As an archer who is deafblind, sixteen-year-old Molly Harris has always lived an exceptional life, but since rescuing the angel-demon hybrid Zachariel and being introduced to the otherworld, she’s craved a different kind of extraordinary. On her mission for answers, however, Molly realizes the road to the truth is more treacherous than she expected.

Zachariel is a freak of nature who has never fit in anywhere, and he’s grown comfortable with his solitary existence. Now, not only does he have a nosy teenager invading his personal space, he’s also dealing with a shady demon who wants to recruit him for a secret project — and who won’t take no for an answer.

As Zach delves into the demon’s scheme, he discovers he’s an unwilling pawn in a life-or-death game. Zach and Molly may be an unlikely team, but it rests on them to hold back the threat that could shake the foundations of the world.


Molly Harris slumped into her computer chair and ran her fingers over her watch. The cool metal hands were moving closer to ten o’clock, but she had no desire yet to go to bed. The weight of the day was still dragging her down, driving away all thought of sleep.

Even sitting here at her desk was making her restless. She wanted to move.

Her computer tempted her with games, but her parents might hear the verbal prompts and ask her what she thought she was doing. The quiet streets called for her to take a walk, but there was no way her dad would let her out of the house at this time of night.

Sometimes she hated being sixteen years old. So many responsibilities were heaped on her shoulders and hardly any of the freedoms. Frustration made her want to tear out her hair.

She scratched an itch behind her left ear, then readjusted the sound processor of her cochlear implant. Her hair got caught around the plastic, and she smoothed it out over the round coil connected to the side of her head by its magnet.

To shift her thoughts away from her restlessness, she turned her attention to the conversation she’d been having on her cell phone. At least it was one way to stay busy without her parents catching her up past lights-out. The portable braille display rested on her desk, no heavier or larger than the cell phone that sat beside it. She ran her fingers over the buttons along the top of the display as she worked through her thoughts, then punched in the braille.

I just can’t believe I tripped on a stupid end table, she wrote out, then guided her fingers over the refreshable display to check her spelling. That episode had been embarrassing enough without her sending mixed messages along with it. Her knees were still aching from the impact on the hardwood floor. When do *I* trip on anything?

Her father had panicked, worried that she’d hurt herself — that’s how rare it was that she stumbled over objects in her path. Teachers and her parents’ friends often remarked on how well Molly moved around unfamiliar spaces, as though she could sense where objects were even if she couldn’t see them. At school, she moved through crowds with little trouble, picking up on the movements around her as though she were tracking changes in the breeze. Before she came into contact with anything, it was like she felt it. A slight pressure moving against her that told her how big something was and how far away it might be. Molly didn’t know if her skill was as impressive as people seemed to believe it was, but it certainly made being out in public less unnerving.

A few seconds passed, and then her phone vibrated with an incoming message. She ran her fingers over the braille display as it refreshed the reply forty characters at a time. It happens to the best of us. Not even you’re immune.

Despite her grump, Molly chuckled. Although he could be a huge pain in the ass sometimes, her best friend, Steve Bard, could at least be guaranteed to make her feel better when she was feeling down on herself.

It’s this house, she brailled. I’ve lived here three months, and I still can’t get my bearings. Have my parents taken to moving the furniture around while I’m asleep? Why did we have to move?

So you could be closer to me?

Ha ha, Molly replied, although the small flutter in the pit of her stomach wouldn’t let her deny that being closer to Steve was a definite perk.

They had known each other since she started at Will Stutely High School three years ago, when he’d been assigned to guide her through her classes and make sure she didn’t kill herself falling down the stairs. On the first day they’d met, she’d been concerned about being a burden to his social life, with him having to stay by her side all the time. A few months later, she’d realized he didn’t mind the responsibility, and they’d relaxed into an easy friendship. A month after that, she’d developed an all-consuming crush on him, and it had remained that way ever since.

Not that she would ever let him know, of course. Especially since she suspected he didn’t return the sentiment.

Her phone vibrated, and she returned her fingers to the bumps and grooves of her braille display.

Seriously, though, it will get easier. Look at how quickly you learned Mr. Collins’s classroom.

Yeah, but that guy keeps his entire life at right angles, she replied. Makes it easy to know where something is going to be.

She imagined Steve laughing at her joke. Their English teacher was a source of endless entertainment for them.

Honestly, I don’t think the fall is what’s bothering me, she wrote. Let’s face it, I trip on my own feet on a regular basis. I’m just feeling closed in. Like, if I’m going to be tripping over something unfamiliar, I’d rather be experiencing something new and amazing while I do it, instead of it just being a dining chair.

Dining chairs can be amazing, wrote Steve. Sitting in them usually gets me food.

Molly didn’t answer right away, too caught up in her revelation. She’d first messaged Steve to talk to him about the day’s math homework, but revealing her frustration over the end table incident was triggering a whole new series of thoughts.

I think I’ve hit on it, she brailled to him. I’m restless, and I know why. Look at my routine: wake up, have Mom help me get ready, go to school, go to archery, come home, do homework, spend time with my family. On weekends it’s pretty much the same, except I trade school for archery lessons. I’m bored.

For most of her teenage life, her routine had been enough for her. She’d enjoyed the exhilaration of the archery competitions, and her school guidance counselor had worked hard with her, helping her figure out what she wanted to do with her life after she graduated from high school.

The world had been full of possibilities, and she couldn’t wait to try them all.

Then nine months ago, she’d killed a man, and it had changed everything.

Even now, the memory of driving her arrow through the man’s throat remained vivid and powerful. When her thoughts drifted toward the locked room, she felt his blood pouring over her hands as his heavy frame sagged, a deadweight on top of her.

Her stomach twisted and she sucked in a slow breath. The scene had come to her in dreams ever since, the reek of blood choking her, the pressure of something heavy weighing on her chest. For a while, she’d been afraid to go to sleep. Finally she’d accepted that she couldn’t change what had happened — she could only learn to live with it.

But what if she hadn’t learned to live with it? What if this new restlessness was a different symptom of the same problem?

Want to go to the mall this weekend? Steve asked. That could shake things up a bit.

Sure, she wrote, but that’s not the kind of bored I mean. I mean bored with this world. I’m stuck with what most people believe is true, when I know this is only part of it. I want to learn more about what’s out there.

She sent the message before she had a chance to second-guess herself. She’d told Steve enough about what had happened in that magically sealed room for him to know what she was talking about, although she’d kept most of the details to herself.

He didn’t know about the man she’d killed, for instance, and she couldn’t explain why she’d held that back. The guy hadn’t been human. He’d been a demon. Trying to kill her. It had been a life-or-death situation.

The guilt that chased her wasn’t what she’d ever imagined it would be for the severity of the crime. Not exactly. The idea of murder didn’t mesh with most of the emotions that arose from the event. Mostly, she felt awe over the fact that she had been in that situation, forced to commit such an extreme act to save her life and the lives of a bunch of strangers.

But that didn’t remove the nausea that churned inside her whenever she considered the truth that she had stolen someone’s life. Taken away his future.

Her throat closed, and she shoved the thought aside.

Molly pushed herself out of her chair and moved to her bed. She stretched out across it, resting her phone at her side and her braille display on her stomach, then settled against the pillows. The stuffed bear she kept against her headboard toppled over, and she tucked it under her head, using its belly as an extra cushion.

You’re talking about that locked room thing again, aren’t you?

Of course I am. It’s only the one defining moment of my life that I’ve never been able to move past.

I thought you said you’d had enough of that world? That getting hurt was as close as you wanted to get.

Molly remembered the burns on her face from where the demon had grabbed her. She’d had to come up with a bunch of lies to explain to her parents how she’d gotten them, but once they were sure the damage wasn’t permanent and she wasn’t too broken up, they’d let the matter be. They knew how much she hated it when they made a big deal about her injuries.

It was enough. Then. But now I’ve had time to sit with it.

Is that why you made that comment last week about taking up late-night walks to find some new trouble?

That was a joke. Mostly. But I have been thinking about it for the last couple of weeks, and I think tonight I’ve reached my limit.

I don’t like the sound of that.

No, listen: I think that’s why I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin anymore. My mind has expanded, but the rest of me hasn’t. I need to know more.

I understand that you’re frustrated, but you can’t lash out by hunting monsters. This isn’t TV. Think about this. Get some sleep and we’ll talk about it in the morning.

Molly released a sigh and let her head sink deeper into the belly of her bear. Fine. We’ll talk tomorrow. Night.

Steve sent a few “z”s in response, and Molly slid the braille display and her phone onto the bedside table.

Steve had been the only person Molly had confided in after she’d returned home from her bizarre experience. He was the only person she could trust not to tell anyone else. The only one who would believe her.

She definitely hadn’t told her parents. Even the idea of telling them was enough to make her laugh. Hi Mom and Dad, listen, you know that time I came home really burned? Well, see, it actually happened because I was transported by magic out of my bedroom onto a cold stone floor in a small room with six strangers… They’d assume she’d lost her mind, and then where would she be?

Instead, when she’d returned home from her adventure, escorted to the front door of their high-rise downtown condo by a large man with a deep rumbling voice who claimed to be some sort of angel-demon hybrid called a daemelus, she’d told her parents that she’d gone for a walk and fallen onto a steam pipe outside the building. It was a horrible excuse, but she’d needed something to explain the burns on her throat and cheeks. At least she’d had the forethought to wash the blood off her hands.

Her parents had believed her, but a month later they’d announced they were moving out of the condo into a cozy two-story detached home in suburbia.

“It’ll be closer to school,” her mother had said, as though that would be a bonus for Molly. “It’ll also be an easier commute for your dad, and closer to the shops for me.”

Molly thought the excuse was just as weak as her own had been, but whatever. She’d gone along with their plan and, overall, she didn’t hate the house. It carried a warmth from all the families that had come before in a way Molly had never experienced in the condo. Her room was bigger, which meant more space for her computer and an upgrade from her twin-size bed to a double. They had a porch in the backyard where she could sit on warm days, with a large enough yard that her father had set up an archery range for her practice. For that reason alone, she refused to whine to them about the change.

Yet even with the novelty of the new surroundings and the excitement of being a high school junior, she couldn’t move on from her supernatural experience.

According to the six other people in the locked room, the reason she’d been included among them was because she’d stood against a man named Jermaine Hershel, who apparently was some kind of warlock.

A warlock! It was as though Molly had stepped into a fantasy movie. It had taken her a while to believe them, but when they’d shared their stories, each of them sounding so sincere, she couldn’t deny what she was learning.

Magic was real. Sorceresses, demons, angels — they were real. And she’d been locked in a room with six of them. The one who had tried to kill her, Antony, had been some kind of incubus demon. As he’d attacked her, his sister, Allegra, had screamed at him to stop, the others shouting over each other as they tried to pull him off her. The cacophony of all of those voices clamoring in Molly’s head at once still triggered a headache if she thought about it for too long.

But it had been real.

If she’d had any desire or ability to forget about it, or to go back to believing it had all been some weird stress dream, the daemelus, Zachariel, had prevented it. He’d sworn an honor oath that he would keep an eye on her until the opportunity arose to save her life, just as she’d saved his. Although she hadn’t heard his voice since, she’d sensed him watching her when she came home from archery classes or when she went out for an evening walk with her parents. He only ever came after the sun went down.

From what she remembered of his story, he’d lived his whole life in the shadows, not fitting into what he’d called “the otherworld” any better than he did in the human one. She wondered what he looked like that he felt the need to hide away.

Maybe I’ll have to ask him, she thought.

The idea made her sit up straighter against her pillows. She ran her fingers over her watch again. Nearly eleven o’clock.

It had been a while since her parents had come upstairs to wish her goodnight, and she hadn’t heard any noises from beyond her bedroom door in a while. Molly grabbed her bear from under her head and hugged him against her chest, tapping her left thumb against the back of her other hand.

She couldn’t. The idea was ridiculous.

Moving carefully, she slid off the bed and returned to her computer chair. She rested her index finger over the power button, then stopped.

Booting up the computer could potentially lead her down a dangerous rabbit hole.

What are you thinking, Molly?

Before she made any moves, she wanted to make sure that all the parts of her brain were on the same page.

She wanted answers. Regardless of what she’d said to Steve, she couldn’t sit still and wait for the otherworld to come find her again. If she wanted to learn more, she would have to go looking for it.

But where should she start? She’d stumbled into it by accident originally. She remembered being in the high-rise apartment, her parents and their friends in the living room. She’d been on the balcony, calming down after a disappointing competition, and that’s when the screams had started. So much tortured agony rattling through her brain. At the time, she’d assumed there was some kind of brawl going on. When she’d learned the truth, she’d become so much prouder of herself for taking action instead of calling the police and hoping they arrived in time. Who knows who else might have been hurt.

There she’d been, fifteen years old and shooting arrows across an alleyway, breaking who knew how many laws in the process. But her — somewhat miraculously — accurate aim had saved Zachariel from being enslaved to the warlock.

She, Molly Harris, had stepped in and played hero. It had been her first time shooting without her tactile sighting aid, and the moment had made her realize just how much skill she possessed with her bow.

Despite the hours of thought she’d put into it, she still had no idea how she had done it or how it had been enough to land her on a committee of supernatural creatures.

Her throat rumbled with a low groan of frustration. She ran her hands over her desk until her fingers found a hair elastic, and she pulled her thick curls into a ponytail. She was certain it was lopsided, but didn’t much care. Fashion had never been a subject of particular interest for her.

Pushing out of her chair, Molly paced the length of her bedroom. Five steps from her desk to the window, eleven to cross the room to her dresser. She made the trip three times as she thought about each person who’d sat with her at the round table.

To her left had been Vera Goodall, the vengeance demigoddess who also ran a bookstore. At this time of night, the store wasn’t likely to be open and Molly had no idea where she lived, so that was off the table. Beside her had been Allegra Rossi, the succubus. Molly didn’t mind if she never encountered her again. That woman had been, to put it politely, a bitch.

Daphne Heartstone, the sorceress and crime journalist for the New Haven Chronicle, had sat beside Allegra. Molly tapped her fingers on the top of her dresser, mentally putting Daphne’s name aside as a possibility. At eleven o’clock, the sorceress would likely still be awake, or at least available by email.

Next was Gabriel Mulligan. Thinking about him made Molly’s cheeks flush with warmth, and she was glad no one was nearby to notice. His voice and charm had been enough to disarm her uneasiness, but while she wouldn’t mind chatting with him again, she had no idea where to find him.

Antony the Incubus would have been out of the question even if he had been a possibility.

That left the daemelus, Zachariel.

For many reasons, he should have been her first and easiest choice, but although he’d sworn to protect her, he also scared her more than the others. His uncertainty about which side of the world he fell on — a literal good versus evil debate — made her leery about seeking him out on her own. What if he’d decided evil was the better way to go?

The thought of coming across him on a dark and isolated street was enough to raise the hair on the back of her neck.

Yet even as her fear rose to hold her back, her desire for information protested against her backing away. Daphne could easily ignore her email if she didn’t feel like answering, but if Molly found Zach in person, she could make him tell her. She could tell him that if he answered her questions, she would consider his debt of honor complete.

Alone in her room, Molly clenched and unclenched her fists, psyching herself up. Sure it was a school night, but tomorrow was an easy day. As long as she got a few hours’ sleep, she could handle it. This would be worth it.

If she could manage to sneak out of the house.

Slowly, she stepped to her bedroom door and eased it open. Tilting her right ear toward her parents’ bedroom, she worked to find the best angle to catch any sounds through her cochlears. Although most noise would fall outside of her frequency range from this distance, there were certain sounds she’d learned to recognize as her mom and dad getting ready for bed. Tonight, there was nothing.

To further test it, she felt for the bedroom light and switched it on. If either one of her parents was still awake, they would notice the light spilling into the hallway and ask if everything was all right. Molly counted to three hundred, and when neither of them reacted to her sleeplessness, she turned off the light, slid the door closed, and moved to her closet.

This close to the end of October, the night air was chill and damp. Most of the snow was gone from the freak snowstorm a couple of weeks ago and it hadn’t rained lately, which meant she could probably get away with wearing her old ratty sneakers lined up in her bedroom closet instead of the new pair in the front foyer downstairs.

She grabbed a fleece jacket from her closet — red plaid, her mother had told her when they’d gone shopping, in a tone that suggested it was a bad idea — and snuggled the warm material around her throat.

Then she grabbed her phone from the bed and her white cane from the bedside table, and slid on her shoes.

Finally, she moved to her dresser and picked up the bow case from where it lay flat against the wall.

Although she didn’t anticipate coming into any trouble, she also didn’t want to be caught off guard while snooping around in the dark for a supernatural creature. The bow wouldn’t be great for short-range defense, but — she shivered — her arrows hadn’t failed her yet. She also hoped the prop might make it easier for Zachariel to identify her if she happened to walk by him.

She unzipped the case and pulled her recurve bow free. After stringing it, she slipped the bow into the leather sling, then pulled it over her shoulder, settling it against her back. Once it was secure, she slid six arrows into the quiver, then strapped it to her belt and above her knee, keeping it firmly in place against her thigh.

Her gear boosted her confidence, letting it crawl out from under the rock it had scurried under while she’d made up her mind about things. Now she could prowl the streets without concern.

Keep telling yourself that, Harris, she thought.

She grew still in the middle of her room, again listening for any noise coming from her parents’ end of the hallway. Nothing.

Releasing a breath, she went to her window and slid it open, enjoying the touch of the cold wind as it brushed over her neck.

The next part would be tricky, but she had faith in herself. After all, she was the miracle girl who could “see” without seeing, right? Surely that had to come in handy for something.

Molly eased one foot out of the window and tested her weight on the roof. Keeping a firm grip on the window ledge, she ducked her head out, careful not to knock her bow against the frame. When she’d wriggled her way out, she inched toward the tree that stood beside her window.

The branches tapping against the glass had driven her crazy while studying on more than one occasion, to the point where she’d had to remove her cochlears just for a bit of quiet. Now it would make up for all of its obnoxious behavior. If she could find a solid branch. She stretched her left hand out and swallowed a shout of victory when she came in contact with a branch as thick as her torso. That would do.

Molly slid on her butt toward the edge of the roof, grabbed on to the branch, and allowed her body to drop down. With her fingers tight around the flaking bark, she shifted closer to the trunk, then stretched her foot down to find another branch below. For a while, she felt nothing, then a low groan wormed its way along her auditory nerves and her toe found purchase.

Success.

She held her breath as she released her hold on the higher branch, hugging the trunk until she lowered into a crouch.

The edge of her foot slipped on the bark, and her heart jumped into her throat, causing her head to swim. She held on to the trunk, clinging desperately as she waited for her heartbeat to slow. She was almost there, she could do this.

Keeping her concentration on the branch beneath her feet, she grabbed hold of it with both hands and once more dropped her body below.

Her feet brushed against nothing but air. Dammit. She tried to swing her body around the trunk to find one more landing, but she was on her own.

The branch over her head shifted as her body moved toward the trunk again, seeming to lower itself down. Had it snapped?

In her moment of distraction, her fingers slipped. She managed to cross her legs around the trunk and caught the branch before she fell backward.

This is so stupid.

Exhaling sharply, she hugged the trunk, intending to shinny the rest of the way to the ground.

She made it a foot before her arm cramped. She squeezed with her legs, but the trunk was too thick. Her stomach jumped as she went airborne.

Terrified of landing on her back and snapping her bow — having no idea how she would explain it to her parents — she twisted mid-air and landed a second later on her stomach, grunting as the air pushed from her lungs.

Her back ached from the sharp wrench, and her already sore knees screamed at the fresh impact, but she’d made it.

She was in her backyard, armed, and ready to track down her first demon.

 

Click here to purchase your copy of Light of the Stygian Orb

LIGHT OF THE STYGIAN ORB: Chapter 1
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