You will tell no one of his motivation. The fewer people who know, the less likely the information will spread, compromising everything he has done and has yet to do. Let today’s battle play out without interference.
And fear not. All is not lost where Tenley Lockwood is concerned. Killian is working his magic to ensure she single-handedly wins the war—for us. Let him do what he needs to do. He knows what’s at stake, and he won’t let us down. He never has before.
Might Equals Right!
General Rosalind Oriana
chapter one (#u4ec5c551-db0a-522b-9758-918687dc1c8b)
“Tribulation reveals your greatest strength...or greatest weakness.”
Sand in the hourglass falls, one grain at a time...time...one second bleeds into two...three... I try to piece together my fragmented thoughts. A difficult task. My mind is hazy, my thoughts blurred. Four...
A fact clicks into place. Numbers are my greatest obsession; they always tell a story, and they never lie.
Five...five...five. The numeral gets trapped in my head, set on constant repeat. Click. Five minutes and fourteen seconds ago, I died.
Whoa. I’m dead?
I must be. My heart no longer beats, and my lungs are deflated. I can’t breathe. I need to breathe. Sweat beads on my nape and trickles down my spine, and yet my limbs remain ice-cold.
Calm. Steady. Though my body is wrecked, my spirit lives on. This is a new beginning. A new life.
Calm? Seriously? From now on, I’ll have zero second chances. Zero do-overs. Everything I do will matter: every word I say, every action I take, every person I befriend and every enemy I slay will positively or negatively affect me. No ifs, ands or buts.
Welcome to the Everlife.
The words whisper on the wind, and a quiet ring erupts in my ears. In seconds, the volume cranks to high. I cringe. My bones vibrate, and a light tap registers against my ribs. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. Bang, BANG!
I gasp, taking my first breath, the real me awakening at last. My chest cools, and my lungs fill. I can breathe again. I’m dead, but still I live.
Arise! Arise and shine!
Another whisper drifts on the wind...or a voice is speaking inside my head.
I’m dead and crazy?
Inside, I wither and return to my default setting: counting. Six...seven...
Click. Seventeen! I’m seventeen years old. I was born on the tenth day of the tenth month at 10:10 a.m., and I died on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 10:14 a.m.
1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 0 + 1 + 4 = 10
The work of Fate, some would say. Wrong! Fate is a myth, an excuse, a way to cast blame. While we might have a divine purpose, not everything that happens is through divine intervention. Our actions change the course of our lives for good or for ill.
We are the final authority.
My present is the sum total of decisions made in my past—my own decisions, and even those made by the people around me. We are accountable...count...eight, nine... Ten!
Click, click. My name is Tenley Lockwood. “Ten” to my friends.
5 + 5 = 10. A representative of two equal parts.
The last piece of the puzzle snaps into place. Two realms in the Everlife—Troika and Myriad—are currently locked in a fierce, brutal battle.
Troika fought to save my Firstlife while Myriad strove to end it. Myriad proved successful. My body lies on a blood-drenched street in the heart of LA.
Congrats, Myriad. You won a battle. You won’t win the war.
With my last breath, I pledged my allegiance to Troika, evermore, and I have no regrets. I value Firstlife. I like rules and enjoy structure. I understand every punishment is meant to teach rather than harm.
I’m a Troikan now, born anew in blood and violence. A soldier in a war as old as time. I’ve become enemies with people I’ve never met as well as people I know and love.
I’ve become enemies with Killian, a top Laborer in Myriad.
Killian! His name is a ragged cry from the depths of my soul. I’d say we dated, but dated is too mild a word. I craved him like a drug...and yet I still chose Troika over Myriad.
Home sweet home. Something I’ve never really had.
I’m supposed to hate him, but every fiber of my being flinches at the thought. I will never harm him. He means too much to me.
“Is she dead?” A harsh, unfamiliar voice claims my attention. “Did she make covenant with Troika?”
“Aye and aye.” The husky Irish lilt I recognize, and relief is a cool cascade. Killian never left my side!
I want to see him so badly, I shake.
“Sucks to be you,” Unfamiliar continues. In the distance, I hear the clink-clank of dueling swords. “Now that Madame Bennett is dead, you fall under Zhi’s command. When he learns you failed to recruit the Lockwood girl, he’ll mount your head at the end of a pike.”
Relief gives way to distress. Killian is in danger. Because of me. I need to help him, have to help him, but though I try to stand, I’m stuck, walled in. Useless!
What’s the problem? My outer casing is dead, any ties to my spirit now broken. I should be able to ghost out, yes?
“Leave.” Menace drips from Killian’s command. “Protect our kinsmen from the Troikans.”
“So you can kill Lockwood before her spirit escapes her body and collect the bounty on your own? No.”
Buzzing noises erupt. Flames crackle. Smoke fills the air, sharp and pungent.
There’s a pained gasp. A hard thump.
“Stay down,” Killian spits.