Book Excerpts

Book Excerpt | From Prey to Predator: Powerful Gods, Nymphs and Magic in AMONG THE HUNTED by Caytlyn Brooke

Myths, magic, and monsters await in the first entry of Caytlyn Brooke‘s new Skyglass series: Among the Hunted. Can one nymph stand up against the most powerful gods in existence? And how far will she go to protect—and avenge—the ones she loves? Check out the special sneak peek below.

Kaitaini was once wild and rebellious, more concerned with sneaking off to exotic realms than mastering her magic. But that was before. Before she fell in love. Before she met Hermes. Before she got her best friend killed.    

For one hundred years, she shouldered her guilt and became a true nymph warrior for Olean, eager to throw herself into any challenge, hoping death would ease her conscience.

But when she fails to protect her sister from Zeus, she vows to do the impossible: kill an immortal. Now, a new hunt has begun. A dangerous game played not only in the ethereal realm but also on Earth. A game that puts Kait in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful gods in existence. She’ll need to protect those closest to her and battle against enraged gods and creatures if she hopes to survive and avenge the ones she loves.

Award-winning author Caytlyn Brooke takes us on an adventure deep into the realm of Greek mythology. Filled with dark fantasy, brutality, foreboding creatures, and magic, she redefines the nymph stereotype as they rise up and fight against the oppression of the gods.

Excerpt of Among the Hunted

Chapter 1 – Before

Kaitaini’s neck snapped to the right as her sister’s attack knocked her off her feet, sending her body crashing to the snow-covered dirt.

“Come on, Kait. Get up.” Jezlem taunted her, circling her like a cat batting at a mouse.

On the outskirts of the training ring, the dozen or so other nymphs in their session winced. They eyed Tahlia, the elder aurai, waiting to see if she would interfere and call off the fight, but she stood still, arms crossed over her chest, her expression unreadable.

Kait grimaced, spitting blood and saliva onto the ground as her fingers turned to fists beneath the cold earth, encapsulating tiny clods of dirt in her grasp. Pushing herself up, she exhaled a ragged breath. They had been sparring for fifteen minutes now, each of them refusing to give in. Her muscles burned, aching for rest, but the look in Jezlem’s eyes warned she was far from done with her.

“You look tired.” Jezlem sneered. “Don’t worry, you’ll be flat on your back in no time.”

Kait growled and lunged forward. Whipping her arms high overhead, she harnessed the wind and screamed. Opening her palms, she released the dirt, propelling it with startling force at her sister. Jezlem stumbled back, her hands moving to shield her eyes.

“What the hell was that? That’s not legal!”

Kait grinned. “It’s pankration. Everything’s legal.”

Jezlem hissed and shook the clinging dirt from her hair. Before she could collect herself, Kait walloped her with another gush of air. The rapid blows smacked Jezlem in the face and gut, wrenching a satisfying wheeze of breath from her as she doubled over.

Kait stacked her fingers atop one another as she gathered the wind between her hands, her magic building in intensity. Jezlem balanced in the dirt on one knee, her face hidden by her wild curls. The golden halo of light enveloping Kait—the physical manifestation of her magic—burned brighter, stronger, sensing her sister’s own growing power. Every nymph’s halo glowed a unique color to match the feel of her soul. Jezlem’s was usually azure, but now it darkened and writhed like an angry river. Kait had to act fast.

Kait launched the swirling vortex of air as hard as she could, then stepped back, carried away at the notion of certain victory. As the vortex neared its target, Jezlem spun out of its trajectory, landing neatly on her feet. In the same motion, she brandished her palms, shooting streaming jets of water at Kait’s legs.

Kait cried out in surprise as rogue droplets ricocheted off her skin and soaked the spectators. Still, Tahlia did not speak.

Kait’s knees buckled, the pressure blowing her off her feet. She collapsed in the mud, landing on her elbow with a sharp crack, but Jezlem’s momentum was just getting started. Twisting her hands, Jezlem lifted Kait off the ground. Water coalesced around Kait in a giant prison. She inhaled a shallow breath, her ethereal connection to the air completely cut off by the rushing waves.

Lungs burning, she writhed within the sphere of water, her kicks and jabs slow and ineffective against the liquid enemy. Her lips parted against her will, fighting to draw breath, and water gushed down her throat, intent on filling every crevice.

“Jez!” Kait screamed, her plea escaping in a stream of bubbles.

She could just make out her sister’s silhouette through the pulsing water. Kait couldn’t see her clearly, but she knew Jezlem was smiling, taking pleasure in watching her drown. She opened her mouth to cry out again when gravity shifted, slamming her into the earth.

The aquatic prison exploded on impact, dropping Kait facedown in oozing mud. Deep coughs raked her body as her lungs fought to expel the water within. Uneasy applause and Jezlem’s snide laughter boomed in her ears, making her face burn red.

Kait leapt to her feet and locked onto her sister, wiping mud from her eyes and lips with exaggerated motions. “You almost killed me!”

Jezlem shrugged, amusement gleaming in her turquoise eyes. “You said everything’s legal.”

“I obstructed your sight. I didn’t try to kill you.”

“That wasn’t my intention either. You attacked; I defended myself.”

“This was supposed to be a pankration spar, not a battle of the elements.”

Jezlem scoffed, removing the leather sheaths from her forearms as Tahlia finally abandoned her statuesque pose. Kait gritted her teeth, anticipating an unpleasant conversation from the sour look stretched across her elder’s lips.

“Another victory for you, Jezlem. Well done,” Tahlia said. “As for you, Kait…” She arched her slender eyebrows and pivoted on her heels, grinding the last of the clinging snow into the soil with her boots. “Where did Kait fail, everyone?”

A young dryad stepped forward, her pale brown eyes steady and unapologetic. “She lost her focus, let her emotions get the best of her. She discarded strategy.”

“Precisely.” Tahlia’s voice was crisp as a January morning. She returned her gaze to Kait, who wiped the trickling blood from her lip. “You could have gotten out of that easily, found a way to use the water against your opponent. You could have accessed the oxygen molecules in the water and forced them to expand.”

“With all due respect, Tahlia, drowning makes it difficult to concentrate,” Kait replied.

Jezlem rolled her eyes. “If you practiced and took the time to study your element, you’d know how it manifests in both water and earth, and how to use them to your advantage. You can’t rely on innate talent. You’ll lose every time.”

Kait tasted fury. “Don’t tell me how to control my element. You’re a naiad. Stick to puddles.”

Jezlem took a step closer to Kait, her voice serious now. “I’m trying to help you.”

“What do you think I’m doing here? I am working on it, okay? I can’t help it when you don’t fight fair.”

“I’m trying to prepare you for what’s out there.” Jezlem gestured around at an unseen threat. “We can’t sit by and lounge around like the nymphs before the Titan War. Their idleness made them vulnerable, and the Titans took advantage of that.”

Kait groaned, wringing water out of her black hair. “Not another history lesson, Jez. I know the stories, same as you.”

“But you don’t put any stock in them. You treat them as cautionary fairy tales. You need to realize there are real consequences when you can’t protect yourself.”

“From who, Jez? The war is over.”

“That’s enough,” Tahlia said. Her voice was soft but sliced through the tension like a well-oiled guillotine. “Yio, Kendra, it’s your turn. As for you ladies, get back in line.”

Kait’s face burned darker. First, Jezlem destroyed her in the spar, and then she humiliated herself in front of her elder, by acting like a spoiled child. Brushing her hand down the length of her arms, she did her best to wipe the mud away, but the top layer had hardened in the brisk winter air. Only a puff of dust lifted into the sky. A long soak in the bathing pools would be the only way to clean her skin, but the thought of submerging herself in water so soon after Jezlem’s “training” made her cringe.

Kait was sick of preparing for an invasion that was never going to happen.

The Immortal Council, made of up a dozen of the most powerful gods, enacted the portal blockade three thousand years ago to ensure immortals could never hunt nymphs again after the Titans were defeated. Created only a century ago, neither Kait nor her sisters had ever been under threat. Kait couldn’t conjure the same fear as Jezlem because she had no villainous face to align it with. To her, immortals were colored smoke, a foreign enemy that only existed in a time far outside her own. Striding off the sparring field, Kait left the wooden arena separating the fields from the large apothecary a few hundred yards off in the center of Olean. She directed her feet east, back to the aurai encampment.

“Get back here!” Jezlem called. “Training isn’t over.”

“It is for me,” Kait shot over her shoulder.

Part of Kait knew she should listen, knew she would pay tomorrow, but she couldn’t bring herself to turn around. It had always been this way between her and Jez. Sibling rivalry was one thing, but Kait and Jez’s relationship went beyond trivial arguments. Luckily, their other sister, Bia, didn’t have a competitive nature—unless the challenge consisted of crafting the best healing tonic, but Kait had no talent for medicine anyway.

Compared to the other nymphs, the three sisters were different. Nymphs were not born but created. When the nymph population began to decrease from either disaster or old age, the mother goddess, Gaia, gifted the realm of Olean a new generation. From every drop of her immortal blood, she breathed a new soul into the world and weaved a powerful connection through the spine and sinew of each to one of the three elements: earth, wind, and water. Fire was deemed too dangerous a gift, for it gave voice to greed and destruction.

Yet something unique happened when one fated crimson drop fell from Gaia’s flesh and splashed against the earth. Rather than one nymph, three burst forth.

Jezlem, alluring and strong, a naiad, graced with the ability to control and manipulate fresh water. Kait, an aurai, stubborn and impulsive, blessed with the gift of fierce winds. Lastly, Bia, an anthousai, gentle and introverted, imbued with the power of the earth.

The rare creation of the triad hadn’t been seen for nearly four thousand years. The Immortal Council welcomed the triplets, honoring them with a powerful prophecy, though Kait carried the heavy burden like a curse upon her dark shoulders. Ever since she could remember, rumors and whispers swirled, promising the triad would herald a dramatic shift in power throughout the seven realms. The last time a triad formed, the three sisters had harnessed their elemental magic and wielded nature as a weapon for the first time—a change that transformed the race of nymphs from helpless prey to a formidable force that threatened the Titans themselves.

After the Titan War, the Olympians rewarded the most courageous of the triplets, Rajhi, with a seat on the Immortal Council, declaring her Queen of Olean and granting her immortality to rule alongside them. With a handful of advisors, Queen Rajhi governed Olean without any interference from Olympus. She raised the spirits the mother goddess gifted her as she saw fit, ensuring all nymphs trained not only in their elemental talents, but were well versed in defensive and offensive techniques should a future enemy threaten their existence. Both of her sisters were slain in the war, but the sacrifice of the triad and Rajhi’s reign ensured nymphs would never again be taken advantage of.

For nearly one hundred years, the prophecy that sang of the new triad’s impending greatness followed Kait, a lingering shadow, a constant reminder that one day, she would be expected to shine like her predecessors. There was only one problem: there was no greatness buried within Kait, no incredible power waiting for release. She had tried—goddess, had she tried—to unearth it, but beneath her flesh was ordinary blood and bone.

Before they were fifty, Jezlem had mastered her element, able to brew a tidal wave from a single drop of water. As for Bia, from the moment of her creation, the earth hummed beneath her touch. The ability to resurrect life from the most decayed flora had always flown from her fingertips with ease. Now Bia, the youngest of the triplets, was taking her ability further, pursuing the complex talent of healing the physical body.

At present, Bia was studying the different properties of herbs and oils and what tonics could be crafted to bring the body back to life. Kait had come close to going mad listening to Bia’s ramblings more than once. If she had to hear the term soul knitting one more time… It was Bia’s fascination, not Kait’s. She didn’t have any interest working over dead bodies.

As the oldest of the triplets, Jezlem never forgot her position in the triad or her responsibility to the realm, whereas Kait ran from any opportunity that might showcase it. Maybe one day she’d uncover her purpose, but the constant harping was suffocating, just another reminder that she wasn’t special, that her point of the triad wasn’t pristine but rather broken and weak.

Shaking the clawing thoughts from her mind, Kait spun her fingers, summoning the wind. She sighed in relief as her flesh melted away and the air embraced her. Shrugging off the glares tickling the back of her neck, she rocketed into the hazy sky. Her anger diffused as she left her corporeal body behind, her flesh evaporating in a haze. Navy blue and fuchsia streaks painted the sky as the sun hovered just above the horizon. Guilt pulled at Kait to return and apologize, but her clashing frustration spurred her up and over the towering pines, far away from her sister.

Cigarette smoke curled around Kait’s shoulders, dragging the toxic scent across her bare skin. She wrinkled her nose, frowning as the impurities strangled the air. Her best friend and fellow aurai, Willow, pursed her lips as a group of humans milled behind them, long white sticks hanging from their lips. Everyone was dressed in finery. Young men returned from war wore black-and-white suits starched to perfection and chased women in sparkling red and silver dresses with heads draped in feathers and lace.

It was 1922—a glorious blink in time. The air was void of sirens at last, and a pulsing energy replaced fear. Kait and Willow had begun sneaking off to the mortal realm a few months ago, frequenting an underground speakeasy in Manhattan. Drawn to the beautiful cobblestones, Kait adored the mystery that vibrated within the growing city, especially the hidden clubs constructed behind the old faux brick walls.

A carefree laugh fell from her lips. Jezlem would lose it if she knew where Kait was: in the mortal realm, at a mortal bar. While nymphs frequented the mortal realm daily, doing important work such as ushering in the change of the seasons, taming wild seas, and bringing life back to barren earth, leisure trips were prohibited, and consorting with humans was more than discouraged.

But Kait wasn’t there to be responsible.

Beneath their feet, the sidewalk thrummed as Kait’s excitement crested. The cold February midnight kept them company as they awaited their turn to descend into the bar. Running her hand through her piled-high locks, Kait adjusted the halter around her neck, shimmying the black sequins over her hips.

“Do you think this is too long?” Kait asked.

Willow scoffed, shaking her beautiful afro blowout with a slight toss. Thin white straps crossed her back, and the silken material of her dress glowed against her umber skin. “Please, any shorter and we’d be invited to a different kind of club.”

Kait rolled her eyes. Short was in style. Plus, she loved mimicking the bold young humans and their flirtation with rebellion. “Thanks for coming with me. Sorry for the short notice.”

“No worries. I could tell by the look on your face that you needed to get out. I heard Jezlem put you in your place…again.”

“Great. I’m glad every nymph in Olean thinks I’m a joke.”

“You know nobody thinks that. Tahlia says you’re one of the strongest aurais she’s ever known.”

“True, but she says it sarcastically, regretfully, usually right before she adds how lazy I am and laments how such potential was wasted on a sad sack like me.”

Willow brushed her curls behind her ear. “Well, you don’t care about reaching your potential. That’s why your training is so half-assed.”

“Ouch.” Kait pressed a hand to her heart, her jaw dropping in feigned offense as the bouncer ushered them inside a dimly lit café.

Several patrons sat sipping black coffee from ceramic mugs. Kait and Willow strode past them to the supply room door. The speakeasy rumbled beneath the cracked tile, raucous trumpets and lively saxophones muted by layers of concrete. The nymphs rose on tiptoe, each leaning in to whisper the secret passcode into the bouncer’s ears.

The man’s face flushed, and he cleared his throat. Straightening his tie, he opened the door and led the nymphs into the supply room and through stacks of cardboard and dilapidated shelves. Another door loomed at the other end of the room. Several dents marred its steel surface. Kait’s pulse quickened at the familiar sight of it, along with the scent of stale tobacco and spilled whiskey that seeped into the narrow room.

Tension built inside her chest, eager for release. Here, she wasn’t plagued by prophecies or judgmental looks. Here, she was a body in motion, and she craved that anonymity.

“Enjoy, ladies.” The bouncer pulled the heavy door aside, and they stepped across the threshold and descended steep wooden stairs into the club below.

Willow leaned in, shouting to be heard over the lively melody. “Still thinking about Jez?”

Kait shook her head, transfixed by the magical space. Willow’s unique apple mint scent was the only detail keeping her tethered to reality. The dim lights tucked into the gentle slope of the curved walls created a cave-like ambiance. Soft piano crescendoed, giving way to growling trombones. Fifty or so couples sashayed and spun around the dance floor like tumbling fireflies. Clear bottles of nectar glistened behind the mahogany bar.

Kait took a deep breath, exhaling every fear and frustration the last few weeks had mounted on her shoulders. Jezlem wasn’t there. Tahlia wasn’t there. She had five hundred years to devote herself to the realm, but tonight, she was going to dance. Slipping her bronze hand into Willow’s, Kait pulled her friend onto the dance floor. Grinding her hips and throwing her hands in the air, she gave in to the music, submerging herself under a flood of rippling notes with no need to come up for air.

Among the Hunted releases September 30th, 2021! Preorder your copy from the links below:

Trigger Warnings: Domestic & sexual abuse, rape, addiction⠀

About the Author:

Author portrait of Caytlyn Brooke, author of Among the Hunted. Links to Caytlyn's BHC Press Author Profile page.

Caytlyn Brooke is the author of Dark FlowersWired, and Among the Hunted, book one in her upcoming Skyglass series. 

She holds a degree in psychology from UAlbany where she studied fear and human behavior, which fueled her love of people watching. A lover of fantasy worlds, horror, orange cats, and Earl Grey tea, Caytlyn lives in Elmira, New York with her husband Daniel, her two children, and her orange tabby cat.

Follow Caytlyn on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get updates on her work! 

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