Gods & Monsters Page 1

Part I

Quand le chat n’est pas là, les souris dansent.

When the cat is away, the mice will play.

—French proverb

A Nest of Mice


Bayberry, eyebright, belladonna

Fang of an adder, eye of an owl

Sprinkle of flora, spray of fauna

For purpose fair or possession foul.

Ichor of friend and ichor of foe

A soul stained black as starless night

For in the dark dost spirits flow

One to another in seamless flight.

The spell is familiar, oh yes, familiar indeed. Our favorite. She lets us read it often. The grimoire. The page. The spell. Our fingers trace each pen stroke, each faded letter, and they tingle with promise. They promise we’ll never be alone, and we believe them. We believe her. Because we aren’t alone—we’re never alone—and mice live in nests with dozens of other mice, with scores of them. They burrow together to raise their pups, their children, and they find warm, dry nooks with plenty of food and magic. They find crannies without sickness, without death.

Our fingers curl on the parchment, gouging fresh tracks.

Death. Death, death, death, our friend and foe, as sure as breath, comes for us all.

But not me.

The dead should not remember. Beware the night they dream.

We tear at the paper now, shredding it to pieces. To angry bits. It scatters like ash in the snow. Like memory.

Mice burrow together, yes—they keep each other safe and warm—but when a pup in the litter sickens, the mice will eat it. Oh yes. They gobble it down, down, down to nourish the mother, the nest. The newest born is always sick. Always small. We shall devour the sick little mouse, and she shall nourish us.

She shall nourish us.

We shall prey on her friends, her friends—a snarl tears from my throat at the word, at the empty promise—and we shall feed them until they are fat with grief and guilt, with frustration and fear. Where we go, they will follow. Then we shall devour them too. And when we deliver the sick little mouse to her mother at Chateau le Blanc—when her body withers, when it bleeds—her soul shall stay with us forever.

She shall nourish us.

We will never be alone.



Mist crept over the cemetery. The headstones—ancient, crumbling, their names long lost to the elements—pierced the sky from where we stood atop the cliff’s edge. Even the sea below fell silent. In this eerie light before dawn, I finally understood the expression silent as the grave.

Coco brushed a hand across tired eyes before gesturing to the church beyond the mist. Small. Wooden. Part of the roof had caved in. No light flickered through the rectory windows. “It looks abandoned.”

“What if it isn’t?” Beau snorted, shaking his head, but stopped short with a yawn. He spoke around it. “It’s a church, and our faces are plastered all over Belterra. Even a country priest will recognize us.”

“Fine.” Her tired voice held less bite than she probably intended. “Sleep outside with the dog.”

As one, we turned to look at the spectral white dog that followed us. He’d shown up outside Cesarine, just before we’d agreed to travel the coast instead of the road. We’d all seen enough of La Fôret des Yeux to last a lifetime. For days, he’d trailed behind us, never coming near enough to touch. Wary, confused, the matagots had vanished shortly after his appearance. They hadn’t returned. Perhaps the dog was a restless spirit himself—a new type of matagot. Perhaps he was merely an ill omen. Perhaps that was why Lou hadn’t yet named him.

The creature watched us now, his eyes a phantom touch on my face. I gripped Lou’s hand tighter. “We’ve been walking all night. No one will look for us inside a church. It’s as good a place as any to hide. If it isn’t abandoned”—I spoke over Beau, who started to interrupt—“we’ll leave before anyone sees us. Agreed?”

Lou grinned at Beau, her mouth wide. So wide I could nearly count all her teeth. “Are you afraid?”

He shot her a dubious look. “After the tunnels, you should be too.”

Her grin vanished, and Coco visibly stiffened, looking away. Tension straightened my own spine. Lou said nothing more, however, instead dropping my hand to stalk toward the door. She twisted the handle. “Unlocked.”

Without a word, Coco and I followed her over the threshold. Beau joined us in the vestibule a moment later, eyeing the darkened room with unconcealed suspicion. A thick layer of dust coated the candelabra. Wax had dripped to the wooden floor, hardening among the dead leaves and debris. A draft swept through from the sanctuary beyond. It tasted of brine. Of decay.

“This place is haunted as shit,” Beau whispered.

“Language.” Scowling at him, I stepped into the sanctuary. My chest tightened at the dilapidated pews. At the loose hymnal pages collecting in the corner to rot. “This was once a holy place.”

“It isn’t haunted.” Lou’s voice echoed in the silence. She stilled behind me to stare up at a stained-glass window. The smooth face of Saint Magdaleine gazed back at her. The youngest saint in Belterra, Magdaleine had been venerated by the Church for gifting a man a blessed ring. With it, his negligent wife had fallen back in love with him, refusing to leave his side—even after he’d embarked on a perilous journey at sea. She’d followed him into the waves and drowned. Only Magdaleine’s tears had revived her. “Spirits can’t inhabit consecrated ground.”

Beau’s brows dipped. “How do you know that?”

“How do you not?” Lou countered.

“We should rest.” I wrapped an arm around Lou’s shoulders, leading her to a nearby pew. She looked paler than usual with dark shadows beneath her eyes, her hair wild and windswept from days of hard travel. More than once—when she didn’t think I was looking—I’d seen her entire body convulse as if fighting sickness. It wouldn’t surprise me. She’d been through a lot. We all had. “The villagers will wake soon. They’ll investigate any noise.”

Coco settled on a pew, closed her eyes, and pulled up the hood of her cloak. Shielding herself from us. “Someone should keep watch.”

Though I opened my mouth to volunteer, Lou interrupted. “I’ll do it.”

“No.” I shook my head, unable to recall the last time Lou had slept. Her skin felt cold, clammy, against mine. If she was fighting sickness, she needed the rest. “You sleep. I’ll watch.”

A sound reverberated from deep in her throat as she placed a hand on my cheek. Her thumb brushed my lips, lingering there. As did her eyes. “I’d much prefer to watch you. What will I see in your dreams, Chass? What will I hear in your—”

“I’ll check the scullery for food,” Beau muttered, shoving past us. He cast Lou a disgusted glance over his shoulder. My stomach rumbled as I watched him go. Swallowing hard, I ignored the ache of hunger. The sudden, unwelcome pressure in my chest. Gently, I removed her hand from my cheek and shrugged out of my coat. I handed it to her.

“Go to sleep, Lou. I’ll wake you at sunset, and we can”—the words burned up my throat—“we can continue.”