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    Six of One

    Blackwing (Book One): Prologue

    Ragged moans jolted her awake. 

     

    Kathryn Broch opened her eyes in the dark.  Had she really heard that or simply dreamt it?  She’d been deeply asleep.  The clock on the night table read 3:12am.  Grandma Ginny told her the spirits moved freely at this wee hour, when the veil was thin along the ley lines under Mount Iolite.  She’d called it the devil’s hour and told Kathryn to take special care; things were not as they seemed during that time.    

     

    She listened, but all was quiet in their cabin.  Maybe she hadn’t heard anything after all.  Kathryn settled back down and closed her eyes.

     

    Loud and supplicating, the moans rang out again, through the wall between her bedroom and her little brother’s next door.  It was Kellan for sure, his voice gravelly from sleep.  But the quality of the sound had a yearning to it that she’d heard all too often since he’d reached puberty.  Kathryn was instantly angry at being awakened by his selfishness.  He was about to get a large piece of his big sister’s mind.

     

    Throwing back the covers, she stomped out of bed in her flannel nightgown and bare feet.  She yanked open her door then quickly listened for their father’s snoring down the hall in the master bedroom.  Kellan’s moaning hadn’t yet woken him, but it was only a matter of time.  She barged into her brother’s room at full boil.

     

    Kathryn’s tirade stopped in her throat.  A monster hovered over Kellan’s bed; a glowing green hag in a flowing dress of shredded black rags, its tentacles of filthy gray hair waving in the air.  It rolled its bulging, bloodshot eyes in her direction.  Kellan floated above the bed, moaning but clearly still asleep.  His pajama bottoms were pushed down to his knees, his eager young cock suckled between the hag’s shriveled lips.  Those terrible eyes glinted with chilling delight.

     

    Kathryn knew this was a spirit—one Grandma Ginny would have called a succubus.  It was old and strong and fed on the energy of human life.  Since Kellan had matured into his vessel’s strength, he’d drawn all sorts of strange entities to him, all frightfully interested in his glowing light.  Some wanted to feel its warmth; some wanted to slip inside him and wallow in it.  This one seemed intent on consuming it.

     

    Grandma told her that all these beings would fear Kathryn.  An outcaster had but one purpose: to draw out any spirit that got inside her vessel and send it on to another dimension.  This was essentially death to non-human spirits and they wanted no part of it—or her.  Yet Kellan’s light was so enticing, many would risk her fury to touch it.  Kathryn had been born an outcaster and knew the fundamentals of sending a spirit on, but at thirteen she had yet to attempt it.

     

    The hag glowered as Kathryn’s colors became clear to it.  Without taking its mouth from Kellan’s stiff member, it spoke inside Kathryn’s head.

     

    “Weakling.  No warrior yet.  You can’t touch me.”

     

    Kathryn heard her own voice inside her mind, deep and guttural; threatening.  “But I can get rid of you.  GO!”  She felt heat in the center of her belly, growing and gathering strength.  She shouted in her mind again for the hag to release her brother and that time, her silent voice seemed to have substance and weight.  The hag flinched in pain.

     

    It hissed at her hatefully then dropped Kellan onto the bed.  The hag turned to face Kathryn standing in the doorway.  There was a jagged scar marked deep into its left cheek in the shape of a crooked ‘W’; an image young Kathryn would never forget.  Once again, the monster spoke like a cacophony of clattering metal in her mind. 

     

    “Pissant.  Die.”  It extended its twisted hands like claws and flew at her.  “DIE!”

     

    Kathryn raised her hands in front of her face like a shield, just like Grandma Ginny had taught her.  Again, she commanded the hag to go.  And a second later, it vanished.

     

    She couldn’t believe it.  Kathryn stood for a stunned moment scanning the room; the hag had indeed disappeared.  But was it still there?  She didn’t yet have enough experience to tell for sure.  Kathryn crawled across the bed to get to her brother, lying there in a fitful sleep.

     

    “Kellan, can you hear me?”  She reached for the blankets to cover him as his privates were still exposed.  “Wake up.”  Kathryn watched his face closely, giving his thin shoulder a shake.

     

    He groaned and shifted on the bed, then opened his honey-brown eyes.  When he saw her, he sat bolt upright and threw his arms around her neck.  He began to cry—something he hadn’t done since Grandma Ginny’s funeral three years earlier. 

     

    Alarmed, Kathryn held him and spoke in his ear.  “Are you all right?”

     

    “I had a nightmare,” he said in a hitching voice.  “There was . . . a monster.”

     

    “Shh.”  She tried to soothe him but knew he could feel her still shaking with adrenalin.  “I made the monster go away.”

     

    An explosive gust of wind blew open the window next to Kellan’s bed.  The hag lunged toward the children, arms outstretched like she intended to scoop them up.  Kellan screamed into his sister’s shoulder.  Kathryn had no time to think, she could only react from her gut.  She threw up her hands and hollered for the hag to go.  There was thunderous noise, the bed rattled on the wooden floor, and then Kathryn was running down the road behind the general store.  How she got that far from the cabin in only a split second, she did not know.

     

    She felt the cold of the late mountain night and sharp little stones in the dusty road under her bare feet.  The hag was in flight in front of her, only a few feet ahead, barreling through the air toward a towering old-growth pine tree.  Kathryn had a plan—the only plan she had access to at that point in her studies.  She would bind this monster to that tree.

     

    “You are bound!” she called out.  The hag, still in fast flight, glared back at her and showed its broken teeth.  “You are bound!”  Kathryn gained ground and ran up behind the hag, close enough to smell the mildewed stench of its raggedy clothes.  “You are bound!”  She pushed her energy through her fingers, picturing the monster being consumed by the huge tree. 

    Kathryn closed her eyes, panting from exertion and fear.  The night was crowded with animals, crickets and birds, conferring with each other about this sudden ruckus.  She looked up at the tree.

     

    The hag’s limbs poked from the gnarled brown trunk, its hideous face half melted into the bark.  The one eye that was still exposed bulged and seethed at the young girl, standing strong on the dusty road at the tree’s roots.  Succubus and outcaster stared each other down.

     

    Under her breath and with every last ounce of conviction she possessed, Kathryn said, “You are bound.”

     

    The massive old tree swallowed the hag whole where it would remain for the rest of time.