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Authors: Kami Garcia

Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Horror, #Romance, #Juvenile Fiction / Action & Adventure / General, #Juvenile Fiction / Paranormal, #Juvenile Fiction / Love & Romance

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For Alex—

May the black dove always carry you.

Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

—William Shakespeare,
The Tempest

I
ron bars were the only things separating us.

He sat on the cell floor, leaning against the wall, in nothing but a pair of jeans. I glanced at the chain binding his wrists. With his head bowed, he looked exactly the same.

But he’s not.

I let my fingers curl around the wet bars. Several times a day, holy water rained down from the sprinklers in the ceiling. I fought the urge to unlock the door and let him out.

“Thanks for coming.” He hadn’t moved, but I knew he didn’t need to see me to sense I was here. “No one else will.”

“Everyone’s trying to figure this out. They don’t know what to do about—” The words caught in my throat.

“About me.” He rose from the floor and walked toward me—and the bars separating us.

As he drew closer, I counted the links in the chain hanging between his wrists. Anything to keep from looking him in the eye. But instead of moving away, I gripped the bars tighter. He reached out and wrapped his hands around the metal above mine.

Close but not touching.

“Don’t!” I shouted.

Steam rose from the cold-iron bars as the holy water seared his scarred skin. He held on too long, intentionally letting his palms burn.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he whispered. “It’s not safe.”

Hot tears ran down my cheeks. Every decision we’d made up to this point felt wrong: the chains coiled around his wrists, the cell doused in holy water, the bars keeping him caged like an animal.

“I know you’d never hurt me.”

The words had barely left my lips when Jared lunged at the bars, grabbing at my throat. I jumped back, his cold fingers grazing my skin as I slipped out of reach.

“You’re wrong about that, little dove.” His voice was different.

Laughter echoed off the walls and chills rippled through me. I realized what everyone else had known all along.

The boy I knew was gone.

The one caged before me was a monster.

And I was the one who had to kill him.

I’
m standing in front of the burning building. Ash-covered bedsheets hang from the shattered windows, outside the rooms where people are still trapped. Inside, screams rise over the roaring flames, and my skin crawls.

I want to run through the wall of black smoke and save them, but I can’t move. My eyes drift down to my shaking hand, and I realize why.

I’m the one holding the match.

I bolted upright in bed, my heart pounding.

Another nightmare.

They started the night the walls of the penitentiary crumbled around me, and I’d been having them ever since.
I pressed my hands against my ears, trying to silence the screams.

It was just a dream.

And what I’d done in real life was even worse than setting fire to a house full of innocent people.

I had freed a demon.

Andras, the Author of Discords. A demon that had been imprisoned for more than a century.

Until I released him two months ago and he killed my mother and the other Legion members in her generation. Judging from the newspaper articles I obsessively collected, he’d probably killed even more people since then. Some days I thought about it less than others.

This
wasn’t
one of those days.

I spent the afternoon in the library reading articles and printing weather charts and maps.

By dinnertime, I was burned out.

As I trudged across the muddy quad, the rain soaked through the black leather boots my mom gave me the night she died. Between the rain and the Pennsylvania winter temperatures, pneumonia was becoming a very real possibility. But it was worth the risk to wear something she’d given me.

Other girls rushed by in their uniform skirts and Wellies, dodging puddles like land mines while I stomped
through every one. It hadn’t stopped raining since the night I assembled the Shift—the paranormal key that had unlocked Andras’ cage—and the sky still looked as broken as I felt.

How could I ever have mistaken the Shift for a weapon capable of destroying Andras?

The details of that night were branded in my memory, as inescapable as the nightmares.

Sitting on the prison floor, with the Shift’s cylindrical casing in my hand and the disks scattered in my lap. Jared, Lukas, Alara, and Priest on the other side of the cell door, urging me to put it together. The paralyzing fear as I slid the last piece of the device into place.

That was nineteen days ago.

Nineteen days since I saw my friends or heard the sound of Jared’s voice.

Nineteen days since I fell outside the prison, and the razor wire cut up my legs.

Nineteen days since I sat in the emergency room while a doctor stitched up the gashes and the police questioned me.

The doctor sounded apologetic when he finished. “You’re all patched up, but you will have a few scars.”

I remember laughing. Scars from a piece of razor wire were nothing compared to the emotional scars that night would leave behind.

Hours later, while I was watching the storm batter the windows in my hospital room, I heard voices outside my
door. I only caught bits and pieces of the conversation, but it was enough.

“—from social services. Do you have any idea why your daughter ran away, Mrs. Waters?”

A runaway—that was the story I gave the police.

“It’s Diane Charles,
not
Waters. Kennedy’s mother is dead. I’m her aunt.”

“Your niece has been unresponsive for the most part, Ms. Charles. We need to conduct a psychiatric evaluation to determine her mental state before we can release her into your custody.”

“My custody?” Aunt Diane’s voice rose. “When I agreed to become her legal guardian, Kennedy was an honor student who’d never been in any trouble. I have no idea what she’s gotten herself mixed up in, but I don’t want her bringing whatever it is into my house. And what if she runs away again?”

“I understand your concern, but you are her only relative—”

“Who you can locate,” Aunt Diane snapped. “Have you even tried to find her father?” The fact that my aunt was willing to hand me over to a man I hadn’t seen in twelve years made it clear just how much she didn’t want me.

Aunt Diane lowered her voice. “Kennedy’s mother and I were not close. My sister had
issues
, which she obviously passed on to her daughter, and I feel terrible about that. But I’m not equipped to deal with a troubled teenager.”

On any other night, I would’ve stormed into the hallway and verbally annihilated my aunt for insulting my mom. But she was right about me, even if she didn’t know the real reason why. Letting me live with her would be a death sentence.

“You don’t have to take this on alone,” the social worker said. “There are programs designed for at-risk teens. Group homes, boarding schools…”

The next morning, Aunt Diane offered me a handful of pathetic excuses. “I only want what’s best for you, Kennedy. Winterhaven Academy is a lovely place, and
very
expensive.” She rambled on without waiting for a response. “The doctor said you can leave for school as soon as your legs heal. I’ve already made all the arrangements.”

I stared at the TV mounted on the wall behind her as a news station showed clips of golden retrievers and Labradoodles tearing one another apart in a dog park. The headline on the ticker read
TWO CHILDREN DEAD AFTER RABIES OUTBREAK IN LOCAL SUBURB
. A painful reminder that I had no idea what Andras was capable of or how far his reach extended.

When my aunt finally headed back to Boston that night, I started getting answers.

Electrical storms and torrential rain hit West Virginia nonstop on the first day Andras was free. Lightning sliced through the darkness outside my window, sending the nurses scurrying through the halls whenever the hospital lost power.

By the second day, rain wasn’t the only thing falling from the sky. News channels across West Virginia and
Pennsylvania streamed live video of crows dropping out of the sky like black hail.

On day three, while scientists tested dead birds for disease, violence spread like a virus. The killing began in Moundsville, West Virginia, only miles from the hospital and West Virginia State Penitentiary, where I had assembled the Shift. The bodies of a local pastor and his wife were discovered hanging from the rafters of their church, the walls plastered with pages from the Book of Enoch; a retired warden from the prison was electrocuted, an electric razor floating next to his body in the bathtub; and a theology professor from the university was stabbed to death in his office, dozens of books from a locked bookcase stolen. None of the killers were caught.

The violence only increased from there.

The next day, outside of Morgantown, West Virginia, a Boy Scout leader drowned his troop and then himself. In Pittsburgh, a retired firefighter burned down half the houses on his block and then marched into one of the infernos. Three maximum-security prisons were put on lockdown after riots broke out and the wardens were murdered, their bodies left hanging from the guard towers.

On the fifth day, girls started disappearing.

One girl every day for the past fourteen days: Alexa Sears, Lauren Richman, Kelly Emerson, Rebecca Turner, Cameron Anders, Mary Williams, Sarah Edelman, Julia Smith, Shannon O’Malley, Christine Redding, Karen York,
Marie Dennings, Rachel Eames, Roxanne North. Their names were burned into my mind without any help from my eidetic memory.

By day six, the doctors had discharged me from the hospital, and on day seven, the headmistress was handing me the same Winterhaven uniform I was wearing now.

And it still itched like hell.

I elbowed my way through the cliques of girls hanging out underneath the massive arched walkway known as the Commons. It was the day after Christmas, and the teary-eyed freshmen were still huddled together crying because their parents hadn’t let them come home for the holidays.

A pack of girls with streaked black eyeliner straddled the wall between two of the pillars—sitting half in and half out of the rain—passing a contraband cigarette between them. Across from them, the lip-gloss mafia gossiped near the bathrooms, reeking of envy and imitation strawberry.

I sidestepped my way through the cloying scent and pushed open the bathroom door. With two weeks of winter break looming, I needed to find an alternate route to the library if I wanted to avoid the drama.

Water from my uniform dripped onto the tile as I stood in front of the mirror, wringing out my brown hair. I never bothered to carry an umbrella. The rain reminded me of the night in the prison—and of murdered families and charred homes, drowned Boy Scouts and missing girls.

Things I don’t deserve to forget.

As I twisted my long hair into a ratty ponytail, I caught a glimpse of my reflection. I barely recognized the girl staring back at me. My dark eyes were lost in the bluish-black shadows around them, and my olive skin looked pale and washed out against my white button-down shirt.

The past few weeks had taken a serious toll on me. Most days I was lucky if I remembered to eat, and the nightmares kept me from getting more than a few hours of sleep.

An image flashed through my mind. The girl in the white nightgown—the first spirit I’d ever encountered, and the one that would’ve killed me if Jared and Lukas hadn’t saved me. All I needed were the handprints around my neck and I could pass for her now.

The fluorescent light above my head flickered.

Not here.

I froze, my hand instinctively moving to the silver medal on my necklace. The Hand of Eshu, the protective symbol Alara had given me.

A sudden
pop
sent a shower of sparks raining down over me. I ducked and covered my head, my mind scanning through mental pictures of the room. Was there anything in here I could use as a weapon?

Find out what you’re up against.

I glanced at the ceiling. Black smoke coated the inside of one of the lightbulbs.

A burnt-out bulb. Not a paranormal attack.

I’d been anticipating one since the night I freed Andras, but nothing had happened. Yet. What would Jared think if he saw me jump out of my skin over a lightbulb? My thoughts always found their way back to him.

Where was he right now? Was he safe?

What if something had happened to him?

A familiar knot formed in my throat.

He’s okay. He has to be. They all have to be.

Jared, Lukas, Alara, and Priest knew how to take care of themselves, and each other. The memory of the last time I saw them, at the penitentiary, lingered in my mind.

Thinking about them will just make you miss them more.

I splashed cold water on my face and groped for a paper towel, blinking away the memories and the water in my eyes. A blurry reflection passed behind me in the mirror.

I jerked back. “Sorry,” I said, embarrassed by my reaction. “I didn’t see you.”

As I turned away from the mirror, the reflection of the room lingered in my peripheral vision. I looked for the person who had come in.

No one was there.

Battling vengeance spirits with Jared, Lukas, Alara, and Priest had taught me that paranormal entities could be
anywhere. The odds of running into an angry spirit on a hundred-year-old campus like Winterhaven were pretty high for anyone. But the nightmares and my experiences over the last few months left me feeling like there was something more to it.

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