Jun 6 2012 12:32pm
Updated July 18: Now with an EXCLUSIVE first look at Chapter 2!
The Time Untime approaches . . .
Kateri Avani has been plagued her entire life with dreams she doesn’t understand. Images of places she’s never been and of a man she’s never seen. Her quest for answers has driven her to Las Vegas where she hopes to finally silence the demons in her mind.
What she never anticipates is coming face to face with the warrior who has haunted her her entire life.
Ren Waya came back from the dead to keep the prophecy he began from coming true and ending the world. For thousands of years, he has fought the same evil that once possessed him. But now that evil has brought back the one person he can’t fight. The one person who once held the most sacred part of him. His heart.
But if he doesn’t kill Kateri, the deadliest of evils will reemerge and destroy everyone else on the planet. It was a sacrifice he made once. Will he be able to make it again?
Get a sneak peek of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Time Untime (available August 7, 2012), Book 16 in the Dark-Hunter series, with an EXCLUSIVE extended excerpt. Read Chapter 2 now ONLY at H&H!
In the distant, unrecorded past
It wasn’t fun being the gatekeeper to hell. The only thing worse was being evil’s bitch, and Makah’Alay Omawaya had been that, too.
A tic beat in his sculpted jaw as the harsh winds whipped his long black hair, flogging him while he stood on top of a high precipice, his muscled body and weapons silhouetted by the Hunter’s Moon. Soul-sick and weary, he surveyed the red canyon that was awash with moonlight and dancing shadows that reminded him of his past.
How could one man ruin so many lives?
No, not ruin.
He had no right to live. Not after all the blood he’d greedily spilled with his knife and arrows. Not after all the atrocities he’d committed. Yet here he stood. Alone.
A twice-designated guardian to a world he’d done his damnedest to annihilate. Yeah, it didn’t make sense to him either. The spirits were ever a mystery. He couldn’t even begin to fathom their reasoning in allowing him to return here.
But then the one lesson he’d learned through all of this was the truth in the old saying—man has responsibility, not power. After all these years, he finally understood what that meant.
I will not fail them.
I am resolute. . . .
He lived his current life by conscious decision, not random chance. The spirits hadn’t chosen him for this task. He’d volunteered. With no more excuses, he would make changes for the better.
This time, he would be motivated and not manipulated.
He would be useful and not used. Excel rather than compete.
From this moment forward, he would trust his own inner wisdom and ignore the counsel and opinions of others. His worthless self-pity finally spent, he would endeavor to learn self-esteem.
To live the life of honor he should have had all along.
His gaze skimmed the deep cavern below where he’d once battled a powerful ancient immortal for a year and a day. He still didn’t know how or where he’d found the strength for the fight. But then his adrenaline and years of a humiliating past that still stuck in the craw of his throat had kept him from feeling any pain. It had kept him from feeling any fatigue or injury. That unleashing of decades of caged fury had succored him better than mother’s milk.
If only he had that solace now. But with the fight done and the blood on his hands, he felt tired and sick. Disgusted. He wanted to blame someone else. Anyone else. Yet in the end, he couldn’t run from the one simple truth.
He, alone, had done this to himself. He’d made the decision and allowed his thoughts to be controlled by another.
Now it was time to make amends.
You’re not free, Makah’Alay. You will never be free of my service. And now I have you for all eternity.
“No, you don’t,”he shot back in his mind loud enough for it to carry from this realm into the West Land where the Grizzly Spirit was imprisoned.
Hopefully for all time.
The Grizzly Spirit had owned Makah’Alay Omawaya.
“Makah’Alay Omawaya is dead.” Killed by his own brother’s trickery. And that, too, had been justified.
Now he was Ren, and his soul was in the hands of an immortal from a faraway land he hadn’t even known existed until after his death.
Art-uh-miss. She had spun the magic that had brought him back into this realm. And he’d sworn himself to protect this world from her brother’s creatures, who preyed on the souls of mankind. The symmetry and irony of that wasn’t lost on him.
But then his people had always believed in cycles and circles—
Be kind to all, for you will meet each other again. People were ever the same, but circumstances did change.
And Artemis owning his soul after all he’d done seemed right. Not to mention, it allowed him to watch over his own brother to make sure that Coyote didn’t scar the land even more than Ren had when he’d been its overseer.
Even so, he couldn’t deny that while the Grizzly Spirit was trapped in the West Land, that bastard still possessed a part of him that was forever corrupted.
A part he hoped was sealed as tight as the gate that held the Grizzly Spirit.
But deep inside with the powers Ren had cursed since the hour of his birth, he saw what was to come. Those gates would be weakened. And while he was strong, a man, even an undead one, only had so much strength within. Grandfather Time was ever marching forward and as he spiraled across the lands, he forever changed them.
His strong hands molded and shaped this earth.
Like Ren, he scarred it.
One day, Grandfather Time would come for him and demand an accounting for all he’d done.
For all he hadn’t done.
May the good spirits of the earth help them all when that day came. Change was never without dread and sacrifice. And while he knew his strengths, he also knew his weaknesses.
So did the Grizzly Spirit and his handmaiden Windseer. They had already claimed him once as their own.
When next they battled, Ren would fight with everything he had. But he knew it wouldn’t be enough.
They would have him again, and the world of man . . .
Ren winced at his visions of the future and what awaited this hapless world that had no idea about the things men like him kept at bay.
It didn’t matter and it changed nothing. He would fight for good even harder than he’d fought for evil. If he won, all would be well. And if he lost . . .
Death wasn’t always without its benefits.
December 10, 2012
Las Vegas, NV
“The feathers are forming in the heavens and the Cold Moon is almost upon us. Soon Father Snake will open his eyes and with them, the seven gates.”
Ren tilted his head down as he heard Choo Co La Tah’s deep proper British accent disturbing the solemn darkness where he sat, listening to the silence around him. Those feathers were the crown on the head of the Snake constellation that ruled their ancient calendar. When the feathers were in full plumage and the winter solstice aligned, the gates between this world and others would open. And into this world would spill all the evil that had been driven out by not only his people, but those from the other six continents as well.
12/21/12. 11:11 AM. At that precise instant the heart of the universe would cross through the tree of life. The head, heart and body would be aligned for the first time in centuries.
How perfect was that? If anyone had ever doubted the balance and cycles of the universe, that should be proof enough to convince them that while everything might seem random, it wasn’t. No one, except the Great Creator, could have timed this so perfectly.
Eleven days to the Reset.
Ren could hear the clock ticking. Every heartbeat brought them closer to the inevitable. Closer to all hell busting loose.
Be a good time to call in sick to work.
If only. But such luxuries belonged to humans, not to immortals such as he. For creatures like him, there was never a sick day or even a lazy one. Win, lose or draw, they would fight to the bitterest end and take as many of their enemies with them as they could.
United we stand.
United we die.
And for an immortal, death was much scarier than it was for a human. When you died without a soul, it was utter agony for all eternity.
Hell had nothing on the existence that would become his should he fall.
Ren inclined his head respectfully. “I’ve been watching the signs.” During which he’d had a vision that still haunted him. Even with his eyes wide open, he saw her clearly. Felt her presence as if she were here, right now.
But he had no idea who she was. A mere slip of a woman with the courage of the cliff ogre, she’d come to him through the darkness. Dressed in yellow buckskin, she’d twisted up her dark brown hair and laced it with white feathers. Like the goddess who’d taken his soul, she’d knelt by his side while he lay wounded on the ground. Her sweet voice had soothed him as she sang in a language he hadn’t heard a woman speak in over two thousand years.
Death had held him tight until she’d laid her tiny hand to his bloody cheek. Leaning forward, she’d continued to sing, her breath falling against his skin. Her kind touch and soothing voice had driven away his pain until he felt nothing except the heat of her flesh against his. Her gaze had held his as she brushed a kiss to his lips. One so light, it felt like the wings of a hummingbird.
“I’m here for you,” she’d whispered an instant before she stabbed him straight through his heart. The pain searing him, she’d laughed, then left him there to die alone.
He’d barely finished that vision before Choo Co La Tah had appeared in his back yard. For the last half hour, he’d been in solemn observance of the sky above, watching for something to belie what he knew was coming for them.
No one can stop a train. The best they could do was bleed on cattle scoop and tracks.
Ren stood up slowly in the middle of his back yard, then turned to face the ancient immortal. Centuries ago, they had been in the same clan together. Choo Co La Tah had once been his brother’s most trusted friend and advisor.
But things changed. And so did people. Too often you woke up to find that the person you were the closest to was the one you knew the least about. And as Ren had learned firsthand, the friend saturated with evil was the one thing to fear the most. While enemies could wound your body, an evil friend wounded the heart and mind—two things that could prove fatal.
“There’s no sign of the Keeper.” Choo Co La Tah glanced up at the Pleiades above them to where the first gate lay. The same stars Ren had been focused on. “What if she’s dead already?”
“A good friend once told me not to dread the future. One way or another, it would come. The trick was to meet it with open arms so that when it ran me over, it wouldn’t break anything.”
Choo smiled. “I was much younger and far more flexible in those days.”
Ren laughed at the ancient who physically appeared to be a well-muscled man in his early thirties. Dressed in a tan buckskin coat and jeans, Choo wore his long black hair braided down his back—the same style as Ren’s. And each of his eight fingers bore a silver ring that protected a sacred stone. Like him, Choo had once been the best of their clan’s warriors. They had gone to war together and they had fought against each other. Ironically, Ren had been the only one to ever defeat Choo Co La Tah.
Something he’d cheated to do.
Luckily, Choo didn’t hold a grudge.
Ren crossed his arms over his chest as he noticed how cool the night air had become. While he’d been meditating, he hadn’t paid attention to the dropping temperature. Now, the cold desert wind made itself known. “Besides, it’s not her death we should fear as much as the possibility that her stone is now in the hands of something it shouldn’t be.”
Choo Co La Tah nodded in agreement. “And that is what I fear most. The ghighau should have contacted me by now. Since she hasn’t...” His frustration was tangible. “I don’t even know who she is in this life.”
Neither did he. In order to protect her from all the predators who would kill her if they could, the Spirits had never allowed the Guardians to know her identity until it was a necessity. Where the Guardians were immortal, the Keeper wasn’t. A human child, she passed her sacred stone from mother to daughter, along with the story of their most sacred duty.
With two of the four Guardians slain, Choo and Ren’s brother, Coyote, were the only ones left who could assist her in resetting their calendar and keeping the gates closed.
One Guardian who would protect her.
His brother, who would kill her.
Ren lay between the two. While he intended to stand and fight with Choo Co La Tah to the best of his abilities, he wasn’t sure what he would do against his brother. A part of him still hated Coyote with a vengeance that left him bitter. But beneath that was a guilt so profound that he wasn’t even angry that Coyote had tortured him last year when he’d taken Ren captive.
How could he be when he’d done far more harm to Coyote?
Betrayals were never easy. When they came from a stranger, they were hateful. When they came from a friend, they were hurtful and when they came from family...
They were vitriolic.
He clapped Choo Co La Tah on the back. “Look on the bright side. At least no one’s uncapped the Anikutani.”
“Yet, my dear boy. But remember, we still have eleven days to go. One ’oh shit’ moment can undo all of our best efforts to protect this world, and there’s nothing more dangerous in this existence than a moron on a mission.”
Ren snorted at his optimism. “Sure there is, Choo.”
“And that would be?”
“One with an internet connection and a six pack of Red Bull.” But all joking aside, Choo Co La Tah was right. If anyone were to uncap the seal that kept Ren’s brethren imprisoned during the Time Untime...
He really was going to call in sick to work.
And find a hole to hide in.
At the mere thought of their return, his stomach tightened and chills ran up his arms as if his unconscious was trying to warn him that it was already too late to contemplate running. It felt as if the seal had been broken.
Stop. It’s the wind.
That he had no doubt about. But the question was, did that wind come from the desert.
Or from the seal being moved?
December 10, 2012 Tuscaloosa, Alabama 4:00 a.m.
Kateri Avani jerked in her sleep as her dreams tormented her. No longer a woman full grown, she was again a little girl sitting in her grandmother’s house, playing with the dolls her grandmother had made for her and her cousin Sunshine Runningwolf from the corn that grew in the garden out back. Barely twelve, Kateri brushed her small hand over the black corn- silk hair of the male doll. She didn’t know why, but she always made a small bow for him to hold on to.
Her grandmother sat beside her, at the old- fashioned red kitchen table, shelling peas as she spoke to Kateri in that ever- gentle tone that never failed to make her feel safe in a world that had been anything but. “You know, Ter, it’s a common saying among people that the love of money is the root of all evil. But nothing could be more wrong.” She dropped the strings and ends of the pea stalk into the compost bucket at her feet. “Before the invention of money, or even monetary systems, there was plenty of evil to go around.”
Not sure why her grandmother was telling her this, Kateri quirked a brow at the serious tone.
Her grandmother’s snow-white hair was braided and twisted around her head in an intricate coil Kateri had tried over and over to master. Unlike her grandmother’s, her hair always ended up in a mess that would leave her braids to fall loose as soon as she moved swiftly.
After pushing her glasses back with her knuckle, her grandmother paused her lecture to pull more unshelled stalks from the handmade straw basket on the table and put them into the silver pan she held in her lap. Pointing at Kateri with one of the long pea stalks, she pierced her with those golden eyes that held all the fire of a strong, spirited medicine woman. “Heed my warning, child. Neither money nor greed destroy humanity, and they definitely don’t ruin the life of a single individual. Rather, it’s something much more sinister. Those are merely the symptoms of the true disease that can rot you from the inside out.”
Kateri’s eyes widened. “What rots people, Grammy?”
“Envy,” she said in a chilling tone. “It is the deadliest of all things, child. It was what motivated the first crime known to mankind, when brother struck down brother and left him dead for no reason other than the fact that he thought his brother was more favored. On the surface, it’s such a beautiful word. But like all true evil, that beauty is deceptive and it lures the unwary in for capture and ruin. Just like the devil’s whirl pool, before you realize it, you’re drowning in it and can’t escape it no matter how hard you try.”
Her heart thumped hard in her chest. Those words scared her. She never, ever wanted to feel it. The problem was, she didn’t know what “it” was. “What does ‘envy’ mean?”
Her grandmother snapped the peas apart, her movements more frenetic than before. “From the Latin invidi, which means to cause resentment or to calculate ill will toward another, envy is that inability to feel happiness at someone else’s good fortune or to wish them well even though they deserve it. It’s when you begrudge someone their moment in the sun or just the fact that they have a life that you think is better or easier than yours. But heed my words, child, we all have more than our share of pains and sorrow. Embarrassments and things that haunt us. From that, no one is ever immune, no matter how good or perfect a life you think they live. Shame and hurt spare no one.”
“I would never do such a thing, Grammy,” Kateri assured her. “I know better.”
Her grandmother smiled kindly. “I know, baby. But the warning bears repeating. It’s so easy to fall into envy’s grasp, and to let that hatred and bitterness destroy your own happiness.” She handed Kateri several raw peas to eat while she continued shelling them. “When I was a girl about your age, my grandmother told me a story that her grandfather had told her. Even though I was young when I heard it, it has stayed with me throughout my entire life.”
Kateri crunched the peas while she listened. She always loved her grandmother’s tales.
“One day, a young boy went up to his grandfather, who was an old Cherokee chief. ‘Edudi?’ the boy asked. ‘Why are you so sad?’
“The old chief bit his lip and rubbed his belly as if his stomach pained him unmercifully. ‘There is a terrible fight inside me, Uhgeeleesee,’ the chief said sternly. ‘One that will not let me sleep or give me any peace.’ ”
She touched a pea stalk to Kateri’s nose as she mimicked the boy’s wide- eyed wonder. “ ‘A fight, Grandfather? I don’t understand.What kind of fight is inside you?’ ”
Kateri stole another handful of peas from her grandmother’s pan.
“The old chief knelt in front of the boy to explain. ‘Deep inside my heart, I have two wolves. Each strong enough to devour the other, they are locked in constant war. One is evil through and through. He is revenge, sorrow, regret, rage, greed, arrogance, stupidity, superiority, envy, guilt, lies, ego, false pride, inferiority, self-doubt, suspicion, and resentment. The other wolf is everything kind. He is made of peace, blissful tranquility, wisdom, love and joy, hope and humility, compassion, benevolence, generosity, truth, faith, and empathy. They circle each other inside my heart and they fight one another at all times. Day and night. There is no letup. Not even while I slumber.’
“The boy’s eyes widened as he sucked his breath in sharply. ‘How horrible for you.’ His grandfather shook his head at those words and tapped the boy’s chest right where his own heart was located. ‘It’s not just horrible for me. This same fight is also going on inside you and every single person who walks this earth with us.’ ”
Kateri touched her own heart as she wondered if those wolves were inside her, too.
“Those words terrified the little boy,” her grandmother continued. “ ‘So tell me, Grandfather, which of the wolves will win this fight?’ The old chief smiled at his grandson and he cupped his young cheek before he answered with one simple truth. ‘Always the one we feed.’ ”
Her grandmother’s voice echoed through Kateri’s dream as she tried her best to wake herself. Be careful what you feed, child. For that beast will follow you home and live with you until you either make a bed for it to stay, or find the temerity to drive it out.
But her grandmother wasn’t through with her warnings. She took Kateri’s hand and pulled her forward through time. Into a place that was eerie and foreign, and at the same time, it was familiar. Like she’d been here before and forgotten it.
Or banished it.
Though the sweeping winds were hot, they made her blood run cold with dread—as if there was something innately evil here. Something that wanted her dead. All around them, stalagmites and stalactites formed misshapen beasts that added to her discomfort. The red earthen walls reminded her of a Martian landscape. More than that, those walls held sketches of past battles between warriors and a feathered snake that rose up above them, breathing fire from its nostrils as it tried to defeat them.
“This is where the end begins.”
Before she could ask her grandmother what she meant, Kateri saw a shadow move across the floor. It grabbed her from behind and jerked her back against a rock- hard chest. She felt swallowed by the size of the man who held her with an ease that terrified her. Dressed in a white linen shirt, black vest, and jeans, he had long ebony hair that fell to the middle of his back. Dark eyes flashed in a face so perfectly sculpted that he didn’t appear real.
Familiar with this stranger, she relaxed.
Until he spoke.
“For all time,” he whispered in her ear an instant before he plunged a knife deep into her heart, then threw her to the ground to die. Her last sight was of him turning into a crow so that he could fly away from her.
Shaking and scared, Kateri woke up in a cold sweat to the sound of her alarm clock blaring. At 4:30 in the morning, her bedroom was still pitch dark, but even so she sensed a presence near her bed. More than that, she smelled the faint scent of peppermint and Jurgen’s lotion.
Her grandmother’s scent. There had only been one other time when she’d awakened to this sensation and smell—the night her grandmother had died while she’d been in college. Goosebumps ran over her body as tears fi lled her eyes.
“Eleesee?” she breathed, using the Cherokee word for grandmother.
Lightning flashed, highlighting the shadows in her room. Kateri gasped as the one in the corner appeared to be the solid form of a woman.
Only it wasn’t her grandmother. Instead, it was twisted and horrific. Ugly.
Worse, the shadow lunged at her.
Reacting on pure instinct, Kateri threw her arm up and whispered the ancient words of protection her grandmother had drilled into her so that she could fight her nightmares whenever they came for her. As she’d been taught, she pushed against the invader with her thoughts, willing it from this existence into the realm that had spawned it. The creature screamed as it reached her bed and its face came within inches of hers. Its hollow eyes flickered like flames before it recoiled as if it had hit a force field. With a shrill caw, it exploded into a fiery creature that twisted and flew through the window in the shape of a crow.
No. Not a crow.
Chills ran down her spine as her memories shot her into a place and time she didn’t want to go. It’s a raven mocker. Withered beings who only revealed themselves to those about to die.
To the souls they intended to devour.
Kateri shook her head harshly. No, she didn’t believe in such things. No one or nothing could take a soul from a person. Those were stories her grandmother had told her to amuse or scare her with as a child. Ancient legends.
I’m a scientist. I know there’s no such thing as shape-shifting beasts who steal the souls of the dying.
It was impossible.
But her grandmother had believed in them, as well as many of the Cherokee who’d lived on the reservation her grandmother had serviced. So much so that her grandmother had been summoned any time someone was dying. Day and night, until they passed, her grandmother had kept vigil to protect the dying from the raven mockers.
I have battled many of them in my day, child. And like me, you will one day have the ability to see them, too. To fight them for the souls they come to steal. It is your honor to follow after me. And when my time comes, I want you to hold my hand as I cross to the next adventure and protect my soul for me until it’s free of this old body and safely through the gates of heaven. Then I shall live among the stars and stare down at you every night as I watch over you.
It was a dream that had never come true. Instead of dying peacefully in her sleep as she’d envisioned, her grandmother had been murdered by a home invader while Kateri was thousands of miles away.
Don’t think about it. Any time she did, rage— dark and foul—set her on fire and it took everything she had not to go rabid vigilante. Her grandmother had been the kindest, gentlest creature ever born and some psycho had kicked her door in and . . .
Stop!She had to get to work so that . . .
Her thoughts scattered as her gaze went to her dresser. There on top, next to the small picture of her and her cousin Sunshine sitting on her grandmother’s lap, were the corn dolls she’d been dreaming about. Dolls she hadn’t seen in years. Not since the summer when she’d turned sixteen and her grandmother had led her through the ritual to symbolize her walk from childhood into that of an adult.
Those dolls had been burned to ashes on that day and then their remains scattered in the garden to feed the new crop of corn— the symbol of life and the cycle of birth, renewal, death, and rebirth. . . .
But their presence on her dresser wasn’t what truly scared her.
While she’d slept, someone had come into her room and written on her mirror with a bar of soap— something else her grandmother had done whenever Kateri had stayed with her. Little notes such as “I love you,” “Good luck with your test,” “Have a good day at school,” “Don’t forget your sweater,” or some such trifling. But this note wasn’t sweet.
Take my nayu into the Valley of Fire, where the pure earth must tame the crow. Listen to the buffalo and protect the butterfly. Together, you are stronger than any foe. And remember, Waleli, when the coyote comes and the snake attacks, either you eat the bear or the bear eats you.
In the middle of the day, that would be irritating to read. This early in the morning, it was downright cruel.
I’m in no mood for this crap.
“Who’s here?” she shouted.
Only the sound of her own heartbeat answered her. She’d call the police, but to what purpose? Hey, officer, I woke up and found this really cryptic message on my mirror, written by someone who was high or drunk or . . . No, officer, I’m not on anything. And no, they’re not here now and I have no idea why they’d do something like this, but could you fi nd out who they are and ask them not to leave me notes anymore? Who do I suspect? No idea. Only my late grandmother left me notes like this.
Yeah, that wouldn’t go over well, and with her luck, they’d haul her in for fi ling a false report.
Or worse, call a psych unit on her.
But what really disturbed her about the note was that it called her Waleli . . . Hummingbird. It was her real first name that her grandmother had given to her on her birth. One that hadn’t been entered on the paperwork her mother had filed for her birth certificate. No one alive knew of it.
So either her grandmother had visited her or . . .
You don’t believe in ghosts.
True, but what other explanation could there possibly be? Why would a complete stranger break into her house, steal nothing, do her no harm, and write that? The reasoning defied logic.
How would they know about her grandmother’s nayu that had shown up in mail addressed to her the day after her grandmother had died, or the name her grandmother only used when they were alone?
Kateri shook her head.
Maybe that was what the raven mocker had been doing.
Yeah, okay, the idea of a raven mocker writing in soap on her mirror sounded even more ludicrous and far-fetched than the ghost theory, but what was left?
Once you eliminate the impossible, what ever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. She rolled her eyes as her mind reminded her of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quote.
“I don’t believe in this crap, Grammy!” she shouted up at the ceiling. She never had. Paranormal, raven mockers, tsinooks, spirits, and such . . . hokey poppycock.
She was a scientist. She only believed in what she could see, taste, touch, smell, and hear.
The rest was fodder for novelists and Hollywood. It just didn’t exist outside of dreams.
All of a sudden, something squeaked. Kateri snapped her head toward the sound that had come from her dresser. There on her mirror, more words appeared as she watched
them. But I believe in you, Waleli. Do not fail me. Above all, do not fail yourself.
Copyright © 2012 by Sherrilyn Kenyon
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In the past two years, New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon has claimed the #1 spot fifteen times. This extraordinary bestselling author continues to top every genre she writes. With more than 24 million copies of her books in print in more than one hundred countries, her current series include: The Dark-Hunters, The League, Lords of Avalon, BAD Agency, Chronicles of Nick and the forthcoming Nevermore.