by Jessica Grossmann (@jessica_13212)
Editor: Hannah VanVels (@hannahvanvels)
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A fae prince devises a sadistic contest: thirteen unwitting contenders are chosen on the solstice, and the one who brings Prince Lurien the hearts of the other twelve will “win” the position of his consort.
When Raegan is tasked with the assassination of an infamous fae lord, the last thing she expects is to become entangled in Prince Lurien’s twisted game. Guarding dangerous secrets about her magic, Raegan’s plan is to remain as invisible as possible, as she always does. But with rumors swirling of Prince Lurien’s search for a consort, thousands of fae descend upon the Autumn Court to attend a royal ball at the Autumn Palace. Raegan must use the opportunity to enter the palace and complete her task before anyone notices her. But things don’t go as planned, and when Raegan inadvertently draws Prince Lurien’s attention, she is chosen as a contender for his contest.
The rules are simple: the fae who brings Prince Lurien the hearts of the twelve other contenders will win the game. If Raegan can win the prince, she wins a throne. If she loses, she dies. It ought to be easy for a trained assassin…except Raegan soon realizes she’d rather kill the insufferable prince than the lord she was sent to hunt.
EVERNIGHT is a young adult fantasy, complete at 96,000 words. It will appeal to readers who enjoyed the dark atmosphere and political power games of Three Dark Crowns, as well as the enemies-to-lovers romance of The Cruel Prince.
I live in Sydney, Australia, with a needy cat who likes to pretend he is independent. I spend my days as an engineer and my nights in Faeryland. When I’m not working or writing, I enjoy baking, buying excessive numbers of houseplants, and the occasional D&D campaign.
First Five Pages
PART I: A GAME OF BLOOD
Outside the gates of the Autumn Court
The fae believe the ability to lie is a curse. An unacceptably human affliction.
In my line of work, there is a certain benefit that comes from everyone believing me when I say I am not going to kill them.
My name is Raegan and I am an assassin by trade, not by choice. Sometimes, we must resort to doing that which we are good at. Sometimes, that decision is made for us.
The crowd jostles me from all sides, unsolicited limbs catching in my hair, my cloak. I press my hands into my pockets lest I brush against anyone, wishing others would extend the same courtesy. I can feel the sour look on my face, my lips twisted into a line. After weeks in the solitude of the woods, I forgot how I hate crowds. I cringe away from the other fae, folding into myself, exhaling as I move between a band of brownies. They’re at least shorter than I am, so I can breathe in air that hasn’t just been exhaled in my face.
The brand on the inside of my elbow burns like ice. Focus, Raegan. I clench my fists, watching the hordes surrounding me like a sea. Most are Unseelie, their bodies swathed in cloaks like mine, bright eyes shrouded by hoods and tattered scarves. Many carry goods, armfuls of spells, some with carts, some with cages. Others are residents of the Autumn Court. I bow my head as I pass by sylphs with their tell-tale russet skin, their long figures playing on the hilts of their swords.
This was a stupid plan. I should know better by now than to delay an assignment until the last minute. When has that ever gone well for me? If the gates open before I find him, I never will. I worry my bottom lip between my teeth. Spindly bogeys, armoured redcaps. The ever-present sylphs and stout little hobgoblins. Everything is here. Everything but him.
A flash of gold makes my head whip around.
I exhale a laugh. Why did I ever doubt myself? He would do something as idiotic as draw a golden blade. He might as well send up a flare for all the difference it would make in this crowd. My eyes weld themselves to the figure a dozen paces ahead. From behind, he is just another dark shadow. He lurches forward then flinches back, cringing out of the path of an errant arrow someone has fired through the crowd. For a Seelie spy, he is not so subtle. Nor is his play—paying his way across the realms to hand-deliver a poison-laced message to a noble.
I draw my dagger. My thumb glides across the edge of the blade. I don’t feel it cut me, but a hot bead of blood trickles down my palm.
A hard knot settles itself in my chest. I have spent three weeks on his tail now, two weeks longer than necessary after he gave me the slip at the Brackenhill Inn. I’ve barely slept since. The joints of my fingers ache where I grip my dagger too tightly, my heartbeat knocks a tattoo against the inside of my skull. A soft whisper brushes the back of my mind, tugs at something in my gut. I think it’s hunger. I think the last time I fed was in the Winter Realm.
“Soon,” I whisper to myself. “It will be all the sweeter for the wait.”
My sweet Seelie is within arm’s reach. He hesitates as a band of goblins swarm around us, screeching garbage and clocking each other behind the ears. I grit my teeth. Last minute, last chance.
I slam my arm around the Seelie’s chest, my boot hard to the back of his knee. I press the point of my dagger lovingly to the vein pulsing at the side of his golden throat.
“So close,” I whisper against his ear.
“That’s right.” With a fist in his hair, I jerk his head to face me. “Remember me?”
His eyes are the bright colour of the woods in high summer. They widen and a soft whimper escapes him.
I roll my eyes. Criminals are all the same. Staunch as swords until cornered. I await the day one of them decides to grab a weapon and fight me instead of crumble into a quivering heap.
“In the name of the Unseelie Queen,” I say, the mantra falling like lead from my lips, “I charge you with conspiracy against a lord of Faery and sentence you to death.”
“No…You said you wouldn’t…”
I laugh bitterly. “I lied,” I say, and draw my dagger across his throat. Glamour-rich blood wells beneath my blade and something inside me uncoils like a snake. Revulsion wars with hunger as I clamp my eyes shut, my jaw around his throat and consume his glamour as I take his life.
His blood hits my veins like a flood, a shock of energy that stops my breath and my heart. My throat burns, the vicious heat of summer glamour intertwining with what little glamour remains in my system in a reckless, intoxicating dance that bubbles through my blood like poison.
I draw my head back and let out a breath I have been holding for weeks. The folk around me have not so much as turned their heads my way. I release the body of the Seelie and slip sideways into a throng of wyld fae before the first exclamation reaches my ears. Without breaking step, I wipe my mouth on my sleeve and my blade on my cloak. My hands are wet with a sheen of blood and I clean them as best I can on the insides of my pockets. Glamour spreads from my tongue to my chest, my fingers tingle, my skin glowing like snow under moonlight. I rake my long black hair forward, tug the hood of my cloak a little further down. Don’t think, don’t stop. My stomach turns a backflip and I gag on the bitter taste of blood. It’s harder to keep the stuff down the longer I’ve gone without it.
Unpleasant, but necessary.
The crowd parts ever so slightly before me and I catch a glimpse of the sky. Beyond a veil of swirling grey cloud, the heavens are blood red. Behind me, they darken to the colour of our most potent wine, that saved for the nights of midwinter when even winterborn fae feel our lifeblood slowing in our veins. It is hard to remember those nights now, here with my clothes stuck to my back with sweat and the air shimmering like a mirage.
Ahead of me, the Autumn Court is a silhouette against the bloody sunset. Stretching farther than even my fae eyes can see, the oldest city of Faery beckons to me like an old friend. Rising like a mountain range, the buildings at the heart of the city cling to one another like drowning nixies, melded like lovers into a cohesive, living thing. Above it all, the Autumn Palace presides over its court. Even from this distance, the palace is foreboding, a stark warning to past armies. Few windows, no doors, a multitude of towers gazing with invisible eyes over every inch of the city and beyond its gates.
I have never entered its buttressed walls. That will soon change.
A heavy sigh leaves me of its own accord. The blood of my last job is still on my hands—literally—and the next one already looms.
Sometimes, I despise Hayden.
As the last drops of sunset leach from the sky, a roar of voice and movement surges around me. I lurch forward, a jolt in my stomach as magic radiates from the city like heat, raising the hair on the back of my neck as a thousand faces turn in the same direction.
The gates of the Autumn Court have opened.
I run through my usual check—blade at my hip, blade in my boot, my sword a comforting weight against my shoulder blade—as the gates come into view. A shiver races down my spine. Thrice my height, gates of black iron encircle the city, the largest single structure of cold iron in Faery, brought here millennia past from the Human Realm. The only thing that can stop fae entering the court uninvited.
I have spent more time in the Human Realm than I believe strictly necessary. Enough time to study the now-distant cousins of the fae. It is said that our species diverged at the time of the Flood, and with the years, their memory of us has faded. As have their lifespans, their intelligence, their looks… No human who enters Faery leaves with their mind as it was when they arrived. To a human, Faery is a lullaby played in a minor key. It is the fascination of piercing your skin to see your own blood and laughing as you bleed out on the floor.
In other words, unhinging. In any battle, the fae will win.
Unless iron is involved.