Yay! I’m so thrilled to share this book with you all today! Our very own Natasha Lane is launching her YA adventure, “The Pariah Child and the Ever-Giving Stone”
The Pariah Child and the Ever-Giving Stone (Expected Publication Date: March 22, 2018)
When Sarah was four, she promised her mother she would be a good girl — a proper young lady in their small country town — and that she would ignore the creatures who appeared to her and whispered in her ear of things unknown. But like all creatures of myth and legend, they won’t be ignored forever.
Now thirteen, Sarah is attacked by a wolf with poisonous black fur and strange, human-looking eyes. With the help of a few unexpected friends, she manages to survive the attack but soon discovers the creatures have returned. They want Sarah to find a powerful gemstone and bring it to them in Lyrica, their magical homeworld.
Her new friends urge caution, however. There may be more monsters like the black wolf. And the creatures themselves are frightening. Can Sarah trust them? Stuck between reality and imagination, her mother’s wishes and her own desires, Sarah faces an impossible choice – break her promise or do nothing to save a world in peril.
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Sarah opened her eyes. The land moved beneath her. The sound of crumbling rocks made the girl realize she was being carried. She looked to the right, expecting pain to pierce through her as she moved but none came. She turned her face upwards to see that Alexander was the one carrying her. His arms were wrapped tightly around her, and he held her close to his chest.
The vampire’s face was hard and steady, emotionless, looking straight ahead. Blood and dirt stained him head to toe. There were a few harmless bruises and scratches here and there. The only serious wound was a slightly gaping and bleeding gash on his side. Sarah placed her hand over the cut in a failed attempt to stop the bleeding.
The vampire looked down, his dark burgundy eyes lit up at the sight of Sarah’s own dark blue eyes staring back at him. A smile spread across his face.
“Sarah!” he cried with excitement and stopped his tread.
She smiled, glad to hear his voice. “Alex!” She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed herself to him, rejoicing in his strong arms that had become so familiar. However, Sarah’s joy was cut short when she saw who was walking beside Alexander. The child stared at Serwa, whose wrists and ankles were wrapped in chains. The witch wore a scowl on her face and her eyes blazed with an indistinguishable anger.
On either side of the trio stood a line of men, weapons in their blood stained hands. Four men at the back of the line held the ends of the chains that imprisoned Serwa. Sarah gasped and opened her mouth to offer words of comfort and question, but Serwa shook her head in mute communication.
“Keep walking, traitor!” commanded a vampire at the front. Everyone picked up their tread again, not paying any attention to the awakened Sarah. The child held onto Alexander even tighter.
She whispered to him, “Who are they?”
Alexander brought his mouth down beside her ear. “The Vampires.” Those were the only words he said. Fear gripped the girl’s heart. They had been captured. The very thing she had been trying to prevent.
Sarah watched as the group continued to walk toward a tall monstrous piece of mountain. From where she was, she couldn’t be quite sure, but near the very tip top of that rock there appeared to be a cave. Without even having to ask, Sarah knew that was to be their destination, their prison.
She looked past the men to her left. What she saw nearly made her want to pass out again. They were walking on the edge of the mountain. Below them were thousands of feet of nothingness. Just one false step and gone! As if they had never even existed. Sarah took a deep breath and turned away from the bottomless abyss. Her eyes scanned the men surrounding them. Four to the back, two on each side, and one in the front. That made a total of nine enemies.
Daddy always said jumping was the wussy’s way to fight, Sarah thought, despite knowing her father’s rules did not apply in Lyrica.
The group continued their march until the cave came into clear view. Immediately Sarah had a sinking feeling in her gut. The cave was dark and moist with water dripping from the ceiling accompanied by a foul smell that Sarah couldn’t point out. It was a strong odor that went beyond the simple stink of trash. She knew her nostrils would not forget it any time soon.
As they entered the cave, Sarah felt Alexander’s muscles tense; she patted his shoulder, attempting to reassure him even though she couldn’t reassure herself.
After several minutes of darkness, there was light from an opening ahead. As they approached the light, Sarah could feel Alexander’s heart begin to race. The closer they came to the light, the faster his heartbeat. Soon strings of laughter could be heard. It sounded like a party. Curiosity nagging at her, Sarah looked up and stretched her neck out in an attempt to see around the corner. With just the right amount of force so not to hurt her, Alex pressed her head back against his chest.
“Shhhh,” he said hoarsely.
Finally, they stepped into a large lighted room decorated with tattered banners and full of people. People, Sarah knew, who were not people in the same way she was a person. As the group entered the room, the laughter died. The vampire leading them bowed while his followers crossed their left fist over their chest. Then he stepped aside, revealing Alexander to the crowd. A hush fell over them.
Staring ominously down at her and her friends from a pair of thrones were two vampires: one female, one male. They rested smugly atop their stone thrones with smirks on their faces. The woman was tall and so thin that her cheekbones protruded through her skin like the jagged rocks on the side of the mountains. She was very pale with big dark eyes that seemed to hold little to no white in them. She had thin pulled lips and long skinny skeleton fingers, and she wore a floor-length black robe with red trim. Her hair was pulled back into some intricate type of bun, held in place by long pins. Oddly beautiful and very intimidating.
Beside her was who Sarah thought to be her husband. He was as tall as the woman but had more muscle and long, brown hair pulled back into an elegant ponytail. The man was pale as well, but his eyes were a lighter brown. He was clean-shaven with a strong angular face, wide shoulders and a curious smile. He wore the same colors as his wife, but with pants and a shirt underneath his robe.
Alexander’s heart was really going now. Sarah’s hold on him hardened. They both needed the physical contact.
Around the room, which Sarah could now clearly see was built like a tower, were vampires resting in small balconies which traveled all the way to the very top. Everyone was silent.
Finally, the woman on the throne stood, her smile bright as the sun and sinister as a snake. She swooped gracefully down the set of stone steps leading from her throne to the ground. She steadily walked toward Alexander, her smile never fading.
The same foul smell that filled the room poured off the woman in waves. She reached a hand out and stroked Alexander’s face. When he didn’t respond, she consumed him in her arms, crushing Sarah between them.
“Oh, Alexander, my son, it has been too long.” Her voice was light and smooth.
“Mother,” Alexander replied.
Sarah gaped. She looked between Alexander and his parents, searching for some resemblance, for an answer. Alexander only responded by holding Sarah closer to him and positioning his arm to create a barrier between her and his mother.
The woman grinned. “Always the wise warrior. Never trust your enemy. We taught you well.”
Alexander was silent. The King crossed his legs on his throne.
“You are in a strange situation, aren’t you, my son?” His mother held his chin in hand, before circling him. Her eyes scanned him from head to toe. “A traitor to your people, you swore to never return here, yet look where you are. Now, Alexander, you know as well as anybody that right now you should be decapitated and fed to the dogs.” She stopped in front of him and clasped her hands together. “But you still stand here, breathing and alive. Aren’t you curious as to why that is?”
He said nothing. She shrugged. “Well, I’ll tell you why, Alexander. It is because through much persuasion we have won you another chance. You have been excused of your crimes.”
Still no response, not even a mumble. His mother continued with a smile and grabbed his face in her hands again. “Are you not happy, my son? We’re not going to kill you.”
“I don’t care,” he said coldly. “Dead or alive, neither matters to me.”
The smile faded. The Queen’s face twisted into a grimace, and she swung her left hand out in a command. Four guards pulled Serwa forward. The witch growled in pain as the translucent dark metal chains dug into her flesh. Alexander glanced at her, and Sarah could feel his muscles flex.
Serwa glared at the woman and the man on the throne. The Queen smirked and walked over to the witch. “What about her? Does it matter if she lives or dies?”
“Leave her alone,” he said his face stoic.
“I know how much you love witch’s blood, Alex. So sweet and full of magic.” The Queen took one long ghastly fingernail and pushed it ever so slightly into Serwa’s throat. A drop of blood pooled on the Queen’s nail. She licked it away with a snake-like flick of her tongue. Then, she grabbed the witch by her hair and shoved her to the ground.
“Serwa!” Sarah pushed from Alexander’s hold and ran over to the witch.
“Sarah,” he hissed as she left his arms.
“Are you okay?” Sarah asked.
The witch turned and looked at her. There was a bruise on her forehead with trickles of blood dripping from it.
“Stupid girl. You should have stayed with Alexander.”
“But I –” The words struggled to come out of her mouth as she realized she had placed herself at the Queen’s feet.
The woman stared down at Sarah. “Oh, I almost forgot about you,” she said, turning her sights toward the redhead.
Sarah’s heart stopped.
She turned and watched Alex’s mother, whose smile was now gone. The woman gestured for Sarah to stand. She looked at Alexander. He nodded slowly, his face full of strain. Sarah stood and faced the woman who turned to the guards. They immediately pulled Serwa and Alexander to the sides of the room so Sarah stood alone. Alexander thrust himself toward Sarah, but the men held him down as he struggled.
His mother walked around the child with a curious eye.
“Tell me, child, who are you?”
“My name is Sarafina,” Sarah said and out of habit added on, “ma’am.”
The Queen raised a brow. “So after I have captured you and your companions, brought you to my home by force, chained and hurt your friends, you still show me respect with title?”
Sarah gulped and nodded. “Yes. My parents raised me right.”
“Mmm,” the woman said and tapped her chin. “Raised right or raised weak?”
“Right, ma’am,” Sarah replied, the words clear and steady.
The woman nodded, a sly grin creeping back to her face. “Tell me, Sarafina, do you know who I am?”
She shook her head.
“I am Queen Isabella, and my husband is King William of the Alclian Clan. Now tell me why you, my son and the witch have come to my land?”
“I think you have my other friends, and I need them back,” Sarah said as she puffed out her chest.
A melodious cackle broke from the woman’s lips. The crowd of her followers took suit and laughed along with her. Finally, she said, “And who says I have whoever you are looking for?”
“Like who, child?”
“I don’t think that matters much, ma’am. I know you’ve got some of my friends, and I want them back.” Sarah was trying her hardest not to be afraid, but the woman looked down at her like a monstrous giant that could gobble her up at any moment. She had become Gretel and Queen Isabella the forest witch.
Sarah tore her gaze away away and balled her fists. She thought of Skuntz and Gan. The old elf had given Sarah the bow because she believed in her. She couldn’t let Gan down now.
The tall thin woman continued to circle Sarah, playfully twirling her fingers through the girl’s red hair. “And what if I said no? What then?”
Sarah’s heart was beating fast now, still her voice did not falter. “I’m going to get my friends.”
The Queen grinned. “So determined aren’t we? Strong willed. How adorable.” Giggles spread through the crowd, mocking Sarah. She felt like she was on the third grade playground all over again.
“Now, before we get to the friends you think I have, let me take a guess,” the queen spoke, interrupting the child’s thoughts. “Alexander probably told you a tragic story of how his brother died, their last words to one another and went on to explain how he became a wanderer? Am I correct?”
Sarah sucked in her lips and sealed her mouth. The Queen shrugged. “Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Alexander didn’t tell you all of it. He left out a few details. The very details that would make you realize how his father and myself are the real victims.” She took a breath.
“You are probably under the impression that the witch and my son are lovers, correct?”
Sarah remained mute, though a bright blush crept into her cheeks.
“Now that’s just cute.” The Queen smirked. “Well, before she had Alexander, she was the lover of his younger brother, my second son, Abel.”
Abel. Alexander had barely mentioned him, and Sarah made it a point to never bring the topic up. The vampire’s eyes always became a little glassy when he talked about his brother.
“Abel,”– Queen Isabella began to stroke the girl’s hair,– “was a good warrior. Agile, fast, strong, merciless. And then all of sudden he became…weak, sympathetic, feeling and connected to his prey. The change was subtle though obvious after time. My little boy. He would lock himself in his room for hours, go out on lone hunts. He was another person completely. So, one day, like any loving mother would do, I ordered his older brother, Alexander, to follow him.”
“Stop,” Alexander whispered, still in the clutches of the vampire guards. “Don’t tell her.”
“But why not, my son?” said King William speaking for the first time, his voice deep and thick. “Isn’t honesty one of your new beliefs? If you value your flame haired friend here so much, tell her the truth.”
“Father,” Alexander breathed heavily, “Do not mock me.”
In one moment the King was by Alexander with his hand around his neck. “No, do not mock me, boy!” The words came from his lips like acid. The king tossed him back and Alexander’s head hit the stonewall. His eyes became unfocused and unsteady. They glazed over, and he stared at his father with nothing in his gaze.
Sarah cried out and ran toward Alexander, her arms outstretched. Before she could reach him, a guard had snatched her up. He held her arms pinned behind her back.
Sarah gasped in pain as his grip tightened, stretching her muscles too far. The guard smirked.
“Now, my child,” the Queen grinned at the redhead, “Let me finish my story. You are a good little girl, aren’t you? If not, I may have to teach you some manners.” She waved her finger at Sarah.
“No,” Sarah snapped. “Alex is hurt. He’s going to die.”
Queen Isabella rolled her eyes. “So dramatic. Listen, or you’ll end just like him.” Again her voice had become stern and harsh.
“He’s your son!” the girl screamed. “How can you –”
“Sarah,” Serwa’s voice cut through her tantrum. She pronounced each word while widening her eyes at the girl. “Listen to her. Alexander will be fine.”
“B–” Sarah began.
“I said,” the witch’s eyes flamed their golden brown, “listen.”
The Queen cleared her throat. “As I was saying, Alexander followed his brother only to discover that our little Abel had a love! A love named Serwa, who had not one single drop of vampire in her. He had fallen in love with his meal. Apparently, he found her on one of our family hunts, and for whatever reason, he did not kill her. When Alexander saw them together, he immediately came back and reported to me. My son was planning to elope with the witch. I couldn’t believe it, so I arranged for her to be captured as the prey for one of Abel’s classes. He did exactly the opposite of what I thought he would do. When it came his time to kill, and she was presented to him, he couldn’t do it. Do you know what he did instead?”
Sarah didn’t answer. She watched Alexander from her peripheral vision. His eyes were still vacant.
“He saved her. He saved her like she was one of our own. So, of course, he was punished then he died in our last clan war. I would say he died like a true vampire, but no true vampire would fall in love with his dinner. Soon after, Alexander fell into a depression over his brother’s death. He began to show the same symptoms as Abel. Lone hunts, isolation, very quiet, you know. And then he just left, gone without a word, only a single-page letter for his mother to cry over. Now do you see?”
Sarah still watched Alex. She wiggled her fingers and rocked on her toes, anxious to be by his side.
“I said do you see, child?” The Queen moved in front of her.
Sarah snapped her eyes away from Alex and gazed up. “See what?”
The Queen frowned. “How I am the victim. Because of this vile wench, I lost two sons. My clan, lost two princes and two future kings. My husband and I grieved for years. And now the only son I have is back, yet he won’t even greet me with one sliver of love. I am the true victim here, don’t you see?” She moved down close by Sarah’s face waiting for a reply, nodding slightly to herself and eyes wide in expectation.
“Actually, if you think about it Alexander is the reason Abel is dead,” the King spoke to Sarah, though he did not look at her. “If he had never told on his brother, Abel would have run off with the witch and avoided both the punishment that weakened him and the war that killed him. Turns out it was the same day he planned to run away with her. However, we all, especially Alex, forced him to fight.”
“Yes,” the Queen nodded. “Do you see? Do you understand, child?”
Sarah forced down the ball in her throat. She hated lying; her parents hadn’t raised her to make it a habit. Still, beyond all that, her parents had raised her to be loyal. She wouldn’t betray Alex.
She took what she thought would be her last breath.
All signs of playfulness fell from the Queen’s face. She placed a hand on Sarah’s shoulder and squeezed. Her eyes grew very dark, and her skin seemed to crawl.
“Well, then, I guess there’s no point in keeping you alive.” The Queen released the girl’s shoulder and raised her other hand, revealing nails that had grown several inches long. Her hand came down fast.
Sarah closed her eyes and felt a chill travel up her spine followed by a strange feeling of relief.
“Look at her Sarah. Do not be afraid to look,” the mist creature’s voice came to her again. Sarah opened her eyes. And just like that the Queen’s attack came to an abrupt halt.
“Your eyes have changed.” She stared at the child for a moment and then pulled her hand to her side.
“I thought without the stone you held no power. How does it live within you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sarah said.
“Perhaps, the story is true… You may be of some use to us.” The Queen turned to her guards and nodded at Alexander and Serwa. “Take them away.”
“No,” Sarah shouted and moved toward Alexander. He remained limp with his eyes clouded over. The guards pointed their weapons at Sarah. She ignored them and moved Alexander’s head onto her lap. Blood ran and stained her skirt. She pushed the hair from the back of his skull, but there was no wound for the blood to flow from. As she reached down, she saw that her hands, too, were covered in lines of blood. So were her arms and legs. She looked up at the guards, hoping maybe one of them could explain where the blood came from.
They only smiled at her cynically. She turned to the Queen who was already walking over to Sarah with a mirror in hand.
The woman bent down beside Sarah and frowned. “Oh, my, dear what did you think was falling from the tunnel ceiling?”
“W-what?” Sarah managed to say.
Queen Isabella shook her head. “Sometimes we like to use our meals as decorations.” She showed Sarah her own reflection.
In the mirror was a girl painted from head to toe with blood that was not her own or Alexander’s. Sarah reached one hand out to feel the glass, to make sure it was real and not some sort of illusion. The glass was solid; the girl’s eyes grew wide in the realization. An evil cackle broke from the Queen’s lips in unison with Sarah’s scream.
About the Author
Natasha D. Lane is a friend of most things caffeinated, a lover of books, and a writing warrior to her core. As a big believer in the idea that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” she graduated from Juniata College in 2015 with hopes of becoming a journalist. While she still holds on to that dream, after spending some time in the corporate world and then completing a year of service, she decided it was time to return to publishing. Her first fantasy novel “The Pariah Child & the Ever-Giving Stone” is one of several works she plans on completing. If there were a single piece of advice Natasha could give to young writers, it’d be this: Write your way through life.