On Sale Now — the explosive end to the Ren Crown series!
Back Cover Copy:
On the run with two of her most powerful—and quarrelsome—allies, Ren has to outwit the Department and all those who seek to exploit her powers as she fights for the lives of those she loves and the freedom to live in a world that fears her.
The final book in the Awakening of Ren Crown series!
Chapter One: Awakening Once Again
The boy loped down the street with the easy, unconcerned grace of a teenager never expecting to encounter danger in the shadows. Spiky hair was weighed down by giant headphones as he bopped his head to an internal beat and hiked his backpack higher on one shoulder. A violin case was securely strapped across his back, and the sharply bent fingers of his left hand syncopated a line of music against his thigh.
He absently scratched the underside of his left wrist against the side seam of his jeans—a motion that had no doubt been repeated with greater frequency as each minute passed.
He was oblivious to the shapes detaching from the long, spiked shadows of the trees.
Being suddenly half surrounded registered fully on his danger index, though, because he jerked to a stop, ripped his headphones down to circle his throat, then took a defensive step backward.
Lightning streaked the sky, sending jagged lights through the unnatural shadows that surrounded the black-clothed men around him.
A combination of jazz, violin, and synthetic beats grew louder—unnaturally projecting from his headphones and becoming a haunting, cacophonous melody that wrapped around the space.
“Definitely him,” one of the men said.
“Definitely me what?” The boy’s gaze was quick—intelligence weighing variables and options and trying to make sense of the reality in front of him. “What’s going on?”
Where did you come from? The unsaid question was clear in his gaze as he looked toward the lawns on either side of the street.
“Hands where we can see them,” the leader ordered in a graveled voice.
The boy’s hands shot into the air, open palms face out.
“Listen, I’m on my way home. Rehearsal ran late—”
The boy did, his wary gaze assessing the way the black-clothed men with scanners in their hands were slowly surrounding him. More than one was looking outward, searching the distance. He shifted his body.
“They said she’d be here,” one of the newer recruits complained, a lethal look in his beady eyes. “This was supposed to be—”
“Well, she’s not,” the leader said, his eyes not leaving the boy. “And we have a job to do, and a feral to drain.”
“Feral?” the boy murmured and took another step back.
The music grew in volume, turning harsher and more frantic. The boy was going to run. It was obvious from his gaze, his motion, and the burgeoning magic emanating from him that he couldn’t yet control.
He wasn’t going to survive a standoff—and if he ran, he wouldn’t make it home.
From my vantage point in the trees, the rage started at my toes and slithered up to join the violent tingle in my fingers.
A haze of crimson glazed over my vision threatening to overtake me, but solar lights stuttering to ignite in a neighbor’s yard flashed white through the haze, bringing objects more sharply into focus and reminding me of where I was. First Layer. Civilians. Innocents. Life.
“The abomination is only half of it,” the cruel-eyed man said, looking around. “It’s not a fully completed job if we don’t—”
“Crown didn’t take the bait. You’ll get your chance to take her down on the next one, Doogin,” the leader snarled. “But this half-paycheck isn’t going to neutralize himself.”
He motioned for the men to surround the boy, and they did so with careful movements.
“Now boy, you just stand there and this will all go much easier for—”
The boy doubled over, half-compressed notes of magic oozing from him, dripping like sweat down his skin.
His sputtering magic opened the allegro of a symphony, and I gripped the notes as my heels lifted, releasing my body from its careful perch. The soles of my shoes started a slow slide down the thick branch into freefall as each note echoed the tapestry of magic that made up this world. I let my breath release steadily and silently as I fell through the air, ticking off each movement I was about to make with each note harshly and vibrantly drumming from the boy.
Magic worked best when joined.
“He’s Awakening fully,” the leader said harshly. “Secure—”
I dropped into the circle in front of the boy, and thrust out my palms, letting the boy’s musical crescendo flow through the visual patterns I formed in the air. The two figures at either side of us flew backward, impacting with abnormal crunches—one hitting a tree, the other a car. A second set of patterns disabled the men to the front and back, but the remaining ones sprung into motion.
Containers on the belt of the leader clanked together—one filled with defensive spells, another an empty container awaiting the boy’s magic.
Never again. Never again would I allow a feral to be drained.
I spun and let my cloak take the brunt of the first hit, and used my momentum to fling sticks to pierce both containers. The containers exploded, the men violently swore, and magic from the full container abruptly filtered into the First Layer air, even as the grasping magic of the empty container sucked the leader dry.
The boy was hunched over, looking at his fingers, an awed look overtaking his expression. “I feel—”
Additional figures ran toward us, and red descended over my vision like a single shade of old 3D glasses. I pulled the freed magic through the molecules of existence into a riotous whirlwind of colors. Gigantic, autumnal leaves formed in the slowed motion landscape, then shot free of the wind—plastering the approaching figures to the ground and forming hard shells over the top.
Music notes were swirling more wildly around the boy, building to a crescendo. “I feel like I can do anyth—”
I whipped a shield over his body and pulled it tight, tripping him. He crashed to the ground, and I threw out my hand, rolling the pavement over him like a burrito shell and propelling him away from the fight with the last of the free magic in the air.
A jolt of energy hit me from behind, reverberating in my bones, but it was to my benefit—my cloak sucked the magic inside and I pulled it from the coiling conduit in my cloak to rest in my palm.
“You idiot, she can absorb and use our magic. Throw the—”
I threw myself into a tucked roll that opened into a crouched, magically-enabled skid along the concrete as the second man followed the commands of the first. The magic in my hand scraped against the ground and I added just a bit of layer magic to slick a curved path in front of me as Delia’s beautifully made, flexible boots attached to the magic I was infusing underneath them.
The same idiot withdrew a device and threw it into the air. I felt the shimmer of the magic as a containment dome mushroomed around me.
Found the new guy.
“No, no, you fool—”
I didn’t let the other man finish before I sucked the dome into my center, out through my palms, then shoved it into the ground.
The earth cracked and erupted around them, downing everyone still standing, and forcing them to use the remaining magic in their containers—the only magic they could use—to heal themselves and avoid falling into the fissures.
Power filled me. The sweet, sweet ambrosia of infinite possibility.
I called magic to me like Mike had taught me to call the wind, sifting a little of each crossed thread into the elements whirling along the thin lines of my left palm—letting them cross-ruff into a violent storm of elemental parts. A bridge formed and I let threads trickle out before carefully—carefully— knitting the area back together—closing fissures, righting street lamps, and soothing active heartbeats nearby.
I flexed my right fingers and let other threads envelop the groaning, twitching Department figures around me—pinning them in place. I lifted the leaf shells and lined up the bodies, applying one tracking sticker, two, then a slightly forceful application of the third on the man who’d called the boy an abomination.
Power hovered in my hands. Paint bubbled within me. I could remake them.
The layer trembled.
I could do anything right now. I could force open their minds. Make them tell me what they knew. Make them repent for killing teenagers whose only mistake was being born open to magic.
I knew exactly who could help me do it, too. I nudged the closing cracks into a different kind of opening. A small push, and—
Shadows erupted from the ground, like a freight train of terror, blowing chunks of concrete into the sky before morphing into the most unscrupulous of the Department’s henchmen.
I swore as I pushed the remaining stickers onto the Department grunts—hoping they bled into their skin as fast as promised.
I turned to the boy who was staring at me in shock from the cave of his pavement cocoon. I lifted my hand, visualizing what I wanted while pulling the layer magic into a pyramid in my palm, then flipped it and shoved downward, pushing the pavement and the boy through the ground.
The ground vibrated around me like it always did when I used magic between layers in haste. My stomach heaved. The earth split in a deep vee. I grabbed for the edge and drew the vee into a sheer line.
“That’s going to cost you, little girl,” growled the familiar voice. Kaine smiled ominously and threw down his shadowed hands. Large chunks of pavement ripped upward to hover menacingly in the air. “Destroying another town, tsk. You just made national news.”
I ducked the concrete slab he threw but the impact caused a large fault line to split the earth.
Repair, repair, repair, I ordered my magic.
A net flew toward me as I repaired the slice, and at the last moment, I rolled to the side. The net grazed me and blood streamed down my leg.
“I’ve been waiting for weeks to play.” Kaine laughed as he threw a shadow that I barely dodged.
The static sounds of a First Layer broadcast stuttered forth from a praetorian who looked like a Dali-assembled version of his boss.
“A town that hasn’t experienced an earthquake in a hundred years has just been torn apart by—”
“Miraculously, the destruction has mended itself—”
“What were we just talking about, Raymond?”
The suppression spell had taken hold.
“Too bad that the spell doesn’t work on mages,” Kaine cooed. “They will all know how you rend the world. They will know how you can never be trusted. So much destruction. And all for an unknown. A feral.”
A shadow wrapped around me, and I sliced through it.
He smiled darkly. “You can’t save them all. Your little pets. Do they remind you of someone—of your brother, of home? Sad little girl.”
I pulled magic, letting its power fill me, then released it in three concussive waves, pushing the shadows back, and quickly erecting a barrier. My gaze spun to the house across the street—its sad solar lights reflecting the flames shooting up the side of the house.
A downpour began at my directive, but lightning struck the yard with a too forceful push of power, and Kaine’s shadows slipped around my barrier. The neighborhood sizzled and shook dangerously. I grabbed the next lightning bolt with a slipping grip and wrapped it around me.
I had expected Second Layer reinforcements—a second wave of Department hitters, but not the praetorians. As Prestige Stavros’s personal guards and enforcers, the praetorians were banned from the non-magical world unless Stavros was physically present or during emergency events. Which meant that Stavros had politically succeeded and been granted emergency powers to capture me.
“You aren’t going to last,” Kaine sing-songed as he gave chase, shooting shadows at the whirling storm cloud around me.
I stopped before I reached the park at the end of the block, raised my hand and threw concrete toward a shadow shrieking around a stop sign. I tried not to think of where I had conceived the idea. The shadow slipped through with a moment to spare, unlike the Department grunts in Ganymede Circus, who’d fallen to Raphael.
“I’ve lasted this long.”
The First Layer was my battleground advantage, not theirs. Power filled me again, this time with an edge of heady exultation.
Kaine’s eyes narrowed, but there was something glinting beneath his expression that I couldn’t read. Something akin to pleasure.
“All that magic building up within you. You aren’t going to last, Origin Mage.”
I blasted away the first praetorian that swept toward me, and caught the second in a tornado of crimson swirls that coiled the metal climbing structure into a rising, misshapen cone.
Kaine laughed, then Stavros’s face flipped onto that of the praetorian I held in my grip.
“You look tired. Terrorist,” Stavros said in a voice that was both dignified and world-weary—a politician dealing with an unruly populace he was feigning to protect.
“You are the one who deals in terror,” I said.
He smiled. It was an unnerving smile—all of his were—but there was something barbed about this one that put me specifically on edge.
I threw out my hand and blasted his puppet to the other side of the park and pulled one of the many illegal devices I carried from my cloak. His claim wasn’t totally without merit—I had taken a few pages from the terrorists’ playbook in that it didn’t matter what I carried or how many illegal things I did. If caught, I’d never see the light of day again, no matter what I added to my tally at this point. At least, not without having Stavros buried within my hollowed chest and riding my mind.
A shadow hit my cloak and shrieked.
The Department hadn’t figured out how to penetrate my cloak yet. But they would eventually.
The ground exploded and I used the cover to erect my own dome around the park, trying to keep the fight away from the residents of the town, who were spilling from their houses in response to the noise.
The people here would never know what had taken place—even now hands with phones were dropping to their sides and eyes were going vacant. The suppression magic would prevent them from remembering, like a vague daydream, and force them to delete any visual evidence on their devices.
But if I let things get out of hand, they would die, and no one from the Department would resurrect them.
I threw out a device to extinguish all lights, then another—one horribly full of fear and flight to force the people to return to their homes. Screams and pounding footsteps echoed the directive.
I gritted my teeth at the changing news reports. We had moved up the First Layer “excuse list” from causing an earthquake to triggering a gas main explosion. The feral’s family was going to think he had been killed in a natural disaster, in the same way my parents had attributed Christian’s death to an electrical explosion that had blacked out the city.
Fury rose within me.
My cloak whipped out wildly against the shrieking shadows.
I needed fifteen more seconds. Fifteen seconds in which to activate the device that would spirit me elsewhere without endangering the people or the layer any more.
“They will all die,” Stavros’ voice said, just off my left. “Just like your dear brother. By your hand or by mine, they will die. At least if it’s by my hand, it will give the world a new and glorious path.”
My fury was all encompassing, yet I managed to rein it in at the last moment. Five seconds. Hang on.
Stavros’s face flipped into an exact replica of Christian’s. Teal eyes beseeched me. “You killed me, Ren.”
Black-and-white patterns swirled in front of my eyes, and the sky ripped in rage as I blasted the puppet wearing my brother’s face.
Reverberations echoed through the layer immediately and ten more hunters appeared in the street, Stavros’s face flipping inhumanly between them. “Oh, dear, did someone get angry?
The device clicked and a gentle slice tore through the First Layer. I dove and flipped myself through the crack, sealing the slice as I emerged on the other side. Black-and-white patterns slid across my view. I wasted no time, hobbling to where I had pushed the Awakening mage. He was shaking and lightning was sparking against the warding field I had placed around him.
“What… How… That man made that object fly, and that other shot lightning, and you made the sidewalk wrap around me before sending me under the ground. Please say this isn’t Hell.”
I touched the field and sent soothing vibes to ease his shaking. His Awakening magic was reacting forcefully, bursting against the confines of the protection field.
“We are in the Second Layer of the world now. Magic is real. That’s what you feel rousing inside of you,” I explained, out of breath, but without pause. “You will be in danger until it settles. I’ll get you to safety. Meditate if you can, put your headphones back on, if you can’t.”
I lifted my hand and pulled. A portal appeared in the air and spit out the hunter I had ejected from the First Layer. At least he was no longer wearing Christian’s face. I shuddered, then twisted the man’s life force and rendered him unconscious.
I paused for a precious moment, putting my left hand to my eyes, trying to reject the overlay of the black-and-white patterns that had taken over everything in view, and trying to reject the tumultuous set of emotions that were swirling through me.
“What are you doing?” the boy asked.
I couldn’t do it. There was too much.
I pushed the boy back, and paint abruptly spilled from my mouth. A swirling chasm of prismatic color opened up on the ground. Lightning crackled in the view.
“What. The. Hell?”
I ignored him and shakily pulled the vortex into a storage paper, then healed the breech the paint had caused. Unfortunately, nothing would grow there for a while, and a corresponding spot in the Fifth Layer was probably experiencing a similar fate.
“Did you just barf paint?”
I put a trembling hand on the forehead of the unconscious praetorian. Kaine’s shadows tickled the edges of my fingers and I had to fight to keep my hand in place.
“What are you doing?”
Random bits of information surged through my mind, but also something unexpected. A shape with blurred edges and points.
I could feel Kaine’s shadows on the praetorian—feel how they were reaching out toward something in the distance.
“We need to go,” I said, wrapping air around my hand and trying to pinpoint how long we had until we were once again surrounded.
Stavros was smart. And giving in to his taunting was always a bad choice.
The Awakening mage looked at the downed praetorian while shaking and flexing his fingers. Magic flowed through him as he tried to gain some control of the new force permeating his body. “Will he be okay?”
“Vermin always creep back,” I said darkly as I finished patting the man down, gathering all of the items from his pockets and putting them in a sealed pouch. “How are you feeling?”
As if the question suddenly snapped him out of his panic, his eyes unfocused.
“I…I can hear everything,” the boy said, weaving a little unsteadily. “I can hear the leaves, the animals, the weird wind, like it’s the music of the world. I thik’ I migh’ pass ot’,” he slurred as he tilted precariously.
I ducked under his arm and lifted it around my shoulder, then started walking as quickly as my damaged leg would allow.
“W’are yu doig?” he asked drunkenly, and the music accelerated in tempo as it escaped the shield. I used the freed magic to make him lighter, then patched the leak with two b flats that were floating between us. Going through the layers had torn a section of the shield. I’d have to tweak the design again later—get Neph to help me harness the music. I wondered—
I shook my head at my random thoughts and pushed us toward a spot of earth that would do nicely. “We need to move fast. They are coming.”
I had used far too much magic in both layers to remain hidden. And whereas I had the slightest advantage in the First Layer, there was no way the Department wouldn’t find us in the layer they controlled, especially with Kaine’s shadows leading the way. I could feel them coming.
“Nothing makes sense,” he slurred, but I could understand his words better now. Magic was patching them and making them whole. Awakenings were wonderful.
My heart ached each time I saw the beauty of one.
“That tree is asking for water.” He pointed unsteadily. “And the wind is drumming a marched beat, like it’s readying for war.”
I picked up our pace. His second observation was definitely a bad omen.
“I can hear the birds…talking?”
I cocked my head reflexively, but couldn’t sense any avian conversation. The strength of his Awakening, my lack of auditory talent, and the forced cloaking of my powers, gave him the decided sense advantage.
“What are they saying?”
“Can’t you hear them? They said I look like a furemu on its first legs. What the Beethoven is a furemu?”
“Everyone experiences magic differently,” I replied. “I know a music conductor who can change the fabric of the air using sound.” I thought wistfully of school.
“You can’t hear them? Is it because you eat paint? Consumed too much lead?”
My senses were starting to spread far too often to the entire layer system—which was a dangerous path to travel. One wrong sneeze and I could blow First Layer Chicago into Second Layer Antarctica.
It was best not to provide too much information about myself to the newbies, though.
“I don’t make mine with lead. I think a furemu is a kind of horse,” I said instead. “Like a blue and gold deer horse with antlers and a magic-swept mane. Majestic, I’m sure.”
But he wasn’t listening anymore. “The music…I can feel it in my blood. Driving the rhythm of my body. Am I dying?”
“You are Awakening. You will get used to magic quickly. A week in the chamber is going to be both fun and very upsetting.” I pushed him toward the identified spot.
“Chamber? Week?” He stumbled against me, violin case and backpack—miraculously both still attached to him—hitting against my side and arm. “My family—”
“Will eventually be happy to learn that you are alive,” I said grimly, physically propelling us toward the flat bit of empty land, one that would survive for a small bit of time as scorched earth. “What’s your name?”
I always had to ask, even though it would likely serve me better letting them remain anonymous like Axer did, not knowing, not talking to them at all—just existing as a strange, brief specter during their entrance to the magical world.
“You can’t see your family, Liam. Not for a while.” Perhaps never again, though it was the part I refused to say. The counselors who assisted transitions were far better equipped for that task.
“They’ll be worried. And my quartet—”
“You are a danger to all of them and yourself until you can control your powers.” I swallowed and looked down, fishing one-handed in my pockets for what we needed for our exit.
Ren, you can never go home.
“What’s happening to me?” he asked, fingers shooting sparks that waved into measures of music—the color so like Christian’s blue lightning—but the magic safely within the shield that was serving to protect him. The shield helped regulate Awakenings—not dim them—and the excess magic was stored in the lining of the shield for use later.
I had been very specific in the requirements in the crafting of the shields.
“Magic,” I said, grabbing Will’s latest portal pad design from my cloak. I threw it down on the ground as the lengthening evening shadows started to hook their claws and form into shapes.
I had yet to figure out how to evade Second Layer tracking after I used my magic. The problem with Origin Magic was that it was obvious. As much as my cloak hid me from visual view, my magic was a beacon to Stavros and the devices he used to register it.
I’d chosen a bare spot in a neutral territory of the Second Layer. No one would miss the five square feet of space we needed.
The pad started to scorch the earth around it and I tugged Liam forward.
“Time to go,” I said.
Kaine, always the first one on site in the layer where he ruled, formed from the darkest shadows of the pit. Liam tried to scramble away and I had to use a magic-enhanced grip on the back of his shirt to keep him in place. The kid’s instincts were good. Kaine was legitimately terrifying.
But Kaine wouldn’t make it to us in time. And if he did, he’d be in for a rude awakening. Ever since Raphael had tangled with him in a portal pad, I’d put safeguards on ours. Kaine hadn’t tried to follow me in a pad—or anything else of my creation—since our first encounter post-Raphael. Kaine had had some healing to do.
Come and get us. I smiled grimly and tossed Kaine a rude hand gesture as I pushed the kid forward.
“There’s a demon. That’s a demon,” Liam yelled, squirming beneath my magic-enhanced grip. “What are you doing?”
“Taking a long step into a different existence. Welcome to your new world, kid.”
“What do you m—argh!”
I pushed us both into the gaping black hole.
The Destiny of Ren Crown is the fifth book in a five book series that wraps up the threads that started in The Awakening of Ren Crown.
The Awakening of Ren Crown (1)
The Protection of Ren Crown (2)
The Rise of Ren Crown (3)
The Unleashing of Ren Crown (4)
The Destiny of Ren Crown (5)