Beyond the veil of your world lies the realm of banshees, where death is only the beginning and real monsters plot their revenge. A place outside of time and modernization, ruled by corrupt Royals. A land where women are forbidden to pick up a sword, but not all will obey…
Discover how it all begins in this exclusive sneak peek of Netherworld…coming October 10th to all ebook platforms.
FLATLINE. THE MOMENT WHEN one life ended and the next began. That was my cue.
Death was final, sealed with the stroke of a pen rather than left to chance. Baylor, King of the Netherworld, chose who lived and died. Fate and faith had nothing to do with it.
Just once, I would have liked to see a human pull through; that my services as a banshee wouldn’t be needed. There hadn’t been a mistaken death in over a millennium. Fat chance there would be one anytime soon.
I pressed back against the wall and waited as a nurse rushed past me. Her face looked haggard as she steered the crash cart down the hall. This was the fourth death here in the past two hours. The nursing staff was showing definite signs of weariness. Each of the battles had been long fought. They were fights the doctors never stood a chance of winning.
Several more nurses rushed through the closed door up ahead, working to revive the soul I’d come to collect. The steady high-pitched drone of the heart monitor made my skin prickle with unease. I hated this part. Death rarely ended in a peaceful passing.
Though the medical staff’s efforts were noble, they were also wasted. Once I was called in to collect a soul, it was too late for hope.
I glanced at my assignment card as I approached the room at a slow pace. Nora McMillian. Six forty-eight p.m. I had arrived two minutes ahead of schedule.
Glancing back over my shoulder, I checked to see if there were any other banshees within sight. Seeing that I was alone, I slid my hand into the layers of my dress to the leather warrior’s attire I wore beneath. There, pressed against my hip, was a hidden sheath.
I withdrew the dagger and held it firmly in my grasp. My blade helped to ground me when I felt on edge, and ever since I crossed through the veil that morning, something felt off. It was against the law for banshees to wield a weapon. I felt that it was an archaic rule, and as such, chose to ignore it on a daily basis.
My cousin, Eivin, was a reaper, a warrior bred to protect banshees. But I wasn’t the sort who wanted to wait around for a man to protect me. When Eivin realised I was determined to learn the art of war, he began training me in secret to take care of myself. He risked banishment if we were ever discovered but that didn’t stop him. He had always been very protective of me. He knew the truth as well as I did.
Things were not as they seemed.
King Baylor claimed to have sole power to control who lived and who died. But if that were true, how were our soldiers guarding the Wall dying? Was he killing his own men or had a new enemy risen that we were not meant to know about?
Eivin warned me against looking into such things. To speak out against the royals was an act of treason. I couldn’t pretend everything was normal. My friends could all smile and play their parts, but that wasn’t me. I wanted the truth. I just needed more solid proof of my suspicions. Otherwise, I was nothing more than a conspiracy theorist telling wild tales.
As I waved my blade in the air, it glinted against the halogen lights. It was beautiful, forged from a milky white stone mined deep within the heart of the Hollow Lands; an appropriate name it turned out. The Hollow Lands were a desolate place. A prison for the vilest of human spirits. The Lorcan.
Where they were held captive was a realm of torment created solely for those twisted Lorcan souls. Only in the Hollow Lands was this type of glass-like stone found. My blade was forged from their hell. It was the only thing capable of piercing their grotesque hides.
A chill washed over me at the thought of them as I leaned back against the wall. My mind was still uneasy. There were rumours that the Lorcan grew restless. There were whispers of battles at the great Wall that separated our two realms. Eivin dismissed them although I knew he was just trying to keep me from sticking my nose where it didn’t belong. Something wasn’t right. I could feel it deep within my soul. There had to be some truth to the whispers and I was determined to find out.
I had already started digging into the king’s dirty secrets, but I was far from done. It wasn’t like I had a lot of free time. A reaper’s day was unpredictable, dangerous, and suspenseful. Mine was boring and the hours felt endless. While Eivin got to lasso a Lorcan or two, I got stuck ferrying smelly old men whose tickers stopped working while watching football at the local pub. It wasn’t fair, but no one gave a shite what I thought.
“I should have been born a bloke,” I muttered.
I sighed and leaned my head back against the plaster wall. Nothing ever changed. People died. Souls needed help to cross over. I was stuck. I guess in one way that was job security for me. Not that I had a choice in the matter. Banshee for life and all that crap.
“What’s takin’ so long?” I glanced at the clock again.
Six fifty-two p.m.
“That canna be right.” My assignment, Nora McMillian, had been breathing for two minutes too long. Deaths were never late.
Kicking off from the wall, I ducked my head to look at the name printed on the patient’s chart hanging outside the door to make sure I was in the right room. In bold print, I read the name Fergus Fahey.
“Fergus Fahey? That’s Eivin’s soul to collect.”
I only remembered that detail because Eivin hounded me before crossing the veil about pre-planning my exit route. He had insisted I take the back stairs to ensure I wouldn’t cross paths with his Lorcan. Our assignment cards must have been switched. But why?
“If Eivin is upstairs collecting Nora, that means…” I gripped my dagger and planted my feet. “Bloody hell.”
Fergus Fahey had been a horrible man during life. That was why they had sent in a reaper. Souls of the wicked became Lorcan when they passed. That meant that whenever this soul died, I wasn’t going to be ready to handle it. Despite what little training Eivin had given me, coming to blows with a newborn Lorcan could kill me.
The hairs on the back of my neck bristled at the doctor’s call, “Time of death is—”
A split second after that, a new smell hit me. It was like rancid meat left to bake in a desert sun. It was too late to run.
The hulking form of the Lorcan burst through the door, taking me off guard. I had no time to react before a set of sharp nails struck the left side of my face. It hit me with such force that I flew across the hallway and into a wall. The impact of my body slamming into it caused the plaster to crack behind me.
My dagger spun across the tile, rendering it out of my reach. My flesh burned along the side of my face where the claw marks were, making my left eye water as it swelled. With my limited vision I saw the Lorcan crouched at my feet. Its eyes were wide and unblinking. The irises became pale as a milky white veil began to fall over them. He stared at me with the raging hunger of a newborn.
Though the creature still bore some humanoid features, its head appeared to be elongating. Its skin thickened and looked splashed with oil as the black spread along its hairless body. I stared in horror as its fingernails and toenails grew into claws. When its bright red tongue snaked out between pointed teeth, it reminded me of a snake. Bits of skin grew over its nostrils until only a flap of skin opened and closed as it sniffed the air.
Suddenly, I wondered if I’d been set up. Maybe I had asked one too many questions to the wrong person? My da had warned that my nosing around would get me into trouble someday. What if I’d poked too close to one of the king’s secrets and he’d unleashed this demon on me to silence me for good? Only King Baylor had the power to decide who died and who was reaped. He alone controlled the assignments written for us each day.
And he never made a mistake.
I kicked the Lorcan, connecting my boot with its face. The sound of its shattered cheekbone paired with the popping of several boils on its face. Pus leaked over my sole. Smoke rose from the leather sole as it burned through my shoe like drops of acid.
My breath caught as the Lorcan uncurled its claws and snarled. They looked sharp enough to tear me in half.
“Shite, shite, shite!”
I rolled away and tried to throw myself towards my dagger but came up short when its claws sank deep into my calf. With a strong tug, I was pulled away from the wall.
“Get off me!”
I tried to kick free, but the beast had shredded several inches of my leg. The pain grew so intense I feared I’d pass out.
My head slammed into the floor when the Lorcan tossed me onto my back and raked its claws over my opposite thigh. Its touch burned like frostbitten skin dipped into warm water. The skin didn’t melt but withered and died. Nausea rolled through me as the scent of my own charred flesh filled my nose.
“Help!” I screeched.
There was no one to come to my aid. None of my kind were scheduled to this floor, which I should have thought suspicious. I tried to escape the humans milled around us. They were deaf to my cries; none the wiser to my battle. My kind was invisible to them until they died. If they felt anything at all it might be a light breeze, easily explained away as a draft. No one was coming to rescue me.
I was on my own.
A growl rose from the Lorcan’s throat as it slashed its claws across my lower abdomen and upper edge of my thigh. I screamed when its nails pierced my leathers and tore through my skin. Tears blurred my vision as I sent a blow to its groin, managing only to bruise my knee on its unforgiving hide. The blasted thing laughed in response. It was a cruel laugh that made me quake with terror.
I’m going to die. This was it. My death would happen right here on this bleach white hallway. It wasn’t exactly the way I thought I’d go out.
The Lorcan paused to sniff the air just when a nurse pushed open the door to my right. She maneuvered the narrow turn to roll the deceased Fergus’ bed down the hall. I tried to reach my dagger while its attention had shifted to the nurse, but a clawed hand pressed against my chest the moment I moved.
Although I was an easy and more desirable meal, a newly turned Lorcan was drawn to any life force within reach. It didn’t matter that the nurse was currently attending to the Lorcan’s former body. That life was gone. All that remained was the monster’s hunger. It cared little what world the life it sought lived in.
Before I could react, the Lorcan pounced on the woman. The nurse’s scream was shrill as it took her to the floor. The hospital bed was sent flying before it careened into the wall. One of the humans was bound to hear her cries.
“Get up, Taryn,” I said through gritted teeth.
Pressing my hand to my stomach, I watched in horror as the Lorcan rolled her over. She tried to fight off her invisible attacker, but she proved too weak. Nothing in the human world could fend the Lorcan off. There was nothing I could do for her in my current condition despite her pleas for help.
Soon more humans came to help, but all they saw was a woman writhing in pain on the floor. They didn’t see the beast on top of her, dismantling her insides. To them, it only appeared as she was losing her mind. And she had. Her brain would soon shut down and her heart would stop. Another death would come today. Had this one been orchestrated by the king too?
With the Lorcan distracted, I found my footing and leaned against the wall. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to move. I had to find Eivin. He had to know there was a Lorcan on the loose.
With each step I took, pain lanced through my leg. Darkness edged around my already blurred vision. My left eye burned with tears as the nurse’s screams rose and fell. I didn’t look back. I couldn’t.
“Eivin,” I screamed as I leaned heavily against the wall. “Eivin, I need ya!”
The hallway seemed to expand in front of me, becoming a marathon distance to cross. I limped forward, smearing bloody handprints on the wall as I passed. I had to get to the stairwell. I didn’t know how I’d make the climb, only that I had to try.
From around the corner I heard hurried footsteps. My left eye was completely swollen shut by now and tears blurred the vision in my right, but I made out a figure dressed all in black. He was hurrying towards me.
“Eivin, thank the gods.” The cry caught in my throat as I reached for him. Pushed beyond its limits, my leg gave out on me and I collapsed into his arms.