Prison of Hope Chapter 1
To gear up for the forthcoming release of Prison of Hope, I posted the Prologue a few weeks ago. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it HERE.
I now present to you, Chapter 1 of Prison of Hope. Enjoy.
C H A P T E R 1
My mistake came in the form of saying “yes”—a simple, but powerful word that along with its brother, “no,” can do a lot of good or a lot of damage. Once that first word had left my lips, I was duty bound to follow through. I could have come up with an excuse to get out of it—hell, I could have shot myself and said someone was trying to kill me. Should have, would have, could have. Instead, I convinced myself it wouldn’t be bad, that it might even be fun. I was wrong. It was hell in a carriage.
I’d agreed, for some foolish reason, which I liked to believe had to do with drugged food and drink, to accompany Thomas Carpenter and his daughter Kasey on a school trip to Germany. Traveling along with my closest friend and his teenage daughter were over a hundred of her school friends, several parents and guardians, and their teachers. All spread out over a four-carriage train.
Avalon—the hidden true power of our world—arranged the trip, like it did for all Avalon-funded schools. But teenagers are moody and temper prone at the best of times. Throw in the beginnings of their powers, be those magical or otherwise, and you had the makings of a tense atmosphere.
Many of the kids with parents in attendance pretended that their parents didn’t exist, while most of the parents silently watched their offspring with the attentiveness of an eagle searching for its next victim. Occasionally, one of the teenagers would say something inappropriate and receive a chastised glance or a discreet cough aimed in their direction, which in turn made the teen sigh or roll their eyes. It was like the Cold War all over again. I was half-expecting someone to turn up and start building a really big wall between the two sides.
Even Kasey, normally one of those rare teenagers who didn’t mind sitting with her parents, was some distance down the ornate train carriage, surrounded by an unknown number of other teenage girls.
Fortunately for my sanity, I’d decided to take an eBook reader with me. Unfortunately, Tommy didn’t have anything to do, so I’d managed about three pages in the hour and a half since we’d left London.
I glanced through the touch-activated tinted window beside me, as the scenery flew past. The train’s interior reminded me of the Orient Express: everything was of the finest quality, and no expense had been spared. Despite the antique feel to many of the fixtures and fittings, there was nothing antique about the technology contained within. The exterior was no different; the train looked like one of Japan’s bullet trains and was capable of speeds that easily matched them. Hades’s engineers had worked wonders with the train, which was now in regular use, ferrying school trips from whatever country they came from to the compound in Germany.
“So, what’s the book you’re reading?” Tommy finally asked after holding his tongue for far too many miles.
I glanced up across the small table that separated his seat from mine, picked up the reader, and placed it in front of him. He touched the screen and tapped it a few more times as he read a few pages. “This is a grimoire.”
“Yes, it is.”
“It’s in eBook form. Aren’t they meant to be old and dusty?”
“Hades had his people change them to electronic form for ease of access. It used to take weeks to find what you were looking for; now it takes minutes.”
“Why would a sorcerer even need a grimoire?”
It was a valid question. A sorcerer’s magic is part of us. We think what we want to do, and if we’re powerful enough, we do it. Only witches, or something else without an innate magic, use grimoires on anything close to a regular basis, by permanently tattooing their bodies with runes, and even then that’s only if they really want to blow themselves up. Grimoires aren’t really books on spells. They’re books of ideas that you can use with the magic at your disposal—and in some cases, knowledge on how to access that magic.
A lot of grimoires show rune work and how someone with zero innate magical abilities can apply certain runes to their body to allow them access to some exceptionally powerful magic. It’s why they’re so dangerous; they can teach people who have no innate ability how to access magic, but not necessarily how to wield it safely.
“Yes, well, I’m trying to figure out how to do something and I thought maybe this would help.”
Tommy tapped a few more screens and his eyes widened.
“Do you know who this book belongs to?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“It’s fucking Zeus’s,” he whispered in return.
“I just said I knew that.”
“The last time someone took one of his grimoires, it started the Titan Wars. Prometheus chained to a rock, the creation of Pandora? You know all the really fucking bad stuff that happened.”
“Right. First of all, you’re beginning to get high-pitched and sound like a girl,” I pointed out. “Second, Hades gave it to me. Zeus disappeared hundreds of years ago; I don’t think he’s going to miss it.”
“What’s the problem?” he asked in an abnormally deep voice, which made me smile.
“Look, you know how I can only use air and fire magic from the four elements that make up the first set of magic?”
Tommy rolled his eyes. “Yes, it’s come up once or twice in the previous six hundred years we’ve been friends.”
“Sarcasm’s the lowest form of wit.”
“That’s puns. Get on with it.”
I opened my mouth to argue and wisely closed it when I noticed the smile creep onto Tommy’s face. Bloody wind-up merchant. “Right. Well, once you’ve learned those two types, and before you can move onto the Omega magic stage, you can learn how to merge your elements. So, fire and earth can create magma—that sort of thing.”
Omega magic is only available to the millennia-old sorcerers and consists of mind, matter, shadow, and light magic. For the time being, they were beyond what I was capable of, but being able to merge my two elements was a distinct possibility, and something I was very keen to master.
“So, what about fire and air? What do they make?” Tommy asked, all sense of teasing now gone.
Tommy blew out a long breath. “Well, I understand why you’re reading Zeus’s personal grimoire. You can learn how to wield lightning?”
I shrugged. “Not sure. Not all sorcerers can merge their elements.”
Unfortunately, when Zeus wrote his grimoires, he believed only he would ever use them, and as he was already a powerful sorcerer, he had no need to explain control or patience. Besides, back in the day, Zeus didn’t have a lot of either of those to go around. So, actually mastering something that Zeus didn’t feel the need to explain in detail involved a lot of trial and error, but mostly a lot of throwing around dangerous levels of magic.
“Is the book helping?” Tommy asked, passing my e-reader over to me.
I put the device in my bag, which I made sure was shut tight. “I think so; it’s just a matter of practice. When I absorb a soul, I can access it easier. I blew up a toaster at home.”
For most of my entire sixteen hundred years of life, I’d had six dark, constantly changing marks on my chest. A few years ago, someone I’d considered a friend had sacrificed her life to save my own. It had the side effect of beginning the removal of the marks. An increase in my power and manifestation of necromancy were the first steps on my path to discovering what the marks were hiding. Four marks still remained, waiting until some arbitrary point when they’d vanish too. In the meantime, I practiced my necromancy, which comes in a lot of different varieties; mine allows me to absorb the spirits of those who have died fighting.
“Why would you blow up a toaster?” Tommy asked.
“Well I didn’t mean to. I just sort of lost control. Earlier in the day, someone came and asked me to go with him and his teenage daughter to Germany. Shockingly enough, he mentioned nothing about the entire bloody school year accompanying them.”
Tommy’s face was a picture of innocence. “Don’t know what you’re talking about. I remember very clearly whispering about the school trip part. Besides, we’re going to see Hades—it’s not like that’s the worst trip ever. I thought having you around might make the whole trip more bearable. Olivia had to stay in England, and dating an LOA director doesn’t really make the other parents want to be too friendly with me.”
Olivia was Kasey’s mum and head of the southern-England branch of the LOA, or Law of Avalon, which is best described as Avalon’s police force. They’re a sort of mix of the FBI and Interpol. They’re not always the most popular people, even to other Avalon members, and despite Kasey’s school being Avalon funded, a lot of the parents would have loyalties to people who might have very different interests to Avalon’s power and influence in the world.
Tommy had found making friends with some of the other parents to be hard work. Avalon politics is full of long memories and longer feuds, and Tommy’s association with some powerful members of Avalon made people wary of him.
“It’s nice to see you both for more than a few minutes at a time,” I admitted. I’d been away from England on and off for just over two years, ever since my necromancy reared its head. I’d missed spending time with Tommy, Olivia, and Kasey.
“Will Sky be there?” Tommy asked.
“Probably—she does like to enjoy my misery.”
Sky was one of several people whom Hades and Persephone had adopted over the years. She had been born in America a few hundred years ago to a female European missionary and male Native American chief, the latter of whom worked for Hades. When she was very young, rivals within the tribe had murdered her parents, who were both necromancers; their power had been inherited by Sky. After that, Hades and Persephone had taken her into their home. Hades had also erased those responsible from the face of the earth. It isn’t wise to piss him off.
“You know, I never understood something about grimoires,” Tommy said, taking the conversation back a few minutes.
“And that would be?” I asked after a few moments of waiting for my friend to continue.
“What was the point of putting in all the runes about how to access magic? The original grimoires were written by sorcerers, so surely they shouldn’t have needed the knowledge.”
“I don’t really know the full answer, but basically a lot of sorcerers reach a point when they’ve mastered so much magic that they try to look into new ways of increasing their strength. Runes are a popular choice. And then, once Zeus’s grimoires were given to the humans, they started practicing and making their own versions of the books.”
“Hence, witches,” Kasey said as she stepped out from beside me.
I turned to the young teen. “You need to start wearing a bell.”
“Sorry, Nate,” she said with a sly grin. Kasey was every inch her father’s daughter in personality, although in looks, thankfully, she took after her mother, with long red hair, green eyes, and an elegant face. No teenage girl wants to be short and stocky with a permanent five o’clock shadow.
A few years ago, a then twelve-year-old Kasey had put herself between me and something so evil that I was certain I couldn’t have beaten it. She’d stopped me from getting hurt more than I’d already been, possibly saving my life in the process. Considering the attention he’d get from both Tommy and me, I almost pitied the first boy she’d bring home. Almost.
Kasey sat opposite me, and I noticed that one of the parents farther down the carriage was giving me an evil glare. She’d been doing it on and off since I’d arrived at the train station, although I had no idea what I’d actually done to earn her wrath.
“Her name is Mara Range,” said a young woman sitting on the opposite side of the aisle to Tommy, Kasey, and me. She had dark hair that was almost black, tied back in a ponytail. She wore a simple light-blue T-shirt, the same color as her eyes, with a picture of Led Zeppelin on the front. It hugged her figure, showing off both her athletic body and the tattoo that stopped just above the crease of her elbow. I couldn’t make out what it was, but the reds and purples certainly made it appear colorful.
“Sorry—I saw you glance over at her. I’m Emily Rowe,” she said quickly and shook my hand and then Kasey’s and Tommy’s. “I’m one of the lucky people chosen to help with the rabble. No offense.” She aimed her last words at Kasey.
“None taken,” Kasey said. “Your nails are awesome.”
Emily wiggled her fingers, and indeed the little skull and crossbones on each nail must have taken some time and effort to achieve.
I had slightly more important things to consider, though. “And why does this Mara woman suddenly have an issue with me?” I asked.
“She’s a witch,” Emily said. “A lot of the coven members are on this trip. Unfortunately, because most of the higher ranked members stayed home. Mara is in charge of the coven.”
I sighed. “Great. Nice to know there’s going to be a frosty reception for the next few days.”
“Why?” Kasey asked. “I don’t understand what you’ve done. You’ve never even met these people.”
“A lot of witches don’t like sorcerers,” I said.
I opened my mouth to explain and then stopped, I wasn’t really sure how much to tell her. On the other hand, if I avoided the question, she’d never stop asking. “What do you know about witches?”
“They can use magic, but don’t have an innate talent for it,” she said as if she were reading from a book.
“Something like that, yes,” I said. “Basically, witches are, for all intents and purposes, human. They could easily live a normal human life with no magic at all. But a long time ago, some humans were taught how to use runes to access magic. Unfortunately, where I have the innate ability to use it from birth, they have to make themselves access it. And whenever witches use magic, instead of extending their life, it actually takes time away from it. The more powerful the magic, the more life is taken.”
“So they can’t extend it at all?” Kasey asked, slightly shocked.
“There is very dark blood magic that allows witches to extend their life by hurting and killing people. Some witches aligned themselves with certain powerful people in Avalon who convinced them that sorcerers were keeping the magic from them. That was a few thousand years ago, and over time witches have maintained a very bad view of sorcerers. They think we’re trying to keep them down and not allow them to reach their potential—that we show off just to rub their noses in it.”
I nodded. “That’s the sum of it. After such a long time of being told it, many witches believe the lie.”
“And what do sorcerers think of witches?” Kasey asked.
“We don’t,” I said with a shrug. “They’re not powerful enough to concern us for the most part, and those that are will kill themselves well before they become noticed by Avalon. Occasionally, one of them does some dark stuff—killing a sorcerer for blood was an old trick of theirs—but for the most part, witches are seen as people to ignore. Because they’re aligned with Demeter and Hera, they have enough members that they can affect a vote in Avalon, but that doesn’t happen often.”
“Why align with Demeter?” Kasey asked, clearly in her element of being able to ask every question her quick mind could think of.
“Demeter, Hera, and a few others were the ones who convinced witches that sorcerers were out to get them. They arranged the witches to support them in Avalon matters in return for information on how to obtain true power. Information I don’t think they’ve ever actually followed through with.”
“So, do all witches think this?”
I shook my head. “No, just the stupid ones. I’ve met some very smart and pleasant witches. And I’ve met some evil ones too. A witch in a quest for power has the worst of human nature wrapped up in the ability to hurt a lot of people.”
“A lot of witches are very nice people,” Emily said, making an attempt to show that not every witch was a power-hungry nutcase. “Some of them only use magic to help others and try to spread a message of peace.”
“Unfortunately, those who are in league with Demeter undo a lot of that good work. The witches think they have power and a say in what happens, when actually they’re just being used to further the aims of those who would throw them to the wind the second they needed to.”
“Yes, but like I said,” Emily stated, “not all witches are like that. Some actually use their brains and don’t want to follow like sheep.”
“I’d like to meet more of them,” I said, and then a horrible thought occurred to me. “You’re a witch, aren’t you?”
Emily nodded, and Tommy laughed out loud, gaining a few glances in our direction from other adults.
“Are you a member of the coven?” I asked, ignoring my friend.
Emily nodded again. “Have been for a few years now. You don’t seem all that embarrassed. I could have been offended.”
“But you’re not, so you either agree with me, or you don’t care. I’m going with the former.”
“I agree with you. Too many witches crave power and are easily swayed to a life of serving those who don’t really care about us. A portion of the coven would slit their own throats if Demeter told them to. Fortunately, they’re in the minority. The coven leaders normally manage to shut them down before they start ranting.”
“And Mara belongs to that smaller group, I assume,” I said. “Yes, she’s probably in charge of it, although I have no proof of that. She’s certainly not shy about her feelings toward sorcerers.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“My pleasure. They’re mostly all talk, though.” Although she smiled as she spoke, it was the word “mostly” that stuck in my mind.