Anomaly (Causal Enchantment #4)

by K.A. Tucker

Prologue – The Fates

“How could this have happened?”

The four ethereal creatures encircled their game board—an enormous bowl-like structure—and watched the aftermath unfold within the image pool. Though there was no longer a need for physical form after sending the sorceress and human back to their crumbling world, the Fates maintained the angelic illusion for the time being, their white gowns and gossamer wings fluttering in a nonexistent breeze.

There was nothing angelic about their kaleidoscopic eyes, though, as three sets skewered Incendia, ripe with accusation.

“What have you done?” Terra’s shrill voice screeched through the vast nothingness, her civil demeanor for the human a façade. The Fates were far from civil.

Rage ignited the God of Fire’s wings, the flames lashing out in every direction. “How could I possibly have done this!” he bellowed, throwing his hand at the image. None of them were capable of this. None of them would ever want to do this.

They watched in horror as the girl’s eyes came into focus, as their magic coursed through her body. His player in the game—his “child”—had finally been granted her desperate wish to be immortal.

Only this is not what the Fates had granted her.

“Do you know what will happen if she discovers what she can do?” A’ris trilled, more in panic than anger. Of course, that was a rhetorical question. They all knew what would happen.

She would undo everything.

They couldn’t allow that.

In a much calmer manner—they were all in this together—Unda stated, “We must hope that the full extent of her powers remains lost to her.”

“Yes. She must remain in the dark,” Incendia spoke as if passing a verdict. “And, if she does not …” He reached down to pick up the tiny green and blue sphere from the pedestal. Holding it up between his thumb and index finger, he detected the extreme fragility of it. Just a little pressure and it would dissolve into powder. “Then we shall have to interfere.”

As appointed wardens, they were not permitted to stop a game from running its course. But they had also never faced such meddling in their choices before. Why would they be meddling now?

“We still have Terra’s player. We can demand an audience and request that she end this problem,” A’ris said, slightly calmer.

“I do not trust that she will comply,” Terra admitted. “She is irrational when it comes to that girl.”

“We will have to convince her otherwise.” Incendia placed the tiny world back on its pedestal.

All four heads nodded in silent unison, the unspoken question of why this was happening—why they were trying to ruin them—still heavy in the air.

Chapter One – Evangeline

“Why do you keep staring at me like that?” Why was everyone staring at me like that?

Caden’s feet stalled as he regarded me for an intense moment, the silent internal argument visible behind his jade eyes. A large, feathery snowflake landed on the furrow between his brows, holding its unique design for only a second. More snow fell from the cover of clouds above to join the thick white blanket already on the ground. “No reason,” he finally said. “You just … look different.”

“Isn’t that what happens?” I asked with apprehension. I certainly saw the difference in Veronique and Julian the second I woke up, imperfections I hadn’t noticed before smoothed over. By the lingering gazes of Caden, Sofie, and the others, I knew they weren’t the only ones. I had also gone through a visible transformation, becoming an immortal. But exactly how different, that remained the question. Given the cement mine was full of nothing but old tracks and broken wood, it would be a while before I found a mirror to see for myself.

“Yeah, it’s just …” He paused, his eyes roaming my face. “It’s nothing.”

A spark of panic ignited. “It’s obviously not nothing, Caden. Is it bad?” Reaching up, my fingers grazed over my nose, my cheeks, my mouth. They felt slightly off as compared to the face I’d known for eighteen years—the ridge on my nose more flush, my top lip fuller—but they were all still there.

So, what could it be? Did the Fates curse me with pointed ears? Horns?

“What are you doing?” Caden’s eyes trailed my hands with a mixture of amusement and curiosity as I sized up my features.

“Nothing,” I mumbled, laughing at myself.

Caden roped his arm around my waist. We picked our way through the snowy path, my eyes scanning the woods, taking in the snowy graveyard of rusted tools and dilapidated wooden sheds. We were less than two hours away from a bustling metropolis, but one would never know it, the quiet almost eerie.

“This reminds me of Ratheus,” I murmured.

“There was no snow in the jungle, Eve.” Caden’s arm tightened around me, though not to provide warmth, even in the frigid December temperatures.

Because I would never be cold again.

Even as the thought circulated through my head, as I experienced the reality of it, trekking through two feet of snow in nothing but a light knit shirt, it still didn’t register.

“I meant this decaying state,” I countered. This cement mine had long since been abandoned. Now time was challenging it, leaving rubble in its wake. According to Sofie, it made the perfect “safe house” for us. “Do you think this is really necessary? Wouldn’t it make more sense to be in New York City right now?”

“Not until we have a good grasp of where the witches are, where Jonah is. Where Viggo is.” Caden’s teeth cracked with that name, his hatred for the ancient psychopath only amplified after witnessing Viggo break my neck. “No one will expect us to be holed up in a place like this. It’s exactly what we need right now. Besides, I have a feeling we’ll be back in the city before long.” He paused, hesitating. “Evangeline, about that …”

Caden’s mouth twisted. “We should make good use of the time that we have here.” I had the distinct impression that he wanted to say something else, but his mouth suddenly pressed against mine in a hard kiss. And, just as suddenly, he took off, his lean, strong body carving soundlessly through snow banks and brambles.

With barely a thought, I chased after him, my new muscles flexing as I sailed through the snow, my eyes and reflexes working in tandem to avoid tree trunks and bushes. I didn’t see how I would ever get over the thrill.

I closed the distance in time to watch Caden scale a vertical wall of rock, some thirty feet tall. A row of arched openings lined the bottom, blocked off by iron gates, likely to keep the less cautious trespasser from climbing in. He perched himself on the edge, legs dangling over the top. Even from down here, the bluish-green of his eyes sparkled like jewels buried in snow.

“Are you gonna leave me up here alone?”

“You make that look so easy.” I surveyed the wall again. The far right side had already collapsed into a heap at one point. Holes mottled the surface where chunks of stone had tumbled down.

“It is that easy.” He leaned forward, a hand beckoning me, a sly smile on his face as three more hunks thudded to the ground. “Come on. It’s a nice view.”

My new sinewy muscles propelled me upward so fast that the stone didn’t have a chance to crumble beneath my weight. In seconds I was next to Caden, his arm slung over my shoulder while we gazed out over the quiet valley and the streak of pink across the dusking sky.

“You’re right. It is a nice view.”

I couldn’t believe it. It was only months ago that I’d stumbled over that fancy urn of Sofie’s back in Portland, Maine, and onto a roller coaster that seemed to threaten my life every day since. It wasn’t over. It was far from over. But, finally, I sat next to Caden, knowing that my mortality was no longer a barrier for us.

“So …” One of his fingers tucked a strand of blond hair behind my ear. “How are you feeling?”

I didn’t know how to answer that question. “Completely uneven, though my balance is better than ever,” I admitted. How long would it take to get used to the new me? Would I ever? Drawing breaths out of habit rather than necessity? The air still pulled in and out of my lungs, though I no longer needed it to survive. If I made a conscious effort to stop the repetitive act, no pressure built in my chest, no dizziness threatened my consciousness.

I would never grow old or die by natural means. My face, my hair, my body would never change. Not again anyway.

“Is it a good feeling?” Caden’s fingers clasped my hand, his thumb rubbing over the meaty part of my palm. I closed my eyes and tipped my head back, reveling in the sensation, like an all-consuming itch finally scratched. Since waking, the urge to be in constant physical contact with Caden had been almost overwhelming. It was as if my skin had been stripped back, exposing every nerve ending. Only it didn’t hurt.

Far from it.

It was a euphoria I’d never experienced and I couldn’t get enough.

Cracking an eyelid to peek at him, I caught a smirk that told me he could sense my reaction to his touch, though I knew that’s not what his question referred to. “I don’t know. How am I supposed to feel?” My new life had begun mere hours ago, when I woke on a dank dirt floor to a world of possibilities. And unpleasant anticipation. “I guess I’m just … waiting for the inevitable.” For the uncontrollable urge to kill to hit me.

Despite other distractions competing for my attention, that anxiety lingered like a vicious thorn. Sofie promised me that it was only a matter of time until the first human crossed my path and tested my control. And she also promised me that I would have none.

I dreaded that.

I desperately wanted to skip over that part. Heck, I wanted to not need any blood to survive at all. I wanted to be immune to it.

But nothing I wanted had ever come easy so there was no reason to believe it would be different now.

“Yeah, so am I,” Caden whispered under his breath, a hint of wariness in his tenor. He followed it quickly with, “But how do you feel?”

How did I describe this? “Alive? I guess? Like I’m bursting with energy? Like I could run forever.” This strange bubble of something had taken up residence in the pit of my stomach. A ball of energy or thrill or eagerness. Or all three. I didn’t know what it was exactly but I was keenly aware of its presence, almost a tangible force inside, ready to explode. Perhaps that was the impending hunger?

I turned to study Caden’s sculpted features, as mesmerizing as they were the first time I laid eyes on them. “Is that how you felt when you transformed?”

Scratching the back of his neck, Caden admitted, “Honestly, the first few days after were a fog. Almost like a trance. It wasn’t until I broke free of it that I was even aware of what had happened or what I might have been like.” Caden shook his head. “You haven’t seen a fledgling before, Evangeline. I’m sorry to tell you this, but once you smell human blood, it’s not going to be pretty.”

“But I have seen a fledgling, remember?” I tempered my tone. “When I first brought you back from Ratheus?” When Caden lunged for me. When he almost killed me.

Caden’s head dipped. Leaning in, I eased the bitter memory with a light kiss against his cheek.

“Yeah, that was bad,” he agreed solemnly. His face ducked in to steal a quick kiss. He sat upright with a deep inhale. “But it wasn’t nearly as bad as what a true fledgling is like. Trust me on that.”

My internal dread only blossomed with his words. “What do you mean exactly?” Because that was pretty bad; I had nightmares for weeks after. Was there more to this than anyone had warned me about? “What should I expect? Tell me everything. Maybe it’ll help.”

“It won’t.” He twisted his mouth, as if choosing his word carefully. “You remember that night in France, after the attack, when Bishop’s head was all messed up from that spell, and then we found Nathan …”