Authors: Nicole Maggi
For the teenage me, who needed books like this to escape into and
For Irene, without whose support and perseverance this series would not exist
Published 2016 by Medallion Press, Inc., 4222 Meridian Pkwy, Suite 110, Aurora, IL 60504
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is a registered trademark of Medallion Press, Inc.
If you purchase this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
Copyright Â© 2016 by Nicole Maggi
Cover design by Michal Wlos and James Tampa
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the Library of Congress
It has been a long and winding road to the end of this trilogy, and there were many people along the way who lent support, love, encouragement, chocolate, and wine.
To my agent, Irene Goodman, to whom this book is also deservedly dedicated, for her tireless championing of this trilogy and my writing as a whole. Without you I'd be scrawling words on a wall in crayon and chewing my hair.
To my editor, Emily Steele, for her kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness throughout the four years we've been working together. Whenever I hit a wall, you were there to help me see the doorway.
To the entire Medallion team for nurturing and supporting all three books, especially Brigitte Shepard, Paul Ohlson, and Heather Musick. To Jim Tampa and Michal Wlos for the beautiful covers and design.
To the Los Angeles writing community for cheering me on and holding me up when I wanted to lie down. Special thanks to Mary McCoy for championing my books through the Los Angeles Public Library system, in addition to your wonderful friendship. To Tracy Holczer for your love and constant willingness to drink with me (tater tots and cocktails at the Griffin next week, okay?). To the Los Angeles contingents of the OneFours, Fifteeners, Lucky 13s and Apocalypsies for showing up at all the launch parties and for all the fun we have after the bookstores close . . . I don't know what I would do without you all.
To the Scribblers: we may not meet every other week anymore, but our critique group lives forever. To Anne Van and Will Frank for your invaluable contribution to this trilogy's early days. To Lizzie Andrews for your eternal support, for our weekday writing dates in search of not just inspiration but also great hot chocolate, and for your unabashed love for Heath. To Romina Garber: I just don't think there are words to express how grateful I am for your friendship and your bottomless ability to talk me off any ledge I might be on. You are my soul sister. Wonder Twin Brains, activate!
To Tracy White, for your boundless enthusiasm for my books. You can be my first reviewer anytime. To Jason Polunci, for flying across the country to be at my first-ever book launch and for being a true bosom buddy.
To my sister, Tanya, for your infectious joy at seeing your baby sister finally realize her dream. To my parents, for encouraging my writing from the time I could hold a pencil. A very special thank-you to my stepmom, Dot, who bought me the books that made me want to be a writer: The Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce, which still occupies a prominent place on the shelf reserved for my very favorite books.
And lastly, but most importantly, to Chris and Emilia. With your love, all things are possible.
My mother tells a story of my birth.
There was a freak ice storm, and the closest hospital was forty miles away. The only midwife in the small northern Italian town was called to my mother's bedside. My grandmother bathed her forehead with cool cloths, and my father whispered loving encouragement into her ear.
My grandfather, who thought men did not belong in this world of women's work, was down the street at the bar, drinking Peroni.
The midwife hauled my mother up to a squat and ordered her to push. The pain was so great that my mother thought she would split in two. And for a moment, she lost reality. The room fell silent and frozen as the earth outside. Everything went dark, and all she could hear was the sound of great wings beating hard against the air. “I thought it was Gabriel, come for me,” she tells me.
But out of the darkness came a magnificent falcon, its massive wings pumping the air as it flew right for her. She screamed, and at the same moment the falcon collided with her, the light came back on. The midwife shouted with joy, my grandmother clapped her hands, my father lowered his head in awe, and I slipped out into the world.
My mother looked down at the bundle in the midwife's hand, covered with a slick, shimmering veil of translucent blue. “Born with the caul,” the midwife breathed. “A sign of great fortune.” She carefully broke open the amniotic sac, and I let out my first cry.
As the midwife placed me in my mother's arms, my mother knew. She knew that I would be a Walker. That the great Falcon she had seen was my soul, coming to join my body. “Walkers are born separate,” she says, “and I had the blessing of seeing you become one.”
Was it great fortune, or was it a curse? For that, my mother has no answers. “Only you know that,” she tells me. “The only thing you can control is your own destiny.”
The dark Panther stalked toward my cage of light, his emerald-green eyes glowing in the dimness of the underground room. All I could see were those eyes, that gaze fixed on me. I fluttered to the ground. Through the glittering bars of the cage, he and I stared at each other.
Behind me, Heathâthe Wolfâgrowled so deeply that his white fur vibrated. In front of me, the Panther snarled too, and the combined rumble of his and Heath's voices was enough to make an earthquake. Caught in the middle, I thought I would break into pieces.
The bars of light surrounding me, Heath, and Nerina shimmered with tantalizing transparency. Could the magic of my aura be strong enough to break through? Before anyone could tell me it was a bad idea, I gathered myself and flew straight into the light.
It was a bad idea.
Electric shocks fractured across my body, singed my feathers. I cried out and fell hard onto the concrete floor. For an instant the sickening scent of cooked bird filled the air. Pain coursed through me; I tried to breathe but each inhale was like a stab to my lungs. I closed my eyes. The dark behind my eyes was all-encompassingâno hint of light from my aura. It was going out, like a dying candle.
Like my life source was being pulled out of me.
Something wet and cold pushed against me.
I opened my eyes a sliver. Heath's blue eyes bored into me.
Are you all right?
I wanted to say, but I couldn't summon the energy to respond. Nerina bent over me. Tear tracks ran down her usually impeccably made-up face. “Alessia? Can you move?”
I closed my eyes again and concentrated hard on my wings. After a moment, they twitched.
Nerina squatted beside me. She laid a gentle hand on my feathered belly. “The bars have magic from Angel Falls in them. She may have damaged her aura.” Nerina moved her palms over me. Warmth emanated from her fingers. “What the hell possessed you to fly into them?”
I thought maybe . . .
Never mind that. Can you help her?
Heath interrupted me.
“I hope so. I'm using Redwood magic.”
On the other side of the barrier, the Panther growled and scratched the floor. “Shut up,” Nerina snapped. “Haven't you done enough?”
He's not . . . He's worried about me . . .
Nerina ignored me and kept gliding her hands over the length of my Falcon form. My aura began to seal together its cracks, smoothing itself into a whole. The pain ebbed, fizzling into a dull ache.
I opened my eyes wide and turned my head to the barrier, to the Panther on the other side of it. Heâthe Panther,
âlay on his belly, his nose almost pressed against the bars of light, his deep green eyes looking only at me. A low, keening whine came from his throat, setting my feathers on edge. An answering call escaped from my own mouth.
Nerina jerked back. I thought I heard her say something, but my whole mind was focused on Jonah. I could feel Heath trying to break in, trying to warn me, but I pushed him out. I could not tear my gaze away from Jonah. Everything slowedâmy heartbeat, my breath, even the world around us. All I could see was the green of Jonah's eyes; all I could hear was the sound of our breath, inhaling and exhaling in unison. It filled my mind, bigger than the ocean, until all the spaces inside me were empty. All I could see or hear or feel was Jonah.
His breath, his gaze, his
, filled me with more strength than Nerina's healing had. I lifted away from the floor and came to settle right in front of him, so close that the only thing separating us was the thin sheen of magic keeping me in and him out. A bubble seemed to surround us, shutting out everything beyond us. In that bright, beautiful space, I heard a voice.
I shuddered with shock.
Are you okay? That looked like it really hurt.
I feel . . .
I blinked. There wasn't any pain, just wonder.
How is this happening? I thought Malandanti and Benandantiâ
âcouldn't telecommunicate? I thought so too.
I don't know. It's happened before. I heard Bree at the Waterfall the other night.
We blinked at each other. Somehow it seemed vitally important that we not break eye contact. I could feel his emotions inside my head, his fear just below the surface of his words. I stretched my neck just a fraction of an inch, careful to avoid getting shocked again. I wanted so badly to touch him. We took a breath together and let it out at the same time.
I think it has something to do with connection,
My connection to Bree because she's my twin. My connection to youâ
My connection to youâ
We didn't finish. We didn't need to. We let the unspoken words hang there in our minds for a long moment, the size of them covering everything else. I had always assumed that the Benandanti and the Malandanti couldn't talk to each other this way, but it seemed I was wrong. I remembered the few times that we'd been together, transformed, I'd heard a crackle in my mind. That ability had always been there; it was just that Benandanti and Malandanti never needed to speak to each other as Jonah and I did. Why would they want to? Had there ever been as twisted a tale as mine and Jonah's in the history of this war?