The war against nature has begun
Nature spirits have ravaged the world with natural disasters for millennia. They're dangerous, unpredictable, and largely invisible. After eight years of living on the streets, Rika is one of few people in the world that can see spirits. Most of the time, she keeps a fragile peace with them, but when the Erlking, a powerful storm sprite, attacks Berlin, Rika is dragged into the fight against nature.
She joins the Spirit Seekers, a group of elite soldiers trained to defend Berlin and other cities around the world against nature's wrath. Currently bereaved of their acting commander, the spirit seekers look to Rika to be their eyes. When the Erlking is coming for her, Rika needs to make a decision: side with the spirits she befriended or face the storm.
Join the Spirit Seekers in their first stormy adventure and start your European journey today!
"This book was a fantastic read, which I could not put down. The author has woven an intricate tapestry of fantasy in the modern world, offering the reader a true delight."– Johanna M Rae, Goodreads
"First, I love that this story is set in Berlin. It's so nice to have an urban fantasy set somewhere other than the US, the UK, or Canada. Second, I love that this story sees both sides and is not afraid of the greys in between the black and white. I also really liked the diversity of the supporting characters."– Karen Brennan, Amazon
""A Force of Nature", the first instalment in the "Spirit Seeker" series by Janna Ruth, is a welcome new breath of air into Urban Fantasy. The story takes place in Berlin, Germany, which is already a plus point in my book. Through Ruth's skillful writing Berlin becomes another main character in the plot, weaving fantasy plot and reality into a highly credible story."– Katheyer, Goodreads
Have you ever looked death in the eye? I don't mean a near-death experience—I had plenty of those in my life. I mean, have you ever come face-to-face with creepy, bone-chilling Old Death? No? Lucky you.
Unfortunately, if there's one thing I've always been without in my life, it's luck.
Winter in Berlin can be anything from minus twenty degrees Celsius, freeze-your-nose-off, to fifteen degrees Celsius, wait-a-minute-I-thought-it-was-supposed-to-be-winter. When you're living on the streets, you definitely prefer the latter one, trust me.
A storm has been brewing for days, even though winter isn't the time for storms. Not in Berlin. Yet, here we are. Thick, grey clouds are hanging so low you can't even see the top of most of the high-rise buildings. The wind carries with it a chill that turns my fingers into frozen sausages. It is so strong, not even the sylphs stand a chance.
Look. I know it sounds crazy. Most people are entirely blind to nature spirits, but they're everywhere—well, everywhere that still looks remotely like nature.
Sylphs are the most elegant of nature spirits. I love watching their sheer bodies flow lazily in a summer breeze, changing shape constantly. They might not look like they're in control of the wind, but they usually are. Not the ones around me, though. The storm whips them mercilessly through the air, not responding to their plight in the slightest. And if that isn't frightening enough, it starts snowing.
Remember how I said you can't even see the top of the old houses here? Forget about that. I can hardly see the entrances in this snowstorm. Not that it matters. In weather like this, a doorway doesn't even remotely offer enough shelter.
My fingers are still there, if barely. Even though I've stuck my hands in the pockets of the light autumn coat that I've worn for the last three years, I can feel the cold like an onslaught of acupuncture needles all over the tips of my fingers. As much as I love being outside, I know that I need to get inside fast.
Luckily, there's a place nearby that should suffice for now. It's a building that has been marked for demolition for the last eight years. Officially, it's too dangerous to enter. The windows are broken, and the walls are layered in graffiti, most of them the tags of ever-changing bombers. Unofficially, it has been claimed by the homeless. The police are onto it, but I doubt the officers will brave the chill to throw anyone out on the streets today. They're not that heartless.
Though I can hardly see a thing in the snowstorm, my feet know the way. I guess they want to get there as fast as I do. Finally, I can make out the gaping doorway.
I've hardly crossed the threshold when I hear a loud bark followed by a familiar voice. "Oh, no! You stay out of here."
A large dog bars my way, growling at me. Hopper looks more dangerous than she is, but today, I can't bring myself to call her bluff. Instead, I look for her owner, Fez. He's only a few years older than me, yet the wispy blond hair that he likes to colour red and green is already receding left and right from his forehead, leaving an island of hair that naturally lends itself to a Mohawk style. The cold has turned his ears red.
Crossing his arms, Fez steps up next to Hopper. "Go away, Rika." I notice that he's got a new jacket. It has a few holes, but it looks like it has a lot of lining, and I'm instantly jealous.
"Go away? Have you looked outside lately?" I cross my arms to brace myself against the cold. "It's freezing. Even the spirits are hiding in this weather." The salamanders definitely were, though I could desperately use one of those friendly fire spirits at the moment.
As soon as I mention the spirits, Fez's face twitches. "That's just it. We don't want you anywhere near us."
I begin shifting my balance from one foot to the other, wriggling my toes to keep them from freezing off in these lousy shoes. "Why?"
"Because you talk to them," Fez replies. He widens his stance as if afraid I'll try to push past him and his dog.
To be honest, I'm strongly considering it. Behind him, I can see a great lot of people huddling in the dark. Someone has gotten a fire going, roasting something that gives off the sharp odour of burning plastic. Every cell of my half-frozen skin wants that fire, smell and all.
"I talk to who?" I should know what he's talking about, but the cold and the shelter that's so close and yet so far away are messing with my brain.
Fez draws up his shoulders. He often pretends to be a regular bully out on the streets, but he's a big old softie. Well, usually he is. At last, he whispers, "The spirits."
"So?" I'm growing desperate here. "What's that got to do with getting out of this weather?"
"Everything!" His voice pitches slightly. "Spirits have caused this snowstorm. They're out to get us. And you always draw them near." For a short moment, a flicker of compassion runs over his face. "I'm sorry, Rika. But we can't risk it."
I can't help but stare at him. "You think… No, that's not how… Don't be stupid, Fez! You've always said you don't believe in spirits." To mark my words, I try to push past him.
Unfortunately, he's stronger than me, grabbing my arms in an iron grip, and Hopper is barking. "I know! But the others do. Some do. Either way, we can't risk it."
They call me crazy all the time because I talk to the spirits around us. Now, they suddenly believe me?
Fez gives me a shove that's firm but not unkind. "I'm sorry, Rika."
Once again, I cross my arms, weighing my chances. If it were only Fez, I might be able to dodge past him. He's not precisely the muscular type, and I know I'm quicker than him. I'm not quicker than his dog, though, and Hopper seems to think I've brought an entire army of spirits to the tenement.
"I'm going to die out there if I can't find shelter." I wouldn't be the first death by freezing amongst Berlin's homeless people this year. Not that anyone cares about the likes of us. "The shelters are all full by now." They're usually full before midday, and that's without a snowstorm bearing down on the city.
I can see that he's feeling bad about it, but it doesn't change his mind. Tears come to my eyes. They feel way too hot on my skin. I thought we were friends. "Forget it. If I die tonight, I'll come back and haunt you. Give you a real spirit for a change."
It doesn't work that way. Humans are humans, and nature spirits are nature spirits. Neither can become the other, but defiant words are all I've got left. With a glare, I turn around.
The storm has already deposited a finger-thick layer of fresh-fallen snow on the ground. It crunches under my shoes as my weight packs it tighter.
I hate how quickly my hope flares up again. It would be much easier if that pesky thing finally died. "What?"
Fez is in the process of taking off his nice, warm winter jacket. "Trade you for your coat."
My coat is absolutely worthless. It has at least as many holes as the jacket, if not more, and provides about as much protection as a baby blanket. I know that, and Fez knows it. Nevertheless, we exchange our adopted garments as quickly as we can. His jacket even has a working zipper for my half-frozen fingers to struggle with.
I don't thank him. The jacket stinks of cigarettes, and it won't change a thing about my fate if I can't find shelter, but I appreciate the thought. Fez was the first person I met in Berlin, and he helped me find my stride. It feels good to know he still cares a little bit, even if it's not enough to let me in. It's more than anyone else has in the last eight years.
With a last sullen nod to Fez and Hopper, I'm on my way.
There aren't many options left. The next proper shelter is too far away, and chances are high it's already running overcapacity. There's no chance the tenants in the houses on this side of the river will let me into their shared hallway. And on the other side of the Spree, there are only the sprawling woods of the Tiergarten district. Sleeping under the bushes would be my first choice any other day, but tonight it'd be the death of me.
In my mind, I can see Berlin as the sylphs see it, the city sprawling out underneath me, and I finally make a decision. The Central Station is only a ten-minute walk from here. Less, if I walk briskly.
My mind is ready to start jogging, but the initiative somehow gets lost on its way down to my feet. They're barely shuffling along. The sky has cleared a little bit, just enough for me to appreciate the crisp cleanliness of the fresh-fallen snow. It covers the barren branches of the trees on the shoreline like a soft blanket. I wish I could sleep deep inside the wood like the dryads do.
Instead, I keep trudging on along the shoreline. Next to me, the bank slopes upward, providing a little bit of protection from the wind compared to the pavement on top of it. I guess it will also hide me from sight if my body decides to go into its own version of dryad-sleep, but who cares about that?
The dark thoughts are troubling, but as the sky draws closer again, I'm unable to keep them away. What am I even fighting for? What happens tomorrow that's worth living for? My life's not going anywhere. It never has. How often have I been told that people like me are a burden on society, an eyesore, a problem?
I sit down in the snow, my eyes looking over the grey waters of the Spree. Drowning is supposed to be silent. Then again, freezing to death is supposed to be like falling asleep. Both seem to be painless. Easy.
Suddenly, my thoughts are broken by a soft, child-like cry for help.
I shake my head. What are the odds that a child would be out in this weather? Alone even?
There it is again. It's close, but it's growing weaker. The unmistakable sound of it has wiped away the dark thoughts tempting me to give up. I push myself up and step briskly into the direction of the stairs leading up to the bridge ahead.
"Hello?" I can hardly hear myself in this storm, but there's definitely a soft whimper underneath the arch.
When I reach the spot, there's no child to be seen anywhere, just the concrete wall of the bridge above me and the half-frozen river on my other side. A small channel still flows past the ice. In it, a bunch of branches have gotten stuck, building up a small raft.
I'm just about to turn away, thinking that I'm losing my mind, when I catch some movement between the branches.
My breath quickens as I imagine the child that might have fallen into the river under these conditions. No wonder the cries have been growing weaker by the minute.
I run over to the blockage near the concrete bank of the river and reach down. Just before I touch the branches, my eyesight shifts.
There is no child under the wood.
Instead, the storm has blown a sylph under the bridge.
In the storm, the spirit is nearly invisible. Her body is only slightly thicker than the air around it and almost entirely transparent. Her form shifts with the wind, sometimes resembling a wayward plastic bag, then again, a long-haired fairy. Still, I can see where the tender body is in danger of being skewered in the cold water.
I don't know what I'm thinking, but my hand is in the water, gently scooping up the part of the sylph that's most in danger. I guess it should worry me that I can't actually feel the difference between water and air on my skin. For now, though, my fingers are still working. I curl them around the fragile shape of the sylph while I reach down with my other hand to remove a branch.
My knees are packed against the snow, and I can feel it melting into my pants. I keep working with a concentration I didn't know I had in me at this point. Saving the sylph is all that matters, but time is running out. The cries have subsided, and I can't be sure whether the movements of her wispy form are voluntary or due to the current of the river.
"Don't give up now," I hear myself saying or rather trying to say since my teeth are chattering against each other so quickly I'm worried I'll have any left afterwards. "I got you. Just…"
A sudden gust pulls the sylph away from my grasp and dunks her under the current. I plunge my arm up to the elbow into the water—I can definitely feel that. At the same time, there's the tingling sensation of something wrapping itself around my wrist like the brush of a ponytail.
Suddenly, I recall the horror stories: devious spirits that lure you in to draw you into the water. The pull is so strong I almost lose my balance. Throwing myself backwards, I try to escape the threat of drowning. I fall into the snow, and with me comes the sylph.
She's pulled out of the water, still wrapped around my wrist, immediately deflating into my arms. There's no maliciousness, no murderous intent, just desperate hope holding onto the only thing offering a hand. I can understand that.
A burst of laughter bubbles from my lips, born out of my own relief and despair. A second later, the sound is blown away by the storm.
I remember that I need to get out of here and someplace warm. And so does the sylph, who's huddled in my arms. It's hard to tell whether I'm holding her too tight or too loose. She feels like an arm full of down feathers. Only the pressure around my wrist is there, which I take as a sign that she's still alive.
Looking up to the sky, I notice that it has darkened considerably. The wind has picked up, bending the thick branches of the barren trees and blowing the snow off them. I take the icy steps up to the street, stumbling towards where I know Central Station must be.
I need to reach it. For the sylph—and for me.