A novella to The Stone Legacy Series
To follow The Stone Guardian
Dropped in Moscow with her friends on an impossible mission against underworld forces, Tara is left to her feelings of overwhelming inadequacy. Her boyfriend is a healer, her best friend is “the Guardian,” and everyone else is a powerhouse of awesome strengths. The only thing she has been able to contribute are her memories, which has left her with nightmares of her time spent at the mercy of the evil Sarian–who everyone has gone to fight.
Alone with her emotions, Tara finds herself falling into a city of depravity and corruption. And amidst all this evil is a young man with an agenda of his own, who leads her down a road that will either prove she is a hero at heart, or drag her into a world she’s always feared.
He wants revenge, she wants redemption. And in an underground rings of missing girls and bloody sacrifices, only the fearless can survive…
Strolling through the streets, Tara watched the locals browse the produce market in the food district. The first time she visited this area, her and Peter were searching for Contessa. The red-haired temptress lived just a block away, but if Tara never saw that woman again, it would be too soon.
Mounds of colorful fruits sat piled on wooden carts. Market workers weighed, priced, and handed over the merchandise before waving goodbye.
Tara wished she could be one of those people. Anyone. A young woman with a scarf covering her hair hovered her nose over a peach, a warm smile spread across her lips while she counted several into a bag. She would be fine. The woman looked so peaceful. Why couldn’t Tara just snap her fingers and be the woman with the scarf? Have a completely different life.
The smell of cigarettes pulled her out of her daydream. Tara coughed and waved her hand in front of her face. “You know that habit will kill you.”
Malachi grinned. “I highly doubt that.”
She narrowed her eyes. “And you really have to stop just appearing out of nowhere. You’re like a freaking phantom.”
His grin widened. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” He flicked the ash from his cigarette and took another drag. “So, are you better today?”
She laced her fingers in front of her. “I guess I owe you a thank you, don’t I?”
“Well…” A nervous itch ate at her arm. She scratched it, and glanced at him. “Thanks.” He stared into the crowds of people while he took another drag.
It was time to get to the bottom of this. “Who are you, Malachi?”
He glanced at her. “In what way are you asking?”
“Is there more than one way?”
She examined the lack of black under his eyes. “You toned down the makeup today.”
He flicked the ashes from his cigarette. “It’s not makeup.”
“Really? So all the black around your eyes is…” She shrugged just one shoulder and waited for him to respond.
“A curse,” she said, more as a statement than a question. He stepped forward, his gaze locked with hers. In the light of midday, she could see him more clearly. The black shadows were hardly noticeable. But when she stared more closely, it didn’t seem like makeup at all. The darkness was buried deep in his skin like tiny capillaries. Tara stepped away. Maybe she should hear him out. “What kind of curse?”
Malachi gestured to the fruits stacked on the cart beside them. “Did you come here to buy something?”
She glanced at the pears, and then gripped her stomach. “I’m not hungry.” But the truth was she’d give anything to be able to eat one of those pears. Just a bite.
He nodded. “Yeah, me either. Not anymore.”
Her eyes grew wide. There was something really, really wrong with this guy. What he did to protect her that night was certainly not normal. But she still had no idea why Mr. Green’s men went after her. If she wanted to find out, she’d have to stick around this time. “What did those guys want?”
“Let’s walk.” Tara followed when he turned and strolled down the sidewalk. She didn’t have much choice if she wanted to know why she was suddenly a target.
He hooked his thumbs in the front pockets of his pants and cast his gaze to the cobblestone walkway. “That drug Andrei gave you is called Drop5. It’s new, from some dealer in Japan.”
“And how do you know Mr. Green?”
“I used to work for him. The drug is supposed to make the collection of offerings easier.”
She swallowed. “What do you mean offerings?”
He glanced over his shoulder, and slowed his pace. “Those guys don’t just traffic drugs,” he said in a more hushed voice. “It took me a while to find you. You’re here with the guardian, right?”
Tara nodded. “What do you want with Ashley?”
He suddenly spoke with more urgency. “Nothing. But something is happening that she’s not aware of, and if we don’t stop it, Sarian will have all the power he needs to not only control the book, but overthrow the underworld, and then the middleworld. Nobody will be able to stop him. Not even your little team.”
“How do you know about all of this? I thought only Riyata knew about Sarian and the underworld.” Her lips parted as she stared at him. “Wait. Are you Riyata?”
“Unfortunately, no.” The lines in his mouth deepened with a frown. “Maybe if I were, I could have done something.”
He glanced up at her and rubbed the back of his neck. “Nothing. Nevermind. The point is, Sarian is working hard to get enough power to make sure nobody is able to take the throne from him once he has it. But he wants something else—something more. The more human sacrifices that are made in his name, the more power he’ll have to take whatever he wants—including your friend.”
“But I don’t get how all of this works together. Why is he using drugs?”
They turned a corner and continued into the shopping district of the city. Fruit carts and the scent of earthy spices were replaced with windows of boutiques selling clothes and purses.
“Sarian doesn’t care how he gets what he wants, and even though the king would tear him apart if he knew, Sarian has resorted to using humans to do his dirty work. He promised to give them certain powers once he is strong enough to overthrow the king. Meanwhile, the drug is used to make it easier to handle the girls until it’s their time. And the guys have their fun with the girls meanwhile.”
Tara’s chest jumped. “What?”
“Nothing’s off limits. The girls are just toys for them until—” He glanced up at her. “After five hours of high, it makes you crash, and unless you’re lucky enough to have someone around to protect you, they collect. Mr. Green is the one in charge of this district, but he’s not the highest ranking.”
“So if you weren’t there that night…”
“You’d be gone.”
She rubbed her face, her cheeks clammy and cold to the touch. With Ashley still on her rescue mission, and she and Peter on the rocks, she would have to go to Renato for help. Until Ashley returned, he would know what to do. They would figure it out together. “I need to get back to the hotel.”
He stopped and pushed his palms on either side of her, caging her against a brick wall. Tara pressed her hands against his chest to keep him at a distance. “You can’t leave. I have unfinished business.”
“W-What do you mean?”
He slowly dropped his hands to his sides. “You owe me a favor, and payoff starts now.”