Good morning! I am very excited to welcome May Peterson on Queer Books Unbound. The second book in her Sacred Dark fantasy series, The Immortal City, releases today and we have an exclusive excerpt for you!
Sometimes you just have to jump.
The second book in The Sacred Dark series, a lush fantasy romance by acclaimed author May Peterson.
I don’t remember you…
Reborn as an immortal with miraculous healing powers, Ari remembers nothing of his past life. His entire world now consists of the cold mountainside city of Serenity. Ruled with an iron fist. Violent.
I may never remember you…
Regaining the memories of who he once was seems an impossible dream, until Ari encounters Hei, a mortal come to Serenity for his own mysterious purposes. From the moment Hei literally falls into his arms, Ari is drawn to him in ways he cannot understand. Every word, every look, every touch pulls them closer together.
But I’m with you now…
As their bond deepens, so does the need to learn the truth of their past. Together they journey to find an ancient immortal who can give them what they both want: a history more entwined than Ari could have ever imagined, but which Hei has always known.
But today there was this boy, smiling like a child about to dive into a pond.
Strangely enough, I could bear the sight of the sad ones dying. The ones who wailed the whole drop down, like they were trying to purge out as much pain as they could before the impact. The ones who went quiet as soon as they hit. There was a tidy, animal logic to that. They would be in pain and then it would stop. I would feel relief for them, praying that if they rose again, their afterlives would be kinder.
But one smiling, brave, almost joyful—fuck. To think a tumble off the rocks would be the highlight of his life.
Then his slim neck turned up. His eyes met mine.
And that smile widened like a sunrise.
I stiffened. Could he really see me that clearly? I knelt far above him, on the stone lip of Solemnity, the gates around Serenity. It was a gate built into the mountain, indistinct except for the age-worn surface of green and blue rock. It was a wall made to endure time. And it towered over the icy plain, over Ancestor Rock, where winged forms like mine floated in the snow. Only the nakedness of the mountain face, and my supernaturally keen sight, let me make him out as well as I did.
And yet he looked almost like he’d expected an audience.
His hands waved in an arc. Through the air came his cry, small against the wind. “Hey! You there!”
An astonished laugh escaped my throat. Please, please tell me that he didn’t want someone to watch his final moments. I was the wrong guardian angel for that.
He was hopping up and down now, arms circling wider and gesturing at his own back. “Hey!”
Ah. He’d seen my wings. And he was motioning in a way as if to signal that he liked this. Well, that was a bit more in the realm of the usual. I relaxed. Perhaps I had gotten too used to solitude; being admired felt rather spicy.
May as well put on a show. I began to preen my wings, stretching out my broad feathers. Spotted with gray and tan like smooth beach stones, catching the starlight. “You like?” I called back. I couldn’t restrain the amusement in my tone.
He clapped. He fucking clapped, like I’d made his goddamn day. A clawing image came to me, of this boy in his death-pilgrim’s ecstasy, aching to see angelic wings over him as he fell. But then, he shouted: “Catch me!”
His meaning snapped into place, all but stopping my heart—he wasn’t after some ritual death.
“Are you drunk?”
Delicate, unfettered laughter rose from him. He clapped once more, then skittered to the lip of the statue. If he was drunk, that precipice would surely murder his balance. But for a second he teetered on one foot, acrobatically, arms spread at his sides like he played at having wings himself.
And then he hurtled off the ledge, head first. Twisting once in the gale as he fell.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. It was like a string being pulled, ripping me down with him. In the next instant I was in the air, gathering speed under me to snatch him back from death.
A second passed in which I was just straightforwardly falling. Then I seized the wind again with my wings, and he crashed into me with unceremonious grace. A sudden, almost impossibly light weight. Laughter streamed from him, sweet and childlike in its vigor. And his arms clenched me tight, face burying in my chest. The heat of his body was like a knife cutting through me.
And for a moment the earth spun, the night air a spiral paring Serenity away. We fell into the clear air, the sky lit up with sparks. He laughed until I was laughing with him, and I caught myself breathing in the warm human scent of his hair and clothes.
Next I was settling down on the rocks at the foot of Solemnity, bracing against the sliding dirt. The boy’s breaths came fast, unspeakably loud, sucking in the entire night. I held him to me long enough to be sure he was safe, and placed him on his feet.
“Let’s try the path with actual soil.” My voice rasped in my own ears. I had one hand steadying his shaking frame. “Not putting you where you can do that again.”
Vapor plumed over his face, uneven with residual laughter. The biggest smile lingered on his features. Up close like this, he looked older than I had guessed, probably around twenty. Bright black eyes, blackest black hair that fell straight above his ears. Soft mouth, faint dusting of freckles. A dark brown coat was sashed over him, trimmed with pale fur. He was garbed as I had come to expect pilgrims to dress, in hardy travel robes and trousers. At the collar, a bit of naked shoulder showed where the garment had tugged down. The bag hanging from him looked hefty, but I’d hardly felt it.
A story flashed into being between the gaps. He was definitely no death-seeker. A simple thrill-chaser. Or someone who simply wasn’t afraid of his joy.
“That—” He paused, gulped, started waving his hands again. Flakes of snow caught on the robe, made him blend into the backdrop of the night. “That was amazing.”
I sighed, chuckling, at the person gelling into shape in front of me. “Fuck me. And you just expected a dove-soul or crow-soul to be lingering about to play with you? Please tell me you didn’t trek across the whole damned tundra just for that.”
His slender hand brushed hair away from his brow. God dammit. He was flushed, and I couldn’t help but notice. I’d never seen anyone so unshaken by such danger—not anyone mortal, anyway. His smile tilted suggestively into a grin. “Well. I have always wanted to be caught by an angel in flight.”
My amusement escalated, became a belly laugh. “You cannot be serious.” An angel in flight my ass. I was doubling over laughing now.
But his energy seemed to be fading, as if satisfied. “No. I’m Hei.” That hand slipped back from under the sleeve, extended toward me. “My name is Hei.”
I stared at him. What the hell was he? This wasn’t how people who came to Serenity acted, whether living or living-again. “Well. Hei. You are absurd, if you don’t mind my saying so.” I cleared my throat. And took his hand. Warm and small in mine. Definitely mortal. And still shaking.
One pretty eyebrow shot up. “You’re not going to tell me your name? Oh my. A man of enigma.”
I coughed. “No. It’s Ari.” I had to gather something up in me, courage or care or resolution. I didn’t know why. Except that giving my name always made me feel so naked. Because it was the only thing I had. The one piece left of the person I’d been before I died. It was all I had to say for myself, whether my life had been great or small. Because none of it was left. For one reason or another, I had given it all away to the merchant of amnesia.
“Ari.” My name took on heat in his mouth, shivered like a flame. He seemed to toy with it, taste it. “It’s a good name.”
May Peterson is rumored to be some kind of magical creature, but exactly which kind is still debated by scholars. While they sort that out, May busies herself as a romance and fantasy author and freelance editor. May has always had a deep fondness for books, animation, and comics. She’s drawn toward both writing and reading stories that are magical, hopeful, and distinctive, as well as those that explore identity, queerness, and emotional connection. She believes that bringing a daydream to life with its own tale to tell is always a small miracle.