The Crystal War
Published by: Parliament House
Publication date: April 14th 2020
Genres: Adult, Urban Fantasy
The line between human and monster is not as clear cut as they once thought.
In the weeks since her escape from the hell of the Eastern Fortress, things have grown more complicated for Kai. She cast her lot with her brother’s self-absorbed boyfriend, who controls the Western Army, but she’s been separated from Finn, the soldier who found a place in her heart.
Finn has defaulted to his signature move: he’s run away; afraid of himself, his new feelings for Kai, and all the terrible truths he’s learned.
Tessa is free in the world for the first time, a force to be reckoned with. She’s gone to the far west and the Dome of Artifacts to seek revenge on the system that ruined her life.
The type ‘A’ soldier who was once a friendly boy named Charlie has been restored to factory settings, a weapon for Aric to use.
The Science Council has unleashed new crystal compounds, more toxic and destructive than anything the world has seen. As Kai and her friends struggle with everything that’s been done to them, they will have to find a way to unite and prepare for the fight of their lives.
Bill’s boots gouged through the sand as he was dragged from the vehicle that had stolen him from the safety of his camp; the hands gripping his biceps were huge and rough. A black scarf had been wrapped over his head, covering his eyes, and a gag stuffed in his mouth.
The toes of his leather boots bumped up then down as the sand’s softness was replaced by cement underfoot. The footsteps of those who dragged him echoed and it registered; he’d been taken indoors.
Hands repositioned themselves on his arms as he was slammed backward onto a cold metal table. Struggling, he tried to yell, but no sound got past the gag. Restraints, large and cold, closed over his wrists and ankles. He bucked and kicked before feather-gentle fingers touched his temples, a sensation vastly different from the rough grip that had previously held him.
The scarf over his eyes was lifted away to reveal slender fingers. He blinked in the harsh light, waiting for his blurry vision to focus. When it did, his heart sunk, and he froze. Struggling had been futile. The woman above him was the rumored head of the New Resistance.
Bill stared into the strange, amber eyes of the woman he had heard about. Over the past few months, whispers had traveled throughout the west; rumors of her beauty and cruelty, and above all, her power: his small army of Resistance fighters had been preparing for her imminent attack.
Everything he had heard about her magnificence was true; golden eyes that sat in a perfectly structured face; tan and well-defined, but not too sharp to be feminine. White-blonde hair stood in spikes over her arched brows. Gunmetal-gray hoops in her ears reflected the light of a small crystal fragment set into a dome lamp over the table. She was dressed head to toe in utilitarian black tactical clothing, but he could still tell that her body was a work of art. He couldn’t guess her height; she seemed tall, with beautifully defined curves and a tiny waist.
“Stop staring, prisoner,” she whispered in a melodic voice. “Looking upon me can’t save you.”
Bill was in a lab, but he couldn’t see much. The halo of light from the single crystal above was dim and focused, but beyond the table he where he lay, details quickly melted into shadows. He could barely make out the hulking shapes of the men who had dragged him from his guard post; only the beautiful, terrible woman was clear. He tried to speak, but his lips fought uselessly against the fabric still in his mouth.
“Do you wish to say something?” asked the woman.
He nodded, and she removed the binding from between his dry lips—he licked them before speaking. “I’ve heard of you,” said Bill, awed. “These past couple of months, everything’s changed.”
“It has. I am changing things. And this is just the beginning.”
“Are you going to make me into one of your slaves?”
“I must have your absolute loyalty. I’ll accept nothing less.”
Bill swallowed, feeling ill with the certainty that he wasn’t going to get out of this, and he saw her smile, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.
“Why not?” She blinked momentarily releasing him from the power behind her eyes. “You’re a good soldier; I’ve done my research. You’re exactly what I’m looking for right now. You will come and work for me, just as they have.” She made a sweeping gesture toward the men around them.
“Forgive me, Miss…”
“Forgive me, Miss Raven, but what makes you think you can you ensure my loyalty?”
“It’s just Raven,” she corrected, her expression unchanging. “And the answer is simple. It’s all about consumption.”
“Yes. Everyone is a consumer. Press the right button, and anyone’s loyalty can be controlled. Even yours, soldier.”
“My name is…”
“Not important,” she cut him off.
Bill sighed. He’d had more than enough of being controlled; given over from his foster home to the Eastern Forces, trained to mine for crystals, months of being a type ‘B’ soldier on blue compound, only to be stolen in a raid by the Resistance, and retrained as a guard, led to believe that he was at last working for a higher cause. And now this.
Raven gestured to the soldiers standing in shadow, and Bill craned his neck to try and see what was happening, only to close his eyes, feeling his stomach drop when one of the men approached, holding up a faintly glowing blue syringe.
So, more of the same, then.
“What’s his poison?” asked the man with the syringe.
“Primarily stimulants,” instructed Raven. “Food as a secondary, pre-established reinforcer.”
The man leaned closer, and Bill saw by the light of the glowing crystal fragment that he was young, with a healing but grisly-looking scab that ran the length of his left cheek, ending near his eye.
Bill jerked in his restraints, even though he knew it was futile, and gritted his teeth as the needle pierced the skin of his upper arm. The fire of the compound made its way through his blood, causing him to sigh in relief. It still felt good, every time, even after being off it for months now. It had only taken him a few weeks back at the Eastern Fortress to become addicted to the compound itself, and months for the Resistance to detox him.
Heart racing, his stimulant craving spiked. He refused to beg until the Raven girl held a small vial of pungent-smelling coffee under his nose—then he screamed with want. The compound created an itch that the right thing could scratch, and it felt so good.
“Would you like this?” she asked in a silky, taunting voice.
“Yes,” he whimpered.
“Open up, then.”
Bill opened his mouth, sick with anticipation of the bitter cordial that would bring relief to his burning blood. Every pump of his heart demanded it. He greedily swallowed the wetness on his tongue, but it didn’t taste like coffee.
He opened his eyes and saw that the Raven girl held a vial that was empty but for a glowing residue.
She’s given me Shine.
Bill stared at his tormentor. It was too late to spit out the horribly addictive drug. Gulping with a heedless greed he usually reserved for coffee, he’d swallowed a good mouthful of it.
Too much. She had him.
Knowing that Shine would quickly supersede his moral compass, he tried to hold onto his terror, his ideals; he tried to retain any part of himself. But as he looked into her expressionless eyes, he began to feel the drug taking hold. Soon, the fear faded, along with all thoughts of fleeing. The world shrunk, leaving room for her alone in his mind. His senses sharpened, overwhelmed by the power of her presence and the Shine’s euphoria.
The rest of the world faded away, and nothing else mattered but his new queen.
I will serve this woman forever.
Tracy Auerbach is an author of science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. As an avid reader with a vivid imagination, she chose to study film, English, and education, and went on to teach and write STEM curriculum for the New York Department of Education. This helped to polish her writing skills and ignite her passion for science fiction and fantasy.
Her first scholarly article, published in Language Magazine, was about the value of active, creative learning in science.
On the fiction side, Tracy’s work has been featured in the online literary journal Micro-horror, The Writing Disorder fiction anthology, and the “(Dis)ability” short story anthology, in addition to her novels.
When she is not teaching or writing, Tracy is usually reading or spending time with her family. She lives in New York with her husband and sons.