Rachel Wilde comes from a dimension that exists adjacent to ours. The people there have structured their society around daemon collecting: they locate, catch, and repair malfunctioning daemons (creatures out of phase with our world that tempt people to do good or evil). Now Rachel has been given two unusual assignments: 1) find a person who has been trying to break down dimensional barriers, and 2) track down a missing line of gatekeepers, human placeholders for a daemon that was too badly damaged to repair. Authorities of Rachel’s world believe the missing gatekeepers are descended from a girl who went missing from West Africa hundreds of years ago, likely sold into slavery. With no leads to go on, Rachel seeks help from Bach, a raving homeless man who happens to be an oracle. Bach does put her in the path of both of her targets―but he also lands her in a life-threatening situation. Somehow, Rachel has to stop the criminal, reunite a gatekeeper with her stolen past, and, above all, survive.
p r o l o g u e
The pounding rain soaked through her clothes in seconds, Twashing away the blood on her shirt and hands. Her shoes were soggy and made her feet heavy as she sprinted through the city streets. Panting, she ran blindly, with no idea where she was headed in the darkness, only conscious of what she was running from. The adrenaline flooding her veins drowned out her grief. She felt nothing but terror.
“Run!” The memory of her father’s final command rever-berated in her ears. He had shouted it at her as he grabbed the man with the knife. But she hadn’t run then. She’d still been crouched over her mother.
THE UMBRELLA SHE held shielded the violent struggle from her view. She held her mother and wailed.
“Mom!” she screamed. “Oh God, Mom!”
At first, she begged—begged her mother, begged God, begged the red gush of blood—while she pressed her hands over the wounds, as if trying to force her mother’s life back into her limp body. Then, barely hearing her own voice, she began to apologize. She apologized for arguing with her mother that morning. She apologized for not studying for the exam.
She apologized for sneaking out with her friends after curfew.
She would never do it again. She was so, so sorry.
When nothing she said triggered a change, she began to sob. “Mom! Mom!” The blood spreading over her mother’s green blouse slowed from a gush to a trickle. Her wet, red hands trembled as her eyes inched their way to her mother’s face. “Mom?”
Rain beat down on her mother’s dull, unblinking eyes.
Her chest constricted. She could only breathe in tiny gasps. The world fell away, reduced to a muffled blur, as she stared at her mother’s body. The wild pounding of the rain on her umbrella drowned out the rest of the world, filling her ears with a dull white noise. With every labored breath, she expected to wake up from this nightmare. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. This sort of thing happened to other people—
not to her, not to her mother. It was all a mistake.
It wasn’t until her father shouted her name several times that she remembered the assailant. As she lifted her gaze from her mother’s corpse, the world came back into focus, and when she glanced out from under the rim of her umbrella, she saw two men locked in a violent struggle barely two steps away. Blood from a dozen red slashes ran all over her father’s arms. He had the young attacker by the wrist and was holding the knife at bay, but the man was fighting hard to get free.
Only then did she realize that the killer wasn’t looking at her father. Far from concentrating on the struggle at hand, the lean young man was staring with heart-stopping intensity right at her. And his eyes were blazing with murder.
Her broken heart pumped out cold terror. The umbrella slipped from her trembling fingers and fell to the ground; its dark canopy spun for a moment before it tipped onto its side and came to rest in a puddle. Her father bellowed at her again
—“Run!”—and this time she jumped to her feet. Jolted by the stranger’s glare and her father’s desperate shout, she bolted.
TIME PASSED IN gasps and footsteps. She had no sense of whether she had been running for blocks or miles. As fatigue overtook her muscles, the memory of her mother’s dull stare overtook her mind. Soaked to the bone, she came to a stop, hot tears streaming down her face and mingling with the cold rain.
Her mom was dead. This new reality of her life wrapped its long fingers around her brain and dug in its claws.
She let out a pained sob and sank to her knees. Through heavily blurred vision, she glanced around, barely registering the tightly packed old buildings and cobblestone street. She stared vacantly at the distorted reflections of the streetlamps’
glow in the rain-stained sidewalk. The illuminated water flowed into the cracks between the paver stones and over the edge of the curb, draining into the road. It looked like a painting that had been splashed with paint thinner and left on the wall to run and drip. The storm beat down upon her. Her tears streamed through her long, unbound hair as she wrapped her arms around her torso, giving herself the hug she would never again give her mom, and let out a deep moan.
A car sped past, its headlights barely penetrating the downpour, and splashed a puddle over her. She was so drenched that she hardly felt the water, but the noise of the vehicle brought her out of her mournful trance.
Still shaking from exhaustion and misery, she got to her feet and looked back the way she’d come. The rain and her tear-filled eyes made the world a dark, wet haze.
“Daddy?” she called out.
As far as she could see, she was the only living soul on the street. She squinted against the storm and took a few steps in the direction of the scene she had fled.
“Daddy?” she said again.
The only response she got was the drumming of the rain.
For the first time, it occurred to her that she might have lost both parents in the same night. Even when she had seen her father struggling with the killer, she’d never once thought that he might die. Her father—a large, strong man—was invincible in her eyes. She couldn’t fathom that he would ever be beaten by anyone, especially a man threatening her life. What out-come could there be but that he would fight off the stranger and then come to rescue her?
But he hadn’t come.
Her grief was suddenly overpowered by fear. Without her father, she had no family left. Without him, she was alone.
“Daddy!” she shouted as she started to run. “Daddy, where are you?”
A shape came out of the night, shuffling through the puddles, obscured by the curtain of rain. She hurried toward it, her desperate mind filling in the details of the outline until it looked like her father.
It wasn’t until she was a few strides away that the truth asserted itself and she skidded to a stop, arms flailing and eyes wide. The man was too young, too tall, and too lean. It wasn’t her father.
The stranger’s murderous gaze locked onto hers again, and he lifted his knife. She opened her mouth to scream, but mortal terror choked her; all that escaped her lips was a squeak. In the light of the streetlamp, the killer smirked.
She pivoted on her heel and scrambled away like a mouse that had just stumbled upon a coiled snake. At the far end of the block, she spotted another man and headed straight for him.
“Help me!” she shrieked. “Help me, please!”
The short, heavyset man turned in her direction, and she felt a flush of hope and relief: she had been seen. She glanced back at her parents’ murderer and saw him walking, almost casually, toward her.
“That man!” she yelled, pointing. “He stabbed—”
With her eyes on her pursuer, she never saw the blade that slid between her ribs.
On the ground, gasping like a fish on the floor of a boat, she stared up at the pitch-black sky. Pain radiated outward from the stab wound in her chest and encompassed her entire body like a cocoon. The storm pelted her with its emotionless tears and washed away the evidence of her wound even as it oozed from her veins.
Two men appeared on the edges of her vision, her parents’
attacker and her own. Their unfamiliar faces peered down at her with identical, bland expressions.
“Just the girl?” asked her assailant. “Where’s the other one?”
“Dead,” the younger man replied. “Husband, too.”
Daddy? A fresh wave of pain seized her body; lava-hot tears scalded her eyes.
“This kid’s the last one, then.” The older man leaned over her and squinted down through a pair of glasses. “There should be more of a dent in the dimensional barrier by now.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the young man said through a yawn. He scratched at his neck with the hilt of his knife. “‘Dimensional barrier,’ ‘last one’—nothing you people say makes much sense.”
“Just answer me this: Is there anyone else in the family?
Another daughter? A sister? An aunt?”
“Both of the parents are only children and this girl’s their only kid. I killed every other relative on the list you gave me.
The whole family’s a dead end.”
The whole family.
Her eyes swayed from one man to the other and then to as much of the world as she could see from where she lay on the street. A blaze of light cut across her vision, accompanied by the sound of tires slicing through puddles. She opened her mouth to call for help, but as she drew breath, blinding pain shot through her torso and quashed her voice. The car drove up the street without slowing. The two men showed no sign of concern at its passing.
“If she’s the last,” the older man said as he carefully scanned the area around her bleeding body, “then there’d be a breach opening up about now. But there’s not.” He sucked air through his teeth and shook his head. “Fuck.” He took out his phone and, leaning forward to shield it from the rain with his body, typed a message. “There’s another one somewhere.”
“More weird terminology,” the younger man griped.
“Whatever. You want me to kill someone else?”
“Doubtful,” the older man said. “We did a very thorough search of this branch of the family. It’s more likely that the gatekeeper we want is abroad. We’ll get someone to find her and then send another one like you to finish the job.”
“Another one like me?” The younger man chuckled. “How many murderers are on your payroll?”
“Too many,” the older man replied with obvious disgust.
The wiry young killer snorted and casually waved his knife in the older man’s direction. “If you people don’t like it,”
he said, “then do your own dirty work. Or are you above that sort of thing?”
“Clearly not,” the older man said, and she saw him nod down at her. “Just because we dislike violence doesn’t mean we aren’t prepared to do what’s necessary.” His phone chimed and he looked at the screen. “Our world needs to change,” he said as he typed, “even if that means that yours has to burn.”
As he put his phone away, he glanced down and briefly locked eyes with her. She gasped and tried to turn her head to avoid his eyes. He quickly looked away. “She’s still alive,” he said to the younger man. “Take care of it.”
Daddy’s not coming for me, the girl thought as the man leaned down with his knife in hand. No one’s coming for me.
The blade that had killed her parents hovered before her eyes.
It was shiny and clean. It should have so much blood on it, she thought. How can it be so clean when it’s killed so much?
The knife flashed in and out of her sight. She knew he was stabbing her, but the pain was like a distant echo. Blood loss had left her body numb; she felt hollow and cold. The two men vanished from her dimming sight. She vaguely heard them talking about the weather as their voices retreated.
Her eyelids were heavy, but she stared up at the black sky one last time, wishing there were stars. A primal voice in her mind whispered for her mother one last time before she closed her eyes and finally let go.
About the Author
ALISON LEVY lives in Greensboro, North Carolina with her husband, son, and variety of pets. When she’s not writing or doing mom things, she crochets, gardens, walks her collies, and works on home improvement projects.