Home > Midnight Beauties

Midnight Beauties
Author: Megan Shepherd

Part I

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

There was blood everywhere, even in her hair.

Anouk tripped through fallen leaves in gold-studded Goblin boots two sizes too small, the laces undone, the novelty tread leaving bloodstained prints in the smeared shape of hearts. Her leather shorts were ripped. Her velvet jacket was punctured once in the sleeve and twice near her ribs. Blood oozed down her side.

The birds were right behind her.

One crow swept down from a lamppost in a flurry of black wings, going for her ear. Its beak sliced her cheek. She swatted at it, but its talons snagged in her hair or, rather, in the blue wig she wore. The wig slid forward over her eyes, blinding her. She pulled it off and threw it—​tangled crow and all—​into a sewer grate and raced ahead.

Toward 18 Rue des Amants.

The former residence of a witch, the townhouse was now hers. Her home. Her haven. Or, since Prince Rennar had set his winged spies on her, more like her prison. Her hair had become a sweaty mess beneath the wig, clinging to her neck and face. Another crow launched itself at her back. Talons ripped at her clothes. She grabbed the railing to the stairs. Just a few more steps. The Goblins were inside, faces pressed against the townhouse windows, motioning for her to hurry.

A crow landed on her shoulder, its talons piercing through the velvet jacket. Pain exploded in her arm. She faltered on the steps. She would have used a spell against it, except that her bag of ingredients was the first thing the crows had gone for, knowing that without it, she was no more powerful than the Pretty tourists strolling down the street, magically oblivious to Anouk’s distress.

Gasping, she grabbed the crow by its wing and yanked with all her strength.

“Let go!”

She hurled the crow against the steps and, before it could take wing again, yanked open the townhouse’s front door, threw herself inside, and slammed it closed behind her.

She collapsed against the door, breathing hard.

The townhouse was protected with a spell so ancient that it hadn’t been broken at Mada Vittora’s death, unlike most of her other enchantments. It was the only thing keeping Rennar and his crows out, which unfortunately meant that to be safe, Anouk had to stay in. Over the past six weeks, she and Viggo and the two dozen Goblins who had survived the siege of Montélimar might as well have been prisoners. The first time she’d tried to leave was two days after the siege; she’d needed baguettes to feed the hungry Goblins. The crows had been waiting in the trees. They attacked her as soon as she crossed the first step. She’d barely made it back inside in one piece.

The second time she’d tried to leave, she waited until night fell, when it was foggy and hard to see more than three feet on either side. That time she made it ten steps before they spotted her. They would have dug in their talons and dragged her all the way to Castle Ides if Viggo hadn’t hurled an empty gin bottle at them and pulled Anouk back inside.

The third time, she’d brought knives. Many, many knives, hidden in pockets and strapped to her belt. But the crows were fast enough to dodge them, their own talons just as sharp.

Today, she’d thought she stood a chance, that the Goblin disguise—​the blue wig, the punk boots, and the velvet jacket—​would be enough to conceal her identity from the birds. They were merely Rennar’s pawns, after all, just dull-witted spies.

But they’d still known.

She’d made it only five steps.

The sound of a tap-tap-tap came from the foyer. She opened her eyes. Viggo stood in the hallway. He leaned heavily on a cane. His face was pale. It was a wonder he’d survived at all after losing six pints of blood, but he was tougher than his black eyeliner and slouchy hat made him look. He’d nearly recovered in the six weeks since the siege.

“I take it the disguise didn’t fool them,” he said.

She slid him a frigid glare.

Blood rolled down her fishnet tights, over her studded boots, and onto the floor. Her tawny hair was knotted. A few blue strands from the ripped wig still clung to the buttons of her jacket. The wounds in her side throbbed. She straightened and took a lurching step forward. Her legs gave out and she started to collapse, but Viggo dropped his cane and grabbed her around the waist.

“Help me to the kitchen,” she said, grimacing.

Together they hobbled through the townhouse’s grand hallways. They passed the library and the salon, which were littered with signs of her guests—​spilled tea, threadbare hats. Goblins peered at her through doorways, their stomachs audibly growling, their faces full of false smiles as they tried to hide their disappointment that she’d failed once again. She narrowly avoided tripping over a butterfly net as Viggo helped her into the kitchen, where she’d spent so many early mornings baking bread and so many late nights scrubbing dishes. She grabbed a dish towel, turned on the hot water, and plunged her hands into the sink. Steam rose around her. She scrubbed the blood and feathers from her arms, revealing fresh wounds and old wounds—​now crude scars—​from her previous attempts to leave the townhouse.

“Shall I bandage those for you?” Viggo asked, pulling out a roll of gauze from a drawer.

“No, I’ll take care of it myself. Just hand me that mint.”

He held out the potted mint plant and she crushed a few leaves between her fingers, then swallowed them whole. She ripped off a strand of fake blue hair that was caught in her buttons, laid it over the wound on her left arm, and whispered, “Attash betit truk.”

Warm magic prickled over her skin in a way that was half pleasant, half unbearably itchy. The sides of the cut started to pull together as the strand of blue hair plunged in and out of her skin, stitching the wound closed. Attash betit truk was a spell for fixing loose buttons, not mending flesh, but true healing spells required stronger magic than Anouk was capable of. When she finished, the wound was ugly but it had stopped bleeding. She peeled off her shirt and performed the same spell with the puncture wound on her shoulder. Viggo hobbled upstairs and came back with one of Mada Vittora’s robes. It was made of charmeuse silk and worth a small fortune. But what use did a dead witch have for couture?

Anouk pulled on the robe.

She boiled water for a cup of tea to settle her nerves. Not that it would help. Her hands kept shaking. Her stomach growled. She caught her reflection in the curved copper kettle. Goodness, she looked a fright. December had painted full Goblin makeup on her: glittering gold eyeliner, pale pink hearts on her cheeks, black lipstick. Now the blush was smeared and there was glitter everywhere. She scrubbed her face in the sink, then pulled her tangled hair into a ponytail, and she felt a little more like herself.

Viggo stood awkwardly at her side. “We’ll try again tomorrow. It’s supposed to storm. If it rains hard enough, maybe the birds won’t come.”

“Rain’s never kept them away before.” She leaned on the counter and closed her eyes. It had been six weeks of trying to divide every last morsel of stale bread twenty-five ways. Six weeks of living with Goblins who blared The Clash at full volume at first light of dawn. Six weeks of hunger. Six weeks of crows.

Six weeks of a dog by her side instead of Beau.

There had been five of them—​five beasties. An owl, a dog, a cat, a mouse, and a wolf, all of whom had been enchanted into people with their own quirks: Anouk, Beau, Cricket, Luc, and Hunter Black. Now only Anouk remained human. The others were cursed to live in their animal forms, and all of them except for Beau were imprisoned in Castle Ides.

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