Last night, I was playing around on Facebook and I happened to change my cover image to a Dark Days cover. I was stunned by the reaction and outpouring of comments from readers, telling me how much they loved and missed Mira. The Dark Days series that followed the Fire Starter and the hunter Danaus was so much fun to work on and I’m so glad their story was my first published series of books. I love that fiery nightwalker and her stoic warrior.
In thanks for that love, I went digging through all the files I’ve kept gathered for the Dark Days series, trying to find something I’d written that I might never have shown anyone before. There wasn’t much to choose from, but I think I’ve got a little bit of something for my dear readers.
When I wrote the first draft of Dayhunter, there was a prologue. Yep, a prologue. But I don’t think anyone has ever seen it besides my editor. The prologue was ultimately cut from the final draft, but I thought I’d show it to you now. Below is a flashback to something that happened before the start of the Dark Days series and gives some great background on why Mira hates the naturi. If you’ve never read the series, this snippet doesn’t contain any spoilers so you’re safe reading it.
Prologue for Dayhunter
Pain slashed across my face.
Grass and dirt pressed against my skin. My thoughts were fragmented, slipping from my grasp before I could close my fingers around them. There was no floating on a gentle sea of oblivion, rocked by warm, comforting waves. There was only pain. White-hot pain biting at my muscles and gnawing on my bones.
With the pain came a growing consciousness and sharp clarity that I could do without. The sounds of fighting and the inevitable screams of dying drifted to my ears along with the scent of blood and smoke. Had I finally died and gone to Hell? The thought brought a faint smile to my lips, sending a fresh sliver of pain through my consciousness as I discovered my bottom lip was split and bleeding. No, Hell wouldn’t feel so … familiar.
A warm hand touched my left cheek, cradling my face with a surprising gentleness. For the first time, it occurred to me that someone was close. I could now feel the creature kneeling next to me, larger than life and more powerful than any I had ever known. Pushing against the last of the fog that crowded my thoughts, I forced my eyes open.
The face that looked down on me was filled with worry. His dark brown eyes were nearly black as shadows cast by the nearby flames danced across his broad features. His skin was almost as dark and rich as the night itself, while his perfectly white teeth were like catching a glimpse of the starlight on a cloudy night. He was Jabari, one of the oldest and strongest of the nightwalkers. An Elder – both a leader and protector.
“She’s awake?” inquired a sweet, feminine voice that I wished to never hear again. An older woman’s face appeared over Jabari’s right shoulder, staring down at me with concerned and calculating brown eyes.
I flinched at the sight of her. A low hiss slipped from the back of my throat. Over the crackle of the fire and the sounds of battle, I doubted either of them had heard the noise, but Jabari’s thumb slowly moved across my cheekbone and his left arm cradled my shoulders while his hand wrapped around my upper left arm. He didn’t pull me any closer, but I felt has as if he had gathered me into his arms, putting me out of reach of my maker.
“She is awake,” he replied. His deep voice rumbled around me, carrying with it a thick accent of a people long gone from this earth. “I will see to her needs.”
A frisson of power rippled through the air around us and again I flinched before I could stop myself. The power came from Sadira. There was no question of it. I knew the touch of her hand just as well I as knew the cold snap of the powers. I forced my gaze to her face, but she was staring down at the back of Jabari’s head. Her eyes glowed with an icy light and her features were pulled taunt as she pressed her lips into a hard, unyielding line.
“She is my daughter.” A faint tremble threaded its way through each syllable as she carefully enunciated each word so there would be no mistake.
“She was.” My eyes jerked back to Jabari to find the Ancient nightwalker smiling down at me, his thumb grazing my cheek in a feather-light caress. “See to our enemies or leave here.”
After several seconds, I finally tore my shocked gaze from Jabari’s face to find that Sadira was no longer standing behind him. She was gone. Gone from the battle. Gone from my life. A fine shaking started in my limbs and grew until my teeth chattered. I was free from Sadira, at last. I had been with my maker for more than century, endured her attempts to break me. I had suffered through countless nights of physical and mental torture until I was no longer sure who I was, until the sounds of begging and crying had become lullabies that rocked me to sleep each morning.
I drew an shuddering breath into my lungs, ignoring the fresh pain that knifed through broken ribs that were still trying to mend, and closed my eyes against the wave of tears that was threatening to break. She was gone. When I opened my eyes again, I saw Jabari. His smile had faded, but his intense gaze never wavered from my face.
Had my fate truly improved? I had moved from Sadira to another creature infinitely more powerful and potentially more sadistic. Jabari could crush me in an instant if he desired it or keep me alive for centuries in a torment I had yet to face. But for a brief spark of time, it didn’t matter. For the first time in more than one hundred years, I was free of Sadira.
“You must get up,” Jabari said, breaking the silence that had grown between us. The hand cupping my cheek slid down around my shoulder so that I was now encircled in his arms as he forced me to sit up. Pain exploded in my body and I cried out before I could stop it. The world rolled and bucked beneath me, trying to knock loose my hold on consciousness, but I held tight, rising above it all. I blinked several time, pushing back the blackness that had briefly crowded my vision. Jabari moved aside so that he was kneeling beside me, his left arm behind my back, keeping me upright.
“No!” The single word escaped my parted lips in a fractured whisper as I took in the scene spread before me. I was still at Machu Picchu. The Incan stronghold was littered with the broken bodies of the naturi, nightwalkers, and humans. How could I have forgotten? The wave of pain and the surprise of being held by Jabari had pushed from my brain the scene that was playing out before me. But the memories were pouring back through me like a clear, cold mountain stream.
Two weeks ago, I had been kidnapped from Sadira’s grasp by the naturi while we were returning to her castle in Spain. For two seemingly endless weeks, the guardians of the earth had tortured me. They wanted me to turn on my own kind. The naturi, with their melodious voices and beguiling eyes, tried to convince me to protect them from the nightwalkers. Because even before I became a nightwalker, I was the Fire Starter. Fire was the best defense against a vampire when the sun was down.
But I refused. I wouldn’t betray my own kind.
The naturi were relentless. When I would not be swayed by pain, they thought to break me through compassion. A parade of humans were brought before me – men in their prime, women bright in bloom, babies fresh from their mothers’ womb – all were killed before my eyes when I refused to bow to their wishes.
I thought I would die on that mountaintop beneath the cold gaze of the heavens. The naturi worked to free their banished queen, return her to this world so they could continue their campaign of slaughter and destruction of mankind. Nightwalkers were the one and only line of defense for humans. And the naturi were determined to make me their first line of defense against the nightwalkers.
And then, Jabari appeared. A terrible, glorious figure. An avenging angel in the night. I felt the horde of nightwalkers that followed on his heels, remembered the sound of the battle that flowed around me, and then there was only a blinding white light and soul-rending pain.
I shuddered and clenched my teeth against the memory that was fighting its way back to the surface. It was too raw, a wound that could never close, not with a thousand stitches.
Jabari’s arm tightened around my shoulders, pulling me back toward the present. “Let it go,” he whispered. Just as the words were brushing against the inside of my ear, I felt a cool breeze sweeping through my mind, pushing the memory away so that a shaky sense of peace could settle into its place.
“I want to leave,” I murmured, trying to ignore the fact that I sounded like a small, frightened child.
“Not yet. You must do something first.”
My eyes jumped to Jabari’s face, questioning for only a breath. I wanted nothing more than to be away from this nightmarish place; to never see or hear of the naturi again. Yet, Jabari had saved me. He saved me from the naturi and he saved me from my maker. For that reason, I would do whatever he wished.
“You must destroy him.”
My gaze followed where Jabari pointed until it settled on a figure sitting on the ground a few yards away, watching me with burning hatred. A dark smile grew on my face and all of my pains and fears were instantly forgotten at the sight of Nerian. Jabari had charged me with a duty, but more importantly, he had given me the sweetest gift of all – the chance to kill my tormentor.
I paused in the act of moving from the safety of Jabari’s arms and looked up at his large brown eyes. “Aurora?” Before I headed back into the place where I had been held captive, I needed to know the strength of my enemy. Was the Aurora, Queen of the naturi, running free?
“No, Aurora remains caged. The door was never opened.” Jabari once again swept his thumb across my cheekbone.
“Delayed. Now, hurry! Time is against you.”
“As you wish,” I whispered, my gaze returning to Nerian.
My nails dug long furrows in the ground as I pulled myself back to my feet, only slightly aware of Jabari’s arm falling away from my shoulders. The earth swayed and rocked under my feet when I stood, but I held my balance. Above me, the sky was growing lighter. Dark midnight blues bled into dusty charcoal grays then into hues of faint pastels of purple and pink. The night was nearly gone and dawn was threatening to stretch her arms. I was running out of time.
Pushing aside thoughts of the waning night, I walked over to where Nerian was struggling to pull himself to his feet using the low wall behind him. The perfectly fitted white-gray stones were smeared with his blood and the blood of other creatures he had attacked before facing me. He was favoring his right leg. It was broken, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long. The naturi were fast healers, at least as fast as nightwalkers if not faster.
I paused for only a breath, staring at him. For two weeks, he had been my constant companion during my waking hours. He whispered dark promises and lurid nightmares in my ear while carving my body up with an assortment of blades. Each night they drained me of blood so that I could barely think beyond the haze of hunger and fed me only enough to keep me alive for another night. For the first week, a member of the naturi light clan stayed close, ensuring that I couldn’t use fire against another naturi member. By the second week, I was too weak to light a candle, let alone set my tormentor on fire.
But even now, without a light clan guardian, I couldn’t conjure a flame. I tried to end it quickly by setting Nerian on fire, but the earth wobbled under my feet and I nearly lost consciousness. I was too weak, my body too drained. So be it. I’d destroy the naturi the old-fashioned way.
I lunged at Nerian, my hands open with my nails trained like daggers on his throat. The naturi pulled out a short blade from a sheath on his waist and swung it at me. I jerked back before actually reaching skin. A snarl escaped me as I dodged the swinging blade. It sang as sliced through the air near my own neck. Muscles burned and protested each movement, but I pushed the pain aside and concentrated on the one thing I had dreamed of for two weeks – killing Nerian.
Spinning, I landed a kick to his abdomen. A second hit knocked the wind out of him before the blade could make another swipe at me. The blade grazed my arm as my heel slammed into his left knee, hammering it into the wall behind him. Even beneath the hard leather soles, I could still feel the crunch of bone. The sound of the shattering bone matched his wailing in a sweet song.
The naturi crumpled to the ground, dropping his blade; his right leg broken and his left knee shattered. The slash sent a stinging sensation along my arm as the poison from the blade seeped into my body. Blood ran down my arm and dripped from my trembling fingertips as the wound struggled to close.
My eyes burned from the approaching dawn. I bent to pick up his blade and it felt as if tiny sandbags were hooked to every pore, weighing me down. Morning was nearly upon me, but I still had time.
Nerian gazed up at me, a wide grin slashed across his broad face like an open wound. “You can kill me now, but you’ll never escape me,” he laughed. “I’m in your mind now. I’m in your blood. We’ll be together forever.”
Clenching my teeth, I plunged the blade into his abdomen and quickly pulled it across. As I jerked the blade free, his intestines spilled out onto the dirt. Nerian screamed, as he desperately attempted to gather up the wriggling purple and red sausages and press them back into his body. Blood poured from his body, staining the dirt and grass around him a bright red.
I dropped the blade and turned away from my tormentor. Dawn was nearly here. We were both out of time. I jogged as best I could, stumbling over chunks of rock and overturned dirt along the way as I headed for the entrance to the mountain hideaway. The area surrounding the mountains was a thick, lush rainforest. If I could make it to the trees, I could bury myself in the earth for the day, finding shelter against the deadly rays of the sun.
I tripped over rocks and ruts in the road, but kept my feet. My mind was only vaguely aware of the hundreds of bodies that littered the ground around me. All the nightwalkers still alive were already gone from the mountain, desperate to find their own shelter from the rising sun. I didn’t know where Jabari was and there was no time to seek him out. He was a powerful Ancient; he could take care of himself.
Among the dead, I glimpsed nightwalkers I had never seen before, naturi ripped to shreds by my own vicious kind, and so many humans. The Incans had built this place among the clouds to be closer to their sun god, but their retreat had become a place of death when they welcomed the naturi. Awed by their powers and beauty, the Incans believed the naturi to be children of their gods.
I didn’t blame them for not freeing me. They paid their own price. First in the dozens of humans that were sacrificed for the amusement of the naturi, and then more died as the naturi attempted to break me. But not all the Incans were dead. As I drew closer to the tree line, I could sense more humans not far off, huddled and terrified. One day, they might return to Machu Picchu to lay their dead to rest, but I doubted they would ever inhabit their beautiful city again.
Once within the cover of the trees, I fell to my knees. Digging as quickly as I could in the soft, damp earth, I created a hole just large enough to curl up in. My arms were trembling and I could feel the night giving its final gasps of life as I pulled the earth over my body. I whispered a small prayer to a god I hadn’t spoken to in more than century that it was enough to protect me from the sun’s rays. Then the dawn broke over the heavens, and I was no more.