Where can I read a free book excerpt from Cil Gregoire’s fantasy novel, Crystalline Aura?

Where can I read a free book excerpt from Cil Gregoire’s fantasy novel, Crystalline Aura?

Crystalline Aura begins with a unique idea and grows into an original story. The characters and readers learn the secrets and powers contained in the magic crystal and dark orb. Which magical item will empower their new masters to conquer the earth through magic? Cil Gregoire also takes readers into her imagination where she’s created an entirely new world. I can’t wait to start the second novel of this series and learn more about Anthya’s world through Cil’s beautiful descriptions. I also want to find out what other secrets will be unlocked now that magic is back on earth. A must read for science fiction fantasy readers! Please enjoy the free book excerpt below!

Crystalline Aura

            Rahlys, slender but solid, wobbled down the aisle to the rocking motion of the little northbound flag-stop train hurling her toward her new home, her own remote log cabin in the woods.  Spectacular views of golden yellow birch forest, shimmering in the September sunlight, and dark green spruce spires standing out in stark relief against the surrounding gold flashed by the rows of windows as the creaking, clacking train pushed onward.  Continuing to wobble forward, Rahlys picked her way, stepping around kids and dogs, as she headed for the baggage car.  Her stop was coming up and she wanted to be certain all her boxes, packed with food for survival and her art supplies, could be accounted for.

Lively conversation fell to silence as she pushed her way into the baggage car among similarly clad men in plaid cotton flannel shirts, jeans, hiking boots, and Carhartts, along with the cheery, rotund, busybody conductor who greeted her, breaking the ice.

“Ms. Rahlys!”

IMG_2306.JPG

IMG_2306.JPG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rahlys nodded in acknowledgement.  Four local men, ranging from strong and robust to grizzled and gray, turned to appraise her thin, almost middle-aged body, her pale blue eyes, and the hint of gray in her long, straw-brown hair.  A flame of self-consciousness lit her face under the men’s studious glances.  She spotted her boxes stacked neatly together and went over to count them as the train slowed down.

“So you are the new owner of Trapper Bean’s place,” said a robust middle-aged man with brown hair that matched his eyes and a lean muscular frame earned from rugged living.  “I’m Vince, your neighbor to the north, by the way…how long are you up for?” he asked, eyeing her stack of boxes.

“All winter, and you?”  Later the men will probably take bets on how long I will last, she thought disconcertingly, and braced herself for the gentle lurch of the train as it came to a stop.

One of the men, gray and grizzled, in his late fifties, flung his rifle over his shoulder, grabbed the hand rail along the outside of the door, and nimbly climbed out of the baggage car down to the rail bed below.

“And that’s Grumpy George.”

“I’m not grumpy,” grumbled George from down below.

“George is you neighbor to the south.”

Rahlys watched as Vince and the conductor handed George’s boxes down to him.  “Is that all of it?” the conductor asked as he counted his boxes.

“That’s it,” George shouted up, and stepped a little further back from the tracks.

The conductor radioed to the engineer.  “All clear!”  And the train pulled forward.  “Next stop, Trapper Bean’s trail.”

Trapper Bean’s trail…of course, it had been Trapper Bean’s trail for thirty years.  She couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take before they called it Rahlys’ trail.  Ignoring the silent stares, she stacked her boxes, empty water jug, small hand-carry ice chest, backpack, and rifle closer to the baggage car door.  Vince stepped up to help.

Rahlys counted her pieces again, and then picked up her rifle as the train slowed down and came to a stop.  Placing the rifle over her shoulder she started for the handrail as she had seen George do…but Vince scrambled down ahead of her.

“Wait!” the conductor halted her when she tried to follow.  “I’ll open the passenger door and put the steps down.”  The remaining silent men handed her supplies down to Vince while the conductor led her out of the baggage car to the passenger door, setting an extra portable step down on the gravel rail bed.  Standing near the bottom of the steps he guided her down, as though ready to catch her if she should stumble and fall.

“Thank you,” she smiled up at him.  By the time she joined her stuff on the side of the tracks, Vince was already back in the baggage car.  “Thanks,” she called up to him and waved.

“Sure.”  He smiled and nodded as the train pulled away and picked up speed, clacking on up the tracks.  Rahlys watched the train go until it disappeared around a curve.  And soon all was silent except for the murmur of the river as she stood alone, immersed in a vast wilderness, her cabin still a half-mile hike away.

The air felt cool after the warmth of the train.  Rahlys zipped up her red fleece jacket, then loaded the rifle with four shells from her pocket, and put it on safety.  The rifle was just an accessory she felt, for she seriously doubted she could get a shot off fast enough to stop a charging bear…even with the safety off.

“First task,” she said out loud to no one, “move boxes into the edge of the woods and cover them with tarp,” which she had the foresight to bring.  It will take quite a few trips to carry it all in she realized after hauling her precious supplies just a few feet into the woods and stashing them between two birch trees along the trail.  By the time she was done, sweat covered her forehead and she had to unzip her jacket to let in some air.

After cooling down a bit, Rahlys was ready to start walking.  With her pack on her back and the rifle slung over her shoulder, she picked up the small ice chest filled with perishables and an empty water jug, and stepped under the golden canopy of the forest.  The fruity smell of ripe high bush cranberries permeated the air, and the trail squished soft and wet from recent rains under the soles of her hiking boots.  To her relief, she saw no bears lurking in the bushes.

Warm sunshine chased away the earlier morning chill and a gentle breeze dabbed off the lingering dew as she hiked the well-worn, golden, leaf-strewn trail.  The underbrush, so tall and lush and green just a few weeks before when she and Maggie first came to look at the cabin for sale, was thinning out as it withered into reds, browns, and yellows.

Rahlys felt the stress and bustle of the outside world drain from her mind and the exertion of the hike warm her body as she reached the crest of the first incline.  With corporate restraints and deadline stress now abandoned, she breathed in deeply the clean, cranberry scented air, exhilarated by her new-found freedom.

Growing up on her parents’ homestead, Rahlys had always enjoyed the woods, but in the heat of youth and ambition, she had left the isolation to seek the offerings of a greater world, starting with Anchorage, and then on to Seattle.  After art school, she landed a job that turned into a career with an advertising firm right there in Seattle.  She thought she could never be happier; she was doing what she truly loved.

Of course, one’s perspective of happiness and success becomes redefined over time, and Rahlys became increasingly disillusioned with urban and corporate life, and increasingly yearned for a return to a simpler, freer way of life.  Now she was returning to a rustic lifestyle to paint, and to recapture the feel of living in the mythical woods of her youth.

A light breeze rattled the golden leaves of the birch trees.  They tinkled and shimmered in the sunlight, many losing their grasp in a shower of leaves.  By the time she reached the top of the second rise, she was so warm she had to stop.  Dropping her load, she took off her jacket and tied it by the sleeves around her waist.  She lifted her long hair momentarily from the back of her neck to cool off as another playful, passing breeze produced another shower of golden leaves.  Then Rahlys picked up her burdens once more and moved on.

The trail leveled out from here with only minor ups and downs making it possible to maintain a steady pace.  “Yoo-hoo!” she sang out periodically to alert any bear of her presence.  “I’m supposed to make noise so I don’t startle you, Bear!” she called out into the silent woods.  But the hike was pleasantly uneventful, and after some time she was at her spring, the cabin in sight on the next rise.

Stopping at the spring, she reached for the tin cup conveniently hanging from a broken tree branch.  Filling it with spring water that spouted out of the end of a pipe, she drank her fill.  The water was refreshingly cold.  Leaving the larger water container for later, Rahlys took a smaller water bottle from her pack, emptying out the tap water from town, and re-filled it.  A mere scratch of a trail branched off from the spring to a small plywood sauna painted red.  “Alright, almost there.”  She flung her pack on her back, picked up the rifle and ice chest, and climbed the final rise.

In a sunny, overgrown clearing overlooking a creek stood a tightly constructed, two-story log cabin with dovetail corner notching and gable windows shining golden in the autumn sun.  A long sunny porch graced the front of the house, while a smaller utility porch serviced the back.  There were also several out buildings.  A wood shed, a generator shed, a storage shed, and an outhouse graced the back edge of the clearing.  To Rahlys it was a palace; finally she was home.

“Araaak!”

Ravens

Ravens (Photo credit: Sergey Yeliseev)

The raven’s sudden loud squawk in the immense silence startled Rahlys.  Then she spotted him perched on the woodshed, his radiant black feathers gleaming in the sunshine.  Probably looking for whatever he can scavenge, she thought.  There had been a raven around when she and Maggie came to look at the place.  Pickings must have been good when Trapper Bean was around…but Rahlys had little to offer.

The raven’s visit a few weeks ago had inspired her to start a painting using the raven as a subject.  She wanted to do some more sketches, but there wasn’t time for that now; she needed to hike in more of her supplies before nightfall.  But to insure future visits, Rahlys dropped her pack on the back porch and reached into it for the remains of a muffin, which she tossed in his direction.  The raven hesitated, wary of her intentions, but as soon as she turned her attention away, he closed in on the muffin, and taking a couple of hops to achieve take-off, flew away.  Hopefully he will return.  Then Rahlys stepped up onto the back porch and unlocked the door to her new home.

It was cool inside the cabin.  She left the door open to let in the warmer outside air.  The first floor was one great room with windows all around that let in light and offered vistas of the surrounding woods.  A built-in counter divided the kitchen from the living room, and stairs led to a bedroom above.  The cabin was sparsely furnished with sturdy, rustic furniture built by Jack Bean.  There was a large table with four chairs in one corner, and a massive armchair and a daybed by the large living room window offering a view of the mountain.

Rahlys unloaded her pack, putting the food items away in the pantry and dropped the ice chest down into the root cellar under the kitchen floor.  Then she went out the front door to sit in the sun where it was warmer.  What a beautiful day…but an underlying nip in the air promised a cold night.  After a brief rest, she shut the cabin doors, and taking her rifle and empty pack, she headed back down the trail for another load.

Raven flew westward along the creek searching its banks, hoping to find a half-eaten salmon carcass left behind by an obliging bear.  A broad shallow section of the creek was one of the bears’ favorite fishing spots, and with a little luck, he would find a salmon head with some lingering tidbits of flesh still dangling from it.  There!  Just what he was looking for; and not a bear in sight!

Raven landed near the salmon carcass, and just to be on the safe side, dragged the delicacy a little further from the creek edge, under cover, before indulging.  Then, with his hunger momentarily defused, Raven decided to visit the river, since it was so conveniently close.

Raven took off toward the river, but the thermals were so seductively perfect, he could not resist taking a joy-riding detour, soaring on the air currents high above the forested hills and river below.  Finally, he spiraled down and landed on a gnarled, weathered log marooned on the sandy beach near the mouth of the creek… and sat peacefully attentive as he listened respectfully to the murmuring of the river, when something caught his eye.

Perched on the log, Raven watched sunlight glint rhythmically off the surface of something floating in the water as it wobbled to shore.  He hopped off his perch and stepped up to investigate as the light-reflecting object hesitantly touched the sandy beach.   After cocking his head sideways to get a better look at the unfamiliar object, Raven decided to give it the old beak test.  With an air of investigative importance, he gave the mystery object a good, hard peck.

The crystal woke up, glowed brightly…and then dimmed.

Raven, still not sure what to make of it, gave the object another resounding peck.  The crystal brightened and dimmed again.  Running out of options, he picked up the crystal in his powerful beak, and gave it a jaw-breaking squeeze.  Crystal and raven lit up, glowing softly in ever-changing colors, the crystal in pretty pastels, while Raven’s shiny black feathers flashed iridescent.  Startled, he opened his beak and dropped the crystal onto the sand.

“Araaak!” he cried with profound astonishment.  The raven paced around in utter confusion as he tried to sort it all out.  Then, as though compelled, he picked up the crystal with his beak, and taking off with ease, flew away from the river eastward following the creek.

Rahlys had packed in the last load for the day; the rest could wait.  All the food boxes and her art supplies were safely in the cabin and a warm fire crackled in the woodstove.  She unpacked her small table easel, paints and brushes, and the unfinished raven painting, placing it on the easel.  “I better bring the water jug up from the spring before I settle down to paint,” she said out loud.  Then she heard the raven’s piercing cry.

“Araaak!  Araaaak!”

Grabbing a sketch pad and her red fleece jacket, Rahlys hurried out the back door.  The raven was prancing up and down cackling loudly.

“Kla-wock!  Kla-wock!” he chortled as he flexed his wings and puffed out his hackle.  Rahlys sat on the porch step and hastily sketched, capturing in quick, fluid strokes the raven’s large chunky body, his ample beak, and the beautiful long black feathers of his flexing wings.  She overlapped sketches as the raven changed positions; it was a study in motion.

“What are you so excited about?” Rahlys finally asked, putting her sketching down.

“Araaak!” the raven answered.  Then with his beak, he picked up something glowing off the ground.  Rahlys couldn’t make out what the raven held and approached the agitated bird to get a closer look.

“What do you have there?” she asked with curiosity.  The raven took a couple of steps closer, seemingly no longer as wary of her presence, and dropped the glowing crystal on the ground in front of her.  Then he flew up and landed in a nearby tree where he watched as Rahlys stooped for a closer look at the object the raven had brought.  She reached out to touch it, but hesitated with uncertainty.  It looked like a crystal of some sort.  Odd how it reflected light, almost as though the light came from within!

“Araaak,” the raven called encouragingly.

Rahlys reached down and cautiously touched the stone.  As soon as her fingers made contact, the crystal burst into brightness.  Quickly she drew her hand back, and the brightness dimmed.  Should she attempt to pick it up?  After a couple of uneventful minutes, Rahlys reached for the crystal again, carefully picking it up.  The crystal burst into light, and Rahlys felt a strange quivering surge of energy rush through her.  Startled, she dropped the crystal, but to her astonishment, instead of it succumbing to gravity and falling to the ground, the crystal flew up and hovered, shining softly in the air before her.

“Where did you find this?”  She glanced at the raven and then back at the crystal, feeling silly addressing the bird, but there was no one around to pass judgment.

“Araaak!  Araaak!” the raven answered.  Then to her surprise there was the faintest tingling in her head as images of the crystal floating to the bank of the river, flittered across her brain.

Totally baffled, Rahlys stared at the crystal in awe.  She backed away from it, and it followed her.  Gathering her courage, she moved toward it, after all the raven didn’t seem hurt from contact, plucked the crystal out of the air and shoved it into her jacket pocket, quickly zipping it shut.  The crystal did not try to escape.  She felt with her fingers through the fabric of her jacket reassuring herself it was there.

The crystal dimmed, but remained alert.  Satisfied, the raven flew off.

Rahlys headed down to the spring.  The sun was setting behind the distant, forested, western ridge.  As the jug filled, she took in the radiant sunset of lavender, orange, and pink spilling across the sky.  The colors spread out and intensified into a magical brilliance, and then slowly, as the sun sank further down below the horizon, the gorgeous colors began to fade.  With the disappearance of the sun, the air rapidly began to chill.  It’s going to get cold tonight, Rahlys realized as she screwed the cap back on the nearly full jug, as full as she could comfortably carry, and headed back up to the cabin.

There is an intruder. 

What?  The trail to the cabin passed right by the spring, and no one had passed by.  Where did the idea that there was an intruder come from, anyway?  She dismissed the thought.  But as she crested the rise, she could see the back door to the cabin was wide open.  Had she failed to push the door close all the way?  Perhaps so; or the wind could have blown the door open…although there wasn’t much wind.  As a precaution, Rahlys set the water jug down and peered inside through a window.

To her surprise, there in the middle of the living room was a large black bear.  He sniffed the air as he headed for the kitchen and her freshly stocked pantry.  Her easel lay smashed on the floor, the unfinished painting trampled on by a muddy bear paw.  Rahlys’ heart pounded as she watched the scene unfold.  What should she do?  She couldn’t just let the bear trash her cabin.  And the rifle she had so faithfully carried up and down the trail was now inside the cabin, unloaded.

The bear lumbered to the pantry and ripped the door off its hinges, sending it crashing to the floor.  She needed to act fast.  In desperation she formulated a plan.  Since the back door was still wide open, she ran around to the front shouting and banging on the cabin in the hopes the bear would obligingly leave.  Reaching the front door, she opened it and banged it shut hard several times.  The disturbance caused the bear to pause and look in her direction, but it wasn’t distracted for long.  Almost immediately he turned back to the pantry sniffing its contents, knocking boxes, cans, and jars to the floor.  The food supply that she had worked so hard to bring in was in jeopardy.  She would have to take more drastic measures.  With her heart pumping fit to burst, Rahlys raced into the cabin waving her arms and shouting at the top of her lungs, “Out!  Get out of here!”

This time the bear decided to respond!  Instantly, it turned, dashed across the cabin floor, took a running leap over the daybed, and crashed through the large living room window on his way to the woods.

“No!  Not through the window!” Rahlys cried in despair as bear and shattered glass exited, leaving an empty hole framed in jagged fragments, open to the encroaching night.  Frantically, Rahlys ran outside.  Hundreds, perhaps thousands of shards of broken glass littered the ground.  “My window!” she cried frenziedly, waving her arms from the shattered glass on the ground to the gaping hole…willing the window back together again.  How would she ever get it replaced?

Ursus arctos middendorffi /kodiak bear/ Kodiakbär

Ursus arctos middendorffi /kodiak bear/ Kodiakbär (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then…unbelievable…inexplicably…the myriad shards of glass sprang up from the ground, coalesced together in mid-air, and landed back into place…unscratched and unmarred in any way, exactly as it had been before.  The window was whole once again.

What? Rahlys mouthed speechlessly.  Her heart pounded in her ears with mounting fear, her mind stunned with disbelief as she stretched her brain to the limit trying to understand.  She stood there for a while unable to move, or to speak, or to think.  Had it really happened?  She was questioning her own senses.

She looked at the ground; it was clear of any broken glass.  She looked at the window the bear had jumped through, no longer shattered, there in the cabin wall.  Repeatedly, the scenes replayed in her head; the bear in the cabin, the shattered window, and then the image of the window springing back whole again.  Am I losing my mind?  Darkness was setting in and she began to shiver from the chill air.  In a daze she headed for the warmth of the cabin.

Upon entering, she made sure the doors were firmly shut.  It was already dark inside, so she lit a lamp.  There was the pantry door on the kitchen floor with spilled food all around it, and the easel on the floor in the living room, tangible proof the bear had been there.  She picked up her easel, setting it back upright.  It was undamaged; the bear had only knocked it over.  Moving the pantry door out of the way, she cleaned up the mess, and then she spotted her unfinished watercolor still attached to its art board backing.  The bear’s huge, muddy paw print nearly covered the paper.  With the paw print still in hand, she walked over to the large west window and touched it, reassuring herself that it was real.  Her fingers met firm, solid resistance.

“The crystal…!”  Rahlys unzipped her jacket pocket and out flew the crystal, spinning slowly as it made its way around the room, then came to a stop, hovering in front of her.  “You are the source of this madness!”

The crystal did not respond.

“What are you?  Where did you come from?”

But whether it couldn’t or wouldn’t, the crystal did not respond.  It was crazy for her to expect it to.  The inexplicable phenomenon made her feel ill at ease.  Could the crystal really be responsible for what had happened?

With an effort to return to normalcy, Rahlys refilled the wood stove and moved the kettle over to the hot spot for tea.  While the tea water heated, she took out cheese from the root cellar, and crackers from the door-less cupboard.  The crystal followed her every move.

She needed to find a place to keep it while she figured things out.  For now, she returned the crystal to the pocket of her jacket, hanging it on a peg by the door.

The water boiled, she made tea, and barely ate.  It had been a highly eventful day.  Unanswerable questions filled her head until exhaustion finally won out, and with her last reserve of energy, Rahlys climbed the stairs to her bed.

Rahlys fell asleep instantly.  At first she just slept…but then she started to dream of crystalline mountains, of blue-green and orange valleys, and of golden seas.  She traveled through the vast void of space between galaxies, and for millennia she slept deep in a glacier as it moaned and groaned down the mountainside.  Then after a while the dreams faded…and she just slept.

 

Courtesy of Cil Gregoire.

 

 

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