Enjoy millions of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more, with a free trial

Only $11.99/month after trial. Cancel anytime.

The Reader: The Rifters, #3
The Reader: The Rifters, #3
The Reader: The Rifters, #3
Ebook314 pages2 hours

The Reader: The Rifters, #3

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars



Read preview

About this ebook

With the rift closed for the season and no more monsters to fight, Daelin Long gets bored as librarian in the podunk town of Settler, Oregon. A job interview and her brother’s arrival present a tempting opportunity to escape, until her brother and her best friend, a ghost, disappear.

While Daelin searches for them, more mysteries pile up: dead people coming back to life, portraits of the town founders replaced with strange white trees, and people on the other side of the rift returning. It’s impossible. The portal that allows monsters from other universes to come to Earth is sealed until next summer.

The Rifters, a secret group protecting our world, believe the troubles are nothing more than the tantrums of an offended ghost. Daelin disagrees. If she’s right, the evil hell-bent on destroying Earth has new technology making the rift more deadly.

Before the monster summons the next apocalypse, Daelin must find it and destroy it.

Book 3 in the Rifter series.

PublisherM. Pax
Release dateNov 21, 2015
The Reader: The Rifters, #3
Read preview

M. Pax

Can also find my books in print at B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/m.-pax M. Pax is author of the sci-fi series, The Backworlds, and the new adult science fiction fantasy The Renaissance of Hetty Locklear. A Browncoat and SG fan, she’s also slightly obsessed with Jane Austen. In the summers she docents as a star guide at Pine Mountain Observatory where the other astronomers now believe she has the most extensive collection of moon photos in existence. No fear, there will be more next summer. She lives in stunning Central Oregon with the Husband Unit and two lovely, spoiled cats.

Read more from M. Pax

Related to The Reader

Titles in the series (5)

View More

Related articles

Related categories

Reviews for The Reader

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

1 rating1 review

What did you think?

Tap to rate

Review must be at least 10 words

  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I received an advanced reader's copy from the author for an honest review.

    Mary Pax has done it again with her third book in The Rifters series. She has spun a tale of intrigue, mystery, horror, family, friendship, and love.

    The characters are so well developed you feel as if you know them.

    All Daelin wants is to find her sister, keep her brother safe, so her family can be reunited. And, if she has to fight monsters to do it, she will.

    The story had my spine chilled more than once with its creepy weirdness and downright scary spookiness.

    I also laughed with Daelin over the eccentric residents of Settler. And, cried with her and other characters over their secrets and heartache.

    This was a page turner that was difficult to put down. I looked forward to this book after reading the first two in the series, and I will look forward to the fourth. It's like Settler has become a real place in my mind and I care about these characters.

Book preview

The Reader - M. Pax

For her sister, Daelin Long would do anything, including remaining in a dinky town in the middle of nowhere. At the beginning of summer, she had hopes of fitting in and enjoying an exciting new life in an out-of-the-way corner of Oregon. However, after defeating a murderous phantom and a swarm of volcanic bees, she had a horde of secrets, deadly secrets. She couldn’t be close to anyone.

She spent nights sitting among the silent trees and the days dusting moldering library books, wishing for a life in which she could fully take part instead of a life on loan waiting for her sister to return. And her sister hadn’t come home, disappearing through the rift with the conquered beasts. More troubling, Daelin’s sister would be trapped on the other side until the portal reopened next June.

Daelin and her sister had grown up close, relying on one another to get through the trials of an unreliable mother. Imagining her days without her sister, Charming, shook Daelin, threatening to erase the flimsy grounding she had.

The emptiness of the desert wind of Central Oregon swept through her soul. Hugging her puffy, green coat tightly, she didn’t glance at the two obsidian pillars dominating the clearing among the pines, or the boulder that had become her favorite perch to guard against possible dangers. Between the pillars, the mysterious rift formed and connected forty-two universes. It opened only during the summer, often dispensing monsters worse than nightmares. No one knew how the rift had started or why it had come to be. It existed, and Earth needed to be protected.

The rift closes without much happening. I was hoping for more action, Sabina. You promised more thrills than watching frost form on the fir boughs. Only your stories of centaurs and wonders have entertained me since we thwarted those fiery bees. Daelin straightened to her full six-foot height, twisting left and right to stretch out her muscles. Neither dainty nor overly broad, her body leaned toward powerful, especially since beginning her training. Her coal-black hair tumbled loose from her hair clip over her shoulders.

She combed her fingers through her tresses, willing her sister not to keep her worrying much longer. If Daelin had to dust one more shelf of books or answer one more phone call about the state of the roads, she might disintegrate into pulp.

Caslow County librarian wasn’t what she aspired to be. Her dreams were populated with men in tailored suits, meetings with famous authors, and a career in publishing instead of an empty library, flannel, and hiking boots. She wanted a better paying job and the possibility of growth. She wanted to fall in love and have a family. All of that had been delayed to keep her sister safe and aid Charming in saving the world.

Quite happily, Daelin would continue to stick around if there was anything to be done. Only there wasn’t. There wasn’t any evidence of a crisis, the rift as silent as, well, the county library. Her sister needed to return and prove the quiet meant all was well. What if it wasn’t? Hugging herself tighter, Daelin refused to think about it. If she did, she’d lose it.

Sabina Staley, Daelin’s boss and the older woman reclining on a log, swung her legs around and sat up. The large bubble-framed glasses perched on Sabina’s long, straight nose slid forward when she checked a device on her wrist—a transputer. Resembling a bulky watch, the face of it glowed with blue energy and ignited a tattoo of circuitry on her wrist, which was only visible when she wore the transputer.

Some years are dull, she said. It’s good for your health and everyone else’s. Would you prefer some creature seep through and chomp off your leg?

It’d be nice to meet the centaurs or anyone with tales from another universe. That would feed my mind until next summer. Beasts with teeth can stay where they are.

They’re about to, until next year, at any rate. Sabina sniffed and dabbed at her nose with a tissue. Ninety seconds to go. Put on your optilyzers and observe as the fall equinox dawns. I’d like you to witness the sealing of the rift. Note how the aural energy shifts.

A modified pair of 1920s aviator goggles hung around Daelin’s neck. She pulled them up over her eyes—the same inky shade as her hair. The lenses distorted the world in tints of violet except for the space in the middle of the two obsidian pillars rising as high as the twisted juniper between them. The air amid the columns sizzled in cobalt lines and tangled together into a blue ball. The sky lightened and the energy dissipated.

So the rift is good and shut. Is that what the disappearance of the blue energy ball means? Daelin asked. There’d be no hope of Charming returning and releasing Daelin from constant worry now. Dusting wouldn’t keep her mind off her sister’s peril. No, Daelin would have to scrounge up some sort of distraction for the next nine months. Maybe rearranging the entire library. Again.

Mmhmm. The sphere of energy was there every night of the summer. Now it’s not. Sabina brushed her fine, white curls behind a pair of bold ears. Now you have proof the rift closes on the fall equinox. You’re the sort in need of evidence.

Yeah, I’m a pain that way. Here’s the thing though, Sabina. This year, the portal opened three days early. You heard what Earl said. Earl Blacke had more secrets than Daelin’s sister, more secrets than a town with a mysterious portal leading to other universes, and more secrets than the ghost watching over the library. How do you know the rift won’t open again when it’s not supposed to? If there was the slightest chance of some news of her sister, winter might be bearable.

I’ve been a Rifter longer than you’ve blinked. You needn’t worry so much. You forget your first lesson as quickly as you demonstrate your knowledge of it. Sabina held out an arm.

Trust. Daelin took hold of her boss’s hand and helped Sabina onto her feet. We can blame my mother for my inability to stick with my lessons. She taught me to never trust. If Daelin hadn’t questioned her mother constantly, her brother, sister, and herself wouldn’t have made it out of childhood. I suppose I’ll never progress farther than the rank of Initiate in the Rifters then? She didn’t mind being the lackey of the elite group of townspeople who battled otherworldly monsters. Whatever her rank, she would see to it her sister came home. Alive and whole.

Surprises are always in store when you’re a Rifter. Sabina smiled as if cooking up a conspiracy.

That was evident when I first arrived. Not since. Do you ever regret joining the Rifters?

No. Sabina fixed her knit hat. Every wish and desire I ever had dissolved the moment I met Caelif. Half man and half horse, his golden hair flowed down to his hooves. Oh, and what muscles! He was incredibly magnificent. It’s unfortunate your only acquaintance with the rift so far has been unfriendly beasts.

I had a brief moment of glory when killing the head-stealing ghost and another when exterminating the bees. Nothing since. I need more than these cold nights in the woods, because the dreams I held dear before moving here crash in with more persistence. What if my version of Caelif is in New York or Portland or somewhere else?

Why? Do you wish to leave?

Honestly, sometimes I think about it. More so as the summer ends and nothing has happened. There’s no future in the library, and I miss tall buildings, endless blocks of shops, and museums.

We have a fine history museum in town.

Daelin raised an eyebrow.

All right, not what you meant. What you need is a passion outside the Rifters. Knitting or quilting. Skiing?

I was hoping to reconnect with my sister. That was Settler’s main draw, and now she’s… Daelin gulped in a deep breath. She had to remember the lie. Her sister’s whereabouts were a secret from everyone including the other Rifters. On the other side of the globe in China. Before chasing monsters, Charming had chased dinosaurs for the Paleo Institute in Settler. It was Charming’s idea to say she was in China on a dig, and she had done some work to cover her tracks. Daelin had to hope the truth wouldn’t break out. Otherwise Charming would become an enemy of the Rifters and by default, an enemy of Daelin’s. Daelin couldn’t turn against Charming for any reason, and she didn’t want to become an enemy of the Rifters herself.

No one is forcing you to stay. If your heart leads you elsewhere, go. I’ll find another librarian.

The Rifters?

I’ll recruit more of those, too. You needn’t worry.

There’s the oath. To unswear is to die. Yeah, the possibility of death and the pleas from Charming for help had kept Daelin rooted. Also the lack of response to the résumés she had sent out. New York City and the big publishers had less interest in her since she had taken up a residence three thousand miles away. She had no intention of going anywhere until Charming returned, but simmering the dream kept Daelin sane. She needed to feel as if this weird existence would end, that life as usual, as she had once defined it, would come around again.

With all these excuses, it doesn’t seem as if you really want to leave. However you decide, as long as you don’t betray our secrets, you’re free to leave the Rifters. Do you want out?

Daelin had promised Charming. What her sister needed her for, Daelin couldn’t quite figure out. It had something to do with the beings who regulated the rift, the Governors, an enemy disguised as allies. In a weird way, it made sense. The rift distorted common stones into killer bees. It twisted ghosts into murdering phantoms. It had altered her sister into a warrior who didn’t hesitate to kill. Sometimes I think so.

Well, I hope you stay whether you remain in the Rifters or not. You add life to our little town.

I won’t do anything rash. The kind of crazy that can be had around here is better than a blockbuster summer movie. I just wish there was more of it.

Noted. I’ll make popcorn for you this afternoon and put on that movie with the teenagers killing each other you like so much. Close the library at two o’clock then come straight to my office.

Why so early? Normally, the library was open until four o’clock.

It’s the optimum time to expand your tattoo. Don’t be late. If we miss this window, I’ll have to re-ink you in June.

Daelin glanced down at her tattoo of blue and purple panels resembling stained glass on her wrist. Copper and gold wires glowed, snaking through the tinted panels. How much more would Sabina add? Would it cover Daelin’s entire arm like the other Rifters? Then she’d feel more like one of them rather than a temporary fill-in for her sister. You’re going to promote me to Reader despite my constant failure to trust absolutely?

Sabina fixed the floral polyester scarf around her neck and picked her way over the rocky ground out of the clearing. The morning had taken hold enough to detect shapes and hazards under foot, and the hint of dawn broke over the dark hulks of the twin eastern peaks shrouding Settler. The town sat inside the caldera of an ancient volcano. The extension of your tattoo won’t hurt much, and you trust where it counts. The rift has behaved peculiar this year. As you referenced, it hasn’t opened since the end of June. The quiet is unsettling, and a feeling nags at me. If you decide to stay, someone asking questions could be in our best interests, and I’ll need you at your full potential. She pressed a crooked finger to her thin lips. Which will remain between us.

Was she admitting Daelin was right to doubt? Did Sabina remember more of her memory swipe than she should? The procedure kept everyone safe, and Sabina had agreed to it.

The memory wipe had to stick. If Sabina remembered everything the night they had battled the volcanic killer ash bees, she’d be asking questions alongside Daelin. However, remembering would kill Sabina, the rest of the Rifters, the world, and possibly this entire universe. Daelin couldn’t let the extinction of everything happen. Not if she could help it, even if she never fit in because she was the only one who knew the facts and couldn’t tell.

She blurted out a short laugh and followed her boss. Understood. The secrets in this town could strangle a person. She tripped over a white twig tangled around her ankle. Its thorns dug deep. Good thing she had leather gloves in her pocket. Putting them on, she grappled with the thorns to free herself. I’ve never been much of a nature girl.

Sabina chuckled. That seems obvious, my dear. Do take care where you step. Watch the stones. They pose a hazard of their own.

Hmmph. I don’t want to talk about stones.

The volcanic killer ash bees were living stones. They had devoured flesh while burning it into blisters and welts, igniting a wish for death—the only release from their agony. The weight of the massive swarm, the heat, the anguish—the memories of their attack remained as fresh as if the beasts gnawed on Daelin once more. She’d never look at a stone the same.

She and Sabina strode over the dirt path leading from the pillars, past the rise of the obsidian flow, and skirted the property line of Blackes Ranch Resort and Spa. Daelin wondered what had happened to Earl Blacke. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since the night he had helped to defeat the bees. Another fact she had to hide from Sabina. His return to town was one of the many things Sabina was no longer allowed to remember and one of the things Daelin had to lie about.

If Earl had stayed, Daelin would have someone to talk to and wouldn’t be so isolated. She glowered at the big house.

Behind the ranch’s glass and cedar lodge, mist rose from East Lake. The day grew brash and the water took on a bluer hue. Two divers in scuba gear plodded onto shore, Rifters scouring the lake bottom for stray bees. Recalling the searing stings, Daelin shuddered.

You’re safe. Sabina patted a companionable hand on Daelin’s shoulder. The other Rifters and I have your back.

I may not trust everything, Sabina, but I do trust you and the others will always fight at my side. Daelin smiled faintly.

She and her boss cut through the brush, heading toward a little blue cottage at the edge of town. Downtown spread a few blocks past the cottage. Downtown wasn’t much, just a reminder humans tried to tame the wilderness.

Bushes snagged on Daelin’s ankle. She tripped two more times.

Sabina grabbed her by the elbow. You’re not the most graceful woman, are you?

A soft heat displaced the numbing cold on Daelin’s cheeks. No.

You should train more with Vance. I want you in fighting shape by summer.

Vance Lambert was a Rifter by night and a firefighter by day. It so happened, the fire hall was located next to the library where Daelin worked.

I’ll ask him over to the library today if there are no fires. Daelin wouldn’t mind the company. Most days she only had a ghost to talk to and dusting to do. When there weren’t monsters skulking about.

Your initiative is appreciated.

Sabina paused at the foot of the porch steps leading up to the cottage where Daelin lived. Temporarily. The house belonged to her sister. Quaint and bright blue, the cottage was the perfect size for one.

Any library business you want me to attend to today? Daelin asked.

No. If there’s a change, I’ll call. If not, see you at two o’clock. Tattoo. She tapped her wrist. Don’t forget.

Daelin slid the ornate, antique key in the door. She smiled at the solid click as the lock unlatched. The door swung inward, revealing a single small room with eclectic decor: shabby chic with touches of industrial and the 1950s. A ladder led up to the sleeping loft. The cozy sitting room and kitchen were divided by an island fashioned from salvaged planks of wood. Off the side of the kitchen, a glassed-in porch had been converted into an expansion allowing for a dining table and a office nook in the corner. The only other rooms were a full bath and the garage.

Daelin took off her transputer. The single row of purple and blue panels inked on her wrist disappeared. She hung her coat on a peg by the door and stuffed her hat, transputer, and gloves into the pockets. She draped her scarf on top of her coat and made her way to the kitchen. There wasn’t anything a good sandwich couldn’t cure.

The light on the old-style answering machine, a throwback to the 1980s—she couldn’t imagine where her sister had found cassette tapes for the thing—flashed in an annoying beat on the counter. Daelin hit the play button and settled onto a stool at the island.

Halloo, sistas, bellowed from the speaker of the answering machine. The voice belonged to her baby brother, Cobb.

She knew Cobb couldn’t hear her, but Daelin replied to the recording anyway. Halloo, brotha.

What’s with neither of you answering your cell phones these days? It’s the modern age, you know.

Not in Settler, brotha.

Anyway, surprise! My flight arrives at 11:45 this morning at Roberts Field. See to fetching me. Bye ya.

Cobb was coming? Daelin leaped off the stool, sweeping the clutter off the counter—her Rifters journal and Charming’s unopened mail—into a drawer, then she sprinted to grab the broom.

Daelin shared a childhood, a mother, and weird names—Darlin Dae Long, Charming Moon Knight, and Cobra Moondae Buckley—with her siblings. They’d been close, despite none of them having the same father or similar appearances. Red haired and pale skinned, Charming had an elf-like stature. Cobb was dark and stood as tall as Daelin with a burly build like a lumberjack. How he didn’t destroy every keyboard he used to create code for cell phones, Daelin had to chalk up to a graceful gene that had passed her by. She hadn’t seen Cobb since his visit to New York City two years ago and couldn’t be happier about his visit. First of all, because she missed him. Second, because he’d be someone to whom she could tell the entire truth.

Yay. She squealed and danced around the island, almost missing the second message.

Miss Long? I hope I have the right number. This is Sten Seawell. I’m emailing you the particulars of an editorial position I have. I run a small press over in Portland. Your résumé was forwarded by an old colleague of mine in New York. She said you’re just what I need. I’ll be driving through Central Oregon day after tomorrow. Can we meet? He left his number.

Standing stock still, Daelin placed her hand over her thumping heart. One of her daydreams was no longer a dream. Sten Seawell offered a path to a life of her own choosing instead of one designed by her sister.

I want the job. I can’t keep cataloging the same books forever. Not without losing what remains of my sanity. But how could she? She couldn’t leave her sister to battle the evils of other universes alone. The rift is closed until June, maybe I can think of this job as a nine-month vacation. Did she dare hope? It’d not be fair to Mr. Seawell, but Settler would hardly miss Daelin. She could field the five phone calls a day from anywhere. If only Charming would come home.

Out the glassed-in room, Daelin glimpsed a slight woman with fair red hair leaning against the chokecherry tree amid a garden of periwinkle and ceramic frogs.

Dropping the broom, Daelin sprinted ten steps to the garage door, tore it open, and hightailed it out the back. Charming!

How had Charming traveled through the rift without Daelin seeing? Had it not closed as it was supposed to? It didn’t matter. Her sister safe, Daelin could seriously entertain Mr. Seawell’s offer and get on with her life.

Veering around the corner of the house, Daelin halted. Her sister had disappeared. What kind of demented game was this? Charming?

Fifty miles southeast of Settler, Earl Blacke lay in the middle of the unpopulated Oregon high desert, begging Gussie Crane to forgive him. They had met three months ago when he had fled Settler and his past. While running to avoid the man he had been, Earl had bumped into Gussie living in the wilds, licking her wounds. A strong tug of kinship drew him back to apologize. Apologies usually stuck in his throat, but not for Gussie. He understood her suffering.

She had a reputation as Shaman of the Desert, worshipping a goddess who spoke to no one but her. If that’s what the woman needed to heal, Earl wouldn’t knock her for it. In fact, he had applied to Gussie for help in getting past his own personal devils. Her prescription—to reveal one truth about himself in the morning and another at dusk—had unraveled a few of the knots preventing him from becoming the better man he so desperately wanted to be. He believed only she could put him on the path that would lead him the rest of the way.

Except, he had messed it up by convincing her to leave the desert with him last June to confront his past. His intention had been to get those bumpy years tucked behind him for good, until he stumbled across a gold mine for sale, and the man he tried so hard not to be took control, buying the mine, betraying Gussie’s advice, but more so, what she

Enjoying the preview?
Page 1 of 1