Battle Magic Sample

Chapter 1

Who did I have to kill? I looked at my cousin April. Something was seriously wrong. She looked hurt, disappointed, enraged. 

I started toward her, but my boyfriend Trent caught me before I’d moved two feet. “No beer? I can fix that.” He tossed me a bottle.

I caught it, but my gaze went back to April. Trent followed my line of sight. I unscrewed the top off my beer, the smell of grilled chicken, and hot dogs filtering to my nose, making my stomach do summersaults.

It was the Fourth of July and the sun had decided to shine in all its glory today. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was directly behind me, breathing hot flames down my neck. It was scorching out here, my skin feeling like someone had lit it on fire.

My parents’ yard was filled with family and friends. Some I hadn’t seen since last Fourth of July. My dad had a long playlist of oldies on his phone. Those soulful tunes blasted from the speakers, loud enough to reach three streets over.

The backyard was made for barbecues, or cookouts as we liked to call them. A long stainless-steel fence ran the perimeter of their property. It was armed with alarms every few feet. My parents were extra cautious.

 A pool area was to the right of the yard, set up with a small deck and chairs. Right now, many guests wore skimpy bikinis and shorts, and were jumping in and out of the pool. My nieces and nephews, along with the other kids, played in the shallow end. Their squeals of delight were like music to my ears.

Since the pool covered a good length of the back yard, my parents always made sure to hire a team of lifeguards when they had a party like this. Each was assigned to a different section of the pool. My parents left nothing to chance.

That same prudence was something they’d tried to instill in each of their children. With me, it hadn’t really taken. I had a tendency to thrive on unpredictability.

The yard was probably the size of a few football fields. We weren’t crowded in on each other. There was plenty of space to move around. That helped it feel less claustrophobic.

I looked around the yard. Right now, we had seven grills going, plus a few deep fryers for the fish.

One grill was specifically for hot dogs. Honestly, when a hot dog came off the grill, I didn’t even need a bun. I usually just bit into it. I loved the juices running down my chin.

 Trent and I walked toward my mother’s sister, Aunt May. She was flipping hot dogs on one grill and hamburgers on another.

Aunt May was April’s mother. I wanted to inquire about April, but then I thought about how I’d feel if one of my cousins went behind my back to ask my parents questions about me.

I wouldn’t like that. I stopped walking, then turned and went in the opposite direction. If someone wanted to know something about me, they needed to come to me before going to my parents. I had to show April that same respect.

Maybe I should talk to her directly. I started toward her, but a voice stopped me. “Hey, how come you never invited me to one of these things before?” My friend Chaz had a hotdog in one hand and a beer in the other.

My eyes roamed from him to my cousin Rusty. “Because you never promised to behave yourself until now.”

Chaz ran a pale hand down his chin. His fire-red hair was down to his shoulders now. Looking at him and Rusty side by side, the two were total opposites.

Chaz was around five-eight while Rusty was six-five. Chaz’s skin was so pale, it looked like he’d never seen the sun a day in his life. My cousin Rusty’s skin was a golden brown. Chaz had recently started wearing his hair long. Rusty always sported a bald head.

Chaz had been a robber and a thief most of his life. Rusty came out of the womb ready to join Julem’s military. Julem was Rusty’s homeworld. No, that didn’t mean he was from another planet. He lived in an alternate universe.

Julem was also my father’s homeworld. He’d lived there all his life before he’d met my mom and came to live here. Chaz was from the world Crimson, so he didn’t live here either.

People who lived on Julem and Crimson had extraordinary powers. My mother was from Virginia. Here, people didn’t have special powers. They didn’t even know other universes existed.

My mom knew because she’d met and married my father. I’d grown up knowing I lived in the United States of America. But I’d also grown up calling this world by its universal name, Routine.

Routine was what you called a world that didn’t have powers and didn’t know other worlds existed. My cousin April was from Routine. Though we’d all grown up together, she had no idea what me and my siblings could do.

My siblings and I grew up here and on Julem. We were close with families on both worlds.

Chaz wasn’t used to coming to a world where he couldn’t use his powers. I’d told him to behave himself for this very reason. My cousin Rusty had been coming here since he was a child. He knew to never use his powers on Routine.

Rusty leaned over and whispered something in Chaz’s ear. Chaz’s eyes widened and he busted out laughing.

My heart lifted. It was so good to see Chaz laughing and happy again. A year ago, he’d gone through some tough times, so it was good to see him thriving again.

 Chaz was often loud and unabashed. My cousin Rusty had always been authoritative, hard, and unyielding. Yet somehow, those two made a wonderful couple.

Chaz deserved happiness. He’d had his heart broken by another member of our crew. Things had been tense in our little group after that, but a year and a half later the situation was a lot better.

“You’ve got a few thought bubbles above your head. What’s going on?” Trent asked. I looked up to see Chaz and Rusty were gone.

Trent was from the world Shinow. They didn’t have powers on Shinow, but it wasn’t called Routine because the people of Shinow knew other universes existed. They traveled and interacted with people from different worlds all the time.

Also, about a year ago, Trent and I renovated and opened a resort together on the world Lavash. We’d named it Crave. Which we thought was fitting.

Trent dealt with people who had powers all the time, but he was never at a disadvantage. Long ago, he’d helped relocate a man. That man had been so grateful he’d given Trent a black lasso.

The lasso was named Torrent. It could turn to fire or ice. If Trent willed it, it would produce sharp blades that ran down its length. Torrent only listened to Trent and would electrocute anyone else who tried to touch it.

I’d been the victim of such actions more than once. Torrent often wound itself around Trent’s neck and arms. I was convinced it thought it was a snake. It had all the characteristics of one.

Trent never left home without Torrent, so even though I couldn’t see the lasso, I knew it was on him. “Just thinking,” I said, going back to Trent’s earlier inquiry.

Trent reached a tattooed arm over. He pushed a bit of unruly hair out of my face. I wore my hair short, usually. I never let it grow past my eyebrows.

I looked Trent over. Those who didn’t know him would think him a troublemaker. Trent had so many tattoos, it was hard to see the pale skin underneath. His black hair usually curled around his neck, but today he had it tied back in a ponytail.

Trent stood six feet, which meant he loomed over my five-feet-six frame. While I was on the slim side, Trent was muscular all around. I was twenty-eight, while Trent was three years older.

Trent had a scar under his right eye and one crooked tooth that probably added to the bad boy effect.

Most of Trent’s tattoos were signs and sigils, though he did have a particularly noticeable image of my face tattooed on his arm. Trent’s skin, while not as pale as Chaz’s, was still pale. Mine was a dark brown.

“What’s on your mind?” Trent asked me.

I let out a sigh. I couldn’t hide anything from him. We’d known each other since we were small children. We’d first met on Julem.

The number of worlds was infinite, but there were only thirty known universes that had people who could open portals, or as we called them, portal openers.

My father’s homeworld Julem was one of them. Many people kept portal openers on their payroll, but it wasn’t unheard of for a portal opener to be kidnapped and forced to work against their will.

For that reason, the people of Julem never gave the name or coordinates of where they were from. Trent’s father was one of the few people my father trusted with that information.

We’d first met Trent when his father had come to Julem to do business with my dad. Trent had been close with my family ever since then. Heck, he and my brother Greg were best friends.

Since we’d known each other since before we could walk, he could read me better than anyone. “Look at April.” I pointed to where she stood alone drinking a beer.

That wasn’t her style. April was usually the life of the party. She was fun to be around and could turn any boring day into an adventure.

Trent came here often so he knew April pretty well. April thought Trent was from New York. That was the going line whenever someone from an alternate universe came here. It was just easier that way.

Trent looked at April’s downcast shoulders. “Maybe she’s having a bad day.”

Well, he had me there. Sometimes people just weren’t in the mood to talk and wanted to be left alone. I guessed we all got like that on occasion. I’d give her some space.

Trent and I went to the spades table and called next hand. “Hey, cuz, go easy on those drinks.” April took the bottle from my hand, looked it over with a raised brow, then handed it back.

I smiled, relived she’d walked over her. I inclined my head toward the spades table. “You calling next?”

She shook her head, then smiled and tucked a few braids behind her ear.

My heart lurched looking at her. Her smile didn’t reach her eyes, and her usual radiance was gone.

“I’m okay,” she said, pulling me into a hug. I held on tight, almost afraid if I let her go, she’d disappear.

She pulled back from the hug, then pointed to a tree all way across the yard. “How many times did we climb that thing when we were little?”

“Too many to count,” I said. I smiled thinking of all the times April and her brothers would come over to stay with us when we were coming up. We’d run and play until it was dark, then come inside to a nice meal and a hot bath.

She looked at the tree, then gave my hand a squeeze. “I’ll catch up with your later.”

I gave her another hug, then watched her walk back across the yard.

Trent put a hand around my waist. “She’ll be okay.”

I nodded, then turned back around, my heart in turmoil because I knew something was wrong.

I was drinking a beer and waiting for my turn at the spades table when three large black SUVs pulled up. My eyes reached toward the sky.

Look, I tried to stay out of other people’s relationships because I didn’t want anyone nosing around mine. Sticks was April’s boyfriend. Maybe that’s why she’d been so sad, because he hadn’t shown up yet.

Sticks had a few north side neighborhoods on lock. He controlled them. He didn’t do anything illegal that I knew of. He owned a few gambling spots, but they were all state-approved.

Although his people carried guns, he made sure each gun was legal and each of his men had a license to carry.

He was known for rolling with a large crew and he wasn’t always very nice. Those around him did what he said. No questions asked. Including my cousin April.

Sticks had moved down here from Jersey a few years ago. He cut the engine on his vehicle and rolled his tall muscular frame out of the car. His skin was light enough that some called him a redbone. Redbone just meant his skin was a few shades lighter than brown. Me, personally, I’d never called him that.

He wore his hair cut short to his head and had an earring in his right ear. Even though it was hot outside, he still wore a pair of black jeans. He walked like a man who knew he had the world underneath his feet.

His crew would do anything for him, and he often used that to his advantage. April looked up when he walked into the yard. I noticed she didn’t appear happy. In fact, her expression became more aggravated.

“Mind your business.” My cousin Robin walked up to me. Robin was one of the cousins I hung out with the most. Me, her, and my sister Chanel often world hopped, finding new places to shop and eat.

Robin and I were the same height. Usually, her eyes were deeply red, but because we were here on Routine, she had brown contacts in. Robin wore her hair shaved on one side, long on the other. Like me, she was on the slim side, but unlike me, she was sassy as heck.

Back on Julem, she owned an advertising firm. Technically, she and April were not related. April was a cousin from my mother’s side of the family. Robin was from my father’s side.

That’d never stopped anyone I knew from claiming family, though. Hey, they were both my cousins, so they’d claimed each other as cousins since we were little. That’s how it was around here. Even if your auntie dated my uncle ten years ago, we were still cousins and carried it like that.

I bumped my shoulder against Robin’s. “I know how to be a good girl.”

Robin waved a hand around the yard. It was packed with people eating and having a good time. “Are you okay?”

My eyes locked with Trent’s and I turned away. I wouldn’t talk about this now. I’d spend all day suppressing the feeling of wanting to claw my insides out. Trent knew that and had thankfully not brought it up.

I knew Robin meant well, but I just wanted to forget it. A year and a half ago, I’d been kidnapped by a telepath. She’d entered my mind and made me think I was at a cookout just like this one.

She and her friends had tortured me for hours trying to find out information. A scene just like this one had played on repeat in my head. I’d been at a barbecue with all my friends and family.

I’d destroyed the whole world of Tite to get away, but that was after my face had been cracked open and my insides were coming out my stomach. Tite had been deserted so the only ones who’d been hurt were those who’d tried to harm me, but I still hated to think about it.

“I’m okay,” I said to Robin. Something in my gaze must have warned her this wasn’t up for discussion.

She put a hand on my back, but she didn’t say anything. My eyes turned to April. Ugg! I hated this. Whatever happened in her relationship was between herself and Sticks. A relationship got muddled when too many people dipped their noses in it.

I didn’t want to be that person. I’d never said one negative word against Sticks because I didn’t want to put my cousin in an uncomfortable position. She shouldn’t have to defend her love to us. I strongly believed that, so I kept my mouth shut, but something had seemed off about him from the start.

He walked over to my cousin and yanked her to her feet. Okay, that was a bit much. My legs were moving toward them before my brain even registered what I was doing. In a nano-second, Chaz and the rest of my crew were beside me.

We were used to facing dangerous situations together, so when I started moving, their response was automatic. Still, we were on Routine, so no powers could be used here. We were also at my parents’ house. A place I would never disrespect.

My brothers Greg and Kevin had been playing cards but when they saw Sticks grab April they headed toward him, along with April’s two brothers.

Sticks had six men with him. When they saw us approaching they put a hand on their waists, where they kept their guns.

I felt my stomach turn to mush. This could get ugly very quickly if we didn’t stop it now. Trent squeezed my hand. “I’ll do whatever you need me to.”

Trent’s touch had always been magical to me. It never failed in cooling me down. “I’m good,” I said.

April yanked her arm away from Sticks. “I said I’m not going.” April was tall, with dark brown skin. Her hair was in small faux loc braids that flowed well past her shoulders.

She was a geneticist. She studied DNA and the mapping of genes. Sticks may have been imposing, but April’s mouth had always been lethal. “I told you it was over. What part of that don’t you understand? Leave me alone, Sticks. I don’t want trouble. Just take your boys and go.”

Sticks looked at the numerous family members gathered around the yard. He couldn’t win this, and he knew it.

“Alright,” he said, backing up a few steps. “Guess I’ll talk to you later.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” April said. “I’m done.”

He and his friends got back in their vehicles without another word. Once they were gone, I could finally breathe easily again. It wasn’t unheard of for family members to fight at a cookout. Sometimes they’d even pull out guns when things really go rowdy, but thankfully that hadn’t happened today.

Sticks and his boys stayed strapped, so I was glad it hadn’t come to that.

Chaz tugged at my sleeve, a disturbed look on his face. “That guy’s not from around here,” he said.

I watched the SUVs pull away. “I know. He’s from New Jersey.”

Chaz shook his head. “I can feel him. He has fire powers and he’s telekinetic. I think he’s from a different universe.”

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