Check out Banished, book one of Liz de Jager’s The Blackhart Legacy, available February 27, 2014 from Tor UK!
Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she’s living with her unorthodox cousins and sharing their strange lives. Especially since their home-schooling includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons.
But it’s not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn’s enemies.
As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves—it’s that or lose everyone she’s learnt to love.
Blackhart Family: Rumoured to be the descendants of the original Hansel and Gretel made famous by the Brothers Grimm in their Kinderund Hausmärchen collection from 1812, the family has been in residence in the United Kingdom since the late sixteenth century. It is unclear if the rumours about their heritage are based on fact; no evidence to prove or disprove the rumour has been found.
More information about the existing family members can be found in Archive Boxes: Blackhart/1875—present.
From an archived report filed in HMDSDI HQ, 1978
Sitting on one of the swings in the park opposite the school, my watch tells me I’m forty minutes early for the start of my schoolday and I wonder how much longer this assignment will last.
A sixth-form girl walks up to the gates and leaves a single cream rose on the pavement, placing it carefully next to an open photo album. The rose is only one in many offerings that’s been left since the news broke last night. Teddy bears, photos, candles, flowers. A silent outpouring of grief.
A friend helps the girl stand and they walk through the gates. I watch them move away, leaning into each other, every line of their linked bodies speaking of the shock and horror at another friend and schoolmate taking her own life.
I sigh wearily and let my hair my hair drop forward. It tickles my cheeks but I don’t shake it back. I’ve not worn my hair long for—I try to think&nmash;maybe a year and half now. Back then I was a different girl, untouched by the really bad things in life. Unaware that crazy things existed. I shudder to think how fearless I was, the risks I took, going out with my friends, staying out late, dancing till dawn at clubs, kissing boys. How I planned my future in long mad emails to my best friend Karina, who lives in Germany, speculating about when we would get to see one another again and how we’d be spending our gap year travelling around Europe and Asia. But that was then, and this is now and that girl from long ago is unrecognizable in now-me.
I puff out my breath and focus on the cars pulling up in front of the school, kids saying goodbye to their parents, life going on. Today I’m all about being prey and luring David Gardner to notice me and talk to me for longer than five minutes, away from his mates and hangers-on. I’ve spent two weeks researching, and my plans are simple but well laid. I know he cuts through the park on his way to school in the mornings. I know he likes his girls pretty and shy and a bit dreamy—so I’m giving him a shy, arty girl secretly crying out to be noticed.
I dig a tissue out of my pocket and wipe my nose and dab at my eyes, suppressing an inward groan at the acting. I’m not a dishonest person and I’m not good at lying, but if it helps with the overall story the mark sees, then that’s what I’ll do.
I kick off with one foot, letting the swing move beneath me and I lean far back and stare up at the blue sky, watching the clouds coast by. I like the feeling of being suspended and I float there quietly for a few minutes, just being. There is a soft noise by my side and the swing next to mine creaks a bit as a weight settles into it.
I sit up with a jerk and stare at the boy sitting next to me. My surprise isn’t feigned. I didn’t hear him walk up. I didn’t see him either. I know it should bother me as my hearing is good and my sight is excellent but my thoughts are clearly drifting a bit too much. I focus on staying completely in the role here, so I dash my sleeve across my eyes and give him a tremulous smile.
‘Hey,’ he says, smiling a wide friendly smile. ‘Are you okay?’
I begin to nod but then shake my head. ‘Not so much. I’ll be fine, though.’ I look over to the school gates. ‘It’s going to be a tough day.’
‘Did you know Chloe?’ he asks, his eyes shifting from me to the front of the school, where more people are leaving flowers and small items, mostly little teddy bears holding hearts. ‘I’m David Gardner, by the way. My friends call me Dave.’
You would never think it, but it’s actually really hard to lie about your own name. I swallow against the constriction in my throat and hold out my hand. ‘Kelley,’ I say, shaking his hand, blushing wildly. His hand lingers for a moment longer than necessary in mine before he curls his fingers around the chain that suspends the swing. The look he gives me is slow and hot. Score one to me. ‘I’m new,’ I say, brushing my hair back before continuing. ‘But I had art class with Chloe for about a week before—you know.’ I let my eyes drift to the scene in front of the school, before looking back at him. ‘We spoke a few times. She seemed a bit quiet, but friendly. I liked her art.’
I’ve watched Dave for two weeks now. I know he’s popular and charismatic. He has a wide circle of friends he hangs out with. His grades remain good regardless of how much partying he does and he’s currently not in any relationship, although there is a group of around six girls who would dearly love to change that. Nothing about him is too remarkable. He’s just handsome enough to draw the attention of all the girls and just clever enough to get decent grades. He is ordinary in every way, or so it would seem, but I know better.
‘I knew Chloe,’ he says, staring at me. ‘She was a nice girl. Always friendly, up for a laugh. I really liked her. Full of energy and she liked to try out mad things. Like, this one time we hung out, she decided she was going to do a Banksy on some of the walls in town.’ He laughs at the memory. ‘Good times.’
I recall the photos I’d seen of Chloe before I started school here and I remember what she looked like before she fell in with Dave Gardner. They offered up two very different images of the same girl. The Chloe I knew was thin, pale, miserable, a bad photocopy of the real vibrant girl her parents tried to hold on to. After they had spoken with the school’s principal for help, the job got handed to me as my first solo mission.
I draw a breath and smile at Dave. ‘It’s so sad, you know. I wonder what made her…?’ I shake my head and my hair irritates my cheeks. I brush it back. ‘Her parents must be devastated.’
We exchange sad expressions, but I know he’s looking at me, watching my every move. His hot eyes rake my hair, my face, my hands, my legs. Finally he notices my school bag and portfolio. ‘You draw?’ he asks, nodding his head to the portfolio resting on the grass.
My hand flutters to my face and I nod nervously. ‘But I’m not really any good. Not like Chloe.’ Which is another blatant lie, but he can’t know that.
‘Can I see?’
I reach down and hand the portfolio to him and stare at my hands, not wanting to see his reaction to the art in my portfolio.
‘These are really cool,’ he says to me after a few minutes of quiet where the only sound was him paging through the sketchbook. His voice has taken on this weird timbre, making the hair on my arms stand up. ‘Are you studying art when you go to uni?’
I flush prettily, shake my head and smile. ‘No. I’ll have to do something sensible, like become a doctor or something. My parents’ll never let me do an art degree.’
He taps one of the sketches and I look over. It is one of my favourites. It’s of a girl sitting up in bed, staring at her window. It’s night-time so the sketch is full of dark shadows but a moon is shining through the glass and you can just see the hint of a monstrous shape outside it the window. The girl’s expression is one of curiosity.
Dave’s looks at me and there is a hunger in his eyes. ‘This is incredible. You’re crazy good.’
I smile lightly and take the portfolio from him. ‘You are being sweet, thanks.’ I hold it in front of myself, like a shield. ‘I have to get going. Start the day for real.’
He stands up and walks with me as far as the gate to the park. ‘Kelley. Some of us meet after school as part of the drama group. There’s a place we use, behind the assembly hall. If I give you directions, do you want to come and hang out with me?’
‘Today?’ I did not expect this so soon and I bite back the triumphant grin I feel hovering around my mouth.
‘Yeah, why not? Of course, you don’t have to. But it would be nice.’ His smile is full of boyish charm and sweet eagerness, as if my ‘yes’ answer would mean the world to him. I hold on to that image hard as he leans closer and I try not to gag as the smell of his breath hits me. It smells like rotting vegetation and stagnant water. ‘Say you’ll come?’
For a brief second I feel a compulsion to punch him in the head, but I get a grip on myself and smile a smile that says I’m flattered that he’d even think I’m cool enough to hang out with him.
‘Okay, it sounds like fun. I’ll see you after school.’ My smile probably looks dazzled and I keep it there as Dave digs out a notebook from his bag and draws a rough outline of the assembly hall and shows me where the green room is. Of course I know where it is. I’ve prowled the school at all hours and know every single nook and hiding place. I take the piece of paper and fold it into my bag, keeping my smile a bit stunned.
We walk to the school gates, where he spots some of his mates and lifts a hand to them. He turns back to me as we near them. ‘You possibly made my day. I’ll see you later.’
I nod and turn away before the group of girls standing by the gates can see the look of triumph on my face. They immediately form a huddle and start whispering, slanting sly looks at me.
I touch the knife resting against my hip in its custommade sheath and take courage from it. The trap has been laid, now all I have to do is spring it.
Banshee: Commonly found in Celtic countries, the female banshee or bean sí is an omen of death and a messenger from the World of the Dead. She portends death by wailing when someone is about to die. Contrarily, male banshees are far rarer than female banshees and are dangerous to humans. They are captured by human beauty and artistic ability and, once obsessed with a human, they will stalk the human, devouring their essence through psychic draining. In most cases, the human will die or commit suicide in an attempt to get away from the banshee.
From The Blackhart Bestiarum
I jerk with fright when Dave’s voice echoes through the room. It’s just after four and I’ve been here for a long time, waiting for him to show up. I know it looks as if I’ve been sleeping because my hair is mussed and I look out of it, so I yawn widely and grin at him in an embarrassed way.
‘Hey,’ I say. ‘I must have fallen asleep.’
‘You look cute,’ he says.
I know what he sees, a girl with raggedly cut chin-length dark curls that refuse to stay out of her eyes, a slightly upturned nose and a smattering of freckles that no concealer can hide. Green eyes, a wide mouth. All of it forms a pretty enough picture aimed at attracting his attention and keeping it. I’m the pretty girl next door whom boys are best friends with and never fall in love with. His smile is big and open and friendly and it belies the hunger in his eyes. I see it only for a moment, peering out at me, before he’s Dave again: just a normal boy meeting a pretty girl after school.
‘All soft and dreamy.’
‘Ha, wait till you see me bust some awesome ninja moves.’ I quip in an effort to hide my growing nervousness.
He walks further into the room, glancing around. Everything is exactly the way it’s always been. The couch, the jumble of random bits of furniture and odd bits of theatre props. His eye falls on my sketchpad, lying open next to me. It shows a half-finished portrait of his face, a close-up full of shadows, his eyes dark and enigmatic.
He hesitates for a few seconds only, but it’s long enough for me to see that the portrait has really pleased him. His smile, when he turns to me, is slow and languorous and I can tell he thinks he’s already won me over.
‘I can’t wait to see your moves.’ He sits down on the couch and I shift my legs so he can sit close to me. ‘You really are very pretty, did you know that?’
His hand when he reaches out to tuck a curl of hair behind my ear rests gently against my cheek. The look I give him is all big eyes and a shy, flattered, smile.
I focus on the small wooden pendant hanging around my neck, beneath my clothes, taking comfort from feeling its weight against my skin. It feels a little warmer than usual and I touch it through my school shirt, only briefly, before I drop my hand. I call my magic up and let the tiniest sliver surface, just a little bit, below my skin. It enhances the way I look, the way I shine, making me more appealing, softening my hard edges, making him believe the glamour I’m projecting of the shy, awkward, flattered girl. I will him to see me as the type of girl he wants to see and I hate myself for it, just a bit, but then I know what he is and what he’s done and I don’t feel sorry any more.
‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘You’re not half bad yourself.’
He laughs softly. ‘I’m glad you decided to come and meet me. I think we have a lot in common.’
‘Oh, really?’ I try not to move my head away from his hand. He’s stroking my cheek and neck as if I’m a cat. I really hate being touched by strangers. ‘And what is that?’
‘Well, I like you. I’m pretty sure you like me. You’re talented and pretty. I’m… well, me.’ His smile is cheeky, self-deprecating. ‘I’m glad we spoke today. I’m glad you’re here. I’d like to get to know you better.’ His eyes are bottomless pits and his voice has thickened, his tongue slurring against his teeth. His head is close to mine now and I hold my breath, waiting, suspecting, hoping for what’s coming next. ‘Also, you shine so brightly.’
Which is exactly the kind of thing I hoped he’d say.
The telescopic iron baton slides out from under my sleeve with a satisfying snick into my palm and I whip it at his face, hard. It connects with his cheek, making a satisfying thwap sound. I’m off the couch and away from him in the space of a heartbeat but he’s even faster.
He runs at me and shoulders me in the stomach, driving me into the small table where countless aspiring Arlington student actors and actresses have put on their make-up. We land on the floor, hard, but I’m already moving, doing my best to ignore the pain in my back and ribs. His hands reach for my throat and I punch him in the side of the head. He jerks back with surprise, and I follow it up with another swipe of my baton across the face. As he grabs for his face, I buck him off and scrabble backwards. I suck in a breath when the movement sends flares of pain throughout my body. I’m hurt but there is no blood and I can still breathe without sobbing, so it isn’t serious.
‘You know,’ he says, not bothering to hide his surprise or annoyance. ‘You played me.’
I shrug and smile, swinging the iron rod in front of me like a slender cricket bat. ‘You fell for it,’ I say, not bothering to hide the smugness in my voice. ‘You could have chosen anyone else, but you chose me. Pretty stupid of you.’
He snarls at me and I grimace at the smell of his rancid breath in the confined space.
‘You know what else is stupid?’ I say, backing away from him, luring him further into the small room. ‘Hunting in the same school for over a year. You must have been desperate. Desperate and stupid. Your clan must be so relieved I’m sending you back. Your antics in the Frontier have been a true embarrassment to them.’
It’s this final insult that makes David Gardner transform into a monster. In the space of a heartbeat I’ve come to share the room with a creature no human should face. Gone is the teenager with the bright future. In his place is a monster from an ugly nightmare. Raw-boned and big, he easily tops seven feet. Sickly grey skin ripples across his narrow hunched shoulders and his long sinewy neck flexes as he swings his head to try and keep track of me. His face has a wide flat nose and curving thin mouth. His eyes, still impossibly human, blink at me before the pupil dilates and narrows into a vertical stripe. The silver claws at the ends of his muscled arms are a good three inches long—being cut by them would mean a course of antibiotics and a few days in the infirmary at the Manor.
The thing about banshees is that there are very few of them and they work hard to keep the equilibrium within their small matrilineal clans. There are even fewer male banshees, and once a male’s appetite for human girls quickens there is no way that female banshees will stand being around him, even if it means losing a mating partner. It is about politics too, and the banshee clans would rather lose one of their strong male partners than face the displeasure of the Unseelie ruler, the Queen of Air and Darkness, Suola.
The banshee in front of me has no reason to be here and no permission from his banshee clan mother or the Unseelie Queen. He is a rogue and knows that I am here to send him back.
I keep my iron baton in my hand and focus on the creature. Long thin teeth slide from engorged gums and, as he lunges for me, I run past him, somersault over the couch and duck behind it. There’s an audible whump on the other side of the couch as he runs fully into the magic circle it had taken me most of the day to set up.
I peer over the back of the couch and see him standing in the middle of a gently glowing circle, holding his head, making confused clicking noises in the back of his throat. The air is filled with the sickening smell of singed skin and I swallow against the bile rising in my throat.
I cast an eye at the wooden floor covered by the threadbare carpet he’s standing on, noticing with relief how strongly the sigils I had so painstakingly crafted with phoenix-blood ink shimmer all around him. Because I didn’t know how strong he would be, I had layered two magic circles, one within the other, hoping that if he got through the first one the second one would stop him. It was extra work and time consuming, but because this is my first solo gig I do not want to screw up.
I stand up on shaky legs and walk around the couch to stand in front of him.
‘By the authority of the High King of Alba and by the trust placed in the Blackhart family, you are sentenced to return to the Unseelie Court, where you will face punishment in accordance to the treaties signed by the Queen of Air and Darkness. You are guilty of unlawfully accessing a gateway, of killing a human boy and impersonating him for the duration of your unauthorized visit to the human realm and by direct interference, causing the death of three young women. You will have no chance to plead your innocence as the Court found you guilty in your absence. Your sentence will be carried out when you arrive at the Unseelie Court.’
I’m relieved that my voice quivers only slightly as I speak. I keep my eyes on the creature in the magical circle at all times. He’s raging, testing the strength of the walls by hammering on them. Each time he does, bright sparks of energy singe his hands and forearms.
‘I see you now, girl.’ His voice thrums low in his throat. ‘There is so much darkness around you.’ He pauses, waiting for me to say something else but I bite my lips and give him my best Clint Eastwood glare. ‘I can taste your future, Blackhart. It’s filled with pain and anguish. The Dark Gods hunger and no one else will be there to help you. Do you think you can survive what’s coming, all by yourself?’
He’s standing right in front of me now. And once more he looks like Dave Gardner but there is nothing in his eyes that looks even remotely human. I know he’s playing mindgames but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a grain in truth in what he’s saying. Banshees are weird at the best of times and the males are especially touched, more likely to go off the rails in puberty because of their hormones, which is why so few of them outlast any of the females in their clans.
Their gift of foretelling usually manifests during times of great distress. And right now would definitely count as him being in distress. He knows I’m ready to send him back to Suola’s Court, right into the waiting jaws of her Beast. I’ve heard stories about her famous executioner and the delight he takes in torturing all those who oppose the Dark Queen, and it’s given me nightmares for a week, so, in a way, I don’t blame him for trying to rattle me.
‘Feel free to tell your queen all you see, monster. I’m interested to hear what she has to say about this mess you’ve left behind for us to clean up.’
‘Best to watch your back, Blackhart. Most of Alba would like to see you and your family burn.’
I’m unimpressed by his threat. ‘I’ve heard that before, monster. We all have. And as much as the Fae dislike us, we do what’s necessary to prevent monsters like you killing humans.’
He gives a low rasping laugh and licks his lips with a disturbingly pink tongue. ‘Never go to the Otherwhere by yourself, Blackhart. I’ll find you. I’ll tell my friends about you. Maybe we’ll even come back here and find you. Imagine the fun we’d have.’
‘Tell your friends “hi” from me when you see them. Before you die, that is. Or maybe you won’t even see them. I hear that Suola’s kept her Beast on a short leash lately and he’s hungry.’
I’m lying through my teeth but he can’t know that. A distressed whine rises from him and I cover my nose with my shirt as the room is suddenly drenched in the smell of fear and something else unpleasant I try not to identify.
I hold up the small carved wooden token that’s been hanging around my neck for the past two weeks. It takes a few moments for him to stop pacing so he can focus on what I’m holding. When he does, he stands up straight and a look of alarm crosses his reptilian features.
‘No,’ he says. ‘Don’t… ’
‘Shut up,’ I let the token dangle off its chain and I watch his eyes follow it as it swings. ‘You didn’t give Chloe or Sandra or Jo a chance. I don’t see why I should give you the option of travelling back to the Otherwhere on an easy ride.’
I walk towards the door. Just as I reach it I turn around and snap the little piece of wood neatly in half between my fingers. The sound it makes is a subsonic boom that shakes your bones and makes you feel a bit funny in the head.
I watch as the walls I had created so painstakingly with my own magic flash downwards, not unlike a laser scanning a document. The lower it gets, the faster it flashes, taking the banshee—aka a boy called Dave—with it, basically slicing him to bits before my eyes. I stand there and watch it happen. I don’t really want to, but I make myself. I owe it to lovely Chloe who fell in love with the wrong guy and who paid for it with her life.
When the beam reaches the floor where the sigils are inscribed, it runs along the ground widdershins, in reverse, taking the ink with it. Within seconds there is nothing left in the room that shouldn’t be there. Unless you count the stench of singed skin, fear and urine, none of which I can do anything about.
I close the door behind me with shaking hands and turn the lock, pocketing the key. Time to go and report to Principal Williams that Arlington Secondary School will now no longer be plagued by supernaturally motivated suicides.