The first book in our genre-bending epic superhero scifi urban fantasy series, Court of Nightfall, is coming on Sunday, December 14, but we SERIOUSLY could not wait to have you guys start reading it. So we’re not waiting! We posted the preface and first part of Chapter 1 yesterday and we’re posting some more of Chapter 1 today. Tomorrow, we’ll wrap it up..and starting getting ready for LAUNCH! We LOVE Nightfall, and we cannot wait to hear what you think, too!
Without further ado, we present to you: The first chapter (part 2/3) of Court of Nightfall: The Last Nephilim!
Shades of Grey
The Helena Airport is small. Really small. Which is why I was glad I lived close enough to hang out there regularly. My dad rented a hangar here for his Cessna, though he kept a second plane at our house as well, and being the homeschooled geek that I was, I spent most days in the hangar with him, learning about ground control, pre-flight check-lists, airplane maintenance and flying.
I pulled my e-Glass from my pocket and slipped the small device around my ear. It turned on and Evie’s voice spoke in a clipped British accent. “Hello, Scarlett. How did your test go?”
“No idea. Any chance you can hack into their system and get my results for me?”
“The hacking skills you’ve programmed me with are likely sufficient. I can try if you would like.”
Tempting. So very tempting. But likely they would find out, and it could jeopardize everything. I’d just have to wait. I didn’t have the most current e-Glass, so I couldn’t give Evie the upgrade to do untraceable hacking. In fact, mine was several models old. Nearly outdated. But I’d made some of my own modifications. To the point that it could do more than any on the market today.
I didn’t see my parents anywhere, but Jax came out of the small office carrying two cups of coffee. He smiled big, his dark eyes (“They are brown,” said Evie) locked on mine as he walked toward me. My heart did a little happy dance, and I accepted the coffee he handed me.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said between sips. “Okay, I guess?”
Jax had recently gotten his pilot’s license but didn’t have the money for his own plane. Since he’d been my one and only friend since I was a toddler, and his dad had been close to my parents before he died, it hadn’t been hard to talk my dad into letting Jax work for him in exchange for time in the sky. He had to log in his hours in order to become a flight instructor and then go commercial—though in truth we both wanted to pursue a military career with the United Front Initiative: international travel, a chance to work with the best of the best flying around the world, protecting and defending the innocent from the cockpit of a fighter plane. The dream for us both.
He tousled my hair. “I’m sure you aced it. I’ve never seen you fail at anything you set your mind to.”
I appreciated his confidence, but my own plummeted as I second-guessed every choice I’d made. “Have you seen my parents?” I asked, trying to steer the conversation elsewhere.
“They’re inside. They’re really nervous about the test.”
“Or maybe the apocalypse has come and we just don’t know it yet. My dad’s probably mentally checking the stock in our bunker to make sure we have enough canned beef stew or something.”
Jax laughed and tossed an arm over my shoulder as we walked toward the office. Oh if only that gesture meant to him what it meant to me. Even the touch of his fingers against my bare shoulders sent chills through my body, but he and I were squarely in the friend zone. He’d seen me in diapers, after all. I’m afraid there’s no recovering from that.
“Your dad is just looking out for you and your mom. And the entire neighborhood. It’ll be handy when the zombies come.”
I rolled my eyes. “So handy.” Though, to be fair, having a bunker and being prepared for the worst had become pretty commonplace since the Nephilim War. To the point that there were reality shows based on it. My parents seemed downright moderate compared to some of the apocalypse nuts out there.
As we entered the office, I saw my mom finishing up a call on her e-Glass. She flipped it back over her ear as my dad pulled her onto his lap. “Do you have a moment, Mrs. Night?”
She grinned at him, in that private way they had. “A moment for what, good sir? My time is valuable.”
He pulled her closer and caressed her face with his hand. “A moment for me to look upon the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
She ran her hand through his dark hair, smiling. “For that, I suppose I can indulge you.” She leaned in and kissed him as I approached.
When she saw me, she laughed and pulled away. “Promise me, Scarlett, you will find a man as loving as your father.”
I didn’t often admit this, but I secretly enjoyed how crazy in love my parents were. But then I remembered Jax and willed my blood not to rush to my face. He’d seen and heard it all and his impish grin wasn’t helping the situation.
My dad came up to me, arms outstretched for a hug. “How’d it go, Star?” My dad had an easy manner about him. His accounting clients loved it, and animals seemed drawn to it, always showing up at our front door waiting for the food they knew he’d leave. It wasn’t hard to see why, and it wasn’t just that he was a handsome man with dark hair and warm brown eyes. It was his smile, his kindness, the way he set everyone around him at ease with his authentic charm.
“Hard to tell,” I said, stepping away so my mom could get her hug, too.
His smile didn’t waver at my own uncertainty. “Well, no matter what,” he said, “you’ll find a way to fly.”
My mom hugged me next, her face still soft and glowy from flirting with my dad. “I’m proud of you no matter what. I know you think I don’t support you in this, but I do, honey. I just want you to be happy doing something you love. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“I know, mom,” I said. My mom was a computer genius, but instead of pursuing a high tech career, she went into teaching. She was always doing after school tutoring for kids who needed help. Each year she ran a food drive and donated her hand-made jewelry for charity fundraisers. She said she had a tough start as a kid and wanted to give back. I learned all my computer skills from her.
She and my dad made a handsome couple standing together. Him tall, dark and rugged, her petite, pale like me, with fair hair and blue eyes.
Jax pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to me. “I got you this gift. As a good luck charm.”
I took the small silver bag from him and opened it, my heart fluttering in my chest. Inside was a silver pin of wings with an ‘N’ in the middle. My initial! I looked up into his handsome face, my heart full of unexpressed emotion. “These are pilot wings,” I said.
“Whatever happened today, you’re a pilot, Scarlett, born and bred. You deserve your wings.”
He took the pin from me and attached it to my tank top.
I hugged him hard and whispered into his ear. “Thank you.” He understood more than anyone what this meant to me.
“Let’s go celebrate,” my mom said, breaking up our moment in true parental style. “What are you kids in the mood for? Pizza? Greek? Thai?”
Jax shoved his hands into his pocket and shifted on his feet. “I was actually hoping I could borrow Scarlett for a bit. I… uh… made a mess of something on my computer.”
My mom and I both laughed as my dad looked on sympathetically.
“I see this coffee wasn’t just a gesture of good will. Did you get a virus again?” I asked.
He smiled lopsidedly. “Maybe.”
“Let’s take a look,” I said, sitting down.
“I’ll take Scarlett out for dinner after, if that’s okay?”
I couldn’t tell if he was asking me or my parents, but they smiled knowingly at each other and waved goodbye, holding hands as they walked away.
When Jax passed me his laptop, I saw the computer screen and sighed.
He grinned sheepishly at me. “I was trying to update my website and… ”
“And somehow deleted the entire thing?”
“Can you fix it? I think it was hacked.”
“Of course I can.”
I spent the next few hours sorting out HTML coding and hacking into Jax’s site. Sure enough, he’d been hit with a pretty nasty bug. It took me awhile, but I sorted through the mess, restored his content and placed stronger firewalls to prevent this from happening again.
My mom was the one who got me hooked on computers as a kid. I could barely walk, but I was already learning to type. By the time I was twelve I fancied myself the world’s best hacker.
One night, I used my fledgling skills to find a video my parents wouldn’t let me see, something they were watching but had turned off when I came in.
So, I hid in my room, door closed, and played it. A man, handcuffed, was being escorted down a street by another man dressed in red. People were gathered around, gawking.
I heard someone twist the handle on my door, and I clicked my e-Glass to shut down the video before they came in.
“What were you just watching?” my mom asked.
I shrugged, playing it cool. “Just something I found on an online channel. It’s—”
She sat down next to me on my bed. “Scarlett? Are you lying right now?”
I debated whether to keep lying, but my mom would know. She always knew. “Yes,” I said, shoulders slumping.
She smiled gently. “Then let’s try again. What were you just watching?”
“The news reel you wouldn’t let me see. I hacked the news network.”
I glanced up at her to gauge her level of mad, but she was suppressing a grin. “Why?”
“Because you wouldn’t let me watch it. Zeniths are being mistreated, and people need to do something. I need to do something.” I’d seen Zenith kids on the street, wearing a tag in their ear, getting picked on, getting beat up… store owners telling them to get lost. It wasn’t fair. Just because they were different, just because they had para-powers others didn’t.
“What do you intend to do?” she asked, still curious more than anything.
I thought about it, glad I wasn’t in trouble—yet. “Well, I haven’t settled on a plan. With some time, I could hack the Inquisition security system.”
She shifted on the bed to look at me better. “If you do, they will find you.”
“I could cover my tracks.”
She tilted her head, a long curl coming undone from her clip and falling over her shoulder. “Some of them. But, Star, understand that other people have been at this for far longer than you. Whatever you can do right now, no matter how amazing, Inquisition security can do much better.”
I folded my arms across my chest, knowing I probably looked like a pouty kid but not caring. “But I have to do something.”
She smiled again, her eyes crinkling. “You can keep practicing.”
“Practicing doesn’t change anything,” I said, dropping my chin to my chest as feelings of impotence and frustration built in me.
My mom was still for a moment, her eyes distant, reflective, before she focused on me again. “Come with me,” she said. “I want to show you something.” She stood and left the room, walking downstairs.
I hurried to follow. “What?”
“The video I didn’t let you watch,” she said over her shoulder.
The television in our living room covered nearly the entire wall in a grey reflective material. With it we could access networks or play videos sent via satellite signal from an e-Glass.
My mom clicked her e-Glass and a video appeared. A man was tied to a beam on a wooden platform surrounded by hay. People circled him, throwing food, stones, rotten vegetables, calling him names and sneering.
Another man dressed in a red and gold cloak walked forward holding a torch, speaking to the crowd, but the people were too loud to hear the Inquisitor’s words.
“That man on trial was a hacker,” my mom said. “He wiped multiple Inquisition bank accounts. They found him a day later.”
I felt a small surge of pride for what he’d done. “He must have really messed them up.”
My mom sat on the couch and I joined her as she asked, “Do you think those accounts mattered?”
“I imagine they would. Money’s important, right? But… ” I thought about it more and realized… “The Inquisition isn’t hurting for money, are they? They can always get more.”
My mom nodded.
“Well,” I said, “at least he showed people they could fight back.”
“Did he?” my mom asked. “Or did he simply become another example of the Inquisition’s power?”
I looked back up at the video just as the Inquisitor set the torch to the haystack. As the hacker began to burn, his cries mixing with the cheers of the crowd, my mom turned off the video and set the display to a serene mountain scene.
She turned to me and reached for my hand, squeezing. “My Star, one day, when you’re older, you’ll make a difference. A real difference. But you need to be ready. Hone your skills. And…” she ruffled my hair, “try to avoid stupid mistakes.” She stood and walked toward the kitchen and I slumped in the couch, depressed.
All of my practicing was for nothing. I didn’t want to end up like that guy in the video. “I guess I’ll stop hacking then,” I announced to the world in all my despondent pre-teen angst.
My mom turned back, a mischievous grin forming on her face. “I didn’t say to stop,” she said, winking. “I just said to be careful.”
When I finished fixing his site, Jax hugged me, and I melted a little.
“Thanks, Scarlett. Now, how about that dinner? On me.” He glanced at the computer. “I owe you.”
I linked arms with him, happy to have spent a few hours immersed in something that took my mind off my future. “You do owe me, don’t you? Is this going to be a real dinner, or are we dining on airport food again?”
“Real dinner. I’ve got something I want to tell you. Something important.”
He looked at me with such intensity, my stomach knotted. Maybe we were finally leaving the friend zone? Suddenly the test seemed far away as he walked me to my car, and I followed him to the nearby hotspot for dinner.
We’ll post the final part, part 3, tomorrow. SO EXCITED!