Authors: James R. Vernon
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Bound to the Abyss Copyright © 2014 by James R. Vernon
Cover Illustrations and Design © 2014 by Mominur Rahman
Inkstain Interior Book Designing
All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without permission is unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from this book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission can be obtained by contacting the author at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author's rights.
My immediate family for supporting all of the time and effort I've put into this story.
My excellent beta reader, C.D. Verhoff, for helping me shake off the bad habits of a new writer. I am becoming an adequate adverb killer and plot streamliner thanks to her help.
My amazing and patient editor, Josephine Hao from Sound Copy Editing.
My cover artist, Mominur Rahman, for the amazing work he creates that helps draw both my readers and myself into my world.
And certainly those that backed me in a big way to get this book whipped into shape;
Jim and Frances Vernon
James and Kim Logan
Charlie and Amy Metz
Mary Elizabeth Gaige
EAN OPENED HIMSELF UP to as much of the energy from the Abyss as he could. It rushed into him, more than he had ever held before. He felt like a jar trying to contain a flood as it swirled about inside of him. The glove on his right hand, as well as most of his sleeve, seemed to burn away as the tattoos encircling his arm blazed to life. Even the grass beneath him withered from the intensity of the power flowing through his arm. He grasped her arms tight as she sat on top of him.
The female creature straddling his body stared down at the glowing tattoo in wonder. The brightness from the tattoos on his arm illuminated her pale, blue skin and put a spark in her pupil-less red eyes. Her violet, bat-like wings stopped their flutter. Unfortunately, the light only distracted her for a few moments. The beautiful woman shook her head and tried to free herself from his grasp again. Tried and failed.
She pulled and yanked her arms in multiple directions trying to get free, but Ean held on tight. They thrashed about on the forest floor, kicking up dirt and leaves. The power raged through him, giving him the strength to keep her from going after his friends. From his position pinned beneath her, he watched as the creature's expression changed from surprise to annoyance and ended on anger. She sneered down at him, her dark red eyes seeming to glow as she struggled against him.
Eventually she slowed, a blank expression washing over her face as she looked down at him. Was she giving up? Ean had no idea how fast she could run or fly, but he hoped that he had given Jaslen and Bran enough time to get away. As for himself, he had no idea what he was going to do about this creature straddling his body.
As her struggling eventually ceased, she continued to stare down at Ean, her blank face masking whatever emotions she was feeling towards him. After what felt like an eternity of silence, she finally spoke.
"You're an...interesting...human. What's your name?"
"Just Ean? How simple." That sly smile had returned, and her arms relaxed in his grip. "My name is Azalea, Ean the human. There seems to be a little more to you than I originally thought. I find you quite...intriguing."
Her voice had taken on a more sultry tone at the end, and she leaned down a bit so that her face was closer to his. Ean had no idea what to do. He still kept a solid grip on her upper arms, but she seemed much calmer now. Had she accepted that the other two were gone? He watched her as she gazed right back into his eyes. Her lip twitched slightly as she smiled down at him. It was then that he realized the position they were in and could feel his cheeks reddening.
"Well," he said breaking the silence. His voice warbling slightly, causing him to wince before continuing on. "If you think you can handle not killing anyone for a few moments, I'll let you get up."
"Who says I want to get up?" Her fingers curled into his shirt. Using the grip, she slowly pulled Ean up to the point where their faces were practically touching. "I said I found you interesting, Ean. Maybe I want to have some fun with you."
Her tongue darted out, brushing his lips for only a moment before disappearing back into her mouth. Ean knew his face must be red by this point; it felt like it was on fire. His hands relaxed slightly around her wrists as he tried his best to speak.
"I'm...uh, glad that you have calmed down. It was--"
"Shhh," she quieted him with the sound, but even more so with how she did it, lightly touching her lips to his. He felt his jaw drop slightly but didn't care. "Time for talking is over."
Leaning back, she gave him a seductive stare that melted his resolve. He let the energy from the Abyss flow out of him slowly until it was completely gone. As his hands slipped from her wrists, she let out a short laugh as that sly grin returned.
"Oh, little one, whatever am I to do with you?"
Before he could ask what she meant, she pulled him up slightly higher...and then brought her forehead crashing down into his.
All Ean felt was a sharp pain as she struck, but dropped into unconsciousness before his body even hit the ground.
FLOATING IN DARKNESS, EAN struggled against the weight of unconsciousness. As the darkness slowly receded, voices seemed to drift through his thoughts. Although barely audible, the female voice with its impatient tone was loud and clear.
"...better know what you're doing, imp. I have no intention of..."
"...trust me. In the long run, things will work out well for you, you just..."
"...and you're sure that he..."
"...looks young, but has..."
"...better not betray me..."
The snap of a twig to his left made him sit up. His vision returned, but the cobwebs weaving his mind made it hard to remember where he was and how he had gotten there. Instant nausea hit. Trying to blink away the darkness, he peered into the dark shadows of the trees. His hands grasped at the earth and leaves beneath his fingers. Then that familiar tingling feeling, like pins-and-needles lightly jabbing his skin, caught his attention.
"Zin." Although the imp only went up to his knee, he resonated a distinct and noticeable presence through Ean's connection to Abysmal energy. "Is she still here?"
He struggled to his feet. His stomach churned, and it felt like something was crushing his head, but he kept it together. If only he could clear the cobwebs from his mind and focus.
Zin's presence moved a bit closer and then stopped. When the imp spoke, his voice was low, and Ean detected a hint of annoyance.
"We're still lost in the woods, in what little moons' light can break through the trees, and your 'friends' have left you, taking the food with them. There are plenty of squirrels and rodents for me to snack on, but I doubt I could catch enough to keep you fed. And then of course, there is our new companion..."
"New companion? What are you--"
"Aww," a new voice said in the dark. "I hope you're not holding a grudge for the little tap I gave you on the head, little one."
That womanly voice, a mixture of playful and sultry, brought everything back. The fight with Bran and Jaslen. Summoning the beautiful creature. The struggle. Receiving a head butt, then the blackness. Finding her by sight was impossible, but then he felt her, felt the Abyss covering her like a thick blanket, and turned his head towards the sensation.
"Can this human see in the dark like us?" Her voice sounded surprised, and a little impressed. "I wouldn't think his hearing was that well developed he could find us by sound."
"No, no," Zin's voice said from the darkness. "Apparently he can feel things connected to the Abyss. It's something new and makes games of hide-and-seek incredibly unfair."
"Interesting." He felt the woman rise and start to move towards him. Ean tried to climb to his feet, but dizziness overwhelmed him and he sat back down. Feeling around in the dark, he tried to find something he could use to defend himself.
"You don't need to worry about her, Ean." The imp said. "She's agreed to join us. Whether or not that's a good or bad thing is up for debate, but at least she promised not to kill us. And trust me, that's a pretty big deal for her kind."
Ean listened, trying his best to comprehend what was going on, but a fog still clouded his thoughts. And she was still moving closer. If only he could start a fire or had a candle he could light, anything that would let him see...
With a thought, he opened himself up to the energies of the Abyss, letting the power flood through him. The tattoos on his arm lit up, basking the trees of Rensen forest in their blue light. A flurry of movement signaled creatures fleeing deeper into the woods from the light. When he caught sight of the blue-skinned woman, sitting cross-legged with her leathery wings folded against her back, the name Azalea flashed into his mind. She flinched at the light and held up a slender blue hand to shield her eyes.
"Dim your light, little one," she requested. "Or are you trying to punish me for what I did?"
"Maybe I am."
"Aw, don't be that way. You started it, after all. You got me all worked up over a good meal and then denied me of it. Can you really fault me for being angry? If it makes you feel better, I didn't go after your friends, although that boy's angst and jealousy tasted absolutely delicious."
"You only left them alone because I showed up, Yulari," Zin said with a grunt. Ean could see the imp clearly now. His beady yellow eyes were locked on the woman. A fresh scratch adorned one of his pointed ears. There were scratches all over his brown skin, and his clawed feet and hands were covered in dirt. "I had come back to check on Ean and found him unconscious on the forest floor while you were about to head out into the woods. It took me a bit to 'convince' you to stick around."
The woman shrugged, not bothering to deny it.
"Wait," Ean said, placing a hand on his head. The energy from the Abyss had eased the pain, but putting thoughts together was like trying to carry water in a sieve. "I thought your name was Azalea. Why did Zin just call you Yulari?"
"Azalea is her name," Zin cut in. "Not that you can believe anything she says. Yulari is the name of her race. I figured a healer of your intelligence would have known what you were bringing out of the Abyss before you had the bright idea of summoning her."
Zin paused to give Ean a snide eye roll. "If you recall, I warned you to never summon a Yulari. So imagine my surprise when I saw Azalea standing over you, about to leave you for wild animals to snack on. I had half the mind to leave you there, too. It would serve you right if a wolf came and had a little snack of your foot. Maybe then you would finally learn to listen to me."
"You let your pet imp talk to you like that?" Surprise touched Azalea's voice.
"He isn't my pet. He's, well, he's my friend."
She let out a laugh, then took a closer look at Ean and grew serious. "You mean that, don't you? You actually consider this little worm a friend. How curious. I think I am starting to understand why--"
"I'm standing right here you know, life sucker," Zin cut in. "You could at least wait until I wasn't around to insult me to the boy."
"Life sucker?!" Anger flashed across her face for a moment, and then was gone, replaced by her playful smile. "Little imp, if you're smart enough to be able to talk, you should know better than to call any of my kind that name. You're lucky we have this little arrangement, otherwise I would rip each of your limbs off and beat you with them."
"Enough!" Ean was letting things get out of control again, but this time he would stop it. "What do you mean, 'arrangement'? What have you two been discussing while I've been...sleeping?"
He made a point of staring directly at Azalea and was surprised when she looked away quickly.
"Well, we had quite the lengthy discussion," Zin said, a hint of amusement in his voice. "And to sum things up, she's agreed to help us and follow your orders--" Azalea coughed loudly, cutting the imp off. He looked at her with a frown before continuing. "Agreed to try and follow your orders whenever possible."
Ean looked over at the Yulari and this time received a nod and that same smirk that seemed to be a permanent fixture on her face. Shaking his head, he turned back to Zin.
"And how exactly can she help us?"
"The better question," the Yulari said, a hint of annoyance to her voice, "is what
I do. Or more importantly, what can't you do, little one. Obviously you know very little about the Abyss and how to use that energy coursing through your body. You're also a horrible warrior, so I can handle any fights you get into. Unless, of course, that would hurt your ego too much, having a girl fight your battles."