Excerpt: Godkillers, chapter one

For more about Godkillers, go to my Books page.

The moon glared down like an eye, all-seeing, all-knowing, upon the naked body of Adriana di Medanzo. She stood, one of seven skyclad witches, around the altar, a circle of broken stones upon which lay the throbbing, heaving body of a hobbled lamb. They stood upon the Sangineto hill in the wilderness that overlooked the Mare Clorinda, screened from the sounds and sights of the city by the groves of laurel and cypress left to grow wild. It was important that they were hidden from the city. If they were caught, they would be executed.

Seven maghiarde, seven witches clad in sky and air, circled the altar and chanted in the language of the vie vetul’, the old religion. The words poured from Drina’s throat like honey and wildfire.

“Nostrem deductora, nostrem custodia, nostrem agora transa tenebrara.” Guide us, hold us, lead us through the darkness. A plea to Ekata, mother of magic. A plea to Kelati, mother of earth. A plea to Calua, mother of death. The old gods who had not ceased to matter just because their kingdom was usurped by the new.

Chanting, they circled the bleating lamb and danced, hands holding hands, bare feet grinding against the gravel and brush. Drina allowed the ritual to consume her mind until she scarcely felt the hand of Calindora on her right or Evario on her left. This ritual was too important not to concentrate.

The night before the anniversary of the Conquering was always an important day for spellcasting, but this year it was especially fortuitous. This year it not only fell on a full moon, but it was also the six hundredth such anniversary. Six hundred years since the Perlineri had come from their unknown places and conquered the kingdom of Etrucchia. Six hundred years of increasing decadence and squalor. All over Citerna, indeed, all over Etrucchia itself, maghiarde would be performing rituals to guard the new year and to wish the downfall of the three Perlineri, the gods who oppressed them.

Once the chanting ended, they stopped dancing. The lamb’s cries pierced Drina’s ears. It was time. Drina had been chosen by lots to perform the ritual this year. She vibrated with pride and excitement. This was the most important ritual of the year, and she was to be its champion. She tiptoed forward until she stood upon the altar stones, looming above the heaving white lamb.

“Blessed Ekata di Nurtia!” she called in the old language. “Grant us your eyes this night! Let us see what you see, know what you know!” She knelt until her knees bruised against the stones and she loomed over the lamb. She took up a rock in her hand. Solid, weighty. It was important to do it in one blow. She raised the rock above her head, then brought it cracking down against the skull of the lamb. She could feel the reverberations of the skull crunching through the rock and up her arm. The lamb gave a gagging sigh and then, with a seizure and bleat, it was dead. Drina placed the bloody rock on the ground and pressed the tips of her first two fingers to her lips, thanking Calua for allowing the sacrifice a swift and noble death, then pressed her fingertips to the lamb’s neck, thanking the lamb for its contribution.

Now was the most important part. Hamda came forward from the circle, her dark bronze skin glowing in the moonlight. Drina’s best friend handed her the ritual dagger. Drina hefted it appreciatively. It was a beautiful athame, its handle iron, its blade bronze carved with symbols as ancient as the world itself. The coven owned several such daggers, but to be able to use one was a great honor. An honor, tonight, bestowed upon Drina.

Evario and Conciatta held the lamb steady while Drina plunged the blade into the flesh at its sternum. With a sound like ripping fabric she sawed the blade down, down, scrawling a seeping red line from its sternum to its genitals. Blood oozed up from the line and sheeted down the white of the lamb’s fur. Drina set down the dagger and thrust her hands into the seam, squishing her fingers into the lamb’s entrails in search of her prize. Her fingers grasped that slick, weighty thing. The liver. She pried it out, hefting it carefully so as not to destroy it. It was a slick, brown hunk of flesh sheeting blood. She held it up over her head while the maghe around her chanted, “XXX, XXX, XXX.” Read, read, read.

First, Drina prized her fingers along the surface of the liver in search of the signs she had been trained to read since birth. There were no obvious malformations, no clear bumps or fissures other than the expected seams between the lobes. That was good. There would be luck in the new year.

Now for the most important part of the reading. Drina lifted the liver to her lips–and bit into it. It was salty, coppery and tangy, and tough. She prized up a piece of the meat with her front teeth and sawed through the sinew until a chunk separated into her mouth. The chanting increased in volume as she masticated the flesh and let its flavors, its blood, leak over her tongue and tantalize her senses.

Then she swallowed.

She was still, her knees bruising against the rocks, her throat bobbing as the mashed liver and blood trickled down her gullet. She spread her arms wide and reached out into the universe for her magic. It was a burning in her chest, a glitter in her eye, a fizzing in her fingertips. It was the metaphysical undercurrent that connected her with the center of the world and the gods beyond. She let it fill her like water flooding a crevice, let it suffuse and drown her.

This was not the shoddy guesswork of the Acolytes. It was old magic, true magic, the kind that came from gods older than the charlatans who lounged in their palace in the center of Citerna.

Speak through me, Drina prayed. Ati Ekata, Ekata di Nurtia, speak through me.

A stiffness overtook Drina’s limbs as something else filled her body, something shoving her own spirit aside. A fullness invaded her throat like the burn of swallowed smoke. Without her leave, her lips moved and a husky voice purred out, threaded through with a second voice, a third. The spirits were speaking through her.

“Thunder gods kill a century. The anointed lose a wolf. A raven cries alone.” And more, whispered phrases about the harvest, the weather, none of them told but in riddles that would be deciphered later by the diviners. Their last pronouncement was, “The old sleeps, slumbers, wakes.”

Then with a final croak, the voices broke off and Drina smacked back into her own body. All her limbs tingled and her vision swam and she crashed to her side onto the rocks, her whole body seizing. No one did anything as she shook on the rocks–until at last her body stilled and she slumped against the ground, utterly spent.

Hamda and Evario hooked hands under her armpits and slumped her to her feet. Drina swayed but was able to stand. Their work wasn’t done yet. Drina stood in the center of the circle, the bloody dagger in her hand, the gutted lamb at her feet, while the other maghiarde walked a slow circle around her. She dipped the dagger in the lamb’s blood and swiped her thumb across it, then went to Hamda. Hamda Efarim, her best friend, her confidante and champion. Beautiful and strong and sedate. She swiped the blood across Hamda’s forehead, anointing her with the symbol of Ekata.

“Zichor can,” she said. Let it be written.

Then she faced Evario, Black and tall and muscular. Her friend, her light. She swiped the symbol in blood across his forehead. “Zichor can.”

Next was Conciatta, pale and blond, waifish and reedy, lovely and stoic. Her friend, her partner in crime. She made the symbol. “Zichor can.”

She went through the circle, painting symbols on the foreheads of her fellow coven members, Giovo and Astia, and then she stood before Calindora. Calindora, plump and beautiful. Drina’s lips curled into a smile and Calindora smiled back, her perfect lips curling over her teeth. Stunning, vibrant Calindora, olive-skinned and dark-haired, short and curvy. Her Calindora. Hers only for four months now, but some of the happiest four months in her life. With extra tenderness, Drina pressed her bloody thumb to Calindora’s hot forehead and sketched out Ekata’s symbol, slowly, slowly. She paused, just a moment, before returning to the center of the circle.

It was time to close the circle and seal the ritual.

In the old tongue, she said, “By earth, I seal this circle.” She faced the north and cut out Ekata’s symbol into the air with her athame. Lines of light sketched the air, glowing brightly. She turned to the east. “By air, I seal this circle.” Again, she sketched the symbol. Again for fire in the south and water in the west. At last, she flung out her arms and threw back her head and announced to the dark starry bowl of the sky, “By the power of Ekata, I seal this circle! So mote it be!”

The fiery symbols in the air flared bright and a circle of fire cast itself through the air around the witches. It burned up and down, a wall of solid fire. Then, with a hiss, all the fire extinguished, leaving the clearing drenched in smoke.

With the circle closed and cleared, Drina loosened. Everybody else did too, alive with the success of a ritual done without interference from the Turbi, the witch-hunters. Another ritual completed beneath the noses of the three gods who ruled Etrucchia with gilded fists.

Calindora took Drina’s hands. She was shorter than Drina and when she pulled Drina close, Drina melted against her paramour’s soft curves like every part of her was a half of the same whole. In full view of the rest of the circle, Calindora tipped onto her toes and pressed a fierce kiss against Drina’s lips. There was a whoop unmistakably from Evario, who followed it up with, “Please, ladies, let a man don some knickers before you go about offering up such a show.”

Drina pulled away snorting and laughing. She raised her eyebrows at his half-erect genitals. “Nothing terribly impressive to hide, I’m afraid.”

Scoffing, Evario made muscles with his arms and theatrically kissed his bicep. “You wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

A loud laugh erupted from Conciatta. “As though you do.”

Of course, in the end it was Hamda who sidled up, eyes rolling and tongue clicking, to remind them, “Still your merriment for now. We’ve need to clear the evidence. Unless you want to wait here for the Turbi.” But with a smirk, she glanced at Evario’s genitals. “They wouldn’t be impressed either.”

Evario feigned a pout. “Oh, you’re all no fun! Evariotto and I will enjoy our night without you.”

“All by yourselves,” Drina joked as she helped scuff out the circle traced into the ground around the old altar. Giovo and Astia had already cut the lamb into several pieces, which would be strewn throughout the forest for the wolves to eat. The altar would stay, but it was rubble. Washed of blood, no one would know that it had been revived for this evening’s festivities.

As Drina pulled on her rough homespun dress, she grinned. Even under the thumb of a despotic regime, one occasionally had to smile. She licked the blood off her lips, took Calindora’s hand, and followed her friends through the wilderness back towards the city.

Book List: Diverse adult fantasy

This was inspired by DailyJulianne’s thread and it’s something I’ve been thinking of a lot too. A lot of readers seem to think that adult fantasy is only George RR Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss. They’re all great writers, but fantasy is a hugely diverse genre and if you really want to dig into it, there’s more than just cishet white dudes. 

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Actually one of my favorite books of all time. A grumpy Black sorcerer and a spunky Indian girl with newfound magic must band together to save the magic of England in this Regency fairy story. 

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

When a girl in Cairo encounters a djinn, she never realizes that it might be the secret to her heritage, or that there is a secret city of djinn with its own political machinations and wars.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

In a world where religion rules with an iron fist, one girl finds out through her mother’s diary that her mother consorted with witches. At first horrified, she begins to realize that the Church has a dark past–and she may have the power to change its future.  

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

The daughter of a nobleman and an outcast must learn to harness her magic before she is destroyed by the grasping nobility–or awakens the wrath of the gods.

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callendar

An Afro-Caribbean fantasy in which the daughter of the deposed monarchs has to figure out how to destroy the colonizers who stole her family’s kingdom. 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

In a town where girls are taken by a magician as tithe, one girl is ready to change the game. She goes to save her friend and ends up finding a love–and a magic–that she never expected. Beautiful writing, clever plotting, and so swoony.

Black Wolves by Kate Elliott

An exiled captain of the guard and the son of the king he failed to protect must band together when the heir’s life is in danger. Kate Elliott writes some of the most richly detailed fantasy I’ve ever experienced. Total GRRM vibes but less dense and more gripping. 

What adult fantasy do you love? 

Excerpt: First page of ALICE, UNDONE


I’m coming apart.

I don’t think anyone’s noticed.


Alice was disintegrating. 

Little pieces of her soul were fraying off into the ether, she was sure of it. Soon, there would be nothing left.

She might prefer that, honestly. It couldn’t be worse than her mother’s constant pacing. Mrs. Cross had trekked the length of the front room at least a dozen times, growing more fidgety with each iteration. Alice wished her mother would say something. Neither of them had spoken since her mother had been called to the school to pick Alice up early.

Mrs. Cross had scarcely spoken even then, the whole time that Mrs. DeSouza was explaining the situation. Concerned. Alarmed. Cutting herself in the girl’s bathroom. “I understand,” she had told the principal, in the same voice she might use to say, “My daughter is an embarrassment.” Then, tight-lipped, she had taken Alice by the wrist and marched her out of school.

They had traveled without the car radio. Embarrassments didn’t deserve distractions. Alice hadn’t spoken either. She hadn’t cried. She had instead retreated so deeply into herself that she almost couldn’t feel the fuzzy cloth seat of her mother’s car. Had made herself small and invisible until she thought she might dissolve into the silence.

Once home, she drifted ghost-like from the blue mini-van to the sagging front room couch with its faded floral pattern, where she had been sitting for the last twenty minutes while her mother continued to say nothing. Alice’s insides were wound as tightly as spaghetti around a fork, except that then the fork was also used to stab her several times in the gut. How could she be so stupid? How could she let herself get caught? Her mother may have said the words “I understand” but she didn’t, would never understand. The only reason Alice’s parents loved her was because they didn’t know the depths of her soul.

Now, they would know it all.

Nobody could handle it all, all the bitter broken things she had kept so carefully concealed. Least of all her mother, who was now trudging her twentieth trip across the scraggly beige front room carpet.

Book List: 2020 debut authors to check out

This is a hard year for debuts, especially marginalized authors who are already fighting harder. Check out some of the brilliant first time authors starting their careers this year and help support them by preordering or buying! For a full list of books I’m excited about publishing in 2020, check my goodreads shelf.

A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha

In a kingdom suffering from famine, the princess is cursed to turn all food she touches into flowers. But when a kiss sets her free, her love for the boy who kisses her could be her destruction. Based on Portuguese folklore! / YA historical fantasy 

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

In a special school, special students fight monsters. But one girl thinks that the secret society has something to do with her mother’s death, and she’ll stop at nothing to figure it out. A King Arthur retelling with teeth.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

In a world where religion rules with an iron fist, one girl finds out through her mother’s diary that her mother consorted with witches. At first horrified, she begins to realize that the Church has a dark past–and she may have the power to change its future.  

Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald

A super weird sapphic story about a city where the only source of water is a witch who makes it out of blood. When one girl accidentally kills the witch, she must go on a strange journey to find another source of water before the city perishes.

Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas

I’m so hype for this. A trans boy accidentally raises a ghost…but the ghost is a former bad boy and doesn’t want to be exorcised so easily. Cue complications when the living boy starts enjoying the ghost boy’s company and doesn’t want him to leave. 

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

The daughter of a star and a mortal is used to pretending to be normal. But when her mortal father’s life is in danger, she’ll have to go on a quest that takes her to the celestial palaces and beyond.

Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles

In a ruined city, there is a circus–and a competition to become the next performer. But as the performers’ tricks become riskier and more dangerous, the competition itself becomes more deadly as they realize something or someone is stalking and trying to murder them. 

What 2020 debuts are you going to buy? 

Book List: LGBTQIA+ fantasy by #ownvoices authors

Pride doesn’t stop after Pride month. Here’s a list of fantasy, my favorite genre, about queer characters and written by queer authors. For a longer list, check out my shelf on Goodreads.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Barron

If you didn’t realize, this one is hella sapphic. That’s right, girl is forced to go to a ball to be selected as a wife, but she’d rather marry her female best friend. It’s the Cinderella tale but much darker and gayer. 

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

More sapphic love! This time girls who are part of a harem fall in love and get involved in political machinations in a fantasy world. Forbidden romance gets dangerous. 

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

Gay phoenixes. Are you hooked yet? Plus it’s got a strong brother relationship with two boys, one who wants peace and one who wants war, and there’s magic and rebellion and all that good stuff. 

The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta

This is one of my favorite fantasy books, SO underrated. It’s about a genderfluid-questioning MC and a genderfluid love interest. Both are witches in an Italian-inspired kingdom where the mafia rules.

Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas

I’m so hype for this. A trans boy accidentally raises a ghost…and then FALLS IN LOVE with said ghost. How cool is that? 

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

A dancing sickness takes over the city and people are blamed as witches. Five hundred years later, the descendants struggle with the truth. It’s full of trans and gay characters and Anna-Marie’s beautiful prose.

Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer

Gay witches and Celtic mythology. Yes, I said it. It’s such a fun, quick read full of mayhem, serial murder, and enemies to lovers kissing. 

What LGBTQIA+ books do you love? 

Book List: Fantasy books by Black authors

Black Lives Matter counts for ALL the time. So let’s check out some #ownvoices Black magic books in my favorite genre. For a longer list, check out my shelf on Goodreads. There are lots, so I’m just going to highlight a few ones I’m hyped about. 

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

I’m reading this now and it’s pure Black Girl Magic. It’s a contemporary in Portland where Sirens and other magical creatures are part of the normal world, and it’s got the sweetest sisterly friendship between two girls. / Young adult 

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Rosanne A. Brown

A guy makes a deal to assassinate the princess to get his kidnapped sister back. The princess tries to resurrect her mother with dangerous magics. Chaos ensues. I’ve heard so many good things about the hate-to-love romance! / Young adult 

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

It’s Southern Black King Arthur. Are you sold yet, cause I am. Special students hunt monsters. There’s an enigmatic Merlin character. THERE’S A RELUCTANT PARTNERSHIP. All my boxes are ticked. / Young adult 

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Barron

Years after Cindrella’s death, girls go to the ball every year to be selected as brides for wealthy men. But one girl would rather marry her best friend, and she’s willing to take down the whole system to do it. If that doesn’t scream “smash the patriarchy” I don’t know what does. / Young adult

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

Two sisters in a fractured kingdom battle to see who will become queen. Literally we’ve got two sisters trying to kill each other, some fey magic, and some political machinations. Let the mayhem come! / Young adult 

A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Love Alice? Now check the modern version. This Alice slays Nightmare creatures in Atlanta, has a rhyming friend named Hatta, and has to travel to the wilds of Wonderland to save her poisoned mentor. It’s such a fun Buffy-style book! / Young adult

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender

By a Black trans author, this Afro-Caribbean inspired fantasy is all about the last surviving member of a noble lineage fighting back against the colonizers who stole her family’s rule. / Adult 

What Black fantasy books do you love? 

Book List: Weird, bizarre, and effed up books

I love weird books. The kind that you never forget because they do things that other books are afraid to do. So here’s a list of some you should check out if you, too, love stuff that’s effed up. 

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

This book became one of my favorites after one reading. It’s a post-war dystopian in a fairy world where the fairies are all disaster bisexual sex workers subjugated by the trolls. Also, you don’t die, your body parts are still sentient. Also, it’s being written while you’re reading it and sometimes the narrator makes cross-outs or rewrites parts of it. It’s like a postmodern effed up fairy tale and I’m here for it. / YA fantasy/dystopian 

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Do you want to feel really mixed feelings? Somehow this book about a brother-sister incestuous relationship got published. Yeah, I don’t know how either. But it’s a lovely, confusing book that makes you almost root for the couple until you keep remembering, NO THIS IS WRONG STOP BRAIN WHAT. Definitely pushes boundaries and makes you think. / YA contemporary

Brother by Ania Ahlborn

This one is exceptionally effed up and it’s meant to be because it’s horror. The main character lives with his adoptive family in the woods and every so often they kidnap, torture, and kill young women. Except the main character isn’t a huge fan of this and kind of falls for one of the victims. Yeah, it’s got upsetting written all over it. / Adult horror 

Blanky by Kealan Patrick Burke

This one’s a shortie and it’s perfect if you want a fast, creepy as f*ck read. A man grapples with his infant child’s death and becomes stalked by the child’s baby blanket. Which was buried with the child. Yep, I said it. / Adult horror (short story)

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson

In this twisted horror, a man and his son keep dozens of girls prisoner in a secret garden at their mansion. Each girl is given tattooed butterfly wings and a new name, but one girl clings to her identity. It’s told in flashbacks and it’ll give you chills. Not for weak stomachs. / Adult thriller 

The Last Time I Died by Joe Nelms

A truly effed up premise, not for the faint of heart. MAJOR content warning for suicide because this is all about a man seeking out near-death experiences in order to remember his past, which includes his witnessing his father kill his mother. Mashed in there is a beautiful portrayal of how toxic masculinity prevents men from seeking help in healthy ways. / Adult literary fiction

Beyond the Ruby Veil by Mara Fitzgerald

This is such a strange, delightful book. Based in an Italian fantasy world, it’s about a city that can only get water because the head witch lady makes it out of her blood. And if you get these marks on you, you have to sacrifice yourself to her. And one girl is like NOPE and goes on a batshit crazy adventure to try and find another way…because she kind of has to…because she accidentally murders the witch. / YA fantasy 


What weird, effed up books do you love?

Wandering Dolls: Chapter 1

Here, have a scene from my newest WIP! To learn more about it, check out the Books section of the site.

In ten days, the world will end. 

This is what Daga’s mother had told her, as she had been told by her mother, as she had been told by her mother, and on and on for centuries. The world would end after the Autumn festival, to be reborn in the Spring. 

And it all started with the Pageant, the most important ritual of the year. 

Daga was effervescent with excitement, because today was the Choosing. One girl in her seventeenth year would be chosen to play the Pageant’s Maiden. The Maiden would be the center of attention for the whole Autumn Festival. She would have the best place at the feast. All of the best young people would want to dance with her. She would be crowned and celebrated and admired. If that were not inducement enough, everybody knew that being chosen as the Maiden was almost a guarantee that you would be married by the next year. To be secure of a lover by your eighteenth year—Daga could scarcely even laugh for giddiness. She was a hopeless romantic, always full of quixotic notions and swooning stories. To find her true love—that would be everything. 

“Daga! Dagmara! You’re letting the hem trail.” Jadzia’s voice pierced through Daga’s reverie. 

“Oh no!” Her stomach sank. Indeed, the white pageant gown in her hands had dragged in the dirt, muddying the hem. She would have to wash the whole thing again. 

“Daydreaming again?” Jadzia teased lightly. 

“I can’t help it!” Daga balled up the dress and dunked it into the washtub. “How can you think of anything else right now?” 

“Because there’s work to be done. We can’t have a festival in dirty clothes.” Daga knew that Jadzia was also excited, but her joys had always been more tempered and measured than Daga’s free-floating, spiraling emotions. She shared her enthusiasm in quiet smiles and hidden twinkles of her eye. 

On the other side of the washtub, Poldek snorted. “All you think of is the festival. Festival this, festival that.” 

“You’re just jealous because boys can’t be chosen.” Daga stuck out her tongue at him. “You only get to play the gods.” 

Playing Zerno and Belo in the Pageant were both honors afforded to someone of any gender, but only those who identified as female could be chosen as Maiden. 

“No one will be chosen if you don’t hurry.” He checked his pocket watch. “The ceremony starts in twenty minutes.” 

Jadzia gasped and looked ashamed of herself. “Oh no! I should have been more watchful of the time. Let’s hurry.” 

Daga would have been happy to abandon the washing, but too-good Jadzia and Poldek would never allow them to shirk their work, even for something so important as the Choosing. Still, that didn’t keep Daga from rushing through her scrubbing and haphazardly pinning clothes to the line like frantic butterflies. 

Pulling up her skirt, Daga raced with her friends to the square outside of the town council hall, where already most of the villagers were gathered. Pieklo was large enough that there were people whose names she didn’t know, but small enough that their number wasn’t many. She scanned the faces, wondering who among them would be Maiden. 

The ceremony had already started by the time they found their places at the back of the crowd. Cezary Krzeszewska, mayor and head of the elders council, stood at the front podium, arms spread wide. He wore the traditional stroje ludowe in celebration of the festival season. The costume consisted of a white linen shirt, a bright blue embroidered vest shaking with tassels, and striped trousers. His krakuska hat with its red felt and peacock feather sat proudly atop his salt-and-pepper hair. He was of a middling age, younger than the youngest of the elders, and Daga admired him deeply, although Jadzia often reminded her that he was of an age with her own father. “It’s mere respect,” Daga would say, blushing. 

Cezary’s trademark broad smile seemed to glow especially for Daga today as he proclaimed, “People of Pieklo! Today marks the beginning of the end of the world!” 

A raucous cheer roared from the crowd. Daga whooped along with them; excitement like ale bubbled up from her stomach into her throat until she was almost dizzy with it.  

Cezary basked for a moment in the applause, then he shushed the crowd, who obediently fell to a low murmur. “To ensure the rebirth of the world in the spring, today we choose a Maiden from among our girls who have come of age this year.” 

Daga shivered with excitement and looked around at the faces of girls she recognized. Any female people in their seventeenth year were eligible. It was a carefully guarded secret every year, who would be chosen and how exactly the decision was made. There were no common threads among the choices as far as wealth, popularity, or appearance. Every girl was eligible, and every girl was equally possible. Daga surveyed the girls around her and dreamed. Would it be Ksenia, mild and brown-skinned and sedately beautiful? Or Szarlota, freckled and pale and independent and loud? Or perhaps Kazimiera, with her striking dark hair and olive skin and easy smiles? 

Or, perhaps, could it be Daga herself? Clumsy, red-headed, and plain? She crossed her fingers against the evil eye and prayed to Belo. Choose me. Choose me. Her fingertips fizzed with electric anticipation. 

Cezary’s eyes twinkled as he surveyed the group of young women clustered at the front of the crowd. Daga eased forward onto her toes, straining towards him as though if only he could see her, he would choose her. 

“Our Autumn festival maiden this year is . . .” The silence lengthened into a vibrating, living thing. The crowd thrummed like the plucked string of a lute. “Jadwiga Grzybowska!” 

Daga’s insides froze. Of course. Of course they would choose Jadzia. Jadzia, lithe and fair, her blond braid with never a strand out of place. Not like Daga’s wild red locks always windblown and tangled with leaves from lying in the grass, dreaming of other worlds. Jadzia, mild-mannered and obedient. Not Daga, who frequently forgot to collect the goats from grazing because she was reading a story of romantic adventure in the ruined castle. 

Happy cheers and whoops boiled up from the crowd. The other young women clapped politely, although many a disappointed air contoured their well-bred smiles.  

Moisture threatened to glass up Daga’s eyes and betray her feelings to Jadzia, who looked as flabbergasted as though she had just been sentenced to death. Daga clenched her fists and plastered a smile onto her lips. Jadzia was the last person to believe in her own merits; Daga always had to do that for her. She couldn’t hurt her friend by betraying her envy. “Jadzia, I’m so happy for you!” 

Jadzia relaxed, although only a little. “It should have been you, Daga.” 

Yes, it should have, said Daga’s traitorous mind. But she shook her head extra fiercely, because she knew that Jadzia absolutely meant it. “No, it should be you. You deserve it.” And Daga meant that too, even though the other half of her was clutching and cold in its envy. 

Poldek beamed and threaded his fingers shyly through his blond hair. “Go, Jadzia, they’re waiting for you! Congratulations!” 

“Oh! Right!” Jadzia blushed deeply. The crowd parted and strained to catch a glimpse of her face. With small, uncertain steps, she walked through the gauntlet towards Cezary and the town council on the stage. 

Daga watched Poldek watch her go. A moony expression slackened his mouth and dusted his eyes with starlight. He had been in love with Jadzia for years, and everybody knew it—except for Jadzia. Another hot claw of jealousy closed around Daga’s heart. Not because she was in love with Jadzia or Poldek—Jadzia was too much her sister to think of romantically and Poldek was Poldek. But because Jadzia, always unsuspicious of anything that distinguished her, would eventually realize that Poldek loved her, and that she could love him. They would marry, and Daga would be alone. 

Daga shook her head and some of the darkness cleared. No, no, she couldn’t think like that. Her prince or princess would come for her, just like in the stories. She just had to wait. For now, she was happy with her family and her friends. Her wonderful best friend had just attained the highest honor that Pieklo could gift to a young woman. And what would follow this ceremony was ten days of dancing, revelry, and merriment. 

A genuine smile settled onto Daga’s lips, and with it true delight eased the sting from her heart. It was not in her nature to be melancholy; she could never sustain a negative mood for long. 

Ten days of merriment, and her best friend as Maiden. It was perfect. It was glorious. 

It would be an Autumn festival she would never forget.