Sneak Peek!!!

Below is the first few pages of Empyreal Illusions for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!

 

Chapter 1 – The Laughing Banshee (Partial)

 

“Wait, this is all? You can’t be serious! Is this some kind of bad joke? I can’t do anything with…with this pittance!”

Breena let out a frustrated sigh as her fingers absently caressed the six dirty bronze coins. They were better than nothing, but not by much. She had enough troubles on her mind without the tiresome games Korvan played with her pay. He always tried to bully or push her around, just like everyone else. She knew better than to be surprised. Frankly, she was tired of him thinking of her as his personal servant.

“What did you expect, Miss Taljain?”

“At least three silvers, Korvan. I can barely afford to eat with this. I’ve slaved in your kitchens every day this week, and I’m not going to settle for it. You know this is wrong.”

She ignored his amused scorn as she encased the coins in her palm and tightened her hand into a fist. He would not treat her so poorly if only she was older and stronger. A wiry fourteen-year-old could only be so pushy and convincing. The fact that she stood at only five feet in height did not help, either. Her strawberry-blonde hair ran to her shoulders and accented her emerald-green eyes, which glistened with eager tears she fought to hold back. Be strong, girl. Don’t let him see you cry. She would have been stunning if not for her tired, almost haggard look. Even her brilliant smile could not hide it.

Breena lacked any jewelry to adorn her neck or wrists. She was sure a single piece would have made her positively radiant. A ruby or a garnet or anything quite fiery would suit me. Not in this life, though. In fact, she was convinced that suffering was simply in her blood. By all rights, she should not even be working. All the other teenagers had the luxury of enjoying their days. They frolicked aimlessly with their friends and gossiped about the newest fashion trend or the way their classmates doted at them.

Not me, of course. School’s just a blur on the rare days I can go. Instead I’m wasting away in this forsaken dump. Mother won’t be pleased if I don’t bring home money. I was sore and bruised for days after the last time….

She let the thought trail off when Korvan raised his brow in mock astonishment and chuckled wryly. His sarcasm irritated her to no end.

I could say the same about your face, old man, Breena reasoned. She forced herself to endure his withering stares as she hunched over the sinks and submerged her hands in the constant flow of warm water and rough soap. He made dishwashing an onerous task. She would have told him to leave her be if she could without making eye contact. The combination of the few patches of hair adorning his age-spotted, sallow flesh and the weedy mustache above his gapped, yellow teeth always made her stomach turn. He had the charisma and appeal of a rotting carcass, and even that was being generous.

Why me? She found herself asking that question often as of late. Why? Things have to get better one day. They have to.

Never mind that she was barely a teenager and already had a series of calluses forming against her once soft, pink palms. Breena was not certain if she should hate him more for refusing her pay or for employing her at all. He’s no different than the rest of these pigs. He owned the cheapest bar in town and all the constables frequented it. They would not make a move against The Laughing Banshee unless they wanted more spit in their food and ale. She supposed scum was simply scum, no matter what form it took.

“Do you have a choice? Maybe you should get the hint and understand it’s time for you to move on. I don’t want you here anymore.”

Funny you should say that. Your wandering eyes tell me otherwise. “Who will do your slave labor for you then, Korvan? You don’t even provide me with gloves. I’m young, not stupid. You owe me money.” She crossed her arms angrily against her chest and contorted her face into a bitter frown. With luck, he would not hear the heavy pacing of her heart. She could only be so intimidating with a bright flower in her hair and a short, skimpy skirt of crimson and jet-black. That, along with the fishnet stockings she wore, made her seem more like a loose tavern wench than an upset kitchen drudge throwing away her youth to make ends meet.

It was difficult not to ask herself how she had ended up like this. How different would her life be if her father had taken her away years ago? Whoever he was, the man did not even have the decency to write to her. Did he think of her and all the misery his abandonment put her through, or was he already six feet underground? She wondered if there a point in asking ‘what if?’ and daydreaming. She would live and die in Purgaire.

Breena watched as his jet-black, prying gaze lowered to the slender, pale frame under her sweaty attire. She let out an incoherent noise of disgust when she realized he was enrapt with the way her stance pronounced her breasts. They’re too small to be of note, anyway. Ugh. In her rage she had forgotten that he was a crooked lecher. It was not as if she dressed life this by choice! Alas, she needed the money and beggars could not be choosers.

Breena repositioned her arms and growled under her breath. She noticed a twinkle of ravenous hunger in his dark smirk and shivered in spite of herself. Must he make it so obvious? She lost track of the countless times he violated her with his beady pools. Still, she did not consider leaving. She often told herself that looking was free; touching was different. She would manage as long as he made no threatening move. There were likely much worse alternatives out there. Even so, it was nice to dream that the heavens would hear her prayers one day and take her far away from him and all of Purgaire.

This time, however, was different. Something inside her snapped.

At once, she decided she would not return to The Laughing Banshee, even if it meant enduring her mother’s violent wrath or resorting to stealing again. She was sick of being a beacon of abuse. Maybe she would get lucky and find someone in need of labor elsewhere. She was not too talented, but she could learn. There had to be someone decent out there! Of course there are, but they won’t employ a dirty street rat like you. She would get by without his foul money. She always did, somehow. Her mother would only steal her bronzes and silvers the moment she let them out of her sight, anyway.

Korvan noted she had become wise to his perversion and smirked. “You’re sorely mistaken if you think you’re looking out for my benefit. Look around, my dear. This is no place for a child. I can’t have you here anymore. Go now and don’t come back, please. It’s in your best interests.” He threw her a coin. “Will that make you go?”

She deftly caught it but ignored his last question. The joy of discarding her so suddenly would not be his. “Oh yeah? How do you figure that?”

He sighed. “I’ll be frank with you. You’re still just a child, Miss Taljain, and I have to admit you’re already quite a looker. Yes, you are.” He licked his lips and made another obvious inspection of her assets. “What are you, fourteen or fifteen now? You’re going to become a mature woman soon, and that shouldn’t happen here. You’re too beautiful to waste on the trash I feed out there.” He gestured to the door behind her that led to the bar’s central room. “I don’t want to ruin you. It’d be a pity to stain the only gem in all of Purgaire.”

She growled at his flattery. “Any more than you already have, you mean?”

He chuckled and rubbed his whiskery chin. “I’m not perfect, girl. Nobody and nothing is. Listen. I’ve been garnishing your pay for months now and you still haven’t gotten the message. Surely you’ve noticed that?” He raised a brow in interest and screwed up his face when she remained quiet. Did she really not know? “I’ll give you one more week. I can’t make more exceptions. Stay any longer and you’ll become a serving girl. Trust me, Breena. You don’t want to interact with my patrons directly. They’re ravenous dogs with itchy hands, and you’re the honeyed salve.” He shook his head. “That’s the best I can do. Got it?”

She shut her eyes tightly and looked away. His message to her was all too clear. Why had Fate thrown her down such a rocky road? Why me? It was not like she had anybody to turn to. Her mother was a Nepenthe addict and had long since become a stranger to her. She never knew her father. None could even recall his name. Her classmates and peers shunned her, too. She was different, and different was bad. Occasionally she would find solace in the streets, yet they were far from kind. More than once she had nearly surrendered to hunger and illness.

Finding the motivation to go on was becoming harder each day. Shedding tears in front of Korvan would only make it more difficult. She may be a fourteen-year-old in body, but she was twice that in spirit and mind. Korvan would never see her act in weakness or despair. That was a victory she would forever deny him.

 

Phoenix

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Comments
2 Responses to “Sneak Peek!!!”
  1. Megan Hand says:

    This is a great read! I had the privilege to be a beta reader, and found Jake’s writing to be excellent, precise, and vivid. Breena was a sassy firecracker but also vulnerable from her horrific history of neglect and abandonment. It was a wonderful thing indeed to see her conquer her personal demons on her journey, while gathering the courage to see a brighter future for herself.

    Congrats, Jake!! Good luck with this Adventure! 🙂

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