Today, my twin sister and I turn 30! It's a little odd, but I've been looking forward to this age since I was in middle school, so I'm pretty stoked. As a thank you for being one of my readers, whether you're new or have been with me from the beginning, I've posted the first chapter of Chrysalis (The Order Series Book Three) over on my Patreon. You can read the excerpt here and if you want more, you can become a for $1-$8 and get early releases like this one and many others each month!
All I want for my birthday is your continued support, whether that means you're a Patron or you just like my books, leave reviews, join my newsletter, and share my posts. However, a few people have asked if I have an Amazon Wishlist (don't feel like you have to get me anything; just sharing!) I appreciate each and every one of you and I'm excited for this spanking new chapter (no pun intended)!
Anyone can shift their skin once they know how; once they have no other alternative. Unfortunately for me, my enemies had this ability as well. So did my heroes.
The man sitting across from me could have been the college professor he claimed to be, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t also one of them. That was the worst part with everyone involved with the Order, whether they were ex-Members or current. Someone could be a good person in one area of their lives and a monster in another; it was a wonder any of us recognized ourselves when we looked in the mirror.
Master Vincent Capelle of House Leopard. Not a high-ranking House, but he was particularly special. To his students, he was Professor Capelle, the top Literature professor in Paris Diderot University. He was good looking in his red sweater and kakis, yet if he didn’t hold a position of power, I had the feeling many of his students wouldn’t glance twice at the fifty year old man in front of me. His hair was a deep gray as if he couldn’t let go of his youth, and he had a five-o’clock shadow of the same color. He purposely dressed as the knowledgeable man, his body fit under his clothes and his smile charming if one wasn’t careful. He could be anyone to a person from the Mainworld, but I knew better.
I knew the real reasons he kept up with his body, lifting weights nearly every morning and running around his block every evening. I knew why he wore the clothing of a less assuming man. He wanted to be your friend, someone to confide in and learn from. That way when he asked a girl to his office after hours, she was already enamored with him. When he gave them something to drink, or a piece of candy, or on the rare occasion he was spontaneous and used just his strength, they never saw it coming. I’d been drugged that way too many times to count. Usually when I woke, I was back at the Compound in my closet of a room. They usually came to in the back of a truck like they were livestock. From there, they would be transferred and divided all across Europe to Compounds and Owners who paid a hefty sum to cut out the middle man.
He was a Vulture just like the rest of them.
As soon as he saw me standing in his open doorway, he scrambled to clear his desk of the papers he was grading and invited me in. I noticed how his hands shook; no doubt my Owner had spoken to him prior to my arrival, and I could only guess what he’d said.
Keeping my eyes trained on the stone floor, I entered his cluttered office and shut the door behind me. There weren’t any classes because of the winter break, and I’d made sure everyone had gone for the day when we made this appointment.
“Thanks again for taking the time to see me,” he said, voice a little too high for his frame. “Please, have a seat.” He gestured to the leather armchair in front of his desk.
My leather boots squeaked with melted snow as I adjusted the strap of the unassuming backpack over my shoulder.
“Doe?” he asked as if to make sure. “Of House Chimera?”
I smiled politely, adding a modest nod of the head. I still hadn’t sat down, but he didn’t point it out to me. Maybe he thought I wasn’t allowed on the furniture. “Master Capelle of House Leopard?”
So far, I’d attended five of these meetings. The first time I was terrified of being more or less alone with Members, but each and every man and woman I’d interacted with had been overly polite. One offered me a diamond necklace as a thank you as if I was a queen, while others, like Master Capelle, thought it best to treat me as an equal.
“House Chimera,” he said with awe. “And the brave, brave girl who defeated the Wolf.” He cracked a smile, not bothering to conceal his lack of grief over the death of such a well-known Member.
It turned out, there were many who disliked Jäger and his entire House. The Wolf had screwed over or blackmailed each of the Members I’d visited, so I wasn’t at all surprised he felt the same way.
Capelle’s plan wasn’t unlike many of the other Members’. They wanted the Cerberus dust Jäger and House Wolf had engineered so they could more easily break in new slaves, so they could gather more and more. Each wanted to be the main supplier because that was where all the money lay, and each person I had made appointments with thought they were the only ones.
When Wolf Manor went up in flames, they had no one to buy the drug from. Fortunately for them, Jäger had unknowingly signed over all the rights to the formula to his slave. However, Jäger had no heir, and in the event that an Owner died, their slaves would go back to their Compounds or in my case, the person who last Owned them. Master Lyon had only released me for minutes, but the scars on my back would last forever. The memories from that night wouldn’t fade. Not until every one of the Vultures was dead and no longer reopening the wounds to feed themselves.
I’d learned a lot about what had really happened, but even now, I didn’t like thinking about it. I only wanted information pertinent to our plans. However, I knew the time was closing in on me and I would have to confront the truth.
The collar around my neck was subtle; a delicate gold chain of a choker with a matching gold chimera emblem dangling from the center of my throat. To the Mainworld, it was just a pretty piece of jewelry.
“And congratulations to you, Miss Doe,” he said, “on your good fortune.” He folded his hands on top of the desk as if I was his student and he was the one in control; I was another young, impressionable, potential new recruit with stars in her eyes. Had I not worn Master Lyon’s collar, that was exactly who I’d be to him.
Every creak of my jacket could be heard in the small silence that followed. I neared his desk as close as I could without slipping out of my role. “Thank you.” My voice sounded sweet, but everything within me was coated with Jäger’s blood.
This man would bleed the same. Suffer the same. I was the one in control now.
My expression turned from a casual smile to blank innocence. The kind men like him liked.
“I only meant that it’s good to see your previous suffering has come to a permanent end.” He was rambling now, mistaking my lack of conversation for offense. He didn’t sound nervous, but his muscles had tensed enough to tell me how he really felt: scared.
I smiled. “Of course, sir. Thank you.” I lowered my gaze in mock-embarrassment.
“There are few things worse than a bad Owner,” he went on. “It’s…good you have one who has your best interests in mind.”
Unexpectedly, the forced compliment shattered my already splintered chest, sending shards of bone and thorns through my body. I so wanted to believe this was true, but now was not the time to examine these things. I couldn’t control what had happened or why, but I could control this present moment, and I would take advantage of it.
I took off the backpack and it made a solid thud when set it on the surface of his desk. “I also like to share,” I said to get him back on track.
Now he seemed more than interested, sitting up straighter, gaze becoming more animated. “Is it anything like the powder or pills?”
Whether he figured I’d been testing it out willingly or he’d heard of Jäger’s darts—something else he had been trying to mass-market to the Order; a game to pass the time.
Unzipping the pack, I produced one of the black leather cases, unlatched the closure, and displayed the vials of liquid Cerberus lined up like pretty girls awaiting their Suitors.
As Capelle opened his mouth to say something else, I unzipped the front pouch of the backpack to take out a syringe wrapped in sterile plastic. Though I’d only done this a handful of times, everyone I visited always wanted a sample; proof I wasn’t trying to take their money without delivering what they’d asked for.
He wasted no time taking the needle from me, greedily unwrapping it and plunging the sharp tip into one of the vials as if he was a child and I’d just handed him a box of chocolates.
This had come to be my favorite part: watching as the unsuspecting Member roll up their sleeve, find a vein, and inject themselves with the drug they felt so entitled to Own like everything else.
I watched as the needle pierced his skin and he winced, believing this tiny pain was worth the effort of displaying his discomfort. Within a few moments, his head rolled backwards so his glossy eyes were directed at the ceiling, a grin spreading across his face.
“Wow,” he whispered after a while. I inched closer, mindful not to startle him. His head flopped in my direction and I froze. “I’ve always admired House Chimera…” He swallowed hard; his mouth was already dry. “Anyone can transform…” He trailed off with a slur.
A different, weaker version of myself would have looked upon him with pity; he had no idea what was about to happen and I did—had seen it before with all the others.
“This…” His limbs became heavy and when he lifted his hand it didn’t quite look right. “This is strong,” he said into his chest, no longer able to hold up his head.
His cheeks were flushed with the heat flooding his veins. The first cough was hardly audible—someone clearing their throat.
It was my signal to quietly pick up my props, conveniently leaving only the Cerberus serum he’d used, its needle still sticking out of his arm.
I was fortunate. Fortunate to come into all of Jäger’s wealth, and fortunate enough to be in the unique position of controlling, at least partly, who the magical formula could reach, and even more so to be in such a position to find experts who could manipulate that formula. Over the course of a few short months, they had delivered a poison that mimicked the Cerberus dust in every way but one: it killed the user the first time.