This post is part of ‘Nicole Storey as featured author for an entire week’. During the week we will be having a number of posts by Nicole. You can find the details here. There will also be a giveaway happening for 3 copies of Nicole Storey’s novel ‘The Chosen One’, which is the first book in the Grimsley Hollow Series series. You can enter the giveaway here.
This is the best finale post from a Featured Author yet. For the first time ever! I have a sneak peek at the second book in the Grimsley Hollow series. All will be revealed! I have the first chapter for the second book. You have to read this!
DISCLAIMER: You are going to fall in love with the series and the anticipation for the next book will increase manifold!
Grimsley Hollow – The Search for Siren
Just a Dream
The cave was bare and cold. Frigid air passed through Gage’s thin, cotton t-shirt, settling deep into his bones like ice. He rubbed his goose-bumped arms while looking around. How did I ever get to this dismal place? The last thing he remembered was lying in his bed. He’d said ‘good night’ to his parents before crashing. His eyelids had fluttered before his head had hit the pillow. He had awakened here. Only he wasn’t sure exactly where here was.
Gage looked down. He was wearing a pair of silly pajama bottoms and a Skillet t-shirt. No shoes? This must be a dream, he thought.
A dim, grayish glow bathed the cave’s interior. The soft light reminded Gage of predawn. It was enough for him to see by. He needed to start walking, but where should he go? To his right was a dark passageway. The quiet light failed his searching eyes; details were lost in the fade. The opening was big enough for one person to walk through.
Gage shook his head and turned to the left. Scary movies had taught him what lurked in dark tunnels. His previous experience in Grimsley Hollow had left him very cautious.
That had been six months ago. Six long months since Inari had taken Siren as her hostage. There were still no clues as to where she was hiding him or why. In his dream, Gage sighed. Siren was like a brother to him. The week he’d spent in Grimsley Hollow had been filled with doubt and fear. Siren had never left his side.
If Siren hadn’t jumped in front of Gage after Inari had shape-shifted, she would have taken him instead. He no longer felt guilty for what happened, but he desperately wanted to find him.
Gage took three steps away from the passage and heard voices. They were faint, garbled, like echoes on breezes. To the left, he could make out what appeared to be an opening to the cave. It was too far away to be sure, but the round circle hewed into the rock wall was where the light appeared strongest.
The voices came again, loud and urgent from the passageway. I should walk away. I should make my way to the opening and leave this cave right now. Whatever is hiding in that dank, blacked-out tunnel can’t be good.
Gage spun on his heel and tiptoed towards the cave opening. He didn’t care if this was a dream; he was taking no chances. There could be anything waiting in that tunnel. Images flickered in his mind’s eye showing him the bajangs that he’d fought before. He could see their glowing red eyes penetrating the inky darkness, floating towards him in mid-air. Cold, clammy hands grabbing for him while razor-sharp teeth hinted of the destruction to come. Gage’s over-active imagination used to show him images of Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger when he got scared. Not anymore. There were real monsters that Hollywood could never imagine.
A few more steps and the Key of Opa hanging around his neck began to grow warm and vibrate. Crap. Getting out of the cave and saving his butt was not going to happen. For a moment, Gage considered ignoring the Key’s communication, but he knew what would happen if he did. The Key would grow so hot it would burn his skin or would transport him into the tunnel anyway. It had done that before. He still didn’t understand why the Key chose him to be its Guardian. There was talk of a prophecy. Aradia, the queen of Opa, had told him the Key would give more information. So far, it had not.
He stopped in his tracks and lifted the Key to eye level. It was about three and a half inches long and looked like any skeleton key, except for the jack-o’-lantern face, which glowed with a soft, eerie light from within. Gage shook his head. How could anyone wind up in such a situation, taking orders from a key?!
“Do you want me to go down that tunnel?” Gage whispered. The Key began to vibrate faster and grew a bit warmer in his hand. Crap on toast and save it for later. He so didn’t want to do this! It’s just a dream, Gage reminded himself. It’s a stupid dream and I’ll wake up soon. He hoped.
The tunnel was narrow. He walked, shuffling his feet to keep from stumbling over anything, while pressing both hands against the walls for balance. The rough rock was cold and jagged against his fingers. His autism affected his fine and gross motor skills, so he wasn’t the most graceful person in the world. Walking in pitch-black darkness didn’t help.
Just when he thought the passageway would keep going until he came out on the other side of the world, he heard the voices again. After a sharp turn, he could discern shifting shadows thrown against a far wall by some unseen light source, jerking as they paced to and fro. Holding his breath, Gage peered around the corner of stone, and a large cavern opened up before his eyes. The first thing he noticed was a campfire burning brightly on the rock floor. Smoke was rising ever upwards in long, streaming folds of gray and black. Gage guessed the ceiling must have been quite high, as there was no smell or haziness from the smoke inside the room. A woman’s voice came from the far side of the fire, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. It was Inari.
“Just how long do you expect me to stay here?” Her voice was just as Gage remembered – bitter with a touch of sweetness to make it bearable, like the cough syrup he used to take when he was younger.
Another shadow moved beside her and Gage could just make out a tall, thin figure through the flames of the fire. He saw the black swirl of a cape and a pale face under a hood that could have belonged to a man or woman. The sound of boots scraping against the gritty, stone floor carried across the room as the person glided over to a far corner, as if examining something there on the floor.
“You will stare here as long as I deem it necessary, Inari.” The voice was masculine, yet cool and smooth, like chocolate milk. Gage couldn’t quite place the accent. The man – yes, it was definitely a man- bent down and moved his hand over whatever was lying on the floor. Gage heard a whimper.
“Such a beautiful animal,” he crooned.
There was another mournful whimper, and then a growl – low and threatening. The man popped up from his crouched position like a jack-in-the-box, quickly taking a few steps back in alarm. Gage’s pent-up breath left him in a whoosh of sound, as if he’d suddenly been punched in the stomach. That’s exactly how he felt.
He knew that growl. How many times had he heard it when he was in Grimsley Hollow? How many times had that same growl come to him in his dreams? He knew it as well as he knew his mother’s voice. Siren!
The cloaked man turned to Inari with a scowl. “You really should train your animal to behave better, my witch.”
Inari threw her head back and laughed. Her shrieks bounced off the walls of the cavern – grating and unnatural. Gage ground his teeth together at the horrible echoes.
“Whatever for? Do you plan on entering him in a circus?” She walked boldly over to the dark corner where Siren lay. Gage could only make out his green eyes, electric in the reflection of the fire. Inari bent over and peered down at her hostage. “I have him trained well enough. The wolf knows not to bite the hand that feeds him.”
Rage swept over Gage like a forest fire. He wanted to run out and bash Inari’s face, pummel her into the ground, and claw her eyes. He wanted to make her hurt! He wanted to kill her. His breath rushed in and out of his lungs and still, he was breathless. He had never felt that way before. He was barely twelve years old! How could a twelve-year-old want to take someone’s life?! But he knew he could do it. He could kill Inari and the strange man, too. He’d never have a second thought about it.
It took all of his strength not to show himself to the evil people who were holding his best friend captive – keeping him locked up like a broken, caged animal. Gage had to play this smart. He had to be silent and see if they divulged any more information that might be useful. He slowed his breathing, trying to calm his pounding heart. It was thumping so hard, he felt the muscle would break out of his chest and hop across the filthy floor. The thought about this all being a dream drifted away with the smoke from the fire, leaving only the barest memory in its place.
The man paced back and forth for a few minutes, as if deep in thought, then demanded, “Take the enchanted silver off of his neck and let him transform. I need to question him again.”
Inari made no move to fulfill his request. Instead, she conjured up a chaise with her wand and fell dramatically onto its silk covering. The chaise would have looked more at home in an Egyptian castle instead of a dull cave. Gage knew it was all part of her act. He could see her for what she really was: a colorless wench playing dress-up. She was a phony riding on the coat-tails of someone more powerful. Gage wondered how she got her wand back after Queen Aradia had taken it from her on that fateful day. Maybe it disappeared with her when she took Siren and fled.
Inari yawned and covered her eyes with the back of her hand. “Even without the enchanted silver, he still cannot transform. He is too weak.”
“And why is that?” The man carefully moved a bit closer to Siren and looked him over.
“He’s not eating very much,” Inari answered wearily. “He seems confused at times, too.” She sat up, glaring at the wolf. “Honestly, he’s more trouble than he’s worth. I say we finish him off. His presence has done nothing to help us achieve our goal.”
The stranger laughed. “You are just tired of babysitting him, my dear.”
The witch crossed her arms and pouted. “Yes, there is that, too!”
“But still, I wonder…” The man squatted down in front of Siren while rubbing his chin. “When was the last time he transformed?”
“Oh for the sake of Merlin, why does that matter?!” Inari dropped back into her lounging position, taking on an injured air of someone who is being ignored, like the most popular girl at school who is passed over as prom queen, and instead, the crown is given to a girl from the 4-H Club. She clearly didn’t like the fact that the man was more interested in Siren than listening to her whine.
A quick, chilling glance from the stranger made Inari sit up again and bow her head in submission.
“He hasn’t transformed since the last time you spoke with him … a few weeks ago, wasn’t it?” It was amazing to Gage how she could turn from a power-hungry psychopath to a demure, innocent lamb in the blink of an eye. There was enough sugar coating her words to supply a hundred boxes of Frosted Quakes cereal.
“Well then, that is the problem.” The man stood and walked to the fire. He tossed a few logs onto the dying embers; sparks flew up like a horde of tiny demons, briefly illuminating the darkness with their tears of fire. He sighed contently while basking in the growing flames.
Before Inari could question his statement, he continued. “The longer a werewolf stays in its wolf form, the harder it becomes for it to transform back. The wolf part of him has begun to take over his mind, slowly eating away the human traits. Soon, he will become a wolf in every sense of the word. The human part will simply … disappear.”
He turned to Inari with a smile on his face. If he looked scary to Gage before, it was nothing compared to what he looked like when he smiled – an animated corpse come to life.
“After that happens, he will no longer be trained, my witch. He will just as soon tear your arm off and eat it instead of the slop you give him, and he will. He will not remember anyone. Humans will become just another food source. He will be nothing more than a wild wolf the size of a horse, with no remorse, and he will swallow you up like Little Red Riding Hood.”
Oh my God. Siren … Gage couldn’t believe what the man said. He would not believe it! There was no way that his best friend, his brother in every sense except blood, could ever transform into the mindless creature that was described. Siren was caring and funny and loyal to a fault where his friends and family were concerned. No. It couldn’t be true. Maybe the stranger was playing mind games with his disciple. Inari definitely appeared scared, and her master was smiling even wider than before. Gage shuddered at his ghostly face.
The cloaked man’s words definitely got Inari’s attention. She jumped up from the chaise in one fluid movement. Her mask of indifference fell, replaced by one of sheer panic. Her eyes rolled and bulged in their sockets.
“Well, what am I to do with him?” she screamed. Inari regarded Siren with careful distance.
The man shrugged, plastering a phony smile on his face. He put a reassuring arm around her shoulders. Sheesh, what a faker! Inari must have been really stupid not to see through him.
“Do not worry, my dear,” he spoke softly while giving her a quick hug. “Let us see if he can transform after a few good meals and some rest. You’ve been on the run for quite a while now, and both of you need to recuperate. I know just the place for that. You will love it! It is a palace fit for a queen!”
“Thank you, Nazar,” she replied stiffly. “You are too kind to me.”
Nazar! Gage finally had a name for the mysterious man! If only he would say the name of the palace he planned for them to stay at. Gage leaned a little farther out, straining to hear the words that Nazar was mumbling to Inari. His hand slid farther along the wall and he brushed against something that moved – something that felt slimy and had legs, a lot of them. Before he could stop himself, Gage jumped out in the open and gave a yelp. God, he hated anything with more than four legs!
When he looked up, Inari and Nazar were staring at him with expressions of disbelief and wonderment. Gage almost laughed. Yep, he thought smugly. You were being spied on by a kid and you didn’t even know it! So much for all those super-powers you have!
It didn’t take long for Inari to recognize him; a slow smile spread across her face like a kid in a candy store. Gage was the treasured lollipop that she wanted, and it didn’t matter if she had money to buy it or not; today, the candy was free for the taking.
Uh-oh. This was not good. Inari lick her thin lips, causing Gage to take a step back in reflex. She looked like a giant praying mantis that had just found her next meal.
“Well, well, well!” Nazar’s voice boomed across the cavern and pounded in Gage’s ears like a base drum. “Who do we have here?”
Inari walked slowly forward three steps. She swept her hand towards Gage as if offering him as a Christmas present. “Allow me to present Gage Gilbert, my Lord; the Guardian of the Key of Opa!”
Hearing Gage’s name, Siren’s head jerked up; he got to his feet on shaky legs. Gage saw a wide, silver collar around his neck. It was attached to a huge chain that could have kept a dinosaur from escaping. His bones and ribs showed starkly through his thin, matted fur, which had once been so luxurious and thick.
Gage felt sick. It was obvious his friend had been severely mistreated: beaten, starved, and tortured. Rage washed over him once again. Gage boldly took a few steps into the cavern. He had to rescue Siren.
From the corner of his eye, Gage saw Nazar rub his hands together, as if readying himself for an important job – one he looked forward to. Neither he nor Inari came any closer, but Gage knew they would, and soon. As he took another step towards Siren, the Key began to vibrate wildly and became so hot Gage had to pull it away from his skin and drop it on the outside of his shirt. Nazar’s eyes grew hungry with need.
Gage saw Siren shake his head in confusion; he looked right into his eyes and barked sharply. He was telling him to run. Before Gage could argue with the Were, a glowing blue light caught his attention. He barely had time to duck before Nazar hurled a flaming ball of power directly at his head! It exploded against the thick, bug-covered wall behind him, gouging a hole the size of a basketball and splattering the bugs into an abstract painting.
The Key had grown so hot Gage was sure it would burn a hole through his t-shirt. He would have a blister on his chest tomorrow – if he got to see tomorrow. Siren’s barks and Inari’s yells filled the cavern; Gage could see they were coming for him now. He had no other choice but to run for it. If he got caught he couldn’t help Siren at all.
“I’ll be back with help,” Gage called to his best friend. He made a dash for the passageway. The last thing he saw was Siren collapse to the floor from weakness and Nazar’s hate-filled eyes that were growing closer by the second.
Momentarily forgetting his poor motor skills, Gage sprinted through the narrow tunnel like a track star, cursing himself for leaving Siren behind. He could hear Inari and Nazar yelling close behind him, but their words meant nothing as the wind rushed by, filling his ears with the sound of the ocean. The passage that seemed to go on forever before abruptly ended, and Gage could see the grayish light once again. He spotted what he hoped was the entrance to the cave and put on more speed; the sounds of the ocean waves were louder in his head.
A few feet from the cave entrance (Thank you, God!), he stopped and looked behind him. Inari and her master were there, but they too had stopped, and were looking suspiciously triumphant. It was strange that he could still hear the ocean even though he was no longer running. He took the remaining steps to the round doorway in a backwards walk, keeping his enemies in sight. When he reached it, Gage stole a quick glance behind him and froze. His stomach dropped to his feet.
There was no ground. The cave was high in a cliff – higher up than Gage could ever imagine. Below him, there were only jagged rocks as sharp as glass … and the sea. Colorful rainbows danced in the fray as massive waves pummeled the razor-sharp crags. Their beauty mocked him. He had nowhere to go.
He turned back to Inari and Nazar. They knew he was trapped like a fly in a web. He could either jump or let himself be taken. Either way, he was dead. Inari’s gloating smile infuriated Gage. She had her fish on the line; all she had to do was reel him in. After they killed him, the Key would be theirs and all of Grimsley Hollow. His own world could possibly be destroyed in their wake of power.
So what was he to do? Gage looked back at the sheer cliff and rocks below. His heart galloped in his chest at the thought of plunging from such a high place, but the alternative was much worse. At least if he jumped, his death would be swift. If he was lucky, his body would be dragged off into the sea and the Key would be safe from their evil clutches. Maybe it wouldn’t even hurt at all. Yes, he had made up his mind. He had to do what he could to keep his friends and family safe. Siren would understand and would do the same. He had done the same when he sacrificed himself for Gage.
Sweat broke out along his forehead and slithered down the back of his neck, only to evaporate in the fresh ocean breeze. He turned to Inari and Nazar and imagined the expressions they would wear when he jumped and realized he had beaten them. It was Gage’s turn to smile. The Key hummed and vibrated against his chest. It was time to go.
A split second too late, Inari realized Gage wasn’t going to give himself up. She ran forward as Nazar watched, bewildered. He hadn’t caught on yet. Just as she reached Gage, he jumped out and away. She caught the hem of his shirt, but it wasn’t enough. As he plunged downward, she was left with only a small scrap of green material as the shirt tore. Gage’s laughter filled the air.
- Nicole Storey as ‘Featured Author’ for an entire week! (riteshkala.wordpress.com)
- Nicole’s Books – An introduction to the Grimsley Hollow Series (riteshkala.wordpress.com)
- Book Review – The Chosen One (Grimsley Hollow Series) by Nicole Storey (riteshkala.wordpress.com)
- Giveaway of The Chosen One (Grimsley Hollow Series) by Nicole Storey (riteshkala.wordpress.com)