Two enemy witches must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Witches Steeped in Gold, a Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut from author Ciannon Smart—available April 20th from HarperTeen.
Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.
Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom—and vengeance.
Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.
Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain—except the lengths they will go to win this game.
There’s nothing like the potential betrayal of your oldest and best sistren, a friend closer to you than any other, to challenge any doubts about avenging your murdered parents.
The ways of Obeah in matters of vengeance are clear. It is justice to take in equal part that which was stolen from you, and my family would expect me to follow the teachings of Duilio, the god of Metal, Blood, and War. But to ignore the Jade Guild’s fight Kaleisha wishes us to find and join outside would make the scarification on my forehead, and hers too, a mockery. One that would risk offending Clotille, the goddess of Warriors. Deities are like the dead; not seeing them doesn’t mean they’re not walking among us.
Our scarification drew Kaleisha and I together in here initially, though she possesses two of four vertical scars between her brows, and I just the one. They advertise our Warrior métier to the world, the field in which we chose to specialize. It doesn’t matter that we were trained in different covens; the scars bind us by Clotille’s ancient code of honor, one that dictates we put our order’s safety first and all other matters second.
“You’ll soon be joined together,” the prison guard continues from her platform.
The speech has been long and tedious, but joined leaves five more words until I need to make a decision that, frankly, should have been made months ago. Beside me, Kaleisha murmurs the words along with the guard, having heard the speech in Inheritance Days of the past, sure in her choice to fight at the end of our countdown. Confident that waiting until the moment before they connect our shackles will leave the guards vulnerable to attack. Dauntless in mind and body.
“Exercise deference and this can be over shortly,” the guard drones.
Deference was the fourth word.
Obeah look equal parts frightened and relieved as guards move between them. Their eagerness to leave the confines of Carne is a tangible thing that cuts through the mire and grunge of a prison meant for the forgotten.
But while we may have been the forgotten temporarily, we didn’t forget.
We remember how the Alumbrar feigned submission before eventually killing the Obeah first family and the majority of their most experienced practitioners of magic. We remember how fate allowed the same hands that trapped us to strip our only inheritance from us too.
My hands tighten around the bone weapons. Fate should know where she can stick it.
As the third and second signal words are said in quick succession, I look to Kaleisha and find she’s already moved away from me and into position.
Ready? the tilt of her head asks.
“Yuh deh! Inmate!”
All prisoners flinch at the bark that cuts through the crowd like the curve of an executioner’s scythe.
“What do you have in your hands? Are those weapons, inmate?”
A sea of Obeah-dark and Alumbrar-silver heads swivel to Officer Carsten and the cutlass she’s stabbing in Kaleisha’s direction. Usual moxie gone, she’s nothing more than a cornered animal. Brown eyes wide with fear, her mouth opens and closes like the hand Carsten levels at her is wrapped around her throat.
“Lock it down!” she yells. “Them ’bout to bruckout!” Guards charge forward at her warning of imminent attack. Their will incites glowing shields to extend from their conduits like blown bubbles, forming a shimmering fence of magic around the inheritors.
Kaleisha’s eyes dart to mine. In a second, that fear is replaced with an insidious smirk. I meet it in kind as I rotate the bones in my hands, revealing the sharpened edges I’ve been concealing in my palms. They’re big enough and weighty enough to come from a forearm or thigh of one of the beasts that hunt in the mountain beneath the prison. I take a breath I haven’t in a while, one by which I utter a prayer to Clotille to bless me with accuracy and intent. Twisting from my waist as I was once taught, I launch the bone baton above the shoulder-height shields with all my might. Carsten, focused on ordering guards, is caught unawares. She screams as my weapon sinks into her neck. Her cry burbles away in a cataract of blood.
“Now!” I roar.
The rest of the members in Kaleisha’s Bone Orchestra propel their instruments at the wraparound mezzanine above, striking the overhead guards who didn’t think to shield. Why would they? They believe the Obeah to fear were poisoned and defeated, their armies left to drown in their own sick, their allies fled, and their rule decimated.
When the first body smacks against concrete, chaos breaks loose on the ground level. Kaleisha only recruited ten Obeah to escape with her, with us. But rebellion is like wildfire—once it catches, there’s no hope of escaping its reach. Before too long, the prisoners in their cells, the ineligible, are the only ones who stand and watch. Every one of my ilk outside engages guards in combat.
Fueled by a decade of hatred, women hurl their tired bodies at the Alumbrar guards. Ferocious snarls tear from mouths that’ve been silenced for too long; bodies smash onto the cracked foundations, grappling for dominion. Grayed brown skin gleaming with sweat, my order parry against magical shields with the Obeah’s zeal for battle. For victory. I breathe it in, consuming the memory of who we once were—who we could be again. Rulers, innovators, victors.
A clash of steel sparks in my face; the only thing that saves me is a cross of bones in Kaleisha’s hands. “Struggling to keep up?” she sings, slamming her shackled fists into my attacker’s copious bosom. The guard howls in agony; her long silver twists squirm like they too are in pain as she flies back.
“Never.” With something adjacent to a smile, I lunge, driving my shiv into the side of another guard’s neck. Life gushes from her in a reverse fountain of youth. I skip over it, the pain of my shackles kept at bay by the thrum of adrenaline.
An amber spark flashes in my periphery—guzzu, one of suppression. I duck, taking an Alumbrar body with me as a shield. Relieving the now-incapacitated guard of her weapon, I also take her hand with a brutal thud of the blade, tucking it into the waistband of my undergarments. We’ll need the magical glyph on her palm to pass through the warded doors.
Bone in one hand, cutlass in the other, I cleave my way through the guards. With just three years under my belt, before the Viper’s Massacre, my Warrior training was insufficient. Kaleisha, who learned to use a weapon before she could walk, is responsible for this deftness.
My muscles remember her whispered tips for me to practice under the cover of nightfall in my cell, the times she aggravated the vermin in the mountain beneath so I was ready for this moment. Her eyes are triumphant as ours meet in a moment between blows, a proud teacher basking in her student’s success—until a cry sounds from across the prison.
A dark, jagged hole sparks clean through the center of an Obeah’s stomach. Only one guzzu results in edges that smoke red. Death. My breath catches.
The guards aren’t trying to subdue us anymore.
They’re killing us.
Kaleisha’s still, gaping at the fallen body. Battle dulls in my ears. Most of the Orchestra don’t notice we’ve just lost a player, or that, in turn, they’ll be killed too before we can make headway. Without magic, they’re powerless—I’m powerless. I’ll die.
And for my parents, Empress Cordelia Adair and Admiral Vincent Adair, I have to live.
My decision might not have been simple, but it’s never been clearer. Breaking for a clear door, I tug the guard’s severed hand from beneath my smock.
“Ira!” Kaleisha bellows the two harsh syllables.
Once Ira was used by dada as a loving moniker. Now it only serves to remind me that I’ll never again hear him use it. I almost don’t turn back, but I owe my sistren this much. She takes a step toward me, favoring her left leg. Blood gushes from a cut on her right. Still, her shoulders are thrown back, her eyes bright.
“What are you doing?”
A frantic rhythm beats across the summoning drums; it almost jolts the hand from my grip. More guards are coming. Too many.
“I’m sorry.” I try for indifference, but the words lodge in my throat. “I have to live for my family.”
“We’re family.” Her voice breaks. “I’m your family.”
The crack in her voice threatens to undo me. I could tell her there’s no way she can win here. Not if they’re killing us. We need magic to match the Alumbrar.
But I don’t.
Hating me will make it easier for her to forget me.
“I’m sorry.” I slap the bloody hand against the door; its magic absorbs me through the wards to the other side, a decaying labyrinth of shadowy corridors filled with easy pickings now I know the guards still haven’t learned to fight like the Obeah.
That was the idea, anyway.
Instead, I find my chest one inhalation away from a golden conduit coin set into the snarling shadowcat-topped guard of a wickedly curved saber.
“Move and you’ll lose a limb.” The male’s voice lands as effectively as I imagine his blade would. And if he doesn’t favor the first blade, there’s a plainer hunting knife in his left hand. It’s topped with bone. “Drop the weapons. Now.”
Benefitting from a power I cannot face as I am, I comply.
“Inheritor, your fate has long been set. Did you really believe we’d let you escape?” His stare’s as entitled as a Warrior’s tends to be. It’s also curious. That makes two of us.
His eyes, lined in smudged black kohl, are a rich green, and his dark hair is straight and fine. Both traits are native to an island who would be foolish to send their ilk sniffing around here after the usurpation they offered us no help in fighting. If my mouth wasn’t so dry, I’d spit.
“Nothing to say?” That emerald gaze drops to his blade, following a long chestnut colored finger running across its length. I follow that finger, too. It’s scarred enough to suggest it’s highly skilled. “I have ways to loosen tongues.”
My stomach tightens.
“If I tell you why I tried to escape,” I whisper. “Will you promise to keep it to yourself?”
He scoffs. “Yeh mon.”
“That lacked a bit of conviction—any conviction, actually.” I tut. “Can’t tell you now, can I? I don’t go around sharing my secrets as it is.” The smirk that lights my face welcomes challenge. “Especially not with traitorous lapdogs.”
Those eyes widen in shock before narrowing to cold chips of green. The scent of rich spice and metal swarms between us as he steps closer. I tilt my chin up to meet that irritation—that interest—simmering in his stare.
“When the Obeah ruled this empire, your secrets would’ve had some sway. But this is a new age. There’s no empire, no empress, and your order has fallen here.” The Warrior steps closer until our chests all but touch. “How do you like that for a bark?” he growls. Seizing my upper arm, he jerks me away from the door. Devouring the corridor with lengthy strides, he never once stops to think that I’m the one who caught him.
If the doyenne’s in the market for a powerful new shield in a cadre I know exists, having interviewed reoffenders who’d lived outside about it at length, then fleeing a warded cell with a stolen weapon amidst a bloody riot should be enough to secure my place by her side. An Adair and a Cariot working together once more to protect Aiyca from threat, for a time.
And then I’ll kill her.
I wanted to believe in Kaleisha’s plan, but even before the guards snuffed out one of our own, deep down I knew it could never be more than a means to an end. No matter how different I wished it to be. Nana’s advice about trouble taught me that an Obeah-witch is nothing without intentions.
Doyenne Cariot will learn too late how dangerous mine are.
Excerpted from Witches Steeped in Gold, copyright 2020 by Ciannon Smart