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Storm & Shadow by Valerie Storm - Book Tour + Giveaway

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Demon Storm, Book Two


YA Fantasy

Release Date: 11/13/2022

Publisher: Shadow Spark Publishing

 

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Kari was dead—and then, she wasn’t.

But for the wolf-demon with lightning in her fists, resurrection is no reprieve from exile. After old witch Zina revives her, Kari must conceal her true nature better than ever before, lest her slayers find her breathing and put her down for good. And since she can no longer return to what she once knew, Kari finds herself adrift—in search of purpose.

She gets it when Zina entrusts her with the Lapis Anima, a gem imprisoning the soul of wicked woman, Raven. This brings her into conflict with Raven herself, who’s still very much a threat without her soul… and has devious plans in mind for Kari’s destructive abilities.

Will the wolf-demon succumb to Raven’s cruel temptations?

Or will Kari turn to an unlikely ally for help—the very man who killed her, one year ago?


Excerpt

Chapter 1

Kari hit the floor, her head smacking against the stone. Her eyes fluttered with brief white light. The ceiling wavered above her as she let out a heavy breath.

“Get up, Kari,” Zina said from across the room. “Once more. You’re getting there.”

Kari groaned and forced herself to sit up. Zina stood several feet away, in the same position she’d stood every day for months now, waiting for the moment when Kari would dodge her attacks and land a hit. She was a human, albeit an odd one; Kari had never known a human to have navy-blue hair or gray eyes. And, of course, there was her magical skill; Zina could do things Kari had never thought possible.

“Well?” Zina nudged.

Kari climbed to her feet. Her chest hurt, her stomach throbbed, and her arms were trembling from exhaustion. But Zina would not let up, not until she did something.

With a roar, Kari ran the distance between them. Lightning crackled from her fingers in easy streaks, a feat she wouldn’t have known a year ago. Zina did not even blink at the sight of her power. As Kari advanced, her feet slapping the stone floor, Zina waved a hand.

Kari ducked to the side and felt a swoop in her chest as a blast of air brushed her cheek. Dodged! Now

She leapt forward, claws extended—

A wave of fire appeared. Screaming, Kari stumbled back, flailing her arms at the flames. Within the moment of her hesitation, they were recalled, revealing Zina behind them. Her expression was not disproving or amused—merely uninterested. She flung out her hand; Kari flew back, slamming into the floor again.

“Distracted. Any true demon would have smelled the heat—”

“Damn it, Zina!” Kari slammed a fist onto the floor. “I’ve been doing this all morning! I’m exhausted!”

Zina crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow, her signature expression. “Your parents did not raise a weakling, Kari.”

Kari’s insides burned. What did you know about them? She wanted to demand, but she’d asked that question many times, and always received the same answer.

I know enough. I know they wanted nothing more than to keep you safe, and for you to be prepared for the world. I know what they want for you is not what you are now. You must be stronger.

“Once more.”

“No!” Kari snapped. “No, I’m done today.”

She scrambled to her feet, avoiding Zina’s gaze, and stamped out of the room without looking back.

*****

Zina’s castle, a stone building with two turrets, hunched in the middle of a plain of rolling hills. Spiky mountain peaks towered to the north and west; beyond these lay the Demon Sea—or so maps depicted. Kari had never tried to climb the mountains to see the ocean for herself. 

To the south and east sprawled a forest with trees so thick one couldn’t see beyond the first layer of darkness. It was well-known on Taris, even if most denizens of the land would never dare to step foot within. Raziac Forest was famous for its demon habitants.

Not that Kari had seen many. 

Stepping outside of Zina’s castle, she stood upon the hill overlooking the endless greenery and frowned. In her time before, she’d traversed that forest regularly. It’d been a second home to her, even though she didn’t know it well. A place she was safe, despite the dangers within. Because she had…

She shook her head and turned, forcing the thoughts away. No. She didn’t think of the past anymore. Even now, her gut still hurt where the blade had pierced her and burned away her life. Her feet carried her to the western hills as her hand trailed to her stomach. The wound was long gone, healed by a combination of Zina’s magic and Kari’s healing ability. Yet it still burned, eager to remind her of the past she’d had and lost.

When Zina brought her back, Kari never thought the pain would stop. The wound that killed her was like fire; her heartbreak, agony. Zina explained the pain was phantom and would pass, yet that was all she would clarify. Any questions Kari asked—how she was alive, what had happened, if Ari was okay—were dust.

“Get better,” was all Zina would say. “Then we can begin your training.”

If Kari was honest, she would’ve preferred to have been left dead. Seeing him in her dreams brought the anguish back all over again. Zina was wrong; she would never heal from this.

If I can just finish training, I can leave this forest, she thought. I’ll never have to see it again, and I can forget what it used to mean.

It was all she wanted now. Her fighting prowess had grown exponentially. Given the time to train, and a trainer worth the fight, Kari had become the demon she always knew she could be. Even Kiki, she thought with a pang, would have been proud to see her now.

Yet Zina remained unsatisfied.

Your parents did not raise a weakling.

Kari balled her hands into fists as annoyance rang in her heart. She’d show Zina she was wrong. She wasn’t weak—

A flash of light burst through the sky above the castle. Kari gasped, covering her face. She rubbed her eyes, glaring blearily up where the light had been, and saw nothing.

She’d seen a lot of odd magic in Zina’s care—time-stopping, conjuring, and transfiguration, to name a few—but nothing like this. 

“Zina!” she shouted as she burst through the front doors. “Zina! Did you see—” The entrance hall was empty, as was the main room where they usually did their training. Kari frowned. “Zina?”

Voices drew her to the west wing, toward Zina’s bedroom. Kari crept to the door, her ears taut.

“…Are we going to do with her, Zina?” asked a woman’s voice.

“Kill her, of course,” snapped another.

Something about the second voice made Kari’s breath quicken. She leaned closer, placing her hands flat against the door. Who was Zina talking to? And who were they talking about?

“I have a plan,” came Zina’s slow, quiet tone. “This Soul Gem will do everything I need. It may even kill her, in time. I only…”

Kari recalled when she had first woken on Zina’s basement floor. She’d opened her eyes to find herself alive and as well as she could be, despite knowing she should very well be dead. Once she could stand, she’d planned to find the woman who had been the catalyst to her death. “I will kill that blasted Fire Witch. I will make her regret what she’s done!”

Zina, however, would not allow it. “Do you believe vengeance to be your true path, Kari? A path your parents would have wished of you?”

Kari had killed for vengeance before. Taking the lives of Anne and Joseph wasn’t something she was proud of, though, and her shame quieted her burning hatred. She never spoke of leaving to find the woman again. I can do better, she’d promised herself. I don’t need to slay others to do it.

And yet Zina spoke of taking someone’s life. What reason could there be other than revenge?

Kari thrust the door open. “Zina, what are you talking—” 

She froze at the sight of the women before her. There was Zina, but on her left was a short woman with shoulder-length azure hair, eyes, and clothes. On Zina’s right were two others dressed similarly. One was tall, with flowing yellow hair and robes. She looked familiar, her white boots triggering a long-forgotten memory of Snow Shade and a visitor at school.

But the sight of the next woman, a redhead with sheer robes like flames, blasted the memory from her mind.

Kari’s vision swam. She recalled the redheaded woman leaning closer, her eyes glowing embers, her smile long and large.

I’ve thought of the most wonderful plan.

“You!” Kari shouted.

“Oh,” the Fire Witch said. “And I thought my day would be dull and dreary.” 

“You!” Kari yelled again. Her legs were numbly locked in place, but her chest was aflame. Lightning crackled to life at her fingertips. She mouthed exclamations, insults, but her voice failed. The woman was here, the one who had ruined everything! “Zina!”

“Zina,” the blonde woman murmured at the same time. “What is she doing here?”

“Who cares?” the Fire Witch laughed. “If I can end this, so be it—”

Kari screamed and leapt across the room. “I’ll kill you!” she yelled.

The Fire Witch sneered. Her fingers splayed, forming tiny fireballs that coalesced and lengthened, becoming handles—

Kari’s throat tore with her roar. Her vision was overcome by a haze of red—

She collided with a solid wall of ice that quickly curved, forming around her. She slammed her fists against it, scraping her skin and leaving smears of blood. Within seconds the flesh tingled, drawing energy from within her body to heal.

“What is this?!” she demanded. “Let me out! I’ll kill her! ZINA!”

“Yes, free her, Nini!” the Fire Witch yelled. “Let us finish this, see if Zina’s little pet is worth her gall—”

“Enough,” Zina said, her voice carrying despite its lowness. “Niniko, thank you, but it is not necessary.”

“Are you sure?” Niniko asked. She was the one colored in azure from head to toe. Her eyes glinted, as frosty as the ice wall. “She is the demon of lore, is she not?”

“Despite what you all may believe, I won’t be certain of the words of a prophecy until I see it. Now, release her. Kari will leave.”

“I won’t!” Kari screamed. “She is the one who—”

“You will,” Zina said, quiet and dangerous. 

The Fire Witch rolled her eyes and clenched her jaw.

“The time for this hatred has ended,” Zina continued before Kari could protest. “Many months have passed, and your life is different now. While Riniko did terrible things, your false companionship with that boy likely would have ended similarly regardless. We have discussed this.”

Her words send a numbing chill down Kari’s spine. Her hands fell limp to her sides.

“I need you to leave, just for a time. We have things to discuss, and I’m afraid you would be a hindrance.”

“Yes, run along,” Riniko sneered.

Kari gritted her teeth. “Zina, I won’t—”

Turning away, Zina waved her hand. Kari’s ice prison slid from the room, taking her with it. She banged on the ice as she was pushed through the doors. Then they slammed shut, sealing themselves with a sheen of shining magic. The ice melted away, drenching the rug and Kari’s feet.

She knew Zina’s magic was impenetrable, and yet she ran at the door anyway, throwing her foot against the barrier. Her kick bounced off without so much as a creak of wood. Outside, thunder boomed across the sky.

Her insides seethed. Her hands trembled with the need to break something, to destroy whatever lay between her and the Fire Witch.

How could Zina have let her in here, knowing what she had done? The way she’d hurt Kari and the village beyond the forest! She’d destroyed homes and people’s lives. Now she was here, and Kari couldn’t do anything about it!

Why? She wanted to scream at the door. Why is she here, Zina?! How could you

Her breaths came hard and fast. She knew her anger was impractical right now; even if they finished with their conversation soon, Zina would not tolerate Kari if her attitude was less than her version of acceptably calm.

And she knew now, from months of practice, that Zina was too big an obstacle for her to face and hope for victory.

Grinding her teeth, feet stomping, she left the castle.

*****

The trees enveloped her with ease and comfort, concealing the world of frosty autumn behind a curtain of thick and scraggly foliage. Kari walked an eastern path, one she’d memorized in the early days of her revival. Though she never went very far into the forest, sometimes a glimpse of the trees helped to calm her.

She scraped her claws along the trees she passed, her footsteps heavy and breaths hard. 

This was not the life she wanted. She did not enjoy the tiresome, endless training Zina insisted she complete. She did not enjoy the sparse sleep, sometimes disturbed by Zina and her tests. She hated that everything she’d ever known was now gone, ripped from her grasp, never to be obtained again.

And all of that, all of it, was the blame of the Fire Witch who was within the safety of Zina’s castle at this very moment.

If she had never appeared, spouting her nonsense of wanting to end Kari’s life, none of it would have happened. All of this, the miserable life she knew now, would be nothing. She would be comfortable and safe in—

Kari roared before her mind could complete the thought. She punched the closest tree, scraping the skin of her knuckles. No! I can’t go back.

As her skin mended, she grabbed the tree. Her claws dug into the bark as if it were dough rather than wood.

If I could just…if her life was ended…

She knew, from experience, that revenge would not cure her aching, empty heart. It would not quell the regret and pain keeping her awake nearly every night.

The wind blew, musical as it whistled through countless leaves. A song of the forest curled around her, soothing her fury in a coat of acceptance.

But gods, she would love nothing more than to rip out that woman’s heart.

What stopped her, besides Zina? If Kari could hurry back, hide someplace, maybe she could catch the Fire Witch before she left. She could end it all—tonight.

The musical wind blew past her ears, promising success, spurning her determination. Yes, she thought feverishly. Yes, it could be so easy

Snap.

Kari spun, lightning dancing off her arms. “Who’s there?”

No one answered, but she knew it must have been something or someone. The sound had been too large for a squirrel.

She breathed in deep, sensing something sour beyond the dirt and damp foliage. The smell of a demon.

“What do you want?” she shouted, scanning the forest. “I know you’re there!”

Bushes rustled and shifted as something ran past her. She spun, her feet moving before she could think.

“Stop!”

A tan blur burst through the forest ahead of her, so much faster than she could move. Kari ran, gasping, her lightning fading as her focus shifted. 

“Wait!” she shouted.

Her chase took her back to Zina’s castle. Kari stumbled to a stop, chest heaving and burning, as Zina’s voice broke over the rolling hills.

“This day, the Shadow Witch is no more. This gem will destroy her, and the plague of the Shadow Man will have ended!”

“Zina!” Kari yelled. “There’s a—”

A flash of light erupted from the steps of the castle. Something dirty, thin, and vaguely orange hit the ground. Before Zina could strike again, it scrambled to its feet and fled again. Kari noted a wide-eyed, orange-haired demon as he made for the forest, where she stood. She called her electricity, the sparks flaring as she flung out her claws.

“Leave it,” Zina commanded from her place on the steps. “It is lowly, hardly worth death.”

Kari hesitated just long enough for the demon to speed past her. He broke through the bushes and disappeared into the trees. Kari itched to follow him but abstained.

“Damn it,” she grumbled, facing Zina. “Who was that? And what were you saying?”

Her mentor was alone, she noted with a pinch of annoyance. Perhaps the other three are inside.

“Your timing could hardly be more perfect,” Zina said. “Come inside.”

“Am I allowed now?” Kari scoffed. She followed the woman inside and into the main room. The fireplace crackled, lighting the dusty room with a dim glow. Zina crossed to the long table against the wall and faced Kari.

“I have here a set of new garments for you. Those women who came—”

“Where are they now? Where is the Fire Witch?”

Zina sighed. “Riniko and her sisters have left. You will not pursue them.”

“What?!” Kari yelled. “I—”

“If you will argue, I will save this conversation for later.” 

Kari bit her tongue and balled her fists. “N-no. I’ll listen. What about clothes?”

“They procured a very rare item for me. It enabled me to complete these for you.”

Zina gestured to the table. Kari stepped closer and looked upon a shirt and pants, rain-gray in color, with brown trim and red-threaded seams. She lifted the shirt bemusedly. It was light and smooth, unlike the scratchy garments Zina gave her to wear.

“Why?”

“To save you clothes. These will not tear should you be wearing them when you shift form, as I know you miss doing.”

Kari’s face warmed. One time, only one time, Zina had caught her shedding her clothes and shifting into a wolf so she could roam the plains around her castle. It helped to clear her mind. Zina had been amused for days afterward.

“Thank you,” Kari muttered. “That’s…amazing magic.”

Zina inclined her head. “It does not, I regret to say, come without a bit of a price.”

Kari glanced at her. “What? Do you want me to go chop some wood or something?”

Zina tittered. “Quite not.” She laid something hard and jagged on the table.

Kari blinked at the sight of a gemstone, clear but for the smoky darkness filling it.

“This is the Lapis Anima. It is a gem that imprisons powerful souls. It was, I think, originally meant for demons. However, there seems to be a small loophole in its creation, allowing it to also entrap human-based souls.”

Kari clutched the clothes to her chest. “So?”

“Inside it now is the soul of a woman. Her name is Raven. I will confess to you that she has been a thorn in my side. However, this opportunity has presented itself. This gem will, in time, destroy her.”

Kari frowned at the crystal. “Why? What did she do?”

Zina’s fingers, loosely splayed before the gem, curled into a fist. “It doesn’t matter now. The problem I face is that the process will take months, perhaps even years, to complete. Since Raven is not wholly a demon—”

“Months? Years?”

“Quite. I could drop the gem into a dark hole and forget about it, but Raven is not any ordinary being. I am sure she would find a way to spoil my plans, somehow.” Zina looked at Kari, her expression unusually serious. “I cannot destroy her myself. This is the only way to ensure she will perish, and yet my power will not be enough to hold the gem. It has to be someone else, someone of different energy.”

“Me? That’s what you want me to do? Hold onto this—”

“You have longed to leave,” Zina continued, looking back at the gem. “I give you these garments and this chance. You are well enough to leave my care and brace yourself against the world. My only request is you take the gem with you and allow it to do its work.”

“But…” This was very sudden—only this morning Zina had berated her for not being strong enough.

“Kari Kasente,” Zina said, lifting the gem into her hands. “I ask this of you. I ask you to take the Lapis Anima and hold it until it does what it must.”

She held it out on a thin chain. The crystal swung, the smoke inside flurrying. Kari stared at it, mesmerized.

To leave this place, this forest…to see the world again. Even if Kari didn’t know what she would do with such freedom, the opportunity was one she’d longed to grasp. No more training, no more sighing disappointment from Zina. How could she refuse?

She extended a shaking hand. Zina dropped the gem into her palm, where it flashed as it touched her skin.

“Since you have taken it of your own will, you and the gem are now Bound.” As she said the word, the air around Kari stiffened. Magic. “Should you die an unnatural death, the gem will shatter, destroying the soul within.”

Kari’s claws curled over the gem as the air returned to normal, her mouth drying. “If I die? What—”

Zina held up a hand to silence her. Kari obediently shut her mouth.

“I entrust this to only you, Kari,” she murmured. “This woman…she is like nothing else. But I have done all I can to protect you from her power. All you need to do is hold onto this gem and wait.”

Kari’s lips pressed. That didn’t sound too bad. Nonetheless, she sensed a but.

“I…will do this. Not that you’ve given me much of a choice,” she mumbled. “But why me? There isn’t anyone else in the world you can entrust with this job?”

“No. The others are…” Zina paused, musing over her words before continuing, “much less temperamental than you.”

Kari thought of the three women, the sisters, and clenched her jaw. “Right.”

“Once the gem has done its job, you will return to me.”

Kari rolled it between her fingers. “What of the women? You said I couldn’t go after the Fire Witch, but your plan will kill this woman. Why is the revenge I seek any different?”

The gem warmed in her hand. She frowned and tightened her fingers around it.

Zina searched her face. “I don’t believe revenge would satisfy you, and Riniko has proven very useful to my needs. How about this: if you are successful, and you return the gem to me, I will summon her here again. Is that sufficient?”

Frowning down at the gem, Kari nodded. “That’s the best you’ll give me, I imagine.”

Zina chuckled. “Change into those clothes and meet me at the tree line. I will prepare supplies for you.”


 




About the Author

Valerie Storm was raised in Tucson, Arizona. Growing up, she fell in love with everything fantasy. When she wasn’t playing video games, she was writing. By age ten, she began to write her own stories as a way to escape reality. When these stories became a full-length series, she considered the path to sharing with other children & children-at/heart looking for a place to call home.


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Please try not to spam posts with the same comments over and over again. Authors like seeing thoughtful comments about their books, not the same old, "I like the cover" or "sounds good" comments. While that is nice, putting some real thought and effort in is appreciated. Thank you.