Read an Excerpt
Through the Veil
The Aisling Chronicles
By Colleen Halverson, Suzanne Evans
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Colleen Halverson
All rights reserved.
I slammed the last of my contraband vanilla latte and threw it in the bin. Flexing my fingers, I narrowed my eyes like Clint Eastwood, staring hard at the archival box holding The Book of Arranmore inside.
Go ahead master's thesis. Make my day.
Not that shooting at the ancient Irish manuscript would have solved any of my problems. In hindsight, I probably should have doused it in holy water, burned it, and buried its ashes beneath hallowed ground, but, you know, English major. Every book is sacred.
Not this one.
The slide of cardboard broke the silence in the reading room, and I closed my eyes tight for a moment, taking a deep breath before lifting the book from its nest. It sprawled open, thin October light catching the brilliant gold leaf illuminations. Tucking a loose curl behind my ear, I pressed my nose close to the pages.
A Fae woman danced across the vellum and her brown hair rippled over her shoulders, her emerald eyes sparkling.
"She looks a lot like you," my advisor had joked back in September.
I snorted. "I'm no Tinker Bell, Dr. F."
But that was when he still laughed. Before his wife Moiré died. Before everything changed.
Before the book started changing.
At first it was little things: a green tunic turned inky black, the snarling wolf on one page jumped to the next, a Cyclops's eye closed and then opened again.
But then things got grim. The writing started morphing. Little snippets of text would bleed through the pages, describing something like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but with Faeries. Then the creepy little golem creatures started crawling around in the margins, and, well. Yeah.
Burning it would have been a good idea.
Blinking hard, I refocused my eyes on the manuscript and breathed in a sigh of relief. Everything looked the same. Not one hair out of place with Faerie girl, not one misplaced word, no creepy devil people floating to the surface. Just a normal, medieval manuscript. Nothing to see here.
Taking a deep breath, I reached over to the computer and sifted through some tunes I had, perhaps, illegally downloaded. Time to lock the chattering psycho monkeys back into their respective cages. Only one cure for the transcription blues.
Oh, yes, I thought with a click of the mouse.
In seconds, an AC/DC guitar riff blared from the speakers, announcing Angus Young was "Back in Black." Buried far back in the archives of the Institute, not many faculty or students hung around the reading room late on a Friday. I cranked up the volume, drowning out the chorus of worry in my mind. Time to get to work. The clock to graduation was ticking, and I could almost hear the interest compounding on my student loans.
"Ranger up, Lizzie," I said, mimicking my dad's deep baritone.
But Dad, this book might be possessed by demonic entities!
I imagined Dad towering over me, his deep-set eyes glittering black just as they always did when he was about to make military analogies.
Patton was also haunted by demonic entities. They were called Nazis! Focus on the mission, Lizzie!
"Yes, sir!" I gave a fake salute to the air.
I glanced over at my copy of Thurneysen's Grammar of Old Irish and thumbed through the pages, my fingers smoothing over the pastel rainbow of sticky notes. Thurneysen and I had become quite chummy since Moiré passed away. She had been the Irish language professor at the Celtic Studies Institute at St. Brendan's, and the cancer that had taken her shocked us all. She would have listened to me about the changing book, chin in hand, nodding calmly at my crazed ramblings. I didn't dare approach Dr. F about it.
Hey, that book you got in Ireland last summer? I'm having some issues transcribing it because the pictures keep moving around.
Yeah, that would land me a one-way ticket out of my master's program and into the nuthouse. Besides, it wasn't as if the old man was in any condition to worry about me and my mental issues. When he first noticed some discrepancy between my notes and the text, he scolded me about my carelessness and waved me away with a series of corrections sprawled on scratch paper. Since Moiré died, it's enough if he makes it to work before noon. If at all.
With a deep sigh, I reached for my pencil. The space between my fingers and the pencil snapped with a crack of energy. It flew as if on invisible strings and landed smack into my palm.
"Jesus!" Tumbling from the stool, I landed on my ass with a hard thud. I gaped at the pencil as if I expected it to speak to me at any moment, but it was just an ordinary yellow number two, the nub slightly worn from use. Heart pounding, I threw it across the room, and it clattered to the floor.
A chill washed over me, and I blinked, staring down at my hands, a slight tingle like fizzing soda pop pulsing through my lifeline and down into the tips of my fingers. I clenched my fists, and the feeling disappeared.
"Elizabeth?" Candace, our sunny undergraduate intern, tapped my shoulder with her small, manicured finger. The heavy perfumed smell of violets radiated from her. She called to me again over the music.
"Why are you sitting on the floor?"
I swallowed hard. "I ... uh ... lost my pencil."
More like lost your marbles.
I scrambled up to the desk and turned down the music a click. Taking a deep breath, I turned to Candace. "Sorry, what's up?"
"There's a man up front who's asking a lot of questions, and I ... um ..."
All the blood drained from my face. "Oh, shit. What's today?"
"Oh, shit." A cold sweat beaded on my forehead.
"What's wrong? What is it?"
"It's the Trinity Foundation. I totally forgot they were coming this afternoon!"
Apparently Dr. Forrester had, too, or else he would have been there to greet them. I scrambled over to my desk seeking out my proposal, papers blowing across the wooden surface in my frantic search.
"Have you seen my proposal? I swear it was just here!"
Candace shook her head, picking up stray note cards scattered on the floor.
I rummaged through my backpack, forgotten Altoids and discarded pennies sticking to my fingers. Pulling out a stack of papers from the bottom, my heart sank as I took in the title "Pagan Influences on Illuminations of Early Monastic Manuscripts of Northern Uí Néill" covered in a dark, splattering Rorschach coffee stain.
Candace peered over my shoulder. "Doesn't Dr. Forrester usually deal with the public? I mean, who cares?"
"Who cares? They're our biggest donors!" I balled up the ruined proposal and chucked it in the corner.
The Trinity Foundation operated out of Chicago, but its roots lay deep in the motherland. Dr. Forrester had mentioned their visit, but I completely flaked, what with all the Harry Potter bullshit going down. "I applied for a grant from them to travel to Ireland next summer and wanted to make a good impression."
Shoulders slumped, I glanced down at the clothes that had barely passed the sniff test this morning. Faded skinny jeans and Dad's vintage Police T-shirt did not scream budding Irish medievalist scholar. I tugged at my yellow thrift-store cardigan, my fingers shaking as I fumbled with the pearly buttons. One of them was cracked, a half-moon dangling from a saffron thread. Classy.
"You look ... fine." Candace grimaced. "Well, maybe the hair ... "
"Right." I twisted my long mass of curls into a bun and stuck what I prayed was not an enchanted pencil through it.
"Besides," Candace said. "It's not about how you look. Wow him with your extensive knowledge of Irish mythology."
"Yes." I nodded, taking a deep breath. "I know things."
"You know things," Candace repeated, flashing me a reassuring smile.
"I know a lot of things. Irish things." I squared my shoulders. "I can do this."
I can do this.
I poked a few more curls up into my bun. "Yeah?"
"Oh, right!" I raced to press pause on the desktop.
Candace glanced down at the trash can. "You know, Dr. F would kill you if he knew you brought coffee in here."
"I was done with it, I swear!"
Candace shrugged and shook her head as she trotted back to the lobby.
I took a moment to collect myself. My heart raced, slamming in my chest like someone was using my breastbone as a timpani. I brushed a bit of dust from my cardigan and stepped out into the hallway.
"Dr. Forrester said 4:30 p.m., and it is now nearly five o'clock!" A gruff male voice echoed through the lobby.
Candace's fingers tapped on the keyboard behind the front desk. "I'm-I'm sorry. He had a department meeting. He should be here soon."
I turned the corner and took in the large man towering over Candace's shiny blond head. Tapping his foot and muttering something about being "late for another meeting," he shot her a menacing scowl. He clutched the edge of the desk as if he might overturn it and swallow our intern whole like a mini eggroll.
Candace bit her lip, her big brown manga eyes wide with bubbling anxiety as she fumbled with some files.
I hated a bully. Being an army brat with a new school almost every year, I could spot one a mile away.
"Can I help you?" I threw back my shoulders and tried to make myself appear taller.
The man puffed his linebacker chest. "Finn O'Connell. I'm with the Trinity Foundation. I have an appointment with Dr. Kevin Forrester." He had a crisp Irish accent, his consonants cutting through the shafts of afternoon light spilling into the room.
"I'm sorry, but Dr. Forrester is out."
Where are you, old man?
I stepped forward, pasting a confident smile on my face. "Is there something I could help you with?"
Mr. O'Connell stalked over to me, and I fought the urge to step back. Six foot five and no problems with invading personal space, the man from Trinity emitted waves of heat, and his body hummed like a pulsing engine shrouded in gleaming black chrome.
My heart raced as I tilted my head up and up to meet a pair of intense gray eyes that made me forget my last name. Gritting my teeth, I steeled myself, crossing my arms. Never show fear: rule number one for managing the bullies in your life.
"Dr. Forrester recently acquired a new manuscript —"
"The Book of Arranmore!"
Finn tilted his head, trying to make sense of the jumble of consonants I had just vomited. "Excuse me?"
"Um, yes. The Book of Arranmore. Sorry." I twisted my mouth into some semblance of a smile, but inside my stomach knotted, thinking of the changing pictures, the shifting text. "It's a wonderful new addition to our collection."
Finn glanced down the hallway toward the archives. "Would you mind if I take a look?"
"Um ..." I curled my fingers into my palm. "I think it might be best if we wait for Dr. Forrester. If you would like to come back later —"
"No, I would not like to come back later. My time is precious, Miss ...?"
I raised my eyebrows, bristling at the Miss. "Tanner. Elizabeth Tanner."
"Miss Tanner," he said. "As a contributing member to this institution, I think I am entitled to a small preview."
Entitled. Only certain kinds of men could throw that word around. Men in Burberry leather trench coats, dry-cleaned, pressed shirts so white they glistened like morning snow. Men with large checkbooks. Men, who, with the flick of a lazy, indecipherable signature could decide the destiny of my academic career.
"Of course, Mr. O'Connell," I said. "We have it in the back here, if you would like to follow me. I was just working on it."
Finn rode my heels, and I hurried to keep some distance between us. Opening the door and crossing the reading room, I darted to my workspace, leaning against the desk to establish my territory. I raised my chin, but inside my stomach fluttered as Finn took in the mountains of scattered notes I had amassed over the past few weeks. A messy desk is the sign of a true genius, right? Judging from the scowl on the Irishman's face, he didn't seem to think so.
I took a deep breath and was about to open my mouth to wax intellectual on The Book of Arranmore when my hand slipped over the computer mouse. AC/DC screeched across the wood-paneled walls, elaborating on the calamitous effects of American thighs.
I let out a squeak, whirling around and fumbling to press pause, my hands shaking violently. The music stopped mid-scream, and then silence.
"Interesting taste in music, Miss Tanner."
His words burned hot against the side of my neck, and I gasped. Finn stood a mere inch behind me. He stared down at the computer screen, the blue light flashing on the teasing smile spread across his face. Heat bloomed in my cheeks, and I clicked on the tiny X to close out the program.
"Oh, that wasn't mine!" I brushed my hair out of my eyes. "These dang undergrads. I mean, who listens to AC/DC, right?"
Finn's smile faded, his dark stare replacing the brief lightness in his features. I chewed on my lip, arrested for a moment by the impossible length of his eyelashes.
"Is this it?" Finn turned and planted his fists on the table, caging the manuscript with his arms.
"Yes." Closing in on Finn, I breathed in the clean, leather smell emanating from his long coat. Warm and intoxicating, he smelled like a mix of fresh laundry and badass. I shook my head, knocking my brain cells back in line. "We've just begun the translation into English, but already we can see some interesting new insights into pre-Celtic mythology."
Finn flashed me a penetrating glance, and I swallowed, averting my eyes back to the manuscript.
"Excuse me?" The Irishman turned to me in alarm.
Ice water raced through my veins. Faerie girl no longer had a smile on her face. Instead, her mouth had widened in an O, her eyes panic-stricken. Two black bracelets circled her wrists. Twisted chains swirled down the edge of the page, and a hideous figure lurked in a corner grasping the ends. He had a long thin nose, small beady black eyes, and his lipless mouth turned up in a sneer beneath the hood of his cloak.
"No." My throat tightened, and I blinked hard, rubbing my eyes. I leaned over Finn's arm, pouring all my attention into the illuminations, staring at the bracelets. Squinting, I could just make out some strange writing etched across them.
"Are you all right?"
I clutched at my scalp, blood pounding in my ears.
I jumped. "What?"
Finn's hard stare brought me back to the surface, and I blinked, swallowing the lump in my throat. "I'm sorry, I — uh — I just noticed something new about the illumination."
"Have you been working on this book for some time?"
"Yes, since September ..." My voice wavered, and I clutched the back of my chair.
Finn's eyes sought mine, and I averted my gaze, turning toward the window.
Outside, the towering steeple of St. Brendan's Cathedral poked through the sea of concrete modernist architecture. The library's wide windows displayed endless stacks of books haloed beneath the fluorescent lights. I spent most of my time darting between these two spaces, biceps blazing with the stacks of books poking into my stomach as I schlepped them up the stairs.
Caffeinate, read, write, repeat.
That had been my life for a year since the day I came to St. Brendan's. But as Dr. F said, to study Ireland one has to go to Ireland.
"The book? What's in it?" Finn prompted.
I let out a long shuddering breath, gathering my courage. "It's an encyclopedia of sorts by someone who signs his name as Lorcan." I began again. "It documents all the races of the Fae, you know, like Faeries."
He raised an eyebrow. "Faeries?"
"Yeah, um, but not like, you know, the Lucky Charms kind. He goes through all the magical invasions of Ireland, starting with the Fir Bolgs right up to the Tuatha Dé Danann." A tremor started in my hands, and I jammed them into the pockets of my jeans.
Finn's eyes rested on the vellum, narrowing on the insignia on the Fae woman's dress. The Tree of Life, with all its curling roots and branches, intertwined on her smooth, ample chest, creating a perfect circle.
Excerpted from Through the Veil by Colleen Halverson, Suzanne Evans. Copyright © 2016 Colleen Halverson. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.