Authors: Ivan Amberlake
What others say about THE BEHOLDER
“I was so sure that all the supernatural worlds were already exhausted. Vampires, werewolves, aliens, ghosts… Then Mr. Amberlake’s novel arrived, took me by surprise and left me totally speechless. A world that no one has ever thought existed suddenly appeared. A world so perfectly built you wonder where it has been hiding before.”
— Becca, a Goodreads Reviewer
“Mr. Amberlake, in my opinion, has created a literary masterpiece. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy novels.”
— Bethanie Armstrong, the author of The Memory I Can't Erase
“Ivan’s world building is fluid and tangible and his characters are real. The Beholder is a well-written novel that will pull you into the storyline as though you were experiencing the reality yourself.”
— Sandy, The Reading Café
“Amberlake does an excellent job of melding plot, fantastical concepts, darkness and light with a love story between Jason and his very real feeling counterpart, Emily.”
— Scott J. Toney, the author of Hearts of Avon
“Dark, beautiful, and sinister. [Amberlake's] blend of the supernatural in and the harsh starkness of reality is fantastic.”
— Christian Rogue, the author of Beastia
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without the permission of the author. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.
Copyright © 2013 by Ivan Amberlake
All rights reserved.
Cover by Yannis Karatsioris
First Paperback Printing, February 2013
Breakwater Harbor Books, Inc.
Scott J. Toney and Cara Goldthorpe, Co-Founders
I would love to thank so many friends who inspired me in my work and encouraged me to make The Beholder into a much better book than it initially was. Many thanks go to Scott J. Toney, Cara Goldthorpe, Yannis Karatsioris, Sylvia Jobar, Ted Cross, Andrew Williams, Bethanie Walker Armstrong, Ross Clark, Jennifer French, J.H.F. White, Wendy Russo, Phil Partington, and Genevieve Graham.
Special thanks to Yannis Karatsioris for the amazing paperback book cover, and to Gwen Cole for the ebook cover.
In darkness, Pariah crept along the wall of the ancient corridor, black eyes squinting toward the end of the passage. A silvery glimmer streamed through the archway, and he flattened himself into the shadow, out of the way of the shimmering light. With every heartbeat the light grew more intense, until he was forced to halt and close his eyes to block it out, if only for a little while.
The Ethan girl was there, crouching behind the silvery dome she’d created in the center of the vast hall. It had cost them a lot of effort to track her down, and now part of the plan had been accomplished: he and seven other Shadows had brought her to bay.
Opening his eyes again, Pariah took a step forward and winced at the subsequent burn.
I shouldn’t go any closer.
He clenched his knuckles and the movement hurt, driving fury through him. He wanted to crush her, destroy her Light … but she was dangerous and unpredictable.
What if she escapes? This may be our only chance to catch her.
Pariah inhaled, reaching for patience. He must wait for her to make the fatal mistake, wait for her to leave her refuge. He envisaged his skulking brethren, guarding the other exits like spiders, and he grinned in malicious delight.
She won’t get away this time.
Currents of crimson energy flowed through Pariah and his brothers, the force aimed towards a circle of whirling silver light. But the girl remained unaffected, sheltered by its brightness.
he realized, watching the stream.
This was not the way she would be killed.
The currents could kill an ordinary person—in fact, hundreds of them in one second—but not a Sighted one. What they needed in order to break such a defense was an inhuman hatred. Pariah knew how to do it, but this wasn’t the time. His objective was to lure the girl into the trap, not kill her. First he would torture her, learn her secrets, then he would kill her.
Against the Light he was a better warrior. His hands were stained with the blood of the many Sighted he had slain.
he told himself.
She won’t be able to stay there for—
Searing pain shot up his spine, burning like acid and paralyzing him, sucking out his breath. All he could do was stare as an effulgent creature emerged from the circle, brighter than the explosion of a supernova, and watch that violent star head in his direction. The closer she got, the more she stifled the darkness inside him. Disgust rose as he sensed what was happening. It was as though love had been sewn into his hateful mind; twinges of conscience were waking in him, eradicating his inherent evil.
He tried to slow time, to stop the burning pain, but she knew how to block his attempts and make him suffer even more. The laws of physics meant as little to her as they did to him, and both abused their gifts to attain their aims. She was quicker than any of the Sighted ones who had previously crossed his path. He knew she was just as aware of him as he was of her, but she was stronger. For the first time in his dark existence, Pariah knew fear.
It happened too quickly. With ease, she breached the vicious circle he and the others had formed, and shot past, leaving a comet trail twinkling in her wake. Pariah stared after her, thinking through the decision she’d made. The trail was a block, not an attack. The Ethan girl had decided to protect herself from the shadow’s evil mind rather than use her power to kill him.
How noble—and naïve—to spare your enemy’s life,
His confidence returned, but his hands still glowed bright from her energy. He dispersed the vapor trail she’d left and warped his mouth to let out a horrific banshee howl. The terrible sound reverberated off the walls, rising in magnitude, and he hoped the amplified echo might hamper her flight. His brethren chimed in to reinforce the cursing howl as they swished past and darted after her, but Pariah remained stationary, suffering the agony of having been imbued with her Light.
He reached his hands in her direction, slowing her nimble movements as much as he could, but the distance between them only increased. Wasting no time—for he had no more to lose—he threw himself forward, steadily gaining speed, watching tunnels rush by on either side. Acting purely on instinct, Pariah cut a rupture in space and flung himself into the blackness. This time he exited much closer to her, and his success spurred him on to try again.
Cut—plunge into blackness—return to reality. That was the process.
The sickening light came closer with every surge. Understanding his intentions, the others reassembled to help the Evil One coax the girl into the trap. Pariah was desperate, aware he would only get one chance. He took a final plunge into the ruptured darkness and the action brought him through at last. He reappeared directly in front of her, and she braked, glowing with that detestable light.
For a brief moment, Pariah managed to discern her face, the amber eyes wide with fear. Then it was gone in an eruption of burning brightness. He sent a wave of dark energy at her, and her shield disintegrated. Pariah’s fury transformed into a victorious pulse; he had broken her defenses, and now she lay convulsing with pain, his deadly energy choking the life out of her.
Streams of translucent sunlight seeped onto New York, setting the windows of the Chrysler Building, among so many others, ablaze. It was normal for people to rush along the sidewalk, passing each other without making eye contact. What was abnormal was the way the sky rolled overhead, darkening with each moment until the early morning light seemed swallowed up by night.
Jason drummed his fingers nervously on the steering wheel of his sedan, frustrated at being stuck in traffic. He hated being late, and today he had the added pressure of a big presentation for which he’d been preparing for the past month.
A couple of women on the sidewalk stopped and pointed skyward, talking amongst themselves, so Jason leaned forward and looked up through the windshield, watching the storm cloud sprawl above the city like a purple bruise. As he inched closer to the Evelyn & Laurens building, a gust of wind wailed by, shaking the car and throwing thick raindrops against the windshield and roof.
“Nice,” Jason grunted.
He clicked a button on the control panel, and the wipers squeaked back and forth, sweeping the water away. Turning into the parking lot, he grabbed the only spot left, collected his folder, and took a deep breath before getting out. Shielding his head with the bulging folder, he scurried across the parking lot, maneuvering his way between the cars, but the folder was poor protection. An icy blast whipped across his face, reducing his dark brown hair to a sodden mess. When the wind picked up and nearly ripped the folder from his hand, Jason gave up on using it as an umbrella and clutched it tightly to his chest instead, barely managing to keep it in his grip.
He crossed the remaining distance, trying unsuccessfully to hop over streams of water, and shoved through the revolving doors. Water dripped from his new suit and pooled by his feet as he waited for the elevator, and he eyed his folder dubiously. He could only hope his paperwork wasn’t as drenched as he was.
“Of course it had to happen today,” he muttered.
Why couldn’t even one thing go right when it was supposed to?
ever gone right? Like that time two years before when his plane from Manchester to New York had flown into an ash cloud and nearly crashed. The plane landed safely, but Jason celebrated his survival by ending up in a car accident not long after. He escaped with only a few cuts and bruises, but several others were severely injured. Dumb luck.
And then there was the day he had moved to the new apartment. After that, things had only gotten worse.
In half an hour,
he thought, as butterflies created mayhem in his stomach,
I’ll be fired.
The doors opened, and he stepped into the elevator, together with a crowd of people thoroughly soaked just like him. A pretty blonde he hadn’t noticed before wedged against him on the left, but when Jason smiled, her eyes shot green daggers at him. His smile waned, and he was relieved when the doors finally opened so he could get out.
More frustrated by the moment, he stormed into the office, paying no attention to the familiar chic surroundings, and slammed the door behind him. He wasn’t surprised to see his co-workers, Matthew Allen and Debbie Eve, had already arrived.
Matthew swiveled in his chair, giving Jason a smile no one could resist. “Did you have a good night last night?”
Jason shrugged, then winced as a cramp grabbed his stomach. “Just stayed in.”
“You should have come to the party,” Debbie said. “We missed you.”
“Yeah, well I had—”
A soft knock interrupted their conversation, and a woman with black-rimmed glasses and a svelte navy suit entered their office. Jason stiffened reflexively. Evelyn, their boss, was in her late forties but looked ten years younger. It seemed to Jason she never stopped smiling. She was friendly enough, but there was something intimidating about her eyes. They never smiled.
Now Evelyn stared at Jason, and a lump lodged in his throat.
“The presentation will start in ten minutes,” she said, lifting delicate eyebrows. “I hope my trinity is well prepared.”
The cramp in his stomach had spread.
“Sure,” he muttered, his mouth parched.
“Okay. See you in ten minutes,” Evelyn said.
As soon as the door latched behind her, the three of them rushed to make a new copy of the soaked report. Ordinarily, Jason, Matt, and Debbie weren’t the least bit nervous at meetings. Today, however, they were under pressure to coerce the clients to sign a contract for a substantial sum. Evelyn & Laurens specialized in interior design. Jason called it an anthill of psychos and maniacs. And though it could be fast-paced, after working here for three years Jason happily admitted that being a maniac wasn’t so bad.
As the three walked in silence to the conference hall, the pain in Jason’s stomach intensified, twisting so that he almost doubled over. He suddenly wished he’d taken the time to eat breakfast.
“You okay?” Debbie asked quietly. “You’re really pale.”
“Stomach’s killing me,” he admitted.
“I’ll do the presentation if you want.”
“That’d be terrific, Debbie. Thanks.”
Inside the hall, the clients sat waiting in a semi-circle. A smiling Evelyn sat opposite them, chatting away. She’d switched the lights in the room on since the ugly cloud had overwhelmed the sun, and the room lit even brighter with a sudden flash of lightning, echoed by a faint rumble of distant thunder.
As if in response, Jason’s stomach convulsed. His knees wobbled, and he reached for a chair, barely able to stand.
No. Please no!
He took his seat, aware of a bead of perspiration trickling down his spine, and stared at the table. The storm worsened outside, and it seemed to Jason that the closer it came, the worse he felt.
It wasn’t breakfast. It wasn’t nerves. He knew what it was, though, and he was helpless to do anything about it. Trying to control the agony he knew would only get worse, he clenched his clammy palms until his nails dug in, but the pain in his stomach took over his mind, crushing him. Though he wanted to sit, he knew he had to get out, knew he couldn’t take it anymore. He leapt to his feet just as a bolt of lightning struck the neighboring building, and the accompanying thunder rattled the windows of the conference room. Everyone jumped and turned towards the window, and the building’s lights flickered a few times before going out completely.
Jason stumbled out of the darkened room, vaguely aware that the pain in the pit of his stomach had spread throughout his entire body.
No one can stand this kind of pain,
He tried to distract himself, counting out loud as he raced toward the bathroom, but nothing helped. Inside the bathroom he gripped the rim of the sink, swallowing a scream as his left shoulder burst into an agony so sharp it was as if a nail had been driven into it. With an effort, he scooped water onto his face and gasped as it prickled like millions of tiny needles against his skin. He squeezed his eyes closed and saw … the impossible. Images—memories he’d never known—gushed out and seared themselves into his mind.
No, not again,
he pleaded silently.
The shadows had returned. He knew them so well: relentless pillars of smoke that thrived on his blood. Fighting for breath, he clutched the sink, letting sweat drip from his face into the porcelain bowl. When he snapped his head up to look in the mirror, he stepped back, shocked.
Five words were smeared across the mirror, written in what had to be blood. Nothing else left that shade of red behind.
We are coming for you.
The room spun, and Jason dropped to the floor, falling into the yawning blackness.