In 2160, humanity is divided. The ruling class of prodigies dictates law and order for all, while normals fight to survive. Only the Councils in charge of advanced Core cities can decide the fate of a traitor.
A life of luxury is Willow Kent’s destiny. As long as she plays within the boundaries of the Core’s game, she can have anything she wants. Anything except for her friend Kane to avoid execution. Driven by guilt, she negotiates a secret Meta-X exchange to free him. But when a new threat emerges—one even her rare skill level cannot withstand—the stakes become dangerously high. To save Kane, she must navigate the slippery political terrain that surrounds her House, her mysterious Guardian, and the corrupt, unforgiving Council.
The most lethal terrain, however, lurks inside her own mind. Can she overcome her skillset before its savage intentions spiral out of control?
Joshua’s eyes went to the flames. I waited in silence, wishing I could read his thoughts. He did this often. Was he sifting through versions of the future, or simply deciding whether to trust me?
I hoped it wasn’t a trust issue. I’d come to trust him with all my heart, and I needed him to reciprocate. My choices weren’t always wise, but they were made with good intentions. If I’d known Kane would pay for this one, I would have chosen differently.
And I wouldn’t have fallen for Reece. He’d have been dismissed—removed from my path, away from the position of influence that had connected us so deeply. He wouldn’t have sat by my bed and held my hand, or risked his life in a no-holds-barred spar. He wouldn’t be my dark knight.
The tiger wouldn’t have linked our hearts.
Coming out of his reverie, Joshua turned his gaze back to me. “I cannot reveal anything to you, other than what you’re doing will have beneficial results.”
I sucked in my breath. “You mean, I’ll save—”
“I mean that there will be beneficial results. That is all I’m willing to give you. The rest will unfold as it needs to.”
“Great. Thanks a lot.” A harsh, stubborn sigh blew past my lips. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a wee bit stingy with information?”
“Many, many times.” His smile—a wide curve of full, generous lips rimmed in blond stubble—was both gracious and heart-stopping. It took my breath away. If I believed him, he’d been smiling like that for nearly two thousand years.
“There’s so much you won’t tell me,” I said wistfully.
“It’s for your own good, little one.”
“Well, what can you tell me? Anything good at all? About my life, or what I’m doing? It feels like I’m flying blind most of the time, and I don’t know—”
Joshua pressed his finger to my lips, stopping me. “You’re not flying blind. I am here to guide you, and this skillset, this . . . tiogair of yours is beyond anything I have ever witnessed.”
His voice was so thoughtful, so full of sincerity, that I held my breath. The tiger pricked up her ears, and we listened in avid silence.
“You are a culmination of events, Willow. There aren’t words in your language to properly explain, but I will try. The world you live in goes through cycles. All is connected by space and time. Who you are is a result of many things coming together.”
Intrigued, I waited for him to go on.
“Some of those things, I am responsible for.” His hand went up as I opened my mouth. “No, don’t ask about it, because I cannot tell you. The mystery will unravel itself in time. Just understand that this is why I’m here. Now.” He smiled. “By your side.”
“Because I’m a Level Four prodigy?”
“More than that.”
“Because . . . I have a genesis skill?”
“More than that, as well.”
His green eyes glittered with something I couldn’t quite put into words. It wasn’t Reece’s fathomless glance, or the compassionate way Fenn often looked me. Even Toby’s trance didn’t compare. It was as if he saw me in a way no one else ever could.
“What am I?” I whispered.
Joshua leaned forward, and when he spoke, the words fell from his lips like soft, sweet music. “The perfect storm.”
C.L. Denault is a speculative fiction writer who loves dreaming up tales of adventure and intrigue. A former systems analyst, she gave up her nerdy code-writing skills to care for her family (including a son with special needs) and currently lives among the vast stretches of cornfields in Illinois.
Writing and working out are her biggest passions, along with coffee and sci-fi. When she’s not hanging out with her husband and kids, she can usually be found at a library or tucked away in the shadowy corner of a hip coffeehouse. She’s also been glimpsed sneaking into her garage, late at night, to work on her time machine.
She enjoys connecting with people—especially those from other planets, nearby dimensions, and the future. To find her, just visit her website or social media pages. Or use a Stargate. Whichever is easiest.