Authors: Jayde Brooks
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Dedicated to Brett and Aliyah
will tell you that writing this story was more than a labor of love. It was labor fueled by determination, apprehension, confusion, fear, and finally desperation. And I loved every minute of it.
“We're not going to release it until it's ready.”
My editor, Monique Patterson, said those words to me four years and six versions ago and that's when I knew that she was on my side and that the two of us were in this together. I couldn't have been more grateful. Thank you, M.P., for your patience, and your guidance, and thank you for caring.
Alex Sehulster jumped into this project bringing along a pair of fresh eyes and a new perspective when I needed them most. I am so happy for the time you took to read my story and for your insightful observations. Your perspective was more valuable than you probably realized and I look forward to working with you going forward.
Sara Camilli, I don't know how many times or how many more ways that I can thank you, so I'll just keep it simple. You are not only a wonderful agent but a dear friend as well. You've supported every crazy idea I've ever had for stories, and believe me when I say that you are irreplaceable.
And finally to those who pick up this book and take a chance on this story, my hope is that you will find it as entertaining to read as I did to write.
This wasn't Brooklyn. Eden had taken the subway home from work and stepped out onto the platform, but she wasn't standing in the subway station. Her feet sank into a bed of sand. Hot desert winds whipped her locks across her face. The weighted gray sky bore down on her like an anvil. In the distance were sand dunes as tall as the New York City skyline. She shouldn't be here!
Eden turned to go back through the doors of the subway, but it was gone. Even the tracks were gone, and it was as if the train had never been there.
Eden jerked around to the source of the whisper being carried on the wind, but there was no one. She scanned the terrain as far as she could see, and there was nothing but sand and wind, dead space, a dead place!
The word just came to her. Ara was the name of this place. How did she know that?
It was wrong. Everything about this world was wrong. It felt cursed and angry, even evil. A bitter film coated her tongue and the back of her throat. Eden was lost here, and she was frightened and aloneâso very, very alone. She wanted desperately to cry, but the tears wouldn't come. She wanted to leave, but there was nowhere to run.
All of a sudden she looked down and noticed a trail of footprints in the sand that were unaffected by the wind. Without understanding why, she felt compelled to follow them. A warning snaked up her spine, but every instinct in her drove her to follow those steps, which vanished behind her as she walked. Each print fit her perfectly, as if she'd been the one to make them. But how? How could she have done that?
The heat quickly became unbearable, and with each step, Eden stripped off more and more of her clothing until all she had on were her panties. She was thirstier than she'd ever been, and the dismal realization that she might not ever leave this place began to sink in, filling her with a hopelessness and despair that weighed her down even more.
Nothing could live here. Nothing could thrive or exist in a place like this, and it was killing her, slowly, deliberately killing her. The hot, unyielding wind began to wear away her flesh, making it crack and then bleed, until wounds hardened and scabbed over her body. There was no sun on Ara, but the heat was unforgiving, rising up from inside the planet, burning the soles of her feet. For a time they were raw, but then the soft, vulnerable skin burned off completely until she hobbled on bone.
Liquid dripped from her eyes, as her vision slowly began to deteriorate. At first Eden believed that she was finally crying, but then she realized the terrible truth, that the gels of her eyes were melting.
She followed the sound of the voice, whispering to her again. Peculiar. It called to her. Eden raised her head to peer with what remained of her vision off into the distance and saw her, the one calling to herâa woman, naked. As Eden approached her, she noticed the woman's skin was even more petrified than Eden's, burnt red and leathered. Her hair was a twisted and tangled mass of twigs and thorns, and her breasts were sagging and desiccated. She was tall, taller than anyone Eden had ever seen before, and she was so emaciated that her body looked like painted bones. She stood defiantly, looking up at the sky with her mouth gaping. Her arms and legs were heavily shackled with chains buried deep into the sand.
Eden should've been afraidâand she wasâbut she was also drawn to her in an unexplainable way that confused her. She cautiously approached the woman, but she still seemed to be miles away from her.
Confusion enveloped Eden. She knew things about this place, about the woman, that she shouldn't have known.
she said in her head. The Redeemer and the destroyer of Theia.
It was as if the woman heard her and noticed her for the first time. She closed her mouth and slowly lowered her head and appeared to
at Eden standing across the desert. Eden's heart jumped into her throat, and the fear she felt left her breathless. She had made a mistake coming here. She realized that now, but it was too late. Mkombozi pulled so hard against one of the chains that she snatched the end of it out of the ground, stretched out her shackled arm, and reached miles and miles across the desert to wrap long bony fingers around Eden's neck and raise her high up off the ground. Eden kicked, scratched, and struggled to break free of her grasp, but Mkombozi was too strong.
She drew Eden to her and held her at face level. The terror of being this close to her, to Mkombozi, was overwhelming, and Eden felt as if her heart would burst through her chest.
Mkombozi carefully studied Eden, tilting her large head from one side and then to the other. The gels of the woman's eyes were gone, probably melted away the same way Eden's were melting now.
Her voice was ragged and deep, but her inquisitive demeanor reminded Eden of a child.
Eden prayed for tears. She prayed for a voice to scream, but she had been without water for so long that she doubted she could even speak anymore. The more she struggled, kicking and clawing at the woman's hand, the more Mkombozi tightened her grip around Eden's neck. It was only a matter of time before she killed Eden. So why was she fighting? Eden had no strength left to fight, and she wilted in Mkombozi's grasp, closed her eyes, and waited to die.
All of a sudden she was floating. It was over. It was finallyÂ â¦ Eden suddenly felt the ground rise up to meet her.
?” Mkombozi repeated, staring down at Eden, who lay crumpled on the ground at her feet.
Eden coughed, cleared her throat, and finally attempted to speak in a language she wasn't even aware that she knew. “Iâamâus!”
Stunned by her own response, Eden stared terrified and confused at Mkombozi. Why had she said that? It made no sense. What would make her say that? She didn't understand why or how, but she knew instinctively that she had spoken the truth to the powerful creature towering over her.
Mkombozi tilted her head, quizzically.
She shook her head quickly. “No!” she managed to say, swallowing. “No! I don't have them, and I don't want them!”
Mkombozi needed to know this. She needed to understand that Eden had no intention of ever bonding with the Omens.
“I don't want them!” She cleared her throat and said it again. “I don't want the Omens! I never wanted them!”
Mkombozi cringed and Eden felt her pain, her torment, and her rage. She felt her yearning and her desire. She was engulfed in Mkombozi's desperation.
Mkombozi pointed a long, crooked finger in Eden's face.
Eden shook her head and then she nodded and then she shook it again. “I am, butâI don't have the Omens! I don't want them!”
This time, Mkombozi reached down and grabbed Eden by the hair and dangled her in the air.
Eden felt her hair begin to tear away from her scalp. “That's not true, Mkombozi!” she screamed, closing her eyes. “I am your salvation!”
Mkombozi dropped her again, reared back, and glared at her. Doubt, disbelief furrowed her brow.
It was true. Eden didn't know how it was true or why she'd even said it, because it sounded ridiculous! How could she be Mkombozi's salvation, when Mkombozi had had the power of the Omens and the strength to destroy the Demon and Theia? Who was Eden that she should believe that she could save anyone, when it was painfully obvious that she wasn't even capable of saving herself? How could she save Mkombozi if she was terrified to make the bond with the Omens, which had been the source of Mkombozi's power when she lived?
” Mkombozi questioned.
Eden managed to struggle and stand. “We are destined, Mkombozi!” she shouted. “We are prophesied and we are one!”
Those words cut into her like a blade. Never had Eden dreamed she'd ever say them out loud. Never had she wanted to believe that they were true, but they were. Eden had been told these things since she was a child. Rose, the woman who'd raised her, had told them to her. Khale n
e Khale had said them as well, and Eden had always rejected them. In this moment, those words rang true. Eden and Mkombozi were one.