Follow New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop to a “stunningly original”(Kirkus Reviews) world of magic and political unrest—where the only chance at peace requires a deadly price—in the third Novel of the Others.
The Others freed the blood prophets to protect them from exploitation, but their actions had dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.
Meg knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.
For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the battle is threatening to break right on Meg and Simon’s doorstep...
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New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop is a winner of the William L. Crawford Memorial Fantasy Award, presented by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, for The Black Jewels Trilogy. She is also the author of the Ephemera series, the Tir Alainn trilogy, and the Novels of the Others—including Etched in Bone, Marked in Flesh, Vision in Silver, Murder of Crows, and Written in Red. She lives in upstate New York.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
BOOKS BY ANNE BISHOP
Cel-Romano/Cel-Romano Alliance of Nations
Great Lakes—Superior, Tala, Honon, Etu, and Tahki
Other lakes—Feather Lakes/Finger Lakes
Cities and villages—Ferryman’s Landing, Hubb NE (aka Hubbney), Jerzy, Lakeside, Podunk, Shikago, Sparkletown, Sweetwater, Talulah Falls, Toland, Walnut Grove, Wheatfield
Days of the Week
Long ago, Namid gave birth to all kinds of life, including the beings known as humans. She gave the humans fertile pieces of herself, and she gave them good water. Understanding their nature and the nature of her other offspring, she also gave them enough isolation that they would have a chance to survive and grow. And they did.
They learned to build fires and shelters. They learned to farm and build cities. They built boats and fished in the Mediterran and Black seas. They bred and spread throughout their pieces of the world until they pushed into the wild places. That’s when they discovered that Namid’s other offspring already claimed the rest of the world.
The Others looked at humans and did not see conquerors. They saw a new kind of meat.
Wars were fought to possess the wild places. Sometimes the humans won and spread their seed a little farther. More often, pieces of civilization disappeared, and fearful survivors tried not to shiver when a howl went up in the night or a man, wandering too far from the safety of stout doors and light, was found the next morning drained of blood.
Centuries passed, and the humans built larger ships and sailed across the Atlantik Ocean. When they found virgin land, they built a settlement near the shore. Then they discovered that this land was also claimed by the terra indigene, the earth natives. The Others.
The terra indigene who ruled the continent called Thaisia became angry when the humans cut down trees and put a plow to land that was not theirs. So the Others ate the settlers and learned the shape of this particular meat, just as they had done many times in the past.
The second wave of explorers and settlers found the abandoned settlement and, once more, tried to claim the land as their own.
The Others ate them too.
The third wave of settlers had a leader who was smarter than his predecessors. He offered the Others warm blankets and lengths of cloth for clothes and interesting bits of shiny in exchange for being allowed to live in the settlement and have enough land to grow crops. The Others thought this was a fair exchange and walked off the boundaries of the land that the humans could use. More gifts were exchanged for hunting and fishing privileges. This arrangement satisfied both sides, even if one side regarded its new neighbors with snarling tolerance and the other side swallowed fear and made sure its people were safely inside the settlement’s walls before nightfall.
Years passed and more settlers arrived. Many died, but enough humans prospered. Settlements grew into villages, which grew into towns, which grew into cities. Little by little, humans moved across Thaisia, spreading out as much as they could on the land they were allowed to use.
Centuries passed. Humans were smart. So were the Others. Humans invented electricity and plumbing. The Others controlled all the rivers that could power the generators and all the lakes that supplied fresh drinking water. Humans invented steam engines and central heating. The Others controlled all the fuel needed to run the engines and heat the buildings. Humans invented and manufactured products. The Others controlled all the natural resources, thereby deciding what would and wouldn’t be made in their part of the world.
There were collisions, of course, and some places became dark memorials for the dead. Those memorials finally made it clear to human government that the terra indigene ruled Thaisia, and nothing short of the end of the world would change that.
So it comes to this current age. Small human villages exist within vast tracts of land that belong to the Others. And in larger human cities, there are fenced parks called Courtyards that are inhabited by the Others who have the task of keeping watch over the city’s residents and enforcing the agreements the humans made with the terra indigene.
There is still sharp-toothed tolerance on one side and fear of what walks in the dark on the other. But if they are careful, the humans survive.
Most of the time, they survive.
Thaisday, Maius 10
Meg Corbyn entered the bathroom in the Human Liaison’s Office and laid out the items she’d labeled the tools of prophecy: antiseptic ointment, bandages, and the silver folding razor decorated with pretty leaves and flowers on one side of the handle. On the other side of the handle, engraved in plain lettering, was the designation cs759. For twenty-four years, that designation had been the closest thing she’d had to a name.
She had a name now and a real apartment instead of a sterile cell. In the compound where she had been raised and trained . . . and used . . . she’d had one friend: Jean, the girl who wouldn’t allow anyone to forget that she’d once had a home and a family outside the compound—the girl who had helped Meg escape.
Now Meg had many friends, and it didn’t matter to her that most of them weren’t human. The terra indigene had given her a chance to have a life, were helping her find ways to live with the addiction that would eventually kill her. But Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, insisted he’d seen someone like her who had survived long enough to become an old woman.
She wanted to believe that was possible. She hoped this morning’s experiment might provide a clue to how it was possible.
After checking to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything they would need, Meg sat on the closed toilet seat and waited for Merri Lee, the human friend who was learning to work as her listener and interpreter.
The cassandra sangue saw prophecies when their skin was cut. They were trained to describe the visions and images. But the girls weren’t taught how to interpret what they saw. That would have been pointless. The moment a girl began to speak, a euphoria filled her, veiling her mind and protecting her from what those images revealed. In fact, the only way a blood prophet could remember what she saw was to keep silent. If she didn’t say the words out loud, she remembered what she saw.
It took a particular kind of determination—or desperation—to endure the agony that filled a girl when she didn’t speak after her skin was cut. And experiencing the euphoria that was almost orgasmic was the whole reason cassandra sangue became addicted to the cutting in the first place.
It took a particular kind of courage to acknowledge that she couldn’t completely escape the addiction after so many years of being cut on a regular schedule for someone else’s profit. The prophecies inside her would not be denied. Whether she wanted to or not, Meg needed to cut.
That was the reason today’s appointment with the razor was so important. She wasn’t experiencing the pins-and-needles feeling that indicated something was going to happen. Nothing pushed at her, and that made this morning the perfect time to discover what happened when she made a controlled cut.
The back door of the office opened. A moment later, Merri Lee stood in the bathroom doorway holding a small pad of paper and a pen.
They were both petite women around the same age, and both had fair skin. But Merri Lee had dark eyes and dark, layered hair that fell below her shoulders, while Meg had clear gray eyes and short black hair that was still mostly a weird orangey red from her efforts to disguise herself when she’d run away from the man known as the Controller.
“Are you sure about this?” Merri Lee asked. “Maybe we should wait until Simon and Henry get back from Great Island.”
Meg shook her head. “We should do this now, before the office opens and there’s additional . . . input . . . that might change what I see. Vlad is working at Howling Good Reads today. We can tell him about the prophecy—and he’s close enough if we need help.”
“All right.” Merri Lee pulled over a chair from the little dining area, set it just outside the bathroom doorway, and sat down. “What should I ask you?”
Meg had thought about this. When clients had come to the Controller’s compound, they had a specific question. She wasn’t looking for anything that defined, but she needed some kind of boundary. “This is what you should ask: What should the residents of the Lakeside Courtyard watch for during the next fortnight?”
“That’s pretty vague,” Merri Lee said. “And . . . fortnight?”
“If I ask about a specific thing in the Courtyard, something else might be overlooked—and that might be the important thing the Others should know about,” Meg replied. “Two weeks is enough time. As for ‘fortnight,’ I just learned that word and like the sound of it. I think it fits in with prophecies better than saying ‘two weeks.’”
“But if this doesn’t work, if we don’t get anything useful, then you’ve made the cut for nothing,” Merri Lee argued.
“Not for nothing,” Meg said. The euphoria was reason enough to cut. That wasn’t something she would say to her friend, so she offered a different truth. “If I can stretch out the time between cuts because one cut will supply the warnings we need for two weeks and quiet the pins-and-needles feeling that pushes me to cut, I’ll have more years to live. And I do want to live—especially now that I have a real life.”
A beat of silence. Then Merri Lee said, “Ready?”
“Yes.” Opening the silver razor, Meg laid the blade flat against her skin, its one-quarter-inch width providing the perfect distance between cuts—the distance that kept prophecies separated without wasting valuable skin. She lined up the back of the blade with the last scar on her left forearm. Then she turned her hand and cut just deeply enough for blood to flow freely and, equally important, for the cut to leave a scar.
Agony filled her, the prelude to prophecy. Hearing someone crying—someone no one else could hear—Meg gritted her teeth, set the razor aside, and positioned her arm to rest in the bathroom sink. Then she gave Merri Lee a sharp nod.
“What should the residents of the Lakeside Courtyard watch for during the next fortnight?” Merri Lee said. “Speak, prophet, and I will listen.”
She spoke, revealing everything she saw. The images faded with the sound of the words as waves of euphoria produced a delicious tingle in her breasts and a rhythmic tug between her legs, replacing the pain.
She didn’t know how long she floated on the pleasure produced by the euphoria. Sometimes it seemed to fade within moments of identifying the last image, while at other times she drifted for a while in a haze of physical pleasure. When she became aware of her surroundings again, Meg realized enough time had passed that Merri Lee had bandaged the cut, cleaned the razor, and washed the sink.
The blood of the cassandra sangue was dangerous to humans and Others alike. It had been used to make gone over wolf and feel-good, two drugs that had caused so much trouble throughout Thaisia in the past few months. That was the reason why, when they made plans for this cut, she and Merri Lee agreed that all the blood would be washed away, and the bandages would be collected later and taken to the Courtyard’s Utilities Complex for incineration.
“Did it work?” Meg asked. “Did I speak prophecy? Did I see anything useful?” Her voice sounded rough, and her throat hurt. She wanted to ask Merri Lee for a glass of water or maybe some juice, but she couldn’t rouse herself enough to say anything more.
“Meg, do you trust me?”
That sounded like an ominous way to answer her own questions. “Yes, I trust you.”
Merri Lee nodded, as if coming to a decision. “Yes, it worked. Better than we could have hoped. I need a little time to sort the images into some kind of order.”
Not a lie, exactly, but not the truth either.
Meg studied her friend. “You don’t want to tell me what I said, what I saw.”
“No, I don’t. I really don’t.”
“Meg.” Merri Lee closed her eyes for a moment. “No one in the Courtyard is in immediate danger, but you said a couple of things that were . . . disturbing, things I’m not sure how to interpret. I want to do a preliminary shuffling of images, like we did the last time when we drew the images on index cards and kept arranging them until they told us a story. Then I’ll go to Howling Good Reads and talk to Vlad.”
“I didn’t see anything bad happening to Sam? Or Simon? Or . . . anyone here?” In human form, Sam Wolfgard looked to be around eight or nine years old now, but he was still a puppy. And Simon was her friend. Just the thought of something happening to either of them made her chest hurt.
Merri Lee shook her head. “You didn’t say anything that would indicate someone here was going to be in trouble.” She touched Meg’s hand. “We’re both learning how to do this, and I want someone else’s feedback before you and I talk about what you saw. Okay?”
No immediate danger. None of her friends at risk. “Okay.”
“It’s almost nine o’clock. You should eat something before you open the office.”
Meg followed Merri Lee out of the bathroom, feeling a little light-headed. Yes, she needed to eat, needed a little quiet time. Needed to figure out what to say to whichever Wolf had guard duty today. Even if she tried to avoid him, the Wolf would smell the blood and ointment. She was pretty sure she could talk John into not sounding an alarm, and if it was Skippy’s turn as watch Wolf, a couple of cookies would distract him. On the other hand, if Blair, the Courtyard’s primary enforcer, showed up with Skippy, as he usually did . . .
Maybe Merri Lee was right about telling Vlad before someone started howling about the cut and brought everyone running to demand answers.
“Merri?” Meg said as Merri Lee opened the office’s back door. “I didn’t see anything else about the Others?”
Merri Lee shook her head. Then she frowned. “Well, you did see paws digging.”
“Digging?” Now Meg frowned. “Why would that be important enough to see in a vision?”
“Don’t know. Maybe Vlad or the Wolves will be able to figure it out.” Merri Lee hesitated. “Will you be all right? You’re not dizzy or anything?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Remember to eat.”
As soon as Merri Lee closed t...
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