When it comes to fantasy epics, we love it when ordinary people manifest magical powers. José Antonio Cotrina weaves one such saga in his The Cycle of the Red Moon trilogy, which is finally getting a North American release thanks to Dark Horse.
Intrigued? Here’s the first book’s description from the publisher:
Twelve teenagers from around the world fall under the spell of a demigod and are pulled into a mystical realm of devastation and cruelty. There, they must survive until the Red Moon rises. While the kids are discovering magic within themselves to help them endure, an evil older than the kingdom itself has awakened among the ruins. Can the teens use their newfound powers to persist until the Red Moon? And can they even trust each other?
A bestseller in Spain, the Young Adult trilogy will be released in English and Spanish. You can look forward to Kate LaBarbera’s English translation of The Cycle of the Red Moon Volume 1: The Harvest of Samhein hitting shelves on May 26, 2020. But you don’t have to wait to read it; we’re thrilled to share an exclusive excerpt alongside the cover reveal today! Check out Fiona Hsieh’s gorgeous cover illustration below and read on for a look at the first two chapters.
The Cycle of the Red Moon Volume 1: The Harvest of Samhein can be pre-ordered now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local bookstore.
Chapter 1: Vortex
The city was restless.
It was an auspicious night, harvest time, and the crackling of magic filled the air. A bolt of lightning flashed high above, and thunder exploded a second later; it echoed in the darkness like the roar of an immense beast.
The hour had come.
Thousands of winged shadows became lords and masters of the heavens; forming shifting clouds that squawked maddeningly as they swerved in a frenzy across the sky.
In the castle windows moved the silhouettes of its inhabitants. Some appeared for just a fleeting glimpse, others remained longer in the windows, contemplating the comings and goings of a figure outlined at the top of the tower.
It was a tiny man who walked huddled against the storm. He looked so fragile that it seemed as if the wind might carry him off at any moment. The battlement of the tower where he walked was dotted with coat racks, each of them draped with a single coat. He went from one to another, humming all the while.
High above the tower, a patch of intense red shone through a crack in the sky. Most of the winged shadows gathered around this tear in the sky, twisting and turning like sinister whirlwinds.
The little man raised his eyes toward the crevice. He shook his head and hurried over to the nearest coat. He stroked it from top to bottom as he chanted. Suddenly, the garment straightened up on its stand and waved its sleeves it front of the man, as if it expected a hug. The little gray man grimaced from exhaustion and moved on to the next coat. Shortly after, another clap of thunder resounded in the heavens, an explosion that echoed throughout the cliffs for a long time. The break in the sky changed color from red to blue, and then from blue to an intense black. The little man closed his eyes, tried to control his breathing, and raised his arms. The time had come. All at once the coats abandoned their coat racks and flew toward the crack in the sky, their sleeves and coattails flapping frantically in the storm. They entered the crack and disappeared, devoured by the darkness on the other side. Every last one of the shadows flying over the mountains followed suit. A veritable flood of darkness poured through the crack, screaming incessantly. The screams soon became words:
“Samhein! Samhein! No rest! No respite! Samhein!
“Find him! Until death takes us and we’re condemned to oblivion! Find him!”
The gray man lowered his arms and staggered from side to side, sapped of his strength. He leaned against the edge of the battlement and turned his gaze to the sky. The tear in the sky still gleamed in the night, but not a trace of the winged shadows or coats remained.
Further beyond the castle and the mountains, the city in ruins awaited. Its winding streets made their way among dilapidated buildings, towers at the verge of collapse, abandoned squares, and mountains of rubble. The storm, which until then had hovered in the mountains, spread its cloak and covered the entire city. Total darkness ensued. Several voices began to whisper in the blackness; they sounded muffled, as if they came from the depths of the earth.
“Fly, fly, little birds, fly to the world of men…” chanted one of them. It was a haggard, musty voice, a voice from which poured forth maggots and decay. “Bring us joy. Bring us hope. Bring light to the darkness.”
“Or bring us howls,” said another. “Massacre and destruction. Death and horror. Bring us the smell of fear and the hissing of spilled blood.”
“Bring us something that’s worth being dead for.”
Chapter 2: Samhein
It was Halloween, the last night of October, and a vast harvest moon floated high in the evening sky. The time was midnight and silence had gained a foothold on what had been a night of endless uproar. Most children were already back at home, but there were still a few stragglers walking through the snowy streets, disguised as magicians, vampires, and goblins. The spiders and skeletons that adorned the houses’ façades swayed in the breeze, which carried with it a flurry of snow. From the windows, jack-o’-lanterns kept vigil with twisted smiles and ghoulish, wide-open eyes.
Two siblings walked through the town’s main street: Hector, with dark, disheveled hair, and Sarah, a petite girl dressed as a witch who clutched a bag full of candy tight against her chest. The young boy walked a few steps behind with his sister’s broom in hand and a furrowed brow. He’d been down in the dumps all day and his mood hadn’t improved as the hours wore on. He’d spent the past week waiting for Halloween night, but not in order to go trick-or-treating from house to house like a baby; he wanted to watch the horror movie marathon showing on TV. His parents were the ones who’d thwarted his plans: Sarah decided she wanted to go trick-or-treating and, according to them, her brother was responsible for going with her, whether or not he was fifteen years old. Things took a turn for the worse when, in order to keep her happy and to comply with tradition, he had to put on a costume. It didn’t do any good to protest. His mother dragged him up to the attic and rummaged through a chest until she came up with last year’s disguise.
“No, it won’t work,” she said as she held a Batman costume up in front of him, the same one that fit him poorly the year before. “You can’t wear this. It’ll be too tight. You’ve grown so much in the last few months.”
Hector sighed with resignation. He had gained weight recently and the fact that he couldn’t wear the costume was proof of it, proof that, of course, didn’t do anything to improve his state of mind.
“Mom, I haven’t been growing,” he said, to dispense with euphemisms, “I’m getting fat.”
In the end his mom improvised a vampire cape out of an old black sheet. Hector had managed to avoid wearing makeup, but even so he felt so ridiculous in that getup that when an old woman asked him what he was dressed up as, he answered (not very nicely) that he was a circus tent. Sarah had to resort to her best smile to convince the woman to give them some candy.
“Hector, look! A monster!” the girl yelled behind him. He turned around without stopping, thinking that his sister must have seen someone with a good disguise, not like the foolishness he was wearing. But Sarah pointed to something in the air, high above the rooftops. He looked in that direction and was shocked by what he saw: a human silhouette, somewhat deformed, flying to and fro through the air. His surprise lasted a mere instant, the time it took to distinguish what it actually was.
“No, silly,” he said. “It’s a jacket. It must have been hanging on a clothesline and got carried away by the wind.”
“It’s not a monster?” asked Sarah, disappointed, without taking her gaze away from the brown object that flapped around above the rooftops.
“Well, it’s a pretty ugly jacket.” It was true; even at that distance it was clear that the fashion was out of date, with sleeves lined with leather and large, shiny metal buttons. “I’m sure it’s the type of coat a monster would like.”
For a moment, the two siblings contemplated the jacket’s movements in the sky, until Hector realized that Sarah, clutching at the bag of candy, was shivering.
“Hey! You’re freezing to death! Why didn’t you say something?”
She looked at him with very wide eyes and shrugged her shoulders.
“Climb up on my back and hold onto my neck, evil witch. We’ll go faster that way.”
“What about the candy?”
“I’ll hold it. You just hang onto your broom.”
The little girl climbed onto his back and put one arm around his neck. Hector made sure she was comfortable and started to walk, trying to ignore the sporadic cry of “Giddy up!” that came from behind and the broom gently hitting his hip. Despite himself, the boy smiled. The magic of Halloween still captivated his little sister. Hector didn’t regret making sure that the girl didn’t notice how angry he was. It wouldn’t have made sense to ruin the party for her as well.
The snow tinted their walk through the town with silver. The shadows they projected on the ground looked like ghosts that kept following them. Hector picked up the pace thinking that he might still have time to catch the beginning of the second film in the marathon. The church clock sounded 12:30 and, if he remembered right, the movie was just about to start.
High up above, the dark coat kept dancing among the white clouds.
They lived in a tiny, white two-story house with a black roof and a fenced-in yard just at the outskirts of town. On turning the corner and seeing the porch light, Hector realized that he could forget about the movie. There stood his mother in the doorway, with her hands on her hips.
“Do you realize what time it is?” she asked him. She wore her thick, dark green coat and a stern look. Hector bit his lower lip. Yes, without a doubt: so long, movie.
“Sarah didn’t want to miss the houses downtown because they give out more candy, that’s why we’re late,” he explained. From his back his sister solemnly agreed.
“And of course, that’s why you stayed out so late despite how cold it got…Sometimes I don’t know where your head is, Hector. Inside; let’s go.” She moved to one side to let them through and closed the door behind them.
“Are they back yet?” asked his father from the living room. Hector heard a scream coming from the TV and let out a pained sigh.
“Yes, they’re here; both of them frozen to death,” answered his mother.
Sarah turned around on Hector’s back to get down. To make matters worse, just as she set foot in the hall she let out a sneeze so forceful that it blew her witch’s hat off her head.
“Well, what do you know. She caught a cold.”
“I did not catch a cold!” she insisted. She sneezed again and took off running toward her mom, shaking her broom in the air. “I got so much candy and I gave lots of people a fright! And we saw a flying jacket! And…!” Sarah continued rambling while she pulled on her mom’s skirt for attention, but her mother was too busy scowling at Hector.
“I told you twelve o’clock at the latest,” she began.
“If it were up to me I’d have been home by ten,” groaned Hector, “but, like I told you, Sarah wanted…”
His mother wouldn’t let him finish. It was clear she hadn’t the slightest intention of discussing it with him; she only wanted to lecture him. Hector sighed deeply and prepared for a barrage of reprimands.
“It’s not the weather to be going here and there, all over the place, with as cold and snowy as it is,” she was saying. “And besides, think about the people that had to get up out of bed to answer the door. No, Hector, no. That’s not the way it works. You’ve got to have more sense than that…”
His ears were ringing. Sarah sneezed again. A new scream came from the living room, even more spectacular than the first. His mother continued her quarrelling, her voice getting louder and louder, with one hand on her hip and the other gesturing with disapproval. He took a step backwards, and his right foot got caught in the folds of his cape. After flapping his arms in a desperate attempt to regain his balance, he fell to the ground. The candy went everywhere. Hector got up with a snort.
“You see? I can’t even stand up right!” he yelled. “I’m sick of it! I’m going to bed!”
He ran up the stairs, deaf to his mother’s yells, with his cape gathered in his arm so he wouldn’t trip on it again. He went into his room and slammed the door. He let the cape fall to the ground, took off his shoes, and collapsed on the bed, huffing and puffing. He didn’t really know who he was actually mad at, his mom or himself, which made him even madder.
Above the town’s rooftops, the jacket continued its twirls and pirouettes; more than once, it was about to crash into a house or get tangled in the branches of a tree, but at the last minute it always avoided the obstacle with an amazing agility, almost as if jumping through the air. It wasn’t the wind that moved it, it was its own will. The jacket was alive. And it kept watch over the town.
It soared over the top of a tree, moving its empty arms. As soon as it got close, two twisted claws made out of wire and black string appeared beneath its shirttails. The jacket used them to grab onto the tallest branch and there it sat, bolt upright, contemplating its surroundings.
It let out a mournful howl and the sky filled with wings. Dark, threadbare wings which cleft the air without making the slightest sound.
A swarm of creatures appeared out of nowhere, cutting through the clouds and making themselves lords and masters of the town. They posed on rooftops, on the arcs of streetlamps, on treetops. They were enormous crows with wings made from rags. In their eye sockets danced marbles and buttons, burning bright. Their feet were made out of wire, their beaks were soles of shoes, and the feathers covering them were cut from black paper.
On such a special night, even the birds appeared to be disguised as monsters.
“House by house, don’t leave a single one!” croaked one from the top of the village church, posed on the weathervane that adorned the steeple. “Find him, find him. House by house, door by door! Samhein! Samhein! Samhein!”
They repeated the same cry as they flew from building to building. As they neared the houses, they flapped their fake wings and hovered in front of doors and windows. Their poorly-cut leather beaks twitched as if they could smell what was inside. They didn’t spend much time hovering: as soon as they determined that what they were looking for wasn’t there they flew to another building, leaving behind a trail of paper feathers.
“Find him, find him!” sang another, as it glided through the air at such a speed that it lost one of the buttons it used in place of an eye. It didn’t stop to look for it. There wasn’t time. The hour of the harvest had come and there wasn’t a moment to waste. “Samhein! “Samhein! Samhein!”
It wasn’t the first place they’d appeared in. On that long night the birds made of rags visited thousands of cities and towns. They searched and searched without rest or pause, since they had been made for that sole purpose, and for that night alone. Once the sun rose, the life they’d been granted would vanish with the dawn. They knew it; they accepted it.
The only thing that mattered to them was to fulfill their mission. The false wings batted the air in silence. It was magic, the magic of the last night of October. The magic of the harvest.
For the moment, they hadn’t had any luck. Not in this town nor in the other cities where they’d searched. But they didn’t lose hope, simply because “hopelessness” didn’t enter into the small catalog of emotions that their creator had instilled in them. The only thing they knew was the longing of the search, the necessity of finding the energy that they’d been taught to detect and that, up until now, had remained elusive.
One of the strange birds flew over the tree where the jacket had rested moments before. It sniffed the air with total concentration and, unlike the others of its kind, worked in absolute silence. It had found such a promising clue that it had completely forgotten the chant. Its crystal eyes shone with a pearly brilliance. Yes, without a doubt, it was a mystic trail; it could see it ahead like an emerald ribbon among the sparse snowflakes that drifted from the sky. The creature flew faster. Little by little others detected the same aroma and delved into the search, as silent as the first.
Soon they all followed suit, heading in the direction of that same two-story house with the white walls and the black roof. They landed on it where they could, clutching onto one another. Their wire claws clung to the shingles, to the gutters, to the stairways, to the windowsills…the house was swallowed up by the winged creatures. For a while the only sound in the night was the collective sniffing of those beings, faster and stronger by the minute. Until finally all of the creatures burst into flight and screamed one word in unison: