Nicole Peeler raises a storm in Tempest Reborn, the final novel in the sexy, captivating and irresistibly fun Jane True series – and here's the first chapter!
The agony was excruciating, a white heat at the center of my consciousness. Like that pinprick in space that pulls everything into its ever-widening gyre, the black hole inside me expanded.
Only moments had passed since Anyan, in the shape of the White, had flown away with his consort, the Red. The bones that had once held the White’s spirit lay scattered in front of me. The ivory shapes blurred as unshed tears glazed my vision.
Behind me, Magog, the raven, raised her voice in mournful ululation, keening for the woman she knew as Cyntaf, and I knew as Blondie. My friend and my mentor lay a corpse in Magog’s arms.
Meanwhile, my grief beat its own cadence, an infernal drumming reminding me, at all times, of my losses.
Blondie dead. Anyan as good as. Blondie dead. Anyan as good as . . .
For I knew better than to hope. I’d hoped once before, looking down into my first love Jason’s staring blue eyes, that reality could be malleable. But reality was always exactly that – real, no matter what we told ourselves or how many delusions we tried to build. Like sandcastles, they always crumbled.
[My child,] came the voice in my head.
Creature, I sobbed, feeling its love wrap around me. It, too, was unimaginably stricken by Blondie’s death. It felt she was a daughter, and one of the only remnants of a time long ago, before time began, when the world had been a different place. Many of Blondie’s memories were its memories, and they died with her.
We mourned then, crooning into each other’s minds.
[Join with me,] it pleaded, and I instantly understood. We would live together in my mind, until we could function again. We would support each other, and we could heal.
I will never heal, I told the creature, that pit of hopelessness I knew so well yawning in front of me.
In my own mind, I took a step toward that pit.
But the creature was there, appearing as a single great eye. It flooded my consciousness as it went everywhere, wrapping around me, cocooning me . . .
Awake, I slept.
The pyre had long since burned out, but we could still imagine the heat on our face. Behind was more heat – Gog, Magog, and Hiral were pressed behind me, literally guarding our flanks, our back.
Combined together, an amalgamation of creature and Jane, we hadn’t moved in a day.
Instead we let the cool, wet English air blow the ashes of our friends and enemies against our cheeks, into our long, black hair, and we refused to think. We lived in our memories – a steely gray gaze, the flash of a tattooed bicep, the touch of a strong hand, a wave of power so unique it could only be our child . . .
The part of us that was the creature touched the part of me that was Jane again, a mental stroke as if to assure the other we were there.
Because alone we might break.
Our friend, daughter, ally was dead, and our lover was gone. Blondie had fallen at the claws of the Red, while Anyan had become the White.
We’d watched Blondie burn, thrown on the same pyre as the allies of the Red. Lyman, the rebel leader’s brother, and Jarl, the Alfar we had thought our greatest enemy, had burned with her.
It wasn’t logical to build an extra pyre when one would suffice.
Together they’d all turned to ash as Jane and the creature leaned on each other, together, here in this body where we could take shelter.
‘Jane?’ came the squeaky voice of the gwyllion, Hiral. ‘Are you about ready to leave?’
We ignored him.
‘She hasn’t moved in twenty-four hours,’ the raven, Magog, told her lover, the coblynau Gog. ‘Nor eaten. Nor peed. Nor slept.’
‘Is she blinking?’
‘Rarely,’ replied Hiral.
We ignored them all.
‘What do you think is happening?’ Gog asked, his voice concerned. For even though he and Magog had originally been set to spy on Jane, the creature knew they’d come to like the girl.
‘No idea. What should we do?’ Magog said.
‘We’ve got to keep her from the Alfar,’ the gwyllion said, referring to the official supernatural leaders of the Great Island, or what the humans called Britain.
‘We can’t do so forever,’ the raven responded in her singsong Welsh voice. ‘She is the champion, after all.’
The part that was Jane stirred nervously, but the creature responded with a warm rush of power. Nothing would keep us from our grief.
‘They’re going to want her to, er, champion,’ said Gog.
Hiral snorted. ‘I don’t think she could manage “champion”.’
Magog’s retort was sharp. ‘Don’t mock. She’s lost everything.’
‘She has people, doesn’t she? Do we contact them?’ Gog was, as always, kind and practical.
‘The Alfar will have our hides if we let the champion get away,’ Magog said, a tone of warning in her voice.
The gwyllion spat. ‘They won’t have my hide. You get me names, I’ll get them word.’
Gog and Magog looked at each other, whether in agreement or in fear was anybody’s guess.
‘But if she goes, what will we do to fight the Red and the White?’ Gog’s question was fair.
‘Don’t be stupid, coblynau. Can she fight as she is now? She’s like your girlfriend with clipped wings – useless.’
Gog put a protective arm around Magog, as if to ward off Hiral’s cruel jape.
In the meantime, we went inward. We were tired of the others’ words, tired of their concern. We were in mourning . . .
More memories came flooding in, at our beckoning. The first time the girl who would break our world used her magic. When we realized the dog was a man. The first time . . .
There were sounds around us. A car arriving. It had come once before.
‘Is the halfling recovered?’ came a new voice. A cold voice.
Alfar, we recognized.
Our friends remained silent.
‘Well?’ asked the voice again.
‘No,’ said Magog. ‘She’s not moved a muscle since you first saw her. Nor said a word.’
A lean, handsome face appeared before us. Griffin’s dark hair brushed his cheek and we thought of the feel of wiry curls under our palm, and a pink Mohawk that defied gravity.
‘Jane. Jane! Are you in there?’
We settled further in, so far that even the sharp sting of a slap across our face didn’t faze us.
‘Don’t hit her, you git,’ Hiral said with a snarl. He liked us, too, although he was loath to admit he liked anyone. In fact, he was bleeding inside at the loss of Blondie. She had been one of the only living creatures to abide the little gwyllion, and he found it hard to imagine a future without her friendship.
The part of them that was Jane marveled at the creature’s omniscient viewpoint, even as she shrank away from Hiral’s pain. She had enough of her own . . .
But the creature was there, helping her lapse back into memory . . .
When they came to again, they were lying in a room. A goblin was flashing a light in their eyes, like a human doctor would. Finally, he sat back, shaking his head.
‘There’s nothing physically wrong with her. She’s in a traumatic fugue state – totally disassociated. You are aware of her medical history?’ The goblin spoke with a lovely accent Jane couldn’t recognize, but even as she questioned it, the creature supplied the answer – Irish, Dublin, upper class.
‘No, we’re not aware of her medical history.’ It was Griffin again. His voice might be smooth to a human ear, but underneath his calm tone lurked annoyance.
‘Well, she’s gone doolally before, and under similar circumstances.’
‘Doolally?’ Griffin’s voice was dry. ‘Is that the technical term?’
The goblin winced, as if remembering to whom he was talking.
‘Sorry, sir. I meant she’s had a psychotic break once before, and been committed.’
‘Great. She’s been like this for a week. Our champion is a lunatic as well as a halfling.’
There was a time that comment would have amused both the creature and Jane greatly, but now they felt nothing.
The goblin, however, was not amused.
‘She’s no lunatic, sir. She’s traumatized. She suffered an initial experience of loss as a young woman, in which a loved one died. Now this experience mirrors that one, only with two loved ones, one of whom died and one of whom became, excuse me, a great bloody dragon. Her mind needs time to process, to heal itself.’
When Griffin finally spoke, his always-cold tones had dropped into arctic temperatures.
‘Remember your place, goblin. Healer or no, you can be replaced.’
The goblin’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he gulped in air.
‘And this “trauma victim”, as you call her, is our champion. She is the only one who can kill the monsters that will, at any moment, recommence ravaging our lands. We need her on her feet and ready to fight. Is that understood?’
‘Yes, sir.’ The goblin’s voice was quiet.
We stopped listening at that point, in favor of our memories spinning before us like dangling sweets.
Anyan was calling for us, and we were trying to answer. His voice was weak, as if shouted through layers and layers of thick cotton, but we ached to respond.
That’s when the mage balls started hitting our shields.
We opened our eyes, unimpressed to find Griffin lobbing missiles at us in a bid to get our attention. Behind him, a spitting, struggling Hiral was held by two goblin guards. Magog and Gog stood to one side, looking uncomfortable.
‘There you are,’ the Alfar said, his voice irritated.
We blinked at him, our only response.
‘You do not seem to understand the enormity of this situation,’ the Alfar said. ‘You are the champion, and you have been playing this game of yours for two weeks now. We can no longer indulge your little strop.’
Our ire rose at his words.
‘The Red and the White have been spotted,’ Griffin continued, his gaze locked on ours. ‘Our reprieve is nearly over. They will attack soon, be sure of that. And we need our champion.’
We did not respond.
Griffin took a step closer, his face now inches from ours. ‘Look, halfling. Your bedmate is dead. He is the White now, and therefore our enemy. He must be destroyed, and unfortunately, we have to rely on you to help us. But if we attack now, we have a chance.’
Jane’s fear grew inside us, but we soothed her. Griffin continued.
‘The Red and the White are still weak, still recovering. We can send in our best forces – immobilize them for you. All you need do is strike the killing blow. Even a halfling can do that, no?’
We thought over what the Alfar had said. We conversed.
What if he’s right? asked Jane. What if Anyan’s gone?
[Do you believe that?] asked the creature.
No. No I don’t. But what are our options?
[We don’t know our options yet, child. We haven’t had time to think.]
No. We haven’t. But you do think there are options?
Jane’s voice was so sad, so scared, that we suddenly understood one simple fact.
We realized there must be another option, for to kill Anyan was unthinkable.
[Yes,] the creature said. [There are options. There are always options.]
For the first time since Blondie fell and Anyan was flung onto the White’s bones, we felt something other than despair. The tiniest glimmer of hope built within us, and we nurtured it as we would a flame. Jane grasped on to that hope, and she made a decision. She was grateful for the creature’s intervention, but now she had work to do.
I need to be me again, Jane said.
[Are you sure?] the creature asked.
Yes, I think so. I appreciate what you did for me, though.
[Nonsense,] the creature said. [You helped me as much, or more, than I helped you.]
And then it withdrew, its ancient power that had cocooned me and kept me together through these last, turbulent days withdrawing. It didn’t leave entirely, and I knew that it wouldn’t until this whole affair was over.
But I was Jane again. And I wasn’t doolally, at least not entirely, or not yet. I could feel an edge there, however. A hard edge, a desperate edge – one that scared me. I knew I could run over that edge without even seeing it in the darkness.
But right now I had to find us some options.
When I raised my eyes to Griffin’s, he knew something had changed.
‘Hi, Griffin,’ I said, knowing that both the creature and I would be okay. I could still feel it, inside me, and I knew it wouldn’t leave me and that it would continue to comfort me, and that I’d reciprocate. But I had to be me again, for both our sakes.
I was the champion, after all.
‘We’ve noted your concerns. The problem is that you haven’t given us any time. And we’re tired of your methods.’
I went ahead and continued using the royal ‘we’, since I knew that in this matter, the creature and I were partners.
‘The fact is that we’ve spent too much time letting other people work for us, or tell us what to do, or guide us. Now it’s time for us to guide ourselves. We’re taking control of this little operation. And we’re doing it our way.’
Then I looked over to where Gog, Magog, and Hiral had all taken a step forward.
‘You wanna come with?’ I asked, feeling the creature warm at the thought. My friends, for they had become my friends, nodded.
The creature took us home.