Masquerade is the third and final novel in Laura Lam's Micah Grey trilogy, following Pantomime and Shadowplay. To celebrate its publication, we are giving you a peek at the first chapter. (Check out the prologue on our extracts site beforehand.)
1. FEVER DREAM
A fever may burn a man alive. Some of the wise men who
called themselves seers would summon a temperature.
They said the fever dreams bestowed them knowledge of
their fate, and the fate of those who followed them.
— ‘Mystics and Seers’, A History of Ellada and
its Colonies, PROFESSOR CAED CEDAR,
Royal Snakewood University
Someone carried me.
Disjointed flashes: the pavement, the yellow glow of a street lamp. The sound of a door being opened. Footsteps up the stairs.
My eyes opened.
Blurred forms surrounded me. I squinted at the brightness. Where was I? At least I remembered who I was. I’d been on the roof with Drystan, following the woman in the red dress, who had turned out to be none other than Lily Verre, someone we’d thought a friend. We had followed her over the rooftops of Imachara. Her child was Chimaera, covered in scales, curled within his wicker wheelchair and well-bundled against the cold and prying eyes. We’d followed her and she’d led us right to the door of someone we had every reason to distrust: Doctor Pozzi, the Royal Physician of the Snakewood Monarchy. The man who had found me and given me to my adopted parents, who had told me that if I ever became ill, it could mean that I was dying.
The last thing I remembered was burning with the fever that still clawed at me and turned the room fuzzy and dim. Drystan had leaned over me: ‘I’ll take care of you.’
Where had he taken me?
Drystan had told me he loved me. I held onto that love, but even that began to dissolve around the pain of the fever. I dreamed, but only remnants lingered, like a word on the tip of my tongue.
I drifted. When I came back to myself, a face, half- hidden by a doctor’s mask, leaned over me. I knew the clipped beard that was underneath and those eyes that imitated warmth but still held coldness at their core.
Behind Pozzi, I glimpsed a shadow of bat wings, but I blinked and they were gone.
A pinch in my arm. A sharp flare of pain. The push of the syringe, and something flowed through the needle and into me. Pozzi leaned closer, peering at me above his doctor’s mask.
‘You’ll be all right, Micah.’
Will I? I asked. And it was only when Pozzi’s eyes widened that I realized I’d spoken to him with my mind and not out loud. No one but Cyan could ever hear my thoughts, but he had. I didn’t have the energy to work out what that meant. My mind was heavy, my body burning with sweat and then freezing.
He met my gaze. It will feel worse before it feels better.
My eyes closed. I dreamed of fire, pain, and blood. I saw the end of the world.
Part of me knew it was a fever dream. That didn’t make it any less frightening.
I was not me. Anisa was flying, or falling, through skies on fire. All was red, orange, black and gold. I reached out my hands and they burned to nothing. There was no pain. I closed my eyes.
I woke up and I was no longer myself. My body was human, my skin the peach and cream of a newborn. No swirling silver markings of my family. No dragonfly wings rose from my back. I was clipped. Earthbound. I skulked through the streets of this strange new city of Imachara, keeping to the shadows. I came to the market square before the palace, with a large stage set up in the middle, but no audience. Storm clouds rumbled overhead.
The phantoms, the parts in this play to come, walked across the stage. The woman in the red dress whose son was eaten from the inside. My new charge knew who she was now, and what she had done. Things might still fall into place the way I thought – hoped – they would. The way the world whispers to me that it might.
The doctor with the clockwork hand appeared onstage, smiling that self-satisfied grin, though he was as ignorant as all the rest. He did not even know what he wore against the stump of his arm. The ones who sided with him floated around him, waiting in the wings. The young girl with the lie around her neck. The one who was Matla, young Cyan, her powers just beginning to unfurl. The boy Drystan, who despite his lack of power could destroy everything. And my little Kedi, my newest charge, the one called Micah, or Gene, or Sam – my last and greatest hope.
The stage lights extinguished, leaving me in the night. My lungs burned with the memory of smoke and soot. I was alone in the darkness. No one called me forth.
A door in the darkness opened, and the boy Ahti came towards me. But as I reached my arms to him, he fell, his legs unable to support him, his skin grey and green. He wailed, covering his eyes with his hands. He wasn’t my Ahti. A flash of bright blue and red light. A dull roar. A young girl, screaming. Micah Grey, the one meant to help, to save everything, crying out. A flash of blinding blue.
They were all dead and gone, and the world dead and gone with them.
I knew what I needed to do to stop it, but how could I commit that evil, too?
I would do anything to save the Chimaera.
Anything. Even what was to come.
Want a chance to win the entire Micah Grey trilogy? We've got three sets of paperbacks of Pantomime, Shadowplay and Masquerade to giveaway, and all you have to do is fill in the form below. UK entrants only. Competition closes Midnight, Friday 17 March.