As I announced earlier this week, I have decided to release one chapter a week until the release of SHADOW DEMONS, Book 4 of the Peachville High Demons series. Most of you who read my books already know that my chapters are pretty short, but hopefully this little teaser about the start of the book will give you some insight into the path this story is going to take. I'm excited to release Chapter One: Vengeance today on my blog!
NOTE: This isn't the absolute, final edited version of the chapter. It's just what I have right now as I'm still working on the book. If there are any errors or some parts aren't as smooth as they could be, don't fear! It's still a work in progress. I just wanted to get some content out there for all of my fans who have been patiently waiting for SHADOW DEMONS to come out. In all likelihood, some of the content posted on my blog throughout the next few Fridays will change slightly before the book is actually released.
Windows stared out at us like dead eyes.
The houses in the small village were burned and blackened, their roofs collapsing.
Beside me, Mary Anne sank to the ground, her silent sobs making my heart ache. I kneeled next to her.
“I'm so sorry,” I whispered, putting my arm around her shoulders.
I couldn't completely understand how she was feeling. I'd never had a home I felt particularly attached to in any real way. I'd moved around so much, it had been pointless to get emotionally invested in a house or even a neighborhood. But Mary Anne had spent her childhood here in this secret village.
In the past week, she'd become an outcast and a traitor in the eyes of everyone she'd ever loved. Now this. I held her tighter.
Glass crunched under Jackson's boots as he walked to the nearest house. The sound echoed through the silence.
"What happened here?" I asked.
"The Order of Shadows happened," he said. He kicked at a broken fence.
“How can you be sure it was the Order?”
“I've seen this before,” he said. A darkness spread across his features. It was such a painful expression, it twisted my insides.
“Where?” I almost didn't ask. I almost didn't want to know.
“It doesn't matter,” he said. “All that matters is that they've been here. They probably took anything of value they could find and then torched the place. I doubt we'll be able to find any of the old spell books.”
“Why would they do this?” I asked. “What's the point?”
Jackson turned around, surveying the area. “Vengeance," he said, his voice calm for such a passionate word. "And to make sure the crows can never come back."
Mary Anne's sobs turned to deep breaths. She lifted her head and wiped the tears from her pale face. “I'm going to look around.” Her voice was soft. Injured.
“Okay,” I said. "Do you want me to come with you?"
She turned to me, her blue eyes glassy with tears. "No thanks," she said.
I watched her walk up through the middle of the village, her steps slow and deliberate. She glanced at the houses on either side of her, then stopped in front of the next-to-last house on the left side. After a moment, she walked up the stairs of the ruined house and disappeared inside. My heart ached for her. She would have been the Prima Futura right now if she hadn't stood up to her family. She saved my life. I hated to see her hurting.
"I don't know if this was such a good idea," Jackson said to me. "What if the Order placed traps around the village to keep the crows out?"
I touched his arm. “It's her childhood home, Jackson," I said. "Give her a few minutes to deal with all this."
He sighed and placed his hand over mine. "I know," he said. "But something doesn't feel right. It feels like we're being watched. It's not safe here."
“I'm still not entirely sure I know where 'here' is,” I said. “I mean, one second we're levitating above the trees, and then boom, we're in this town? I don't get it. Where are we really? Did we go through some kind of portal?”
Mary Anne's family had taken great care to make sure they remained hidden for all these years. Hiding an entire town and a whole community of people couldn't have been easy.
“It's an illusion,” he said. “A very powerful illusion that probably took decades to perfect and grow."
“So you're saying we're still above the trees?”
“Exactly,” he said. “Did you feel that small electrical shock when we passed into the village?"
I nodded. When I thought about it, I realized it had been a slightly more powerful version of the shock I felt every time I passed through the wall in the girl's locker room at school. A magical force-field of sorts. The same way the Order kept the training room hidden, the crows were keeping this village hidden all this time.
“The old witch and her daughters must have spent years building this place with magic and concealing it from the rest of the town,” he said. “There is great power here. Can't you feel it?”
I shivered. I could feel it. There was a buzz running just under my feet. It was a particular sort of power. Evil. Definitely full of darkness and greed and jealousy.
How had Mary Anne grown up here and still turned into the kind of person who cared enough to save my life?
“So why didn't the Order just destroy it?” I asked. “Instead of burning the houses?"
“I don't know,” he said. “Maybe they wanted to set it up as a warning if anyone ever came back. Or like I said, maybe they're watching this place very carefully. I don't think we should stick around much longer. It's already after two."
I had to admit, I kind of agreed with him. This place was getting creepier by the second.
“Let's see if Mary Anne knows where they kept their spell books and ritual items,” I said. “Then we can get the hell out of here.”
Jackson followed me into the center of the small town. The houses were set up in a circle. In the town center, there was an outdoor pavilion with several rows of stone benches and what might have been an altar in the front. I didn't even want to think about the kinds of things that went on in this town. It all felt very cult-ish. The witches had been so secluded up here, rarely ever coming in to town or having any kind of contact with the outside world. Mary Anne told us she'd never once left this place until the day they sent her to Shadowford. I couldn't even imagine how hard that must have been for her.
She was obviously having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that her old home was in ruins. When we found her, she was standing in the middle of a large open room, her eyes staring straight ahead and her shoulders slumped.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She shook her head slowly, not speaking.
“Was this your house?”
She closed her eyes and a tear rolled down her cheek. In her hand, she gripped a small doll. It looked like a rag doll of sorts with black yarn for hair. Its blue dress was blackened and torn.
“Mary Anne, we need to find the room where they kept any important spell books or ritual items that might help us,” I said. I hated to bring it up when she was obviously hurting, but the books were the whole reason we'd come here. The crows had access to forgotten magic. Dark magic. Books and spells that no one in the Order had even known existed.
If there was any chance one of those old books might be able to help us break the spell between me and Aerden, we had to at least try to find them.
Mary Anne made no move to answer. She just kept staring straight ahead, her eyes dark and unfocused. Jackson and I exchanged worried glances. What if we'd made a huge mistake by bringing her here? What if she'd changed her mind about helping us?
"Please, Mary Anne," I said. Knots of fear coiled in my stomach.
Mary Anne looked down at the small doll in her hand, then hugged it close to her chest. With the back of her hand, she wiped away her tears. “Okay,” she said. “I'll show you.”