Today I’m excited to share an excerpt from Shadow Blues, the first novelette in The Darkling Chronicles from Tricia Zoeller.
At the age of four, Patrick Benjamin Solomon becomes Anka Rehmling’s human charge. By eight, he can SEE her. At thirteen, he breaks her heart, and by eighteen, she finds herself fighting for his life.
As a darkling shadowcaster, Anka casts shadows in the human world, harnessing some of the earth’s UV light to bring back to Montenai—a world full of darklings, nymphs, satyrs, phantoms, and dragon lords. Her job is crucial to preserving the vitality and balance in her town of Shadowland. However, Anka has trouble following the strict rules set by the Shadowland Council, a ruling body comprised of three dragon lords.
The lords’ decree states all shadowcasters will abide by the rules or face the penalty of harsh punishment, banishment, or death. Torn between her world and his, Anka must choose to defy the Council or turn her back on love.
Nana stopped the cart by the side of the Wishing Tree. A nonshadowcaster stood as a door attendant in front of the double doors. He wore a uniform of dark pants, boots, and a red jacket with the dragon lords’ symbol on the pocket.
The same symbol hung above the two doors. The gold shield showed a dragon looking down at his shadow. Pops said it reminded us that we were a team, dragon lords and shadowcasters. We’d been a team for a hundred years.
The attendant opened the doors to the Wishing Tree, and Bianca gasped as a black cloud of bats launched into the air from the upper branches, making a chorus of chirpy squeaks. She leaned against the darkling, as if she wanted him to save her. He held Bianca’s shoulder to steady her.
His face changed then. “This one is strong.”
Nana nodded to him before shooing us through the doorway.
Bianca slipped her sweaty hand into mine and squeezed. Nana walked behind us, a hand at each of our backs.
My shoes pinched my toes. A smell I remembered from when I was four hit me suddenly. The dragon lords smelled like…cedar, pine, cinnamon, burnt apple cider, and smoke.
It was hard to see, at first. Fancy lights hung on the walls, but still it was so much darker than the bright, sunny day outside.
We heard deep voices coming closer. Then eyes glowed in the air, gold, blue, and green from the dark tunnel below. Nana clutched the back of our dresses. I didn’t dare tell her she’d pinched some of my skin.
Lord Akton appeared before us. “I told you. Not in the Rotunda. We’ll talk to them in the Council Room.”
Bianca and I stood with our heads tilted back and our mouths wide open. I felt like screaming.
“Coooool,” Bianca said. Then, “Yipe.” I was pretty sure Nana had pinched her.
One golden eye stared at us. Where there should have been another eye, Lord Akton instead had several wrinkled lines through darkling skin mixed with red scales.
My heart beat so fast, I thought I might just die.
“Hello, Rehmlings. Thank you for bringing them here, Violet.”
“Of course, Lord Akton.”
Inside the Council Room, they told us to sit at a large marble table. I remembered tracing the squiggles in the marble of the Rotunda floor when I was four. Now, I did not want to touch the marble. I wanted to disappear from the room, play invisible girl.
Nana sat next to the youngest dragon lord across from Bianca and me. We faced the doorway where Lord Akton stood on one side and Leasith on the other. Were they guarding the door?
Bianca kept staring at the red-scaled lord across the room. Nana kept whispering for her to stop. I couldn’t take my eyes off Lord Bulosk. His blue scales were the prettiest color I’d ever seen. I’d never seen that kind of blue in my life.
“Hello, little shadowcasters. I’m Bulosk. I’ll be your tour guide for today.”
Bianca giggled. Nana hushed her.
“What? He’s funny,” Bianca said.
Lord Akton growled. It vibrated my chair and tickled my whole body. Lord Bulosk rolled his green eyes up into his head, like, “don’t mind my grumpy brother.”
My breathing got faster, and, suddenly, I hiccupped loudly. Nana’s lips mashed together, and she gave me her mean look.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
The Lord opened a leather case and pulled out some paper. He set a piece in front of Nana, Bianca, and me. “You are all aware of shadowcaster rules. I’m placing them in front of you in a contractual form. This is standard procedure when a human discovers you as an Imaginary Friend. Please review.”
I followed along as he read aloud. I understood most of the words:
By Decree of the Shadowland Council: Lords Akton, Leasith, & Bulosk
Each shadowcaster under the dominion of the Council will abide by the following rules as they pertain to the human world or face the penalty of harsh punishment, banishment, or death.
1. Always cast true to form.
2. Never talk to the human.
3. Never give the human your name.
4. Never touch the human other than to use him/her as a portal.
Exceptions and Addendums as it pertains to Imaginary Friendships
1. If a human child shall see you as an imaginary friend, you may play with him/her, but never converse. Please do not encourage the child. Touching is allowed as it pertains to playing games, but keep affection to a minimum.
2. Imaginary friendship shall be terminated by the age of thirteen. This is the maximum age and is extended as a courtesy to shadowcasters who may have charges who have special needs or are terminally ill. There are no exceptions to this age limit.
When he finished, he tapped a claw on the paper. He hadn’t had a claw out before. “Now, we just need your blood bond there on the “X” then my handsome brother will give you a short history lesson and you can be on your way.”
I watched Nana’s mouth fall into a frown, and her eyebrows drew together. She pushed back from the table and turned on the biggest lord. “Standard procedure, you say? I’ve never heard of this.”
Lord Akton left the wall. “I assure you, it is required of certain shadowcasters, if they’ve broken rules.”
“She is just a baby.”
“Well, if you don’t have them sign the decree, we can think of other ways for them to make amends for little Anka’s mistakes.”
Nana gasped. “Don’t work your hocus-pocus on me.” She spun around and sat back down at the table. She sat with her body so rigid, I thought she’d get a spasm. Her blond hair flowed in the air a bit. It only did that when she was angry.
“It will be okay.” Lord Bulosk smiled at Nana then us. He stood up and went to Bianca’s side. Suddenly, I saw a flash of all the claws on his right hand.