Authors: Eden Fierce
Copyright © 2014 by Eden Fierce
All rights reserved.
Cover Designer: Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations,
Interior Designer: Jovana Shirley, Unforeseen Editing,
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except
for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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You’re everything that’s right with the world.
And to Papa
I love you, a bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.
THE PRIORY WAS ALL THAT WAS FAMILIAR TO ME.
No matter how much blood we shed, how many lives we watched slip away, or how many mornings I spent wondering if I would go to Hell for what I’d done, it was my calling.
The sunset before me was beautiful, unlike any other. Without knowing why, I took a moment to appreciate the orange and pinks swirling in the sky as the burned circle sizzled against the horizon. Our lands were the most beautiful of the six territories the Priory guarded, and also the most dangerous. My father led the people of Ona, the oldest of them all.
Glass clinked together downstairs, and the noise snapped me back to reality. It was likely Father, already awake and organizing supplies. Father was respected, admired, and feared, and as many nights as I had spent watching him slay monsters, I didn’t question the devotion that Onans felt for him. After all, I felt the same.
My father was the strongest man I knew, and often I wondered if he would live forever. Nearly seventeen, and standing five foot eight, I was strong and tall for a girl. Father still towered over me, his burly arms thicker than my waist.
The sun slipped behind the snowcapped mountains in the distance, and my fingers began to twitch. Sunset meant time for hunting—a duty I tried to love but secretly despised, almost as much as the extravagant red gown worn by the metal dress form in the middle of my bedroom. The layers of scarlet fabric had been taunting me for weeks, creating a fury inside me that multiplied every time I laid eyes upon it.
Seventeen meant many things. More freedom, more respect, but it also meant the announcement of a young Onan woman’s betrothal, and there was a loathing inside me that I had never sensed before. As was customary, Father hadn’t yet told me whom he’d chosen. His faith to the tradition was just as well; knowing would make me dread it all the more.
I had as much enthusiasm for being promised to a man as I did for killing.. It all felt like chains, weighing me down and holding me back from being whom I was meant to be—whoever that was.
I crept from my bed and padded down the hall in my bare feet to wake my brothers. They more than accepted our station, relishing the advantages that being Priory brought, and who could blame them?
Everyone who lived in the clearings along the edges of the vast forests that made up our lands daydreamed about what it would be like to be a Prior. Old women wished for their daughters to marry into our family, and young men sang songs about dreams of being born into the Priory. They all sought to be one of us. Everyone but me.
I passed my parents’ chamber. Father’s half of the bed was empty as I suspected, the linens pulled back and bunched along the curvy silhouette of my mother, who was sleeping peacefully.
The rooster crowed just as I passed through the doorway of my brothers’ chamber. Our home was large enough for each of them to have his own room, but the boys had always insisted on sharing the same sleeping space. It was normal for children of the Priory to suffer nightmares. The boys slept best when they were together.
“It’s time,” I whispered, grinning as three pairs of green eyes blinked. The boys stirred, and then one by one, they sat up.
“How many do you think we’re going to catch tonight?” Jonathan asked, his crooked teeth gleaming in the moonlight that peeked through the window. He had just turned twelve in the spring and was allowed to train a night or two every week.
“I remember being twelve,” I said, tapping his nose. “I had that same look on my face when I woke up, knowing I might join Father on the hunts.”
Clemens sat on Jonathan’s bed and ruffled his little brother’s wild, brown hair. “
going to catch at least two. You’ve got a Post.”
The children of Dyre and Ingrid Helgren were a mess of boys and one girl. Clemens was the oldest. Tall, flaxen-haired, and gallant, he was a replica of our father, only lacking Father’s thick, red beard. After Clemens was born, Father and Mother worried they couldn’t have more children, until I finally came along three years after. Father always called me their good luck charm, because Lukas arrived just a year later, and Jonathan surprised us all three years after that.
Lukas hopped up without a word and hurried out the door and down the hallway.
“Where’s he off to?” I asked.
Jonathan stretched and yawned. “Probably to gather the equipment with Father. I should have known I was back at Post. He barely slept today. He was too excited.”
“It is his turn, isn’t it,” I said, less of a question than a statement.
Jonathan didn’t pretend to be happy for his brother. As the youngest, he was committed to a Post. Lukas had worked in the bakery the past two nights so Jonathan could train with Father, but he was only allowed a couple of nights per week, and then Lukas would return to the hunt, and Jonathan to his post at the bakery.
“It’s not fair,” he grumbled. The splash of freckles over his nose bunched together as he wrinkled it.
“It’s the law,” I replied, patting his back. I remembered my days committed to a Post before Lukas was old enough to take it over, and I sympathized. I may have not agreed wholly with hunting, but it was certainly more exciting than a Post, a designated job for every child in the village, even a Prior, until they were old enough to hunt.
Ona was dependent on two things: the Priory, and the Onans committing their youngest to work in the stores and warehouses to provide food to eat and wool for clothes. Even the Priory had to lend their youngest to a Post.
Posts had been around longer than my grandfather Jed could remember. As long as the Priory—the families who more than six generations before had chosen to hunt the nightwalkers.
“We shouldn’t have to follow the law,” Jonathan said. “We should all be out there. Father is having trouble keeping up with the Vileon demand as it is. If there were more of us out there, taking more of them down, there would be more to produce, and—”
“Jonathan, if Father heard you talking this way, he’d have your hide,” I warned.
Clemens chimed in, still fussing with his hair in the mirror. “You know Father doesn’t worry with the Vileon demand. That’s not the true reason behind the hunt.”
“They would change the law if the Vileon runs out,” Jonathan said, slowly climbing out of bed. “Maybe we should let it, and then I could go every night.” He pulled his nightgown over his head, stepping into a pair of pants and then buttoning up a freshly pressed shirt, clearly sullen about putting on regular clothes instead of what he might wear for a hunt.
“You’ll be out there, trying not to die, soon enough,” I said, only half-joking.
The Priory’s primary function was to safeguard its territories by controlling the population of the nightwalkers—the monsters that prowled the Glades between the territories at night. Not only was Ona the first to form a territory, but our family was also the first to learn about and produce Vileon.
“I’m going to help Lukas,” I said, not in the mood for an argument.
Clemens waved to me absent-mindedly, too busy making sure his leather guards covered any weak spots that the nightwalkers typically targeted during a hunt. The leather was thick and helped prevent a bite.
Only one Prior had ever been bitten, and that was Father’s great-uncle Gavin. He had four daughters, and once the hunt was over and the girls realized what had happened, they promptly ended their father’s life. Father called it mercy, like he did every time he downed a nightwalker. Unlike the other Priory, Father pitied the nightwalkers and saw their deaths as an end to their suffering.
“Maybe I’ll get to go the night before your birthday!” Jonathan said.