Cloak of Echoes: A Netherwalker Short Story by CK Dawn

Rachel Kincaid looked up from the letter she was writing and stared at her baby girl sleeping soundly in her crib. Stay small as long as you can little one. The shadows may be real, but we still have time. Rachel felt a tinge of guilt patter out of her heart and into her throat. Emma was an absolute blessing, but her arrival had changed everything. Rachel 
Cloak of Echoes: A Netherwalker Short Story
Cloak of Echoes: A Netherwalker Short Story by CK Dawn

was used to keeping secrets from others, even from her loving husband, but now those secrets wouldn’t be hers alone to keep. They would be passed on to her innocent daughter. All Rachel wanted was a normal docile life for her daughter for as long as she could give it to her, but plans had to be put in place. She looked at the letter in her hands and shook her head.

Just then the wind kicked up and whistled through the nursery’s open window. The young mother got up and rushed to the window to close it. Lightning struck the ground in the distance and illuminated the entire sky for only a fraction of a second, but it had been enough. Rachel’s attention and head snapped to the end of the alley as the thunder cracked in the darkness. Out of the corner of her eye she saw it. An out of place shadow shifted and slithered away rattling and vibrating with power. You can’t have her, she thought. You will never have her!

Rachel’s emotions must have stirred Emma. Even while sleeping the newborn sent out soothing thoughts to her that filled Rachel with an empathetic warmth that she dreaded. The comforting sensation had been instinctual in her daughter from the moment she was born and was the cause for Rachel’s concern. She went to the crib and touched Emma’s cheek reassuring the sleeping babe that everything was okay.

The thunder must have woken her husband. Rachel could hear his footsteps just outside the nursery door. Robert peered in and whispered, “You girls okay?”

“We’re fine,” Rachel whispered back.

“Coming back to bed?” he smiled.

“In a couple more minutes.”

Robert yawned. He’d been working double shifts in preparation for Rachel’s maternity leave. “Let me know if you need anything, my love.”

“I will, my love.”

Robert shut the door and Rachel heard him walk back down the hallway to their bedroom. Should I tell him? It was the question Rachel struggled with even before they had married. Sighing, she picked her letter back up, sat in the overstuffed nursing chair, and began writing again. She couldn’t help the tears that fell as she signed it and placed it in a manila envelope. Pulling out her phone she glanced at Emma again before sending out a long overdue text. ‘It’s done.’

Emma Kincaid tried to scream but no sound escaped her throat. She gasped for air in the barren desert surrounding her but the atmosphere was too thick to breathe. Her brown hair floated all around her, framing her face like a halo. Then she remembered she didn’t have to breathe here. The air’s gelatinous texture was heavy enough to write in. Mesmerized, she traced scrolling patterns into it with her fingers then erased them and traced more designs into the translucent air. But something in the back of her mind was warning her to keep moving. With hands outstretched in front of her, Emma pushed through the atmosphere blindly. Everything was alien to her here, even the orange dirt that ground between her teeth seemed foreign and bitter.

She searched the gel trying to find a way out as invisible hands tightened a grip around her neck. Emma’s flesh was being peeled away from her bones strip by strip. Pieces of her skin weren’t being ripped off quickly like a Band-Aid; something was methodically removing and savoring each morsel. A monstrous, contented cackle echoed off the jagged cliffs high above. Emma followed the sound and was instantly transported to a cave within the tallest peak. Teetering on the cliff’s ledge she watched the creature that had become all too familiar to her now. It sat on a throne made of bones and skulls plucking things from the air and consuming them. It wore black armor that clung to its emaciated bones like a liquid skin. The flowing edges of material that touched the ground were frayed. Ravenous beasts cowered at its feet clawing at its armor for attention. The creature looked at Emma and plucked another morsel from the air. With each bite the creature took, Emma weakened. As the horror of being devoured sank in Emma threw herself off the precipice and bolted upright in bed.

Emma sucked in a breath as she tried to slow her heart rate. As the nightmare faded she quieted the alarm that had apparently been going off for the last five minutes. She got out of bed and rushed to her window shutting out the chill that had enveloped her room. Emma swore she could see her breath as she struggled with the latch. Her dad must have opened it during the night. Emma never left it open anymore. Her nightmares had made her paranoid. So even though their New York apartment was ten stories up she kept her window locked tight. Thinking of her dad, Emma concentrated on her surroundings. Good, dad’s still asleep, she thought rushing to get dressed.

With breakfast made and her dad waking up, Emma grabbed her backpack and yelled at her father’s closed bedroom door. “Bye, dad.”

His bedroom door creaked open and the disheveled man poked his head out. “Try and have a good day at school today okay, honey?” Robert Kincaid said and looked at his daughter with the sympathetic expression he always seemed to give her now.

“I will. I love you, dad.” Emma said, planting an artificial smile on her face for him before heading to their front door. She often wished she could have a genuine smile. Emma couldn’t remember the last time she really smiled or felt happy.

“I love you too, honey.” Emma’s heart threatened to burst as he matched her forced smile. She was sure she would have been convinced he was letting go of his worry over her if it weren’t for her recent ‘emotional radar.’

As soon as Emma closed the front door to their apartment her earbuds went in and her hood went up, creating a cocoon of solitude against the bombardment of people’s feelings all around her. Her father’s emotions were the worst. Ever since her mother had died in the car crash, Robert Kincaid’s emotions had almost overwhelmed Emma. He didn’t have to do or say anything, Emma simply felt his pain and grief, almost as if she were an empath. Over time, the intensity of his emotions lessened as he made his way through the grieving process. Unfortunately, other people’s feelings started to seep in and her dad still had a lot of grieving left to do. Soon after, Emma could feel everyone around her. She thought maybe she was going crazy with grief herself, but it had been over two months since her mom passed away and the sensations were not dissipating. They had only grown stronger. Emma had just learned to turn the volume down as it were by distracting herself with other things. She cranked up the volume on her music and prepared herself for a long dreary day of high school.

Emma cut through the alley that her father specifically told her to avoid, but she couldn’t help herself. It took fifteen minutes off her walk to school and kept a lot of the random passing cars’ occupants out of her head. The anger coming off some New York drivers scared her more than any dark alley ever could. Pressing her earbuds further into her ears, she cloaked herself from all the echoes of emotions that radiated down to her from the towering buildings above and went deeper into the belly of the short cut. The dark shadows of the alley cast a gloomy grey hue onto the slick pavement reminiscent of how Emma felt. Shiny on the surface, but dark, dreary, and damaged in the crevices where most people never cared to look. She desperately missed her mother, the one person she thought she could talk to about what was happening to her, but Emma was alone. Her father seemed to be okay on the outside, too, but experiencing his feelings first hand day in and day out, Emma knew that he felt lost and helpless without the love of his wife, Rachel. Some days it seemed the only thing that kept him going was his commitment to Emma. That was a heavy burden for a seventeen year old to be privy to, or anyone for that matter. Knowing that her father was willing to give up on life if she wasn’t around was brutal. So every day she shut down her own emotions and put on a smile for her dad and every day he became a little more like himself.

Two weeks ago a lawyer had given Emma an envelope stating it was from her mother with instructions to be opened on her seventeenth birthday. The letter still sat unopened on her dresser. Her birthday had come and gone with little reason for celebration. Emma worried that reading it would shatter what little sanity she had been able to scrape together. Her mom would truly be gone and she would break. So the letter sat on her dresser collecting dust and she stayed strong and unfeeling for her father.

Emma jumped at a noise. She scanned the area, convincing herself the loud crash was probably caused by a feral cat rummaging for food. Her determination to stay away from as many people as she could far outweighed her fear of the creepy alley, but still, the alley was creepy. Dark clouds swooped in, hiding the sun. The fall winds picked up, rattling a few tin cans further down in the darkest parts of the alley. Emma looked up into the sky, wondering if it was about to rain when she was hit by a wave of euphoria followed by a calm she hadn’t felt since being sucked into everyone else’s emotions. Everything and everyone turned to silence and she was alone in her head for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Emma cried joyous tears as peace washed over her. She removed the earbuds she had jammed into her ears and tried to steady herself in the tranquility she was experiencing. Something nagged at her. Muffled instincts were telling her something was wrong. The sensations were too close to what she experienced in her nightmares. As she brushed away her tears, her palms began to sweat and her heart raced. Emma tried to focus on what could possibly be causing both the calmness she was feeling and her incongruent anxiety. The silent void felt forced, foreign, and intrusive as it expanded to include a sensation of unexplained happiness and warmth. An underlying element of being something’s prey had Emma truly scared. Pushing past the euphoria, Emma stepped out of the shadows and into a sliver of sunlight peeking through the clouds. Fighting for control, her flesh began to feel like it was being torn from her bones, strip by strip, as her life force was ripped from her body droplet by droplet. The sensation felt almost as though she were being consumed, just like in her nightmares.

Emma gasped as frigid air filled her lungs, burning on its way down. The sun disappeared. As she exhaled, her breath was visible all around her. The chill in the air should have been unbearable, but something in her mind was telling her she was happy and safe. Taking in a deep breath, Emma tried to cleanse herself of the feeling that someone or something was marking her with a brand. It was claiming her, beginning with her scorched lungs. Whatever was causing the sensation, she was determined to find its source for she was certain she was in mortal danger.

Looking frantically around, wondering where this threat could be, Emma rummaged through her pockets trying to find her pepper spray. She knew it might not do any good, but she was desperate for any advantage. Slowing her breathing, Emma carefully put her back to the nearest wall and scanned the alley once more. Nothing seemed out of place. Shaking her head trying to dislodge the cloud that had begun to shroud her mind, she attempted to focus on what was real and tangible. Her heart began to pound audibly in her chest as she realized that the sensations weren’t coming from a person or anything even remotely human. The creature from the cliff! She had no idea how the nightmarish creature was able to surround her with the feeling of pure bliss but she ran away from it and the cold as fast as she could. She would have enjoyed staying in the silence if she wasn’t so frightened of the creature from her nightmares and its power. Just as that thought crossed her mind, a low angry rattle deep in the darkest crevice of the alley behind her began to shake. In spite of her instinct to keep running, Emma turned and finally saw the source of the strange encounter. She watched as an out of place shadow shifted and moved deeper into the darkness. Emma stood frozen for a few moments, trying to make sense of the scene she had just watched. Her hands found the earbuds dangling at her side and absent mindedly placed them in their proper spot as her feet moved once more towards school.


Emma’s heart had finally stopped racing and the strange fuzziness in her mind started to dissipate as she reached the front doors of Jefferson High School. She tried to convince herself the encounter had been a figment of her imagination, residual fright from the hellish nightmares that plagued her every night. Emma kept her head down and her music up as she walked through the hallway to class. She knew all her schoolmates intimately without ever talking to them. Patrick, a football player was anxious, sweating, and his heart was beating faster than normal as he contemplated taking the steroids another player had offered him. Janet was grumpier than usual as she awaited her period that was due in about four days, or at least, she was hoping she would get it. Three teachers in the lounge were smoking near an open window, one even had a nicotine patch on his arm, and Emma’s geometry teacher was drinking alcohol in his morning coffee. How did she know all of this? Everyone’s dopamine, endorphin, and adrenaline levels tickled her skin like they were actual tangible textures. Dopamine felt like soft silky cat fur sliding through her fingers. Endorphins were the wind-pressure on her skin driving with the window down, creating waves with her hand at sixty-five miles an hour. Adrenaline was like being in the front seat of a roller coaster right before the first steep fall. She knew it from the lurch in the pit of her stomach. Emma wasn’t exactly certain she could sense the actual neurochemicals firing in the brains of everyone around her, but making it a sort of name-game helped her deal with the intensity of it all. She had learned to enjoy the sensations that came from being a freak, but being hit by all of them all at the same time all day long became overwhelming. Trying to not to look like a freak while managing all of them was nearly impossible.

Emma pulled her hood down but kept her music on until Mrs. Blake actually started her class. As soon as Mrs. Blake gave Emma her usual disapproving look Emma took her earbuds out and prepared as best she could for the onslaught of emotions that she would have to bare for the rest of the day. As the daily assault of teenage angst began Emma tried to pay attention to Mrs. Blake’s lecture. She was mostly managing normalcy until there was an unusual void outside in the hallway that shouldn’t have been there. Immediately, her attention was drawn to this inexplicable absence. She could sense that something or someone was right outside the door, but couldn’t feel anything from them. Emma’s heart began to race for the second time today, thinking about the thing from the alley. Had it followed her to school? And then the anomaly stepped into the classroom.

Mrs. Blake was saying something about him being a transfer from a private school, but all Emma could do was stare. He was painfully beautiful. She imagined this is how models for Grecian Gods would have looked. Emma was mesmerized by the six foot tall, shaggy, chocolate-haired specimen. Even under his leather coat and dark shirt, Emma thought she could still make out the contours of his toned muscles.

Gorgeous and unattainable! Emma scoffed to herself, and probably some type of werewolf or bloodsucker with her luck. Being of average height with hazel eyes so dark they might as well be brown and mousy brown hair she never knew what to do with, Emma had always felt invisible, especially to boys. Even without her freakish empathic abilities she knew she was a bit odd, or quirky as her only friend Mel liked to say. She had never felt like she really fit in with other teenagers, either, and no one in school ever paid any attention to her. So why should this beautiful specimen be any different? And then, it happened. As Mrs. Blake said the boy’s name he looked directly at Emma and smiled.

“Class, this is Mattox Daniels.”

Mattox’s blue eyes locked with hers. His smile seemed so genuine that she couldn’t believe it. Emma’s heart got stuck in her throat as she tried to swallow. She tried to smile back but failed. The moment passed and he looked away. Then Mattox took a seat all the way in the back of the classroom far from her own.

I was in his line of sight, that’s all, she convinced herself. Besides the void in space he created there was something odd about the boy. Emma couldn’t explain it, but somehow she knew he was different from the thing in the alley. She hadn’t felt any emotions from him and yet she felt connected to him. Is he even really here? She looked behind her and Mattox smiled at her again, still not giving off any emotions. Emma’s heartbeat quickened and his smile grew wider with every beat of her heart. She quickly turned back around, but not before Patrick the steroid-contemplating jock chuckled from beside her.

“Keep dreaming, Emma Dilemma,” Patrick scoffed. “You’d have a better chance with me, freak,” his football buddies laughed along with him.

Emma didn’t respond. Instead she stoically looked straight ahead and tried to become invisible. Well, Mattox is definitely real alright.


Emma walked down the hall to her next class fully aware of the void in space that followed behind her. She gave a quick glance over her shoulder and could have sworn that Mattox turned away just before she made eye contact with him. She took a detour and made a sharp left turn ducking into the girl’s bathroom.

What the hell is going on? She shook her head thinking that maybe the encounter in the alley had done something to short circuit her already crazy wiring. He can’t just NOT be there. Emma found herself both irritated and intrigued by Mattox. She was curious about her reaction to him, how she couldn’t actually get an empathic feel from him. The only thing more powerful than her curiosity, however, was her self-doubt in the face of his ridiculous good looks. Emma couldn’t help but instinctively push out her senses to fix on his location. She was certain she felt him pass the bathroom doors and enter her next class. Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me! Two girls came out of a stall whispering and looking at Emma as they left the bathroom in a cloud of giggles. They were probably wondering why she was just standing against the tile wall like a freak staring into space instead of at least looking in the mirror, or gossiping about Janet’s period as they had been. Emma walked to the sink and threw some cold water on her face preparing for another hour with the curiosity that was Mattox Daniels. So focused on Mr. Mystery, Emma hadn’t noticed this particular distraction had been drowning out a lot of the other constant and intrusive emotions swirling within her perception.

“Mr. Daniels, I don’t know how S.B. Devere Academy is run, but here at Jefferson High students are actually expected to participate in class.” Mr. Grey mumbled something about private schools and paltry public funds under his breath before turning back to his cracked and faded chalkboard.

Mattox put away the very expensive looking device that Emma didn’t think was a phone or an iPad and gave Mr. Grey a halfhearted apologetic shrug.

“My man, Ox,” one of the jocks whispered obviously impressed by the gadget.

“You mean fox,” a varsity cheerleader chimed in probably hoping for a ride in the equally expensive car Emma assumed he had. Or the cheerleader was simply looking to ride him.

Some of the other students turned to look at him with reverence. And with that, Mattox’s fate was sealed. He was officially dubbed a cool.


Emma’s other morning classes had been uneventful and unoccupied by the curious Mr. Mattox Daniels. She was somewhat relieved, but his absence served to pique her interest even more.

Emma looked at her tray of food made up of entirely beige contents and took a seat. Lunchtime was unbearable. So many people, so many emotions. Emma sat at the farthest bench in the outside courtyard that she could find, but it still wasn’t far enough from all the tumultuous teen static.

“Hi. Mind if I sit here?” A voice asked Emma as she hid underneath her hood. Without even looking up she knew it was Mattox that had asked the question and he still wasn’t giving off any emotions.

“Sorry, it’s taken.” said Emma, fidgeting with the fork on her tray. She wasn’t quite sure why she wasn’t up for his company, but she knew she was still trying to get a handle of the new tumult of her own emotions. Even a small conversation with him might cause her to explode. Emma looked up in time to see his smile replaced by a deflated look of rejection as he looked at her empty table.

“Oh, um. Well, maybe next time then.” Mattox seemed to deflate a little as he walked off to find another empty picnic table. His table only remained empty momentarily as a swarm of students descended. He was immediately surrounded as the cool click tried to induct him into their group. Emma watched as they called him names like Ox and Mad Max, slapping him on the back as they sat down to join him. Emma snickered sarcastically to herself. Well, they could always use another handsome brooding guy to join their ranks. Mattox didn’t join in their banter though. He looked straight at Emma and gave her a mischievous smile that said ‘game on.’

Her view of Mattox was abruptly blocked by a mess of bushy blonde hair and thick, wide rimmed glasses. “Who was that?” her friend Mel asked sitting down across from her.

“New guy.”

“New hotness you mean. Didn’t I see him at our table?” Mel asked, taking a huge bite of her chicken salad sandwich.

“Just lost, I guess.” Emma said, pushing the tan food around her tray. “Or maybe he thinks my name is Charity Case, not Emma.”

“Ha ha, you’re so beyond help, hasn’t anybody told him that yet?” Mel said sarcastically as she glanced at Mattox again.

Emma rolled her eyes but had to giggle.

“Well, kidnap him next time would ya? I mean, seriously, Me-ow!” Mel giggled back.

Mel was easy for Emma to be around and not get bombarded with emotions. She, too, had lost a parent and kept her emotions locked up tight, choosing to be fun and carefree instead. Mel’s father had died of a heart attack last year and she and her mom had moved from Dallas to New York right after his funeral.

The rest of Emma’s day went as usual and there were no more Mattox sightings, but it seemed that she would be sharing her first two classes with him for the remainder of the year. She almost forgot about lunchtime, too, and had to giggle to herself that someone like Mattox had even approached her. She felt a little guilty for telling him her entire table was taken when in reality it was only ever her and Mel that sat there.

Ten minutes left before school let out and she could finally return to her cocoon of solitude. Emma looked out the window and saw the remnants of the sun fading behind a thick blanket of grey clouds. Rain? Just great. Considering she had left her money at home, a cab ride was out and the short cut through the alley was definitely out. Emma rolled her eyes at the prospect of a cold rain drenched walk home. Perfect.

Her chattering teeth almost overpowered the music blaring in her ears. Emma was soaked and freezing, but she was also smiling from ear to ear. She found the downpour exhilarating. Somehow the heavy rain was acting like a shield against all the emotions that plagued her daily life. She would take a nice hot shower instead of her normal bath when she got home to see if she could replicate the glorious effect.

All of a sudden a cab pulled up to the curb and its back window rolled down. Emma pulled her earbuds out and was ecstatic to learn the rain’s effect was still intact even without the aid of her music.

“If you want, I know a seat that’s not taken.” Mattox smiled at his own joke and gestured to the empty seat beside him.

In that moment, Emma felt so normal. Suddenly finding herself without a care in the world, she decided to play along and run a little experiment in the process. “It’s just a light drizzle,” she laughed, enjoying the liquid curtain that surrounded her. “I’m sure it will clear up any minute now.” The rain was coming down in sheets and even Mattox was getting pretty wet from inside the cab.

“Come on, Emma. I’ll even have the cab drop me off first so you don’t think I’m stalking you to find out where you live.” He opened the door and scooted to the far side.

How does he know my name? She hadn’t even thought about him stalking her for real. Was he? No, now she was just being silly, still giddy from the break in the emotional assault she was always under.

“Get in here already, would you? My treat.”

That sealed the deal for Emma. Also, she didn’t want to get hypothermia, so she dove into the cab. The rain’s shielding effect was holding even from inside the cab, as if it were a bubble of steel and glass protecting her from the outside world. Hmm, well that’s interesting, she thought as the driver’s emotions surfaced. Apparently since the cabbie was shielded from the rain along with her, her empathic abilities still worked on him. He was mentally preoccupied with a medical exam he was studying for. Emma wondered if walking down the street in the rain under an umbrella with someone would have the same effect as a vehicle. Her heart did a little skip as she thought about who she would want with her under that umbrella as she looked at Mattox. Being so isolated enabled Emma to focus completely on Mattox and his ever present lack of emotionally occupied space. “So where to?” She beamed, concentrating on his facial expressions, tone, and responses. It was refreshing to feel normal again.

“Seriously? I was kidding about dropping me off first. In this rain it’d be about a thirty minute cab ride one-way.”

“Seriously?” She thought about it for a minute, “Okay.”

Mattox looked into her eyes as if he were trying to figure her out. “Well, okay then,” he smiled and turned to the cabby, “Madison Avenue and East Seventy-Fifth Street please.”

“You got it.” The driver was happy for the long fare and the time to study mentally.

Emma’s eyes got big. “Do you live in a castle or something?”

“Or something,” Mattox shrugged.

“What on earth are you doing at Jefferson?” she asked trying to get any emotion from him.

“Would you believe I’m on a secret mission?” he teased.

“You’d be surprised what I believe, but from you? No, I don’t believe it.”

Mattox laughed. “Fair enough.”

Emma looked out the cab window not knowing what to say. She hadn’t realized how heavily she relied on knowing someone’s emotions until now. Her torture device had become her crutch.

“Do you need to call your dad, let him know what you’re doing?” Mattox reached in his pocket and held out his phone.

Emma tried to hide the fact that his question sent a chill down her spine. She thought perhaps it was a lucky guess that he suggested her dad and not, say, her mom or her parents. Emma decided to play coy. She would be on guard, but she just had to find out what the deal was with this guy.

“And, what am I doing?” she teased.

“Stalking me?” he teased back.

“Ha, you wish.”

“Maybe,” he smiled and put his phone away. “So tell me something about yourself.”

“No. You first,” she stated, not meaning to sound so defensive.

“Well, I started at a new school today, I found lunchtime quite amusing since my attempt to make a new friend was thwarted, apparently by a lunch table occupied by dozens of invisible people,” he chuckled.

Emma rolled her eyes and changed the subject, still embarrassed by how she had treated Mattox at lunch. “No, I mean tell me something I don’t know.”

“Okay,” he thought about it for a minute. “I have a younger brother named Malcolm and a cat named Amelia.”

“Ooh, so mysterious,” she still wasn’t getting any emotions from him. “I wouldn’t peg you for a cat man.”

“Amelia is my brother’s really,” he smiled at her again. “Mystery, huh? Isn’t that what most typical girls want?”

“I’m not typical,” she didn’t know what else to say, but she was also trying to get him to expose his emotions somehow.

“I know you’re not,” he looked out the window for a while like he was contemplating something. “I think it’s your turn. Tell me something I don’t already know about you?”

Emma was taken aback by his comment and decided to try and shock him into exposing some emotion. “I have an unopened letter from my dead mother.”

“Oh?” He didn’t seem surprised. “What are you waiting for?” His tone wasn’t unkind, but still she couldn’t get a read on his emotions.

Emma shrugged not wanting to explain the reason. She looked out the window for a long time while the buildings got taller and more expensive. Everyone’s emotions were still dulled by the rain and she started to feel an unusual tug towards the area of Manhattan they were headed. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was definitely a pulling sensation, almost like a yearning. Emma wondered if it had always been there, hidden just below the surface by the other feelings that always overwhelmed her.

“I’m sorry about your mom,” Mattox finally said, seeming to watch her reaction to their surroundings.

In the distance a beautiful building came into view directly across from Central Park. “You live in the Vaughn?”

“You’ve heard of it?”

She nodded, not remembering exactly how she knew the building’s name or what it looked like, “Pretty fancy.”

“It’s home.”

“It’s a palace!”

“Would you like to see it?”

His question gave her pause. Emma struggled with conflicting emotions. She was leery of this mystery guy but so terribly intrigued by him at the same time. Her stranger danger seemed to be on the fritz in the presence of Mattox. Could he be working with the shadow creature somehow? She thought. Emma visibly shivered this time, but tried to turn it into a convincing head shake.

“Maybe next time.”

“Well, the invitation is open, anytime,” he smiled.

“Thanks,” she scrunched her eyebrows together. “How young is your brother? Why doesn’t he go to Jefferson?”

“Ah, now there’s your mystery,” he laughed. Mattox instructed the driver to take Emma wherever she wanted to go, tipped enough for three rides home, and got out of the cab. “Thank you, oh gallant knight, for the safe escort to my humble castle.” Mattox teased her through the open window.

“Ha ha, you think you’re clever,” Emma prodded.

“Oh, if you only knew.” Mattox bowed at the waist, “Until the morrow at school, Lady Emma.”

She laughed. “So which is it? Am I a lady or a knight?” she asked sarcastically.

“Who says you can’t be both?” he smiled.

“Um, every book I’ve ever read and every movie I’ve ever seen?” she replied.

“Humph. Funny, you don’t seem like the type.”

“The type of what?” she asked.

“The type of girl that would let anyone define her.” Mattox looked down at her and smiled. “Don’t let anyone tell you who you can or can’t be.” He was so sincere it almost frightened her. “Goodnight, Emma the Fair and Brave,” and with that he tapped the roof of the cab and the driver drove away.

The tugging feeling was still there, almost as though it wanted her to go back to the Vaughn, but now Emma wasn’t sure where exactly it was coming from. Was it coming from the building itself, or was the pull coming from the boy that was still standing on the curb watching her leave?


Mattox must have been running late to lunch. Out of curiosity Emma turned towards the school and searched for his presence. She tried to convince herself that it was merely an experiment and had nothing to do with her attraction to him. She searched the farthest corners of the school to no avail.

“Let me guess, it’s taken?” Emma jumped at the laughing voice behind made. Mattox was outside the school grounds leaning on the metal bars surrounding Jefferson High.

“If you know the answer why do you keep asking?” she said, trying to slow her heart rate.

“Glutton for punishment, I guess,” Mattox gave her a sly smile.

“What are you doing out there?” Emma asked.

“Sorry, that’s need to know.”

“And I don’t?” she quipped.

“See, you’re not just a pretty face,” he smiled sincerely.

Emma blushed. Does he really think I’m pretty?

“Have you read your mother’s letter yet?”

For a moment his question caught Emma off guard. Her posture stiffened as she responded, “Sorry, that’s need to know.”

“That’s a no,” he stated, but his tone wasn’t unkind. “So, same time next week then? I’ll ask if your entire table is taken, you’ll say yes...” he teased.

Emma couldn’t help the giggle that erupted out of her belly and for that brief moment everyone’s emotions around her ceased to exist almost naturally.

“Ah, there she is,” Mattox stated.

“Wha- what do you mean?” Emma asked.

“Nice to finally meet you, Emma Kincaid.” He gave her another sly smile before walking down the street. “Talk to you Monday!”

Emma shouted after him, “Why are you so interested in that letter?” He didn’t turn around or give any indication he had heard. She figured he was too far away to hear, but still had to ask the question. Some of the students around Emma stared at her, she felt their dismay, but she didn’t care. Who is this guy?


Emma stayed in her room most of the weekend, telling her dad she had a ton of homework. It wasn’t true, but she needed the time alone to recover from the hours at school and the never ending emotions that followed her. Besides the nightmares, playing a game of mental dodgeball against hundreds of students was taking a toll on her and she was losing the game. Emma laid in bed with the covers over her head and tried to drown out her father and the neighbors’ senses. After the reprieve the downpour had given her the other day, Emma was disappointed to find out her shower hadn’t been able to create the same effect. But it was supposed to rain again today, so Emma waited. Maybe the answer was the creation of so much ozone. Whatever it was, it had been glorious and Emma was desperate for more.

Relief finally came as Emma heard thick raindrops start to fall and clatter against her closed window. Thunder rumbled in the distance. If the silence was somehow tied to thunder and lightning she was screwed. There was no way she was going to experiment with electricity. She thought about the alley and how something had been able to block everything out so effortlessly. Could she replicate that herself? Emma decided it was worth finding out as sleep threatened to take her. And what about Mattox? Was he projecting himself as a void in space or had she done that somehow? Sunday her dad would go to work and she could at least investigate the alley, but for now exhaustion won and everything faded to black.

In her dreamscape, the sun was setting as Emma soared like a bird just above the water’s surface. The sun’s purple and orange streamers were a feast to her eyes and its glow warmed her skin. As she glided she let the salt spray hit her tongue and energize her wings as they carried her towards the Cliffs of Moher. The steep jagged rocks jutted straight out of the crashing waves and beckoned her to climb them. She plunged deep into the water and emerged like a rocket up and over the cliff’s ledge to pastures of green rolling hills. Driven to continue Southeast, Emma flew towards the ancient land that called to her.

Vehicles and roads faded, transforming into dirt trails and men on horseback the closer she got to Cadbury. A large tree lined hillfort stood vigil over the lush English countryside and welcomed her. Emma blinked and with a shimmer the empty hill transformed into a vibrant stone castle. Suddenly the hillfort turned dark and leather wings beat at the night sky as large masses screeched through the air. Trees around the castle creaked as ice leached into them, cracking them from the inside. The deafening whipping sound the wood made as it broke and exploded shrouded the screams coming from the castle as tree after tree fell. Defending their leader, knights surrounded their king who wielded a magnificent sword of golden light. Its light shimmered off a wall of encroaching black smoke. Emma gasped when she realized what the wall was. Hundreds of shadow creatures from her nightmares surrounded the hillfort. Dragons blacked out the remnants of the sun as they soared through the air circling the castle and demolishing it to rubble. A giant among men emerged from the wall of shadows and bowled down hundreds of knights as he made his way to the king. His tattered fluidic armor trailed behind him along with his most obedient beasts. With a simple flick of his wrist another wave of knights fell to their deaths. The giant stepped over ashen husks that once were men and cackled with pleasure.

Wind from dozens of dragon wings lifted the human dust into the air and the fallen men were reduced to unrecognizable mounds of grey powder. With every step the giant’s once emaciated skeletal form grew stronger, engorged with life essence from the fallen knights. He looked to the king and screeched and howled. The king showed no fear as he sliced through shadow beasts one after the other. Somehow, his remaining knights created purple glowing orbs out of midair that grew and encased the beasts banishing them back to their own realm.

The scene shimmered again and sounds of a celebration rang in Emma’s ears. Children laughed and maidens giggled as everyone danced. The withered and dying trees were lush and green and the castle was no longer in ruins. Emma wondered if she was seeing something before or after the horrific battle she had just witnessed. Before. Definitely before, she thought, opening her senses up to the people below her. The king looked into the sky. Had he had heard her thoughts? Did he feel her presence when she listened to the court’s emotions?

Come to us, Emma, you are one of us, the king’s words bounced around in her skull as he stared at her floating there in the morning sky.

Emma’s vision zoomed in to the king’s table as a woman sat down. Mom! But the woman never looked Emma’s way. She was focused on a young man sitting beside her. Mattox? At the mention of his name Mattox looked up at Emma.

You’re one of us, Mattox stated inside Emma’s head.

“You’re one of us. You’re one of us,” the crowd chanted. Emma’s mother finally looked up into the sky and smiled at her daughter.


“Emm-” her mother’s voice was cut off. Headlights rushed passed Emma’s vision followed by a loud crash. Emma was thrust inside the car with her mother as it flipped over. Their bodies flew up and out of their seats crashing into everything over and over again as the car rolled. Windows shattered, metal crumpled, and the rolling finally stopped. A deathly silence shrouded the wreckage that had been their car. Pieces of glass clung to the blood and sweat coating her mother’s skin and a river of her blood was pooling below their feet.

“Mom!” Emma gasped. The impact of the crash had left her breathless. “Don’t leave me!”

Emma opened her eyes, covered her head with her pillow and wept. She hadn’t been with her mom the night she died but the dream had been so real. Staying strong for her dad, she hadn’t realized how much she missed her mother until she saw her and was ripped away from her even if it had been a nightmare.

The noises of the real world began to creep in along with other people's emotions. Someone in two apartments down was happy and celebrating a birthday. Not being alone with her grief and able to mourn her mother without someone’s happiness flooding into her, Emma bit down on her pillow and screamed.


The empty soup can clanked and skipped as it hit the brick wall and rolled with an uneven lilt deeper into the alley. Emma pinched her arm. Ow! Okay, I’m awake. She kicked the dented can again as hard as she could and looked all around, hoping to stir...something. But the sun was shining straight down and without a cloud in the sky the dingy alley was void of most its shadows. There’s nothing here. Emma rubbed her eyes and exhaled in frustration, maybe I was just sleep deprived? Defeated, and only partially relieved, she headed home to await Monday and the second part of her investigation.

Slithering through the darkest crevices of the alley the creature stalked its prey. This one was worth a hefty bounty to the master, so ripe with overflowing life essence, the shadowy beast had never tasted anything quite like her. It shuddered, anticipating the opiate caresses its master would bestow upon it once it returned to the Netherworld. The earth’s darkness would camouflage it soon and allow for more movement and better feeding ground. It sensed no guardians near and for that it was thankful. Being banished by a hunter now before devouring the sweet girl would undoubtedly be a death sentence at its master’s hand. No, the creature would lie in wait near the girl. She seemed to be curious and it knew she would return. Knowing the girl’s desires the creature set its lure and let a tangible thought be carried on the wind along with her name. Emma.


The bell rang and the cacophony of students shuffling out of class was drowning out Mr. Grey, “Don’t forget I need your permission slips tomorrow for the field trip!”

Emma shook her head and put her earbuds in. A field trip with half the high school was not her idea of fun. She moaned at the thought of being trapped on a school bus the size of a sardine can with dozens of teenagers’ emotions invading her mind. Ugh! I hate my life! Then her heart unexpectedly did a little flip flop as Mattox smiled at her before disappearing around the corner.

It wasn’t until lunchtime Emma realized Mel was home with the flu. Mel texted Emma to save her a seat next to Mattox for when she got back unless they got married by then. Emma was responding with a sarcastic “Ha ha” when someone sat down across from her; someone with no emotional signature.

“Assume much?” Emma stated only half-heartedly as she looked up,

“Out of U and me,” Mattox retorted.

“Ha, ha.”

“Hey, I’m just following your lead,” he beamed.

“I don’t dance.” Emma ranted.

“No? Because you’re quite good at it from where I’m standing. Well, sitting actually, finally.” A sly smile was plastered across his face.

He had her so distracted that for the second time since meeting Mattox Daniels everyone around them faded away. She looked from one side of the courtyard to the other with a smile on her face. Her grin widened as she turned back to Mattox, but the echoes soon returned.

“What?” he quizzed her.


“The painted lines on the floor are for your protection, as well as to ensure the integrity of our facility. Please stay behind the yellow line at all times during our tour. Go beyond it into the red zone without the proper identification and well,” the tour guide in the white lab coat stepped over the line to demonstrate. An alarm sounded, followed by an influx of some serious looking men with severe haircuts. He quickly passed his key card over the line of demarcation and the alarm stopped. The guide waived at the security team. “As always, gentlemen, you have impeccable timing. Thank you.” He turned back to his audience, “Now, if you’ll follow me I’ll show you one of our labs in action. This area behind the glass is a contaminant free zone or what you would call a clean room. Here at the Vaughn Institute we utilizes the same standards as NASA in our labs. The test tubes you see there…” the man in the lab coat droned on. Emma tried to concentrate on his words, but the close proximity to four classes of high schoolers was making it impossible.

Emma covertly sent a text to the flu ridden Mel. ‘This sucks! U suck! Wish you were here.’

Seconds later Mel responded back. ‘Lol, miss you too, biotch.’

Everything at the Vaughn Institute was crisp white and sterile except for the floor. A wide band of green strategically flowed down the hallways lined on either side by a stripe of yellow and then red. Emma giggled, picturing herself on the yellow brick road to Oz. Only this Oz had been taken over by a demented clown and his crazy use of colors.

“Now, if you’ll follow me, we’ll make our way to the outer gardens and arboretum. Then we’ll make our way into the hydroponics hangar and greenhouse.” Emma let the tour guide’s voice fade as she allowed students to pass her. She wanted to be in back of the crowd, reducing the amount of white noise in her head.

Since Mel was absent, Emma was feeling more isolated than usual with this field trip. She hadn’t seen Mattox at school, either. She nearly screamed out when an unexpected presence stood next to her.

“Well, this is where I’d come during the zombie apocalypse,” Mattox chuckled as he matched Emma’s pace in the crowd.

She had to laugh, “Why?”

“You mean besides the fact that it’s built like Fort Knox? Let’s see,” Mattox counted things off with his fingers. “Self-sustaining food source, power source, and water supply. Don’t even get me started on the labs. I mean, they could probably cure the zombies and create them,” he chuckled again.

“Yeah, that lab made me feel like Peter Parker fixing to get bit by a radioactive spider or something.”

“Are your Spidey senses tingling?” Mattox teased.

“Ha! All the time. Is the Vaughn Institute the same Vaughn as your building?” Emma asked.

“You never know.” Mattox smirked.

Emma rolled her eyes. “Come on, I want to get outside, these hallways are making me claustrophobic and deathly afraid of clowns at the moment.”

Mattox laughed, “After you, Spidey.”

Emma took a deep breath enjoying the open air and shade from the beautiful boulevard of trees lining their path to the hydroponics facility. The white noise radiating from everyone had diminished outside, but they still muffled the beauty of the institute’s grounds. Mattox stood facing her and smiled. He seemed to be enjoying her reaction to their surroundings. Just then Emma’s teeth were rattled as someone shoved her from behind, and straight into Mattox.

“Hey, watch it!” Emma shouted as she was flung forward, reaching out trying not to fall.

Two boys ran by as Emma grabbed Mattox’s forearms for balance.

“Sorry,” they said in unison, but instead of sensing their remorse, the echoes in Emma’s head became silent, almost as if they were being shielded.

Emma looked around in awe as she clung to Mattox’s arms. She listened to the nature all around her. The birds were chirping, the leaves in the trees were rattling in the wind, and her classmates were simply talking all around her instead of inside her head. She looked at Mattox who was staring at her again and smiling.

He leaned over and softly whispered in her ear, “Who’s the mysterious one now?”

Instinctively she stepped away from him as if his words had shocked her. As soon as she dropped his arms the noises returned. All of them. Slowly, as an experiment, she grabbed onto his arms again. He didn’t protest, instead he held on to her as well. His grasp was strong and his hands were larger than she had realized. She felt small and safe in his embrace. And again the empathetic sounds ceased. Confused by the sudden quietness she looked around. Somehow touching Mattox had cloaked the echoes. Her mind had become deaf to everyone’s emotions and it was beautiful. She could hear the birds chirping in the trees, children laughing as they played, and the sweet smell of cut grass and blooming jasmine as the wind threatened to sweep her off her feet.

Emma looked up at him, her eyes searching his, “How did you-” she stopped herself, not sure how much of her craziness she wanted to share. Her heart was pounding again and her mind was racing. Half of her frenzied response was from the realization that another human had the power to silence the voices in her head. The other half of her reaction was from Mattox himself.

“What’s got you so worked up?” he asked, but to Emma he didn’t seem that surprised.

Emma shook her head and dropped his arms, “I don’t even know you.”

Mattox nodded in agreement, put his hands in his pockets and started to walk away. Ten feet ahead of Emma, he stopped and turned. Mattox raised one of his hands and looked at it before holding it out to her, “Then get to know me.”

Emma gulped and stood dumbfounded for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, she stepped forward and took his hand.

Headlights blinded Emma’s vision followed by the loud crash she knew all too well. Knowing she was in the dream Emma had no choice but follow where it took her. She was thrust inside the car as it rolled. Her mother was unconscious but Emma witnessed everything in slow motion from the back seat. Their bodies flew up and down crashing into everything as the car rolled over and over again. Windows shattered, metal crumpled, and then the rolling finally stopped as the car slowly sunk into the water. Pieces of glass clung to the blood and sweat coating her mother’s skin. The glint of the full moon reflected off the pieces at odd angles almost as if her mother were glowing. She was so beautiful. Deathly silence shrouded the wreckage as it descended to its watery grave. A river of her mother’s blood began pooling below their feet mingling with the water from the bay. Blue green swirls mixed with viscous red before turning a hazy brown as the water got higher and higher. Fully submerged now Emma watched in horror as shadows slithered through the car weaving in and out of the windows. They rattled and hissed as they surrounded the car almost as a beacon for other creatures to join. She gasped in fear and bubbles escaped her lips, replaced by murky water rushing down her throat. She was drowning and the shadows rejoiced. Darkness started at the corners of her vision and closed in. But then she saw it, a glimmer of golden light and Mattox said her name, Emma! She tried to focus on the light and swallowed more water. Her lungs burned. She just wanted to sleep. Her eyes started to close. Fight it, Emma!

Emma bolted upright in bed gasping for air. Panic consumed her before reality began to reemerge. As her breathing slowed she grabbed the sides of her head, shaking. She sat there for a long time before looking at her clock. Five a.m. Even now she wasn’t alone with her own thoughts. Would she ever know a moment’s peace and be able to process them? Her mind screamed, trying to silence the other emotions always surrounding her. Angrily, she flung her blankets off and got out of bed. The wind current from the tantrum blew her mother’s letter off the dresser and onto the floor. Emma stared at it as she got dressed, leaving it where it was, peeking out under the dresser and tormenting her. She grabbed her backpack for school and tip toed out of the front door. It was still early and dark enough so she decided to explore the forbidden alley before school.


The second period bell sounded and all the classroom doors closed leaving the hallway empty. Mattox paced back and forth in front of Emma’s locker. He knew something was wrong and was beginning to panic. Emma had left for school this morning, he was sure of it, but she’d never made it in. He doubted she was skipping just because it was a Friday. That wasn’t in her nature. I’m an idiot! I should have asked her to wait for me, he said to himself. Mattox had been following her since his assignment began, though he preferred the term reconnoiter over stalking. Today, however, he’d been summoned to report his findings early and was late for school. At the very least he should have texted her. Maybe she would have waited. After spending the day together at the Vaughn Institute Emma finally had warmed up to him enough to give him her number. Mattox already had it, but he couldn’t tell her that of course. He’d already slipped up enough the rainy day in the cab, once for calling her by name, and then he pretty much blurted out that he knew her mother had passed away, but she seemed to have blown it off maybe thinking he had asked someone about her. Mattox couldn’t help but think about how he first met Emma. What should I have said? Hi I’m Mattox a shepherd in the King’s Court, oh by the way, those emotions that you’re feeling? Yeah, they probably mean you’re meant to be a shepherd like me. What’s that? Being a descendant of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table sounds insane? Yeah, you’re right. And so Mattox had decided to wait and reveal things to Emma slowly once they got to know each other. A tinge of guilt crept into his throat. The moment he saw Emma he had felt something for her other than being her guide. He knew waiting to tell her everything was risky with the state she was in, but he had been selfish and wanted to spend as much time with her as he could.

Mattox tugged at his hair in frustration. She was bound to be a walking target for any netherwalkers in the area. Even though Emma was his first assignment, Mattox knew full well the Court would have swooped in if they had known she was harboring so many humans’ emotions. He had broken protocol again when he had kept that information to himself. Now he was regretting those decisions immensely. Bernie’s going to kill me, he thought as he tried to call Emma. Wait, what am I thinking? Bernie is a true Southern Gentleman. He’ll have Lourdes Reese kill me, banishing me to the-- There was no answer, but Emma’s sweet voice was telling her caller to text her because voicemail was archaic. Mattox relented and made a second phone, call this time to a friend in the Court. He walked out to the courtyard, slipped off school grounds, and headed straight for Emma’s apartment.

A cold front had swept in and the midday sky was a dark gloomy grey. Just great! Mattox grumbled to himself as he tugged his jacket closed. He concentrated and opened all his senses, something he didn’t do very often. The empathetic noise could be maddening to the untrained. Mattox sympathized with the struggles Emma was facing. He listened to everyone around him, hoping someone had seen her, but there was nothing. Dociles are useless! He thought, but kept his senses open to them none-the-less. Then, as he neared a dark alley a block from Emma’s apartment he felt it, her bliss. Emma, no!

Without thinking, Mattox ran down the alley. He found Emma sitting in front of a rusty metal door that had been painted shut years ago. She was staring up into the sky, unblinking. Her back was hunched and she looked like a rag doll or a dog’s chew toy, limp and wilted. He rushed to her side and grabbed one of her hands, but it was too late, the shadow was already materializing, it had sensed him as a guardian and a threat. Mattox put his finger against her lips, knowing the fog in her mind was lifting and she was about to scream. “Emma, you have to shut it off,” he whispered not giving up hope.

She looked at him then, confused, “Shut what off? Mattox, what’s happening?” Emma turned her head towards the unnatural shadow as it floated off the windowless brick wall to the ground. It rattled and vibrated with power as the temperature around them cooled to almost freezing. The shadow, moving of its own accord, started to transform. Emma seemed transfixed as the edges of the shadow slowly, impossibly morphed into thick, animal-like legs.

Mattox grabbed the sides of Emma’s face, “You’re being hunted. You need to shut out everyone’s emotions. You have to try, Emma, please.” Never losing physical contact, Mattox helped Emma to her feet hoping there was still time to run, but the translucent shadow creature was already becoming solid, and they couldn’t outrun a krim in its four-legged form. Still making contact with her skin, Mattox pushed Emma behind him. He became her physical and mental shield as the unnatural shadow morphed into a huge corporeal beast. Mattox concentrated all his energy on becoming a void in space, an empty pocket of nothingness, along with one scared neophyte in tow.

Dark grey, billowing shadow became opalescent skin. A slick black body and pristine white, razor sharp fangs appeared in front of Mattox. It weaved back and forth searching for them. He’d never seen a krim in real life before and was stunned at how beautiful its skin actually was. Simulations in the virtual chamber had not done the creatures justice. The surface of the netherworld creature’s skin shimmered from emerald green to fiery red, but always within the blackest depths Mattox ever seen. No eyes greeted him, krims had none in either form. An expanse of its opalescent skin stretched out across the bridge of its forehead and nose. This creature had no need for eyes for it only needed to sense the emotional signature of its prey. Its massive head was only an inch away from Mattox now. In frustration, it snorted air, blowing Mattox’s hair from his forehead as it searched for its prey. A droplet of its icy snot landed on Mattox’s cheek and singed his skin. Mattox winced in pain and barely let out his breath. His faint whimper filled the air with a frosty trail, betraying his location. The krim stopped moving and zoned in on Mattox. More of the creature’s snot and spittle fell to the ground and shattered as ice. As it reared up on its back legs for an attack, Mattox squeezed his eyes shut and prepared to be slaughtered by the beast.

“Hey! Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” A female voice yelled from behind the creature as a faint boom from her weapon filled the alleyway. It was Lourdes Reese. Relieved, Mattox let out the rest of his breath and pulled Emma to safety behind a dumpster. Lourdes and her partner Ryan Kapoi hit the beast with another stun shot, but it still didn’t go down.

From behind the dumpster, Mattox was looking over Emma to make sure she suffered no injuries. “Emma-”

“I’m fine. I’m fine. Or, at least, I think I am.” She tried to stand up, but Mattox knew how weak she still was from being in the creature’s snare. He tried to help her so they could leave, but she was determined to stay. “I just... I need to see.” Emma was able to twist herself enough in order to look at the combat between Kapoi, Lourdes, and the otherworldly beast. “What is that thing? It’s like you made us invisible.” She furrowed her brow and looked at him. “And, who are they?” Emma asked the last question pointing to Lourdes Reese and Ryan Kapoi now locked in battle with the krim.

Mattox opened his mouth, but could not seem to make a sound. He sputtered for a moment and could feel his face flush. “I’m sorry, Emma. I--”

“Wait. You… knew? You knew what I’ve been going through? How?” She shook her head. “Why? Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me keep thinking I was losing it? You hid all of this from me! You knew about me, about my senses, didn’t you? Even before we met?” Her last statement was more of an accusation than a question.

“Yes,” was all he could muster.

“And that thing, you knew it was hunting me, and didn’t say anything?”

Mattox didn’t know what to say. How could he explain that it had only been a possibility up until the moment he had found her lying in the alley? How would she ever understand that he just wanted to be near her before changing her life forever? “You’re right. I should have told you. I should have told you everything.”

Just then Lourdes created a violet orb and surrounded the beast. The sphere hissed and popped before disappearing, taking the creature with it. Emma’s eyes grew wide. “I can’t do this.” She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head before bolting from the alley, “This can’t be real!”

“Emma, please!” Mattox yelled as she ran down the street. In an instant he thought of something and yelled before she disappeared. “Emma, your mother’s letter!” but she didn’t stop.

Mattox turned and gave Lourdes a pleading look.

Lourdes held up her hands, “God, Mattox, what were you thinking?” The hunter shook her head, probably realizing Mattox didn’t need much of a lecture. He could only imagine how defeated he looked. Lourdes sighed, “At least you called us, but you could have gotten yourself killed!” Lourdes scolded.

“I, uh-” Mattox didn’t know how to explain the situation without sounding like an idiot about his first assignment.

“Lourdie,” her partner said seeming to understand the situation.

“What!” she whipped her head around and put her hand on her hips.

“Kid’s uh, got a crush.” Ryan Kapoi whispered in Lourdie’s ear trying to explain Mattox’s embarrassment. The master hunter sighed, crossed her arms and let her partner ask his questions.

Mattox gave the hunters an abbreviated run-down of his entire assignment. He glossed over the infatuation part, he still felt embarrassed by that. He ended his account with the tactic he used at the last minute that bought enough time for reinforcements to arrive.

“Do you think it worked, you shielding her? Could the krim sense either of you?” Kapoi asked. He seemed intrigued by the possibility.

“I’m not sure. I don’t think it could.” Mattox was thankful the focus had shifted away from his screw-up. He was a shepherd, not a hunter. He knew better than to confront a krim like that.

“Well,” Lourdie stared Mattox down. “You better go get her, Romeo!” she admonished. “And, fix this fast before we have to report it. Without you shielding her, she’s a walking buffet for any netherwalker within a ten mile radius. With all those emotions flowing through her she might as well have a neon sign above her head!”

Ryan Kapoi looked at his partner in protest, but Lourdie held up her hand.

“He can do it. Can’t you, Mattox?” Lourdie demanded. She pushed a button on her stun baton and the purple glowing blade disappeared as her weapon transformed into an innocent looking flashlight. “Just no more dark alleys, capiche?”

“Y- yes. I mean, no, it won’t happen again.” Mattox stuttered and took a deep breath.

“Good. A rogue neophyte running around is the last thing the King’s Court needs right now. Especially one that can’t control her powers.” Lourdie stated coolly. “You should have told us that from the beginning, Mattox.” The hunter began walking down the alley towards the street. Mattox could sense a tension in Lourdie that had nothing to do with him or his current debacle. Though his hearing wasn’t as keen as the hunters, he thought he heard her mutter something about packing for London and ‘tally-ho’, but he dismissed it. It was none of his business and he knew a pissed off Lourdes Reese wasn’t someone to be trifled with.

Kapoi followed his fellow hunters lead and holstered his own weapon. His black carbide stun rifle turned into an even larger flashlight. Ryan Kapoi, a former marine, turned to Mattox. “Get it done, or I will report it,” he urged Mattox before running to catch up with Lourdie.

Emma flew through her bedroom door and locked it before collapsing on her bed. Her own anger, fear, and disbelief all fought to be acknowledged as she tried in vain to block everything out, including her own emotions. Her anger won momentarily as she got up and knocked things off her dresser, looking for her mother’s letter. How could you leave me, Mom? I need you! Then she saw the corner of the dusty envelope peeking out below her dresser. She picked it up and tore into it. Blinking away her tears slowly, Emma focused on her mother’s words.

Dear Emma,

Oh my darling girl I love you so much! If you’re reading this then something has happened to me. I’m so sorry to have left you so soon. Just know that I am proud of the young woman I know you are becoming and that I love you more than anything.

I have to admit, I don’t like having to write this letter, but it is necessary. I’ve already seen some changes in you that you are probably starting to realize aren’t normal, but, my darling girl, they are as natural to us as breathing. I guess, since you’re reading this, I haven’t told you about the King’s Court yet. I’m guilty of wanting to give you a normal life for as long as I can. So it’s okay to be mad at me, honey, just don’t be scared, it’s perfectly normal and everything is going to be alright. I just wish I could be there to comfort you.

A noise coming from outside startled Emma. She looked up from her Mother’s letter to her bedroom window. Mattox was on her fire escape crouching at her window. Emma shook her head trying to keep her emotions buried. “I don’t think I can do this,” she said to the locked window.

Mattox stood outside with a pleading, yet sorrowful look. He was the most adorably miserable looking supermodel puppy she had ever seen. She let out a laughing cry as she walked to the window, unlatching it. Mattox entered, sat down beside her, and grabbed her hand. “Yes, you can. I’m right here. You need to feel your own emotions, Emma, it’s important.” All of a sudden Mattox didn’t seem like a void of space anymore. With the touch of his hand Emma felt a surge of warmth and kindness radiate into her body. It mingled with something else, he felt for her rose above his other emotions and she blushed. He tried to hide his affection and focus on the more benign emotions, but part of him didn’t want to, part of him wanted to scoop her up and claim her as his own. The thought made Emma’s heart pound hard and fast. Emma was falling for Mattox too. She had been ever since he stepped through her classroom door and smiled at her. She let that feeling come to the surface and pushed it into Mattox.

He smiled that same warm sincere smile and bent down and kissed her. His lips were full and soft against her own like she knew they would be. With a breath, Emma let a little moan escape her lips and Mattox kissed her harder. With the kiss came more emotions, everything from love and regret to sorrow and joy filled her.

She pulled away suddenly. “Why regret?” she asked

Mattox shook his head and sighed. “I’m doing this all wrong. I wasn’t supposed to fall for you, but I can’t hide the way I feel.”

“Then don’t.” Emma touched the red welt on his cheek left by the netherwalker and touched her lips to his, almost demanding to be kissed. She flooded him with her desire. He answered her back with a wave of his own passion and deepened their kiss. His hands went around her waist, pulling her closer, and her arms instinctively went around his neck. An almost feral rumble resonated in his chest as his hands began to explore her body. Just then, her mother’s letter crinkled in her hand and Mattox pulled away to look at her.

Mattox looked at the letter in her hands. “Emma, I’m sorry.”

“Maybe this is why they sent you. Whoever they are,” Emma shook her head back and forth leaning against his forehead. “I’ve buried my emotions for so long, I don’t think anyone else could have gotten them out of me.” She looked down at the half read letter. “Will you stay with me tonight?”

Mattox looked at her bedroom door and opened his mouth to protest but Emma cut him off.

“It’s locked,” she blushed. “I want to be alone with my mom’s words without everyone’s emotions getting in the way, if only for a little while. Can you keep them out and then let me fall asleep in peace? I’m exhausted. Ju- just hold me?” she asked shyly.

“That I can do,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Tomorrow I’ll start teaching you how to shut them out yourself.”

“Really?” her exhaustion was averted for a millisecond as Mattox snuggled in behind her as the big spoon.

“I should have said this a while ago,” he said, nuzzling her ear sending shivers down her spine. “Welcome to the King’s Court, Emma.” He consciously sent her feelings of contentment as he ran his fingers down her arm.

“Hey, that means your emotions, too. No cheating,” she teased.

“Sorry,” his breath tickled her neck. “But, tomorrow you’re all mine.”

“And the next day?” she asked hopefully.

“And the day after that, and the day after that,” he smiled against her skin.

Emma snuggled into his embrace and sighed deeply as he created a cocoon of silence around her. “The King’s Court?” She asked.

Mattox chuckled and whispered, “Keep reading.”

The changes you’re experiencing are quite normal for us, honey, from where we come from. From the moment you were born you were able to pick up on other people’s emotions and comfort them. I think you’re meant to be a shepherd, like me.

Emma began to cry and Mattox squeezed her gently. She let her own emotions flow freely and finished her mother’s letter with a new sense of peace, understanding, and closure.

We come from a long line, descendants of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s crazy, I know, but true. Search your feelings and you’ll know it’s true. There are secrets in this world that most people (we call dociles) don’t know about. Secrets such as creatures called netherwalkers that feed on human emotions for their masters in the Netherworld. Secrets such as Guardians, members of the King’s Court that defend our realm, keeping the netherwalker threat at bay. I hope you never come across one of these creatures, honey, but know that there are hunters everywhere defending us from them. I was a shepherd in the King’s Court until I met your father, and yes, he’s a docile. Shepherd’s guide neophytes (unknowing descendants like yourself) into the court. I never told your father my secret, as it wasn’t mine alone to tell and I never felt the need to share the secrets until I had you. I chose to become a sleeper within the King’s Court, only becoming active if needed, choosing to live a docile life with you and your father instead. Every day with you both has been a blessing and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Hopefully by now the Court will have sent a shepherd to guide you in and prepare you for your gloaming bond. You can trust them, honey, they are good people. Your gloaming bond will explain almost everything to you instantly and I regret that I won’t be there to physically experience it with you. But during your bond, you’ll sense me and all our other ancestors that came before us and know we will always be with you. I know this is a lot to take in, but don’t hide from your emotions, embrace them, honey. They are so much a part of who you are meant to become. I’m so proud of you!

Love always,


Emma was quiet for a very long time. She took her mom’s advice and allowed herself to feel. Emma cried while Mattox held her, shielding her from all other emotions but her own. They remained that way for a very long time.

“You’re a, uh, a shepherd?” she asked in a quiet voice.

“Yes,” a hushed voice behind her answered back.

“And that man and woman, they’re hunters?” Emma asked through an uncontrollable yawn. Sleep threatened to take her soon but the new world opening up to her had her intrigued.

“Yes, and I’ll explain everything tomorrow, but right now you need to rest,” he rubbed the skin on her arm gently, lulling her to sleep. “Tonight you’re just Emma, I’m just Mattox, and I’m yours.”

“Mhmm,” she replied, liking the sound of that. “Goodnight, Mine.”

Mattox chuckled, “Goodnight, Mine.” He seemed to focus and shut everything down for her. Pure silence greeted her and sleep came easily for the first time in months.


Mattox looked so peaceful Emma hated to wake him, but she wanted answers and couldn’t wait any longer. She got out of bed and padded toward her window and pulled the curtains open flooding her bedroom in sunlight. Mattox stretched contently then must have realized where he was as he went perfectly still and popped his eyes open.

“Crap! What time is it?” he whispered.

“Will it hurt?” Emma asked, ignoring his question.

“Your father killing me when he finds me here? Probably,” he whispered.

“He’s already gone to work and it’s not like we did anything anyway.” She rolled her eyes, “I meant my gloaming bond, silly.” Mattox reached out and pulled her back into bed kissing the back of her neck, but Emma was unrelenting, “Want some breakfast?”

Mattox groaned, “Ugh! You’re a morning person aren’t you?”

“Right now, I’m an, I need-answers person.” Emma rolled over and faced Mattox, “And training. I don’t want to be hunted by one of those things ever again.”

“Alright,” he groaned again. “That’s understandable, but please tell me you have coffee?”

Emma gave him a mischievous smile, “My dad is the guru of coffee. Come on, you’re in for a treat.”


“No, the gloaming bond doesn’t hurt,” Mattox stated sipping on the cappuccino Emma had made him from her father’s industrial looking coffee machine. Even though he wasn’t a morning person he won extra brownie points for remembering and answering her question from earlier. Mattox had insisted on making her breakfast once she started grinding coffee beans, frothing milk, and pulling ground cinnamon and vanilla extract from the cabinet. He took another sip of her barista worthy concoction with a contented sigh and began whisking some eggs. Emma watched in awe as he expertly added mushrooms, garlic, and spinach cooking them all down before adding his heavenly smelling stewed tomatoes, pancetta, and cheese to the pan and placed the entire frittata into the oven. “It’s, well, it’s hard to describe. You’ll be connected to us.” He chuckled, “My brother actually describes it like being a human computer, downloading centuries of mega data in a matter of minutes. Most Neophyte’s say it’s a pretty cool experience, since they had no previous knowledge of guardian history. And your chosen path, which seems to be a shepherd will be declared.”

Emma giggled, “Kind of like the sorting hat?”

“Something like that, you Potter nerd,” he teased.

“The rainy day in the cab. Why was I drawn to the Vaughn building?”

“So you did feel it then?” Mattox asked and Emma nodded. “It’s home to hundreds of guardians and our headquarters here in New York. Bernie thinks you didn’t answer the gloamings call and find us on your own because the pull most neophyte’s feel was dulled by all the emotions from dociles you’ve had to weed through.”

“Bernie?” Emma asked.

Mattox laughed, “Pretty much the coolest guy on the planet and he just happens to be my mentor.”

Emma tugged on her bottom lip with her teeth. Mattox was so damn sexy standing barefoot in her apartment wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans like something out of a magazine, she could barely stand it. “And what about us? Will there be an Us afterwards? The Court isn’t going to say no fraternizing or anything lame like that are they?”

Leaning against the kitchen counter, Mattox smiled and pulled Emma closer. “No, nothing lame like that,” he gave her a sly grin and kissed her on the lips. Tracing kisses up her neck he paused at her ear, “I will have to okay it with my three wives though.”

Emma pulled away and chucked him in the arm. “You better be kidding.”

“I am,” he pulled her closer, “I only have one wife.”

She slugged him again. “Mattox!”

“Ouch, okay, I’m totally kidding. Are you sure you aren’t a hunter? You pack a pretty good punch.”

“Like your friends? No thanks, if I never see another one of those, uh, krims again it’ll be too soon.” Emma kept physical contact with Mattox enjoying the silence he brought to her mind. She looked at him with watery eyes as the impact of what she was thinking about doing hit her. “What about my dad?”

“He’s your family, Emma, of course he’ll be brought in. You can even have him join your bonding ceremony. Being a shepherd you can actually share the experience with him even though he’s a docile. Would you like me to show you?” Mattox intertwined their fingers and held her gaze.

Emma nodded, thinking of how Mattox had told her that during her gloaming bond she’d relive the Court’s history through its descendants that had moved on. His hands went around her waist and Emma hugged his neck tight as she asked her next question, “Will my mom be there?”

He squeezed her waist and wrapped his arms around her completely. “Somewhat. It’s sort of like an after image of her memories, so in a sense, yes.”

After a long time still in his embrace, she let out a contented sigh enjoying his hug and the silence, “Mmm. I could get used to this.”

“Me too.” He said, pulling her even closer.

Emma thought about how she would broach the subject to her dad. It was a lot to take in, even for her, and she was the one experiencing it. She gave a little giggle as she thought of something. Her belly and chest moved with each bout of silent laughter.

“What’s gotten into you, giggle worm?” Mattox teased, pulling away so he could look at her.

“Can you have one of those hunters come over for an orb demonstration for my dad?” She chuckled again and was only half joking.

“Trying to figure out how to tell him everything?”

Emma nodded and he kissed her gently, “I’m here if you need me, Em, always.”

The kiss and his term of endearment sent shivers up and down her body. “I know,” she said, but she wanted to talk to her dad alone, at least at first. So she decided to put her mother’s letter out with his morning coffee tomorrow so they could have a nice little chat about dociles and dragons.

Emma wrapped her arms around Mattox and hugged him tight. She enjoyed the feel of the curves in his body and how she fit into them. She let out another contented sigh. “Can this be part of my training? I mean, I need to practice right?” she said with mock coyness.

The timer on the oven rang and Mattox gave Emma a quick soft peck then looked at her with his sly sexy smile. “Time to eat up. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.” He grabbed her waist and tugged her closer as he started kissing her neck. “I think,” he said, moving his kisses to her shoulder, “You’re going to need,” he pulled the strap of her cami to the side, “Lots and lots more practice.”


The intercom buzzed at Emma’s front door and Mattox’s voice came over the box, “You ready for school, Emma the Fair and Brave?”

Emma rolled her eyes knowing he couldn’t see her, but wondered if he was able to sense her eye roll. She walked over to the door and pushed the button, “I’ll be right down, jeesh.”

Emma placed her dad’s coffee on the kitchen counter next to the morning paper and added one more item, her mother’s letter. She placed the corner of it underneath his #1 Dad mug and knocked on his bedroom door. “Dad, there’s something on the counter I’d like you to look at. I’ll talk to you about it today after school okay?”

Robert opened his door and peered out. “Is everything okay, honey?”

“Everything is actually great.” She looked at her father in a new light. It hadn’t been his fault that she was assaulted with his grief day in and day out. He was doing the best he could and outwardly he always appeared strong for her. “I love you, dad.”

“I love you too, honey. Have a good day.” He smiled brightly.

“I think I will,” she smiled sincerely and for the first time, she knew she would have a good day.


“Are you sure you want to transfer to S.B.? You know you can always stay here at Jefferson,” Mattox teased as they walked down the street.

“And miss out on the real history of Lancelot and King Arthur? No way!”

“Have you told your dad yet?” Mattox quizzed her.

“I left him my mom’s letter. I figured I’d ease him into it with the whole ‘hey I’m not really a normal human’ first, then drop the school transfer bombshell on him, topped off with the dessert of ‘oh by the way there’s a million dollar condo in the Vaughn with our name on it.’ Yeah, I’m thinking that’s the best plan of attack,” she laughed.

Mattox chuckled and kept his voice down, “So, did you really want me to bring over a hunter for an orb demonstration?”

“Ha! I’ll keep you posted.” Emma sighed as they got closer to school, “How much longer do I have to go to Jefferson anyway?” She would miss Mel, but promised herself to keep in touch with her friend.

“Today can be your last day if you like.”

Emma stared up at Mattox in shock, “Seriously?”

“It’s all been taken care of.”

“Crap, I still need to explain my absence Friday!” she remembered.

“That’s been handled too,” Mattox gave her a sinful smirk.

“Did you do all that?” she smiled.

“I know a guy, who knows a guy,” he said, trying to pull off an innocent shrug.

They were almost to the front doors of Jefferson High and Emma’s emotions were swirling, trying to make room for themselves amongst all the invading whispers surrounding her. “Mattox?” Emma pleaded.

“You can do it. I’m right here.” Mattox placed his hand on the small of her back, but barely shielded her from the cacophony of white noise in her head.

Emma’s breathing was sporadic and her heart was racing as she tried to gain control. No hoodie, no earbuds to fall back on, this challenge was all up to her to conquer on her own, Mattox had insisted. This morning Emma had actually fixed her long chocolate locks and put on a little lip gloss. She even felt pretty for once. The lip gloss hadn’t lasted long however. As soon as Mattox had seen her he kissed it away. “Mmm, cherry. My favorite. You’re in trouble,” he’d stated, kissing her longer and harder. Emma’s heart began pumping even faster from the memory of those kisses as emotional echoes flew at her from every direction. She wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans.

Mattox whispered in her ear as students gawked at the new couple. “Relax! It’s like you’re trying to breathe air, but you’re underwater.”

“Exactly!” she hissed.

“Emma? There is no water. Just breathe.”

A sonic boom echoed in her ears and then everything went silent. Mattox walked around to face her and was smiling. She hadn’t even realized that he wasn’t touching her anymore.

Mattox nodded and mouthed something. “Can you hear me?” She shook her head no and he laughed. He took a hold of her hand and tried again. “How about now?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “Well that was different.”

“Look at you skipping over lessons. You’re a quick study. Now just let people’s external voices through. Your mind and body will remember, it’s almost like muscle memory or neural pathways you forgot were there.” He let go of her hand.

Emma thought about something simple, like what it felt like to blink and slowly her ears picked up voices all around her. As an experiment she shut everything down again like putting part of her mind to sleep. All sounds, external and internal ceased. “Well that’s a neat trick!” She yelled. Realizing what she’d done she turned the volume on everyone’s voices back up to normal.

“Isn’t it?” Mattox beamed, uncaring about others’ reaction to them.

“What do we do now?” Emma looked around at her schoolmates and actually smiled for the first time in months.

“Be normal teenagers and go to class,” he shrugged.

Emma rolled her eyes, “Ugh, do we have to?” But she was ecstatic at how normal she felt and didn’t really care what they did as long as they were together. As one of the boys that had been particularly cruel to her walked into view Emma gave Mattox a devious smirk. Patrick had always made it a point to mock her appearance in front of his friends, drawing a lot of unwanted attention and emotions Emma’s way. High school in general was bad enough, but to be bullied when you’re down and unable to fight back, was one of the worst things in the world.

“No experimenting on dociles.” Mattox whispered.

“Oh, come on. I promise to use my superpowers for good and not evil.” Over exaggerating she batted her eyelashes at him and he rolled his eyes. “Okay, maybe just a little evil,” she stated truthfully.

Emma sat in her usual seat with a new found confidence. Mattox brushed his hand along her arm before taking his seat in the back of Mrs. Blake’s class. His touch sent goosebumps up Emma’s arm and her cheeks flushed. Since Mattox’s physical contact wasn’t focused on helping her control the emotions surrounding her anymore the contact was purely sensual and intoxicating.

The cruel boy, Patrick, entered the doorway shoving his football buddies playfully but still demonstrating his testosterone dominance over them as well. He took his seat right beside Emma, but instead of sneering at her he actually looked embarrassed and turned away from her. Emma scrunched her eyebrows together and finally realized what had changed. No longer was she hidden by her hood and stringy brown hair covering her face. She was all rosy cheeked and sparkly eyed. Emma pierced through the silence and listened to Patrick’s emotions. He was focused in on Emma’s sexual confidence. Ugh! You’ve actually been attracted to me this whole time and were ashamed about it because of the way I looked? Why don’t you just pull my hair already! What are you twelve? She was disgusted. Patrick needed to learn a hard lesson on how to treat girls and not give a damn about what his friends might think. Emma laughed at her own pun. Hard. Oh yeah!

Emma took her lip gloss out of her bag and pouted her lips as she applied it. She swept her hair off her shoulder towards Patrick making sure he got a big whiff of her cherry lips and lavender scented loose waves. She looked back and giggled at Mattox as he raised his eyebrow disapprovingly. She shrugged and turned her attention back to her prey. With all her might she pushed the sexual energy she felt for Mattox towards Patrick and let out a little seductive sigh.

The footballer squirmed in his seat and reached for his textbook. “Um, Mrs. Blake.”

He rushed to put the book in his lap, but not before Emma saw the growing bulge in his pants. “Oh, Patrick!” she teased.

Students privy to what was happening giggled as Patrick jumped out of his chair dropping the book from his lap as he bolted to the front of the class. He made excuses on his way out the door, “Mrs. Blake, I’m sorry, I uh, don’t feel very--” but everyone saw the enormous bulge he couldn’t hide.

The class erupted in laughter before he could disappear into the hallway.

“Oh, Rick! Oh!” his teammates said in unison. “Loser!”

Mattox cleared his throat and Emma sent him an emotional eye roll. He chuckled out loud and sent her an emotional ‘tsk tsk’ back. But, she wasn’t done yet. There was one more person she wanted to see and this time she would use her powers for good and not evil.

“So a shepherd, huh?” Robert Kincaid looked down at his daughter as they walked into the moonlit Central Park to Emma’s gloaming bond ceremony. He’d been diligent in asking her that question for the past three months. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure, dad.” Emma beamed at her father’s protective nature. She’d never been so sure of anything in her life, except for Mattox.

“Your new school seems nice.” Robert patted Emma’s hand. “How’s your friend Mel doing these days?”

“Dad, are you nervous?” Emma giggled.

Robert laughed too, “You tell me, honey.”

Emma opened her senses and let her father’s emotions in. “Mmm, only just a little. And don’t worry, Mel’s fine. She actually has a boyfriend now. She’s bringing him to our ‘housewarming’ party later tonight.” Emma giggled when she made air quotes for her gloaming bond’s secret docile friendly title. Leading the life of a secret agent was going to take some getting used to. She missed seeing Mel every day, but enrolling into S.B. Devere and being around so many other neophyte’s, pre-gloamers, and guardians was making her transition much easier.

Emma and her dad walked for what seemed like half an hour through brush and thick trees. Then off in the distance Emma spotted a quaint old stone bridge crossing a stream. Its shrubs and vines were overgrown and lush as they grew up and over the curves of the bridge. The full moon’s glow reflected off the natural beauty of the little alcove creating an almost fairy like environment. Emma figured the secluded spot had been chosen decades ago for its privacy in gloaming bond ceremonies.

“Hiya, hon.” Bernie’s big booming voice found Emma and her dad as a crowd of guardians caught up to them.

“Bernie!” Emma ran and gave the man a big hug. She couldn’t help it. The veteran shepherd felt like Christmas and Santa Claus with a Southern accent wrapped in a warm blanket.

“Oh!” Emma was caught off guard as Ryan Kapoi and some serious looking muscle came towards them carrying an elaborately carved golden trunk. Kapoi nodded a formal greeting Emma’s way as they passed.

“It’s okay, hon,” Bernie patted her hand. He joined Emma and Robert on their way down to the water’s edge just under the arch of the bridge. “That’s the Sword of Twelve. They don’t take any chances when they bring it out of the vault.” He smiled, “You know some say the twelve swords given to the Knights of the Rounds Table were forged from Excalibur itself after King Arthur fell?” Bernie shrugged, “But that’s just a rumor I heard when I was just knee high to a grasshopper.”

“Wow,” Emma whispered. She was enjoying the King’s Court history classes she’d been immersed in at S.B. Devere Academy and gobbled up any new information she could get her hands on. “I still can’t believe all of this is real.”

Bernie nodded. “Have you given any thought to what you’ll do after graduation?”

“Well, college for sure, then after that,” Emma paused and looked at her dad who was beaming proudly at her. “I think I’d like to be an active guardian and complete my shepherd training. There’s gotta be some neophytes out there that feel as lost as I did.”

“I think you’re right,” Bernie was somber probably thinking about some lost souls he had guided into the court. “We’d be lucky to have you in any capacity. Have a mentor in mind?” The old shepherd chuckled.

“Well. He’s an apprentice right now, but knowing him, he’ll probably pass his last shepherd trial before I can even pack for college, so I’m thinking Mattox?”

Bernie chuckled again, obviously not surprised by her choice. “I think that can be arranged.”

Emma opened her senses a bit more and found Mattox. Gone was the intentional void he once was during her transition into the King’s Court, now only his warm yellow glow greeted her, like the warm sun kissing her skin.

Mattox must have felt her reach out to him. He made his way past several guardians to join her and her father, “Mr. Kincaid sir,” Mattox said.

“Please call me Robert, son, we’re practically neighbors in the Vaughn building. No, we’re more than that. We’re family.”

Emma smiled hooking her arm with Mattox and then with her father as the four joined the large group of guardians near the old stone bridge hidden in the dense trees.

Guardians lined up and created a half circle around Emma, her father, Bernie, and Mattox. Two hunters Emma recognized separated as Ryan Kapoi stepped forward carrying the ornate golden trunk and placed it on a large flat stone. The stone had been worn smooth. Emma wondered how many times the trunk had been placed there over the years. Hundreds? Thousands? Kapoi opened the box and the hum of power danced in the electrified air like the charged atmosphere on a storm’s edge. He pulled the Sword of Twelve from its sheath within the box and a ringing sound, almost metallic in nature, bounced off the ripples of fast moving water in the nearby stream. The Vaelosh a’Rue symbols etched into the blade emanated a soft lavender glow and began to pulse with anticipation as Kapoi neared Emma. The sword was magnificent and had Emma in awe. Mattox smiled warmly as Emma took a knee and bowed her head. As the hunter touched the blade’s tip to Emma’s shoulders they began to recite the gloaming vow together. Curling tendrils of violet and yellow light swirled around Emma emanating from the blade. The same blade her mother had taken her vow with. A gentle wind whipped around them and Emma grabbed her father’s hand just as she felt her mother’s warmth enter her. All of them, including her father, repeated the gloaming bond’s vow once more. Their words swirled under the arched bridge collecting there and then radiated back to them. Emma and her father wept as the energy they recognized as her mother’s smiled and touched Emma’s cheek and kissed Robert softly on the lips. Her mother’s memories pooled into her like soft sweet honey. They were warm and kind, courageous and brave, loving and strong, just like she had been. Robert Kincaid squeezed his daughter’s hand. Emma was glad she could share the moment with her father. Her mind became flooded with even more court and guardian knowledge and history in an instant, but it wasn’t painful, it was comforting. Lourdie, one of the hunters that had saved Emma from the netherwalker, described the gloaming bond all guardians shared to Emma weeks ago and now she understood. ‘The bond is like an invisible suit of armor. Forged from our ancestors’ knowledge, honor, and conviction. Strengthened by all guardians’ faith. It’s like a parent’s love for their child. It can’t be contained, it never falters, and it can never be broken.’

As all the guardians spoke the last words of the gloaming vow, Emma became resolute in her chosen path as a shepherd. Through the bond, every guardian in the half circle felt the very moment they gained a sister. Tendrils of light and power moved in and out of her body enhancing her abilities. The residual energy along with her mother’s memories flowed back into the Sword of Twelve. Emma lifted her head and Mattox gave her a warm smile.

The huge guards relinquished the sword to its gilded resting place and the park fell silent. Kapoi’s voice boomed over the hushed crowd, “Arise, Emma Kincaid, Apprentice Shepherd of the King’s Court!”

Ryan Kapoi gave Emma and Mattox the hand signal indicating it was safe to enter the alley and come to his location.

“Tell me again exactly why we’re doing this?” Mattox questioned the master hunter.

“End of the alley, just above those boxes. Do you see it?” Kapoi nodded in the direction he wanted them to look.

Emma squinted into the darkness not having the same keen eyesight as a hunter. Kapoi had been elusive and wasn’t giving any clues as to why he had woken her and Mattox up in the middle of the night only to stop at the alleyway near her old apartment. But thinking back to those days, Emma got a chill and froze.

Kapoi looked at her then, “Your stalker is back. I figured you two would want to take this one out personally.” Hunters knew netherwalkers. Not only were they stronger and faster than other guardians, but their senses were off the charts. If Kapoi said this was the beast that had hunted her when she was naive to the secret world she was now part of, then it was.

Emma gulped hard not realizing when she volunteered for novice hunter training she would be face to fang with the beast that had actually stalked her. She gathered her courage. “I saw you and Lourdie banish it. Why is it here?”

“Hoping to pick up your trail.” Kapoi answered coolly.

“Well, it’s not going to feed on me this time!” She hissed. “I’m ready, give me an orb.”

“Easy there, Kill Bill, I’m collecting data first remember? We need to know if shepherds are truly invisible to them before we banish it. And, if I’m in contact with you, does your ability also cloak me?” Kapoi stated. “It’ll be just like we practiced in the virtual chamber. Emma and I will walk into its snare while she concentrates on creating a shield around us. Mattox you get as close as you can while shielded then drop your shield for a moment and agitate it so it transforms. If we’re lucky, it won’t see any of us in either of its forms.”

“Gotta love being the bait.” Mattox looked on the rooftop hoping backup had arrived. Two hunters signaled with their lights that they were in position.

“You make such a pretty lure.” Emma teased.

Mattox brushed a strand of her hair away and kissed her lips. “Be careful.”

“You too.”

Holding his hunter relics, Ryan Kapoi clasped his hands shut and whispered a word against them. As his hands parted a translucent purple orb began to grow between his palms. It hissed and popped, eager to consume a netherwalker. Emma never tired of watching the spectacular creation hunters were able to manifest from thin air. Kapoi kept the orb small, limiting its growth for the moment. “You ready?” He looked at Emma.

She nodded and focused on the orb hoping not to get zapped by it. “Yes.”

Gently, Kapoi placed the orb in Emma’s hands, “My orb is yours.” He looked at Mattox who reluctantly nodded his readiness. Kapoi repeated the process for Mattox and placed an identical orb into his hands.

Emma opened her senses up to the creature, but shielded her emotions completely as Kapoi placed his hand on her shoulder. She concentrated on extending her shield to the hunter as well and nodded at Mattox to begin. Her heart pounded out of her chest as they entered the alley behind Mattox. Emma and Kapoi stopped just inside the radius where the netherwalker could manipulate their minds. Through the novice hunter training Kapoi taught, Emma focused on blocking out the unwanted emotions the creature attempted to send out and concentrated on what she knew was real and right in front of her.

Mattox stopped, put his orb behind his back, and yelled, “Hey!”

Emma let out a breath of relief the minute she felt Mattox put his shield back up. The creature vibrated and floated down off the brick wall. Mattox moved back slowly careful not to make any noise as he stepped out of the monster’s snare. Being a guardian now, Emma knew that if agitated or frightened it was impossible for a krim to stay in its shadowskin form. Its dark shadows rippled into black opalescent skin as it slithered from the wall. Fiery reds morphed into emerald greens underneath its slick black skin and the air around the guardians cooled to just above freezing. They all took care not to breathe and give away their locations. The soft pink scar on Mattox’s cheek served as a reminder of that.

“Ow!” The orb Mattox had been holding dropped to the ground. The krim now in full corporeal form snapped its head in Mattox’s direction and dug its claws into the pavement. It was preparing to attack. Whether it sensed Mattox now or not was unclear.

Mattox! Emma’s mind screamed. Before she could send a mental warning to Kapoi, the hunter was already moving in front of her.

“Now!” Kapoi yelled, letting go of Emma’s shoulder and drawing his weapon. He ran at the beast as guardians from the rooftops shot at it with their stun rifles, but the beast refused to go down. She knew stunning krims didn’t always work, especially large ones gorged on the essence of dociles. This one had just fed.

Emma heard a loud crack like lightning whipping the ground as Mattox picked up his orb. With a painful grunt he threw the orb to Kapoi just as the netherwalker whirled to face the unshielded hunter. Kapoi caught the orb and let it grow, encasing the beast as it struggled to break free. The orb vibrated and hummed and the krim howled its displeasure. Emma dropped her shield and stood in front of the orb. The beast within whimpered, seeming to realize the young girl it had once stalked was now a guardian in the King’s Court, strong and unafraid.

As the orb imploded, taking the beast back to the Netherworld, Kapoi whipped his head to the far corner of the alley. “Emma, orb! Now!”

Startled to attention, Emma threw the orb to Kapoi who encased a secondary beast that she didn’t recognize at first. She gasped when she saw leathery wings struggling against the translucent orb. Dragon! She thought. Through her classes at the Academy, Emma knew how rare they were, but also knew that things within the King’s Court had been extremely tense as of late. She wondered if there was a correlation between the two and made a silent promise to help out her fellow guardians in any way she could.

As the second beast disappeared, Emma rushed to Mattox’s side. He had to be hurt by the orb, she’d heard the awful sound it had made when he picked it up.

Mattox grabbed her hand, reassuring her both mentally and verbally he was alright. “I swear, hunter orbs have it out for my family!” he laughed. “At least it’s not broken,” Mattox said, mocking that his brother Malcolm had actually indeed broken his arm in a similar incident. He stopped swinging his arm around like a madman and bent down and kissed Emma softly. “I’m okay, Em.”

His nickname for her sent an electric current down her spine just like it had the first time. She brushed the scar on his cheek and smiled. “I know.”

Just then a voice came over the earpieces that Kapoi had given them. The device was smaller than a dime, as clear as if the voice was right beside them, and was tucked away out of sight behind Emma’s ear. She was shocked when told it was standard equipment for hunters and novice trainees like herself. The King’s Court and its high tech gadgets never ceased to amaze her.

The voice explained that a fracture had just been spotted in Central Park and guardians on the scene were requesting backup. Emma shivered, recalling images she’d seen during training in the virtual chamber. She pictured the dark shadows from the netherworld pouring out of the golden ribbon of light like smoke falling to the earth leaching out over the landscape. The beasts would scatter under the light of the full moon, hoping to slither away and avoid being detected. Shadowskins roamed the earth and fed on humans for their masters the Nevra-Hsi in the Netherworld. It was an undeniable truth and the world Emma now lived in.

Kapoi rushed over to the couple. It was obvious he was eager to join his fellow hunters in Central Park. “So did it work? Were you able to shield us?”

Emma looked from Kapoi to Mattox with a devious smirk on her face. The Netherworld had no idea what was about to hit them. “Oh hell yeah!”


Coffee loving gamer girl, Sci-fi enthusiast, and overall crafty individual, CK Dawn graduated from Texas Tech University with a degree in Interior Design and a minor in Architecture (I know, right?). Loving to be creative but feeling stifled by invoices, custom orders, and curtain patterns, she decided instead to follow her favorite philosophy: if you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life. So, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... she finally decided to pick one of the stories that had been bouncing around in her head and penned The Netherwalker Series.

CK lives with the love of her life John, his cat Scout, her cat Hagrid, their mutually adopted and socialized feral kitten Pepper (yes, cats have favorite humans. It's a thing), and their dog Diesel (aka Methane-- Please, don't make her explain).

She credits her mother for the strong independent woman she is, her father for her inner peace and beautiful outlook on life, and the summers of sweaty, manual labor on her grandparents' farm for her strong work ethic.

In writing, CK has truly found her bliss. Stay tuned, because there will be a lot more to come in her Netherwalker Series. Seriously, things have only just begun.

I love connecting with readers and fans! Hope to talk to you soon. -ck

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A Neophyte’s Tale – A Netherwalker Short Story (Prequel to The Netherwalker Series)

Cloak of Shadows (The Netherwalker Series, Book One)

Cloak of Secrets (The Netherwalker Series, Book Two) coming soon!

Hungry for more from the Netherwalker Series?

Enjoy this sneak peek of Book One, Cloak of Shadows.

Available now where most fine books are sold.

The Netherwalker Series Book One


Britannia ~ Middle Ages

“What are you playing at now old man?” Lancelot yelled, raining spittle down upon the vile wretch in his grasp. The knight tightened his hand around the eternal’s neck as he shoved him against the ruined castle wall, taking special care not to disturb the bundle hidden in a nearby hay cart.

“No tricks. I had a vision.” Merlin grabbed the knight’s wrists and stared into his eyes. His glare became an intense soul penetrating dyad.

Lancelot shuddered as their eyes locked and souls clashed. Hear me. Remember.... Merlin’s words thundered inside the knight’s head.

Both men were enveloped in a luminous violet light and an amethyst tornado of dust and stone. The magical vortex of power seemed strong enough to snap steel and disintegrate bone. The roar of the tempestuous wind deafened as sand and grit cut through flesh of the young knight’s already battle scarred face. Garbled pictures of people, places, and impossibilities flooded Lancelot’s head as bile rose in his throat. Grotesque creatures that were a leech upon human life stained his vision. The deadly monsters Lancelot glimpsed only strengthened the conviction of his chosen path, but he had seen enough. The knight wanted loose of the hellish nightmare and willed himself free.

Suddenly the particles of stone and dirt surrounding the two men stopped and floated in suspended animation all around them. As the knight struggled to break away from the eternal’s embrace, all the hovering debris fell simultaneously to the earth.

Breathless and wide eyed, Lancelot paused and looked in the cart. “Go! Take your....creature with you.” Instinctually the knight’s hand tightened around his sword’s hilt still sheathed at his side. He let out several long slow thoughtful breaths before he continued, “If what you’ve shown me is true, I won’t stop you.” He snickered angrily, thinking of the long dreadful task in front of him as he stared the man down. “May the Elders help you if you ever cross my path again old man. My mercy ends with my King and my spoken oath. We meet again and I will kill you. Destiny be damned!”

Silently, the ancient nodded respectfully to the young knight and took his leave. Almost floating in his long drawn hooded cloak, Merlin carefully carried his bundle toward the large hollowed ancient yew. The golden ribbon of light within had become visible, the gloaming was upon them. He turned and looked at the heart broken knight and yelled, “Your name will be remembered in legends and be synonymous once again with honor, duty, and loyalty Sir Lancelot. You will be honored as the greatest of men.”

The knight’s response was almost indiscernible from the wind, but he knew the old man heard him, “So you say, as even now I lay seeds of infidelity in the hearts of thousands and the blood of my brothers still warms my blade.” The defeated guardian shook his head, turned, and walked away. Then, slumping, the knight stopped. As he stole one last glimpse at the bundle he whispered, “Take care of our girl.”

New York ~ Present Day

“Krims!” Bane roared, stirring the rest of the hunters into action. The five man team charged down the hot steamy desolate subway line after the two fleeing creatures.

Abigail Thorne could barely make out their slick black skin against the moist dark walls of the tunnel, but she could see they had taken the form of feline-type creatures. Swift, massive, and designed to kill, there was no denying what they were; krimvigars from the Netherworld. There was also no mistaking these netherwalkers for panthers one might find at the zoo, not with the frosty breath that came from their mouths and nostrils. Where there should have been eyes reflecting her flashlight, there was nothing but smooth black skin that seemed to absorb the light. These otherworldly creatures were also running along the dampened ceiling, their talons digging into and spewing bits of the crumbling underground tunnel as they fled their natural enemies. By their running carriage, she instinctively knew they would split up. Sure enough, the large main tunnel divided in two and the netherwalkers each took a separate corridor.

Bane barked orders from behind them. “Kapoi, Daniels take the krim to the right! Reese, Thorne go left!”

Lourdes Reese entered the left tunnel first but slowed to let Abbey take the lead. This was, after all, the young girl’s hunt to test her mettle.

Abbey didn’t hesitate. Relying on her instincts and training she sprinted down the dimly lit tunnel at almost inhuman speed, closing the gap between hunter and prey. The creature slowed and turned, baring its mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Drops of spittle fell from its fangs and shattered on the ground as ice. Its smooth muscular skin rippled as it absorbed the surrounding light like the intake of power. The temperature around the krim cooled thirty degrees. Abbey charged her weapon and aimed it at the creature as cold sweat ran down her spine. The netherwalker dug in its back talons and leapt for her. Then, time seemed to slow. Abbey could hear her own heart pounding in her ears. She steadied her breath and squeezed the trigger. A metallic boom burst from her weapon that resembled a mini cannon and a sliver of white laser light exited the chamber. The beast fell at her feet, motionless.

Without skipping a beat, Abbey holstered her weapon and brought her hands to her mouth. She knew she only had seconds before the stunned netherwalker woke. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her as she whispered her word against each of the mated cold steel rings on her thumbs. Palms together she slowly pulled her hands apart to reveal an orb of translucent violet light, pulsating and sparking from the energy it bound within. The orb hummed and popped as she let it grow. Lowering herself precariously close to the creature, the orb instinctively floated down, and, growing larger still, it engulfed the krimvigar’s body. Fingers of lightning snapped like whips, lashing out from the surface of the orb, but Abbey didn’t falter and never let go.

Suddenly, another creature’s roar echoed through the adjacent tunnel followed by an adolescent human’s moan.

Abbey’s head whipped around to her mentor.

Lourdie shook her head and spoke in an insistent whisper, “Don’t you even think about it, Thorne. Focus.”

Abbey reluctantly turned back to her own battle and concentrated her energy on her orb. With a final bit of effort and a burst of other worldly power, the orb imploded taking the Netherworld creature with it. Exhausted, Abbey let out her breath and sucked thick frigid air deep into her burning lungs. As she shook off the effects of her orb creation, she could have sworn a scream of pain filled the underground structure. Oh my gosh. Malcolm!...


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