Read an excerpt of
Betrayal (The Descendants, #1)
Where there is love and power,
there is always…
Two Weeks Earlier
The thunder grumbled louder than the ancient Bergnum steam engine train on one of its weekend tours. I shielded my eyes from the torrential downpour, but it was futile. Through the deluge, I vaguely made out the bright headlights of the C Street Line bus, cautiously approaching my bus stop.
I cursed my cheap umbrella for succumbing to the forceful wind gusts, and flipping upward several times, as I ran the half a block to the stop. Already soaked through my shirt, with still a quarter of a block to go, I decided to abandon my now rectangle shaped umbrella. Thunder rolled and crashed, halting me mid-step. I hated thunder storms because of my debilitating fear of getting struck by lightning, yet tonight there wasn’t any. The sky was black as singed coal, devoid of any light.
I waved my hand in the air hoping Fred, the bus driver, noticed me, and would wait. I couldn’t hang around for twenty minutes in this downpour for the next bus. Only a few yards away from my stop, I was forced to immediately stop running again as if I slammed into a brick wall. This time it wasn’t because of the thunder or because of the deep puddle I just splashed through. I froze when I saw the giant shadow emerge from the sidewalk in an upright position.
The silhouette stood a few yards ahead of me, obstructing the entire view of the bus. I squinted upward, trying to make out what it was. The shadow appeared to be of a giant man towering at least eight or so feet. A man on stilts, maybe? The shadow’s coat or cape, I couldn’t tell in the haze of the bus’s headlights, which outlined the figure, whipped around like a swarm of furious bats exiting a cave. As it began moving toward me in slow motion, I realized the figure wasn’t a man or a person at all, but an enormous shadow.
I was rooted where I stood under the pouring rain, unable to breathe with a strange and unfamiliar clenching in my chest. As if on cue with my heightened fear, the creature spread out its flickering cape with a snap, and inched toward me in a swift pace. I couldn’t move as if my feet were an extension of the wood boarded sidewalk. The shadow lurched forward, and a rush of stinging and stifling heat arose from somewhere deep within the core of my body.
I began to tremble uncontrollably when crackling lightning bolts shot from my fingertips, eyes, ears, and burst from my chest in long crooked, blinding rays. The rays which seemed to retaliate against the chorus of bellowing thunder in the sky were aimed at the shadow, which had been silent up until this point. The silhouette recoiled into the sidewalk with a screech as if the lighting had caused it excruciating pain.
I woke up two days later with eyelids that seemed to weigh a ton a piece. I tried to focus, and barely made out the view of the Nickel City playground from my window. I had no idea where I was until I noticed the shocking, stark white sheets covering me on the stiff bed I laid on. To my left, I saw my mom sitting in a chair beside me. I watched the corners of her mouth curl up a little.
Without warning, she started rambling about how I’d been asleep in the Nickel City Hospital for the last two days after being struck by lightning, before running out of the hospital room to get a nurse. Everything came rushing back to me as if a plug had been yanked out of my head. I wondered if anyone knew what really happened that night.
After a dozen or so tests, the doctors couldn't find anything wrong with me, so I was discharged. As the days crawled by, my mom and dad never brought up the night of the storm or mentioned a thing about me being struck by lightning. I hadn’t forgotten although, it wasn’t as my mom had explained it. Lightning didn't strike me. It had been the other way around.
Once again, I peered at the clock on the wall. My heart sank. Only two minutes had passed since I last checked. It was ten minutes to quitting time, and the shop was empty. I hated cashiering at Clarkson’s Gift Shoppe and being surrounded by ‘Old West’ collectibles – reminders of a sluggish era. The hours seemed to drag from the moment I punched in for work. But working here was a small sacrifice, and my only shot at an escape from this dawdling town. I planned to flee before my graduation cap descended from the toss.
Nickel City High, the only high school in Nickel City, Nevada, was where I served my sentence. Nickel City was a tiny town where everyone knew everyone and their family, so my plight of taking mass transit for the last three years was common knowledge amongst the entire senior class. Kudos to them for finding some way to obtain the most coveted item – a car to park in the senior parking lot. No one cared how you got the vehicle; whether you inherited the car from a generous uncle, earned it from an after-school job, or mommy and daddy’s checkbook, your status was catapulted. I didn’t care about status, or the real estate of the much fought over senior parking spaces.
A car meant money being spent on insurance and gas. I’d ride the bus for another year, and be teased and called a ‘bus rat’ by my fellow classmates, if it meant I could defect from this dreary town promptly after graduation.
I jumped from the startling crackle and chime of the bells hanging on the etched glass door as a group of rowdy kids stumbled into the gift shop. My eyes glanced instantly at the clock as the heat filled my head and my nostrils flared. What the heck were they thinking coming in here now? The shop would be closing in eight minutes. The raucous group, a familiar bunch from Nickel City’s only junior high school, was armed with skateboards in hand and colorful skull caps strategically placed askew on their heads. I wondered if the little slackers had come in precisely at this time to tick me off. If they had, their plan had worked. I narrowed my eyes and clenched my teeth when the goofy quartet started zooming up and down my freshly straightened greeting card aisles.
“Hey, you can't ride your skateboards in here,” I yelled, leaning over the counter, but they ignored me. I began to have one of those out of body experiences where you see yourself do something erratic and so out of character that it shocks you. I saw myself leap over the counter, smack every one of those knuckleheads hard across the face, and then throw them out of the shop by the seat of their pants.
Aaahhhhhhhhh, so satisfying, I thought.
Mr. Clarkson, my boss, was a short butterball of a man, and owner of the gift shop. He waddled out of his office, closing the door behind him. He watched, with an exaggerated frown which was strictly for my benefit, as the group of greeting card snatching buffoons grabbed a couple packs of chewing gum from the candy stand by my register. They argued for a minute about who was actually going to pay. Listening to them bicker, must have shaved at least a year off my life. Chain smoking had to be safer than being stuck in a room with a bunch of asinine junior high kids.
At last, a couple of crumpled up dollars landed on the counter. I looked past the knuckleheads to my perfectly aligned greeting cards which were now a flipped over and smeared mess. I almost hurled their change at them. They finally left the shop grinning at me with their future perfect teeth, thanks to the gunmetal tracks. I narrowed my eyes and mouthed some choice words of profanity at them.
Finally, Mr. Clarkson and I began closing up. Tonight that consisted of Mr. Clarkson locking my cash drawer away in the safe, and me aligning the greeting cards, again. It took us all of five minutes. I snatched my messenger bag from the stock room, grabbed my text book on World History, which I hid under the counter to sneak and study while there weren’t any customers. I waved goodnight to my boss, and was out the door. The second I stepped out of the gift shop, I saw my bus gliding down C Street, the town’s main street. I still felt apprehensive about the half a block walk to my stop although, it was a clear evening, and it had been two weeks since the galactic thunderstorm.
“Good Evenin' Delia,” Fred chirped from behind the wheel. He was as plump as a Thanksgiving Day turkey, and scrutinized my every step as I entered the bus and swiped my bus card. Since the night of the tempest, Fred seemed wary of me, and me of him. Although, he never uttered a word about that night, I feared he had seen what happened, yet I couldn't be sure. Lately, he looked at me with anxious eyes as if he were a parent watching a toddler’s first steps with the anticipation of an inevitable fall. Even though he seemed cautious of me, he always had a beaming smile – the ear to ear kind.
“Hi Fred.” I did my best impression of a smile, and edged passed him. As I eased down the aisle between the bus seats, I glanced at the same faces I'd been looking at three nights a week for the past two years. They all gazed up at me to either smile, grunt, or re-shut their eyes for another quick doze. I shuffled along to my favorite seat in the rear by the exit doors. I could almost feel my front door knob twisting open as I anticipated getting home.
I looked out the grimy and smudged window of the bus, and beyond it was the wondrous and breathtaking view of the looming Sierra Nevadas, a mountain range stretching from Nevada to Northern California. The view, in my opinion, was the only perk of growing up and living in Nickel City. I never tired of the serene and sandy brown peaks that, right now as the sun set, made it difficult to differentiate where the mountains ended, and the pinkish tangerine sky began.
I looked out the windshield of the bus to the familiar main street. The town’s wood planked sidewalks littered with gifts shops, old saloons, bed and breakfasts, and shabby restaurants, was home to a population of just a thousand or so strong, unlike its glory days over a hundred years ago, during the gold rush. I've heard time after time how Nickel City, once a bustling mining town, had a crowded population of twenty thousand. I couldn't imagine residing here then. That much activity, in such a minute town, had to have been chaotic.
The legend remains, Nickel City practically appeared overnight with the discovery of gleaming silver in its lakes and mines. The mining era had been a prosperous time, but equally dangerous. Greedy and at times murderous prospectors from all over the U.S. and abroad, heard that the roads were practically paved with the sparkly and lucrative minerals. They came in droves; pick axes and shovels in hand, to stake a claim on their fortune. One look at this dilapidated town now, you'd know that those days were gone.
Today our town is thought of as an ancient ghost town although; I haven't seen one specter yet. You would expect the ghost stories would keep the tourists away. But in fact, they lured them in. The sightseers traveled far to observe and hear all the nostalgia this dull town had to offer. They showed up in Nickel City every weekend to tour the inactive mines which haven’t produced a nickels worth of silver, no pun intended, since the turn of the century. The day trippers toured the poorly preserved mansions and sagging buildings (where they believed we kept all the ghosts), the old-fashioned saloons on C Street, and rode the archaic Bergnum Steam Engine Railroad.
Our town’s organizers saw the opportunity to reap the cash flow, and catered to the tourists by putting on ridiculous 'Old West' re-enactments at the aged Whitney Opera House Theater, once a home to musicals, orchestras, and plays. If you asked the tourists what their favorite attraction was, they’d tell you that it’s not the plays, the parades, or the steam engine train ride. Most would agree that it was a tossup between the hysterical outhouse race (not so artfully painted outhouses raced up and down C Street like go-carts) and the camel race, what I believe to be the overall pleaser, keeping everyone, the travelers and the locals, in stitches. Picture it: dopey camels saddled up with clumsy jockeys that did an awful job staying seated while they prompted the animals to gallop at maximum speed.
The longer I stared out of the bus’ grimy windows I couldn’t fathom another eight months of suffering in this town. I guess visiting here could be a fun experience. But the vacationers got to go home, back to their metropolises, mega movie theaters, and super malls. The closest movie theater and mall were in Reno. The psychological livelihood of a teen like me with no tangible escape route was incomprehensible. More times than I could bear, I’ve felt trapped in a time warp as if I’ve stepped back in time, a hundred years. The nostalgia was lost on me.
Finally home, I tip - toed into the kitchen through the back door. My mom and dad's voices filtered into the kitchen from the living room. They were watching a sitcom; I guessed hearing the audience’s pre-recorded laughter. I sat my bag on the granite counter, sniffing beef stew as I pulled the lid off the large pot. I wasn’t that hungry so I picked an apple from the fruit bowl, grabbed my messenger bag, and headed up the back staircase.
After taking a shower, I put on my comfiest t-shirt and lounge pants. I opened the drawer to my desk and pulled out several college applications. They were all out of state universities and each at least a thousand miles from Nickel City. I had no desire to watch another camel race for as long as I had the ability to breathe. I reviewed the applications; considering each states environment. I wasn’t about to select a college located in a state with a dry and sticky climate above ninety degrees for two thirds of the year. That would be Nevada all over again. So the universities in Arizona and Texas got balled up and tossed into my wastebasket. I wanted to go away and study where there was a distinct variance in the seasons which you could feel and see. Maybe somewhere on the east coast, New York and Massachusetts were possibilities.
“Ugh,” I grunted, loudly. My nose should be wedged deep in Greek Mythology for my quiz tomorrow. I tucked the applications back into my drawer. Filling them out would have to be delayed until tomorrow, but no later, I vowed. A low buzz and vibration caught my attention. It was my cell phone. I snatched it off the corner of my desk before it dove for the floor.
“Hi Mom.” I detected fear in my mom’s shaky voice.
“Where are you?”
“Up in my room,” I answered.
“When did you get home? We didn't hear you come in and thought that maybe... something... happened to you.” Remnants of the night of the storm still lingered in her mind.
“Oh, sorry, I got home about a half an hour ago, mom.” I chuckled to ease the stress that must’ve been building. Every now and again, my parents would throw fretting hints about that night and safety in general. I hated to make them worry, but sometimes I required a dose of silence, and evaded their inquiries regarding the snore provoking events of my day.
“Did you have dinner?”
“I wasn't that hungry, so I had an apple.” There was a short pause before my mom continued.
“A little stew won’t hurt your slim frame, “Mom said. “Are you sure you don’t want anything else?” I’d had a piece of fruit because it was all that I had been hungry for.
“No, mom,” I said, gritting my teeth, and then lightened my voice a bit. “I'm studying.”
“Ok, ‘night, hon.”
“'Night, mom,” I said, mashing the END button on my cell.
I poured over my notes on how Hades had abducted Persephone from her mother, the Goddess Demeter, and forced the young goddess to be his wife by keeping her prisoner in the Underworld. I found Greek mythology fascinating, but a low and drawn out yawn caught me off guard. After the fourth yawn, the battle to keep my eyes open was lost. I closed my text book, and crawled into bed. I don't know when I fell asleep but the dream began the same way it always did. I hadn't realized how much I missed him and desired him until he was with me again.
We walked palm–in–palm down the slopes of the moonlit mountains, and into the heart of the forest of towering pine trees, invigorated by the refreshing scent of the evergreens. The inclined terrain of moist dirt, cracked branches, and unsettled stones made it a little difficult to navigate in the dark, but that didn’t stop us. Through the darkness, with only the midnight moonlight streaming through the long prickly branches, we barely saw each other’s faces. We paused every few moments to enjoy each other’s kiss.
We stopped again, and the beautiful dark haired boy, who stood a few inches taller than I, pressed his lips against mine. It was all the confirmation I needed. In return, I surrendered my seventeen year old heart to him. He pulled away for a second, his tender kiss leaving me weak and breathless. I shivered, and he removed the jacket of his three – piece suit, and placed it over my shoulders. He took my face in his hands, and stared into my eyes. I could feel his heartbeat, and it pulsed in unison with my own as if we were fused together. In between feather soft pecks which he placed on my forehead, the tip of my nose, and ardently on my anxious lips, he whispered, “Cordelia, my love grows for you with every night we steal to be together.”
I allowed his crystal blue eyes to swallow me whole. “I want you to hold me like this forever,” I said. Then I wrapped my arms around his neck, and leaned my yearning body into his as I pressed my lips against his warm mouth. We stayed that way, intertwined for a long time. Suddenly, he stopped kissing me, and my lips rejected the cool air. The dark haired boy jerked his head upward, first to the left, then to the right. His eyebrows were wrinkled in the center of his forehead. His eyes, reminded me of the tides in an ocean wave, azure currents darting everywhere. They searched as if he expected to see something burst from behind a tree.
“Did you hear that?” Half of his face appeared somewhat illuminated by the moon’s glow and slightly overcast, adding a sinister edge to his beauty.
“What?” I searched his eyes for a hint. I read the danger in them. What he had heard from somewhere far off in the distance, were the howls I heard now.
“Uh! Oh no!” I gasped, my mouth gaping.
High pitched cries sliced through the frigid night air like a sword. The howls seemed to be coming from the direction of the caves where the bristle pines grew, at least half a mile away. Besides our whispers, and the broken weathered branches that snapped without warning beneath our feet with our every step, the bone chilling wails were the only other sound in the dim forest. I looked deep into the dark haired boy’s eyes, and knew we had very little time left. My lips beckoned him to kiss me once more, and he lowered his head, brushing a tendril of hair away from my forehead with a finger, and kissed me.
We couldn't ignore the piercing barks any longer. He grabbed my hand, and said, “We must go now. The pack is getting closer, and they are ravenous.”
He tugged at my hand, and began running. We were sprinting past the trees, darting this way and that to avoid being struck by any low limbs. We leapt over petrified tree logs that had fallen ages ago. The ravenous wolves were just as fast, and were closing the gap. Their razor sharp claws scraped against the scattered rocks and boulders sending shivers up and down my spine as they leapt over them. The barks were thunderous, and the wolves were quickly gaining on us. I fought arduously to keep up with the dark haired boy. One of wolves viciously tore at the edge of my lace fringed dress, salivating.
My heightened voice pierced into the night; a night flooded by the light of a full moon – a wolf’s beacon. “They’re right behind us.”
“Faster” The dark haired boy hissed between gasps. Breathless and panting, we were nearly at the entrance of the forest, our passage home. Our escape was uncertain as ferocious growls, through chomping fangs, now came from the entrance of the forest. We were trapped. We ran so fast that it almost felt like flying, and then I didn't feel the ground beneath my feet anymore. We glided straight to the top of one of the tallest pine trees in the entire forest. We were so high up that the pale moon seemed within our reach. The wolves began climbing the tree, and were half way up before I knew what was happening. I watched my lover descend with incredible speed to the ground where he baited the wolves. Left alone, standing on a gnarled branch, I did my best balancing act. The dark haired boy fought effortlessly with the monstrous pack. His strength was without bounds. He was no longer the gentle boy whose kiss guaranteed the need for more. In a whisper that I knew he could hear I said, “Be careful, my love.”
My heart was thudding against my chest as I bellowed, “No, behind you.” One of the largest wolves jumped on the dark haired boy's back. The palm of my hand flew to my mouth in horror. The beast’s sharp teeth dug into my lover’s flesh, and the blood began to slowly stain his shirt and vest like a scarlet rose bud blossoming to full bloom.
“No!” My shrill voice echoed through the forest and rippled across the nearby lake, possibly fetching more wolves to feast. The dark haired boy's eyes met my gaze, and the light in them fed me strength, making him seem only an inch or two away. I reached out to touch his cheek, and his skin was as smooth as velvet. Then he was where he had been all along, on the ground battling the fierce beasts.
I realized the number of wolves had multiplied to a dozen, and shouted, “You must come back up. You're out numbered.” But the dark haired boy ignored me, flinging a bear-sized wolf biting into his shoulder onto the ground where it landed on its back. My throat tightened as the dark haired boy snatched another sizable wolf in midair as it tried to lunge for his beautiful face. With what seemed to be the strength of a dozen men, he tossed the wolf. It spiraled in the air, and slamming against a tree, whimpering in pain as it slid down the gnarled trunk. It was permanently wounded. The large wolf slowly began transforming. The creature’s thick fur thinned into smooth tanned skin while the menacing, snarling mouth disappeared into the face of a young woman about my age. I shuddered at the sight of her naked, slumped over the trunk of the pine tree, lifeless.
Her death seemed to fuel the other relentless wolves. Ravenous and relentless with the intent to kill, they endured the dark haired boy’s blows. Their mission not yet fulfilled. He snatched them as they came at him, one after the other, flinging them across the lake bordering the eastern side of the forest. In the air they whirled and spun out of control, hitting numerous trees on the way. From every more, massive wolves arrived. They leapt high into the air, and almost reached the branch I stood on. My eyes bulged in horror, and I wavered, nearly losing my footing.
“Cordelia, stay there.” He yelled. I gripped the tree bark with one hand, and waved them away with the other. One by one, as if my arm had the power of a magician's wand, I sent them flying backwards several yards. But still they returned. One of the relentless beasts jumped so high that he was almost at my feet.
“Help!” I screamed.
“Cordelia hold on!” I lost my balance, and began to fall.
“No, Cordelia, no!”
I was descending fast, and the stone and branch littered ground was coming closer and closer at an alarming rate. As the wind whipped across my face, the skin on my bare arms burned as it tore against the branches. The evil eyes of the wolves, blood red with the intent to kill, and mouths full of fangs opened wide, awaited my decent. I grabbed at a branch, and willed it to grab hold of me. The branch seemed to spring to life. Parts of the branch's extended limbs became intertwined fingers forming a gigantic hand which I clutched desperately. The dark haired boy gazed up at me with yet another monstrous wolf lunging at his back. He grimaced in pain as the wolf's fangs ripped into his flesh. I looked at my lover's face, and the stab of a knife into my heart would've ached less. But he didn't succumb to the agony. Instead, he grabbed two wolves that leaped up into the air by their furry necks, and bashed their skulls together. In one sweeping motion, he flung the wolf clawing at his back to the ground. The dark haired boy jumped up, and grabbed my hand as the tree’s intertwined limbs, which held me, unfolded.
“Evan... no!” The wolves mouths seemed opened wide enough to swallow both of us whole.
The air was hitting us in waves as we began to fall. I held on to Evan's hand as the spiral of water flew out of his other palm like an aquatic tornado flooding the wolves. They flipped over in the tidal wave, jumping out of this new river to devour us.
I woke up startled. I sat straight up in my bed staring straight ahead at the tall book shelf against the wall. I shuddered and panted and tried to catch my breath as I vividly recalled what I had experienced.
“It was a dream.” I whispered to myself. Just a dream, I tried to convince myself.
The same dream. This time the dream had been a little different. This time I got close enough to smell the wolves breath, and this time I had spoken the dark haired boy’s name.
I loved the sound of his name on my lips now, tranquil and valiant at the same time. I missed him already.
My cotton camisole was soaking wet. At first I figured it was perspiration, but I was wrong. My long and wavy auburn hair was drenched as if I just shampooed it. Droplets of water that smelled like the sea streaked my face as I ran my fingers through my hair. A sudden sting on my right arm below my elbow startled me. I turned my arm upward, and was shocked at the long gash taking up the entire length of my forearm, revealing my blood. The cut was slightly open from one end to the other. The skin surrounding it was bright pink, and smeared with a thin layer of my blood which seeped from the slash. I touched it with the tip of my finger, and the sting was replaced with searing pain. I winced, gasped, and almost screamed.
I eyed the gash on my forearm suspiciously as if it knew something I didn't. This can't be possible. How could something like this happen? How could I get hurt in a dream, and have the wound when I woke up?
Am I still dreaming? Pause. No. I was fully awake. I knew this for sure.
Through my window, the dim moonlight flooded my bedroom, and stretched across my carpeted floor in one straight column. I got out of bed, and padded into the bathroom. I took great care in bandaging the gash with gauze using my one good arm, and my front teeth. This was by no way a simple task, but somehow I got the wound covered.
The last thing I wanted to do was wake my parents, so I tip-toed back into my room. I sunk back into my sheets, carefully maneuvering my injured arm so that it didn't touch anything, having a very low threshold for pain. I let out a sigh of relief and exhaustion, but I still couldn't fall asleep with these inconceivable thoughts in my head.
Why do I keep dreaming of werewolves hunting me, and this boy with super human strength, and the ability to pour a river out of his hand? Why do I feel unbridled love for him? Why was I so captivated by him when I could barely see his face, and only hear his mesmerizing voice?
I've had the same dream every night for the past two weeks since the thunderstorm. And now I have woken up with a wound to show for it. I analyzed my bandage, confused and afraid of the unknown answer. I was very apprehensive about falling back to sleep, yet I did before I could think of an answer to my questions, or make any sense of this nightmare.