The Vanished Knight (The War of Six Crowns, #1) by M Gerrick by M Gerrick - Read Online
The Vanished Knight (The War of Six Crowns, #1)
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Summary

The entity living inside Callan's soul orphaned her at age eleven. By the time she's sixteen, it's ensured her being shunted from one foster family to another. 

Her thirteenth foster assignment should be routine. Except...it's not. A psycho in medieval armor kidnaps her and she ends up in a magical world. There, she accidentally discovers a secret her parents had kept until the day they died. 

Both actually came from this magical world, but left before Callan was born. To cover their tracks, they'd lied about everything. Even who they really were. 

Driven to find out where she comes from, Callan's trapped in a race for life and death. Walking away isn't an option, but if she stays too long, the entity will find its next victim. 

In this world where secrets are sacrosanct and grudges are remembered, finding the truth will be near impossible. Especially when Callan has her own homicidal little secret to deal with. 

One with a taste for destroying her life.

Published: Five Muses Press on
ISBN: 9780994672605
List price: $2.99
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The Vanished Knight (The War of Six Crowns, #1) - M Gerrick

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The War of Six Crowns:

The Vanished Knight

M Gerrick

THE WAR OF SIX CROWNS: THE VANISHED KNIGHT

Copyright 2015 Misha Gericke

All rights reserved.

Published by Five Muses Press, 2015

Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

No parts of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. Under no circumstances may any part of this book be photocopied for resale.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between the characters and situations within its pages and places or persons, living or dead, is unintentional and co-incidental.

Cover Image for The Vanished Knight is a derivative of "The Sovereign Limited Edition Medieval Sword" by Søren Niedziella, used under CC BY 2.0. Image was cropped and had exposure changed.

Cover and interior design by Misha Gericke

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Table of Contents

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Preview Chapter

The War of Six Crowns Book Two

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Dedication

To my mother who supported me;

my friends who helped me;

and my grandmother,

who showed me that creating stories is a wonderful thing.

Chapter One

The damp air reeked of blood. Callan staggered back in an effort to escape the scent, but immediately lost her bearings in the dusky light.

Fog distorted everything. Shouts and screams and clashes thundered nearby. She ran toward the noise, through looming black shadows that turned out to be trees. They fell away with a sharp cliff, forcing Callan to stop. The sounds drew her closer to the edge and she found a battle raging on a road in the ravine below.

Red-clad soldiers flung themselves at those in black, slashing them apart. Red archers shot flaming arrows from the opposite cliff, completely overwhelming their enemies. The few arrows that missed the soldiers in black hit old, yellowed leaves, lighting them like kindling. Callan watched, transfixed by dancing flames and flashing blades.

Don’t kill him! The voice shouting the order sent shivers down her neck. Something about it stirred the evil entity in her soul to life. It stretched, filling her with dread.

Callan cried out and woke up. She pried her eyes open and did an internal check. No…the entity had only stirred. It hadn’t escaped the cage she kept it in. She pressed her pillow to her face and moaned. The entity frequently kept her awake with dreams of medieval knights hacking each other apart. It used her subconscious against her, cruelly turning the heroic bedtime stories her father used to tell her into torture. This wasn’t any different from any of the others.

Jittery. That’s what she was. She’d made it through one fostering without someone getting hurt. Today she’d finish packing and go to the next. And she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. The entity stirred again, mocking her. She shut her eyes and pushed at it, making sure it stayed behind its confines.

It did.

Callan got up and drove her fingers into her tangled mess of hair. She barely had space to move now that her trusty old suitcase was out and packed. Even on the best of days, her closet of a room didn’t have space. She could touch both drab walls by stretching out her arms.

The suitcase barely weighed a thing when she lifted it onto her unmade bed.

She checked one last time that she hadn’t left anything out. Only the too big T-shirt she’d slept in remained. She pulled it off and put it into the suitcase before starting her morning routine. Her outfit for today waited in the small wardrobe stuffed into the corner. She went to it and got dressed. Loose, hand-me-down jeans. Huge, baggy sweater.

She used the mirror to put on her makeup, changing her skin tone from fair to pale. Then she brushed her dull, mousy colored frizz until it acted like an impenetrable curtain about her face.

Now, she was ready to face the new foster family, whoever they were. She hadn’t bothered to find out details. It didn’t matter as long as they didn’t take her too far from the riding club where she worked.

She needed the money to buy herself a life once she was old enough to leave the foster care system. Only two more years to the big eighteen, then she’d be a tiny bit freer from the constant worry nagging her.

After one last check in the mirror, Callan lugged the suitcase down the narrow staircase and into the kitchen. All the cupboards were locked. Callan shook her head and dug in her jeans’ pocket for two hairpins. She kept them for exactly this sort of emergency. After boosting herself onto a counter, she stuck the pins into the lock and easily worked it open. This was why she’d been the one to call the foster worker for once. The woman who’d fostered her wanted a free maid. And had locked the food and everything else away as if Callan was a criminal.

She took a box of cereal from the shelf and ate it dry, too lazy to unlock the fridge. The phone rang and she picked it up, still munching. Her caseworker, informing her that her foster parents would arrive in a black car. Their name was Braden.

Callan sighed and hung up.

*  *  *

Braving the cold for two slices of last night’s margarita pizza.

Whose genius idea had that been?

James Braden rushed to the grand staircase leading into the white foyer. Ward’s bare feet slapped the marble behind him. The frigid floors sent little shocks of cold up James’s legs.

Stupid house. He’d protested the move. Loudly. But no. Only Ward’s opinions mattered and when asked, Ward had shrugged and said moving house would be for the better. Ward wasn’t even a Braden! James’s parents were only his guardians.

James muttered a few soft curses, letting them out in a string of foggy breath. His feet touched the third step from the top when a knock at the door echoed through the cavernous foyer.

The new butler hustled to the door and opened it. James and Ward stopped on the staircase to see who entered.

James Braden, Sr. trudged in, weighed down with shopping bags. This looked promising. It could be the new iPod James wanted. Or maybe even a new games console.

Do check on my wife, his father said to the butler and lowered his voice confidentially. She went mad with her shopping today.

James shifted his weight from foot to foot, waiting to be noticed. Ward’s brows lifted just a fraction.

The butler hurried out and returned toting about twenty bags from designer boutiques.

Mad indeed. James glanced at Ward when the butler dropped the bags and went out for another load.

Whoa, Ward breathed, Diana did some serious shopping.

James Sr. glanced up at them—or more specifically, at Ward. James gripped the frigid balustrade.

You boys ready for school? James Sr. asked Ward.

James’s knuckles whitened.

Yes, sir, he interjected before Ward had a chance to reply.

His father finally looked at his own son. The butler hurried in with yet another load of bags. More women’s labels.

James could hear his mother behind the man, chatting away with someone else. On her cell phone?

Diana Braden breezed in like a queen walking into her domain. No bags. No phone. She turned her head and spoke to someone behind her. An urchin in an oversized and faded jersey followed her into the foyer.

Another charity case then.

James frowned and resumed his search for one bag that might be for him. Maybe he missed it.

His stomach grumbled, reminding him of his original mission. He nudged Ward and took a step down. The motion drew his mother’s gaze and she beamed up at them. An unnamed fear settled in the pit of James’s stomach. His mother never looked at both of them. Her focus always zoomed in on Ward.

What had she done?

Oh good, she said. I was about to find you. How are you doing?

Fine, and you? Ward answered for them both.

James scrutinized the street urchin standing behind his mother. It didn’t move. Not to leave. Not to go to the kitchen. Not even to fidget. It just stood there, face turned down, with its sleeves hanging limply past its hands. The jersey and the dull, frizzy hair obscured any indication of the urchin’s gender, but James got the feeling it was a girl. His parents clearly didn’t mind her loitering in their pristine white foyer. Usually they’d give the charity cases food and send them off without letting them in. Except for Ward. Ward had come for a visit when he and James were eight. He’d never left.

James’s insides went cold.

I’m fine, thank you, dear, his mother said. James.

He snapped his attention back to her. Yes, Mother?

You two come down here quickly. I want you to meet your sister. The words rolled off her tongue with practiced ease.

His fingers twitched. Sister? Even though he closed his hand into the tightest fist he could manage, his rage burned through his attempts to control his emotions.

Sister? Ward echoed, further fanning the inferno within James.

Yes, dear. We fetched her today.

James shut his eyes.

Some things should always be discussed with family. Things like business trips, moving house, a family member’s death…and the adoption of a sister. James’s parents dropped the ball on every item of the ever-growing list.

Every.

Fucking.

Time.

Maybe they loved him out of parental obligation. He was their son. Their only one. They had to, right?

Yet there he was, on his parents’ return from an unexpected trip from God knew where, standing in the foyer of a house he never wanted to move to, staring down on an unwanted sister meant to replace the one he’d lost.

James opened his eyes and glared at her, but his effort went wasted. His parents nudged the unwilling urchin forward. For all the attention she paid, her attitude remained borderline catatonic.

She stayed where the Bradens put her, as still as the pillars lining the foyer, staring at an imagined spot on the immaculate white floors.

I’m sorry, he started, fighting to keep his control intact. But when she looked up, her expression uncaring and aloof, every past grievance he’d experienced for the past eight years came to the fore. How dare she be so blasé about her presence here?

I would have given you a warm welcome…except I had no idea you even existed! His shouted words sent her eyes behind a wild curtain of drab frizz. Look at that, he said. As timid as a mouse.

Ward’s hand settled on his shoulder and squeezed, but James shook it off. Diana Braden’s cheeks blazed. Her body tensed with barely controlled fury.

Ward’s nervous chuckle fell flat in the charged atmosphere. Wow, Mrs. B. You sure pulled a big one on us today.

He rounded on Ward. Anything else to share?

He kept his voice down so his parents didn’t hear the vehemence directed at their old pet.

No, Ward mumbled, and broke from James’s stare.

You sure?

Ward nodded.

James returned the nod and snarled. Then shut up.

Ward opened his mouth to say something, but James turned back to his parents.

Ward, Callan, could you please give us a few minutes alone? Diana Braden’s words were civil enough, but the angry pink tinge on her cheeks gave her away.

I’m sorry, Ward whispered before leading the urchin to the kitchen.

James watched him leave and fought to leash his temper.

She did nothing to deserve that, his mother snapped at him.

He stared at his toes for five beats. You’re right. I’m sorry. Where did you meet her?

His parents turned to each other for reassurance. James growled under his breath and waited for them to decide what they should tell and which truths they should delay for maximum impact.

She’s a trainer at our riding club in London, his father said.

They had a riding club in London? Fancy that.

We felt sorry for her, his mother murmured.

Aha. He answered that statement with harsh laughter. Are you serious?

You didn’t see her at the club, James.

He started to interrupt, but his mother brought up an open hand to stop him. She just…collapsed in on herself. When I looked in her eyes—

The retort jumped out of James’s mouth before he could stop it. Let me guess, suddenly you wanted a new daughter.

His mother’s face reddened further. James bit the tip of his tongue. If he wanted the urchin gone, he had to make them doubt their decision. His mother continued as if he hadn’t spoken. And she’s so…

Perfect timing. Scheming perhaps? Oh and talented—gifted even, he supplied with as much venom as he could muster and followed up with a pitying shake of his head. I can’t believe you two could be so naive.

That would be all it took. His mobile’s message tone jarred the brief silence between them.

No, his father protested. She’s not like that.

James pulled the phone from his pocket. He read the message. Some girl he’d flirted with at school.

Yes. Yes she is. James said as casually as he could and snapped the mobile closed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Ward’s waiting for me. He headed downstairs.

We are not finished with this conversation, his father blustered.

James paused at the bottom step and lifted an eyebrow to anger his father even more. Yes, we are. You finished this conversation for me the moment you decided to take in a human being without as little as a warning. He waited for his words to settle in and fertilize the seed of doubt he’d planted. I get that. God knows you do it often enough. But what I don’t get is Little Orphan Annie hitting the jackpot because you two refuse to realize it’s staged. You don’t know her. How do you even know what she’s like? She could be an ax murderer for all you know. But you don’t think about it. Not in your quest to play Happy Family.

He sauntered past his parents and pulled open the kitchen door. The girl stood right in front of him. His parents gasped at the sight of her. She could have listened in all this time. Had she? She didn’t look bothered even if she had.

She took a small step back and ventured a peek at his parents. James held his breath. If she appealed to their sympathy—if she said anything, really—she’d shoot his strategy to hell.

The girl glanced over his face, making him shudder. In his whole life, he’d never met someone who had such dark, stony eyes. They held no visible emotion. She had the ashen complexion of a corpse.

Callan took off her earphones and her pale lips turned up into a reptilian smile. Um…where’s the bathroom?

James almost cried with relief. She didn’t even know what she’d missed.

He pointed his thumb over his shoulder. Ask your parents.

He shoved past her into the kitchen. Ward waited for him at the counter. As soon as the door swung shut, James shook his head at himself.

Okay, so maybe that had been an overreaction. He had no idea whether anything he’d accused her of was true. But the girl would threaten the way of life he’d grown used to. He’d sprout another arm before tolerating that. Even if the girl had to be collateral damage.

Ward pushed a plate to the spot before James’s breakfast chair. The scrape of porcelain on marble gave James an extra reality check. He sat down and rubbed his face.

Interesting. Ward inspected his congealed pizza slice.

James took a bite of his own. Tasted like shit. He dropped it onto his plate. You spoke to her?

Ward shrugged one shoulder. She didn’t say anything back.

No surprise there. Creepy looks or no, the urchin didn’t even have the personality of a wilting flower. Did she do anything?

Nope.

James sighed and picked the pizza slice up again.

Whether she was a freak or not wasn’t relevant. Whether she really put herself out to be adopted didn’t matter.

She had to go.

Chapter Two

Callan followed Mrs. Braden through the pristine house, keeping her expression blank. Behind her mask of indifference, Callan seethed over James Braden’s insinuations. What gave him the right to judge her for something she had no control over? He had no more of a clue to her past than his parents.

She gripped the inside of her sweater’s sleeve. His instant hatred didn’t bode well. He looked sharp. If she didn’t steer clear of him, he might find a way to make her time here worse. The whole situation made her queasy, but at least she knew what she was up against.

Iron Man, Ice Queen, Devil’s Spawn, and the Honorable Mute.

She grinned, ducking her head so that Mrs. Braden wouldn’t notice. Her stomach settled a bit.

What did it make her? What had James said? Little Orphan Annie.

Mrs. Braden halted by the bathroom. Here you go.

Callan forced a shy smile and slipped in. After shutting the door, she went to the mirror for a hair and makeup check. Her reflection held the same interest as a plastic houseplant.

She nodded and sat down on the toilet lid, unable to escape the feeling of being trapped in a twisted dream.

Her real mum would never have done something like adopting a child without telling Callan. Hours of talks in their secret language, Laris, attested to that. No…her parents’ secrecy had only extended as far as their pasts. It had hurt and when they died; it left her with almost nothing to connect to.

Diana’s disregard of James gave Callan chills. Just like this tomb pretending to be a house. No wonder James was warped. Poor thing.

No. No sympathy. No emotions. No attachments. No involvement. They cost too much.

Mrs. Braden’s inability to form warm attachments helped Callan. It meant that she’d be passed on as soon as the rumors surfaced. Or when the evil entity living inside her came out to play. Maybe sooner if James put up a big fight.

Callan pressed her hands to her neck and felt her pulse slow down. She had no illusions that this would be a permanent arrangement. She got up and flushed the toilet, then took her time washing her hands and taking a drink from the faucet. Her throat only ached a little. It always hurt when a new family member didn’t like her—no matter how much she tried to stay aloof. At least her heart didn’t break like it used to. Callan could face them all with the necessary composure now.

One last glance in the mirror to make sure. Her sad