Sealer's Game: Prologue

Here's the prologue to my fantasy romance debut, Sealer's Game. Please note that there may be a few minor differences in how text appears here than what is present in the final retail copy. Thanks for taking the time to check out my book! -- Kathy

The Underworld,

177 Before Culling (BC)

Ruby

His eyes were what she hated most. Cold and fathomless, they threatened to suck her in and make her drown. Hard and full of judgement, their very existence mocked her. How dare this whelp judge her. He had yet to live a single day.

Nor would he if she had any say in the matter.

Ruby’s breath formed puffs of frost as she panted from carrying the basket on her arm. Despite the relentless chill of the Valley of Death, she set her precious cargo down before lowering herself beside it.

When she had decided to bring the basket to the Underworld to dispose of it in the River of Ruin, it hadn’t occurred to her that the path to get there would be so treacherous. Nor that any part of the Underworld could be so frigid or cold.

Yet now, sitting on a snow-capped hill amid half buried blades of razor grass that would have pierced the skin of a lesser being, she could see black sludging ooze bubbling off in the distance. A fitting grave for her equally repugnant child.

Yes, she was going to murder a child. She became more comfortable with this each time she said it, whether aloud or in her head. It wasn’t something Ruby had ever considered doing before. But under the circumstances it was her only option.

It wasn’t her fault. Really, truly. It was Lucian who had brought this thing into the world, and it was Lucian’s fault that she was now responsible for sending it back.

It chose that moment to make a string of gurgling baby sounds. The same sounds it had been making for the past six hours since it had slid out from between her thighs. Sounds that should have been sweet as bubbling water from a mountain spring were tainted by this monstrous little beast. If it didn’t stop soon, she would cut out its tongue.

What right did it have to defile the sounds of delight a real baby would have made?

For the past nine months every woman in the Sky Realm had assured Ruby that she would love this wretched little thing the instant it entered her life. If there was even the smallest chance a bond might form between them she had no business sitting here.

Picking up her basket and moving down the path Ruby slowed her pace as the way ahead became uneven. Her steps became cautious, lest she slip between jagged cracks in the ground. If she fell into the river it would devour her just as eagerly as it would the offering she had brought for it.

Finally, after what seemed a thousand forevers, she reached the river’s edge and knelt to open the basket’s lid.

The baby peered up at her, those same too-dark eyes staring at her, through her, around her. A strange tug pulled at her, a thread of something warm and foreign that made her heart tighten and squeeze. The urge to lift the baby from the basket, to turn them both into a cloud of mist and flee this place, made a shiver pass through her which had nothing to do with the cold.

“No,” she said, tearing her gaze from the baby. “You are a mistake. You’re not part of my plan. And you won’t get in my way.”

The baby gave a loud wail, his mouth opening wide so that his tongue and a pair of tiny fangs took up a large portion of his chubby little face. Another pang went through Ruby, this one urging her to bring the baby to her neck and let him feed. Shutting her eyes, she struggled to push the image away.

Those eyes. He was doing this with those damned, accursed eyes. They had to go. Now.

Her fingers trembling, she gripped the hilt of the dagger that hung at her waist. Could she do this? Was she capable of hurting a child?

Memories of the night she had gone to Lucian flooded her. The bravado she had carried herself with as she went through her plan to seduce him in her mind. Her nervous uncertainty, trying not to shudder as he removed her clothes. The amount of self-control it had taken not to vomit as his body covered hers. And then the horror, the utter, skin crawling horror, when she realized that was not all he intended to do.

No.

Please.

I don’t want—

The words had died on her tongue, a strangled knot in her throat that she could still feel nine months later. The smell of fresh cut grass and cinnamon still made her want to gag.

That night, their scents had been so potent she could taste them. The power of Earth magic in the air had been so strong it had been hard to breathe. The swell of her breasts, the arch of her hips, and the subtle shift that had flexed through her stomach as her body prepared to carry Lucian’s child… Recalling any of it made her want to tear something apart.

Lucian had caused her entire plan to backfire and he hadn’t even been trying.

With one quick jab, Ruby sliced into the flesh of the baby’s face. A fine line of black and red spotted blood began to seep down his cheek like a single crimson tear. Jerking the dagger up, she jabbed its blade through the offensive dark blue eye that had peered at her so intently. She twisted the dagger around the eye’s socket like its tip was a key and his face a lock, then cut through some skin near his eyebrow as she pulled the dagger out.

One down, one to go.

Or not. The baby’s wails turned into a full-on scream. The long screeching sounds reminded her more of a dying animal than of any proper, sentient being. If he kept that up someone would find her doing this. That was an outcome she could not afford.

Wiping his blood from her dagger, she lifted the basket by its handles and dipped it into the river, grateful when the thick black sludge started to suck it under like it was coating the basket in quicksand. She was so close now. So close to being free. Another minute and she could let go of this burden and leave.

The scent of burnt wood and candle wax was her only warning that something was wrong.

She caught sight of just the slightest whiff of smoke, followed by a hovering ball of flames which sprouted arms, legs, and a head. The illusion of a man being painted in the air lasted only a second before Lucian formed before her.

How had she thought he and the baby shared the same eyes? The baby’s eyes were the same shade, yes. But the intensity of Lucian’s stare was the kind of thing that could melt flesh off bones or rob a person of breath.

“What have you done?” He rushed toward her, grabbed the handles of the basket, and lifted the baby from the river. Ruby slipped on a patch of ice as he pushed her out of the way, and only managed to save herself by grabbing hold of his leg and latching on for dear life. “I should kick you in and let the river sort you out.”

Scrambling up the bank and away from the river, Ruby worked to put as much space between it, herself, and Lucian as she could.

“I offered to share your bed, not bear your child,” Ruby said, reaching up to push a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. “You did this, not me.”

The smell from the basket made bile rise in Ruby’s throat. Lucian lifted the shrivelled corpse of the baby and held it against him as though the thing was still living.

As she stared at its broken body, something twisted in the depths of Ruby’s heart. She had wanted her freedom. Had needed the baby gone so that her own life could continue. But looking at it now, her need for it to be dead was no longer a matter of convenience. Rather, what the river had done to the poor little thing was so vile that only death would be a mercy.

The eye she had severed from its face was now completely gone. A garish hole remained where an eye should be, forcing her to recall what she had done over and over in her mind.

The rest of the body had fared little better. Random strips of flesh had peeled away, exposing half melted organs and twisted, mangled bones.

Lucian’s gaze shone with sadness, yet he kissed the corpse’s shrunken head rather than curling his lip in disgust.

“Have no fear,” he whispered, placing his hand against its back. “In a moment, you won’t hurt anymore.”

Ruby shoved a fist in her mouth to swallow a sob. Was he saying this thing was still alive?

A vibrant light shone over its body. Then the remains split apart, allowing a semi-transparent ghost child to slip free. Like the body had been naught but a shell holding him captive.

So, not alive then. And apparently, no longer suffering. Ruby’s breath came out in a rush and she lowered her hand.

He looked much more like the infant who had been in the basket when Ruby started her journey. Yet she noticed, with a shudder of fear, that the eye she had damaged was still not present. A wicked scar marked the empty socket, then trailed down his right cheek.

Cradling the ghost child in one hand, Lucian took its discarded remains and carefully put them back into the basket.

“What is that?” Ruby asked, too stunned by what she was seeing to move. “What have you done to him?”

“I have made him one of the Departed.” Lucian cradled the ghost child in his arms. The basket holding its body floated beside him. “He cannot enter a living realm like this, but he will manage well enough here.”

Damn it, he had foiled her again.

“Don’t look so disappointed.” Lucian took a step toward her and Ruby started to run. She had barely taken a dozen steps when a shard of razor grass whipped out, wrapping around her ankle like a vice and holding her captive. “You’ve ensured his life will be quite difficult. But he is my son, and like me this river is part of what runs through his veins. Because of that you have failed to kill him.”

“He would be better off dead.” Ruby muttered, unable to meet the ghost child’s gaze.

“No. I will find a way to help him heal.” Lucian looked down at the baby and smiled. “Do you know what he’s thinking? What picture he’s placing in my mind, even now?”

“I don’t care.” Since the grass beneath her feet was conspiring to prevent her escape, she busied herself with dusting snow off her long red velvet gown.

Just one more reminder of the unwritten expectations which hung around her neck like a chain. Of the desperation that had brought her here, to the edge of the river which heralded all destruction.

Wearing the gown had been impractical. But without it on, she wouldn’t have made it off the palace grounds. A Lady of the Sky Realm wore gowns. A mother raised her children. These things had no set reason; they simply were.

Perhaps one day she would find a way to shed the gown, just as she had freed herself of the child. But this wasn’t that day.

“He’s asking me not to hurt you. It’s rather sad that your capacity for mercy is less than that of an infant.” Lucian paused as if he expected some reaction from her, then went on when he didn’t get it. “Since it is him you have wronged, I will honour his request. I won’t kill you, Ruby. I’ll leave your fate to him.”

Lucian reached out and traced one finger along Ruby’s cheek until it was below her right eye. She could feel the subtle shift as it changed from a finger to a cold, sharp talon. Damn it all, was he going to do to her what she had done to the baby?

“You’ve got one thing going for you. I like your eyes as much as I suspect you hate mine.” When he let go of her face Ruby’s knees threatened to buckle and send her to the ground. “But you’ve made it clear this is not where you want to be. Run, Ruby. Run as far and as fast as you can. The next time I find you in my realm shall be the last.”

The blades of grass holding Ruby shattered like a thousand shards of ice. Lifting the hem of her gown, she raced up the steep hill and toward the safety of any realm that was not here.

There was no question that she had made a fierce enemy of Lucian Veradayne, the Lord of Death. But at least she wouldn’t have to worry about him scheming to claim her as his wife anymore.

It was only right and fair. Ruby’s heart belonged to another.

Want to know what happens next?

Click here to start reading Chapter One!