Phantoms (excerpt – chapter 2, part 1)

Nare jumped to the bottom of the ramp and breathed deeply the fresh air of Inar’Ahben, her home. It invigorated her with new life, something she sorely needed after the last day of hell. Eight years ago, Saffir had sent her and the other volunteers to Earth to hide from the threat of the Shirat Empire’s purge of Keepers.

Now, that threat was gone, or at least reduced.

And to think she was going to stay on Earth to protect the shard she now bore. Silly her. She was a Crystal Keeper. She could go anywhere anytime she wanted.

Along that line of thought, she wondered how Elis and Raea were. They couldn’t have returned to Earth yet. Could they? Raea had been a Crystal Keeper before her, had led her to the shard she wore, which had been hidden for thousands of years on Earth, but the two had been taken—again—by the Shirukan and Soriel had said they were safe. She couldn’t wait to tell Raea what they’d discovered.

“You’re all right?” At the concern in Daris’s voice, Nare turned.

Oh. Not her.

He stood on the ramp reaching out to Anita, whose knuckles were white from gripping the door frame. The wind ruffled short blonde hair, and ocean blue eyes widened with wonder. When she looked down at the long drop over the edge of the ramp, Anita gasped. “Coulter.”

Wuss. Nare bit her lip on a smirk and opened her wings slightly.

“Take my hand,” Coulter said. He was far too nice to the blonde witch.

Still clinging to the door frame, Anita reached out. In the next instant, she lunged to grab him and held on. A jolt of jealousy raced through Nare, startling her.

“That’s a long ways down.”

“Yes, ma’am. It is,” he said with his usual calm.

“I never hated heights until now.” Anita finally released her desperate hold on him.

Nare shook her head. Maybe next time she started harassing them, Anita would show a little more respect.

At the clap of boots growing louder and the way Daris and Anita looked up, Nare turned back to the tower.

A group of five blue-uniformed men and women approached, led by a gold-winged woman with her blonde hair in a braid behind her and a scowl on her face. The group halted before the three of them.

["What is this?"] The woman fingered a weapon belted to her waist, her amber eyes cold as ice on Daris.

Upset by the accusatory tone and the way the woman persecuted Daris before even giving them a chance to explain, Nare dropped her hands to her hips. ["I should think you would show more respect to a Crystal Keeper."]

Critical amber eyes studied Nare up and down, threatening to topple her confidence.

["Who are you?"] Nare’s voice faltered. Security had definitely changed at Starfire Tower since she had left.

["Second Security Chief Nakoyo Tira."] Yellow wings closed behind her. ["If you don't like it, you can take it up with Captain Rajeun when he returns."]

A second later, recognition zinged through her, overriding her automatic defiant streak at the woman’s harsh tone. ["Rajeun Leksel? The Leksel who saved Raea?"]

Golden yellow wings ruffled behind the woman and amber eyes narrowed.

["Raea told me about him."] According to Raea, Leksel had led the rebels in Naviketan when he had saved her from the Shirukan a few months ago. With his brother Cris and a Shirukan plant in the rebels, he had smuggled her out of the city. He had also risked his life to distract the Shirukan and cover her escape through Saffir’s portal to return to Earth and Elis. Nare had been with Elis the night Raea returned.

Except Raea and Elis hadn’t returned from their most recent abduction by the Shirukan.  Crystal fire. ["Where is Raea?"]

Shadows played on the woman’s face. ["She and Elis are in the infirmary. They just arrived an hour ago."]

Her heart stopped but relief started it up again—they were free from the Shirukan but apparently injured. ["What happened? How are they?"]

The hardness melted from the woman’s eyes. ["They're stable but unconscious."]

["What? Are they all right?"]

["You'll have to ask the medics."]

Then that’s what she would do. Sure, she enjoyed harassing Elis, but she didn’t want him wounded. And Raea was the last person who should have suffered. Nare had to see them, to know that they were all right. It had been only days ago that she had attended their wedding as Raea’s maiden of honor, yet with all that had happened with Soriel and now this, it seemed far longer.

Her feet carried her past the line of security officers.

["Where are you going?"]

The woman’s voice halted her. ["Isn't it obvious?"]

["What do we do with these two?"]

A sense of responsibility clashed inside with her need to know that Raea and Elis would be all right. ["Bring them inside. They're guests. The problem is in the brig. Five Shirukan. Two are injured, the rest neutralized."]

["What about him?"] Tira indicated Daris.

Oh, for all the stars above! Nare marched back and grabbed his arm. ["They're with me. Take care of the real Shirukan."]

["Yes, Keeper."]

————

Note: This is not a final version and may be subject to change before the book is released in September 2013.

If you like what you’re reading, Soriel (Starfire Angels: Revelations Book 1) and Deception (Starfire Angels: Revelations 1.5) are currently available from online retailers.

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