Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Waiting for the release of The Botanist's Game? *insert skeleton on bus bench meme here* The wait is almost over!! Release date and sneak preview below! (As the author, I want to say thank you for sticking with me during my health struggles. It's so appreciated.)
Threats. Blackmail. Poison. Only one can win...
The Botanist's Game.
Friday, October 29th
An unedited, behind-the-scenes first look at The Botanist's Game! Download here for e-book format. Remember this is the second book in the series.
If you haven't read Seven Crowns yet, stop here!
Spoilers! Lots of spoilers!!
It was a brisk autumn afternoon in the Northern Province of Bellaton. Ana and Adam zipped down the lane in a sleek hovercar. In all official records, this road did not exist. Nor did the very township itself that they had passed miles back. Generations of Rockwells had been sure of that. They had many enemies. Almost as many as Ana.
Ana stared out the window at the umber rolling hills and forests of scarlet and deep crimson leaves. If she really craned her head, she could just barely see the metallic road below. The hovercar operated on a magnetic propulsion system that required no wheels.
Ana wanted to roll down the window to get a better view, but as she reached for the button, the driver turned around. “Best to leave the windows up,” he said in a low gravelly voice.
Well, he was more of a bodyguard, she supposed. Although he sat up front, the car appeared to be self-driving.
“We’re almost there,” Adam said in a hushed tone.
Ana could sense his anxious energy, and she snuggled closer, lacing her fingers through his. “I can’t wait to see it.”
“It’ll be hard to miss,” he said pointedly.
Ana knew Adam was nervous about showing her his house. He had already explained that it would be different. Bigger than she expected. And his dad could be a little… well, she had met his dad. She knew exactly how he could be.
Ana wasn’t worried. She thought Adam was being a little silly. She had seen the academy and the capital. She knew his house would be large and magnificent. In her mind, she was imagining something like the White House—a large presidential home with columns and flags.
It had been difficult to leave home again. Ana and Adam had lounged around Earth for several weeks—eating at Frank’s diner, hanging out with Ana’s brothers, swimming in the lake, and working on their suntans. Ana didn’t need a job. Money was, at the moment, not an object.
She and Adam had been excused from end of year exams, as were all involved in the challenge. Time to rest and recuperate from the terror they had faced. Counseling had been offered. Ana snorted. All she needed was tape recorded sessions falling into the hands of her enemies. Still, it was luxurious and languid. Everything a summer should be. It felt like the end of an era when they had boarded the jet a few days ago.
The hover car approached a tall iron gate and paused by a sizable guard shack. A uniformed officer exited the building, and their bodyguard got out to talk to him. Ana couldn’t help but notice the turnstile was in the up position. She looked over at Adam and waggled her eyebrows. “I bet this thing can go pretty fast, huh?”
His eyes flashed like lightning in a bottle. He leaned forward and pressed the boost button, grabbing onto a nearby headrest. The hovercar lurched forward. They achieved 0 to 100 mph almost at once.
Ana screamed like she was on a rollercoaster as her head was sucked back to the seat. She was now regretting not taking Adam to a theme park.
The car slowed to a stop in the shadow of a large estate—a cross between a castle and a prison. It loomed ahead, many stories tall, and the portrait of a gothic tale. Its roofline stabbing like unhappy swords into the clear, autumn sky. Despite its name, Rockwell Manor was no manor house at all. It was a massive compound.
The walls were made of enormous grey stone blocks. The roof of obsidian. Turrets formed in sections. Perhaps the most disturbing addition from Earthen architecture was the inclusion of demonic-looking gargoyles on the roofline.
She sucked in a breath. “Whoa.”
“I told you,” Adam said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think you undersold it.”
“Let’s, um, let’s go in,” she said, regaining her composure.
The hovercraft, recognizing the successful arrival at its destination, lowered obligingly to the ground, so they could step right out onto the metallic road.
“I can’t believe we just passed through security like that,” Ana said, sliding out of the car.
Adam gave her a half-hearted smile. “If one of us didn’t have Rockwell DNA, we would have been automatically reduced to vapor.”
Ana’s eyes bulged. She looked around as if attack robots might soar at her from the rooftop. “Are we safe?”
“Of course. I’m a Rockwell.”
She drew her shoulders back, determined to put Adam at ease. She could handle whatever his creepy house had to throw at her. “Well then, Mr. Rockwell, I think it’s time we see your—ahem—estate.”
He rolled his eyes and nudged her playfully in the side. “Fine. But stay with me and don’t touch anything. There are a lot of dangerous objects and security measures. Don’t do anything… hasty.”
She looped her arm through his, and they marched up the stairs to the front doors of Rockwell Manor. Ana started to step forward onto the large black welcome mat, but Adam pulled her backward. “Don’t step there.”
She looked at him in confusion. “On the welcome mat?”
“It’s rigged with explosives.”
Maybe, she had been wrong to downplay Adam’s warnings about his house. So far, not that she was counting, but it could have killed her twice.
He led her over to the second window and a gas lamp that glowed silver. Adam reached for the base of the lamp and slid it upward. A scan was activated around them. The gas lamp returned to its original position, and the glass window pane disappeared.
Ana peered inside, careful not to breech the interior. “Is it safe to step through?” she asked. She wasn’t taking any chances anymore. The manor was not only uncharted but rigged with booby traps and security measures at every step.
“Yeah, come on in,” he said, stepping in and reaching a hand out to her.
She stepped through to join him. “Wow,” she breathed.
The entry was thirty feet high and illuminated by the light of a chandelier made entirely of sharp, silver swords that had been welded together. It might have been her imagination, but she could have sworn she saw a glint of dark dried blood on the point of one of the swords. The walls themselves were a light grey, and they too were covered with artfully placed swords.
The floor was grey stone. The only spot of warmth in the entire room was a small round rug that had been placed in the center of the room. It looked more like an armament than an entry for guests.
“Home sweet home,” Adam said, forcing a smile. “It’s better once we get inside, I promise.”
He accessed a panel and began entering some sort of information.
Ana spun around, looking at the towering walls. Captivated, she reached out to touch a sword. Adam, still busy with the access panel, noticed out of the corner of his eye.
“No,” he shouted, jerking her toward him.
The sword, once suspended on the wall, now shot outward in a stabbing motion in the spot where Ana had just been standing.
They were both breathing hard when the opening to the house appeared. Together, they stepped into an elaborate dining room.
“The security is much lower in here. Only a very small handful of invaders have ever made it to this point. You can touch things now,” he said. “Just don’t try to open any closed doors, and don’t touch any security panels. If something looks locked, leave it.”
Ana was still thinking of the chandelier. “Was there blood on that chandelier?”
Adam didn’t meet her eyes. “Yes. It lowers.”
Several staff members hurried forward to greet them, sinking into deep bows and curtsies. They were dressed in matching cream-colored uniforms with golden accents, reminiscent of the Bellaton flag. A man stepped forward and inclined his head. “Welcome home, Young Master Rockwell.”
“Hi, Connelly. Is my dad home?”
Connelly gave his most pleasant smile. “The esteemed General is away on urgent matters. He sends his regrets for not greeting his son and favored daughter-in-law.”
Adam rolled his eyes.
“The General, in his wisdom, has also asked that Lady Halt be assigned a personal maid to attend to her needs for the duration of your stay.”
A shaking young woman with red curly hair stepped forward and curtsied. She couldn’t have been any older than Ana.
“You’re very kind, but I don’t need any help.”
The staff exchanged horrified glances. The maid nearly dropped her tray.
“No help?” echoed Connelly as if he had failed to understand her words. “I can find another maid if she is unsuitable.”
Adam nudged her in the side. “Just give in on this one,” he whispered.
“Oh, no, she’s fine. Um, help will be great.”
The staff seemed to normalize once more.
“Excellent. We shall retrieve your baggage and set the Lady Halt in the East Wing, the Floral Room.”
The young woman curtsied again and left the room.
Floral. That sounded promising. Ana had been expecting the “Sharpen your Pickaxe” Room or the “Conquer an Empire” Room.
“It’s only a few doors down from me,” Adam assured her.
Connelly said, “We’ve prepared a welcome dinner, of course. It’ll be ready at 0700, if that’s agreeable to you, young master.”
Adam nodded. “Very good. Thanks, Connelly.”
The staff scurried out of the room and into what Ana supposed was the kitchen.
Finally, they were alone in the room. “You know I don’t need a maid.”
“I know. But my father will insist. It’s easier to just roll with it. Otherwise, he’ll fire the staff for being inattentive.”
“Want a tour?” Adam offered, changing the subject.
Ana looked a little uneasy.
“I swear no more scary stuff.”
They spent the rest of the day roving the enormous compound. There were countless bedrooms and hallways—Adam zoomed past these, which he considered “mostly boring”— three sitting rooms, a swimming pool, a weapons range, and finally his favorite spot— the hanger.
They stepped in a hanger the size of a dozen football fields and several stories tall. The inside was filled with immaculately maintained aircraft. Adam sighed when he walked in, as though admiring lovely jewelry or perhaps a puppy he hoped to take home from the pound.
Bright yellow lines divided off large parking spots, and white lines provided aisles. Adam toured Ana down several rows, cautioning her to remain inside the white lines. She didn’t need to be told twice. She had seen enough of Rockwell Manor to realize they didn’t appreciate anyone touching their things.
There were more than fifty craft here, and everything was unusual and impressive to Ana’s untrained eye. In the center of the hanger loomed the largest of them all—an enormous black triangular craft. It reminded Ana of the diagram she had seen on the S.S. Beatrice.
“Are all spacecraft triangular?”
“Not all. But they do have good stability.”
“I think the ship I came in on was a triangle.”
“Yeah, an old model. Kinda clunky. Made of a different alloy than the one here. Much heavier and larger but with less space inside.”
There was nothing small about the ship in the center of the hanger. Of course, Ana had never really seen the exterior of the S.S. Beatrice. It had been covered with dirt when she had banged on the hatch one year ago. And, of course, she had left the ship in a large box to avoid being detected.
“Is this one for cargo too?”
“It could be. It’s pretty versatile. But most likely no. It’s currently set up for long space travel—a luxury liner.”
They passed several sleek jets like the one that had taken them to the ball last winter. Then, they passed an empty spot.
“Did someone take that one out?” she asked.
Adam smiled impishly and tossed a small object inside the yellow lines. Suddenly, the outline of a craft appeared, illuminated with an electric glow like an eel striking its prey. “Stealth craft,” he explained.
“Cool,” Ana said. “I wish we could get a closer, but I don’t like the looks of that defense system.”
“If you like that, you’ll love the one that will take us back to the Academy when the school year starts.” He picked up his pace. His hands were in his pockets, and he had a big smile on his face.
That evening, Ana got ready for bed, letting the cold water run until it turned warm. She splashed the water on her face. General Rockwell’s words turned over in her mind.
As she slid under the covers, thoughts of Madame Bali danced behind her closed eyelids. A cramp was beginning to form in her left arm. She rolled over, grabbing for the other pillow, which was still fluffed to perfection. Her hand grazed against a slip of paper.
Confused, she opened her eyes and felt around again in the darkness. She grabbed the paper and climbed out of bed. She flipped on the lights. Scrawled in thick black ink was:
Anabella, You didn’t really think I was gone, did you? Yours Forever, M.B.
Ana’s eyes widened in horror, and she felt her breath catch in her chest. M.B. Madame Bali. It couldn’t be. She couldn’t be alive. She flipped the note over, hoping there would be more written on the back. It was blank.
Then, an icy chill shot down her spine. What if she wasn’t alone? What if Madame Bali was still in the room watching her? She whipped her head around. She saw nothing but the canopy bed and curtains. She rushed over and brushed the curtains aside, as if Madame Bali might be hiding behind their floral cloth.
No, she was still alone in the room. The bed. Under the bed. A tingle of fearful anticipation shot through her, but she leaned down slowly and peered under the bed. There was nothing. Not even a dust bunny.
She walked over to the adjoining bathroom and peeled back the floral shower curtain. Waiting for someone to jump out at her. A ghost. A human. She wasn’t sure.
But the bathroom was empty too.
She turned around the room once more and checked under the bed a second time. There was no one here. Just the note. Ana inspected it, looking for any clue. The paper was plain white. Nothing out of the ordinary. The ink was black and thick like it had been written with a high-quality ink pen. The sort you re-filled. She didn’t know what she had been expecting, a fingerprint, a web address maybe?
The most chilling part of the note was the thing she did recognize. The handwriting. It was absolutely, 100% identical to Madame Bali’s. There was no doubt about that. Did that mean? Could Madame Bali still be alive?
No, it wasn’t possible. General Rockwell had said she was dead. Then again… was General Rockwell above suspicion? Was he above lying? Ana snorted. Certainly not. He had no qualms about setting up his son’s engagement without his knowledge.
Ana looked at her infotab, hoping to see a message from Samuel. She hadn’t spoken to him since his arrest. After the challenge, she had demanded he be freed from prison and made her adviser. But before they could be united, she had been whisked off to Earth. Not that she was complaining.
Now, more than ever, she really wanted to talk to him. To tell him what had just happened. He was the only one paranoid enough to believe Madame Bali might be alive. And right now, she felt like she needed someone to affirm that she wasn’t going crazy.
But there were no new messages.
She chastised herself. She had only been back on Bellaton for eight hours. She’d hear from Samuel soon enough. For now, it was enough to know he was free and that they’d be together soon.
Samuel's Boundless Books
The cheerful spring sunshine bathed Samuel in its warm glow. He lay on a grass-covered knoll with a book in his hand, rapidly turning the pages with interest. Nearby, birds chirped and flying lops scurried in the bushes. Other than that, the park was still. There were no other people here.
The book was interesting. It was about Bellaton’s star portals—one of the planet’s most enduring mysteries. The portals enabled rapid space travel throughout this galaxy and many neighboring ones. However, as much as the Seven liked to deny it, they had no idea how the portals worked. They also had no idea who built them. Another fact they liked to deny. The Seven were the greatest civilization to ever live on Bellaton. To dispute this was a death sentence.
Many mathematicians had postulated theories over the years on how the portals might work, but so far, each had been proven wrong. Finally, several decades ago, the engineers had grown impatient of waiting for answers. They were granted permission from the Council to do destructive testing on one of the sites. It had been destroyed.
Still, this particular book was working through a theory Samuel had never considered before. He was just about to get to the crux of Dr. Emanuel’s theory when the book vanished. Samuel was staring at empty space now. His hands were empty. The book was gone.
Samuel roared in frustration.
Of course, the book had never existed at all. At least, not in a physical form. A few feet away, on a park bench, a new book materialized on top of a small stack.
Samuel was in prison. More specifically, he was in a simulation. And while this park looked like paradise, it was hell. One designed specifically for him.
The disappearing books was one of the rules of the simulation. Samuel had been making a mental list.
The sun always shined—day or night. This made it very difficult to sleep, of course. On his first night in the simulation, he had crawled under the park bench to try and escape its relentless rays. But it had made little difference. Now, he had lost track of any semblance of the passage of time.
The park never changed. The trees, grass, and bench always remained. The animals moved, scurried, and chirped on a set pattern. He could make minor changes, like when he dug up some grass, but it always reverted back.
There were always books. They sat in a neat, immovable stack at the edge of the bench. He could move them, but they would always reappear. When he got to the good part of a book, it always, ALWAYS disappeared. A new one would arrive to take its place.
He was never hungry or thirsty. Somewhere, outside of the simulation, his body’s nutritional needs were being met.
Samuel paced for a few minutes, trying to work off his frustration. He knew he needed to calm down. He knew who had designed this prison—his own family. And he also knew he was being watched. When they sensed he was beginning to break, that’s when someone would finally arrive.
So, he sat in the dirt under the large tree. He drew in the dust with his finger, thinking about the unsolvable star portal equation. He needed to keep his mind active.
In the back of his mind, his worst fear wasn’t that his family would come to interrogate him. It was that no one would come. Ever. That he would never leave this place.
He knew, if he stayed here long enough, there would come a time when he wouldn’t remember the walk down the long beige hallways or being forced into the room that now held him captive. No, he would forget the outside world altogether.
He lived in the park.
He had always lived in the park.
There was nothing but the park.
Five partial books later, Samuel lost his temper. He grabbed the stack of books and tossed them off the bench. He slammed his hands against the edges of the simulation. He couldn’t feel the pain, but he knew somewhere, his fists were bloody and bruised.
A crack of blinding white light appeared next to the tree. Two people entered, a horse faced woman and a man with a gaudy ruby ring.
Samuel let his hands drop to his sides. “Hi mom. Hi dad.”
I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes first look at The Botanist's Game by E.V. Everest! Sign-up here to get a notice on launch day!