Today is the day! Book II, The Enlightening, is now officially published. Please enjoy this preview of the prologue and chapter one, and let us know what you think.
You can find The Lightning Conjurer: The Enlightening on Smashwords, Amazon, and BarnesandNoble.com.
Savannah screamed in frustration, slamming her hastily bandaged fists down on the paper-strewn desk. Alone she sat brooding in her dark corner office; the thick drapes behind her were drawn tightly closed, as they always were, to keep the strange happenings inside the building shrouded from the prying eyes of non-Elementalist passersby. Pale silver light from the full moon filtered into the office from the large skylights above, dimly illuminating the seething outline of the woman, whose battered body trembled with anger. Her short, severely cropped hair fell in a glossy black curtain over the right side of her face; she had carefully tucked the rest behind her left ear, exposing the bloodied, charred skin from the plume of Fire the Pentamancer known as Rowan had hurled in her direction before she was finally restrained – only to escape again, mere hours later.
Savannah glanced at the antagonizing clock on the wall, her green eyes narrowing at the ticking hands. 1:07 a.m. Every minute that passed took the Pentamancer farther away, farther from her reach. Gritting her teeth, she unscrewed the white bottle of pills Dr. Chen had given her and swallowed another Vicodin with a swig of lukewarm, black coffee. The pain from the burns she had sustained just a few hours prior should have been excruciating, but right now, they were merely an annoyance. Two floors below, her head of security still hadn’t woken and the maddening doctor wouldn’t let her rouse him; his second-in-command, Strauss, had also been rushed to the burn ward, totally incapacitated. Everything was up to her now – not that Savannah minded being the one in control. Shehad to find the girl. Everything depended on it.
The phone rang just then, jarring her from her thoughts. Her heart felt as though it might stop at any moment.
What am I going to tell them?
After the third unrelenting ring, she picked up the phone, working to control her voice as carefully as she could.
“Hello, this is Savannah.” She smiled as she spoke, trying to sound calm and pleasant. The smile tugged on the fresh burns covering her left cheek, causing her to wince in pain. Her voice sounded raspy in her own ears.
“Where is the Pentamancer?” came a thick, deep voice.
“Ah, yes, well… It seems that she managed to overtake our doctor and escape from the hospital…” She could hear the man’s sharp intake of breath and hurried on before he could interject. “But don’t worry – she’s not far; with powers as strong as hers we’ll be able to sense her next big surge. I’ve already commanded our entire Containment Division here to—”
“So,” the man interrupted, his voice cold and dispassionate, “What you’re telling me is that you claim to have found the first true Pentamancer in over three hundred years. You then take it upon yourself to inform every major chapter worldwide of your discovery without first discussing with us. And then you abruptly lose her?” Even through the phone, the condemnation in his voice made Savannah’s clammy skin erupt in goosebumps.
She swallowed hard, tightly clenching her free hand into a balled fist in her lap. Her fingernails, broken and jagged from the earlier ‘situation’ in the arena, were cutting into the skin of her palm. She didn’t notice.
“Before we apprehended her tonight, Lawson’s boy had been working diligently to turn Rowan against us. But I promise you, Magistrate, I will find her. I will change her mind. And when I do have her, I will bring her directly to you.”
“The Inner Circle and I will be expecting hourly updates regarding the girl’s successful procurement. You know the consequences if you fail, Aggregator. Do not let us down.”
The line went dead.
Savannah hung up the phone hastily then reached across the desk for the white bottle again, her hand shaking as she fumbled to unscrew the top for another pill. The lid clattered to the desk, making a deafening sound in the otherwise silent room. She swallowed the bitter, chalky tablet with a shudder, then pulled open the bottom drawer of her desk, where she kept a faded photo of a smiling, copper-haired woman. Savannah stared down at the image resting atop a pile of disorganized papers for a long moment, the corners of her eyes pricking with stinging tears.
Abruptly, she slammed the drawer shut again and gracefully rose from her leather chair, gently smoothing her wrinkled, singed blouse.
For you, Emily.
I couldn’t sleep. Bright streaks of yellow sunlight were already streaming through the gaps between the shabby motel curtains, reminding me that the rest of the world would be waking soon. I hadn’t wanted to stop riding the night before – I’d initially intended to go straight through Utah without resting – but somewhere after my second stop for gas, when I’d nearly filled my motorcycle’s tank with diesel instead of unleaded, I ruefully conceded that the fatigue creeping through my bones was finally winning.
As I lay in my tattered clothes from the night before atop the starchy floral comforter and firm, unyielding mattress, I flicked open the lighter Aiden had given me and drew the blue-orange flame from the sparkwheel, idly twirling it through my fingers. For all I knew, it was my first time staying in a motel room, but I wasn’t exactly reveling in the new experience. I had awkwardly propped myself up on three overly-squishy pillows to help alleviate the persistent headache I had developed after clocking my head falling into a supernatural fissure in the arena. My shoulder was smarting from the burns of the massive fireball I’d accidentally dropped on myself doing the same, but I did my best to ignore it all. I’d gotten used to forcing injuries to the back of my mind during those last couple of weeks; something that would soon come in even handier, since I had many hours of riding still ahead of me, all with the strap of a heavy backpack cutting into the worst of my burns.
I glanced over at the forest-green nylon backpack I had haphazardly slung over a chair as I trudged into the mildew-scented room a short while earlier, right after checking three times to make sure the deadbolt was locked behind me. It had cost eight dollars at the nearby gas station, for sale next to a display of maps, five-dollar sunglasses, pastel-pink visors that were colorfully embroidered with the words “GRAND JUNCTION”, and a wide assortment of trinkets embossed with corny anthropomorphized illustrations of cheerful, waving Palisade Peaches. After filling my motorcycle with the non-diesel variety of gasoline, I’d bought the backpack, a cheap charging cord, a few bottles of water, some aspirin, and an armful of snacks, then went back outside and unceremoniously shoved everything inside the bag. The thick envelope of money I was able to retrieve before fleeing the place I had called home for the last three years was covertly hidden beneath a large package of white cheddar popcorn near the bottom of the backpack. My old, recently-unearthed driver’s license and passport, both bearing the name “Rose Smith”, were carefully stored in an inside pocket.
I’d kept the lighter Aiden had given me and a faded polaroid of my grandfather – sitting behind me on his old Honda, which years later I’d unknowingly inherit from Evelyn – as close to me as possible, securely zipped-up within an inside jacket pocket beside my breast. The only items I’d kept closer were the indigo-blue tanzanite pendant and a small brass key left to me by my parents. Those, I wore on a thin silver chain beneath my torn shirt, the cool metals comfortingly resting against my bare skin.
Still absentmindedly playing with the marble-sized drop of Fire rolling between my fingers, I thought about Aiden and Evelyn, wondering what they and Robert were doing at that exact moment. I knew they would be expecting a call from me, but I didn’t have it in me to talk to anyone just yet. In the last forty-eight hours, I had found out that Evelyn, my neighbor and my closest friend, was actually my late grandfather’s wife; I’d discovered a startling wealth of information about my family, previously hidden from me by the very organization that had claimed they wanted to protect me; I’d learned that one or both of my parents were probably dead, hunted down and most likely killed years ago by associates of my boyfriend(?)’s father; I watched helplessly as he – Aiden – was nearly killed by Savannah as she and her cronies attempted to force me into betraying my biggest secret: that I am the first Pentamancer to be born in hundreds of years – some sort of legendary wielder of the five elements.
I nearly rolled my eyes at the thought. Even then, after everything that happened, it all seemed unreal – absurd, even. Extinguishing the flame from my hand, I gently traced my fingers along the irritated black lines encasing the five-colored Pentamancer’s sigil on the inside of my left forearm, the tattoo I’d been forcibly branded with the night before. My eyes suddenly burned with angry tears, so I pushed the thoughts away – all of them. It was just too much to bear, alone, exhausted, and in a strange place. It reminded me too much of that bleak winter’s day three years ago…
Instead I focused on Aiden, the only somewhat-safe subject I could think of. Right before I left – he called me his girlfriend. The thought was both elating and terrifying. I had no idea how to be someone’s girlfriend, whether I had ever been someone’s girlfriend before. If only I could remember something – anything – from my previous life.
Surrendering to the fact that sleep would not be coming any time soon, I reached for the small black phone charging on the nightstand beside me and turned it on. I had four missed calls – three from Evelyn and one from Aiden – as well as a handful of text messages. I opened the first one, a long, typo-ridden message from Evelyn, who I assumed had written it from her phone.
Dear Rowan…Aspen…Im sorry I cant find the delete button on this thing. How are you sweetheartr? Are you safe and somewhere warm? I should have given you more money. Im very angry with myself for that.Are you eatingf enough? Please,make sure you take care of your shoulder! Robert says also to cover the tattoo on your arm to avoid unwanted attention. Im so angry I could just march right in there myself and give those goodday Asteroids… Asterisks… Asterians!… a piece of my mind. Im sorry for the obscenities sweetheart, Im just so angry and worried. Please call me soon. I love you very much. Love, Ev…Grandma Evelyn.
Despite feeling guilty for not calling, I couldn’t help but chuckle as I read her message. She always had a way of making me feel better, even unintentionally. I re-read her message, then opened the next one – it was from Aiden. I opened it, my heart fluttering.
(1/3) Aspen – I’m sure you’re doing fine, but would you let me / us know that you’re okay when you have the chance? I probably don’t need to tell you that Evelyn is a bit frantic by now. Please take care of yourself. A brief update: we drove for 3 hours (Robert drove at a staunch 10 miles below the speed limit) and then stopped at a hotel in Burlington, on the border of Colorado and Kansas. The room situation is… unique. Two double beds. (2/3) For the sake of appearing scrupulous, I believe, Robert is sharing my bed. He’s snoring beside me as we speak. Evelyn is fast asleep as well. They’re both quite jet-lagged from the trip back from Brussels. Before I forget, regarding your phone, I’d pre-paid for a month of unlimited texts and emails, but talk time is limited. Unless you can get to a mobile store to add more minutes, and I’m sure that’s not your top priority at the moment, I’ll try to stick to texts and emails and remind Evelyn to do the same. (3/3) Robert brought his laptop, which makes it easier for me to write you that way. Do you have an email account? If not, use my university email address to write me. The password is ‘Pyromaniac87’. I know – not very original. I miss you and am already regretting that we went our separate ways. If I have any say in the matter, we’ll be together very soon. I’ll write you a longer message once I have the opportunity. For now, I’ll try to sleep, despite the chainsaw to my right. Thinking of you… A.
Despite the smothering wave of exhaustion threatening to overcome me, his sign off made my heart thrum in my chest. I quickly hit ‘reply’, then started typing what was meant to be a prodigious and affectionate response, filled with my innermost thoughts and heart-wrenching confessions. Alas, after twenty-four hours without sleep, and the clinging vestiges of the painkillers Dr. Chen had given me obstinately lingering in my body, my amorous sonnet would have to wait. After composing just a few blurry sentences – which I would later be thankful had never made their way to Aiden – the phone slipped through my fingers as the lack of sleep finally caught up with me, and I fell into a deep, unyielding slumber.