- Pages: 464 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
- ISBN: 9780593112397
An Excerpt From
League of Liars
Leta’s pale skin glowed in the moonlight as she crept through the high stalks of the torlu fields. She pocketed the bolt cutters she’d used to sever the electricity to the farm’s flood lamps and enjoyed the cool shadows that washed over her skin like a gentle caress. She’d chosen a farm on the outskirts of Ferrington, far from the main street, where the entire town had gathered for the evening. It was a sweltering summer night, and the flood lamps had made her shirt and pants stick to her skin. Not anymore.
Unlike most people, Leta longed for shadows. Ever since she was a child, she’d had an affinity for the darkness. She liked that anything could be out there, a whole world full of possibilities hidden from sight. And one of those possibilities was why she was in Ferrington.
Ferrington was a small rural region around three hundred miles from Downtown Kardelle, near the easternmost point of the nation. Not long after edem had first been detected, a group of farmers emigrated from the agricultural nation of Delften to plant crops and rear livestock. Ferrington was known for its mineral-rich soils, a positive side effect of edem. Crops flourished, the torlu berry in particular. Used in jams, jellies, fermented tonics and even vitamin supplements, torlu berries had become Telene’s principal agricultural export. But in the last few years, other nations had retracted their trade deals and refused all immigration requests until the Regency stopped the spread of edem.
In the hundred years since the veil had been discovered, many people had fled Telene, searching for safer shores. The monarchs had provided monetary incentive for people to stay. In turn, they’d nearly bankrupted the government.
Some people, veil worshippers, believed the only solution was to master the use of edem for industry and the economy. But the monarchs refused to put society at risk and allow the veil to grow.
Leta believed edem could be better understood. Ever since her mother had died, she’d taken it upon herself to know everything about the time-altering substance. And while the Regency worried itself only over what edem could do and its consequences, Leta wanted to know more about where it came from.
At school, Leta had been taught that the veil was like a tear in the world’s surface and what lay beneath was edem. That never made much sense to her; there had to be more to the veil than a liquidy pool. When her teachers provided no satisfying answers, it further fueled Leta’s fascination.
Leta’s father often blamed her veil obsession on her mother. And it was true, like her mother’s, Leta’s mind never yielded. Her mother had curated a library full of books on edem theory. At night, Leta used to ask her mother to throw a blanket over the permalamp and read myths of the veil to her. Her mother would oblige, teaching her that darkness itself was nothing to fear and that edem was not as dangerous as everyone believed. She taught Leta that edem was trying to help by carrying out the wishes of the person who wielded it, and that we needed to learn how to master it rather than outright condemn it. Although she never allowed her daughter to touch edem, she merely helped Leta to be at peace with its presence.
As Leta walked through the fields, she thought about her mother’s final moments. Had she walked this exact path? What had she been thinking of before she died? Did she have a moment of clarity, or was she terrified of what was to come? And would she be happy knowing Leta had continued her investigations?
These stories, or conspiracies—as Cayder liked to refer to them—were a connection between mother and daughter that lingered in the darkness. Investigating these stories was the only way Leta knew how to keep her mother’s memory alive. In the harsh daylight, the memory of her mother’s face was hazy. In the dark, she could still hear her voice filling her head with dark fairy tales.
Leta first read about edem creatures in a book she’d borrowed from the school library, not from her mother’s collection. When she had asked her mother about the creatures that supposedly roamed the region of Ferrington at night, her mother had said they were just another tall tale.
As Leta got older and continued her own investigations, she began to question whether these were tales at all.
Leta had never wanted to visit Ferrington. For years it hurt to even think of the place that had taken her mother’s life. Then, six months ago, Leta found a piece of paper stuck in the back of one of her mother’s books. The letter detailed a sighting of an edem creature by a local farmer in Ferrington that was dated mere days before her mother had died near that farm. Leta began to wonder if there was more to her mother’s death.
Had she been attacked by one of these creatures that reportedly broke into homes in the middle of the night, searching for food—their hunger never satiated? What were the creatures, supposedly made of edem, looking for? Naysayers claimed the only things plaguing Ferrington were the windstorms that got trapped in the valley, not creatures from another world.
Cayder would be furious if he knew where Leta was right now, but she had to find out if there was any truth to the stories.
This time, her source was reliable.
“I’ll find out the truth,” Leta whispered into the black. “I promise, Mother.”
With the electric buzz of the flood lamps gone, Leta could hear the swish of tails and scratching of claws as small creatures scurried through the fields. But she couldn’t hear anything unusual.
What does an edem creature sound like, anyway? she asked herself.
In the distance, she could see a small flicker of fire in the center of town. The town’s populace had gathered for Edemmacht—a celebration commemorating when farmers from Delften first arrived in Ferrington and discovered the rich soil. The festivities mostly included torlu berry pie competitions and drinking excessive amounts of torlu tonic around a bonfire.
The fire was for ceremonial purposes only; after all, flood lamps were installed in nearly every corner of the town, and the night was already blisteringly hot. Legends stated that fire would keep the edem creatures—the hullen—away. The hullen was Delft for the “living dark,” and while many locals thought the stories to be old superstition, others blamed any strange goings-on in the town on the edem creatures. Broken windows, frightened livestock, unexplainable noises at night. And the constant flickering of lights.
Leta was relying on the excessive drinking at Edemmacht to ensure her plan went off without a hitch. She wouldn’t leave until she had her answers.
As she approached the cage she’d set up that afternoon, she saw a small blue bird sitting inside, so still, she thought the bird was already dead.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, taking the bird into her gloved hands. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
She’d asked around town about the stories of the hullen. Most had laughed off her questions and blamed the windstorms. But one woman had told her to head to a small bar on the main street. There she would find Ritne Arden.
Leta was not disappointed. The old farmer had been easy to spot, a glass of torlu tonic in his hand, sitting in the corner of the brightly lit bar, his skin like old cracked leather.
“Ritne?” Leta had asked as she took the seat next to him.
The man looked up slowly from his drink, his eyes bloodshot and glassy. “You come to laugh at an old man?” He spoke with a slight Delft accent, his vowels clipped.
“No, I was told you could tell me about the—”
“Shhh.” He pulled her close by the crook of her arm. “Don’t say the word. It’s not safe.”
Leta unlatched his skeletal hands from her. “We’re safe. There’s no edem.”
Ritne’s eyes flashed about the bar. “I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about . . .” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “The Regency.”
He nodded over to an agent who stood watch off to the side of the room.
“Oh?” Leta leaned forward even though Ritne’s breath smelled like a vat of fermenting torlu berries and made her eyes water. “What about them?”
He smacked his chapped lips together. “Why do you want to know?”
“My mother was killed in this town seven years ago,” Leta said. “I think she was out here investigating the existence of the hullen.”
“Your mother worked for the Regency?”
She nodded. “If these creatures are real, why are the Regency keeping them a secret?”
“No one believes me.” Ritne downed the remainder of the liquid from his glass.
“I believe you.” Although she didn’t. Not yet. She needed proof there was more to edem. More to the veil. Then her father would have to listen.
Ritne’s eyes lit up. “You’ve seen the hullen?”
“No,” Leta admitted. “But I want to.” She needed to. She needed to make sense of that night. The truth would make up for everything else she’d done.
Ritne told her she needed to offer a sacrifice for the hullen to appear. A sacrifice of flesh, blood and bone.
That was why she was now standing in the middle of the dark, a bird in one hand, edem curling around the other.
“I’m sorry,” she said again to the bird. She didn’t have a weapon, but edem would take care of that. She hoped edem would make the bird’s death as swift and as painless as possible.
She closed her eyes as the edem coiled around her free hand like a serpent.
I can do this. I can do this.
She heard the sound of an animal shrieking and a loud bang in the distance.
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