I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the THIS ETERNITY OF MASKS AND SHADOWS by Karsten Knight Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!
About the Book:
Title: THIS ETERNITY OF MASKS AND SHADOWS
Author: Karsten Knight
Pub. Date: June 2, 2020
Publisher: Karsten Knight
Formats: Paperback, eBook
American Gods meets Watchmen in this mythology-inspired mystery from Karsten Knight, author of the Wildefire trilogy.
In a city of gods and mortals, secrets never die.
The gods walk among us. Some lurk in the shadows, masquerading as mortals; others embrace their celebrity status, launching careers from Hollywood to Capitol Hill.
One of them just murdered Cairn Delacroix’s mother.
As Cairn sifts through the rubble, she uncovers a conspiracy two decades in the making: a cursed island, the fellowship of gods who journeyed there, and the unspeakable act that intertwined their fates. One by one, the members of that voyage are dying, and Cairn’s investigations land her in the crosshairs of the rogue goddess responsible.
With the help of Nanook, a polar bear god turned detective, Cairn descends into Boston’s underworld of supernatural crime and political aspiration. To avenge her mother and unmask her assassin, she’ll first have to reckon with a gut-wrenching secret that will rewrite the life she thought she knew.
Cairn could hear it over the flames crackling in the library fireplace and the thunderstorm battering the windows outside. Her mother, Ahna, smiled at her expectantly as Cairn cradled the gift in her lap.
To my fearless daughter on her 18th birthday, the tag read. Cairn traced her fingers over the pattern of air holes punctured through the foil wrapping paper.
“I’m going to guess this isn’t the Jeep I asked for,” Cairn said at last. The box quivered in response as if to say, “No, I am not.”
“Go on,” Ahna urged her. The firelight danced across her face.
As Cairn tugged the silver ribbon to undo the bow, the box abruptly went still. Cautiously, she lifted the lid an inch.
A pair of vibrantly ice blue eyes peered out, regarding her curiously. Cairn’s breath caught.
Nestled in a blanket inside was a kitten unlike any she’d ever seen. He had a spotted gray coat thick enough to withstand the fiercest Arctic chill and disproportionately broad paws built like fur-covered snowshoes. His tufted ears bristled as he backed his stubby tail into the corner of the box.
“Lower your hand in,” her mother instructed. “Let him meet you halfway when he’s ready.”
Cairn left her trembling fingers outstretched six inches from the creature’s muzzle. He cocked his head to the side, and after a moment’s hesitation, he extended one of his comically enormous paws and batted at Cairn’s fingertips. Apparently, she passed his test, because all at once he rushed forward, nuzzling the glands beneath his foxlike ears against the bony ridges of her knuckles.
When Cairn could finally form words again, she repeated, “This is not a Jeep.”
“No, but he’s great at off-roading.” Ahna was smirking now, her maternal X-ray vision penetrating Cairn’s nonchalance into the melting heart beneath. “He’s a Canadian lynx. When I visited your grandparents up in Labrador, I found him in their garden one morning, nibbling away at a crowberry bush. A predator had mauled the mother just beyond the fence. I couldn’t bear to leave him to fend for himself.”
The kitten awkwardly clambered out of the box, his plump white belly momentarily getting caught before he flopped out onto the shag carpet. Cairn watched him stagger across the room toward the bookcases that housed her father’s collection of rock and mineral specimens. His tail wiggled in anticipation right before he made a dramatic leap for one of the shelves—
—and failed spectacularly. He dropped back to the floor, rattled. A second attempt yielded the same result. On the third try, however, the lynx clung defiantly to the edge by two paws, and after some frantic scrabbling, he pulled himself up to the ledge. Cairn and Ahna applauded.
“Ahna …” Cairn’s father, Emile, appeared in the doorway, arms crossed, a pair of jeweler’s magnifying glasses perched atop his disheveled hair. He pointed at the tiny creature, which was using the craggy surface of an amethyst as a chin-scratching post. “How many times have we talked about smuggling exotic pets into the country?”
Cairn scooped the kitten off the shelf and held him inches from her father’s nose. “Come on, how could a face this cute possibly be illegal?” The fluff ball hung limply in her hand and blinked.
Emile’s wistful eyes landed on his wife. “In my experience, it’s always the cute ones that get you in the most trouble.”
Ahna blew him a kiss. “He’ll need a name,” she said.
The lynx crawled down into Cairn’s lap and curled into a ball. Within seconds, he was snoring softly, unfazed by the fierce winds raging outside the Delacroix’s seaside home.
Cairn gingerly ruffled the hair on his neck. “We’ll name him Squall.”
“Tonight, I’ll tell you the myth of Sedna.”
Ahna sat at the foot of her daughter’s bed, as she had so many nights since Cairn was old enough to remember. Squall claimed the space behind his owner’s knees and nestled in for warmth. While still technically a kitten, he grew bigger by the day.
Ahna gathered her stories from every mythology, every region of the world, and every century, but she always came back to the myths of the Inuit people—their people.
Sedna was the goddess of sea life, and while the details changed with every iteration Ahna told, the myth always remained as unforgiving as the tundra from which it had originated.
“And so,” her mother continued, “Sedna angered her father by turning away all of her male suitors, claiming she’d just as soon marry her dog. To punish Sedna, her father lured her into his kayak, rowed out to the middle of the icy bay, and before she could fight back, he cast her into the frigid waters. Sedna pleaded with him and attempted to climb back into the boat, but with a mighty slash of his knife, he severed all ten of her fingers. The spurned young woman sank to the bottom of the ocean. But from violence and death springs life anew. As her severed fingers slipped into the dark depths, they transformed into the sea’s most remarkable creatures—the salmon, the walrus, the seal, the whale, the narwhal. Sedna herself was reborn as their master and presided over Adlivun, the underworld where we will all one day eternally rest.”
The myth of Sedna had always been Cairn’s favorite, and for good reason:
The story was about her mother.
The gods and goddesses of every pantheon were real. Reincarnated every century, these powerful beings returned to earth with no memories of their previous lives. Some lurked in the shadows, masquerading as mortals, while others embraced the celebrity status of their godhood, publicly “coming out” as they launched careers in Hollywood or Washington. For better or worse, the gods were destined to love each other, clash with each other, and more often than not, kill one another.
Ahna Delacroix—the latest reincarnation of Sedna—had chosen the quieter path, marrying a mortal, bearing his child, and establishing herself as a respected marine biologist, a role that provided a convenient outlet for surreptitiously using her abilities.
From the moment she became a mother eighteen years ago, Ahna had vowed to do whatever it took to keep her family safe from those who feared or reviled the gods walking among them. For every mortal who had accepted the “mythological born” as just another subset of the population, several more had deemed their very existence an abomination.
And then there were the gods with a vendetta to settle …
Cairn, who had learned of her mother’s divine identity several years earlier, still found the macabre nature of Sedna’s myths amusing. “I can’t believe you’ve been reciting this story to me since preschool,” she said when Ahna finished the latest retelling. “You’re lucky I didn’t turn out more emo.”
Her mother rolled her eyes. “You’re eighteen. Your default setting is emo.”
“Plus, you’re looking at the myth all wrong, Cairn. It’s not a tragedy; it’s about being tenacious and tough as nails and surviving in the face of insurmountable odds. It’s about transformation. For thousands of years, our ancestors carved out an existence in the most treacherous landscape imaginable, thriving above the timberline where few plants could grow. They learned to make tents from sealskin and houses from sod and igloos from ice, a different house to weather every season. They built kayaks to fish, and fearlessly hunted whales and caribou and polar bears for meat.” Her mother brushed a thumb along Cairn’s cheekbone. “That ruggedness is in your blood, whether you live here in Massachusetts or back in Canada like your grandparents. Whenever life beats you down, remember that.”
Then it was the final days of summer, and Cairn and her best friend Delphine rowed through the darkness. The hulking silhouette of the old lighthouse on Demeter Island loomed over them.
Cairn checked her watch as they coasted into the shore. “Five minutes!”
Delphine hopped ship onto the rocky embankment, caught the line from Cairn, and tied it to a metal rod driven into the stone. “Relax. We’re about to have the best seats this side of Cape Ann.”
Cairn could not relax.
Tonight was bigger than Delphine knew.
A padlock secured the front door of the decommissioned lighthouse, but a month ago, they’d snapped the original with bolt cutters and replaced it with one to which only they possessed the key.
The two girls clambered up the rickety spiral staircase inside until they emerged onto the metal catwalk above. They laid down a nest of blankets and pillows and propped themselves against the glass walls of the lantern room, the beacon within long since dark.
“To thirteen years of fireworks together,” Cairn toasted as she popped open a bottle of champagne she’d pilfered from her parents’ wine cellar. The cork flew over the railing and out of sight, to land in the water some sixty feet below. “You sure this is safe to drink with your diabetes?”
“Absolutely not.” Still, Delphine snatched the champagne from Cairn as it began to overflow and took a long swig directly from the bottle.
Cairn leaned in and wiped away the bubble mustache that had formed on Delphine’s upper lip. “Just try not to go hyperglycemic on my ass before the finale,” she pleaded.
They were just in time: a crack like a gunshot echoed over the bay from the south, and the first firework exploded against the starry sky. A barrage of shells followed in red, blue, and gold, molten confetti raining down on the water. Even a mile away, they could hear the delighted cheers of the thousands of residents camped out along the town beaches, all celebrating the last weekend of summer before the school year began and autumn exhaled its first cool breath across the state.
But nobody had a view like them.
As the display unfolded, Cairn chanced a look at the girl beside her. The light of the fireworks flickered over Delphine’s profile, illuminating the faint scar along her jawline—she had taken a punch for Cairn once in a parking lot altercation and her opponent had been wearing a mood ring.
The corner of Delphine’s lip curved up in a slight smile. She unconsciously played with the small conch shell through which she’d threaded her dark, curly hair.
Cairn’s pulse thrummed in her ears. Her cheeks flushed with a warmth she couldn’t blame on the champagne.
The pair had been inseparable since kindergarten, when Delphine and her father immigrated to America from Jamaica. As kids, they’d given themselves the codenames “Tropic and Tundra.” Though born in such different climates, fate had brought them together in a small town on Massachusetts’s northern shore.
Even as Cairn had felt the winds of their friendship change in her heart, she tried to bury those feelings deep. But in just a few days, Delphine would leave their coastal town to study voice and opera at Juilliard in New York City.
Delphine finally caught Cairn staring and cocked one eyebrow. “Care to share with the class, Ms. Delacroix?”
Cairn had prepared a whole speech for this moment, but what came out instead was, “Sing for me.”
Delphine started to protest, but she must have recognized the earnestness in Cairn’s face, because she nodded, closed her eyes, and launched into an old jazz standard in her soulful, seductively hoarse voice:
The rustling dune grass,
The autumn tides,
A blanket in the sand,
The star-filled sky,
Could you imagine anything better?
The horizon’s promise,
The sea-spray flowers,
The dawn’s got questions,
But tonight is ours.
Could you imagine anything better?
Could you dream of anything better?
The last word itself broke apart and dissipated into the Atlantic breeze. Delphine opened her eyes.
Cairn took Delphine’s hand in hers. “I’ve got this problem,” she said. She had used these same four words every time she needed advice from Delphine. When she fought with her parents. When a bully stalked her after school. During her ill-fated relationship with a basketball player sophomore year.
Tonight was different. The weight of thirteen years beared down on Cairn’s tongue. Her mouth went dry, so she swallowed and repeated, “I’ve got this problem: I’m in love with my best friend, but I’m terrified that saying it out loud will tear down everything we’ve built. Do I risk it all and tell her before she leaves? Or do I hold it in and always wonder if my life could have been just a little bit more?”
Cairn had envisioned this moment many times, rehearsed what she would say, prepared for a spectrum of reactions from Delphine, ranging from reciprocation to disgust.
In all of her fantasies and worst-case scenarios, Cairn never expected her best friend to laugh. It burst out of Delphine in her singsong alto like she’d just heard the funniest joke.
Tears brimmed in Cairn’s eyes, a painful cocktail of hurt and humiliation and rage. She rose to her feet and lunged for the door, preparing to sprint down the corkscrew stairs and put as much distance between them as she could.
But a hand caught her by the wrist and reeled her back onto the catwalk. Delphine spun Cairn around and pressed her against the glass of the lantern room. Her lips hovered over Cairn’s.
Then she kissed her.
Cairn was in free fall. Their lips danced uncertainly over each other at first, searching for a common rhythm, but there was beauty in the imperfection. Delphine felt different, tasted different than she had in any of Cairn’s dreams. She was vaguely aware that the fireworks display had reached its bombastic finale, but she could barely hear anything over her thundering heartbeat as she shuddered longingly and drew Delphine deeper into her.
When Delphine reluctantly took a breather, she cupped Cairn’s face in her hands. “The reason I laughed,” she explained, “is because only you would wait to confess your love until we were trapped on an island together with only one boat. Can you imagine the awkward ride back to the mainland if I hadn’t felt the same way? Unless your contingency plan was to maroon me here. You, Cairn Delacroix, are irrational and impulsive and so immersed in the world your heart dreams up that sometimes you don’t lead with your brain. But it’s for all those reasons and more that I’ve fallen in love with you, too.”
Soon they were both laughing out of relief. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited to kiss your stupid lips,” Cairn said.
Delphine leaned her forehead against Cairn’s. “To thirteen years of fireworks.”
The next day, Delphine joined Cairn’s family on a sunset ride in their boat, the Lemon Shark. Even though her father spent most of his days examining rocks, Cairn never saw him happier than when he stood at the helm of the old bowrider. He accelerated up to twenty-five knots, grinning into the relentless sea wind.
As the mainland grew smaller behind them, Ahna stared vacantly north with glazed eyes that saw something Cairn could not. Cairn reached back and squeezed her mother’s knee. “You seasick?”
It took Ahna a few moments to register that Cairn was addressing her. “A tad.” She took a long sip from her thermos of iced tea and blinked drowsily. “I think I just need to close my eyes for a minute.”
In the distance, Cairn spied the silhouette of Demeter Island’s lighthouse. Delphine must have been thinking about last night, too, because she pressed her leg into Cairn’s, a sultry grin spreading across her face. Cairn had spent the last twelve hours wondering when they’d be able to steal their next kiss.
But then Delphine frowned and looked past her to the rear of the boat. “Ahna?”
Cairn turned. Her mother stood on the stern with a small anchor clutched to her chest, hugging it like a child would a teddy bear.
When Cairn traced the line attached to the anchor, she discovered that it was knotted around Ahna’s ankle.
“Mom?” Cairn wasn’t sure what was going on, but she could feel her hackles rising in alarm.
Ahna’s face still had that confused distant pall from earlier, but now her eyes brimmed with tears. When she tightened her grip on the anchor, a rivulet of blood snaked down the iron, dripping from a wound somewhere on her hands. “I have to go back to Adlivun now,” she said. Her blind gaze fell on Cairn. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Sensing that something was amiss, Emile finally looked back from the cockpit. “Ahna? What are you doing back there?”
His wife didn’t seem to hear him. She climbed onto the transom.
“Mom?” Cairn repeated, this time more urgently.
Without another word, her mother took one step off the back of the boat, still hugging the anchor, and disappeared into the sea.
Cairn was the first to react. She dove in after her mother, entering the choppy water like a dart.
Cairn was disoriented at first. The saltwater stung her eyes and she had to blink several times to adjust. She had landed in the boat’s wake, and it was initially impossible to see more than a few feet in front of her with the propeller churning the water. As the boat drifted farther away, she spotted the dark shape beneath her slowly spiraling into the depths.
Cairn swam frantically downward, arm over arm, kicking with everything she had. The ocean pressed down around her, a suffocating, eerie silence as she descended. Her lungs burned and she wished she’d taken a fuller breath before she’d jumped in.
She was close enough to make out the features of her mother’s face now. Ahna had released the anchor, letting it drag her down, and as she stared dreamily up toward her daughter, Cairn fought through the fatigue in her muscles, ignoring the black spots that peppered her vision, resisting the urge to open her mouth and gasp for oxygen that wasn’t available.
They were four lengths apart, three lengths, two lengths. Cairn wriggled the last few feet and her fingertips hooked onto her mother’s. One last kick and she’d be close enough to grab her by the wrist.
And then the unthinkable happened. Her descent came to an abrupt stop. Her body jerked hard in the water as some unseen force pulled on the waistband of her shorts. Ahna’s fingertips slipped from her grasp.
Against her will, Cairn rose back toward the surface, away from her mother, watching in horror as Ahna’s mouth opened, letting the brine rush into her lungs. The bubbles of her last breath floated past Cairn, who released a muffled, tortured scream into the water, all the while trying to fight her way back to Ahna. Cairn thrashed wildly until her rescuer’s elbow accidentally struck the side of her head, subduing her.
In the stunned vacuum that followed, she stopped screaming and watched her mother vanish into the depths, the whites of Ahna’s unseeing eyes the last thing to be swallowed by the dark.
Cairn breached the surface with Delphine, who hugged her torso with one arm and used the other to paddle hard, keeping them both afloat. She sobbed and drew in a deep breath, preparing to submerge again, but Delphine’s hold on her tightened. “No, Cairn!” she shouted into her waterlogged ears. “I’m sorry. She’s gone.”
“There’s still time,” Cairn pleaded. “There’s still …” But the last word eluded her as she collapsed into anguished tears, her rag-doll body quaking, all the fight drained from her. Her father screamed hysterically as he turned the boat around, but Cairn couldn’t hear him. She hardly noticed the life preserver land in the water next to them.
“I won’t lose you, too,” Delphine said, her voice quivering. Unexpectedly, she began to hum a lullaby to Cairn while her father tugged them both back toward the boat. As shock cascaded in from all sides, as Cairn stared at the now still spot in the water where Ahna vanished into the wake, she thought that her friend was wrong: Delphine had already lost her.
Because the girl they pulled from the water that day was just a wispy, fragile husk of the one who dived in.
About the Author:
Karsten Knight is the author of the historical mystery NIGHTINGALE, SING, the time-traveling thriller PATCHWORK, and the Polynesian volcano goddess trilogy WILDEFIRE (Simon & Schuster)–though some say his writing career peaked at the age of six, when he completed a picture book series about an adventurous worm. He is a graduate of College of the Holy Cross and earned an MFA in writing for children from Simmons College. Karsten resides in Boston, where he lives for fall weather, bowling, and football season. For more information on Karsten or his books, please visit www.karstenknightbooks.com.
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