Authors: Josephine Pennicott
About Circle of Nine: Circle of Nine Trilogy 1
Emma Develle is a struggling artist trying to eke out a living in the big city. The violent and apparently supernatural death of her Aunt Johanna begins a strange series of events that will change Emma’s life forever.
Staying in her aunt’s house, Emma is drawn to a mural that seems to change before her eyes. Like a modern-day Alice in Wonderland Emma discovers a doorway to the magical world of Eronth, where ancient goddesses are engaged in a bloody power battle with a clan of fallen angels, the Azephim. These dark angels are intent on charging the sacred Eom crystal, the single source of power for all known worlds. Their possession of this crystal will hurl these worlds into desolation and chaos.
Khartyn the Crone and her apprentice Rosedark are Emma’s guides in Eronth. Wise Khartyn recognises Emma as the prophesied ‘Crossa’, a time traveller with the ability to prevent the Eom crystal from charging. The Azephim are determined to capture and brainwash Emma to use her as a pawn in their evil and destructive game. Emma must use every part of her being to save herself from violent obvlivion.
Circle of Nine
is the first book in a spellbinding trilogy that effortlessly blends classical mythology and contemporary gothic fantasy.
This book is dedicated to David Levell.
PROLOGUE: A SACRED CONTRACT
The child-woman returns from the underground
And the winged ones, threatened by her sacrifice,
Steal the black heart, the Eom, thereby shattering the Webx race.
Inhabitants of all known worlds seek to protect themselves from the seasons
Which are strange.
A Crossa dies on Earth, a long and painful death,
Two lovers unite and attempt to cleanse the past from blood
Which they have spilled on sacred soil.
From their union falls the seed, Maya — the Chosen One.
Hecate! Keep your black veil over your face!
Turn away your death kiss!
Allow the Chosen One immortality to rule;
Thirty-three Turns of the Wheel is all too brief.
The sparrow, the soul, turns in the endless, illusory wheel,
Crossas dance with eager feet the Dances of Death,
The Imomm Faeries face extinction,
Too few dragons darken Eronth’s skies.
Oh, Great Mother! Make us god and goddess!
Return us to the shell.
Once an egg, then mortal, the Crossa gives birth to the Bride of the Stone,
The serpent coiled round all the known worlds begins to shake and rise,
Seasons change again, Sea Hags rise from the tides
And walk upon the earth.
A young Webx crosses, searching for the Eom,
On the Day of Ashes.
The Azephim angels bring sorrow to the Horned God
And in his sorrow, his feet bleed — soaking Eronth ground
(yet, even the dark ones are of the Dreamers’ sacred race).
In his anger his juices fall
And where the winged ones gather his crop, whole worlds are destroyed.
Blessed are you who hear the fire in the Shell
(For then you are the purified);
Blessed is he who wears the antlers of the ancient priest;
Blessed is the Chosen one,
For with her love, the Circle of Nine will awake.
— Condensed from the
Tremite Book of Life
, Column VIXCIV
It is so dark under the earth, and so cold, and the smell of dead men dreaming keeps me awake. There’s no sleep under the earth, and no light.
Far above me, beyond a dark and crumbling sky, I hear the tread of Faian feet.
It is so quiet under the earth, so quiet, and I hear every beat of every heart. However, this is a sacred contract and for now I must lie still.
Food is tasteless in the underground, caked in earth, worms and leaves — decomposing in my hands. Wine and water are muddy and brown and I can never drink enough to quench my thirst. I admit that time passes slowly here, measured only by the beating of my heart, for there is no moon or sun to record the passing of days. Only beats of a heart. Billions of beats.
Beats that chant the same tune.
This is a sacred contract and for now I must lie still.
For days I have lain under the earth, soothed by the sounds of the Dreamers in the Great Shell, hearing the Mystic Ocean, Amira’s divine fluids. I have been forced into realisations — truths, small white shells impossible to avoid. I confess this to you alone. The time is near when I must rise again, yet despite my yearnings, despite my restlessness deep down in the earth’s subterranean womb, I somehow long to stay.
Oh, yes, there are discomforts in the underground. But at least here, among the empty shells of men — shells that once walked, talked and dreamed — here under the cold, brown earth I am Queen!
I, Persephone, reign in the underground and the dead walk to my commands. Black, writhing snakes form my living crown, leaving behind delicate skins to please me. When night falls Hades takes me in his arms, into his mouth — and there is no love like the love that is given in the underground.
Here the black moons shine on me and Hecate waltzes slowly with me. All the creatures of the cold, dead soil respect and honour me. Even the black Solumbi bring warm hearts for me to feast on. Red, warm, treacherous jewels.
Demeter, no doubt, despises my train of thought, yet the truth is I’ve grown accustomed to the dark. When I emerge into the outer world the light is too dazzling: I cannot open my eyes, I am blinded. The odours of the Overworld are also overpowering and they shatter my olfactory senses.
Demeter will be out there breathing love. But I am enveloped in the smell of Hades’ passion and the sharp, unmistakable odour of fresh and ancient death. I am fearful of her revulsion, her rejection.
She will call me to the Overworld so that the crops may flourish and the people may rejoice in the advent of spring. And I, bound to my sacred contract, will dutifully rise, once more becoming her daughter, Persephone. In the upper worlds I no longer rule. I keep my eyes slitted against the light, trailing silently behind my mother, a living shadow missing my Lord.
Even now I can feel the cries of Demeter’s heart calling to me through the soil. My eyes stare into endless blackness, thinking, musing.
What if I refused to answer the call?
Yea, a sacred contract has been made, but with every passing season Hades grows ever more insistent that I stay. He charms me, seduces me, brings me friends and pets to tempt me — they may not live long in the underground but at least they amuse me while they do. With every passing season our love grows deeper. The willow roots have whispered certain secrets to me, assurances that even Zeus is losing power. The old gods are falling to the new. Every season I remain here slightly longer, resisting Demeter’s frantic cries, pretending I do not hear. I grow uncertain of whether there is even a place for my weary service of rising to greet her — let the Overworld worship their new gods, let darkness fall upon the old. Perhaps then I can be left in peace.
I can feel your warm, mortal blood as you stand in the darkness reflecting on these thoughts. You are unaware how deeply I feel your presence. No, you are no god, neither new nor old, and the smell of mortality is too strong around you, your inner light too buried. I could bring you to flame, dear friend. I could call you to me — bring your weary, seeking presence into my arms and lock you in an embrace with Persephone of the underworld. You would die in terror and in ecstasy — no mortal who has been touched by the Keepers of the Shell can withstand the force of the Mysteries.
But you are my new friend. You have wandered here in ignorance, not realising the path your journey has led you to. But for now my mind is too filled with confusion to reveal to you my naked face. Perhaps your presence here, dear mortal, is a sign.
Will this be the season I refuse to rise?
What were the words? Sweet Goddess, what were the words?
Death was near.
anic seized the fleeing woman, and she felt herself lose control of the situation. The words that she might have uttered to control death, to keep the evil shadows at bay, would not come to her scattered mind.
Dear Goddess, not like this. Not now.
She ran wildly through the normally serene bushland of the Blue Mountains, glancing frantically about her as she fought her way through, breaking twigs and branches from trees that seemed to malevolently block her flight.
It was twilight. The witching hour, the magical time when it was normally made easier for her to cross worlds.
There should still be walkers on these tracks! Where were the tourists when you needed them?
The town of Katoomba was so close, and yet so far. The bushland she knew so well had taken on a staged quality, an air of unreality. She could sense elementals watching from behind trees and shrubs. Their breaths hung in the shadows.
A faint odour of shit and rotten flesh wafted to her and she moaned. The pack was gaining on her.
What were the words? Old Mother, what were the words?
Death was stalking her, gaining pace; giggling as it hunted her down effortlessly. She would not die easily, she thought, as sudden rage flooded through her. She had always fought them, and she would fight until the end.
Keep running, Johanna, don’t think.
Her heart was threatening to burst inside her. She was old. She could not keep this pace up for long. She knew that she would welcome the grace of a red lightning strike within her heaving chest. A heart attack would be a far more merciful death than what
had planned for her.
Heart stop. Heart stop
, she pleaded, but even her own body was betraying her at the end, as it continued to beat feebly.
Her hair had fallen from its bun, her clothes were ripped and torn. She could taste her own fear, her legs were scratched and bleeding from stumbling over rocks and fallen branches. The ground was slippery, for it had been raining lightly all afternoon.
The mountains had begun to whimper quietly, and a heaviness hung in the air. She didn’t want to die, didn’t want to experience pain. A word came to her mind.
From out of nowhere, a bird flew at her face, screeching. Razor-sharp claws reached for her eyes.
‘Sati!’ she screamed.
Not now. Dreamers, be merciful, there was still too much work to do! I underestimated them, they who should never be underestimated.
She heard the sly giggles of a child in the bush near her, but she paid it no mind as she forced the bird away from her eyes. It was attacking her scalp, and the pain shot through her head as its beak ripped into her skull. Shadows began to rush toward her.
Emma! Sweet Mother, I have to contact Emma, I have to warn her.
She screamed again, as a hot, throbbing desire to live pulsed within her. Blood began to drip from her skull.
No, not like this, not in the jaws, in the mouth of evil.
They were so close. She could smell them more strongly behind her. That unmistakable, putrid Solumbi smell. Urine ran down her leg, scalding her, and she knew from the weight of her underwear that she had soiled herself.
What were the words?
Silence. The night closed in. As blood obscured her vision, she saw a figure standing in front of her on the bush track and she howled. Hecate was lifting her veil, allowing Johanna to look upon the face of death.
It was her time. She stopped trying to run. Still screaming, she turned to face them. She would run no further. She would die with dignity in the claws of evil. She would die looking into their eyes.
The pack had encircled her, snarling. Now death was so near she could reach out with her hand and touch it. Horribly, the bird was calling to the pack, ordering them to finish her.
She wanted to die with courage, thwart them in their desire to feed on her fear.
She screamed again as the huge beasts reached for her, knocking her small body to the ground in their frenzy. The bird flew at her eyes, ramming its beak into her eye socket. More pain than she would have believed a body could feel.
‘Emma!’ she screamed. The last word that she spoke before they ripped out her throat.
Blackness, hunger, red blood. Growling, snarling, sharing. Divine. Life-force, growls. Dark hunger.
Under the interested, cold stare of the Earth moon, the Stag Man made his way over to the body of Johanna Develle. He sniffed it carefully. They had left nothing. The trail was cold. His great golden hooves trod carefully over her remains, and he blew softly onto her face.
Sleep peacefully, old one.
A faint glow emanated from her body. Her shining was still working within her. It had not yet passed into Emma. If indeed she would ever allow it to pass on. Stubborn, foolish Crossa!
If the old one had chosen a different path . . . but she had ignored every warning, and now lay crumpled and bloody before him.
He began to keen, and the elementals of the bush shyly crept out to pay their respects to the old woman who had been so savagely slain on their turf.
As he held his head back to the night sky, keening, the child’s giggle erupted again, bouncing from every tree, bush and plant in the mountains, and a young child’s voice spoke into the night, soft and baby-like.
‘You can’t stop it. It has begun. We are coming for her.’