Sneak peek: The Sacred Stone

The Sacred Stone
By Annalise Azevedo

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BOOK ONE: REFLECTION OF FIRE
CHAPTER 1

efire.jpgLaria Alfero was not a daydreamer by nature. But even while she remained seated on a hard chair, her chestnut eyes occasionally slipped out to the window, recognising the clouded sky was threatening rain. Her mind was preoccupied by the strangest sensation in her stomach – the same feeling she got when she was in the presence of fire.

She had only been a child when she discovered that she was afraid of fire. It wasn’t like a natural fear that children possessed, but a phobia that sent fear shooting through her veins. As soon as she saw any sign of fire, her body locked up and terror crawled its way to her heart.

It was mystery to Laria what caused the fear. Sometimes she wondered if it had to do with her late father and that it was the way she coped.

She barely knew the man. He’d died when she was an infant – a time that Laria could never remember.

However, as her history teacher continued to explain the records of their small town, Golden Cliff, Wyoming, Laria leaned on the palm of her hand to consider his words. The strands of her dark brown hair brushed her tanned cheeks when the winds came through the screens.

Anyone who grew up in their town knew about the infamous massacre that resembled the Salem witch trials.  The massacre was decades ago. People had been so afraid that they slaughtered each other.

Then, apparently, one woman changed everything.

Changing her focus back to the teacher, Laria shook her head and forced the fatigue to the back of her mind. While her history teacher, David Embers, did not care if she spaced out, it was Laria’s responsibility to possess the knowledge for any exam.

‘It was true that town founders were, in fact, Native Americans that migrated from Utah.’ David was popular with his dishevelled, dirty blonde hair and stormy, grey eyes. His easy-going personality made an excellent impression on the school girls, but much to their despair he was happily married with a child. The man merely scratched his scruffy beard as he met eyes with Laria. ‘We all know who they are, right?’

The history teacher was a decent guy; far closer to a friend than a mentor, but Laria knew that he liked to tease people; her especially for some odd reason. Everyone knew that her ancestors were a part of this town’s foundation.

With a smirk, David turned to write the four names on the board. “Rosa”, “Laurence”, “Forte” and “Alfero” imprinted in the back of Laria’s mind. They were the most common surnames in Golden Cliff, yet aside from Laria’s mother and brother, she had never met another Alfero.

It was claimed that the Alfero family were considered “extinct” due to the brutal massacre. There was a possibility that some were out there, however Laria didn’t care. She was nothing more than a cynical but dedicated teenager in a small town.

Her eyes narrowed into a sceptical glare, yet she wasn’t surprised when she spotted her current neighbour lift her manicured hand. It was something that one of her friends would do in order to learn about the mysteries that were buried in the town.

‘Mister Embers,’ said the blonde with a charming smile on her glossed lips. ‘If the founders were Native American, then why were they given European names?’

Jenna Sommers was Laria’s friend since first grade. Growing up in a small town, it was impossible to break the ties of friendship. It was clear that Jenna didn’t fall in line with the stereotypical blonde girl. Her charm mostly came from her sweet personality and intelligence.

With innocent, chocolate coloured eyes, perky personality and intelligent outlook, it wasn’t hard for the hormonal boys to fall for her. If it had been a story, Jenna would’ve been the perfect example of a Mary Sue appearance wise, however Laria knew better. Jenna had her flaws and made mistakes.

David moved his hand from his face and crossed his arms with a pensive expression. He considered it wisely. ‘Golden Cliff was founded in a not so accepting time, so of course many Native Americans were forced to take European names in order to be accepted into society – except that didn’t give much improvement. However, there could be a whole other reason to their decisions.’

The shriek of the school bell halted David’s explanation and he raised a curious eyebrow towards his phone. His harsh stare towards his it was only for a moment, as he immediately glanced back at the class with a smile.

‘That’s enough for today class – I will see you tomorrow.’ He dismissed his class and went through his files as Laria returned her books to her bag. She didn’t realise Jenna had already finished her packing until the blonde started prattling about their plans after school.

It was the day to celebrate their friends’ victory in basketball. It was their first week back and their friends were working hard for finals. For a normal person, anyone would’ve been nervous, but they were the two most confident people that Laria knew. While there were other sports they still played in, basketball was the town’s favourite and sponsored the team known as the Sabres.

‘You don’t even know that they’ve won,’ Laria said when she lifted her bag to her shoulder. Together they left the room after waving farewell to David and headed to their lockers. ‘Besides I thought you were into football because of the vegetable quarterback.’

A scowl came from the other girl’s pretty face. ‘Laria.’ It was a warning tone, however the brunette brushed off the scolding. ‘Taro isn’t as bad as you think. It’s Sara that is the bad person – he just doesn’t see it yet.’

And this was what Laria meant by flaws. ‘Jenna, Taro Launten is a jerk full stop.’ Out of all the people Jenna wanted to go out with, it was the popular school quarterback who was dating the school president. ‘He’s been a moron since second grade and he only got worse when we were freshmen. Sara just happened to get in the way and I’m not going to keep explaining how much I hate him.’

‘You don’t have to,’ Jenna responded with a light huff. ‘You and Maya just have to accept that I like him. Look – I wouldn’t be mean to the guy you liked.’ Unlike Jenna, Maya was a tomboy and outspoken. She played in the dirt without a care in the world and she was far more rebellious than the rest of Laria’s small group of friends.

‘Of course you wouldn’t,’ Laria muttered flatly. ‘That’s because Maya and I are horrible at the dating stuff. I still remember when you set me up with your cousin and I said that he had a decent sized forehead.’

‘How could I ever forget? No normal girl comments on a boy’s forehead in general!’ Jenna exaggerated and raised a hand dramatically to her own forehead. ‘I remember him telling me never to set him up with you guys again.’ She sighed, her shoulders sagging. ‘I suppose it would be for the best, he has a weird thing going on.’

Before Laria could respond, she flinched when a hand pressed on her shoulder from behind. ‘Oh boy,’ said a gruff voice and Laria grinned in recognition with anger forgotten. She tilted her head to the side, recognising the curly mop of cinnamon coloured hair and hazel eyes. ‘Is Jenna talking about the human vegetable again?’

While Laria laughed, Jenna’s cheeks went bright red in anger. ‘Brodie Forte!’

He laughed and scratched the back of his head. ‘Sorry Jen, I can’t help myself teasing you. Anything that makes you blush is worth it.’ He turned to Laria and flashed the boyish smile that she couldn’t help but return. ‘I see that you awoke the dating dragon.’

Brodie Forte had been Laria’s friend since they were in diapers. Apparently, his father Leon worked with her father before they were born. However, it was through her mother Lesley that they managed to keep close.

His face glistened with sweat from the humid air and Laria recognised his black jersey with a red logo of a sabre tooth tiger. His shorts were replaced by regular sweats however, as if he was uncomfortable walking around in pants that didn’t reach his knees.

‘I see that you’re back alive,’ Laria replied before squinting her eyes and leaned towards his face. ‘No bruises, so it’s safe to say that Maya didn’t peg the ball at you in frustration. So you won.’

The smirk twitched on Brodie’s face. ‘Yep – she’s absolutely terrifying when it comes down to motivation.’

Jenna squealed and raised her hands to her mouth. ‘That’s amazing Brodie! So where did Maya run off to anyways?’ While both Maya and Brodie played basketball, it was Brodie who represented the team. Maya managed to remain as the coach’s aid – mostly succeeding when it came down to yelling.

‘She said she wanted to meet us there,’ Brodie replied with a light shrug. ‘I’m guessing that she wanted to meet up with Seth.’

Laria’s smile dropped at the thought of the boy. Seth Laurence. While Laria didn’t hate him like she did with Taro, it was hard to connect with Seth. He gave off a vibe to everyone that he didn’t want to be disturbed. But it was hard to understand Seth, especially since the most that Laria knew about him was that he was a friend of Maya’s and that he wanted nothing to do with society.

Laria shook the thoughts of Seth away and replaced her frown with a determined grin. It wasn’t about Seth, but at the end of the day he was still friends with one of hers. ‘Alright – now that school’s over we should head to the Silver Roots. Heather said that she had to go on ahead for something.’

‘Okay,’ Brodie agreed before looking at his jersey. He stopped the girls with an unsure mutter. ‘But maybe I should get changed first – I’ll probably get kicked out if I walk in like this.’

After waiting for Brodie to finish changing clothes, the trio settled in Jenna’s old car with a satisfied sigh that they beat the storm. While the Silver Roots bar and grill wasn’t far, rain had a habit of pelting heavily during the summer time.

Silver Roots was a common hangout for high schoolers and lone adults. It wasn’t Laria’s favourite place as she preferred less people, but it was good company for her friends when they needed to hang out.

Laria entered in first, with her pair of friends following her after their attempts at avoiding the rain. How they didn’t slip and slide on the wooden floor was a mystery to her. She peered through the crowd, spotting a familiar face and smiled.

‘Heather!’

 The single brunette peeked her head up with a tender smile before shying back into her soda. Heather Verdas was a simple girl; with wavy, light brown hair that reached her shoulders, olive skin and hazel coloured eyes. She was gifted with her studies, attaining the top ranking of her class.

‘Congratulations on your win Brodie,’ Heather said softly. Despite her high-level intelligence, Heather was soft spoken and quiet. It was sometimes hard to understand what she was saying when crowds were busy.

‘Yeah, I know,’ Brodie responded with a boyish grin. ‘But what we need is some drinks.’ And Laria knew that he was going to turn to her. On cue, Brodie patted Laria’s shoulder as she placed her bag on the table. ‘Could you get me a drink Lil Ria?’

Great. That was back. ‘I will if you don’t call me that disgusting nickname.’ It was a nickname that Brodie picked up after her older brother Chris had said it. Laria liked her name, but she hated it when people purposely mispronounced it.

‘I’m sorry,’ Brodie said despite not sounding apologetic.

It felt like an eternity when Laria turned away, giving a thumbs-up when Jenna asked for whatever Brodie was having. Laria headed to the bar after taking a mental note. She didn’t fail to notice the woman with a black hoodie sitting by herself.

Laria avoided gazing at the stranger. Sometimes Laria saw her sitting alone, drinking her troubles away. Despite going to this place for as long as she could remember, nothing was known about the hooded woman.

A cheer for Maya echoed in Laria’s ears and she turned briefly to spot the raven-haired female being hugged against her will by Jenna. Standing with them was a brunette male that Laria instantly identified as Seth.

Laria made a sharp turn towards the bar, however she felt her body hit something hard and she stumbled back. The wet floor made her feet slip and gravity didn’t give her a chance to regain her balance, thankfully managing to catch herself on her hands and knees to prevent any twisted ankles.

In the background, Laria heard the bartender freaking out in fear of being sued.

Laria dismissed the voices and looked to see that she hadn’t been the only one that fell. It wasn’t a face that she recognised instantly, but there was something about it that gave her a sense of déjà vu. The male looked roughly her age, with dark, curly hair and blue eyes.

It took him a moment to compose himself before realising the situation. He had a mixture of panic and distress flashing in his facial features.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he said with a familiar voice and Laria shook her head to dismiss it. It wasn’t right – she’d never met this stranger. ‘Are you hurt?’ By now, more people were looking at them, even Laria’s friends, yet she didn’t answer. ‘Oh crap… I spilled soda on you.’

Instead she pushed herself back to her feet without his assistance and frowned in suspicion. Just who was he? She briefly looked at her white singlet to recognise the splash on her chest. She flushed in embarrassment and covered her chest with her arms – clumsy fool.

‘Let me help you He began but Laria didn’t want to hear it. Her first instinct was to snap at him for crashing into her; however, there was a voice in the back of her head telling her that it would be wrong to do so. ‘Do you need my jacket or-?’

‘I’m fine,’ Laria cut him off curtly and walked around. He was still on the ground; Laria noticed the unbuttoned leather jacket that he was willing to offer her.

Finally, her eyes went to Brodie who seemed to frown at the fallen boy. Laria couldn’t help but step away. To them, it looked like she was running in embarrassment, but in reality, she felt like she was running from something much more frightening.

Laria knew the exit at the back of the Silver Roots would give her some space. It surprised her that she wasn’t bombarded with concerned friends; Laria preferred it that way.

Her thoughts were cut off by an ominous feeling. It was like something was watching her yet Laria couldn’t make sense of it. Despite her instincts demanding her to flee, Laria wanted to investigate.

With a cautious step, Laria made her way towards the sound behind the dumpster. It was just weak echoes of moans and as she got closer the panic built in her chest.

I have to see what it is, she told herself firmly, clenching her fists to force away the nervous feeling in her gut. Something was telling her that misery was all over this alley, but there was something even deeper that seemed… intriguing.

As Laria finally got a view of the scene, she almost wished that she hadn’t. She immediately ran towards the bleeding man as she called out for help. ‘Hang on!’ Laria demanded fiercely and her hands went over the man’s chest to stop the bleeding. He was covered in bite marks, scratches and countless bruises. ‘You’ll be fine!’ But she knew that she was lying to herself and the man; there were too many wounds for her to save him.

‘You.’ The man’s voice made Laria take her gaze off the wounds to meet his eyes. She flinched when she saw that they were gold, but it was clearly her imagination. They were brown the next moment. ‘The fire is strong in you… Alfero…’ He coughed out blood, spraying it on Laria’s soda-soaked shirt.

How did this person know that she was an Alfero?

‘Hey! Stay with me!’ Laria shook the man’s body and gritted her teeth to stop herself from screaming. She didn’t know this man, but she felt she had to be responsible for him. ‘You can’t die, please!’ But it was already too late.

His laboured breathing settled, and he seemed to be at peace as he died in her arms. His eyes shut as his final breath left him. Laria began trembling.

Thunder cracked the sky and Laria heard a growl. She jolted at the sound peering over her shoulder to see something move in the shadows. Her eyes could barely catch the shape of it, let alone discover what the creature was. It was the only sign of life besides her. But just like that, the creature was gone, disappearing from her sight until it would strike the next time.

This world was filled with a lot more darkness than Laria was led to believe.

 

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