October 18, 2012

DUST (Of Dust & Darkness #1) by Devon Ashley {Excerpt}

4. The number of times my delicate wings have been broken and clamped behind my back. 
68. The number inked upon my skin, marking me the sixty-eighth pixie to be stolen.
87. The number of days I’ve been wrongfully imprisoned.
88. The first day the faeries will regret stealing me.

Healthy. Cheery. Vivacious. All traits Rosalie has before becoming enslaved by the faeries to make an endless supply of pixie dust. Now that Rosalie has been traumatized by slave labor, extreme desolate conditions and multiple deaths, this hardened pixie is anything but. When this rebellious teenager attempts an escape, she’s isolated in cramped quarters until she learns her place. Just as she begins to let go of all that hope, she finds an unlikely friend in Jack, the faerie assigned to guard her. Interspecies dating is forbidden in the fae world, so their growing attraction is unacceptable. And even if Jack can find a way to free her, they know the prison is the only place they can truly be together.

I’m really not feeling well. Days without usable water and little to no food on a body that was stick-thin to begin with are making me waste away before my eyes. I laugh quietly to myself. Before my eyes. As if I can actually see the physical toll my body is going through. But I can feel it, particularly in my ribs and around my wrists. I didn’t have a lot of muscle left before I got thrown down here, but at least I was using them. Now that I’m stranded in a small roughly-shaped circular hole, it feels as if my body is eating away at what muscles I have left. I rub my fingers across my ribs. My skin’s not supposed to dip between each one like that… I want to rise and at least walk circles around my prison, but I’ve cut the soles of my feet too many times. They’re infected, and each step feels like I’m walking on shards of glass.  The best I can muster is to stretch my legs and extend the muscles as far as they can go in either direction.
     There’s not much left on my bones. If I don’t get out of here soon…
     A yellowish glow begins bouncing down the walls and I groan. My captor, with his pompous leer and ridiculous dress descends in a halo of light that is anything but divine. My wings are incredibly sensitive but the intense pain buzzing through the nerves has faded enough for my mind to focus on other things. I dare not let Finley know this, and continue to feign pain so he may not be as brutal today.
     He lands softly on his feet, disposes of the lantern to free his hands and prances the remaining steps between us, where I sit mostly in shadow. He hasn’t come with a spriggan today so maybe if I keep my mouth shut, nothing bad will happen. Of course I have to pinch my hands just to keep myself from gouging out his eyes when he leans in close enough to brush my nose. I’d back away if I wasn’t already pinned against the wall. He’s been wearing that heavy velvet far too long and it takes everything within me not to wince from the stench of body odor.
     “Looking a little worse for the wear, sixty-eight.” His breath today rivals that of a spriggan.
     Likewise, you jerk. “Rosalie,” I reply, showing no emotion whatsoever.
     So much for quiet indifference.
     He strokes the prickly hairs on his chin, a despicable smile spreading as he continues to glare at me. “Still going that route, eh?” He thumps the end of my nose and the urge to scratch at his bristly face intensifies. My jagged, broken fingernails dig deeper into the flesh of my palm.  “Well, we’ll see how you fare the next time we come to break your wings.”
     “Finley!” a male calls from above. His voice is smooth like a faerie’s. Just what I need. Another overdressed buffoon. “You down there?”
     He stares at me before calling back, “Jack. Come down.”
     Finley stands as the second faerie descends into the hole. At least this one is dressed normally in dark leggings and a white short-sleeved v-neck, though someone should tell him the curly mop hairstyle he’s sporting is out of fashion. His skin is a creamy peach, which is a few hues lighter than mine. I think he’s still a teen, but he could be borderline adult. On the bright side, Jack doesn’t come off as a prick like Finley.
     “My father said you wanted to see me?”
     “Yes.” Finley’s hand sweeps in my direction and his lips take on an ugly sneer. “Meet sixty-eight. Your new responsibility.” I swear internally but bite my tongue. My wings can’t take another breaking today.
     Jack’s head snaps my way and he looks to me with dread. “What?” His nose pinches like he suddenly caught wind of something foul.
     “Sixty-eight can’t be released back into the prison until we’ve broken her desire to flee. Once you’ve achieved that, you’re free to go.” He slaps Jack roughly on the back of the shoulder.
     Jack huffs and backs away, ready to take flight. Defiantly, he says, “I’m not watching her.”
     “Remember that little stunt you pulled last month with that twit of a friend of yours?”
     Aghast, Jack hollers dramatically, “Oh, you have got to be kidding me!”
     Finley’s wicked smile transfers from me to Jack and I wonder what exactly he and his friend did to land him here with me. “Guess it doesn’t seem so funny now, does it?”
     With resign, Jack asks,  “I don’t believe this.  How long will this crap take?”
     Finley thrusts the lantern into Jack’s chest, then flies upward slowly. “Well, I suppose that’ll depend on the manner in which you choose to break her.” The jerk actually winks at me. Jack’s a little slower to take off, giving me a lengthy glare before leaving me in darkness. Once he passes over, his voice muffles as he chases Finley down the cave passage; the volume of his bellows suggesting he’s complaining all the way. 
      I may have beaten the whistle on my prick assessment.
      Curses echo throughout the cave and a steady glow lights the upper part of my hole. Jack hovers in the air, flitting back and forth. “Freakin’ unbelievable! One stupid joke and I’m stuck babysitting pixie delinquents! I can’t believe my father agreed to this!”
     Great. I’ve gone from a jerk to a spoiled brat watching me. Flippin’ fantastic.
     You know, I’ve never truly hated the faeries. I knew other fae existed, and probably other Hollows, I just never dwelled on it because I never saw them. So I’ve never formed an opinion of them. But honestly, this species has just about pushed me to the limit on my patience scale.  No wonder my Hollow hides away without contacting other groups.
     After continuing his rant of it’s so unfair for an additional ten minutes, I’m close to snapping. I’m already wishing I had Finley back. At least the things he did knocked me unconscious for a day or two. But one thing’s for sure: Jack is nothing like Finley and anything but intimidating. 
     After cursing yet again, I’m quick to snap, “Hey! If you’re going to keep whining, could you take it elsewhere?”
     His fluttering stops and he looks down to the darkness, appalled, but I don’t care; this guy is way less scary than Finley. Sarcastically, he bellows, “Oh, I’m sorry! Am I bothering you?”
     “Yeah. As a matter of fact you are. Could you stuff it for awhile? Thanks.”
     I think I threw him for a loop. His mouth opens but he doesn’t know how to respond. He ducks out of view but the light doesn’t dim. Next thing I know, a pail of water is smashing into the ground and my heart jumps against my ribs, so hard I’m surprised it’s still contained.
     “Oops!” he shouts. “My bad!”
     Well, at least he didn’t drop it directly on me like the others. Every cell in my body protests but I quickly lean to sit it topside before all the water is lost to the ground.  While I’m up, pellets fall all around me, a few pricking my back. I pat the ground aimlessly. Seeds!
     “Hey!” he calls. “Need a light?”
     “Uh-oh,” I mutter, my eyes fearfully looking topside.
     A wave of light rushes towards me. A burst of adrenaline shoots my heart into overdrive. Once again it doesn’t hit me, but I’m not sure it’s from a lack of trying…I’m hard to see in the darkness. The glass lantern smashes to pieces on the opposite side, and I instinctively duck and protect my head, but nothing seems to nick my skin. 
     “You jerk!”
     “Have a nice dinner!” Under his breath, he adds, “Freakin’ pixie,” but I still hear it. 
     “My. Name. Is. ROSALIE!” 
     “I. Don’t. CARE!” he shouts back, his voice fading more and more the farther he travels away from my hole.
     “Arrgghh!” I shout. I’m so tired of these jerk faeries treating me like I’m in the wrong here! “I’m not a criminal! I haven’t done anything to deserve this!”
     If Jack’s still close enough to hear, he doesn’t respond. I’m left to sulk and cry in silence, but at least I’ve got some fat and protein to put into my body again.

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