Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Excerpt from Into Nostra

Into Nostra
By Brantwijn Serrah
Urban Fantasy
$ 3.99
Champagne Books

They opened the door to an apex predator. Now they are the hunted.


You have to get up, Serenity.

Her head throbbed. Her hands throbbed. They itched like a thousand tiny insects tickling her fingertips. Serenity moaned. A roaring sound filled her ears, a sound like the rushing, crashing waves of the sea, but without rhythm and coming ever closer. As if a single wave, rolling up from the deepest depths of the ocean, were about to crash over her.

Drown her.

That would be the spectators, you idiot. Now get up!

She opened one heavy eye. Spectators?

She lay facedown, on a bed of hardpacked dirt. Drool pooled in the dust under the corner of her mouth. The hint of vomit still clung in her throat, sour and acrid. The air smelled old in here, musty and full of sweat, and hot and thick enough to taste. Her vision remained bleary, but she could vaguely detect the swimming lights of what had to be more of those enchanted Asdamorian torches—raucous orange, not the patient silver lights she’d admired so much before—lining a high, curved stone wall.

Blinking, she tilted her gaze up: the smooth gray rock rose far overhead. The sound came from up there, and now she began to recognize it: chanting. Hungry, eager chanting from hundreds of throats, and the excited clapping of hands, stomping of feet, pounding of fists. Ice, gilded by resentment, climbed up her spine.

Bigger crowd… But still the same assholes cheering on the whipping of a prisoner in Eclipse.

D’aej raked his claws across her brain, and she yelped.

I said get up! We’re not the only ones in here, Serenity!

She climbed to her feet and blinked again. Finally she could see clearly, and tilting her head up, she beheld the chanting mass of spectators—a sea of men and women peering down at her and shouting with the rabid excitement of a mob. Narrowing her brows, she turned in place, trying to take in the whole scope of the arena around her.

Sitting right at the edge of the walls, over and behind her, were her kidnappers. Bowen, Addison, and that insufferable, two-faced, lying son-of-a-bitch, Whit. They didn’t chant along with the rest of the crowd. They watched her, quietly, with calm interest. Bowen crossed his arms over his chest, sporting his smug grin. Addison, on the other hand, wore a creased look of worry on his face.

Whit looked pointedly elsewhere, as if unaware or unconcerned with the sport everyone else had come to witness.

With a sneer of outrage, Serenity reached out her right hand to curse him. Her fingers were stiff, but free of the metal rings the handler had forced on them.

Wait… why would they disarm me and then turn me loose again?

Well, why don’t you sit there like a complete idiot and think it over for a while? D’aej snapped. They want you to fight, Serenity, and I keep telling you we aren’t the only ones in the ring!

Just as he said it, she sensed it, too: some lithe, sinuous presence, something big—big and hungry. And it felt like…

Like it’s all around you, D’aej supplied. Like it’s already surrounded us.

She dropped her hand and scrutinized the space around her. Unseen, but heavy in the air like a humid fog, it stalked her. Her skin prickled with the sensation of eyes on her. Whatever they’d shut her in with was moving, a languid giant made of scales and coils, some patient constrictor sliding into place to begin its lethal crush. D’aej could even smell it: his senses ran underneath her own, reporting the scent of blood, the pervasive reek of a carnivore on the hunt.

Over there!

She spun. At first she thought D’aej meant to draw her attention to the arena gate, a heavy iron portcullis, and behind it a dimly lit stone hallway. But no, that wasn’t what D’aej wanted her to see. There, barely visible, something prowled near the wall, following the arc of the ring, slinking along and watching her, waiting for her move. Serenity blinked again, but she could make out no more than a taunting ripple of shadow and light.

What… D’aej, what is it?

But before he could answer, a woman flickered into existence. As if stepping out of some eternal veil, she appeared without warning and made straight for Serenity in quick, purposeful strides. The wide, swooping brim of a black cowboy hat hid her eyes; long silver hair streamed out behind her like a pale, gossamer banner. The lithe curves of a predator couldn’t be hidden underneath her black corset and boiled leather leggings—sleek animal fur lined the tops of her boots, tribal moccasins dyed with deep ink and painted with runic markings along the seams.

Serenity managed to identify the symbols as the marks of a killer, but she had no time to move. All along this fighter’s arms danced a swirling dark energy, a kind of magic Serenity had never seen before: the shadowy swarm of a hundred darkling faces, crackling and howling like flames. Her mind flashed in panic back to the fehu tapestry in Eclipse, guarding the weaver’s blackest arts, and just as the woman raised both fists over her head to bring them crashing down on Serenity, D’aej seized control and ducked the body out of the way.

Don’t stare at her like a cow on the train tracks, he shouted across their bond, his anger echoing off the walls of her skull. Get moving! Cast something!

Serenity couldn’t think. She’d caught sight of the warrior’s eyes an instant before the darkling saved her from whatever curse ran up and down the woman’s cold flesh. Those eyes were empty. Black. Eternal.

The soulless, lightless eyes of a demon.

Serenity, you must fight back! This woman is more dangerous than you can possibly know!

The spectre of a giant serpent, deadly and patient, flexed its coils all around them. Its heavy presence contracted, and Serenity felt it slip into her own head, catching D’aej in its grip. The lady with the silver hair peered over her shoulder at them. Serenity grunted as the weight seemed to slip even further into her brain, invading her mind, making D’aej seem small and frail.

Are you afraid of me, little darkling?

The voice—unwelcome, unfamiliar—came like a shadowy wind. A cold, arctic snap through her spine told Serenity D’aej was more than afraid.

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