You are hereDeleted Scene: A Conversation With Callista

Deleted Scene: A Conversation With Callista


Hello! It's me. I promise I'm still alive. :)

First: I need to publicly thank you all one more time for making the Wings series such an incredible success. Thank you for reading.

And, I owe you all an apology... I have been meaning to post this for weeks. Weeks! It has just been so busy. If you hadn't heard, I've got two books and a short story coming out next year--Earthbound (the first in a new series), a stand-alone ghost story called Life After Theft, and a short post-apocalyptic story called Nature in Saundra Mitchell's Defy the Dark anthology! So in between tour stops, I have been doing a lot of writing. :)

Anyway, here is the deleted scene for Destined. It is actually a scene you've kind of seen before... except this time it is all from Shar's point-of-view, and some of the details were changed in the editing process as well (for example, Laurel never sees what Yuki does with the roses).

Warning: mega spoilers for anyone who hasn't finished all four books!

***

I should have knifed her first.

Thorny green tendrils erupted from Yuki's erstwhile prison, with a speed and strength that hardly seemed possible. Where were Laurel and Tamani? The apartment was a tangled green nightmare as stems and thorns lashed through the air. Something snaked around his ankles, pricking and scratching as it tightened. Then he was tumbling helplessly through the writhing mass.

"You."

He was hanging by his ankles in a giant bubble of red and green. At its center was Yuki, sitting on what looked like a corn-silk pillow. Her cuffs were gone and her expression was unadorned rage.

Is this how it ends, then? But his wounded arm twinged and he realized the girl had left his hands free.

"You ruined everything!" she exclaimed, a quiver in her voice.

Was she pouting?

With his good arm, Shar hurled his last kunai at Yuki's head. It lodged in a leafy vine that sprang up from the floor to shield her from the blow.

"Pointless--"

The small pouch Shar had thrown after the knife burst against Yuki's improvised shield, its finely-powdered contents making a cloud of white around her face. She sputtered and spat, then rubbed at her eyes.

"Ow! What--Klea, I can't see! He threw salt in my eyes!"

Callista's--Klea's voice sounded from somewhere in the tangle of vines, muffled and low but dripping with scorn. "You blinded yourself, when you filled this place with so many plants!"

Shar paused at that. He knew Winter faeries could sense plant life at a distance, but if, in her panic, Yuki couldn't tell the difference between him and the plants she was controlling, maybe he could get everyone out alive. He wormed one leg free; the whole freakish structure was relaxing, unable to function without Yuki's focused direction. Shar dropped silently to the soft floor of Yuki's rose-petal enclosure.

One giant petal crumpled to the floor, revealing the wall where Shar's first throw had pinned the bouquet--though all that remained now was the knife and the flimsy green paper. He yanked the kunai from the wall and crept over to Yuki, who was lashing out blindly with the thorny tentacles she still controlled.

I should kill her. But something stayed his hand. She was clearly a force to be reckoned with, a danger to the security of Avalon. And she was working for a Mixer he thought he'd watched die in exile, fifty years ago. But the way she lashed out blindly, the way her first thought, on freeing herself from the metal chair where she'd been chained for almost two days, was to sit someplace soft... this girl was neither a warrior nor a schemer. She was being used, and now Shar knew who was using her.

Carefully sidestepping the girl's clumsy, increasingly desperate attempts to defend herself, Shar struck the back of her head with the pommel of his knife. She collapsed, and her forest of thorns--no longer suspended by her will--collapsed with her. The walls and ceiling of Tamani's apartment were again visible, and Shar was waist-deep in the world's most overgrown rosebush. For an instant, everyone froze, giving Shar a chance to assess their predicament. Tamani was oozing sap from a dozen tiny wounds, but he was on his feet, nearly to the back of the apartment where the Lower troll had smashed through the wall, pulling Laurel with him, Aaron close behind. Klea had been joined in the entryway by two black-clad men--unremarkable in their appearance beyond their suspiciously symmetrical features. From outside he heard the guttural roars of battle-frenzied trolls.

Shar ducked into the foliage as Klea took a shot at him. Then, at his feet, wood splintered and a filthy, gnarled hand burst through the floor, seizing Shar by the leg. He drove his knife into his assailant's wrist, but the troll maintained its grip. Shar felt his joints creak with the strain of being pulled against the floor.

In spite of himself, he let out a cry of pain.

And then the boards beneath him gave up their struggle and Shar was dragged into the downstairs apartment, trailing thorny vines behind him. He was being held upside-down again, his wounded arm dangling uselessly, his knife still firmly lodged in the monster's wrist, out of reach.

The black-clad troll--too well-dressed to be a Lower, but far too misshapen to be an Upper--mustered an expression that probably passed for a grin among its kind.

With his free leg, Shar kicked it in the throat.

It dropped him and reeled back, gurgling. The stupid things were so proud of their strength, they seemed to think they were invincible, too.

The apartment was laid out just like Tamani's, though someone had packed it with a lot of unnecessary furniture. Out the back window, Laurel and Tamani tumbling to the ground. Standing between him and the ragged hole that had once been the apartment's front door, the troll that dragged him downstairs was recovering its ability to breathe. Climbing back through the hole in the ceiling was probably a good way to get shot in the head, but it looked like Tamani would need Aaron's help to get Laurel to safety.

Shar would have to stop Klea himself.

He ducked a punch from the monster in black, then snatched his knife out of its wrist, eliciting a howl of pain. He scored a shallow cut across the back of its knees and, when it lunged for him, a quick jab to its throat sent it reeling back again.

No time for this. Shar ran out the front door and into the chaos of a battle in full swing. Across the grounds of the apartment building, about twenty of Aaron's sentries battled a dozen trolls while a handful of humans cowered in fear. The trolls were poorly organized, but the sentries were fighting them hand-to-hand, which meant the usual poisons weren't working. The cleanup alone was going to require more memory elixir than they normally used in a year.

Nothing I can do about that right now.

Footsteps sounded on the walkway above him. At the end of the parking lot opposite Tamani's apartment, Klea's sleek black automobile was parked at the foot of the worn wooden staircase. Could he beat her there?

No.

Before the troll he'd downed could recover again, Shar dashed away from Klea's car, making a beeline for the nearest human--a man crouching beside a serviceable-looking green car. With a prayer of thanks to the Goddess for the gift of Enticement from a distance, Shar took a deep breath and pulled gently at the man's desires.

"Is this your vehicle?" he asked.

The man gave him a strange look, but nodded. Shar climbed into the passenger seat and watched Klea's car pull out the other end of the parking lot--with any luck, she hadn't seen him.

"Get in and operate it," he ordered calmly, pointing. "Follow that car."

***

Shar knew he was more skilled than most Spring fae, but even after half a century as a sentry, seeing Enticement in action was both fascinating and a little terrifying. Animals, even human beings, wholly under his command. If he was honest with himself, it was moments like these when he most often felt a flicker of understanding for the Unseelie.

And it was in those moments he felt most tempted to explore his limits. As they followed Klea, hanging back to avoid being spotted, an occasional human law enforcer would speed by, heading the other way, sirens blaring, lights flashing red and blue. Aaron was going to have his hands full. Would it be better for Shar to sweep them up in a net of Enticement--to bring a squad of armed humans to Klea's doorstep? Or should he wait for sentries to back him up?

Neither alternative appealed to him. Klea had committed serious resources to freeing Yuki--more trolls than they'd seen in ages--but after years of trying to kill, capture, or befriend Laurel, Klea had all but ignored her at Tamani's apartment. They were missing something. A major assault could yield many bodies with few answers, and Klea had already shown a propensity for slipping away in the chaos of battle.

Fortunately, sometimes a single well-trained sentry could accomplish things a well-armed squad could not.

"Mister, um, sir? That car is turning off."

Shar watched as Klea's car disappeared into the trees off the side of the road, making note of the spot. They were a reasonable distance out of town, though not nearly as far as Shar had expected, so there were other vehicles on the road and Klea's driving had shown no sign that she thought she was being followed.

"Pull over--I'll walk from here."

Gravel crunched beneath the wheels of the vehicle and Shar reached into his pouch for a memory elixir. "Drink this," he said, handing the small vial to the driver, watching to be sure his instructions were followed. When the man's eyelids fluttered closed, Shar sprang from the car and ran into the trees. His driver would wake up in a minute or so and carry on with his life, never knowing the role he'd played in protecting Avalon.

Soon Shar was on Klea's trail--two just-visible tracks over the forest floor. He didn't know how far the black car would get on this barely-there road. He did know with every second that passed, he was losing ground, so it was tempting to run along the tracks. But Klea would surely have guards whether she knew she'd been followed or not. So he half ran, half skulked through the trees alongside the trail, careful to stay hidden.

When the car's trail ended abruptly--as though the car had disappeared into thin air--about two kilometers into the trees, Shar knew he was where he needed to be. Fishing a small bag of salt from his pouch--and for the first time in his life, praising his mother's name--he approached the unseen perimeter carefully. He kept as much underbrush between himself and the trail as possible, in case anyone inside what must be another of Klea's protective circles was watching for intruders. If she knew the sentries had figured out how to neutralize her circles, she might be prepared. But if she didn't...

With the salt, Shar made a circle that intersected the ward around Klea's hideaway, unraveling the Mixer's work. The trail left by her car stretched and warped and the forest itself seemed to unfurl like a spring blossom, a small empty clearing expanding to reveal a modest cabin, a large white pavilion with canvas walls, and a handful of vehicles--all black, most equipped for off-road travel.

A bare-headed troll with a large firearm was standing at the door to the cabin and another sat on the tailgate of a parked vehicle, his attention absorbed by a human trinket that looked too small for its gnarled, oversized hands. It wasn't a phone; Shar suspected it was the same sort of thing David had spent hours entertaining himself with at the apartment yesterday. Four more trolls were gathered in a circle toward the back of the cabin, conversing about something that appeared to amuse them.

Sentries they are not.

Shar swept away the salt; the way Klea had pitched the bouquet at Yuki, she knew something about the technique, but if she didn't already know it could counteract Fall magic, too, Shar wasn't going to be the one to tell her. Not for the first time, he wondered whether such a barrier would be effective against Enticement or Sparkling, and whether other substances could reproduce the effect. It saddened him that he might never know.

But that was an admission he was still working to accept. He checked the binding strip he'd set on his arm; the bullet wound ached, but at least it no longer oozed. He was lucky the projectile had gone straight through, but his arm was almost useless and it was getting harder to distract himself from the pain. He had to kill Klea, or figure out her next move. Preferably both. There was a chance he could get in, complete his mission, and get out with no one seeing him, but ... he knew it was a small chance.

He hung his head for a moment, then reached into his pouch and removed the plain, wide bracelet he got to wear all too rarely. It was silver and polished to a mirror shine that made stealth impossible during daylight hours. On the inside, however, was an etching of Arianna and Lenore. He kissed his fingers and pressed them against their tiny, beautiful faces, both with regret and to spur his courage. "I'm sorry," he whispered, low enough that only the trees could hear him. "But I do this for you." Placing the bracelet back in his pouch, he crept into Klea's camp.

He kept to the trees, circling the encampment until he found a spot where the canvas pavilion was between him and most of the trolls. Crouching low, he surveyed the ground, wary of any twigs or leaves that might give him away.

"I should have pulled her the instant she found out where it was. But now we need her to show us the way, and we can't open it without her, so we're going to have to wait until she wakes up."

Shar froze. Klea was in the tent! And... it sounded like Yuki knew the location of the gate? How was that possible? There had always been a small chance that Klea knew, but Yuki was hardly an accomplished spy.

"Here, carry these. There aren't many left to do. May as well use this wasted time for something."

From the shadows Shar watched Klea emerge from the tent, carrying a basket filled with syringes and vials of green liquid. A man, too willowy and graceful to be a troll but clad in the same black fatigues that seemed to be standard issue in Klea's army, followed with a second basket. Both headed for the cabin.

All eyes were on Klea, so Shar crept out of the trees and across the clearing, flattening himself on the ground next to the tent. He listened for a moment; no one was in there anymore, at least no one breathing. Moving around to the open front flap, Shar slipped into Klea's workshop.

Or so he assumed--what else could it be? There were boxes full of soil and greenery littering the interior, and the high ceiling was strung with bulbous lamps on drapes of light fabric that reminded Shar of the silks they used at the Coliseum in Avalon--providing shade and shelter while admitting the sun's nourishing rays. The air was moist and warm and felt so comfortingly like home that Shar had to shake his head a few times and remind himself why he was here.

Lab equipment he couldn't even begin to comprehend covered a table in the center, like the instruction rooms he'd seen at the Academy, and near the entrance sat a wheeled shelving unit, taller and wider than Shar, packed with hundreds of vials like the ones he'd seen in Klea's basket. Shar half-wished he had brought Laurel with him; even with her limited experience, she would be able to glean more meaning from this setup than he could.

But his eyes widened when he noticed a low, flat garden box, partially shaded on the far side of the pavilion.

It was a box full of sprouts.

Faerie sprouts.

There were about a dozen, all in the early stages of growth--it would be months before they would bloom, assuming they were viable. He'd only seen a real, live sprout once in his life, but he'd seen many drawings. The broad, deep-green leaves and oversized bud atop a thick stalk were unmistakable. Shar tried to tamp down his surprise; after all, he'd seen at least three rogue faeries today, in addition to Klea and Yuki. They had to have come from somewhere! But Avalon sterilized exiles. Where had Klea gotten the seeds? And how many had it taken to get Yuki? A hundred? A thousand? How many of the failures were part of Klea's army now? There was no way to know for sure and the possible scale of Klea's rebellion was making Shar's head spin.

All thought of simply assassinating the Mixer fled. Klea clearly had plans in motion that went well beyond just having Yuki open the gate for a few dozen trolls. He needed to get one of the green vials back to Laurel, or even to the Academy. The first step in a new plan--next, figuring out step two.

Taking a vial from the large wire rack and slipping it into his pouch, he surveyed the tent one last time, wondering if he should make a silent exit or take the time to set the place on fire. The sprouts, nestled silently at the back of the tent, gave him pause and more than a small sense of discomfort. He decided to leave quietly.

His hands began to tingle with the hope that he might actually make it out of this alive when, behind him, he heard the sound of the tent flaps being pulled open and the loud mechanical click of a firearm being prepared for use.

"Captain."

Her voice was smooth and even--almost bored. And it chilled Shar to the core.

He could run. He could try to run. But she would gun him down before he could cut through the back wall of the tent. He hesitated, not knowing what to do, not liking that the only idea he had required him to gamble with his life.

He spun away from the front of the tent and ducked behind the rack of green vials, gripping the steel poles that supported the corners of the shelves.

Klea didn't shoot.

"Don't move, or the whole thing goes over." Shar wasn't sure how strong the vials were, or how many would break if he dumped them off the shelves. But Klea clearly valued them.

Klea sighed noisily, sounding more inconvenienced than afraid. "Honestly, Captain, is this really necessary? You've already blown my schedule all to hell by knocking out poor Yuki like that. Don't get me wrong, sometimes slapping her around is the only way to make her behave. But you know how it is--Benders and their sense of entitlement."

Goddess, but the woman likes to talk. "I saw you burn," Shar said. "The blaze was so hot no one could get near it for three days."

"Who doesn't love a good fire? Even children enjoy them. Not in Avalon of course. Oh no, too dangerous," she said, her tone mocking.

"I made them test the ashes."

Klea's laugh sounded genuinely amused. "How diligent of you! But that's why I left my blossom behind. I don't think it would have fooled them if it hadn't been fresh."

Keep her talking. If she's talking, she's not shooting. Maybe she'll actually say something useful. "Where did you find Yuki?"

"Oh, Captain, all it takes is a single seed, if you know what you're doing. Work was slow when I had to rely on cuttings, but in the last few decades humans have made remarkable strides in cloning. I quickly discovered that every sprout has its own destiny, no matter its lineage. So it really was only a matter of time before I got a Winter."

"Where did you get the seed?"

"I really shouldn't tell you," Klea said, "but it's just too good not too. I stole it from the Unseelie."

"You're Unseelie, in case you've forgotten."

"Don't lump me in with those wild-eyed zealots. I have no use for their religious nonsense. The Council knew that, but they kicked me out with them anyway. I never did find out where the Unseelie got the seed, not that it matters. One of them even saw me take it as I made my escape. Oh, she was so angry," Klea said in a low whisper. "But then, I think you're familiar with her, Shar de Misha."

Shar prayed for the Goddess to forgive his mother. If only she had said something when he went to her in Hokkaido... how much death and destruction could have been avoided? But then, who could say what might have befallen the rest of the Unseelie, for concealing a faerie seed?

In the end, she helped me in the only way she could, he reminded himself. Through the fabric of the tent walls, Shar could hear Klea's forces milling anxiously, waiting for the order to finish the job. But Shar had a job of his own to finish. "You have a pretty big stack of these vials here. The least you can do is tell me what I'm about to die for. You owe me that."

"The only thing you're owed is a bullet in the head."

"So I should dump these, then," Shar said. "You're going to kill me anyway."

Klea hesitated. "Fine. Don't think it will spare you. They took me a long time to make and I'd prefer not to waste it, but this is only the final batch. Most of it has already been used."

Time for another gamble. "Is this how you make the trolls immune to our poisons?"

Klea sighed impatiently again, but Shar wasn't fooled. She was drunk with anticipated victory, reveling the chance to finally step out of the shadows and show her enemy how clever she was. "In Avalon, you treat the ill. Here, humans have learned to prevent illnesses before they happen. This is basically the same thing. An inoculation of sorts. So yes, it makes them immune."

"Immune to faerie magic, you mean. Fall magic. That's why we can't track the trolls--why Barnes wasn't affected by any of our defenses."

"Barnes was my guinea pig, way back when. I found out they'd used my serum to sterilize Laurel's mother, so I had him make a grab for the land before Avalon's changeling could really mess things up. That didn't pan out so well and then he decided to turn on me. But I find it terribly soothing to have a contingency plan or two in place. Don't you?"

Shar forced a laugh. "I could do with one of those about now myself."

"Well said! But while I like a trip down memory lane as much as the next girl, we both know you haven't got one. You're either stalling because you're afraid to die--which is dreadfully unbecoming--or you think you're going to miraculously get this information back to Avalon, which isn't going to happen. So if you'd be so kind as to step out here where I can kill you--"

"What do you think you're going to do? Terrorize Laurel until she tells you where the gate is? She won't. She's stronger than you think." He was a little surprised to realize he meant his fervent words--even though he was bluffing. When had Laurel stopped being the little faerie who just needed his protection?

Klea laughed again. "What the hell do I need Laurel for? We know where the gate is. Yuki plucked that tidbit out of Laurel's head almost a week ago. It took a little longer than I'd hoped, but Yuki managed. Eventually. I had almost given up hope of invading Avalon before next summer."

Mission accomplished. If only he could be happier about it. "I just have one last request. Tell Ari and Len I love them." He hesitated, momentarily choked with emotion. "More than anything."

"That's very sweet, but I'm not running a messaging service, Shar."

"I know, it's just... ironic."

"Are you sure that's the right word?" Klea asked mockingly. "Humans are so picky about that one. It took me almost twenty years to get it right."

With a shove of his foot, Shar toppled the tower of troll serum. The metal shelving clattered and clanged, making a satisfying din as it collapsed, shattering vials and splattering deep green liquid across the tent floor and walls. Klea flinched back from the sudden motion and Shar resisted the urge to dive behind one of her planter-boxes. He knew better than to expect further restraint from her.

"Let's ask Tamani, he's the language expert. Tamani, isn't this what humans call irony? Because I never expected my last living moments would be spent figuring out how to use this damned phone."

Smiling wanly, Shar held up his iPhone and wondered which Klea would shoot first--it, or him.

The look on her face was to die for.

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