Titel: Within the Essence by Connie L. Smith
Series: The Division: Book One
As the demons near, the Essences rise…
AJ had never been particularly athletic or coordinated, so waking up to realize she suddenly has super-human strength is a massive, mind-shaking shock. Finding that she’s gained a stalker overnight is another mark in the unusual category, and when she discovers she’s always had the essence of a werewolf in her blood, her world all but shifts beneath her.
Demons, she’s told, are looming in the world’s future, and the only hope humanity has of surviving their arrival is if she and teenagers like her surrender their humanity to dive into their mythical essences. Fairies, dragons, dwarves, mermaids… The remnants of seventeen different fantasy species must come to life to save the lives of everyone.
Someway, an army of supernatural teenagers must prepare to meet the demons escaping from their dimensional banishment, or everything ends. Can these teens succeed and save the world?
“Their essences. Their beings. When mingled with magic, they’re what make werewolves, dragons, and all other mythical creatures. The individuals from the war wouldn't last, but some of those essences had to, or the world wouldn't stand a chance.”
“Oh, this keeps getting weirder.”
“And it’ll get stranger still,” he added without missing a beat. “You asked if they retired. This is what happened to them. They gave up their essences and their magic—since magic was draining from the world—to preserve them for future use. It killed them, but they did it.”
“Well, where did the essences and magic go?”
“Exactly!” He smiled, seeming proud of her for asking that question. “The magic was bottled up and given to a collection of angels for safekeeping. Its release was dependent on one particular angel's judgment as to when the Division was too big to ignore.”
She could sense something very bad about to be revealed, but she'd come this far. There was no point in turning back now. “‘Was’ dependent?”
He looked right into her eyes as he confirmed her suspicion. “The magic was released, sweetheart.”
Her terror multiplied with that admission, both for what it meant for the world in total and for what it implied for her specifically. “The Division was too big? Demons will be here soon?”
“But what about the essences? Don't they have to mingle with the magic and save the world?”
“The essences were hidden in bloodlines,” he said. “Humans were the newest beings during the war, ones who required no magic to live. They would survive. They had to carry on the essences. Each potential essence was hidden in a different bloodline with the humans never knowing what was in their genes.
Even though she wasn’t searching for a point of focus in her gazing, she soon found one. The insane stranger from the school’s parking lot was less than ten feet away and watching her.
AJ tensed, then twisted to sprint away, but his words kept her in place as he advanced.
“It wasn’t intuition,” he insisted. “Like it wasn’t adrenaline. Why won’t you believe me?”
By now, he was inches from her, and she still wouldn’t make eye contact.
“Look.” She cleared her throat after her voice cracked. “I don’t know who you are, or if you’re stalking me, or what, but you can’t just show up—”
“You’re in no danger. We’re in a hospital, complete with officers and security cameras, not to mention patients, staff, and concerned well-wishers.” His lips quirked into another grin. “No need to create witnesses this time.”
“Just leave me alone.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not?” Though she struggled to keep calm, emotion tainted her words.
He sighed tiredly. “The last time I told you why, you ran from me.”
“Because it was crazy talk!”
“As crazy as a girl who can hear whimpers from two floors up? I overheard all of that conversation earlier, and that’s not counting whatever else you experienced today. What will it take to convince you something’s different here?” Reaching out, he took her chin in his hand so he could gently force her to meet his gaze. “What can I say or do that will get you to listen to me?”
Part of her wanted to hear him. She couldn’t deny, regardless of trying, that life had devolved to things impossible over the last twenty-four hours.
“My name.” He shrugged. “It’s Julius.”
“Well, that’s one question answered, at least,” she admitted after a humorless laugh. “But why are you following me?”
He breathed deeply like he would need the strength, and probably the patience, to see this conversation to its conclusion. “I'm a gatherer.”
She shook her head and held her hands out to her sides in a helpless gesture. “What's a gatherer?”
“AJ,” he started, drawing out her name as if unsure how to proceed. “Things are happening. All over. I know you've been affected.”
She’d purposely chosen the question to divert the attention from herself. He seemed to notice since he gave a light shake of his head.
“What could be the beginning of the end,” he told her. “I wish I could offer a more pleasant explanation, but you need to be aware of what's at stake here.”
“And what is at stake?”
“The world as we know it. Evil has returned, and if not dealt with, it’ll take over.”
“Evil’s returned?” she parroted in a dubious tone and crossed her arms in front of her. “I wasn't aware it left. Ever heard of Hitler? Attila the Hun? Mint Oreos?”
“Evil men,” he nodded in acquiesce, “and evil… snack food.” He looked at her curiously, forehead scrunched, then shrugged another time. “But it's still human. Or, food. I'm talking major evil, above and beyond anything a human could achieve.”
“What's gonna achieve it then? Aliens?”
He stared directly into her eyes, a fierce resolve unlike anything she'd experienced from him lighting his features. “Demons.”
Connie L. Smith spends a decent amount of time with her mind wandering in fictional places. She reads too much, likes to bake, and might forever be sad that she doesn’t have fairy wings. And that she can’t swing dance. Much of her preferred music is severely outdated, and as an adult she’s kind of obsessed with Power Rangers. She has her BA from Northern Kentucky University in Speech Communication and History (she doesn’t totally get the connection either), and her MA in English and Creative Writing.