Eternity's Edge: Embrace

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Chapter 17

I had no trouble finding the house in question. The memories of last night’s deadly confrontation and of my own findings made the task feasible, and even if that had not been the case, the slight, barely-perceptible pull of the bond stretching between Andrew and I was undeniable.

I slowed the car and scanned both sides of the street before parking in the alleyway that ran parallel to the house, a rambling two-story mansion that had undoubtedly been impressive in its day but was now little more than a crumbling ruin. Large X-shaped support beams had been lashed in between the ornate pillars gracing the front, and the glass on all the front-facing windows had been broken in. The windows gaped out at the quiet street like dark, soulless eyes, though I knew that within their depths an alien, ancient intelligence stood watch.

I steeled myself for the inevitable confrontation knowing full well that there was a very good chance that neither Andrew nor I would emerge alive from the house. I knew that I was outnumbered and no matter my age or considerable strength, a well-placed gunshot or knife wound would be all it would take to end my life.

I paused with my eyes closed and emptied my mind of all its whirling thoughts while I concentrated on Andrew’s whereabouts within the house. His heart beat slow and steady but his thought processes were erratic and filled with terror and remembered agony as memories of his abduction flitted through his brain. I sensed his injuries as if they were my own: three broken ribs and an arm, a cut lip, one eye already swollen shut, a moderate concussion.

My hands gripped the handle of my knife. They were going to pay dearly, every last one of them.

The door splintered as I kicked it open and sent shards of wood flying into the front parlor. From inside I could almost sense the others as they anticipated my arrival and I didn’t bother to conceal my presence as I made a beeline for the steps leading down to the basement. From the bottom of the stairs the pull of Andrew’s essence grew stronger and I descended into the inky blackness without hesitation.

My eyes easily discerned the amorphous shapes of old wooden crates, rotting furniture, and assorted odds and ends that littered the basement floor. Dirt and flaking paint grit under my boots and as I turned the corner to where a bend lay in the room, I saw Andrew lying crumpled on his side. I immediately ran to him and knelt down beside him, afraid of what I would see. As gently as I could I turned him over on his back and he moaned softly.

“Shh, Andrew it’s me.” I saw him struggling to open his good eye but the effort was simply too much for him and he let his head loll to the side. I quickly felt for any additional injuries but apart from being bruised and battered, he would survive. I looked around for another way out of the room but there were none. I hooked an arm underneath him and hoisted him up into a sitting position and he cried out and clutched at me weakly. He squinted up at me as I placed a hand on his chest to brace him.

“Kat?”

I stroked the side of his face and kissed him on the cheek. “Yes, it’s me. Now come on, we have to get you out of here.”

He winced as he struggled to his knees but was otherwise silent despite the pain. We managed to hobble awkwardly towards the basement stairs as he was nearly blind in the pitch black room. “When they were hurting you I felt everything. I wanted to hurt them back but I couldn’t.”

“I know. I felt it when you were attacked but I couldn’t get to you. Wendell....” My voice faltered. “Wendell’s in the hospital. It’s unlikely that he may ever wake up again.” Tears welled up in my eyes. Wendell had done nothing to deserve what had happened to him and now he would most likely die because he had taken pity on me all those years ago. I wanted to scream, to cry and rage and burn the house down with all of them in it, but more than anything I wanted to get Andrew out of danger and as far away from here as possible. Even leaving the city wouldn’t guarantee his safety anymore and unless he disappeared with me they would undoubtedly track him down again, or worse yet, his family.

The thought that his parents or even Natalie would end up at their mercy was unbearable, and we trudged ahead with renewed conviction. We mounted the stairs and step by step made our way towards the warmth and safety which lay just yards away.

“We’re almost there...just a few more steps.”

He nodded and grit his teeth as he forced one foot before the other.

When we reached the top step we paused briefly for breath. Andrew’s hand clutched desperately at the warped and splintered bannister yet he still managed to offer me a grateful smile. “You risked your life coming here—no one’s ever done that for me before.”

“I would never be able to forgive myself if anything ever happened to you.” I bent forward and kissed him, careful not to hurt him. “We’re not out of danger yet, but believe me you are more than worth the risk.”

He kissed me back and I felt the full brunt of his unshakable love for me as he breathed along my mouth, “So are you.”

Before I could respond his eyes widened and focused on something behind me. At almost the same instant I sensed the presence of one of my own kind and then fingers like steel clamped down on my shoulder and dug painfully into my flesh. I managed to pivot halfway towards my attacker while angling my body in front of Andrew to protect him from harm, but in a blur of movement I realized my mistake as I was shoved backwards. Andrew’s balance was compromised by his injuries and the full force of my slamming into him sent us both tumbling backwards on the stairs where we landed unceremoniously on the floor below.

The blackness waiting at the bottom yawned before us and with a sickening thud Andrew came to rest on the floor, his legs bent away from him at an unnatural angle. My own landing was similarly graceless, but I had the benefit of supernatural strength and reflexes. I immediately sprang up and rushed towards him, but even before I threw myself in front of him to protect him from further harm, I could see that his neck was broken. His dark eyes stared dully up at the ceiling and I screamed in rage and fury as hands descended on me and dragged me kicking and flailing away from him.

I managed to free my knife from the sheath around my waist and slashed blindly in every direction. Screams and snarls of pain echoed throughout the room and more than once I felt the blade sink in with a satisfying, meaty thunk. Blood slicked my hands and I slashed harder at the fingers which still gripped me. A few relinquished their hold on me as my attackers fell back, but they kept coming at me from all sides of the room. Some part of me knew that my efforts were futile, that there were simply too many of them to fight off, but the other part—the part that Amaris had once referred to as stubborn and resilient—refused to go down without a fight. Once again I was fighting for more than my own life this time, and the thought that Andrew’s hung in the balance gave me the strength I needed to go on.

A fist slammed into my gut and knocked the breath out of me and I staggered, my boots slipping on the blood-slick floor. A tall dark form loomed up in front of me and in the next instant a blow snapped my head back and left me reeling. I could taste my own blood as my attacker circled around me and finding a weak spot, delivered a punishing kick at my ribs. With a cry I collapsed to my knees and was quickly relieved of my weapon. Hands held me down as I was handcuffed to a pipe running the circumference of the room and my feet were bound with a heavy chain. I could feel blood seeping through the tangle of my hair and my ribs ached with each breath.

I was now completely at their mercy.

I could hear the others whispering and a sense of anticipation lay thickly in the air as I swept my gaze over the room. There were nine of them, men and women of varying ages and races. The auras of a couple shown like a blazing flame in the room while the rest were little more than a flicker which guttered like a candle in the dim light.

I frowned. It was unusual to see a few old ones surrounding themselves with the very young, as my kind tended to be solitary or chose only one companion. Where did all of these beings come from, but more importantly, what could they possibly want with Andrew and me? This was hardly the first time that I had killed my own kind within a city and not once had they responded with such a display of force.

A shadow detached itself from the wall and strode towards me, a woman with long, sleek limbs and a flawless olive complexion. She was dressed simply in jeans and a dusky silk top and boots but the power she exuded was undeniable. Her aura shone the brightest compared to the others, which was evidence of not only her advanced age, but strength. The others fell back as she approached but I met her gaze fearlessly.

She smiled, revealing perfect white teeth. “Miss Armentani. We meet at last.” Her voice had a rich, husky timbre to it that was deceptively sweet, but there was no disguising the malice lurking beneath her tone.

I tossed my head to the side to clear the hair hanging in my face. “I’d say it was a pleasure to meet you too, but I have some issues with your welcome committee.”

Her smile withered slightly but she was otherwise un-phased by my sarcastic reply. In answer she extended a hand and smoothed the hair away from my forehead. I flinched but continued to glare at her.

“I’m beginning to understand what he saw in you.”

My gaze immediately flicked to Andrew’s prone body on the floor. His breathing was strained and shallow, and I knew that if he did not receive medical attention soon that he would die from his injuries.

Her dark eyes tracked my progress and she sneered. “For all your gifts as an immortal it’s your humanity that has made you weak. This one, the old man back at your apartment—all of them are nothing more than a fleeting presence in this world, fuel for our immortal bodies.”

I felt myself bristle at her words and she smirked, clearly satisfied at my reaction.

“It’s my humanity that sets me apart from the rest of you. I feel, I love, I grieve; I’m not just some mindless killing machine concerned with my own existence.”

She cocked her head to the side as she considered my words. “And do we not also love, or grieve and feel as you do?” She swept her arms to indicate the others who remained standing silently against the opposite wall. “Do we too not come from the font of immortality bestowed upon us by another? For those of us who have survived the centuries and are imbued with the ability to pass it on to another, do we not also love those few that we have chosen to join us in immortality, to be our companions throughout eternity?” She closed the distance between us and the hatred flared dark and venomous in her eyes. “You are no more virtuous or pure than those whom you have killed to slake your own thirst, to prolong your own existence. What manner of creature feeds upon its own kind?” Her gaze swept me from head to toe. “Killing you would be a mercy. Forcing you to watch those that you love die one by one is a more fitting punishment.”

She turned and pivoted gracefully away from me and moved slowly, purposely towards Andrew’s inert body. Panic coursed through me and I struggled hard against my bonds. The overhead pipes groaned ominously and I felt the barest bit of slack in my handcuffed hands as the pipe bent downwards. She snapped her fingers and one of the figures detached itself from the wall and came towards me, a young woman with short cropped red hair. Without a word she gripped my left arm and mercilessly snapped the bone in two. No emotion flickered in her eyes as I yelled in pain and with a nod from the other woman, she resumed her place by the wall.

By now she had knelt demurely by Andrew’s side and her fingers were gently stroking the plains of his chest and neck. She murmured appreciatively as she bent forward and peered into his eyes which still stared dully up at the ceiling. I fought back the urge to resume my struggling, as she would undoubtedly order the others to break my other arm or my legs, and then I would be completely incapacitated.

With feline grace she stretched out beside Andrew, the curves of her body molding tightly against him in an attitude that was perversely intimate given the situation. It was also a perfect imitation of the way that Andrew and I had lain together when I had stayed over at his place and my heart sank.

As if sensing my thoughts, she smiled and laid her head atop his chest. “Yes, we’ve been watching you for a while now. There’s no denying that you would die for this one the same way that he would willingly die for you. The question is, who is willing to make the greater sacrifice?”

Tears spilled down my cheeks as I hung my head in defeat. There was no way that this woman—whoever she was—was going to allow Andrew and me to walk out of here. Her quarrel undoubtedly lay with me, but the exact details were lost to me. I kept my head bowed and my voice low as I attempted to bargain for Andrew’s life with my own. “Please. Let me heal him and allow him to leave, then you can have me. I won’t fight you.”

She laughed low and mocking. “Oh, but I want you to fight, to fight as you did the night that you were taken from your human life and birthed bloody and screaming into your new existence as an immortal.” She shifted and languidly stretched an arm across Andrew’s chest. Her long graceful fingers dug painfully into the flesh of his arm and he gurgled. “I want you to fight as you did when your maker sought to embrace you and you betrayed him, when you cleaved his heart in two and left him for dead.”

My breath escaped my lungs with a harsh gasp and all the air in the room seemingly went with it.

Amaris.

This woman knew what had transpired between Amaris and me the night that I was created, but more than that she sought to seek revenge for his death.

“How...?” My throat had gone dry and I licked my lips to moisten them. How was it possible for this woman to know this very-secret part of my life, the part of me that I had shared with only one person in all my existence?

She fixed me with her dark gaze and the malice shown forth in all its glory. “Amaris made me the same as he made you. I was a slave before he came upon my captors and instead of killing me like the others, he freed me. He freed me from the bonds of mortality and gave me what strength he had left to be his companion, to care for him in his weakness which you were the direct cause of. You very nearly succeeded in your attempt at revenge, though I’m surprised that you hadn’t realized it before. Did you not know that newly-made progeny will die if their Font is killed before the first anniversary of their turning?”

I stared at her blankly as a cold fear crept its way into my heart. Amaris had never divulged this bit of information to me—I hadn’t given him the chance—and none of the others that I had encountered over the centuries had let on that this was true.

Her eyes glittered like black diamonds. “You never actually saw his body afterwards, right? You never witnessed his final ruination.”

My mind swam with snatches of memory from that fateful night, of the knife shearing effortlessly into the flesh of his chest—into his heart—and of his face as it disappeared beneath the bloody water. He had been dead, he had to have been. I hadn’t seen his body nor the characteristic disintegration of it when I’d struck him a second time, as it had never resurfaced. I was sure that no one, not even an immortal like Amaris, could have survived such a catastrophic wound or profound blood loss like that. I recalled the feeling of debilitating dizziness and nausea that had proceeded my attack on him, of a sense of disconnect so profound that I was momentarily paralyzed, and I suddenly wasn’t so sure anymore. Were these sensations proof that the bond between us had nearly drug me down into death with him, but only nearly seeing as how he had never actually died?

Her tone was derisive. “Of course you didn’t know. Amaris would have undoubtedly related this information to you in time, but you chose to betray him the very night that you were created. His only crime was that he allowed his love for you to cloud his better judgment and he let his guard down.”

“He didn’t love me, he was obsessed with me! I was nothing more than a pawn in some sick, twisted game that he had played for centuries, the same as you are. He only turned you because he needed you and when he no longer does, what then?”

Her face contorted with rage. “You lie, but it doesn’t matter. Amaris has had centuries to heal and regain his strength and all that time in which his disfigurement exiled him from all save myself will finally come to fruition. You too will know what it is like to suffer as he did.” Hatred flashed in her eyes but she remained where she was and reached for something out of my line of sight. Metal glinted and flashed as it came into view and I recognized it as my knife, the very same knife that had been used against Amaris all those centuries before. She turned it over idly, as if admiring its craftsmanship. “How ironic that his affectation for you would be his downfall—and his eventual saving grace.”

She sat up in one fluid motion with the knife poised at the ready in her hand. “Immortality is a doorway, and like all doorways it opens up both ways. A Font will suffer following the death of their progeny with a loss of energy that takes time to reclaim. The same holds true for newborn progeny following the death of their Font, and if you had succeeded in your plan to kill Amaris you would have followed him down into death. These unfortunates that you see here,” she motioned with the knife in her hand to the still-silent figures against the wall. “Some of these are my own children, but many of them are the victims—the orphans—of your self-righteousness. Each of them has either lost a progeny or have survived the death of their creator by virtue of their age. Each of them has suffered a loss that will only grow with the passing years, and it is now, when you finally seek to lose someone close to you, that we have chosen to strike.”

She raised her hand and the blade flashed briefly before she brought it down and buried it deep into Andrew’s chest, into his heart. I felt the agony of the wound at the same moment he did and my vision wavered as I fought back a wave of nausea as it rolled over me. I sagged forward in my bonds and forced air back into my lungs as I screamed in anguish. The woman’s eyes flashed with dark triumph as she jerked the blade free and tossed it carelessly to the side. Andrew’s chest heaved and he made a wet choking sound deep in the back of his throat and I knew that he was minutes away from drowning in his own blood. Soon he would be dead and all his hopes and dreams of the future would die with him. It was monstrously unfair and I struggled furiously against my bonds despite the pain I was in. The overhead pipes groaned and gave way under the onslaught and with a snarl I managed to snap the chain wrapped around my legs.

I moved forward with inhuman speed with no thought of my own safety. I had no weapon at my disposal, but I knew that I was strong enough to render her limb from limb with my bare hands. Her eyes sparkled as she watched my approach and when I was inches away from her, she sprang up and knocked me backwards, slamming me bodily into the wall. I felt the blade of my knife slice cleanly up and into my chest cavity, past my ribs, towards my heart. Blood gushed from the wound and I wailed in agony as I felt my own life force slip away from me in a torrent. Her face was inches away from mine as without breaking eye contact, she slowly eased the blade free and slid it into the flesh below my navel.

My knees gave out from under me and she gripped me tightly around the shoulders as she helped to lower me to the floor. She knelt in front of me and took my face in her hands, her fingers slick with my blood as she shushed me and made soothing noises as I began to whimper in my delirium. “You know as well as I do that only the oldest and strongest of us are capable of making others of our kind. I am nearly as old as you and have made many over the years; I would think by this point that the ability also resides within you.”

I was rapidly losing consciousness and was no longer capable of remaining upright. My head lolled on my shoulders as she continued to stroke the side of my face. “He isn’t dead yet though he is at the very cusp of his existence—you just may be able to save him.”

Her voice and words sounded mumbled and disjointed yet somehow I managed to cling onto the core of their meaning: Andrew was dying, and I—quite possibly due to my advanced age—was capable of turning him in order to save him.

But would I really be saving him or simply damning him for my own selfish needs?

She leaned forward and kissed my forehead and her voice whispered over my skin. “Your life force has always been strong. Had Amaris not imbibed it before you tried to kill him, you might have succeeded. Even now as your blood flows from your veins onto the floor, your life force shines like a supernova. It may just be enough to save him, too.” She let me go and I tumbled back and lay crumpled on the floor, my strength nearly gone. She stood up and peered down at me. “Whatever you decide, know this: tonight has been a prelude to what is to come once you have recovered your strength. There is no place, no country where you can hide from us, and when we do find you again Amaris will be there to witness your ruination.” She nudged the wound in my abdomen with the tip of her boot and I bit back a scream. “I would have my revenge for the lives of my children whom you have systematically slaughtered in this city, and if you are unable to live without bringing this one over,” she indicated the prone body of Andrew as he continued to gurgle and gasp in agony. “You too will come to know what that felt like, sister.”

And with that she and the others were gone.

I eased over onto my side as another wave of nausea rolled over me and wretched violently. I could feel my body fighting to survive, as whatever animating force that resided within me fought to sustain its own unnatural existence. My gaze landed on Andrew as his body twitched and spasmed in his final agony. Bloody froth stained the corners of his mouth as he gasped and choked for air that would never fill his lungs again, and I saw his eyelids flutter briefly before they slipped shut.

No!

With a convulsive yell I managed to roll over onto my stomach and began to crawl—inch by agonizing inch—over to where he lay. My broken arm screamed in protest and my blood left a crimson trail as I slowly made my way over to him. By the time I reached him I could smell smoke and orange flames flickered from the floors above us. I had only moments in which to make a decision that would have consequences for all eternity, and as I closed the distance between Andrew and I and took him in my arms, I knew that there was only one choice to be made. The only question that remained was whether he would ever be able to forgive me for what I was about to do.

I picked up the knife from the floor beside him and slid it across my wrist. The blood welled up thickly from the wound and I quickly held it against his slack lips. I gently tilted his head back as I allowed my blood to flow down his throat where it would quickly seek out his wounds and begin repairing the damage. When what I thought was enough had flowed into him, I quickly passed my wrist over the wound in his chest and allowed the blood to drip directly into it. The flesh contracted and puckered slightly and he wheezed in pain. Before I could return my wrist to his mouth he began to gasp and flail, his limbs jerking sporadically as his eyes flew open and then fixed directly on me. Inarticulate groans emanated from his throat as he strained to draw breath into his lungs and panicking, I quickly tried to make him drink again.

He gasped and his back arched off of the floor as I saw the light dim from his eyes, as the last look he gave me was full of love, forgiveness, and dare I say, understanding. I called his name and shook him roughly, begging him to come back, but his eyes had slipped shut and he eased back, boneless and limp. I clung to him like a lost child as his chest heaved once more and with a final gurgle, he drew his last breath.

I screamed.

The sound was high and keening, full of pain and remembered agony of past loss. My vision wavered as whatever connection between us was violently and abruptly severed, my equilibrium further hampered by my devastating injuries and significant blood loss. Deep, racking sobs shook my body as I lay down beside him, my ear pressed against his chest with his now-silent heart within it.

I felt as if I were being crushed by the weight of all my past sins, as if this moment was recompense for all my past misdeeds. Whoever the woman was, she had been right: killing me would have been a mercy. Forcing me to live with Andrew’s and Wendell’s deaths on my conscience was a fitting punishment for all the pain that I had caused during my unnaturally long life.

Smoke was now pouring thickly from the upper floors and was rapidly filling the dank basement space, but I didn’t care. Andrew was dead, Wendell most surely was too, and I no longer had any reason to continue. My entire reason for existing had just been single-handedly wiped out by a band of creatures whom I had wronged and orphaned for reasons no more justifiable than the ones they had for prolonging their own existence.

Or were they?

My entire existence was fueled by the lives of those who sought to take life from others, from innocents such as Andrew and Wendell. I had killed thousands over the centuries, but the number of lives I had saved by virtue of these actions surely more than made up for any of my misdoings. I was immortal, but in my heart I had and always would be human. Humans made mistakes but it was the hope of all creatures that forgiveness by way of a second chance would be given.

I looked down at Andrew’s face, now still and serene, devoid of all pain and suffering. I bent forward and kissed him, my fingers tenderly wiping the blood from his lips and chin. “I’m so sorry Andrew. For everything.”

I was too weak to carry his body from the burning house, and as much as I hated myself for leaving him behind, I knew that there was no other option. There would be no way to explain to his family what had happened to him or how he had come to be in this house when it was destroyed, but I did know that I would be long gone from here. I had to distance myself from his family for fear that the woman, the others, or worse yet, Amaris would come after them. It was cowardly and monstrously unfair to them, as they would have to spend the rest of their lives asking questions that ultimately had no answers, or at least no easy answers.

I struggled to raise myself onto my hands and knees in the hopes of being able to crawl from here before the flames completely immolated the house, and that was when I heard it: a dry, rustling sound like snakes slithering over one another came from behind me. I risked a glance down, terrified and not daring to hope of what I would see, and saw that Andrew’s body was undergoing a rapid and drastic change. His form seemed to be animated by snakes and other unspeakable slithering things as it heaved and tossed restlessly from side to side, his limbs withering to dried sticks within the confines of his clothes. His flesh shrank back and cleaved tightly to the contours of his bones and his mouth gaped open grotesquely in a silent scream. I hurriedly scrambled away from the horror before me, repulsed by what I was seeing. My emotions warred with themselves as I realized what this meant: the transfusion had worked and Andrew was in the process of becoming an immortal, but it also meant that I had attained the status of a Font and was even less human than I had been before.

With a whisper of sound the transformation ceased and what lay before me was little more than a skeleton. Memories from my own transformation came back to me and I hurriedly slashed at my wrist again and allowed my blood to flow over the ruin of Andrew’s form. Almost instantly I could see life being restored to him as flesh and bone reassembled themselves and the contours of his chest and face emerged from the horror it once was. Cartilage, skin and hair seethed over the ruined form, conjured seemingly from the void. With a convulsive gasp his eyes flew open but continued to stare at nothing—a reflex. I sank down next to him and placed my wrist over his mouth and my left hand cradled his head, tilting it towards me.

“Don’t be afraid, Andrew. Take me into yourself and live forever.”

For a breathless few seconds nothing happened, but then his lips began to work sluggishly against my flesh. A violent shudder went through his body as he drew my wrist hard against his mouth, and then his lips molded tightly around the wound.

I screamed again—not in agony this time, but in ecstasy.

I sagged heavily against him and I pressed his head against my arm with a fierce determination. The pleasure was so intense I never wanted it to end, never wanted to relinquish this sense of complete abandon ever again. Each swallow wrenched a desperate moan from me and as his tongue probed the wound, delving deeper and deeper into the font of life flowing from me to him, I gasped his name and pulled him closer.

Even though I knew that each swallow further solidified my own damnation, I urged him to go on, urged him to take me into himself and to make me a part of him forever.

My mind was a riot of emotions in those moments: love, tenderness, pleasure and pain, but underneath them all was bitterness and shame—bitterness over my lost humanity, bitterness over the injustice of the options the woman had left me, and shame over the pleasure I felt performing such an unnatural act. The pleasure was all I was, was all I knew in those tenuous moments between life and death, became all that I despised.

I knew now what it was that compelled our kind to seek out eternal companions. The desire to share a part of ourselves with another on a level few could imagine made the desire to appease our loneliness pale in comparison, made all other desires seem trivial and inconsequential.

To feel our life flowing into the body of another, to know that our life gave them life in return—this was the essence of eternity.

He released me suddenly and I collapsed onto my side and lay staring up at the ceiling as flames roared through the timbers and reworked the aging wood down to its most basic elements. I was spiraling down into blessed oblivion with my heart pounding slowly and steadily in my ears, and everything I was boiled down to the blood flowing in my veins and of the blood flowing in the veins of Andrew lying beside me.

I closed my eyes and let the darkness come. I had made my choice but I still felt cheated, still felt as if I had been denied and lost what was most dear to me.

Strong arms picked me up and buoyed me through the air. My hands dangled limply at my sides and the wounds in my torso and wrist continued to bleed sluggishly. I didn’t have the strength to open my eyes, but I knew that when I did open them at last that I would see the world in a whole new light—for better or for worse.

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