Authors: Libba Bray
Tags: #Fiction, #Speculative Fiction
Table of Contents
For Barry and Josh, of course
And for my much-loved friends,
proof that we somehow manage to find our own tribe
All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.
—Edgar Allan Poe
Who first seduc’d them to that foul revolt?
Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stir’d up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d
The Mother of Mankinde, what time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,
He trusted to have equal’d the most High,
If he oppos’d; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais’d impious War in heav’n and Battel proud
With vain attempt. Him the almighty Power
Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell. . . .
O Prince, O Chief of many Throned Powers,
That led th’ imbattell’d Seraphim to Warr
Under thy conduct, and in dreadful deeds
Fearless, endanger’d Heav’n’s perpetual King;
And put to proof his high Supremacy,
Whether upheld by strength, or Chance, or Fate,
Too well I see and rue the dire event,
That with sad overthrow and foul defeat
Hath lost us Heav’n, and all this mighty Host
In horrible destruction laid thus low,
As far as Gods and Heav’nly Essences
Can Perish: for the mind and spirit remains
Invincible, and vigour soon returns,
Though all our Glory extinct, and happy state
Here swallow’d up in endless misery. . . .
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th’ associates and copartners of our loss
Lye thus astonisht on th’ oblivious Pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy Mansion, or once more
With rallied Arms to try what may be yet
Regain’d in Heav’n, or what more lost in Hell?
Books do not write themselves. If they did, I’d have a lot more time to spend at Target. Nor are books written without the sage counsel, honest input, and occasional cheerleading of others. That’s why I have so many fabulous people to thank.
My wonderful editor, Wendy Loggia, without whom I would be lost. My sassy and savvy publisher, Beverly Horowitz; talented designer Trish Parcell Watts; copyediting goddess Colleen Fellingham; the much-missed Emily Jacobs; publicity wenches Judith Haut and Amy Ehrenreich; Adrienne Waintraub and Tracy Bloom, for keeping me in fries; the deliciously puckish and zany Chip Gibson; and everybody else for everything else. Random House rocks.
My terrific agent, Barry Goldblatt, and not just ’cause he cuts my checks and talks me off the ledge when I think my writing is so bad it might cause someone internal injury.
The Strapping Gods of Victoriana: Colin Gale, senior archivist at Royal Bethlem Hospital, who tirelessly answered my questions and whose book,
, was a godsend. Mark Kirby, of the London Transport Museum, who was unfailingly polite and incredibly detailed even when I said stuff like, “Okay, but if she took the Underground from Piccadilly
. . .
,” as if I were staging a scene out of
Monty Python and the Holy
. And the delightful Lee Jackson—the one-stop-shopping source for
and I do mean anything, about the Victorian age. Smart, funny, incredibly knowledgeable, fast with the e-mail answers, and an Elvis Costello fan. My heart swells with love. These men know their stuff. Any mistakes made or liberties taken are solely the fault of the author.
Laurie Allee, reader extraordinaire, who once again nailed it. I’m not worthy.
Holly Black, Cassandra Claire, and Emily Lauer, who know more about fantasy and magic systems on an off day than I could ever begin to know.
Nancy Werlin, for asking all the right questions.
The Right Honorable Kate Duffy of Kensington Books, who is without peer when it comes to peerage.
My pals at YAWriter for just about everything.
The barista staff of the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn—Brigid, Ben, Mario, Ali, Alma, Sherry, Peter, Amanda, Jonathan, Jesse, Emily, Rachel, Geoffrey—for caffeine, making me laugh, playing amazing music, letting me sit for hours, and generally making my work experience a happy one. Can’t wait till they finish building me that cubicle near the outlet. . . .
The passionate booksellers and librarians I have met. You are my heroes.
BookDivas, long may they read and reign.
All the readers I’ve met on this crazy ride. Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement.
And last but certainly not least, thanks to my son, Josh, for being so patient. Yes, honey, now we can play Clue.
DECEMBER 7, 1895
HEREIN LIES THE FAITHFUL AND TRUE ACCOUNT OF my last sixty days, by Kartik, brother of Amar, loyal son of the Rakshana, and of the strange visitation I received that has left me wary on this cold English night. To begin at the beginning, I must go back to the middle days of October, after the misfortune that occurred.
It was growing colder when I left the woods behind the Spence Academy for Young Ladies. I’d received a letter by falcon from the Rakshana. My presence was required immediately in London. I was to keep off the main roads and be certain I was not followed. For several miles, I traveled under cover of the Gypsy caravan. The rest of the way I made on foot, alone, shielded by trees or the broad cape of night.
The second night, exhausted by my travels, half dead with cold and hunger—for I had finished my meager portion of meat two days prior—my mind made strange by isolation, the woods began to play tricks on me. In my weakened state, every whippoorwill became a haunt; each twig broken under a fawn’s hooves a threat from the unquiet souls of barbarians slaughtered centuries before.
By the light of the fire, I read several passages from my only book, a copy of
hoping to gain courage from the trials of that hero. For I no longer felt brave or certain of anything. Finally, I drifted into sleep and dreams.
It was not a restful sleep. I dreamed of grass gone black as kindling. I was in a place of stone and ash. A lone tree stood outlined against a bloodred moon. And far below, a vast army of unearthly beings clamored for war. Above the din, I heard my brother, Amar, screeching out a warning: “Do not fail me, brother. Do not trust . . .” But here the dream changed. She was there, bending over me, her golden red curls a halo against the bright sky.
“Your destiny is joined to mine,” she whispered. She leaned close; her lips hovered near my own. I could feel the slightest heat from them. I woke quickly, but there was nothing, save the smoldering ash from my campfire and the night sounds of small animals scurrying for cover.
When I arrived in London I was half starved and unsure where to go next. The Rakshana had not given me instruction as to where to find them; that was not their way. They always found me. As I stumbled among the crowds of Covent Garden, the smell of eel pie, hot and salty, nearly drove me mad with hunger. I was about to risk stealing one when I spotted him. A man stood against a wall, smoking a cigar. He was not remarkable: of medium height and build, wearing a dark suit and hat, the morning’s newspaper folded neatly under his left arm. He sported a well-groomed mustache, and along his cheek was a wicked smile of a scar. I waited for him to look away so that I could lift the pie without consequence. I feigned interest in a pair of street performers. One juggled knives while the other charmed the crowd. A third man, I knew, would be slipping about, relieving people of their wallets. I looked toward the wall again, and the man was gone.
Now was the time to strike. Keeping my hand hidden beneath the cover of my cloak, I reached toward the pile of steaming buns. The hot pie was barely in my grasp when the man from the wall sidled up to me.
“The Eastern Star is hard to find,” he said in a low but cheery voice. It was only then that I noted the pin on his lapel—a small sword emblazoned with a skull. The symbol of the Rakshana.
I answered excitedly with the words I knew he expected, “But it shines brightly for those who seek it.”
We clasped right hands then, placing the left over the fist as brothers of the Rakshana.
“Welcome, novitiate, we’ve been waiting for you.” He leaned forward to whisper in my ear.
"You have much to account for.”
I cannot say exactly what happened next. The last sight I remember was of the meat pie woman pocketing coins. I felt a sharp pain at the back of my head, and the world swirled into blackness.
When I came to, I found myself in a dank, dark room, blinking against the sudden light of many tall candles arranged in a circle around me. My escorts had vanished. My head ached like the devil, and now awake, my terror was sharpened against the whetstone of the unknown. Where was I? Who was that man? If he was Rakshana, why the club on the head? I kept my ears open, listening for sounds, voices, some clue as to where I was.
“Kartik, brother of Amar, initiate of the brotherhood of the Rakshana . . .” The voice, deep and powerful, came from somewhere above me. I could see nothing but the candles, and behind that, utter darkness.
“Kartik,” the voice repeated, most definitely wanting an answer.
“Yes,” I croaked, when I could find my voice.
“Let the tribunal begin.”
The room began to take shape in the dark. Twelve feet or more above the floor was a railing running the circumference of the circular room. Behind the railing, I could just make out the ominous deep purple robes of the highest ranks of the Rakshana. These were not the brothers who had trained me my whole life, but the powerful men who lived and ruled in the shadows. For such a tribunal to take place, I had either done something very good—or very bad.
“We are dismayed by your performance,” the voice continued. “You were supposed to watch the girl.”
Something very bad. A new terror seized me. Not the fear that I might be beaten or robbed by hooligans, but the fear that I had disappointed my benefactors, my brothers, and that I would face their justice, which was legendary.
I swallowed hard. “Yes, brother, I did watch her, but—”
The voice rose sharply. “You were supposed to watch her and report to us. That is all. Was this mission too difficult for you, novice?”
I could not speak, so great was my fear.
“Why did you not report to us the moment she entered the realms?”
“I—I thought I had things well in hand.”
“And did you?”
“No.” My answer hung in the air like so much smoke from the candles.
“No, you did not. And now the realms have been breached. The unthinkable has happened.”
I rubbed my sweaty palms against my knees, but it did not help. The cold, metallic taste of fear worked its way into my mouth. There was much I didn’t know about the organization to which I’d pledged myself, my loyalty, my very life, as my brother had before me. Amar had told me stories of the Rakshana, of their code of honor. Their place in history as protectors of the realms.
“If you’d come to us immediately, we could have contained the situation.”
“With all due respect, she is not what I expected.” I paused to think of the girl I’d left behind—headstrong, with startling green eyes.
"I believe that she means well.”
The voice boomed. “That girl is more dangerous than she knows. And more of a threat than you realize, boy. She has the potential to destroy us all. And now, between the two of you, the power has been unleashed. Chaos reigns.”
“But she defeated Circe’s assassin.”
“Circe has more than one dark spirit at her disposal.” The voice continued. “That girl shattered the runes that have housed the magic and kept it safe for generations. Do you understand that there is no control? The magic is loose inside the realms for any spirit to use. Already, many are using it to corrupt the spirits who must cross. They will bring them to the Winterlands and fortify their strength. How long before they weaken the veil between the realms and this world? Before they find a way to Circe or she finds a way in? How long before she has the power she covets?”
A slick, icy fear spread through my veins.
“Now you see. You understand what she has done. What you have helped her do. Kneel . . .”
From nowhere came two strong hands, forcing me to my knees. My cloak was loosened at my neck and I felt cold hard steel against the frantic throbbing of the vein there. This was it. I had failed, brought shame on the Rakshana and my brother’s memory, and now I would die for it.
“Do you bow to the will of the brotherhood?” asked the voice.
My voice, pressed tight in my throat by the flat of the knife, sounded frantic, strangled. A stranger’s voice.
“I . . . I bow to the will of the brotherhood. In all things.”
The blade retreated. I was released.
When I realized my life would be spared, I am ashamed to say that I felt near to crying tears of relief. I would live, and I’d have a chance yet to prove my worth to the Rakshana.
“There is still hope. Has the girl ever made mention to you of the Temple?”
“No, my brother. I have never heard of such a place.”
“Long before the runes were constructed to control the magic, the Order used the Temple. It is rumored to be the source of all power in the realms. It is the place where the magic can be controlled. Whosoever claims the Temple rules the realms. She must find it.”
“Where is it?”
There was a moment’s pause. "Somewhere inside the realms. We do not know for certain. The Order kept it well hidden.”
“But how . . .”
“She must use her wits. If she is truly one of the Order, the Temple will most likely call to her in some fashion. But she must be careful. Others will seek it as well. The magic is unpredictable, wild. Nothing from the other side can be trusted. This is most important. Once she finds the Temple, she must say these words:
I bind the magic in the name of the Eastern Star.
“Won’t that give the Temple to the Rakshana?”
“It will give us our due. Why should the Order have it all? Their time is past.”
“Why do we not ask her to bring us in with her?”
The room fell silent for a moment, and I feared I would have the knife to my throat again.
"No member of the Rakshana may enter the realms. That was the witches’ punishment on us.”
Punishment? For what? I had heard Amar say only that we were guardians to the Order, a system of checks and balances for their power. It was an uneasy alliance, but an alliance nonetheless. These things being spoken now made me wary.
I was afraid to speak out but knew I must. “I do not think she will work for us willingly.”
“Do not tell her your aim. Gain her trust.” There was a pause.
"Woo her, if necessary.”
I thought of the strong, powerful, stubborn girl I’d left behind.
"She is not so easily wooed.”
“Any girl can be wooed. It is merely a question of finding the right tool. Your brother, Amar, was quite skilled at keeping the girl’s mother on our side.”
My brother wearing the cape of the damned. My brother using a demon’s war cry. Now was not the time to mention my unsettling dreams. They might think me a fool or a coward.
“Gain her favor. Find the Temple. Keep her from any other dalliances. The rest shall be ours.”
“Go now, Brother Kartik,” he said then, using the title of honor that might one day be conferred upon me as a full member of the Rakshana.
"We shall be watching you.”
My captors came forward then to place the blindfold over my eyes once more. I jumped to my feet. “Wait!” I cried out. “Once she has found the Temple, and the power is ours, what is to become of her?”
The room was silent save for the flickering of the candles in the slight draft. At last the voice echoed down into the chamber.
“Then you must kill her.”