Excerpt from World of Shadows by Emily Rachelle

I‘m running, tripping, clawing at the trees around me to climb back up, losing my grip on the slippery moss. My breath rips out of my chest and throat, grasping oxygen desperately. I never look behind me—I‘m not running away, I‘m running toward. Toward what I don‘t know; I pray that it‘s home.

            A tree root catches my foot and I tumble down. My body flings arms over legs over feet as I fail to protect myself from the roots and twigs that tear my skin. The scant moonlight disappears as the sticks do, and suddenly I‘m rolling over cold, hard dirt with no light whatsoever and no idea where I am.

            I collide with a cool dirt surface. Light like that from candles reflects off the dirt around me, causing it to look reddish and alive. Slowly, I push myself off the floor and look around me. I‘m alone in a tiny dirt room that looks like a hollow cube, with nothing on each wall but a single tree-branch torch. In front of me a low-ceilinged dirt tunnel stretches out, with similar torches hanging at intervals. I crane my neck to see another dirt tunnel above me, the one I fell through, lacking torches, and curving so that the other end is blocked from sight.

            I feel a hand, calloused and firm, grab my arm and whirl to view my captor—but I‘m still alone. Another hand traps a scream in my mouth and desperate, foreign whispering tickles my ear. It‘s a woman‘s scared voice.

            “Je suis une amie! Tais-toi et suis-moi—dépêche-toi!“ I struggle against the hands I can‘t see and swing out my own, seeking any form of contact but finding none.

            “Friend!“ The voice is pleading and strangled now, and I barely recognize the English, but I stop moving. After a moment, the pressure on my mouth dissipates. The hand on my arm slides down to my hand and pulls me to my feet, then begins dragging me along the length of the tunnel. The end of the tunnel curves to the right and I continue stumbling behind the incredibly fast invisible woman. This tunnel has carved wooden doors in between torches, but the place seems to be completely empty.

            A terrifying noise, reminding me of some animal, echoes through the dirt halls, and for a moment my guide freezes. After barely a few seconds, she pulls me forward even harder than before. I nearly fall from the sudden movement. The noise is getting louder—it‘s some cross between screeches and a roar, and I know it‘s nothing I‘ve ever heard before. I struggle to keep moving. The strange, monstrous noise is joined by cries that jump-start my pulse to twice its normal rhythm. These sounds are too familiar, and I cry out from the realization that they‘re the sobs of humans.

            I stop and jerk my hand away from my unseen guide. How can I continue to run when there are people here, somewhere down in these tunnels, crying out? But the cool hand takes mine again and tugs over and over, frantically begging in that strangled, broken voice.

            “Hurry! Come! Nous devons nous dépêcher, s‘il te plaît!“

            I submit and again we‘re running, past two more tunnels, until we take another right and tightly packed dirt walls give way to smooth stone. We‘re in some sort of cave. There are no torches here, but the hand continues pulling and I follow, more slowly now. We‘re partly walking and partly climbing, slowly going in an upwards direction. The further into the cave we walk, the less the torchlight from behind us reflects on the stone walls. After a short while we‘re in complete darkness. We‘re barely inching forward, until a new source of light starts reflecting into the cave ahead of us. The next time we turn, I can see that it‘s sunlight. The hand lets go of me and I turn toward it.

            “Wait! Where am I? What do I do now?“

            There is no answer, but a firm push on my back makes me stumble toward the light. After a minute I walk forward and climb out of the cave into—

In this urban fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, modern-day teenager Beila Durand is plagued by nightmares that lead her to discover - and wind up trapped in - a cursed underground world. The invisible people that live in this medieval village depend on Beila learning the truth behind their curse - and why she is the only one who can set them free.

In her quest for answers, however, all she seems to find are more questions. Where do the echoing screeching at night originate? Who is the isolated man that speaks with Beila from the shadows of his cloak? What does this New York girl have to do with any of it? And will she ever find a way back home?


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