An ancient evil is murdering the Mages. And she might be the next to die…
In the magical boroughs of New York City—filled with supernatural races like the Vamps, shifters, Fae, and witches—evil lurks, waiting for its chance to kill again.
Things are bad for Aspen Rivest, the newest—unwanted—Mage of New York. The Council of Mages is in shambles, Lucien’s confession has left her wondering if she can trust anyone, and Isak, the boy she cares about, is nowhere to be found.
Now she’s running out of time. Maladias’ servants, the Kings, have made it to Earth, tasked with a single purpose: Kill all the Mages and make way for their master’s return.
With Isak gone, it’ll take all of Aspen’s newfound power, cunning, and bravery to bring him back and find the Kings…before they find her.
Chapter One—The First Death
What an absolute mess.
Mage Don Jones cut through the rain-slicked streets of New York City, head down against the slowly worsening weather. His mind repeated the words that had almost become a mantra to him the past few weeks. Ever since…ever since…She’d shown up. That’s when everything had started falling apart.
What an absolute mess. What an absolute mess. As if Maladias wasn’t bad enough.
He paused at a riverside park, whitecaps dotting the tops of the river’s swells as the wind scooped its hand over the surface. A small, worn path cut inland up the hill from where he stood on the sidewalk. There was a cemetery up that way. It was one of the many entrances to the Necropolis, one of the seven magical boroughs of New York; the one he was supposed to be the overseeing Mage for.
Supposed to being the key words. But now…now…
Don Jones struggled up the path—panting the entire way—and peered over the lip of the cemetery’s rusted gate. He wiped some of his wet, stringy hair out of his eyes to see better. The cemetery was filled with weeds and thick with mud. Some of it splattered the nearest tombstone, a slight that in days past would have got him more than one complaint from upset Necropolis residents. But he didn’t care about those who were long dead now. He was here to see if…
The door to the crypt was tightly shut. Don Jones closed his eyes and reached out with his other sense, but felt nothing. The magic from this borough entrance was still and truly gone. Sucked dry. Stolen. By Mage Xavier no less. Don Jones still had trouble believing that, but it turned out that insufferable trouble maker Lucien Dunadine and his pseudo-apprentice—Mage now, Don Jones reminded himself with a scoff—Aspen Rivest had been right. Xavier had been stealing magic from the boroughs and from supernatural creatures alike. He’d killed quite a few of them, too. And with their magic he’d nearly completely taken down the protective wards that had been conjured around the city for centuries. The boroughs hadn’t been happy when they’d found out that a Mage—someone who was supposed to protect them, was supposed to be above corruption—had been behind the wave of terror gripping the supernatural community the last few weeks. How they’d found out Don Jones still didn’t know.
The crypt door remained shut, no matter how much he stared at it. Don Jones grumbled and pushed off the fence. So…another entrance to another borough closed. The other Mages weren’t too keen on sharing any of the goings on in their boroughs, but in the sparse meetings the Council had called since Xavier’s demise, Don Jones could tell his wasn’t the only borough this was happening to. The Mages could punish and plead all they wanted, but the residents were getting unruly.
Don Jones raised a hand and pulled the light from the nearest streetlamp, casting a glow ahead of his footsteps as he waddled back down the path and into the winding streets of Hell’s Kitchen. He needed to go see the Heads of the Necropolis. Again. Not that they’d listen to him. Unruly. Ungrateful. A nuisance. Being a Mage had been so much easier back when he’d first started. He’d had power. Respect. Control. Nobody questioned every decision he and the Mages made. Nobody dared. The Council had ruled with a benevolent iron fist. Things had been working.
Then that girl came along.
Don Jones knew Mage Lucien and his upstart attitude would become an issue if unchecked. He’d warned the Council, but had they listened? Certainly not. And look where it got them. Lucien had brought the girl in. A powerless girl. A Null. Don Jones had been so hoping to see her fail. Perhaps he didn’t want her dead, but certainly maimed a bit, during the assessment against Xavier’s apprentice.
But had that happened? Of course not! The silly nobody succeeded! She’d proved them all wrong, killed Mage Xavier, stopped the wards around New York from completely crumbling so that now they were only mostly defenseless. Now Xavier’s apprentice, Isak, the only possible hope of restoring some sanity and order to the Council, had run off to who knew where. Don Jones suspected the girl did, but she wasn’t telling, leaving them with this…this…
What an absolute mess.
Don Jones paused. Without realizing it he’d wandered into more narrowed streets. Ahead, the light from car headlights skimming by cast dancing refractions into the puddles at his feet. It might as well have been miles away for how alone he suddenly felt. Alone, and so very, very cold…
“Mage Don Jones,” a voice hissed.
Don Jones jumped, his belly jiggling uncomfortably. He forced himself to slowly turn.
The street behind him was empty. He cast his light a little farther out. Still nothing.
Perhaps he was hearing things. As much as he bluffed and blustered his way through that ridiculous girl’s warnings about Maladias coming to destroy them, he would admit he was nervous. Maladias would not be the first to come through the wards, she’d warned the Council. First he would send his Kings, three malevolent servants who would prepare the way. Their task, their horrible, wretched task, would be to kill all the Mages.
Absurd. Absolutely absurd. As absurd as it was to hear Maladias of all beings was coming back. He was Mage Don Jones! He wouldn’t be frightened of children’s fairytales and the half-cooked stories of some Norm Null girl who would have been better off staying on her side of the city.
“Mage Don Jones,” the voice hissed again.
A shadow moved from beneath the overhang of a nearby doorway. Don Jones had to tilt his head ever-so-slightly to the right to view the speaker out of the corner of his eye, before he was able to look at him straight on. Wraiths did not make a habit out of being easily seen.
“What is it?” Don Jones snapped, some of the tension leaving his body. Just a wraith. A normal, simple, pesky wraith. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
The wraith stepped closer, being sure to stay out of the direct light. More solid than ghosts but meaner than wisps, wraiths, the vengeful spirits of those wronged at death, perhaps had worried him at one time. Unlike spirits, they could affect the physical world. Most of them had unfinished business here on the physical plane. Even more had vendettas. Gods help the one they held those against.
“Isn’t it a bit late to be out wandering the streets alone, Mage Don Jones?” The wraith said. Magic dripped over him like a cloak and pooled at his feet, giving him a vaguely human-shape. His glowing eyes peered from wreaths of blackness where his head would have been. “Especially…” the wraith went on, “with the news we’ve been hearing.”
“Is that all you’ve come to talk to me about?” Don Jones drawled. He raised a hand. The tips of his fingers glowed with the promise of a spell. “Should I show you what I do to those who waste my time?”
The wraith didn’t flinch. His eyes continued boring into him.
“I simply came to see if you’re all right. You’ve been so absent from the Necropolis lately. We were…” The wraith chuckled. “…worried.”
“You know very well why I haven’t been there!”
“Ah, yes. The closed entrances. I am sorry. It’s a precaution, you see.”
“Maladias? And his three Kings? Surely you’ve heard—”
“Of course I’ve heard! And as your Mage you will cease closing the entrances unless I give you explicit permission to do so—”
There was a slither in the shadows behind the wraith and suddenly the darkness teemed with movement. Don Jones, in his experience working with the Necropolis for so long, was adept at seeing the true form of something that others often missed. And he did not like what he saw. Tentacles, tendrils, claws, fangs. A massive multitude of roiling darkness and nightmares. For a moment he was frozen by a somewhat unfamiliar sensation:
Fear, he realized. It was fear.
“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded, drawing his short frame as straight as he could. “You dare try to threaten me?”
The wraith raised a hand and waved the teeming mass away. It slowly slunk back into the shadows; still there, Don Jones knew, still waiting, but just out of sight. “I apologize. They wanted to come along. You understand how hard it is to keep the undead under control.” The wraith gave him a heavy look. “Especially when they are tired of being under someone’s thumb.”
The wraith tilted its head up to the sky. He breathed in deeply, and Don Jones, in all his time speaking with the undead, had never thought to ask if they could breathe. He’d never wondered, though they were dead, if they ever feared the physical threats he so often used against them.
“Can you feel them?” The wraith whispered. “One is here. He is searching. There has been darkness moving in the boroughs. Darkness not of our making. It prowls the streets and seeks you. Seeks all of you.”
Don Jones glanced sharply around. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find. Perhaps the eyes of a Vamp—they’d been especially rowdy lately—but all he saw were shadows.
The stupid wraith was making him jumpy.
“Have the False Mage come to us,” the wraith said.
“Excuse me?” Don Jones blustered.
“The False Mage.”
“You don’t mean—the girl? What on earth do you want with her?”
“Have her find us. We’d like to speak with her. There are things we think she should know. Things we wish to discuss.”
“Now listen here!” Don Jones’ usual confidence returned in a sudden rush. He stepped forward, waggling his finger. “I am your Mage! You will speak to me, only to me. You will obey my commands and right now I command you open up the borough entrances for me once again. You will not deal with that…that...imposter!”
And before the wraith could answer, Don Jones swirled around and stomped off. He stuffed his hands beneath his coat. Because they were cold, of course. They were shaking because he was cold.
He kept the wraith and his shadowy cohorts at the edge of his vision until he turned the corner and let out a long breath. Home. He needed that. Needed to get inside his place of sanctuary, perhaps heat himself a nice mug of tea. Get his mind off all these unsettling thoughts.
Speak with the False Mage. Ha! What a ridiculous idea. Though Don Jones had to admit that was a nice name for her. False Mage. The girl had some smidgen of talent. For a thief. And yes, even he would admit being a Null had its perks when one was dealing with the magical community.
But residents from his borough speaking to her? Absurd. As if she could do anything he couldn’t.
He was almost home. He’d gotten a nice apartment overlooking the Rockefeller Center. The spot hadn’t come cheap, of course. But then, it overlooked the plaza and had all the best restaurants less than a five minutes’ walk. And he was a Mage. What good was having the position if he wasn’t able to indulge a bit?
“Mage Don Jones?” a voice hissed.
“Oh, now what—”
He turned. There was a shape in the darkness, walking quickly toward him. Don Jones felt a clench of fear in his chest. This shape didn’t move like a wraith. This shape…
“Mage Don Jones?” the voice hissed again, and there was a sinister growl beneath.
“What are you—?”
The figure raised its hands. There was a bright flash of light. The spell hit Don Jones square in the chest. He felt the searing, felt the agonizing burning as it crawled over his skin, buried itself beneath, scorched his bones and kissed his organs to oblivion. He couldn’t move, couldn’t think of anything except the excruciating agony. The spell reached his neck and crawled into his mouth, choking him. He tried to scream.
Then he knew no more.
Hope you enjoyed the excerpt!