Today, I’m sharing the first chapter of CRYSTALLUM
(Primordial Principles 1).
THE SHADOW SHREDDED and spread across the ceiling.
Cole Spires stepped through a vortex of shimmering energy and sank into thigh-deep, murky water, cursing under his breath as the Shadow disappeared overhead. Danny appeared next to him, splashing muck into his face.
“I hate traveling through blacked gates,” Cole complained, throwing an arm out against the crumbling brick wall. “Shut this gateway down and search the crevices. It’s in here somewhere.”
“Where the hell are we now?” Danny steadied himself against a damp wall, squinting in the dark.
“I think we’re in Venice. It has to be around five-thirty in the morning here.” Using the dim light seeping through the ceiling grate as a guide, Cole waded toward a stone staircase. “Italy.” Like the rest of Venice, the building they landed in was sinking.
Glimpses of early morning moonlight shed an eerie green gloom up and down wet walls. Long fangs, laughing mouths, elongated necks, and spiked horns loomed above, and the sculpted stone beasts stared with wide, knowing eyes. Gurgulio. The underground chamber reminded Cole of a haunted art exhibit. The leering gargoyles weren’t the ones to fear, though. The real ones lived atop old buildings, not under them.
“I think we’re below the Gesuati.” Cole edged along the wall, feeling the way with his hands. “We need to shut this Leygate down so nothing else can get through.”
“Do you know another Gesuati, Dan?”
“Do you know how not to be an as—” Danny started, but a hiss echoed through the tight underground chamber, cutting him off.
“Well, at least we know we’re in the right plac—” A blast of energy cut through Danny’s words again and reverberated off the ruined walls with a wail. Cole shouted. Danny went under the murky water, and the Shadow shrieked, its amplification causing the ancient church walls to shudder. The large shadowy form spread apart, bleeding up the dark walls as if it were made of wisps of smoke, its broken shape practically invisible, except for its milky white eyes. The Shadow hissed again, speeding toward the grate in the ceiling. Cole reached for his telum, threw it toward the creature’s head, and missed.
“You can’t miss it!” Danny came up for air.
“It’s dark, Dan! You do it!” Scrambling toward the stairs, Cole snatched his fallen weapon and shoved the knife under his jacket sleeve, point first, relieved it hadn’t sunk in the water. The Warden wouldn’t be happy about replacing another crystallized weapon in less than a week.
Danny waded noisily after him, searching his pockets for his own weapons. “Get out of the way!”
Cole eyed his friend, while still climbing the steps. “I am trying to run up a flight of stairs in the dark! Can you not see that I am trying to climb the stairs without busting my ass?” He gestured upward with his hands. The Shadow screeched ahead of him. The old bricks rattled and dust and debris flew into the air. “I can’t get out of your way if there’s nowhere to go!” Cole patted his sleeve for the other telum he carried as he ran, making sure it hadn’t fallen out in the water. He would need both weapons.
The Shadow screamed, “Primori-iii!” and Cole knew it wasn’t shouting to remind him that he and Danny were Primori. It was shouting to alert the other Nefarius of their presence. They would scatter and disappear like rats before he and Danny even reached the street overhead.
“You need to shut the Leygate before more come through!” Yellow lamplight flooded Cole’s eyes through the grate in the basement’s ceiling and the cobbled street came into view. Throwing the trap door open above his head, he hoisted himself out. The Shadow slipped between two buildings, and Cole took off down the narrow street after it, his feet sloshing inside his soaked shoes. Danny fell in beside him, his wet jeans brushing together with more noise than a drum.
“What?” Danny gave a sideways grin and turned, heading toward the Giudecca canal.
“The gate?” Cole shouted. “Did you close the gate like I told you to?”
“Did you tell me to close the gate?” Danny laughed, his voice trailing off into the night.
Two more Shadows slipped through the dark, and Cole veered right. In their true form, all Nefarius were like smoke. Shadows and phantoms. Guardians of the Nocturnal Plane’s shadow grounds.
Running down a narrow flight of steps, moonlight cast movement from the rooftop far ahead, and Cole’s steps slowed. He eased away from the yellow spots of lamp light and found camouflage under the street’s darkened eaves, his focus toward the rooftop ahead.
Gargoyles of all sizes came alive under the moon’s glow, their grotesque bodies breaking free from the concrete structures confining them on the rooftop. Horned heads cut away from stone like dormant caterpillars splitting through cocoons. Talons detached from the building’s facade, leathery wings spread high and wide, and the Devil’s Children amassed on the roof. The beasts flew down like giant, repulsive bats.
As if in response, the shadowy forms of the Nefarius bled from between buildings, underneath drains, slipped from eaves, and joined the Devil’s Children in the middle of the street. As a united front, the host fled through a gateway of dancing, silver light hovering above the road. It closed down behind them with an audible pop.
“I saw them,” he answered from somewhere in the dark. “That must have been why the Nefarius came here. To group up with the Devil’s Children.” Danny jogged over.
“For what? They don’t work as a team. You know that.”
“I left the gate under the Gesauti open. We can get back through.”
“I knew you didn’t close it. Why don’t you ever listen? And
where are we getting back through to, Dan? Colorado?” Cole spat into the muck. “We’ve been tracking this Alveare for hours. We’re in Italy for Christ’s sake!” He rested his hands on top of his head.
“Just say, hive, Cole. Warden Caelius isn’t here to correct you if you speak English.”
Cole glanced at the drawing he’d made on his hand earlier, ignoring his friend. It was smudged, but the depiction was still clear enough: a serpent coiled around an egg. He and Danny had found the symbol branded over the entrance of a burned out church in an abandoned coal mining town outside Denver while tracking the fleeing Shadows. From there, they’d tracked the hive to Italy.
“So, where now?” Danny let out a breath.
Cole walked forward, trying to find what remained of the Shadow’s Leygate in the street. There were always traces. A tiny field of energy, faint colorations on the air, vibrations.
He swiped his hand through the faintest tinge of silver shimmying above the road. He’d always been good at following the paths energy left in its wake. His dad taught him that with the right amount of pull, not too much, not too little, gateways could reopen. Even Leygates that had been blacked and shut down. Cole hated those, though. Blacked gates were nasty, and risky to travel through, riddled with everything from negative energy fields that played tricks with a person’s mind, lost souls searching for hosts to embody, direct routes to chasms and vortex gates, or worse, hidden Sheol access that lead to the Infernal Plane.
“Found it.” Cole grinned, and a wave of silver light rushed up from the ground like a geyser.
“Don’t hate, Dan.”
With a deep breath, Kade released her white wings. They spread wall to wall across her bedroom, their tips rising to points above her horned head and skimming the ceiling. It was freeing, a release she rarely allowed—forbidden to show her true form.
Snow flurries drifted by her second-story window, and she watched the tiny white specks stick to the dark glass as night pressed in, distorting the view of the forest outside. The usual screams resonated in her head—the ones she couldn’t shut off or ignore. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the barb protruding from her cheekbone. The sharp red tip had pricked her flesh enough times that she’d learned not to touch it. The crimson spikes that disfigured her jawline were no different. She’d memorized every gruesome detail of her face after it had morphed into a demon’s when she was five years old, telling herself she wasn’t a monster—trying to convince herself it was true. It never worked. Twelve years later, her reflection remained the same, and the memories still replayed, so many of them, reminding her of what she had become.
Kadence skidded to a hard stop, reaching for a tree branch to slow her speed. The toes of her shoes hung off the cliff ledge, small rocks and dirt showering down the face of the mountain. Shrill screams ripped through the darkening forest and vibrated through her chest. The Shadows enveloped the woods and sky like black ink, blocking out what was left of the evening light. She couldn’t tell how many there were, only that they far outnumbered her. Too many to fight off alone.
“My beautiful Kadence. Why do you run from me?” Dracon’s voice rang inside her head as black-red wings rose above his horned head. He reminded her of the devil. “I only wish to talk so that you might understand.” The creature grinned, rows of pointed teeth gleaming from inside his elongated mouth. “We are not enemies, you and I. We are born of the same ilk. Look at yourself.” Slitted nostrils expelled smoke into the chilly air.
Kadence shook her head. She was nothing like him, no matter what he told her, no matter what she saw in the mirror. Nothing like them.
She stared down the face of the cliff into a deep, waterless gorge a hundred feet below. It was riddled with snow dotted treetops. She had run as far as she could through the woods.
“It is too far down, my fledgling.” The creature motioned for the Shadows infiltrating the skies to stop with a flick of his black taloned hand. “Please, do not attempt to flee. Let us talk. As I said, I want only your understanding. You mustn’t be frightened by what you truly are. It is a gift unparalleled.” He beckoned her away from the ledge, black hoofs sinking into the ground, his musky stench overwhelming her. “Let me help you.” He reached out a clawed hand.
“Kadence!” A hard knock on the bedroom door jolted her out of the memory. The one she hated most. “We’re here! You ready?”
“Yeah…uh, just a second, Giselle!” Snow continued to fall in silence outside the bedroom window, flakes glittering under the moon’s soft light. Kade turned toward the bathroom, her wings disappearing into her shoulder blades as she pulled her shirt over her head. The protrusions on her face retracted, and her heart- shaped face returned. Her unblemished face. The one she knew— recognized. The face she’d been born with.
Shoving the bathroom door closed with the heel of her black boot, Kade brushed her hair and straightened her skirt. The birthmark in the center of her left palm glared up at her. Another constant reminder of what she had become. This one was stained into her skin like an incurable plague. A reminder she couldn’t make disappear. The pale mark resembled the full moon, and if she peered closely enough, she swore dark craters were present around the edges. She’d tried to scrub the spot off until her skin bled more than once. It was no use.
“Kadence!” Giselle banged on the door, impatience coloring her tone. “Let’s go, we’re already running late!”
“I’m coming!” Kade returned to her bedroom. Even though she and her dad had moved to Boulder a couple of weeks ago, most of the U-Haul boxes still sat labeled, taped, and unpacked. Another bedroom in another house she would barely have the time to settle into. No posters or pictures of friends would decorate the plain vanilla walls. She never bothered. They would all have to be taken down when she moved again in a few weeks anyway. This time into student dorms with the other losers who got shipped off to become someone else’s problem. The thought of moving away from her dad, the only person who knew her truth, loomed like an impending death sentence.
“Kadence!” The bedroom door rattled. “Come on!”
“I’m coming,” Kade grumbled under her breath and glanced at the plain walls, free from nails or hooks. She didn’t have photos of friends or family to hang anyway. A person had to have friends and family for that. With a glimpse toward her bathroom mirror, the layers of her creamy skin shed away, and her face morphed into the monster.
Her altered face. The real Kadence now.
No amount of moving, or pretending, would ever change it.