A few weeks ago, I mentioned a new project I was working on—a clean alternative to series like A Court of Thorns and Roses! Some of you were super excited and let me know!
So, as a thank-you for your support (which honestly just fuels my desire to write more), I decided to post the first part of chapter one as a teaser! It is super rough, so there might be some errors, and it might change a tad in editing. Keep that in mind when you read, but I’d love to know what you all think so far!
ALL THE DARK AND DEVIOUS THINGS
THE WARDENS OF THE RAVEN COURT, BOOK 1
EXCERPT COPYRIGHT 2021
No one sensible belonged in the moors at such a late hour, especially none so lovely as Róisín. Shadows clung to her milky skin, blackness on a pressed canvas so slick it couldn't hold for long. The darkness broiled over her feet, her legs, her torso, but when it found no anchor in her radiance, it slipped back into the depths without so much as a groan.
And then the wisps took their turn, bouncing baubles of luminescence whose tinkling voices hardly buzzed in Róisín's ear. They, too, gave up their mission to distract her, to turn her away from the darker beasts within the moor. There was something dark and devious there, and it stamped its devil deeds all over the lands. It was mischief incarnate, and she vowed to eliminate it before it leeched its evil into the minds of her people, to the roots of their village.
The moors—the formal boundary between human and Fae lands—spread as far as the eye could see in both directions, but that didn't stop this thing, this abomination, from crossing onto her father's land. Róisín adjusted her grip and brought her dagger closer to her chest. Carved from bone and gilded with only the purest gold Papa could find, it had been a gift on her eighteenth birthday, and it had served her well for a little over a year.
Róisín slipped into the moor from the northernmost point of her family's land and followed the grunts and sloshes of an unnamed beast until the clouds split and the moon shone down upon its back. The crescent was at its peak, and Róisín was ready to slip into her bed for a few hours of sleep before dawn, but this vileness had other plans. The clouds passed overhead, scattering the moonlight in opposite directions, but it was no matter. She'd found it.
Hunched over its meal, the beast slashed and tore. Róisín slunk closer, crouched and ready. The thing ate with such vigor, thick mud splashed in arcs over its back as its feet scrambled. Mud splattered Róisín's face and blouse. She sighed.
The beast froze in place, rendering the moor silent once again. There was no name for this creature, this scaled and black monstrosity with gnarled features and razor teeth set in a bulbous head. At least, none that Róisín knew, but that hardly mattered. High-pitched clicking emanated from a membranous flap of skin covering the beast's throat as it eyed her.
"I would think twice if I were you, vermin."
It shrieked and lunged.
"Why won't any of you take my advice?" Róisín dodged the unnamed creature and pivoted on her heel, prepared for the next attack. Once the bulky thing realized it had missed, it turned, slinging mud over her again. It shook and clicked. The clicking… she would hear that in her dreams.
Róisín leaned forward and blew softly toward it. Darkness slipped from her lips in a fog that crossed the space between them, and then the beast knew. The vile thing knew it had made a mistake. Scrambling on all fours, it turned to run, but the breath enveloped it and seeped through its skin, rendering it paralyzed.
Róisín's skin burned as molten lava bubbled beneath its layers. An ethereal, red-hued glow surrounded Róisín as her wings slowly erupted from her back, just beneath the scapula on either side. At full extension, she groaned.
"Ah, it feels nice to stretch." The lava beneath her skin burned hotter, brighter as she approached the prone creature. "I told you to think twice." She plunged the dagger through its heart. An eruption of flame took its body and burned it to ash in seconds, then the ash blew with the breeze across the moors. Róisín's skin cooled and returned to its usual alabaster, almost iridescent in the moonlight. Her wings, though, she would leave out until her work was done. They needed a good stretch.
Róisín turned her attention to the deceased human male the beast had left behind. There was nothing to do for him now, not in his condition. Beside him, a female human lay with her neck snapped clean. There was no way to know what the man looked like with his head missing, but the female had been pretty. Deep olive skin with almond-shaped eyes, plump lips opened in horror. Her once brown hair was stained with her blood, perhaps the male's as well. Róisín's gaze shifted lower. The woman's abdomen moved like the waves at sea.
"Father in Heaven, she was pregnant—is pregnant!" Róisín fell to her knees and pressed her hand over the woman's pelvis. The belly was swollen large enough that the child might survive an early birth. It would surely die if she did nothing, so Róisín poised her knife over the slain mother's belly. A long, clean cut opened the womb. Róisín reached inside and retrieved the wiggling, premature—though not by much—baby girl.
"Shh. Shh, please don't cry out here." Róisín clutched it close to her chest and cleaned its mouth and eyes, then turned it over and patted the back. The gurgling was a sure sign she had not cleared the airway enough, so she turned the babe again and pressed her mouth to hers. The slimy substance turned her stomach, but the baby needed a clear airway, so Róisín sucked. She spat the fluid to her side, then turned the baby and patted it again. Soon, it whimpered.
"Shh. We must keep quiet, little one."
Using the end of her blouse, she wiped most of the babe's body, removing the blood of the mother it would never know. Blood smeared into Róisín's black hair, but cleanliness had been abandoned the moment she set foot in the moors. Her knees squelched free from the mud as she stood, bringing the baby closer as she wrapped it snug in her cloak. The trip back to the cabin would take longer, but the child appeared developed enough to survive the night. In the morning, she could take it to Ailsa. She spat again and wiped her mouth.
By morning, the moor would swallow the bodies, leaving no trace the child had any parents at all. Róisín licked her lips and sighed once again. There would be no rest for her tonight. She felt it, but if the child grew and lived a whole life, then she would be glad for a few lost hours of sleep.
In the distance, a yellow flame bobbed across the front of her home. Papa was worried and with good reason. Dark Fae crossed the moor border every day, more in recent weeks, leaving them no choice but to monitor it day and night. This one, the beast who'd orphaned the tiny girl, even Róisín had never seen before. She would catalog and draw it for reference later, but it was unlikely anyone else in the Court could identify such a demonic thing.
"Róisín! Róisín, is that you?" The light flickered as Papa drew closer, then resumed its bobbing as he jogged toward her as she approached the house.
"It's me. I have a baby. A dark creature killed two humans, one male, and one female. I didn’t see anything else during my scouting," Róisín said, clutching the child ever-closer. She heard her tiny heartbeat, the quiet breaths as she turned her cherub-like face into Róisín's bosom.
"She’s hungry. I'll fetch some goat's milk. Better get her inside before a chill takes her. Stew is over the fire for you." Papa shook his head and caressed the child's hair-wisped crown. "Foolish humans. Crossing a moor at this hour—at any hour. Bloody king spreading his lies and making his threats." He shook his head again and turned toward the barn, mumbling his opinion of the king of Gwenlyre.
Whatever his opinion, the fact was the king had murdered more humans than Fae ever could. Treacherous and paranoid, hangings and beheadings of suspected Fae and Fae sympathizers had become so commonplace in Gwenlyre, its people hardly noticed them. When he wasn't ordering executions, the king lauded the benefits of Fae medicines, riches, and properties. The foolish, devastatingly poor people of his kingdom set off for Neverknoll by the droves and often died in the moors. If not by drowning, then by Dark Fae—even the occasional wolf. The king, a dastardly human, would even hang those planning to travel to Neverknoll for the very prizes he lauded—for treason as Fae sympathizers, of course. A bloody game of cat and mouse that would never tire him, it seemed.
Róisín opened the door and inhaled the savory lamb stew. Her mouth watered, but she would feed the baby and bathe first. Papa had also drawn a bath for her, but it had grown tepid, and the dried flowers used to scent the water had become little more than sludge at the bottom of the tub. Róisín settled the child on the fur rug by the fire and added a pot of water. Warming it would take less time than drawing a fresh bath.
"Here we are," Papa said, closing the door behind him. "Enough for the both of you. Eat, Róisín, and I'll care for the baby."
Róisín's wings slowly retracted, leaving her shoulders aching. A necessary discomfort if she were to remain in Gwenlyre to do her work without losing her head. "Thanks, Papa. I'll take her to Ailsa in the morning. Pray it doesn't snow tonight."
"It does have a certain chill, doesn't it? I can stay up with the darling if you need some rest."
"No, no." Róisín shook her head. "A baby needs a mother's touch. I'm the next best thing, I suppose. I'll stay with her after I bathe and eat."
Papa hummed and ignored Róisín. She smiled as she watched the old man dip a cloth in the warm water she had intended to add to her bath, then cleanse the girl's body. He'd already made a bottle, but the baby refused it twice. Would she even survive until morning?
Róisín squeezed her eyes shut and murmured a prayer. There had been enough death in the moor that night.