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Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy’s mom decides they need to take a break.
Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who’s always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.
Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?
Rachel Hawkins brings the same delightful wit and charm captured in her New York Times best-selling Hex Hall series. Get ready for more magic, mystery and romance!
Books by Rachel Hawkins
The Hex Hall series
Killing a vampire is actually a lot easier than you’d think. I know movies and TV make it look really hard, like if you don’t hit the right spot, it won’t work. But the truth is, those are just rumors spread by vampire hunters to make themselves seem tougher. If everyone knew how easy it actually is to kill a vamp, there wouldn’t be so many movies and TV shows and stuff. All it takes is a wooden stake and enough pressure to send it through the chest cavity. Doesn’t really matter if you hit the heart or not.
See? So easy.
But capturing a vampire? Yeah, that’s a little bit tougher.
“Just. Hold. Still,” I mumbled around the tiny flashlight in my mouth. I was straddling the vamp’s chest, my right hand holding a stake poised over his heart, my left clutching the little piece of paper with the ritual on it.
“Release me, mortal!” the vampire cried, but his voice broke on the last word, kind of ruining the dramatic effect. “My brothers will be here soon, and we will bathe in your blood.”
I spit out the miniflashlight, and it landed on the hardwood floor with a clink. Pressing the stake closer, I leaned over him. “Nice try. We’ve been watching you for a week. You’re working this town solo. No nest in sight.”
“Nest” is what vampires call both their houses and the group of fellow vampires who are basically their roommates. I thought it was a pretty dorky name, but then, a lot about vampires is dorky.
This one was especially bad. Not only was he rocking the gelled hair, he’d moved into the one creepy, pseudo-Victorian mansion in town. He might as well have hung a neon sign blaring, HERE THERE BE VAMPIRE. All of his furniture was red velvet and heavy wood, and when I’d busted in earlier, he was in the middle of writing in a journal while a pretty blond girl sat near the fireplace.
She’d bolted when she saw me, and I was already cringing, thinking of how Mom would react to there being a witness.
The vampire, who was going by the name of Pascal, but was probably really a Brad or a Jason, twisted underneath me, but I was firmly seated. One of the perks of being a Brannick is that we’re stronger than your average person. It also didn’t hurt that this vamp was pretty small. When I’d wrestled him to the floor, I noticed that he was only a few inches taller than me, and most of that was his hair.
Sighing, I squinted at the piece of paper again. It was only a few words in Latin, but getting them right was important, and I’d never done this ritual by myself before.
That thought sent a bolt of pain through my chest, one I did my best to ignore.
Underneath me, “Pascal” stopped struggling. Tilting his head to the side, he watched me with his dark eyes. “Who is Finley?”
My grip tightened on the stake. “What?”
Pascal was still studying me, upper lip curling over his fangs. “Your head. It’s full of that name. Finley, Finley, Finley.”
Oh, freaking great. Vampires are a pain in the butt when they’re just your garden-variety bloodsucker, but a few of them have extra powers. Low-level mind reading, telekinesis, that kind of thing. Apparently Pascal was one of the special ones.
“Get out of my head,” I snarled at him, renewing my focus on the sheet of paper. “Vado—” I started, but then Pascal interrupted with, “She’s your sister. Finley.”
Hearing my sister’s name from this…this thing’s lips made the pain in my chest even worse, but at least no tears stung my eyes. I can’t think of anything more pathetic than crying in front of a vampire.
Besides, if it were Finley here, if I was the one who was missing, she wouldn’t have let a vamp, much less a vamp called Pascal, get to her. So I scowled down at him and pressed the stake hard enough to just break the skin.
Pascal drew in a hissing breath, but he never took his eyes off my face. “Nearly a year. That’s how long this Finley has been gone. How long you’ve been working alone. How long you’ve felt like it was all your fau—”
“Vado tergum,” I said, dropping the piece of paper and laying my free hand flat against his sternum.
Pascal’s gaze fell to my hand and he went even paler. “What is that?” he asked, his voice high with fear and pain. “What are you doing?”
“It’s better than getting staked,” I told him, but as the smell of burning cloth filled the air, I wasn’t so sure.
“You’re a Brannick!” he shrieked. “Brannicks don’t do magic! What the hell is this?”
I kept up a steady stream of Latin, but What the hell is this was a totally valid question. The Brannicks had spent millennia staking vamps and shooting werewolves with silver-tipped arrows (and later, with solid silver bullets). We’d burned witches and enslaved Fae, and basically became what monsters told scary stories about.
But things were different now. For starters, there were no more Brannicks besides me and my mom. Rather than hunt the Creatures of the Night, we worked for the Council that governed them. And they didn’t call themselves monsters; they went by the much more civilized term “Prodigium.” So the Brannicks were now more or less Prodigium cops. If one of their kind got out of hand, we tracked them, captured them, and did a ritual that sent them directly to the Council, who would then decide their punishment.
Yeah, it was a lot harder than just staking a vampire or shooting a werewolf, but the truce between Brannicks and Prodigium was a good thing. Besides, our cousin, Sophie, was a Prodigium, and set to be Head of the Council someday. It was either make peace or suffer some majorly awkward family holidays.
The ritual was nearly finished, the air around Pascal starting to shimmer slightly, when he suddenly shouted, “The boy in the mirror!”
Surprised, I sat back a little. “What did you just say?”
Pascal’s chest was heaving up and down, and his skin had gone from ivory to gray. “That’s what you’re afraid of,” he panted. “That he had something to do with Finley’s vanishing.”
My mouth had gone dry, and, blinking at him, I shook my head. “No—” I started to say, only to realize too late that my hand had slipped off his chest.
Taking advantage of my distraction, Pascal gave another twist, this one stronger than the others, and managed to free one of his arms from beneath my knees. I was already ducking the blow, but the back of his hand caught me across the temple, sending me sprawling.
My head cracked against an end table, and stars spun in my vision. There was a blur of motion—vampires may not be that strong, but they can be fast—and Pascal was up the stairs and gone.
Sitting up, I winced as I touched my temple. Luckily, there was no blood, but a lump was already forming, and I glared at the staircase. My stake had rolled under the table, and I picked it up, curling my fingers around the wood. The Council may prefer for us to send monsters to them, but staking a vamp in self-defense? They’d be okay with that.
I carefully made my way up the stairs, stake raised at shoulder level. The wall was lined with those tacky globe lamps—seriously, vampires are the worst—and a twinkling caught my eye.
Glancing down, I saw that I was covered in a fine layer of shimmery silver. Oh, gross. He was one of those body-glitter-wearing jerks. Now I was even more embarrassed that I’d let Pascal get inside my head, that I’d dropped my guard long enough for him to get away from me. If he got out of the house…
My fingernails dug into the stake. No. I was not letting that happen.
The landing was covered in burgundy carpet that muffled my footsteps. Directly across from me was a large mirror in a heavy gilt frame, and in it, I looked a lot less like a bad-ass vampire slayer and a lot more like a scared teenage girl.
My skin was nearly as papery white as Pascal’s, a sharp contrast against the bright red of my braid.
Swallowing hard, I did my best to calm my hammering heart and racing mind. There was one thing vampires and Brannicks had in common: a few of us had special powers. Pascal’s was reading minds, and mine—in addition to the strength and quick healing that came with being a Brannick—was sensing Prodigium. And right now, my Spidey senses were telling me Pascal had gone to the right.
I took one step in that direction.
On the one hand, my detection skills were dead on. On the other, I’d expected Pascal to be cowering behind a door or trying to open a window and get out. What I hadn’t expected was for him to suddenly come barreling out of the darkness and slam into me.
We flew back onto the landing, crashing to the floor. I felt the stake tumble from my fingers, and with a grunt, tried to ram my knee up into Pascal’s stomach. But this time, Pascal had the advantage—he was faster than me, and he’d caught me by surprise. He dodged my knee like it was nothing, and his fingers sank into my hair, jerking my head hard to the side and exposing my neck.
He was smiling, lips deep pink against the stark white of his fangs, and his eyes were black pools. Despite the stupid hair and the silly name and the flowing white shirt, he looked every bit the terrifying monster.
And when he ducked his head and I felt the sharp sting of his fangs piercing my skin, my scream was high and thin. This couldn’t be happening. I couldn’t go out like this, drained of blood by a dorky vampire calling himself Pascal.
A gray circle began to fill my vision, and I was so cold, colder than I’d ever been in my entire life. Then, from above me, there was a flash of silver, a glimpse of bright copper, and suddenly, Pascal was the one screaming. His body fell off of mine, and I raised a trembling hand to my neck, the rush of blood hot against my freezing skin.
Blinking rapidly to clear my vision, I scooted backward on the carpet, watching as the redheaded woman all in black dropped a knee in the middle of Pascal’s chest, one hand pushing a bright silver amulet against his cheek. Her other hand reached back and pulled a stake from the belt around her waist.
The stake swung down, and there was a sound almost like the popping of a bubble, and Pascal vanished in a surprisingly tiny cloud of dust and ash.
Head still swimming, I looked at the woman as she turned back to me.
Even though I knew it was impossible, I heard myself ask, “Finn?”
But the woman who strode over to me wasn’t my sister.
“You okay?” Mom asked.
I pressed my palm tighter to the holes in my neck and nodded. “Yeah,” I replied. Using the wall to brace myself, I went to stand up. As I did, my eyes skated over my mom, noticing that even though she’d been right on top of Pascal, she’d somehow managed to avoid getting even one speck of glitter on her.
“Of course,” I muttered, and then the carpet was rushing up to meet me as I passed out at Mom’s feet.
The lights in our kitchen were too harsh. My eyes ached in the fluorescent glare, and my head was pounding. It didn’t help that we’d taken an Itineris home. That was a type of magic portal, and they were located at posts all over the world. Problem was, like most things involving magic, there was a catch. While an Itineris made traveling a lot more convenient, it was also really rough on your body. I guess getting bent and twisted through the space-time continuum isn’t exactly good for you.
The concoction in front of me finally seemed cool enough to drink, so I choked it down. It tasted like pine trees smell, but the ache in my head disappeared almost immediately. Across from me, Mom turned her coffee mug around and around in her hands. Her mouth was set in a hard line.
“He was a young vamp,” she said at last, and I fought the urge to lower my head to the table.
“Yes,” I replied, hand reaching up to touch the little puncture marks just under my jaw. Thanks to Mom’s “tea,” they were already starting to close, but they still hurt.
“He should have been no issue at all for you, Isolde,” she continued, her gaze still on her mug. “I would never have sent you in there alone if I’d thought you couldn’t handle it.”
My hand dropped back to the table. “I could handle it.”
Mom looked at the bite on my neck and raised her eyebrows. When she was younger, my mom had been beautiful. And even now there was something about the strong lines of her face that made people look twice at her. Her eyes were the same dark green as mine and Finley’s, but there was a hardness that neither I nor my sister had.
“I mean, I was handling it,” I mumbled. “But he was one of those mind-reading ones, and he…he got inside my head—”
“Then you should have shoved him right the heck out,” Mom fired back, and I wondered what felt worse, the vampire bite or the guilt.
With a sigh, Mom dropped her head and rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Iz. I know you did the best you could.”
But your best wasn’t good enough.
Mom didn’t have to say the words. I felt them hanging between us in the kitchen. There were a lot of words filling up the space between me and Mom these days. My sister’s name was probably the biggest. Nearly a year ago, Finley disappeared on a case in New Orleans. It had been a totally routine job—just a coven of Dark Witches selling some particularly nasty spells to humans. We’d gone together, but at the last minute, Finley had told me to wait in the car while she dealt with the witches herself.
I could still see her standing under the streetlight, red hair so bright it almost hurt to look at. “I got this one, Iz,” she’d told me before nodding at the book in my lap. “Finish your chapter.” A dimple had appeared in her cheek when she grinned. “I know you’re dying to.”
I had been. The heroine had just been kidnapped by pirates, so things were clearly about to get awesome. And it had seemed like such an easy job, and Finley had swaggered off toward the coven’s house with such confidence that I hadn’t worried, not really. Not until I’d sat in the car for over an hour and Finley still hadn’t come out. Not until I’d walked into the house and found it completely empty, the smell of smoke and sulfur heavy in the air, Finley’s weapon belt on the floor in front of a sagging sofa.
Mom and I looked for her for six months. Six months of tracking down leads and sleeping in motel rooms and researching other cases like Finley’s, and it all led nowhere. My sister was just…gone.
And then one day, Mom had just packed up our things and announced we were going home. “We have a job to do,” she’d said. “Brannicks hunt monsters. It’s what we do, and what we need to get back to. Finley would want that.”
That had been the last time Mom had said Finley’s name.
Now Mom sat across the table from me, and her coffee mug turned, turned, turned.
“Maybe we should take it easy for a while,” she said at last. “Let you go on a few more missions with me, get your legs back under you.”
Finley had been doing solo missions since she was fourteen. I was almost sixteen now, and this had been the first time Mom had let me out in the field by myself. I really didn’t want it to be the last time, too.
I shoved my own mug. “Mom, I can do this. I just… Look, the vamp, he could read my mind, and I wasn’t ready for that. But now I know! And I can be better on my guard next time.”
Mom lifted her gaze from the table. “What did he see?”
I knew what she meant. Picking at the Formica tabletop, I shrugged. “I thought about Finn for a sec. He…saw that, I guess. It just distracted me.”
I didn’t add the bit about how Pascal had mentioned the boy in the mirror. Bringing up Finn was going to bother Mom enough.
Just like I’d thought, her eyes suddenly seemed a million miles away. “Okay,” she said gruffly, her chair shrieking on the linoleum as she shoved it back and stood. “Well, just…just go to bed. We’ll think about our next move tomorrow.”
Deep parentheses bracketed Mom’s mouth, and her shoulders seemed more slumped than they had been just a few moments ago. As she passed my chair, for just a moment, Mom laid a hand on my head. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she murmured. And then, with a ruffle of my hair, she was gone.
Sighing, I picked up my cup and swirled the dregs of tea still left in it. Every bone in my body ached to go upstairs, take a shower, and crawl into my bunk.
But there was something I had to do first.
Our house wasn’t much. A few bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom that hadn’t been updated since the 1960s. Once upon a time, it had been the Brannick family compound. Back when there had been more Brannicks. Now it was just a house surrounded by thick woods. But there was one room that really set it apart from your normal home.
We had a War Room.
It sounded cooler than it actually was. It was really just an extra bedroom stuffed with a bunch of boxes, a large round table, and a mirror.
It was the mirror I walked to now, yanking off the heavy canvas cover. Inside the glass, a warlock stared back at me.
His name was Torin, and he looked a couple years older than me, maybe eighteen or so. But since he’d gotten trapped in the mirror back in 1583, he was technically over four hundred years old.
“Isolde!” he called happily, leaning back, his hands on the table. “To what do I owe this lovely visit?” It was always bizarre watching Torin. Trapped in the mirror, he appeared to be sitting at the table in the middle of the War Room. But the actual table was empty. Even though I’d seen the phenomenon my whole life, I still caught myself glancing back and forth, as though Torin would magically appear on our side of the glass.
The thought made my head hurt all over again. In his own time, Torin had been an extremely powerful dark warlock. No one knew what spell he was attempting when he’d trapped himself inside the mirror, but one of my ancestors, Avis Brannick, had found him and taken responsibility for him.
The fact that Torin made the occasional prophecy had probably had something to do with that. His ability to see the future had come in handy for a few Brannicks over the years; easier to fight a witch or a faerie when you know what it’s going to do.
But I hadn’t come to have my fortune told. Climbing up onto the table, I crossed my legs and propped my chin in my hand. “I got bitten by a vampire tonight.”
Frowning, Torin leaned forward. “Oh,” he said, once his eyes settled on the bite mark. “So you did. That… What is the word you use?”
I couldn’t help but smile a little as I rolled my eyes. “Sucks.”
Torin nodded. “Even so.” He mimicked my pose, ruby pinkie ring flashing in the dim light. Shaggy blond hair fell over his forehead, and when he smiled at me, his teeth were just the slightest bit crooked. “Tell me the whole story.”
So I did, the way I always had, ever since I was old enough to go with Mom and Finley on missions. There was something…I don’t know, relaxing about telling the story to Torin. I knew he wasn’t looking for all the flaws in my mission, all the places where I had zigged when I should have zagged.
Unlike Mom, Torin didn’t frown through the entire thing. Instead, he chuckled when I described Pascal’s lair, grimaced when I mentioned the body glitter, and raised his eyebrows when I talked about chasing the vamp up the stairs.
“But you’re all right. And you lived to fight another day.”
Sighing, I pulled my braid over my shoulder, fiddling with the ends of my hair. “Yeah, but if Mom hadn’t come in… She thinks I shouldn’t be doing jobs on my own. Which, I mean, I should. This one got a little out of hand, but if she’d just trust me a little more—”
“If she had trusted you completely, she wouldn’t have followed you, which means she wouldn’t have burst in when she did,” Torin said, lifting his shoulders. “And you, my lovely Isolde, would either be exsanguinated on what I can only guess was truly dreadful carpet, or the bride of the undead.” He narrowed his eyes. “Neither fate suits you. Or me, for that matter.”
His words seemed to lodge somewhere in my chest, but I shook them off. Torin had been a part of my life for, well, all of my life. When Mom and Finley had gone out on missions, he had kept me company. And after Finley disappeared, he was the only one I could talk to about my sister. Which is why that niggling suspicion, the one Pascal had picked up on, bothered me so much.
“Your mum is simply worried about you,” Torin said, pulling me out of my thoughts. “She’s lost one daughter. I’m sure the idea of losing another is particularly hellish for her.”
“I know,” I said, the guilt returning with a vengeance. What if I’d gotten myself killed tonight, all because I let one stupid vamp mess with my mind? Where would Mom have been then?
I tugged the rubber band off the end of my braid and started unraveling the strands. A thin layer of vampire ash rose from them. Ugh. Apparently I’d been closer to Pascal than I’d thought.
Wrinkling my nose with disgust, I hopped off the table. “Okay. Shower, bed. Thanks for the debriefing.”
Torin made a little flourish with his hand, lace cuff falling back from his wrist. “Any time, Isolde.”
I was nearly to the door before I turned back. “Torin, you…” I trailed off, not sure how to finish. Finally I took a deep breath and said, a little too fast, “You swear you don’t know anything about Finn, right?”
I’d asked it before, the night Finley disappeared. Other than her belt, there’d been no sign of my sister in that rickety house. But there had been a mirror. A big one with a thick wooden frame, carved cherubs grinning at me. And while it could’ve been a trick of the light, I could’ve sworn that the glass had glowed slightly.
But I’d been beyond freaked out that night, confused, upset. I couldn’t be sure what I’d seen, really.
In his mirror, Torin came up close to the glass. “No, Isolde,” he said, his voice surprisingly gentle. “I do not know where your sister is.”
“Right.” I ran a hand through my hair, blowing out a long breath. “Right. Okay.” Reaching out, I flicked off the switch.
From out of the darkness, Torin added, “Besides, Finley was never of much interest to me. She isn’t the Brannick who will set me free, after all, is she?”
It was a wonder I could speak given how tight my throat had gone. “That’s never going to happen, Torin. I may be nicer to you than my mom or Finn, but you’ll be chatting with my grandkids from that mirror.”
Torin only laughed. “I’ve seen what I’ve seen. The time will come when you will finally let me out of this cursed glass prison. But until then, go wash that vampire out of your hair and get a good rest. You and Aislinn will be taking quite the journey tomorrow.”
“Where are we going?” I demanded. “What did you see?”
But there was no answer.
When I woke up the next morning, Mom was already dressed and waiting for me at the kitchen table. She frowned at my tank top and pajama pants and pointed back up the stairs. “Get dressed. We’re leaving in five minutes.”
“Leaving?” The clock said it was just a little past six. Apparently Torin had been right. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. “Where are we going?”
But Mom just said, “And now it’s four minutes. Go.”
There wasn’t much to the bedroom Finley and I had shared. A bunk bed—Finn had claimed the top—a dresser, a battered desk, and a mirror. Finley’s clothes were still folded in the drawers, and almost without thinking, I grabbed one of her black sweatshirts, tugging it over my tank top. I traded my flannel pants for jeans (my own, since Finn had been taller than me), and added a scuffed pair of black boots.
Jogging back downstairs, I twisted my hair into a sloppy braid over one shoulder. Hopefully, wherever we were going didn’t have a dress code.
Mom was just outside the front door, and when I appeared at her side, she didn’t say anything, merely jerked her head toward the woods surrounding the compound. Years ago, all the Brannicks had lived in this secluded spot deep in the woods of northern Tennessee. There were still outbuildings and training yards to accommodate at least a hundred people, but I’d never seen the place that full. By the time I was old enough to remember, the only Brannicks left were me, Mom, and Finn.
The woods were full of noise that morning, from the cracking of branches under our feet to the birds singing, but Mom didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask any questions.
Nearly a mile into the trees, we came to the Itineris. To anyone walking by—not that many people ever just “walked by” in these woods—the portal wouldn’t have looked like anything but a small opening in a bunch of branches. They wouldn’t even know it was there unless they accidentally stepped into it.
Which would probably be fatal since the Itineris was too intense for humans. We could only use it because we had some residual magic in our blood.
Mom held out her hand to me, and I took it, ducking under the branches and stepping into the Itineris.
One of the weirdest things about using the Itineris is how it feels. There’s no rushing wind or sense of motion, but a crippling, sickening pressure, as though the weight of the whole universe is pressing down on you.
Suddenly, we were standing on a paved road.
Well, Mom was standing. I was on my knees, gasping. The portal was always rough on me.
Mom helped me to my feet, but that was clearly all the TLC I was going to get. As soon as I was steady, she started walking down the road.
“Where are we?” I asked, following.
“Alabama,” she replied.
I didn’t ask what part of Alabama, but between the sand and the slight tang of salt on the wind, I guessed we were somewhere near the beach. We hadn’t been walking long when we came across a path of crushed shells. Mom turned onto it, her boots crunching and sounding too loud in the quiet.
- On Sale
- Sep 24, 2013
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers