Authors: Nina Smith
Copyright © 2014 Nina Smith
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
First Printing, 2014
To my most dedicated readers, who have taken the journey into Shadow with me: Kate, Clare, Lizzie and Vivienne.
Also, a great big thank you to my lovely editor Fiona, and to the wonderfully patient and adventurous people who have participated in bringing my characters to life in The Shadow Project and in the cover artwork for this book: Eddie, Richelle, Rebecca, Jay, Tess, Belle, Damien, Joanne, Dwayne and Laura.
Also by Nina Smith:
SHADOW is a penal colony created for a bunch of troublemakers as a result of some unpleasant goings on about three thousand years ago. It exists in a pocket of time and space you might think of as a bubble.
In those three thousand years, the descendants of the original exiles have established diverse tribes, cultures, religions and traditions.
This tiny world, once a simple prison, is now a thriving civilisation where many peoples live in uneasy accord.
While an official census has never been undertaken, it is believed the following is a comprehensive list of all the tribes living in Shadow. It’s always possible others may be lurking about the place.
Work hard to inspire creativity in the world of humans, which they call Dream. They prize physical beauty, learning and art, and are sternly loyal to their king. They see themselves as Shadow’s ruling class. Not everybody agrees–most people regard them as unnaturally tall and kind of irritating.
Enjoy shiny things and war. While they have historically been known to abandon battles because they saw something shiny, for the most part they are a formidable fighting force.
Obsessed with quicksilver, an abundant, toxic and very shiny element found in their territory. They mine the quicksilver and maintain a monopoly over it, creating a constant shortage of it elsewhere in Shadow. Rogue Freakin Fairies have been known to run a black market sideline in vibe, a drug deadly but almost irresistible to muses.
Live in giant pumpkin shells and like to grow things. These farming tribes are fiercely independent and very good at hiding whole villages amongst their crops.
A reclusive clan famous for their penchant for blowing things up. Nobody’s seen one for a while. Their origins are shrouded in as much mystery as their actual location.
Serious types with hooves for feet. Very territorial, fond of big axes and likely to become political dissidents when they leave their forests. They are referred to colloquially as forest people not so much because they live deep in forests, as because nobody can ever remember their proper names. The two known tribes are the Fish-Tailed Green Dragon Dancer Tribe and the Three-Headed Red Elephant Tribe.
They like blood. Mostly they prefer fairy blood, although pixies will do at a stretch. They’re not so hot on muse blood, which makes them at best throw up and at worst go into anaphylactic shock. They live in the Darkness at the borders of Shadow, but have an irritating tendency to go invading due to the lack of fresh blood over there.
Fond of darkness, depressing music and heavy makeup. Sometimes they write poems or draw their endless pits of despair in many shades of black. Most people try not to have anything to do with them.
Artisans, artists and architects, who have disdained hierarchy in favour of forming anarchist collectives for decision making. Easily the most intelligent citizens of Shadow.
A tall, willowy people who have devoted three thousand years to their love affair with fire. They fight it, they dance with it, they juggle and create with it. While capable and skilled, fire elves have a reputation for being hot tempered and violent.
Fluffy Ducky was missing.
A tear pricked the corner of
Hippy Ishtar’s eye, but she blinked it back. She’d only wanted to let him out to stretch his legs. All eight of them. She didn’t want him getting eight lots of leg cramps, but now he’d been gone for three whole hours, and that just wasn’t like him.
She peered up into the thick, spiky leaves of the tree she’d been under when she let him out. Maybe he’d seen a lady spider.
She bit her lip. Lady spiders had teeth. Big ones. She placed both hands on the ridged bark and stood on her toes to get a better look, but it was hard to see anything except shadows on shadows at this time of night.
“Fluffy Ducky!” she called. “Fluffy Ducky, are you up there?”
A long, thin, hairy leg extended lazily down from a branch above her head.
“Fluffy Ducky!” Hippy reached up toward the branch, hand open for the spider to crawl onto. “There you are, you naughty spider!”
The words bounced into the darkness. Too loud. Oops. Hippy tried to stay very still and pretend she wasn’t there, but already the unmistakable stink of blood and metal pickled the air she breathed. Footsteps crunched on the loose white rocks. She reached for her fairy dust, but a fist closed around her collar and lifted her clear off the ground.
Hippy kicked out and pummelled the air with her fists, but that effort was pretty pointless, since she was facing in the wrong direction. She stopped fighting, folded her arms and scowled.
The hand turned her around. She gulped. A pair of feet encased in very large leather boots. Black pants, fastened with a leather belt. A crisp black shirt, all fitted and rigid. White-blonde curls nestled on thin shoulders. The moon peeked through the spiky leaves and gleamed on skin so white you could see the blue veins pumping through it. Sharp white fangs made soft dents in cracked lips when he smiled. It wasn’t the nicest of smiles.
Hippy gave a high-pitched yelp.
A second pale creature joined the first in a rush of movement too quick to follow. Soft white ringlets cascaded over a delicate white face tracked with claw-like veins. She licked her lips. “What have you caught?”
“It’s a Bloody Fairy.”
The woman went instantly for the knife skewered through her belt. “Quick, let’s kill it.”
Her companion laughed. “Why? It’s only a little one and it’s not even armed.
Fresh blood tastes so much better.”
“Maybe you’re right. I haven’t had fresh fairy in a week.” The woman took a step closer.
“Back off vamp!” Hippy yelled. “Or–or–or I’ll-” A long, thin tendril of spider web glinted in the moonlight. “Or my Fluffy Ducky will get you!”
Both vamps stared at her. The man smirked. The woman snorted. Then they burst out laughing so hard the sound shook the leaves
Hippy scowled. “Now my Fluffy Ducky’s really upset.”
“Your duck won’t save you now.” The man’s fangs plunged toward her neck.
A shape sailed down from the branches of the tree, drifted for a moment in the breeze, then clamped onto the face of the woman.
She stumbled off balance, screaming. “Get it off!”
Distracted from Hippy’s neck, the man knocked the spider flying through the air with one swipe.
“Hey!” Hippy yelled. “Don’t be mean to my Fluffy Ducky!”
“Would you shut up about Fluffy Duckies?” The vamp grabbed her by the neck.
Hippy scrabbled for the numerous pouches at her belt. By the time she managed to rip one open and seize a crunchy handful of fairy dust, the vamp was breathing stinky vamp breath all over her throat. She squeezed her eyes shut, shrieked in disgust and shoved the dust into his face.
He dropped her.
Hippy landed on her rear end and scrambled closer to the tree. The vamp yelled something really nasty at her in Vampish and clutched his skin like it was going to melt off. Then he went grey and crumbled where he stood into a pile of ash and bits of bone.
The woman hissed in fury. “You’re going to die for-” a
n unmistakable thwack cut her off. Bone crunched. She swayed like a tree in the wind and fell over.
A Bloody Fairy blocked out the moon. She scowled and tapped a big, chunky spear against one hand. “What are you doing out here alone?”
“I lost my spider.” Hippy scowled back. “Why d’you have to sneak up on my fights all the time? I was just starting to have fun.”
“Dad said you’re not to have fun unless I’m there. You’re too flaky.” Ishtar Ishtar pointed at the male vamp. “Hey look.”
Hippy looked down at the pile of ashes. In the moonlight, the fairy dust glittered and shone. “A sparkly vamp.” She giggled.
The one giggle was enough to set them off. The two fairies clutched their bellies, leaned on each other and bawled with laughter until their faces hurt. Only then did Hippy wipe the tears from her cheeks, kick the pile of vamp dust and admire the sparkling cloud that flew up into the moonlight.
The female vamp raised her head from the ground. Her pink-tinted eyes glinted with malevolent hatred. “You’re going to die slowly, you nasty, short, horrible-”
“Hey Hippy, watch this.” Ishtar’s grin turned ferocious.
Hippy took a step back. “No, Ishtar, don’t do it. Just use the dust.”
Ishtar raised her spear high and drove it through the vampire’s back before she could get to her feet. She slumped again. Blood spurted like a fountain from the wound and sprayed Ishtar’s face and spear.
Hippy’s stomach twisted. Her skin crawled. She froze to the spot.
“It’s only a bit of vamp blood.” Ishtar wiped the blood from her face and held the hand out to Hippy. “Here, why don’t you wear some?”
Hippy dry-retched. The movement freed her from the spot. She bolted away from the dead vamps, the blood and her horrible, mean, nasty, awful sister.
Ishtar’s shrieks of laughter followed her all the way back to camp.
Fluffy Ducky was still missing the next morning.
Hippy slipped away from camp while everyone else was busy competing to see who could throw their spears the hardest. Ishtar would win. She always cracked the melon into at least ten pieces. Hippy preferred not to bother. She knew how to throw a spear, why show off?
She slipped through the gates unseen and darted to the outer fortification, a twenty-foot-high wooden wall topped with pointy spikes that threw long, cold shadows over her walled village and the neighbouring muse encampment. The muses didn’t feel the need for a second wall. Their tents and pavilions clustered together in the open like shiny white sails on a glassy sea.
They’d never needed walls to keep the vamps out before.
The muses had turned up out of the blue just a few months ago, all dirty and bloody, and said they had to build a wall because the vamps had destroyed the Bitter Tower and were on their way. Hippy didn’t really understand what they were on about. Ishtar said the wall was stupid because it meant there was less fighting.
Sunlight speared through the murder holes. The forest beyond smelled like mud and flowers. Hippy kept low until she found the little gate she’d left unlocked last night. She slipped through, closed it behind her, then hugged the base of a pile of big white rocks on the other side until she was far enough from the wall not to be seen running off.
It had been quiet lately. Too quiet, the elders said. There’d been no attacks for a week, barring the occasional vamp patrol like the one she’d encountered last night. That was fine by her. Hippy didn’t mind being able to sleep now and again.
She resolutely turned her back on the fortifications and headed for the edge of the forest. She didn’t get why they weren’t allowed out during the day. That was one of the muse king’s rules. It was all very well to have allies, but why should some old man who never came near the fairy camp get to make all the rules? Just because he’d been fighting the vamps for centuries.
Stupid vamp invasion.
Her scowl deepened. She retraced her steps from last night, along the white road, past the stumps, over the broken sign that used to be the entrance to her village.
A glimmering line of web crossed the path. Hippy traced it with one gentle finger, followed it off the road and over to a rock. “Fluffy Ducky!” she cried, overjoyed to finally be reunited with her best friend.
Fluffy Ducky sprawled on the rock, soaking up the sun. Hippy put her hand out. “Come on Fluffy Ducky, I’ll catch you some nice flies. You were a good spider, jumping on that vamp last night.”
The hairs on Fluffy Ducky’s legs quivered. He scuttled onto Hippy’s fingers. She lifted her hand up, but he kept going, jumped off and ran down the side of the rock.
“Fluffy Ducky!” She set off in pursuit.
The spider darted to the road and ran along the white rocks.
“Where are we going?” Hippy ran to keep up. “Come on Fluffy Ducky, we need to get back before we’re missed!” She bent over and swiped, once, twice. On the third go she fell on her face. Fluffy Ducky stopped in front of her outstretched hands, scuttled in a circle and came to rest on her fingers.
Hippy scowled at him. “Ow.”
Fluffy Ducky crept all the way onto her palm and blinked at her with all eight eyes.
Hippy sighed. “Oh, alright.” She got to her feet, leaving the spider cradled in her hand. “It’s time to go home now.”
A branch cracked in the forest.
She peered into the darkness behind the tree line. “What was that?” she whispered. “Can’t be a vamp, they’re all sleeping.”
Something tall moved in the shadows. Fluffy Ducky’s third leg on the right twitched, which decided her. “Alright Fluffy Ducky, we’ll check it out.”
Her bare feet made hardly a noise on the grass under the trees. Any Bloody Fairy worthy of the name knew how to creep. Hippy slipped in past the first of the trees, but no further. Fairies didn’t normally venture too far into the forest. Forest people weren’t nearly as nasty as vamps, but their hooves could do a fair bit of damage if they thought you were in their territory.
She crept along just inside the tree line. There, just ahead, a shadow in the shape of a person lurked under that big old tree with the knobbly trunk. She stood very still and peeked through a curtain of drooping fig leaves. Snatches of decay rose from the rotting mulch underfoot.
The figure under the tree wore a cloak that went all the way to the ground and a hood that completely concealed the face. Hippy’s eyes widened. A spy. A real live spy.
But who would spy for vamps?
By the time she heard somebody else
coming up behind her, it was too late. Her head collided with a branch and a violent shove in the back sent her reeling into the sunlight. She landed on her face for the second time that day and said several bad words before spitting grass from her mouth. Fluffy Ducky trembled in her hand. No wonder, there were three pairs of boots surrounding her.
Hippy jumped to her feet. “Hey! Did you do that?”
Her words faded into the morning. She looked up and up and up into the faces of three rather surprised muses. Her heart skipped a beat. She barely noticed the other two. The tallest muse, the one in the centre with the top hat and the long dark blue coat, he was the muse king. She’d never got within shouting distance of him before. She closed her mouth when she realised her jaw had fallen open.
“Do what?” the muse king asked. “You appear to have been ejected from the forest, my dear.”
Hippy’s cheeks burned bright red. She cleared her throat, but couldn’t quite make her voice work.
The muse king chuckled. “Don’t look so frightened, my dear girl. I’m not going to eat you.”
“Somebody pushed me!” Hippy burst out. “There was somebody in the trees there and they hit me on the head and pushed me! The vamps have sent people to spy on us during the day!”
The king motioned to one of the muses with him. “Investigate, Nikifor.”
Nikifor strode into the forest.
The king made a deep bow to her. “I am Pierus,” he said. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Hippy stared, lost for words. The muse king had just bowed to her. Ishtar was never going to believe this.