The Seven Hungers: Blood Grove by @morgan_quaid is a KU Event pick #uf #horror #ku #giveaway
Title: The Seven Hungers, Book 3: Blood Grove
Author: Morgan Quaid
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Horror
An enigmatic figure emerges into the Hallowed World, promising a gift of unfathomable worth to the people of earth. Crown sorcerer, Ambrose Drake must negotiate terms with this peaceful invader, but Drake and his companions soon find themselves drawn into a warped reality from which there seems no escape.
Coupled with this external threat, Drake fights a losing battle with the demonic sovereign housed in his mind, a battle whose outcome may well determine the fate of the Hallowed World.
We move through a silhouetted forest which looks to have been plucked from a Grimm fairytale. Long crooked branches reach out from the shadows, their gnarled limbs spider-like in the gloomy twilight, menacing and predatory. They seem to creak and groan as we walk past, as though straining to be rid of their own limitations, reaching for us with dark hunger, but unable to break past their rooted reality.
She takes me gently by the hand, her eyes urgent, willing me on through the dark landscape of my mind. She looks just like I remember her, dark hair, stern but beautiful features, and an intensity which is only rarely displaced by a smile. “Winter by name, winter by nature,” was what the Academy students whispered, though not in my presence and certainly not in hers.
She wears her most recent face, lined with experience and grown more beautiful with years of grief and struggle, if such a thing is possible. Even in this shadowy dreamworld, the touch of her hand fills me with an adolescent thrill.
She pulls me forward, eyes scanning the horizon for signs of danger.
“You need to see this,” Winter says, leading me past nebulous shapes that reach towards us from all sides and out into a clear break in the trees.
The ground is soft under foot, littered with moss and twiggy debris, blanketed by a foot of mist that gives way reluctantly as we move past. The thick murky fog clinging to the ground smells engineered, giving off a joke shop chemical reek which undercuts the menacing vibe of our surroundings somewhat. The surrounding forest, likewise, is only frightful from a distance. The closer we draw to carved foam boulders, or the moss-covered limbs of leering, leafless trees, the more unreal it all seems.
Winter pulls me down into a crouch, knocking me out of my moment of reflection and motioning towards a murky shape in the distance.
“There, at the edge of the clearing. We need to get closer, but we’ll have to wait until she starts to feed, otherwise she’ll know we’re here.”
My vision slowly comes into focus, revealing a childhood memory made manifest, the creepy cottage from a Halloween themed carnival, complete with crooked doors and windows, fake cobwebs and an eerie werewolf howl set on a loop that echoes around the clearing periodically.
I remember this place, remember the fear I felt as a child being dragged along to the witch’s hut by my brothers, their cruel smiles betraying warring emotions of jealousy and affection. So it is with the youngest child, looking with adoration and fear at brother’s who are twice my size, yet somehow bitterly envious of my place in the world.
“Come on,” Winter says pulling me towards the wicked witch’s hut, just as my brothers did so many years ago.
I feel an irrational sense of dread rise from within, but I can’t be sure whether the feeling is justified or simply a product of the dream itself. There is a memory here that I’ve kept hidden for my entire adult life. Seeing the witch’s hut here, even in this dreaming state, brings up childish fears that I don’t seem to be able to quell.
We move around the side of the building, and I can’t help but note the fake aging painted onto its wooden veneer. Close up, the shack is a hastily crafted thing of carved foam and cheap pine, painted to look good from a distance, but losing its luster under closer scrutiny.
Winter pulls me close, huddled beneath a crooked window in one side of the witch’s shack. She guides me up and we lean in, squinting through foggy glass at the dark interior of the hut. A figure hunches over itself in one corner of the room, grotesque and menacing even with its back turned. Long, distended limbs stretch too far and at impossible angles as the creature devours its prey. Crimson blood spills onto the floor, spattering over the creature’s black cloak as it feeds with ravenous abandon.
Fear grips my heart, squeezing the breath out of me as I watch the horrific form feed. That momentary slip into a pre-adolescent state passes swiftly though, dampened by years of experience encountering horrors much more troubling that what I’m seeing ahead of me. I fight against the fear inducing logic of the dream and try to remember who I am, where I am.
“What am I seeing here?” I whisper.
Winter leans in close, her breath kissing my ears. “That’s Lilith, or at least your mind’s representation of her in this place. She’s feeding, eating the souls of her people to sustain herself.”
I watch as the creature within continues to feast, plucking helpless creatures which look like puppies from a cage in the corner of the room and devouring them one by one. I can sense Lilith here, but I’ve never seen her this way before. She’s only ever appeared to me wearing Winter’s face, just like she did the first time we met when she hooked my mind with a powerful mesmer and tricked me into freeing her from the Seventh Hunger.
“Why can’t she sense us?” I ask, shifting a little to get a clearer view through the window.
Winter whispers. “Something about this place, about her eating. She goes into a kind of food coma I guess. She’s completely unaware of what’s going on while she’s feeding. I followed her a little while ago and found this place, found her feeding like this. It’s like she’s blind and deaf while she’s eating.”
It makes a strange kind of sense. All those times when Lilith has been silent inside my head, all those moments when I’ve expected her to object to some course of action or intervene directly, but she’s been absent. This explains a lot, but also raises a myriad of questions.
I hunch down a little, turning to Winter. “How has she managed to keep this from me all this time?”
Winter motions to the surrounding forest. “Look around, Ambrose, this isn’t exactly one of your fondest childhood memories. You’ve got this place buried deep down in your unconscious. It’s the perfect hiding place for Lilith to stash something she doesn’t want you to see.”
I nod. “Yeah, it’s been years since I thought about this. I’d completely forgotten.”
I run my fingers over the carved foam exterior of an oversized mushroom, its surface dull grey with spots of sickly purple.
“A Halloween exhibition,” I explain. “It doesn’t even make sense. We never really celebrated Halloween where I grew up, not like in the States. I think that was part of what scared me. I had no real context for all of this. Ghouls and hobgoblins, wicked witches who ate little boys, it was a lot to take in and my brothers really went to town.”
Brothers who exuded confidence and charm, boys who joined the Crown after their senior year at Eton, rising through the ranks of Administratum hopefuls to become fully fledged agents while I was still floundering in school. They were the vessels my mother and father poured all of their hope and pride into, leaving little to spare for young Ambrose Drake.
When my brothers were lost in action, devoured by a Hungerborn creature that the Crown had been unable to subdue, my parent’s disappointment in their youngest child was exacerbated. It doesn’t take a particularly insightful psychologist to see that nurture has out-performed nature in my case. Rebellion to authority, a guttural distaste for towing the party line, the need to throw myself into danger at every possible moment, all testament to a childhood without parental validation, a life lived in the shadow of my betters.
I look around, taking in the faux cabin and its unconvincing surrounds.
“Funny that this is the memory I’ve kept hidden,” I muse, reflecting that there are surely much worse childhood memories that should occupy this space.
Winter grabs my arm, eyes wide as though sensing a shift in the atmosphere of the dream. She pulls me firmly away from the window and back out into the surrounding forest.
“We can’t stay here,” she says, “I don’t know how long Lilith will feed for, but I’d rather not tip her off to this. She’s been trying to convince you that she’s not a monster, that she did what she did for her people, but the truth is a very different story.”
I feel something shift in the dreamworld, as though the forest around us has lost its definition. Winter’s face begins to blur as she talks.
“We’re out of time, Ambrose. It took everything I have to reach you and I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to do it again.”
I move to talk, but she raises a finger and presses it against my lips.
“Lilith lied to you, Ambrose. She did bring her people into herself and used their bodies and part of their souls as the blood price to lure you down to the Seventh Hunger. There was a plan in place to reach the Hallowed World and free her people. Something about putting their souls into newborn human children. But Lilith has changed. Whatever that plan was, she’s not interested in it now.”
Questions clamor for attention in my mind while Winter’s form grows less and less distinct. She continues, determined to let every word count.
“She’s eating her own people and using the power derived from their spirits to exercise more control over you. That’s how she’s been able to force herself forward now and then, to take over your body. She’s trying to figure out a way to kill you and free herself and now she knows how to take control of your body to do it. Whatever her former goals, they’ve been displaced now. She’s not a hero to her people anymore, Ambrose, she’s that creature you saw back there, feeding on her kind and desperate to…”
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Morgan Quaid is an Australian writer of speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror, specializing in fast-paced page turners set against expansive fantasy backdrops. When Morgan isn’t writing novels, comics, graphic novels, or short stories, he’s usually composing or producing music, or staring with longing and regret at a bar of chocolate.
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