerged from a back door positioned on the alleyway running between the warehouse and the back fencing of Heywood’s neighborhood.
Considering what the fed had said about it being a vampire attack, Sam didn’t much feel like going to Heywood’s house. Most likely the feds were scouring the row house neighborhood—where most of the vampires lived—for the attacker, and the fact she still had the victim’s blood on her meant she needed to steer clear of all feds.
If her dad caught her sneaking in with blood on her he would turn her into the feds “for her own good,” leaving her with only two options—Carl or Amber.
Sam winced. Her two best friends had been near strangers since she started running errands for Heywood. They couldn’t understand her reasoning, and she couldn’t explain it to them. All the same, she had to go somewhere for what was left of the night.
The logical choice was the last place she wanted to be. Sam stomached her pride and walked up to the parking garage. She wasn’t going home. That was out of the question. But maybe Amber would let her crash on her floor for the night. The only thing was, if she went to the front door Amber’s parents would hear her knock.
Sam looked up the tall wall. Amber lived on the third story.
The parking garage had been like so many others before it, with wide openings in the walls to increase visibility. These enormous openings had been bricked over with smaller windows in place. Sam had crawled up and down from her own two-story window on occasion, and even descended from Amber’s third-story window once, but she had never made the climb after spending a week in a plastic box. Even now, after running around the Res and crawling around a warehouse, she felt spent. Did she even have the strength to make the ascent?
Sam took a deep breath and began to climb.
The old building had been plagued by the continual winds, leaving plenty of pock-marks and crevices for her to use as hand holds. The climb would have been downright simple if only her muscles would stop shaking. She reached the window with only one scare and a scraped knee.
Hanging from the ledge with one foot wedged into a crevice, Sam gently tapped on Amber’s window. It was a long wait before a dim light flicked on and Amber appeared in the window. She stared at Sam for a second before pulling the window up enough to talk but not enough for Sam to climb through.
Sam felt a stone drop into her stomach, weighing her down.
“What’re you doing?” Amber asked, her voice sounding like liquid ice.
“I need a place to crash,” panted Sam.
“It’s one in the morning.”
Sam flicked her eyes around. “That’s why I came to you.”
“I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“You in trouble with your folks?”
Amber wet her lips with the tip of her tongue. “No. I just… I just can’t.”
“Amber, what’s going on?” Sam asked as she adjusted her grip on the windowsill.
“I don’t want to associate with the vampires,” Ambers said, sounding only minimally guilty for turning her friend away.
“I’m not a vampire,” Sam said, feeling dumb for stating the obvious.
“You might as well be one. Go home, Sam,” Amber added before carefully lowering the window.
A second later the soft lamp flicked off. Sam hung from the window, staring at her own reflection in the glass, her thoughts racing from What just happened? to Well screw you, Amber in a split second.
Eventually, Sam began the descent, being careful to not slip as she had the last time she crawled from Amber’s window. That had been the same night she had killed Lee to avenge Amber’s friend and inadvertently come into the employ of Heywood. And yet here she was, being rejected by the very same friend who had gotten her into this mess.
She had to remind herself that Amber didn’t know anything about Heywood’s threats against Carl. Heywood had made certain of that, and if she told Amber again, Amber’s life would be at stake.
Sam reached the ground with nothing worse than another whack to her scraped knee. She stood in the shadow of the building and shivered. The temperature was still dropping. If she didn’t find someplace to go soon, she wouldn’t have to worry about her crumbling life.
She stared out at the deserted Reservation, a tear leaking over her eyelids and freezing to her cheek.