SILVER UNDER NIGHTFALL – musings, and an excerpt

11

AUGUST, 2021

CW: mentions of death, depression

Click here to skip to the excerpt!

“Once I seriously write that hot Regency romance set in a dark fantasy city overrun by demon hordes it’s over for you thots.”

That was the first tweet I ever made about SILVER UNDER NIGHTFALL, back in July 2019. At that time I had nothing to show for it but an idea that was taking root in my head. No chapter existed yet; I only had a visual in my head of a vampire hunter facing down countless hordes of demons, knowing it was a hopeless cause but determined to go down fighting. I didn’t know what his name was then, but I already knew he was kinda an ass.

I had several deadlines and wasn’t able to write the first scene until February the following year, and by then everything had changed. Someone in the mall I was at had collapsed, later testing positive for a new virus called COVID-19; local authorities encouraged people who’d been there to self-isolate. Unable to leave the house, I relied on my mother-in-law and my partner to look after the kids while I distanced myself as much as possible “just in case”. Those two weeks turned into two months, when the Philippines went on lockdown. I doubt any of us had an idea of how drastically things would change.

The hardcover edition release of WICKED AS YOU WISH coincided with worldwide lockdowns, which proved stressful. That soon became the least of my worries; in the months after that, I lost relatives and friends, several of whom had been frontliners, to Covid. I got sick unrelated to the virus, had to be briefly hospitalized and tested (which compounded the stress, despite testing negative) and fell into a depression. As I tried to get my health back, I started going back to this new draft as a way to distract myself from my problems. I was a huge Castlevania fan, and I wanted to do something different with the genre. More importantly, despite the vampiric themes I wanted this to be about humanity. I saw a glaring lack of it during most of 2020.

If you follow me on Twitter and saw the many occasions where I tweeted about this draft, I doubt that anyone would have realized what was really going on behind the scenes. The frequency that I talked about the manuscript was partly because I was genuinely excited about it. But I also tweeted about it whenever I felt especially down, or when I was having recurring symptoms and needed to take my mind off it, as a way to self-soothe. Ironically, the frequency of those tweets helped garner interest.

There’s a lot of me in this book. A lot of my frustrations and anger found its way into Remy, my protagonist. He has a lot of my flaws and shortcomings – extreme snark, self-sabotage, reluctance to rely on anyone else and a tendency to push people away, or make himself so infuriating that they leave on their own. But I wrote things in him I want to aspire to as well – his sense of fairness, his empathy, his refusal to quit even when the world is against him. And because he’s a complicated person, I thought he needed two companions to address the contradicting sides of his personality – Xiaodan, a cheerful young vampire who stays optimistic for Remy when he doesn’t have the energy to, and Zidan, who is quite adept at calling him out on his bullshit and taking him down a peg whenever he gets too full of himself.

Over the next few months, I hope to reveal more information about SILVER UNDER NIGHTFALL here in my newsletter – information about the plot, any marketing campaigns and other details that may happen in the future. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of part of the first chapter! It’s still subject to change once it goes through rounds of edits from my publisher, but the premise shouldn’t change!

I have always found it cathartic to write down a lot of my frustrations down on paper, though couched in fiction rather than in journal form, and this book did a lot for my mental health over the months I spent working on it. All books feel personal to me; it’s a glimpse into an author’s mind, about their own fears and aspirations. I hope you like the very quick glimpse into mine!

SILVER UNDER NIGHTFALL EXCERPT:

They never say it’s the girls that are the hardest to kill.

He’d like nothing more than to forget every ball he’d ever been forced into attending but the mind was a funny piece of shit, a bastard he’d trained to keep information on the off-chance it could save his life. And so he’d remembered. And he had remembered her.

First-year debutantes tend to flee from him once the introductions were over, which was only a shade politer than those in their second and third years, who needn’t even bother speaking to him at all. But she was sixteen years old and a willowy little thing, all dolled up in pink lace; stammering and nervous at first, but braver than she’d let on. She’d stayed, and smiled, and talked to him like he wasn’t a pariah among the aristocracy, like she wasn’t risking her reputation over a conversation with him. She had lovely green eyes, and she’d smelled like jasmine.

She’d called him armiger; not lord or lady, but a neutral title he felt was more in keeping with who he was. She had not mocked him like so many others had.

The bar was on the ground as far as empathy from the nobility was concerned, but when you’re used to eating dirt, getting thrown a bone felt like kindness.

And so it had hurt, in an unexpected, bewildering way, when he’d received the order to execute her.

Like most of the damned, she was beautiful. She’d always been breathtaking, but death had a curious way of remolding her features, shaping them into an artificial perfection that mere mortals could never be. He was reminded of his old school lessons; of chameleons who changed their colors for camouflage, of butterflies that mimicked flowers for their own protection.

But Lady Daneira’s preternatural beauty was not for her protection. Lady Daneira’s preternatural beauty was bait.

She stood in the small clearing with moonlight threading through the dark tresses of her hair, braiding it in softer shades of light. Her small, white fingers trembled as she undid the laces of her gown, deliberate in their clumsiness.

Come to me,” she crooned.

He approached her. His eyes were not on her face, nor was it on her now-exposed bodice. They were on her lips, which were stained in a scarlet hue darker than any rouge could achieve. She smiled at him then, and he could almost – almost – see traces of the girl she once was, even as her arms wound themselves around his neck, her breath light against the base of his throat.

Please,” she whispered, and her mouth opened, wide.

She was quick, but he was quicker.

She shoved him away with a screech and stumbled back as blood pooled down her chin. He’d stabbed a wooden stake right through the flesh, exiting just underneath her right eye. She wrenched the weapon free, leaving two ugly, gaping holes on her cheek and lower jaw, injuries she ignored as she focused on his face, her lips twisting and fangs protruding further when she realized what he was.

Reaper,” she snarled, and leaped.

She blurred from view, reappearing behind him, and then disappeared again as he spun around, until she was surrounding him from all sides simultaneously, a neat trick for someone only two weeks dead. He drew out Breaker from where it lay strapped across his back, the thick handle a bludgeon all on its own. His thumb moved across a hidden switch, and twin hidden scythe blades snapped outward at the furthest end, curved downward like rams’ horns. It was unwieldy, but in expert hands it was extremely effective.

She was too fast though, and he was still mortal, and the problem with carrying something that was basically five weapons in one was that it weighed exactly like the sum of its parts.

Gauging her movements with human eyes was pointless, and often fatal. So he concentrated on his sixteen years of training – sixteen years spent getting bled out and stabbed and maimed so badly that his sharpened senses could pinpoint exactly where she was going to attack based on which part of his body was already phantom-aching.

His left side throbbed. He turned to deflect, the steel slamming against fingernails that could tear through bark. She flickered away, came after him from a different direction, only to be frustrated once again.

Why won’t you let me kill you?” She cried out, as petulant as a child. A vessel had been severed somewhere behind her right iris, and from that eye blood cried down, hardened, clotted.

He had no energy to spare for talking, and when she tried a third time he deflected the blow and mounted his first real offensive. She drew back to avoid the downward slash, Breaker’s edge missing her neck by a precious inch. Her wounds were ugly, buttered in a permanent splotch across her face, half of which was drenched in sticky blood already congealed and drying, but even confronted by this proof of her true nature he hesitated.

If he’d been smart and staked her through the heart right from the beginning, as he’d done countless times to countless creatures of the night for countless other bounties, the fight would have already been over. Short, quick, brutal was the basic tenet of Reaper training.

But he’d never been known for his intelligence. The three days spent hunting Lady Daneira down had been three days spent hoping not to find her. That the witnesses were mistaken. That it was some other corpse they’d seen, haunting Tennyfair lands. That it wasn’t someone he’d known, however brief the acquaintance and however light her jasmine scent.

He could almost hear his father now. You’d always been a soft-hearted fool, son. You got that from your mother.

The Lady Daneira was freshly turned, but she was a freshly turned novice, even if that made her a thousand times deadlier than the average fighter. She wasn’t used to her food fighting back so early in her undead life, and her untethered rage at his rejection left her open to reprisal. In that moment, staring down at her mad, lovely eyes, he accepted that she was lost. Drawing out the battle would be the cruelest thing he could do.

So when she came after him again, he’d steeled his resolve, asked her quietly for forgiveness, and struck from below, altering the angle of his slash to catch her unaware.

He kept Breaker nice and sharp. As far as beheadings went, it was a clean one.

He dropped to his knees afterward, holding her. Her eyes were wide and staring, mouth slightly parted in shock. Her gaze fluttered to his, and in their depths he saw stray bits of humanity returning.

Armiger Remy,” she whispered in newfound recognition. And then, one final time: “please.”

He’d picked up the discarded stake. Her eyes followed his movements as he crouched over her fallen body.

I’m sorry,” The words always felt hollow, but he said them every time. She was lucid – they sometimes were, near the end – but never for long.

Now her smile was exactly how he’d remembered it. “Send me to heaven, armiger.”

And this time, Remy didn’t hesitate.

He sat with her for awhile. He’d never understood the point of administering final rites, mainly because he was shit at it. But undead or not, Lord Tennyfair had been adamant about bringing his daughter’s body back intact, to inter her on family grounds. He breathed a small prayer over the body, as he’d always done and as he was expected to do, though the words brought him little comfort and even far less peace.

Then he rose to his feet.

I really do not have the bloody time for this,” Remy said.

He only had a second to feel a quick pinch of warning in his right arm because the attack was swift, more calculating and more precise than any of Lady Daneira’s attempts. He countered it all the same, and blocked another pair of hands right before they could shove through his back and come out his chest holding vertebrae. His attacker snarled, fangs bared and fingers satisfactorily mangled by the abruptness of Breaker steel, and retreated when Remy swung his weapon again.

Eight vampires surrounded him; ethereal and inhuman, dressed in dark, albeit expensive, linens and silks – all an unnecessary, ridiculous show of intimidation that would surely impress the owls and squirrels who’d come to watch. More glaring than the suits were the condescending, mocking insufferability radiating off them like cheap cologne, one he was familiar enough to be irritated by.

You got one lucky shot in, hunter,” one of them jeered – a boy who looked no older than he was, with carefully primped hair and a cold smile. He wore his arrogance like a second coat. Remy wanted to punch him. “You won’t get another.”

Which of you turned her?” There were no coincidences when vampires were involved. His stomach churned at what they must have done, at what her final hours had been like at their hands, and his blood was up, exhilarated, ready to let. He had not wanted to kill Lady Daneira, but now he was itching for a massacre.

Do you always take that tone with your betters, fresh blood?”

Only with the ones that piss me off.”

The vampire laughed. “And what shall you do about it? Who would they believe – a noble, or some commoner who’d been slaying dukes’ daughters in the woods?”

Remy said nothing. The vampire glided closer, emboldened by his silence and their numbers. “What’s one more dead, then? Who’s to say that we didn’t stumble upon a depraved hunter assaulting a sweet young girl out here, took justice into our own hands? The Summer Lords and the humans are on the verge of an alliance now, aren’t they? A moral obligation we’ve got, to report crimes. And you did kill her. Where’s the lie in that?”

Tell me who turned her.”

Does it matter?” Another of the vampires asked – an older one with rougher features at odds with his primped clothes, and a full beard. “You make for better entertainment than she ever did. Kill him. Leave his body as a present for the humans. Let them believe that the poor little girl eviscerated him as her final act of spite.”

A compartment from within the base of Breaker’s handle slid free, a thick chain springing out. A blade equally as sharp as the scythe’s had been soldered onto the end, and Remy swung it in a wide arc. It caught two of the vampires in their stomachs. They hit the ground flailing, hands grasping at suddenly exposed entrails.

The chain made a second pass. Blood sprayed, and they stopped twitching.

Witch’s teats, Naji,” one of the others gasped. “Look at that thing! He’s not just a hunter, he’s the damned Butcher’s get!”

That revelation did not cause an immediate retreat, as one might expect. Remy could smell their desperation. There were more problems to be had with the son of the infamous Reaper than an unknown hunter trying to make his bones off bounties. Better credibility and a more plausible testimony, for starters.

They leaped for him.