Eden Reid is twenty-four year old ancient god from Brooklyn, New York. But she doesn’t know about the god part. Yet. What she does know is that she’s currently living a paralyzed life. She can’t seem to escape the things that scare her because the things that scare her seem to be everywhere. For instance, the tall thin man reading the Post across from her on the Staten Island ferry has a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth and has eyes like an owl. And the woman standing at the bow of the ferry, wearing the Donna Karan dress and the red-bottom pumps has the face of a cat. That’s not even the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that when she looks at them, they look back…as if they know her.
And life is about to get stranger. An extremely powerful demon is gunning for her; a zombie-like pandemic is spreading across the country, creating creatures who are hungry for flesh, fast on their feet and clever; and there is the mysterious, handsome stranger with powers of his own who claims to have been her lover from a time and a life that Eden cannot remember. He promises to help awaken her powers for the upcoming war. A war where there is only one prize: survival…
Check out Daughter of Gods and Shadows by debut author Jayde Brooks, available February 3rd from St Martin’s Press!
This wasn’t Brooklyn. Eden had taken the subway home from work and stepped out onto the platform, but she wasn’t standing in the subway station. Her feet sank into a bed of sand. Hot desert winds whipped her locks across her face. The weighted gray sky bore down on her like an anvil. In the distance were sand dunes as tall as the New York City skyline. She shouldn’t be here!
Eden turned to go back through the doors of the subway, but it was gone. Even the tracks were gone, and it was as if the train had never been there.
“Peeeeee- cuuuule- leeeeee- aaaaaarrrrr!”
Eden jerked around to the source of the whisper being carried on the wind, but there was no one. She scanned the terrain as far as she could see, and there was nothing but sand and wind, dead space, a dead place! Ara! The word just came to her. Ara was the name of this place. How did she know that?
It was wrong. Everything about this world was wrong. It felt cursed and angry, even evil. A bitter fi lm coated her tongue and the back of her throat. Eden was lost here, and she was frightened and alone— so very, very alone. She wanted desperately to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. She wanted to leave, but there was nowhere to run.
All of a sudden she looked down and noticed a trail of footprints in the sand that were unaffected by the wind. Without understanding why, she felt compelled to follow them.
A warning snaked up her spine, but every instinct in her drove her to follow those steps, which vanished behind her as she walked. Each print fit her perfectly, as if she’d been the one to make them. But how? How could she have done that?
The heat quickly became unbearable, and with each step, Eden stripped off more and more of her clothing until all she had on were her panties. She was thirstier than she’d ever been, and the dismal realization that she might not ever leave this place began to sink in, filling her with a hopelessness and despair that weighed her down even more.
Nothing could live here. Nothing could thrive or exist in a place like this, and it was killing her, slowly, deliberately killing her. The hot, unyielding wind began to wear away her flesh, making it crack and then bleed, until wounds hardened and scabbed over her body. There was no sun on Ara, but the heat was unforgiving, rising up from inside the planet, burning the soles of her feet. For a time they were raw, but then the soft, vulnerable skin burned off completely until she hobbled on bone.
Liquid dripped from her eyes, as her vision slowly began to deteriorate. At fi rst Eden believed that she was finally crying, but then she realized the terrible truth, that the gels of her eyes were melting.
“Peeeeee- cuuuule- leeeeee- aaaaaarrrrr!”
She followed the sound of the voice, whispering to her again. Peculiar. It called to her. Eden raised her head to peer with what remained of her vision off into the distance and saw her, the one calling to her— a woman, naked. As Eden approached her, she noticed the woman’s skin was even more petrified than Eden’s, burnt red and leathered. Her hair was a twisted and tangled mass of twigs and thorns, and her breasts were sagging and desiccated. She was tall, taller than anyone Eden had ever seen before, and she was so emaciated that her body looked like painted bones. She stood defiantly, looking up at the sky with her mouth gaping. Her arms and legs were heavily shackled with chains buried deep into the sand.
Eden should’ve been afraid— and she was— but she was also drawn to her in an unexplainable way that confused her. She cautiously approached the woman, but she still seemed to be miles away from her.
Confusion enveloped Eden. She knew things about this place, about the woman, that she shouldn’t have known.
Mkombozi, she said in her head. The Redeemer and the destroyer of Theia.
It was as if the woman heard her and noticed her for the first time. She closed her mouth and slowly lowered her head and appeared to look at Eden standing across the desert. Eden’s heart jumped into her throat, and the fear she felt left her breathless. She had made a mistake coming here. She realized that now, but it was too late. Mkombozi pulled so hard against one of the chains that she snatched the end of it out of the ground, stretched out her shackled arm, and reached miles and miles across the desert to wrap long bony fingers around Eden’s neck and raise her high up off the ground. Eden kicked, scratched, and struggled to break free of her grasp, but Mkombozi was too strong.
She drew Eden to her and held her at face level. The terror of being this close to her, to Mkombozi, was overwhelming, and Eden felt as if her heart would burst through her chest. Mkombozi carefully studied Eden, tilting her large head from one side and then to the other. The gels of the woman’s eyes were gone, probably melted away the same way Eden’s were melting now.
“What Peeeeee-cuuuule-leeeeee-aaaaaarrrrr—ttttthhhhhiiiingggg—arrrrrrre—youuuuuuu?” Her voice was ragged anddeep, but her inquisitive demeanor reminded Eden of a child.
Eden prayed for tears. She prayed for a voice to scream, but she had been without water for so long that she doubted she could even speak anymore. The more she struggled, kicking and clawing at the woman’s hand, the more Mkombozi tightened her grip around Eden’s neck. It was only a matter of time before she killed Eden. So why was she fighting? Eden had no strength left to fight, and she wilted in Mkombozi’s grasp, closed her eyes, and waited to die. All of a sudden she was floating. It was over. It was finally . . . Eden suddenly felt the ground rise up to meet her.
“What Peeeeee-cuuuule-leeeeee-aaaaaarrrrr—ttttthhhhhiiiingggg—arrrrrrre—youuuuuuu?” Mkombozi repeated, staringdown at Eden, who lay crumpled on the ground at herfeet.
Eden coughed, cleared her throat, and finally attempted to speak in a language she wasn’t even aware that she knew. “I— am— us!”
Stunned by her own response, Eden stared terrified and confused at Mkombozi. Why had she said that? It made no sense. What would make her say that? She didn’t understand why or how, but she knew instinctively that she had spoken the truth to the powerful creature towering over her.
Mkombozi tilted her head, quizzically. “Youuuuu— have—the— Omennnnnssssss?”
She shook her head quickly. “No!” she managed to say, swallowing. “No! I don’t have them, and I don’t want them!” Mkombozi needed to know this. She needed to understand that Eden had no intention of ever bonding with the Omens.
“I don’t want them!” She cleared her throat and said it again. “I don’t want the Omens! I never wanted them!”
Mkombozi cringed and Eden felt her pain, her torment, and her rage. She felt her yearning and her desire. She was engulfed in Mkombozi’s desperation.
“IIIII—ammmmm—ussssss!” Mkombozi pointed a long, crooked fi nger in Eden’s face. “Youuuuuu—arrrrrrrre!”
Eden shook her head and then she nodded and then she shook it again. “I am, but— I don’t have the Omens! I don’t want them!”
This time, Mkombozi reached down and grabbed Eden by the hair and dangled her in the air. “Thennnnn—youuuuuuu—arrrrrre—nothingggggg—tooooo—meeeeee!”
Eden felt her hair begin to tear away from her scalp. “That’s not true, Mkombozi!” she screamed, closing her eyes. “I am your salvation!”
Mkombozi dropped her again, reared back, and glared at her. Doubt, disbelief furrowed her brow.
It was true. Eden didn’t know how it was true or why she’d even said it, because it sounded ridiculous! How could she be Mkombozi’s salvation, when Mkombozi had had the power of the Omens and the strength to destroy the Demon and Theia? Who was Eden that she should believe that she could save anyone, when it was painfully obvious that she wasn’t even capable of saving herself? How could she save Mkombozi if she was terrified to make the bond with the Omens, which had been the source of Mkombozi’s power when she lived?
“Mmmmyyyyyyyy—ssssssalvationnnnnnn?” Mkombozi questioned.
Eden managed to struggle and stand. “We are destined, Mkombozi!” she shouted. “We are prophesied and we are one!”
Those words cut into her like a blade. Never had Eden dreamed she’d ever say them out loud. Never had she wanted to believe that they were true, but they were. Eden had been told these things since she was a child. Rose, the woman who’d raised her, had told them to her. Khale née Khale had said them as well, and Eden had always rejected them. In this moment, those words rang true. Eden and Mkombozi were one.
Mkombozi bent at the waist to look directly into Eden’s face. “Thennnnnn—bringgggg—meeeeee—mmmmyyyyyyy— Omensssssss,” she said sternly.
Eden became small again, and afraid. “I . . . can’t,” she murmured, fearfully.
Mkombozi stood up. “Thennnnnnn—diiiiiieeeeeee!”
She drew back her long shackled arm.
“You need me!” Eden blurted out in her panic.
Mkombozi paused, looked down her nose at Eden, and curled one corner of her mouth in a half smile. “IIIIIII—doubt— that!”
Eden would never forget the sound Mkombozi’s shackle made as it whipped through the air and landed against the side of Eden’s head. She heard the sound of splitting wood, felt her body travel across sand, time, and space. Eden was beyond pain now, and thirst, and fear. It was over. She was over— finally. As her eyes began to close, a dark shadow
cast over her— a bird, a man. The darkness cloaked her and held her.
“Beloved,” he whispered.
Eden tried to take a breath, but she was suffocating.
Rose couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She stood in the doorway of Eden’s bedroom, clutching the inside door frame with both hands to keep from being thrown backward and out into the hallway. The force pushing against her was overwhelming, hot, and stifling. Rose could barely breathe against the air tunneling in that room.
Eden hovered six feet above her bed, her arms and legs dangling, her back arched and her face raised toward the ceiling. Eden’s eyes were wide, her mouth gaped open, her
clothes drenched. Eden’s body suddenly convulsed violently in midair, until finally she went limp and fell onto the bed again.
Rose rushed over to her. “Eden!” she gasped desperately, lifting one of her arms and both legs back onto the bed.
The nightmares were getting worse. They were getting so much worse.
Rose cried and cradled Eden’s head in her lap. “Oh, sweetheart.”
A normal mother would’ve called an ambulance to rush her daughter to the hospital; maybe she’d have called a priest. But there was nothing normal about the kind of mother Rose was. And there was nothing normal about Eden. Rose just
held her. She held her until the sun came up, and waited.
Eden had spent most of the following two days in her room. Rose understood that she needed time to sort through the nightmares after they happened. Eden needed to sort through so many things happening to her now.
“You should eat,” Rose said, setting a plate down in front of Eden, who had finally come out of her room and sat at the kitchen table and stared out of the window.
Eden wrapped her robe tightly around her. She hadn’t looked at Rose or even acknowledged that she was in the same room with her, as if she somehow blamed Rose for how her life was unfolding.
Rose sat across from her. “It’s important that you keep up your strength, Eden,” she said helplessly.
Eden drew her robe even tighter around her and ran her hand through her locks.
“I’m just trying to help,” Rose said.
“Help with what, Rose?” Eden finally asked, turning to look at her.
Dark half- moon circles cradled her eyes. Eden tried to cover the bruises around her neck with the collar of her robe.
“You gonna tell me more stories about Theia? Mkombozi and the Omens? About how she used them to save their world or how they used her to destroy it?”
Eden was a lonely and frightened young woman, and it broke Rose’s heart.
“No,” Rose said, forcing a smile. “I suppose not.”
Eden pushed her plate away, stood up, and left Rose sitting in the kitchen. Rose was so tired. Tired from not being able to sleep for the last two nights, and tired of not knowing what was going to happen next to Eden. She had tried to prepare her from such a young age, mostly by telling Eden stories, but there were no stories that could’ve prepared anyone for the fate that awaited this young woman. There were no stories to prepare her for the things that were happening to her now or that would happen.
“She’ll resist,” Khale née Khale had told Rose years ago, when Eden was a toddler. “I can tell you now that she will not embrace her fate, but will fight it.”
Maybe she won’t, Khale,” Rose had said, sensing the dread that Khale felt. “Maybe she will welcome it.”
But there was a knowing in Khale’s eyes that warned Rose otherwise. “Teach her, Rose. Tell her those things that will help her to understand and to accept.”
“You know I will,” Rose said, anxiously. “You can trust me, Khale.”
“It’s not you that I don’t trust.” Khale turned to her and smiled.
“It’s her fear that I distrust. It runs deep inside her. I see it when she looks at me.”
“It’ll be easier as she grows,” Rose tried assuring her, but once again, Khale knew better.
“Fear is her greatest enemy,” Khale said, staring admiringly at the child as she slept. “But the will of the Ancient inside her is determined, Rose. The fear and the Ancient will war until one wins, and Eden will pay the ultimate price,” she said, sadly.
Eden’s nightmares were becoming more and more violent as she grew older. Rose worried that if she weren’t diligent, if she didn’t watch over Eden to assure her safety, that one of them might actually kill her. Wars were waged in Eden’s dreams, wars that transversed the laws of physics, time, and space. She’d wake from them bruised, exhausted, and once she’d even fractured her wrist.
But the other night had taught Rose a valuable lesson. It had taught her that she was helpless to save Eden from herself now. And that if Eden didn’t step up and accept her fate, and save herself, she would ultimately be responsible for her own destruction.
Excerpted from Daughter of Gods and Shadows © Jayde Brooks, 2015