Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tiffany Duane: Curses And Ashes: Excerpt, Review & Interview


Below you will find Chapter 1. Please check out the next Chapter on the Tiffany Duane Blog Tour: Fabulous And Fun 

Also check out Tiffany's 

Title: Curses & Ash
Author: Tiffany Daune
Series: Coral & Bone Series
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Jester Ink Press
Release Date: Jan 20 2016
Source: Author & RBTL Book Promotions for Blog Tour & Honest Opinion
Blurb/Synopsis:

Discover the spellbinding sequel to Coral & Bone…
A demented twin sister, a demon hijacking her powers, and a mysterious journal filled with more questions than answers—Halen needs her Guardian Dax more than ever. But if she confides in Dax, she fears he will never forgive her, not after all he sacrificed to help her vanquish Asair. Halen drowned Asair in a tornado of wings—at least, she thought she killed him. Why then does his mocking voice snake through her thoughts, enticing her to surrender her power? Maybe she screwed up—big time—but she will never allow Asair to control her magick. And when Etils' fires threaten the Earth, suspicions surrounding Asair's death rise, igniting restlessness within the realms. Her life in balance, Halen must race time, purge the demon's soul before flames consume the Earth or the Tari strike first.



Book Links
Amazon Kindle AU
Amazon Kindle CA
Amazon Print CA
Amazon Kindle DE (Germany)
Amazon Print DE (Germany)

Amazon Kindle UK
Amazon Print UK
Amazon Kindle US
Amazon Print US



Tiffany Daune writes stories about magick, love and dark creatures lurking in the shadows. She is the author of Surface and the Coral & Bone series. When she's not lost in Editland, you can find her reading a book from her towering TBR pile or kicking back and watching movies with her family. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by mermaids that are much nicer than the ones found in her books. 




Author Links

Other Works by Tiffany Daune
Coral & Bone Series
Coral & Bone (Book 1)
Curses & Ash (Book 2)

My Review 


Curses & Ash is the second book in the series by Tiffany Daune. We continue the journey of Tage, Halen et el. This story takes us through a magical journey that the reader can't help but get lost in. It will make you go through all emotions and possibly having to pause for a moment and come back later. Its an emotional roller coaster of amazing adventure. A great continuation of Coral & Bone, this book made me want to read the third right away, even though it is not finished yet! 

Interview 

How old were you when you first became interested in writing?

I won a writing contest when I was twelve, but I don't remember being super into writing. I was more into reading. I didn't start really writing until high school. 

Who are your target readers?

I love writing for teens.

How long did it take for you to write Curses & Ash?

I wrote the first draft in three months, then spent the next nine months editing.

What was the inspiration for this book?

The Coral & Bone series is filled with mermaids, shifters and otherworldly creatures. It's a story of love, loss and hope. My writing is most influenced by the beloved stories I read as a child, such as Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid and C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I'm drawn to mystical realms and love it even more when magic collides with our world.
Are there any plans to continue this story?

Absolutely! I'm writing book three now.

Did the story pan out the way you planned, or did the characters take another direction?

They always take another direction! That's the fun part of my job.

Would you like to see your book come alive on the big screen?

I think most writers would love to see their work on the big screen. I’m a visual person, so when I write I’m already watching the movie play through my head. I’m just recording what I see. Coral & Bone and Curses & Ash are both full of rich imagery. It would be amazing to see the three realms and watch the drama unfold within each. 
If so, who would be your dream cast?

Halen ~ Halie Steinfeld
Dax ~ Josh Hutcherson
Tage ~ Jena Malone
Ezra ~ Soto Fukushi


Social media/website links?
Website:                    www.tiffanydaune.com
Newsletter:                 http://eepurl.com/5hU0z
Amazon Page:            http://www.amazon.com/Tiffany-Daune/e/B00BJNZRS2
Twitter           :           https://twitter.com/TiffanyDaune
Goodreads:                www.goodreads.com/author/show/6904400.Tiffany_Daune
Tumblr:                     http://tiffanydaune.tumblr.com
Instagram:                http://instagram.com/tiffanydaune


What are your favorite genres?

I love YA urban fantasy or paranormal.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

The list is endless, but a few of my favorite YA authors are: Tahereh Mafi, Alyson Noel, Kendare Blake, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare and Marissa Meyer.

Did you ever think you would become a published author?

Yes! I dream big!

If you had any writer’s block, how did you work around it?

Sure I get stumped with plotlines and there are days when I can't think of a single thing to write, but writing is my job, so I need to get over it pretty quick. I find going to the movies usually clicks my creativity back in gear. The only problem is finding a pen in the dark. 

What do you want your readers to take away, from their time reading your book?

I'm always so honored when someone takes time out of their busy day, to read one of my stories. In the world of crazy schedules, this is big for me. My hope is the reader can escape into my books and really get lost in the story.

Any other thoughts or words of wisdom you would like to pass on?

Love more!


Curses and Ashes by Tiffany Duane

Chapter One
“We’ll leave for Etlis in a day or two. You’re not ready to travel.” Dax leaned his back against the doorframe; his stormy blue gaze slipped over Halen, studying her as if searching for the lies she was hiding.
How much did he see? Panic rushed through Halen. Had he witnessed the shift in her eyes as they blurred over with Asair’s cocky stare? Could he see her demon passenger now?
“Are you sure you can handle a shower on your own?” He crossed his arms, the silver band of his Guardian bracelet hidden against his heart. “Tage is just in the other suite. She wouldn’t mind helping.”
“No!” Her voice rose a little too loudly for the cramped hotel bathroom. The last thing she needed was an Empath digging through her emotions. If she had screwed up and really hadn’t killed Asair, but instead swallowed his soul, then no one could find out. After all her friends sacrificed, they would never forgive her. “I don’t need Tage.” She worked a smile to her face.
“Okay, but all you have to do is ask.” His unwavering gaze never left hers. He was suspicious, or maybe just worried; she couldn’t quite tell, but his energy flashed like streaks of lightning in a summer sky.
“I’m just having a shower.” She snatched a bar of miniature soap from the counter and inhaled the citrus scent. Act normal. She peered up at Dax. “I’m sure I can handle this.” She smiled broader, even though her pulse raced with fear at the thought of being alone with Asair. She wriggled off the chill pinching the back of her neck. Within seconds of passing through his dimension, Asair shredded her confidence with a simple smile, quickly turning her into his captured prey. If not for Dax, she would still yearn for Asair’s twisted touch; her soul would be as dark as death’s shadow. She owed Dax an explanation. She should at least tell him what she saw in the mirror. Thought I saw, she corrected. She glanced toward the mirror where only moments before, Asair’s jade gaze seared through hers. Etlis is still mine. His whispery voice consumed her like a tornado whipping up its victims. But if he were alive, then why did guilt still tear at her insides? The memory of his corpse pressed her memories; she rubbed the crook of her arm, still able to feel the weight of his death.
Dax stepped forward, closing the space between them. “Hey, the Etlins will strip Asair’s memories from you. We’ll figure all this out. Bit by bit.”
“Do you really think Asair’s memories stitched with mine?” Though it sounded unbelievable, so did having another soul lurking inside her. She preferred Dax’s option to hers. “You honestly believe that’s why I feel so crummy?”
“I know so. When you stepped off the seam of your soul, you allowed him to enter your dark side, but you fought back.” He tucked her long swoop of bangs behind her ear. “And you won.”
Maybe she was confused, lost even. She hadn’t eaten in days or even had time to get her bearings. “I feel like I’ll never be rid of him. If his memories are tangled with mine, how will the Etlins ever unwind this mess?”
“They will.” When he tilted his head, a lock of blond hair fell across his eyes. He swiped it aside. “The Etlins will do anything for you, now that the portal is open. You have no idea how grateful they will be.”
Grateful. She sighed. If Asair is really dead. She ran her hands along her white pajamas, stopping to inspect the embroidered W on the chest pocket. The same W logo also adorned the towels and toiletries. “Do I have any other clothes to change into?” She shifted the subject.
A mischievous grin played on his lips. “You’re going to love the T-shirt I bought in the gift shop. It screams demon slayer.” He stepped away, and in a moment was back with a large shopping bag. “It was either the gold track suit or this.” He handed her the bag. “I hope the clothes are to your liking, Ms. Windspeare.” His eyes held a glint of amusement.
“Where did you get money for all this—clothes—a hotel suite? How did you even check in without ID? Do you have a credit card?” She knew Dax had spent time on Earth. He was a siren like her. He could breathe in both Elosia and Earth’s atmospheres, but she didn’t really know exactly how much time; he didn’t seem out of place in her realm.
“We have Tari connections in every city bordering the oceans and seas. It’s not hard to get what we need. Money, clothes, cell phones, a warm place to stay…” His irresistible dimple flashed with his wry smile as he nodded toward the bag. “Or a memorable souvenir.”
She peered inside. Not too bad: a black sports tank, matching shorts, and yoga pants—nothing to warrant that teasing grin. She pushed aside the white tissue paper. Her jaw dropped as she pulled out a neon pink shirt. Holding the sleeves, she stretched the fabric; screen-printed across the front was a trolley car inside a big white heart. Printed in cursive, the words I left my, curved over the top of the heart, and beneath the pointed tip, in San Francisco. She eyed his perfectly plain gray shirt and dark wash jeans. “How did your wardrobe get out unscathed?”
His cheeks flushed. “There’s a men’s store next door.”
Selfish, Asair’s voice hissed through her thoughts.
She clutched the shirt to her chest as sparks tripped along her fingers. She spun to face the mirror, expecting to find Asair, but found only her troubled stare. Asair butted in on their conversation; memories shouldn’t respond to the present. As she set the bag on the counter, her hand trembled.
“What’s going on?” Dax touched her wrist and she snapped back as if pricked by a flame.
“Nothing.” Her voice held an edge she hadn’t expected.
His gaze narrowed. “You can’t hold anything back from us. Tage and Ezra, we all want to help.” He cocked his head to the side. “But you need to share your feelings right now. For some reason I’m unable to connect with you.”
She swallowed the lump creeping up her throat. “What do you mean?”
“Whenever I try to connect with your seam, I’m met with darkness. It’s like I’m navigating your soul with blinders on.”
She squeezed the counter, her knuckles matching the white marble. She needed Dax to be able to reach her, if she fell off the seam into the darkness… Inhaling slowly and then exhaling, she tried to steady her rapid breath. Again, she considered telling Dax the truth, but what would she say? Oh, by the way, maybe there’s a demon inside me; he’s eavesdropping on our every word.
Dax looked at her expectantly, waiting for her response. There wasn’t a scenario where this wouldn’t end badly. She had to wait until she knew for sure. “There are things I need to deal with on my own. Even if the Etlins strip out Asair’s memories, I can’t erase mine. I killed someone.”
Denial was the other possibility for her fractured thoughts. You acted in self-defense, she reminded herself. Still, a boy had died. She traced the edge of a floor tile with the tip of her toe. “You may think Asair deserved it. Maybe he did. But I have to live with my actions.”
Dax tucked next to her, nudging her hip. This time, his touch ignited the familiar tingly sparks, which fluttered her heart. She wanted to fold into him, get lost in his energy and forget this madness.
“You did what you had to do.”
“I did what you all sent me in to do.” She leaned against his shoulder, stealing his warmth.
“You’re right. Maybe we shouldn’t have sent you in, but the spell broke. Etlis is free from the flames; the shifters can go home. One life was sacrificed, so the realms could thrive.”
“One life,” she whispered. One life was too many. Her stomach rumbled and she hugged herself tighter.
“That’s a good sign.” Dax stepped away. “I’ll go order some food. You still want a milk shake?”
“And fries.” Anything she ate would probably come right back up, but if eating brought her one step closer to leaving for Etlis, then she would try.
He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. “You’re so brave.”
Their eyes met, and for a second, she thought she might blurt out the whole thing—confess how terrified she was, and how she wasn’t brave at all, but a coward for hiding her secret. His jaw tightened and the muscles along his collar strained. Had he read her last thoughts? As her Guardian, did he have access not only to her soul, but also her mind? Asair warned her of the feelings tied to the Guardian bond; whether she wanted to or not, she would lose her heart to Dax. As she got lost in his sky-blue stare, she wondered what could be so wrong with that. “So are we like inseparable now?”
“Would that be so bad?”
His lingering touch brought a hot flush to her cheek. Not real, she told her anxious heart.
Tage shouting from the adjoining suite saved her from answering.
Dax craned his neck peering into the bedroom.
“What are Tage and Ezra up to?”
“Dunno. I can’t see into their room from here.”
“Maybe you should go check. Tage sounds pretty ticked off.”
When he glanced back with a glint of hesitation in his eyes, she touched his arm. “Really, I’m good.” Her confidence faded when Tage suddenly shoved past him.
Tage wedged between them. Her skin flushed red from her neck to the tips of her heavily pierced ears. Her dark hair was newly shaven on one side; the other half lay long and silken along her chest. Tage too lucked out in the wardrobe department. She wore skinny jeans and a simple men’s black cotton shirt rolled at the sleeves, revealing the swirls of her siren birthmark. Not her usual Goth mashup of leather and ripped jeans, but much better than Halen’s gaudy tourist shirt. Her wide caramel gaze simmered. “What the hell are you two not telling me?”
“What’s your problem? Give Halen some space.” He yanked her sleeve, but she tugged her arm back.
“Can’t you feel him?” Tage aimed her hot glare Dax’s way.
Halen’s toes curled. Empath! The word wailed through her mind like a hurricane warning. At once, sparks ignited in every cell of her body, ready to strike. Tage was her friend; she’d fought alongside her against the mermaids; Tage wouldn’t harm her. Still, the sparks surged. Stay calm. Shaking her tingly hands by her sides, she inhaled a deep breath.
Tage inched closer and Halen squirmed farther away until the backs of her knees hit the cold porcelain toilet.
“Feel who?” Dax asked, though his stance widened, blocking the doorway, as if he already knew the answer.
Tage towered over her. The bathroom walls seemed to close in around them. She had to get out, and quick, before the sparks turned to flames. She could shatter the mirror, throw them off guard, but the use of magick would leave her even more drained. The elixir of Dax’s bone marrow and coral hadn’t worked since Asair’s dimension. If she used magick, she wouldn’t get far afterward. Stupid. She never should have left the dimension until she knew one hundred percent that Asair was dead.
“What kind of Guardian are you? You don’t feel him at all?” Tage’s fists balled by her sides.
“Who?” Dax asked.
“Asair!” As his name escaped Tage’s lips, a thunderous roar rumbled throughout the hotel suite. The tiled floor vibrated beneath their feet, the lights flickered, and the little bottles of hotel toiletries toppled to their sides.
Tage flew against Halen’s chest and Dax clutched the doorframe to keep from falling. San Francisco had its share of earthquakes, but Halen’s gut instinct screamed—Asair.
As another tremor shook the bathroom, Tage grabbed Halen’s arm. “Let’s get out of here!”
When they stumbled into the bedroom, Ezra ran from the adjoining living room waving a remote control in the air.
“Are you okay?” Tage released Halen and ran to his side.
Halen glanced back at Dax making his way to the window.
“Yeah, all in one piece, but we might not be for long. You have to see the news! It’s here!”
A reporter’s rushed voice echoed from the television. As Halen took one step toward Ezra, another boom clapped outside. A wave of tremors sent all four of them seeking refuge on the floor.
The room suddenly burst with an explosion of light. Crimson and golden beams streamed from the windows as if the sun was falling from the sky and gunning straight for their room. Halen ducked her head to the carpet.
“What’s happening?”
“I don’t know. Keep your head down!” Dax shouted.
She trembled, her sparks rippling with the aftershock of the tremors. She rubbed her forehead against the rough carpet. Asair!
“You all right?” Dax touched her shoulder.
When Halen peeked up, dark spots danced before her eyes. She blinked them away. “I’m not hurt.” Rattled to the bone was more like it. “What just happened?”
“Guys, get in here!” Ezra shouted.
They rose to their feet, guided by the sounds still blaring from the television. Ezra hopped onto the safety of the couch and crossed his legs. His red mop of hair was a wild mess, his dark eyes narrowed as he waved toward the set. “It’s already on the news. It’s just like China.”
Tage slumped in the chair beside him. Halen perched on the armrest. Dax slid in behind her as they all stared in awe at the bizarre reporter on the screen.
A heavy reflective coat drowned her small frame. Strands of dark hair trailed her face, where the wind ripped them loose from her ponytail. Thick black goggles covered her eyes and cheekbones. She stood at the end of a pier, behind her, the orange arch of the Golden Gate Bridge spanned the smoldering sky; the water below glowed with flames.
“What the hell?” Tage leaned forward.
“Can you flip the switch, Gail? The feed is not coming through,” an off-screen voice said.
“One minute, Richard.” She fiddled with the side of the goggles, and then finally gave them a good thump with the flat of her hand.
“That’s got it. The images are coming into the studio now, Gail,” the voice said. “We can confirm they are the same as witnessed in China and Africa. I don’t believe what we are seeing here, folks.”
“Richard, it’s even more unbelievable on the ground. You really need to—” The wails of police sirens drowned Gail’s voice.
The camera cut to Richard sitting stiffly behind a desk, his manicured hands folded in front of him. His neat navy blazer and pale blue button-down shirt were a harsh contrast to Gail’s grime. “We will get back to Gail in a moment, but for now let’s have look at what Gail recorded when the fire ring emerged in the sky.”
He turned his attention to the left where her video feed replayed on a screen. As the tremendous boom that shook their hotel suite only moments before blasted through the television speakers, the screen flashed with concrete as Gail stumbled to the ground. The sidewalk cracked beneath her gloved hands while a brilliant glow blazed all around her. As she tilted her head toward the light, a ring of fire ignited, bleeding out the blue sky. From the center, a metallic sheen flashed repeatedly, slicing long slash-marks through the red as if something were breaking its way through.
A collective gasp filled the room.
Halen’s skin flecked with sharp sparks. “What is that?”
“Wings.” Ezra held the remote out and turned up the volume.
“What do you mean?” Halen hugged herself. However, no one answered as live Gail flashed back onto the screen and her broadcast resumed.
“Sorry, Richard, we lost sound. Can you hear me now?” Two big sooty black rings rimmed her eyes when she yanked the goggles up over her head.
“We can hear you fine. We just played back the video feed from the blast. Did you get a glimpse of the creature?”
“No, the light is blinding, even with the Spectrogoggles on.”
“Gail, ornithologists and even several cryptozoologists examining the footage have not determined the species of as yet, but the metallic flashes appear to be wings. The same wings as seen in the other two blasts. Residents of Beijing, where the first ring appeared, have now coined the beast the ‘Silver Dragon.’ As the experts unravel this mysterious phenomenon, we are assured the creature is contained within the ring at this time and has not been able to breach the fires.”
“Unfortunately, that is not the case with the fire itself, Richard.” The camera angle widened, revealing the entire Bay alight with flames. “Firefighters are attempting to extinguish the flames. There may be a burst fuel pipe. It is simply too early to determine how widespread the damage is at this time.”
“We saw the flames earlier, but are you saying the water is on fire?” Richard asked.
Dax gripped Halen’s shoulder, his fear sliding into her, yet she kept her focus on the television.
“Yes, Richard. The fires are spreading across the Bay at a rapid rate. Nearby residences and shops are being evacuated.” Her screen blipped, muting her voice though her lips still moved.
“We seem to have lost the sound to Gail once more.” Richard’s face flashed into view. “We will get back to her live as soon as possible.” As Richard pushed back his shoulders and rearranged his papers before him, three video feeds popped up to his left. Several men and women with names ending in PhD filled the screens. “Meanwhile, a panel of experts is assembled—”
Laughter rolled through Halen’s mind, blurring Richard’s next words. Asair’s chilling voice echoed in her thoughts. Oh, darling, it looks like you really mucked up this time.
Get out of my head! She clenched her teeth. You’re not real.
Asair chuckled once more. Darling, I’m as real as the boy standing next to you.
Halen teetered on the edge of the armrest, catching Tage’s attention.
Tage cocked her head to the side, scrunched her nose and bit back the piercings on her lower lip.
Halen studied the print behind Tage. She thought of colors, composition, the ugly frame—anything that would throw Tage off from getting a read on her.
At once, she grabbed Halen by each arm; her fingers dug deep in her flesh. “Is he in there?”
Halen’s spine stiffened. Why couldn’t vanishing be one of her siren powers?
Tage shook her hard. “Answer me!”
“Get off her!” Dax tugged Tage, but she slapped his hand back.
“It’s Asair,” Tage said. “He’s not dead! He’s hiding inside Halen.”
“Whoa, wait a minute.” Ezra scooted to the other side of the couch. “You’re still not thinking these fires have anything to do with Asair—really?” He raked his hand through his hair, tugging at the ends.
Halen’s breath quickened. Her skin flecked with sparks. She had to say something, but her mind blocked the words from rising to her throat.
“See.” Tage stood back, crossing her arms. “I knew it.”
Tage interpreted her silence as a confession. She had to fix this. “Look, I—”
Suddenly, the room exploded in another burst of blinding light.
Tage dropped her grip on Halen to shield her eyes. Halen wanted to see. If this was happening because of Asair, then she had to know what she was dealing with. She leaped to her feet, and, peeking between her fingers, darted across the room.
Dax ran to her side. “Get back!”
But when she reached the window, the orange embers faded. Even though the neon numbers of the clock radio reflected 2:58 p.m. on the windowpane, the entire sky went pitch black. They stood in silence peering into the dark void until the clock changed hours. Dax leaned closer to her. His chest rose and fell, keeping time with her rapid heartbeat.
“Look over there!” Ezra pointed.
Halen followed his gaze. A swirling ring of fire crowned the dark sky. The ring swelled in diameter, undulating with a rippling force. Transfixed on the center, a shadowy form swaying from side to side drew her attention. Hands on the window, she pressed her nose to the warming glass. A heavy beating pulse filled the air, sending a vibration along her arms. Yet, she leaned in wanting to see what was out there. Silver wings flashed before her, narrowly missing the pane by inches.
“Dragon!” Dax’s grip tightened around her waist as he dragged her away from the window.
“I want to see it!” She struggled in his grasp.
“This is close enough.” He pulled her to the ground, behind the armchair next to Ezra and Tage.
She clamored for a better view, catching sight of the beast between the loop of the wooden armrest.
Shimmering tendons trailed each wing, winding like tree roots, joining at the tips where two clawed horns curved, slicing the air. The beast’s muscled body rippled with a mosaic of onyx and silver scales. Its enormous copper eyes gleamed with the encompassing flames. Blistered wounds spread along the creature’s head; bloodied scales peeled back from its hide when the dragon’s nostrils flared. As its wings thrashed the air, the dragon’s body jerked violently as if a thousand swords plunged through its flesh.
Filled with an inexplicable yearning to connect with the beast, to glide her fingers along the torn scaled hide, caress the smooth bone of its horns, her fingertips sparked. Her bones ached; her muscles throbbed as she resisted the urge.
“What’s wrong with it?” Halen asked.
“Wrong?” Ezra’s voice was a shriek. “It wants to eat us!”
Flames shot from the fiery circle. The beast’s nostrils flared. Its jaw spread with a crippling howl. The thunderous cry cracked the windowpane like a fissure in ice. A pained howl escaped the dragon’s breath once more, as the ring of flames cinched shut, taking away the dragon and leaving nothing more than pillows of smoky clouds drifting in the charred sky.
Ezra tucked his legs to his chest, rocking back and forth. “Holy freakin’ dragon! We’re all going to die!”
Tage jumped to her feet, grabbed a hoodie and shoved it into a backpack. “We have to get out of here. We need help.”
Dax nodded. “I’ll call my dad.”
“Daspar?” Halen rose to her feet. “You have a way to contact them? I need to speak to my mom.” She hadn’t seen her mom since Oregon. When her mom had trapped the Hunter’s soul in a vial, Daspar and she planned to lure the Hunters away from Halen until Etlis opened. If her mom knew how to trap a soul, maybe she knew how to get one out? She needed to fix this, and quick.
“You lied to me.” Dax looked stricken.
“I didn’t lie.” She had only concealed the truth. Hadn’t he done the same? “You’re one to talk; it’s not like you’ve been straight up with me. You may be my Guardian, but you still have to earn my trust.”
“Fair enough. You don’t have to trust me, but if you want to erase the lies it might help by telling the truth.”
“Would you two stop!” Ezra leaped to his feet. “We’re going to be pulverized by dragons if we don’t get moving.”
“Halen, what gives?” Tage asked.
Outside, smoke lingered in dark wisps. Car alarms and ambulances wailed from below. “You know I wouldn’t do this,” Halen said. But Asair would. He would gladly watch Earth burn to the core.
Tage shook her water bottle at Dax. “This is your fault.” She tossed it into the backpack. “You said he was dead!”
Dax rubbed the back of his neck. “I watched him die,” he said, though his eyes held that familiar look of doubt. “Besides, I don’t feel his presence in her. There has to be another explanation.”
Tage shot Halen a pointed stare.
Ezra blocked Halen’s view of Tage. “Let it go. Asair’s dead. The Tari effed up. If anything, killing Asair made things worse.”
Tage shoved a pair of socks in the backpack. Her silence bothered Halen more than her ranting.
A hard bass beat boomed from the desk, catching Halen’s attention.
Dax snatched the cell phone and answered, silencing the music. “Hello? Yeah, we saw it. Yes, she’s fine.”
“Is it my mom?” Halen leaned closer so she could hear the voice on the other line.
Dax stepped back. “Are you sure?” His brows furrowed. “No, I can get us there. I’ll call you when I do.” He ended the call.
“What is it?” Halen asked. “What’s happening?
“Our parents are travelling with Tasar and Lina. The spell still binds Etlis in flames. Whatever happened in Asair’s dimension accelerated the heat. The fires are bursting into our atmosphere. The dragons are trying to escape.”
“This is the beginning of the end,” Tage said.
Ezra moaned. “Think, Mother Nature—did Asair tell you something when you were in his dimension?”
Mother Nature was Ezra’s nickname for her, given when she trained to defeat Asair, back when he thought she was a badass. Right now, she felt more like a dumbass for letting Asair’s soul slip into her body. Halen shook her head. He’d filled her mind with his demented plots, but nothing that would help them now.
“Think hard,” Tage said.
She shrugged. “Asair admitted wanting to rule the three realms, but the Tari already knew this. Isn’t that why they locked him away—to keep Earth, Etlis and Elosia safe? He wanted—” She clasped her bracelet, tracing the tiny etchings, which matched her Elosian birthmark. Asair had teased her with his charms as he eyed the silver band. Had she been willing to part with it, they would all be dead now. Fear crept up her spine. She still needed to kill him or the fires would burn for eternity. Earth didn’t have long, which also meant the Tari would do anything to stop him. She was no longer their asset, but a target. She needed to talk to her mom—immediately. “He didn’t say anything that would help.”
Halen walked toward the window once more. She touched the crack where the dragon’s howl fractured the glass. Asair was right about one thing—she had mucked up. Big time. Dax stepped beside her, his gaze focused in the distance where flames danced across the water, skipping along the waves.
“The liquibrium is combusting,” he said.
“What?” Tage and Ezra asked in unison.
“The mineral compounds the Elosians pump into Earth’s water to counterbalance the reaction between Earth’s pollution and the heat radiating from Etlis…” He paused, shaking his head. “If overheated, which technically shouldn’t happen because liquibrium has a cooling effect so bacteria doesn’t grow—”
“It’s flammable, isn’t it?” Halen finished his sentence.
“Very. And it’s in the rivers and streams as well. Earth’s entire water supply will ignite with flames if we don’t find a way to cool Etlis down or open the portal.”
Release your Guardian, Asair whispered through the crevices of her mind.
Halen gritted her teeth at the sound of his voice. Never!
Surrender your power to me and Earth will be spared.
Get out of my head! She crouched with her hands over her ears.
“What’s happening?” Tage crossed the room. “It’s him. Isn’t it?”
Dax shoved Tage back so hard she fell against the desk. “No one is touching her.”
“I wouldn’t hurt her, you idiot!” Tage rubbed her elbow. “I was thinking her mom could perform a purge. Corinne is an Earth Priestess.”
Halen rose. So her mom could remove Asair.
“Even if he was inside her, which he’s not, a purge is out of the question. Do you know what happens when a soul gets ripped out of someone?” Dax shook his head.
“What?” A sinking feeling came over Halen.
“You could lose your mind. I’ve seen it happen before. If the other soul is forced to leave, then it’s not pretty.”
“Not pretty how?” Halen asked.
The phone rang before Dax answered her. He swiped the screen. “It’s Lina,” he whispered.
Halen followed, hoping to hear the conversation on the other end. As a siren, she had heightened hearing, but Dax positioned his hand over the phone and turned away from her, so Lina’s voice came out gargled.
“I see.” He ended the call.
“What?” Tage asked.
“They’re coming here.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “My dad, your mom, Lina, and Tasar; they’re on their way.”
“What’s wrong?” Halen touched his arm.
“The shifters are restless. They still want to go home. With Etlis still burning, there’s doubt surrounding Asair’s death. And since many don’t know you…” He placed his hand over hers. “They want proof.”
Halen’s stomach knotted—proof was her life.
“How long before they arrive?” Tage asked.
“They’ll be here shortly.” He withdrew his hand from hers. “We have another problem.”
“What now?” Halen feared the answer.
“Hunters were spotted in the Red Wood Forest, near the portal to Etlis. Since Daspar has one of the Hunters’ souls, Lina thinks they followed them. If we can’t get out in time, we need to prepare.”
“I’ll cast a protection spell.” Tage rubbed her hands together.
“I’ll help you,” Halen said.
“No. Magick drains you,” Dax said. “Let’s get some food in you—if the kitchen is even open. You’ll need your strength if we have to run.”
Food? How could he possibly think of eating? “My magick is our best defense.”
“Not if we have to carry you out of here.” Tage poked the pillows on the couch. “Damn. Foam. Feathers would have been perfect to bind the spell.”
Surrender, Asair whispered. We’ll be stronger as one. I can end the flames.
Liar. You’re the reason Etlis is burning. If you think for one second I would let you—
You need me, he interjected.
Halen dug her nails into her palms. I don’t need you. I’m strong enough. Her legs trembled as she fought to keep her footing. Her energy waned and her head throbbed each time he spoke.
Have it your way, darling.
She collapsed into the armchair beside her. A dead silence washed through her, as if Asair had simply given up and left. She feared his compliance. What if she really needed him? What if surrendering was the only way to save the realms? A sinking feeling clutched her bones. What if she just turned away their only hope of surviving?



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