Sneak Peek At...
Note from author
I’m so happy to give y’all a sneak peek at A House of Fangs & Deceit before it comes out in January! Please note that the manuscript is currently in the hands of my copy-editor, so what you read below is not the final version and likely contains some grammar errors and typos. Any existing errors will be corrected prior to the official release.
We walked single file to our deaths as the cool night air seeped through my thin cloak and I tugged it tighter against me. Being cold was the least of my concerns, though. Whatever happened this night, we would not live to see the morning.
Not as humans.
What was left of the village elders walked in front of us. A few more years and I would have been considered one of them, in a different future, one that I couldn’t even imagine anymore.
A few sobs escaped from those behind me, but nobody turned back. There was nothing to return to. We’d fortified the village as best as we could over the last few months, but nothing kept the monsters out.
When the elders had first suggested this idea, they were met with harsh denial, then silence, and finally, reluctant agreement. In the end, we all agreed to do this because it was clear all the future held for us was death. So we might as well do it on our terms.
When we reached our destination, the elders formed a small circle around three flat stones, each bearing a symbol that had been carefully carved into it. The shiny black surface of the stones perfectly reflected the light of the moon. They gestured for me to join them and then instructed everyone else to form circles around ours. We’d already practiced this, so everyone fell into place quickly and soon we had six circles expanding from the one I stood in with the elders. I looked over my shoulder and met the even stare of my daughter.
The barest amount of sorrow flickered deep within my chest. She was almost twenty years old, but she would always be my sweet little girl. When my sleep wasn’t plagued by nightmares, I had dreams of summers spent in flowery fields with her laughing as she raced through them, chased by her twin sister, while they plucked purple and blue flowers to wind into crowns later.
She hasn’t laughed since the monsters had torn apart her sister.
I twisted back around to stare at the carved-up stone at my feet. It would be our death, but it also might be our salvation. The Fae had vanished, leaving us defenseless against the monsters that prowled these lands. They may not have been the kindest of rulers, but they had kept the monsters at bay. Now they were gone, leaving us not only at the mercy of the monsters of old but new ones made of nothing but shadows.
The elders suspected that the Unseelie had done something. Performed some spell, perhaps against the Seelie, and lost control of it. They were the ones who had power over their own shadows, after all. It couldn’t be a coincidence that the Unseelie, who could send their shadows off to spy or shape them into vicious guardians, had disappeared without a trace, and now monsters made of shadow roamed our lands at night. They’d likely killed all the Seelie in the process of whatever dark magic they had worked.
The clouds parted, revealing the bright, full moon. We’d been waiting for this night for weeks, and there were times when I thought we wouldn’t make it. Six months ago, there had been hundreds of thousands of us living across these lands. Now there were less than ten thousand humans left. Our village had fared better than others. Almost five hundred of us were left of the twelve hundred who had once called this place home. I thought of the graveyard not too far from here. My parents were buried there and my grandparents. Generations of Harkers had lived and died here.
I hadn’t been able to bury my daughter or my husband. There had been nothing left of them to bury.
The numbness that had been my constant companion since their deaths lifted for a moment, and in its place I felt unimaginable pain. I swallowed and begged the numbness to come back. I needed it to get through the next few moments. We all knew what we were giving up with this spell, not only our humanity but our identities as well. Who we were would die tonight.
It had started as a plan for survival. We couldn’t live as humans anymore, not in a world ruled by monsters. We had to become monsters as well. The elders believed that we might remember bits of our humanity if we survived long enough. That we could claw it back from the darkness.
I didn’t want it. Fuck humanity.
No, what I wanted was far simpler. I wanted to race away from this village tonight and tear into the monsters that had torn into my daughter. Who had snatched away the man I had loved since I was sixteen years old.
I wanted to make the monsters afraid.
“It’s time,” Irina said from where she stood opposite me on the other side of the stones. I remember her sitting in our house sipping coffee when I was a little girl. My mother would braid my hair while they discussed potential new hunting grounds. She had a slight curve to her back and her chestnut hair was mostly grey now, but she still had a will of iron. The Laurent family had been in this village even longer than the Harkers.
The whispers and shuffling died down as the elders started chanting, keeping their words slow and carefully enunciated. Irina turned towards her right, and the woman standing there bared her neck. Neither hesitated or flinched as Irina carved a symbol into her neck from a blade made from the same type of stone at the center of our circle. Once Irina was finished, she passed the blade to the woman who did the same to the man standing at her right. One by one, the elders marked each other before I was the only one left in the circle.
I barely felt the blade dig into my neck. When the cool stone knife was placed in my hand, I turned around to face my daughter. The magic guided my fingers as I etched a crescent moon into the left side of her neck. Choosing that particular symbol hadn’t been a conscious decision on my part.
The elders had convened for weeks to settle on what beasts we would turn into. It was impossible to know which ones would fare best against the monsters of our world, but if too many were selected, we risked the spell being watered down and failing entirely. In the end, these were the three that were selected. Each bearing different strengths to better our odds of surviving.
The blood trickling down my neck started to burn, but I kept saying the words over and over, only vaguely aware of their meaning.
Across all of Lunaria, what remained of the humans had gathered to conduct the same ritual as we asked the moon to bless us.
A haze filled my mind, and I felt myself unravel. I welcomed the feeling and begged it to take me faster, only wavering when I felt my daughter’s hand slip into mine. I turned towards her and watched as her light sky-blue eyes darkened until they were almost black.
She smiled at me for the first time in ages as the magic took her, the chant never faltering from her lips. I gave her a vicious smile in return as the last of the words rang into the night sky, their meaning clear at last.
“We will give our lives for the blood.”
“We will yield our fates in the wild.”
“We will lose our souls to the fury.”