Jyoti has felt like an outcast all her life. Living among Psi with extraordinary power can be isolating and dangerous when you have no power of your own. But in weakness there is strength, a strength Jyoti’s mother has been training her to use to her advantage. When rumors of war begin circulating, Jyoti is offered an opportunity to help protect her people. However, it would mean giving up what she loves most. But when she finds out about a weapon that could cause the destruction of all mankind, she begins to question everything, even her own heart.
What do you do when protecting the greater good means you’ll lose everything you love?
10 years Earlier
My breath burst from me as I ran up the path and through the trees. Tears blurred my vision, and I tried to blink them away before I fell again. My knees already stung from tripping over a tree branch behind me. I ducked under a low hanging pine tree, not stopping as the needles caught in my hair, yanking strands loose from my braid.
“Come on, Jyoti,” Harmony’s voice called from behind me. “Don’t be like that. We were just kidding around.”
Sure, they were kidding around and as usual, I was the butt of their jokes. I bit my lip and forced my legs to keep moving until I could see the break in the trees ahead. Just a little further and I would be back at the estate. I needed to get back before they caught up with me, or before they did more than laugh at me and push me around.
A pathetic scream burst from my lungs as an invisible force threw me forward. I hit the ground face first at the edge of the treeline. Pain shot up my nose and into my forehead as I tried to scramble up, but the heel of a boot pressed down on the middle of my back, forcing me back down in the dirt. My already scraped face rubbed against the rough earth, as soil and the scent of my blood wafted up my nose.
“Going somewhere?” Harmony’s singsong voice asked from above me. She was the only girl I’d ever met who could sound nice while being so mean.
“Please,” I tried. Tears streamed down my cheeks and mingled with the blood running from my nose.
“Please!” A girl named Bella mocked me. “She’s pathetic.”
“Hmmm,” Harmony hummed in agreement. She tossed her blonde hair over her shoulder, her grey eyes narrowing as they met mine.
“It’s hard to believe someone as cool as Darshan could have such a lame sister.” One of the other girls leaned down, grabbing my braid in her fist. “He’d be able to have more fun with the rest of us if he didn’t have to always babysit you.” My scalp burned as she yanked my head back by my hair.
My twin brother Darshan was handsome like my father, and all the girls had crushes on him. It’s why they only picked on me when he wasn’t around. Unlike my brother, I was small and still had my baby fat. Not to mention I was pathetically weak. All the other Psi children had been developing powers since they were three. But me? My powers had never come. At first my parents had just thought I was a late bloomer, but the older I got, the more I could feel it. I wasn’t a late bloomer. I was defective.
“Stop it,” I cried, but my tears and the fact that I was on the ground make my words sound weak and pathetic. As weak and pathetic as I was. I had been such a fool to think that Harmony’s invitation had been out of kindness. I thought that maybe just this once she had actually wanted to include me—to maybe even be friends. But it was all a cruel joke. “Please, just leave me alone.”
“What if we don’t want to?” Harmony leaned down and the girl pulling my hair yanked harder.
“Mummy,” the word escaped my lips in a whimper. They laughed and my face burned in shame. I don’t know why I’d cried for my mum. My dad was more likely to protect or comfort me than she was.
“Are you seriously crying for your mommy?” Bella giggled. “What a baby.”
“If you don’t leave her alone, you’ll be the ones crying for their mommies,” a voice I didn’t recognize said.
The girl holding my hair let go, but Harmony kept her foot on my back. “Who said that?”
“I’m right here,” the voice said. It was a girl, but I couldn’t tell much else from my spot on the ground.
“Show yourself,” Harmony demanded.
“Why?” the voice asked.
“It’s cowardly to hide.”
“No more cowardly than picking on someone who isn’t as strong as you,” the voice was suddenly behind Harmony.
She jerked away from the sound and removed her foot from my back. “We were just playing a game.” Harmony retreated closer to her friends.
“Well, I love games,” the voice said as I rolled over. “Should we play one now?”
I searched the empty space for an outline of the mystery girl, but I couldn’t see her. She was cloaking herself, and she was very good at it.
Bella gripped Harmony’s sleeve, but Harmony shook her off and sniffed. “I don’t feel like playing anymore. I’m tired of games.”
“And I’m tired of stupid girls who pick on people for fun,” the voice snapped.
Harmony gasped as someone grabbed her by the front of her blue cashmere sweater and yanked her away from her friends. The other girl’s eyes widened, but they didn’t do or say anything to help her. “Cowards,” Harmony hissed at them, the singsong way she’s spoken while torturing me moments before was gone. With a mild dose of smug satisfaction, I realized she looked scared. I swiped tears from my cheeks with the back of my hand. Good.
“You’re as big of a coward as they are.” The invisible girl shook her. “If I see you bother this girl—no—if I see your face again, I’ll make sure you bleed just like you made her bleed.”
“You can’t say that to me. I live here!”
“Then you better find a place to hide until we leave,” the girl let go of Harmony’s shirt.
“You can’t—” there was a crack and Harmony’s hand flew to her cheek as deep red blossomed where an invisible hand had slapped her.
“Try me,” the voice growled before shoving the other girl. Hard. Harmony stumbled and fell on her backside. That seemed to be enough to snap her friends out of their scared stupor. They rushed forward to help her, but Harmony shoved their hands away and got up herself. Her eyes met mine, and they narrowed. You’ll pay for this, Jyoti. She hissed into my mind before turning and running off, her friends trailing behind her.
“Are you okay?”
I realized the question was directed at me and I looked over to where a girl who looked to be able my age now stood. She was skinny, all elbows and knees, with wild hair and a million freckles.
I blinked. “What?”
“I asked if you’re okay. You’re bleeding.” She motioned to my nose.
She was right. Blood was pouring from my nose. It dripped down my chin and was soaking into the collar of my shirt. “I’m okay.” I pressed the sleeve of my sweater to my nose and winced.
“Here,” the girl reached a hand down to me. “I’m Alessia.” She carefully helped me to my feet.
I knew her name. She was the girl my father had said he was going to get from an orphanage. She was going to stay with us. I hadn’t known what to expect, but someone who might be on my side wasn’t it.
“Are you Jyoti?” Alessia asked.
I nodded and winced again. Something was very wrong with my nose. Even the slightest movement was making it throb.
Alessia’s brow crunched. “It looks like it’s broken. I broke my nose a couple of years ago. It hurt like hell, but once I got it healed, it was good as new.” She wrapped an arm around my shoulders and led me towards the path that led to the sprawling country estate we were visiting.
We were just walking up the long gravel path through the garden, towards the back door of the house, when I spotted my mother. She stood in the doorway, her hands on her hips, and began shaking her head the moment she saw us coming.
“What were you thinking?” She asked as we approached her.
I licked my nips nervously, the iron of my blood coating my tongue. “I’m sorry, Mum. I just wanted—”
“Wanted to what?” She asked. “To fit in?” I ducked my head, but she reached out and gripped my chin. It wasn’t a tender touch, but at least she was gentle as she tipped my head back and took in my face. “You’ll never be like them, Jyoti,” her voice was hard as she spoke. “You may as well do yourself a favor and stop trying.”
From the corner of my eye, I saw Alessia’s mouth drop. She stepped forward. “She didn’t do anything wrong. Those girls were the ones hurting her.”
“Of course they were,” my mum snapped. “Thank you for finding her, but I think you should go back inside now.”
Alessia glanced at me, opening her mouth like she might argue, and something in my chest swelled with gratitude. But I shook my head and tried to smile behind the blood and swelling in my face. “Thank you for helping me, but I’m fine now.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course she’s sure.” My mum sighed. “Please leave us.”
Alessia’s hands clenched into fists at her sides, but she nodded and didn’t argue as she turned and ran back inside.
“Oh, Jyoti.” My mum clicked her tongue in distaste as she gripped my arm and pulled me aside to a bench further away from the house. “Sit. I’ll heal you here, so we don’t drip blood on the Councilman’s floors.”
I sat, feeling the hard iron against my thighs as my legs swung over the edge of the bench. Even at twelve, my legs were too short to touch the ground. She pressed a hand to my nose, and I felt the familiar burn of her power. My nose cracked, and I cried out, fresh tears springing to my eyes as she set it back in place. A few moments later, the pain eased, and the bleeding stopped. My mum didn’t speak as she moved onto my knees and began healing the scrapes on them. She plucked a piece of gravel from one of the deeper cuts and tossed it aside with disgust.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“Sorry?” she scoffed. “You’re sorry?”
“Why, Jyoti? Why are you sorry?”
“For going with them—for letting them hurt me.” Tears streamed down my cheeks. “For being so useless and weak and an embarrassment to the family.”
My mum’s head snapped up. “Is that what you think you are? An embarrassment?”
I lifted my shoulder in a shrug.
She sighed and leaned back against the bench. “You’re right, Jyoti. You are weak,” she said, her eyes on the surrounding hedges.
I bit the inside of my cheek, trying to push back the sting of her words.
“But,” she turned and looked at me. “You have never been an embarrassment and you’re only as useless as you choose to be. The question is, do you want to be useless?”
I shook my head. “No, I want to be useful. But I also want to be strong. Not weak.”
My mum smiled, cupping both sides of my face. “Let them think you’re weak, Jyoti. Let them underestimate you. In the end, you’ll shatter them all.”
Natalie J. Reddy is a Canadian Author who spends her days trying to escape reality by making up stories about the characters in her head.
Natalie realized at an early age that she had a passion for storytelling and that passion followed her into adulthood. There is nothing she loves more than to be pulled into a fictional world whether it’s in her own writing or the writing of others. Natalie is the author of the Scar of Days Forgotten series, a New Adult Urban Fantasy series with characters who have supernatural abilities and dark and sometimes unknown pasts to overcome.
When she’s not writing, Natalie can be found having all sorts of real-life adventures with her husband and daughter or curled up with a good book and a cup of tea.