I have some sad news… I had been hoping that today would be the release date for Beautiful Beast, but I’ve decided to wait one more week. My second proof copy hasn’t come in yet and I don’t want to make the book live if there is a flaw with it. But to make up for that, I wanted to share the prologue with all of you! It sets the scene and gives a little context for what is to come. I hope you enjoy reading it.
~ Prologue ~
Knock. Knock. Knock.
The sound echoes throughout the atrium and tumbles into the ballroom. I am startled awake and my abrupt movement of surprise causes the rose to slip off of my lap. Careful not to touch the thorns, I scoop it up and tuck it into my sash. It is a beautiful, delicate thing that I crafted with my own magic. Papa will be so proud. Whenever I accomplish something new, he smiles a broad, warm smile and I know he is pleased with his youngest child.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Already, curious guests are wandering to the atrium where the sound originated. Such beautiful guests. Mama has been planning this ball for weeks now, so everything is perfect.
At first, she had insisted that I go to bed, but I begged and begged and finally, Papa convinced her to let me watch. Before the guests arrived, I was tucked away on a sofa in one of the many balconies in the ballroom. But this was a special balcony, for I could see the entire ballroom in all of its splendour and also look through a little window at the adjoining atrium.
Of course, if I was going to a ball, I needed to look the part—even if no one else was going to see me. So, the seamstress made me a beautiful white dress embroidered with pale pink roses.
While my two sisters danced on the arms of every eligible bachelor in the room, I pretended to dance with my own suitor, a prince. There were my three brothers too. Oh, how I giggled into my hand at their antics. They must have charmed every girl in the room with their easy smiles and witty behaviours.
And my mother. Well, she played the piano. It is a beautiful instrument set into an alcove on one side of the ballroom. Even I, who have heard her play every day of my life, was enchanted by the music. It is what you imagine the music of faeries to be like; it is ethereal, or like a thousand tiny bells played in melodies as intricate as the patterns of the starry skies. Yes, beautiful, but sometimes I hate it because it makes her forget us; sometimes she allows it to consume her.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
The sound comes again and although I tell myself I am being a silly pony, my heart trembles at the blows against the door.
Who could it be? All of Mama and Papa’s guests have arrived already. A traveller who lost their way in the forest, perhaps? That happens often enough. The enchanted forest is not for the faint of heart. But for everyone else? It is a wonderful place full of sparkling streams, golden trees, and shimmering moss. It has its dangers, but if one is careful, they are hardly a hindrance.
I stretch up on my tiptoes and peek through the little window as Cedric our butler glances at his pocket watch, then pulls open the great doors. A flurry of cold air whips into the atrium and with it comes a woman wrapped in a tattered cloak whose hood pulled up to conceal her face. Despite Cedric’s indignant protests, she shuffles toward the entrance of the ballroom.
Something about her seems amiss and my protection spell tingles uncomfortably. I want to shout a warning, to tell my parents that this is not a trustworthy woman, but my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
“What is the meaning of this?” Papa insists, coming to meet the woman at the threshold of the ballroom.
“May I not join you? I am but a poor old woman looking for a little warmth. Just let me sit by your fire.” Something that hints at contempt pollutes her words.
“Certainly not,” Mama snaps. “Such audacity, to think you can simply waltz in here and join us.”
“And who are you?”
Mama’s face reddens in anger, but Papa places a calming hand over hers. “Now, be reasonable. Cedric will take you to the kitchens and will ensure that you are well cared for.”
“The kitchens? Am I somehow lesser than you?”
“W…Well. I-I…” Mama stutters.
“To you, I am unworthy to dress in a fine gown, to dance with nobility, to eat at the tables of kings. All because of your powers. Your powers that you are so, so proud of. You treat others like dirt. You have hearts of stone. Hearts that care not whether we, the lesser folk, live in comfort or eat scraps like the dogs.” With this outburst, she throws back her hood to reveal a woman whose pale hair hangs loosely around her shoulders.
Galinda. She had been our servant until she disappeared two weeks ago. I overheard Papa tell Mama that he was worried that she blames us for her mother’s death and would come to seek revenge. When I asked about it later, Papa said that Galinda’s mother died of the fever, but my brothers told me once that there was dark magic involved. Mama told Papa not to worry so much, but he was right.
“Now, Galinda, be reasonable. We never treated you badly.” Papa attempts to persuade calmly, but his hands shake a little. There is something different about Galinda, something almost otherworldly about her demeanour and it frightens him.
“And what of my mother? Did you treat her kindly? No, you did not lift a finger for her. You let her die.”
My mother steps forward in indignation. “She was a foolish, greedy woman who desired powers that she could not control.”
“She was sick.”
“She could have asked for…”
“Enough,” Galinda orders sharply and suddenly the room is so cold that I can see my breath puff out in little white clouds. Just as quickly, the air warms until it is nearly unbearable. Magic. And she is holding onto it by a mere thread.
“Galinda, stop this at once. You are going to lose control,” Papa warns in a tone that he uses to calm skittish horses.
“Yes, I will stop this.” But it is not Galinda’s voice that falls from her lips; it is a voice that fills the entire room. It whispers and screams and cries out all at the same time. In its tone, I hear something ancient and something darker than the dead of a new moon. I want to cover my ears and squeeze my eyes closed, but I can only stare in horror.
Galinda holds out her hands and smoky fingers of magic twist toward the people. They touch Mama and Papa first and cruelly coil about their throats. A blast of golden magic flies from Papa’s palms, but it is quickly swallowed by the thick black tendrils.
“For a hundred years, I have been a prisoner. I was locked away in a cave, in complete darkness, trapped by the magic of your ancestors. But now, my slumber is over, and the world will shiver at its reflection.” Again, the strange voice speaks from Galinda, but this time, it draws me from my fearful stupor and in a breath, I am rushing down the steps of the gallery. She is hurting my mama and papa. How dare she?
By now, the room is full of the black magic and it swirls about me like a tornado. It smells of something rancid, something dead, and the force of it stings my eyes and threatens to choke me. Yet, it does not touch me. It flows around me like a river streams around a boulder.
“Stop! Galinda, stop,” I scream and yank forcefully upon her right hand.
She shrieks and suddenly the black cloud is gone. What it reveals, though, is the horror of nightmares. The ballroom floor is littered with the bodies of my family and our guests. Around their throats are black marks like the prints of a hangman’s noose.
“What have you done?” I cry.
Galinda recoils and holds her arm against herself. Through her fingers, I see pink flesh. I must have burned her when I grabbed her arm. I, too, am not in control of my magic, but I am only thirteen; that is perfectly normal. For her, though, any magic she was born with, she should be able to control. She is, after all, ten years my senior.
“They deserved it,” she mumbles, and I catch a glimpse of the real Galinda, the Galinda who was our servant.
“They did not deserve to be murdered.” Tears collect in my eyes, yet I glare at her with a hatred that feels as if it will overwhelm me.
“They deserved it. They deserved it. They deserved it.” With every iteration, her voice becomes clearer and upon the last, she squares her shoulders and looks down her nose at me. “And you, little vermin, should be dead too.”
Her black magic spirals toward me, but just as it draws near, it splits in two and streams on either side of me. The air stirs at its passing and the curls that Beedy had so carefully twisted about my face are undone. I am undone. Everything is unravelling like the strings of my sisters’ practice tapestries.
Without warning, the billows of black smoke dissipate and Galinda stands across from me panting heavily. Her green eyes glow with a poisonous light that is not of this world. I do not understand this. Papa would know. He could tell me what has possessed her and what this terrible black magic is. But Papa is lying on the ground. Dead.
“Who are you that you dare stand against me,” Galinda hisses, stepping nearer to me. Somehow, I know that me is not Galinda; me is the being from which the magic comes, that ancient and dark thing.
Fear claws at me and causes my fingers to tremble, but I lift my chin and command, “Undo it. Make them come back.”
She laughs a humourless, cold laugh. “It cannot be undone. They are dead.” She comes so near to me that I can hear her whispered words, “So tell me, little beast, why does my magic not touch you.”
The truth is that while my mother was carrying me in her womb, she dreamt that a dark and powerful dragon was looming over me, waiting for a moment of vulnerability in which it might snap me up out of my cradle. It troubled Mama so much that for days after my birth, Papa, Mama, and great-aunt Veralisa combined their magic to create a powerful, life-long protection spell against dark magic. But Galinda does not need to know this. So instead, I say indignantly, “Because our magic is stronger than your stolen, rotten magic.”
Galinda howls in rage and reaches out to wrap her hands around my throat, but yet again, the spell rings true. The sorceress stumbles backward as if she has been struck.
“It won’t let me touch you, but that does not mean you cannot be cursed,” she growls and from her fingers spill threads of black. They swim toward me, whispering and hissing as they draw near.
I protectively wrap my arms about my torso and as I do, the thorns of the rose that is tucked in my sash bite my skin. Despite this, I wrap my fingers around the stem and hold the flower in front of me. This movement focuses my magic and from the bloom, a shimmering mauve magic emanates and encases me in a sphere.
Galinda only smiles and with a motion of her fingers, a strand of her magic plucks the rose from my hand and carries it to its mistress. She delicately takes hold of the rose and examines the bloom. I hold my breath, knowing that her magic is stronger than mine and that I am completely and entirely at her mercy.
“Yes, a rose.” Fingers of magic begin to swirl about the flower and Galinda murmurs an enchantment. It is a complex and dark spell that is more than any one magician could design. My limbs become frozen blocks of ice and though I hear her words, I do not comprehend them. I feel empty and useless. I want to run to Mama and Papa and wake them from their sleep. No, I want to wake from my sleep. This is all a nightmare and soon I will wake from it.
Galinda’s voice rises and her lips move faster. Her magic is depleting, and the effort of continuing is weakening her body. I watch in horrified fascination as grey streaks through her hair, her shoulders stoop, and the hands that hold my cursed rose become gnarled and wrinkly. Just as I see a hint of blood reddening her lips, a flash of light snaps through the room accompanied by a crash like that of shattering glass. Yet, I barely notice the light or the sound or the heaviness that settles upon me; I notice the way the bodies suddenly turn to ashes.
I rush to the place where Papa had lain and fall to my knees. My hands sift through the ashes in a desperate search for a tiny spark of life. But there is nothing, not even the faintest hint that the ashes belong to a great sorcerer.
Behind me, Galinda screams in anger or in terror, I do not know.
“You have made me into a hag. My beauty, my youth, you have stolen it from me,” she cries.
Her words awaken a deep, fiery anger and I whirl to face the witch that was once Galinda.
“Your beauty? Your youth?” I scream at her. “You have stolen my family.”
The magic that had been confined inside me by the spell now bursts forth in a wild storm. The doors are flung open and the piles of ashes rise up and rush toward the sorceress. She shrieks in terror and stumbles backward, nearly tripping on her cloak, but she catches herself and hastens from the room.
My magic chases her from the palace and as she staggers through the atrium, I shout, “Away. Away, you beast. I never want to see you again.”
And then suddenly, there is silence. She is gone, hobbling through the forest, and I am left in this monstrous, empty palace.
Nearby, my rose is lying upon the ballroom floor. The petals glow softly in the dark and illuminate a piece of glass the size of a tea saucer. Carefully, I pick it up and look into it. Not just a piece of glass. A mirror.
And suddenly I know.
This is no dream. This is no fairy tale. A great beast has been woken from its slumber and has lifted its ugly, vicious head.
I hope you enjoyed this little peek inside Beautiful Beast! I’m still sending out review copies, so let me know if you’re interested in that. Otherwise, add it to your Goodreads to-read shelf and sit tight for one more week. 🙂