By Margaret Stohl

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The Icons came from the sky. They belong to an inhuman enemy. They ended our civilization, and they can kill us.

Most of us.

Dol, Ro, Tima, and Lucas are the four Icon Children, the only humans immune to the Icon’s power to stop a human heart. Now that Los Angeles has been saved, things are more complicated – and not just because Dol has to choose between Lucas and Ro, the two great loves of her life. As she flees to a resistance outpost hidden beneath a mountain, Dol makes contact with a fifth Icon Child, if only through her visions. When Dol and the others escape to Southeast Asia in search of this missing child, Dol’s dreams, feelings and fears collide in an epic showdown that will change more than just four lives — and stop one heart forever.

In this riveting sequel to Icons, filled with nonstop action and compelling romance, bestselling author Margaret Stohl explores what it means to be human and how our greatest weakness can be humanity’s strongest chance at survival.


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Table of Contents

A Sneak Peek of Dangerous Creatures

Copyright Page

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I am lying facedown in the dirt. I taste it. Dirt and blood and teeth as loose as old corn. Every bone in my body aches, but I am alive. Death would hurt less.

I feel hands rolling me over, pressing against my arms, my legs. "No, don't move her. She's in shock." Fortis.

A blur of dirty blond hair comes into view in the darkness, and I feel the familiar warmth surge into my cheeks as a hand touches my face. "Dol? Can you hear me?"

Lucas. I move my lips, trying to make a word. At the moment, I think, it's harder than I remember. "Tima—" I finally croak.

He smiles down at me. "Tima's fine. She's still out, but she'll be fine."

I roll my head to the side and I see her lying in the dirt next to me. Tima, her scrawny dog, cactuses, and stars. Not much else.

Brutus whimpers, licking Tima's tattooed arm, which looks like it's bleeding.

"Fine? You don't know that," says a voice in the night. Ro. I see that he's just on the other side of Lucas, tossing dead tumbleweeds onto a makeshift fire. Ro doesn't feel just warm—not to me. He's smoldering. I could feel him anywhere.

Lucas rubs my hands between his. "I do know that, actually." He looks over his shoulder. "Because if Tima wasn't okay, we'd all be dead right now. Who do you think broke our fall?"

Tima. It must have worked. She must have done it.

I remember now the bright blue light expanding outward from Tima just as we hit. The muted, violent shock as we landed, the heat of the exploding Chopper—then nothing.

I sit up, weakly. I don't know how we got here, but we're clear of the wreckage, which is still burning black smoke in the distance. I can smell it from here.

I cough it out of my mouth.

Lucas pulls me up until I am leaning against the side of a rock. Ro is there a second later, forcing a canteen to my lips. The cold water chokes my throat as it goes down.

I can't take my eyes off the burning Chopper. The burning metal carcass that was our only chance to escape the Sympas and get to safety is going up in flames, like everything else. Then—


A string of rapid noises catches me off guard. It sounds like gunfire, but it can't be. Not out here. "What was that?"

Fortis sighs from the darkness nearby. "Fireworks, love. That's our live ammo, burning up with the bird." He disappears toward the fire.


There it all goes, I think. Our dreams of living another day, popping like bubbles. Like a pan of hot corn set in Bigger's fire.


Gone, gone, gone, I think. Our chances of success in our impossible mission to rid the world of twelve more Icons.


Our shot at making it to the next Icon—let alone coming up with a plan of destroying it.


I try not to think anymore. It's all too bleak. I only watch. The flames would be higher than a tree—if there were any trees around here. But all I see in the firelight, aside from the five of us, is a flickering blanket of desert floor that rises and falls into a sheet of continuous cliffs and rocks and mountains. An uneven expanse of unkempt scrub and shale.

Nothing like life—as if we've landed in the Earth's own graveyard.

I shiver as Fortis returns from the glowing wreckage, dragging two charred backpacks with him. His ripped jacket flaps and drags behind him, like some kind of maimed animal.

"Where are we?" I ask.

Ro flops down next to me. "Don't know. Don't care. Doc?"

Lucas sighs. "Offline. Still. Ever since we took off."

"What do we have?" Ro calls out, and Fortis shakes his head, dumping the packs next to us.

"Not much that didn't burn in the fire. A piss pot an' a pea pod. No real rations. Less water. I'd say we have enough to last two days, three tops." Fortis taps on his cuff, but all I hear is a flash of static.

Lucas tosses a branch into the fire. "All right, then. A couple days. There has to be something around here. Someone, anyway."

"Who knows if we even have that long?" I look up at him. "We barely escaped the ambush at Nellis—and now this? The Sympas will have us back in the Pen before we have the luxury of starving to death."

"Maybe there's a Grass camp nearby?" Ro says it, but we're all thinking the same thing.

There isn't.

There's nothing out here. We knew that when we left Nellis Base—when the Sympas attacked and we didn't care where we ended up. But we should have, because now here we are.


Ro tries again. "We can't just sit here waiting to die. Not after what we did to the Icon in the Hole. We gave those people a chance—we gave ourselves a chance. If we don't take it, who will? What then?"

We all know the answer to that. The Lords will destroy our people while the Sympas laugh.

Ro turns to Fortis. "There has to be a way out of here. A Merk outpost? Geo station? Anything?" Ro is relentless. Inspiring, almost.

And absolutely crazy.

"There's your fightin' spirit," Fortis says, clapping him on the back. "An' here's my fightin' spirits." He pulls out his flask, slumping down to the desert floor next to me. And that's his real answer, I think.

"Ro's right. We can't give up." I look at him. "Not now. Not after everything."

Not after the Embassy. The Hole. The Icon. The Desert. Nellis.

Fortis pats my leg, and I wince. "Give up, Grassgirl? We're only just gettin' started. Don't send me off to an early grave yet, love. I'm too young and too pretty to die."

The fire throws shadows on his face, hiding his eyes, grossly exaggerating his stubbled, bone-tight features. At this particular moment, he looks like some kind of evil puppet from a child's nightmare.

Barely human.

"You know, you're not all that pretty," I say, my throat still full of dust.

He laughs, more like a bark, pocketing his flask. "That's what my mum said." As he draws his arm around me I can only shiver.

Then Tima groans awake, clutching her arm, and I forget about everything but staying and being alive.



Internal Investigative Subcommittee IIS211B

RE: The Incident at SEA Colonies

As promised.

Below are excerpted records of communication between Fortissimo ("FORTIS") and his AI (HAL2040—the early iteration of the somewhat rudimentary Virtual Human we know as "Doc"). These are initial attempts by Fortissimo and his AI to contact the foreign object first thought to be an asteroid, and thus labeled Perses, proving early awareness of potential threat.

Note: Fortissimo's use of "hello world" (in this case, done in multiple languages) is an ancient programming trope. Displaying the phrase "hello world" indicates success in getting a new machine to connect to its network, to communicate, or show some intelligence. By human standards. (Note: Physical Humans, that is. Virtual Human standards are by nature much higher.)



Virt. Hybrid Human 39261.SEA

Laboratory Assistant to Dr. E. Yang

HAL2040 ==> FORTIS

Transcript - ComLog 04.13.2042


//lognote: {PERSES communication attempt #413};


sendfile: dict.glob.lang;

//lognote: as before, sending files with dictionaries/text protocols;

sendline: hello world;

return:..… no response;

sendline: 01101000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111 0100000 01110111 01101111 01110010 01101100 01100100;

return:..… no response;

sendline: 48:65:6c:6c:6f:20:57:6f:72:6c:64;

return:..… no response;

sendline: an ki lu sal an ki lu sal an ki lu sal an ki lu sal;

return:..… no response;

//lognote: communication attempts in English, binary, hex, ancient languages find PERSES unresponsive.;



Sleep only brings nightmares. When I wake up, I return to consciousness as suddenly and as restlessly as I left it.

Sitting up, I want to run, gasping for air in the cold. My heart pounds and every beat is a question.

Where am I? Are we safe? Are we still free?

I fall back on my side, staring into the growing shadows of the wild desert brush in front of me.

No Sympas. No ships. No Lords. Nothing I haven't seen for the last week now.

I study the landscape like a clock as I try to catch my breath. The long shadows mean it's nearly dark, which means it's time to get up and move. The terrain has grown increasingly strange, alien almost, as we've crawled from rock to rock in the darkness. Anything to avoid the Sympas combing the desert, looking for us.

We sleep in the day and travel in the night now, ever since our Chopper went down.

At least we have established contact with Doc through the comlink cuffs—thanks to the com relay Fortis was able to salvage from the crashed Chopper. Doc keeps us away from patrols and, we hope, moving toward somewhere safe. He's been tracking Sympa deployments since our Chopper went down; they're looking for us—everywhere—but they haven't found us yet.

They. The Embassies. The Lords. It almost doesn't matter which, not anymore. They'll find us, whoever they are in the end.

It's only a matter of time.

The longer we wander in the desert—exposed to the elements and targeted by the Embassy—the stronger the grip despair has on me.

Despair from the bleak truth that, back in the Hole that once was Los Angeles, even without the Icon, the Embassy reportedly still has all the power, and the weapons.

The bleak truth that, according to what we learned during our too-brief stay in Nellis, Catallus has come down with a fury on the people of the city, and the Projects run uninterrupted.

I look up to where Lucas sits across from me, huddling in only his shirtsleeves on the red rocky ledge. It takes me a moment to realize that Lucas has laid his torn Embassy jacket over me, along with his blanket.

He smiles, almost shyly, and I soften, seeing the cold purple-blue of his mouth.

I don't know why I can't just say what I think—that I'm grateful, that he's thoughtful. That when I see his mouth I want to kiss it, kiss him, but since we are never alone, I don't dare.

My empty stomach growls as I turn to see who else is there, just in case I'm wrong. I'm not; Fortis snores on one side of me, under a pile of brush that can't camouflage his woolen, red-toed socks pointing to the sky like two knit rabbit ears. Tima is passed out on the other side of him, covered in dust and almost completely hidden in a neat zigzag of folded arms and legs, like some kind of compact military gear. Brutus is nestled in the crook of her knees, himself snoring so loudly you would think he was Fortis's son more than Tima's dog. Ro, as usual, is nowhere to be seen, but he doesn't like to sleep near any of us, not since we left the Mission.

He won't get that close to Lucas.

To me.

Things will get easier for all of us, Fortis says, when we find a way to get where we're going.

The Idylls, Fortis called it. "I've found it, with Doc's help. A Grass base. The only camp out here."

I was confused when he first said it. "Idylls? Why do they call it that?"

"Because it's paradise, love. Where the Icons can't hurt us and the Lords can't fly."

"You mean somewhere over a rainbow? Like the old stories say?"

"I mean somewhere under a mountain. Like the old combat manuals say."

But I still don't understand how we're supposed to find some Grass Rebellion base even the Embassies can't. And I have a difficult time believing there even is someplace safe. Someplace where we can plan our battle against the House of Lords.

But none of us has a better plan. Or better rations. Or enough water. Or another way out of here.

So, like the good soldiers we are quickly becoming, under the mountain we go.


I jump as Lucas touches my shoulder, startling me out of my reverie of mountains and soldiers. He wags his head in the direction of the nearby hill. His hair falls lank in his face, curling against his jawline. "Come on, Dol. I have something for you."

Looking at his overgrown hair makes me realize how long it has been since any of us has done anything as normal as getting a haircut. Not to mention the bloody gash on his forehead that snakes above his eyes like a second brow, his trophy from our crash—same as my bruised face, Tima's swollen ankle, or Ro's busted rib.

And all of our empty, aching bellies.

Still, even this messed up, he's breathtakingly beautiful, Lucas Amare.

"Something for me?" I'm caught off guard, but Lucas offers me his hand and I take it, pulling myself up after him. The second I touch him, I feel it—the warmth that comes from the way his heart beats in time with mine.

Does everyone feel this from him? He could make them, if he wanted to. That much I know.

But is there something more there, something just for me?

I stand close to him, holding his hand for a fraction of a moment longer than I need to. I can feel myself blushing and I turn away, suddenly grateful for the dimming light.

It's all so strange. I mean, I am. How I have become. How imagining a kiss can feel like a real one.

That one perfect, sublime, stolen kiss, back at the Mission. The day we came so close to binding ourselves to each other, heart to heart, hand to hand.

I pull my own wrapping tight around my wrist, shaking off the memories. Still, I can feel my cheeks turning pink again as I follow Lucas up the winding trail that leads from the dry riverbed where we've made camp—if you can call it that—all the way to the top of the red rock hill, rising above the shadowy desert floor. The red wash of the landscape is dotted with strange, almost alien-looking shapes, where the wind has carved the stone into curving organic formations. "They don't call this Goblin Valley for nothin'." I can almost hear Fortis's voice when I look down at the rocks.

Then I hear the familiar static of Lucas's cuff, followed by the crackling sound of Doc's voice. "Lucas? I appear to be losing your signal."

I stop. Lucas raises a finger to his lips—and motions for us to keep going.

Doc's voice echoes across the rock. "That is not optimal, as I am certain you understand. You need to remain together for the purposes of safety. Might I remind you that twelve Icons remain fully functional? Perhaps you have forgotten that there are no known weapons, with the exception of the four of you and your exceptional abilities, that can damage them in the slightest—"

"Parce metu, Doc." Lucas grins. He starts up another switchback in the trail, pulling me by the hand.

"Cease from fear?" Doc translates. "I cannot be afraid. It is not within my parameters. I am merely noting that you do not seem to recall that accomplishing the task at hand requires you all to protect each other until you reach safety."

"I'll keep my eye on her, Doc. Don't you worry," Lucas says, squeezing my hand.

"I am still concerned that you appear to be moving out of optimal range for the communications relay Fortis is carrying. As in the colloquial expression, 'Out of sight, out of mind.'"

"Is that so?" Lucas eggs Doc on, and winks at me.

"Quite. Although in my case, slightly erroneous," Doc continues, so easily distracted by linguistics. "Seeing as I have neither eyes nor mind to speak of, per se. So perhaps the phrase more optimally would be 'Out of range, out of ran—'"

Lucas answers by switching off his cuff with a flick of a finger. "Out of range," he says, grinning. He pauses to think, then pulls off the cuff and rests it on a twisted cactus that juts into our path. "Sorry, Doc."

I shake my head. "Oh, come on. He means well."

Lucas takes my hand, smiling as we climb.

I can't help but smile back. "And what if he's right? If we're gone when Fortis wakes up, he'll freak. We're not supposed to leave camp, remember? It's too dangerous." I can feel myself giving in even as I say the words.

"Maybe I'm dangerous." Lucas winks.

"You?" I roll my eyes and he groans.

"Live a little, Dol. Doc will forgive us. We won't be gone long, and three's a crowd. And anyway, we're almost there."

He stops short, pulling me roughly in his direction. I stand tall, stepping up on a rock, letting myself stretch along the length of him, letting myself feel the weight of his strong arms as they wrap around my shoulders.

"I've wanted to do this since we left the Mission," he says, burying his face in my neck. I wince as he bumps my tender jaw, and then I smile—because I've wanted it too.

I kiss the top of his head. "And yet you let a little thing like falling out of the sky stop you?"

He laughs. "Next time I won't."

I won't, either.

And at this one moment, Lords or not, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

I slide down, leaning my head back against his chest. It feels safe, and I pretend for the moment that we are.

"You know, sometimes four Icon Children are two too many," Lucas says. "At least, maybe this week they are."

I look up at him. "Do you ever wonder if there are more of us out there? Than the four of us?" The words sound almost ridiculous the moment I let myself say them.

"No," Lucas says. "But I do wonder what's going on inside the head of the one right here in front of me."

"This," I say, laying my head back on his chest.

"There." He says the word softly, and I almost can't hear him. I look ahead and see that the sun is setting, as glorious as any sunset I have ever seen, even at the Mission.

More glorious. The most glorious.

Not a silver ship in sight.

From up here, the stretch of unforgiving rock and scrub and rubble expands in front of us, in long shadows of quiet purple-blue falling and fading across the red-dirt desert floor. I see the curve of the horizon, and I'm momentarily struck by the brief sensation that I'm standing on a spinning globe, hurtling through space.

Our planet. Our Earth. It's dizzying.

It will be gone in a minute, I think. The sunset, and the feeling. For now, though, it is enough.

One thing is right, in a universe where everything else is wrong.

I smile, tilting my head back until I can look up at his face. "It's perfect."

"You like it? I had it made especially for you." Lucas smiles. He almost looks shy. "It's a present."

"Is it?" I laugh. "Then I'm going to keep it forever."

He smiles. "Okay. Hold on to it. Keep it where you won't lose it."

"I will," I say.

"You're beautiful," he whispers.

"Shut up," I whisper back, teasing. "It's beautiful."

It's true. This sunset—Lucas's sunset, and now mine—is incandescently, infectiously beautiful. And it means we have made it to another night.

We are alive.

For now, it should be enough.

The sun slowly moves behind the horizon. Lucas nods, whispering into my ear. "See? That's how it works. The sun goes down now, but it always comes up again."

"Really." I smile, arching an eyebrow.

"Really." He smiles back. "Believe it." He kisses my cheek, softly, avoiding the bruises. "And even when you can't see it, it's out there somewhere on the other side of the world, getting ready to come back again."

Now he kisses my other cheek, so softly I shiver.

And my neck. "It's going to get better."

My ear. "Everything is."

The warm pull that is Lucas overtakes me, and I don't fight it. I have my gifts, and he has his. This is what he brings the world, this feeling. Sharing it and spreading it, to everyone he meets.

I give in.


Offering it to me soothes him as much as it does me, and I let myself feel it, take it.

I push out of my mind the competing thoughts. That we are lost, with no support in sight. Hunted in the desert. No plan in place to take down another Icon.

I wish that for once Doc was right, that it was somehow possible to forget what lies ahead of us.

But somehow, at this moment, Lucas accomplishes the impossible. I feel him relax, letting the sun warm him, even as it fades away.

Enjoy it while we have it, what little we have.

Coming from Lucas, this sunset means everything.

I tilt my face toward the last bits of shared warmth, toward Lucas and the sun. "I hope you're right."

"I am." He touches my cheek again, his voice growing low, urgent. "Dol—"

I need you. He doesn't dare say the words, but I feel them. They are as real to me as the cold evening breeze on my face.

He needs me like food and water. Like sunshine and rain. Like—

Like Ro and I used to need each other.

I push that thought out of my mind and lean toward Lucas. He takes my face in both hands, holding on tight, as if I were as solid as the red desert rocks that surround us. A sure, steady thing. An incontrovertible fact, or a long-held truth.

With a look, I ask permission to be closer to him. Closer than physically possible.

He nods, and I go in, looking for one moment in particular. I find it burning bright in his mind, and when I reach for it, in a flash I am back in the cave when we first met.

But this time, I am Lucas. This time, I see us—the story of us—through his eyes.

I don't see the details clearly, but the feelings are so powerful they almost drop me to my knees. I see the moment he first looks at me and feel the shock—then a flood of warmth.

The explosion of intense curiosity, wonder, and attraction.

The shared ocean of us.

I don't know what else to call it.

I have wanted to go there for a long time, but only now had the courage to ask.

And this is now my favorite memory, his love at first sight.

It's not just a gift he has. It's a miracle.

He is more certain of me than I am of myself. Which makes me only more certain of just one thing.

Lucas needs me.

Lucas needs me now, and I need him.

He kisses me so hard it feels like I might break open. And as I kiss him back, I wonder if that might not be such a bad thing. If sometimes, some kinds of breaking can fix things.


His kiss pushes me back against the rock and my body dissolves into his. In his arms, it feels like the sun is rising and setting all at once—and then a wave of warmth comes over me and I can no longer think of anything at all.

Only Lucas.

Because I really am the luckiest girl in the world. And even when I fall out of the sky he catches me.



Internal Investigative Subcommittee IIS211B

RE: The Incident at SEA Colonies

Note: First recorded response from Perses, establishing first contact. Perses says "hello."

Note: Contact Jasmine3k, Virt. Hybrid Human 39261.SEA, Laboratory Assistant to Dr. E. Yang, for future commentary, as necessary.

HAL2040 ==> FORTIS

Transcript - ComLog 05.16.2042


//lognote: {PERSES communication attempt #251,091};


On Sale
Jul 8, 2014
Hachette Audio

Margaret Stohl

About the Author

Margaret Stohl is a lifelong science fiction fan, former video game designer, and #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Beautiful Creatures, Cat vs. Robot, Life of Captain Marvel, and more. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family.

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