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Just as Sophie Mercer has come to accept her extraordinary magical powers as a demon, the Prodigium Council strips them away. Now Sophie is defenseless, alone, and at the mercy of her sworn enemies-the Brannicks, a family of warrior women who hunt down the Prodigium. Or at least that’s what Sophie thinks, until she makes a surprising discovery. The Brannicks know an epic war is coming, and they believe Sophie is the only one powerful enough to stop the world from ending. But without her magic, Sophie isn’t as confident. Sophie’s bound for one hell of a ride-can she get her powers back before it’s too late?
BOOKS BY RACHEL HAWKINS
THE HEX HALL SERIES
There are times when magic really sucks.
Sure, it’s awesome when you’re using it to change your hair color, or fly, or turn day into night. But for the most part, magic tends to end in explosions, or tears, or with you flat on your back in the middle of nowhere, feeling like a tiny dwarf is mining for diamonds inside your head.
Okay, so maybe that last bit was just me.
One of the drawbacks of traveling by Itineris—a kind of magical portal that can take you from one place to another—is how rough it was on your body. Every trip I’d ever taken through one had left me feeling like I’d been turned inside out; but this time was particularly bad. I was actually shaking. Of course, that might have been from all the adrenaline. I felt like my heart was trying to throw itself out of my chest.
I took a deep breath and tried to calm my racing pulse. Okay. The Itineris had dropped me off…well, somewhere. I hadn’t quite worked out where yet, mostly because I still didn’t feel capable of opening my eyes. Wherever it was, it was quiet and hot. I ran my hands over the ground under me. Grass. A few rocks. Some sticks.
I took a ragged breath and thought about lifting my head. But the very idea of trying to move made every nerve ending I had scoff, Yeah, don’t think so.
Groaning, I clenched my teeth and decided now was as good a time as any to take stock.
Up until this morning, I’d been a demon and in possession of some pretty freaking-awesome magic. Thanks to a binding spell, that magic was gone. Well, not gone exactly; I could still feel it fluttering inside me like a butterfly under glass. But I couldn’t access any of my powers, so it might as well have been gone.
Also gone? My best friend, Jenna. And my dad. And Archer, the guy I was in love with. And Cal, my fiancé. (Yeah, my love life was complicated.)
For a second, the pain in my head was nothing compared to the pain in my chest as I thought about the four of them. Honestly, I wasn’t sure who to worry about more. Jenna was a vampire, which meant she could take care of herself, but I’d found her bloodstone crushed on the floor at Thorne Abbey. The bloodstone’s main job was to protect Jenna from all the side effects of vampiredom. If it had been taken from her in the daylight, the sun would kill her.
Then there was Dad. He’d been subjected to the Removal, which meant he was even more powerless than I was now. At least I still had my magic, useless as it was. Dad’s powers were gone forever. The last time I’d seen him, he’d been lying in a cell, pale and unconscious, covered in dark purple tattoos from the Removal. Archer had been with him, and as far as I knew, they had both still been locked in that cell when Thorne Abbey was attacked.
Still been trapped there when the Council used Daisy, another demon, to set Thorne Abbey on fire.
Cal had gone into the burning mansion to save them, but not before telling me to take the Itineris to find my mom, who was, for some reason, with Aislinn Brannick, leader of a group of monster hunters. And since the Brannicks saw me as one of those monsters, I couldn’t figure out why Mom would be with them.
That’s how I’d ended up lying flat on my back, Archer’s sword still clutched in my hand, my head aching. Maybe I could just lie here and wait for Mom to find me. That would be convenient.
I sighed as the wind rustled the leaves overhead. Yep, that was a solid plan. Lie here on the ground and wait for someone to come to me.
A bright light suddenly seared against my closed eyelids, and I winced, raising my hand to ward off whatever it was. When I opened my eyes, I honestly expected to see one of the Brannicks standing there, maybe with a torch or a flashlight.
What I wasn’t expecting was a ghost.
The ghost of Elodie Parris, to be exact, standing at my feet, glaring down at me, arms crossed. She was glowing so brightly that I squinted as I sat up. Elodie had been murdered by my great-grandmother nearly a year ago (long story), and thanks to a little shared magic between us before she died, her ghost was now tied to me.
“Oh, wow,” I croaked. “I was just lying here thinking this night could not get any worse, and then it totally did. Huh.”
Elodie rolled her eyes, and for just a second I thought her glow got a little brighter. She moved her mouth, but no sounds came out. One of the drawbacks of being a ghost—she couldn’t talk. From her expression and the little bit of lip-reading I could do, I thought that was probably a good thing.
“Okay, okay,” I said. “Now is not the time for snarking.”
Using Archer’s sword as a crutch, I managed to get to my feet. There was no moon out, but thanks to Elodie’s luminescence, I could see…well, trees. Lots of them. And not much else.
“Any idea where we are?” I asked her.
She shrugged and mouthed, “Forest.”
“You think?” Okay, so the whole “no more snark” thing wasn’t off to a great start. I sighed and looked around. “It’s still night, so we must be in the same time zone. That means we couldn’t have gone too far. But it’s hot. Like, way hotter than it was at Thorne.”
Elodie’s mouth moved, and it took the two of us several tries before I could decipher what she was saying. Finally, I worked out that it was: “Where were you trying to go?”
“The Brannicks’,” I told her. At that, Elodie’s eyes went wide, and her lips started flying again, undoubtedly telling me what a freaking idiot I was.
“I know,” I said, holding up a hand to cut off her silent rant. “Scary Irish monster hunters, maybe not the best plan. But Cal said my mom was with them. And no,” I said, as her ghostly mouth opened up yet again, “I don’t know why. What I do know is that apparently the Itineris sucks, because the only scary redhead I see around here is you.” Sighing, I rubbed my free hand over my eyes. “So now we just—”
A howl split the air.
I gulped, and my fingers tightened on the sword’s hilt. “Now, we just hope that whatever that is, it doesn’t come this way,” I finished weakly.
Another howl, this one closer. In the distance, I could hear something crashing through the underbrush. For a second I thought about running, but my knees were so rubbery that just standing was a challenge. No way could I outrun a werewolf. Which meant staying and fighting.
Or, you know, staying and getting mauled.
“Awesome,” I muttered, lifting the sword, the muscles in my shoulders groaning. I felt my powers stir in the pit of my stomach, and a sudden terror shot through me. I was normal, I reminded myself. Just a regular seventeen-year-old girl, about to face against a werewolf with nothing more than…Okay, well, I did have a big-ass sword and a ghost. That had to count for something.
I glanced over at Elodie. She was staring into the woods, looking vaguely bored.
“Um, hi,” I said. “Werewolf headed this way. Are you even a little bit concerned about that?”
She smirked at me and gestured toward her glowing body. I read her lips: “Already dead.”
“Right. But if I get killed, too, you and I are so not becoming ghost BFFs.”
Elodie gave me a look that said there was no danger of that happening.
The sounds got louder, and I hoisted the sword higher.
Then, with a snarl, something large and furry leaped through the trees. I gave a little shriek, and even Elodie jumped back. Well, floated back.
For a moment, all three of us were frozen, me holding the sword like a baseball bat, Elodie hovering a few feet off the ground, the Were crouched in front of us. I had no idea if it was a boy or a girl werewolf, but I thought it was young. White froth dripped from its snout. Werewolves are kind of drooly.
It lowered its head, and I clutched the sword tighter, waiting for it to spring. But instead of leaping to rip my throat out, the werewolf made a low keening sound, almost like it was crying.
I looked in its eyes, which were disturbingly human. Yep, definitely tears. And fear. Lots of it. It was panting hard, and I got the feeling it had been running for a while.
Suddenly it occurred to me that maybe the Itineris didn’t suck as much as I’d thought. Something had scared this werewolf, and there were only a few things I could think of that could do that. Scary Irish Prodigium hunters? Way up on that list.
“Elodie—” I started to say, but before I got anything else out, she winked out like a bitchy firefly.
The werewolf and I were plunged into darkness. I cursed, and the werewolf made a growl that sounded like the same word. For a few moments, just long enough to make me think that maybe I’d been wrong, the woods were quiet and still.
And then everything erupted at once.
There was a shout from somewhere in front of me, and the werewolf bayed. I heard a brief scuffle, followed by a sharp yelp. Then the only sound was my own breath, bellowing in and out of my lungs.
I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, and instinctively stepped toward it, still holding the sword out in front of me.
Suddenly, a bright light, much brighter than Elodie had been, shone directly in my face. I closed my eyes, and stumbled. That’s when something slammed into my outstretched hand, hard enough to make me cry out. My hand immediately went numb, and Archer’s sword slipped from my fingers. Another hit, this one to the back of my legs, and suddenly I was on my back.
A weight settled on my chest as bony knees pressed both of my arms to the ground. I felt a sharp stinging under my chin, and I fought the urge to whimper.
Then a high-pitched voice asked, “What are you?”
I opened my eyes gingerly. The flashlight that had blinded me was lying a few feet from my head now, which gave me just enough light to see what appeared to be a twelve-year-old girl sitting on my chest.
I’d gotten my butt handed to me by a sixth grader? That was embarrassing.
Then the cold metal at my neck reminded me this particular sixth grader had a knife.
“I’m…I’m not anything,” I said, trying to move my mouth as little as possible. My eyes were rapidly adjusting to the dim light, and I could see the girl’s bright red hair. And as weird as it may seem, what with a blade at my throat and all, my first thought was, Oh, thank God.
She may have been littler than I’d expected, but in a lot of ways, this girl was everything I’d imagined the Brannicks to be. They were a large family of women—always women, although I guess guys factored in there somewhere, seeing as how the family had been around for over a thousand years. Descended from a megapowerful white witch named Maeve Brannick, they’d dedicated themselves to ridding the world of evil.
Unfortunately, I fit their definition of evil.
The girl scowled. “You are something,” she hissed, leaning in closer. “I can feel it. Whatever you are, it’s not human. So you can either tell me what kind of freak you are, or I can cut you open and find out myself.”
I stared at her. “You are one hard-core little kid.”
Her scowl deepened.
“I’m looking for the Brannicks,” I said in a rush. “And I’m guessing you are one because…you know, red hair and the violence and everything.”
“What’s your name?” she demanded as the stinging at my neck became actual pain.
“Sophie Mercer,” I said through clenched teeth.
Her eyes widened. “No way,” she said, sounding for the first time like the middle schooler she probably was.
“Way,” I croaked.
For a second, she looked unsure, and the knife at my throat slid back, maybe an inch or so. It was all I needed.
I rolled hard onto one side. The move pulled something in my shoulder so badly that tears sprang to my eyes, but it still had the desired effect of dumping the girl off me.
She shrieked, and I heard a muffled thump that I really, really hoped was the knife hitting the ground. I didn’t give myself time to check, though. On my hands and knees, I scrambled over to Archer’s sword. My fingers closed around the hilt, and I dragged it toward me.
Using the sword for leverage, I pushed myself to my feet and turned back to the girl. She was still sitting on the ground, leaning back on her hands, her breath coming hard and fast. All traces of Badass Girl Scout were gone from her face; now she was just a scared little kid.
I wondered why. I mean, I was still leaning on the sword, not pointing it at her. My legs were trembling so much, I was sure she could see it, and I knew my face was streaked with tears and sweat. I couldn’t have made a very intimidating—
And then I remembered her face when she’d heard my name. She knew me, or at least knew of me. Which meant she probably knew what I was.
Or used to be.
I tried to give her my best “I Am A Demon Princess” look, which was quite the challenge, seeing as how my hair was hanging in my face and my nose was running. “What’s your name?” I asked.
The girl kept her eyes on me, but her hands were moving restlessly over the ground around her, no doubt searching for the knife. “Izzy,” she said.
I raised both my eyebrows. Not exactly a name to strike fear into the heart.
Izzy must’ve read that in my expression, because she frowned. “I’m Isolde Brannick, daughter of Aislinn, daughter of Fiona, daughter of—”
“Right, right, daughter of a bunch of fierce ladies, got it.” I ran a hand over my face, my eyes aching and gritty. I wasn’t sure I’d ever been so tired in my life. My head felt like it was filled with cement, and even my heartbeat seemed heavy and sluggish. There was also this weird, niggling feeling at the back of my mind, like I was missing something important.
Shoving that aside, I turned my attention back to Izzy. “I’m looking for Grace Mercer.” As soon as I said Mom’s name, a thick, painful lump rose in my throat. I blinked as I added, “I was told she was with the Brannicks, and I really need to find her.”
And throw my arms around her, and cry for maybe a thousand years, I thought.
But Izzy shook her head. “There’s no Grace Mercer with us.”
The words fell on me like blows. “No, she has to be,” I said. Izzy wavered in front of me, and I realized I was seeing her through tears. “Cal said she was with the Brannicks,” I insisted, my voice cracking.
Izzy sat up straighter. “Well, whoever Cal is, he was wrong. There are only Brannicks back at the compound.”
Find Mom. That had been the only thing I’d focused on from the moment Cal turned to run into Thorne Abbey. Because if I could find Mom, then somehow everything would be okay, and I’d be able to find everyone else, too.
My dad, and Jenna, and Archer, and Cal.
A wave of grief and exhaustion slammed into me. If Mom wasn’t here, then I’d just put myself right in the middle of enemy territory for nothing. No powers. No parents. No friends.
In that moment, I let myself entertain the idea of just putting the sword down and lying on the ground. It would feel good, and really, if I’d lost everything, who cared what this tiny homicidal person did to me?
But just as quickly, I shut that thought right the heck down. No way had I survived demon attacks, and ghoul duels, and demonglass explosions to end up murdered by Raggedy Ann. Whether Mom was here or not, I was going to survive this.
My fingers tightened on the sword’s hilt until I felt the metal cut into my skin. It hurt, but that was good. That might actually keep me from passing out, which in turn would keep Izzy from dissecting me, or whatever it was Brannicks did to demons.
Former demons. Whatever.
“So you guys have a compound,” I said, trying to will my brain into working. “That’s…cool. I bet it has bunkers and barbed wire.”
Izzy rolled her eyes. “Duh.”
“Right, so this compound. Where exactly…” My words trailed off as the ground started swaying. Or was it me weaving from side to side? And was everything getting dimmer because the flashlight was dying, or was it my eyes that had stopped working?
“No. No, I am not going to faint.”
I shook my head. “Did I say that out loud?”
Izzy rose to her feet slowly. “You don’t look so good.”
I would have glared at her if my eyes hadn’t been involved in more important things like not falling out of my skull. A loud chattering noise filled my head, and I realized it was my teeth.
Great. I was going into shock. That was just…so inconvenient.
My knees started to give, and I held onto the sword’s handle even tighter, trying hard to stay on my feet. Archer’s sword, I told myself. You can’t pass out because you have to find him and help him.…
But it was too late. I was slipping to the ground, and Izzy had turned around, obviously looking for the knife.
Suddenly, I noticed a faint glow coming from somewhere behind me. Confused, I started to turn toward it, figuring it was probably a Brannick hunting party. And then I felt a powerful, almost electric buzz shoot through me. I recognized it immediately.
I stood completely still, disoriented. Had my powers just—but no. Whatever was flowing through me, it didn’t feel like my magic. I’d always felt my powers shoot up through my feet, rushing from the ground. This magic felt like something light and cold settling on top of my head. Like snow.
Like Elodie’s magic.
That’s because it is my magic, moron, Elodie’s voice sneered inside my head.
“What?” I tried to say. But my mouth wouldn’t move. One of my arms lifted from my side, but I wasn’t moving it, either. And I certainly didn’t shoot a golden bolt of power from my fingertips into Izzy’s back.
Shrieking, Izzy tumbled to the ground.
I walked forward, the sword lifted high, but again, it was like I was a puppet. I could feel the grooved metal of the sword’s hilt in my hands, and the pain in my shoulders from the strain of lifting it, but I had no control over what I was doing.
Izzy had managed to get to her feet and was stumbling away from me. She backed into a tree with a thump, and I watched as I placed the tip of the blade at her throat.
Even as I began to wig out inside my own head, I could feel Elodie’s triumph blazing through me.
Get out! I screamed silently. I wouldn’t even want to share a dorm room with you, much less my body.
No way, was Elodie’s only reply.
“I’m super over you right now,” I heard myself snarl to Izzy. “So you can either tell me where my mom is, or I can shish kebab you. Your choice.”
Izzy was panting, and there were tears pooling in her big green eyes.
She’s like, twelve, Elodie, I thought.
Whatever, Elodie replied. I could practically hear the eye-roll in her voice.
“I—” Izzy said, her eyes darting to look somewhere over my shoulder.
I tried to turn my head to look, but Elodie kept my gaze riveted on Izzy.
“You know,” I said, feeling my lips curve into a smirk, “a Brannick killed by a demon with one of L’Occhio di Dio’s swords. There’s something kind of delicious about that, don’t you think?”
There is something behind me, you crazy person! I shouted inwardly. Stop doing the creepy villain thing, and look!
But Elodie ignored me.
I was still studying Izzy’s face when her look of terror suddenly crumpled into relief. I wasn’t sure which emotion was stronger, my panic or Elodie’s confusion, both of which I could feel welling up from my stomach.
And then both feelings were eclipsed by an enormous bolt of pain as something crashed into the back of my skull.
I was dead. That was really the only explanation I had for the sensation that I was lying in a comfy bed, cool, clean-smelling sheets pulled up to my chin, and a soft hand stroking my hair.
That was nice. Being dead seemed pretty sweet, all things considered. Especially if it meant I got to nap for all eternity. I snuggled deeper into the covers. The hand on my hair moved to my back, and I realized someone was singing softly. The voice was familiar, and something about it made my chest ache. Well, that was to be expected. Angels’ songs would be awfully poignant.
“‘I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, when I met you…’” the voice crooned.
I frowned. Was that really an appropriate song for the Heavenly Host to be—
Realization crashed into me. “Mom!” I cried, sitting up. That was a mistake, because as soon as I did, agony exploded through my head.
Gentle hands eased me back onto the pillows, and suddenly she was there. Mom, leaning over me, her face etched with worry and streaked with tears, but looking so beautiful that I wanted to cry, too.
“This is real, right?” I asked, glancing around the room. It was tiny and dim, and smelled faintly woodsy, like cedar. Other than the bed and the cane-back chair next to it, it was completely bare. Bright golden-red light came in the one window, so I knew it was early evening. “This isn’t a dream or some kind of concussion-related hallucination?”
I felt Mom’s arm around my shoulders. Her lips were warm against my temple. “I’m here, sweetie,” she murmured. “Really here.”
And then I did cry. A lot. Big, wrenching sobs that hurt. Through them, I tried to tell Mom about everything that had happened at Thorne, but I knew I wasn’t making any sense.
When the storm had finally passed, I lay against Mom, taking deep, shaking breaths. Tears were running down her face, too, wetting the top of my head. “Okay,” I finally said. “That’s the story of my crappy summer vacation. Your turn.”
Mom sighed and hugged me tighter. “Oh, Soph,” she said in a very small voice, “I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Where are we?” I asked. “That’s a pretty good starting place.”
“At the Brannick compound.”
Everything came back to me then. Izzy, and the sword, and Elodie turning my body into a murderous puppet.
Elodie? I asked silently. You still there?
But there was no reply. I was the only person in my head for now. Speaking of which…
“What happened to my head?”
“Finley—that’s Izzy’s older sister—went out looking for her. Izzy said you attacked her with your powers. I thought you said you couldn’t do magic anymore.”
“I can’t,” I said. “It’s…I’ll explain it later. So Finley cracked me over the head with what? A baseball bat? A Mack truck?”
“A flashlight,” Mom answered, her fingers delicately parting my hair over what felt like a basketball-sized lump on the back of my head.
We were quiet then, both of us knowing what I was going to ask next: why in the heck was my mom, who’d spent most of her life running from All Things Magic, spending her summer vacay with a bunch of monster hunters?
But something told me that whatever her answer was, it was going to be complicated. And probably unpleasant. And even though I was dying to know what had brought her here, we could get to it later, preferably when my brain wasn’t threatening to launch itself out of my skull.
“It was hot,” I said. There are few topics less complicated and unpleasant than weather, right? “Outside. Where exactly is the Brannicks’ place?”
“Tennessee,” Mom answered.
“Okay, well that’s…Wait, Tennessee?” I sat up to look at Mom. “I used the Itineris to travel from England to here. It’s this magic portal thingie,” I started to explain, but she was nodding like she already knew. “Anyway, I left Thorne at night, and I got here at night, so I couldn’t have gone that far.”
Mom was watching me very carefully. “Sophie,” she said, and something in her voice made my stomach go icy. “Thorne Abbey burned down nearly three weeks ago.”
I stared at her. “That’s impossible. I was there. I was there last night,”
Shaking her head, Mom reached out and cupped my cheek. “Sweetheart, it’s been seventeen days since we got word of what happened at Thorne. I thought…” Her voice cracked. “I thought you’d been captured or killed. When Finley brought you in tonight, it was like a miracle.”
My mind was reeling.
I remembered stepping into the Itineris, remembered the crushing, still blackness. But I’d only felt it for a moment or two before I’d found myself flat on my back in the woods. How had seventeen days passed in the space of a few heartbeats?
Then another thought occurred to me. “If it’s been that long since Thorne burned down, you must have heard something about Dad. Or Cal, or the Casnoffs.”
“They’re all gone,” a voice said from across the room.
I whipped my head around, wincing as I did. A woman leaned against the doorframe, holding a steaming mug. She was wearing jeans and plain black T-shirt, and her red hair, darker than Izzy’s, fell over her shoulder in a long braid.
“Vanished off the face of the earth,” she continued, moving into the room. Beside me, I could feel Mom stiffen. “James Atherton, the warlock boy, the other warlock boy, those Casnoff witches, and their pet demon. We figured you disappeared with them until you showed up trying to kill my daughter.”
I’d guessed this badass woman was Aislinn Brannick. Still, actually having her in front of me sent my stomach somewhere south of my knees. I cleared my throat. “In my defense, she pulled a knife first,” I said.
To my surprise, Aislinn made a rusty sound that might have been a chuckle. She handed me the mug. “Drink this.”
“Um, how ’bout, no,” I replied, staring at the dark green contents. Whatever the liquid was, it smelled like pine trees and dirt, and seeing how this woman was Izzy’s mom, I figured it was poisoned.
- On Sale
- Feb 5, 2013
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers