Book 2 – Forged of Ruin

Release: 08 Jan 2020

eBook ISBN: 9781393909101

eBook ASIN: B083NZ8BWR

PBK Pages: 446

PBK ISBN: 9781653344840

Also available free through your local digital library. Just request through their Overdrive system!

A Tale of Vikings, Elves & Gods

(The Cursed Elves Series #2)

It’s 1465 and a battle is brewing in middle ages France. Martine and Jonah Forester are living in Avon, a small town south of Paris, and are called upon to aid Louis XI against Charles the Bold. Along the way, they end up meeting a young child named Prisca, with no memory of how she came to be in the forest.

Back in the present, it’s six months after the Foresters helped end of one of the original curses, and they’re still struggling to adapt. But time waits for no one, and new dangers are rising.

Half-Elves have been getting abducted… and then returned unharmed, but everyone is refusing to talk about what really happened to them. Raymond’s kids have landed in terrible danger from an unexpected source, and now Martine has drawn the attention of a powerful witch and the local Merfolk. Meanwhile, the Eklunds are trying to keep another God away from Priscilla.

Events of the past forged them all into who they are today. But is it a change for the better?


Content Warning: This book is written for adults and contains adult content to include violence, murder, gore, cursing, sex, and adult intimacy (bisexual / gay / straight relationships and polyamory). This particular book also contains depictions of historical war and non-sexual violence toward children.

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CHAPTER 1, SECTION 1

Seventeenth of July, 1465: Early Evening, Avon, France

Martine watched the Humans from his perch on the wide window ledge. The keep tower was not exceedingly large, by comparison to the more modern designs, and suited the small town it oversaw. Raised upon a hill, the residents often mentioned how seeing the lit torches flickering from the tower, as they were now, was a welcome beacon while they made their way home in the dark. None of the villagers, of course, realized it was exclusively owned by Elves and designed with their sunlight issues in mind. The only thing of concern to the townsfolk, now that it was night, was packing up their market wares and returning home for a light supper before bed.

Despite its close proximity to Paris, Avon was a very safe town, and its members enjoyed the relative ease of life within the wooden walls. As the last of the villagers made their way home through the streets of town, Martine caught movement at the far East edge of his vision. He focused on the spot and waited for his eyes to adjust more.

His Elf hearing detected the sound first, the familiar squeak and rumbling weight of the solid wood and steel covered cart that Elves traveled in during the daytime. Essentially a large, solid box made from two joined halves, it afforded protection from the Sun in situations where travel could not be avoided. But it was slow going and heavy, requiring more horses to pull it and was often seen as more of a target than something to keep one safe.

Elves hated riding in them, and were plagued with a constant fear of their caravan being attacked and set afire or opened in the Sun, or perhaps even breaking a wheel and crashing to the ground, leaving them stranded in the open until dark. It was an almost universal hatred, and most Elves had their own personal scenario they feared happening while traveling in the box. It was so pervasive, they nicknamed the large box ‘le cofin,’ the coffin, due to how vulnerable to death they felt inside it.

Martine began to perceive many shapes coming out of the shadows, and he had seen enough battles in his time to instinctively know the way they were walking was not the gait of a victorious group. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, asking the Gods to return Jonah safely. When the soldiers came closer into view, he frowned as he realized there were far too many people in the pack.

Unwilling to take any risks with the townspeople under his charge, he rushed to the tower bell, ringing it to alert them of incoming arrivals, then grabbed his sword and hurried out toward the exterior wall where he could climb up and see more clearly.

Jonah had gone along because their destination was nearby the church at Longpont, which was originally a Druid sanctuary. It was known for a particular story about the discovery of a hollow Oak tree which contained within it a wooden statue of a woman with an infant in her arms.

Despite being discovered over one-hundred years before the origin of Jesus of Nazareth, it was largely assumed to be a Christian statue because it bore a Latin inscription about a virgin birth. When Christians later visited the holy Druid site, they convinced the Druids that the events indicated by the statue had taken place elsewhere and the Druid site was turned into a Catholic church.

The Elves had, however, long since suspected some other significance to it, and Jonah had done nothing but speak excitedly about going for weeks. Of course, he was forced into going ahead of schedule not only because King Louis had asked for aid, but also to be close by to keep an eye on his son, Cedric, who was working his way up the Elf leadership ranks, steadily.

Martine scanned the group again. He had not yet seen Cedric or Jonah, and it would have been normal for them to ride up front, now that it was dark. Just then, Adeline came running up to the outer wall.

She shouted up at Martine, “Do you see them?”

He shook his head. “I can see many moving this way, but they have not emerged from the woods yet. Perhaps inside the coffin.”

A crowd of dozens had begun to gather within the gate, below the wooden high perch that Martine had climbed to peer over the wall. He continued to stare into the darkness, knowing the same concern each person inside the wooden barrier wall was thinking about — is it a trap? Are they really our people or just carrying the fallen flag and attempting to breach the defenses easily in the dark by sneaking in under the guise of being returning soldiers.

Everyone was waiting for the signal, and finally it came. A flute in the distance, began to play a series of notes, followed by a different one, and once again a new set of tones. Then the sounds started to repeat. The crowd, and Martine, all let loose a sigh of relief before launching into action.

“Light the torches! Open the gates! Get the healers out to them!” Martine called out orders the townsfolk were very familiar with, and like trained soldiers they flew to their stations, each ready to handle a different important task of tending the wounded.

The large barrier doors opened and two empty carts driven by pack horses rushed out of the entrance with an Elvish healer in the back of each. The townsfolk suspected they used magic, but the healers insisted they merely prayed over the injured and God healed them. So the residents were content to choose to believe that God took a special interest in the well-being of their town.

Martine rushed over to his horse, swung up onto it, and edged the beast closer to Adeline. He called out to get her attention as she tried to organize some fresh water and bandages, “Addie! I saw others, I don’t know how many. Order them to set up extra food and shelter.”

She nodded sharply. “Bring them back to me.”

Martine thought of the events, three days before, that led up to this moment. Adeline’s fear, Cedric’s insistence on going, Jonah’s reluctance, and a feeling of dread began to steal over him.

His lips were drawn in a tight line, but he nodded briefly in response to Adeline then rode out to discover if his best friend had survived.

~~~

CHAPTER 1, SECTION 2

Present: 4:40PM, Jonah’s House, Dallas, Texas

Jonah burst into the room and immediately began activating the dark system which had lain dormant for many months. As he banged around the room, Martine glanced up from his book to observe with amusement and curiosity. Jonah continued moving around, shuttering each window, turning the room entirely dark. Martine casually reached for the lamp next to him and flipped it on.

The sudden light flooding the room startled him, then he spoke urgently. “I didn’t know you were there. We need to call Priscilla, right away. Something’s wrong with the Sun, I think the Furies have redone the curse. Or it’s something else that’s gone wrong. I don’t know. Get her on the phone would you? We need to warn everybody!”

Martine quirked an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with the Sun?”

“It burns again!”

He frowned and sat forward. “You’re burned?”

“Yes! Look.” Jonah approached and held out his arm. “See here, the skin is burning, there’s peeling, blistering, and it’s all hot.”

Martine’s lips twitched slightly.

“It seems to be happening slower than it used to, but nonetheless we’re no longer safe in the Sun.”

Martine couldn’t help but chuckle, then grasped Jonah’s arm and brought it to his lips, pressing a kiss to the burned skin.

“This isn’t funny. What are you laughing about, and why aren’t you calling Priscilla?”

“My dear, they call this a sunburn.”

Jonah yanked his arm away, annoyed. “Isn’t that what I’ve been saying? Are you not listening at all?”

He smiled at him patiently. “No, I mean, sunburns existed before. Humans get them all the time. You’ll heal from it in a few minutes if you just wait, it’s a very minor burn.”

Jonah had his phone out and was already searching for Priscilla’s number, but he suddenly stopped and frowned skeptically. “Are you sure?”

Martine laughed and smiled again. “I promise.”

Jonah frowned and crossed to the couch, flopping down in annoyance. “Humans get this? Why would they spend so much time in it if they burn easily? It’s not like they have our healing speed. Perhaps they’re even less advanced than I understood.”

Martine grinned. “To make it more confusing, they can even develop a kind of disease they call cancer from it. It can spread through their bodies and kill them.”

Jonah snorted derisively and shook his head.

He leaned over and pressed a kiss to Jonah’s cheek. “You’re adorable. It’s amazing how foolish you can be for such a brilliant archivist.”

“Well, it’s not as if I’ve spent much time in my life around Humans or the Sun.”

Moments later Martine noticed that Jonah’s skin was fine and tapped his arm to draw attention to it.

Jonah sagged with relief against the back of the couch, blowing out a loud breath. Soon after, he acknowledged, “OK, so maybe I still have a little anxiety about burning.”

Martine ran his fingers through Jonah’s hair. “You nearly died in the Sun more than once, don’t apologize for having these worries. It’s a big change from a thousand years of darkness.”

“Well, I’m not as ancient as all that,” Jonah teased.

Martine poked him in the arm. “Are you calling me ancient?” he asked with a grin.

“Only a little, I’m nearly as old as you.”

Martine turned off the lamp. “We can stay in the dark for a while, I haven’t seen the room this way in months. It looks different, you know. The Sun makes colors change, and shadows look wrong. The whole room looks different from how it used to.”

Jonah nodded.

They stayed in the dark, sitting there silently for a few minutes before Martine made a suggestion, “How about we try that new Italian place that opened up? You can tell me if their food is worth the claim to being Italian.”

“That sounds good. Let me change and we’ll go give it a chance.”

Martine smirked. “If that’s what you call it when you try a new Italian place, sure.”

Jonah laughed. “Not my fault so many are bad.”

“They could merely need some time to adapt, figure out how to get it right for their customers.”

He made a dismissive noise. “If they require months or years to get decent, they shouldn’t have opened up in the first place.”

“Good point.”

Jonah disappeared into the bedroom and Martine heard the shower come on. He withdrew his phone from his pocket and scanned through the contact list. His finger hovered over the listing titled ‘Mont Resor.’ He considered pushing the call icon but instead tapped the message icon and typed out:

How’s the snow, mon trésor? my treasure

Before pushing send, he sighed and cancelled the text, then stuffed the phone back in his pocket. He raked his hands through his hair in frustration, then rose and crossed to the bedroom to change for dinner.

An hour later, they entered the new restaurant and followed the host to their table. Once seated, Jonah began evaluating the menu like a surgeon examining a new patient he was about to cut into.

Martine regarded him with amusement. “So how does it look?”

“It seems fine. Mostly the basics, but that’s a good start. If they can’t make a good basic pasta or standard sauce, then there’s no point in trying anything more complicated.”

“Sounds like a reasonable plan. Of course, they’re going to be making things Americans will recognize and know how to order. So what’s a safe bet then, a lasagna? Spaghetti?”

“We should try both, and also a manicotti. If they can’t handle American Italian food, well, we’ll just move along.”

Martine added, “I want some bread and one of those little olive salads. If it all goes smoothly, maybe we’ll even get a chance to try some of that Italian dessert that you brag about so much. It looks like they have tiramisu on the menu.”

Jonah smiled. “Not that tiramisu is an ancient dish, but it’s an excellent modern one and I approve of all things Italian… old or new. If they can, possibly, create a good tiramisu, then they will be heads and shoulders above so many of the other restaurants in Dallas who are trying to pass themselves off as authentic.”

“Let’s raise a glass in hopes this place will be the exception to the horrific rule. When we get something to drink, of course,” Martine said as he glanced around for a waitress.

Jonah responded, “Speaking of which, let’s keep it simple with the drinks. Choose a basic sparkling white for an aperitivo or even just some lemon water. I want to be able to taste the meal.”

Martine smiled to himself. One of Jonah’s favorite things in the world was playing food critic for Italian restaurants or, for that matter, anything claiming to represent his Italian culture. He understood completely. Priscilla and he often judged food together, and it was a great bonding experience that they had shared for many hundreds of years. So many hundreds that he couldn’t remember a time when he had sat down to a new restaurant without thinking about whether she would like it.

He missed her. He hadn’t spoken to her in months. Shame. Embarrassment. Martine just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not yet.

He supposed that it was only natural that now, after having thought about her earlier when talking about the Sun, that he’d be thinking about her again while sitting down to eat at another new restaurant.

The separation was difficult. She was in Sweden with her King, and they had gotten married. Attending the wedding had been, obviously, non-negotiable. At least she hadn’t married him in the Elvish way, Martine could still hold out hope that path was open to him someday. But it was challenging to watch her marry someone else, when he had dreamt of her wedding him.

As they told each other often, she was the love of his life, and he was her first love. Never had the difference between those two statements been so apparent as on that day, watching their — admittedly impressive — Viking binding ritual. The marriage dream looked very different in reality, particularly since there was a different male standing next to her.

Probably a more deserving one, in his mind. Jarl was accepting of everything about her. Always. He had never let her down, not like Martine had. At least, not like he felt he had. Jarl was everything that Martine believed he was not. Confident, strong in all the right masculine ways, dominant, assertive, sure of himself all the time, and he came with a huge family.

Martine’s sole family was Priscilla and Jonah. All his children had died long ago, leaving him alone in the darkness of a thousand years of immortality. He still had some living relatives near in the bloodline to himself, but they were not close otherwise.

Right now he needed to think about how to forgive himself for letting Priscilla down. He hadn’t yet been able to do that, and until he did, he couldn’t talk to her. She had sent him back with Jonah, and it was the right thing to do. She knew that, he knew that, and Jonah did as well. But what bothered Martine was that she had to because he wasn’t strong enough to handle what he needed to.

He’d agreed to return home and then discovered that she had been left to fight a God alone. Now, he wasn’t sure he could ever forgive himself for leaving.

It could’ve been so much worse, she might have died. He held part of this energy power. What if she’d needed it? He was on a plane flying toward a continent across the ocean while she was taking on a being who could have destroyed her if things had gone badly.

All because he had been too weak to handle the intensity of her love, something everyone else seemed perfectly capable of doing without difficulty. The shame he felt hadn’t lessened over the last few months, but Jonah worked at distracting him from thinking about it. The anxiety Jonah had experienced today wasn’t typical, normally he was a rock. Stable, confident, assertive, and like Jarl in so many ways.

But Martine knew Jonah needed to get back to the work of running Dallas soon. He’d heard the whispers in his office late at night as he tried to handle this problem of missing half-breeds without taking the necessary trips out of town.

Perhaps a change of scenery would somehow allow him to find himself. He didn’t want to leave Jonah alone, but he also didn’t want to continue to be someone who required babysitting, and right now he felt like he was preventing him from doing his job. What made it worse, was that it was all for nothing. He wasn’t getting better, and attempts to shove himself back into his old life weren’t working.

Everything he had tried to help him deal with the internal angst had failed. He didn’t know how to start over. Couldn’t find the rope to pull himself up with. And he was beginning to understand that he wouldn’t find it in Dallas. He needed to go elsewhere, he didn’t have an idea of where, but somewhere else, in order to determine how to find his way back here as the person he used to be.

“Yes or no?” Jonah nudged him.

“Hmm?”

“How about we add the cheese gnocchi to the order? I used to eat that as a child,” Jonah repeated.

“Sure. Sorry, the old mind wandering again.” His eyes flicked down to the list of drink list. “They have Sambuca, if you’d like a digestif after dinner.”

He tsked at him, “Digestivo, when we’re in an Italian restaurant, if you please.”

“Does that mean next time we eat French food I can call your noodles pates?” Martine teased.

Jonah wrinkled his nose. “Pates. It’s such a silly name for pasta. Pate is a paste, a spread. And besides, noodles are a kind of pasta. Of course, your French already ruined that noodle word when they started using it as slang for an idiot.”

Martine laughed. “Americans do the same calling people bananas or nuts, but you still eat those.”

He responded with an indelicate snort. “Did you find a starter wine?”

“Oh, you mean the large list of California wine?”

He breathed out a long-suffering sigh.

“They have a French, Crémant de Bourgogne, or a German.”

Jonah muttered to himself, “German and California wines in an Italian restaurant.” Then louder, “The French, obviously.”

“Of course.” Martine nodded with a small grin.

“And yes, I’d like Sambuca, if we stay that long.”

The waitress finally appeared and inquired, “Good evening, gentlemen. I apologize for any delay you’ve had in getting your order taken. My name is Pamela, and I’ll be taking care of your service tonight. Have you chosen a starter and drinks?”

Jonah responded to her, “We’ll have the cold Caprese salad, the chickpea bruschetta, and also the figs wrapped in Prosciutto with Gorgonzola and Brie.”

She nodded and took their order without writing anything down. “And to drink?”

Martine repeated the name of the French wine.

“Certainly. I’ll get that right out to you, then return to see what you’ve chosen for your entrees.”

The waitress took her leave from the table and Martine glanced after her. “Well, they’re polite if not particularly speedy.”

“Polite is definitely more important, I’ll try to keep an open mind.”

Over two hours later they strolled unhurriedly out of the restaurant, an enormous smile on Jonah’s face.

Martine chuckled at him. “It was a superb dinner.”

“It was! I can’t recall being so satisfied with American Italian food. It must be growing on me.”

They walked down the street, happily enjoying the moonlight which shone brightly upon them.

“Thank you, for suggesting it. It really did help to cheer me up,” Jonah said.

Martine smiled at him. “I was merely planning to let you rant and rail at another lousy Italian restaurant until you felt better. I had no idea we were walking into a place that would turn out to have such an amazing bounty of flavor.”

Jonah nodded. “It was a surprise. I expect I’ll become one of their best customers.”

Martine grinned. “No doubt.”

“But now I have an idea to cheer you up. I need to go to Florida to investigate some of these abductions. I was thinking, perhaps, you might be willing to go with me and get out of Texas for a while.”

Martine quirked an eyebrow. “I need cheering?”

Jonah rolled his eyes. “I can tell that you’re not happy with everything here. Or at least, you haven’t quite returned to yourself. We could even take the boat? If we can talk Carlos into letting us use it.”

“I hoped I was hiding it better. I’d love to go to Florida with you, and the boat would be nice if we can manage to convince him that we’re not the horrible blight that he believes we are.”

Jonah rubbed his hand along Martine’s back. “I’m glad you’re willing to go. I have to go regardless, and I’m much happier if you’re around.”

Martine smiled. “Which family in Florida has had the abductions happening to them?”

“The Palmer’s. They’ve had several go missing. I’ve begun to worry that there will be many more if I don’t figure out what’s happening.”

Martine nodded.

Jonah continued, “There is a large branch of the family in Florida. I plan to do some digging around to see if I can pinpoint anything which might relate to what has happened here in Texas. Or to discover if, somehow, these are just startling coincidences.”

“I know how well you believe in coincidence. Neither of us puts much stock in that, to be quite honest. You haven’t found any other connection between the ones in Florida and the ones here?”

Jonah shook his head. “I’m hoping that if I go there in person, maybe I will see something or put some pieces together. Something that I missed in the connection from this distance.”

“When are we going?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Then I suppose we are going to have to call Carlos tonight to see if we can manage to get on his good side,” Martine said.

Jonah chuckled. “That may very well be the hardest part of the entire journey.”

~~~

CHAPTER 1, SECTION 3

Present: 9:30PM, Jonah’s House, Dallas, Texas

“What do you want?” Carlos answered, displeased.

“Hi Carlos, it’s Martine.”

“I know, I see the number. What do you want?”

“Jonah and I wanted to take the boat out, and we were hoping you’d be able to get it ready.”

“No.”

Martine frowned slightly. “Is that it? Just no? I can’t persuade you somehow?”

“I’m not in Texas right now.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Where did you want to take it?”

“Florida, we’re going there for Jonah’s work.”

Carlos laughed. “I’m actually going to be in Miami in about a week. So if you lot are still there when I arrive you can ride back to Texas with me.” He paused. “Assuming you follow my rules and don’t get up to any of your typical nonsense.”

Martine considered for a moment. “All right, thanks. Call us when you reach Miami, and we’ll call to let you know if we leave before you do. Sound good?”

Carlos grunted. “Fine.” The line clicked and the phone readout said ‘call ended.’

He sighed and rolled his eyes. “I don’t think he’s got a good side.” Martine raked his fingers through his hair and leaned his head back against the couch. He couldn’t really blame Carlos, not entirely anyway. Carlos was perfectly aware that they could afford their own boats. But, of course, neither of them would be buying boats because they didn’t want to insult Priscilla. She considered her boat to be theirs.

He only tolerated them because they didn’t go buy their own boats out of concern they might make her feel bad. So he, when he was able, would help them get the craft ready for trips. They couldn’t do it without him, largely due to the fact that Carlos kept her boat in a special dry dock launch that he owned. He had all the most current technology based hoists and rigging which lowered it quickly using a computer system — but it was his system.

Unfortunately, this being a last minute decision, they hadn’t considered that he might not be in town.

He called out, “We can’t take the boat.”

Jonah walked back to the living room. “Dammit. Why’s he like this? What’s his reason this time?”

“Carlos isn’t in Texas.”

“Oh. OK, well, I guess we can fly. Your plane or mine?”

Martine added, “He did, however, say that he would be in Miami in a week. And that if we want to ride back with him, we’re invited.”

Jonah cringed slightly. “On his boat, with his anal retentive rules?” He sighed. “I guess it would be rude to refuse, because it was nice of him to offer. Actually, I don’t think he’s ever offered when he didn’t need to. I suppose we should accept and do our best to try to… cope with whatever he expects.”

“Sadly, I agree. I’ve been sitting here thinking and I can’t recall a time when Carlos has volunteered to travel with us without having to.”

“But it means we’d have to leave the plane we take in Miami, if we decide to come back with him.”

“Could you find out if there’s a train going there? I haven’t traveled on one in a long while.”

Jonah perked up at the suggestion. “Sure. I’ll look it up, maybe I can find something.”

“Good.”

“If it works out, we’ll have a rail adventure.”

Martine chuckled. “Sounds grand.”

Jonah walked out of the room and he rested his head against the couch again. The last train that he had taken was with Priscilla. Along with Nathan — that had been an unfortunate surprise. He thought he was going to be able to spend some time with her alone, but it turned out that Nathan wormed his way into the trip. They ended up having a very uncomfortable, long journey together.

Martine had done what he often did when he wasn’t able to be with her, he instead partook of the company of many Human women who meant absolutely nothing to him. The train ride became an adventure in how many passengers he’d end up sleeping with before the journey concluded. Whether to prove to himself that he could be with other people, or to cover for his frustration with the complication that Nathan had created in her life, he didn’t know. Regardless that was how the trip had gone — badly.

Of course, Priscilla was her normal self trying to make sure that he felt loved and appreciated, while also attempting to ensure Nathan didn’t feel neglected. It was frustrating to be in the middle of them and irritating to watch her pretend to be happier than she really was. But it became clear that Nathan didn’t see what he saw.

Jonah returned looking defeated. “There are no trains that go all the way to Florida. The best we can do is Houston to New Orleans which is a super short train trip. I guess we’re stuck just taking a flight.”

As he flopped down beside him on the couch, Martine said, “It’s fine, it was only an idea. We’ll take a plane there.”

“It would’ve been fun. I’m sorry, I know you hate letting other people fly, and I wanted you to have the opportunity to relax and enjoy yourself.”

“I’ll have plenty of fun in Florida. Besides, it won’t be the first time that I have flown on an airplane while someone else was piloting.”

“If you’re sure.”

Martine smiled reassuringly. “Perfectly. So tell me about our trip, what are we going to do? Who will we be investigating?”

~~~

CHAPTER 1, SECTION 4

Present: 5:30PM, The Palmer’s House, Miami, Florida

“She’s back home now, so there’s nothing more to worry about, Mr. Forester.”

Jonah frowned in confusion. “But surely you want to know what happened to Regina. There has been a rash of disappearances. I could question her, see if I could —”

“Absolutely not.” Crystal Palmer shook her head vigorously.

Jonah’s frown deepened. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but if you’re being threatened by the kidnappers and —”

She cut him off again, insisting firmly, “It’s nothing of the sort, we just want to put this situation behind us. I think it’s time for you to take your leave, Mr. Forester. I must begin making dinner.”

Jonah relented and rose to leave. “If you change your mind, you have my number.”

Crystal acknowledged him curtly, then ushered him out the door, closing it behind him.

In a huff, he strode back to his rental car, slid into the driver’s seat, and turned on the ignition. Then he let out a growl of frustration and slammed his hand into the grip of the steering wheel. “Dammit!”

Jonah shut his eyes, took a deep breath, then mumbled to himself in annoyance, “What the hell are they all hiding?”

When he opened them again and took hold of the wheel to drive off, he felt it give under his hands, and saw the faux leather wrap flex loosely where it should be solid. He wiggled it a bit and realized he had snapped the interior frame of the steering-wheel under the grip.

Moving his hands to an unbroken spot, and holding it more carefully, he sighed. “Just perfect.”

An hour later he arrived at the beach front restaurant they had agreed to meet at and noticed Martine waiting outside. He was lounging against the wall of the building, wearing loose fitting white pants, sandals, and slim fit tee that wrapped itself effortlessly around his muscular torso. As the driver pulled to the curb and opened the door of the vehicle for Jonah, Martine quirked an eyebrow and tugged down his sunglasses.

When the driver began to leave, he walked over with a smile, then gestured with his glasses in the direction of the departing vehicle. “What happened to the car you left in?”

Jonah sighed. “I broke it. And I’ve had a bad day, so I treated myself to a driver and something Italian.”

Martine peered at the back of it as it disappeared toward the parking section. “Doesn’t look like one of your Italian cars at all. More like the company SUVs.”

“It’s a new Lambo style, called an URUS.”

He hung his sunglasses on his shirt front and smiled. “Ah. Well, do you feel any better now?”

Jonah shrugged. “Only slightly, I’m hoping food will help. Let’s see what this place serves.” He held open the door for Martine, and as they entered the receiving host immediately intercepted them.

He gestured to Martine and began shaking his head. “I’m sorry gentlemen, but this attire isn’t appropriate for our dress code.”

Jonah pursed his lips in annoyance and set his hand on the man’s shoulder. He spoke and sent a simultaneous mental command, “You don’t care what he wears, in fact, you’d love it if he wasn’t wearing anything. He can do whatever he wants. You’re going to tell all the staff he’s too important to bother.

The man’s eyes were clouded over and Martine chuckled, then prompted the host, “You were going to find us a nice private table?”

The enchantment cleared from the man’s eyes and he scanned Martine up and down, then beamed with pleasure. “Yes, yes. I’m terribly sorry to keep you waiting. Please come this way, I have the perfect spot for our very special guests.”

The private table turned out to be on a secluded rooftop patio with only one table in each corner. They ended up ordering grilled steaks, an assortment platter of local caught grilled seafood that varied by the day, and some house beer.

An hour later, Jonah was much more relaxed as they’d kept the conversation to the food. Finally, as they waited for dessert, Martine asked, “I take it this family didn’t want to talk about it either?”

Jonah sighed. “No. I really don’t know what’s going on. I’m beginning to suspect they’re being forced to keep quiet.”

“If Elves are being threatened, it would have to be a pretty powerful source. Was this the case in Texas with the other kids who went missing?”

“Yes. The parents were distraught and demanding help, initially, but afterward the children re-appeared and the parents just want to pretend nothing was wrong. One of the families in Texas let me talk to one of the boys, but he seems to have been an exception. Claims he met a girl, got swept up in a whirlwind romance, and just didn’t want to leave her side. Then it fell apart, so he came home.”

“And we’re sure each of them is a half-breed?”

Jonah nodded. “I would wonder if the family had some reason to order its members not to talk about it, except it’s not just the Palmers. We’ve seen it happen in both our family and the Morales family as well.”

Martine blew out a breath. “I can’t imagine too many things that would scare multiple Elf families.”

“Especially not now that they have a patron God who could protect them. Speaking of… I probably should check with Hephaestus to see if any of the families have reached out to him for help.”

Martine fell silent, his jaw clenching as his mind went back to thinking about Greece at the mention of that God’s name, and he suddenly realized what he needed to do to begin feeling better. He just had to mete out justice upon Hephaestus and beat him into the ground, at least as badly as the God had broken his lovely Prisca. The idea solidified as the best solution without much additional thought, except for the fact that he knew Jonah wouldn’t approve. He forced his body to relax, then spoke with a smile, “I think it’s logical that they might have contacted him to complain or request protection. Especially since it’s something they seem to want to keep private.”

“Yes, I’ll call after dinner. There’s a little secluded spot of beach I can see from here, he probably wouldn’t be noticed showing up now that it’s getting dark.”

Martine drank his beer silently. He hated using Jonah in this way, but he would apologise later if it would bring him face-to-face with the God who had nearly killed his Prisca.

“Are you sure you’ll be OK with that? I know you haven’t talked about it in a while, but you were furious with him in the beginning.”

Martine didn’t want to lie and considered how best to answer so that Jonah would still call him. He finally said, “It wasn’t exactly easy to imagine how it must have been, once I heard what happened. I blamed myself for not being able to protect her.”

Jonah nodded. “It was horrible to listen to it described. I think I’d have been driven mad if I’d had to watch it. But he wasn’t himself, just an unwilling victim of the situation, and we can’t blame ourselves for not being there. For not anticipating everything that could always go wrong.”

“No, I think I have finally moved on from blaming myself for what happened.” After they finished their dessert, Martine took a long drink of his beer, then asked, “You ready to walk down to the beach?”

Jonah smiled. “Sure.”

They left the restaurant and walked around the back side of the property, then hopped over the low wall leading to the water. As they reached the surf, the sunlight had almost entirely faded into night.

Jonah pulled out his phone and dialed. With his Elf hearing, Martine picked up every word of Priscilla’s voice, and his heart latched on to each of them in case it was the last time.

“Priscilla.”

“Hello darling. I didn’t wake you did I?”

“No no, I still stay up pretty late but I’ll be getting some sleep soon.”

“How’s Sweden going these days?”

“It’s OK. I’ve settled into the office in Stockholm, finally. Anything new happening in Texas?”

“More kidnappings, strange behavior. I was hoping you could ask Hephaestus to swing by, if he has a moment. I need to find out if he’s been getting contacted by other Elf families or if he knows more about this situation.”

“Sure, I’ll ask. When do you want to see him?”

“Now would be great, if he’s not busy. We’re on a fairly secluded beach.”

“Give me a moment.” She was gone for a minute, presumably talking telepathically with Hephaestus, then she returned, “He’s not busy. He’ll pop over to you soon.”

“Thanks, love.”

“You said we… do you mean Martine?”

“Yes, he’s right here. We’re in Miami.”

“Is he doing better?”

Martine could hear her words through the phone, and when he saw Hephaestus materialize a few feet away. He thought, I’ll be better soon.

Jonah suddenly said, “Oh, he’s here. I have to go, thanks again love.”

He disconnected the line and strode over to Hephaestus with a smile. “Thank you for coming on such short notice. I’m having a bit of a problem that I was hoping you —”

Martine came up from behind and murmured softly in Jonah’s ear, “I’m sorry, forgive me later.” A tiny puff of Martine’s energy slammed into Jonah’s head and a moment afterward he collapsed into Martine’s waiting arms.

Hephaestus frowned, watching carefully as he set Jonah’s body on the sand. He asked warily, “Martine?”

When Martine finally turned to look at Hephaestus, his eyes were gold fire and he charged.

~~~

CHAPTER 1, SECTION 5

Present: 1:30AM, The Stronghold near Luleå, Sweden

Raymond was curled up in bed next to Asta but his mind wasn’t on her naked body draped across him. All he could think about was the noise outside. Crunch, crunch, crunch, rattle, rattle. Crunch, crunch, crunch, rattle, rattle.

He clenched his jaw and tried to ignore it as it came closer. The footsteps crunching through the snow stopped at the window outside their room. Next, the window rattled as it was checked from the outside. Then the footsteps moved on.

He shook his head slightly and sighed. A quick glance at the alarm said it was one-thirty in the morning. He shut his eyes, intent on returning to his sleep. A few minutes later he was breathing deeply, his mind slipping deeper into sleep.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, rattle, rattle.

Raymond’s eyes shot open, and he looked at the clock — almost two in the morning.

Crunch, crunch, crunch.

He roughly yanked himself out from under Asta, and jumped to his feet. “Holy fucking hell!”

Asta’s eyes opened groggily while he was pulling on his pants, and she grumbled, “Come back to bed, he’ll get past it.”

“I can’t take this shit anymore. I’m gonna kill him so I can get some sleep.”

Asta mumbled something else as she rolled over onto the pillow, but Raymond was already heading out the bedroom door.

Raymond heard the footsteps tracking toward the side of the house near the kitchen, so he crossed to the kitchen door to intercept the cause of his frustration. As he opened the door and stepped into the snow, he turned in the direction of the footsteps, already speaking, “Mitchell, I swear to all the —”

Raymond stopped and stared at Mitchell in dumbfounded confusion as the former Guardian checked the kitchen window and then crunched barefoot in the snow toward him. He looked him up and down, then asked, “Why the fuck are you naked?”

When he answered, the fatigue was apparent in his voice, “It’s these new half-Elf senses. My clothes are too itchy, and my skin feels like it’s been rubbed raw with sandpaper.”

Raymond took in Mitchell’s obvious physical and mental exhaustion and sighed. “Come on inside. We’ll find a solution.”

He guided the naked half-Elf past Asta’s room and into Raymond’s own bedroom, where he pointed to the bed. “Try laying down on my bed and see if it makes a difference. I have silk sheets.”

Mitchell crawled into the bed hesitantly and slid between the upper and lower sheet. Then a look of pure relief crossed his face, and a huge sigh escaped his lips.

Raymond nodded. “I thought so. You can sleep here tonight. I’ll go shopping for you in town tomorrow and get you some clothes made of better quality fabrics that will be softer against your skin. I’ll be right back, need to grab something else.”

He returned a few minutes later with a colorful red bottle and a couple of snifters. Mitchell’s eyes were droopy, but Raymond nudged him awake. “Here, I’m going to make sure you stay asleep this time instead of waking up every time you think you hear an intruder in the yard.” He began pouring the amber liquid into the glasses for them both.

“What is that?”

“Elvish peach brandy.” Raymond handed him a glass and began drinking from his own.

When he had drained it halfway, he said, “Sorry I woke you up again. I can hear everything, even the leaves moving on the trees sometimes. It makes me paranoid, I think I’m hearing someone trying to get in.”

Raymond nodded. “Just wait until you finish the transition to a full Elf. Sounds were pretty rough for me, and I had an entire life as a half-Elf to prepare me for it. I thought Guardian’s had heightened senses, but I guess not as much as I assumed.”

Mitchell admitted, “Me too. I didn’t realize how much more half-Elves took in. How it’s all so… intense. All the senses, but everything emotionally as well, from arousal to anxiety to anger.”

“You’ll adapt, don’t worry. It’s only been a week.”

He finished off his brandy and set it on the night table. “Thanks for the room, Ray. And for offering to get me something tolerable to wear.”

“Mmhmm.” He gathered Mitchell’s glass before turning off the light and letting himself back out.

~~~

CHAPTER 1, SECTION 6

Present: 8:00PM, On the Beach, Miami, Florida

Martine flew at Hephaestus with the skill of a thousand years of battles, his body lifted into the air in an arc as he brought his hand down with the power of his whole body behind it. His fist connected with Hephaestus’s jaw releasing a blast of energy into the God’s face and heard an accompanying crack as the bone broke under it.

Hephaestus staggered back in stunned pain and disbelief. He held his jaw and made a muffled groan in his throat that sounded like, “Why?”

The God began trying to heal himself while Martine narrowed his eyes and yelled at him with volume and intensity rarely shown, “You could have killed her! Do you have any idea what she is to me?”

Martine rushed him again, but when it appeared that he was going to kick at Hephaestus the God twisted away, but not fast enough. More years spent at a forge than on a battlefield had not provided him with the instincts that came with regular fighting. Martine compensated quickly, spinning to the side and kicking the God in the back instead.

He rounded on Hephaestus again, plowing a series of rapid-fire punches into his torso, each carrying the additional impact of his energy power. Drawing his hand back, he built up a blast and slammed a giant wave of energy into him that threw the God back a couple of dozen feet along the beach.

Martine growled at him as he stalked forward, “She’s my other half. The love of my life, and you almost destroyed her!”

Hephaestus was shaking his head and holding out his hand to stop Martine, throwing his energy out into a shield. To his surprise, it only slowed Martine, his own energy waves ripping a hole through the barrier Hephaestus was trying to keep up.

Martine sneered at him and spoke, his voice getting louder and more angry by the word, “What’s this? You want me to go easy on you? Give you mercy? Did you do that for her? While you were busy being a God without control, did you listen to her beg you to stop? Or have you forgotten that you tried to burn her alive?”

The God sagged at his words and dropped the hand he held out to stop Martine.

The Elf wasted no time in moving around and blasting him in the back with energy until he heard the crunch of vertebra breaking and watched the skin begin peeling away to reveal sinew beneath.

Hephaestus howled in pain through his broken jaw, falling forward into the sand, and Martine bellowed, “You broke her back!”

Martine stalked around and kneeled in front of him, his eyes still aflame. The eyes that looked back at him, were hollow and dark, no anger, just guilt and shame.

He shoved him away angrily, rolling him onto his broken back. “Fight me!” He raised his arm and blasted energy into the limb closest to him. The skin began tearing away from his leg at the knee, and as Hephaestus screamed Martine began to see metal underneath where the bone should be.

The sight of it brought him to an immediate halt. He suddenly remembered the rumors about the God’s leg being crippled when his father had thrown him down from Olympus. But Hephaestus had only ever walked normally around them, so he had assumed the story was some old half-truth.

Martine sank down to the ground next to the God and buried his head in his hands. He realized that Hephaestus had found a way to become whole, to stop being broken, physically, but it was clear he remained broken in spirit. Perhaps as much as Martine was himself.

“We both love her, and we both failed her through our weakness.” He began to sob with the depth of his misery, the God next to him lay on his back, tears of pain and self-hate rolling from his own eyes.

When Martine recovered his composure, he looked over at Hephaestus’s torn and broken body and gasped. “Oh, hell. I’m sorry. This is going to hurt more before it gets better.”

He reached over and carefully released the massive energy inside himself into a healing stream directed at Hephaestus’s jaw, mending the bone together quickly but painfully. He moved down and began working on the worst of it, the leg he’d torn open, and he listened as the God panted in agony as the intensity of the energy filled the already injured area. Finally, Martine had finished repairing the leg and began rolling the God over onto his stomach so he could heal his back.

Hephaestus cried out at the movement, and a few minutes later, as Martine had completed healing his back, he murmured softly to the Elf, “I wish you could kill me.”

When he was completely mended, Martine helped him sit up in the sand beside him and they both stared out into the waves. Martine broke the silence, “I know. I see now that you have as much guilt for hurting her as I have for not being there to protect her.”

Hephaestus just looked out at the water silently.

“I wouldn’t have attacked your leg if I’d known the old rumors were true. I never saw you limping, so I figured it was some made-up story. Zeus really did a number on it, I guess.”

“It took a long time for the technology to get good enough to fix it. I still don’t know what caused it to never heal properly. I tried re-breaking it and healing it right so many times.”

Martine offered, “Maybe he cursed you.”

He shrugged. “Who knows? I certainly wasn’t going to go begging him for answers.” Hephaestus eyed Martine contemplatively.

Martine caught the look and said, “I don’t wish to kill you anymore, not that I could have if I did.”

Hephaestus grunted. “Sure felt like I was dying. It’s a good thing you don’t want that power you have, it’s dangerous and you’d be a serious threat if you were the sort who enjoyed causing harm.”

“You could’ve killed me anytime you wanted. Maybe I would’ve been OK with that too.”

The God sighed. “We both need to be stronger.”

He nodded.

“Jonah will be angry with you.”

“For a while.”

“What did he need to know?”

“If any Elf families had contacted you to protect them. Half-breeds are disappearing from different families and no one wants to talk about it.”

He frowned. “No. How many are missing?”

“Almost a dozen so far, but the weird thing is that they’re turning back up, and no one wants to talk about where they were.”

Hephaestus checked, “Different families?”

“Yes.”

The God shook his head. “Strange. But no, I don’t know anything about it.”

“I’d appreciate if you didn’t mention to Priscilla that I tried to kill you, or myself, or both.”

Hephaestus chuckled. “The same goes for me. I doubt she’d approve of either of us wallowing in this level of suicidal self-disgust.”

Jonah appeared from behind them and said matter-of-factly, “You’re damn right about that. She’d be angry enough to kill you both herself. That is to say, only a bit angrier than I am at the moment.”

The God looked at Martine knowingly. “I think that’s my cue to leave.” Then he disappeared.

Martine looked up and sighed. “I know. You’re really pissed off.”

Jonah bellowed, “Understatement of the century!”

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