About the Author

Mary Jennifer Payne

Books by this Author
Darkness Rising

Darkness Rising

Daughters of Light
also available: Paperback
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“If they catch you, the mayor will execute you, you know,” the oversized woman says.

My heart is in my throat. The counter-terrorism squad is at the other end of the subway train, their semi-automatics ready, and they’re moving fast. Everyone is being asked for identification, and no one is taking a second longer than necessary to show their credentials.

“Official government ID only!” one of the officers barks at an elderly man holding a cloth shopping bag filled to the limit in one arm and a tiny dog in the other. “Take off your mask. Now!”

The woman leans in closer to me and Amara. The stench of onions and sweet flowers emanating from her nearly overpowers me.

“Smith’s gonna put you on the list to hang just like she’s done with your friend Eva and that supposed subway bomber, Moore,” she says, keeping her voice low. Before I have a chance to reply, there’s a crash and a high-pitched yelp as the elderly man’s bag falls to the floor of the train, his tiny dog following closely behind. The officer grabs the man by the arm, wrenches him to his feet, and pulls off his anti-pollution mask.

“No ID? You’re under arrest!” he barks into the man’s pale face. The older man is trembling like a spider in a snowstorm — that’s clear to me even from this far away. His tiny Chihuahua, having regained its composure after being dropped, begins snapping at the officer’s pant leg in an effort to defend its owner.

“Please … please,” the older man sputters, putting his free hand up in front of his face. His accent is thick.

“He’s an illegal!” a woman sitting across from us shouts. Spittle flies from her lips. “Get ’im out of here!” she says, pumping her fist into the air. I can read her mind. Her thoughts are strong with emotion. She’s excited by the drama unfolding and disgusted by the fact that the elderly man is an illegal — at least, that’s what she’s concluded, even though there’s no proof of the man’s status. She seems convinced he’s a climate change refugee who’s sneaked into the city and is possibly a terrorist as well.

With the fluidity of a panther, the officer brings his booted foot down onto the diminutive dog’s midsection. A single canine screech cuts through the subway car. We both look over. The dog twitches briefly before becoming absolutely motionless.

“Oh, my god,” Amara whispers. She crams the palm of her left hand against her lips as tears stream down her cheeks, then begins to hum. Not any song or melody, just a low, steady hum. I know she’s fragile, maybe even close to snapping after losing her twin, Vivienne, earlier today. Seeing this little dog killed in such a violent manner isn’t helping her state of mind, that’s for sure.

“I’m Mary, by the way,” the woman sitting beside me says. She raises an eyebrow at Amara, who doesn’t seem to notice. “Listen, youse need to get outta here before they recognize you.” Her voice is raspy; it’s the voice of a lifelong smoker. “In two, you’ll know what to do. It’ll be your only chance to escape.” She smiles at me, revealing two very chipped front teeth, but her eyes are serious. “Good luck. It’s easy to tell that something’s not right with the leaders of our governments — for those of us that ain’t brainwashed by ’em.” She nods her head toward the woman sitting across from us.

The officer that killed the dog punches the button beside a set of subway doors. As the doors slide open, he roughly pushes the old man, who is now openly sobbing, out onto the platform.

“I can’t breathe!” Mary cries out. She clutches at her large bosom, hoists herself up, and starts stumbling toward the officers still on the train, one arm stretched out toward them. “My heart! Oh, god! The pain!”

Her thoughts come to me. They need to run. This is worth it. I’ve lived a long life.

The officers point their guns at her. “Stay back!” one of them warns. “Don’t take a step closer.”

“Help me!” Mary cries again. “I can’t breathe!”

I grab Amara’s hand and yank her up off her seat. She stops humming.

“What the …” She glares at me as though I’ve just shaken her from a deep sleep.

“We need to get out of here. Now,” I say, keeping my voice low.

We slide out the subway doors just before they close. Though he’s in the process of cuffing the elderly man’s hands, the officer on the platform turns to look at us.

“Freeze!” he yells. “Don’t move!” He looks back at the elderly prisoner sitting on the bench in front of him and then at us, clearly unsure which situation to focus on.

The sudden sound of gunfire from inside the train takes his attention off all of us for a moment. Without even looking, I know it’s Mary because I can’t read her thoughts any longer. There’s only dead air when I try. She’s dead.

“I’ve got a bomb,” the elderly man interjects. His voice is calm and the word bomb is spoken so softly, it’s barely audible.

The officer snaps his head back toward the man, who is now slowly rising from the bench.

“What the hell did you just —”

Suddenly, with all the force he’s able to muster, the elderly man drives the top of his head into one of the only unprotected areas on the officer: his crotch. The officer doubles over in pain and shock.

Without a word, Amara and I begin to sprint toward the stairs at the far end of the station, knowing perfectly well that our exit might be blocked if an alert has been issued. If not, we’ve got a small window of time. Our speed is our advantage. We bound up the stairs and leap over the turnstiles just as two TTC workers, accompanied by a drone, emerge from the ticket booths and lunge at us.

“Stop right there!” yells the younger one, a wiry but muscular woman with a shock of spiky blue-and-black hair. She catches Amara by the wrist. “Sound the alarm!” she shouts at the other worker.

Amara glances at me, her eyes wild. The woman is strong. I know what Amara’s thinking. We’re supposed to be uber careful using force on anyone but the demons. But she doesn’t have much of a choice but to be aggressive with this woman if we’re going to get out of here.

The drone swoops in front of Amara, moving dangerously close to her face. It zooms back and forth like a mosquito on cocaine, trying to distract her. A highpitched beeping fills the air. We don’t have much time at all. There are likely extra patrols of counter-terrorism squads on every street corner right now.

“Get off me!” Amara shouts, swinging her arm forward and taking the stunned TTC worker with her. Making the most of the woman’s shock, Amara donkeykicks her in the stomach and then takes a swing at the drone. The TTC worker crumples to the floor, but Amara’s not as successful with the drone. It swoops down and out of her range again, only to be back buzzing inches from her eyes within seconds.

Amara bats at it, but it’s too quick. I glance toward the entrance of the subway station. There are sirens approaching, but I can’t be sure if they are for us or another situation. Sirens are often the musical backdrop for large, urban centres like Toronto. Especially these days.

“I can’t move forward,” Amara says, frustration etching her voice. “It won’t let me.”

I glance at the TTC worker. She’s lying completely motionless on the tiled floor. Her skin has become ghostly pale. There’s no time to check, but I get the sinking feeling she’s badly injured … at best.

With a swift, high side kick, my shoe collides with the belly of the drone, sending it spinning off course. It rights itself and swoops back, toward me this time. I’m its new target. The lens at the front of the tiny aircraft swivels, directing itself at my face. My image is being recorded. More ammunition for Smith and everyone else who believes we’re terrorists.

Amara suddenly grasps both sides of the drone. Its buzzing intensifies into a high-pitched squeal. With one swift motion, she tosses it to the ground where it crashes on the tiles.

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Daughters of Light 3-Book Bundle

Daughters of Light 3-Book Bundle

Darkness Rising / Solomon's Ring / Finding Jade
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also available: eBook
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Finding Jade

Finding Jade

Daughters of Light
also available: Paperback
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It’s my first day of grade nine. I’m standing at the front desk in the office at Riverdale, my new high school.
And I think I’m losing my mind again.
“But this is where I’m supposed to go,” I say. I pull out my acceptance letter, hand it to the secretary, and plaster a smile across my face. As Mom always says, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
“Sorry, Jasmine,” the secretary begins, sliding the letter back across the desk at me. There’s this massive silver ring with a weird, blue-sky coloured stone on her right index finger. I can’t help staring at it. “You need to attend Beaconsfield. They’re expecting you.”
I can’t believe it. My acceptance letter is sitting there on the desk, complete with a cheesy welcome message from the principal. It’s pretty obvious I’ve been accepted to this school, but she’s refusing to even look at the letter.
“But I’m supposed to go here.” I point at the acceptance box, which is clearly ticked with a black check mark. Every last atom in my body is shrieking with rage. I want to shout at this woman, but know doing that will only make things worse — if they can get any worse.
I slide the letter toward her again. My hands are shaking. I feel like a volcano that’s ready to blow. The morning bell rings.
“Beaconsfield is that new school, right?” I ask through gritted teeth. “It’s at least a twenty-minute bus ride from here. There’s no way I’m supposed to go there.”
“You’ll attend Beaconsfield,” she says flatly, running her well-manicured fingers through her bleached hair.
“Can I speak to someone else about this, then?” I ask, digging my nails into the fleshy part of my palm to keep from screaming. I look down. Tiny crescent-shaped nail marks dent my skin.
“Sorry. Everyone else is busy.”
That’s when I notice that the office is nearly empty. Other than this weirdo secretary, there’s just an elderly caretaker dumping out wastepaper baskets into a large garbage bag. And he doesn’t even seem to notice us.
I open the office door and check the hallway to see if my friends Desiree and Aisha are waiting for me. Maybe they’ll have better luck convincing this insane woman to let me into class. But they’ve already gone to their homeroom classes, likely thinking I’d be right behind them.
I go back in and glare at the secretary. This is so stupid. I practically live around the corner. There’s no way I can be out of district or anything like that.
“Okay,” I say, “I’ll call my mom. Believe me, she’s going to come down here and lose it if you tell her everyone’s too busy to see her.” I fold my arms across my chest and wait for her reaction.
The secretary gives me this little knowing smile, like we’re sharing a secret, like she somehow knows that Mom is in the hospital getting treatment right now and can’t be reached.
Then she takes off her black-framed glasses, rests her forearms on the desk, and leans toward me as if she’s about to share her deepest, darkest secrets.
“Jasmine, you have no choice in this matter. You must go to Beaconsfield,” she says, her tone serious. I want to ask who died and made her God, but I don’t think that would go over very well.
“Come on,” I say. “You know not letting me in is crazy. I live, like, two minutes away. Kids from my junior high always go here.”
“We’re done having this discussion.” Her calm attitude makes the situation even more infuriating.
I pick up the letter and rattle it in her face. “Can’t you read?” I shout.
The woman shakes her head. “Go to Beaconsfield, Jasmine,” she says, before getting up and walking across the room to the photocopier.
Dumbfounded, I snatch my knapsack off the floor, open the zipper, and stuff my acceptance letter inside. I’m so angry I want to kick things. Instead, I fling open the office door so that it hits the brick wall behind it with a satisfying bang and storm out.
Then I reluctantly make my way to Beaconsfield Collegiate.
It’s only as I’m climbing the stone steps to enter Beaconsfield that I realize something. The secretary hadn’t even looked at my acceptance letter. So how did she know my name?

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Since You've Been Gone

Chapter 1


            Today I punched Ranice James in the face. My fist connected with her cheekbone and she dropped to the asbestos-filled tiles of our gymnasium floor like a bag of marbles. Now I’m officially suspended. I might even be expelled. According to our principal, Mr. White, Safe Schools will be involved for sure, and maybe even the police. The police. Just the thought of the police being involved in any way makes me want to dry heave all over my bed.


            Mom is going to be so disappointed. She won’t “kill me,” which is what other kids say when they make a major life mistake like having a party while their parents are away for the weekend, or smoking weed, or getting caught shoplifting. My mom doesn’t get angry. Ever. She won’t even raise her voice at me. Anger is something she avoids like a bad dentist; I guess she figures we’ve dealt with enough of it in this lifetime. But I think it’s natural. Anger, I mean. It’s a natural emotion. And it would be so much easier to deal with her getting angry like normal parents. Instead, she’ll be disappointed…and worried. More than anything, my suspension is going to make her super anxious because there will be follow-up meetings about it at school. And at these meetings there will be questions. Questions about our situation at home and what might be making me so angry. I wonder if Ranice’s mom will want to press assault charges. I doubt it. Most people in our neighbourhood have a pretty uneasy relationship with the police.


            I walk over to the window, lean my hands against the windowsill and let my forehead rest against the cold glass. The streetlamp in front of our townhouse is already on; its yellow light illuminating the spider web shaped cracks in the windshield of the abandoned car at the curb and the dirty snow banks left over from last week’s blizzard.


            I look at my watch. It’s nearly six o’clock. Mom should be home by now.


            We have this pact, this unspoken rule, that if one of us is going to be late, no matter what the reason, we have call. And we can’t just leave a message; we need to speak to the other person. That way we can be sure we’re both safe.


            I try to push down the nervous, sick feeling that starts to spread in my stomach.


            She’s fine. She’ll be home any minute.


            Sensing a chance to get petted, my cat Peaches jumps up beside me and stretches out along the windowsill. Her throaty purr vibrates against the palm of my hand.


            The ringing of my phone startles both of us. Peaches leaps off the windowsill as I run over to my bed to grab it. I glance at the screen and smile. It’s Mom.


            “Hey,” I say. “Where are you?”


            “Edie. You need to pack. I’ll be home within fifteen.”


            I feel like I’m in an elevator that’s plummeting thirty stories to the ground.




            I don’t know why I’m asking; we’ve been through this so many times.


            My mother’s breathing is heavy, frantic.


            “Just two suitcases and not too heavy. Janice will be with me. Look for her car. It’s the grey Toyota.”


            “I know what she drives,” I snap.


            Mom ignores that. “And Edie, don’t open the door for anyone. No matter what.”


            As if I’m that stupid, I think. Anger is rising in me like hot lava. It’s not her fault. I know that. Mom didn’t ask for this any more than I did. But I’m angry anyway.


            “What about Peaches’ carrier? Is it still in the basement?”


            There’s a pause.




            “I’m so sorry, Edie.” Her voice is strangled with emotion. “But we can’t take her this time.”


            The blood drains from my body. Peaches meows softly from the bed where she’s curled up, anxiously watching me. It’s like she understands what we’re talking about.


            “What do you mean?” I shout. “You can’t do this. Why can’t we take her?”


            “We’ll talk when I get there,” she says. “I need to go. We don’t have much time.”


            Then there’s the familiar click of our call ending and I am left staring for the last time at my bedroom, at Peaches, at the bed I’ll never sleep in again. And suddenly my suspension doesn’t matter at all.

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Solomon's Ring

Solomon's Ring

Daughters of Light
also available: Paperback
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We hear the sounds at the same time. Jade and I don’t say a word; instead, we start walking faster. The footsteps behind us speed up as well, keeping pace. Whoever — or whatever — is following us clearly doesn’t feel the need to keep their presence secret.
My stomach does a nervous somersault. This isn’t good. During the last few months of training with our Protectors, we’ve been taught to recognize when a situation may be dangerous. And at this moment, every cell in my body is screaming that this is a code-red situation. My gut feeling is that Jade and I are not just being followed. We’re being hunted.
There are still four full city blocks to go before we’ll reach a lit street lamp, before we can turn off the tiny flashlight we’re carrying. Right now, other than the pathetically anorexic beam cast by our flashlight, we’re walking in complete darkness and the street is empty. Rolling electricity cuts are to blame for the lack of lighting; only a small number of street lamps are now turned on at night, and those are found almost exclusively on the city’s main streets or in the wealthiest neighbourhoods.
“Stop,” Jade whispers, and we stop walking at the exact same moment. We’re naturally synchronized like this; it’s a twin thing.
The footsteps stop too. And though I try not to, I can’t help thinking about the recent rash of abductions and murders in our city. Local news websites post daily updates and photos of the missing … and those found. Thing is, not many people fall under the found category. And those that have been found are not found alive … or in one piece. It’s a modern-day Jack the Ripper sort of thing. Or at least that’s what the media and police would like us to believe.
But as Seers we know better. We’re at war.
Jade and I begin walking again, this time more quickly. The night air is only slightly cooler than it was during the day, and the humidity, along with the adrenaline surging through me, makes my face slick with sweat. Instinctively, my hand moves to the oversized knapsack on my back. I run my fingers over the smooth surface of my bamboo pole. Though any sort of strong, pole-like structure will do, I made this pole in class at Beaconsfield. The bamboo is light but strong, which makes it easy to carry. We’re only supposed to use our poles in the most serious of circumstances, when we believe our lives are under immediate threat.
I listen. The footsteps are definitely closing in. This seems as good a time as any to use my pole.
Jade nods at me, her dark eyes solemn. “One, two …” she whispers.
At the count of three we swing around to confront our stalker. In one fluid motion, I pull my pole out of my knapsack. It slices through the air, making a sharp whistling sound as it moves. Ready to strike, I hold it across my body like a shield.
A wiry male figure stands less than five feet away. Jade directs the beam of the flashlight at his face, and even though it doesn’t illuminate much, I am startled by the chalky, grey-white colour of his skin and the cavernous, dark circles that frame his eyes.
Great. Some strung-out junkie thinks he’s going to mug us. I flex my arms, tightening the grip on my pole.
“Back off,” I say, keeping my voice low and even.
He doesn’t move or say a word in response. I feel Jade tense beside me. We’re like two cats, coiled and ready to spring. My newly developed muscles, the result of hours of daily training at Beaconsfield, give me confidence. This guy is likely high as a kite. That might make him less fearful, but he’s still nothing for two Seers to take on.
Jade shines the flashlight beam at his face again. I see it before she says anything.
“Jazz. His eyes.” Her voice is barely a whisper, but the demon hears. In response it draws back its concrete-coloured lips. Razor-sharp teeth glisten at us. The smell of rust and decay hits my nostrils like a tsunami.
There’s only one. This means it will be a minor challenge for us, especially as I’m already armed. If anyone told me a year ago that I’d be killing demons, I’d have thought they were crazy. But after travelling to the Place-in-Between and seeing the armies of demons that reside down there for myself, there’s nothing I won’t believe. Tell me I’ve been signed up for riding lessons on a unicorn and I’ll ask if pulling on its horn will make it stop galloping.
Without any warning, the demon rushes at Jade. She scurries backward, moving just out of its reach as it lunges for her face.
I dart forward, keeping my centre of gravity low, and swing my pole, throwing my entire body weight behind it while aiming for the soft part of the demon’s neck. The only way to destroy one of these creatures is to behead it. I wait for the satisfying impact of rattan against flesh.
This demon is fast, though, much faster than the ones I encountered in the Place-in-Between. And as it grabs my pole and tries to wrench it out of my grasp, I discover it’s also much stronger.
Jade is beside me in an instant. The sticky, humid air is causing my hands to sweat, making my grip on the pole even more tenuous.
“You’re not armed. Get back,” I shout at her. I’m not willing to lose her again. I already spent nearly half my life believing she was dead and that it was my fault, so I’m not going to risk having it happen for real now.
The demon takes advantage of the split second I shift my focus to Jade and gives the pole another hard tug. This time it slips through my fingers like water.
I immediately backflip away from the demon, but it still manages to catch my lower legs with the pole. The wood smashes against my shins, causing me to scream with pain. Flickering stars fill my vision, and my legs give out from under me as I land.
Jade drags me out of the demon’s reach as it lunges again. This time the pole comes within centimetres of my ear. A little closer and my head would’ve cracked open like a sun-ripened melon, brains spilling onto the pavement.
I jump back to my feet, trying to force down the sickening nausea sweeping over me. There’s no way I can let myself faint. Not now. It would be a death sentence for both of us.
Jade runs at the demon, veering off sharply to the left at the last moment. She’s fast, but not fast enough. The demon catches her shoulder with its long claws, ripping open the back of her T-shirt.
The diversion works just long enough. I spring toward the demon and kick it squarely in the soft area between its hip and groin. The creature bellows in surprise and drops my pole. I hear it bounce along the cracked pavement of the sidewalk and onto the road.
Without thinking, I dash toward the sound. There’s no way I can lose my pole. I’ve trained for hundreds of hours with it in my hands over the last few months. It’s become an extension of me, like another appendage. Besides, Mr. Khan would kill me.
“Jazz!” Jade screams as I crouch at the concrete lip of the sidewalk to retrieve it.
I turn in her direction and immediately see why she’s screaming.
Three more figures have emerged from the shadows of a nearby alleyway and are making their way toward us. I’m almost certain they’re not human.
My fingers scurry, crab-like, along the warm skin of the street until they hit my pole. I snatch it up and run toward Jade.
“We have to get out of here,” I say, grabbing her by the arm. She nods. Trying to fight would be crazy. Not only are the odds now stacked against us, but this seems to be a new breed of demon: stronger, more cunning than any we’ve encountered before.
I begin to run without thinking. I know the demons are close behind us. I can hear their laboured breathing and smell the rusty odour of blood from their exhalations.
Jade’s a few feet ahead of me. Speed is her strength; a deadly and accurate aim with the pole is mine.   I keep my eyes locked firmly on the glimmering street lamp ahead. The small orb of light illuminates one of the city’s busiest streets — surely the demons won’t risk chasing us out in the open. There’d be too many witnesses.
Not that these demons seem too worried about being discovered. After all, they’ve left over a dozen dismembered bodies strewn around the downtown core of the city over the last few weeks.
Jade is nearly at the intersection. The light from the street lamp glows around her, giving her an angelic aura. I watch a police car roll past the intersection. Maybe Jade can flag them down. If they give us a ride home, we’ll be safe for sure — safe for tonight, at least.
Something grabs hold of my knapsack, and for a brief moment, I’m suspended in mid-air, caught between the force of me moving forward and the demon pulling me back.

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