Terra Haven Chronicles

Deadlines & Dryads: a Prequel

About Deadlines & Dryads

Getting the scoop might cost Kylie and her gargoyle companion their lives…

Dryads are a reclusive, passive species—or they used to be. Overnight, the peaceful woodland creatures have turned violent, attacking travelers with crude weapons and whipping the trees of their grove into a ferocious frenzy.

When rumors of the dryads’ bizarre behavior reaches journalist Kylie Grayson, she pounces on the story, determined to unearth the reason behind the dryads’ hostile transformation. Accompanied by Quinn, her young gargoyle friend, Kylie plunges into the heart of the malevolent grove. But nothing she’s learned prepares her for the terrifying conflict she uncovers…

USA Today bestselling author Rebecca Chastain returns to the beloved world of the Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles for a brand-new spellbinding adventure of elemental magic and courageous gargoyles. If you love action-packed stories filled with mythical creatures, brave heroines, and adorable sidekicks, you’ll love Deadlines & Dryads.

Series Reading Order

0.5 Deadlines & Dryads
1. Leads & Lynxes (forthcoming)

Other novels set in Terra Haven

Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles
1. Magic of the Gargoyles
2. Curse of the Gargoyles
3. Secret of the Gargoyles
3.5 Lured (a bonus novelette)

Excerpt

Chapter 1

I drummed my fingers on my open notebook, resisting the urge to bounce in my seat. Tension crackled in the charged air of the writers’ bullpen, where every single Terra Haven Chronicle reporter had gathered this morning at the behest of the editor in chief. She’d given no reason for the meeting, and speculations buzzed through the curiosity-saturated atmosphere.

“Does this happen often?” I asked the junior journalist next to me, who had been at the paper a few months longer than me. I had to raise my voice to be heard above the energized hubbub.

“No. Whatever’s going on, it’s big.”

The editor’s door cracked open, and all conversations in the room died off. Everyone leaned forward when Raquel Jervier, the newspaper’s gryphon scout, sauntered out. She swept her gaze over our rapt faces and grinned, her white teeth bright against her dark face. Unperturbed by everyone’s intense scrutiny, she took a seat at an empty desk, leaning the chair back on two legs to prop her heavy boots on the desk’s corner. The writer nearest her started to whisper a question but immediately quieted when Dahlia Bearpaw, the editor in chief, strode into the bullpen, coffee cup in hand. With short, spiky gray hair and a wiry, regal bearing, Dahlia looked as much a gryphon rider as Raquel—and had been in her youth. Now she ran the paper with the same firm hand.

“I think I might have a riot in here if I don’t get right to the point,” Dahlia said, taking in our eager expressions. “So, here’s the deal: The western everlasting tree is starting to bud.”

A collective exclamation of excitement exploded across the room, but I remained frozen in place, my thoughts pinging so fast that I temporarily forgot how to move. Forty years ago, one of the immortal trees in Asia had bloomed. It had been the first everlasting tree to show signs of fertility in centuries, and people had flocked to it. Standing beneath its blooming branches, they had asked their myriad questions. In response, the tree had unleashed a flurry of seeds, one per person, no two seeds alike. Just as legend had foretold, the seeds had served as maps of sorts, guiding each person to their answers—if they put in the time and due diligence. It hadn’t mattered the nature of their inquiries—personal or professional, selfish or altruistic; the tree had answered them all.

Everlasting trees were as rare as their bloomings; fewer than two existed per continent, and each released its seeds once every century, if not once every half millennium. I never thought an everlasting tree would bloom in my lifetime, especially not the tree nearest Terra Haven.

“Calm down. I know it’s exciting, but I haven’t finished my announcement,” Dahlia shouted above the uproar. “The Chronicle is going to send two journalists.” Silence dropped over the room as every writer leaned in, waiting to hear who she would select. “The lead journalist on the story will be Audrey Cintrón, but I have yet to pick who will accompany her.”

A sea of envious gazes swept to Audrey, who exchanged a solemn nod with the editor. A veteran journalist with decades of experience at the Chronicle, Audrey had earned her right to attend this monumental event. Her elegant, precise prose made her the perfect choice, and I strove to rein in my jealousy. From my table at the back of the room, cramped elbow to elbow with the other first-year journalists, I studied the remaining senior writers with a bitter eye. This was a story of a lifetime, and it had come years too early for me.

I mentally tabulated my savings, my connections, and my current standing at the paper. I didn’t have the finances to reach the everlasting tree on my own, and I didn’t know anybody with the resources to get me there, either. Even if I did, I couldn’t afford to take the weeks off work the trip would necessitate, not if I expected to have my job waiting for me when I got home. A knot of resentment settled in my gut, and I leaned back in my chair, defeated.

“Before you all bombard me with your qualifications—which I already know, or you wouldn’t be here,” Dahlia continued, “let me deliver the second part of this announcement. The position for the second journalist will be determined by whoever brings me the best story in the next forty-eight hours.”

I shot from my chair so fast it tumbled over backward. I had a chance!

The room around me had erupted in similar reactions, though several senior writers looked less than pleased. I couldn’t muster any sympathy for them. I had written a few good articles for the paper, which was why I had a seat in this room, but I was far from one of the editors’ go-to writers when it came to handing out assignments. If I could win this competition, not only would it prove to Dahlia that I had what it took to cover the everlasting tree, but it would also cement my career at the Chronicle.

Dahlia’s astute gaze cataloged everyone’s reactions, including mine as I sheepishly straightened my chair. When she called for silence again, everyone was quick to comply.

“You may have noticed Hernando isn’t here today. I sent him out before dawn to cover an invasion of poisonous serpents spotted in Lincoln River, upstream of the city. You’ll need to top that story to have a shot at winning.”

A collective groan spiraled around the room. Lincoln River flowed straight through Terra Haven and served as the main source of drinking water for a greater portion of the city. The deadly serpents would be a huge story for the Chronicle, and one not easily topped.

My hand shot into the air, and I waved it around to get the editor’s attention, but she was already pivoting in my direction.

“Unsurprisingly, the first question comes from junior journalist Kylie Grayson,” Dahlia said, her tone wry.

“She’s always got the most questions because she doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing,” Nathan said, pitching his voice to carry across the room from his corner desk in the senior writers’ section.

I ignored him. I wouldn’t let him shame my curiosity. “When will the chosen journalists leave?” I asked.

“As soon as I’ve made my selection,” Dahlia said. “Even traveling gryphonback, the trip will take you several days, and we can’t predict when the everlasting tree will release its seeds. I want reporters on the ground posthaste. This is a once-in-a-generation story that deserves more than a few articles; I want to run a special edition, perhaps a series of special editions.”

I hadn’t thought the room could get any more tense, but at the potent words special edition, every single writer went on point. A special edition would mean dozens of articles. Split between only two journalists, we’d each get entire spreads to fill. Contemplating all that column space left me light-headed with yearning.

“One last thing,” Dahlia said. “If you’ve got the vacation time and you’d rather attend the blooming at your own expense, I’ll accept the first five vacation requests.”

Half the room surged toward the editor, and in the chaos, I slipped out the back. I didn’t have the vacation time to use even if I did have the money to get halfway across the country in a few days.

I passed through the exit into the sunlight and paused, realizing I didn’t know where to go. I had a few rumor scouts in the field, and I had a few leads I could follow up on, but would any of them evolve into a story spectacular enough to win me this competition?

I pulled my journal out of my bag and opened it to peruse my notes, moving to the edge of the sidewalk to get out of the way of foot traffic. The city had woken up while I’d been inside, and the downtown streets bustled with people headed to their jobs. A horse-drawn wagon trundled past, the driver fighting the reins as the team shied at the sight of the enormous gryphon perched atop the Chronicle’s two-story roof. I tilted my head back and acknowledged the tiny shiver of fear that darted down my spine when the gryphon cocked her massive eagle head and pinned me with a golden eye. Rationally, I knew she was Raquel’s tame companion and would never eat a human, but my instincts still kicked in, telling me to run. Suppressing them, I scanned the rest of the roofline for Quinn’s bright citrine face, but when I didn’t spot the gargoyle, I turned back to my notebook.

The door burst open beside me, and Nathan stepped out, sweeping his dark hair off his forehead in a practiced motion. Lanky, with a perpetual black, bristly beard and thick-framed glasses, he looked like a caricature of a hardworking investigative reporter—a style he’d obviously cultivated. He spotted me and grinned, spinning on a toe to confront me.

“Tell me that was for show,” he said. “You don’t actually believe you can snag a story that’s more impressive than anything a senior writer can get, do you?”

“You heard Dahlia. We all have a shot.”

“Come on, Kylie. You’ve been here less than six months. You don’t have a chance.”

“I’ve had two front-page stories already,” I said, knowing I shouldn’t let him goad me but unable to help myself. “How many front-page stories have you had in that time?”

Nathan’s thin lips tightened and he shoved his hands into his pockets. Score one for me.

“You got lucky. Twice,” he said. “But this time you can’t just wait around for an article to fall into your lap. Or do you plan to pump your gargoyle friend for another story?”

I pushed my hair out of my face and gave him my best glare. I hated that he was partially right; I had been lucky in landing two major stories before anybody else knew they were happening, thanks to my best friend, Mika. In the last couple months, she had rescued several gargoyles and had become the city’s one and only gargoyle healer. The very first story that had gotten me noticed by Dahlia had been the tale of Mika’s daring rescue of the gargoyles. A small part of me wished I were bringing that story to the editor now, because it would have guaranteed me a victory in this competition. Now I needed to present Dahlia with something even more impressive, and every lead in my notebook fell well short.

Not that I would admit as much to Nathan.

“Don’t worry about me,” I said, injecting false sweetness into my voice. “I already have another amazing story lined up.”

“You do? Just like that?”

“I do.” I managed to infuse confidence I didn’t feel into those two words.

Tilting my journal so Nathan couldn’t see its contents, I scanned my notes again. Maybe the thefts at the fish market would develop into something bigger than petty crime. If not, I might be able to spin the story into a larger commentary addressing the socioeconomic disparities . . . Ugh. No. Maybe I would have to hunt down Mika and see if she had encountered any new gargoyles in trouble. Of course, Dahlia might not be impressed with a third story in a row about gargoyles.

“You’re riding high on your past successes, but don’t let your beginner’s luck fool you,” Nathan cautioned, his patronizing tone setting my teeth on edge. “Do yourself a favor and don’t burn yourself out trying to compete with experienced journalists. Put in the time, put in the legwork, and you’ll eventually pull in some big stories on your own.”

This wasn’t the first time Nathan had given me his “sage advice,” which basically amounted to take it slow and don’t upstage senior writers. I had no intention of listening to him. “I’m not sure why you’re concerned about what I’m going to write if you’re so certain your story will be superior.”

“Oh, I’m not worried. It’s just I see promise in you, and I don’t want you to get your spirit crushed before you even start your career.”

Two front-page stories! I wanted to shout. My career had already started, and it’d begun with a bang.

“I’m flattered you noticed my journalistic skills. Excuse me, Nathan, I’ve got to run.” I snapped my journal shut and stalked off before he could say anything else—or before I said something I’d regret.

I hadn’t made it halfway down the block when I spotted my rumor scout barreling down on me. The snarl of elemental energy whipped through the air, tight bands of air and fire woven through thinner strands of earth, water, and wood, all of it holding precious information. I glanced back over my shoulder and picked up my pace. Nathan tracked my retreat, and his eyes narrowed when he caught sight of my elemental creation. Damn it.

Half jogging, I met the rumor scout at the end of the block. Shaped from my magic, it honed in on me with a precision that had taken years to perfect. I shoved my hair out of the way as the bundle of magic coiled over my right ear, forming a soundproof seal against my scalp. Immediately, a stranger’s voice spoke into my ear, the words having been collected and recorded by the scout.

“. . . dryad chased me. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve taken Wicker Road hundreds of times, and I’ve seen my share of dryads, but not like this.” The man’s deep voice held the accent of a Southern merchant, and he sounded out of breath. He didn’t pause to give whoever he was talking to a chance to speak, either. “The dryads looked . . . they looked . . . predatory.”

Predatory? Dryads were peaceful creatures. They lived in harmony with the trees to which their lives were bonded, and their personalities were the equivalent of an oak given mobility. They nurtured the forest and they lived quiet, hidden lives. I couldn’t even picture what a predatory dryad would look like; it was like trying to picture a hostile tree—one that had apparently chased this man.

My journalistic instincts perked up.

I had been hearing rumors about increased restlessness in the local Emerald Crown Grove dryads since the tail end of winter, which was why I’d tailored a rumor scout to seek out and record any conversations in which the word dryad was mentioned. I’d also read up on dryads at the city library, learning that their abnormal agitation could be due to an impending violent storm or a possible encroachment of a new road or predator into their grove. I’d held off pitching the story to Dahlia because I had my own, third theory that involved the timing of the dryads’ restlessness, but I’d been waiting for it to pan out.

I hadn’t even considered that the dryad story might be worthy of today’s challenge, but this new development held promise. Maybe I wouldn’t need to go to the fish market after all.

“Don’t do it,” the anxious voice continued. “You don’t want to chance—”

Claws of air magic ripped the rumor scout from my ear, tearing out a hunk of my hair.

“Ow!”

I spun around. Nathan clutched my rumor scout in a thick lasso of air and held it suspended in front of him, studying it with avid curiosity.

Double damn.

To continue reading Deadlines & Dryads, pick up your copy today!

Reviews

“a deliciously intense adventure in the world of gargoyles”

The Book Drealms ★★★★★

“virtually impossible to put down… you are going to love it”

Kimmie Sue’s Book Review

“Rebecca doesn’t write normal, boring stories. What she creates is memorable books that keep you coming back for more.”

Kam’s Place

“I absolutely loved this tale… It has all of the ingredients required for a fabulous, light-hearted read!”

Tome Tender ★★★★★

“Really interesting story!”

Endless Reading

“This is a brilliant start to Kylie’s series… fun and fast paced and… full of interesting supernatural creatures”

Feeling Fictional

Leads & Lynxes

About Leads & Lynxes
Information to come.
Series Reading Order

0.5 Deadlines & Dryads
1. Leads & Lynxes (forthcoming)

Other novels set in Terra Haven

Gargoyle Guardian Chronicles
1. Magic of the Gargoyles
2. Curse of the Gargoyles
3. Secret of the Gargoyles
3.5 Lured (a bonus novelette)

Copyright © 2018 Rebecca Chastain. All rights reserved. This site uses affiliate links.