Editing for William Wilde and the Necrosed, Book 1 of The Chronicles of William Wilde took a lot longer than expected, but as a result, the manuscript is far better. I’ll probably have one more pass through at some point, but here’s a sneak peak.
Chapter 1: A Changed Life
Kohl Obsidian lifted his cleft nose to the cold, winter wind and tasted the air for blood. His wet nostrils made sucking noises as they flared in and out like filters. He inhaled deeply one last time before snarling silently. Blood aplenty suffused the air, but none of it held the delicious flavor of asra, the aroma of magic.
Nearby, an overturned car rested upon its roof. Oil, gas, and other liquids leaked onto the road, and a large dent, one shaped like Kohl’s bulky form, marred a door panel. Within the car slumped two dead humans, a man and a woman. A third, a youthful male, still clung to life.
Kohl hissed in annoyance.
Had the adults still lived, they could have served as a flesh depot for the Necrosed’s decaying form; he could have used a new heart. Of course, even the boy could function in such a role, but it had been his potential for lorethasra–the magic within him–that had drawn Kohl’s attention. That potential yet coursed through the youth’s veins, but without priming it would remain forever dormant. Forever untapped. Forever useless to Kohl’s needs.
Once again, the Necrosed hissed in annoyance as he surveyed the wreckage.
Movement along the road, though, brought a grim smile to the creature’s leathery lips and stone-like face. There had been one other survivor of Kohl’s recent attack. Another boy, likely a brother to the one trapped in the car. This one also had the potential for lorethasra, but it was weak and worthless, essentially an insult. And for such a sin Kohl had marked the boy with blood, shriven him with the corruption that flowed through a Necrosed.
That older boy, even now stumbling off with no clear direction of where he was going, would take years to die. Kohl had emptied all his weaknesses into the boy, made him a vessel for all his pain. The boy might suffer decades of anguish and loneliness, with no memories of his life to bring relief from his wretched state.
A fitting punishment for his uselessness. A nudge sent the useless youth into the woods where no one would find him.
Kohl watched the older youth stagger off into the dark before returning his attention to the car. What to do? No Necrosed, except their leader, Sapient Dormant, had ever possessed an easy ability to scheme, and Kohl pondered long before coming to realize that the boy trapped in the car might eventually be of use. Perhaps he was worth saving.
The Necrosed ripped off one of the vehicle’s doors and tore apart the seatbelt holding the boy in place. Kohl paused, studying the youth’s features. No, he realized. Not a boy. Almost a man. Kohl’s weak eyes hadn’t registered the truth until just now, but young man or a boy, it didn’t matter.
The Necrosed pulled the youth from the wreckage and carried him effortlessly to a nearby embankment; his joints grating like grinding gears. There, Kohl unceremoniously dropped the boy before turning back to the car. The dead within the vehicle were useless to him. Their corpses would burn.
With a gesture, black lighting poured from Kohl’s hands, and the car exploded into flames. The fire raised a smile on Kohl’s broken visage as the bodies within quickly burned to ashes. Destruction, death, and murder. Those were the hollow sentiments that drove a Necrosed, the actions that brought the forever dying a kind of pleasure.
Kohl again studied the boy he had spared. So young and weak, helpless as a worm. But perhaps the boy would one day come in contact with a saha’asra. Then his power would come to life. Then the worm would grow powerful in his lorethasra. Then he would prove useful to Kohl, ready for the harvest.
But to be kept safe, the boy would need strength, something his thin limbs and brittle build clearly lacked. He would need a sturdier frame. With a touch of his corrupted lorethasra, purified as best he could make it, Kohl changed the boy. A small change. Undetectable, but profound.
The first day of school marked summer’s end. A single sunrise to end lackadaisical days of cruising, movies, games, and golden sunshine as drowsy hours of boredom intermixed with transcendent bursts of clarity were traded in for hours of schoolroom tedium. The fact that the final days of August—sweltering and unbearable as they were—would also be banished, might have brought some sort of comfort, but none of these notions impressed William Wilde.
His thoughts drifted elsewhere.
The first day of school had him grinning like a Cheshire cat. For him, a charge filled the air, electric with potential and vibrantly glowing. Today meant happy reunions with friends not seen all summer long. Today meant new teachers and new classes for him to either love or hate. And most of all, today meant the joy of returning to his beloved St. Francis High School, this time as a newly minted senior. As such, there was no sadness for William on this, his last first day of school. There was only room for happiness.
“Wrong way,” Jason said, interrupting William’s thoughts.
William shot Jason a frown of confusion, but an instant later the meaning of Jason’s warning became clear. An involuntary, high-pitched yip escaped William’s mouth, and he pulled up short. He’d almost wandered into the girls’ bathroom.
“Jerk,” William growled. “You could have said something sooner.”
A moment later, an embarrassed flush chased away annoyance when Sonya Bowyer, the most beautiful, most popular girl at St. Francis High School, edged past William in order to exit the girls’ bathroom. Her face scrunched into an expression of disgust. “Freak,” she muttered as she slid past him. She had clearly assumed the worst regarding his intentions.
William shook his head in disbelief. Sonya Bowyer just had to be the one to witness his near mishap. “Guess everyone’s going to think I’m an even bigger dork than before, huh?”
Jason shrugged in his inimitable, laid-back fashion. “Probably not. They’re more likely to just think you’re a pervert.”
William’s coarse response elicited an openhearted, generous laugh, every bit as carefree as Jason himself. It bubbled from within with a kind of joy that often left William feeling wistful or envious. Even before his family had died last winter, he didn’t think he’d ever laughed the way Jason could, a realization that once more made him aware of what a mismatched pair they were.
Jason had only moved to the area a few years back—just him and his grandfather and right before the start of sophomore year of high school—but he’d quickly found his place at St. Francis. Everyone liked Jason. Probably something to do with his easy smile and his exotic appearance: blond, California-surfer good looks mixed with Polynesian dark skin.
William, on the other hand, had moved to Cincinnati when he was nine, but sometimes he still felt like an outsider. Maybe it was because of his North Carolina-mountain accent and his unique dark-skinned, dark-haired appearance. His dad had been Scotch-Irish and his mother from India, by way of Trinidad. But then again, there had been his older brother, Landon, who had shared the same features, skin tone, and accent as William, but who’d been every bit as well-liked and popular as Jason.
“Who do you have for homeroom?” Jason asked as they continued down the hall.
“Mrs. Wilkerson,” William answered.
“Doesn’t she have some kind of sweater contest every Christmas?” Jason asked.
“The uglier the better. Who do you have?”
“Didn’t he try to pressure you into trying out for the football team again this past summer?”
“Yeah,” Jason said with a self-deprecatory shrug. “He obviously knows greatness when he sees it.”
William rolled his eyes. “I’m sure that’s the reason.”
“Either that or he heard how I dusted Lance Owens in a race last spring.”
“If you didn’t want Coach’s attention, then maybe you shouldn’t have done that,” William noted. “Lance is supposed to be his fastest wide receiver.” He shook his head in disappointment. “Not too bright, are you?”
Their conversation paused when a group of harried-appearing students rushed past.
“Freshmen,” they muttered at the same time.
It was the same all down the hall. The freshmen, generally small, whippet-thin, and with worry plastered on their furrowed brows, slammed shut their lockers as they hurried along in their mad dash not to be late. Their eyes scrunched as their gazes flitted about in mild panic.
But, of course, seniors like William and Jason ambled along with a much slower, more confident pace. It was an unspoken rule that seniors were expected to maintain a certain decorum, a certain calm demeanor, and never reveal anything that might suggest they were intimidated by high school life. One guy even had a radio in his locker, playing Jack and Diane as he sorted through his books.
William paused when he noticed a girl–a tall, thin blonde–standing frozen in the middle of the hallway. Rather than looking fearful or worried, she wore the bewildered expression of a lost freshman as her gaze flitted between a paper in her hands–probably her class schedule–and nowhere in particular.
William felt an upwelling of sympathy for her. He still remembered what it had been like to be a freshman, new to the bustling hustle of St. Francis’s first day, to the harrying nature of it, and how relieved he’d been when an upperclassman had been kind enough to show him around.
“I can help you, if you like,” he offered.
She mutely handed over her class schedule.
William glanced at it. “It’s this way,” he told her. “I’m heading in the same direction.”
The warning bell for homeroom went off, and a surge of urgency filled the air.
“See you at lunch?” Jason called over his shoulder as he hurrie off toward a nearby set of stairs.
“Same bat time? Same bat table,” William answered.
“Dork,” Jason shouted.
William grinned before turning back to the girl. “You have a name?”
“Jessira.” Her voice had an odd, impossible-to-place accent.
“Nice to meet you, Jessira.” He held out his hand. “I’m William. We gotta run.”
They sprinted down the rapidly thinning hall, dashing around other students hustling to their homerooms and off into the old wing of the school, down some stairs, up some stairs, down another hall, and up one more flight of steps.
“Here you go,” William said, delivering Jessira to her homeroom. “Your first class is back in the new wing, not far from my own, so if you want I can show you where it is after homeroom.
Jessira’s face broke into a relieved grin. “I’d very appreciate that.”
Again, William noted her odd accent. “I’ll see you then.” He doffed an imaginary hat before racing to his own homeroom, barely making it before the bell rang.
As a result his seating choices were limited. Only one desk remained unoccupied, and William sighed when he saw that it sat next to Jake Ridley, the bane of his existence. The two of them had clashed ever since they’d first met in fifth grade. In William’s opinion, Jake put the ‘jack’ in jackass, and his girlfriend just happened to be the lovely Sonya Bowyer.
She sat next to him and whispered in his ear. The two of them briefly flicked their attention to him before breaking out in laughter.
William’s face burned as he remembered the incident at the girls’ bathroom, and their mocking laughter triggered a fiery knot of anger in William’s chest. It flared like heartburn.
Before the car accident that had killed his parents and his brother—all of them burned to mere ashes in the flames—William had been low-key, almost laconic. Now it didn’t take much to get him heated up, sometimes a cross word or challenging glare was all it took. The anger always lay there, bubbling right below the surface, waiting to be let loose.
He stared at Jake for a hard instant before forcing his unconsciously clenched fists to relax and took a deep, cleansing breath. He shoved down his anger and took the empty seat.
Seconds later, Mrs. Wilkerson strode into the room. Their homeroom teacher was a small woman with tidy, white hair pulled back in a bun, and wire-rimmed glasses that perched on the tip of her nose. She peered over the edge of them and glanced around the room with a sardonic smile on her seamed face. “I know you’re seniors, and you think you should get to do things on your own terms, but in here we’ll still have assigned seating.” Her voice had a trace of a German accent. “That’s to say, don’t get too comfortable in your seats.”
A rumble of groans met her words, but a few minutes later she had the room reorganized, and the muttered complaints and conversations slowly faded.
“Good,” Mrs. Wilkerson said. “Now that we have that out of the way, we can go over my expectations for homeroom.”
Just then a middle-aged woman, a secretary from the principal’s office, minced into the room, her wooden-soled stilettoes tapping. She whispered to Mrs. Wilkerson, who listened intently before looking over in William’s direction.
“You’re wanted in the principal’s office,” Mrs. Wilkerson said.
William arose from his seat. “Is something wrong, ma’am?” he asked as he approached. A stab of unreasonable worry rose. His stomach hollowed, and his heart raced. Unexpected panic—fear for no reason—had also become a common part of his life since the death of his family. “Is Mr. Zeus hurt? Am I in trouble?”
“Who’s Mr. Zeus?” Mrs. Wilkerson asked with a frown of confusion.
“Jason Jacob’s grandfather. I live with him now.”
Mrs. Wilkerson’s face cleared. “Ah, yes. Pardon me. I forgot your home situation. But not to worry, Mr. Wilde. Nothing’s wrong. No one’s injured. There’s merely a new student in school. We only found out about her today, and Principal Walter wants you to show her around. It turns out the two of you have the same class schedule.”
“Come along,” the secretary commanded with an imperious snap of her fingers.
“Yes, ma’am,” William said, and they set off for the administrative offices.
Once there, the secretary gestured for him to have a seat. “She’s meeting with the principal. They should be finished up in a little bit.”
Which in adult-speak really meant twenty or thirty minutes.
“Yes, ma’am.” William sank into a hard, plastic chair and settled in for a long wait.
Muzak played in the background. Ugh! Soul rot. William wished he’d brought something to read. Anything to distract from the horrific strains of faux violins trying and failing to capture the badassery of Billy Idol’s White Wedding.
He glanced around. An old edition of Sports Illustrated from a few years back rested on a nearby table and caught his attention. Michael Jordan graced the cover. William mentally snorted. Jordan was just a scorer. He’d never be as good as Magic or Bird. As William flipped through the SI, trying but unable to ignore the Muzak, he prayed that Principal Walter would soon finish up with the new student.
He knew it would be unlikely, but . . .
The door to Principal Walter’s office opened, and William perked up.
“If you have any other concerns, please let us know,” Principal Walter said in his hearty baritone to someone in his office.
“I’ll be sure to,” a young woman replied in a confident contralto. It also held a hint of . . . was that mockery?
William sat up further, his curiosity piqued.
The new student, whatever her name was, exited Principal Walter’s office, but her back remained toward William. He couldn’t see her face, but he could see enough. Tall and slim, she had dark hair that cascaded to her shoulders, and if her face was anything like the rest of her . . .
“I know changing schools in the middle of high school can be difficult,” Principal Walter said in sympathy, “but we’ll do anything you need to make the transition easier.”
“It’s more difficult than you know,” the girl said with that same barely heard hint of amused irony.
“Of course,” Principal Walter said with a brief smile.
The girl glanced toward William, and his heart picked up the pace. Sonya Bowyer suddenly had stiff competition for being the prettiest girl in school.
“Mr. Wilde. Come meet our new student,” Principal Walter said. “You’ll be showing her around.”
William stood, and sent a silent prayer of gratitude that his hands weren’t sweaty.
“William Wilde,” he said, offering his hand to the girl.
“Serena Paradiso,” she replied, taking his hand in a firm grip and shaking it. Her full lips were turned up in a smile, and her dark eyes sparkled with amusement.
“Well, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Wilde,” Principal Walter said, “and with him to show you around, I’m sure you’ll have no problems settling in.”
“I’m sure Mr. Wilde will make sure I have no problems at all,” Serena replied in her cool, composed voice.
She held William’s gaze all the while, and he began to fidget. Her regard held an intensity that he found unnerving.
The principal eyed her uncertainly before clearing his throat. “Yes. Well, the two of you better head on back to your homeroom. First bell starts in a few minutes.”
“Please lead the way, Mr. Wilde,” Serena said with a sweeping gesture.
“William. My name is William,” he corrected her, leading her out of the administrative offices.
“And your preference is that I call you William?”
She spoke in a formal manner, and William studied her in momentary puzzlement before answering. “Yes. No one calls me ‘Mr. Wilde.’”
“Then perhaps I shall be the first,” Serena replied with a half-smile.
“I’d prefer if you wouldn’t,” William said.
Serena held him with her disconcerting gaze for a beat before facing forward. “As you wish,” she said.
William eyed her sidelong. Pretty girls tended to put him off-balance, and Serena was definitely pretty. He tried not to trip over his feet as they continued down the empty hallway.
Serena chuckled, low and throaty. “Or perhaps I’ll call you Will.”
William grimaced. “Please don’t.” Only his parents and his brother had ever called him Will.