Soulless - Sneak Peek
As I always like to preface my sneak peeks...this is an early look at a new manuscript I am working on, so please excuse any grammar errors or typos. It has not seen an editor yet and there will be fixes made! For now, I hope you enjoy this early look at a new YA Fantasy I'm writing.
Emaya’s death was meant to bind her to a prince, two souls entwined for eternity. But she did not choose that fate. So she made a deal of her own, with the brother of her betrothed, and now the time has come to repay it.
In exchange for her freedom Emaya only had to give Prince Cadmus two things, her soul, and her promise to complete a task for him when he called on her again. Now, as an ageless being, Emaya cheats and steals her way through life in the mortal realm. But after three hundred years Cadmus has finally called in the bargain and there is no refusing to help the immortal prince of the third realm.
Fen, a brooding immortal under Cadmus’s control, arrives to bring Emaya to her new home. But there are those who wish to stop Cadmus from using Emaya as he plans, and the journey to the third realm proves treacherous. Fen is sworn to protect her, and he will with his life—even if he only does so because of the order compelling him.
Once they reach the third realm Emaya learns what Cadmus wants from her. To right the wrongs she made, and to gain her soul back, Emaya must complete Cadmus’s task, but it will not come without a sacrifice. The only question is who’s blood will spill this time?
I died under a blood moon, sprawled across an altar of black marble, three-hundred years ago. The dark stone masked the bright red blood spilling from my body, draining until there was none left. My death had been meant to bind me to a prince, two souls entwined for eternity, but I had not wanted that fate. So, I had made a deal of my own…and now the time had come to hold up my end of the bargain.
I pulled at the sleeve of my cloak, wishing the fabric were longer and covered my fingertips without the need to stretch it. My heart beat faster as I glanced around, hoping no one had noticed what my sleeve hadn’t covered. I’d awoken early that morning to find the markings running down my arms had not only grown, they’d changed color. Black swirls and ancient words had always covered the length of my spine, across my shoulder blades and down each arm, but after spreading for the past three-hundred years today they had finally reached the top of my hands…and they were glowing gold.
I knew what it meant; it was the reason unease kept swelling through me. All day it’d felt as if someone had been following me, but every time I searched for the source, I found nothing. Still, my nerves hadn’t quite settled.
With a dip of my head, I stalked down the busy main street within the southern borough of Fondry. The market was packed, as was always the case on the first of the month, the screaming kids and shouts from vendors had my skull pounding. Not to mention the heat.
When the tattoos covering my arms were black they’d been easier to hide against my warm brown skin, even easier until they spread down my arms and forced me to wear a cloak in the middle of summer. Gold was a bit more obvious, especially with the subtle sheen emanating from them. And wearing a cloak in the sweltering summer heat of the mortal realm was not ideal.
My pace slowed as people shuffled their way through the market. My frustration building even as I tried to calm my nerves. Stay focused. You don’t know for sure yet he’s coming. Liar.
With a shake of my head, I squeezed through the crowd. When I passed a familiar table, my gaze lingered on the ancient symbols carved into wood plaques, necklaces and bracelets. Each phase of the moon was depicted across them, waxing and waning, full and new—symbols of the immortal princes and their realms. It was the last one my gaze lingered on, the one ingrained in my mind just as it was tattooed to the nape of my neck, the one I was sacrificed beneath—the blood moon.
“Keep moving,” the vendor hissed, his glare cold as he eyed me under my hood. The vendors were wisely wary of me;they knew why I was here.
I slipped away, moving deeper into the noise and hustle, silently cursing myself for not arriving sooner. A crowd was usually a good thing for me but being unable to move wasn’t. With a jolt, my shoulder bumped into a large man. Staggering back a step my hood shifted, dropping, just as his head turned toward me. I quickly tugged the fabric back over my head, my hand unconsciously swiping across the nape of my neck to ensure my hair still covered what was there. Sweat dampened my fingertips, and as I ducked away from the man, I released a heavy breath. Focus, Emaya. I didn’t need anyone to see what lay beneath the hood and my long black hair, especially not now.
The first marking had appeared on my sixteenth birthday, and it was the only one not black or gold. A circle at the base of my neck as red as the blood that once left my body. My father had known what it was the moment he had seen it—the blood moon—and he had not hesitated to sell me out like a prized horse. Even if the symbol of the Fifth Realm had not been seen on a mortal in hundreds of years, there was no denying I had been chosen to be bound to their prince—the mark was proof. One year was how long I had been given to prepare. One year before I was to be sacrificed to my betrothed prince because I had been chosen. However, things did not go as planned, and now three-hundred years later I was without a soul, neither human nor mortal, yet still perspiring like a pig under the cloak I wore to hide the glowing tattoos.
The smell of sweat and smoke made my head pound harder. Vendors were positioned in any empty section of the street they could find, selling exotic fruits and produce, fresh meats and spices, little trinkets from the immortal realms. These mortal vendors praised our so-called protectors and believed the shit they sold was blessed by them. Once a month the princes from the five immortal realms provided our kind with these delicacies, as they had for as long as I could remember. The immortals watched over us, took care of us like we were their pets, and in exchange all they required from us was our unwavering loyalty when asked. It was the reason my parents willingly gave me to the prince of the fifth realm. They had believed it was my destiny to provide power and strength to an immortal. That was all we were to them. Things they could use when the time was right—when we were needed. I was the first to say no, the first to question why we obeyed their rules. Most believed every lie they were told and the promise of a better life for the faithful. Yet no one asked what happened to those faithful mortals. No one asked what becomes of the human connected to the soul bond.
So like every other first of the month, the market was packed. Nearly the entire southern borough was out, just as the other boroughs in Fondry would be. It’d be the same across the entire mortal realm in cities big and small. The immortals were idols to humans, created by the Gods for our protection—six princes ruling over five immortal realms, and watchers of the mortal realm—unseen yet always present. I was the only one who seemed to see their offerings and protection for what it really was—a payoff. A way to keep us happy enough no one asked questions, like cattle that didn’t wonder why they were being fattened before they were slaughtered. Except I was never good at not asking questions.
Moving through the crowded market I slipped past tables and people mostly unseen. Large bonfires were already roaring in the middle of the street and the smell of spiced meats had my stomach growling. Even with my head down I felt the glares of vendors who knew what I was after—what I was always after. It was the same thing they were, just with a slightly different method. We both wanted these people’s coins, but I would not be offering anything in return for it as they would.
My hands were quick, hundreds of years of practice had me excelling at what I did. Being ageless meant I could not stick around any one place for too long, and it made making friends impossible, so it was useless to find a real job or try to make a life for myself anywhere. Pickpocketing was as easy as breathing and supported the other two habits I had found myself very good at. Drinking and cards.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, sir,” I muttered, my hand slipping inside the breast pocket of an older gentleman’s jacket while my eyes locked on his, commanding his attention.
The man’s eyes widened before a delighted smile began to spread, his gaze quickly raking over my face, down the long black hair I left unbound and over what he could see of my lean, tall body. “That’s quite alright, miss…”
“How clumsy of me. Are you alright?” A bag of mints and a letter occupied one pocket. “I’m always tripping over my own feet.”
“I’m quite fine.” The spark in the old man’s eye nearly had me gagging. “Are you, miss?”
“Oh, yes.” I lowered my lashes, my hand moving to the other inside pocket. “I really need to watch where I’m going.”
“It’s quite alright,” the man said as he smirked, not noticing the few coins I slipped from his inside pocket. “It was my fault. Let me buy you a drink to apologize.”
I grabbed the man’s hand before he could reach the side pocket where I’d just found what I was looking for. “Oh, no. I couldn’t. But thank you. You are very kind.” My shy smile drew back his attention and I slipped the coin pouch noiselessly into my pocket. “Have a good evening, sir.” I turned away, quickly moving on to my next victim. I felt the old man’s eyes following me as I disappeared onto the crowded street.
The further I moved into my usual routine, the more relaxed I became. I was being paranoid, thinking someone was watching me. I knew the vendors were, I was certain of it, but none had ties to the immortal who held my soul. Immortals were rare to encounter, princes even more so, but they would not use a human to find me—they wouldn’t have to; they’d send one of their own to track me down.
I was free—for now—but those days were numbered.
After lifting two more coin pouches from unsuspecting victims I made my way out of the busy market place. The edge of the street came into view as I passed another bonfire. Buildings lined the street on either side, thick wooden structures with high peaked roofs and chimney smoke billowing from the top. The dark facades were trimmed with green awnings and red chipped siding, connected by tunnel bridges spanning across narrow alleys and streets.
The city of Fondry was one of the larger settlements in the mortal realm, which meant I could reside there a bit longer than most if I kept my head down, but it had already been five years and people were sure to notice the girl who had been seventeen for a very long time now. I had already garnered the attention of many vendors and bar owners nearby. A change of scenery would be coming soon. I just hoped it was by my choice—not someone else’s.
If the newly changed golden swirls across my skin were not sign enough something was coming, the attention from those I encountered was. I’d caught onto the signs after three-hundred years. Subtle looks and questions about when I would marry, how my parents fared, where my siblings were. I knew when it was time to leave, the markings just made a move more urgent. Unlike the red moon on my neck, the golden tattoos were not from the prince of the fifth realm, they were from Prince Cadmus of the third realm, my master of sorts. Though I had not seen him since the day we made the bargain three-hundred years ago, his presence was always near. The markings had grown, and their rapid spreading and change in color told me he would soon call in the deal we had made.
Which meant, I needed a strong drink and something to distract me.
As the music and chatter faded, I slipped into a narrow alleyway, dipping down under a string of dingy clothes hanging out to dry, heading to my intended location for the evening. At the next corner, when I was sure I was alone, I pulled out the coin bags I had stolen. A quick weighted estimation told me it would suffice for the night, and hopefully I would win a bit more at the cards table once the evening fell into full swing.
I entered the near-empty street far away from the crowd with a tug on my sleeve, pulling the cloak down once again over my hands just as I caught sight of what stood before me. My gaze lifted to the large building, a black cathedral with such detail my footsteps faltered. Statues rested on the corners of each column lining the ceremonial building, winged creatures with sharp claws and teeth. I did not need to read the sign to know who the patrons visiting this monstrosity honoured with their prayers—I had been sacrificed in a cathedral nearly identical to this one. Each prince had their own, hundreds of temples built and scattered across the mortal realms, but none sent a chill down my spine as his had.
I still remembered it some nights—the ceremony. The blade sliding across my wrists and my throat. Even with the tonic I had been given to numb the pain, I felt the warm blood spill from my body. It was almost worse not to feel the torment—it made the nightmares too real.
The prince of the fifth realm, Prince Aiden, was the ruler of the underworld. He resided over the spirits of the dead, fed off them, in a realm filled with pain and torture and demons. I had made the bargain with his brother because I believed I deserved a say in my future—and I had not chosen him.
ThoughI had never officially met my betrothed, I’d seen him once, the night before the soul bond ceremony was to take place. I’d stood outside the small cottage my family had lived in all my life, staring up to the cloud-covered sky wondering what it would be like to look up and see a red moon—a moon bleeding just like my heart. I hadn’t noticed him at first, but I’d felt him instantly. A cold caress had snaked over my skin sending shivers down my spine. When my gaze lowered, I found him standing right across from me, his body half shadows, half corporeal. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the immortal prince who ruled over the dead would be half spirit himself, but still I flinched at the sight of him. His eyes though—they were what I would remember for the remainder of my long life. Silver and glowing like diamonds. Fixed on me with an intensity I didn’t understand.
Fear had swarmed through me. Had he known about the bargain I’d made? Had he come to end me before I could ruin him?
He’d said nothing, only bowed so low the long strands of his black hair flowed over his shoulder and nearly touched the ground. Then his eyes lifted to mine one last time before he disappeared.
I’d felt it then—what death would be like. Cold and curious. Alone yet someone always watching. The next night I had died, and everything I imagined it would be had come true…only I never saw the lord of death again. He was gone along with my soul for eternity.
I blinked, bringing reality back to life as the sound of laughter rang out from somewhere nearby. A shiver ran down my spine and the feeling of being watched had my feet moving quickly away from the building. That could have been my life, eternal darkness under a blood moon. It would have been hell…literally.
Down one more street the tell-tale signs of a crowded bar filled the air. Jubilant voices and the scent of beer and fried food sprang up the closer I got. My heart settled a bit as I reached for the door. This was one of my favorite bars I frequented often, though if I wanted to stay in Fondry a bit longer I would need to consider moving to another borough of the city. But not tonight.
I stepped into the bar with a smile, my eyes scanning the entire place. It was packed, likely because it was the first of the month which meant it was not only the day of honor from the princes, but payday. Just what I needed. I settled into a spot along the corner of the bar and signalled to the woman behind it for a drink.
When it arrived, I leaned back in my chair, surveying the place. It was a large bar, but the low ceilings made it feel fuller than it was. There were many dark alcoves and private rooms spread out, fire lanterns hanging from the wood walls casting shadows and ghosts. It was why I liked it so much: easy to remain unnoticed, and busy enough not many remembered my face week after week. Not unless I had taken their money in a game of cards, of course. And with the coin pouches in my pocket burning a hole, I was certain I would be taking more than a few for whatever they’d worked so hard all month for.
I was careful as I reached for my drink, keeping the sleeve of my cloak tucked between two fingers and a thumb. It would be more difficult once I reached the tables, most didn’t trust anyone who wore sleeves let alone covered their hands. I would deal with it later. If they had enough drinks in them maybe they wouldn’t notice, or I would simply lie, find some excuse to explain the glowing tattoos. Not like I wasn’t good at it—lying—I’d had a lot of practice.
I was just about to take another sip of my drink when I felt a large shadow loom over me. My gaze lifted to the snarled face and squinted eyes staring me down. The crossed arms over his chest told me enough—this was not a casual how’s your evening going visit from the owner.
“Ozzy, how’s the wife?” I asked smoothly, sipping my drink without meeting his glare.
“Much better than you, Emaya.”
“How could you possibly know that?” I drawled. “I’m having a perfectly fine evening.”
“Not for much longer,” he said. I looked up to meet his stare. His knuckles were clenched tightly, turning white, and his jaw was flexed hard enough a tooth might crack if he wasn’t careful. “I’m only going to ask you once to leave.”
“Leave? I just ordered a drink.” I motioned to my nearly full glass of ale on the table beside me.
“You’re not welcome here anymore…I told you that last week,” Ozzy growled.
“Oh, that.” I rolled my eyes. “A simple misunderstanding.”
“You swiped three stacks of coin off my tables with your tricks, and you will not get a chance to do it again.” He took a step closer. A few people nearby shifted to eavesdrop. Whispered conversations and pointing had already begun. Shit. “We don’t let cheats and liars in this establishment.”
“I didn’t cheat.” Lie. I most definitely cheated, and it was not the first time either. It was just the first time I’d been caught. There had been a new guy there, the fancy cloak type looking for a thrill on the rougher side of town. I had obliged the man, but I hadn’t expected him to be so observant. “Look, let me play a few hands, I’ll win whatever it is you think I took from those guys, and we’ll call it even.”
“Ozzy…Oz, if I can call you that—”
“—I came here just like everyone else, looking for a stiff drink and a chance to entice lady luck. My coin is worth just as much as anyone else’s…are you really going to deny my money?”
Before I had a chance to react, Ozzy’s vice grip clamped down on my arm, lifting me clean off the stool where I sat. “Yes, I am going to do just that.”
He dragged me to the door like a child heading for a time out. The entire crowded bar had stopped to watch, every eye fixed on the girl who was being tossed out like a rag doll onto the filthy streets alongside the trash. Shoving the door open with his shoulder he yanked and threw me hard enough my feet stumbled. I had only enough time to bring my hands up to soften the blow before my body slammed into the cobblestone ground. My teeth stung from the impact.
“Don’t come back, Emaya. I will not be so kind next time.” The door slammed behind Ozzy with a resounding thud, shutting off the sounds of the bar and the chaos I had just left.
“Fine,” I shouted to no one, moving to push myself up to my hands and knees. My left hand planted into something wet and I recoiled at the thought of what it was with a groan. “I didn’t like your bar anyway. And your dealers are too easy to pay off!”
I managed to get myself to my knees, my head fixed on the ground as I attempted to dust off my cloak. The dark grey allowed dirt and grime to cling to it nearly unseen, but I felt it all over me, had for years. Whatever I had landed in didn’t smell like water, and I nearly gagged while wiping my hands as best I could.
A sudden shadow appeared over me, blocking out the firelight from inside the bar.
“Okay, okay. I’m leaving,” I said, not looking up.
When the shadow did not respond or reach down to pull me to my feet, I slowly lifted my gaze. I noticed the clean black boots first, dark riding leathers tucked into them. Every inch I moved upward I began to realize whoever stood before me was not one of Ozzy’s oversized bouncers making sure I left the property, not by a long shot. One of the male’s strong thighs had a strap around it, attached to another belt cinched around his narrow waist. There was a dagger at his thigh, a long sword resting on the other hip. A tight black tunic pressed against a solid body as a slight breeze pushed down the alley. Strong, muscled arms crossed over a broad chest. My gaze snagged on one of his bronzed forearms bearing a black and red tattoo on it, almost looking like an animal of some sort, but I couldn’t tell what kind from where I knelt, gawking.
Finally, my chin tilted up high enough the face of the man who stood before me came into view. An impossibly strong jawline cut like the many knives he wore. His stare was ice cold and his expression held zero warmth. He had black, almost blue hair swept across his brow, just barely above the light grey-blue eyes glaring at me.
It was only then I noticed what I should have seen first—what I should have somehow felt the moment the shadow stepped in front of me. I staggered back, falling onto my ass, and skittered a few inches away. My eyes widened.
His ears were pointed. This was an immortal.
The immortal’s eyes sparked, and the corner of his mouth quirked into a half smile, as if he saw the moment I realized what he was, and he delighted in the reaction I’d given him. “Prince Cadmus sends his regards,” the male said, his voice smooth and deep. “And he requests your presence in the third realm.”
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