Book Review: Feverborn


Last night, I stayed up until two in the morning reading Feverborn, the latest installment of Karen Marie Moning’s bestselling Fever series. In typical Moning fashion, she really blew me away in the last 150 pages or so of the book, and I couldn’t put it down. That being said, I had some issues with the first part of the book. But I’ll get to those in a second.

I would say the “big picture” plot point in Feverborn, and this phase of the series in general, is repairing the damage that has been done to Earth since the walls came down. Small black holes (that are only getting bigger) have cropped up all over Dublin–including the one steadily growing towards the abbey–and the squad (Mac, Jada, Barrons, Ryodan, Christian, and Dancer) have figured out the reason and a theoretical remedy. So, part of Feverborn are these very different characters, with strong, and at many times clashing personalities, forming an unlikely alliance to save Earth. This is complicated by the fact that many outside characters and groups want one or the other of them dead for various reasons.

There are a few other interesting subplots interspersed throughout the book as well. We find out what happened to Dageus after Burned and a near-fatal mission to rescue his nephew, druid-turned-Unseelie prince Christian, who was being tortured by the creepy Crimson Hag. Mac’s past also comes back to haunt her, in more ways than one. We even get a few insights into what Cruce, the Unseelie prince trapped underneath the abbey, has been up to, and he’s starting to reemerge as the “big bad.”

That all being said, what Feverborn is really about is Mac and ice-cold Jada, formerly Mac’s energetic, impulsive bff, Dani. This was my favorite part of the book. Through Jada’s impersonal third-person narration, we learn bits and pieces of what happened to her while she was in the Silvers, and–although she never divulges everything–it’s enough to paint the bleak, heartbreaking picture. I actually have to say that, this time around, I enjoyed Jada’s plot thread considerably more than Mac’s. And I love how Moning has challenged their friendship, and the healing process for both of them that starts to take place in Feverborn.

I have to admit, though–and I hate saying this about one of my favorite authors–that the first half of the book was a bit of a mess. I felt like the book didn’t know what it itself was really about (Mac and Jada) until about the halfway point, maybe even further along. Moning often switches between points of view within books, and I usually admire her ability to do so effortlessly and convincingly. I never question whose head I’m in, and each plot thread typically stands well on its own while still advancing the overall plot.

But this style didn’t work for me as much in Feverborn. I have to agree with other reviews I’ve read saying that Mac’s part is basically a rehash of her old problems–issues I thought had been wrapped up by the end of Shadowfever. Also, the strain Moning placed on her and Barrons’s relationship in Burned seems to have completely evaporated now, and they’ve reverted to slamming their walls back up whenever they’re not having insanely hot sex (really, if Barrons can’t just call her Mac all the time at this point instead of Ms. Lane, fts). It’s like all of the progress they’ve made in their relationship throughout the course of the series has been unraveled for no reason.

Further, there are some random chapters written from Christian and Lor’s POVs for seemingly no reason. Okay, Christian’s sort of had a point (although it’s not carried throughout FB like in past books), but Lor’s didn’t give any significant insight into his or Jo’s characters and didn’t advance the plot. I guess it was sort of amusing, but it really should have served some other function than comic relief. I did, however, enjoy the parts with Cruce and Papa Roach, and I really hope Cruce is coming back as the major evil player in the next book (which I think is supposed to be the final, final book?).

By the way, I hate that I have to write this. As a writer myself, I know that criticism can be a good thing and very helpful, but I hate sounding overly critical or mean about a series and author that I love. I still think Karen is an excellent writer. I love the language she uses, the settings she creates–I can picture everything vividly in my mind, and I’m still highly invested in all of the characters. It’s just this book felt like a lot of filler material before the next book. (A lot of readers said that about Burned as well, although it didn’t feel that way to me for some reason. But this book did.)

The last fourth of the book really saved it for me, though. I wish the entire book had just focused on Mac and Jada and their friendship, because those parts were really touching. There are enough mysteries planted throughout FB that keep you hooked and plenty of twists and surprises–toward the end, they just kept coming. The battle at the abbey sort of works as a climax for the good guys/bad guys conflict in the book, but I think the real climax happens right after that, when you find out why Jada goes running back into the burning abbey. It just shows so much about what she must have went through in the Silvers and the person she has become now. Those parts actually brought tears to my eyes, they were so heartbreaking. I’m still intrigued to see where Moning is going with all of this and how she’ll tie up the loose ends she left at the end of FB.

So, in summary, while I felt like Feverborn had trouble finding its footing, the last part of the book saved it for me, and that’s why I’m giving it four stars. I will still probably pre-order the next book and binge read it when it comes.

Goodbye Spaceboy


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that English musician/icon/Goblin King David Bowie passed away last week at age 69 from cancer. (As if that weren’t sad enough, Alan Rickman, the talented English actor who portrayed–among other memorable roles–misunderstood Potions professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, also passed away. At age 69. From cancer.) I’m not usually one for getting emotional about “celebrity” deaths–then again, this is the first time that someone well-known I actually really liked has died. I mean, when you’ve spent hours upon hours listening to someone’s music, feeling feels (I’m sorry, I’m not good with the words today) and getting inspired, it’s hard not to feel sad. Bowie is an artist who seemed larger than life, but his death was sort of a weird reminder that he was mortal, just like the rest of us. He’s left quite an impact over the years, a legacy I’m sure will endure far beyond his death.

There’s been a huge outpouring of grief over his passing and support for his family over social media, which, of course, not just any normal person would get, and I hope it brings some comfort to Iman and his kids–to know how many lives he touched. As a side note, I’ve found it a little strange that the press keeps calling his death “sudden.” For his fans, yes, it was unexpected, and I suppose that’s what they mean. But perhaps not for his family. An 18-month long battle with cancer is long and emotionally draining for all involved–and yet Bowie didn’t let it get in the way of creativity, of getting out one last album for his fans. That album, Blackstar, has become his first number 1 selling album here in the U.S., which is awesome but at the same time a little depressing. He had many other albums that deserved to get that spot, but death has that kind of effect on art.

I can’t say that, without Bowie, there would be no Reborn series, but it would probably be a somewhat different series. His songs and various stage and film personas have definitely inspired me, and will continue to do so. So, as my own little tribute to the Thin White Duke, here is a top ten list of my favorite Bowie songs. This was hard to compile, since I like most of his work. But I made myself pick 10 that mean something personal to me, or that I just simply love. Also, except for number 10, this list doesn’t include some of his collaborations that I like (like Placebo’s Without You I’m Nothing and the PSB remix of Hallo Spaceboy). They may not necessarily be everybody’s favorites or critical darlings, but this is my blog and my list, dammit. And feel free to share your favorites in the comments!

10. Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy

This is probably a random one, but for me, this is the song that started it all. Before I heard this delightful Bing Crosby/Bowie duet on the radio circa Christmas 2005 (yes, the radio, this was pre-YouTube/Pandora/Spotify), all I had heard about David Bowie was that he was kind of weird. But then I heard this angelic voice singing with Bing and was surprised, in a good way, to learn who it was.

9. Oh! You Pretty Things

Probably one of the main reasons I like Bowie so much is due to my love for science fiction and fantasy. Much of his work, particularly in the 70s, incorporated sci-fi themes and characters. Oh! You Pretty Things has a sci-fi/dystopian flavor to it coupled with a lively tune, and the lyrics are pretty catchy, too. (Anna and Peter sing a duet of it in Relapse, which was also a bit of foreshadowing for things to come in future books).

8. Life on Mars?

I think this is probably one of his more famous tunes, although perhaps an acquired taste. The lyrics string together a series of seemingly disjointed scenes, but together they create a picture of a young person trying to make sense out of the world and images around them.

7. Moonage Daydream

Just like all of the songs that made this list, Moonage Daydream is one of my personal favorites–the only thing is, I’m not even sure why, haha. I just love this song.

6. Underground

I couldn’t write a Bowie top ten list without including a song from the Labyrinth soundtrack. Although there are lots of gems on there (Magic Dance, When the World Falls Down, Within You), I decided I had to go with Underground. At the risk of sounding pretentious, this song, from the soundtrack of an 80s children’s fantasy movie, sounds better than most of the songs they play on the radio today, lol.

5. Five Years

As an urban fantasy/paranormal romance writer, it takes me 200+ pages to create the world and story I envision in my head. It takes Bowie 3-5 minutes, in songs like Five Years (below), and Drive-In Saturday (an honorable mention).

4. Modern Love

80s Bowie likely had a bit more widespread appeal than Ziggy Stardust, and–although there was a disappointing lack of space/aliens–his hits during this phase of his career were fun and catchy. Modern Love is my second favorite thing (Labyrinth is the first) Bowie did in the 80s.

3. Rebel, Rebel

I think one of the reasons Bowie’s glam rock days have had such a lasting impact is that he showed people it’s okay to be “weird” (whatever that means to you). He was a voice for the outcasts of his generation, telling them “you’re not alone” in songs like Rock ‘n Roll Suicide. His most covered track (according to Wikipedia), Rebel, Rebel captures this spirit.  Also note his fabulous getup in this video.

2. Starman

Okay, so clearly Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust/glam rock days are my favorite. So many great songs, especially Starman.

1. Heroes

And, finally, my number 1 favorite song of all time, out of all the songs and all the musicians. Well, it might be tied with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, but right now it has a slight edge. Heroes gives me chills and feels.

Obligatory New Year’s Resolutions Post


I realized my last post was two months ago, and a New Year’s resolutions post seemed like the perfect excuse to give you guys an update. I had a relaxing and fun Christmas and New Year’s and cleared my head of any sort of day job or writing-related work. It was a much needed break, and now I’m feeling refreshed and ready to get back into various projects. And I had more time for reading–I finished the second Vampire Academy book, Frostbite, by Richelle Mead, and started reading a non-fiction book that’s pretty interesting: Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough (I highly recommend for all of you education/social sciences/public health nerds out there). Since I completely failed to achieve my Goodreads goal of reading 25 books this past year (I read 15…oops), I kept the same goal for 2016, so we’ll see how that goes. I read a lot, I just haven’t made time for as much pleasure reading or reviewing lately.

Now, the part you’ve been waiting for (maybe): my writing/publishing goals for 2016. If you follow this blog or my Facebook page, you are probably already somewhat aware of these, but I figure if I put them in writing it will be additional motivation for me. First, I want to publish Revenge as an e-book novella–aiming for this summer. (You can read the first draft of it on my blog for free here.) Before I’m happy enough to publish it, it’s going to need some editing/re-working, and I have some ideas to beef it up so that I can actually call it a novella, which I think run from about 17-40K (at least according to Wikipedia). It’s a little over 11,000 words now, and my goal is to get it up to about 20K. I just really haven’t felt like editing lately, which is weird for me because I usually enjoy it.

Actually (and sorry in advance that I’m about to go on a tangent), I’ve been feeling really frustrated for the past few months regarding my writing projects. Mostly because of the editing thing. Ugh. At the beginning of fall I had a nice rhythm going for writing the third book in the Reborn series, and got about 38K written. Then I realized it was dragging/boring, that there were parts I wanted to cut completely, and that’s when I lost my rhythm, even though I still had the rest of the book mapped out in my head. So I decided to revise the beginning before writing the rest of it, but that just made me more frustrated. Looking back at it now, I feel like I didn’t even change that much of it, although I did rearrange chunks of it and added some more action earlier on. But there are still parts I’m going to take out entirely, and then I’ll have to fill in the gaps…and I just don’t wanna right now, lol.

I’m pretty sure I had this phase with the first two books, too, and every time I feel like I’m never going to get over it and the book is never going to get finished. But then I do get over it, and it does get finished. So really I have nothing to worry about (and neither do you!).

Instead of continuing to slog through the edits to Part One, I’ve decided to just plunge ahead and finish the entire first draft this January/February. I just want to write–get the word vomit out first–without thinking too much about it. Then I’ll worry about the specific parts that need more help/attention later. Right now the word count is about 48K. My goal is to write at least 500-1000 words every day in January. That way, if I have a particularly busy day or just a bad writing day, I can at least get 500 words out and then be done with it for that day. On a better day, I’ll exceed the 1000-word goal, and at this pace I’ll be able to finish it this winter.

Except sometimes I think about all of the things that are still going to happen in the book. And then I get discouraged again.

Whine whine whine.

I know I’ve been keeping a lot of the details of Book Three under wraps. It has a title now, but I’m not ready to reveal it. I don’t think it will change, but it might. I’m itching to share a rough excerpt or two, but I’m also resisting that because I’m still changing stuff. I know all of this sounds super discouraging (lol), but I still think I can get it out this fall. I’m in the same place I was with Relapse back in 2014, and I was still able to get that out at the beginning of December the same year. But if you’re getting really impatient with me, feel free to let me know, haha. That will “light the fire” under me. Otherwise it’s not like I have a publisher breathing down my neck about deadlines, which for the most part I like…but then again, sometimes it’s nice to have the extra push.

That’s all for now. Until next time, here’s a picture of a unicorn.

Revenge: The Conclusion


Click here to read previous chapters.

X. Sweet Dreams

Back at Thurston, we huddle together on the Greek Quadrangle, watching our house from a safe distance. At this hour, the rest of the Quad is in sleep mode, but our house is lit up like a carnival ride, lights flashing in every room. Objects are being tossed around inside, their shadows flying across the windows. There’s even music blasting from downstairs, the walls throbbing in time with the bass.

“I didn’t know the Alphas were having a party!” says an eager male voice. One of the Sigma Iota brothers has walked up to us, a wide smile on his face, and gives us a thumbs up. “I’ll get a few of my brothers and we can—”

“We’re not having a party,” I say quickly, and his smile falls. “A few of our pledges are…rebelling.”

“Yeahhhh,” Sam chimes in, nodding. “They don’t want to do house chores.”

“Oh. Bummer.” Sighing in disappointment, he shuffles away. “Show those pledges who’s boss!” he calls back before disappearing inside the Sigma Iota house.

Julia looks back at our house. “I don’t want to go in there,” she says, biting her lip.

“We have to,” I say. “We have to put a stop to this.”

“I know she’s not the real Genie anymore,” Gwen says. “And I know we might not have any other choice, but I—I don’t want to destroy her soul. It sounds so…so final.”

“Don’t think of it like that. Genie never would have wanted to lead this kind of tormented existence, even in the afterlife. We’re not destroying her. We’re…freeing her.” I look to Sam for…I don’t know. Reassurance. A snappy remark to lighten our grim mood. But Sam just frowns at me, giving a sad shrug.

“Let’s get this over with,” she says.

As one, we inch closer to the house. Something crashes inside, and everyone shudders. The others stay behind me as I throw open the front door and march inside, trying to act confident despite my pounding heart.

“It looks like there was an earthquake!” Julia yells above the music. The entire living room is trashed. Furniture has been upended, artwork knocked down from the walls, vases smashed.  Books and stray sheets of paper are scattered on the floor, along with pieces of broken wood and glass.

“Watch your step!” I warn the others. “Turn that off,” I add to Gwen, and she obediently kills the music. Apparently ghosts like dubstep. The ensuing silence is short-lived, the house instead filling with Genie’s moans of agony.

Sam glances up at the ceiling. “Sounds like Hurricane Genie has moved upstairs.” There’s a loud scraping noise overhead, like someone is moving the furniture around, as well as more banging and the shriek of breaking glass.

“Genie!” I shout at the ceiling. “Genie, get down here!” The commotion upstairs stops. Then, Genie’s ghost whizzes downstairs, coming to a stop in front of me.

“Oh. You’re all still alive,” she says, looking disappointed. “I guess the giant wave didn’t do the trick.”

“Genie, stop this,” I demand, gesturing to the chaos around us. “This is madness. It isn’t you.”

“It is now.” As she says it, the small chandelier hanging in the living room starts swinging violently back and forth, lights flickering. The chain attaching it to the ceiling gives an ominous groan.

“This was your sorority house, too,” I remind her. “Your home away from home.”

Genie laughs wickedly. “It’ll be just a pile of bricks and dust when I’m done with it.”

“Why are you doing this?” Julia sobs, watching the swaying chandelier with wide eyes.

Genie glides over to her. “You all love this house. Well, I’m taking that away from you. Everything you love. Everything you care about. Just like everything I cared about was ripped away from me when I died.”

“We don’t care about the house,” I insist. A few of the others gape at me, but I ignore them, continuing, “It’s just a house. It’s just stuff. We care about each other. We care about you.

“Apparently not enough to help me when I needed it the most.” Genie’s tone is bitter, but the chandelier stops rocking.

I take a step closer to her. “You don’t have to destroy the house—you don’t have to hurt anyone.”

“No.” Genie recoils, floating away from me. “You just want me to stop so you can send me back to that place—”

“No one’s going to send you back to the Underworld,” I assure her. “You can stay here. With us. None of us would mind having a…friendly ghost around.” I glance at the others encouragingly. They look uncertain, but nod anyway.

“Well, if I see Casper, I’ll let him know,” Genie sneers. “But for now, you’re stuck with me. And I’m not a nice ghost. All I feel is rage. I hate everyone. Including all of you.

“You don’t mean that—” I start to say, but at that moment the chandelier comes loose, crashing to the ground. The sisters closest to it jump out of the way, shielding themselves as shards of glass come flying out. Julia cries out as her bare forearms are bombarded, small red lines breaking out where the glass bites her skin.

“Wimps,” Genie says, rolling her eyes.

Sam glares at the ghost. “This is over.” She leans into my ear and says, “Read the note Persephone gave you. Finish this.”

“Not yet,” I whisper back. “Let me try one more thing.”

“Note?” Genie repeats, overhearing us. “What note?”

“It’s nothing,” I say, shaking my head. “Genie, listen—”

“I’d love to,” she interrupts me, “but it’s time for a pop quiz!” She does a midair somersault over me and Sam, coming to land somewhere behind us. We spin around to face her. “Anybody know what happens to your body at the bottom of the ocean? Anybody? Anybody?” Before any of us can answer, Genie continues, “Well, first off, it’s cold down there. Like really fucking cold.”

As soon as she says it, the room is plunged into an arctic chill. Teeth chattering, I wrap my arms around myself in a feeble attempt to stay warm. A numbness starts in my hands and feet, spreading throughout my entire body.

“There’s also no air, so you wouldn’t be able to breathe. And the pressure is high. It would push in on you, crushing you. Then your lungs would start to collapse. Your body would shut down.”

My body tries to take its next breath, but it feels like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest. The harder I try to breathe, the harder it pushes down on me, squeezing the air from my lungs. Stars dance before my eyes, and I crumple to the floor, managing to catch myself before hitting my head again. Arms shaking, I lower myself gently, resting my head against the cold hardwood floor. I lie there freezing, suffocating, an invisible force crushing me from all sides. Genie speaks again, her voice sounding thin and very far away.

“Sweet dreams, sisters.”

Genie. Please, I want to call out, but the thought never makes it past my lips. The darkness is coming for me again. It places an icy hand on my shoulder, giving me one final tug, and I relax into it, letting it drag me away…

All at once, the darkness releases me, and a warmth rushes through my body, bringing the feeling back to my arms and legs. My eyes fly open, and I let out a gasp, breathing hard and fast to pump oxygen back into my burning lungs. Still a little lightheaded, I slowly push myself off of the floor and sit back on my heels. Around me, my sisters are also coming to, blinking in confusion as they sit up on the floor, gulping down air. I look around for Genie, catching sight of the tip of a ghostly fin before it disappears upstairs. Getting stiffly to my feet, I fight through another wave of dizziness, half-walking, half-crawling up the stairs after her.

The sound of muffled sobs reaches my ears, and I realize they’re coming from my bedroom. I crack open the door to find Genie hovering above her bed, shoulders trembling as she cries into her hands.

“Genie?” I say, pushing the door open wider. She doesn’t do anything except wail more loudly. I close the door softly behind me and walk over to sit beside her on the bed.

“I’m sorry,” Genie sniffles, dropping her hands from her face. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I just—”

“It’s okay.” I go to put a hand on her shoulder, but of course my fingers just slip right through her. Pulling away, I fold my hands in my lap instead. “We know you didn’t.”

“Do you forgive me?”

I hope she misses my hesitation before I say, “Yes. Yes, of course we do.”

“Everything hurts.” She turns away from me, dark hair falling in front of her face. “Everything is cold, and pain, and anger. I want it to stop. I just want it to stop!”

“I know.” I finger the folded up piece of parchment, still tucked safely inside my pocket. “I can make it stop…if you want me to.”

Genie steals a glance at me, dark eyes sad but hopeful. “Can you really?” I nod, and her entire being seems to relax. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I caused everyone so much pain. I wasn’t always like this. At least I think I wasn’t.”

I purse my lips together and shake my head. “You weren’t. You were nice, and smart. Funny. Brave.” Tears spring to my eyes, but I don’t bother to wipe them away. My lower lip trembles as I say, “You’re my best friend, Genie.”

“I’m sorry,” she says for what feels like the millionth time. “And I know you did your best. I know you would have saved me if you could. Did I…kill anyone?” she asks quietly, avoiding my gaze again. Although she doesn’t elaborate, I know she’s talking about the night she died. In her final days, Genie had joined forces with the bad guys and helped lead an attack on the Gamma Lambda Phi’s fall dance. Just like tonight, she created a giant wave that took out the restaurant where the formal was being held.

“No,” I whisper. “No one was hurt or killed.”

Genie laughs bitterly. “Except for me. I am sorry, though. For causing so much destruction. I lost myself at some point. Forgot who I was.”

“I’m sorry, too. I should have known that you lost your way. That you needed help.”

“It’s not your fault, Becks,” she says with a reassuring smile. She stares off into space, looking intently at something that only she can see. “I think I’m ready to go now.”

I nod, taking the note out of my pocket. As I unfold it, my tears splatter the thin, gray parchment, making some of the black ink run. “Be gone, restless one,” I read, looking between Genie and the paper. “Let your anguish cease.” Even after the first few words, Genie’s transparent form starts to fade, oblivion chipping away at her. She continues to look straight ahead, a peaceful expression coming over her face.

“Severe your chains to this life,” I continue. The poem is so short, I’m already at the last line. “Find eternal peace.”

All that’s left of Genie is her head and shiny dark hair. She turns back to me and smiles. It’s the happiest I’ve seen her since before she died. “’Bye, Becks!” she says, eyes sparkling with mischief. Crumpling the note up in my hand, I squeeze my eyes shut, another painful sob racking my body. When I open them again, Genie is gone.

“Sweet dreams,” I say to the empty room.

The End.

*****

I hope you enjoyed my short story, Revenge! I wrote it relatively quickly, but I’m planning to go back and polish it and publish it as an e-book short story or novella. Feel free to let me know your thoughts, either in the comments section, on any of my social media sites, or in some other fashion!

Happy Reading!

~S.L.

Revenge: Part Nine


Click here to read previous chapters.

IX. Queen of Darkness

At first, neither Genie, Sam nor I could control our newfound abilities very well. Once, we were sitting in the middle of the Student Union, and Genie’s skin erupted in scales. Another time, one of us—or maybe it was all three of us—accidentally set off the emergency sprinkler system in one of the academic buildings. As water nymphs, our connection to the water allows us to control it, but we hadn’t yet learned how to harness its energy in the right way. And, unlike in some fairy tales, there was no glamour or concealment charm to hide the physical changes. In those first few weeks, the transformations controlled us—appearing and vanishing at will, like secrets that refused to stay buried.

The first time I transformed completely was when I was doing laps in the university pool, training for an upcoming swim meet. Luckily, it was pretty late, and I was alone in the pool when my pale skin started to itch and bubble, and my legs, ankles and feet began to fuse together, forming a long, slick tail. I remember holding my breath and biting down hard on my tongue against the pain of melting bone and shifting muscle. When it was over, I cringed at the sight of my ugly, scaly skin and elongated tail. It wasn’t even elegant and pretty, like a mermaid’s tail—it was more like an eel’s, with forked fins extending from the end of it. I scraped my nails over the rough scales on my arm, wanting to rip them up—pick them out, one by one, if that’s what it took to find the human skin underneath.

In the distance, a door slammed, followed by determined footsteps. Heart thudding, I slipped underneath the surface of the water to hide myself, my hair billowing outward in a dark cloud around me.

Pushing out with my arms, I swam toward the bottom of the pool. Instinct took over, and I dragged my tail back and forth through the water, using it to propel myself faster and deeper, as far as I could go. I waited at the bottom for a long time, breathing through my gills, starting to feel powerful as I flexed my tail. With renewed appreciation, I studied the way the scales shimmered all over my body, like a skin-tight coat of silver armor.

The noises turned out to be a false alarm. When I cautiously peeked my head above the water later, the area around the pool was empty, and the footsteps had disappeared. But I was grateful for them because, in my moment of panic, I discovered just what my new body could do. I felt more free and powerful underwater than I ever had on land.

***

Wake up.

Her voice calls to me through the darkness, carried on a wave of consciousness rolling up from the deep, pulling me along with it. I emerge slowly, as though from a long sleep, mind steeped in fog and confusion. Everything is wet and soggy, smelling of damp earth and chilled air. I hear someone muttering hoarsely, her words garbled, and realize it’s me.

“Wake. Up!

A cold hand slaps my face. I jolt upright and almost immediately bow forward, coughing up water onto the saturated ground. After several minutes of alternately gagging and gulping down air, I recover enough to look up, bringing a hand to my raw cheek. The dark figure crouched next to me straightens up, and a pair of black, iridescent eyes meet mine.

“You’re fine,” she tells me. “Now, get up. There is work to be done. Get up!” she repeats when I stay frozen to the ground, my stomach still churning uneasily. I wipe the sleeve of my shirt across my mouth, soaking up the excess water, then carefully stand up.

“You foolish girls,” she says, eyes sparking like black opals as they sweep the park. I notice her eyes don’t have any pupils, and for some reason the realization makes me feel sick again. “You foolish, foolish girls. You let my prisoner out—let her get away!”

“We f-freed her,” Gwen says, shivering as she gets to her feet.

The woman fixes her strange eyes on Gwen. “You have no idea what you’ve done.”

Queen of Darkness, by pyrogas-artworks.deviantart.com

“Who are you?” Sam says, appearing beside me. Her short, dark blonde hair is matted to her head, her face drained of color. I can feel her trembling, as much as from fear as from being cold and wet. This woman—if you could even call her that—standing before us wears the nighttime like a cloak, her tall, slender body wrapped in darkness and gloom. Except for the long, dark braid snaking down her back and the flutter of her gauzy black dress, she’s more shadow than person—like a photographic negative of the woman she once was.

“Persephone,” I whisper before she can reply to Sam’s question. I don’t know a lot about Greek mythology, but I do remember reading a poem for a literature class once about Hades and his wife—a young woman he kidnapped and brought to the Underworld to be his queen. Although I can’t be sure that this woman is the Queen of the Underworld, there’s something regal about the way she holds herself as she moves around our group, pausing to study each of our faces.

Persephone gives a slight nod, confirming my suspicion. “You should have left it alone,” she says, gliding up to me. “We had her under control.”

“We were just trying to save our friend,” I tell her softly.

The Queen of the Underworld shakes her head. “You are the ones who need saving. That thing you let out—that is not your friend. That is not the woman you remember. Her last act on this world was one of malice. It tarnished what was left of her soul, and that is what survived beyond death. Only darkness—only evil. Nothing worth being reborn into this world for a second chance. I had just found a way to destroy it, when you let it escape.”

“You were going to destroy her,” Julia whimpers, cowering behind Gwen.

“How?” I ask, taking a few cautious steps toward Persephone. The others give a collective gasp—whether in reaction to the question or the fact that I’m walking up to her, I’m not sure.

“What are you doing?” Sam hisses behind me.

“Maybe we can make things right,” I say, keeping my eyes on the queen. “We let her out—we messed up. Now, we have a chance to fix our mistake.”

“By destroying her soul?” Gwen exclaims.

“It would still be freeing her, in a sense,” I insist. “Genie isn’t Genie anymore. We can put an end to her torment—to her suffering.”

Sam comes up to me again to whisper in my ear. “We don’t know if we can trust her,” she says, looking at Persephone. “She could be lying.”

“I don’t think she’s lying. Genie did just try to kill us.”

“Even so,” Sam says doubtfully. “There might be another way. Maybe we don’t have to destroy anything.”

“Well, we can try to reason with it—her, I guess. But if that doesn’t work…I’d rather have a backup plan.”

“Fine,” Persephone says loudly, and—although her face is rather expressionless—I know from her icy tone that she could hear everything Sam and I just said to each other. “You can take care of it. I will warn you, though, that there is nothing you can say or do that will bring your friend back. She is gone, forever. There is only one recourse.” Reaching into the sleeve of her dress, she pulls out a folded up piece of old, grayish parchment and hands it to me. I accept it and unfold it carefully, afraid it’s going to disintegrate under my fingertips. “Say those words,” Persephone says, indicating the parchment, “and the soul will be unmade.”

“I can’t read this,” I tell her, staring at the symbols scrawled across the parchment. They look somewhat familiar—like the ones in Genie’s book. As soon as I say it, the black symbols start to give off a faint glow, twisting and rearranging themselves on the parchment. My sisters gather around me, and we read the translation in silence. “This is it? This is all we have to do?” I ask her, looking up, but the queen has vanished.

“God, I wish everybody would stop doing that,” I sigh, folding up the parchment again and tucking it into my pocket.

“But where did she go?” Sam wonders, glancing up and down the park. “There’s no portal.”

“Guys…look,” Gwen says, pointing toward the river. My heart skips a beat as I follow her hand, bracing myself to see the water overflowing the bank again. But the river runs calmly, the water level back to normal.

“I don’t see anything,” I tell Gwen, squinting.

She motions to me. “Look from over here.” The others and I join her. From this new angle, it looks like a small section of the river veers off, the dark waves moving swiftly across the surface…until they disappear into thin air.

“Oh, shit,” Sam says. “Did we do that?”

“What exactly did we do?” Julia wonders, sounding nervous.

“Whatever it is, it doesn’t look good.”

“Whatever it is, we can’t worry about it right now,” I say, gulping. “We have to try to get through to Genie, and if we can’t…” I dip my hand inside my pocket, running a finger over the thin piece of parchment.

Sam turns to me. “Well, she’s clearly not here anymore. We wouldn’t be standing around, plotting her demise if she were. We have to find her first.”

“I think I know where she is,” I tell them. “I know where I would go if I were a vengeful spirit, hell-bent on destroying everyone and everything I once loved.”

Revenge: Part Eight


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VIII. Unfinished Business

“Genie!” I shout into the night, but only silence answers me, the park feeling emptier than ever.

“It didn’t work,” Julia sobs, holding herself. “She didn’t come.”

“Then what was that…thing that came out?” Gwen says, eyes darting around the park.

“I don’t think that was Genie,” Sam says, voice hoarse.

I look at her. “Who else would it be?”

Sam raises her eyebrows. “Or what else.”

“God, I’m right here!” We all jump at the sound of Genie’s frustrated voice. She hovers where the portal stood only seconds ago, the ferryman’s hand reaching right through her. This time, Genie has appeared in Nereid form, most of her body covered in silver scales, her glossy, eel-like tail undulating in the air. “Which you probably would have noticed if you all weren’t so busy yapping. Yap, yap, yap.” She puts her thumb and fingers together, opening and closing her hand in time with the words. “Blah, blah, blah. You never shut up!”

Genie’s words hit me like bits of stone, but I ignore their sting. Death hasn’t been a smooth transition for her—she’s entitled to some hostility. “Genie, you’re…you’re okay now. You’re free,” I say, walking slowly toward her. “You can move on in peace.”

Her eyes glow like hot coals, lips curving into a smile that makes me go numb. Genie laughs in a way I’ve never heard her laugh before, like a demon cackling into the night. “Yes. I am free. Thank you, sisters”—she spits the word, as though it burns like acid on her ghostly tongue—“for freeing me.”

“Now what?” Sam says, voice quivering slightly. She comes to stand beside me.

Genie tilts her head to the side, hair falling over her shoulder in a dark wave. Her wicked smile disappears, leaving a determined frown. “Now, you die.”

Sam and I both take a step back.

“What do you mean?” I ask Genie, heart pounding. “We just rescued you. You’re free to go now.”

“Not quite yet,” Genie says, taking to the air. She swims a circle around us as she continues, “I have some…unfinished business to attend to. Like punishing those who betrayed me.” Behind her, the dark waters of the Ohio River begin to churn, the current growing restless.

“But we didn’t betray you!” says Gwen.

“Oh, that’s right. Silly me.” Genie shakes her head. “Of course you didn’t. You were right there when I drowned and did everything you could to save me. Wait…no you didn’t! None of you were there. None of you!”

“Genie, we didn’t know—” someone else tries to protest, but the ghost’s shrieking voice cuts her off.

“Where. Were. You? You abandoned me in my greatest hour of need. I needed my friends. I needed my sisters!” As Genie rants, dipping and weaving in the air, the water continues to rise, spilling out onto the river bank. At the same time, the tears welling in my eyes break free, pouring down my cold cheeks.

“We know,” I tell her. “And we’re sorry. We’re so, so sorry. But we didn’t know you were in trouble. If we had, nothing would have stopped us from coming after you. You must know that.”

“Now, you will pay,” Genie hisses as though I haven’t said anything. Like a sea monster rearing its head,Image result for tsunami wave a deadly wave emerges from the river, climbing toward the sky, higher and higher. “You will die as I did. You will suffer as I did.”

“Genie, please. Don’t.” The wall of water seems to hesitate for a moment, frozen in time. Then, it surges forward.

The wave feels like a building falling on top of me as it knocks me to the ground. Water fills my ears, my nostrils, my mouth. Everything is burning—my body from the impact of the fall, my lungs as they fight for air.

Change, I tell myself, trying to imagine myself in Nereid form. Come on. You can do it.

But before the transformation can take hold, another wave rocks the park, lifting me up into its slippery embrace. It tosses me back and forth like I’m nothing more than a piece of dead seaweed, and I crack my head against the ground. A darkness rushes in to dispel the water and the pain, and I let it pull me under.

Revenge: Part Seven


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VII. With This Blood

“We should get help.” Julia’s small voice punctures the heavy silence that has settled over the room. Around us, the candles burn steadily, wax oozing down their sides like thick, hot tears, flames dancing in the dark. In the wavering light, the faces of my sisters look pale and frightened. “This is way out of our league.”

“Let’s give John Edward a call,” Sam says, rolling her eyes. “Maybe he can help.”

Julia’s brow furrows. “How could a politician help us?”

Sam shakes her head. “Edward, not Edwards. You know, the guy who talks to dead people? Never mind. Stupid joke.”

“She means our neighbors,” Gwen says, and Julia nods. “The Gamma Lambda Phis.”

Sam catches my gaze. “We don’t need help,” she insists. “Especially not from those airheads.”

“Their president and their house mother are Olympians,” Julia says defensively. “We don’t have anybody. And Farrah’s helped us before.” Julia is referring to the funeral. When Genie died, her body was stuck in Nereid form and had to be cremated. It was perhaps a cruel thing to do to her family, but they couldn’t see their daughter or sister with scales and fins—they wouldn’t understand. Farrah, the Gammas’ house mother, worked her goddess mojo and made sure everything went smoothly.

“We can’t,” I say, even though I’d like nothing more than to get their input, despite the way they’ve treated us recently. “They have a lot on their plate right now. We’re on our own.”

We fall silent again as this sinks in. “So, what do we do?” Gwen asks me.

As I scan the room, I realize everybody’s looking at me, waiting for further instruction. Gulping, I say, “Well, she told us there’s a gateway at Point Park. Let’s head over and have a look around.”

***

Point Park is located in downtown Shadesburg, at the confluence of three rivers. During the day, it’s usually bustling with dog walkers, joggers, and visitors simply admiring the boats out on the water or the fountain crowning the tip of the park. In the summer, it boasts a number of events, including the regatta, the arts festival, and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

But tonight, there aren’t any events going on, the fountain is turned off, and the park is dark and empty. Here, we’ve turned our backs to the lights and noise of downtown. Instead of techno music pouring from the open doors of a night club, we can hear the trees whispering to each other in the wind and the distant rustle of water. A gray fog creeps inland, reaching for us with ghostly fingers. My sorority sisters and I stand in a huddle, looking around the park like lost children searching for their mother.

“I wish we had an adult with us,” Gwen says.

“We are adults,” Sam says.

Gwen glares at her. “A real adult.”

I wish we had a “real” adult with us, too—someone to hold my hand and tell me what the hell I’m supposed to do. But it’s just us, and my friends have turned to me for guidance. Genie’s spirit is imprisoned in the Underworld. There’s no time to waste.

“I don’t see any gateways,” Julia says, peering up and down the park.

“Yeah. Where’s the ‘Underworld: Straight Ahead’ sign?” Sam wonders.

“There’s nothing here. Genie was wrong.” Shivering, Julia crosses her arms over her chest. “Let’s just go home. It’s freezing out here.”

Maybe you should have worn a jacket.”

Julia’s blue eyes plead with Sam to give her a break. “I didn’t think it would be this cold!”

“It’s the middle of October! In Shadesburg. It’s gonna get cold.”

“The fountain,” I say, cutting off whatever weak comeback Julia was about to throw at Sam. “The fountain is here.” I start walking toward it, the others following cautiously behind me.

“The fountain isn’t a gate,” Gwen points out.

“The term is figurative. Probably.”

When we reach it, Gwen looks the fountain up and down, her forehead pinched. “I never realized how creepy this thing is.” A few of the others nod in agreement.

Source: http://a-cornucopia-of-mythology.tumblr.com/

“It’s just because it’s nighttime,” I say, although a chill escapes down my spine as I gaze up at the fountain. I walk a slow circle around the base, running a hand along the cold, grayish white stone. A sculpture of a bearded man rowing a small boat rises up through the center of it. His creator had a keen eye for detail, from the folds in the old man’s cloak to the tiny creases across his forehead and around his eyes. The fingers of one hand are wrapped around the handle of a long paddle; the other hand is outstretched, beckoning us inside his boat. As I pass around the back of the structure, I lose sight of his solemn face, but I can still feel his eyes on me, watching me. I pause to read the inscription carved into the base: The Ferryman. D.H. 1953.

“What’s D.H.?” Julia wonders, looking at the inscription over my shoulder.

“The sculptor’s initials, I guess,” I say as I finish my perusal of the fountain.

“Whoever D.H. was,” Sam says, “he or she must have consulted some pretty authentic primary sources to make this.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if it does open a gateway or whatever to the Underworld, he must have had some sort of contact with the Olympians in order to make it. I mean, it’s super convenient that there’s an access point to another dimension just sitting in the middle of Point Park.”

“That’s an interesting theory—and you’re probably right—but we have enough mysteries to solve right now.” Sighing, I give the statue another once-over. “This must be what Genie was talking about—there’s nothing else here—but I have no idea what we’re supposed to do next.”

“We’re supposed to pay the blood toll,” Sam reminds me.

“I know that.

“His hand.” Sam places her hand in the sculpture’s outstretched palm. “I think you’re supposed to sprinkle the blood over his hand. It makes perfect sense,” she continues when I just stare at her, eyebrows raised. “He’s supposed to be Charon, the ferryman who carried the souls of the dead across the river Styx into the Underworld. What?” Sam says, noticing all of our perplexed gazes. “I’ve been brushing up on my Greek mythology. For obvious reasons.”

“Well, it’s worth a try,” I say, taking out the knife, wrapped in a hand towel from the kitchen, that I brought for the ritual. I remove the towel and toss it to Gwen, who folds it up and jams it inside her coat pocket. Then, I position my wrist directly above the stone hand, holding the knife against the pale skin of my wrist. “Stand back,” I tell the others.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sam asks me quietly.

I nod. Biting my lower lip, I swiftly draw the blade across my wrist, wincing as the skin breaks. “With this blood, we open the gates,” I recite. My stomach does somersaults as I watch the blood bubble out of the cut. Holding the wound closer to the sculpture’s palm, I tip my hand, letting it drain freely. My sisters join me for the rest of the chant: “With this blood, we pay Charon’s price. Let those who are lost, be found. Let those who have fallen, rise.” Soon, the small fissures in the stone run red, my blood pooling in the center of his hand. We repeat the words two more times, just like Genie instructed.

After the ritual is complete, we become silent, watching the sculpture expectantly. Feeling lightheaded, I retract my wrist, rubbing it with my other hand. The cut is already starting to heal over, the skin reforming as though it was never broken at all—one of the perks of being a halfling. Beside me, Sam’s shoulders fall, and she sighs in defeat. “I guess I was wrong. Nothing’s happening. Let’s just g—”

Suddenly, the stone of the hand begins to glow—at first a dull orange, in seconds turning bright red, as though it’s been dipped inside a raging fire. Sam and I throw out our arms, herding Gwen, Julia and the others back. A blinding light issues from the fountain, and I squeeze my eyes shut against it, shielding my face with my hands. The air around us shudders, bracing itself for whatever comes next—which turns out to be a sharp hiss, followed by a muffled explosion that almost knocks us to the ground. Only when everything goes still again do I dare open my eyes.

In front of us, a shimmering portal has appeared, blocking the ferryman and his boat, the edges of it curling outward like bits of silver flame. I only have a moment to digest what I’m seeing when something pale and amorphous comes shooting out of it, breezing over us before I can discern what it is. A beat later, the portal folds in on itself, crumpling until it’s nothing more than a small, silver dot, before disappearing completely.