I’m super-excited to share this preview of Chapter One from LINCOLN, my upcoming book that tells the story of ANGELBOUND from Prince Lincoln’s point of view. Thanks for taking a look and I hope you enjoy the sample!
Before me looms a Dissolus demon. Think about a waist-high glob of mayo—only both alive and deadly—and that’s the general idea. No face, no limbs. It’s mega-bacteria with attitude. For hours, I hunted this creature through the woods of Purgatory. Now I’ve cornered it in the royal stables.
All that remains is the kill.
This won’t be easy.
Little by little, I pin the Dissolus against the wall with my body. The white slime of the demon’s exterior smears across the legs of my kevlar armor. The creature’s round form pulses, heartbeat style. Reaching forward, I slip my hands through the monster’s outer layer, careful to keep my palms tipped at precisely forty degrees. Unless I use that exact angle combined with slow speed, the demon’s interior will transform from ugly slop into deadly acid.
Then I’ll be dissolved in seconds. Painfully.
Sweat beads down my spine as I search inside the monster. My goal is to find the creature’s nucleus—the equivalent of its heart—which is a solid orb about the size of a baseball. I shift my arms inside the gooey interior. Slurping sounds ricochet through the air. Across the stables, a horse whinnies. Adrenaline spikes through my system. There’s a time limit here. If I don’t grab the nucleus fast enough, then the demon’s insides will turn acidic anyway. It’s an effort, but I somehow keep my motions slow and steady. All thoughts collapse into a single goal.
Grasp the nucleus.
A familiar voice breaks up the quiet. “Interesting monster, eh?”
That’s Aldred, the Earl of Acca and an extraordinary scumbag. He’s a portly fellow, middle aged with thinning hair and long jowls. While I spent hours hunting the Dissolus, Aldred followed behind at a safe distance, releasing a steady stream of chatter. At this point, he and I are the only people in the stables, if you don’t count the demon.
“Interesting isn’t the word I’d use,” I reply.
“What can I say?” Aldred steps beside me, scanning the scene. “I’m an earl, not a walking thesaurus.”
For a moment, I see myself in Aldred’s eyes. I’m Lincoln Vidar Osric Aquilus, High Prince of the demon-fighting Thrax. At eighteen, I’m tall and broad-shouldered with brown hair and mismatched irises. I also happen to be leaning over a possessed blob of white goo the size of an engorged Hippity Hop.
“So, what would you say?” asks Aldred.
Enduring a morning of the earl’s chatter (combined with seconds before I’m killied by acid) makes my last thread of Aldred-shaped patience snap.
“Two words,” I reply. “Be. Silent.”
Aldred raises his hands, palms forward, in a movement that says I didn’t do anything. “No need to get testy.”
Frustration sends my thoughts reeling. How did I get here anyway? The answer flickers through my mind like images on a carousel. On orders from Verus, the Queen of the Angels, my family and I are temporarily residing in Purgatory, along with all our court. Since my people enjoy a medieval lifestyle, we’ve constructed cabins in Purgatory’s Alighieri Woods. This morning, a Dissolus broke free from our Royal Menagerie. Cue me chasing the monster through the forest while the earl follows behind. Which brings me to the present moment and imminent death.
“This is taking too long,” declares Aldred. With mincing steps, the earl creeps up beside me.
“Stay back,” I warn. “That’s for your own safety.”
“No, I shall kick it for you.”
“Absolutely not,” I counter. “You’ll end up losing your boot as well as your foot, and that’s if you’re lucky.”
At last, my fingers brush against the creature’s hard nucleus. Yes! Normally I give demons a chance to retreat before killing them. However, Dissolus have the mental powers of paramecium. To them, attacking is nothing personal—it’s just what they do.
Time to end this.
Tightening my grip on the nucleus, I yank with all my strength. The round sphere breaks free from the gelatinous demon. For a moment, the Dissolus quivers in place. Then—SPLASH—it collapses into a puddle of translucent sludge. The scent of rotten eggs fills the air. In my right hand, the nucleus transforms into a bright white orb before vanishing altogether. I exhale a long breath.
“And that’s how to kill a Dissolus.” I shake out my palms, sending residual slop flying around.
“Glad I was here to help,” declares Aldred. “We make a great team.” He moves to stand directly in the main aisle of the stable. In other words, blocking my departure. I’ve seen this action from Aldred before.
“Is there a particular topic you wish to discuss?” I ask.
“As a matter of fact, yes. Now that we’ve spent the morning together, I thought we could talk, man to man.”
I tilt my head. “Go on.”
Here it comes. Another discussion about my marriage contract.
For weeks, Aldred has been pestering me to sign a betrothal contract with his daughter, Lady Adair. At one time, I might have been interested. Now, not so much. The local residents of Purgatory are quasi-demons, and one of those ladies happens to be an excellent warrior named Myla Lewis. As of this moment, it’s been eight days, six hours, and thirty-two minutes since I last saw Myla. At the time, she was fighting off Doxy demons in a nearby lake. Her battle technique displayed the perfect combination of beauty, intellect and lethal power.
Long story short, I’m no longer interested in signing a marriage contract. Instead, my time’s been consumed with researching a certain Miss Lewis. To that end, I’ve learned she’s fighting in Purgatory’s Arena tomorrow morning. I plan to sneak into an access corridor and watch her battle from a distance. The very idea makes my heart soar.
Aldred clears his throat, breaking up my thoughts. “Did you hear what I said?” he asks.
“No,” I reply. Evidently, the earl was blabbing away while I contemplated Myla. Even so, I doubt I missed anything. There’s only one topic of interest to Aldred these days. My marriage. “Please repeat your statement.”
Aldred makes a great show of scanning the stables. “I’ve news for you about Minister Devak.” He narrows his eyes to conspiratorial slits. “Great information.”
This is what humans call a red flag. Why the concern? I’ve been working on what I call an anti-Acca treaty. By uniting the armies of Kamal, Horus and Striga, I’ll have enough warriors to make Aldred kowtow on any number of topics, including my marriage to Adair. Of all those houses, my negotiations with Minister Devak—and therefore the House of Kamal—are the farthest along.
“And what have you heard from the minister?” I ask.
“Devak’s been asking around.” Aldred lowers his voice. “About quasi warriors.”
A chill rolls up my limbs. Can Devak be interested in Myla for some reason? When I next speak, it’s an effort to keep my voice calm. “And what is Devak’s concern?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Aldred smirks.
At this point, that smug grin of Aldred’s tells me two things. First, the earl knows exactly what Devak is up to, and second, Aldred wants something in exchange for the information.
I stifle the urge to roll my eyes. “Name your price, Aldred.”
The earl exhales a long-suffering sigh. “I might confide everything, but it’s sensitive information … the kind you share with family, you know?”
Meaning: ink my betrothal contract and I’ll tell all.
I chuckle. Aldred always overreaches in negotiations. However, what he lacks in finesse he more than makes up for in persistence. “I am not finalizing a contract merely to discover Devak’s plans.”
“Please! I never expected you to sign this very second,” lies Aldred. No doubt, the man keeps a copy of the contract in the folds of his tunic along with a quill, just in case. “But perhaps you can commit to spending more time with my sweet Adair? If so, then I might feel like sharing.”
Aldred thinks he’s being sneaky, but I already made this decision last night. “Mother is organizing a garden party at the Ryder mansion. My plan is to request Adair’s company for the event.” After all, I’ve said all of five sentences to the girl. We may be compatible. Now it’s true that I’m obsessed with Myla—which in turn means my chances with Adair are slim—but I must be seen as performing due diligence. Welcome to royal life.
Aldred rubs his palms together. “Excellent, I’ll tell Lady Adair today.”
“Your turn,” I state. “What about Devak’s interest in quasi warriors?”
Aldred bobs his thick eyebrows. “No doubt, you’re aware how the court itches to hunt local demons.”
My eyes widen with shock. “No, I wasn’t.” A memory flashes through my mind.
I’m fifteen and late for monitoring a demon patrol in the Canadian Arctic. As I exit the transfer platform, a woman’s screams echo through the cold air. I race out of the ice station and onto a sheet of white tundra under a grey sky. Freezing winds batter my body. Before me, a dozen Acca warriors tear apart a Vantys, which is a deadly she-demon who’s equal parts human and reptile. Aldred stands behind them, pumping his fist into the air. Fresh sprays of blood darken the snow. I race over, my young voice bellowing.
But the Vantys is already dead. And Aldred’s men have placed her head on a pike.
“This is disgraceful,” I announce. “We are thrax, not a mindless mob.”
Blinking hard, I try to wipe out that recollection. However, the image of a severed head stays seared in my mind. Thrax should act as ethical warriors, yet Aldred transformed them into something else. There’s no avoiding the truth. With the wrong encouragement, my people can do terrible things.
And now, their baser instincts may be focused on Myla. I shudder.
“You know us thrax,” continues Aldred. “We’re always seeking a new challenge.”
Protective energy runs up my spine. I round on the earl. “The Queen of the Angels herself, the oracle Verus, sent us here to interact with the quasi population, not hunt them down.”
“Bah.” Aldred waves his hand dismissively. “It’s only a matter of time before some quasi marches into our camp, looking for trouble. After all, they’re semi-demonic. It’s in their blood. And once those quasis come after us, then we’ll have to protect ourselves. It’s only right.”
Images of Myla appear in my mind. She did indeed sneak into our compound, but only because she was on the trail of a mutual enemy, the Doxy demons. A weight of worry settles into my stomach. What if someone other than me saw her? Aldred is correct; my people would kill first and ask questions later.
“You still haven’t shared specifics on Devak and quasis,” I point out. “What did he say, precisely?”
“Devak’s focused in Purgatory’s Arena.”
Meaning he’s focusing on warriors like Myla. “Do you know why he’s interested?”
“My guess? Arena warriors will give the best fight. Here’s the thing. Maybe you and I can team up.” Aldred grins, showing off his mouth of yellow teeth. “Together, we could claim the first official quasi kill.”
At those words, anger zings through my nervous system. “Let me make one thing absolutely clear.” I prowl toward Aldred, my voice deep as thunder. “Hunting the local population is off the table, whether they are arena warriors or not. If you or anyone else speaks of this again, I’ll have you shipped back to Antrum and tossed into the dungeons.” For every final word I speak, I tap Aldred on the center of his chest. “Do you understand?”
“All right.” The earl forces another laugh. “No need to get sensitive.”
I glare at Aldred with a look that says, I’m done here. “The dungeons, Aldred. I mean it.”
Without waiting for a reply, I storm past the earl and out of the stables. Although Aldred runs our most powerful house, I remain the High Prince and have my limits. Hunting quasis? Outrageous!
Suddenly, I wish my parents weren’t away on a demon hunting excursion. I’d like nothing better than to open a formal inquest, find out who’s threatening quasis, and then fill our dungeons to overflowing. But starting an inquest is serious business. For the process to have teeth, my parents must sign off. And they won’t return for at least four days.
Ah, well. Better to wait and do this correctly, much as I hate that fact.
All the way back to my cabin, my thoughts race through everything I’ve just learned: how Aldred is still pressing my marriage to Adair … the fact that my own people might be targeting quasi warriors … and how the entire situation could place Myla in danger. It all adds up to one terrible conclusion.
If I’m not careful, Myla might end up dead. That’s not an option, so I take a silent oath.
With all my mind and body, I vow to protect the woman who already holds my heart.
–End of Sample–