Authors: Melissa Delport
© 2015 Melissa Delport
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Edited by Cathy Eberle of Wordweavers
Cover designed by Wendy Bow of Apple Pie Graphics
For my babies, who I hope will one day believe in magic
While this book is not my first foray into the world of speculative fiction, it is the first fantasy novel I have embarked upon and I found it to be the most liberating piece of writing I have done to date. Creating the world of
allowed me to stretch my imagination further than ever before and I loved every single second of it. Of course, there are many people who must be thanked for their invaluable input during the course of writing this book.
As always, I must thank my beautiful family: My husband, Murray, whose support has never wavered, and my three gorgeous children who inspire me every single day.
My dearest friend, Wendy Bow, who is my ‘person’ and has been with me every step of the way, through every book I have written. No-one has done more for me as a writer than you have and I honestly don’t think I could have done any of this without your support, your guidance and your brutal honesty!
My wacky, crazy neighbour, Fiona McCarthy, beta-reader extraordinaire, who can spot errors despite reading at the speed of light and who loved my books before she loved me. I am so glad we met and so grateful that you believe in me.
Norma Neill, who has known me most of my life yet still takes me seriously as an author, for that final proof-read, and stepping out of your “reading” comfort zone to polish my final manuscript, thank you so much.
My amazing editor, Catherine Eberle; your words of encouragement are more validating than you will ever know. I am so grateful that I found you, four books ago, and I look forward to working with you for a long time to come.
A massive thank you to my writer’s group, The Scribe Tribe, and, in particular, Ian Tennent & Helga Pearson, who were honest enough to point out my flaws and are making me a better writer for it. Ian, your insight and constructive critique has truly made me grow in ways I could never have imagined. You are a great teacher and a true friend.
And of course, to everyone who has read my books; without you I wouldn’t be able to do this. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart!
“And then the little man fell through the hole in the ground and was never seen again.”
Quinn Harden closed the storybook with a snap and the children jumped. “Time for bed, you two,” she smiled, setting the book down on the bedside table.
Aunty Quinn,” Jack begged, his blue eyes wide.
“The one about the fairies!” Ava added, stifling a yawn.
you’ll go to sleep?” Quinn raised her brows.
“Promise,” the twins replied in unison. They were masters of negotiation, their intelligence and competence far beyond their two years. It was so with all descendents of the original Guardians, no doubt a result of the miniscule traces of Fae blood that ran through their veins. Jack and Ava were, however, blissfully unaware that some of the stories Quinn told them were true.
She cleared her throat, waiting for them to settle back on their pillows before she began, reciting the words by heart, as she recalled the stories that Kellan used to tell her as a child.
“There was a time when all of the mystical creatures read about in fairy tales roamed the Earth freely and lived among men; when dragons shared the sky with birds of prey and giants claimed the mountains as their home.” Quinn stopped, a soft smile crossing her face. The children were asleep. She allowed herself the luxury of watching them for a while, as the memory of Kellan’s voice washed over her, from a night many years ago.
There was a time when all of the mystical creatures read about in fairy tales roamed the Earth freely and lived among men; when dragons shared the sky with birds of prey and giants claimed the mountains as their home. Faeries, merfolk, werewolves and vampires, among the many supernatural beings, were as much a part of civilisation as man was. Protected by the enchantments placed upon them by the Fae they were seldom seen, but those of purest heart, who would do them no harm, were granted glimpses of their magnificence.
Reaching over, Quinn switched off the nightlight, dropping a kiss on Jack and Ava’s foreheads before making her way quietly out of their bedroom. The children would never know that the story she’d started did not have a happy ending. The creatures she spoke of had filled the world with beauty and magic, until a xenophobic holocaust ignited by a mad king extinguished their light over a thousand years ago. Over time, their absence resulted in their existence becoming fabled, warped into legend and myth and shrouded in allegory. And yet, exist they did. And to this day, some still do. Only twelve people know this - only ever twelve, whose sole objective is to ensure the safety of those precious few who remain. These twelve are known as the Guardians, fierce protectors of Summerfeld – the City that shelters the last surviving supernatural beings.
With only her dark thoughts for company, Quinn went downstairs to clean up the whirlwind that was dinner time with two young, energetic toddlers. She couldn’t quite figure out how the peas had made it halfway under the refrigerator, but knowing how Ava loathed them she suspected foul play. The twins were crafty.
Quinn clung to the menial task, trying to stem the memories that threatened to overwhelm her. As she reached under the refrigerator, scooping up peas, she caught sight of the ornate, white tattoo that branded her wrist, and, like a floodgate, the memories forced their way through her weary defences.
Kellan’s stories had been happy, much like the ones she told Jack and Ava, but Isaiah had spoken only the truth. Quinn had been twenty-one the first time she heard the legend. Her sister, Avery, had sat beside her at the council table, the girls eager for their first lesson. It had been nearly a thousand years since the Blood War, named for the sheer amount of magical blood that had been spilled, but now that they had been branded as Guardians, Quinn and Avery were to learn the truth; that in secret, unbeknown to their human counterparts, the war still waged, and the hunt for Summerfeld continued.
“In order to understand our purpose, you need to fully understand our history,” Isaiah explained. “I must warn you, however, that the story is one of tragedy, and destruction.”
“Tell us,” Avery insisted, leaning forward in her chair. The Sacred Book was open before him, but Isaiah didn’t look at it as he began to speak.
“When Enah, princess of the Fae, fell in love with Julian, the Vampire prince, she used her magic to bestow upon him the forbidden gift of sun-walking. Imparting Faery magic to any other supernatural being or creature was punishable by death.”
“Why?” Quinn asked, interrupting, and Avery scowled at her. “What?” Quinn shrugged. “It’s a logical question. Why was it so bad?”
“Fae magic was too powerful to be wielded by any other species,” Isaiah explained patiently, “and King Eldon feared that if any of the others learned that they could use it, they might turn on the Fae and try to take it for themselves. The Taboo was their most sacred law.” Quinn nodded that she understood and Isaiah continued, “In breaking it, Enah had betrayed her own kind, but more than that, she started a feud that would span centuries. Her father, King Eldon, couldn’t bring himself to take her life, so he hunted down the abomination she had created instead. He killed Julian.”
Isaiah heard Avery’s gasp of astonishment, but to his surprise, Quinn looked satisfied. The Guardian women were always more disturbed by this revelation than their male counterparts. Patiently, he waited for their questions, but again they surprised him and remained silent. Isaiah proceeded.
“Julian’s father, King Aleksei, declared war on the Fae. The werewolves were only too happy to unite with the Faeries, and all the other legendary creatures, reliant on the Fae magic, sided with them too – their alliance strengthened in the crucible of war.”
“So, if everyone sided with King Eldon, why is the war still waging?” Avery asked. “Surely all of those creatures could easily have overthrown the vampires?”
“Sadly not,” Isaiah sighed. “If that had been the case, we wouldn’t be here,” he remarked wryly. “King Eldon grossly underestimated the physical power of the vampires. King Aleksei wreaked his furious vengeance on all who stood between him and the Fae. Through his connection to all living creatures, King Eldon suffered terribly as one species after another was slaughtered to extinction. The Pegasus and the Phoenix did not survive the Blood War and the numbers of the ten species that remained were reduced dramatically. King Eldon’s hatred of the vampires grew with every death at their foul hands, manifesting in his evolution – and he became the first Slayer, a lethal, merciless vampire-hunter, whose very blood could kill them...”
Quinn jerked back to her small, humble kitchen as though she had been doused with ice-cold water. She could have sworn she had heard something upstairs. Dropping her cloth, Quinn raced up the stairs to check on the children. Jack and Ava were still sound asleep in their bed, Ava’s pyjama top pulled up, exposing her rounded belly. Her chubby, cream-clad legs were thrown over her brother’s stomach, and clutched tightly in her hands was Beebee – a pale pink teddy bear with a floppy hat that she had loved since birth. She never went anywhere without it. Smiling, Quinn pulled down Ava’s shirt and shifted her over, covering her up again with her blankets. Jack immediately rolled towards his sister, his curly dark hair falling over his eyes as he reached for her in his sleep. Ava was Jack’s comforter. Ava had Beebee... and Jack had Ava. Quinn watched them fondly for a few more minutes, a rapt expression on her strikingly beautiful face, and then left the room, shutting the door behind her. The twins didn’t stir.
As she pulled their door closed, Quinn’s senses heightened, jerking her from her moment of content. She hesitated, sensing that someone else was in the house. Moving silently down the stairs, she slowly pulled open a dresser drawer and extracted a long ornamental wooden stake. It was the only weapon within reach, although probably not the most suitable. The intruder was not a vampire – none had been invited in – but that didn’t change the fact that someone had broken into her house at this time of night. It didn’t bode well, either way.
Stepping quickly around the corner, Quinn raised the stake to shoulder height and jabbed it forward. It stopped less than an inch from the intruder’s right eye. Unperturbed, he lifted a hand and placed it over hers, lowering her arm.
“Hello Quinn,” her father murmured, his striking tanzanite eyes a mirror of her own, the perfect blend of violet and the deepest blue.
“What are you doing here, Braddon?” She always called him by his name, never ‘dad’ or ‘father.’ Not since she was a child.
“It’s time for you to return,” his eyes held hers and a million arguments died on her lips. “You have a duty to fulfil, and you have indulged yourself far too long already.”
“Indulged myself?” Quinn snapped, her anger back in an instant. “I have a life, Braddon! I have two children who need me!” He ignored her.
“You must return - the Guardians need you.”
“The Guardians can go to hell.”
“Quinn,” his voice was harsher, his eyes flashing angrily. “The Gateway needs to be protected. You know what is at stake.”
“The City is safe,” Quinn sighed, “Eldon wove his magic well.” The enchantments placed upon the City ensured that neither man nor vampire could find it, let alone enter.
Braddon didn’t acknowledge her words. “We cannot risk it! Enchantments can be broken, Avery’s death is proof of that. We are more vulnerable than ever before. It has been two years and we have yet to find your sister’s replacement.”
The mention of her twin sister, Avery, only fuelled Quinn’s anger. Avery had been a Guardian too, like their father. Like Quinn herself. Avery’s identity had been discovered by a vampire assassin.Since her death two years ago, no new Guardian had been marked and for the first time in Summerfeld’s history, only eleven remained.
“Has it occurred to you that Avery’s replacement hasn’t come forward for good reason?” Quinn sneered. “That maybe this person would prefer a normal life, without the burden of the Guardianship?”
“It is an honour to protect the last, Quinn. Duty is something no true Guardian would seek to avoid.” His words smacked of implied accusation.
“Well then, perhaps this one got lost? Perhaps the replacement Guardian is backpacking through Europe and didn’t get the memo?” Braddon shook his head at the blatant sarcasm in her voice.
“You know as well as I, that a newly marked Guardian will always find his or her way to Cliffdale.”
This was true; the moment that the white mark burned into a Guardian’s wrist the newcomer's instincts led him or her to Cliffdale, to be inducted into the Guardianship. Eldon’s Guardian charm ensured it. When he realised that he could not win the Blood War, King Eldon had called upon twelve humans to protect the magical realm, and imbued each of them with a trace amount of blood from each of the ten remaining supernatural species –forging a blood allegiance. These twelve humans became the Guardians of Summerfeld and were marked as such – an ornate, white, S-shaped tattoo was branded on their left wrists. They guarded the Gateway, a magical portal between worlds, and ensured that neither King Aleksei, nor his descendants, could find the City. No-one but a Guardian could pass freely through the Gateway, and no creature could ever leave until the day that every last vampire had been destroyed.
The Guardians do not age but that does not mean they cannot die. Vampires have been hunting them for a millennium, armed with the knowledge that only through them can they enter the City of Summerfeld and finish their quest to destroy the last remaining supernaturals. With the knowledge that the vampires could never be allowed to access the City, if discovered, a Guardian would take his or her own life. It was a pledge of honour. When one Guardian died, another was inevitably marked, always a descendant of the original twelve. Indiscernible from ordinary people, tracking a Guardian was no easy feat for the vampires, but every now and then they succeeded and a new Guardian would take the place of the fallen.
“How can you ignore the severity of this situation?” Braddon persisted wearily, “You are being petulant.”
“I am protecting Avery’s children!” Quinn had lost all patience with her father. “Your grandchildren!” The comment seemed absurd, considering how youthful Braddon appeared. He had become a Guardian at the age of twenty-seven, Quinn and Avery just before their twenty-second birthdays. Braddon looked only a few years older than she did, although in reality he was over two hundred years her senior.
“Jack and Ava will be taken care of; we will make sure of that. They may well be marked in time to come. Do you really think we would leave them unprotected, considering how valuable they are?”
“They are children, not possessions! They deserve to be loved – as Avery would have loved them. As Tristan should have!”
“You are letting your feelings for Tristan get in the way of your reasoning.” Quinn curled her lip at the undeserved barb. She may have loved Tristan first, but to imply that he meant anything to her after what he had done was ridiculous. When Tristan Ormonde had become a Guardian, it had been Quinn who had trained him, Quinn who had shared the Guardians secrets and helped him adapt to his new way of life. Their relationship had blossomed, becoming intimate, and Quinn had truly believed she had finally found her soul mate, after being alone for a hundred years. That was until Avery returned from a journey north. She had accompanied Braddon on a search for the Phoenix – rumours abounded that the bird, long thought extinct, might have survived. Sadly the exploration had proved futile, and had kept Avery away far longer than Quinn would have liked. She was eager for the two most important people in her life to meet. The irony of her anticipation was not lost on her later.