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The Keeper's Six

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The Keeper's Six

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Author: Kate Elliott
Publisher: Publishing, 2023

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Book Type: Novella
Genre: Fantasy
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You never stop worrying about your kids, even when they're adults.

A world-hopping, bad-ass, spell-slinging mother who sets out to rescue her kidnapped adult son from a dragon lord with everything to lose.

It's been a year since Esther set foot in the Beyond, the alien landscape stretching between worlds, crossing boundaries of space and time. She and her magical traveling party - her Hex - haven't spoken since the Concilium banned them from the Beyond for a decade. But when she wakes in the middle of the night to her grown son's cry for help, the members of her Hex are the only ones she can trust to help her bring him back from wherever he has been taken.

Esther will have to risk everything to find him. Undercover and hidden from the Concilium, she and her Hex will be tested by false dragon lords, a darkness so dense it can suffocate, and the bones of an old crime come back to haunt her.

There are terrors that dwell in the space between worlds.



The call came at night.

Esther fumbled for the phone lying on the side table. Still barely conscious, she stuck it to her ear.

"Hello!" What time was it?

Static hissed and whistled.


"Mom, I need your help."

Her son's voice, tight with fear.

She sat up, heart racing, everything sharp: the book she'd fallen asleep reading pressed under her arm, the open jalousie windows, trade winds stirring the air inside the room.

"Daniel. Where are you? What do you need?"

"... ruin..."

The connection cut off. Yet she could have sworn she heard an echo of high, sly laughter fading the way a train's whistle recedes.



Intimations of doom crowded into her head until she couldn't feel the phone in her hand.

A dog's distant bark shocked her out of her frozen state. The gold ring she wore on her thumb pressed so hard against her jaw it probably would raise a bruise. She lowered the phone to check the time: 2:22 a.m.

She checked to see the incoming number. There was no record of a call. She checked her text messages, her incoming calls again. Nothing. The last call registered was at 5:14 p.m. the previous day from an electrician about replacing the useless fluorescent fixture in the carport.

Nausea stirred in her stomach, an old fear reaction she'd worked diligently to train herself out of but Pavlov died hard. Reflexively she closed her hand around the Star of David she wore, using the action as a shield to calm herself. After releasing the necklace, she tapped in the "contact me" code to her daughter's emergency number. After kicking off the sheet she lit her way with the phone's screen to the closet, not wanting to turn on the house lights or even risk the brighter glow of the built-in flashlight. It was incredibly unlikely a Concilium picket was stationed outside watching for any sign she intended to violate her suspension, but it was always wisest to assume one was. The closet's tidy organization had come courtesy of Daniel's spouse, Kai, and included a drawer with dividers for her Hex gear so she could dress in the dark. A year had passed since she'd last opened the drawer, but the routine slid easily through her movements.

She dropped her nightclothes on the floor, pulled on underwear and wrestled into a sports bra with a flat pocket sewn into the side of each cup with the reassuring presence of a Keep key tucked inside. Wool socks. Utility pants with cargo pockets. A wool long-sleeve shirt and over it her faded travel vest with more pockets. It was all about pockets, and the pockets contained gloves, a collapsible hat, a multi-tool, a slim book, a small waterproof field notebook, a manual-wind watch, the Hex's badge, and four shiny gold rings.

Pono pushed up against her, moist nose bumping the back of her hand.

"Stay here, boy. Guard the house."

He whined softly. His neck tentacles unwound to hiss at the air as he followed her down the stairs. A full flask of water and a hip flask of whiskey always sat by the front door. She grabbed her boots from the lower right corner of the shoe rack, scratched Pono under his second chin, and went out through the carport into the side yard. Once, she could have vaulted the four-foot wall that separated her property from the neighbor's without thinking about it. Now, she jumped up to sit on the flat top, swung her legs over with a grunt, and hopped down into a crouch. Her left knee twinged.

All was silent in a neighborhood seemingly fast asleep. She shut her eyes and kicked her senses up one notch. It was like expanding her skin outward to feel the textures and temperatures as far as a line of sight. The "dark" form of her Lantern magic was passive; it allowed her to get a sense of life without illumination tripping alarms and waking people up. Her Hex had been suspended in disgrace a year ago, but that didn't mean the Concilium believed she and her crew were really on hiatus. Clans, enterprises, and cross-Realm trading and political leagues competed fiercely over resources and access, which meant a trained, functioning Hex was a precious resource.

Bugs. Anoles. A prowling rat. An exploring cat. A dog dozing half on the cusp of a waking bark. Venomous centipedes seethed in lightless crevices. But no pickets, or at least probably no pickets.

The spell woven into a Keeper's key only worked under an open sky. Rising, she fished out the key tucked into the left bra pocket and placed it in her mouth. Its hard shape pressed onto her tongue as saliva triggered the spell.

With an acrid burst of flavor, the key returned to the place it had been molded, taking her with it. She had never quite gotten used to the spike of cold followed immediately by a smell like dog breath, pungent, rather gross, and strangely reassuring. It was Daniel's special touch, how she knew the key was taking her to the Keep he was bound to.

Anyone looking would have seen a fizz in the air like bubbles frothing. Her body would start to fade, becoming translucent.

She vanished as the last bubble popped.

Copyright © 2023 by Kate Elliott


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