Read an Excerpt From The Keeper of Night

A girl of two worlds, accepted by none…

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Kylie Lee Baker’s The Keeper of Night, a dark fantasy set in 1890s Japan—publishing October 12th with Inkyard Press.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death…only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.


 

 

Chapter One

Late 1800s
London, England

 

The legend they tell about me goes something like this:

First, you’ll see a streak of silver across the sky, like a comet burning through the fog.

Then, the clock hands will still halfway between this second and the next.

The world will fall silent, and the Reaper will knock three times on your bedroom door.

Whether you answer or not, Death will enter through the light in the keyhole.

She will reach down your throat and pull your soul out from deep, deep inside you, like an endless length of rope, and you will die in a world entirely your own. There will be no one but you, and the Reaper, and her unblinking green eyes.

But, of course, urban legends are rarely ever true.

On one particular collection night, the man was already awake when I opened his bedroom window and came in to take his soul. Humans, especially the very sick ones, always sensed when one of us was coming for them.

I stepped in through the window, pulling my long skirts after me, and found the man staring at me from his bed. He lay so still that I might have thought him dead already, but his eyes tracked me as I turned to slam the window shut. I pulled my clock from my pocket and closed my fingers around the silver-and-gold casing, locking the world into a time freeze.

The sounds outside of our little room silenced. No wind beat against the glass panes, no footsteps crunched through snow on the sidewalk outside, no floorboards creaked from the tenants below. The human lay frozen in his blankets, as if already dead. I crossed the room and pressed a finger to the hollow of his cheek.

With the touch of my cold skin, the time freeze unlatched its teeth from his throat and he jolted awake, joining me in our frozen infinity between moments. Our tiny world filled with his ragged exhales and scraping inhales, his wet blinks of fever-bright eyes, his twitching limbs shifting against the stiff sheets.

“Are you going to kill me?” he said.

Technically, I wasn’t. His time of death had been written in the high ledgers since the day he was born, and I had done nothing to interfere with that destiny. I was not his executioner but his deliverer, and I couldn’t extract a soul that wasn’t ready to abandon its body.

“Yes,” I said. I stepped closer and my shadow loomed over his bed, a wraith casting darkness over his pale face.

He closed his eyes and took several croaking breaths. When he opened his eyes again, tears pooled in the corners.

“Will it hurt?” he whispered.

I let him wait in suspense for my answer. I did not blink, did not breathe, only looked down at him with an unchanging expression.

“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “I’ve never died.”

It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, but that wasn’t my problem. He’d asked a question and I’d answered. His pupils grew wide, like two yawning chasms of black, his bones quivering against the thin tarp of his skin. He reached out a shaking hand as if to touch me. I watched him struggle but made no move to help him, taking a small glass vial from my pocket.

“Is there a Heaven?” the man said, his frail hand somehow latching on to the sleeve of my robe. I looked down at the grayed skin stretched taut over bones, wrapped in the shimmering silver fabric and trembling hard. “Please, Reaper, tell me. Will I go to Heaven?”

I smirked. His trembling stilled, maybe in breathless anticipation of my answer, or maybe in horror that I’d smiled so cruelly over his deathbed. That look in his eyes—like I was horrible and magnificent and could tear the whole universe to ribbons if I wanted to—was the only part of the process that I truly liked. No one but humans looked at me with that kind of reverence.

In truth, I didn’t know where souls went after we released them. The High Reapers spoke of Heaven and Hell, but I had never seen such places and suspected they were fantasies conjured to absolve us of responsibility. Those places were no more real to me than Santa Claus, or unicorns, or God.

But the humans believed in them so fervently, just like they believed that I came from a comet and slid through keyholes. The man wasn’t the first to ask me for answers, thinking I was Death and not one of his children playing messenger. When they asked me, I always answered.

“There is no Heaven,” I said. The man’s twisted expression went gray, his grip on my sleeve suddenly weak. “There is no Hell, either,” I said. “There is nothing but Death.”

The tears that bled from his eyes told me that if there was a Heaven, I would never see it. But my teachers always said that tainted souls like mine would burn for eternity anyway, so what difference did this brief unkindness make?

He started calling out names, probably those of the humans in the rooms next door who would never hear him as long as I kept the clocks frozen. But I didn’t like the sound of beg­ging. I could tolerate threats and bribes and rage, but some­thing about begging made my body wither into itself like a dried flower, as if every desperate word was being scratched into my skin in scars that only I could see. Long after the beg­ging stopped, my skin always itched for hours and the words always rang in my head, shaking me from shallow dreams.

 

I looped the chain of my clock around my neck like a pen­dant, making sure the metal still touched my bare skin, and got to work.

I pressed one hand to his forehead and held it still while I forced his jaw open with my thumb. He choked and cried as I crammed my hand down his throat. When my fingertips finally brushed the milky edges of his soul, I grabbed hold and yanked it out.

From between his lips, a cloud of gold mist rose into the air, speckled with bright lights that moved in tandem like a chain of constellations. I’d seen souls made of black tar and bile, others of pale pink candy floss, and even ones that siz­zled and burst like fireworks. Just like every human life, souls were unique and beautiful for a single moment, and then they were nothing but dust.

His soul spun aimlessly in the air until I uncorked my glass vial with my thumb. The soul rushed inside, magnetized by the bone glass. As soon as I sealed it shut, the soul turned murky gray and settled as ashes at the bottom. I carved a 7 onto the lid with my pocketknife, for it was my seventh col­lection of the night, then dropped it into the drawstring bag in my pocket, where it clinked against the other six vials.

The man lay dead in his sheets, jaw hanging open and eyes still wet with tears that dripped down to his pillow. I closed his mouth and eyes, then whispered a compulsory prayer to Ankou, the Father of Death and King of the Reapers.

Though I had never met him, I felt his presence everywhere the same way that humans felt love or hate or other intangible things. All Reapers were his servants, born halfway between the realm of humans and gods, bound to serve him and keep the human world in balance. Though the humans spoke of us as villains or nightmares, they needed us more than they would ever understand. Death brought humans fear, and fear made humans interesting. Without Death, humans would grow complacent and stale. Even we Reapers would one day surrender to Death’s scythe.

In Britain, we served Ankou, but the Reapers beyond our borders answered to a different Death. In China, they served Yanluo, ruler of the Fifth Hell of Wailing, Gouging, and Boiling. In Mexico, they served Santa Muerte, a skeletal saint in brightly colored robes who granted protection to society’s for­gotten children. And in Norway, there was Pesta the plague hag who dealt out death with a dusty broom. At least, that was what the legends said.

But I knew better than anyone that legends were nothing but overgrown trees sprouted from tiny seeds of truth.

As I whispered my prayer to Ankou, the language of Death numbed my lips, the sacred words reaching out for his blessing for both my own damned soul and the human’s. The language of the dead always hung suspended in the air for longer than any mortal language, like its words had been carved into the universe, leaving a scar that no one could forget. It was a crooked and cursed language that all could understand but only creatures of Death could speak. Once the frozen night inhaled my prayer, I threw open the window and climbed out into the petrified darkness.

 

Snowflakes hovered in midair like stars in a soundless gal­axy, ravens suspended in their flight overhead with black wings spread wide. Snow fell beyond the barrier just a block away, for I was still a young Reaper, and I couldn’t yet con­trol time in too large a space.

I would have liked to stay in the freeze forever, where the world was silent and peaceful, but of course I never could.

Time is not created, but stolen, the Timekeepers had always said when reprimanding me for taking too long on collec­tions. You must pay for every second you steal. Of course, to keep the universe in balance, the extra time we stole through col­lections was shaved off our own lifespans by Ankou himself. We were meant to spend our stolen minutes collecting souls in stopped time, for it was the only way to guarantee that hu­mans never saw us until their Death Day, that we remained nothing but urban legends and superstitions. We sacrificed those moments of our lives so that humans would never know the dangerous truth. Humans instinctively fought Death at all costs, but they could never fight us if they didn’t know we existed until the very end.

In a lifetime of thousands of years, a loss of minutes mat­tered little to us. But hours, days, even months were stolen only by reckless fools. For every time we stopped the clock, we could hear a distant ticking that grew louder as the stolen moments passed, reminding us that one day, no matter how much time we tried to steal back, Death would come for us.

I pressed a hand to the clock still hanging around my neck, cold inside my blouse. My clock, made of pure silver and gold, was the key that unlocked my control over time. Every Reaper received one on their hundredth birthday. They al­lowed the Timekeepers to see the fingerprints I left on the timeline, every single second I stole that would be added to my debt. Time pulsed from the silver and gold into my blood­stream, then spread from my fingertips to wherever, or who­ever, I chose. Each clock was unique, nontransferable, and took months to make. We were meant to protect them more fiercely than our own children. After all, Reapers without children were still Reapers, but Reapers without clocks were just very slow-aging humans.

I unwound the chain from my neck, pulled up my hood, and dropped the clock into my pocket.

Time came unstuck the moment my fingers left the metal, the howling snowstorm yanking my hood back in an icy blast.

I pulled it back down, not caring how quickly the hail burned my hand, because I couldn’t let anyone see the color of my hair. If anyone noticed me, trouble would follow.

I needed to get back home before Last Toll, or I’d be trapped outside until tomorrow’s dusk. Then my brother would break curfew to come looking for me, and we’d both be outside when the church grims began their hunt. I could handle them, but Neven would surely get hurt. Church grims looked like dogs, and Neven would sooner eat his own clock than kill a dog.

Besides, walking around with a pocket full of unprocessed souls always left me uneasy—the glass was sturdy but not in­destructible. If, for instance, I fell from a clock tower or was impaled on a wrought iron fence or thrown under a carriage again, the vials would shatter and the souls would be trapped in the mortal plane.

I ran through Belgrave Square, which the deep night had left near-deserted. Prodigious white estates surrounded the block, their fourth-story windows like prison watchtowers leering down on the streets. I kept running past the curved redbrick buildings of Wilton Crescent, then veered away from such exposed areas and slipped into the darker side streets, hoping the shadows would conceal me.

I ran through Belgrave Square, which the deep night had left near-deserted. Prodigious white estates surrounded the block, their fourth-story windows like prison watchtowers leering down on the streets. I kept running past the curved redbrick buildings of Wilton Crescent, then veered away from such exposed areas and slipped into the darker side streets, hoping the shadows would conceal me.

I felt the ghost of a hand on my throat and spun around, but I stood alone on a frozen street. There was no distant clanking of pipes or faraway echo of hoofs on cobblestone or blurred conversations a block away, just a barren expanse of silence, my every breath louder than a scream.

I lifted my hood and peered up at a million snowflakes frozen in midair, not by my own doing.

It didn’t matter then if I walked or ran or crawled—their cold hands had dragged me into their frozen world. They were watching me, waiting for my next move while they hid in the shadows.

They knew the longer they waited in the silence, the more my mind would spiral and fragment and imagine all the ways they’d pull me apart, bone by bone. Unlike the humans who had the privilege of seeing them once and only once before their souls went into the void, I’d spent nearly two centuries with them.

The urban legends should have told of Reapers like them, not the ones like me. Because even though I was a terrible person, I was not the kind of Reaper one should have feared.

Here is the tale that humans should have told:

First, you feel their hands on your face, their skin cold with Death’s chill as they wake you from sleep.

Second, the clocks stop ticking and you’re alone in the si­lence, where all you can hear are your breaths getting faster and faster.

When you’re somewhere between consciousness and death, vision hazy from lack of oxygen, a figure in a silver cloak will come to ruin you.

Time is ribbons in their hands, to cut or twist or tie around your throat.

They can freeze time so solidly that you’re no longer a part of the world, caught inside a painting.

They can grind time forward so slowly that you’re trapped in a viscous amber, spending centuries taking a single breath but agonizingly conscious.

They can dig their white nails into your heart and pull out your worst moments, then play them on an eternal loop.

 

They cull the weak from their own families and snap the spines of their lovers, and as long as they want you, you are never, ever safe.

“Hello, Wren.”

The words came from behind me, a woman’s voice in my left ear that hummed through my whole body like a death knell. The name sounded wrong in my head. Wren Wren Wren, like the little brown birds that eat spiders and die in the win­ter, and it wasn’t even my real name.

My mother, whom I couldn’t remember, had named me Ren, the word for lotus in Japanese. I knew, because just like all Shinigami, the kanji was burned into my spine in strokes of black ink that wouldn’t wash away. But my father had put my name down as Wren in the ledgers because that was an ac­ceptable, albeit meek, name for a British Reaper. And while the pronunciation was similar, I always knew who was calling my real name and who was calling me a little bird.

“What’s wrong, Wren?” someone said, in my right ear this time, a different voice.

They loved to say the name that wasn’t even mine, stretching out the vowel like thick taffy because they loved to disrespect me. We were meant to address each other as Reaper outside of our families, but of course I didn’t warrant that kind of decency.

“You’re awfully quiet tonight,” said another voice, and this one I knew. But before I could answer, a pair of hands grabbed each of my arms and wrenched me onto my back in the snow. The time-frozen snowflakes spanned upward as far as I could see until they dissolved into the frozen infinity of gray-black sky.

A boot collided with my jaw and crushed my face into the street. My vision flashed white while my brain crashed against the walls of my skull. The heel dug harder into my temple, and I could only lie there like a dead thing until she was done with me, no better than the souls in my pocket.

Hellfire simmered in my fingertips, the gas streetlights burning dangerously bright. But before my flames could shatter the glass, I choked down a breath of cold air and squeezed my eyes shut, forcing the searing light down.

With my one eye that wasn’t scraping against snow crystals, I looked up at my assailants.

There was Ivy’s boot on my cheek, of course, because Ivy always appeared where I didn’t want her. Her silver cloak rippled like a clear river behind her, the fabric made of silk and moonlight. Ash blond hair, the color of bones, hung in soft curls around her face. She was beautiful in exactly the way Reapers were supposed to be—so fair that the snowflakes seemed to pass through her, like she had faded halfway into another world, features sharpened by the edges of her bones, eyes every color of the northern lights, shifting between jewel tones and faraway starlight.

I didn’t look like her, or any of the other Reapers.

My eyes and hair were the color of Yomi, the Japanese underworld and Realm of Perpetual Night, the place that light didn’t dare touch. To call it a color was too generous—it was the absence of everything. For that reason, I always braided my hair back and hung my hood low over my eyes—to be seen was to be targeted.

The hands on my left arm ground my bones harder into the street, and I guessed it was Sybil because of the strength. Where Sybil went, Mavis usually followed, though it didn’t much matter who held me down. All of the High Reapers had their fun with me at some point, but Ivy always loomed somewhere close.

The boot lifted and the tremendous pressure on my skull subsided, leaving me light-headed. The bruises would melt away in a few minutes, but Ivy would certainly make more before they could heal. I tensed up when she moved again, but this time she only kicked my hood back.

My black hair poured out like an oil spill onto the snow, half of it fallen loose from my braid after Ivy’s violent kick.

“As if anything could hide what you are,” she said.

“Half-breed,” Mavis said under her breath, crushing my arm another degree into the pavement. arm another degree into the pavement.

“Won’t you look at a High Reaper when they’re addressing you?” said Ivy.

I dragged my gaze skyward and locked eyes with Ivy, her irises a nauseating swirl of purple and green.

She reached down for me and I couldn’t help closing my eyes again, imagining the thousand different kinds of pain she could inflict. Every muscle in my body pulled taut, flinching away from expected agony. My legs kicked out half-heartedly, but I was no stronger than a pinned butterfly. I clenched my jaw so hard that my teeth scraped together, and I imagined a world where I could fight back without consequences from the High Council, where there was anyone in power who cared what happened to me.

The pain didn’t come for an agonizing stretch of time. My muscles wound tighter and tighter, shaking from the force.

Then, with uncharacteristic gentleness, Ivy gathered my hair and lifted it from the snow. I opened my eyes just as a pair of scissors crossed my line of vision, gleaming in the weak streetlight.

“No!” I said, surging against the arms that slammed me back into the street. I lunged up again, but the hands ground deeper into my bones. I couldn’t get up without hurting them, and if I hurt them, the High Council would hear about it. So instead I thrashed like a speared fish and glared up at the unmoving snow above me and tried to make the process as difficult as possible for them.

I knew my hair was the wrong color and that nothing I did with it would ever make me beautiful, but it was mine, not Ivy’s to take.

She grabbed my jaw with one hand and held it still, the scissors suspended a breath away from my eye.

“Stop moving, or I’ll take your eye instead,” she said. Her words sent a numbing chill through my bones. It must have been the voice she used on humans before she took their souls, because her words made my whole body want to wither like a dying plant. Though cuts on my skin zipped themselves up and shattered bones always snapped back into place within minutes, I’d never had the displeasure of regrowing eye jelly and didn’t particularly want to find out how it felt.

I went still, afraid to move in case the silver blades dropped down even a millimeter. It wasn’t the threat of pain that stilled me, but the anticipation of the squishing sensation, how it would feel to have scissors plunged through my eye, the way my vision would fracture and kaleidoscope. I grew nauseous at the thought, unable to do anything but stare at the sharpness of the blades, the polished twinkle of silver in the streetlight.

The background softened into a dreamy haze and I realized too late that Ivy was turning time on me, stretching the moment longer and longer. I lay trapped in a world of only me and the scissors and the breathless promise of the blades plunging into my eye. She could keep me here for centuries if she wanted to. I started to panic even though I couldn’t breathe or move, my slow-beating heart racing and my lungs screaming for oxygen they didn’t need. I stared and stared and couldn’t look away and the blades only seemed to grow sharper and more sinister, moving closer and closer to my open eye, and suddenly I wanted Ivy to gouge my eye out just to end it end it end it

The scissors disappeared from my line of vision and I gasped, falling limp against the snow while Sybil and Mavis laughed on either side of me. Cold sweat caked my skin and my eyes burned with dryness, even though only a second had passed.

“Look how scared she is,” Sybil said, jamming her finger into my cheek. “This is supposed to be the heir of a High Reaper?”

“She’ll never ascend,” Mavis said, grabbing a fistful of dirty snow and shoving it in my face.

Surely nothing would anger them more, and part of me wanted to ascend as a High Reaper just to spite them. But it would never happen. My father would never train me for ascension, even though I was his firstborn.

Ivy yanked my half-undone braid and I remembered why she’d had the scissors in the first place. I clenched my jaw at the sharp snip of scissors and my own hair falling into the snow, dropping my gaze to the gas streetlight caught in our time freeze, the light still casting a weak circle onto the snow around us.

It doesn’t matter, I told myself. It’s fine, you’re fine, and it doesn’t matter at all.

But the words whispered under my breath didn’t reach my brain. The flame of the streetlight contorted angrily against its glass cage, echoing my despair. A severed piece of hair blew over my shoulder and I clawed my fingertips into the snow, forcing my eyes shut and praying that the dark sanctuary would calm me. But even with my eyes pressed closed, I could see the light burning brighter than before.

I needed to calm down before the light got any brighter. I remembered being half a century old and my father grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me so hard that I couldn’t see, shards of exploded light bulb all around us. Reapers don’t control light, he’d said. Don’t let anyone see. Keep it a secret. Be a good little bird and don’t ever do that again.

And he was right, because British Reapers didn’t control light. But Japanese Reapers—Shinigami—did.

My heritage was hardly a secret, but we both knew nothing good could come from High Reapers feeling threatened. They could turn time with more finesse than I ever would, but how effective would that be if they couldn’t see me? Who knew what lengths they’d go to just to keep me restrained, to keep themselves in power?

I might have hated my father, but he was right—I couldn’t show them my Shinigami powers.

“Aww, I think you made her cry,” Mavis said.

The sound of scissors stopped. Ivy grabbed my chin.

Was I really crying? I couldn’t feel my face anymore, could only feel the tremors through my entire body as I tried not to shower us all in fire and glass shards. The line between control and chaos was so very thin, and it took every part of my concentration to hold myself back. I needed Ivy to finish quickly before I got too angry and ruined everything.

“Poor thing,” Ivy said, cuffing a tear from my burning cheek. Her nails cut into my face, sharp like a snake bite. “And what did I tell you about looking at a High Reaper when they’re addressing you?”

I wrenched my eyes open and the words spilled out before I could stop them.

“Just finish, already.”

Ivy’s smile dropped. She grabbed my jaw and pulled it closer until it made a cracking sound and pain knifed through my face.

“Is that what you want, half-breed?” she whispered. “For me to end you?” Her words slithered across my skin, curling around my throat and wrists. Her eyes churned indigo, a dark undertow pulling me deeper.

Yes, a secret part of me whispered.

I knew it was an idle threat, but sometimes I wished it were possible.

Reapers lived for nearly two millennia unless a more powerful being cut them off early. Humans were weak creatures who could flay me and sever my limbs and carve my heart out of my chest, but they would never succeed in killing me. The church grims and demons were slightly stronger beings that could eat my flesh down to the bone, but still they couldn’t end me. But Ivy was a High Reaper, and if she wanted to crush every one of my bones into the pavement until I was nothing but powder and then collect my soul, she could.

But she never would, because Ankou extracted the memories of all his Reapers when they died, so my murder could never remain her little secret. Even Ivy wasn’t above Ankou’s punishing scythe.

Yet, sometimes, when my heart felt dark as the night that I carried in my eyes, I wished she would do it anyway.

Ivy leaned closer and her hair fell in a curtain in front of me, sealing us away from the rest of the world.

“What would happen if we tied you to this streetlamp until daybreak?” she whispered. “Would your little brother come to pluck the church grims off your bones?”

“Don’t,” I said, the word a shuddered exhale. My fingers twitched, already unnaturally warm. I hated when Ivy talked about Neven, and she knew it. My poor little half brother, lucky enough to be full Reaper but unlucky enough to be chained to me.

When Neven took the souls of children, he held their hands and sang them lullabies. He let the older ones pray and told them stories about what awaited them in Heaven, how everything there was beautiful and nothing would ever hurt them again. But because of me he would never have friends, never join the High Council, never be anyone but the Shinigami’s brother. He could have forsaken me like our father, but instead he brought me stray cats and built book towers over me while I slept and cast shadow puppets on the walls while I tried to read.

His name didn’t belong on Ivy’s lips.

“Would he cry when he saw they’d nibbled off your fingers and drunk your eyes from their sockets?”

“Don’t,” I said again, but the word was dead and heavy in my mouth.

“Or would he be happy that he was finally free?”

I bit hard into my lip and prayed that the pain would help me center, draw my focus away from the light of the streetlamp that was getting brighter with the promise of broken glass and fire, because words could only hurt you if you knew they were true.

“How long would it take him to forget about you?” Ivy whispered. “Half a century, maybe?”

My teeth gnawed deeper into my lip. Ivy was right. The lives of Reapers spanned millennia, and Neven had barely spent a century with me. Time would scrub my face from his memories whether he liked it or not.

The streetlight burned bright against the glass casing, orange and blue and sun-hot white. I closed my eyes, but all I could see was my hair on the snow and scissors and moonlight and my soul cast into an empty eternity and Neven’s face and it’s fine it’s fine it doesn’t matter at all, but the snow began to reflect the increasing light from the streetlamp and our little circle of refuge from the winter darkness was now a boiling spotlight in the middle of London and I couldn’t stop it.

Ivy leaned in closer, her cold lips brushing my ear.

“Then no one would remember you,” she said, “like you’d never existed at all.”

My control flew away from me all at once, a tether yanked out of my hands, spiraling fast and far away.

The streetlamp’s weak light swelled to fill its glass cage, no longer a dying flame but a searing starlight that bleached away the night sky and ripped the colors from the street. The High Reapers began to turn around.

“Don’t look!” I said, but they ignored me as always, and the light scorched through the soft flesh of their eyes.

They screamed and released me, clapping their hands over their eyes and crumpling to the ground. I held my sleeve over my face as the glass panes of the lantern burst outward and thousands of sharp crystals rained down like hellfire, singeing holes in my cloak with white-hot sparks. The time freeze collapsed, snow pelting my face and turning the lingering flames to swirling steam. I slapped the embers off my skirt, then turned to the three blind and sobbing High Reapers, collapsed in melted snow puddles, their cloaks steaming quietly, surrounded by pieces of my hair.

The image forced a sneer to my lips before I could stop myself. This is what they deserve, to be on their knees in front of me. But the feeling drained away as fast as it had come, like a sudden eclipse of darkness. I looked down at my trembling hands, scored with glass shards, my sheared hair blowing across my face, the sobbing Reapers at my feet trying to rub the blood from their eyes.

I had ruined everything.

I dashed into the snow, slipping on a patch of ice and clawing my way back to my feet. I prayed that the light would keep them incapacitated. As long as they couldn’t see, they couldn’t trap me again or make their way back home. No matter what, I had to stay ahead of Ivy. As soon as the High Council got word that I’d assaulted three High Reapers, one of them the great granddaughter of Ankou himself, I could safely say I’d be chained up in a mausoleum for the next millennium. I had to turn in my soul vials to Collections, then get home to tell Neven what happened.

I looked over my shoulder as I ran, taking in the ice-polished cobblestones and evergreen garlands and redbrick chimneys scratching the stars through the eyes of someone seeing them for the last time. Every step was a goodbye to a place I’d never really loved but that had made up my entire world.

I turned and looked ahead again, because in the end it wasn’t even a choice. I wouldn’t wait around for them to put me in chains. I would leave London, and I would never come back.

 

Excerpted from The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker, Copyright © 2021 by Kylie Lee Baker. Published by Inkyard Press.

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