The Conclave will be released in less than a week, so it’s preview time!!!!!! I hope you enjoy chapter one and it makes you almost as excited as I am for release day! I’ll post again tomorrow with info about the blog and then, on Monday, the tour will commence!! Happy reading!
Beneath the blades slicing through the air, darkness waits.
I stare down at the black sky under the helicopter, questioning my sanity—a new and frequent pastime.
“This is crazy.” Denny’s words echo my thoughts, but under his concern is an excitement I’m far from feeling.
Moving closer to my brother, I clasp the cold metal of the door frame. “You should have stayed,” I say for the millionth time while adjusting my high-tech helmet—complete with goggles and a scuba mask.
“Desiree, we’re going to be jumping from a helicopter into the ocean and scuba diving to an island.” He hangs his head out the opening, catching the buffeting wind. “Why wouldn’t I come?”
“Because we’re jumping out of a helicopter into the ocean and scuba diving to an island?” He smirks at me so I rush on, “But the island is the real problem, isn’t it? It’s not just any island but The Keep. And on that fortress, is a madman. A madman we’re supposed to capture.”
“And your boyfriend.” My heart springs to attention as Denny offers another sideways grin. I reach for the medallion at my neck before remembering it isn’t there.
“Enough talk, ladies.” Jian peaks over my shoulder, always in my personal space. Always begging for a good solid kick to the groin. But—since that didn’t stop him the first time—I ignore his proximity. “We jump in two.” Brushing against me, he spins to continue discussing a recent conquest with the co-pilot. Apparently, this girl was very into Jian. In other words, she was an idiot.
I’m not sure exactly what the pilot and co-pilot were told about our mission. Given their questioning looks when we boarded, I assume it wasn’t much. Just drop two teenagers and one far-too-smug jerk into the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But at least Jian’s casual approach has dropped their guards—not something I would recommend around the guy. Jian’s model good looks and genius intelligence hide an unbridled power.
“Tell me again why he’s here with us,” Denny growls in my ear.
I unclench my jaw to answer, “I’m not even sure how we ended up here.” I yank on the straps of my chute until the thick nylon cuts into my shoulders.
Denny loops his fingers under his straps. “Oh, I remember you volunteering… “I’ll bring the psycho back to you.” He attempts to mimic my voice. “I’m still in recovery, but have no regard for my health. I haven’t risked my life in weeks. So, please. Please! Send me!”
I stop his rant with a swift punch to the arm. “It’s not like I had much choice, no one else was volunteering. No one from Amplified Industries. No one from the Conclave. No one.”
Glancing to Jian, Denny raises a challenging brow. I curve a brow right back. He and I both know Jian’s volunteering was suspicious at the least.
After saying his farewells to the pilot and co-pilot, Jian crowds between us at the door. I lean away as his expensive cologne clouds the air. Who wears cologne to a dive? Maybe he’s had it implanted into his sweat glands—something Jian would consider a worthwhile investment.
“This is our stop.” Jian’s lip tips in the hint of an actual smile. A converter like him would be a thrill seeker. “Remember to count to ten before deploying the chute. The second you touch water, hit the release.” He motions to the tank on our backs. “We have enough air for one hour, so we’ll be swimming fast.” His smile drips as he looks Denny’s way. “Try to keep up, Tubby.”
Denny’s huge hand forms a fist any normal person would be threatened by. But—being far from normal—Jian carries on without seeming to notice. “The Keep is a mile away and we have two hours before light. See you on the flip side!” Jian pulls his mask down before tipping from the chopper with a mocking salute.
I slide the top portion of the mask over my eyes. The plastic suctions to my temples, leaving me feeling suffocated. Giving me a wink from under his lens, Denny bails. Unwilling to let either boy get too far ahead, I fall from the helicopter without hesitation. With my luck, it’s better to be away from that machine anyway.
The brisk night air rushes up at me as I count in my head. Even with the gift of night vision, there’s little to see. Only the occasional glimpse of moonlight on metal as Denny falls below and to the right of me. Beyond that, only black air to guide our fall and black ocean to catch us.
Memories of another night push at me, calling me to remember curling in a rocky indentation as I waited for morning, wanting me to relive my last night untainted by personal violence.
Instead, I count. Forcing my full focus into the numbers, picturing only their form in my mind. When the simple lines of one appear, I pull the cord to release my chute. It snaps up, jerking me backwards, the pull even harder than expected. Reaching for the lines, I guide my descent nearer to Denny’s.
Seconds before impact, the ocean comes into view. Like my dark thoughts, the water waits, moonlight glistening on the tiny ripples. I brace myself for the jolt of impact, the reality of returning to The Keep. Even with the wetsuit, the cold is shocking. Faltering, I miss the button at my shoulder. Parachute dragging me down, I smack at it until the straps snap loose. The chute falls away, swallowed up by the cresting waves.
Heart racing, I pull the bottom half of my mask in place, switch on my waterproof headlamp and search the waves for Denny. Yards away, he struggles with his lines. In a frantic, chopping motion, his hand slams the release button again and again. The weight of the parachute tips him back, pulling against his churning legs.
With converted energy, I cut through the dark water toward him. He disappears underwater seconds before my arrival. Fighting panic, I dive down, hardly noticing the encircling water, the air flowing into my mask from the tank as it automatically senses my dive.
Grasping the knife strapped to my leg, I reach for the lines on Denny’s chute. I slash wildly with one arm and pull him upward with the other. Finally, the last line is cut and the chute sinks away, pulled by a too-quick undertow.
Seeing him free, I check for the small device secured on my ankle—our ticket off the island. Finding it secure, I turn my attention back to my brother.
Kicking up beside me, Denny cocks his head in a show of thanks and gives me a thumbs-up. I refrain from smacking him and search the swirling, dark waters for Jian. Like a revolting undersea creature, he appears before us, pointing at our feet.
With the malfunction of Denny’s chute release, we haven’t activated our fins. Pulling my knees up, I tap the small button on the side of my ankles. A swim fin fans out from the toe of my shoe, snapping into place. With a sarcastic thumbs-up—no doubt mocking Denny—Jian swims away.
I let Denny go in front of me, his fins cutting through the water. I trail behind, already exhausted. Denny is more right than I care to admit about my recovery. I’m still far too weak for this mission. But no one else would come and I wasn’t about to let Jian loose on something this important.
I go numb in the deeper waters. After what feels like a lifetime, we reach the island. Still, we don’t surface. Instead—staying in the depths—Jian circles the rocky shore. I glance to the watch on my wrist, check again for the device on my ankle. We’re almost there with time and air to spare.
At a dark spot in the rock, Jian dives forward, his light revealing a tunnel. The dark rock reminds me of the long hallways of the island’s compound where the stone is left exposed.
Denny kicks into the compact, underwater hole first. I fight the instinct to pull him back.
We’re actually doing this. We’re really going back.
Arms cutting through the water, I shake the bad premonitions away. Jian gives me a smug, knowing look then—without a second glance—disappears into the tunnel.
I wait to follow him, watching his light fade, allowing the memories of this place to come—the cruelty of Knightly, the betrayal of Blake, the training from Jade and, finally, the death of Doren.
The moment I became a murderer.
I could have escaped. Could have left it all. Taken the money and Denny and started a small and simple life. Maybe I should have, but even though my life may not be worth much, Blake’s is.
I reel myself back to the present.
Gathering my will, I kick toward the tunnel. Toward The Keep. With each kick, I pull together my justifications, search for my strength.
I would do it all again. Will do it all again.
The curve of the tunnel has more than settled over me before I feel the light headedness. I suck in a shocked breath to clear my head and realize it’s not enough. My eyes dart to the gauge at my wrist.
Less than five minutes ago, I still had a quarter of a tank. I scramble forward. If I can just make the opening…
The tunnel seems to stretch, mocking me as it grows in length. I convert, but in my already weakened condition, it’s not enough.
It’s never been enough.
I pinch in a sob. I’m not going to make it. After everything, I’m going to die in the water. The tunnel blurs in front of me, edges merging into a big black pit.
I should have never trusted Jian.
Never agreed to this insane job.
Never gone back to the convergence.