Here’s another exclusive excerpt of Wings of Caligo:
“But Matt wasn’t looking at me anymore. He was glancing around warily. “Ken,” he said in a low, tension-filled voice. “Why are the cabbages dying?”
I looked where he was pointing and saw frost creeping up the plants, coming from the road. It meant only one thing. There was only one person who affected the air in this way. He was coming.
“No, no, no!” I cried, twisting about looking for the source of the cold and shoving Matt toward the trees. “We’ve got to go! Lord Ricard is coming!“
A force slammed into my back, pummeling me into the ground. Dirt met my face and a deep growl snarled out from whatever was pinning me to the ground. A nasty, musty smell registered in my brain, and I knew what it belonged to. It sniffed up along my ear, hinting at its plan. Death crawler. Definitely a large and very dominant one.
“Matt…” I said slowly, wondering how it had snuck up on us. “Run.”
I knew exactly what I had to do. Flip it over and crunch the life out of it. I could feel the adrenaline welling up in my veins, instinct urging me what to do. But I never got to do it. Unfortunately, Matt had other plans. He threw a cabbage at its head, distracting it.
“Hey, ugly face. Pick on someone your own size!” he yelled tauntingly. The crawler screeched at him angrily, releasing me from under its huge paws. It stalked toward him, hissing. He gulped. I don’t think he had quite thought through his plan. Now that he had its attention, he had no idea what to do.
“Uh, Ken,” he called, dropping the second cabbage in hand. “Now would be a good time to do something fairy-like.”
I didn’t have time to agree as I rolled under the creature and drew the dagger from my hip. I slit its throat from side to side, hot blood dropping on my face as it wheezed a last growl and fell on top of me dead. I threw it off and stood as more dark growls filled the clearing. There were three more advancing toward me and one going after Matt. My job was getting more difficult by the second.
The dagger clutched in my hand was itching for more blood. It got its wish as it buried itself into the flank of the nearest creature. I retrieved it as I ran past, heading for the one still pursuing Matt. The two I hadn’t dispatched yet were still on my tail. But I never reached my destination.
I was grabbed from behind and the cold edge of steel put up against my throat. The breath was knocked out of me and I felt fear awaken within me as another terribly familiar scent filled my nose.
“Well, well. Who are we?” a snide voice hissed in my ear. “Don’t you know it’s a crime punishable by death to kill a death crawler in my lands, beautiful?”
“Zeke,” I breathed in horror, now realizing just how much danger we were in.
“So you know my name,” he said, sounding disgustingly pleased. “Say it again.”
“My name,” he said, pressing the blade harder against my throat. He inhaled along my ear lasciviously. “That of the future king. It sounds so delicious coming off of those lips of yours. Say it again.”
I nearly gagged at the lewd innuendo in his voice. But I knew I needed to buy time so I could make a move. “Zeke,” I muttered in a breathy whisper.
“Oh, I like that,” he said. “What’s your name, señorita? Why don’t we adjourn to a more hospitable location? You may yet escape your punishment if you please my every desire-“
His words turned into a shriek as I stabbed the dagger into his thigh and jerked it upwards, elbowing him in the gut. I attempted to run to Matt who was fending off the remaining crawler by beating the hell out of it with a piece of wood. But Zeke anticipated my move and yanked me back against him.
“If you think that’s enough to throw me off, bitch,” he growled at me, all traces of playfulness gone, “then you’ve got another thing coming. Think of this more as… foreplay.”
“I’d rather die!” I hissed struggling to break free.
“All right then,” he said, sounding even more pleased. Evidently he liked the idea of killing me even more than the other activities he was proposing. “Even better.”
I felt the blade start to move and squeezed my eyes shut. Game over. I wouldn’t even have time to shift before he slit my throat. I heard a yell from far off. Matt’s yell of panic barely registered through my brain as I prepared for the end. I hoped he didn’t go after Zeke after I was gone. Then we’d both be dead.
But fate intervened. “Enough, Ezekiel!”
I sagged in relief as Lord Ricard’s voice rang out into the clearing. I had thought that was going to be it for me. Zeke stopped and a hiss escaped past his lips. Disappointment radiated off of him. “Tough luck, señorita. Looks like we’re going to have to continue this later.”
He threw me to the ground and I landed with a splatter into the mud. My blood and the neon purple blood of the crawlers mixed beneath me. I was healing rapidly but I could still feel where the knife had cut into my neck.
Two figures on horseback rode toward us. The one on the black horse stopped a few feet in front of me. I couldn’t see anything beyond the dark green brim of the hood. For a second I thought it was Dare, but I quickly discounted the thought. The figure was enormous. As an opponent, they would have the advantage of size. Not good. I was outnumbered as it was. I’d have to be fast if I took them on. The person said nothing and held back as Ricard rode forward.
The king was on his albino horse and he didn’t look happy. His eyes traveled over the dead crawlers, Zeke, and then onto me. I glanced away before he could look me directly in the eye. I would be thoroughly done if he realized who I was. It was too late now to change my face with my powers.
Matt was visible from the corner of my eye. He was all right, his eyes fixed on me with worry. I spat out a mouthful of dirt and nodded to let him know I was okay. He nodded back and fixed his murderous glare on Zeke’s back.
“Dad,” Zeke drawled, throwing his arms out in a dramatic welcome that I suspected was meant as a diss. “I didn’t know you were out and about.“
“Save it,” Ricard snapped dismissively. “Who is she?”
“I have no idea,” he replied airily. “You usually don’t care who I kill since I’m not your worthy heir, so I didn’t know I had to ask. Who are you, sweet cheeks?”
“Leave her alone,” Matt said loudly, causing the remaining crawler in front of him to start growling again. “She was protecting me-“
“A human?” Ricard said, sounding surprised. “Here in Caligo? Interesting. I’ll get to you in a second, boy. Your name, girl?”
“Amarylis Mina,” I lied with no hesitation, roughening my voice. I had had that alias prepared from day one since I had gotten here. It was so ingrained in me it sounded perfectly true. I didn’t dare glance up at either of them. Zeke still hadn’t seen me from the front, so he had no idea who I was. If he saw me, he’d recognize me, and I’d be trapped.
“And what were you doing killing death crawlers? It is punishable by law-“
“They attacked us first, sire,” I said, cutting across him. “Self- defense.”
“The death crawlers are under our command, peasant. They wouldn’t attack without being provoked,” Ricard replied snottily. But I could tell he meant it. He thought they were totally in his control. That wasn’t good.
“Do you really think I’d go attacking a scourge of crawlers for kicks?!” I snapped. “They probably smelled Matt and came after us.“
“The human is of no consequence,” Lord Ricard snapped back, sounding bored. “You should have let them proceed. What were you two doing out here anyway?”
I bristled internally at that comment on Matt’s behalf, but knew I’d better keep my mouth shut for his safety. “Cabbages,” I muttered through gritted teeth. “Wild cabbages. We’ve got to eat something, sire. There’s nothing else-“
I cried out in pain as Zeke delivered a sharp kick to my ribs.
“Don’t talk back to the king,” Zeke spat.
I bit my lip to hold back further sounds. He had cracked a few of my ribs, but they were healing rapidly. He must have been wearing steel- toed boots to inflict such damage. He had smashed the skin, too. More blood trickled through my clothes into the mud, joining the blood coming off my chin. I curled up into a ball, waiting for the agony to stop. Tears escaped from my eyes as the pain started fading from my mind.
A soft nuzzling on the side of my face caught my attention. It was comforting in a way, as it was sniffing me. Hot breath blew on my neck. I looked up to see a very large set of nostrils paired with a huge set of familiar brown eyes staring back at me. Another warm puff blew on my face. I forgot the pain for a moment, shock taking over my mind. I recognized those eyes.
“Cerberus,” I breathed. The horse mouthed lightly on the end of my nose with affection. I almost smiled but then froze as realization washed through me. If this was Cerberus, then where was his master?
I glanced up slowly through my lashes, sincerely hoping I wasn’t making a huge mistake. The dark figure didn’t move as the horse continued to inspect the top of my head. But I could tell they were watching me closely, just by the downward tilt of the hood. I cocked my head, trying to get a better look. It was hard getting past Cerberus who was still sniffling at my cheeks.
A hauntingly familiar pair of dark green eyes met mine for a split second, glowing even though no light fell upon them. They widened and I forgot to breathe. Trepidation washed through me as I came to the blunt realization of who was before me. Dare hadn’t realized who I was until that moment just as I hadn’t recognized him…”
I hope you enjoyed that sneak peek! Wings of Caligo is going to be published on August 17th, so make sure to pre-order your copy here.