Maladias has come. New York is defenseless. The Mages have fallen…
With the evil entity Maladias preparing to invade New York, Aspen Rivest—one of the last surviving Mages of the Council—is running out of options to stop him. She needs allies. Fast.
But gathering enough strength to oppose Maladias means calling on help from the remaining Supernaturals of New York—Supes that have become enemies of the Mages. Supes who hate each another almost as much as they hate Aspen…
Underground armies, lost apprentices, last-ditch efforts, it all leads to this. Unite or die. Sacrifice, or everything is lost. When the final battle comes, Aspen must discover just how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to win. If she doesn’t, her world—and everyone she loves—will be consumed by darkness.
Chapter One—The First Encounter
The place stank of death.
Tana brought a hand up to her nose, trying to block the stench of copper and flesh wafting through the air. Even without the sensitive nose of a half Vamp, she was sure it would smell just as bad.
She jumped as a door slammed behind her, the sound echoing through the back of the cathedral, repeating itself over and over until it finally gasped into silence. She narrowed her eyes to better see into the darkness. Nothing moved. Her enhanced hearing couldn’t pick up anyone breathing. She’d come in that way. Maybe the wind had shut it…
Tana forced herself to move again. She couldn’t risk lingering. As hidden by magic as the Mage’s Council of Prague was, something evil had found it. Something evil still lurked here.
“Hello?” Tana hissed, afraid to raise her voice. “Hello? Is anyone there? I’m a friend. I can help.”
The cavernous atrium of the St. Vitus cathedral was clothed in moonlight leaking through the stained-glass windows, splashing across the exquisite marble floor. The spindly candelabras glinted gold. The shadowed shapes of stone saints huddled in small alcoves. Their figures made Tana shiver. The Mages of Prague should have been meeting here tonight. They always did. That was what Tana had been told.
But many things had changed since Maladias had arrived.
Tana tiptoed between the prayer benches, heading toward the altar. Her heart pounded in her ears. She bit her bottom lip so hard her sharpened fangs cut through the thin flesh.
Maybe they couldn’t understand English? More likely they were in hiding. In all the places she’d traveled across Europe the past couple weeks, none had been left untouched by Maladias’ presence. Since entering their world through Edinburgh, he’d commenced to wipe out the Mages there, then systematically moved on to others. Amsterdam. Berlin. Paris, Rome. All gone. She’d hoped those in Prague hadn’t met the same fate.
It wasn’t just that Maladias was destroying the supernatural community. His presence was growing so powerful that even the Norms were beginning to notice. The usual charms and hexes that kept them ignorant weren’t working as well. And she knew why. Even powerful magic couldn’t disguise buildings collapsing without warning, or entire sections of cities where Supes used to live appearing ravaged overnight. Perhaps Norms couldn’t put a finger on what exactly was causing these things, but the growing fear was palpable in the air. In Edinburgh, the lack of the Court of the Arcane Arts had made the borough residents unruly. Dangerous, even. Tana hadn’t heard of many Norms disappearing yet, but with Maladias’ dark influence spreading it was only a matter of time.
They were all running out of time.
It wouldn’t be long until he’d absorbed enough power, gained enough strength after traveling over to their realm, to attempt an attack on New York City. Once that happened, Tana was sure he’d use the city as his base camp to complete his conquest of their world. Then there really would be nothing left worth fighting for, and no one who could fight against him.
She crept across the transept to the ambulatory, hoping beyond hope she’d find someone still alive. Two thick wooden doors had been set into the stone wall, tightly shut. Tana knocked. No answer. She knocked again, harder. Then she tried the handle, applying perhaps more pressure than necessary, until the old iron grip snapped off and the door creaked open.
Someone gave a frightened cry from inside. Bodies scuffled away from her as she stepped into the room. The sharp tang of magic crackled in the air as different colored spells were conjured in terrified palms.
“Útočí! Rychle, nežnás může dostat!”
“No! I’m a friend! Friend!” Tana said. “You can tru—”
She barely leapt aside as a spell blasted the wall beside her. More yelling followed, overtaken by a child crying. “I’m not Maladias!” Tana yelled.
The attack paused. Tana stayed crouching behind a table until she felt safe enough to peer over the lip.
Oh hex it all. The kids. Five of them, the oldest no more than eight, the youngest cowering behind the others, cheeks red and streaked with tears.
The oldest child stepped forward, spell still ready to cast. His eyes narrowed at her. “Who…are…you?” he asked in halting English. “You are not…bad?”
Tana kept her hands up as she slowly rose. “I’m not bad. I’m a friend. I—”
The stench of rotten flesh hit her anew, and Tana jerked her head toward the corner of the room. She nearly gasped. A man—one of the Mages, most likely—lay dead, caked in dried blood. It looked as though he’d bled out, probably in front of his students.
Tana swallowed a growing lump in her throat. She had to keep it together. This was not the time or place to grow squeamish. “Where are your other masters? Where are the other Mages?”
The boy’s face hardened, his eyes speaking of a horror he would never reveal.
“They are dead. Everybody is dead.”
The younger child sobbed louder before one of the girls managed to comfort him.
Tana’s spirits plummeted. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, letting that sink in. Another Council, gone. But at least here there were these few survivors. That was more than most. The children could have a place back at the Academy. A safe space. For now, at least—
Tana whipped back around toward the door as something moved in the cathedral’s atrium. She forced her breathing steady.
“I’m going to get you out of here,” she said, keeping her voice light. “I’ll take you somewhere safe.”
The older boy’s eyes narrowed. “Safe?” He said the word like he couldn’t believe it was possible. “Where?”
“New York City. Have you heard of it? It’s a great, big place, and a bunch of amazing people—other Supernaturals just like you—are there.”
She didn’t mention that the reason a bunch of Supes were there was because most were using it for sanctuary. Soon, New York would be the last magical stronghold left. “Doesn’t that sound like fun?”
The older boy looked back at the others. They chattered to each other in rapid-fire Czech. The older boy closed his hand around his spell, extinguishing it. “You will…take us to New York?”
Tana held up a small charm Lucien had given her to use whenever she needed to get back home: It was an ivory carving, white as bone, of one of the four winds. “I can get all of you there, one at a time. But there are too many charms in here. We need to leave the cathedral for it to work. Will you trust me?”
The older boy slowly nodded. The others followed suit.
Tana peeked out the door. She half expected to see Maladias creeping toward them—a long shadow on the ground, a disturbance of the light that signaled his twisted, dark magic—but the cathedral was empty. Only a single chandelier squeaked as it gently rocked high above them.
“This way,” Tana said. “Follow me and stay quiet.”
The children dutifully obeyed, falling into a line single-file behind her like a row of ducklings. Tana noticed that the few in the back were helping the crying one walk, encouraging him along as they slunk along the side of the nave. That was good. It meant resilience, something she hadn’t seen much of, even in adults. These kids would have a chance to recover and overcome what they’d seen here. If only she could get them out...
Something moved near the cathedral’s front doors. Tana froze, holding up a hand to stop the children. One of the girls whimpered. The older boy stood in line with Tana, face set, spell coming back to life in his hand.
“No!” Tana hissed, closing his hand. “No magic! It won’t be strong enough to work on him!”
“Not…strong?” The boy looked horrified. Perhaps he hadn’t understood all of what she’d said, but he’d gotten the gist of it.
Tana waved for them to stay behind, then slowly approached where she thought she’d seen movement. She told herself it could just be a late church-goer, perhaps someone coming to say their prayers. At two in the morning. In a locked cathedral.
She elongated her nails, holding them up and ready to strike. Taking a deep breath, she swung around the nearest pillar.
No one was there.
Tana jumped as one of the front doors creaked open, letting in a cool blast of night air. The chandelier overhead swung even more crazily. Tana caught the whiff of incense, tinged with another fresh bloom of flesh and blood.
One of the children screamed.
Tana whirled around, heart tightening in her chest as the children began to wail louder. She could see their vague forms where she’d left them in the dark, see them stumbling back from a shadowed figure that had manifested in their midst. The little boy who’d been crying sobbed harder as a pale hand reached from the darkness, wrapped around his throat, and dragged him into the shadows. His cries fell silent.
Tana bounded forward, swiping at the figure’s head. It easily sidestepped, like liquid reforming in a glass, its form easily melting around her attack and then taking shape once more. The shadows around them teemed with movement, and Tana realized, with growing horror, that the darkness was coming alive. She could see inside it; see the eyes of the monsters hidden there, see their teeth, their thoughts to rip, shred, kill. The children were still screaming and Tana clamped her hands over her ears as their cries rose louder and louder. She couldn’t bear to hear them anymore! She couldn’t—
They fell silent.
Tana swung around. The figure stood alone in the center of the nave, watching her. The children were nowhere to be found. She nearly fell to her knees. First the Mages, now them. Consumed, as though they’d never been there at all.
The darkness continued creeping up on her from all sides. The figure grinned, showing off his yellow stained teeth.
“It looks as though I missed some the first time. And how delicious they were! But you…I don’t sense any magic like that from you. Were you here to try to stop me?”
The figure stepped into the light and Tana took a horrified step back.
They’d warned her about this. She’d heard stories from Edinburgh about a figure who was Maladias, but wore the body of Xavier, former Mage of the Council of Mages. Isak Uchida’s old master.
Xavier’s bald head was crisscrossed with wicked, pulpy scars, his permanent scowl appearing even more piercing now that his eyes glowed an inhuman gold; eyes that tried to pin her in place.
Tana gripped her magical charm harder. Lucien had given her enough for a few jumps back to New York. But she couldn’t use it if she couldn’t get outside; if she couldn’t get past Maladias.
Maladias raised both of Xavier’s hands and looked down at them. Wisps of magic dripped from the fingertips, hissing as they hit the floor.
“Yes, I suppose this form is the one you used to call Xavier. If you are one of this world’s attempts to stop me, I must confess I’m not impressed. For eons I have traveled between the planes, devouring what I wished, destroying those who opposed me. Though my body on this plane is less than ideal, it will be more than enough to take what I need.”
“We-we’re going to stop you.” Tana hated how her voice came out: cracked and scared. Like a little girl, not someone who could fight. “You won’t hurt anyone else. You won’t kill anyone else. We won’t let you.”
Maladias let out a high, cold laugh. “And how do you intend to do that? Will the Mages destroy me? Foolish girl, my Kings might not have killed all of them, but the Mages are weak now. Scattered to the four winds like used up husks. There is nothing they can do.”
His eyes turned to pitiless slits. “Perhaps…” he hissed, voice turning dangerously low, “perhaps it would be good to let you go. A messenger to warn any who dare try to cross my path.”
Tana took a step back, just as Maladias closed his fingers into a fist. Tana choked as the air was yanked from her lungs. Stars danced in her vision. “Or perhaps as the message.”
With the last bit of her strength, Tana managed to grip one of the pews beside her and launch it at him, her enhanced Vampee strength causing it to splinter as it hit. Maladias merely brushed the wood remnants aside, that eerie smile still on his lips.
“You still have some fight. Excellent.”
She wasn’t sure if the cathedral had a side door but she sprinted toward the nearest nave regardless, hurling candlesticks and uprooting pews in a pathetic attempt to slow him down. But when she looked back, Maladias merely floated above it all, still smiling, like a parent amused at their child’s attempts to look strong.
A sob wrenched itself from Tana’s throat. She couldn’t die here! Aspen was waiting for her. Lucien was waiting for her. Isak, Nina, everyone else in New York. Her home. She couldn’t leave them, not like this.
Tana tried turning to attack once more, just as an enormous weight slammed into her from the side. She felt a rib snap, the bloom of pain overtaking any of her other senses as she careened across the cathedral, smashing into pews, toppling over tables before skidding to a stop. She heard Maladias’ laugh as she tried to pick herself up. The pain was so great she couldn’t think straight. If she’d been a Norm, she’d certainly be dead.
“New York will be next,” Maladias said, brushing aside the wreckage as he made his way toward her. “The final stronghold of this world’s magic. How I’ve longed to claim it as my own, and now it’s in my grasp.”
Tana glanced over her shoulder, fighting to keep her vision steady. She could almost thank Maladias. His last attack had knocked her near the front door. If she could get her broken body to cooperate it was only a dozen feet until freedom.
Maladias brushed another pew aside. Tana sucked in a large, agonizing breath, then pulled out the second charm Lucien had given her. The one he’d said was a pain in the butt to make; the one he’d made her promise she’d only use in emergencies.
Tana figured this qualified.
With trembling hands, she thrust it out toward Maladias. The sudden blast of light that shot from it left her partially blinded. The spell slammed into Maladias’ chest, but Tana didn’t wait to see its effect. She hurled herself toward the cathedral door, glancing back only once to see if he was still after her.
Maladias stood exactly where he had before, completely untouched. He looked at his hands, then down at his unmarred chest. His entire body flickered, so fast Tana thought she’d imagined it. She nearly stopped, just to make sure. It happened again. One moment, Maladias was there, the next he vanished, only to reappear a moment later.
“Impossible,” she heard him murmur.
Tana hit the doors, pushing as hard as her bruised arms would allow. She could feel Maladias’ gaze snap back to her, feel the pressure drop as he approached.
“You will not escape me. No one escapes me—”
With a cry of fear, Tana gave one last, monumental shove, practically breaking the door off its hinges as she threw herself through it and into the crisp night air. She reached for the teleportation charm dangling around her neck. Her mouth formed the words to work the spell at the same time she heard Maladias’ cruel voice utter a spell of his own. A tug pulled at her gut just as piercing pain sliced into her back.
Her world went black.
Hope you enjoyed the excerpt!