They are each other’s fiercest love, greatest danger, and only hope…
Roshani Chokshi returns to the dark and glamorous 19th century world of her The Gilded Wolves in The Silvered Serpents—available September 22nd from Wednesday Books. Read an excerpt below!
Séverin and his team members might have successfully thwarted the Fallen House, but victory came at a terrible cost—one that still haunts all of them. Desperate to make amends, Séverin pursues a dangerous lead to find a long lost artifact rumored to grant its possessor the power of God.
Their hunt lures them far from Paris, and into the icy heart of Russia where crystalline ice animals stalk forgotten mansions, broken goddesses carry deadly secrets, and a string of unsolved murders makes the crew question whether an ancient myth is a myth after all.
As hidden secrets come to the light and the ghosts of the past catch up to them, the crew will discover new dimensions of themselves. But what they find out may lead them down paths they never imagined.
A tale of love and betrayal as the crew risks their lives for one last job.
Laila watched Séverin leave the stargazing room, a tilted emptiness settling inside her.
On the one hand, she let herself hope for the first time in ages. If Séverin’s informant proved right, then perhaps she had more left of life than she imagined. On the other hand, Séverin stained all that fresh hope with hate. She hated the cold light in his eyes and the frigid tug of his smile. She hated that the sight of him twisted something inside her, forcing her to remember that, once, he had made her feel wonder.
Worse, she hated hoping that the moment he found The Divine Lyrics would be the moment he would return to who he had once been. As if some spell might be broken. Laila tried to push out that dream, but it was stubborn and stuck fast to her heart.
“My laboratory—” started Zofia, at the same time Enrique muttered about the library. Hypnos shushed them violently.
“Non,” he said. He pointed at the floor. “Stay here. I will be right back. I have a surprise.”
He fled the room, leaving the three of them alone. Laila cast a sidelong glance at Zofia. She’d hardly had a chance to speak to her before the meeting. Now that she looked at her, new details leapt to her attention… Zofia had not changed out of her traveling clothes. Violet circles haunted her eyes. There was a thinness to her face that spoke of worry. That was not how she should look after spending Chanukah with her family.
“Are you well? Are you eating enough?”
Before Laila had moved out of L’Eden, she’d written explicit instructions to the cooks on how to serve Zofia. Zofia hated when her food touched; didn’t like overly bright or patterned plates; and her favorite dessert was a perfectly pale and perfectly round sugar cookie. Laila used to do those things for her. But that was before. And the moment the question left her mouth, the more guilt sharpened in her heart. What right did she have to ask after Zofia when she had left? When she had put distance between them?
Laila turned the garnet ring on her hand. Sometimes she felt her secret like a poison slowly leeching into her bloodstream. More than anything, she wanted to tell them, to free herself from this burden… but what if the truth repulsed them? Her own father could barely look at her. She couldn’t lose the only family she had left.
Zofia shrugged. “Goliath is losing his appetite.”
“Considering Goliath eats crickets, I’m not sure I blame him,” said Laila teasingly.
“He’s not eating as many crickets as he should,” said Zofia, plucking a matchstick and chewing it. “I made a chart documenting the volume of crickets consumed, and the trajectory is descending. I could show it to you if you’d like—”
“I’m fine without,” said Laila. “But thank you.”
Zofia stared at her lap. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”
Laila almost reached out to hold Zofia’s hand before pausing. What looked like love to her did not always look like that to Zofia. Zofia’s gaze lifted to the black cushion Tristan used to sit on, now shoved under the coffee table.
“Perhaps Goliath is grieving,” said Laila softly.
Zofia met her gaze. “Perhaps.”
Zofia looked like she would say more, but Enrique wandered over to Laila.
“We need to talk later,” he murmured before he sat in front of her.
“There’s little to say,” said Laila.
Enrique fixed her with his you-reek-of-lies face, but he didn’t press her. Laila had told him about the jaadugar in her town, who had once guarded The Divine Lyrics… but that was all. Enrique and Zofia knew she had been trying to find the book, but they didn’t know why. And she could not bear to tell them.
Sighing, Enrique angled his back just so, and Laila, recognizing what he was doing, sighed and started to scratch between his shoulder blades.
“I miss back scratches,” said Enrique sadly.
“There was a dog in Poland who used to do something similar,” observed Zofia.
“I don’t have the energy to unpack that insult,” said Enrique, sounding at once amused and bruised.
“It’s not an insult.”
“You basically called me a dog—”
“—I said your actions paralleled that of a dog.”
“That’s not exactly complimentary.”
“Is it complimentary if I tell you he was an exemplary dog?”
Laila ignored them, basking in the fragile whir of their bickering. This felt like an echo of how they used to be. She had tried, from a distance, to stay close after Tristan had died. But the moment she saw Séverin, she was reminded of how impossible that would be. If she’d stayed in L’Eden, she could not have survived the constant reminder of this unhealed and unclosed wound. Even now, he haunted her. Though he’d stopped eating cloves altogether, she still imagined the scent of them. When he left the room, unwanted ghosts of memories snuck up on her. Memories he didn’t know she had, like when they had been attacked by a Forged creature inside House Kore’s underground library. When she regained consciousness, the first sound she remembered was Séverin’s voice at her ear: Laila, this is your majnun. And you will drive me well and truly mad if you do not wake up this instant.
“Voila!” called Hypnos from the doorway.
He was pushing a cart laden with treats. They were colorful cookies—which disgusted Zofia—and ham sandwiches—which turned Enrique’s stomach—and… a steaming samovar of hot cocoa. Which only Tristan drank.
Hypnos’s smile wasn’t his usual catlike grin. Now it looked shy and quick. Hopeful.
“I thought, perhaps, before all the planning… we might refresh ourselves?”
Enrique stared at the cart, finally managing a bemused: “Oh.”
Laila wished she hadn’t seen the way Zofia leaned forward eagerly, only to snap back in a recoil. And now Hypnos stood before them, his smile stretched a second too long… his shoulders falling a fraction.
“Well, if you’re not hungry, I will eat,” he said, a touch too brightly.
This used to be Laila’s responsibility. In that second, the room felt cloying and too tight, brimming with so many old memories that there was hardly enough air to draw into her lungs.
“Excuse me,” she said, standing.
Zofia frowned. “You’re leaving?”
“I’m sorry,” said Laila.
“Cookie?” asked Hypnos hopefully, holding one up to her as she passed.
Laila kissed him on the cheek and plucked it from his hand.
“I think the others just ate, unfortunately,” she whispered.
“Oh,” said Hypnos, his hands dropping from the cart. “Of course.”
Laila left the room quickly, tossing the cookie in a potted plant at the entrance. All she wanted was to leave and run out into the streets. She wanted to be free of her secret and scream it to Paris… but then she turned the corner.
And there he was.
Séverin. A silhouette of silk and night, a boy with a mouth made for kisses and cruelty. A boy who had once conjured wonder and came too close to touching her heart. Laila reached for her hate like armor, but he was too fast.
“Laila,” he said slowly, like her name was something to savor. “I was about to look for you.”
Laila’s heart didn’t know how to hate. Not truly. And a small part of her wished never to learn. She could only stand there, staring at him. She remembered his face as he read the letter meant for Tristan… the pain when he’d discovered how many demons his brother had hid from him. Maybe it was that which finally let her speak.
“I am sorry you found out the truth about Tristan the way you did, but I—”
“I’m not,” he said. He tilted his head slightly, and dark curls swept across his forehead. His lips curved to a cold grin. “In fact, you deserve my thanks. And since you’ll be acting as my mistress, I have a present for you. I can’t have L’Enigme on my arm with a bare throat.”
Until that moment, Laila hadn’t noticed the velvet box under his arm. A jewelry box. He opened it, revealing a diamond choker that looked like snapped icicles. Just the thought of putting it against her skin made her shiver.
“They’re real,” he said, holding them out for her to touch.
Laila traced one jewel, only to feel a slight resistance in her thoughts. That only happened when she touched a Forged object. Séverin’s shadow fell over her.
“When I have need of you, this diamond necklace will turn warm and tighten ever so slightly,” he said. “Then you will report to me and tell me of any findings. Likewise, I will inform you of my progress with securing The Divine Lyrics.”
Laila jerked back.
“You wish to collar me?”
Séverin raised his wrist, where her own oath bracelet caught the light.
“I wish to return the favor. Are we not equals in all things? Was that not what we promised each other?”
His words were a twisted echo of their first meeting. Fury stole Laila’s voice just as Séverin stepped closer.
“Let’s not forget that it was you who came to my chambers and demanded to act as my mistress, to be in my bed.”
The Forged diamonds seemed to glint knowingly, as if sneering to her: What did you expect?
He lifted the choker, letting it dangle from his fingers. “I assume you have no objections.”
Ice snuck up her veins. Objections? No. She wanted to live, to savor existence. And so all she felt was disbelief at this stranger before her. The longer she stared at him, the more it felt like watching night creep toward her, her eyes adjusting to the dark.
“None whatsoever,” she said, swiping the diamond necklace from him. She nearly closed the distance between them, and felt a sharp stab of pleasure when he flinched from her. “The difference between a diamond necklace and a diamond dog collar depends on the bitch. And they both have teeth, Monsieur.”
Excerpted from The Silvered Serpents, copyright © 2020 by Roshani Chokshi.