By Jill Dembowski
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Whit and Wisty Allgood, a witch and wizard with extraordinary abilities, have defeated the ruthless dictator who long overshadowed their world. But for the first time in their lives, the powerful brother and sister find themselves at odds as Wisty is drawn to a mysterious and magical stranger named Heath.
Wisty has never felt as free as she does with Heath, especially when the two of them share and test their magic together. But when a merciless Wizard King from the mountains suddenly threatens war, Wisty must make an excruciating choice. Will she unite with Whit to fight the mounting dangers that could return their world to a tyrant's domain? Or will she trust the beautiful boy who has captured her heart?
James Patterson's epic dystopian saga continues as the witch and wizard who have inspired countless imaginations must rally together before the world they fought to save collapses.
Table of Contents
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I CAN'T BELIEVE what I'm witnessing.
You would think it was a riot if you saw us on TV.
Shouts cut through the crisp air. Bodies push and sway. Hands rip at flags and banners, and feet kick in surveillance screens. A great bonfire swallows up the splintered pieces of the destruction.
But no fists are raised, and this isn't a protest. I'm opening my lungs, but it's to join the ecstatic voices in celebration: The One Who Is The One, the Overworld's violent dictator, is dead, and the New Order regime has fallen.
We are free.
Free to listen to music—and it's pumping through the loudspeakers.
Free to read books. We're clutching them to our chests.
Free to believe what we want and to say what we feel. Even free to walk the streets without being arrested.
Excitement fizzes through my whole being, and every nerve stands on end as the crowd moves as one toward a vast stage in the center of the capital's square for the ceremony marking the end of the New Order's totalitarian regime and the return to a peaceful democracy. I'm grinning in the middle of the sea of people, and I pull my tangled hair back from my face as I jostle for a view.
A man in a smart gray suit takes the stage and taps the microphone. He's doughy and stern-faced, with his white hair parted severely to the side, and I recognize him as General Matthias Bloom, one of the last holdouts against the New Order in the outer suburbs.
A hush falls as thousands upon thousands of eager eyes gaze up at him.
"My dear, dear friends, today is a new beginning, a beautiful beginning for all of us. And to mark that birth," his voice booms, "I introduce to you now… your new Council!"
I'm tingly all over, almost like the electricity I feel when my magic is strong, or the awesome rush of adrenaline when I'm performing onstage. It's like the air itself is buzzing with hope.
General Bloom starts to read off the names of seventeen men and women and seventeen kids our age: the group chosen to restore this place to the way it once was, to the City we loved before The One Who Is The One brutally enforced the madness of his New Order.
"Wisteria Rose Allgood," he reads, and I can't help it—tears are streaming down my cheeks as I mount the stone steps, my name echoing through the loudspeakers.
My brother, Whit, is right by my side—and this is why I love him so much—Whit has tears in his eyes, too, and he's not ashamed. As divided as our City once was, with neighbor killing neighbor and only suspicion to feed us when food was scarce, it's incredible to be part of the leadership that will bring us back together for something else—something good.
As I stand on that stage, representing all these united voices, the rebel in me can't resist. I pull a scrap of a banner from my shoulder bag. I spread the crimson fabric open with two arms above my head, and the crowd starts to jeer and yell as the sign of the New Order billows in the wind.
Red means the New Order. Red means the Blood Plague. Red means death.
My brother elbows me—this whole ceremony has been planned out minute by minute, and I'm definitely straying way off script—but there's a method to my madness, and he knows it.
I concentrate on the buildup of heat in my chest, and flames lick out from my fingertips and climb up the banner, enveloping it in seconds.
The crowd is in a frenzy of cheers and shouts, and I'm up here grinning giddily. By seeing that shock of red blackening to ash, we know that even though we can never get back the things we lost, we have overcome so, so much. And with hands clasped, hearts pounding, and a few deep breaths, we can still do this—we can mold this society into something great.
I'm a part of it, and you're a part of it.
It's just the beginning.
DUSK IS FALLING, and we're singing. My heart seems to be lodged way up in my throat.
Having taken our vows, we thirty-four Council members stand side by side in a circle on the stage. We wear different badges of honor or war or age, but standing here together, we're equals.
We sing the old songs today, songs we learned from our parents. Songs I sang with the Neederman family last year on the Holiday, not knowing whether my sister would live or die from the plague. As our voices waver on the final note, General Bloom takes the stage again.
"Today, we sing for new beginnings." Applause echoes across the square. "But we sing to remember our history as well, and an older order!" He holds a hefty, yellowed tome above his head, and an audible gasp can be heard from the crowd.
I'm in awe, like everyone else. The Book of Truths. The most sacred text in the Overworld. Destiny's riddle. The book that has defined our lives. We all grew up revering its words, but few of us have seen it, and actually touching its dusty pages seems unthinkable.
But because Matthias Bloom salvaged the book from the embers while so many great texts burned, he is its new Keeper.
At her cue, Janine strides to the podium. I'd be sweating bullets if I had to actually speak today, but she's poised and confident, and gives the crowd a long, measured look. She's in her standard combat boots. Her hair is as wild as ever, and she wears no makeup. But as usual, she's luminous.
"The Book of Truths prophesized that only a sister and a brother, a witch and a wizard, could defeat The One Who Is The One," Janine says into the microphone, her voice clear and strong. "It told of their power, of a sky filled with flames." At the mention of my sister's Gift of fire, the square erupts in cheers. "Among many things we celebrate today, we pay tribute to their strength and courage that led to The One's ultimate downfall."
Now the cheers crescendo, but Janine's not finished. "But never forget, we are all brothers and sisters. I know the fire of life, love, and leadership is burning not just in Wisty Allgood, but in each one of us."
No one cheers that line more than my sister. Wisty hoots her agreement, rebel-style, and I grin. Janine was just supposed to introduce Wisty and me, but give her a platform and some willing ears, and she'll tell you what's what every time. She's a great speaker—articulate, endearing, whip-smart—and the crowd is eating up her every word.
So am I.
"We all have equal power and responsibility to make this City great," Janine continues. "Because that fire inside us is hotter than any magic, stronger than any spell. It's the spark of change and the slow burn of new hope!" She looks out over the transfixed faces, satisfied. "And now, my friends, without further ado, I give you your heroes… Whit and Wisty Allgood!"
We step forward, and the crowd pulses and chants both of our names, but I know it's Wisty's fire they've come to see today.
She doesn't disappoint. First, sparks shoot from her hands again, but as the fire grows, my sister becomes a human torch, the flames on her head even redder than her hair. Her feet singe a black spot onto the platform, and even her gaze smolders.
Plenty of people have seen her flame out, though, so this time she takes it to the max. She swoops her hand across the sky dramatically, and a splash of light follows her arc, exploding in a million dots of color. Her hands dance inside their flames, the shower of fireworks becoming brighter as the choreography becomes more complex. It's the most beautiful show any of us has ever seen, but there's something deeper going on here, too.
Wisty's magic painted across the sky says what Bloom did not: We have the freedom to write our own story now.
I gaze out across the crowded square flickering with vivid color underneath the fireworks. I take in the many faces, old and young, magic-making or not, from near and far. Color dances in their eyes, and their faces glow with a joy we'd forgotten could exist.
There's a small group at the very edge of the crowd, apart from the rest. As I squint my eyes, trying to make out their dark clothes—street rags or shredded New Order Youth uniforms—the tallest one drags a finger slowly across his neck. My own throat goes dry.
He's looking straight at me.
I glance at my sister to see if she noticed the ragged group on the outskirts. Wisty's still eating up the attention, waving to the people and grinning at our parents, who are levitating above the crowd to show their support.
When I look back to the threatening figure, there's no one there.
It's not over yet….
THE FIRST TRUTH: YOU CAN'T TRICK THE INNER EYE
THE INAUGURAL CEREMONY earlier was superemotional and important, but this is what I have been waiting for: music pumping through my veins. The spotlight bathing me in its beam. My hair flying around me as I shred my guitar.
It's not quite like when I played for thousands at the underground Stockwood Music Festival last year—I mean, I have to admit, it was pretty fun to break the law—but rocking the open-mic stage at the Art Is Alive Gala is pretty thrilling.
For one thing, the gala involves all the stuff we love that's been banned for so long. There are tons of new sculptures, films, and writing exhibited here, and looking out from the stage, it's incredible to see all the paintings The One confiscated now restored and lining the walls. You'd never guess this gallery used to be a New Order armory.
I wipe the sweat from my brow and shout into the microphone, "We can't forget: art is alive… because The One is dead!" The crowd roars.
I strum the final chord and step off the small stage to rejoin my group of friends—mostly kids from the former Resistance. As the lights dim for the next act, Sasha hands me some strong-smelling punch.
"Cheers to the rock star," he says.
I take a sip… and spit it out as the astringent burn takes over my nostrils.
"Sorry. Maybe it's my strong aversion to the color red, but not for me."
Whit nods. "Trust me, she's already pretty spazzy as is without alcohol." I scoff, and Whit breaks into a smile. "Hey, spazzy is a good quality in an entertainer. You were awesome up there, by the way."
I beam at him. "So is this DJ," I say as a new act starts up.
"Yeah. That's my friend Ross Lilienfield," Sasha says. "We used to record mixes together in his basement when we were kids. This is definitely his best stuff."
I nod appreciatively and start to move with the music, the energy making its way down to my hips and feet.
Janine nudges me. "Looks like you've got a fan."
Now I sense the eyes on me. Through the darkness, I can see a boy. His eyes lock on mine, and something in me feels as explosive as the fireworks I created earlier.
Janine squeezes my arm and giggles, but I can't even brush it off.
As the boy starts walking over, my pulse thuds faster with each step.
But then Byron appears at my side, demanding attention. As usual, he's in wooing mode. "You're a virtuoso, Wisty," he says, eyes shining with sincerity.
He's overdressed, but he still looks dapper—almost handsome—in his crisp white shirt and black tie. I'm sure some other girl would find the anxious wrinkle in his brow endearing. Unfortunately, he doesn't want some other girl.
"Thanks, Byron," I murmur, eyes scanning the crowd for the gorgeous stranger in the shadows. Where did he go?
"I mean, you were completely on fire up there!" he presses, sensing my attention drifting. Gotta give the kid credit. He never gives up.
"On fire? Really?" I look at him wryly, and Byron chuckles.
"I can understand your friend's mistake," a voice says in a low, playful tone into my ear.
When I turn around, my stomach does a triple flip. It's the beautiful stranger. Up close, he seems to tower over me, and his features are chiseled, strong. I'm so flustered I spill my unwanted punch.
He smiles and leans in even closer. "That smoky voice…" I inhale the leathery smell from his jacket and his aftershave, and feel dizzy. "Your flaming red hair… Everything about you smolders."
Yet it's his eyes that seem to blaze, even in the dim light. They're simultaneously intense and bemused. I can't seem to look away.
I also can't seem to speak.
It's the most forward thing anyone has ever said to me. Normally I'd give a guy some kind of sharp verbal slap for coming on like that, but there's something different about this one. It's like he knows I'd suck up anything that comes out of that perfect mouth.
"Did you really come over here just to give her a cheap line?" Whit butts in before I can think of an answer.
"Whit!" Janine elbows him and pulls him away, but I'm totally mortified.
"Sorry about my brother…." I mutter lamely.
"No, it's okay." The boy laughs and runs a hand through the jet-black hair that stands up wildly from his forehead. "Actually, I came over to say I enjoyed your performance. A little punk, a little blues, and the vibrato technique and tonal variations on the power chords were stellar." He smiles at me, all easy confidence. "Even if you did rip off Smash's shredding style a little bit."
"Every guitar player rips off Smash a little bit!" I protest, but relent as he shrugs, amused. "You seem to know a lot about music," I observe, impressed.
"I know a lot about a lot of things."
"Oh, yeah?" I smirk. "What else do you know?" I'm usually pretty skeptical with boys and don't get into a flirt, but the banter with this guy comes easily somehow.
He bends down a bit so his face is next to mine, his chin brushing against my hair. "I know… what you want." His voice is a whisper in my ear, and he says each word like he's tasting it, savoring it. For a fire girl, it's pretty weird to have goose bumps.
"What's that?" I ask when I finally find my voice.
"To dance. With me." He's extremely attractive—like, beyond—but it's his unwavering gaze that unhinges me—the kind of look that could conquer the world.
I eye all the people standing in clusters, talking. "But no one is dancing."
"You were. I saw you from across the room. Looking like you wanted to move. Like you wanted to break all the rules."
"That was only swaying," I say quickly, embarrassed by how plainly he can see the real me. "I meant no one else is dancing."
Hearing that, Janine grabs Whit's hand and drags him onto the dance floor. She gives me a wry look over her shoulder, and I glare daggers back.
The boy cocks an eyebrow, and the shadows play across his striking face. "So. How about that dance?"
It seems so easy to fall into the rhythm, to let our hips find the beat, to get closer…. But I'm not sure I'm ready. He just seems a little too gorgeous, a little too tall, a little too mature, a little too confident. A little too much man for me right now.
I wait a second too long, and the guy sighs, turning. "I'm Heath. Call me when you get sick of standing still, and we'll move." He's walking away.
"I don't think you could keep up," I call after him.
"You really are a firecracker, aren't you?" Heath grins, and his electric gaze flickers back at me. "I hope I get the chance to prove you wrong."
Then he's gone, and I let out a slow, measured breath. Of all the times I've been on fire, I've never felt sparks quite like that.
"Who does that guy think he is?" Byron grumbles beside me.
"What?" I look at him, startled that the rest of the world hasn't fallen away.
"Interrupting our conversation, waltzing in here like he owns the place, and pestering you when you've made it clear that you're obviously not interested." He frowns. "He's way too old for you, anyway."
"Shut up, Byron," I huff. I snap my fingers to work a little magic, and suddenly Byron is no longer standing in front of me. In his place, there's a squeaking weasel. "I should just leave you like this—your true form."
But I can never stay mad at Byron for long. I clap my hands, and he's back.
"Feel better now that you've gotten that out of your system?" he snaps.
I nod, smiling. "Definitely."
My hips start to twitch again, swaying with the music. On the dance floor, Whit and Janine are moving together under the lights. Around Whit, Janine's serious eyes sparkle, and her laughter peals across the room. Regardless of how many girls have batted their eyelashes at him, it's weird to think of my brother as some kind of ripped heartthrob. Janine seems to see Whit more deeply than that, though—she understands Whit the poet, and Whit the goofball.
He looks utterly smitten, too, and I have to admit, Janine is one awesome chick. I'm so glad he's found someone special again, after losing Celia.
I sigh. Maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss Heath…. But there's time. Everything feels fresh tonight. I'm surrounded by friends, family, and amazing artwork, and there are no bombs.
IF ANYONE COULD have used a new beginning, it was Pearl Marie Neederman.
All she had known in her young life was the thunder of gunfire, the stench of death in the streets, and the bitter taste of poverty. Since they didn't need to beg and steal anymore, Mama May had wanted her to stay closer to home, but Pearl had just laughed. She might've been only seven, but she knew the labyrinth of the capital's alleys better than anyone.
Besides, the danger was over now.
She brushed her mop of black hair out of her eyes as she squinted into the pile of trash, looking for the perfect sparkle, the just-right shape. She wanted to impress everyone tonight at the fancy art show, but first she needed to find something to contribute.
"Isn't it only for the rule makers?" she'd asked when Whit had invited her to the celebration.
"The Council. It's different now," he had said, smiling at her ignorance. If he were anyone else, she probably would've cut him for that, but the wizard held a special place in her heart. "Art Is Alive is for everyone. And the party is for all our friends."
Pearl had turned away, a little embarrassed, but beaming with pride: she was considered a friend to the great Whit Allgood.
As she scavenged, Pearl collected bits of broken glass that sparkled in the light and scraps of metal that twisted in the craziest ways. Perfect for creating her own piece of art for the gallery. Whit had told her that with the new Council, there wasn't going to be any garbage in the streets, but she knew that underneath a shiny new finish, there was always a layer of grime.
She was up to her arms in trash when a sudden, loud popping sound made her jump.
Pearl dropped to her knees in an instant. Silent as a shadow, she slipped behind the Dumpster among the rats, and listened. She'd been called a "gutter rat" as long as she could remember, but she never understood the insult. Rats survived, didn't they?
There wasn't a sound to be heard, but she saw a fizz of light coming from around the corner. Pearl stood up and let out a breath, grinning.
Had to be Razz and Eddie from down the block, who had taught Pearl to pickpocket long ago. They had seen the beautiful fireworks display this morning and had spent all day rigging up their own with fertilizer and charcoal. That explained the noise. They'd probably blown off a hand or something.
"You idiots!" Pearl yelled, walking over.
But before she could even round the corner, Pearl's gray eyes widened with shock as a rough hand clamped over her mouth.
The men suddenly surrounding her were huge, with grizzled faces and dark clothing. They carried heavy, crude weapons—one of them even had an ax. She saw they had Razz by the collar, but Eddie was nowhere in sight.
One of the brutes started lighting the fuses on the homemade fireworks, and Razz went nuts. "Those are mine!" he yelled belligerently. As a warning, Razz's captor dragged an edge of jagged glass across the boy's throat, drawing a thin line of blood, but Razz clenched his teeth, refusing to scream.
The man who'd grabbed Pearl spun her around to face him, holding her off the ground, his giant hands wrapped around her throat. She was transfixed by his stare, so cold and empty. One eye was as milky as snow.
Just as she started to see spots, the man threw her into the truck like a sack of garbage. Razz came hurling in after her, and he leaped up, clawing at the door. But the bolt had already closed, and the engine was rumbling.
Pearl scrambled against the side of the truck, coughing and trying to get her breath back.
"We didn't hear a sound," murmured Eddie from a corner, shaking his head. "Who can sneak up on us? No one. These guys were like ghosts."
There were other kids inside the truck, too—a mix of gutter rats and rich kids, some stunned into silence, others all-out shrieking.
"Shush! Stop being a baby!" Pearl hissed at one of the kids, then felt a little bad. "We got to figure this out."
Think, Pearl. Think.
Her fingers fumbled inside her pockets, searching. They closed on something metal, and she exhaled. Her blade.
She was deft with the knife, good at picking locks with her tiny fingers. But there were no screws or seams, and she couldn't find a single weak spot in the metal; it didn't seem like anything an ordinary man had made. And no matter how she worked the blade, the hard bolt wouldn't budge.
Pearl felt real panic rise inside her for the first time. These rough and weathered men were definitely not New Order—so who were they working for?
And where were they taking her?
There couldn't be a new threat so soon. No way. Whit had said they were safe. He had promised.
Pearl squinted through the bars, the capital's distant lights blurring a little in her vision. They were already on the outskirts of the City. Soon they would reach the boundary line, and she had no idea what lay beyond.
I am not an awkward person. But this is one of the most awkward moments of my life. Wisty lives for the spotlight, but me? I'd rather write the script.
I step up to the small platform where Ross, the DJ, was spinning. Wisty hoots "Woo!" embarrassingly loudly, and Byron follows her lead with his best off-the-cuff cheer: "Go Whit!!"
The Allgood magic has always felt kind of sacred, something not to be used lightly. I've used mine to escape from prison, heal the sick, and defeat the most evil dictator our world has ever known. But now that he's gone, now that we've won, we all deserve a little joy. So, hey, I've been working on a new use for my M. I start with a poem.
"Brush the ash from your bones."
I concentrate on the power building in me, and make it visual.
"Cast aside your red tears."
The gathered crowd gasps in delight as a three-dimensional scene swirls behind me, morphing and changing with my words. The hologram isn't much—just colors and energy. But it's as beautiful as my sister's fireworks, or the paintings on the wall. It's a bit of performance art that has every soul in the place completely enraptured for a good five minutes. Until—
My head throbs suddenly. I double over in pain as a bright light cuts through my vision.
It feels like it's slicing my brain.
Janine grabs my arm, a worried look on her face. "You okay?" she asks quietly.
I nod, standing up again. The hologram flickers behind me like static. I start reading the poem again, trying to get my bearings. Trying to get the energy back.
"Weep for the fallen, stand against those you fear…"
This time, as I continue, the expressions of the audience members change from concern to confusion and then shock.
Something's wrong. Something's seriously wrong.
I turn around, and the three-dimensional images playing out behind me are awful. A sea of black rats scurry over one another, attacking their own tails. Worms crawl out of an eye socket, bathing it in their milky trail. They writhe outward toward the crowd, so real in their holographic existence that a few people jerk backward, shrieking.
It's like the movie has been switched, but it's all in my head.
How are these things coming… out of me?
Just keep going, Whit. Get it back on track.
I concentrate hard, my whole body shaking with the effort, but the horrifying images keep projecting behind me.
The image flickers: now a child bangs his head against the wall, over and over, as blood pools in his eyes. A mask is removed from a face, and behind it is the chill of death. An avalanche of snow barrels outward, and members of the crowd turn away in terror.
"Whit!" Wisty yells, a look of horror on her face. "Stop it!"
But I'm utterly helpless as the darkness feeds on itself. I shake my head and jump off the stage, leaving my sister and friends and a roomful of people gawking after me.
I run, and keep running. Out of the room. Out the big double doors, knocking them against the wall on their hinges, and out into the street. I take huge gulps of the night air as I try to keep from vomiting.
Voices are calling in the distance, yelling my name, but I can't face them, not now, not until I shake this diseased feeling. I won't stop running until my lungs are screaming and my legs ache.
I have to escape the thing that's in my head.
"SERIOUSLY, WHAT'S WRONG?"
"Let it go, Wisty," Whit warns as I try to keep up.
Okay. Good sister that I am, I'm just going to ignore the fact that my brother had a complete meltdown at a party for our friends that was supposed to be about celebration and happiness. I'm going to forget that he stormed out of the gallery without any explanation, and then refused to answer a single one of my questions when I chased after him in the street.
"If you just tell me what happened, maybe I could help," I prod, turning the key to let us into my sweet new apartment. (The upshot to using your magical powers to save basically the whole world from a psycho villain is that your parents freak out a little bit less when you mention you'd really like to get your own place.)
"There's nothing to tell," my brother insists. He steps over one of the piles of stuff on the floor, and perches on a counter stool. "Wow, Wisty, you've really done wonders with the space." Whit shakes his head. "Have the rats moved in yet?"
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