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Wardens of the Raven Court, Book 1
Dark and Devious book cover

Dark and Devious

M.J. Padgett

No sensible thing belonged in the moors at such a late hour, especially none so lovely as Róisín. Shadows slipped over her milky skin like ink on a canvas so slick it couldn't hold for long. The darkness broiled over her feet, her legs, her torso, but when it found no anchor in her radiance, it slipped back into the depths without so much as a groan.

There was something dark and devious there, and it stamped its devil deeds all over the lands. It was mischief incarnate, and she vowed to eliminate it before it took her people with it into the darkness. The moors—the formal, magical boundary between human and Fae lands—spread as far as the eye could see in both directions, but that didn't stop this abomination from crossing onto her father's land. Róisín adjusted her grip and held her dagger closer to her chest. 

Róisín entered the moor from the northernmost point of her family's land and followed the grunts and sloshes of an unnamed beast until the clouds split and the moon shone down upon its back... She'd found what she was searching for.

Hunched over its meal, the beast slashed and tore. 

Róisín slunk closer, crouched, and ready. 

The beast froze in place, rendering the moor silent once again. There was no name for this creature, this scaled and black monstrosity with gnarled features and razor teeth set in a bulbous head. High-pitched clicking emanated from a membranous flap of skin covering the beast's throat as it eyed her, those deep, yellow-orange orbs the only light between them.

"I would think twice before attacking if I were you, vermin."

It shrieked and lunged.

"Why won't any of you take my advice?" Róisín dodged the unnamed creature and pivoted on her heel, prepared for the next attack. Once the bulky thing realized it had missed, it turned, slinging mud over her again. It shook and clicked. The clicking… She would hear that in her dreams.

Róisín leaned forward and blew softly toward it. Darkness slipped from her lips in a fog that crossed the space between them, and then the vile thing knew it had made a mistake. Scrambling on all fours, it turned to run, but her breath enveloped it and seeped through its skin, rendering it paralyzed.

Róisín's skin burned as molten lava bubbled beneath its layers. An ethereal, red-hued glow surrounded Róisín as her wings slowly erupted from her back, just beneath the scapula on either side. At full extension, she groaned.

"Ah, it feels nice to stretch."

The lava beneath her skin burned hotter, brighter as she approached the prone creature.

"I told you to think twice." She plunged the dagger through its heart. An eruption of flame took its body and burned it to ash in seconds, then the ash blew with the breeze across the moors. Róisín's skin cooled and returned to its usual alabaster, almost iridescent in the moonlight. Her wings, though, she would leave out until her work was done. They needed a good stretch.

Róisín turned her attention to the deceased human male the beast had left behind. There was nothing to do for him now, not in his condition. Beside him, a female human lay with her neck broken. There was no way to know what the man looked like with his head missing, but the female had been pretty. Deep olive skin with almond-shaped eyes and plump lips opened in horror. Her once brown hair was stained with her blood, perhaps the male's as well. Róisín's gaze shifted lower. The woman's abdomen moved like the waves at sea.

"Father in Heaven, she’s pregnant!" Róisín fell to her knees and pressed her hand over the woman's pelvis. The belly was swollen large enough that the child might survive an early birth. It would surely die if she did nothing, so Róisín poised her knife over the slain mother's belly. A long, clean cut opened the womb. Róisín reached inside and retrieved the wiggling, premature—though perhaps only a few days—baby girl.

"Shh. Shh, please don't cry out here." Róisín clutched it close to her chest, cleaned its mouth and eyes, then turned it over and patted her back. The gurgling was a sure sign she had not cleared the airway enough, so she turned the babe again and pressed her mouth to hers. The slimy substance turned her stomach, but the baby needed a clear airway, so Róisín sucked. She spat out the fluid, turned the infant, and patted it again. Soon, she whimpered.

"Shh. We must keep quiet, little one."

Using the end of her shirt, she wiped most of the baby's body, removing the blood of the mother it would never know. It smeared into Róisín's black hair, but cleanliness had been abandoned when she set foot in the moors. Her knees squelched free from the mud when she stood, bringing the baby closer as she wrapped it snugly. The trip back to the cabin would take longer, but the child was developed enough to survive the night. In the morning, she could take it to Ailsa. She spat again and wiped her mouth.

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