It's Friday again, and I have another teaser chapter of SHADOW DEMONS to give to you! Like I mentioned last week, this isn't by any means the final edit of the chapter, but it's very close to what you'll find in the book once it is published. I am already more than halfway through this round of edits and feeling good about the direction of this book. I'm definitely getting closer and closer to a release date, so stay tuned for more news!
If you haven't read chapter one, you can find it here.
Mary Anne led us to the center of the small village. We stepped into the pavilion and walked straight up to the smooth stone altar. “It's here,” she said.
I looked around, unsure of what she meant. There were no books here. Only stone benches arranged in perfect rows before the altar.
She placed her tiny pale hands on the smooth stone and pulled up. The altar opened like a child's toybox.
I peered inside, expecting to find a small compartment inside filled with books or daggers or potions. Instead, there was a set of narrow stone stairs that led down into a deep dark hole below. I gasped.
Hope welled up in me for the first time since we'd seen the damaged village. It was definitely possible that the witches of the Order had completely overlooked this secret room. I know I never would have guessed there was a library hidden beneath the shrine.
"Do you think the Order might have missed this spot?" I asked.
“It's possible,” Mary Anne said. “Our family was very secretive about its rituals, and this room in particular was always heavily guarded.”
Jackson came around behind me and peered down into the darkness. “Is it safe to go down there?” he asked. “Or are there spells to protect this place?"
“There are a few traps,” she said. “But as long as I go first, they shouldn't trigger.”
Jackson's mouth thinned out into a straight line. "Maybe Harper should stay here."
I leaned into him, pressing my leg against his. Ever since I'd almost died in that ritual, he'd been so protective of me. So worried.
“It's going to be okay,” I said. “Just this one last thing, and we'll get out of here.”
He ran a hand through his hair and grunted. “Fine, but this is it,” he said. “We grab any spell books that look important and get the hell out of here.”
“Deal,” I said. I nodded to Mary Anne. “You ready?”
Her blue eyes were clear and confident. “I'm ready.”
Mary Anne set her doll on the ground, then pulled herself up over the edge of the altar. She hesitated at the top of the stairs. “No light,” she warned. “It will set off another trap. Wait until we've gotten safely to the bottom of the stairs and I'll light a candle.”
She took the stairs slowly and after just a few steps, she was cloaked in darkness.
“You go next,” Jackson said, helping me up over the edge of the altar. "But be careful."
I followed Mary Anne down into the shadows. A light breeze floated down from above. It was a cold Georgia night, but it seemed even colder the deeper we went into the ground. Of course, this wasn't really ground was it? I shook my head. I still didn't understand how all this magic worked. Even if this was just an illusion, it seemed awfully real. If we weren't underground, where were we? Still above the trees? It didn't seem possible.
I heard Jackson's footsteps behind me, then soon after, a grinding of stone as the top of the altar sealed shut, leaving us in a darkness so complete, I couldn't see my own hand in front of my face.
I wanted to scream, but I somehow stopped myself, remembering that any small thing might set off a trap down here. It felt as though we had been locked inside a tomb. I suddenly wondered if we'd been wrong to trust Mary Anne. Had I done something completely stupid by coming here?
Fear gripped my heart and squeezed. I couldn't breathe. What if she'd only brought us here as a sacrifice to get back in good graces with her family? I couldn't face those witches again. I was lucky to have survived it the first time.
“Mary Anne?” I croaked out. I couldn't see her in the darkness. Was she still in front of me? Were we alone down here?
“It's okay,” she said. “I should have warned you about the door closing. It will reopen when we're ready to leave.”
Her voice was so calm. I wanted to trust her, but how many times in my life had I really been able to trust anyone? After all, this was a girl who had spied on me and led her family to me. Maybe Jackson had been right and this was a stupid idea. I wanted to turn around and go straight home.
“Any news on that light?” I asked, trying to laugh it off.
Jackson's hand touched my shoulder. I reached out and gave his hand a squeeze, feeling instantly better and so very glad that I wasn't here alone. “She's very close to the candle," he said.
"And just how do you know that?" I whispered.
He paused, his mouth coming close to my ear as he said, "I can see in the dark."
If there had been more room on the narrow stairway, I would have twirled around and given him the evil-eye. “You don't think you could have told me about this super power before I almost peed my pants?”
He laughed and the sound echoed through the dark room.
"Shhh." A chill ran up my spine. Laughter felt all wrong in this place.
“I'm here,” Mary Anne said. She struck a match and a cool red glow lit up the dark space.
The room was smaller than I expected. Barely the size of my bedroom at Shadowford. Several wooden bookcases lined the walls. My heart rose up. Whoever wrecked the village hadn't touched this room after all. Maybe there was a still a chance we could find a way out of this mess. A way to be free.
"Are we safe to come down and take a look?" Jackson asked.
"Yes," Mary Anne said, running her fingertip along the carved picture of a bird on the side of the table. "By lighting the candle, I've disabled the traps."
"Do you know what all these books are?" I asked. I came down into the depths of the room and walked along the rows of ancient tomes. "Like which ones hold the really old or forbidden magic?"
Mary Anne frowned. I followed her gaze toward a black, shiny bookcase along the far wall. This bookcase was different from all the others. A glass door covered the front, strange carvings etched into it.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Someone's been in here," she said. She walked to the case and with a trembling hand, opened the door wide. "This is usually sealed, and look. No books inside."
I crossed the room, not wanting to believe her. But she was right. There were no books in the cabinet at all. "Please tell me this isn't the cabinet where all the really important books were kept," I said, but I already knew the answer.
Mary Anne's shoulders slumped. "I don't understand," she said. "Why burn everything above, then come in here and only take those nine books. Why not take everything? Or burn it all? Why leave this room intact?"
"I think the Order would have taken all of these books for their library. Some of them are rare," Jackson said. He pulled a book off the shelf nearest to him. "Like this book on shape-shifting. It's very valuable. I can't imagine they would have just left it here."
"So what are you saying?" I asked.
"I'm saying that maybe it wasn't the Order who was down here," Jackson said. He turned to question Mary Anne. "Maybe your family took the books with them before they left town?"
"I don't think so," Mary Anne said. "They wouldn't have had time to come back here. I felt them leave the area as soon as the fighting was over. I would have known if they'd been back."
"Then who?" I said. "If not the Order?"
My shoulders tensed. In the wrong hands, those books could be extremely dangerous. We already knew they contained spells about black roses and instructions on how to kill the Prima and transfer the line to a new family. Who knew what other terrible magic there was inside? If anyone had them, I hoped it was the Order. At least then, the books might be safe. After all, the Order had rules about dark magic like that. Right?
"I don't know," he said. "But we're not going to figure it out by standing here talking about it. We should get home before someone finds out we're here."
I turned around in the small room. "Is there anything here we should take with us?"
"What do you mean?" Mary Anne asked.
"Any chance some of these other books might have a secret ritual that could break the spell that makes me the Prima?" I asked. "Without killing me, I mean."
Jackson crouched down by a row of books. He shook his head. "I know these books," he said. "Mostly standard magic books. Potions. Basic spells. Most of these books are in the library at Shadowford."
"Library?" Mary Anne asked.
I threw Jackson a look and he shrugged. "There's a secret library," I said. "I'll show you some other time, but for now, let's finish looking through these books and get the hell out of this village."
"Good idea," Jackson said.
After a brief run through all the shelves, we had a stack of six books to take home with us. The book on shape-shifting. A book on powerful potions. And a few others written in a foreign language. None of the books held dark magic and none of them would free me from this curse of being Prima. Whatever important and dangerous magic had been housed here, it wasn't here now. All I could hope was that it was now in the hands of people who would never use magic to hurt me. If there was one good thing about the Order of Shadows, it was that they wanted both me and Jackson alive.
"Let's go," Jackson said. "We're not going to find anything else here tonight."
"Stay behind me," Mary Anne said. She blew out the candle and I followed the sound of her footsteps. My boot hit the bottom stair and I stumbled, throwing my hands out in the darkness to try to regain my balance.
I scraped my palm against the rough stone of the stairs and cried out. A warm trickle of blood ran down the side of my hand. "Crap."
"You okay?" Jackson said, his hand on my back.
"Fine." I gritted my teeth against the pain. A small rock had gotten pushed into my skin, but when I tried to brush it away, it wouldn't budge. Great. It was really jammed in there and hurt like hell.
I cradled my injured hand close to my chest and made my way up the stairs. Once outside in the light of the moon, I held my palm up to my face and gasped. It wasn't a rock stuck in my palm. It was a diamond earring.