I, um, just realized that I never posted the first chapter of Pursuit. So here it is…
Masataka Mawara stared at me with flat, emotionless sea-green eyes that reminded me of a shark circling its prey. The fingers of his right hand inched backward toward the trident strapped to his back. I bet if I moved suddenly, that trident would pass through the spot my head occupied so quickly I’d have trouble dodging it.
Behind him was an army of Dioscuri. They all wore the same black cowl over their heads that blocked their features from view so that I couldn’t tell who was who. Not that I’d have known who many of them were anyway because their identities were one of Lot’s best kept secrets. Why? Because each and every one of them was a royal guard, and as such, they could not be influenced.
“Lillim!” My mother called, breaking rank and striding toward me so quickly that it made me take a step backward. She was wearing her black Dioscuri fighting suit and nothing else. Where was her kimono? I swallowed as a sinking feeling filled my stomach. I’ve never seen her without one of her kimonos.
The cat suit clung to her body so tightly that it was very clear my mother’s body had held up remarkably well despite being older and having had a kid. I glanced down at myself in my blue jeans and red sweatshirt and fought the urge to poke myself in the tummy. Maybe I should stop with all the candy…
“Diana, know your place,” called a broad-shouldered man to her left. He was bald and sported a short black beard that reminded me of the devil or a pirate. “Do not break rank.”
“Stuff it, Reath,” my mother said over her shoulder as she came up to me. She wrapped her arms around me, pulling me into a tight hug that crushed me against her body.
I swallowed, suddenly confused and embarrassed, and tried to push her away as heat spread across my cheeks. “Mo—” I started to say as she put her lips to my ear and whispered, “Run!”
She released me, stepping back and staring at me with her cold brown eyes. I glanced around. I was still standing in fairy, just a couple inches from the border Kishi and I had crossed so long ago. Behind me, the sweltering heat of the Summer Court beat at my back, baking me in my clothes. At least I had a pass from the Summer Queen and was able to wear all my clothing. This would be really embarrassing if I was still in my underwear.
My mother looked down at the border just an inch shy of her toe and back at me. She nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Where is my daughter?” Reath thundered as he shouldered my mother out of the way. He stood in front of me in that hulking way big men do when they are trying to be intimidating.
“You’re Kishi’s father?” I asked, taking a nervous step back. His arms had to have been as big around as my thighs and his neck was like my torso. “What do they feed you, a herd of buffalo?” I blurted.
His face reddened and twisted into a snarling mask. Behind him, my mother suppressed a grin. “Yes, I am Kishi’s father,” he growled, narrowing his emerald eyes into slits. “Where is my daughter? If something happened to her… so help me.”
“She’s fine,” I said with a shrug. “She’s back at the Summer Court with the Queen of the Hot and Bright. You can go see her if you want. She’s being lavished by pixies. I hear there are bonbons and palm fronds involved.”
Reath glanced back over his shoulder at Masataka. When he nodded, Reath turned back to me. “You’re not lying.”
“Why would I be lying?” I asked, fixing him with my best glare. “I don’t exactly make a habit of it. In fact, if they gave out trophies for honesty, I’d have three.”
“I don’t know why you would be lying, but if I had to guess, it would have something to do with why the fairy queens revoked our free travel privileges into fairy.” Reath grimaced, showing entirely too many teeth. “Why are you here by yourself? Why is my daughter not with you?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but as I did so, my mother shook her head minutely.
“Diana, please excuse yourself,” Masataka said, taking a step forward. “You are influencing the suspect.”
My mother turned, and though I couldn’t see her face, her tone told me she was fixing him with the look she used to make vampires hide under the bed. “She is not a suspect. She is my daughter. You will show her more respect, Masataka.”
“She is a fugitive charged with the kidnapping of Kishi Al Akeer. Besides, she isn’t even your real daughter,” Masataka snarled. “She is an unauthorized reincarnation of Dirge Meilan masquerading about in your daughter’s body like some kind of parasite.”
“Why don’t you tell me how you really feel, Masataka?” I asked, fighting the simultaneous urge to throttle him and to cry.
“Step over that line, and I will, Lillim.” His face was set in grim determination as he swept his hand back in a grand gesture to show me the way past him.
“Come over here and make me, Masataka.” I stuck my tongue out at him and made a face. “Oh, that’s right, you can’t.”
“Your mother has protected you from me in the past, Lillim. But no more. If you do not come over here, I will step over that line and take you back to Lot. If you resist, I will hurt you.” Masataka’s face closed off so that it reminded me of a cold, unfeeling stature. He knelt down, picking up a handful of dirt at the border and letting it run through his hands. “I hope you resist.”
I glanced from him to my mother. She had a look on her face that betrayed nothing, and the sight of it sent a chill hopping down my spine like an icy toad. My mother wasn’t exactly good at controlling her emotions or facial expressions. When you’re the strongest person in the room, people tend to give you a pass on stuff like that. But, right now, my mother was trying… That was not good. What could make her do that?
“Lillim Callina, the charges against you are serious. You will return my daughter immediately and surrender yourself into Masataka’s custody,” Reath’s low baritone warbled through the air, and I glanced at him. I guess I should have been threatened by him, but I’d just killed a death god a few hours ago. Reath had nothing on Crom Cruach.
“Go find her yourself. She’s about half a day’s journey that way!” I pointed toward a cactus behind me with a particularly large vulture sitting atop it. “Aside from that, I’m not turning myself over to you.”
“Surely you have noticed your mother’s lack of adornment, the lack of her people here. Only my people are here,” Masataka said as he stood, hands motionless at his sides. “She cannot help you.”
“Mom, what’s going on?” I asked, turning toward her. “Warthor said you were coming with a squad, so I came to tell you we handled it already.”
My mother replied with a sigh. “I tried to get troops and people to come help, to come rebalance fairy but no one would listen to me. The council refused to authorize it. That is… until they realized Kishi was with you. Suddenly, I had these guys willing to come along. The only catch was, I couldn’t come, at least not in my capacity as head of the Dioscuri.”
“So you’re here as a subordinate?” I glanced at Masataka. “To him?”
“Yes,” Masataka said with a grin. “Until we return to Lot, I am the lead. Even your mother has to do what I say.”
“I feel like I should buy you a cake,” I said with a shrug. “You know, to celebrate you finally being in charge of something more important that your brother’s birthday party. Mitsoumi does still let you plan that, right?”
“Once we bring you back and have you executed for treason, I’ll make a cake from your bones.” Masataka grinned, and for the first time, well ever, I saw his eyes twinkle. “Won’t that be a dainty dish to set before the king?”
I turned and ran, sprinting back down the dunes as fast as my legs could carry me. I’d barely made it twenty feet when my mother screamed. It was a short, horrible sound that stopped me in my tracks. I whirled, swinging my body around so fast I lost my balance, tripping over my own feet and smacking into the sand.
I shook my head, spitting sand from my mouth as I scrambled to my feet. Masataka Mawara had my mother, the leader of the Dioscuri fighting forces, on her knees in front of him. With one hand, he jerked her head back by her hair and put a seven-inch black-bladed knife to her throat. It was a Becker BK7 and was thick enough to pry off a car door.
“Take one more step, Lillim. I double dog dare you,” Masataka called, his voice strangely genial. “Let’s see how much you love your mom. Part of me hopes it isn’t very much.”
“Lillim, keep running, don’t stop he can—” Masataka cut off my mother’s words by smacking her across the face with the butt of the knife. Her jaw went slack, and even from there, I could see it fall at a disjointed angle. Then her bones began to twist and writhe beneath her skin, sewing themselves back together.
“You know what’s awesome about people with supernatural healing?” Masataka asked, and the sight of his smile chilled me despite the relentless heat of the Summer Court. “You can torture them over and over, and just when they are about to die, they heal and you can start all over. Healers get all squeamish when you ask them to heal someone just so you can beat the tar out of them again, but when it’s natural… well…”
“You’re a freaking psychopath!” I screamed, and despite my better judgment, took a step toward him. “If you hurt her, I will kill you!”
Masataka drove the blade deep into my mother’s shoulder, hitting the spot just behind the collarbone. My mother screamed as he tore the blade out in a spray of red. He held it in the air in front of her eyes as my mother’s face twisted in pain. Drops of blood flowed down the knife, dripping off the tip and splattering against the sand in front of them.
“It probably goes without saying, but I can do this all day.” He drove the blade into her side, and my mother gasped. “And thanks to her demonic healing, well, she can too.”
“No!” I screamed. The air around me surged with power. The desert around me exploded into a rolling, seething ocean of sand as I charged straight at Masataka.
My hands ripped the twin blades of Shirajirashii from their sheathes as my mother looked up at me and shook her head. It hit me a second later. The moment I touched Masataka, I’d be declared a rebel and his entire army could come down on me like a hammer. I wanted, no needed to get her away from Masataka, but if I did, I’d be facing off against all of them… and my mother wanted me to run. Did she have a plan or was she just being noble?
I stopped, my body skidding in the sand, thanks to my momentum. Unfortunately, I slid over the border line and came to a stop just a few inches beyond it. The twin blades of Shirajirashii throbbed in my hands, and as I looked at the katana and wakazashi throbbing in my hands, I realized something.
Masataka Mawara had been waiting for the opportunity to kill me since the day I was born. He had put that trident through my chest when I was just a little girl. I still had a scar from it. I’d been the bigger person then. I’d saved his miserable life, and this, this was how he repaid me?
“What do you want from me?” I screamed as tears filled my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. He swallowed, adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he released my mother, pushing her to the side. Her body hit the ground with a thud as he stood before me.
He wasn’t very tall, standing only a few inches taller than me, but when you’re only five feet tall like me, everyone seems tall. Still, I could tell he wasn’t used to looking down at people. His gazed shifted to each of my swords and back to me.
The weapons quivered in my hands. I could take off his head before he could do anything to stop me. I was fast dammit. So fast. And… I swallowed. The pit in my stomach dropped into a huge chasm. Where was Mattoc… where was he to tell me what to do? I swallowed and blinked back the tears filling my eyes again.
Mattoc was gone. He’d given his life so we could save fairy and this jackass wanted to persecute me for it? I swung my head to the side and glared at Reath. His eyes were filled with rage and confusion as he watched me, his face set into a sort of bewildered mask.
“Call off your dog before I put him down,” I snarled, and my voice was so cold that it could have chilled a glacier. “I’m not in a very good place right now. I feel like I’m about to snap, and the absolute last thing you want me to do, is get really angry.”
Masataka looked me straight in the eye, and instead of speaking, he smiled. It was one of those creepy smiles that sent a chill hopping down my spine because it meant one thing. He wanted me to attack him.