Chapter Two

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An alarm beeped at Clara. The screen of the portable device she kept by her bedside lit up green with light.

Clara groaned. She hated mornings and without aid would likely sleep the day away. For that reason, she had taken to Waking the portal device before allowing her head to meet the comfort of her pillow each evening. The strain of using the amount of Nites needed to operate the device for an extended time—even if in a limited capacity—left her even more drained than a busy day could alone. Regardless, she always woke in the morning, recharged at least in one way.

That device was a contradiction to this world that lacked the conveniences of the old. Some might call the operation of the portable device a miracle, though not many. Most would see it as something worse, a crime against nature since the day nature, fate, some almighty being, or whatever rewrote the rules. Clara hated rules, godly or otherwise. And as far as she was concerned… waking up in the morning was a rule too.

She groaned at the device disturbing her sleep, hoping her glumness would quiet the thing. It did not.

Reaching over, Clara silenced the device by touching her finger to the screen. She wanted to slam her fist down on the bedside table and crush the infernal thing but devices of its like were difficult to scrounge up and thus expensive to collectors. The metal bird that sat next to the device—a cross between an eagle and tiger, the avian grace and ferociousness of the cat—rocked on its claws and talons when Clara's hand bumped the table. She shoved that hand back underneath her pillow.

Silence. Blissful. Silence.

Relief puffed out of Clara as her heavy eyelids slid shut again.

"Clara! Breakfast is ready," a voice called from far away. Mothers could throw their voices far, as if baring a child amplified their voices to supernatural levels.

Again, Clara groaned, wanting to ignore the trumpeting of her mother.

"If you don't move your lazy butt your morning meal is going to Scooter! And I'm leaving for the shop in fifteen minutes. Hustle, miss!"

No way was the family dog going to have more meat on its ribs than Clara. She rose, dressed herself, grabbed her gear, and on the way to breakfast stopped by the bathroom the splash water on her face. Cold water. Brrr.

In the mirror over the washbasin a familiar face dripping with water stared at her. Clara took up a towel and dried her pale face, which remained alabaster fair regardless if she went out in the sun. The tie around her wrist bound back her raven dark black hair, though curly strands were already escaping and bouncing in front of her oval-shaped face. Clara was not pretty, average, but nothing boys would find a reason for a second glance, especially when golem oil was smudged across her white cheeks and down button nose.

After wiping away beads of water from her equally dark brows, Clara tossed the towel over a rack behind the door and went to make sure her breakfast didn't get tossed in the dog's food bowl.

Scooter was already anticipating Clara's sleeping in. The brown and tan long-haired dog sat in front of his bowl. His whipcord tail wagged across the carpet, gimme-gimme the motion demanded. He pawed at his bowl with eagerness, adding a whine to pluck heartstrings.

As soon as the family dog eyed Clara he knew his breakfast of leftovers would not come. He bowed his head and padded over to Clara, but not before sliding his butt across the rug situated in the middle of the room. Finished scooting, Scooter stood on his hind legs and pawed at Clara's chest, giving her a doggy hug and licking her hands.

"Off! Scoot, get down!" She could not keep the fondness out of her firm tone.

Scooter returned all his four paws to the floor and walked beside Clara as she joined her mother and brother at the dining table.

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