Darkness Falls


By Cate Tiernan

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You can run from your past, but it will always catch up.

Nastasya has lived for hundreds of years, but for some reason it never seems to get any easier. She’s left behind her days of debauchery to find peace and forgiveness at River’s Edge, a safe haven for wayward immortals. There she’s uncovered her family’s epic history, reclaimed her magickal powers, and met Reyn, whom she dubs “the Viking god. ” Just as she settles into her new life, Nastasya learns that her old friends might be in town….

Reuniting with her gorgeous and dangerous ex-best-friend, Innocencio, Nas wonders if she’ll ever be truly free of her dark legacy. Is Incy dangerous, power-hungry, and wicked? Or is he the only one who truly understands Nas’s darkness? Either way, Nas is desperate to find out who she really is-even if the answer kills her.


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I want you." Reyn's voice, low and insistent, seemed to come at me from all angles. And no wonder, because he was looming over me obnoxiously as I filled a big glass jar with basmati rice from the twenty-five-pound sack we keep in the pantry.

Look at me: "we." I'm all about the "we-ness," as if I belonged here at River's Edge, rehab central for wayward immortals. Sort of a twelve-step program. Which in my case had more like a hundred and eleventy steps. I'd been a Riverite only two months and had no idea how long it would take to undo 450-plus years of bad behavior. At least several more weeks, for sure. Probably more like seven or eight years. Or longer. Ugh.

I shifted closer to the big wooden kitchen worktable and hoped I wouldn't spill rice everywhere, because God knows that would be a pain in the ass to clean up.

"You want me, too." I could practically hear his fists clenching and unclenching.

"No, I don't. Go away." Welcome to the freak-show circus of Nastasya's romantic exploits. It isn't for the faint of heart. Or the faint of stomach. Is that a phrase?

Nastasya: C'est moi. One of your friendly neighborhood immortals. Except for the friendly part. If I'm being honest. A couple months ago, I'd realized I'd good-timed myself into a wretched place of depraved indifference, and I'd sought help from River, an immortal I'd met back in 1929. Now I was here in rural Massachusetts, learning how to be one with nature, magick, peace, love, harmony, etc. Or at least trying not to feel like throwing myself headfirst into a wood chipper.

There were other immortals here: four teachers and currently eight students. Such as me. And Reyn, Viking wonderboy. For example.

Reyn: the thorn in my side, nightmare of my past, destroyer of my family, constant irritant of my now, and oh yeah, the hottest, hottest, most beautiful, stunning guy I had seen in 450 years. The one whose image haunted my brain as I shivered in my cold, narrow bed. The one whose fevered kisses I had relived over and over as I lay exhausted and unable to sleep.

What fevered kisses, you ask? Well, about ten days ago we'd had a mutual sudden brain attack and given in to the inexplicable, overwhelming chemistry that had been building between us since my arrival. This had been closely followed by the soul-destroying realizations that his family had killed everyone in my family, and my family had basically killed a lot of his family. That was our shared heritage. And we were on fire for each other. Fun, eh? I mean, when I hear about couples struggling because they're different religions or one's a vegan or something, I think they just need to get some perspective.

Anyway, since our make-out session/horrible realizations, Reyn had continued to pursue me with winter raider persistence and ruthlessness. And yet night after night, he—who has kicked down hundreds of doors, battered his way through hundreds of doors, set fire to hundreds of doors—had not brought himself to knock on mine.

Not that I wanted him to, or would know what to do if he did.

Are you dizzy from being flung into my world like this? I feel the same way every morning when I open my eyes to find I'm still me, still here.

Outside, the late December sunlight, as thin and gray as dishwater, had faded rapidly to a darkness seen nowadays only in rural areas. Which I was in.

"Why are you avoiding this?" In general, Reyn kept his emotions under very tight control. But I knew what he could be like—for the first hundred years of my existence, Reyn and his clan had terrorized my homeland of Iceland, as well as Russia and northern Scandinavia, earning himself the title Butcher of Winter. I hadn't known it was him back then, of course. Just that the raiders were bloodthirsty savages responsible for looting, pillaging, raping, and burning dozens of villages to the ground.

Now the Butthead of Winter slept two rooms away from me! He did farm chores and set the table for dinner and a bunch of other homey things! It was positively creepy. And of course meltingly attractive. But I still found it impossible to believe that his current "civilized" status couldn't just be ripped away like wet tissue paper, revealing the marauder I knew was still inside.

I filled up the glass jar, carefully tipped the bag back onto the worktable, and screwed the lid on the jar. A handful of snarky, sarcastic retorts hovered on my lips, and just two months ago, I would have been flinging them at him the way James Bond's car spews nails. But I was trying to grow. To change. As nauseatingly clichéd as that was and as wretchedly painful and difficult as it was proving to be—still, I was here. And as long as I was here, I had to keep trying.

What a revolting notion.

"I prefer to avoid things," I said truthfully while I tried to come up with something stronger.

"You can't avoid this. You can't avoid me."

He was so close that I could sense the heat of his body through his flannel shirt. I knew beneath that shirt lay hard, smooth, tan skin, skin that I had touched and kissed. I felt an almost irresistible longing to press my face against his chest, to let my fingers trace the eternal burn scar I knew was there. The burn that matched the one I had on the back of my neck. The one I'd kept hidden for more than four centuries.

"I could if you left me alone," I pointed out irritably.

He was quiet for a moment, and I felt his golden eyes raking my face. "I'm not going to leave you alone." Promise? Threat? You decide!

I was saved from having to come up with a more worthy defense by the sound of voices coming toward the kitchen from the dining room.

This house, River's Edge, had once been a Quaker meetinghouse. The downstairs had a couple offices, a small workroom, a front parlor, a large, plain dining room, and this, a somewhat inadequate kitchen that had last been updated in the 1930s. Before this, my most recent living situation had been an expensive, much-in-demand flat in London with amazing views of Big Ben and the Thames. I'd had a doorman, maid service, and a catering kitchen right downstairs. But my life here was… better.

Like I said, everyone here is immortal, and a fun bunch we are, too. Actually, not really. Considering we were all here because our lives were grievously flawed in many unique ways. There is in fact a River, of River's Edge. She's the oldest person I've ever met—born in 718, in Genoa, Italy, back when it still had a king of its own. Even among immortals, we were like, Whoa. She owns this place, rehabs immortals who are wrestling with their darker inclinations, and is pretty much the only person in the world that I even halfway trust.

I myself am 459 years old, though I have the looks (and apparently the maturity) of a seventeen-year-old. Reyn is 470. He looks like a very hot twenty.

The swinging door pushed open and Anne, Brynne, and River came in, talking and laughing, their cheeks pink from the cold air outside. They were carrying bags of groceries, which they set down on various counters. We produced most of our own food, actually, but River still bought the occasional items from the one grocery store in town, Pitson's.

"And I said, is that a mustache?" Anne said, and the others almost collapsed with laughter. "And if she could have killed me, she would." River leaned against the kitchen counter and wiped tears out of her eyes.

Reyn muttered something and left through the outside kitchen door, going out into the black, freezing night without a jacket. Not that I cared. At all.

"Oh goddess, I haven't laughed like that in…" River trailed off, as if trying to remember. I'm guessing she was thinking since before Nell (another student here, who tried to kill me, BTW) went schizo and had to be loaded up with magickal tranquilizers and carted away. Just a guess.

"Is he okay?" Brynne asked, gesturing at the door. She'd been here a couple of years, I think, and of all the students was the one I was closest to. Close being a relative term. "Did we interrupt something?" Her brown eyes widened with sudden interest and speculation. The night she had cracked, Nell had shrieked that she had seen Reyn and me kissing. I'd hoped people would chalk it up to the hysterical ravings of a nutcase, but there had been too many meaningful glances since then to really lie to myself effectively.

"No," I said, scowling. I took the burlap sack of rice back into the pantry, then put the glass jar on the shelf.

"Well," said Anne, apparently deciding to let the Reyn thing go, "the big news is that my sister is coming to visit!" Anne was one of our teachers and looked around twenty, with a dark, sleek pageboy and round blue eyes, but I knew she was 304. Despite being 150 years younger than I was, she seemed light-years ahead in knowledge, wisdom, magick—okay, everything.

"You have a sister?" For some reason I was still surprised when I met immortals who had siblings. I mean, of course many did. But in general I felt that most immortals were more solitary creatures—like, after seventy, eighty years, anyone would get sick of their family, no matter how nice. Three hundred years was a long time to keep doing everyone's birthday parties, you know?

"Several. And two brothers," said Anne. "But Amy is nearest to me in age. I haven't seen her in almost three years."

Immortal sisters who were close. I hadn't run into too many of those. I was starting to feel like I had spent the last four centuries living with a kind of tunnel vision, a varied but narrow existence, choosing not to see, not to know so many things.

Finally, Anne and Brynne went out to set the long table for dinner. River unpacked the groceries, handing me a few things to put in the fridge.

"Everything okay?" River asked.

"In that sentence, does okay mean tortured, confused, sleepless, and worried?" I asked. "If so, then yes, I'm dandy."

River smiled. She's had a thousand years to develop the patience to deal with the likes of me.

"Am I the worst person you've ever had here?" I don't know what made me ask that question. Just—one can make a lot of bad decisions in 450 years. A lot.

River looked surprised. "Worst in what way?" Then she shook her head. "Never mind. No matter how you define 'worst,' you aren't it. By a long shot."

I was dying to ask who had been worse, and how, but there was no way she would tell me. Then it occurred to me that of course Reyn, for one, was worse than me, probably worse than most immortals who had come here aching to be made whole. Reyn had slaughtered entire towns, enslaved countless people, plundered and pillaged and whatnot. I mean, I'm a total loser in many ways, but you can't pin anything like that on me.

And yet Reyn was the one I wanted. Above all others. Karma had pretty much drop-kicked me into an unending universe of irony.

"So, Anne has a sister, huh?" I said, lamely changing the subject.

"Yes. She's very nice. You'll like her."

"I know why I don't have siblings," I said, skirting by that thought quickly, "but I feel like I haven't really met many other immortals who have siblings, either." I didn't weigh in on whether I would like Anne's sister or not. I don't really like most people. I can tolerate them pretty well, but like? Much harder.

"I think you'll find that immortals who are less than about four hundred years old might have siblings," River said, washing her hands at the farmhouse sink. "And those older than about four hundred rarely do."

"Why?" I asked. "You have brothers still, right?"

"Four of them," said River. She turned to me, her almost unlined face looking thoughtful. She brushed a strand of silver hair off her forehead and shrugged. "It's kind of unusual for someone my age."

"Why?" I asked again. Some weird immortal genetic thing?

"In the olden days," she said slowly, "immortals made it a habit to kill other immortals around them, to take their power."

My eyes widened. "What?"

"You know how we make Tähti magick, magick that doesn't destroy other things?" she said. I nodded. "And you know how to make Terävä magick, where instead of channeling your own power, you just take power from something else, destroying it in the process."

I nodded. The whole good-versus-evil thing. Check. Starting to get a handle on it.

"You can get that power from plants, animals, crystals… people." Her lips pressed together. "You can take someone else's power and use it for your own. But it kills them, of course. Or worse."

It should have occurred to me that such a thing could happen. It seemed stupid and embarrassingly naive not to have made that leap. But I hadn't.

River saw the surprise on my face. "You know we can be killed," she said gently.

A pain twisted inside me, a pain so familiar, so long a part of my life that it seemed natural to feel its sharp rasp with every breath. Yes, I knew. My parents had been killed in front of me. I'd seen my two brothers and two sisters also killed, beheaded. I'd walked across a carpet soaked with their blood. So, no siblings. I tried to swallow and felt a knot in my throat.

"If an immortal kills another immortal, they can take that person's life force, add it to their own power," River went on. "And then also—that's one less person who might try to kill them."

My breath was coming shallowly now, my quick descent into my family memory seeming to dull everything she was saying. "I see," I said, my voice thin. "So that's pretty much what Reyn's father was trying to do when he killed my family. While Reyn kept watch in the hall."

River was very solemn, and she let one hand glide along my cheek. "Yes."


River had bought this property, with its several buildings and about sixty acres of land, in about 1904, I think. Like most immortals, she'd been one person, then pretended to die, then came back as her own long-lost daughter to claim the property again. All immortals have a bunch of different names, histories, passports, and so on. We tend to have networks of excellent forgers, hoarding the best ones the way some people hoard their favorite clothes designer or hairstylist. But I sure do miss the days before picture IDs and social security numbers. It's so much more complicated nowadays to drift from country to country, incarnation to incarnation.

My bedroom, like all the others, was on the second floor. Each room is pretty sparse, with a bed, a sink, a few other items. I'd just finished throwing some clean laundry into my tiny wardrobe when I heard the dinner bell chime. Like animals responding to a feed call, all of us on this hallway left our rooms and headed downstairs. I said hi to fellow students Rachel, who was originally from Mexico and was, I think, about 320 years old, and Daisuke, from Japan, who was 245. Jess, who was only 173 but looked much, much older, nodded stiffly at Reyn, who was closing his door. I tried not to think about Reyn sleeping in there, lying on his bed—

In the large, plainly furnished dining room, the long table was set for twelve. An oak sideboard held steaming serving bowls, and a large gilded mirror reflected it on the other wall. As I lined up behind Charles, another student, I caught a glimpse of myself. Before coming here, I'd been stuck in a nineties goth vibe, with spiky black hair, heavy eye makeup, and a junkie's skeletal pallor. With yet more irony, I now looked totally different from anything I had looked like for the last three hundred years—because I looked only like myself. My hair is its natural whitish-blondish color, common among my clan in Iceland. Both my gaunt face and too-skinny body had filled out and now looked healthier. With no contacts in, my eyes were their original dark, almost black color. Would I ever not be surprised about looking like myself?

I took a plate and went down the line. Another change in my life had been my diet. At first the simple food, mostly from our own gardens, had made me feel like I was choking. There's only so much fiber a girl can get down. Now I was more used to it—used to picking it, digging it, preparing it, and eating it, whenever it was my turn to do any of those things. I would still give a lot for some champagne and a molten chocolate cake, but I no longer screamed silently when confronted with kale.

"Hello, all," said a voice, and I looked up to see Solis (teacher) coming in from the kitchen. I'd heard he was originally from England, but like most of us he had an unplaceable neutral accent. Brynne had told me he was around 413, but he looked maybe in his mid-to-late twenties. Asher, down at the end of the table, was the fourth teacher and also River's partner—I didn't think they were married. He was originally Greek and was one of the older-looking people here—which meant that at 636, he looked like he was in his early thirties. The three of them, plus River, did their best to teach us about herbs and crystals, oils and essences, spellcraft and magick-making, stars, runes, sigils, metals, plants, animals, etc. Basically, every single freaking thing in the entire world. Because it was all connected, somehow—to us, to magick, to power. I'd been taking lessons for about five weeks, and my head already felt close to exploding. And I was still in, like, magickal preschool. I had a long slog ahead of me. I hated thinking about it.

"Solis!" said Brynne, waving her fork at him. As usual, she was wearing a colorful combination of head wrap, scarf, sweater, overalls, and work boots. The fact that she was lovely in a tall, slender, teenage-model kind of way somehow helped it all work. She was 204, the daughter (one of eleven children!) of an American former slave owner and a former slave.

I sat down at the table, stepping carefully over the long bench so I wouldn't whack Lorenz with one of my high-top Converses. I hated these benches. Chairs. Chairs would be the way to go here. River should set up an "ideas" box somewhere so we could all make helpful suggestions. I could come up with a significant number, actually.

"You're back!" said Anne, kissing Solis first on one cheek, then the other.

Solis smiled, looking more like a California surfer dude than ever. His dark blond hair curled around his head in an untidy halo, and somehow he always had just the right amount of scruffy beard—not too long or too short.

There was a chorus of hellos and welcomes, and River kissed him, too.

I kept my head down and started plowing through—Jesus, what was this? Squash casserole? Who would think of something like squash casserole? And why?

"Nastasya?" Solis's voice made me look up, my mouth full of mush that I couldn't bring myself to commit to, in the belief that my stomach would hate me forever and start rejecting even good food.

"Mmm," I managed, then gave an almighty swallow. I'm sorry, stomach. "Hi."

"How are you?"

Gosh, what a loaded question. When last he saw me, everyone had just heard Nell shriek that she'd seen Reyn and me making out.

Nell had loved Reyn. For years. Desperately. And he, being an oblivious moron, hadn't noticed. And then Reyn and I sort of—exploded. And it made Nell crazy. Or, crazier. I had to believe she'd already had one arm in the straitjacket before I even got to River's Edge.

Anyway, Solis had accompanied Nell to what I assumed was some kind of asylum for immortals who were completely bananas. Now he was back. And his being back made that whole disturbing, mortifying tableau spring to vivid life again.

"I'm fine," I managed, then drank some water. Did I know enough magick to turn it into wine, I wondered. Or, better, gin? Probably not.

"Good," he said easily, and unfolded his napkin.

"Solis," Charles said. It was hard for Charles to look solemn, with his bright red hair, green eyes, freckles, and round, cheerful face, but he was doing a good imitation. "How is Nell?"

Yep, just put it out there, Chuck. Go on. We face things here. We aren't afraid of emotion

"She's not good," said Solis, pouring himself some water. "Pretty raving mad, actually. But in Louisette's capable hands, and with the healers there, I think she'll be okay. One day."

Charles shook his head—it was a shame, such a nice girl—and then went back to his meal.

"My aunt Louisette has been able to create deep healing in people who were far more troubled than Nell," said River. "Nell knows that we'll be sending her our good thoughts and wishes."

I couldn't help glancing at Reyn quickly. His face was still, his jaw set, as he pushed food around on his plate without eating it. I wondered if he felt responsible in any way, because he hadn't noticed that Nell was pining for him. I didn't know.

"Oh, everyone, I'm sure you've realized this," River went on, "but tomorrow is New Year's Eve. It seems incredible that this year is almost over! We'll be having a special circle tomorrow night, as we do each year. I hope you'll all be there—I would love for us to welcome the new year together."

There went my plans to head down to New York and get plastered in Times Square.

Not really. It was an amazing notion for me, but I actually had no desire to leave here, go drinking with strangers, be around lights and noise and chaos. Lights, noise, and chaos had been my companions of choice for the last century—they were probably feeling pretty left out.

Or maybe they hadn't noticed I was gone. Maybe my pals Innocencio, Boz, Katy, Cicely, and Stratton were still giving them plenty of playtime. I'd hung out with the same friends for so long that I hadn't noticed how useless we were all getting. I hadn't noticed Innocencio learning magick, working on developing the power that all immortals have, in varying degrees. Then one night Incy had used his magick to break the spine of a cabbie who'd been rude to us. Actually broke his spine, paralyzing him for life. And even though he was a regular person and "the rest of his life" wouldn't be that long, comparatively, still his world was destroyed in an instant, on a whim. And that had been a real eye-opening moment for me. To put it mildly.

I sighed and pushed my plate away, wishing I had a cheesecake stashed in my room. Individual minifridges. Another valid suggestion for River.

After dinner I checked the chore chart and amazingly had no classes, no chores, nothing to do tonight. It happened once or twice a week. Whoopee! So I headed upstairs, took a hot bath, and then curled up on my narrow bed with a book about Irish herbal cures. I know, I couldn't help it: I would always be a madcap, frivolous party girl.

Soon I was deep into the wonder and delight of eyebright, feverfew, cowslips, and dandelions. Of course I'd been born long before there was any kind of chemical medicine, and plants had been the prime component of every household's remedies, along with dried deer blood, spiderwebs, etc. But the addition of magickal intent changed these plants' properties and uses. So. Much. To. Learn.

It was riveting stuff, and I'd drifted off only two or three times before I gave up and let my eyes stay closed. I wasn't totally asleep—I still sensed the bright reading light through my eyelids, still felt semiaware of my small room and the black night outside. But I was drifting, dreaming, and then I found myself waking up in a forest. Hundreds of years ago, forests were everywhere, and to get from point A to point Anywhere Else almost always entailed going through a forest. I'm not a huge fan. The occasional tree, sure. A very small grove that I can see through to the other side, fine. But not forests. They're dark, seem unending, are incredibly easy to get lost or confused in, and are full of noises and fluttering things and sticks cracking behind you. In my experience, they're best avoided.

But here I was. I felt like me but could also somehow see myself, the way you can in dreams. I appeared to be pre-River, with black hair, heavy eye makeup, superskinny and pale. That had been normal for me for years. Now, in hindsight, I thought I looked like Edward Scissorhands but without the handy blades. I was immediately aware of feeling anxious and lost, making my way through the trees, pushing through thick underbrush that slowed me down. My face and arms were scratched and stinging. The ground was thickly covered with years of fallen leaves, and it felt like walking on the moon.

I was upset, getting more upset, searching for something. I didn't know what. I just knew I had to find this thing somehow and that I would know when I found it and that time was running out. I hated being in this forest and tried to go faster, which only meant that I got more scratched. I'd long ago lost any hope of finding my way back to where I'd come from. I'd even given up on ever trying to find my way out but instead pressed on, looking, looking, feeling more tense and afraid with every step.

The light was fading, time was passing, and dread filled me as night fell. I was close to tears, hysteria—I desperately wanted a fire, a friend, help. But I couldn't stop—something bad would happen to me if I stopped. Then—over to my left! It looked like—it was—a fire! I turned quickly and headed toward the light, the comforting scent of woodsmoke finding its way to me through the trees. I heard a voice. Was it… singing? It was singing. I pushed my way through some stabbing holly branches and then I was in a tiny clearing, and there was a fire flickering wildly inside a circle of rocks.

"Nas." My head jerked at the voice. I looked over to see Innocencio, my best friend for a hundred years, stepping out of the darkness of the woods.

"Incy! What are you doing here?"

He smiled, looking unearthly beautiful. His eyes were so dark that I saw tiny fires reflected in them. I stared at him, feeling alarmed even as I held my hands out to the fire's warmth.

"I've been waiting for you, darling," Incy said in a voice as sweet and seductive as wine. "Come, sit down, be warm." He gestured to a big fallen log at the edge of the clearing. I didn't want to—everything in me was screaming, Run! But my feet took me over to the log and I sat on it. I didn't want to be here, didn't want to be with him, but then again, the fire was so comforting, so cozy.

"You've been gone too long, Nasty," Incy said. "I've missed you so much. We all have." Still smiling, he gestured around, and I scanned the place for my old gang. No one was there except me and Incy, and I started to ask why.

Then I saw. The fire… there was a skull in the fire, the flames blackening and devouring bits of its peeling flesh. My mouth opened in a horrified gasp. The fire was full of bones, made of bones. I knew in a split second that this was Boz and Katy—maybe Stratton and Cicely, too. Incy had killed them all and was burning their bodies. I jumped to my feet, only to have Incy smile at me again; he had me. There was no escape. Suddenly the wretched, acrid stench of burning hair and flesh filled my nose and mouth, gagging me, making me retch. I couldn't breathe. I tried to scream, but no sound came out. I tried to run, but my feet were literally rooted to the ground—thick, dark, vining roots covered my feet, locking me into place, and started to climb my legs.

Knock knock.

I gagged again and in the next instant bolted straight up and opened my eyes. I was gasping, wild-eyed, covered with icy sweat—in my room at River's Edge.


  • Praise for Darkness Falls:
    "This follow-up to Immortal Beloved amps up the romance. . . another successful blend of sarcasm, pathos and magick."
  • "Highly charged events lead to an exciting climax. Tiernan has created a story filled with suspense, adventure, pathos, and compassion."—SLJ
  • Praise for Immortal Beloved:
    *"Tiernan gives Nastasya a strong, distinctive voice and wonderfully realized perspective on the joys and horrors of history."
    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

On Sale
Oct 2, 2012
Page Count
416 pages

Cate Tiernan

About the Author

Cate Tiernan is the author of the popular Sweep and Balefire series. She grew up in New Orleans and lived for many years in New York City, editing and writing a multitude of popular children’s series. Cate currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and children. Her website is at http://www.catetiernan.org.

Learn more about this author