After the discovery of her ancient Maya bloodlines, eighteen-year-old Ashley Coreandero is faced with a daunting responsibility. She must protect the stone of Muuk’Ich while Sarian, the underworld general, relentlessly drives her to the brink of insanity.
As the winter solstice approaches, it brings an onslaught of unexpected side effects. Ashley must seize control over her supercharged powers, while dealing with the overwhelming suspicion that her boyfriend, Arwan, is hiding a secret so dark it could destroy them both.
With the arrival of a surprise houseguest, Ashley’s deepest fears about Arwan are confirmed. And when middleworld deities intercede, the group of gifted Maya descendants are confronted with hardships they never saw coming—including an enemy more deadly than they have ever faced.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned—but when that woman has no soul and a taste for revenge, they will need the powers of every surviving ancestor simply to stay alive.
~ * ~
Ashley’s next step landed her shoe into something wet. She felt it slip under the sole, and glanced down at the river of blood that flowed over the steps.
Her heart raced.
“It has been a long road to get here, has it not?” Sarian carefully escorted her up the steps. “Your rather tenacious friend didn’t help the cause—her and that boy, cutting off my power source. But I’m resourceful. I found other means.”
They reached the top step of the temple. Ashley’s legs throbbed from the climb. The heat intensified, and she could feel the skin on her cheeks and forehead blister.
“This place is a wasteland,” Sarian said as he surveyed the dead, cracked ground. “Its true potential has long been wasted by a king who prefers to stay hidden in the deepest layer of the underworld, mourning a son who rejects his throne.” He drew in a deep breath, and exhaled. “But no longer. I will resurrect this kingdom as my own.” He flipped open the book. “But first, I must cleanse it of the unworthy.”
Ashley’s hatred for him grew so fierce, she could kill him herself.
Sarian clicked his tongue. “Now that’s not very becoming, guardian. You shouldn’t have such thoughts about your future king.”
Ashley’s heart dropped. Could he hear her thoughts, or somehow see into her mind? What else did he know?
He leaned in close to her, and his breath washed over her ear. “Everything, my dear. I know absolutely everything.” He placed an unwanted kiss on her cheek. “I was going to force you into obedience when I first broke the spell.” His lips brushed against her jaw. “But listening to all of your thoughts and fantasies about that boy was too enjoyable.” She heard him lick his lips, his mouth hovering over her ear. “All of the thoughts you have about him.” He gripped Ashley’s wrist so tight, the delicate bones ground together. She sucked in a breath and gritted her teeth. “The dreams you have about him. I could do those things to you.”
She turned her head and spit in his face.
He flinched back, his lips pressed tightly together. He raised his hand as if he were going to strike her, but paused and curled his fingers into a fist. He wiped the streak of saliva from his cheek as his features turned to stone, while he unfolded the pages of an enormous book propped on the altar.
“The Popol Vuh,” he said in almost a coo, his flush slowly vanishing. He ran his hand over the pages. The same kinds of markings that were on the stone altar in the caves were etched in faded ink on the pages. They glowed with life when he read the first few words.
Ashley’s stomach lurched as he continued to read aloud. With every word that passed through his lips, her limbs grew heavier.
The thousands of people jumped up and down and continued to raise their hands toward the sky, chanting in unison. Their words slurred and morphed into white noise.
Sarian held up the canary diamond pendant strung on a silver chain. It sparked in the sun. “You wouldn’t accept it as a gift before, but perhaps you will consider it now that you see all you could reign over once you belong to me.” He unlatched the necklace. “It will strip you of your abilities—at least until I see you are willing to obey my commands.” She struggled to tear herself out of his grip. He jerked her toward him and held her against his chest. He narrowed his eyes. “You can either accept your fate and live, or I can release you to the will of the underworld, and you can die a slow, agonizing death.” He skimmed the zipper of her fleece sweater. “But it must be touching your skin to work.”
He grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her against the altar, the blood from the last sacrifice already dried and turned to dust. With the altar digging into her spine, he yanked the zipper down and tore open her shirt to expose her skin. She blinked when bits of soil fell onto her cheeks and eyelashes from the roots slithering above them.
His eyes narrowed as they locked on the pendant around Ashley’s neck. A scowl arched his lip. “You believe the heaven deities can help you now?” He grabbed Zanya’s emblem, tore it from her neck, and threw it to the ground. “You are mine now. They have no power here.” He towered over her, glaring down at her with disgust, as though he hated everything about her. “I own you.”
He laid the diamond over her skin. The moment he clasped the chain around her neck, the sickness that crawled through her veins burst with such intense heat, it felt as if she’d been set on fire. The energy clamped around her heart.
Ashley’s muscles locked, and without her will, she turned toward Sarian. He extended his hand and trailed his fingers over her cheek and down her neck, resting his hand over the necklace. She wanted to pull away but her body wouldn’t obey her command to step back. Sarian trailed his hand down to her bust line, stopping just as his finger caught the lace of her tank top.
“Now,” Sarian said in a gratified tone. “Let us watch the cleansing of your new kingdom.”
Ashley didn’t reply. Her voice was one of the few things she still had control of, and she wouldn’t relinquish it. Not until she was ready, and not until she chose.
Sarian grabbed hold of her hand and rested her open palm on his cheek. He dragged his lips over her skin, inhaling her scent while his eyes closed and his throat visibly tightened with a sexual tension that made her want to gag. “Remember.” He opened his eyes and stared into her face. “Your abilities are chained, and if I so choose, you will be just another corpse lying at the bottom of the temple. I suggest you exercise some sense and do as you are told, young guardian.”
Ashley swallowed, but her throat was so dry she could barely manage. Where was Arwan when she needed him? The only explanation she could think of was too painful to consider.
She glared defiantly at Sarian.
He returned the gesture. “You prove to be more like your mother than I care to remember.” He threw her hand back, nearly tossing her to the ground.
More soil tapped over her shoulders, and his. A thin layer of dirt had settled over the stone temple.
Sarian turned his attention back to the book and continued reading from the pages. With the first few words that passed through his lips, the ground below them began to crawl. Roots from the earth above reached down, and more pushed through the dusty earth. The temple trembled. Ashley grabbed onto a stone block and bent her knees so she wouldn’t fall down the steps.
Thankfully she still had control over her minor action.
Sarian didn’t seem fazed in the least. She stared at the book, then back at him while he dragged his finger under each line he read aloud.
This was the book she saw in her dreams. It had the same curled corners, the same yellow tint, and the same textured pages.
Screams and shrieks replaced the underworlders’ chants as roots coiled around their ankles and legs, and dragged them under.
Blood coated the ground.
Ashley didn’t have time to think. If she wanted to live through this, she’d have to do something to stop Sarian from reading the rest of the passage.
Too bad her feet felt like twenty-pound weights.
A bloodcurdling scream shrieked through the air, and Ashley turned her head to see underworlders scattered in every direction, desperately seeking refuge from the hungry tree. Scarlet saturated the dry ground, sitting in puddles on the surface. Soon, the ground looked like a sea of blood.
Sarian continued to read from the book, line after line, page after page. And worse, she could do nothing more than watch. The necklace was hexed with magic more powerful than anything she could control. Sheer force wouldn’t work in this case. She would have to be smart.
Ashley squared her jaw. “Is this how you really want to win?”
He stopped reading and slowly turned his head toward her.
“I mean, this isn’t even a fair fight.” She arched a brow. “Or maybe you really are a coward.”
His upper lip twitched.
“Oh.” She pursed her lips. “So that’s it. You’re scared of me.” She huffed. “Well, I should have guessed as much. My mother showed you up, why wouldn’t I? You couldn’t take the same chance twice, so you took the coward’s—”
He lunged toward her and grabbed her throat. “Your mother, that whore, was no match for me. It’s true she put up a reasonable fight, but I broke her.” His grip tightened, cutting off her air. “And I will inevitably break you as well.” He tilted his head to the side while she struggled to pull in a breath. The edges of her vision clouded with black, and he released her throat just before she lost consciousness. She gasped and coughed. “If you are suggesting you think you can defeat me in my own realm, I welcome you to try. Perhaps getting this over with early will be of more benefit.” Sarian ran his fingers over the canary diamond necklace, and her muscles sighed in relief. He took a step back and faced her. “Now…”
The cooling sensation of Ashley’s light spread through her chest, and clashed with the sick heat of the cursed charm.
It was now or never.
She threw out her hands to strike him with an energy ball.
There was nothing.
Sarian grinned. “Do you honestly believe I would give you your abilities back? Foolish girl.” He shook his head. “Women are good for little more than to be subservient. I will never understand why the gods chose a female to guard the stone.”
~ * ~
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A long time enthusiast of things that go bump in the night, Theresa began her writing career as a journalism intern—possibly the least creative writing field out there. After her first semester at a local newspaper, she washed her hands of press releases and feature articles to delve into the whimsical world of fiction.
Since then, Theresa has been married, had three terrific kids, moved to central Ohio, and has been repeatedly guilt tripped into adopting a menagerie of animals that are now members of the family. But don’t be fooled by her domesticated appearance. Her greatest love is travel. Having traveled to over a dozen countries—not to mention an extended seven-year stay in Kodiak, Alaska—she is anything but settled down. But wherever life brings her, Theresa will continue to weave tales of adventure and love with the hope her stories will bring joy and inspiration to her readers.
Novella 2.5 of The Stone Legacy Series