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Rise of the Demigods Sneak Peek

Rise of the Demigods Sneak Peek

The dull thud of my own footsteps pounded all the way from my knees, through my jaw, to the back of my head as I paced back and forth across her office. I didn’t stop moving. I couldn’t. The news that Scarlett had just delivered spiraled through my mind over and over again. 

“I’m sorry, Bianca. The Council refused to consider discussing the formation of the Sisterhood at the next Esbat.”

My nostrils flared. Of course they did.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Spin.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Spin.

Scarlett continued to speak, and it was mere background noise. “A majority of the Council said that they would discuss allowing women into the Guardians and . . . all that would mean. But that's a Network issue and not a priority right now.”

My mind refocused on her words, and her reply stopped me in my tracks. They would talk about letting women into the Guardians?

“That’s it?” I cried.

She held up a hand. “Progress moves at the speed of politics. You cannot expect the Network to have the funds and ability to institute a Sisterhood of Protectors when they don’t even allow women into the Guardians. We have to take this in steps.”

“At this rate I’ll be too old to be in it.”

“It’s the best we can do. You must admit, even that is progress, Bianca.”

Thud. Thud. Thud. Spin.

Thud. Thud. Th—

“In the name of the good gods,” Scarlett snapped. “Stop. Pacing.”

My right foot hovered a hint off the floor, then slowly lowered. I turned to face her and let out a long breath.

“Right. Sorry.”

Scarlett eyed me, then shook her head.

“You’re too wound up, Bianca. We won’t decide anything with you acting so frantically. Council support for the Sisterhood will only come with strategy and patience, not destroying my floorboards. You’re going to have to figure out how to let things happen as they happen. You can’t force life.”

She had a point—my patience could use a lot of work. If the topic of lacking support for a Sisterhood wasn’t naturally anxiety-inducing enough, then the month that had passed since the end of the Celebration was. Not a smidgen of progress toward our mutual goal to start the Sisterhood had manifested in the last thirty days, and the lack of momentum set me on edge.

With a sigh, I threw myself into a padded chair near the fire and let out a long breath. Flames crackled in the rectangular, stone hearth, which stood as tall as me. Light flickered into the darkening room. A gust of wind shivered the windows on either side of the fire and I thought I saw a star pop out of the night sky.

My thoughts skimmed over Letum Wood and the distant keen of trees outside, back to the topic at hand.

Sisterhood.

Stalled progress.

Lack of Council support.

My knee hopped around in a wild bounce as my thoughts built. Most of the Council’s attention since the end of the Celebration four weeks ago had turned to managing the tenuous Network relationships that the Celebration left behind. Not to mention the problem of mortals and demigods in Alkarra and general panic amongst all populations. The Council’s attention was understandably placed elsewhere.

Soon, it would need to be on the Sisterhood.

Those demigods would be found—even though they hadn’t yet—and we needed to be ready.

“They won’t respond well to me putting the idea forward,” Scarlett said, stating something both of us knew already. In her head, I imagined a mental checklist as she ran through a list of things that we knew—or strongly presumed—wouldn’t help us get the Sisterhood started. “I need to maintain my current position of trust amongst the Council.”

“You need to stay distant from the Sisterhood,” I murmured in agreement.

In other words: the Sisterhood was mine to live or die with. Any success or failure had to be created by me.

Only a month ago, the Celebration had fallen to shreds when Igor, High Priest of the South, revealed himself as a demigod called Bram. He’d crossed an ocean to come to Alkarra from a land called Alaysia. His plan involved forcing Southern Network witches—now magicless after the Network War— into allegiance with him. He’d give them limited access to god magic, but they’d be stuck with him until they died. 

Having allegiant witches would have, according to Baxter, grown Bram’s power and position amongst the demigods and gods. After Bram’s uprising had been subdued, Papa’s Assistant Baxter had returned him to Alaysia, where he would be punished in a manner befitting the gods. 

Except . . . Igor’s exit from Alkarra didn’t sit well with me. Would the punishment even happen? 

What if he escaped?

How would we ever know?

I shook my concerns off.

Couldn’t focus on that now. When Igor left, he’d adamantly declared that other demigods were already here, ready to turn witches to mortals and take their allegiance. Except . . . no other demigods had been found over the days between then and now. Alkarra floundered, wondering where are they?

I blinked out of that depressing spiral of thought and turned back to her. “We’ve already ruled out that funding isn’t an issue because we could use the training equipment that the Brotherhood uses, which will help. I’m happy to volunteer my time to train until we have a significant plan.”

Scarlett’s sharp gaze didn’t frighten me. She didn’t like that I wouldn’t be compensated for my work at first, but with Papa as High Priest and a cottage in Letum Wood where the trees kept me safe, I could lose currency without fear of starvation. For the Sisterhood, it would be worth it.

“For now,” she added.

I waved that off.

Calm had returned to her general mein, relaxing me a little bit more. I returned to my feet, but didn’t pace.

“What if we can pull Matthais to our cause?” I asked as the idea popped into my head. The Head of Protectors was a father figure to me, and a daunting man. The Council had already shown itself susceptible to Matthais’ opinion when they approved Papa’s institution of him—not that it would have stopped Papa.

Scarlett’s brow grew heavy, but I pushed into the fresh idea anyway.

“If Matthais publicly supported the founding of the Sisterhood, then you could too. You wouldn’t be in jeopardy of harming your trusted relationship with the Council if you agreed with Matthais on the Sisterhood. That would be two high-ranking leaders behind it, which would definitely sway the Council.  That would give us a greater ability to find other female candidates and start the discussion on how the Brotherhood and Sisterhood would interact.”

“What about the issue with females not being allowed into the Guardians?”

I rolled my eyes. “Different issue, if you ask me.”

She made a noise in her throat.

I stopped, faced her, and threw my hands in the air. “I can’t believe we didn’t think of this before! It’s a win-win. Matthias is the answer!”

She let out a long breath. Her expression gave nothing away. 

 “Why do you think he’s critical?” she asked. Her crisp tone suggested she already knew what I’d say, but wanted to hear it.

“Because he’s the face of the Brotherhood, just as I will be for the Sisterhood. If the two of us worked together, the Council wouldn’t say no. They’re terrified of him,” I added under my breath. “Just like they’re scared of the rest of the Brotherhood.”

A flicker of annoyance registered on her face.

“The Council isn’t scared of him, Bianca, and they wouldn’t think highly of your suggestion that they are. They know where to place their respect. There’s a difference and it’s significant. Regardless . . .” She trailed away, which gave me my first moment of hope. “You may be onto something.”

Scarlett lapsed into silence. The firelight cut a sharp angle against her jaw, sending glimmering light onto her hair. A crimson dress covered all the way down to her wrists, sliding to the floor with a quiet whisper of silk skirts. Black buttons edged up the side of the bodice, beneath her arm. Even with her stern, thoughtful expression, Scarlett had an old-world loveliness about her.

Hoping to win her to my cause, I stopped talking, giving her a moment of silence to ruminate.

My fingers flexed into my palm involuntarily, driven by a little shiver of heat that spread all the way to my bones. I tried to open them, but they curled back in, as if my body wanted to conserve the magic inside. Keep it in.

Where it didn’t wreak such havoc.

The sea goddess, Prana, had restored goddess magic back to me at the end of the Celebration. While I couldn’t help my wary gratitude—Prana didn’t strike me as the sort of goddess to meddle with, and she had been my only obvious option if I wanted my magic back—I also hadn’t decided if she’d done me any favors.

Getting magic back wasn’t at all the same as just having it in the first place. The fickle powers weren’t inclined to obey me in the same way. At random moments, heat would fire in my body, like god magic had never left. 

Besides, the implications of restored goddess magic had raged through the Network. Southern Network witches that lost their magic after the war had been living on beaches, offering food, items, even their lives to the sea goddess. They would plead until they lost their voice for their magic to return, as mine did. In the beginning when word first spread, it hadn’t been safe for me to leave Letum Wood. One night when magicless witches sought and almost found me, the trees had rearranged themselves in a wide circle so thick a bird could barely get through. Now, one at a time, they’d started to fade back to their original places.

I leaned forward when she spoke again. 

“I don’t know, Bianca. I can’t imagine he’ll be any more excited about it than the Council.”

If Scarlett had accepted any idea I presented without suspicion, I would have been concerned. Her skepticism was a reassuring path, though fraught with peril.

“Let me talk to Matthais, Scarlett. It’s our best avenue. And easiest,” I tacked on. “Imagine how quick this process will be with him on board. I won’t mention you at all. I’ll just take myself into it.”

Scarlett’s gaze tapered to slits. Clearly, I hadn’t won her over. Soon enough, I would. Matthais had always had a sort of affection for me—as much as he did for any other witch, if at all.

“What would you say to him?” she asked carefully. 

“I would tell him that we need a firm plan to deal with the demigod problem, and that it has to be surprising and different. The demigods use thought magic, which makes their magic faster, more versatile, and for some, maybe more powerful. Which means it’s time for outside help.”

She scowled.

“You’re going to tell the Head of Protectors that he needs help? From a twenty-something child?”

I bristled. “I’m not a child, thank you. I believe surviving a kidnapping and fighting a war has proven that.”

She sighed and managed to sound a little contrite. “A woman, forgive me. Regardless, no Protector, particularly not Matthais, is going to take that well.”

“Agreed. So I’ll say something else.” I shrugged. “I don’t know, I’ll figure it out when I get there.”

Scarlett rolled her eyes. “We’re all doomed, then.”

“This can work!”

“Not if you’re going to tell him that he can’t handle this threat without you. Bianca, be reasonable.”

I looked away, silent in my own frustration. Scarlett and I had always butted heads on most issues. Our attempt to work together on the Sisterhood had only made it worse.

“Let’s not decide tonight,” I said. “Tomorrow is soon enough. Then we can sleep on it, and I’ll think it over.”

Scarlett pushed away from her desk, strode to the window, and peered outside. A flurry of snow fell over the top of Letum Wood in a gentle, drifting pattern. Spots of sky remained open in the distance, uncluttered by the latticed shower. Her reflection in the tall panes of glass appeared troubled.

“How is your magic?” she asked.

I flexed my clenched fingers and sat back down.

“Fine.”

“Is that true?”

Goddess magic buzzed inside me, the way it always used to. The feeling ran deep, like it made my bones sing. Its return hadn’t been what I expected. Volatile, in fact. I’d imagined it a seamless transition, right back to the witch I had been before. It wasn’t. Now, the magic felt . . . busy. Not restless, but crowded. Even angry. 

A dozen spells bubbled to the top of my mind, but I sent them away. Safer when I didn’t toy with the powers.

Thankfully, she didn’t make me answer her question. “Have you heard from the sea goddess again?” she asked instead, as if she sensed my hesitation to bring it all up.

I shuddered. “No, thank the good gods.”

“Any further issues?”

She didn’t verbalize the query, but I heard what she didn’t say. Have witches been attempting to track you down in the forest again?

“Not recently.”

“That’s something.”

Goddess worshippers had also tried to find me. Witches that secretly believed in the goddess paradigm all these years had suddenly become more vocal. The most ardent followers frequently sought me out to ask me about Prana. The goddess paradigm had been thrust back into the spotlight, creating as great a division amongst witches as the question of whether demigods really did—or did not—exist amongst us. Differences of opinion tripled through Alkarra in many ways. The greatest damage Bram did was social and emotional, not physical.  Alkarra was more likely to destroy itself between divided opinions before the demigods could steal our magic.

My gaze darted to the clock. “I need to meet with Leda. I’ll speak with Matthais this week and then let you know, all right?” I forced cheer back into my voice. “Once we recruit him into our plan, this will be easy!”

Her expression clouded.

“This is your Sisterhood, the decision is yours. But I urge you to caution, Bianca. Matthais will see you as competition, not support. He would desire neither. Any approach to Matthais should be done carefully and without any association to me.”

“Matthais is like a father to me, Scarlett. This will be just fine.”

My bright smile didn’t assuage her worry, but she nodded once nonetheless. I popped back to my feet as a tap came on her door, and one of her Assistants allowed it to open a little crack.

“Your 7:00 appointment, High Priestess.”

“Thank you,” Scarlett called. “Please let them in.”

With a look to me, I nodded and issued a transportation spell. Gut clenched, it swept me away.

And I could only hope I’d land.

 

*  *  * 

 

RISE OF THE DEMIGODS is the second novel in THE NETWORK SAGA and it launches March, 2022! Click right here to grab your copy and be the FIRST to get it in your inbox the moment it’s available. 

 

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