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Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1)
Author:Jay Kristoff

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1)

Jay Kristoff



CAVEAT EMPTOR


People often shit themselves when they die.

Their muscles slack and their souls flutter free and everything else just … slips out. For all their audience’s love of death, the playwrights seldom mention it. When our hero breathes his last in his heroine’s arms, they call no attention to the stain leaking across his tights, or how the stink makes her eyes water as she leans in for her farewell kiss.

I mention this by way of warning, O, my gentlefriends, that your narrator shares no such restraint. And if the unpleasant realities of bloodshed turn your insides to water, be advised now that the pages in your hands speak of a girl who was to murder as maestros are to music. Who did to happy ever afters what a sawblade does to skin.

She’s dead herself, now—words both the wicked and the just would give an eyeteeth smile to hear. A republic in ashes behind her. A city of bridges and bones laid at the bottom of the sea by her hand. And yet I’m sure she’d still find a way to kill me if she knew I put these words to paper. Open me up and leave me for the hungry Dark. But I think someone should at least try to separate her from the lies told about her. Through her. By her.

Someone who knew her true.

A girl some called Pale Daughter. Or Kingmaker. Or Crow. But most often, nothing at all. A killer of killers, whose tally of endings only the goddess and I truly know. And was she famous or infamous for it at the end? All this death? I confess I could never see the difference. But then, I’ve never seen things the way you have.

Never truly lived in the world you call your own.

Nor did she, really.

I think that’s why I loved her.





BOOK 1


WHEN ALL IS BLOOD





CHAPTER 1


FIRSTS


The boy was beautiful.

Caramel-smooth skin, honeydew-sweet smile. Black curls on the right side of unruly. Strong hands and hard muscle and his eyes, O, Daughters, his eyes. Five thousand fathoms deep. Pulling you in to laugh even as he drowned you.

His lips brushed hers, warm and curling soft. They’d stood entwined on the Bridge of Whispers, a purple blush pressing against the curves of the sky. His hands had roamed her back, current tingling on her skin. The feather-light brush of his tongue against hers set her shivering, heart racing, insides aching with want.

They’d drifted apart like dancers before the music stopped, vibration still thrumming along their strings. She’d opened her eyes, found him staring back in the smoky light. A canal murmured beneath them, its sluggish flow bleeding out into the ocean. Just as she wished to. Just as she must. Praying she wouldn’t drown.

Her last nevernight in this city. A part of her didn’t want to say goodbye. But before she left, she’d wanted to know. She owed herself that, at least.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

She’d looked up into his eyes, then.

Took him by the hand.

“I’m sure,” she whispered.

The man was repugnant.

Sclerosis skin, a shallow chin lost in folds of stubbled fat. A sheen of spittle at his mouth, whiskey’s kiss scrawled across cheeks and nose, and his eyes, O, Daughters, his eyes. Blue as the sunsburned sky. Glittering like stars in the still of truedark.

His lips were on the tankard, draining the dregs as the music and laughter swelled about him. He swayed in the taverna’s heart a moment longer, then tossed a coin on the ironwood bar and stumbled into the sunslight. His eyes roamed the cobbles ahead, bleary with drink. The streets were growing crowded, and he forced his way through the crush, intent only on home and a dreamless sleep. He didn’t look up. Didn’t spy the figure crouched atop a stone gargoyle on a roof opposite, clothed in plaster white and mortar gray.

The girl watched him limp away across the Bridge of Brothers. Lifting her harlequin’s mask to drag on her cigarillo, clove-scented smoke trailing through the air. The sight of his carrion smile and rope-raw hands set her shivering, heart racing, insides aching with want.

Her last nevernight in this city. A part of her still didn’t want to say goodbye. But before she left, she’d wanted him to know. She owed him that, at least.

A shadow wearing the shape of a cat sat on the roof beside her. It was paper-flat and semitranslucent, black as death. Its tail curled around her ankle, almost possessively. Cool waters seeped out through the city’s veins and into the ocean. Just as she wished to. Just as she must. Still praying she wouldn’t drown.

“… are you sure …?” the cat who was shadows asked.

The girl watched her mark slink toward his bed.

Nodded slow.

“I’m sure,” she whispered.

The room had been small, sparse, all she could afford. But she’d set out rosejoy candles and a bouquet of water lilies on clean white sheets, corners turned down as if to invite him in, and the boy had smiled at the sugar-floss sweetness of it all.

Walking to the window, she’d stared at the grand old city of Godsgrave. At white marble and ochre brick and graceful spires kissing the sunsburned sky. To the north, the Ribs rose hundreds of feet into the ruddy heavens, tiny windows staring out from apartments carved within the ancient bone. Canals ran out from the hollow Spine, their patterns crisscrossing the city’s skin like the webs of mad spiders. Long shadows draped the crowded pavements as the light of the second sun dimmed—the first sun long since vanished—leaving their third, sullen red sibling to stand watch through the perils of nevernight.

O, if only it had been truedark.

If it were, he wouldn’t see her.

She wasn’t sure she wanted him to see her through this.

The boy padded up behind her, wreathed in fresh sweat and tobacco. Slipping his hands about her waist, fingers running like ice and flame along the divots at her hips. She breathed heavier, tingling somewhere deep and old. Lashes fluttered like butterfly wings against her cheeks as his hands traced the cusp of her navel, dancing across her ribs, up, up to cup her breasts. Goosebumps prickled on her skin as he breathed into her hair. Arching her spine, pressing back against the hardness at his crotch, one hand snagged in his unruly locks. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t speak. She didn’t want this to begin or to end.

Turning, sighing as their lips met again, she fumbled with the cufflinks in his ruffled sleeves, all thumbs and sweat and shakes. Pulling their shirts off, she crushed her lips to his, sinking down onto the bed. Just she and he, now. Skin to skin. Her moans or his, she could no longer tell.

The ache was unbearable, soaking her through, hands shaking as they explored the wax-smooth swells of his chest, the hard V-shaped line of flesh leading down into his britches. She slipped her fingers inside and brushed pulsing heat, heavy as iron. Terrifying. Dizzying. He groaned, quivering like a newborn colt as she stroked him, sighing around his tongue.

She’d never been so afraid.

Never once in all her sixteen years.

“Fuck me …,” she’d breathed.

The room was plush, the kind only the wealthiest might afford. Yet there were empty bottles on the bureau and dead flowers on the nightstand, wilted in the stale smell of misery. The girl took solace in seeing this man she hated so well-to-do and so totally alone. She watched him through the window as he hung up his frock coat, propped a battered tricorn on a dry carafe. Trying to convince herself she could do this. That she was hard and sharp as steel.

Perched on the rooftop opposite, she looked down on the city of Godsgrave; on bloodstained cobbles and hidden tunnels and towering cathedrals of gleaming bone. The Ribs stabbing the sky above her, twisted canals flowing out from the crooked Spine. Long shadows draping the crowded pavements as the second sun grew dimmer still—the first sun long since vanished—leaving their third, sullen red sibling to stand watch through the perils of nevernight.

O, if only it were truedark.