As a Christmas present, I am giving you an excerpt from Chalcedony: Everleaf Series Book 2. My current WIP.
Instead of Yu’s usual perch on the seat in front of the magazine rack, the waif stood alert and rigid his thin shoulders slumped over a magazine. From this direction, Yu looked taught, almost nervous. Scared.
“What’s going on?” Chalcedony asked.
He didn’t look at her. He knew she was there just like Chalcedony could always sense Binti’s presence in the fey. Instead of answering, the waif pointed his long yellowed fingernail at the newspaper he had been reading. Chalcedony narrowed her eyes and the read the bolded caption and her blood turned to ice.
FAMILY OF FIVE EATEN ALIVE BY COCKROACHES.
Bugs covering what looked like a dead body. Bugs covering a body with a face partially covered.
Chalcedony looked up at the other newspapers and magazines laid across the stand in three rows. There were approximately eight periodicals on each row. The dead bodies, covered with bugs were on at least half of them.
A dark-skinned wearing a grey coat stopped and picked up a copy of the Enquirer, studying a headline that said Giant man-eating cockroaches attack the city of New Haven. “I’m closed,” Yu said, taking the newspaper from her hand.
The human was about to argue, but Avonnah stepped in front of Yu and snarled. It was a guttural sound full of teeth and menace. The human gasped and woman stepped back, her rebuttal caught in her throat. She gave You and incredulous look before she stomped away quickly lost in the sea of pedestrians.
“You think this is Fey?” Chalcedony asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t feel any magic,” he answered. But the fear in his eyes and the anxiety in his stance told Chalcedony otherwise.
“If you’re not sure, why call for me?”
“Because… Because…” he paused for a beat. “It is too strange to be human.”
CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS
Chalcedony felt a twinge of apprehension when she turned her attention towards the Murphy’s house. Yards of yellow tape that read “CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS” over and over and over again started at the gate on the side of the house, pass the black Ford SUV parked in the driveway, and wrapped around three of the trees on the property until it disappeared toward the back of the house. She had conjured an avoidance spell to keep people away, but she need not have bothered. It was a new development and most of the lots were empty. Only two other houses were constructed. If the immaculate, bright white paint was any indication, the victim’s home could not have been more than a few months old. One of them still had a For Sale sign in its yard.
She stooped under the ominous tape and approached the house. A bike lay on its side in the middle of the yard. Brown, orange, and dark red leaves lay scattered on a white hammock buoyed by two majestic maple trees.
She felt the apprehension of her shadows just as clearly as she felt her own. They were all uneasy. It felt as if they were about to desecrate a tomb. In all of her training and patrolling with Tetrick, she had never had to hunt down a murderer. She knew they existed and occasionally a murder would run to the human world to escape punishment. It happened. She knew it happened. It just never happened on her watch. It had been inevitable she supposed. There were dozens of fey that preferred human meat. It was considered a delicacy. Of course, it was forbidden and death was automatic for anyone caught in the trade of human meat.
The door was locked, but with a little force, it broke away from the frame, taking slivers of the wooden frame with it.
The house had spacious high ceilings and windows that looked out onto the lake. Even from the entrance, the large expanse of the lake was visible.
Even though the house was a perfect picture of class and money, at least in human standards, Chalcedony felt like they were walking over a stranger’s grave.
They began their search in the basement, where according to the father had been killed watching television. The first thing they saw as their foot left the last wooden step and touched the carpeted floor, was a television as large as the wall. Facing it was a burgundy leather sofa. Black small stains, just barely bigger than specks of dust, lay littered on the couch. They stepped closer. It reeked of death. Finally, Chalcedony understood what it was: roach feces. And the droppings outlined a human body.
Chalcedony swallowed the bile erupting from her belly. Djamel turned away, gasping. And Avonnah spoke what they were all thinking. “What monster would do something like this?”
With the sight of the basement still fresh in their minds, the trio moved back upstairs. Their steps were slow, less eager, and more wary. The other rooms were checked one by one. It wasn’t until they found a room with brilliant pink walls, bordered on both the ceiling and the floor with pristine white trim, that they saw another outline of bug feces. The outline was shorter in this room, but wider. It was the perfect outline of two young girls huddling together, clinging to each other in fear. According to the pictures displayed on the walls and on top of the dressers, the girls were around four or five years old. One was only slightly taller than the other. If they were not twins, they were incredibly close in age.
Had they known what was happening to them? Chalcedony wondered. Had they died in pain and agony, screaming for help that never came?
“We have to stop him and put an end to this,” she said, piercing the heavy silence.
“What if it isn’t fey?” Avonnah asked.
“It couldn’t possibly be human,” Chalcedony said.
“Fey or human, I want to find the monster and put a sword through its heart,” Djamel said.
“Agreed,” Avonnah said, her hand on the hilt of her sword. “We just need to find the monster first.”
“Split up,” Chalcedony ordered, apprehension and dread gone, replaced with urgency. “Look for any indication that might tell us at least what direction it took.”
As they left the room, Chalcedony felt determination rolling off Djamel and Avonnah in waves. Chalcedony forced herself to stay and look for more information that might help them find out who and what did this. There were black and white dolls laying on the floor and a plush red teddy bear dressed in a pink dress sat on a wooden dresser.
Chalcedony bent over, checking under the bed. Other than a few small toys, there was nothing. The bugs had to have left something other than lumps of feces while they feasted on human flesh. But there was no trail to follow. It ended as if the bugs had completely disappeared. Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t seen a single bug, cockroach, or insect since they had arrived. Was the monster’s magic so complete and powerful, he controlled every bug in the vicinity?
After they searched the entire house, Chalcedony found herself staring out at the lake. The lull of the waves as it hit the shore, the knocking of the canoe tied to the dock as it bobbed up and down made an oddly peaceful cadence.
She hadn’t found anything in the house. Djamel and Avonnah were searching the property, but Chalcedony didn’t hold much hope. There was nothing. If fey had done this, and she was certain it had been fey, she was responsible. And so was Queen Isis. Just as surely she knew the perpetrator was fey, Chalcedony knew it had to have come through Queen Isis’s door.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a large brown cockroach emerge from underneath a leaf. Her breath caught in her throat. This was the first time she’d seen a roach or any type of bug since they had arrived. She turned to get a better look and then she saw him. Somehow, someway a man had appeared a few inches from her without being heard. She knew exactly who it. . . he was.
And he was not fey.
“Remember me?” The man asked like they had accidentally bumped into each other at a restaurant instead of at a crime scene where an entire family had been murdered.
Chalcedony did remember him. She had been young and on her first trip to the human realm. But still she remembered him. He was one of what her mother had named The Abominations; a trio of humans turned into monsters by magic. A rogue fey, masquerading as a human and as Coal’s mother had been the one accused of performing the experiments.
One of the abominations could command roaches, Chalcedony recalled. When her mother told her what he could do, Chalcedony stared at him for a long while, searching for roaches. But he had been glamoured, so he was nothing more than a human automaton and there had been no bugs in sight. When they returned home to the fey realm, he had been sent to the weavers, and Chalcedony never gave him another thought.
He had barely changed in the eleven years since Chalcedony had seen him: tall, thin with arms almost too long for his body. A gray hooded sweater hid part of his face, but she could still see the cinnamon colored skin underneath its hood. Dark, baggy jeans sat low on his hips. Instead of drawing her sword, doubt made her hesitate. He looked like a normal human. How could he have done something so hideous? This was no monster was it? He is, or at least had been, human. Had the years with the weavers turned him into a cannibal; or had the roaches eaten away at the man, leaving a monster in his place.
He lifted his long, gangly arms. Like a giant wave rising above the ocean, a black swarm of bugs flew out of his sleeves and the collar of his sweater and rushed towards her.
Chalcedony turned and covered her face as the tide of insects bombarded her back. Biting down her disgust, she straightened and ignored the bugs crawling over her back, making their way up her neck.
He stood before her. Only the top of his hood and his face was visible. The rest was covered in living creeping, swarming, cockroaches, ants, termites, beetles. There were so many that they were three, five, ten times deep, crawling over each other in an endless chaotic cacophony.
She kicked high, aiming for his face. She let herself enjoy a small flash of relief when her foot connected with something solid. That relief was quickly replaced with disappointment when suddenly she felt nothing but air. Bugs. Hundreds of them clung to her leg and began crawling up her thigh.
Biting down her revulsion, she ignored them and looked for the man, but he was no where in sight.
Chalcedony drew her sword, taking comfort in its familiar leather handle and the sight of cold hard steel. She walked to the front of the house. Her pace slow and cautious as she lightly stepped on the yellowing grass and occasional brown, orange, maroon colored leaves from the surrounding trees. Her instincts told her he was somewhere close. The bugs scampered across her body, making her skin crawl. She denied the urge to kill them, and unless they were on her face, she refused to wipe them away. They couldn’t kill her. She needed their master. The Abomination. The Bug Man. If she could kill him, they would leave or die. She really didn’t know. It only mattered they would no longer be a threat.
She passed the docks and rounded the corner of the house. He was waiting for her in the front yard underneath the maple tree. He wasn’t alone. Three gasping bodies, all completely covered in bugs lay between him and her. Djamel and Avonnah she recognized immediately. It took a second to see the tuft of blond hair barely visible underneath the bugs as Tetrick. Damn. She had told him to leave. She should have known he would not have.
“Let them go” she said, seething and unable to control her anger. She lifted Mayhem, the sword willing and ready to tear away at flesh.
“Hey now,” the bug man said, his face completely covered with insects. All she could see was the white gleam of his teeth as he talked. “It looks like you brought a sword to a bug fight.”
Chalcedony phased, using her power to close the distance in an instant. She swung Mayhem at his chest, hoping that if she found his heart he’d die, relinquishing his command of the bugs. At impact, he simply disappeared, leaving in his wake another wave of bugs.
Before she thought to turn away, they landed on her face, covering her forehead, mouth, and nose. When they blocked her nostrils, she opened her mouth to breathe and the insects crawled inside. She gagged as they tried to crawl down her throat. Mercilessly, she began chewing, biting them, killing them as she tried to breathe. At the same time, she tried furiously to wipe them from her face. But nothing helped. As soon as she wiped one bug away, it was replaced by ten more. She would bite down on one and ten squirming bugs would take its place.
Using magic, she phased again. She reappeared a moment later, ten feet away. She hoped to abandon the bugs in the process, but they still clung to her.
Tears came uninvited as her body fought to breathe. Tetrick, Avonnah, and Djamel had almost completely stopped moving. She dropped Mayhem and fell to her knees before giving up completely and laying down.
Madoc will be so mad if I die without an heir, she thought as she lay on the ground gasping and watching small waves crash weakly on to the shore.
Using the last bit of her strength, she looked toward Tetrick, Avonnah, and Djamel. She could no longer tell who was who. They were all just formless lumps teeming with insects. But she focused on the body she knew to be Tetrick and phased near him. As soon as she was able to dig her hands through his bugs and touch flesh, she phased with him.
Chalcedony opened her eyes and saw the murky blue water of the lake. The muted sound of being underwater was a pleasant change from the scampering of thousands of crawling insects.
Bugs floated past her face. Most were dead, but some still moved. The sight of the creatures dead or fighting for life brought a smile to her face.
No longer able to hold her breath, she bolted to the surface with small but powerful alternating kicks. She took great lungfuls of air while she looked for who she hoped was Tetrick. Had she been so weak she hadn’t brought him in with her. But then something grabbed her shoulders. She turned to face it. Tetrick.
The carcasses of bugs floated all around them. Wordlessly, silently they stared at each other. His eyes told her this was the closest he’d ever been to death.
“Djamel and Avonnah. We have to go get them.”
Tetrick nodded and disappeared without saying a word. Soon after, Chalcedony followed.
She grabbed the remaining body. Not knowing if it was Avonnah or Djamel. And once again she was in the safety of the lake with bugs floating all around her.
The Bug Man stood on the shore. His arms crossed, staring towards the lake with a crooked grin of triumph plastered on his face.
To be continued…..
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