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       Shifters - The Jade Forest Chronicles 1, p.1
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           Vivienne Neas
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Shifters - The Jade Forest Chronicles 1


  Shifters

  The Jade Forest Chronicles

  Vivienne

  Neas

  Blue Shelf Bookstore

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by BlueShelfBookstore

  www.blueshelfbookstore.com

  The Jade Forest Chonicles

  © 2016 BlueShelfBookstore

  All rights reserved

  For your convenience, the link to my next book on the Series; click HERE or on the cover:

  Chapter 1 – Amber

  The cemetery was gloomy, even when the sun was bright overhead. We’d been warned to stay away as children – the ghosts could drag you under and you’d never see the light of day again. With what we knew of magic, we believed them. Now the stories seemed ridiculous.

  Gray tombstones sprouted from the ground like weeds, mossy and overgrown, most of them so old the wording was indecipherable. A few scraping indentations suggested someone wanted to remember the life of someone else.

  I picked my way along the narrow footpath that was now only a trail, so overgrown with grass that I lost it now and then.

  A thin man with graying hair and round glasses waved at me with a hand over his head when I reached the top. He was standing under a lone tree that had grown on the top of the hill, the only tree left in the whole cemetery. The rest had been removed to make space for the dead.

  I lifted my hand in a wave, and then touched it to my hair. I’d pulled it back to look professional. I made sure my glamour was still in place and smiled. Fae take on different forms. Some of them look very human, with just a few differences. My eyes are naturally purple. My hair is white like snow. My skin is the color of caramel. If I use my glamour, I become a brown-eyed blonde.

  “Miss Vale,” Mr. Williams said, staying where he was until I reached him. “Good of you to meet me here.”

  He looked around himself as if he was unsure where to stand. He was only human. He couldn’t feel what I could feel now that I was on higher ground. A ripple traveled through the ground and shivered over my skin. Maybe this was what they were talking about.

  “Please, call me Amber, Mr. Williams.”

  He nodded and held out papers to me. They were some kind of will stating that the cemetery was part of the land that was now mostly occupied by the fae reserve where I lived. The cemetery was on the edge of the reserve, but it still fell in our land. And there was power here. The power that I expected others were trying to get their hands on, now that it didn’t belong to anyone.

  “And you say the last descendant has passed away?”

  Mr. Williams nodded. “I’ve searched the archives everywhere.”

  I nodded and read the papers again. This piece of land, this age-old cemetery, had belonged to a human. He’d been about ninety when he died, and the land had been transferred from one generation to the next.

  “Has Mrs. Bluegrain contacted you?” I asked.

  Mr. Williams nodded. “Yes.”

  I saw him roll the word around in his mouth, tasting it before saying it out loud. Fae had strange names, and sometimes humans sat up and took notice.

  “Mrs. Bluegrain mentioned that she doesn’t want the land to stay in the public domain.”

  I could understand why. The wind had picked up, and it carried a scent. I breathed in. It was the scent of a living being, but I couldn’t place it.

  Mr. Williams looked at his wristwatch. “If you will excuse me, Miss Vale, my next client is on his way up here.”

  He turned his head and looked down the hill on the other side. Someone was walking up toward us. He didn’t pick his way among the tombstones the way I had. He walked past everything, cutting the straightest line, making his own path.

  Mr. Williams glanced at me. I had the feeling he wanted me to leave. The wind shifted, and that scent drifted toward me again. This man’s scent. It was stronger now, and decisively inhuman.

  He had dark hair and a tan that would look to the human eye like he spent a lot of time in the sun, or that he was a specimen with great genetics. I knew that wasn’t what it was. His presence reached us first. Heat rushed over me, and then his eyes fell on me. Cerulean, like a pair of sapphires. He was a werewolf.

  Fae and werewolves don’t mix. Werewolves lust after power. They’re all about aggression and loyalty, and they fight to maintain their pecking order. Fae believe in peace and the good order of nature. We don’t fight unless we need to defend ourselves, and even then we don’t counterattack. We do what we need to do to survive.

  The hair on my skin stood on end when the werewolf stepped into our discussion circle.

  “Not the only buyer, I see,” he said.

  “This land isn’t for sale.”

  He looked at me. His eyes flashed, and I knew that he knew I was fae. He couldn’t see through my glamour, but he would be able to feel me. Fae had natural talents that showed up on the magic radar. Mr. Williams seemed to be oblivious to the species clash, though. There were only a few humans who knew about preternatural creatures. The rest of them lived in ignorance, and it was an unspoken rule among us to keep it that way.

  “What she means to say, Mr. Kerr, is that the negotiations are still underway.” Mr. Williams looked nervous, like he’d been caught cheating.

  I glared at him. “This land is not available until Mrs. Bluegrain has taken a look at the paperwork,” I said.

  Mr. Kerr chipped in, “By law, Miss Vale, anyone can show an interest.”

  I bristled. He was right, by human law. But Kerr wasn’t a human, and I wasn’t either. And the cemetery wasn’t on human land – although Williams wouldn’t know that. This land was not available. There were preternatural laws that overrode the human ones.

  When I looked at Mr. Kerr, his eyes were on me. I had the feeling he could see right through me, through the glamour. I didn’t like it. I glared at him, too.

  His face was square and well-defined, with a nose as straight as an arrow and lips that looked like they were on the verge of a smile all the time. An arrogant smile.

  He was good-looking, and he knew it. Muscles bulged under his shirt, but his power wasn’t just natural strength. A lot of preternatural power oozed out of him, spreading across the hilltop, making my breath catch in my throat. He was the opposite of everything I’d grown up with – wild, reckless, raw.

  “Mr. Williams, I believe Mrs. Bluegrain will be in touch,” I said. “Just let me get this paperwork to her.”

  “Very well, Miss Vale.”

  “Amber.”

  “Right. There’s no reason not to show this gentleman the property, though. Speed up the process once it’s on the market, eh?”

  He winked at me as if we were sharing a personal joke. I glanced at Kerr. Could he feel the magic here, too? He should have. If he knew what I was, he was strong enough to know what was in the earth.

  “If you’ll excuse us?” Mr. Williams looked at me with a polite smile.

  Kerr grinned. That same heat I’d felt when he’d arrived washed over me again. Power and… something else.

  I walked away. I had no business staying behind, minding business that wasn’t my own. I had to get to Muriel and tell her what was happening. The werewolf was a strong one – the alpha’s second or third, if I’d read his magic right. That meant that Raphael knew about the land. And if the alpha of the wolf pack knew about the power that was available, there had to be other creatures that knew.

  We couldn’t afford any of the p
reternatural creatures getting their hands on whatever was in that ground. It was a cemetery, and I was starting to think that whatever was buried there hadn’t been human. It was the only way power could have flowed into the ground that way.

  I got in my car and drove on the narrow road that led around the fae reserve. The road had been built ages ago as a route between cities that were far from here in both directions, and it had never been meant for this much traffic. Prumm Brook was on my left, wide and powerful after the summer storms. The water chattered as it flowed downstream. The water users understood what it said.

  The sky was a bright blue, with not a cloud to be seen. I breathed in deep, smelling and feeling nature all around me. Fae were nature people. We believed that nature took its own course, and we were only travelers on a journey that would end up where we belonged.

  I thought back to the werewolf – Mr. Kerr – and his defiant nature. Oh, how glorious would it be to be so rebellious by nature and be rewarded for it? The wolves were allowed to be difficult. As long as they were loyal, that was all that mattered. My stomach turned and I gripped the steering wheel, trying to push away the envy that pushed up into my throat. Usually, I believed in the concept of fate and the path that nature carved out for us. There were a few times, though, when I felt like I was stuck in a gilded cage, forced to be someone and unable to figure out who I really was.

  I turned into the driveway that led to the reserve’s gate and swallowed my stupidity. I couldn’t think like that if I was going to see Muriel Bluegrain and my father. Maybe I would even have to face more of the council, and being bitter about my life would only make things hard for me.

  The reserve was old, but it had only recently been assigned to the fae. The few humans who knew about the preternatural world had carved out space for us where we could live in peace. They were the governing body for the preternatural community, and they lived in a joint estate on the other side of the river. It was just outside the human town of Milford, a self-proclaimed government property named Forechester Keep.

  That was the last place any of the fae wanted to go. Humans loved war and famine and poverty. They always said they despised it and fought for peace, but fighting is an active verb, not a passive one. No one has ever achieved peace by fighting for it.

  Hocus came to the gate as I drove up. He was the gatekeeper. If you couldn’t get past him, you didn’t get into the reserve. He was a tall man, broad in his human form, about a head taller than I was. His hair hung to his shoulders. Only the flash in his eyes suggested he wasn’t human.

  That was all glamour, in case a human took the wrong turn. When he was in his true form he was colossal, easily three times my size, with teeth that protruded from his mouth and hands the size of wheelbarrows.

  “Back from your trip, Miss Vale?” He smiled. Hocus was a gentle soul. He only looked terrifying, and that was enough to scare trespassers away.

  “How many times do I have to tell you to call me Amber?”

  “Council Member Vale’s daughter? I don’t think so.”

  I smiled back at him and watched him as he walked to the gate. He opened it for me, the words In Caelum splitting in half to let me through.

  The reserve was a big place, a town in its own right. I drove through the different neighborhoods where fae with different talents and powers lived. We covered the elements – water, fire, earth, air, and spirit. My family was fire. The houses were all spectacular. We were all in the same class – we all had enough, no more than we needed and no less. The houses were all the same size, decorated in roughly the same way. We were all equal besides the governing hierarchy we’d set up to keep order. If no one had anything to envy, there would be no fighting, no jealousy, no unfairness, and no argument.

  I drove past our neighborhood to the city hall, where I had to meet with Muriel. My father was going to meet me there. City Hall was a place that spoke of justice and wealth. It was a stern place, but everything was decorated with glittering gems, shimmering paints, and plants that bloomed with the brightness of jewels. Here, in the middle of the reserve, all the elements came together in a celebration of life.

  I parked and walked in through the tall front doors. The secretary, a timid water user, glanced up at me over her round little glasses. She had a shimmering skin, the lightest blue. Her eyes changed between blue and green. I always forgot her name.

  “She’s expecting you,” she said.

  I smiled at her and pushed into the conference room. Muriel Bluegrain was there, along with my father and another council member that neither of my parents really liked.

  “You’re late, Amber,” my father said. A gentle voice, hard eyes.

  I nodded. “I was held up. Mr. Williams had another meeting that overlapped with mine.”

  Muriel raised her eyebrows. She was a spirit, and she downright terrified me. Her skin was a healthy bronze, her hair a very dark brown. When she smiled, it didn’t reach her eyes.

  “Raphael sent a wolf.”

  My father and the other council member murmured under their breath. Muriel held out her hand and I walked to her, handing over the file. She flipped it open and read over the first page.

  “Thank you, Amber,” she said. I was dismissed. She turned to my father. “North, would you object to your daughter being more involved in this case?”

  My father shook his head, his face stating that he minded very much. She nodded and turned her back to me. I wasn’t needed anymore. Not yet. Not right now.

  But I would be, and that was something, at least. There were very few times I was actually needed, and that ate away at me on bad days. As long as I had a purpose in this place, I could keep going.

  Chapter 2 – Balfour

 
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