A Chosen War (Carly Eldridge)

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Nineteen-year-old Maia has spent her life haunted by dreams of a man with uniquely brilliant blue eyes. She never expected she’d actually come face-to-face with him, or that he’d be the harbinger of a chaotic new life. But as shocking as meeting Blake is, it’s less unsettling than her sudden ability to adversely affect electronics and seemingly control—even heal—plants.

Before she can figure out what’s happening, Blake’s cryptic warning about the impending approach of something big manifests as a freak earthquake, destroying Maia’s home and killing her parents. Devastated, Maia has no choice but to turn to Blake, where she learns that the earthquake was not as natural as it seemed. The reigning Terra guardian, or Mother Earth, has gone rogue, wiping out her replacements in a series of orchestrated natural disasters around the world—and Maia is next.

Worse, she’s the only one who can stop the Terra guardian from destroying not just Earth, but the fabric of the universe itself. Now, thrust into a world of celestial beings charged with the protection of the universe, Maia must come to terms with her new powers, and the idea that her destiny was shaped long ago. And she must do it all before she faces off with the woman who controls nature itself.

Intelligent and thought-provoking, A Chosen War takes the idea that everything is connected and wraps it in globe-spanning adventure with just a tinge of romance.

Clear
ISBN: 9781942111429 Category: Tag:

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Read The First Chapter

One

Maia stared at her mother’s favorite rare rosebush. It was dying. Slowly and quietly, it succumbed to an indomitable illness no amount of tears, anger, love, or determination could defeat.

Just like him.

Disease marred its velvety flesh. Withered leaves drooped around the curled, lavender-brown remnants of petals and buds that had once glistened with morning dew, had once caused passersby to stop and exhale in wonder.

Maia wished, for a brief moment, that the garden was hers to create and destroy as she saw fit. She’d put that little rose out of its damn misery. But unfortunately, the garden belonged to her mother, and Beth refused to give up hope, clinging instead to the idea that the rose could be saved. Just like him.

Maia sometimes wondered if her mom loved that rose more than she loved her, but a tiny voice in the back of her mind echoed: “Ignorant child. You know thats not true.” The voice sounded strangely like her Nanna; a voice she thankfully hadn’t heard in nearly seven years. Nanna had made the over-zealous, religious mother in Carrie look positively heathen.

Goosebumps bloomed across her skin at the memories, and she wrapped her arms tightly around her waist, holding in the fear her grandmother’s indoctrination had caused. You can only be told you’re destined to grow up a failure so many times before you start to believe it.

Maia shivered. It wasn’t exactly cold this morning, but she was wearing only a faded, long-sleeved Seahawks t-shirt and Beth’s gardening clogs. Summer had come early to Portland. In fact, it was already sixty-eight degrees at the ungodly hour of six a.m., and Maia had been rationed yet another blessed—but wasted—hour of sleep before her alarm was set to wake her for her summer job. She wasn’t the only one to have given up on sleep so soon, though. Her street was already abuzz with activity. The uncharacteristic heat had driven some neighbors to get their morning jogs in early, while others were setting sprinklers into motion. The ripping sound of a lawnmower coughing to life tore through the friendly greetings between neighbors as small animals scurried for the cool shade of brush. For most residents on the quiet Portland street, the strange weather was the most interesting topic. But Maia wasn’t most people.

She rubbed her nose with a sleeve-covered wrist. The sharp scent of the fertilizer Beth had lovingly patted around the base of the rose last night stung, burning its way through her sinuses and threatening to bloom into a headache.

The rose bush had been a gift. The kind only given by one who knows all of your secrets, has shaken hands with the skeletons in your closet, has sifted through the mess of your life and unloaded the baggage to determine that what they have found is treasure. Only now, after twenty-five years and despite constant attention, the rose was slowly dying. Beth had worked feverishly—at times obsessively—over the past few months, trying to bring it back to life. Often, late at night, the sounds of her cajoling sniffles would join the croaking melody of the garden frogs’ night-song as she tended the tiresome thing. Maia would inevitably tug her tangled earbuds out from under one of her bed’s many pillows, pop them back in, and play another hypnosis track on her phone in the hope of being lulled back to sleep.

Her heart clenched over Beth’s constant sorrow, for it was a pain she couldn’t ease, no matter what sacrifices she made. Her mother’s tear-streaked face this morning as she left for another grueling shift at the ER vindicated Maia’s staredown with the stumpy bush at this God-awful, dawn-hued hour. Maia was going to be twenty in three months, but was she off at one of the many prestigious art schools that had courted her for her photography skills? Did she take that internship at the fashion magazine in Milan? Was she out embarking on sexual excursions in an effort to “discover herself” and prove that her gender really could “have it all”?

No. She still lived at home, the parent to both of hers.

Maia pulled in a shaky breath that rattled through her lungs. It wasn’t just the rose Beth cried for. Her mother’s obsession over the dying plant had nothing to do with the fact that it was rare, or the sentimentality of its origin. Instead, it was an outlet. She couldn’t save him any more than she could save the rose.

Maia’s father had pancreatic cancer, and despite multiple forms of treatment—including surgery—he, like the rose, was gradually declining. Just two minutes ago, he’d left for yet another meeting with his oncologist to “discuss what could be done.” Maia rolled her eyes with a huff of annoyance, gritting her teeth. Nothing could be done. They all knew it.

Maia hugged herself tighter, digging her fingers into her sides in an attempt to hold herself together. If she relaxed, she’d somehow shatter—an unfixable glass vase. She clenched her eyes shut as a tiredly familiar thought marched through her mind: I can only control me.

Maia hunched until her shoulders nearly touched her ears before she forced her eyes open again, glaring at the rose. She knew it wasn’t the plant’s fault, but that didn’t stop her anger from simmering as she chewed on the inside of her cheek until a slight copper tang filled her mouth. It had become a relentless habit, and, by now, the taste of blood was more familiar than any food. She wanted to throttle the damn rose.

In a haze of blurred, worry-fueled anger, Maia rushed forward, until she was so close to the rose that the edge of her shirt brushed against the tips of its pathetic stump of dried-up twigs. Her fingers curled around the decaying plant, and an instant surge of energy sizzled through her veins. The leaves and petals crackled in her crushing grip, and the air filled with the concentrated scent of rose. A sudden lightheadedness dropped Maia to her knees, but she barely registered the impact with the moist dirt. Focusing on the plant before her, Maia willed her fingers to let go; they ignored her command. She could only hold on and sway in place. Her head throbbed as saliva pooled in her mouth, accompanying her churning and nauseated stomach. She blinked rapidly against the mounting fear of a full blackout.

Then, between the space of two heartbeats, the strange sensations were gone. Her breath came in ragged gasps as her grip finally relaxed, releasing its victim, and she stared at her upturned palms, flexing her fingers.

What the hell had just happened? Maia squeezed her eyes shut a few times, still lightheaded. She tried focusing on the sounds and smells of normalcy around her: birds in a nearby tree defending their nest, her neighbor’s annoying Yorkipoo barking at one of the many outdoor cats patrolling his territory, the smell of the drying dirt beneath her mixed with the hot smell of dryer sheets as someone’s outdoor vent exhaled into the side yard. Gulping, she licked her suddenly dry lips, trying to regulate her breathing. Hysterical giddiness bubbled within her chest as she glanced up at the rose bush. Nothing was particularly funny, but that didn’t stop the surge of laughter that caused her muscles to quiver in stressful release.

A moment later, she found herself curled into a ball, cackling madly. Maia couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed like this. It felt good, like stretching tight, unused muscles.

Finally, though, her sides stopped heaving and the laughter subsided. Still lying in a ball, Maia relaxed, face resting against the grass beneath her, palms open to the sun peeking out from the wispy clouds in the sky. Peace settled deep within her bones, and she closed her eyes, reveling in the brief moment of pure relaxation. This was better than any drug. Not that she was highly experienced in those. She was no neophyte to escapism, either.

A prick of guilt from her busy day ahead shattered the peaceful moment, and, with a sigh, Maia stood, dusting dirt off her long, bare legs. They made her look like a skittish colt rather than the ballerina her inner five-year-old still yearned to blossom into.

A shiver of premonition ran down her spine as she scrubbed at a particularly stubborn patch of mud on her calf, and she froze. Slowly, she lifted her head to stare at the rose bush once more.

It was thriving. The tearose before her was no longer the diseased, brittle plant she’d touched mere moments ago. In fact, it didn’t look anything like it ever had; at least, to her memory. Even on its best day, it had never looked so healthy. And, to make matters worse, the vibrant plant was now sharing its good fortune with whatever flora its roots could touch. The surrounding foliage flourished and transformed before her eyes, stems stretching, flowers blossoming, fruit ripening . . . all in an instant, revealing blindingly brilliant, shimmering colors that glittered in the morning sunlight, as if someone had Photoshopped the tiny little section of reality before her.

Something brushed against the tips of her fingers, accompanied by a tiny electrical shock. Yelping, Maia jumped back, shoving the abused digits into her mouth to suck away the pain. Only then did she notice the azalea bush beside her. It had been completely barren this morning, way past its bloom. Now, it erupted in fresh blossoms, red and white florets competing for space among the plant’s normal dark pink flowers. Maia’s heart faltered in fear.

Choking back a scream at the waxy perfection of the plants around her, she ran into the house, images of Disney-movie magic scampering along in her mind. Taking the first right turn, Maia careened past her homemade dark room and down the hallway to her bedroom. Slamming the door behind her with the kick of a muddy foot, the clogs abandoned halfway down the hall, Maia stood in the middle of her artistically chaotic—some would argue messy—sanctuary, staring at her fingers. Maia shook them out, tilting her head back until it met the door behind her with a thud. What was going on? Maia’s chest tightened as she started to hyperventilate, and her stomach responded with a another wave of nausea. She hadn’t eaten anything yet that morning, and she shuddered to think what her stomach would produce.

“Get a grip,” Maia muttered. “Get a freaking grip. I can only control me.”

Placing her hands on her knees, Maia tried to sort through the facts, the solid things that made up her life. Number one: her father’s illness. Two: Beth’s grief and absurd work schedule. Three: the long list of missed opportunities on a promising career, and now . . . this? How was she supposed to handle it all? She was expecting to hear back on some possible freelance contracts in the area in the next few days. What she really needed was money and exposure, not hallucinations. Sure, crazy made for good art, but Maia wasn’t into avant-garde. Whatever had happened in the garden had to be a fluke.

Yeah. Maia nodded to herself. No big deal. Lifes been hectic. Its probably just stress. Beth blamed every physical upset she had on stress, so why couldn’t Maia? Licking dry lips, she gathered in a steadying breath. Where was that damn stick of Burt’s Bees she was always misplacing? She glanced around as she nodded again to herself. Yeah. Stress sounded like a perfectly good rationale.

A chuckle echoed off the walls, and it took Maia a moment to realize the phantom noise had come from her own lips. Startled at the strange sound of her lonely laughter, Maia fought another wave of nausea that curled her body further inward.

Its not like I can heal anything, she thought to herself, grasping at any rational thought she could to calm her nerves. But . . . what if? The next deep breath ended in a squeaky hiccup.

What if she could heal things? Why now? Why had this new “power,” or whatever it was, suddenly decided to show up? Maia’s inner cynic was fully on its high horse now, whispering that she was being ridiculous, that this was just a childish daydream. Besides, wasn’t this sort of thing supposed to happen when she hit puberty, or on a harvest moon, or when she turned a significant age, like twenty-one or something? If Maia was going to believe in magic, she may as well do it right. Maia could feel the hysterical laughter from earlier welling up again. This is it. Ive cracked. Im going crazy.

Grasping for any sense of normalcy to ground her, Maia’s gaze traveled over the room, as if her many art posters and photographs could provide an answer. Instead, she noticed the bright red analog numbers of her alarm clock, blinking at her from her nightstand. The haze in Maia’s brain cleared, and she straightened. Great, she was late for her job at the state park down the road.

It was just the dose of reality she needed. The real world was still out there, waiting on her to get to Tryon Creek and do her job. With a groan of obligation, Maia grabbed a work polo and some jeans off the floor, heading for the bathroom down the hall. She felt a small burst of  gratitude that her family had shaved their heads a year ago in support of Greg losing his hair to chemo. Now, she sported a wavy, dirty-blonde pixie cut that suited her petite features. It also meant she didn’t have to mess with fixing her hair every morning, which was perfect for days like this.

Moments later, Maia returned to her room, running her fingers through damp, curling locks before grabbing her maroon Converse. Hopping in place, she struggled into the sneakers while reaching over to the nightstand to check her phone. She was hoping for a message from her parents, but when her fingers pressed the button, she got a nasty surprise instead. The sleek little rectangle outdid itself in a magnificent display of fireworks, bursting into vicious white and blue flames.

With a shriek, Maia toppled onto her backside, scrambling backward over the piles of clothes and books littering the floor. Patting around, she flicked through cloth and paper until her fingers finally hit something cool and solid, curling around the neck of a forgotten bottle of Arizona Iced Tea.

Maia flung the contents of the bottle onto the burning phone and watched as it settled into a timid sizzle. It let out one last pop before going quiet as the charred stench of plastic and the metallic tang of burnt wire filled the room.

Maia snorted, staring at the pitiful device on her blackened nightstand. “I don’t know what sort of third dimension I woke up in,” Maia whispered through clenched teeth, “but I’ve had it.” She chucked the empty bottle into her waste basket with a satisfactory thump and glanced at the bed. If she burrowed under the downy blue blankets and fell asleep, would she wake up to normalcy?

Maia sighed in resignation before grabbing her bag and heading downstairs, trying to ignore the flashes of hot and cold that traveled over her skin. Was this what it felt like to go into shock?

No. Maia gave herself a mental shake. This could be the big break she was waiting for. Maybe the universe was tired of dealing her one crappy hand of karma after another. Maybe, just maybe . . . nah. She shook her head before the thought could fully form. Inner Cynic was right, that was ridiculous. Only in fairy tales did one get magical powers to heal their dying father. This was reality. The sight of the garbage truck in front of her house, dumping waste into its dank cavity, convinced her. Maia blew out a calming breath and instantly regretted it; her next breath was destined for less pleasant smells than Beth’s fertilizer.

As the familiar foes of cynicism and anxiety battled in her head, tightening the muscles around her heart, Maia swung her leg over her bike and set off for work.

About The Author

Carly loves stories no matter the medium. Ballet, theater, movies, books, a good story is a good story and that is where her passion lies. All she wants is to tell a good story, one that evokes emotion and a good time. Carly has lived all over the country so there’s no telling where she currently calls home, but you can be sure there is always a furry friend or two around and her two kiddos close at hand.

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