The Waress, Waress Series book one (five page sample)
I am cursed; I was saved.
Blue smoke, thick as ash, swirls inside my body. Dropping in the dew-covered grass, I clutch my chest, roll over, and curl fetal. Hot bile stings my throat. Come on, heart, pump. Come on.
The smoke drags through me, forcing a shout, then chokes my lungs closed. One minute I’m convulsing on a gurney in New Orleans, the next I’m here—always here. Reborn in Germany after each death, twenty-five years old and still searching.
Some lifetimes I live for decades, others only a few years before . . . Either way, no one ever mourns me. Letting anyone become close isn’t an option.
Sweat coats my scalp as pain splinters across my ribs. Not a moment too soon, the tight weight lifts and the thick hazy spirals exit my body, form into a cone above me, and vanish.
Come on, heart. Beat.
Frozen as a corpse, I stare at the sky. A spotted falcon circles above and my vision locks on the bird. I’d cry his name if I could.
Finally, oxygen rushes in, and I gasp. Shaky moans come between coughs and gags. My heart thumps into action as I shiver on the frigid ground while blood retraces my veins. Each death is the same. Each death is different. This time a car accident, last time a . . . I don’t recall. Time distorts my memory.
Tremors jolt my torso as my temperature returns to normal. A full recovery is inevitable, but takes time. Time I don’t have.
Every inactive minute equals a minute lost in my search for other witches.
I lift up. Even in the earliest moment of dusk, I’d recognize southwestern Germany’s mixed gold and green autumn hills as they dip and rise into the distance. Capable of tucking entire towns in its steep folds, this land is familiar even with cell phone towers shooting above the evergreens. My hillside, a gentle slope split by an old path with a centuries old oak anchored near the top.
Anxious to flee, I rise, but my legs buckle and I slam to the ground. This isn’t good. I’m as vulnerable as a new fawn in the open. A plane roars across the afternoon sky. The falcon is gone.
“Focus, Elsbeth,” I whisper. “Focus.”
Testing my balance once more, I grip the turned-over cuffs of my bucket-top boots and tug them tight to my knees. Secrets which stay covered stay kept.
I smooth my long tiered skirt and brush grass from my shirt. Time to move. To run.
Down the hill, in the place where a large, stone courthouse towered three hundred years ago, a short series of crumbled walls remain, only a few feet high. Between two sections of the wall, three of the original seven steps hug the ground. The last foundational remains of a building constructed before time and history had a say. People like to forget these places. Lucky people die without returning to them.
Ignoring the nausea and memories that stir from the building’s rubble, I ease down the slope to the stone carcass. The reddish rocks align like bloody teeth snapped off in multiple directions. My stomach sours again. After a glance around, I tap an egg-shaped rock in the wall and it loosens. The stone pries free, revealing a bone-colored paper.
Sepia letters on parchment recount the catalog of my various deaths. Starting with 1647 here in Schramberg, Germany, next reads Salem, Massachusetts, and on, and on, until now in the twenty-first century. A lump of sadness blocks my airway. Such a long timespan, yet dreams and pain fit easily into a tidy list. I am an exhausted spirit longing for anything but solitude. An immortal life is an unnatural life.
I rub the crease from my brow. Doesn’t matter. No point reliving lifetimes wasted. Find the witches. Restore mortality. Go from there. And just ignore how sick I am of ending up empty-handed.
With a flip of long brunette hair over my shoulder I feel for energy around me before I tap the scroll’s corner and concentrate. New golden letters form at the bottom of the list. My most recent ending now recorded: New Orleans, Louisiana. I’d tracked a rumor of a witch to an abandoned warehouse. The car that hit me came out of nowhere.
The letters cool and then fade. My teeth bury in my lower lip as images of the emergency room from minutes earlier flash back: sterile air, bleach, fluorescent lights, and a powder blue surgical mask with fearful eyes above the rim. Then the flat line—a high-pitched squeal singing the song of my heart unable to cope with so much blood loss.
That poor doctor. Sweat dotting her forehead, she yelled through the mask to nurses, demanded paddles and shouted “clear” through an unsteady voice. No telling what she thought when a mound of smoke replaced me.
I sigh, as if the action will shatter memories. Once the paper is returned to the hole in the wall, the rock seals over it. Who knows why I even keep the record anymore?
This aching desire to find others like me magnifies with every painful rebirth, but time after time, I die never finding a single witch. Each unforgiving death makes this existence that much more hopeless. But it’s like I’m obsessed with them, and I don’t know if that’s because I can’t find them, or if it’s because witches are conditioned to be with their kind.
Out of habit I plait a braid starting at my temple. Decisions need to be made. Sure, weighing options is easy, but making the choice isn’t. Another witch hasn’t been spotted in almost two hundred years, and yet, I hope. Why? Is there a moment when giving up is the correct choice?
I step away from the wall. Another chilled breeze rushes by.
Not like there aren’t lifetimes to search; such is the cruelness of immortality. The other witches did this. If I’m being honest with myself, I neither hate nor blame them, but their selfless sacrifice for my survival has transformed into a dark curse they never intended.
My lids grow heavy as rocks. A dark magic lurks nearby. I must leave.
I travel west toward the familiar wood smoke columns rising above a red-roofed town ten miles away. Each new step cements my spirit into my reformed body and my senses return. Like every spent life before, the sensation of Death’s snaky fingers around me gradually dissolves until a wholeness fills my core.
With distance from the ruins, anxiety fades and I can refocus, breathe deeper, but where to begin? If I don’t find others, then I’ll never be rid of this curse. But without witches to balance humanity, to offset the bad in the world . . . Forget it, Elsbeth. Rehashing the fate of a mankind without witches does no good.
The path twists around one steep golden hill and cuts across the slope of another toward a dense section of evergreen woods. Shouldn’t be much farther beyond the forest before rural houses dot the countryside. Cities are safer, even though they’re not as comfortable, but the chance of uncovering a witch increases in populated areas.
My foot snags, and I peek back. On the hill behind me, two men in long, black dusters walk west as well. One with flaming red slicked back hair, the other blond. Trimmed beards frame their faces. The gap between us is a mile wide. Not nearly enough. A trill of nerves leaps into my chest like a rabbit darting into a hole. Stay relaxed, think clearly.
Quickening my pace, I check over my shoulder again. Damn.
They’ve quickened theirs. I struggle to keep my quivering legs at a fast walk. How many more will track me? In almost every lifetime I’ve seen them—these men, these Shadows. Sometimes they keep a distance, sometimes they venture too close.
I speed to a jog. They mirror my pace. The best hope is losing them in the woods; with weakened magic I’m no match against Shadows on open land and no place to hide. Running now, the faster I go the more ground they cover, tightening their advantage. Sure, they can kill me, and I will be reborn, but the pain of the act—the violence—is traumatic. And if they don’t finish me off, the suffering . . .
My ears ring. Panic freezes the best of me.
In mad fear, I break from the path through a dried field, flattening the brittle yellowed grass until I’m in the woods where I dodge between trees and duck branches. Thin outstretched twigs sting my face and pine sap sticks on my skin. The shaded air chills harder than before. I can’t breathe.
Another glance. The men follow, heavy footed and snapping limbs, hell-bent to catch me. At a small clearing ahead, a wooden footbridge spans over a wide, rushing river. Water can help.
I sprint across the rickety bridge, my feet like thunder on the silvery warped boards, and stand my ground on the other side. The Shadows consume the gap between us, mouthing my name, but there’s no hearing them over the terrified blood thumping in my ears.
Remain calm. Harness the energy.
Can’t get scared, else I’ll be murdered again.