Authors: Shannon A. Thompson
Tags: #Young Adult, #Urban, #Fantasy, #Paranormal, #(v5), #Teen, #Science Fiction
By: Shannon A. Thompson
Book 1 in The Timely Death Trilogy
THIS book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Minutes Before Sunset
Copyright ©2015 Shannon A. Thompson
All rights reserved.
Cover Design by: Marya Heiman
Typography by: Courtney Nuckels
Editing by: Kelly Risser
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Dedicated to Kristine Andersen and Megan Paustian, for the timeless memories and unfailing support.
He hadn’t smiled since Mom died. I wasn’t allowed to either. In fact, our whole community didn’t smile. At six years old, I didn’t understand, because I couldn’t, but I would later. I knew that much.
It was Independence Day, and I stood with my family on Willow Tree Mountain. They called it that, but, in reality, it was Willow Tree Hill, and the town denied that reality. I didn’t care that a famous Civil War battle took place on it. It was a hill, and the only exciting part was the tree.
Wrapping my arm around a loop in the trunk, I peered over the valley. Beneath the fireworks, the entire town was celebrating, dancing, drinking, and even odder, smiling. I wanted to smile.
“They’re just bursts of useless fire, Eric.” My father folded his arms and glared at the scene. “Nothing more.”
I kicked my tennis shoes against the torn-up dirt and dried grass, not able to look at my father like a son should’ve been able to. The fire didn’t look useless. Fireworks, all red and blue, illuminated the darkening sky, and deafening bangs echoed through the valley. The fire seemed powerful—something that hissed from the ground and exploded into the air, defying gravity. They were magnificent.
“You have more important things to worry about than blasts of colored sparks,” he said as shadows crawled over his legs. The darkness whirled around his body, and his glare dissipated with his form. He was gone, back in our shelter, and I was alone. Kind of.
“Eric.” Camille, a girl three years older than me, grasped my hand. Her white hair glittered beneath the light, and she spread her fingers into the dark. “We have to go.”
I moved my foot closer to the edge of the hill. I wanted to ride the wind down to the crowd. I wanted to celebrate and dance. I wanted to throw my arms in the air and listen to the exploding fireworks. I wanted to run around in endless circles until I fell down from exhaustion. I wanted to enjoy everything.
But that couldn’t happen. It was impossible.
Instead, I turned to her and nodded. She was my guard, for life, and I had to listen to her, even if I wasn’t listening to my father. “Let’s go,” I said, and she knelt down to meet my eyes.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I lied, and her eyes searched mine before she stood up. Without another word, her powers flowed through me, and the dark engulfed us, leaving the fireworks and the happiness behind.
“Camille,” I called, grumbling as I moved through the lifeless forest, leaves crumbling under the pressure of my feet. I hated it when she played stupid games.
It was cold, really cold, and I was wandering through the woods, trying to find my
guard. Despite being twenty-one, Camille hadn’t changed from the day she was assigned to me. She loved annoying me.
It didn’t matter that she was my guard. We were supposed to be together whenever possible. However, after twelve years, Camille was annoyed with responsibility. If she were assigned to an average shade, she’d be free during daylight, the only time we were allowed to be human, but she wasn’t. She was assigned to the first descendant.
I gained my powers at my naming, at the age of thirteen. The next four years passed quickly, even though everything had changed.
My father married a naïve woman. The Dark was our life, yet she didn’t even know what the Dark was. Mindy was oblivious that she’d married a practical king, and she never would know. It was a secret for a reason. We protected the humans from evil, because they weren’t capable of determining evil for themselves.
The Light was malicious, and it always had been. Forget archetypes. They were completely wrong, and they always would be.
In our history, the Light and Dark accepted one another until the elders decided separating our energies was the smart thing to do.
We turned on one another and the power was taken away, only to return when the true descendants were born. Thousands of years later, that was exactly what was happening, and, lucky me, I was one of them.
Our prophecy was in the making, and the only thing the Light had to do to gain power was prevent the rest from happening. It seemed simple enough until everyone realized only the descendants held the power. In turn, only they could fight the battle, and killing one of them would define who won.
No worries. No pressure at all. Shaking my head, I stomped through the only forest in our small Midwest town. I only had to save my kind or die myself. At least I was aware.
I was raised with three simple rules:
1. Fight defensively and offensively.
2. Under no circumstances is it safe to reveal your identity. (Unless it was Urte, Pierce, Camille, or anyone else the elders deemed an exception.)
The last rule was my favorite, because of the dishonesty. Win didn’t mean win. It meant murder. It meant I had to kill the second descendant, the power of the Light, and I had no choice. I would get blood on my hands.
Brushing my hand along the shivering trees, my gaze darted around the darkening forest. I rarely had time to leave our underground shelter and use my powers, and I didn’t feel like wasting my night chasing Camille around in the dark.
I threw my senses out around me. The forest reeked of evergreen and pine. I could feel every prickly leaf and see every shadow. From stump to stump, I searched the darkness for Camille’s body heat. No one could avoid my radar.
I grinned as I locked onto a girl by the river. Sprinting through the thicket, I pushed past scraping branches and leafless oak trees. As I neared the forest’s opening, my body sank into the shadows and my skin tingled as it morphed into the chilly air. It was the greatest feeling—other than flying, of course—and I relished in the moment. The blackness of night flowed with me as I floated along the trees, the leaves, or snow. I was enveloped in silk.
I only solidified when I reached the forest’s edge. Just as I thought, a girl stood on the river’s guardrail, but she wasn’t Camille.
She didn’t have Camille’s white hair or mischievous dark eyes. In fact, this girl didn’t even look Camille’s age. She was my age, and she had the dark hair, bright eyes, and pale complexion that our sect had.
She was undoubtedly a shade, but I didn’t know her.
My fingers gripped my jacket as I moved backward, trying to conceal myself in the darkness, but the girl spun around and stared at me. She was perfectly still when her purple eyes met mine. She didn’t budge. Instead, she pointed at me, and the dark magnetically trailed her fingertips.
“Who—” She stepped off the railing, and her eyes widened. “Who are you?”
I put my hands in front of me and stepped out of the forest. This must be one of Camille’s illusion jokes.
“Who are you?” she asked again, backing up against the guardrail.
I didn’t respond. Instead, I flew through the shadows and reappeared in front of her. My body heat escaped me, and she froze, completely petrified by my closeness. I laid my hand on her cheek, expecting her to disappear like any of Camille’s illusions, but she didn’t. She was real, and we were centimeters apart, teetering over the edge of the river.
She didn’t move. I had the ability to hypnotize any shade, but I hadn’t used my power. She was shaking—shivering—beneath my touch, and her heartbeat thundered her energy through my veins.
She was powerful, yet fear suffocated every bit of her being.
A shout split the air, and I sensed a body rushing through the forest. Camille was coming for me. “Where are you?”
Reflexively, I released the girl and turned to the forest, waiting for Camille to appear.
I said, sending her a telepathic message. Immediately, she appeared in a beam of light.
Her dark eyes were ablaze as she picked sticks and dried leaves from her glittering hair. “What the hell, Shoman? At least tell me where you are going if you want to be alone.”
“I was with—” I closed my mouth as I waved my hand toward the nameless girl, but the ground where she once stood was empty. Nothing. No marks or anything signifying her leave. She was gone.
No shade had ever been able to stay off my radar, yet I hadn’t felt her leave. It was as if she had never been there.
“With who?” Camille asked, trudging up to me.
“Shh.” I held up my hand and threw my senses out.
Camille tensed, and her black eyes darted around. “What are you looking for?”
“Be quiet,” I said, spinning in tight circles. My senses were useless. Nothing was there. Not even a bat or a plane. I was being blocked.
I grabbed my guard’s boney shoulders. “Camille, who else was out here tonight?”
“No one. Everyone is at the Naming,” she said, rolling her eyes. “If you haven’t forgotten, you’re supposed to be there.”
“I don’t care,” I said, ignoring the ceremony of the last harvest. It was hard to forget. A thick layer of frost coated the dying grass, and I knew that the first layer had fallen yesterday morning. The Naming always followed. As the first descendant, the Dark expected my attendance, so I abided. My father hadn’t shown up in years, and I was beginning to forget the point.
Camille touched my arm. “Is something wrong, Shoman?” she asked, her eyes widening. “Was someone here?”
“No,” I lied, patting her palm. “Let’s go,” I said as I dissolved into a shadow.
The elders created the shelter after my mother died. I was five years old when my father bought Hayworth Park and closed it to the public. In six months, it was converted into an underground safe house, and, naturally, the forest protected it. At first, the shelter was made up of two offices, a nursing room, and one training room. Since then, it had grown remarkably, and I couldn’t even guess where it ended.
Without a word, I walked through the dim hallways, avoiding the thirteen-year-olds as they ran around in their Naming excitement. Blue, white, and green sparkles littered the floor. Boys snapped their fingers, testing out their powers before they settled, while girls modeled the silver crowns they received. It was exhausting.
“Shoman.” I felt a small tug on my shirt as I met eyes with a young boy. He reflected the average shade: dark hair, light eyes, and pale skin. “I passed.”
I patted his head. “What’s your Dark name?”
“Brenthan,” he said, grinning behind his long bangs. “You have to teach me everything you know.”
I chuckled and knelt down. “It takes time, Brenthan.”
An older boy ran up to us, and he glared at his younger brother. Both of the boys shared dark hair and green eyes, and they acted in the same manner. “The elders are waiting for you,” he said, pushing Brenthan toward the short hallway behind us.
Brenthan already received his basic powers, but he still needed to vow to the Dark. Only then would he learn about the prophecy. He would learn who I was, who my family was, and what would come in the near future. For them, it was an exciting promise for a magnificent future. For me, it was a death sentence.
“I’ll be back,” Brenthan said, his ceremony robe dragging behind him as he bolted away.
Pierce turned to me and bowed his head. We were the same age. We went through the Naming together, and his father, Urte, was my father’s guard. Pierce’s family supported mine after my mother’s death and my accident two years ago. He was my best friend—my only friend outside the Dark—yet he was expected to bow to me. I was the first descendent, and he was merely a shade.
“Those kids, eh?” Pierce grinned. “They get so excited for something that seems so natural now.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” I said, watching supportive parents follow their children around. My father hadn’t shown up to mine.
“I only hope Brenthan realizes this isn’t all fun and games,” Pierce said, his eyes focused on the elders’ door. “I don’t want him to make my mistakes.”
“We all do, and we all get through it. Controlling power is a learning process,” I said, sighing. “Don’t worry about Brenthan. He’s a smart kid.”
With a trace of a smile, Pierce agreed. “Wanna get out of here? I can’t stand it any longer.”
My insides tingled at the idea of flying through the cold night air. Images of swerving between trees and clouds engulfed me. Our little town actually looked important from the sky, all lit up and alive.
But the girl. Our rules directed I inform an elder of any unnatural or unsuspected appearance, yet I hadn’t even told my guard. She was a secret, and I wanted her to remain that way. Didn’t I?
“Getting out sounds great,” I said, ignoring the fact that I’d already defied the Naming by leaving.
My father’s telepathic scream tore through me.
“Get home now.”
I cringed at Pierce, and he whistled low. “Bracke?” he asked, referring to my father’s Dark name.
I nodded. “I’ll have to take a flight with you later,” I said as I dissolved, transporting.
My father’s office was golden, and the lit room was filled with the same musky cologne he wore for the past decade. He stood by the bookshelf, and his weary, brown eyes shifted over my shade appearance. “I’d prefer you change when you’re home,” he said, and I fell out of myself.
My black hair lightened to brown, and my crystal blue eyes dimmed to a mossy green. I lost height, and my facial features shifted. Even my clothes had changed. Suddenly, I was human again, and Eric Welborn was my identity. It didn’t matter how many times I watched the unnatural transformation in the mirror; I’d never get used to it.
I slouched in the nearest chair as he returned to his desk and said, “You missed the ceremony.”
“You always do,” I said, knowing he’d locked himself in his office since the day I was Named. Even the leader of the Dark was unsure of his prophetic son.
My father sighed, shifting his thin hair onto one side of his head. “I wish you would have gone, Shoman.”
“Eric,” I corrected. After all, we were at home now—our human home—and my human side had the right to hate who I was expected to be.
My father glanced over the leather book in his hands. “Eric,” he began. “Where were you tonight? Camille told me you disappeared when the ceremony was about to begin.”
She was the one who disappeared.
My jaw locked. We left the shelter together, but I couldn’t rat on my guard.
But that girl. Who was she? How had she gotten there?
“Eric?” My father tapped his desk. “Can you at least pretend to listen to me?”
I shrugged. “I was thinking about Pierce,” I lied—one of my only talents—and kicked my feet up on his desk. “His little brother was Named this year.”
My father grinned. “He was?”
“Do you even talk to your guard anymore?” I asked, thinking of Urte.
My father’s face fell, and his brow furrowed as he sat down. “I’m glad that you could calm Jonathon down.”
Jonathon Stone was Pierce’s human form. We knew each other’s identities and went to high school together, but we rarely talked to maintain that secret. In fact, I rarely talked to anybody at school. I was kind of a loner. Who was I kidding? I was a loner.
“Actually,” I began, leaning forward as I considered my words. “I didn’t get a chance to calm Jonathon down. I promised him a flight soon—”
Light flooded my father’s brown eyes. “You guys should go tomorrow night.”
I raised a practiced brow. “Tomorrow?” I asked, already knowing my next move. “But Camille isn’t available.”