Chapters:

Prologue + Chapter One

Prologue

The day the mortals discovered the afterlife, the sky opened up—and it never closed again.

That day, a black fissure appeared across the Underworld’s pale violet sky, like someone had torn a hole in the very fabric of the universe. There was nothing beyond the tear but darkness—a black veil, dividing one world from the other. The rupture in the sky remained, like a scar—reminding any immortal creature who glimpsed it that their home would never be a secret again.

Haben didn’t see it happen. He had not yet arrived in the Underworld or received his eternal sentence. But he knew what it meant, the first time he saw it. Enlightenment had come at a price for the mortal world. That he’d seen: decades of violent infighting. Ruin beyond redemption. For all their intellect and technological prowess, the humans fell on their own sword. Sometimes, Haben thought they deserved it. They’d reached for something they were never meant to grasp. Underworld dwellers had always been able to cross to the other side and observe the mortal world, but the opposite was forbidden. There was a reason the humans were left in the dark. They were greedy. Selfish. Their simple minds couldn’t absorb the truth.

Haben was glad to be rid of the mortal world at first. But that was before he understood the meaning of his new life, before he understood what it meant to be a demon. Before the torture began.

He glanced up at the rising sun and the jagged black rock-face that loomed before him. He only had a few more minutes to reach his destination. The dark fissure in the sky, the mortals’ window to their world, would soon align with the cliff above him. He knew sending a message to the other side was hopeless; the mortals didn’t watch the veil anymore. All the demons knew that. But it didn’t stop them from trying.

Haben grasped a craggy foothold, hoisting himself up onto the cliff. The sleeve of his tattered robe shifted, revealing two identical black tattoos snaking up the length of both his arms. He was always startled, even after so many hundreds of years, to catch sight of them: diagonal lines, originating at his elbow crease, crisscrossing down the pale flesh of his forearm toward his wrist, creating the appearance of a cage on his skin. He couldn’t help but think, as he always did, of their resemblance to shackles. Dohv marked all his immortal servants this way once he claimed them.

As he climbed, Haben remembered the first time he had observed his immortal body in the sunlight, how horrified he had been when he realized he could see straight through the flesh on his arms if he looked hard enough. Dohv, Lord of the Underworld and Keeper of Life, had given him a new encasement for his soul, different from the body he’d had in life. His ashen, skin housed organs, organs that circulated blood—blood that would never run dry so long as the universe endured. He had been made this way for a reason, so he could still experience whatever physical pain Dohv wished to visit upon him.

Haben had only seen his own reflection once, in the dark, mirror-like floor of Dohv’s palace. He was struck by the face of the man staring back at him. He had not aged, but he was gaunt. Sallow. A husk of his former self. His eyes, lively and green, that had suited his face so perfectly in life, bulged disproportionately above his protruding cheekbones. His hair had thinned to wisps. He dared to hope he could still glimpse the man he used to be, underneath it all. But he hadn’t looked at himself even once since then.

With an exhausted grunt, Haben pulled himself up over the edge of the obsidian cliff. As dawn crested the horizon, the rupture in the sky inched toward the spot where he stood. Haben caught his breath, gazing across the enormous stone slab before him, at the hundreds and thousands of crude etchings that had been carved into it. He plucked a shard of rock from the ground and clutched it in his shaky fist. Even though he knew it was useless, even though he’d tried it so many times to no avail, he found a small, blank space and began to write:

I… Am—

Haben wasn’t sure what lay on the other side of that fissure in the sky, but he knew the humans had sealed off their end when the war began. They weren’t watching anymore. But still, he longed to tell them…

I… Am… Sorr—

At that moment, he dropped the stone and doubled over with an agonized growl. He felt as though he’d swallowed a knife that was stabbing him from the inside out. He collapsed onto his side, bracing himself for what was just seconds away. Here it comes. Here was his punishment from Dohv. Here was the hunger.

Whenever Dohv’s curse reared its ugly head, it took Haben by surprise, even though it had been happening for centuries. He would languish, starving, until he finally accepted his fate: to cross to the other side and consume his sacrifice. He would eat his fill, destroying, bit by anguished bit, whatever was left of his mortal soul.

The second hunger pang hit Haben like a tidal wave and forced him to draw his legs to his chest. He gnawed on the top of his knee to keep himself from screeching like a tortured animal. This was the breaking point for a living being, the moment a starving person would succumb to death. But for Haben, there would be no release. There would be no death.

As he writhed on the ground, he mouthed the words he was unable to finish writing.

“S-sorry. I am… S—”

But he knew he’d soon give in. He always did. And even as he howled and cursed Dohv’s name for such a gruesome sentence, he knew he deserved every moment of it for the crimes he had committed. He had earned this terrible, endless fate.

Chapter One

Seycia hadn’t reached the pit yet, but she already knew: tonight’s victim would be a child. The Autumnal sacrifice had been a woman, with silver hair and chipped, yellow teeth. Seycia had been close enough to see her, the last time—though she’d closed her eyes for the worst parts. But because the last offering had been an adult, she knew General Simeon’s next victim would be much younger.

        A frigid breeze whipped her mane of dark, untamed hair across her face and into her eyes. She tied it into a knot behind her neck and shivered as the day faded to cold, foreboding twilight. Twice each year, a fearsome windstorm would rattle Khronasa for three days. On the third night of the storm, the Savage would come to claim its sacrifice. That night was tonight.

“His name’s Henshaw,” a small voice piped up. Seycia spun to face her brother, Miko. He’d been silent up until now, shuffling along a few paces behind her. It was a long walk to the city center from their cabin on the hillside—he was probably getting tired.

“Where did you hear his name?” She didn’t need to ask who they were referring to.

        “Last night. You must’ve been asleep already. There was a lady crying, down by the river. She kept saying his name.” Miko lowered his voice and added, “I think he’s from the hill.”

        “Hmm,” Seycia absorbed the news with a frown.

        “You always said we were safe up here.”

        Seycia stole a glance at her brother, wondering how to respond. He was nearly twelve summers old. She wouldn’t be able to shield him from the truth for much longer.

        “General Simeon controls all of Khronasa. Including the hill,” she replied. A moment passed as she watched Miko for a reaction. He pulled a shaky breath, then nodded.

        “So we’re not safe anymore.”

        “We’ve never been safe.”

She regretted the words as soon as she said them. She’d spent years trying to convince him that the world was only dangerous for those who couldn’t protect themselves. She’d been so careful to empower him. But with each passing season, with each sacrifice, it became harder for her to keep the fear to herself.

Woosh! A tiny dart sliced through the air.

Miko bounded over to a patch of brush and produced a rabbit he’d just shot with one of his poisoned darts.

        He picked it up by its ears and dangled its paralyzed body in the air. The red-feather tip he’d attached to the tiny weapon stuck out of the animal’s neck. “Enough for dinner?”

        “Sure,” Seycia said. “He’s a big one. Let’s cut him quick before the poison wears off.”

        Miko dislodged the dart from the rabbit’s flesh and wiped it on the sleeve of his frayed deerskin tunic. From underneath the collar of her coarse gray shirt, Seycia pulled an animal’s fang on a cord and used it to slit the rabbit’s throat.

The fang was both her most valuable weapon and most treasured heirloom, a trophy her father had claimed after killing the Black Beast sixteen years ago. She was barely two summers old at the time, but her father had retold the story of the kill so often that she swore she’d been right there with him. The fang’s surface was smooth and whiter than a pearl, a perfect half-moon shape with a jagged tip, about the length of her own hand. She often thrust it between her second and third fingers, brandishing it as though it were a talon that had sprouted from her fist.

Seycia drained the rabbit’s blood and handed it back to Miko, who shoved the carcass into a leather pouch he wore on his back. Then, he pulled a hollowed-out tree branch from his belt and a walnut shell filled with gummy red paste—his homemade tranquilizer.

        “There’s another one, over there,” he whispered, pointing to a rustling bush on the other side of the path. He coated the sharp end of his dart with poison.

        Seycia tiptoed behind him as he ventured off the path, stalking their prey through a labyrinth of fallen trees. They came to a clearing, where the skeleton of a once-great temple lay in a heap. Years ago, the sparkling white tower had been a place of worship devoted to Dohv, Lord of the Underworld and Keeper of Life. Now, it was nothing but a pile of marble shards on the ground. Seycia heard rumors of Khronasans who hid scraps of its shattered columns under their beds at night, but nobody dared to worship at the foot of its crumbled remains. Not since the arrival of General Simeon and The Coalition.

Miko clenched the hollowed-out stick between his lips and fired off another dart. But the second rabbit was quick, having learned from its partner, and scampered off. Miko sighed.

        “I think there’s a burrow nearby, we should try to find it,” he said as he ran off to fetch the fallen dart.

        “One’s enough, Miko,” Seycia hissed. “We’ll be late for the sacrifice.”

“Wait! Come look over here!” Miko called out to her. A reluctant sigh escaped her lips as she followed him behind the temple ruins.  

        A wedge of silvery metal poked out of the earth, likely the corner of something larger buried beneath the surface. Miko was already digging for it with his bare hands. The forest beyond the city was filled with mysterious odds and ends Seycia and Miko used to collect as children: shiny silver discs, cracked into jagged shards. Scraps of worn metal, warped with age. Echoes of a world that once existed, a world that had disappeared before their own.

        “Miko, come on. We don’t need any more junk,” Seycia grumbled.

        “Just let me see what it is, then we’ll decide if it’s junk.”

Seycia watched as Miko pulled a rectangular metal object from the ground. It was cracked and discolored and had an unfamiliar white emblem on the front, like a piece of fruit someone had taken a bite out of. He frowned, pawing at the artifact, and realized he could pull the edges apart, like a book, revealing a shattered, reflective surface between the two sides. He breathed an excited gasp.

        “I don’t have one like this!” he said, examining the ancient treasure, then held it up to Seycia. “How old do you think it is?”

        “I’m not sure.”

        “But it’s definitely from before the war, right?”

        “Mmm,” Seycia murmured in agreement, then set out on the path again, encouraging him to follow her.

He turned the mysterious object over in his hands as they walked, straining to see in the dim light. “It’s not fair that we don’t know what this is. It’s probably really useful, for someone who knows what it does,” Miko chattered on. “Doesn’t that scare you, a little? To think about all the things and people in the world that nobody remembers?”

        “There are plenty of things that scare me more than that.”

At that moment, a small, childlike voice rang out from the thick of the woods. Seycia and Miko both slowed down and glanced over at a parallel path that would soon converge with their own. The shadows of three figures drifted into view: fellow foragers from the woods. Seycia realized the child among them was singing. It was an old song—one she knew well:


His tongue’s black as coal from the souls that he’s swallowed;

When you walk home tonight, be sure you’re not followed

For if you’ve been guilty of treason or theft,

The Savage will feast on what life you have left.

He sends evil to Earth, such mischief he makes:

The famines, the floods, the wildfires, the quakes.

He acts out of fury, the hunger he feels;

So, child, stay in line or you’ll be his next meal.

       

The family of foragers met up with Seycia and Miko at the place the two pathways became one. Seycia peered at the young husband and wife, holding torches and wearing mismatched deerskin. Their frail, barefoot daughter continued humming to herself as she kicked pebbles out of her way. The little girl looked up at Seycia with a fierce, starving blankness, and Seycia inched away, as though she’d just smelled the fresh meat they were carrying. She’d learned long ago not to share. Food was scarce enough.

Seycia and Miko reached the edge of a gray meadow, where the muddy pathway widened and became a gravel road, leading to Khronasa’s central square. The streets here were neat and straight—a newer development. Seycia heard a distant rumble and pulled Miko to the side of the road for safety. Two Coalition vehicles with darkened windows streaked past, into the rough terrain of the woods. She took it as another sign that their shelter on the hilltop might not be as safe as she once believed. As she choked on the putrid, greasy exhaust they left behind, Seycia remembered the first time she saw one of the Coalition’s monstrous vehicles—she’d panicked, wondering if the Black Beast had somehow resurfaced. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.

As she and Miko walked on, a city of crude cinderblocks and rusty red rooftops loomed before them, interspersed with twisted towers of rusted metal: relics from whatever world had perished before theirs. They followed a set of ancient set of steel tracks, stuck deep in the dirt and overgrown with weeds, as it wound through the city and led them to the central square.

        A considerable crowd had already gathered there, abuzz with anxious chatter. In the middle of the plaza stood a covered platform of polished marble, flanked by six huge pillars. Seycia noted the ancient silver gong situated at the front of the plaza platform, engraved ages ago with images of her people’s demons and gods—a relic the Coalition had stolen and reclaimed as their own.

        Just below the stairs to the platform was the pit—the same pit Seycia’s forefathers had dug when their village was established. The general’s servants surrounded it, clutching buckets of water, squinting through the round, black goggles they wore that made Seycia think of overgrown roaches. They made themselves busy splashing water down the steep sides of the hole in the ground, making sure the muddy walls were slick and impossible to climb. Seycia had never wanted to be close enough to peer down into it, but she was sure it was incredibly deep. Nobody ever climbed out.

        Most of the villagers had already queued up in front of a barricade of burlap sacks, where a sallow Coalition woman with hair like stiff, yellow hay was handing them out. Seycia and Miko took their place in the line. Each spectator would receive a sack of grain on their way to watch the boy march to his death. General Simeon could ensure everyone’s attendance this way; the woods and the hilltop produced no crops. Seycia would have gladly subsisted on berries and scant scraps of rabbit for the rest of her days, but Miko was still a child. Miko needed to eat.

The Coalition woman lifted her dark goggles and fixed them on top of her head as twilight crept across the plaza. Seycia was thankful she could always identify her enemy. Coalition members all wore protective eyewear to shield them from the oppressive sun they’d avoided for so many years, and swaddled themselves in multiple layers of clothing to protect their sensitive skin. Their eyes were a pale ice-gray, like dirty day-old snow, and Seycia swore she could feel a chill every time one of them met her gaze.

Long ago, Seycia and Miko’s ancestors braved the elements and joined forces to breathe new life into their war-ravaged world. But the Coalition took refuge below the surface, hoarding their riches and knowledge as they rode out the storm. As the Khronasans learned to live again, they couldn’t have imagined the evil lurking beneath their feet, an evil that would rise one day to face the sun and devour everything they held dear. An evil that spread like a plague across the land where they’d danced for their gods, taught their children to walk, and buried their dead.

“Thank you, sister,” Miko grunted as the yellow-haired woman shoved a bag of grain into his arms. Seycia didn’t even make eye contact as the woman distributed her reward.

“Thanks,” Seycia muttered.

“Thanks, what?” the woman snorted.

        “Er . . . thanks, sister,” she corrected herself with a grimace. She hated admitting that they needed the grain. Even the smallest reminders of the Coalition’s strength sparked an uncontrollable fury inside of her that she didn’t know what to do with. She knew she’d taken a risk, being rude to the woman. But she couldn’t help it.

        She met Miko at the far edge of the plaza, a good distance from the pit. Before the Coalition arrived, Seycia had never attended a public sacrifice. Back then, the ritual was done in private, and only criminals were offered to the Savage. Never, ever children. She always wondered about the people who pushed their way to the front of the crowd, the ones who desperately wanted an unobstructed view of the helpless victim. There were quite a lot of them. She didn’t understand it. It was as though they’d convinced themselves that what they were watching wasn’t real.

The gong rang out—an ominous, metallic moan. And that’s when she saw him.

        General Simeon entered the square. A team of bodyguards slung with heavy black machine guns walked in step with him across the cobblestones. He was, at a distance, little more than a snip of a man in a red military uniform, with thinning blond hair and an uneven gait. He wore a small pair of black spectacles that became transparent whenever the light faded, and his gray eyes were tense and narrow, as though he were constantly struggling to see what was in front of him. But Seycia knew not to be deceived by his appearance. Since the night of the occupation, it had been his face, his eyes, that spied on her from the darkness in each and every one of her nightmares. She shuddered as the General approached, unable to keep the chilling memories at bay. . .


At sunset on the day Khronasa was invaded, her family’s hunting dogs had started howling in a blind frenzy. They burst out the door, never to be seen again. They had heard the march of the army in the distance like an impending thunderstorm. Nobody else had.

Seycia remembered exactly where she’d stood in her family’s pasture, calling out to the dogs, when an explosion rocked the earth beneath her feet. Seycia’s father, Oskar, yanked her back into the house and told her to hide under her bed. She watched her neighbors streak past her window, fleeing in terror. It wasn’t long before the flames from a second blast devoured their cabin. She, her parents, and five-year-old Miko bolted from their home.

        They raced for the hills, mounted on their two horses, but they didn’t get far. A line of Coalition soldiers halted them, positioned like a fortress on all sides of the village, each of them holding. . . what was it? A long, black staff? Seycia had never seen a firearm before in her life.          General Simeon stood at the center of his militia, barking orders to his men in a strange language. Then he changed his tongue. He addressed her family and neighbors directly: “The first man to flee into the woods does so with a bullet in his back,” he had said. What was a bullet? Nobody knew . . .

        A man who lived nearby ignored General Simeon’s threat and drove his horse through the line of soldiers, toward the hillside beyond. Then the Khronasans understood what a bullet was.

        It was all a feverish blur after that. Seycia hadn’t seen it happen, but she’d heard it: one of General Simeon’s bullets hit her mother square in the neck. She hardly had a moment to process where the deafening crack had come from. Her father caught her mother in his arms as she sank to the ground, drenching him with blood. It was over fast. She didn’t even scream.

        Oskar was wearing the Black Beast’s fang around his own neck that night. He didn’t have any other weapons on him. As General Simeon kept his gun fixed on their helpless family, Oskar lunged toward him, brandishing the fang like a dagger. Terrified, Seycia watched them struggle. Oskar knocked the gun from Simeon’s hand and swung at him with the fang. But instead of landing a fatal blow, Oskar plunged the fang deep into General Simeon’s left cheek and twisted it—carving a hole into the side of the wretched man’s face.

        As Oskar pulled the fang from Simeon’s cheek, a soldier standing behind him took aim and fired. Seycia’s father was gone, in barely a breath, asleep forever on a blanket of moss and trampled leaves. It was early summer, and the ground was covered in white blossoms that had fallen from the trees like a soft, fragrant snow. Seycia would always recall how deeply red her father’s blood appeared against those white flowers in the moonlight.

        Seycia leaped to her feet as the general lifted his head and blood cascaded out of the hole in his face. He looked at her—he gazed right into her eyes—and he smiled. It was the wickedest thing she’d ever seen. He smiled at her, his butchered cheek gruesomely off-kilter, as if promising her that this was only the beginning.

        She grabbed for Miko as he wailed, desperate to stay with their parents. He didn’t understand what had just happened to them. She peered down at her father’s body in despair, and spotted the fang in his lifeless fist. She grabbed it and scrambled to mount an abandoned horse that streaked past. As Seycia hung the fang around her neck and helped Miko up onto the horse, the General locked eyes with her. He was still smiling.

        Holding together his mangled cheek, he hissed at her, “I’ll give you a head start for being so pretty. Better run.”

She and Miko stole away toward the hilltop as the fighting quieted and the night wore thin. They found an abandoned hut deep in the forest and made it their home. She’d been lucky to spend her childhood learning the secrets of the woods alongside her father. She knew they could survive, but quickly doubted whether survival was enough. Seven years later, she still doubted it. And whenever she caught sight of General Simeon, she doubted it even more.

Simeon was close enough to the pit now that Seycia could see his repugnant scar. His face was fixed into an eternal scowl, left cheek upturned at the lip, and his skin had been pulled taut to cover the hole in the side of his face. It was hard for her to remember exactly what he’d looked like before her father mutilated him, but she relished the idea that he’d once been a handsome man who’d been turned into a monster—as foul as the one who would come to claim its sacrifice tonight.

        The boy, Henshaw, trailed behind General Simeon, surrounded by a team of four bodyguards. He was shackled from head to toe and couldn’t have gone very far if he’d tried, with or without the guards. He shuffled down the gravel walkway, eyes pinned to the ground, as night descended and the gas lamps surrounding the pit flickered to life. Seycia remembered seeing him once or twice before. Freckles dusted the apples of his two youthful cheeks, and his sun-kissed skin was the color of warm honey. He was one of the healthier-looking children from the hilltop, but no longer. His face was drawn and grim today, caked with mud and tear stains. He couldn’t have been much older than Miko’s twelve summers. She wondered how he’d been chosen. She wondered that every time.

Unnerving silence rippled across the crowd as General Simeon and his bodyguards led the boy to the pit and clamped a weighted shackle to his foot. Seycia squeezed her eyes shut for the next part. She hated it the most: when the silent victim would break down and plead for mercy. When they’d scream. They were always ignored and tossed into the muddy pit—an end without dignity.

As Henshaw’s first pitiful whimpers echoed across the captivated crowd, General Simeon stepped forward to begin his blessing. Seycia bit down on her tongue, nauseated by his voice as he led the ritual he’d stolen from her people. Everything else about the old Khronasan ways had been banned—except the sacrifices.

“We are the mortals. The frail. The selfish. The ones who failed you—and failed ourselves,” He spoke slowly, gazing up at the sky before making eye contact with each spectator in the front row. “In the years since we breached the Veil, we have learned a great lesson. War has reminded us how weak we truly are. We come to you, great Keeper of Life, in supplication. We know why you send The Savage. We know how he hungers. We are here to satiate him.”

One of Henshaw’s guards snarled and struck him in the back with his boot. The boy tumbled into the pit with a howl that took Seycia’s breath away. Then, there was a low rumble of thunder. The stars above them vanished as Simeon hit the gong again. She shuddered in the cold, clammy air as an enormous black storm cloud ebbed across the sky. The Savage was on its way.

The rain was quick and ruthless, as it always was. Seycia braced herself as the storm swept across the plaza like a ghost and water flooded the pit. Henshaw screamed. Seycia stared at her feet, flexing her bare toes in the freezing mud. She wanted to run, but running was forbidden. They would wait until the boy had drowned—until the Savage had come to claim him.

The Khronasans began to hum a simple tune, swaying in unison, as rain pelted their faces and filled the pit. Henshaw kept screaming, but the chorus overpowered him. The people in the front were always the most enthusiastic, making sure General Simeon could hear their impassioned effort. Seycia hardly participated. Nobody would know she wasn’t humming along. She closed her eyes, gritting her teeth through the cold. She lulled herself into a trance-like state as the minutes passed and she swayed back and forth. Even with the supernatural intensity of the rain, it would still take time to fill the pit.

She was forced back to reality when Miko suddenly yelped and lost his footing. Annoyed, she opened her eyes and stifled a gasp—his nose was bleeding. She pulled him close and whispered, “Miko, are you—?”

“Get away from me!” Miko turned and hissed at a figure lurking behind them.

        A teenage Khronasan boy with matted brown hair and thick, meaty arms burst forth, grabbing for Miko’s leather knapsack, the one that held their dinner and provisions. Miko dodged his grasp, and the boy struck him a second time. He sputtered, wiping blood from his nose and mouth.

        Seycia wasn’t sure if it was because of the boy’s petulant snicker or the rage she’d been bottling up all day, but she was thirsty for a fight. Miko tried to hold her back, but she was too quick. As the Khronasans kept humming and swaying in the downpour, Seycia butted between Miko and the boy and elbowed him in the eye. He kicked her right back, square in the gut, but adrenaline was on her side. She clawed at his face with her sharp nails and wrapped him in a chokehold. As she tightened her grasp. . .

        “Brother Henshaw,” General Simeon continued his blessing. The pit was nearly full now.

        “Brother Henshaw,” The audience echoed him. Seycia was still squeezing the boy’s neck.

        “May your flesh appease the wicked one. May your blood protect the earth,” Simeon went on, eyes to the heavens.

        Again, the audience replied, in monotone: “May his flesh appease the wicked one. May his blood protect the earth.”

The boy wriggled free and threw Seycia down into the mud. As he turned his attention back to Miko, Seycia sprang to her feet, tore the fang from under her collar, and swiped the boy’s arm with it, drawing blood. Then, she pointed it right between his beady eyes.

“May your sacrifice be remembered,” General Simeon concluded his remarks.

“His sacrifice shall be remembered,” the audience responded.

The boy’s nervous gaze shifted from Seycia’s scowl to the razor-sharp tip of the fang. Finally, he held up his hands and retreated, weaving through the crowd like a frightened deer in the forest. Seycia caught her breath and wiped the mud from her face, surveying the scene. She hadn’t realized how many people were watching them. Her heart stammered as General Simeon lowered his head and returned his gaze to the audience. In a panic, Seycia dropped the fang back down the front of her collar. She was frozen to the spot, unsure of her next move. She hadn’t meant to draw so much attention to herself. Had General Simeon seen the fang? What was the punishment for carrying a weapon to the sacrifice? She was sure she’d broken a rule of some sort. There would be repercussions. She swallowed hard and did her best to blend in with the crowd, avoiding Simeon’s stare. . . when a woman’s bone-chilling shriek sent shockwaves across the shivering crowd.

General Simeon spun to face the pit, and Seycia grabbed for Miko with an awestruck gasp. For there, peering over the edge of Henshaw’s watery grave, were two enormous, hungry yellow eyes, piercing the darkness with a phosphorescent glow. A deep, fearsome snarl rattled the earth beneath Seycia’s feet.

“S-Seycia. Is that. . . ?” The words stuck in Miko’s throat. He held tight to Seycia’s hand.

All at once, Seycia forgot about General Simeon and the fang. They were staring into the eyes of the Savage—for the very first time. In years past, Seycia might have been too frightened to look directly into the pit, but she was certain the creature had never shown itself before.

The villagers clutched one another in terror. Some of them kneeled. The woman down in front kept screaming. Why had the Savage revealed itself? What was happening? But the creature vanished as quickly as it had come, back into the depths of the pit.

A hush fell across the plaza. Seycia and Miko exchanged a stricken glance. . . before a ferocious thunderclap shook the city and all the water in the pit rose up into the air, hanging above the crowd like a menacing black raincloud. This, Seycia had seen before. This was the beginning of the end. There was Henshaw, hovering helplessly in midair, as sickly green and yellow lightning fractured the sky. Then, the raincloud took the form of a face, dark as smoke, with its enormous mouth hanging agape. Seycia held her breath. This was the moment.

If Henshaw screamed, nobody heard it. The night sky swallowed him whole. The Savage was satiated. . . and the boy was gone for good.