New Release Excerpt: Precursor (Suoja Guild Book 1) by AJ Anders


This excerpt is part of our New Release Excerpt series where authors send us the first chapter of their new release so you- fans of paranormal romance fiction- can sample before you (hopefully) buy!

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Precursor (Suoja Guild Book 1) by AJ Anders
Available at Amazon | iBooks | B&N | Kobo

Release Date: May 19th

Synopsis

In the war against demons, Evie’s father stands against all things supernatural, including the Surmata, a race of beings that want to coexist with humans while they wage their own war against the demonic race. Raised in the Resistance, Evie struggles to stay true to herself and not fall under her father’s brainwashing.

With everyone around her a possible spy for her father, Evie’s sole relief from camp life comes from her best friend Maximilian. When he introduces her to his friends outside of the Resistance, Evie discovers a whole new world and possibly a place to belong.

But forces inside the camp are determined to keep Evie in her place, even if it means destroying who she is.

***Previously published in the Falling for Them Anthology, now out of print.

Chapter 1


The hit came hard and fast. A leather covered hand flashed from the corner of her eye, providing the only warning she received before pain blossomed along her lower right side. Her feet faltered slightly, but sheer will helped her maintain her stance. Evie was determined to stay on her feet. She would not be forced down to the ground like a newbie fledgling.
The next punch came from behind her, striking her in the shoulder. The force behind it propelled her forward a few steps. Grimacing, she locked her knees in place. If she faltered now, these assholes would never leave her alone. They wanted to break her, wanted to make her fall in line using any means necessary.
The men surrounding her blended into each other, resembling all the others she’d ever known. Like obedient dogs, they followed orders blindly. Never thinking for themselves, never questioning, they swarmed around her with an almost fanatical glee. Their glossy stares, cold and unfeeling, watched her closely as if they anticipated the moment when her legs would no longer support her, and she crumbled to the ground.
If that happened, they won.
But, Evie was resolute, determined to stay on her feet. People underestimated her because of her size. The team surrounding her equated being small with being weak. She was going to show them just how wrong they were. If they wanted to take her down, they would have to work for it.
Taking deep, even breaths, Evie exhaled through her nose, trying to diminish the pain. Thanks to Maximillian, she knew how to handle pain. She learned at thirteen how to endure the beatings, but Max taught her to compartmentalize it, locking it away so that its influence would not cripple her in a fight. Clenching her fists tightly at her side, she tucked her chin against her chest and waited.
Five men circled Evie. Their teeth bared like a pack of wild dogs, closing in on their next kill. They looked for any signs of weakness they could exploit. Evie refused to give them one. Instead, she watched them warily. Seeing anger reflected in the gaze of the men of the camp occurred regularly, but today, that anger was nowhere to be found. Instead, hatred replaced it. The men glared at her like she was the next meal they intended to rend apart.
Trepidation filled her, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. Something was wrong. Something or someone had stirred them into a frenzy. This did not bode well for her.
The air swirled around her, its light kiss against her skin signaling the next attack. She braced for it. A fist slammed into her stomach, quickly followed by a kick to her right hip. This new attack was quick and precise, a coordinated effort to inflict the maximum amount of pain, but it lacked the necessary force to knock her down. They toyed with her.
Their discipline training consisted of conditioning the mind, but they were not usually so brutal. The frenzied anticipation of the soldiers suffocated her with its palpable intensity. Laughter echoed. The soldiers pushed her, hoping to goad her into making a mistake. If that happened, it gave them unspoken permission to continue on with their torture. She refused to take the bait.
Evie struggled through the haze of pain and readjusted her stance. Squaring her shoulders, she stood there defiantly. She would outlast them all.
When the next hit came, it sent her reeling forward, almost forcing her to her knees. At the last second, she caught herself, regaining her balance. Blood pooled in her mouth. She must’ve bitten her lip in an effort to not cry out. Another hit, this time on her lower back, signaled one minute in, two minutes to go.
Time seemed to slow down, each minute lasting an eternity as her attackers launched hit after hit, swiftly and repeatedly colliding with different parts of her body. Legs, back, chest, no area below her neck was left unscathed. Her body continued its aching throb, but she remained on her feet.
Evie knew the camp mentors were angered at her repeated refusal to join their coveted ranks, annoyed at her unwavering resolve to not repeat the cycle of abuse so many had to endure. The mentors considered this training, but reality proved their desire for a deliberate assault was driven by resentment and hatred against her refusal to bend.
Another tap on her shoulder. Two minutes in, one minute to go.
Without any warning, a fist connected with Evie’s chin, knocking her to the ground. Disbelief flooded her as she laid there in shock. A face shot broke the rules. Evidence of the monthly training sessions needed to be easily concealed under clothing; otherwise, camp members who were new to the cause or joined in the last few years would ask too many questions. Discipline training was a closely guarded camp secret.
Camp members were zealots. They lived and breathed the cause. They turned a blind eye to what really happened within the camp borders. Instead, they convinced themselves it was combat training. A needed skill to help young adolescents prepare for future campaigns against the enemy. All parents of fledglings had been indoctrinated by the current leader, her father, to believe the lies. If a concerned parent spoke up, fear and intimidation tactics silenced them. If that failed to work, their loyalty was bought and paid for with cold hard cash.
Agony erupted from her abdomen as a booted foot made contact with her stomach. Nausea rose, and Evie’s insides rebelled, threatening to spill its meager contents. Another hit to her side fueled her anger. Its burning heat roared, begging for release, demanding her to fight back. She resisted its command. Instead, she used it to push the pain back. Survival for this round required her to hold out for less than a minute. She would not lose.
Curling into a ball, she stayed huddled close to the ground, trying to protect her head. They ignored the rules. She wouldn’t put it past them to try for another head shot.
After four years, taking a beating was second nature to Evie. She learned long ago it was worse to fight back. She couldn’t change the mindset of the camp elders. They believed that discipline training was necessary. Her goal to endure the malice with dignity set an example to the younger members who looked up to her. Maybe one day, they would follow her lead, fight back against the injustice in their own way.
At the age of thirteen, camp teenagers were given the rank of fledgling and were forced to start attending combat training. CT, as the camp members liked to call it, lasted for three hours each day. It included self-defense, hand-to-hand combat, and weapons training. Attendance was mandatory, rain or shine. As you aged and proved your competencies in the skills taught, you advanced into more technical training. At thirteen, you started in the beginner CT class. At fifteen, you graduated into the intermediate class. Sixteen and seventeen-year-olds were in the advanced class, and those over eighteen were in the elite class. As you advanced, the days required to partake in CT decreased.
Even though Evie was only seventeen, she’d been moved to the elite class during her sixteenth year. No one informed her of the reason, but she suspected it had something to do with Dominick being the class instructor. What Dominick wanted, he got, and he wanted Evie in his class.
On top of CT, fledglings attended discipline training once a month. This specialized training was touted as mental conditioning, but Evie knew the truth. It was a barbaric ritual used by her father to subvert future recruits. It gave mentors permission to beat a fledgling bloody for three minutes. Three minutes wasn’t a long time, but when a person was on the receiving end of five pairs of fists and feet, three minutes seemed like a lifetime. If a fledgling raised a hand in defense during those three minutes, their training time extended by two minutes.
If a fledgling raised them again, then the seasoned soldiers stepped in. When they were done, the fledgling ended up lying unconscious. This cruel practice continued on until fledglings reached the age of sixteen. Then the fledgling was granted the rank of mentor and expected to help train, perpetuating the barbaric tradition. If a fledgling refused the new promotion, well, the consequences were severe. Evie knew from first-hand experience. Today was her seventeenth birthday, and she was still ranked as a fledgling.
Her father’s most trusted lieutenants oversaw Fledglings Day, the nickname the soldiers gave discipline training. These men and women stood stock still, arms crossed against their chests, their dead eyes watching the proceedings with little emotion. Most of the lieutenants enjoyed their duties, some a little too well. They reveled in their power when a fledgling failed and they were able to step in.
Evie struggled every month on Fledgling Day during the first year. She had a natural inclination to raise her hands, to defend herself against the attacks. Her pride—or maybe it was anger—didn’t allow her to go down easy. It took over a dozen times of being knocked unconscious for the lesson to sink it. Now at seventeen, she rarely raised her hands.
On her sixteenth birthday, when she was expected to graduate from fledgling to mentor, she refused. She wasn’t about to beat up on the younger, new fledglings. She didn’t agree with the training, and she wouldn’t help propagate the belief that it was necessary to the cause. Her defiance spoke louder than words. To say her father wasn’t happy was an understatement. He’d ordered her beaten for double the amount of time. When it was over, they hid her away for almost two weeks while she recovered. Her father spun a story about her appendix rupturing so other camp members wouldn’t question her absence.
After that, Evie’s father left her alone. Not out of any sense of fatherly affection. No, it was more out of fear that members of the camp, who were still unaware of the practice, as well as visitors from other camps, would question the bruises. As a seventeen-year-old fledgling, she managed to be the only one over the age of sixteen to refuse to become a mentor since her father had implemented the additional training requirement five years ago.
A whistle sounded, signaling the end of Evie’s three minutes in the circle. Another month completed, only eleven more to go before she was out of this hellhole. She was counting the days until her eighteenth birthday when she could leave.
Her face throbbed, and her limbs shook from pain. It was useless to try to move from the ground. She wasn’t going anywhere just yet. Instead, she lay with her cheek against the dirt and contemplated her next steps. Thankfully, Max wasn’t due back until later in the week, so she had a few days of reprieve.
Each Fledgling Day proved harder to hide her injuries from him. He’d become suspicious over the last year, but Evie convinced him that they just battled hard in combat training. She made sure to cover her arms and legs at all times. He never witnessed the bruises she carried on her skin, but as soon as they faded, the month would be over with a new Fledgling Day upon her. It would only be a matter of time before he found out.

~

The sun was high in the sky the following morning when Evie dragged herself out of bed. Making her way slowly to the small bathroom attached to her room, she searched her medicine cabinet for the small box of pain pills hidden there. She popped two of the little, white pills into her mouth and swallowed them without water. Pain wracked her body. Her torso was tender to the touch, and her skin felt tight from swelling. She hesitated before slipping off her clothes to climb into the shower. As always, she didn’t want to see the evidence of violence that had been inflicted upon her body. She knew her bruises would be in full bloom, most bright red or darkening into blue, while the more serious ones turned a deep purple.
She did examine her jaw, pissed at whoever had hit her in the face. It was hard enough to keep Fledgling Day a secret from Max. Hiding the bruises under her clothes worked well, but she couldn’t help walking around like a sloth for a few days after. Her body just wasn’t able to move at a normal pace. Plus, it helped with the pain management. But the bruise on her cheek would be hard to explain away. She’d iced it the night before so it wasn’t swollen, but the skin was discolored. She hoped that the bruise would disappear before Max arrived back at the camp. If not, she would be forced to lie to him once again.
It didn’t take long to shower and dress for the day. She avoided looking in the mirror when she stripped down and bypassed washing her hair. She couldn’t lift her arms up high enough to deal with her hair, the pain becoming too much if she stretched the muscles in her sides.
Knowing she couldn’t put it off any longer, Evie made her way down the stairs located off the kitchen with the intention to make herself a light breakfast before slipping quietly outside.
The cabin was compact but didn’t feel cramped. A kitchen, living room, office, and master bedroom were all located on the first floor. Evie’s room was the only area upstairs. It was a converted attic space; she liked to think of it as her personal sanctuary.
Entering the kitchen, she searched the cupboards for her cereal. As she grabbed the box, heavy footsteps sounded behind her.
“I have people coming over this morning. Make a fresh pot of coffee, then get out. Make yourself useful around the camp.” Her father’s command was clear. He didn’t care if she missed a meal.
Keeping her head down, she nodded. “Yes, Father.”
“And find Dominick for me. Tell him I need him to attend this meeting.”
Evie nodded again without looking up. She didn’t want her father to see the spark of anger in her eyes. Keeping her feelings in check became more difficult because her patience with her situation had worn thin. She was his flesh and blood, but he treated her like a servant. She needed to be careful, though, and keep those feelings hidden. If she showed her resentment, he would get creative with a new punishment for her. Her biggest fear was that he might restrict her access to come and go. She needed to be able to leave camp and make her way into the town of Holden. It was the only thing that broke up the monotony of camp life.
Focused on making the coffee, Evie wondered what happened to the father she’d once known. Once upon a time, Evie was a normal, little girl with an average family, the dutiful daughter who hung on the shirttails of her beautiful mother. Her once fun-loving father had read her stories and played dolls with her when she asked.
But, that changed when she was five. Her mother was murdered, and overnight, her father turned from a doting dad to a man filled with hatred and revenge.
The day her mother died, Evie’s father told her that the Surmata were responsible for her mother’s death. Her mother was in Heaven, and Evie would never see her again. In her naivety, she asked how they were responsible, and her father slapped her. His next cold, harsh words would dictate how he viewed her from that day forward. “Children should be seen and not heard. Never question me again.”
After that, Evie learned to hold her tongue. But as she grew older, her natural curiosity kicked in, and she researched the attack. At ten, she discovered the truth. It was not the Surmata who inflicted her mother’s mortal wounds. All evidence suggested it to be a crime committed by a Kosketti, a human corrupted by a demon’s influence. Once a human’s soul was fully darkened, the soul could not be redeemed, even in death.
Evie’s father joined the Resistance long before she was born, but he held a lower position. After her mother’s death, he worked his way up the ranks. Five years ago, he attained the rank of captain, the rebel leader for the entire southern region of the United States.
This camp became his home base. Within his first month, he instituted the practice of discipline training. He had one purpose when he accepted the new position in the Resistance movement against the Surmata: destroy anything supernatural. He preached his views to his followers and any others who happened to come into contact with him. People flocked to his side, believing every sugar-coated word that sprang from his lips.
Now Evie’s father was one of the strongest leaders in the whole country, but he was also one of the cruelest. He believed every word he spouted about the supernatural species he’d come to hate. He viewed the Surmata as the greatest enemy mankind ever faced. If he ever got wind that his own daughter didn’t believe in his cause, Evie wasn’t sure what he would do.
Retreating footsteps sounded behind her. Evie relaxed her tense body as she heard her father leave the room. She was relieved he dismissed her so easily. It would have been harder to keep her expression neutral if he asked her more questions. Placing the cereal back in its cupboard, she finished making the coffee, grabbed her stuff, and set out to find Dominick.


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