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Concept Excerpt 3

Jacquelyn sat stiffly in the Unitarian chair, feeling quite uncomfortable. She sat as close to the edge of the seat as possible without falling off, trying to keep her nerves under control in these austere surroundings. She kept her arms folded on the table in front of her, head pillowed, barely looking at the two soldiers standing guard. They kept looking out the windows, as if at any moment, a contingent of Vahazayi were going to blow through the tenth-story.

Fat chance, she thought ruefully, sighing. She should have taken King’s offer for a bodyguard before they parted company. She missed him, both parts of him: that wild, untamed avian side and the human form that allowed them to consummate their relationship. Biting her lower lip, Jacquelyn raised her head and glanced out the window, out into the jungle that was whatever city they had dragged her to. Certainly wasn’t Massachusetts—that she could easily discern.

Behind her, the door swung open, admitted several uniformed men. The suddenness of the action startled her, causing her to jump and inch or two out of her seat with a yip. Eyes wild and wary, heart beating twice as fast, she sat back and watched as they took their places. One of the soldiers on guard flashed her a brief smile before his face flowed back into a professional mien.

The four-star Army general at the head of the table took off his hat and hooked it on the edge. He leaned forward, fingertips balancing his frame. Around her, laptops were opening, humming to life in preparation of their owners taking notes.

Jacquelyn pressed her back as far as she could against the chair, more terrified now than she had been when she had first seen King. His fiery form could not hold a candle to the fate she faced before the United States Armed Forces. These were her own countrymen, the ones who were supposed to protect the nation.

The Army general cleared his throat. “Ms. Sandenbern, do you know why you are here?”

What to do? “Maybe.”

The general straightened and began to walk back and forth, his hands clasped behind his back. “ ‘Maybe’? My dear, certainly you know more than that.”

She swallowed and looked around. “Because of the Vahazayi,” she whispered. Well, what could she do? Lie? She’d seen enough movies to know better.

“Ah, yes. The Vahazi. Very good, young lady. Now, could you tell us what you know about them?”

“What would you like to know?”

The Navy admiral slid forward, slipping his hat off of his bald head and staring at her. “How many are there?”

She blinked, taken aback. “I—I don’t know. I didn’t see a lot of them when I was there.” Partial truth at the least.

He was not deterred. “Well, then, what is their society like? How do they live?”

Jacquelyn was confused. What kind of questions were these anyway? She wasn’t there long enough to know this! And from what she got, the Vahazayi were secretive, hoarding their culture against outsiders. “I don’t know! They live in large mountains, usually one to a lair. That’s all I know. I rarely left King’s lair.”

“Oh, I’m sure you know,” the admiral replied, pushing his hat back on his head and sitting back with his hands behind his head. “We intend that you stay here until you remember.”

Jacquelyn sighed, rubbing her face with her clammy hands. Someone called for coffee and when it arrived, the true interrogation began.

She was slumped to the side as the fifth hour drew to a close. They were ruthless, taking every word that she said and turning it upside down and twisting it to suit their objectives. Every time she insisted they were not a threat, one or more of the generals called into question her patriotism. Some things did not change, she thought wryly.

As papers were shuffled for the next round, miraculously, there was a knock on the door. Apparently, it was unexpected. The four-star Army general looked up from his notes and barked, “Who the fuck is that? Johnson, get the door!”

The soldier in question saluted and crossed the room; his rifle at the ready, he called out, “Who is it? This is a closed meeting!”

The voice that answered roused Jacquelyn out of her stupor. It was the last person she had hoped to hear! “Open the door or you will be wearing it.”

“Open the damned door,” the Army general roared, palming his pistol into his hand. When the soldier undid the locks, he swung the door open, keeping his rifle trained on the logical area where a person’s chest would be.

The man who stood framed within the door was the perfect example of everything that a Marine should be: he was tall, dwarfing everyone in the room in both breadth and height. His dress uniform was immaculate; a sword swung from his hip, a polished garnet on the pommel. His chest was bare of bars, let alone any indication of rank; not even the hat that sat low over eyes covered by a pair of dark sunglasses gave anything away as to his identity.

Yes, he was everything that a Marine should be, save for one glaring accoutrement: a thick band of silver encircled his throat, offset by a gleaming gold half-globe.

The four-star general leveled his pistol. “Answer me now, solider, who are you?”

The shielded eyes found the general and pinned him. “Bodyguard for the lady.” He inclined his head towards Jacquelyn.

“No one was sent for! I want your name, rank and commanding officer!”

Without turning his head, the Marine lifted his hand slowly and took off his hat. A silver crew cut was revealed, pure unadulterated silver—the color and sheen of the collar that he wore around his neck. With great care, the Marine pulled down his sunglasses and placed them in his hat, tucking it under his arm. “I was sent for,” he replied slowly, deliberately, staring over his aquiline nose at the general, “by my Liege, King Arex’fay, lord of the Vahazayi. My name is Vagan Vershandi’fay, General of the Vahazayan Army and Second-in-Command to Lord Arex’fay.” Steel grey eyes flashed a challenge to his mission. A slow, sarcastic smile graced Vagan’s human features. “I assure you, General, there is no higher authority here on Earth than I.”

Jacquelyn looked around the room; she had never seen so many pale faces in one place! The solider nearest Vagan was shaking. Rotating his head to the side, Vagan pierced the man’s soul with his gaze; the man broke and ran, yelling down the hallway about body snatchers.

“There’s no way—!” the Air Force general shouted hoarsely. “You’re human!”

“For now, yes I am,” Vagan drawled, taking a step forward towards Jacquelyn.

“Hold it right there!” And a shot rang out. Jacquelyn screamed and ducked under the table as the room erupted in a barrage of pistol fire. There she cowered, listening to the sickening sounds of men in battle, and the deep booming baritone of a Vahazayi in human guise.

Chairs went flying as the military men took cover. They continued to fire round after round at the bronze-silver figure, who held up his sword to guard his throat. As each bullet reached its target, a bright golden force field was thrown up around Vagan. They exploded, sending their fragments pelting into the walls.

With a roar, Vagan launched himself at the table, lifting it high in the air as if it were but a sack of grain. This he threw down so that the tabletop was facing away from him, shoving it right into the laps of the soldiers.

Without a word, the Vahazayan scooped his charge up one-handed and threw her around his neck. **Hold on!** Spinning about, Vagan dashed to the window, keeping Jacquelyn’s back to the wall, his sword held upwards, the flat out. With his free arm, he shattered the glass—and fell backwards.

Gunshots followed their descent, but there was no catching the bronze-silver Phoenix, whose falconiform wings carried both him and his charge far out of range—and into the maw of the Whavehole.

Copyright Melissa A. Hartman
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